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Title: Peggy Plays Off-Broadway - Peggy Lane Theater Stories, #2
Author: Hughes, Virginia
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: _“I know,” Peggy said excitedly. “But which airline?”_]

                       PEGGY LANE THEATER STORIES



                       _Peggy Plays Off-Broadway_


                           By VIRGINIA HUGHES

                      Illustrated by Sergio Leone


                    GROSSET & DUNLAP    _Publishers_
                                NEW YORK

                     ©GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1962
                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                CONTENTS


  1 Cast Call                                                          1
  2 The Hopefuls                                                      12
  3 First Reading                                                     21
  4 A Shy Angel                                                       30
  5 An Unexpected Scene                                               39
  6 Two Acts of Faith                                                 50
  7 An Intermission                                                   58
  8 Curtain Fall                                                      69
  9 One for the Money                                                 80
  10 Two for the Show                                                 93
  11 Three to Make Ready                                             108
  12 Which Way to Go?                                                119
  13 A Decision                                                      130
  14 Race Against Time                                               137
  15 Act One                                                         152
  16 Act Two                                                         161
  17 S. R. O.                                                        167



                        PEGGY PLAYS OFF-BROADWAY



                                   I
                               Cast Call


“First casting calls are so difficult,” Peggy Lane said, looking
ruefully at the fifty or more actresses and actors who milled about
nervously, chatting with one another, or sat on the few folding chairs
trying to read.

“With only nine roles to be filled,” she continued, “it doesn’t matter
how good these people are; most of them just haven’t got a chance. I
can’t help feeling sorry for them—for all of us, I mean. After all, I’m
trying for a part, too.”

Peggy’s friend and housemate, Amy Preston, smiled in agreement and said,
“It’s not an easy business, honey, is it? But the ones I feel sorriest
for right now are Mal and Randy. After all, they have the unpleasant job
of choosing and refusing, and a lot of these folks are their friends. I
wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”

Peggy nodded thoughtfully, and reflected that it must, indeed, be more
wearing on the boys. Mallory Seton, director of the new play, had been
an upper-class student at the Academy when Peggy had started there, and
he was a good friend of hers. She had worked with him before, as a
general assistant, when they had discovered a theater. It would not be
easy for him to consider Peggy for an acting role, and to do so
completely without bias. It would not be a question of playing
favorites, Peggy knew, but quite the reverse. Mal’s sense of fair play
would make him bend over backward to keep from giving favors to his
friends. If she was to get a role in this new production, she would
really have to work for it.

And if it was difficult for Mal, she thought, it was more so for Randy
Brewster, the author of the play, for her friendship with him was of a
different sort than with Mal. Mal was just a friend—a good one, to be
sure—but with Randy Brewster, somehow, things were different. There was
nothing “serious,” she assured herself, but they had gone on dates
together with a regularity that was a little more than casual and,
whatever his feelings were for her, she was sure that they were more
complicated than Mal’s.

“Do you think they’ll ever get through all these people?” Amy asked,
interrupting her thoughts. “How can they hope to hear so many actors
read for them in just one afternoon?”

“Oh, they won’t be doing readings today,” Peggy replied, glad to turn
her attention from what was becoming a difficult subject for thought.
“This is just a first cast call. All they want to do today is pick
people for type. They’ll select all the possible ones, send the
impossible ones away, and then go into elimination readings later.”

“But what if the people they pick for looks can’t act?” Amy asked. “And
what if some of the rejects are wonderful actors?”

“They won’t go back to the rejects,” Peggy explained, “because they both
have a pretty good idea of what the characters in the play should look
like. And if the people they pick aren’t good enough actors, then they
hold another cast call and try again. Mal says that sometimes certain
parts are so hard to cast that they have to go through a dozen calls
just to find one actor.”

“It seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it, to be eliminated just because
you’re not the right physical type,” Amy said, “but I can understand it.
They have to start somewhere, and I guess that’s as good a place as
any.” Then she smiled and added, “I guess I’m just feeling sorry for
myself, because Mal told me there was no sense in my trying out at all,
because I didn’t look or sound right for any part in the play. If I
don’t get rid of this Southern accent of mine, I may never get a part at
all, except in a Tennessee Williams play!”

Peggy nodded sympathetically. “But it wasn’t just your accent, Amy,” she
said. “It’s your looks, too. At least for this play. Mal and Randy told
you that you’re just too pretty for any of the parts that fit your age,
and that’s nothing to feel bad about. If anybody ought to feel insulted,
it’s me, because they asked me to try out!”

“Oh, they were just sweet-talking me,” Amy replied. “And as for you, you
know you don’t have to worry about your looks. You have a wonderful
face! You can look beautiful, or comic, or pathetic, or cute or
anything. I’m stuck with just being a South’n Belle, blond and helpless,
po’ li’l ol’ me, lookin’ sad and sweet through those ol’ magnolia
blossoms!” She broadened her slight, soft accent until it sounded like
something you could spread on hot cornbread, and both girls broke into
laughter that sounded odd in the strained atmosphere of the bare
rehearsal studio.

It was at this point that Mal and Randy came in, with pleasant, if
somewhat brisk, nods to the assembled actors and actresses, and a
special smile for Amy and Peggy. In a businesslike manner, they settled
themselves at a table near the windows, spread out scripts and pads and
pencils, and prepared for the chore that faced them. Amy, who was there
to help the boys by acting as secretary for the occasion, wished Peggy
good luck, and joined the boys at the table. Her job was to take names
and addresses, and to jot down any facts about each actor that Randy and
Mal wanted to be sure to remember.

Mal started the proceedings by introducing himself and Randy. Then,
estimating the crowd, he said, “Since there are fewer men here, and also
fewer male roles to cast, we’re going to do them first. I hope that you
ladies won’t mind. We won’t keep you waiting long, but if we worked with
you first, we’d have these gentlemen waiting most of the day. Shall we
get started?” After a brief glance at his notes, he called out, “First,
I’d like to see businessman types, young forties. How many have we?”

Four men separated themselves from the crowd and approached the table.
Peggy watched with interest as Mal and Randy looked them over, murmured
to Amy to take notes, and asked questions. After a few minutes, the men
left, two of them looking happy, two resigned. Then Mal stood and called
for leading man types, late twenties or early thirties, tall and
athletic. As six tall, athletic, handsome young men came forward, Peggy
felt that she just couldn’t stand watching the casting interviews any
longer. It reminded her too much of the livestock shows she had attended
as a youngster in her home town of Rockport, Wisconsin. Necessary though
it was, she felt it was hardly a way to have to deal with human beings.

Slipping back through the crowd of waiting actors, she joined the
actresses in the rear of the room, and found an empty seat next to a
young girl.

“Hi,” she said. “What’s the matter, can’t you watch it either?”

The girl smiled in understanding. “It always upsets me,” she replied,
“but it’s something we simply have to learn to live with. At least until
we get well-known, or get agents to do this sort of thing for us.”

“It sounds as if you’ve been in a few of these before,” Peggy said.

“I have. But not here in the East,” the girl replied. “I’m from
California, and I’ve been in a few little-theater things there, but
nobody seems to pay much attention to them. I heard that off-Broadway
theater in New York attracts a lot of critics, and I thought that I’d do
better here. Have you had any luck?”

“Oh, I’m just beginning,” Peggy said. “I’m still studying at the New
York Dramatic Academy. I hope I can get some kind of supporting role in
this play, but I don’t think I’m ready for anything big yet. By the way,
my name is Peggy Lane. What’s yours?”

“I’m Paula Andrews,” the girl answered, “and maybe I’m shooting too
high, but I’m trying out for the female lead. I hope I have a chance for
it.”

Peggy looked carefully at her new friend, at the somewhat uncertain
smile that played about her well-formed, generous mouth and the
intelligence that shone from her large, widely placed green eyes. Her
rather long face was saved from severity by a soft halo of red-brown
hair, the whole effect being an appealing combination of strength and
feminine softness.

“I think you do have a chance,” Peggy said. “In fact, if you can act, I
bet you’ll get the part. I’ve read the play, and I know the author and
director, and unless I’m way off, you look just the way the lead should
look. In fact, it’s almost uncanny. You look as if you just walked out
of the script!”

“Oh, I hope you’re right!” Paula said with animation. “And I hope you
get a part, too. I have a feeling that you’re going to bring me good
luck!”

“The one who needs luck is me, I’m afraid,” Peggy said. “Being friendly
with Randy and Mal isn’t going to help me in the least, and I’m going to
have to be awfully good to get the part. And it’s really important to
me, too, because I’m getting near the end of my trial year.”

“Trial year?” Paula asked curiously.

“Uh-huh. My parents agreed to let me come to New York to study acting
and try for parts for a year, and I agreed that if I didn’t show signs
of success before the year was up, I’d come home and go back to college.
I’ve been here for eight months now, and I haven’t got anything to show
my parents yet. The part I’m trying for now isn’t a big one, but it’s a
good supporting role, and what’s more, we get paid. If I can show my
mother and father that I can earn some money by acting, I’m sure that
they’ll let me go on trying.”

“But do you expect to make enough to live on right away?” Paula asked.

“Oh, no! I’m not that naïve! But when my year is over at the Academy, I
can always take a job as a typist or a secretary somewhere, while I look
for parts. If you can type and take shorthand, you never have to worry
about making a living.”

“I wish that I could do those things,” Paula said wistfully. “The only
way I’ve been able to make ends meet is by working in department stores
as a salesgirl, and that doesn’t pay much. Besides, the work is so
unsteady.”

“My parents are very practical people,” Peggy said with a smile, “and
they made sure that I learned routine office skills before they would
let me think about other and more glamorous kinds of careers. Daddy owns
the newspaper in our small town in Wisconsin, and I’ve worked with him
as a typist and a reporter of sorts and as a proofreader, too. I’ll
always be grateful that he made me learn all those things. I don’t think
he has much faith in the acting business, but he’s been wonderful about
giving me a chance. What do your parents think of your wanting to be an
actress?”

Instead of answering, Paula suddenly stood up. “Let’s go see how they’re
coming with the actors,” she said. “I think they’re almost finished.”

Not wanting to press Paula further, and feeling that perhaps she had
asked too personal a question on such short acquaintance, Peggy
reluctantly stood too, and joined Paula to watch the last of what she
now could only think of as the livestock show.

As she drew closer to the table, she heard Mal saying, “I’m really
sorry, Mr. Lang, but you’re just not the right type for the role.
Perhaps some other....” and his voice trailed off in embarrassment.

Lang, a short, thin, unhappy young man, answered almost tearfully, “But,
Mr. Seton, looks aren’t everything. I’m really a funny comedian.
Honestly! If you would only give me a chance to read for you, I know
that I could make you change your mind about the way this character
should look!”

“I don’t doubt that you could,” Mal said gently, “but if you did, the
play would suffer. I’m afraid the comedian we need for this must be a
large, rather bluff-looking person, like these three gentlemen whom I
have chosen to hear. The part calls for it. I’m sorry.”

Mr. Lang nodded sadly, mumbled, “I understand,” and walked off, his head
hanging and his hands thrust deep in his pockets, looking less like a
comedian than any man in the world. Peggy watched him go, not knowing
whether to feel sorrier for him or for Mal.

“All right, gentlemen,” Mal called out. “That takes care of the male
roles. All of you who are left will be given copies of the play to
study, marked at the passages I want to hear. Be sure to read the whole
play carefully, so that you understand the workings of the characters
you have been selected to read. You have three days to look it over.
We’ll meet at ten o’clock on Saturday morning at the Penthouse Theater
to hear you. Thank you. And now for the ladies.”

The men left, after being given their scripts, and though they chatted
amiably with one another, Peggy was sure that each was casting rather
hostile looks toward others who were trying for the same parts. Keeping
friendships in the theater was not an easy thing, she thought,
particularly for people of similar physical types!

Mal’s first concern in reviewing the actresses was, of course, for the
leading role. And, of course, it was for this role that he had the most
applicants. More than twenty girls came forward when the announcement
was made, and Peggy thought that she had never seen so many striking and
beautiful faces and figures. It was not going to be easy for Mal to make
a choice. As Paula, her new friend, went forward to join the others,
Peggy whispered a word of encouragement, then stood to one side to
watch.

Mal went down the line, regretfully dismissing one after the other of
the girls, and occasionally asking one to step aside to try for another
role. His tough-looking expression hardly varied as he spoke to each
one, but Peggy thought she saw the ghost of a smile cross his face when
he spoke to Paula Andrews. Another review of the remaining girls
eliminated a few more. Finally, there were only four left, Paula among
them. Mal thanked them, distributed scripts, and asked them to be at the
Penthouse Theater on Saturday at noon.

Paula returned to Peggy with eyes shining. “Oh, Peggy! I think you were
right! I just know I’m going to get the part! I know it!”

“Don’t count too much on it,” Peggy cautioned, “or you may be too
bitterly disappointed if you don’t get it. But,” she added,
enthusiastically violating her own rule of caution, “I’m sure, too! I’ll
see you Saturday. Even if I don’t get a script, I’ll be there just to
hear you read!”

Then, with a smile of farewell, Peggy turned her attention to the
“career woman, early thirties” classification that Mal had called for
next. Once that was out of the way, she knew it would be her turn.

This time, there were not so many applicants and Peggy remembered Randy
telling her that this would be one of their most difficult roles to
cast. Only four actresses came forward, and Mal, with difficulty,
reviewed them all. Unable to eliminate by type, he gave them all scripts
and asked them to come to the theater. Then he called for “character
ingénues” and Peggy joined seven other girls in the “livestock show.”

Mal reviewed them carefully, managing to look at Peggy with complete
lack of recognition. He gently eliminated three of them on the basis of
hair coloring, height or general type. Another, curiously enough, was
eliminated, like Amy, for a Southern accent, and a fifth, also like Amy,
was too beautiful. “The part calls for a pretty girl,” Mal said with a
rare smile, “but not for a girl so pretty that she’ll dominate the
stage! It was a pleasure to look at you, but I’m afraid you’re not quite
right for the part.”

When he was done, Peggy and two others were given scripts and told to
come to the theater on Saturday. Feeling lightheaded and giddy, Peggy
settled herself on one of the folding chairs that lined the back wall,
and waited for Mal, Randy, and Amy to finish so she could join them for
coffee.

Scarcely noticing the rest of the proceedings, she thought only about
the coming readings. She was so familiar with the play that she knew she
had an advantage, perhaps unfairly, over the other two girls. She had
watched the script grow from its first rough draft to the finished text
now in her hands, and had discussed it with Randy through each revision.
She knew she could play the part; in fact, she suspected secretly that
Randy had written it for her, and the thought made her blush. Still, it
would not be easy, she knew. Mal’s sense of fairness and his absolute
devotion to the play above everything else would keep him from making up
his mind in advance.

But despite this knowledge, she could not help looking ahead—all the way
ahead—to the restless stir of the opening-night audience out front, the
last-minute preparations backstage, the bright, hot lights and the smell
of make-up and scenery paint as she waited to go on in Act One, Scene
One of _Come Closer_, Randy Brewster’s brilliant new play in which Peggy
Lane would be discovered!



                                   II
                              The Hopefuls


The audience consisted of a handful of actors and actresses, and Randy
Brewster and Mallory Seton. The stage lighting was a cold splash
produced by two floodlights without color gels to soften them. The
scenery was the brick back wall of the stage, two ladders, a table and
two straight-backed chairs. Only the front row of house lights was on,
and the back of the theater was dark, empty and gloomy, a shadowy
wasteland of empty rows of seats like tombstones.

On the stage, a “businessman type” was reading his lines. Peggy knew,
after the first few words, that he would not do. He had somehow
completely missed the character of the man he was portraying, and was
heavily overplaying. Mal, being perhaps more patient than Peggy,
listened and watched with great care. Amy, who was acting as Mal’s
assistant for the production, sat in a chair by the proscenium, reading
her script by the light of a small lamp and feeding the actor cue lines.
Mal followed the whole sequence with no visible sign of impatience and,
when the actor was through, said, “Thank you. We’ll let you know our
decision in a day or two.”

The next “businessman type” was better, but still not quite on target,
Peggy thought. He seemed to be playing the part for laughs, and although
there were some comic values to be extracted from the role, it was
really far more a straight dramatic character. Still, he was clearly a
better actor than the first, and with direction might do well.

Following his reading, Mal again repeated his polite, invariable
formula, “Thank you. We’ll let you know our decision in a day or two,”
and called for the next reading.

Peggy watched the remaining actors try for the role, and made mental
notes of which ones were possible, which probable, and which stood no
chance at all.

The same process was then followed for the leading men, and the same
wide range of talent and understanding of the part was displayed. Some
seemed to have no idea at all about the play or its meaning, and Peggy
was sure that these men had read only the parts marked for them. Others
had a clear understanding of the kind of character they were playing,
and tried to create him in the brief time they had on stage. Others
still were actors who had one rather inflexible way of playing, and used
it for all kinds of parts. Their performances were uniform imitations of
each other, and all were imitations of the early acting style of Marlon
Brando. They seemed to forget, Peggy thought, that Brando’s style
developed from the roles he had to play, and that as he got other roles,
he showed other facets of a rounded talent. It made her angry that some
actors thought they could get ahead in a creative field by being
imitative.

Each actor, no matter how good or how bad, was treated with impersonal
courtesy by Mal, and each left looking sure that the part was his. Peggy
was glad that she would not have to see their faces when they learned
that they had not been selected.

“The pity of it,” she whispered to Randy, “isn’t that there are so many
bad ones, but that there are so many good ones, and that only one can be
selected for each role. I wish there were some way of telling the good
ones you can’t take that they were really good, but that you just
couldn’t take everyone!”

“You can’t let yourself worry about that,” Randy replied. “The good ones
know they’re good, and they’re not going to be discouraged by the loss
of a role. And the bad ones think they’re good, too, and most of them
have tremendous egos to protect them from ever finding out—or even
thinking—otherwise!”

The door at the back of the theater opened quietly, and Peggy, turning
around in her seat, saw a few of the actresses entering. They quietly
found seats in the rear and settled down to await their turn.

“I think I’ll go back there with the girls,” Peggy whispered. “I’m
looking for a girl I met at the casting call, and I’d like to chat with
her for a few minutes when she comes. Do you mind if I don’t look at all
this?”

Randy grinned. “Go ahead. I’d get out of here, too, if I could without
getting Mal mad at me. This kind of thing always breaks my heart, too!”

As she went up the aisle as unobtrusively as possible, Peggy glanced at
the actresses who had just come in. She recognized a few of their faces
from the casting call of three days ago, but did not see her new friend
among them. She decided to go out to the lobby to wait for her there. A
new group of girls entered the theater as Peggy was leaving and, as she
passed, one reached out and grabbed her arm.

Peggy turned in surprise to find herself greeted with a broad grin and a
quick companionable kiss.

“Greta!” she cried. “What are you doing here?”

“Come on out to the lobby, and I’ll tell you,” Greta Larsen said, with a
toss of her head that made her thick blond braid spin around and settle
over her shoulder.

“But I thought you were in New Haven, getting ready to open _Over the
Hill_,” Peggy said, when they had reached the lobby. “What on earth are
you doing here?”

“I’m afraid you don’t read your _Variety_ very carefully,” Greta said.
“_Over the Hill_ opened in New Haven to such bad notices that the
producer decided to close out of town. At first we thought he’d call in
a play doctor to try to fix things up, but he finally decided, and very
sensibly, that it would be easier to just throw the whole thing out. I’m
afraid he lost a lot of money, and he didn’t have any more left.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Peggy said. “And it was a real chance for you,
wasn’t it?”

“Not really,” Greta said. “The part wasn’t too good, and I’d just as
soon not be in a disaster. Anyway, it gave me a chance to work for a few
weeks, and an agent saw me and said he thought I was good, so maybe I’m
not any the worse for the experience.”

At that moment, Peggy saw Paula Andrews enter the lobby, and she
motioned to her to join them. “Greta, this is Paula Andrews. She’s
reading for the lead today, and I hope she gets it. Paula, I want you to
meet Greta Larsen, one of my housemates.”

“Housemates?” Paula questioned, a little puzzled.

“Yes. There are about a dozen of us, more or less. We live in a place
called the Gramercy Arms—a wonderful place—and we live like one big
noisy family. The Arms is run just for young actresses, so we all have a
lot in common. I haven’t seen Greta for weeks—she’s been out of town
with a play—and I’m just getting over being stunned at seeing her now.”

“Peggy tactfully neglected to mention that the play flopped,” Greta
laughed, “and now I’m back in town without a job. In fact, that’s why
I’m here.”

“You mean you’re going to read for Mal?” Peggy asked excitedly.

“Uh-huh. I met him on the street an hour or so ago, and he told me he
had a part he thought I should try out for, and that he was thinking of
me for it all along, but assumed that I wouldn’t be available. Well, you
can’t be more available than I am, so here I am!”

“Have you read the play?” Paula asked.

“I’m lucky there,” Greta replied. “I’ve seen it in three different
drafts since it started. Peggy’s friendly with Randy Brewster, the boy
who wrote it, and each time she brought a draft home, I got to read it.
So I’m not at a disadvantage.”

“What do you think of _Come Closer_, Paula?” asked Peggy.

“I think it’s wonderful! I hope more than ever that I get the part! Do
you really think I have a chance?”

Greta nodded decisively. “If you can act, you’re made for it,” she said.

“That’s just what Peggy said!”

Peggy stole a glance through the doors to the theater. “I think we’re
about ready to find out whether or not you can act,” she said. “They
seem to be about through with the actors, and that means you’re on
next!”

Wishing each other good luck, they entered the darkened part of the
house and prepared for what Peggy could only think of as their ordeal.


Afterward, as Peggy, Amy, Paula, and Greta sat at a table in a nearby
coffeehouse waiting for Mal and Randy to join them, each was sure that
she had been terrible.

“Oh, no!” Peggy said. “You two were just marvelous! But I couldn’t have
been worse. I know I read the part wrong. I thought I had the character
clear in my mind, but I’m sure that the way it came out was a mile off!”

“You have a lot more talent than judgment,” Greta said mournfully. “You
were perfect. And so was Paula. As for me....” Her voice trailed off in
despair.

“I don’t know how you can say that, Greta,” Paula put in. “I know you
were the best in your part, and nobody even came close to Peggy. But
I’ve never felt so off in my life as I did reading that part. It’s a
wonder any of you even want to be seen with me!”

Only when Amy started to laugh did the three others realize how much
alike they had sounded. Then they joined in the laughter and couldn’t
seem to stop. When they seemed at the point of dissolving helplessly
into a permanent attack of the giggles, Randy and Mal joined them.

“If you’re laughing at the play,” Randy said gloomily, “I can hardly
blame you. You never know just how badly you’ve written until someone
gets up and starts to read your lines.”

All at the same time, the girls started to reassure him and tell him how
good the play was, and how badly the actors, including themselves, had
handled the lines, but this was so much like their last exchange of
conversation that once more they broke up in helpless laughter.

When they got their breath back, and when coffee and pastry had been
ordered, they tried to explain the cause of their hilarity to the boys.

“... so, you see,” Peggy concluded, “we were each explaining how good
the others were and how bad we were, and when Randy started telling us
how bad he had been as a writer, we just couldn’t stand it!”

It was Mal who got them back to sane ground. With his tough face, like a
movie gangster’s or private detective’s, and his gentle, cultured
English voice and assured manner, he calmly gave his opinion of the
afternoon’s auditions.

“First of all, I think the dialogue plays remarkably well, Randy. It’s a
good play, and I don’t think there’ll be too many changes to worry
about. Secondly, you’re all right and you’re all wrong. I might as well
tell you now that you each have the part you tried out for. I’m very
pleased with you, and proud to have you in the cast.”

Peggy and Greta excitedly embraced each other, and when they turned to
do the same to Paula, were dismayed to see that she was crying. “What’s
wrong?” Peggy asked. “Is anything the matter?”

“Oh, no,” Paula wailed, trying to smile through her tears. “It’s just
that I wanted this so much, and I’m so happy, and I started to laugh and
it came out tears....” She rummaged for her pack of tissues, dabbed her
eyes, and emerged with a radiant smile.

“There, that’s better,” Randy said.

“The tears were all right too,” Mal said. “I feel like doing the same
thing when I’m really happy, but it wouldn’t go with my face. It looks
great on yours!”

By the time the coffee and pastry arrived, Paula’s emotional storm had
so far been put behind her that she fell on the cakes with the appetite
of a lumberjack.

“A little restraint, please, madam,” Mal said, “or you’ll lose your
part. We want a nice, slim leading lady, not a butterball! You’re in
training now!”

“Let me take them,” Greta said. “I have a fat, round face to begin with,
and you wouldn’t have picked me if you wanted a sylph for the part.
You’ll never notice a few ounces more!”

“I’m sorry to tell you that we not only would notice it, but we’d mind
it very much,” Mal said, “but nobody minds a fat director. So....” He
reached for the cause of the debate.

“What I can’t understand,” Greta said, “is how you picked me for the
part. Why did you want me to try for a thirtyish career girl role? I’m
not really the physical type, and those other girls were. Will you tell
me?”

“Just a hunch,” Mal said. “You’ll be the type with your hair out of that
braid and put up, and with a little make-up to age you a few years. I
felt that you had the kind of crisp delivery we wanted, and it looks as
though I was right. As for Peggy, it’s as if the part were written for
her.” This last he said with a sly side look at Randy, who reddened
slightly. “And as for Paula, well....” He broke off and looked at her
intently.

“I don’t know what it is, but the minute I saw you in cast call, I knew
you were our girl. And when I heard you read, I knew that I hadn’t made
a mistake. There’s something about you ... some quality that I seem to
recognize ... I suppose it’s talent. But that’s enough of compliments.
If we don’t get out of here, we’ll soon be writing long epic poems to
each other’s genius.”

So, finishing their coffee with a toast to the success of _Come Closer_,
they said their good nights and parted outside the coffeehouse.

“Don’t forget,” Mal called after them, “rehearsal Monday night. See you
then!” He walked off with Paula, and Randy escorted Peggy, Amy, and
Greta back to the Gramercy Arms.



                                  III
                             First Reading


Peggy was at stage center, under a bright bank of floodlights. Amy
entered from stage right, crossed down center and turned her back to the
house to look upstage. She paused a moment before speaking.

Her position, back to the audience, would have been unforgivable if
there had been an audience, and her lines, when she spoke them, were
scarcely dramatic.

“You have paint on the side of your nose,” she said, “and there’s a rip
in the seat of your jeans. Now where I come from, no lady....”

“The same to you,” Peggy grinned, looking around from the flat she was
painting. “At least, the same to you as regards the paint on your nose.
I can’t see the seat of your jeans from here!”

Amy put down the bucket of paint that she had brought with her and
stepped back to the apron of the stage to get a better look at Peggy’s
handiwork. It was a small wing flat that was to represent the corner of
a frame house. A window frame had already been installed in it, and
later the suggestion of a back porch would be added. Peggy was busy with
the somewhat tedious work of painting clapboards on the flat canvas.
Each was made with two lines of gray paint drawn across the
white-painted surface; first a dark line, then a somewhat broader
light-gray line. From working distance, it looked like nothing but
striped canvas, but from a few feet away, the dimensional effect was
surprisingly real. Peggy joined Amy at the edge of the stage to get a
look at what she had been doing.

“It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?” she asked.

Amy nodded. “Keep it up, honey child, and you may find a real niche for
yourself in the theater!”

Laughing, the two friends worked together on the flat, each using one of
the shades of gray. The work went much faster now, which pleased Peggy,
because she didn’t want to leave the flat half-finished when it was time
for her to stop and go to her section of the readings.

In the early part of working on a play, the stage is seldom used. First
readings usually take place in small groups gathered in any convenient
spot, and it is not until the actors are fairly familiar with their
lines and with the way the director wants them read that the play begins
to take form on the stage. _Come Closer_ was in the earliest days of
rehearsal, and Mal was still in the first stages of familiarizing
himself with his cast and them with the play.

The Penthouse Theater was ideally suited for the work they were doing.
It was actually a very old theater which Peggy and Amy had discovered,
under exciting and mysterious circumstances, when they had first come to
New York and met Randy and Mal. The theater itself occupied the top
floor of an old loft building, and when Randy and Mal had leased it,
they had rented the whole building. Both the theater and the other
floors below it had seen much alteration since, and it was now a unique
actors’ workshop from top to bottom.

The boys had converted part of the loft space into compact apartments
for themselves, and other rooms into living quarters for young actors
whose rent, although low by city standards, was still enough to pay most
of the costs of operating the building. The ground floor had been turned
into a series of rehearsal studios, which, when not being used by Randy
and Mal for a current play of their own, were rented to other groups. In
its short time of operation, the Penthouse Theater had already become an
off-Broadway institution.

For Randy and Mal it had proved to be the best thing that had ever
happened to them. It not only gave them a theater in which they could
stage their productions, but it gave them enough income so that they no
longer had to work at other jobs while trying to pursue their careers in
the theater world.

Before, Randy had worked in small night clubs as a song-and-dance man—a
way of life for which he had the deepest contempt. Mal had been an actor
in movies and television where, because of his tough face, he had been
type-cast as a gangster. He not only didn’t like gangster roles, he
found it hard to get them because of the cultured English accent that
issued so surprisingly from that face. For both boys, the Penthouse
Theater meant a new life and new opportunity, doing Randy’s plays,
directed by Mal.

Peggy and Amy put the last touches on the clapboard wall, stepped back
to review the work, and smiled with satisfaction.

“It looks perfect,” Peggy said. “Now I just hope that we stretched the
canvas tight enough on the frame in the first place, so that it doesn’t
flutter if somebody bumps into it. If anything looks terrible, it’s a
clapboard wall that flutters!”

“I think it’s tight enough,” Amy said, “and besides, if it isn’t, it’s
too late to think about it now.”

“You’re right,” Peggy agreed. “Not only that, but I think it’s too late
to think about anything right now but my part. I’ve got to clean up and
be downstairs for a reading in five minutes. Do you want to keep working
here, or will you come down to hear us?”

“I’ve got to come to hear you,” Amy said, “whether I like it or not. Mal
asked me to work out the first go-round with you and make notes on the
script as we go. He’ll be in to hear you and the others in about an
hour.”

“Like it or not!” Peggy said in mock indignation. “What makes you think
there’s even a chance you won’t like it? I propose to be brilliant!”

Of course she knew better. Brilliance is not in the picture in these
early readings. A half hour later, in Studio 3, having gone once through
Act Two, Scene Two, she realized wryly just how far from brilliance they
were!

The play, which Randy described as a fantasy, or a “modern morality
play,” was not an easy one for the actors. The parts could, with too
broad a reading, descend into farce or, with not just the right quality
of the fantastic, slide off into dullness. The setting was a resort
which was, in actuality, a sort of rest home for wealthy people who
needed to get away from themselves for a while—or to find themselves.
The point of the play, which gradually emerged, was that each of the
characters had somehow led at least two distinct kinds of lives and had
found both of them unsatisfactory. All the people in the play were
trying, in whatever ways they could, to find some third or fourth kind
of life that might be more pleasant and satisfying than the last; all of
them were getting more confused every day they tried.

Peggy’s part, then, was not easy. She was playing the role of a young
girl of twenty-one who had been a very successful child movie star, but
who had not made a picture since she was twelve. Realizing that she was
through with show business, she had tried to pretend that she was just
an ordinary person who could live an ordinary life. She had gone through
college and started work as a secretary, keeping secret the fact that
she had been a movie star. But shortly before the play opens, she has
suddenly come into the fortune which she had earned as a child, but
which had been held in trust for her. The money confuses her, and the
publicity she gets when the story of the money comes out makes it
impossible for her to continue as a secretary.

The difficulty for Peggy was in making this character seem true and
alive. This meant that the personalities of an ex-child movie star, a
quiet, precise secretary, and a bewildered new heiress must all be
combined in one believable whole.

Each of the other actors had a similar problem of dual personality, and
they all had great difficulty not only in interpreting each role, but in
deciding how any two or more characters were to speak to each other.
Part of the point of the play, cleverly conceived and written by Randy,
was that each character brought out one special aspect of each other
character, so that Peggy had to act quite differently, almost minute by
minute, depending on whom she was speaking to.

Their first efforts in this reading were often so wrong as to be
hilarious. The scene included Peggy, Greta, the “businessman type” who
was an affable, charming man named Alan Douglas, and the comedian, a
roly-poly actor named Gil Mulligan. Their attempts at finding a suitable
kind of relationship for this scene were not very successful, and they
were so intent on establishing character that they often paid very
little attention to their lines, and garbled the words. To make matters
worse, Mulligan had a knack of taking each “fluff,” which is what actors
call a mistake, and carrying it on one step farther toward madness. When
Mal finally arrived to see how the group was doing, they were all
doubled up in helpless laughter.

When they had caught their breath, Amy tried to explain to Mal. “The
characters are so shifting,” she said, “that everybody’s confused about
how they’re supposed to act to whom. Or am I confusing it more? Anyway,
they’ve all been fluffing lines like mad.”

“Of course,” Mal said matter-of-factly. “Wrong approach, and all of you
should have known it. It’s far too early in the game to try to define
your characters. You have more than enough work to do in just getting
your lines down cold. What I want you to do for a while is just to go
over the lines and learn your cues. Read your parts straight. After
you’re easy in what you’re doing, we’ll work at establishing character
and shifting viewpoint and response. Besides—and pardon me if I sound
like a tyrannical director—I’d rather you wouldn’t play around with
character development when I’m not here. Now, have you read the scene
through yet?”

“Nearly,” Peggy answered, “if you can call what we’ve been doing a
reading. I don’t think any of us benefited much by it, though.”

“All right,” Mal answered. “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you start it
again from the top? I think we have time to go through it at least one
time, just to get the feel of it. Then you can all go off by yourselves
to learn your own sides.”

This time, with no worrying about character, the scene went smoothly.
Almost mechanically, Peggy thought. At first she could not understand
the point of having them all just sit around and read the words of the
scene to each other without any attempt at acting, but gradually she
began to appreciate the value of the method. As each one read in turn,
she discovered that every actor had his own personal style or rhythm of
reading, a rhythm which, by the end of the scene, she was beginning to
catch and anticipate. By the time they were done, she thought that she
could tell fairly accurately in advance how each would read his next
line. Now that they weren’t trying to make themselves fit the parts,
they fell easily into their own natural patterns of speech.

Things went much more quickly in this fashion, and they were able to run
through the scene twice before it was time to call a halt. The second
time around was much smoother, Peggy noticed, and as they worked, the
pattern of the scene and the interplay of the characters began to
emerge. When it was done, all the actors agreed that they now had a much
clearer idea of what they were doing, and would be better able to go
home and study their lines.

As they were on their way out, Peggy fell into step alongside Mal. “I
noticed that you didn’t say a word about how we should read,” she said,
“and I also noticed that the individual reading styles of the people
were pretty clear this time. Is that what you were after?”

“Exactly,” Mal said. “You’re catching on to the tricks pretty quickly,
Peggy. You see, a director has to work with actors, as well as with a
play. I can’t force anyone to fit precisely into my own preconceived
notions of a character, because if I tried, the performance would be
stiff and unnatural. What I have to do first is get to understand the
actors as they are, and then start building from there. That’s why a
Broadway play has a much better chance than an off-Broadway venture.
When you’re working with stars, you have known quantities—and
qualities—and you cast people who already correspond to your own vision
of the part. But when you have to work with unknown actors, you must
remember that they’re unknown to the director as well as to the
audience. Because of this, my first job is to get to know them as they
are, and to get the feel of each one’s natural way of reading a line.
Then I can build on that.”

“My, there sure are a lot of hidden problems in directing a play,” Amy
said. “I used to think of a director as a kind of wild-animal tamer,
standing in the middle of a ring of snarling actors with a whip and a
chair, and making them jump through hoops, but it’s more complicated
than that, isn’t it?”

Mal laughed. “The wild-animal trainer’s life isn’t so simple, either,”
he said with a mischievous grin. “After all, they have to understand the
psychology of lions and tigers, and that must be nearly as difficult as
understanding actors!”



                                   IV
                              A Shy Angel


Rehearsals had been going on for over a week now, and Peggy was feeling
strangely depressed.

The actors were learning their lines, all right, and cues were not being
missed too often, but somehow, the play showed no sign of coming
together as a whole. What seemed worse to her, the first attempts at
characterization were bad—shockingly bad—and did not correspond in the
least to her ideas about the play.

Unfortunately, neither Mal nor Randy, nor any of the cast did a thing to
cheer her up or make her feel that she might be wrong. Now it was nearly
midnight, and Peggy’s depression was deepened by a sheer physical
tiredness that was the result of working all day at the New York
Dramatic Academy and all night in the rehearsal studios at the Penthouse
Theater.

Peggy, Amy, and Greta, in mutual silent gloom, put on their coats and
prepared to go home to the Gramercy Arms. In the hallway, they saw Randy
and Mal, equally silent and equally gloomy, looking at each other
through a cloud of pipe smoke.

“Is it that bad?” Peggy said.

“It’s not good,” Randy said hollowly.

“I’m sure you’re overstating,” Greta said, in an attempt to cheer them
up. “I’ve seen rehearsals go a lot worse than this for a long time, then
suddenly pull into brilliant shape overnight. After all, it’s less than
two weeks, and it’s not as if this were a simple drawing-room comedy.
It’s a good play, and a complicated one, and it’s not the easiest thing
in the world to do....”

“It may be impossible to do,” Randy said. “But cheer up, girls. We
weren’t concerned about your acting. We’ve got other problems.”

“Not problems. Just problem,” Mal put in.

“What’s wrong?” Peggy asked. “Can you tell us, and is there anything we
can do?”

“You’re going to have to know sooner or later,” Randy answered, “so we
might as well tell you now. Come on in for a cup of coffee and we’ll
tell you all about it.”

Nothing more was said until the three girls were seated in Mal’s
comfortable living room upstairs. Then, while Mal was in the kitchen
getting the coffee ready, Randy told Peggy and the other girls what was
on his mind.

“It’s the age-old theater problem,” he sighed. “To put it in one word,
it’s money. I’m afraid we badly misjudged our budget for _Come Closer_,
and unless we can find a way to raise some more cash in a hurry, we may
have to close up shop.”

“But how can that be?” Amy said. “You were so sure that you had enough,
and it’s not as if this were a high-cost production with a lot of
costumes and expensive sets and all that—”

“No, that’s not it,” Randy said. “We figured the scenery and costumes
and lighting right down to the nickel. What threw us is the salary
expense, and a bad guess about the amount of rehearsal time we would
need.”

“My fault,” Mal said, as he came in from the kitchen, bearing a tray of
cups and saucers, sugar, cream, cookies and an enormous pot of coffee.

“Why do you say it’s your fault, Mal?” Peggy asked.

“I figured the rehearsal time into the budget, and I figured wrong. I
didn’t take into account just how difficult the play is to do, and I
should have known that we would need to go into extra weeks. Actually, I
think we’ll need at least three and maybe four more weeks of rehearsal
than I had first called for, and that’s a big hunk of salary money that
wasn’t figured in.”

“We have twelve actors, all working for minimum scale wages,” Randy
explained. “During the contracted rehearsal period, as you know, they
get paid half of scale. We put aside enough money to pay for that, plus
full scale for two weeks after opening. Unfortunately, when we go into
extra rehearsal weeks, we have to pay full scale for those, just as if
the play were open. What it means is that we’ll be short by about a
month’s full salary money, and although it doesn’t seem as if you’re
getting paid much, when you add it all up, it comes out to be quite a
sum.”

“Three thousand, seven hundred dollars, to be exact,” Mal said.

A moment of silence followed, while the girls took in this disturbing
new fact. They covered their distress by the routine of pouring coffee
and passing cream, sugar, and cookies.

“What about the original group of backers?” Peggy asked. “They already
have a good-sized investment to protect. Won’t they put up the extra
money just to keep from losing what they’ve already put in before the
play even opens?”

“I’ve already approached them,” Randy said, “and they all agree that it
makes sense to put up more money. Unfortunately, none of them has any
more to put in. I’m afraid that the only thing left to do is to find
more money from other people.”

“I should think it would be easier now than it was before,” Greta
observed. “After all, when you started, all you had was a script to
show. Now you have a cast and some scenery and—”

“And that’s all,” Mal interrupted.

“I don’t understand,” Amy said. “Why doesn’t that make it easier?”

“Because at this stage,” Mal explained, “a prospective backer would want
an audition—at least a home reading of the play, if not a stage
performance of a couple of scenes. And we’re not ready for that. You
know yourselves how the readings sound. That’s why we need more
rehearsal time and therefore more money. A backer’s audition at this
stage of the game would be a pure disaster.”

“Couldn’t we change the rehearsal schedule?” Peggy asked. “I mean, if we
all started working just on one particular scene, couldn’t we get it in
good enough shape to be heard in about a week’s time?”

“We probably could,” Mal answered, “but there are a few problems in
working that way. For one thing, we take a chance on throwing the whole
development of the play out of balance by perfecting one scene before
we’ve worked on the rest. My own method is to work slowly on all parts
at once, bringing them into focus at roughly the same time. The second
problem, a smaller one, is that by doing this at all, we let the cast
know that we’re in financial trouble. I’d rather avoid that, if we
could.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about that,” Peggy said. “I’ve gotten
to know them pretty well in this last week or so, and I don’t think
there’s one of them who would panic about money or refuse to go into the
extra rehearsal time and the auditioning. They’re a good group. Don’t
you think so?” She appealed to Greta and Amy.

“Absolutely,” Greta said firmly.

“I’m sure of it,” Amy agreed.

“Well, then! That ought to settle it!” Peggy said. “Now all you have to
do is find someone to audition for, and give us a week to get ready for
him!”

“I’ve got him,” Randy said quietly.

“You’ve what?” Peggy gasped.

“I’ve got him. I’ve got the man to audition for.”

“But ... but,” she sputtered. “How? And why were you so gloomy if you
have a good prospective backer?”

“I was gloomy because I hate to have to raise more money, not because I
didn’t think we could do it,” Randy explained. “And as for the backer—if
he turns out to be a backer and not just a prospect—I’ve had him from
the beginning. He’s a wealthy and important man, and although he’s crazy
enough to like to invest in plays, he’s cautious enough never to put up
a nickel unless he’s seen an audition he likes. I showed him the play
quite a few months ago and he said he liked it and was very interested,
but he wouldn’t put up any cash until I could show him a cast and have
them read. In a way, I guess he’s right. He claims that in off-Broadway
shows even more than on Broadway, the actors make the play. You can have
the best play in the world but a bad group of amateurs can ruin it, and
there’s always a chance of getting a group of amateurs when you put on a
play downtown. At any rate, he’s half-sold already, so I guess we have a
good chance of selling him all the way,” Randy finished.

“Who is he?” Peggy asked.

Randy hesitated. “He’s ... well, he’s a rich man who’s interested in the
theater,” he said awkwardly.

“We know that much,” Peggy replied, “but which rich man? What’s his
name?”

“Well—” Randy said, “it may sound peculiar, but I’d rather not say just
yet. You see, I can tell you this much about him, he’s a very important
sort of a man—a public figure, you might say—and I know how he hates
publicity of any sort. I spoke to him earlier this evening to see if
he’d be willing to come down for an audition, and he agreed, providing
we told nobody about it. It’s not that he’d mind having it known that
he’s invested in a play, after he decides to do it. But if it were to
get out that he was coming down here for a private audition, the
Penthouse Theater would be crawling with newspaper reporters and
photographers. Not only would he be bothered, but the publicity would
almost force him to invest, whether he wanted to or not.”

“Boy!” Peggy said in wonder. “He must be really important!”

“He is,” Randy said. “I wouldn’t be this secretive if he weren’t. You’ll
just have to go along with the game until next week. Then you’ll find
out who he is when he shows up.”

“You can trust us,” Amy said. “We wouldn’t breathe a word of it. And
besides, we don’t know any reporters!”

“I do,” Greta said. “And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t want to know any
secret. If it ever got out, I wouldn’t want to be among the suspected
leaks.”

“That’s just why I’m not telling anybody,” Randy agreed. “That way, if
anybody finds out he’s coming down here, it will have to be from one of
his associates, not from one of us.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Amy agreed ruefully. “But I can hardly wait
to find out what this is all about!”

“What scene are we going to do, Mal?” Peggy asked.

“I think the best one,” he replied, “would be Act Two, Scene Three. The
second-act curtain is really powerful, and besides, it’s Paula Andrews’
best scene. Not only that, but it brings most of the main characters
together at a time of crisis, when they can be understood without having
seen the rest of the play.”

“Most of the characters except me,” Peggy said. “Couldn’t you have
chosen something where I’m on stage?”

“Sorry, Peggy,” Mal said, “but this one really makes the most sense.”

“I suppose it does,” she agreed, “but I just hate to be so useless at an
important time like this.”

“Maybe you’ll be useless,” Mal answered, “but I’m going to see to it
that you won’t be idle. Since we don’t want anything to slip up, and
since Paula hasn’t been looking well lately, I want you to understudy
her part for this audition. Amy will understudy you, Greta. Some of the
other actors who aren’t on in that scene will back up other parts.
Nobody’s going to be left out of the preparation, even if everyone isn’t
actually used. In that way, the whole cast can get a chance to see how I
go about developing a complete scene, and maybe that will keep us from
throwing the development of the play off balance, which is what I’m
worried about.”

“It might even help,” Randy said hopefully.

“It might,” Mal said, looking completely unconvinced.

“Before you sink into that swamp of gloom again,” Peggy said with a
laugh, “I think that we’d better get going. Do you realize that it’s
almost one in the morning, and tomorrow I have a nine-o’clock class in
TV acting techniques? If I don’t get some sleep I’m going to be the only
out-of-focus actress in the picture!”

Quickly finishing their coffee, the girls put on their coats once more
and said good night to Randy and Mal. Mal, always thoughtful, insisted
on coming downstairs and seeing them into a taxi, so they wouldn’t have
to make their way home alone at that late hour.

“There’s only one thing now that worries me,” Peggy said to Amy and
Greta as they were being driven to the Gramercy Arms.

“What’s that?” Amy asked.

“The rest of the cast,” she answered. “We promised a lot of cooperation
from them, and the fact is that we hardly know them at all. I just hope
we were right!”



                                   V
                          An Unexpected Scene


Peggy had not been wrong. Far from grumbling about the extra weeks of
rehearsal, most of the actors were happy about being assured of the
additional pay. Of course there was the inevitable disappointment that
comes from the postponement of an opening night, but this did not seem
really to upset anyone. Most of the actors agreed that the extended
rehearsal time was needed, and everyone felt a relaxation of some of the
pressure under which they had been working.

Of course, the main question in the air was the identity of the secret
investor, but Randy maintained a stubborn silence on this score.

Peggy attended all of Paula’s rehearsals as well as separate readings of
Paula’s role for Mal. She wrapped herself so thoroughly in Paula’s part
that she nearly forgot her own, which was not difficult, since
rehearsals of all other scenes had been stopped.

Even her lunch hours at the Academy were spent studying Paula’s lines.

It was not an easy part at all. If the other characters had seemed
difficult because of their double or triple points of view, the leading
role was almost impossible. It had no point of view at all, and every
point of view imaginable!

                     [Illustration: Studying lines]

Paula was to play the part of the daughter of a pair of embittered
millionaire eccentrics who had withdrawn from society and had never
allowed their only child any contact with the world. She had been
educated by her mother and father and had grown to the age of
twenty-three without ever leaving their enormous estate. She had never
seen any adults except her parents and a few servants. Before the action
of the play, both of her parents have died within a few months of each
other, and the girl is suddenly left alone to cope with the problems of
existence in a world for which she is completely unprepared. Dazed both
by the loss of her parents and the new business of having to deal with
people, she decides to come to the rest home which is the scene of the
play, to slowly get used to her new position.

The principal difficulty of the role, Peggy saw, was quite the reverse
of the difficulty of the other parts. Instead of having been two or
three different people, this girl has never actually been anybody. As a
result, she reacts to each of the actors according to their characters
at the moment. And since each of them assumes many different roles,
depending on whom he is talking to, the girl is in complete confusion.

Listening to Paula read, Peggy was filled with admiration. Somehow, in
the short time in which the rest of them had been trying to grasp their
roles, Paula seemed to have mastered hers. Each time she slipped into a
new manner of speech and action, she gave the impression of doing so
with a mixture of eagerness and fear. As the pace quickened and the
characters and manners changed more rapidly, the balance between
eagerness and fear changed until, as the scene rose to its climax,
eagerness was replaced by hysteria, fear by terror. At the curtain,
Paula sobbed wildly as the characters around her shifted as swiftly as
the pieces in a kaleidoscope.

The whole group, including the usually taciturn Mal, broke into applause
for Paula, who managed to smile through the play-tears that she seemed
unable to control.

“We’ll have a fifteen-minute break,” Mal called. “Then, if Paula can
stand it, we’ll run through it again!”

As the actors stood up and stretched before drifting off to different
parts of the room to talk in groups of twos and threes, Peggy went to
Paula Andrews, still sitting in her straight chair.

“You were wonderful!” she said. “I feel like a fool understudying you!”

“Don’t be silly, Peggy,” Paula replied. “It’s not me. It’s the play.
Randy has written a marvelous role in Alison; it almost plays itself. If
you have to do it, I know you’ll do every bit as well.”

“I certainly won’t,” Peggy said, “but what worries me is that I may have
to try if you don’t take care of yourself. Paula,” she said in a softer
tone, “is there anything the matter? You haven’t been looking at all
well lately, and I’m worried about you. Is something wrong that I might
be able to help you with? If there is, I wish you’d tell me. You know
that I want to be your friend.”

Smiling wanly, Paula took Peggy’s hand. “Don’t worry about me,” she
said. “There’s nothing wrong. I guess I’ve just been working too
hard—at—at the department store, you know—and then at night with these
rehearsals. And the part is so demanding, and I’m so wrapped up in it—”
She stopped abruptly, as if on the verge of tears, but not acting tears
this time. Then she once more managed to smile. “Thank you, Peggy, but
you don’t have to worry. I’ll be perfectly all right.”

Peggy said nothing more. She had done all she could by offering to help,
and if Paula wouldn’t admit anything was wrong, there was nothing
further she could say. But Paula’s manner had convinced her that
something was very wrong indeed, something far more than a simple case
of overwork.

However, when Mal called the cast together again for a second reading of
the scene, all of Paula’s tiredness seemed suddenly to vanish. She drew
strength from some inner reserves and played with the same conviction
and brilliance as before. Even more, perhaps, Peggy thought.

Caught in the pace and rhythm of her reading, the rest of the cast took
hold and played up to her, shifting in and out of character with all the
timed precision of a complex machine. Once again the action built to the
climax, the tears, the curtain, and the applause. And once again Paula,
unable to stop the crying, went as limp and washed-out as a rag doll.

“That’s all for tonight,” Mal called. “But before you go, Randy has a
bit of a surprise for you.”

“As you know,” Randy began when the actors had formed a circle about
him, “tomorrow night is the audition performance. Our possible backer is
grateful for all the work you’ve done on this scene for him, and to show
his gratitude, he’s buying us all a good dinner first. So instead of
coming here, come to Paolo’s Restaurant on East 48th Street, to the
private dining room upstairs. See you there about six o’clock.”

Delighted with this gesture, the cast gathered their coats and hats and
prepared to leave. Peggy hesitated, looking at Paula, who was no longer
crying, but who still sat exhausted where she had finished the scene.

“Peggy,” Randy said, “will you take Paula home, please? She looks really
exhausted, and I don’t want her walking, so take a cab, and I’ll pay for
it.”

“That’s a good idea,” Peggy agreed. “I’ve been worried about her, too.
Maybe I can get her to tell me if something’s bothering her. I tried
once, but she didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe in the taxi,
though....”

Paula gladly accepted the lift but, though still friendly and warm, was
no more inclined to talk about her troubles, if any, than before. The
address she gave proved to be in a fine block of remodeled town houses
on East 36th Street, just a half block off Park Avenue—not at all the
sort of place where Peggy expected a department-store salesgirl to live.

Without inviting Peggy in, she thanked her for the ride, waved good-by,
and let herself in through a green-lacquered door with polished brass
fittings.

Puzzled and worried, Peggy leaned back in the taxi seat and gave the
driver the address of the Gramercy Arms.


Peggy had been in the crowded, brightly lighted, vaulted cellars of
Paolo’s before, on dates with Randy, but this was the first time she had
ever been in the private dining room. In fact, until now, she had not
even suspected that such a room existed. She could not have been more
astonished, then, to find that the restaurant occupied the entire
four-story building instead of just the basement.

A tiny automatic elevator, that had barely room enough for four
passengers squeezed together, carried Peggy and Amy to the top floor.
Although they were scarcely five minutes late, the rest of the cast had
already preceded them and were wandering about talking gaily and eating
appetizers from the long, beautifully decorated table that filled one
end of the room. Peggy spotted Paula, eating hungrily and, between
bites, talking with animation to Greta and Alan Douglas. She looked much
better than she had the night before, and Peggy felt a sense of relief.
Maybe she had been making too much of just a normal case of tiredness.

Randy and Mal came hurrying over to take the girls’ coats and to lead
them into the room, which they showed off as if they owned it.

“This is just the lounge,” Randy said, waving his hand to indicate the
laden table, the fine paneling, the handsome chandeliers. “Wait till you
see the dining room!”

Leading Amy and Peggy to the other side of the little entry hall that
separated the two rooms, Randy opened the door of the dining room to let
them get an advance look. The room was dominated by the biggest circular
table that any of them had ever seen—with ample room for place settings
for fourteen. The center of the huge table was filled with a low floral
centerpiece, punctuated by dozens of tall, thin candles.

The heavily beamed ceiling sloped sharply upward from a row of six
dormer windows facing a courtyard. On the high wall opposite was an
enormous fireplace whose blaze was reflected in the bright crystal and
silver on the table.

Dazzled by the setting, the girls allowed themselves to be led back to
the lounge to help themselves to appetizers. Giant cheeses of all shapes
alternated with towering bowls of apples and oranges in the center of
the table, while at the foot of these mountains were platters of smoked
fish, caviar, sliced cheeses, spiced Italian ham sliced so thin as to be
almost transparent, orderly rows of crackers, baskets of sliced bread
and rolls, bunches of grapes, bowls of black and green olives, slivers
of smoked turkey and brilliant platters of sliced tomatoes. And
surrounding it all were the actors, airing their manners like the
traditional strolling players invited to a baronial feast, behaving
grandly as if they ate this way every day in the week!

Laughing at the sight, Peggy happily helped herself to some of the more
exotic foods, wisely conserving her appetite. After all, if these were
just the appetizers, whatever would dinner be like?

An hour and a half later, contentedly sighing as the waiter poured a
second cup of coffee, Peggy was glad that she had saved a little
appetite. Otherwise she might never even have tasted it all! Dinner,
from the delicate clear soup, to the lobster Newburg, the tiny green
peas with pearl onions, the crackling thin julienne potatoes, the crisp,
herb-tinged salad, and the sweet-sour key lime pie, had been a sheer
delight.

Now, while everyone was resting over coffee and quiet conversation,
Randy stood up to speak. He tapped gently on his glass with a spoon, and
the crystal rang like a clear, thin bell. The cast members turned their
attention to him.

“I think that you would like to know now whom to thank for this
wonderful dinner,” he said. “I’m allowed to tell you all at this point,
because we’re going straight from here to his house for the reading. It
seems that the gentleman has several other appointments, and can’t allow
himself time to come down to the theater, but he does want to hear the
reading, so we’re bringing the theater to him, from eight to
nine-thirty. Now, not to keep you in suspense any longer, I’ll tell you
his name: Sir Brian Alwyne, Special British Representative to the United
Nations!”

A murmur of surprise went up around the table as the actors turned to
each other to comment on this distinguished man’s interest in their
play, and to speculate on the experience of acting in his home. But,
looking from face to face, Peggy noted, with surprise, Paula’s peculiar
expression. She had gone pale and white as the table linen, and her face
was drawn. One hand, held to her mouth, was trembling. Suddenly she
stood up, bunching the tablecloth in a tight grip.

“No!” she cried. “No! I won’t! I won’t act in his house!”

A shocked silence gripped the room as everyone turned to stare at her.

“But, Paula, I don’t understand....” Mal began. “What does it matter if
it’s in his house instead of in the theater? I think you’re being—”

“No!” she said again tensely. “You don’t understand. Of course you
don’t. But”—she paused and looked about her in bewilderment—“I’m sorry,”
she said abruptly, then turned and ran from the room.

          [Illustration: Paula turned and ran from the room.]

Before Mal and Randy could recover their senses sufficiently to run
after her, she had grabbed her coat from the startled cloakroom
attendant and run down the stairs. They could hear her heels clattering
more than a floor below.

Randy started after her, but Mal restrained him.

“No use, old chap,” he said. “I don’t know what’s got into her, but
whatever it is, she’s not going to act tonight. And as far as I’m
concerned,” he added grimly, “I don’t care if she never acts again. If
there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s temperament. Forget it. Peggy will
do the role, and she’ll do it well.”



                                   VI
                           Two Acts of Faith


Jittery though they all were after this startling experience, the
audition went off with surprising smoothness. Sir Brian, a handsome
gentleman with beautiful manners, received them cordially, allowed them
to rearrange his drawing room, and made them feel thoroughly at home.

Peggy, though feeling too dazed at Paula’s behavior to be really aware
of what she was doing, somehow turned in a fine performance. But even as
she was acting to the climax of the scene she was aware that she was not
so much playing the character of Alison as she was playing Paula’s
version of Alison.

At the scene’s end, Sir Brian and Lady Alwyne applauded
enthusiastically, complimented Peggy especially, and thanked the company
for their trouble in preparing the scene and coming uptown to act it.

“It was most good of you,” Sir Brian exclaimed to Randy. “And I must
compliment you on having found a company that does justice to your
splendid play. And by the way,” he added in a quieter voice, “my check
for five thousand dollars will be in the mail tomorrow.”

“Five thousand?” Randy asked, startled. “But that’s really more than we
need, sir.”

“Nonsense,” Sir Brian said firmly. “There’s no such thing as too much
money. You can use the extra for a little more advertising than you had
planned, or for an extra bit of scenery or something. Now, I don’t like
to hurry you along, but you really must excuse me if....”

Thanking him profusely, Randy rounded up the cast, let them know the
good news, and hurried them out. Only the cold bite of the night wind
off the East River convinced him that the whole evening had not been
some sort of fantastic dream, engendered by an overheated imagination.

“The whole evening!” he said to Peggy, who was walking arm-in-arm with
him a few paces behind Mal and Amy. “Everything about it seems
completely unlikely!”

“I know,” she agreed. “That fantastic spread at Paolo’s ... the peculiar
business with Paula ... Sir Brian and Lady Alwyne, looking like a movie
Lord and Lady sent in from Central Casting ... and then a check for five
thousand dollars! It’s almost too much to believe!”

“What do you think about Paula?” Randy asked. “Have you any idea what
could have been behind that outburst of temperament?”

“I don’t know,” Peggy said, “but I don’t think that temperament is the
word to describe it. You know yourself that she’s not a prima donna
type. She’s always cooperative, works hard at rehearsals, takes every
direction that Mal gives her.... No. I know she’s not a temperamental
person. This is something else; something we haven’t any idea about. But
whatever it is, I think she’s in some kind of trouble, and I want to
help her if I can.”

“Mal says he doesn’t want to have her in the show any more,” Randy said.
“He told me he thinks you can do a good job in the part. If you just
forget about Paula, you can have the role.”

“Randy!” Peggy said in a shocked voice. “Paula’s my friend, and I want
to help her, not steal parts from her! And besides, I couldn’t possibly
do Alison as well as she does. You saw for yourself tonight that I
wasn’t creating a role. I was imitating a role. Paula’s a far better and
more finished actress than I’ll be for many years, if ever, and I think
that we owe it to your play to get her back, if she’ll come.”

“And if Mal will have her,” Randy added.

“And if she’s all right,” Peggy mused. “Randy, I’m really worried about
her. Let me go talk to her right now for a half hour or so, and I’ll
join you three for coffee after. When I’ve spoken to her, I’ll have a
better idea, I know, about whether or not we can count on her. Leave it
to me, will you, Randy?”

Randy walked along in silence for a moment before replying. “All right,”
he said. “I’m perfectly willing to trust your judgment, and I know that
Mal will give every consideration to what you say. I guess it is a good
idea for someone to go see her now. Whatever’s wrong with her, she’s
gone through a bad evening and can use a friend.”

After catching up with Amy and Mal and explaining what Peggy wanted to
do, they arranged to meet at Dodo’s Coffeehouse downtown. Randy hailed a
cab and helped Peggy in. “I think you’re right about Paula,” he said
before closing the door. “And I’m glad you want to help her. Good luck!”

At 36th Street, Peggy dismissed the cab, sure that she would find Paula
at home. She pushed the button marked “ANDREWS” and waited a moment
until the little speaker crackled and Paula’s voice, sounding tired and
far away, answered, “Who is it?”

“It’s Peggy Lane. May I come up to see you?”

A moment’s hesitation, and then, “All right. Third floor rear.” A buzzer
sounded in the green door, and Peggy let herself in.

Going up in the little elevator, Peggy wondered again how Paula could
afford to live in such an elegant place. She had some idea of the rents
in these well-maintained remodeled buildings, and also some idea of what
a salesgirl in a department store earned. “Well, it’s none of my
business,” she told herself. “Maybe someone left her an income or
something. Or maybe her parents pay the rent for her. But that’s not
what I’m here to find out.”

Paula, looking more pale, drawn, and tired than Peggy had ever seen her
before, opened the door and motioned Peggy in. The apartment, obviously
rented furnished, was comfortable enough, but almost without
personality, like a hotel room. It consisted of one bedroom-sitting
room, a compact kitchenette and a bath. The only sign that anyone lived
in it was a small collection of books, no more than a dozen, on a shelf.

“Sit down, Peggy,” Paula said formally. Then, as if she were asking
about some event that didn’t concern her at all, but asking only out of
politeness, she said, “And how did the audition go? Were you good? And
did Sir Brian invest in the play?”

“It went very well,” Peggy said gloomily, “considering that it was me
and not you. Sir Brian is putting five thousand dollars into the
production.”

“Then I guess I’m fired,” Paula said, in the same lifeless tone.

“You don’t have to be,” Peggy said. “If you can only explain—or just
convince Mal and Randy in some way that it won’t happen again—I know
they want you back!”

“That’s nice of you, Peggy,” Paula said, “but I can’t explain. And
there’s no point in my trying to. No, the part is yours.”

“But I don’t want it!” Peggy said earnestly. “I’d never have been able
to play that scene if I hadn’t seen you do it so often! All I was doing
was a fair imitation. You’ve got to come back and do the part!”

“Peggy,” Paula said with sudden intensity, “it’s not a question of my
wanting to come back and do the part or not. It’s a question of being
accepted back. Of course I want to do it! But Mal and Randy have to make
the decision that they’re willing to let me come back after the terrible
way I acted this evening.”

“If you could just tell them why—” Peggy began.

“I can’t. Honestly, I can’t,” Paula interrupted. “I would if I could,
but if they’re going to take me back, it can’t depend on an explanation.
They’ll just have to do it on faith—and on my promise that nothing like
this will happen again. That’s the only assurance I can give them.”

“Are you so sure it won’t?” Peggy asked. “I mean, it was such an
emotional outburst, you hardly seemed to know what you were saying. How
can you be positive that you won’t fly off again like that? I don’t mean
to be hard on you, but they have to know.”

“All I can say, Peggy,” Paula answered, “is that as long as the
rehearsals are as private as they have been, and as long as Sir Brian
doesn’t come around the theater till opening night, I’ll be all right.”

“And after opening night?” Peggy pursued.

“Oh, once we open, I don’t care who comes!” Paula said. “In fact, all I
want is to have the whole world come to see us!”

“Well,” Peggy said after a moment’s reflection, “I’m convinced that
you’ll be all right, and I’ll do what I can to convince the boys. But I
won’t mention what you said about Sir Brian not coming around. It’ll
just sound peculiar, and I’m sure he won’t come anyhow, he’s so busy.
We’ll be lucky if he even comes to a performance.”

“Thanks, Peggy,” Paula said warmly. “Thank you so much for your faith in
me. You’re a wonderful friend. And I know you’ll convince the boys! I’ll
call you in the morning to find out, all right?”

“Fine. Meanwhile you’d better get a good night’s sleep. You look as if
you need some rest. We’ve all been worried about your health. I’ll see
you tomorrow at the theater, I’m sure!”

The whole visit with Paula had taken only fifteen minutes, and Peggy
arrived at Dodo’s Coffeehouse only a minute after the others, who had
taken a bus. She sat down and looked in silence at the three expectant
faces that confronted her.

“You look like baby birds,” she laughed, “waiting for a worm!”

“How’s Paula?” Amy asked. “Is she all right?”

“Yes, she’s all right,” Peggy replied, “and I think she’ll be all right
for the rest of the play, too, if you’ll have her back, Mal. The only
thing that troubles me is that she can’t—or won’t—explain what happened
to her tonight. She wants to be in the play, but she says that if you
want her, you’ll just have to take her back on faith.”

“Is that all?” Mal asked.

“That and her promise that it won’t happen again,” Peggy answered. “I
know it sounds pretty unreasonable, but, Mal, I really believe she knows
what she’s saying, and that she’ll be okay. I don’t know what’s wrong,
but as I told Randy, I’m sure she’s in some kind of trouble, and if she
is, we shouldn’t make it worse. I think we ought to try to help her in
whatever way we can. Maybe if we trust her, and show her that we do by
taking her back, she’ll get to trust us, and tell us what’s wrong.
Anyway, I think that we should take the chance.”

“How about you, Amy?” Mal asked.

“I agree with Peggy,” she said.

“Randy?”

“I’m for taking her back. If not on her own word, then on Peggy’s. And
besides, I think everybody ought to have a second chance.”

“All right,” Mal said. “I don’t want to hold out against the rest of
you. She’s back. Peggy, do you want to be the one to tell her?”

“She’s going to call me in the morning to find out,” Peggy answered.

“Good,” Mal said. “And while you’re at it, tell her she’d better start
reading up on the whole play again, with special attention to Act One,
Scene Three. That’s what we’re starting on in the next rehearsal
tomorrow night.”

That settled, they turned their attention to coffee and cake, and their
conversation to the five-thousand-dollar investment and what they would
do with it—as if, Peggy thought, it had been the least important part of
the busy evening’s events!



                                  VII
                            An Intermission


It was a good thing, Peggy thought, that she was going to the New York
Dramatic Academy and not to a more conventional kind of school. Mr.
Macaulay, the director of the Academy, approved of his students’ taking
part in off-Broadway plays, and made certain concessions to those who
were doing so, such as excusing them from school plays. While this
eliminated the necessity of learning the lines of two plays at once, and
also gave Peggy more free time than the other students, it did not
excuse her from her regular school work.

She attended classes in History of the Theater, Elizabethan Playwrights,
Restoration Drama, Acting for the Camera, Ballet and Modern Dance, and
Make-up Techniques.

It was a full schedule all by itself.

But, of course, it wasn’t all by itself. Classes filled the day from
nine in the morning till three in the afternoon, and rehearsals began at
six in the evening at the Penthouse Theater and ran on to midnight. On
Saturdays, rehearsals and scene painting and construction filled the day
from nine to six. This grueling schedule left Peggy only three hours
each day to study for her classes at the Academy and to learn her lines
for _Come Closer_, and practically no time except Sundays for such
things as hair washing, personal laundry, letter writing and all the
other things that usually seem to take no time at all because they are
spread through the week.

Sometimes she wondered how she would ever do it all. But other times she
wondered how she could ever again enjoy a life that was less full, less
active, less exciting. She was very busy, and very, very happy.

Now it was a few minutes past six on a Saturday evening, and she and Amy
were carefully washing the paint from their hands and faces. Peggy
leaned across the basin, very close to the mirror, for a minute
inspection, found one last little spot of green on the lobe of her ear,
and carefully removed it.

“I think I’m all clean,” she said. “How about you?”

“Just a few more spots,” Amy answered. “Then I’ll inspect you and you
inspect me.”

“Oh, we don’t need to be that thorough,” Peggy said. “If we hurry, we’ll
have plenty of time for baths at home before the boys come to pick us
up.”

“I would surely like to know what you call plenty of time,” Amy laughed.
“The boys are coming for us in two hours, and we have to face the
Saturday night line-up at the bathrooms, which can be worse than waiting
for tickets at a World Series game!”

“No, the worst is over by now,” Peggy said. “I happen to know that
Irene, the Beautiful Model, has a date picking her up at six-thirty,
which means that she’s climbing out of the tub right now. Greta is
staying home tonight, which means she’ll let us have the bath first. Dot
is out of town, so that just leaves us, Gaby and Maggie to share the two
baths. I think we’ll make it!”

“You have it planned like a general!” Amy said. “I salute you.”

“Right down to the camouflage!” Peggy laughed in answer. “Mine is the
dark blue cocktail dress. What are you wearing to divert the troops?”

“A print,” Amy said, with an unusual air of decision for a girl who
could never make up her mind about what to wear until the last possible
minute. “The only thing I haven’t decided yet,” she added, “is whether
to wear my print with the three-quarter sleeves, or yours with the cap
sleeves, or Maggie’s sleeveless chiffon. What do you think?”

“Why not wear any one of them, and take the other two in a little
suitcase?” Peggy teased. “Then you can change during the evening and
keep us in a constant state of surprise!”

By this time, they had finished washing, had changed from their
stagehands’ coveralls, and were dressed to go. They found Greta waiting
for them in the little lobby downstairs, and the three set off for the
Gramercy Arms.

“How did your rehearsal go today, Greta?” Peggy asked.

“Fine,” Greta said, but her tone was a little doubtful.

“Is something wrong?” Amy asked.

“No. Not exactly, that is. The scenes we were working on are shaping up
very well, but all of us are still a little worried about Paula. Not
about her acting,” she added hurriedly. “We think she’s just wonderful.
It’s ... well, it’s something else.”

“You’re not still worried about last week, are you?” Peggy asked. “I
mean about that scene at Paolo’s? If you are, I’m sure that—”

“No, it’s not that,” Greta said. “We’re all convinced that whatever it
was that caused that blowup, it won’t happen again. She’s not at all a
temperamental person. No, we’re worried about her health. At least I
am.”

“So am I,” Peggy confessed. “Amy and I were talking about it today. She
looks so drawn and pale and ... tense. I’ve tried to speak to her about
it, but she just refuses to admit that there’s anything wrong.”

“That’s the way she’s been with all of us,” Greta said. “She insists
it’s just our imaginations, and that she never felt better. Or she says
that it’s a case of character identification, and she’s beginning to
look like the part she’s playing. But if that’s true, then she’s the
best actress in the history of the theater.”

“Which she may well be,” Peggy said loyally. “But even if she is, I
don’t think that’s the cause.”

“Since there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it,” Amy
commented, “I think the best thing to do is to leave her alone and not
bother her by asking about it. If she wants help, she knows we’re her
friends.”

“I guess so,” Peggy agreed reluctantly. “Still, I’m worried.”

They continued home in a rather troubled silence.

            [Illustration: Preparing for an evening’s date]

Peggy’s planned attack on the bathtubs worked out just perfectly, and
the two friends had plenty of time to prepare themselves for the
evening’s date. The comforting dip in the hot tub and the change to
their best party clothes (or, rather, Peggy’s best party clothes, since
Amy elected to wear her print dress) served to change their mood as
well. By the time that Randy and Mal rang at the door, Peggy and Amy
were ready and waiting, in a cheerful mood of anticipation.

This was the first time that they had taken a real night off for over a
month, and they were all looking forward to an enjoyable evening, free
of the worries of the production. After a few minutes devoted to
discussion, they decided to go for a drive into Westchester County for
dinner and dancing in the country. All agreed that if they were trying
to get their minds off the play, the best thing to do was to get out of
the city, with its permanent air of show business.

It was a clear and starry night that had mixed in it the elements of two
seasons—the end of winter and the first hint of spring. The stars were
as hard and bright as in winter’s clear skies, but the air was almost
soft, and the trees silhouetted against the pale sky, though still bare
of leaves, were fuller in the bareness than they had been a week before;
the buds on the branch tips were swollen, nearly ready to burst into
little green flags.

Randy’s car, an old, but still elegant English convertible sedan, purred
smoothly through the countryside. Peggy, settled comfortably in the deep
leather seat, felt as if she were already a thousand miles away from New
York, the theater, and her hard week’s work.

Randy drove with skill and confidence, and in far less time than they
had thought possible, they were pulling into the driveway of a low stone
restaurant with a slate-shingled roof, screened from the road by
evergreens and shrubbery. The restaurant overhung a little lake in whose
still surface its lights were reflected.

Inside, in a low room illuminated only by candles, a small orchestra was
playing quiet dance music, and a few couples drifted about the floor. A
courteous headwaiter, after checking their names on the list of
reservations, led them to a small room containing only about a dozen
tables. Their table was at the side of the room, by a picture window
overlooking the lake, which could be seen, dark and bright, through the
reflections of themselves and the swaying flames of the candles on their
table.

“A thousand miles away,” Peggy was thinking. “No, a million miles!” as
the conversation, as light and pleasant and unimportant as the music,
went on. They were talking about the charming restaurant, the
countryside, and the pleasures of getting out of the city.

“We’ll have to come here in summer,” Randy was saying. “They have little
boats on the lake and you make them go with paddlewheels worked with a
kind of hand crank. They have fringed canvas awnings on top, and
cushioned seats to lean back in. The lake is bigger than it looks, and
has lots of pretty coves and inlets, and even a landscaped island up at
the far end. It’s a nice place to drift around.”

With a little twinge of feeling that she did not care to examine too
closely, Peggy found herself wondering whom Randy had rowed around the
lake, but she quickly put the thought out of her mind. She had no right
to think about things like that, she told herself. Her relationship with
Randy was ... well, it was what it was.

Peggy had no desire to be serious, except about the theater. And even
the theater, she thought, should stay in the background tonight. She and
the others had been living nothing but theater lately, and it was good
for them to sit in this cozy, candlelit room and talk about things that
didn’t matter; things like the coming of spring, rowing on the lake, or
what to have for dinner.

But keeping actors from talking about the theater is as hopeless as
trying to keep the tide from coming in. No matter what they start to
talk about, it always ends up on stage. If the conversation is about
books, somebody soon mentions a book that was made into a play, and
they’re off again in stage talk. If the conversation is even about
something as far removed from the theater as, say, sailboat racing,
sooner or later somebody will be reminded of a sailor who wrote a play,
or was an actor, and ... on stage.

Tonight was no exception, and by the time they were on their main course
of rare, tender steaks with Idaho potatoes, buttered peas and green
salad with Roquefort dressing, the talk had quite naturally drifted onto
the inevitable subject.

“Are you satisfied with the way the play is developing, Mal?” Randy
asked. “Does the cast live up to your hopes?”

“It’s going well,” Mal answered, with his usual English reserve. “My
worries about making the development lopsided by working out one scene
so thoroughly for the audition have proven to be groundless. If
anything, I think it was a good experience for us all. We learned, under
the most intense conditions, how to work together. We learned to respect
each other, too, and that’s probably the most important thing that can
happen to a company.”

“How about Paula?” Peggy asked.

“A wonderful actress,” Mal said with unusual enthusiasm. “I wonder where
she learned it all. Even a natural talent like hers isn’t all natural,
you know. Somewhere along the line, she had first-rate instruction.”

“She said something to me about coming from California and doing some
little-theater things there,” Peggy said, “but she was rather vague
about it, and I got the feeling that she wouldn’t welcome any
questions.”

“She’s rather vague about everything,” Randy said, “except her acting
ability. That’s as clear as can be.”

“I wonder where she played in California,” Mal said. “I have the feeling
that I’ve seen her somewhere before, and I may have run across her when
I was out in Hollywood. I know she looks familiar, at any rate.”

“She didn’t say,” Peggy replied. “All she told me was California, and I
know it’s a big state. I suppose it might have been in the north, around
San Francisco, but somehow I have the impression it was Los Angeles.
Maybe that’s just because I only think of Los Angeles when I think of
the acting business and California.”

“Why are you so anxious to know?” Amy asked Mal.

Taken aback a little, Mal hesitated before answering. “I’m not actually
anxious to know about her,” he said at last. “For my purposes as a
director I already know all I need to—that she’s a splendid actress.
It’s just that such secretiveness as hers always inspires a little
corresponding curiosity.”

“Well, frankly, I am curious,” Peggy said. “But I’m not as curious about
her past as I am about her present. What worries me is her health.
Haven’t you all noticed how pale she looks, and how thin and drawn she’s
getting?”

“I have noticed her condition, of course,” Mal said with concern, “and
I’ve asked her about it, as you have. She only says that I’m not to
worry, and that she’ll be all right for the opening.”

“Well, I hope she knows what she’s doing,” Randy said. “I’d hate to have
her get ill now, and have to start training a replacement. Besides,
where would we get someone as good as....” He looked at Peggy and
reddened.

“Oh, Randy,” she laughed, “you don’t have to be embarrassed about
telling the truth. I know I’m not nearly as good as Paula, and you all
know it, too. Though it’s very sweet of you to try to pretend that I am.
But I didn’t walk away from the part just because I’m a nice girl and
wanted to help Paula. I’m too much of an actress to be entirely
unselfish when it comes to a good role! No, I just knew it was meant for
her, and it was more than I could handle.”

Since, out of honesty, nobody wanted to contradict her, and out of
embarrassment, nobody wanted to agree, an awkward little silence fell
over the table. It lasted for only a moment, though, until Randy broke
it by asking Peggy if she would like to dance. She nodded happily,
relieved, and Mal and Amy followed them into the next room where the
band was playing.

Randy was a wonderful dancer, having performed professionally as a
song-and-dance man for some time, and Peggy felt that she herself never
danced as well as when she was with him. Once again, the theater and its
worries, Paula Andrews and her mysterious trouble, faded into the
background as Peggy and Randy drifted slowly and easily about the
polished floor.

Once again, the conversation turned light and pleasant and far removed
from their everyday problems, and the candlelit restaurant seemed to
Peggy to be a thousand miles removed from everything real.

But when it came time to leave, and when the car was once more purring
along the road, the thousand-mile distance shrank to its true
proportions of perhaps thirty-five miles. And every mile they drove
brought them closer again to the busy, theatrical city, where even
Randy’s good-night kiss at the doorstep could not remove from Peggy’s
mind a sense of tension and trouble to come.

What the trouble might be, she could not say. What the tension’s cause
was, she did not know. But surely at the center of it was the pale and
sensitive face of Paula Andrews.



                                  VIII
                              Curtain Fall


“No, not that way, Greta,” Mal called from his seat in the orchestra.
“Don’t sit down as if you knew the chair was there and as if you knew
exactly what kind of a chair it was. I want you to give the impression
of being unsure of yourself and your surroundings. Before you sit, look
behind you quickly—maybe even touch the top of the chair—_then_ sit
down.”

“But, Mal,” Greta said, coming to the apron of the stage to talk to him,
“I’ve already used this chair earlier in the act, and I should be
familiar with it by now. If I do it this way, isn’t it just going to
look like an awkward piece of acting?”

“No,” Mal said. “When you used it before, it was when you were in a
different personality mood, remember? This little difference will help
to establish the change in your personality. It’s a small thing, and the
audience may not even be aware of it consciously, but it’ll help to form
the impression I want them to get. Try it, anyway, and I’ll see how it
looks from out front.”

Greta agreed, and returned to the wings to pick up her entrance cue
again. This time, when she entered, it was as if she had not been on
stage before at all. She crossed unsurely to stage center to exchange a
few lines with Alan Douglas and, when she was asked to sit down, turned
a little, as Mal had told her, reached out a tentative hand to touch the
back of the chair—but withdrew it before she touched it, and then
swiftly sat down.

“Like that?” she asked Mal.

“Just like that,” he answered with satisfaction. “That chair bit is the
give-away, and it’s perfect. I like your not quite touching it. Keep it
in! Now let’s take it from there, Alan.”

Peggy waited in the wings for her own entrance cue. This time she was to
come on aggressively, as the pampered ex-child movie star, to play
against Greta’s shy confusion. In their previous exchange, Peggy had
been quiet, well-mannered, even subservient in her character of
plain-Jane secretary, for Greta had been acting the crisp, assured
businesswoman.

Waiting, she watched with fascination how the play was taking shape.
This evening was the first time they had been allowed to run through the
entire play from beginning to end. The first time they had tried it,
everyone could see how much work needed to be done, how shaky the whole
structure was. But this time, the second of the evening, Mal had already
done much to establish character and to direct movement on stage, and
the production was gradually achieving a vitality of its own.

It was late, and everyone was tired, but they had all decided to finish
their second run-through of the evening anyway, feeling that they would
gain more from doing it all at once. At the rate they were going, it
would be after one o’clock before they were through, and two o’clock
before most of them were in their beds.

Peggy heard her cue lines coming up, and she got ready. At the right
moment, she entered the stage with a kind of athletic bound, swinging an
imaginary tennis racket. She tossed the “racket” (she would have one in
the play) at the “couch” (a row of three chairs, at present) and perched
on the edge of a table.

“My travel agent said that this place was different,” she said
contemptuously, “and I guess it is, if different means dead.”

“Don’t take it quite so heavy, Peggy,” Mal called out. “You shouldn’t be
so much disgusted with the place as you are, really, with yourself. You
know that no matter how good it really might be, it wouldn’t suit you,
because nothing ever does. Make the expression more regretful than
contemptuous. And for the same reason, tone down your entrance a
little.”

Peggy nodded to show her understanding, and went back to the wings
again.

The scene, when played, would last only about five minutes, but Mal was
hard to please and would let nothing pass. By the time it was over, the
rehearsal of it had taken forty minutes and Peggy was glad to make her
exit and sit down on a box near the switchboard where she could watch
the next scene.

This one would go smoothly, she knew. It was the scene they had worked
on for the audition at Sir Brian Alwyne’s, and although they had not
worked out their stage movements as yet, the cast already had developed
pace and rhythm.

Paula’s entrance, bewildered, awkward and eager to please, was perfect.
She was as graceful and appealing as a doe. One by one, the other actors
came on, each in turn trying to find some point of contact with her,
each trying to please her. And as each failed, he went off, to return
again in another mood or personality. The pace quickened. Paula’s
confusion grew greater. The tension she projected was communicated to
everyone present, those on stage and those in the wings or in the
orchestra seats watching, as it would be to the audience. The second act
was approaching its emotional crisis, uninterrupted by Mal, who sat as
if entranced, on the edge of his seat.

Finally, at precisely the right moment, when it could go on not one
moment more without shattering, the tension broke in a flood of emotion.
Paula dropped to her knees in tears, then sank in a heap on the floor,
sobbing. The scene was over. The actors turned expectantly to Mal,
waiting for his comments, his praise.

But Paula did not rise, and she was not sobbing any longer.

Peggy realized in a flash that this was not like some of the previous
rehearsals where Paula had been unable to stop the flood of stage tears
that she had so skillfully built up to. This was different.

She rushed out on stage to where Paula lay huddled in a pool of light,
and knelt by her side to shake her gently, but Paula did not move. Peggy
turned her over and motioned the rest of the cast to move back. Paula
lay pale and limp beneath the floodlights. She was breathing in quick
uneven gasps.

                     [Illustration: She’s fainted!]

“She’s fainted,” Peggy announced. “Somebody call a doctor!”

But Paula’s eyes flickered open, and she said in a weak voice, “No. Just
take me home, please, Peggy. I’m ... I’m sorry. But I’ll be all right. I
just want to go home now.” She closed her eyes again.

“What do you think?” Peggy asked Mal, who by this time had reached her
side. “Shall I take her home, or call a doctor?”

“I think you can get her home before we could persuade a doctor to come
down to this half-deserted neighborhood,” Mal said. “Why don’t you take
her home and make her comfortable? We’ll get a cab, and I’ll go with you
to carry her in case she faints again. Meanwhile, Randy can call a
doctor and have him go directly to Paula’s apartment.”

“No,” Paula protested, “I don’t need a doctor. I’ll be all right once
I’m home. There’s nothing really wrong with....” She tried to sit up,
and with the effort fainted once more.

“Come on,” Mal said. “Get your coat, Peggy. Alan! Will you go out after
a cab, please? Randy, call the doctor right away! Everybody else, go on
home. Rehearsals are over for tonight. See you all tomorrow, same time.”

This time Paula did not come out of her faint until they were nearly at
her house. She made no attempt to talk, or even to protest when Mal
carried her from the taxi. When they had her upstairs, lying on the
daybed, Mal turned to leave.

“I don’t think I’d better stay,” he said, “but the doctor ought to be
here any minute. You’ll stay with her, won’t you, Peggy, until you find
out from him what’s wrong?”

“Of course,” Peggy said. “And if it’s not too late, I’ll call you when I
leave. Otherwise, I’ll let you know in the morning. Good night, Mal, and
thanks for your help.”

“Yes, thank you, Mal,” Paula said weakly, with a small smile. Then, once
again, she closed her eyes.


It had not taken the doctor long to diagnose Paula’s condition. Peggy
had gone out to fill the prescription, and was now busy preparing it. It
was some chicken soup, toast and tea, to be followed in the morning with
a light breakfast, then a good, hearty lunch.

“I can’t understand why you didn’t tell me about it,” Peggy said. “You
know I would have loaned you some money. It’s just ridiculous for anyone
to go hungry when she has friends! You can’t imagine how shocked I was
when the doctor said that you were suffering from malnutrition, and that
you didn’t seem to have eaten anything for at least two days! Maybe I’ve
led too sheltered a life, but I never even _heard_ of anyone
starving—not in this country, anyway.”

“It can happen anywhere, I guess,” Paula said, with a sad smile.

“But why?” Peggy cried. “Why didn’t you let me help you?”

“I would have, Peggy, if it had been just a sudden thing, but it wasn’t.
It was a continuing thing. I guess if I had had enough to eat during the
last month, I wouldn’t have keeled over from going for two days without
anything. I’ve been living on canned beans and bread and other cheap
food for over a month now, and to ask for help would have meant asking
for regular help—every week. And I didn’t want to take advantage of
anyone that way.”

“But, Paula, that’s so silly!” Peggy protested. “How long did you think
you would be able to go on without proper food?”

“I was just trying to hold out until tomorrow, when my pay check comes
in from Randy and Mal. Then I could have had something to eat.”

“Do you mean to say,” Peggy asked in astonishment, “that you’ve been
trying to live on just the rehearsal salary? Why, that’s hardly enough
to pay the rent in a place like this, much less to eat!”

“I know,” Paula said. “I’ve been finding that out. But we go into full
pay for rehearsal next week, and I thought I could hold out until then.
I guess I was wrong, wasn’t I?”

“But what about your job at the department store?” Peggy asked.

“Oh. I—I lied about that, Peggy. I was laid off right after the
Christmas season, and I haven’t been working since then. I had some
money put aside, but it was almost gone when I got the part in the play.
Then I thought I could live on the rehearsal money until we went into
full pay. By the time I found I couldn’t, I was too weak to take a
full-time job.”

“But you could have moved to some less expensive place, couldn’t you?”
Peggy asked. “This little apartment must cost a lot of money.”

“It does,” Paula admitted, “but I like it here, and I didn’t want to
give it up. I thought that I could manage. I’m sorry now. I’ve caused
everybody so much trouble.”

“That’s the least of our worries,” Peggy said, filling up Paula’s bowl
with a second helping of chicken soup. “The question now is how you’re
going to get along for the next week until the full pay comes in. And
also how you’re going to live here, even on that.”

“Oh, I’ll get by, Peggy. I know I will. Besides, I have such faith in
the play. I know it will be a hit, and if it is, our salaries will go up
above the minimum. Randy told me how much I could expect to earn as the
lead, if we have a success, and it’s plenty for me to live on.”

“But until then,” Peggy said, “you’re going to need more cash. Isn’t
there somebody you can go to for help? How about your family?”

“Oh, no!” Paula said. “My family ... I haven’t any family. I mean, I’m
an orphan. My parents are dead, and I haven’t anyone else. I’ve been
supporting myself for a long time, and I’m used to it.”

“Well, then,” Peggy said firmly, “I’m going to have to be your family,
and you’ll have to accept help from me. I would say that you’ll need
about fifty dollars a week to add to what you earn—at least until we get
to be a hit, if we do. And since you haven’t anybody else, you’ll have
to let me get it for you.”

“Oh, no, I can’t let you do that, Peggy!” Paula protested. “I know that
you haven’t got that kind of money, and besides, I ... I don’t want any
help. I can take care of myself. I want to take care of myself!”

Peggy sat down on the edge of the bed and took Paula’s hand. “I can
understand the way you feel,” she said, “but that’s a foolish kind of
pride. Everybody wants to think they’re taking care of themselves, but
really nobody does. Before your parents died, they took care of you.
They fed you and clothed you and taught you to walk and talk. If
somebody hadn’t taken care of you then, you wouldn’t have lived to want
to take care of yourself. As we grow up, we take care of ourselves more
and more, but we’re never completely on our own. Everybody needs someone
else. That’s what friends are for. And you’ve got to let me be your
friend.”

Paula’s eyes filled with tears. “I suppose you’re right, Peggy. It is
just foolish pride, and you’re so good to talk to me this way and to
want to help me. But ... what I said before. I know you can’t afford
it!”

“Of course I can’t,” Peggy said. “But I’ve got friends—and many of them
are your friends, too, and I intend to ask them. I’m going to talk to
all the members of the cast who have jobs, and to the girls who live at
the Gramercy Arms, and we’ll get up a group to help you out. That way it
won’t cost anyone more than three or four dollars a week, which we won’t
miss too much.”

“Oh, Peggy, that’s so good of you,” Paula said, “but I feel so ashamed
to take your money!”

“Think how ashamed we’d feel,” Peggy said, “if we weren’t able to help
you. And besides, we’re not doing it just for you. We’re doing it for
the play. We need you in the play. There’s nobody else who can do the
Alison part the way you can ... and even if there were, it would be too
late now for a cast substitution. No, it’s your part, and it’s our play,
and we have to keep you in good condition to do it. It’s a difficult
enough role to play even if you’re well-fed, and I just don’t believe
you can do it if you’re half-starved. Now I don’t want to hear another
word about it except ‘yes.’”

Paula’s smile was stronger now, between spoonfuls of soup. She looked
up, her eyes still wet, and softly said, “Yes. Thanks.”

“Good. That’s settled,” Peggy said. “Now, would you like some tea and
toast? The doctor said not to give you more than this to eat tonight, no
matter how hungry you said you felt. No. No butter. He said dry toast,
but I suppose you can dunk it in the tea, if you like.”

While Paula was eating the last scrap of tea and toast, and protesting
that she felt a good deal more like eating a steak, Peggy got some
pajamas for her from a bureau drawer, and a robe and some slippers from
the closet. Then, since Paula was still weak, she helped her change into
them, made up the daybed, and tucked her in bed.

“You look a lot better now,” Peggy said. “The best thing for you to do
is get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. You’ll
find eggs and butter and coffee and orange juice in the kitchen, so you
can make breakfast for yourself, but after eating, go back to bed and
rest. That’s doctor’s orders. I’ll come up here at noontime, and we can
go out for a good lunch together.”

Cutting Paula’s thanks short with a wave of her hand, Peggy said a quick
good night and left. It was past her bedtime, too.



                                   IX
                         One for the Money....


In the comfortable, well-furnished living room of the Gramercy Arms,
Peggy prepared to call a meeting to order.

May Berriman, the retired actress who owned the house, sat regally in a
high-backed, thronelike chair. Her hands were busy with a tiny silver
bobbin and a tatting needle, making delicate lace; but they seemed to be
working with an intelligence of their own while their owner, not even
looking at them, was busily observing the faces of “her girls.”

Irene Marshall, the house beauty, was gracefully curled up on the couch
in the sort of decorative pose hardly ever seen outside the pages of the
more expensive fashion magazines. At the other end of the couch, her
knees drawn up and her feet tucked under her, sat Gaby (Gabrielle Odette
Francine Du-Champs Goulet), looking about her expectantly, her head
cocked to one side like a toy French poodle’s.

Maggie Delahanty, the dancer, sat cross-legged on the floor like a
Hindu, her back straight and her hands loosely folded, a magazine open
on her knees. She could sit for hours like this in apparent perfect
comfort, in a position the other girls found almost impossible to get
into at all.

In more conventional positions, seated on chairs, were Greta, Amy, and
Peggy.

“I guess everybody’s here now,” Peggy said, “so I might as well tell you
why I asked you all to meet in here. I need your help, but I didn’t want
to explain it several times, because it’s rather a complicated story.”

As briefly as she could, Peggy told them about Paula, as Paula had told
her. Then she recounted the events of the night before, ending with the
doctor’s visit.

“When he told me that she had fainted from hunger,” Peggy concluded, “I
was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. I’m still not sure I
understand how it came to happen, but I am sure of one thing. Paula
needs help, and I told her that I would see to it that she gets it.”

“She needs some common sense even more than she needs help,” Maggie said
tartly. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we have any of that to spare. Why
did she let this go on so long without doing something about it?”

“Yes, why?” Irene asked. “I know a lot of people who are out of work,
but they don’t let themselves starve. I’ve been out of work myself
plenty of times, the way every beginner in show business is, and I’ve
always gone straight to the unemployment people. The government check
hasn’t been much, but it’s been enough to eat on.”

“I asked her that,” Peggy said, “and she told me that she didn’t qualify
for unemployment insurance. Apparently you have to have worked for a
certain length of time before you can collect any insurance, and she
hadn’t worked that long when the department store laid her off after the
Christmas rush.”

“That’s true,” Greta said. “I was in a fix like that myself once, and I
had to ask my parents for help until I could get a job. Luckily, I have
parents and they have enough to be able to spare some for me.”

“Most of us have someone to turn to,” Peggy said, “but Paula’s an
orphan, and hasn’t even got any aunts or uncles or cousins. But she does
have friends, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.”

“Oh, we all of us ’ave understand that alreadee,” Gaby said with a toss
of her head. “That part of the problem is no more worree. I give a few
dollar each week—we all give a few dollar—nobodee give enough for to
miss it, an’ presto! Mademoiselle Paula ’as plentee to live on. No?”

“That’s just what I had in mind,” Peggy said, relieved not to have had
to actually ask for the money. She had been hoping her friends would
offer it as their own idea. “How do the rest of you feel about it?”

Everybody nodded agreement and murmured assurance that they would do as
much as they could to help. “How much does she need?” asked Maggie,
practical as always.

“I think about fifty dollars a week would do it,” Peggy answered, “but
it doesn’t all have to come from us. There are several members of the
cast who are working at other jobs and who would be glad to contribute.
In fact, I think they’d be insulted if they weren’t approached about
it.”

“Won’t Paula object to their knowing all about her troubles?” Amy asked.

“I don’t think so,” Peggy said. “Besides, they all saw her faint last
night, and some explanation will have to be given. Not only that, but I
don’t think we should try to hide it as if it were some disgraceful
thing not to have enough money for food. Paula has been hiding her
troubles too long, and she’s going to have to accept the fact that you
can’t hide trouble and fight it at the same time.”

“Very wise, Peggy,” May Berriman approved. “I agree, just as I agree
with Maggie that your friend needs some common sense more than she needs
help. It’s possible that by helping her in this open way, you may also
provide her with a little common sense!”

“Speaking of common sense,” Greta put in, “I think it’s about time we
got down to dollars and cents in this discussion, instead of just going
on vaguely about wanting to help. Does anyone have a suggestion about
how much we should all contribute to the Paula Fund?”

After mentioning several figures, and after some discussion about how
much should come from the Gramercy Arms and how much from the cast, an
agreement was reached.

“So it’s settled,” Peggy said. “Gramercy Arms will give twenty-five
dollars a week, and the cast will give the rest. Now, twenty-five
dollars divided among the six of us girls....”

“Seven,” May Berriman interrupted. “I may not be a girl any longer, but
you’ll grant I am a part of Gramercy Arms.”

“Thanks, May,” Peggy said gratefully. “Well, seven then. That comes to
... let’s see. Three-fifty each a week would add up to twenty-four
dollars and fifty cents. That’s close enough, I guess, and we can all
surely spare that. It’s only fifty cents a day.”

“I have another suggestion, Peggy,” May Berriman said. “As you all know,
Dot is on tour and isn’t due to return for another three months. I’m
sure she wouldn’t mind if Paula were to use her room. Why don’t you ask
her to come in here with us and give up that expensive apartment?”

Peggy reflected for a minute. “No, I don’t think so,” she said at
length. “If she had been willing to move out of that apartment, she
would have done it before this. I don’t think she’d be at all happy
here. She’s so—well, so secretive, and I think that all she wants is to
be left alone. I suppose that sounds pretty strange, and pretty
self-indulgent, too, but as I told you, I think she’s having some kind
of trouble that we don’t even know about, and she obviously doesn’t want
us to know. I don’t think it would be helping at all if we tried to get
her to come to live with us.”

“Maybe you’re right,” May Berriman said. “One sure way to be of no help
at all is to try to change a person’s way of living. At any rate, you
can tell her that the room is here for her to use in case she wants to.”

“I will,” Peggy said. “And I’d like nothing better than to have her say
yes, but I just know she won’t.”

Maggie stood up, uncoiling from her cross-legged position in a single,
fluid movement. “I guess it’s all settled, then,” she said. “The only
thing for us to do now is to get up the money.” Digging into the pocket
of her blue jeans, she produced a small wallet from which she extracted
three crumpled dollar bills and two quarters. “Here’s my first week’s
dues in the Help Paula Club,” she said.

The rest of the girls hurried up to their rooms to find money and, five
minutes later, after a confused session of change-making, Peggy had
twenty-five dollars (May Berriman had insisted on giving an extra fifty
cents to make the sum come out even) carefully sealed in an envelope.

Thanking their housemates, Peggy, Amy, and Greta excused themselves.
They had barely enough time for a quick dinner before reporting to
rehearsal.

“We’ve got good friends,” Peggy said as they seated themselves in a
booth in a nearby restaurant where they often went. “It certainly was
generous of them to contribute to a girl they don’t even know.”

“That’s one of the nicest things about show business,” Greta said. “I
guess it’s because everyone in the business has been out of work and in
hard circumstances at one time or another. They’re always willing to
help another actor who’s having a hard time. Maybe it’s a kind of
insurance policy against the next time they’re in trouble themselves.”

“It ought to be even easier to collect the other half of the money from
the cast,” Amy commented. “And once we have that, Paula will be all
right.”

“In a sense, she will be,” Peggy said with a worried expression. “At
least she’ll be all right financially. But I don’t think we’ve begun to
settle her problems, and I don’t know if we should even try.”

“What do you mean?” Amy asked. “What other problems does she have, and
why shouldn’t we try to solve them?”

“I don’t know,” Peggy said uneasily.

“What makes you think something else is wrong?” Greta asked.

“I know something else is wrong,” Peggy said firmly. “It’s not just
guesswork. The question is whether or not we have a right to poke our
noses into Paula’s business.”

“Stop hinting, Peggy,” Amy said with unaccustomed sharpness. “Why don’t
you just tell us what your suspicions are, and we can all contribute our
thinking.”

“I suppose that’s best,” Peggy said sadly. “I just hate to tell you that
I think Paula still hasn’t told us the truth about herself and the
reason she had to go hungry. I saw things when I was at her apartment
that convinced me of that. But I don’t know why.”

“You think she’s lying?” Greta asked. “Why?”

“To begin with,” Peggy said, determined to have the whole thing out in
the open, “she’s lying about ever having worked in a department store,
and about being a poor orphan. I know because of the clothes I saw in
her closet and her bureau when I was getting her pajamas and robe for
her.”

“How can clothes tell you she never worked in a department store?” Amy
asked, puzzled.

“Shoes,” Peggy said. “Didn’t you ever notice salesgirls’ shoes? Standing
behind a counter all day long is pretty hard on the feet, and your shoes
have to be practical and comfortable. Paula had a large collection of
shoes in that closet—all of them very smart and fashionable and
expensive—but not one pair that a girl could stand in all day long,
except for the sport shoes that a department store wouldn’t allow its
clerks to wear. You know, moccasins and things like that.”

“It makes sense,” Greta said grudgingly, “in a way. But maybe she had
work shoes and they wore out and she threw them away.”

“Maybe,” Peggy said, “but that doesn’t account for the kind of shoes she
did have. For instance, there were high riding boots and low jodhpur
boots in that closet. Now, I have a horse at home in Wisconsin, and I
know something about riding equipment, and those boots were handmade and
must have cost a fortune. Where would an orphan salesgirl get boots like
that? And why would she want them in the city? Not only that, but there
were ski boots and golf shoes, too, and I have the same questions about
those. I suppose it all sounds very nosy and suspicious of me, but I
couldn’t help thinking about it and what it means.”

“What it means,” Greta said, “is that you’re probably right. From what
you say, I’m sure that Paula wasn’t telling the truth about herself. But
what can we do about it, and why should we try to do anything? It’s
really none of our business, is it?”

“That’s just the problem that’s been worrying me,” Peggy confessed. “I
keep asking myself whether it’s any of our business who Paula is and
what she’s hiding. I think I’ve finally decided that it is.”

“In what way?” Amy asked. “Just because we’ve agreed to help her with a
little money doesn’t mean we own any part of her, does it? I think we
ought to leave her alone!”

“Oh, Amy, you can’t think I meant it like that!” Peggy said. “Of course
the loan doesn’t give us any right to go poking into her affairs! But
the fact that we’re her friends does give us a right. We didn’t get
curious about her health, for fear of offending her, and as a result she
collapsed from hunger. Now if she’s in some other kind of trouble, and
we don’t do something to help, we may regret that just as much.”

“That does make sense,” Amy admitted. “It’s just that I hate to go
behind her back....”

“Why go behind her back?” Greta asked. “Why not just come right out and
ask her what’s wrong? Even mention the shoes and boots and things, so
that she’ll know why we’re suspicious of what she told you.”

“She won’t admit anything’s wrong,” Peggy said. “I tried to ask her at
lunch when I went out with her today, but she wouldn’t even talk to me
about it. Every time I seemed to be coming close to whatever’s bothering
her, she just changed the subject.”

“Well, then, what do you think we-all can do about it?” Amy asked. “If
she doesn’t want to tell us her troubles, there’s no way that we can
force her to do it. I still think we ought to leave her alone.”

Peggy shook her head in vigorous disagreement. “That’s just what we
shouldn’t do,” she said. “It seems to me she’s been left alone too much,
and hasn’t been able to do a good job of taking care of herself.”

“But you said that she doesn’t respond to pushing—or direct questions,”
Greta commented.

“And we certainly don’t want to—to snoop!” Amy put in.

“I know,” Peggy agreed. “But there is one thing we can do. We can make
every effort to show her that we’re her friends, and to show her that
she can trust us. If we do it sincerely, without pushing or snooping,
I’m sure she’ll confide in us when she wants to.”

“It seems to me that we’ve all made a pretty big effort already,” Greta
said tartly. “What more can we do?”

“Well,” Peggy said thoughtfully, “if I were Paula, I might be inclined
to think that the effort made so far was more charitable than friendly,
if the difference is clear. I mean, we’ve helped her with money and all
that ... but that’s not exactly what I mean. I think we ought to do
something to show her that we’re glad to know her, and glad that she’s
in the show, and ... I don’t know. It’s just that I feel that money
alone doesn’t say what needs saying to a girl like Paula. She’s a
sensitive person, after all, and she might even resent the financial
help, in some subtle way.”

“You may be right, at that,” Amy said softly. “I know that if I were
ever in her position ... having to take money from people ... I’d feel
pretty uncomfortable about it. Especially if the people were
just—well—just casual acquaintances. And after all, that’s what we are
to her.”

“That’s just the point,” Peggy said eagerly. “You’ve put it perfectly!
We _are_ just casual acquaintances—not close friends. It’s no wonder
that she keeps a kind of wall between her and us, even though we are
helping her.”

“Rather _because_ we’re helping her,” Greta amended. “Everybody knows
it’s a lot harder to take help than to give it.”

“But what can we do to show her that she’s not just a—a charity case to
us?” Amy asked.

“That’s what I’ve been asking myself,” Peggy said, “and I think I’ve got
one good idea anyhow. It’s not much, but it’s a beginning. Why don’t we
give her a little surprise party tonight after rehearsal, to celebrate
her coming back to the show and being all right again?”

“I think she’d like that!” Amy exclaimed. “What do you think, Greta?”

“I think it’s fine,” Greta agreed. “Tonight’s rehearsal is bound to be a
strain for her anyhow, and it would be nice to give her a chance to
relax and cheer up afterward. How do you want to work it, Peggy?”

Peggy thought for a moment before answering. “We might ask her up to the
Gramercy Arms after rehearsal,” she suggested. “I’m sure that Gaby and
Irene and Maggie would be glad to set up a party for us while we’re
gone, and everything could be ready by the time we got back....”

“No,” Amy interrupted. “That won’t do. The minute we invited her up to
the Gramercy Arms, she’d know there was something special up, and the
surprise would be lost. Besides, she’d have to meet the other girls, and
there would be the usual strain of new people....”

“Not only that,” Greta added, “but there’s no guarantee that she would
come back with us after rehearsal. She might be too tired and want to go
straight home. And she’s shy about new places and people, anyway.”

“How about at the theater?” Amy suggested.

But Peggy and Greta vetoed that suggestion on the ground that it would
have to include the whole cast, and that would make too large a party to
enable them to accomplish their primary purpose, which was to develop a
more intimate relationship with Paula.

“I know!” Peggy exclaimed. “Why don’t we have the party right in her own
apartment? That way, we’ll be sure that she’ll be there, and we can
control the number of people! In fact, I think we ought to keep it to
just the three of us and Paula! Amy and I can miss rehearsal tonight—you
can tell her some thing at the Academy kept us late, and you can come
home from rehearsal with Paula. While you and Paula are at the theater,
Amy and I can shop and set up a real surprise party!”

“Fine!” Greta agreed. “But how are you going to get into Paula’s
apartment without a key?”

“The superintendent will let us in, I’m sure,” Peggy replied. “He saw us
when Mal and I brought Paula home last night, and he saw me again when I
was there to pick her up for lunch this afternoon, so he knows that I’m
a friend of hers. If we explain about the surprise party, I know he’ll
let us in, and not mention it if he sees you and Paula coming home. He
seemed like a very nice man, and he was genuinely concerned about Paula.
I know he’ll approve of the idea of a party.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Greta agreed. “While you’re setting up
the party, and while Paula’s busy rehearsing, I’m sure that I can manage
to raise the money from the cast. I’ll bring it with me, and we can give
it to her along with the Gramercy Arms money at the same time.”

“We can buy a cake and birthday candles too,” Amy suggested, “and as
soon as you come, you can tell me how many of the cast members chipped
in, and we can put a candle on the cake for every friend Paula has. It
will really be something to celebrate!”

“Good,” Greta said, nodding her agreement. “Well, we’d better get going
now. We’re on a tight time schedule. I have to report at the theater for
rehearsal in fifteen minutes, and you have to start your shopping for
the party. Mal will probably take it easy on Paula after last night, so
you had better be prepared to have us come in on you early. Be sure that
you have all the party things set up by ten o’clock.”

Picking up their check, the three girls rose to go, looking forward with
high spirits to the challenge of breaking down Paula’s wall of reserve
and of showing her that there is such a thing as real friendship in what
must have appeared to her to be a hard, cold world.



                                   X
                          Two for the Show....


“If they expect to be at Paula’s by ten,” Peggy said as she and Amy left
the restaurant, “we’d better hurry. We have a lot of shopping to do, and
food to prepare. And I’d like to decorate Paula’s apartment in some way,
too. It’s a nice enough place, but I couldn’t help noticing how cold and
unlived-in it looks. Maybe we can find some way to make it cheerful,
even if it’s just for an evening.”

“If we hurry, we can do that part of the shopping before the stores on
Twenty-third Street close,” Amy said. “I remember seeing a sort of party
shop there that sells things like crepe paper and candles and silly
decorations and things. I think they’re open till seven or
seven-thirty.”

“I remember the place,” Peggy said. “If we go there first, we can put
off the food shopping until later. The bakeries and the delicatessens
always stay open till late.”

The girls hurried uptown the few blocks to Twenty-third Street, where
they found the proprietor of the little party shop getting ready to
close for the night. With a resigned sigh, he agreed to stay open a few
minutes more in order to let the two friends buy the few things they
needed for their surprise party. Trying to make their decisions in a
hurry, so as not to further exasperate the shopkeeper, they quickly
settled on some paper napkins with a festive rosebud design, and some
sugar rosebud-shaped candle-holders for the cake. Peggy also bought some
pink crepe-paper sheets and strips.

“I think I can make these into some nice paper roses—if I remember how
they taught us to do it in kindergarten,” she said. “That ought to
brighten the place up!”

Amy found some white paper plates with rosebuds to match the napkins,
but as the girls started to search for more things to make the party,
the owner of the shop began to turn off the lights, throw dust-covers
over fixtures, and generally make it clear that his patience was at an
end.

“I guess that’s really all we’ll need, Amy,” Peggy said nervously. “I
think that we’d better get going.”

Thanking the shopkeeper for staying open for them, they paid for their
purchases and left. The owner left with them, turned the lock in the
door, and with a curt nod briskly strode down the street.

“Gee, we just made it,” Peggy said with a grin. “If we had taken ten
seconds more, I think he would have locked us in the store for the
night!”

Farther down the street, a delicatessen store shed a bright glow on the
nearly deserted sidewalk. Peggy and Amy made their way to it as if it
were a beacon marking the way to a friendly port.

Nothing in the world is more delightfully confusing than an
old-fashioned delicatessen in New York. There is a special quality to
the very smell of the place; it is a compound of every good thing to
eat, and so complex a perfume that it is almost impossible to isolate
the elements that make it up. One _can_ detect clearly the briny smell
of pickles, and on second sniff, the rich harmonies of imported cheeses,
but beyond that, it would take the most sensitive nose in the world to
analyze the atmosphere. And as you walk through the store from front to
back, the odor changes, becomes alternately richer, lighter, sharper,
sweeter, spicier or more pungent.

The store was so narrow, and the man behind the counter so wide, that
Peggy had to suppress a little giggle, wondering how on earth he managed
to squeeze himself in. With a broad grin and a welcoming gesture that
threatened to sweep the counter clean of its load of little jars, boxes,
and tins, he said, “Good evening, ladies! What can I do for you?”

“I don’t know.” Peggy smiled. “You’ve got so much here that I scarcely
know where to begin.”

“Tell me your problem,” the man said in a confidential, professional
manner. “We specialize in catering for all kinds of events. Just tell me
what you have in mind, and let me do the selecting.”

“It’s not really an event,” Amy began. “We’re just planning a little
surprise party for a friend, and there are only going to be four of
us....”

“And you say it’s not an event!” the delicatessen owner said
reproachfully. “When you buy here, every meal is an event! Just tell me
how much you want to spend, and I’ll make you a menu for a party you’ll
never forget!”

His enthusiasm flagged a little when Peggy hesitantly told him that they
hadn’t figured on spending more than five dollars, but he made a fast
recovery.

“Even for _four_ dollars,” he said, “I could make you a party for the
gods!”

Seemingly from nowhere, he produced a beautifully roasted turkey with a
few slices already removed. Skillfully, he cut several long, thin slices
of white meat. Swiss cheese followed, and after that, moist, lean slices
of pink ham. Moving deftly and surely from counter to bin to shelf to
refrigerator to cabinet, the owner piled up containers of potato salad,
cole slaw, bottles of soft drinks, a sliced loaf of rye bread with
caraway seeds and a small jar of mustard.

“There!” he said. “That’s an event!”

“How much is it?” Peggy asked, looking fearfully at what seemed to her
to be a mountain of food.

“I was aiming for five dollars,” the owner said, “as specified. However,
let me do the addition and see....” He rapidly penciled figures on a
brown paper bag and added them in a flash. When he looked up, it was
with a crestfallen expression.

“The first time in years I went over the budget,” he said mournfully.
“Usually I can pick things out right to the penny. Ah, well....” He
sighed. “To err is human. Even for a delicatessen owner.”

“How much is it?” Peggy asked again.

“Five dollars and thirteen cents,” came the sorrowful answer. “But for
you, and because we had a bargain, four dollars and ninety-nine cents!”

“Oh, no!” Peggy said. “We’ll be glad to pay it all! It’s such a
little——”

“Not in my delicatessen!” the owner said, drawing himself up proudly.
“To Schwartz, a contract is a contract! Four ninety-nine, and not a
penny more!”

Not knowing if Mr. Schwartz was serious or joking, Peggy decided not to
take the chance of hurting his feelings. She gave him a five-dollar
bill, and dutifully accepted the penny change.

By the time the girls had picked up their packages, Mr. Schwartz had
recovered his normal high spirits. He hastened to the door to open it
for them, gave them the full benefit of his smile and said,
“Remember—make every meal an event! That’s philosophy! Good night and
come again!”

The next stop, a small Viennese bakery a few doors west, proved
uneventful except for finding the perfect cake for the occasion. It was
a small layer cake covered with snowy white icing and a decorative trim
of pink sugar rosebuds around the edge. It made the ideal match for the
napkins and the crepe paper they had bought.

Loaded down with their purchases, they took a bus uptown to Paula’s
street, and by eight o’clock they found themselves standing before the
green lacquered street door of her apartment house.

“I certainly hope that the superintendent’s in tonight,” Peggy said as
she pushed the buzzer. “It would be awful to have bought all this good
food, and then have him be out!”

“We could always camp here on the doorstep and wait for Paula and Greta
to come home,” Amy said. “But, frankly, the idea of a two-hour wait in
the night air isn’t exactly guaranteed to put me in a party mood!”

Their fears were groundless, however. The superintendent, a polite old
man, answered the door after only a few minutes’ delay. He greeted Peggy
with a smile of recognition and apologized for keeping them waiting.

Peggy explained the purpose of their visit, and the old man’s eyes
lighted up with pleasure when he heard of the surprise party. “I sure am
glad to see Miss Andrews making some friends,” he said. “She’s such a
nice young lady, and my wife and I often worry about her, sitting up
there all day alone. It doesn’t seem natural for such a fine girl to
have to be by herself so much. I think a thing like this’ll do her a
world of good!”

Upstairs, the superintendent let them into Paula’s apartment with his
master passkey. “If I see them coming in,” he said with a conspiratorial
smile, “I won’t let on a thing. I don’t know of anything worse than a
surprise party where there’s no surprise to it!”

The girls thanked him, and a moment later found themselves alone in
Paula’s little apartment.

It had been straightened up since Peggy’s last visit at lunchtime, and
the few clothes and other objects that had been visible had all been put
neatly out of sight. This made the room look even more barren and
impersonal than Peggy had remembered it—as polite and impersonal as
Paula’s manner whenever Peggy had tried to break the wall of mystery
that surrounded her new friend.

Amy looked around her with a sigh. “It’s about as homey as a hotel room,
isn’t it?” she said. “I hope that we brought enough crepe paper to
brighten it up a little!”

“It’s going to take more than crepe paper,” Peggy said sadly. “It’s
going to take some real show of friendship. She must be a really lonely
girl for even the superintendent and his wife to have noticed it and to
be concerned about it. I hope that this little party of ours is some
help.”

“It’s bound to be,” Amy said. “It will certainly take the curse off the
business of just handing her money. That could be downright awkward, you
know, even though she has agreed to accept it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Peggy said. “I’m sure that if there ever was a
girl who needed friends to tell things to—and who had things to tell
them—it’s Paula Andrews!”

They unloaded their purchases in the little kitchenette, and while Amy
was unwrapping the sliced meat and cheese, Peggy busied herself with
setting up the gate-leg table that stood folded against the wall. Going
back to the kitchenette, she rummaged about in the bag that held the
napkins, candles, and crepe paper.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed. “I knew we forgot something! We didn’t buy a
paper tablecloth!”

“Oh, Paula must have a plain white tablecloth here that we can use,” Amy
said.

“I’ll take a look,” Peggy said. “I hate to see a bare table, unless
there are place mats, and we don’t even have enough napkins to use as
mats. Where do you suppose she’d keep her tablecloths?”

Looking around the room, Amy pointed to a low chest with three shallow
drawers that stood near the kitchenette door. “If I had any cloths I’d
keep them in there,” she said.

                    [Illustration: In Paula’s room]

Peggy opened the top drawer. “No tablecloths,” she said, “but we’re on
the right track. There are bed linens and some towels in here.” She went
to the second drawer. There were no linens here, but simply a large,
flat, leather box of highly polished calfskin. It took up most of the
drawer. Peggy was about to shut the drawer when something caught her
attention. She gave a low whistle.

“Amy, come here,” she said.

“Tablecloths?” Amy said.

“Look.” Peggy pointed to a small silver plate fixed to the lower
right-hand corner of the leather box. It was engraved: “_For Paula’s
first part—and her future career. With love from Mother and Dad._”

“I guess you were right, Peggy,” Amy said. “About the shoes, and Paula
not being a salesgirl, and not being poor....”

“And not being an orphan, either,” Peggy added.

“Well ... this certainly shows that she wasn’t raised as an orphan,” Amy
said, “but this could have been given to her before—before she became an
orphan, couldn’t it?”

“No,” Peggy said flatly. “For one thing, this is pretty new. And,
besides, even if Paula’s parents did ... die ... after giving her this,
the rest of her story couldn’t possibly be true. People who can give
gifts like this don’t leave a daughter penniless.”

“I suppose not,” Amy admitted. “But, in that case, what do you think the
real story is?”

“It seems pretty clear that Paula has run away from home for some reason
of her own,” Peggy answered. “Her parents certainly don’t know where she
is, or what kind of circumstances she’s in, or they surely would have
done something to help her. They’re obviously not the sort of people to
hold back on giving things to their daughter. And this inscription tells
us that they didn’t try to keep her from pursuing a career as an
actress. In fact, unless I miss my guess, this is a professional make-up
kit.”

A quick glance inside confirmed Peggy’s guess. It was a theatrical
make-up box, beautifully fitted with tiny jars of creams and colors,
each with a silver lid engraved with Paula’s initials. There were
special compartments for brushes, pencils, and cotton pads.

“Well, you certainly seem to be right,” Amy admitted, “but now that we
know about it, what do you think we should do? Should we do anything?
Isn’t it Paula’s business if she chooses to leave home?”

“It’s certainly her business if she chooses to _live_ away from home,”
Peggy said firmly, “but running away and hiding is something else again.
Her parents are probably worried sick about her! I don’t think we can
afford to wait for Paula to warm up to us on the chance that she’ll tell
us about it. I think she’s acting thoughtlessly and unreasonably, and
much as I like her, that doesn’t change my opinion of what she’s doing.
We have to stop it, or at least look into it to find out who Paula’s
parents are and why she left home. Unless she has a darn good reason for
not letting them know where she is, we’ll have to tell them. It’s the
only decent thing to do!”

“If we do,” Amy said, “they might take her out of the play.”

“They might,” Peggy agreed, “but people are more important than plays.
And anyway, I don’t think they would. They’re obviously people who are
in sympathy with Paula’s wanting to be an actress.”

“That seems like a good guess,” Amy said with a smile, glancing at the
extravagant make-up kit. “But how do we find out who they are? And once
we find out, do we just call them? Shouldn’t we give Paula a chance
first?”

“We certainly should,” Peggy said. “All I want to do is find out who her
parents are, and tell her we know. Then we’ll give her the choice of
calling them, or having us do it. This is not just a question of
sticking my nose into someone else’s business; it’s a question of doing
what’s right.”

“You still haven’t told me how you expect to find out who her parents
are,” Amy said.

“Maybe if I look around, I’ll find something with an address on it.
Maybe a letter or something—”

“But—” Amy objected.

“I know,” Peggy interrupted, “but it has to be done. Why don’t you get
the table set up as best you can, and I’ll look around a little.” She
glanced at her watch. “We haven’t too much time, you know. They ought to
be here in about an hour.”

“What about the crepe-paper roses?” Amy asked. “I don’t know how to make
them!”

“I’m in no mood to make roses,” Peggy answered sadly and a little
grimly. “Use the crepe paper for a tablecloth. I’ll let you know if I
find anything.”

As she started looking through Paula’s bureau, Peggy reflected that it
was strange how a person could do something completely against her
nature and as unpleasant as searching a friend’s room, when a matter of
conscience and principle was involved. It was not always easy to do the
right thing.

Conquering her qualms with the assurance that she was acting in the best
interests of both Paula and her parents, Peggy went carefully about her
search.

It took her nearly twenty minutes to go through the bureau and closet in
a thorough manner. She carefully took down each dress and coat, looked
at the labels and went through the pockets. She examined the many shoes
and boots, as well as the sports equipment neatly stored on the shelves
and the luggage on the floor in back. She put each thing back exactly as
she had found it. When she closed the door behind her, she knew that she
had found something, but not as yet what she had been looking for.

“What did you learn?” asked Amy, who was putting the finishing touches
on the table setting.

“I didn’t learn Paula’s home address,” Peggy said, “which is what I was
hoping to find, but I did learn a few other things. For one thing, Paula
does come from California, as she said. The store labels are all from
Los Angeles shops. And for another thing, I learned that her name is
really Paula Andrews and her parents do have an awful lot of money.”

“How did the clothes tell you that?” Amy asked, puzzled.

“Well, some of the clothes are custom-made, and they all have labels
that read, ‘Designed for Paula Andrews by Helen de Mayne.’”

“Whew!” Amy whistled. “Isn’t Helen de Mayne that famous Hollywood
designer who does costumes for the stars?”

“Right,” Peggy said. “And that’s all I’ve learned from the clothing.”

“I wonder if we need to know any more,” Amy said thoughtfully. “If we
want to find out anything now, can’t we just check with Helen de Mayne?
She could certainly tell us who Paula’s parents are, if she designs
Paula’s clothes.”

“I thought of that,” Peggy said, “but I’d rather not unless we have no
other way. I don’t want to stir up anything, and if we start asking
questions about Paula, we’re going to have to give some answers about
why we’re asking. I would want to know what the situation is before I
started to do anything like that.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Amy said, “but where are you going to look
next for more answers?”

Peggy glanced despairingly about the barren, impersonal room. It didn’t
seem possible that it had any more information to yield, and she was
already exhausted with the psychological strain of searching. She sat
down on the daybed with a sigh of resignation.

“There is no place else to look,” she said. “There isn’t even a rug to
hide anything under. Besides, I don’t think that Paula’s actually hiding
anything. If she were, she wouldn’t have left that make-up kit around,
and all those dresses with the special Helen de Mayne labels.”

“Why don’t we look in a Los Angeles phone book?” Amy suggested.

“Doesn’t make sense,” Peggy replied. “Paula probably didn’t have a phone
listed under her own name anyway. And even if she did, we don’t know
where she lived. It doesn’t have to be Los Angeles, just because she had
her clothes made there. You’d have to get a hundred California phone
books and then start to trace every Andrews listed. And even then you
might never learn anything, because wealthy people often have phone
numbers that aren’t listed in the directory.”

After a few more ideas were considered and rejected, Peggy said, “I’m
afraid the only thing we can do now is confront Paula with what we know,
and see if we can’t persuade her to tell us the rest, and to call her
parents and let them know where she is.”

It was now nine-thirty, and they had done all they could do. It would be
at least another half-hour before Greta brought Paula home for her
surprise party. Time dragged slowly, with neither Amy nor Peggy able to
find even the shadow of an idea of what to say or do.

Amy went back to the table to fuss with the arrangement of turkey, ham
and cheese and to nervously try artistic little experiments with the
potato salad.

Idly, Peggy looked over the small shelf of books to see if there was
something that would help her pass the time until the party—a party that
she now no longer looked forward to in the least. She selected a
well-worn, leather-bound volume of the _Complete Plays of Shakespeare_,
hoping that the old, familiar comic world of _Twelfth Night_ would take
her mind away from Paula’s problems.

She leaned back and opened the book, then sat bolt upright.

“This is it!” she almost shouted. “Amy! Here’s exactly what we’ve been
looking for!”

“Shakespeare?” puzzled Amy.

“Paula’s address!” Peggy said. “Now we have something to go on—we have a
way to find out who Paula’s parents are!” She thrust the book at Amy.
“Here—look inside the front cover.”

In the round, neat, somewhat childish handwriting of a girl of perhaps
eleven was written:

                             _Paula Andrews
                               “Eagletop”
                              Canyon Road
                             Beverly Hills
                              Los Angeles
                               California
                           The United States
                         The Western Hemisphere
                                 Earth
                            The Solar System
                             The Universe_

“And that’s that,” said Peggy triumphantly.



                                   XI
                        Three to Make Ready....


There was still the party to be gotten through, and Peggy was so
bothered by a sense of guilt at having ransacked Paula’s room that she
was in no mood at all for the coming festivities.

It was nearly ten o’clock, and Peggy and Amy had barely enough time to
put away the copy of Shakespeare, give a few last-minute finishing
touches to the table setting, and tune in some music on the little
bedside radio, when Paula and Greta arrived. On seeing her friends and
the festive spread, Paula almost burst into tears, but instead, she
caught hold of herself and started to laugh.

Peggy felt pleased, knowing that their gesture of friendship had touched
a responsive chord in Paula’s reserve. At the same time, the pang of
guilt quickened; she felt that she had betrayed the very friendship and
trust she had been trying to cultivate.

Greta whispered to Peggy that seven members of the cast had contributed
to the Paula Fund, exactly matching the amount given by the girls at the
Gramercy Arms, and Peggy went swiftly to the kitchenette to place
fourteen candles on top of the rosebud cake. While Greta and Amy kept
Paula occupied, Peggy lit the candles and brought the cake to the table.

“We’re celebrating the fact that people are nice to people,” she
explained, “if you only give them the chance. And that’s all the sermon
that I intend to deliver this evening. We’re also celebrating the fact
that you’re going to be able to eat this cake, and a lot more things
besides beans and spaghetti from now on, Paula.”

But after this speech, which she felt was stuffy and sadly inadequate,
Peggy couldn’t think of another thing to say. She was far too concerned
with the night’s revelations about Paula, and about what they could
possibly mean. Amy did much better in keeping up her end of the
conversation, and Greta, of course, knowing nothing of what had
happened, acted with perfect ease. In any case, Peggy thought, Paula was
too excited and pleased with her party to notice how anyone was acting.

Not being the least bit hungry, Peggy forced herself to eat some of the
cold cuts and cake, and to take a glass of milk. She could not help
feeling like an awful hypocrite, sitting there and pretending to be a
wholehearted friend to Paula, after she had just finished spying on her.
Even if it had been—as it had—for her own good and the good of her
obviously generous parents.

Fortunately for Peggy, the party did not last too long. Paula was tired
from the night’s rehearsal which, even though short, had tried her
strength. By eleven o’clock she began to yawn unobtrusively, and seemed
relieved when her three friends said their farewells.

“Thank you,” she said warmly and with moist eyes, “for the lovely
surprise party and—and everything else. And for being such good friends!
I haven’t done anything to deserve such—”

“Nonsense!” Peggy interrupted firmly, cutting off any further thanks,
and waving good-by as the elevator door slid shut. The girls rode down
in silence, Peggy and Amy depressed, Greta looking at them curiously.

“All right,” Greta said when they reached the cool and empty street. “I
could tell from the minute we came in that something was wrong. What is
it?”

As they strolled slowly downtown, Peggy told Greta about the night’s
events, starting with the discovery of the make-up kit and what it told
her about the background and history of their secretive friend. She then
told, shamefaced, of her deliberate decision to search Paula’s room to
learn more.

“I couldn’t just turn my mind off!” she cried. “When I learned that
Paula wasn’t a poor orphan after all, all I could think of was her
parents and what they must be going through. I just had to find out how
to reach them!”

“Nobody’s blaming you, Peggy,” Greta said. “I would have done the same
thing myself. There’s no reason to feel that you did anything bad, and
I’m sure that when Paula finds out, even she will feel that you only
acted out of concern for others.”

Peggy respected Greta’s judgment, and her approval made things seem a
lot better. With more confidence than before, and with no further
apologies, she told Greta what she had learned from the labels in
Paula’s clothes, and finally, about finding Paula’s home address in the
copy of Shakespeare.

“Well,” Greta said, “you certainly learned a lot tonight. But the thing
that puzzles me is what you’re going to do next in order to find out who
her parents are without arousing all kinds of suspicions and trouble.
That is, unless you just want to write or phone to ‘Eagletop’ and tell
them about Paula and her whereabouts.”

“I’d rather not,” Peggy said. “I think it would be a lot better for
Paula and her parents if she did that herself. But I also think that the
only way to do it is to tell her that we know exactly who she is, and
let her know that we intend to get in touch with her parents if she
doesn’t do it herself.”

“I suppose we could do that with the information we already have,” Amy
said thoughtfully.

“We could,” Peggy agreed, “but I would hate to blunder into something
when we don’t have all the facts. When we find out just who Paula’s
parents are, we may at the same time find some perfectly good reason why
she shouldn’t call them. I’d like to give her the full benefit of the
doubt until we have all the information we need.”

Greta nodded. “I think that makes sense,” she said.

“The only problem we have left now,” Peggy said with a frown, “is to
find a way to get the information we need without stirring things up. If
only we knew someone in Los Angeles we could trust, it would be easy. Do
either of you have any ideas?”

Amy and Greta furrowed their brows and shook their heads.

Suddenly Greta slapped herself on the forehead and grinned. “Of course!
Of course I know somebody—and so do you!”

“Who?” Peggy and Amy asked in chorus.

“Dot!” Greta said triumphantly. “Our housemate, Dot! You know she’s on
tour with a show—and I know that her company is either in Los Angeles
now, or is due to open there in a few days! We can get in touch with her
at her hotel, and ask her to do some sleuthing for us. Besides, she
comes from California in the first place, and she knows her way around
Los Angeles. It should be easy for her to find out what we want to
know!”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Peggy said enthusiastically. “Now all we have
to do is go back to the Gramercy Arms and find her touring schedule and
get in touch with her in Los Angeles. I can’t wait! Let’s hurry up, and
if she’s in town now, we can phone right away!”

Greta looked at her watch. “If she is there, it’s too late to phone now.
It’s eleven-thirty here, which makes it eight-thirty in California, and
that means that the curtain is just getting ready to go up on the first
act of her show. We’ll just have to be patient until tomorrow, and call
her at her hotel.”

“_If_ she’s in Los Angeles now,” Amy said.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Peggy commented, “and that’s to get
back to the Gramercy Arms before May Berriman goes to bed, and ask to
see Dot’s traveling schedule. Otherwise we’ll have to wait until
tomorrow even to know where Dot is, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to
get any sleep tonight unless I know.”

The girls increased their pace and covered the remaining blocks to
Gramercy Park in record time. They hurried up the steep front steps of
the Gramercy Arms, happy to see that the sitting-room light was on in
May Berriman’s apartment.

As soon as the door was opened, Peggy, breathless with running and
excitement, asked if they could see Dot’s itinerary. “And I’m sorry
we’re bothering you so late,” she added, “but we saw your light on,
and....”

May Berriman dismissed the apology with a small gesture of her
expressive hands. “No trouble at all, Peggy,” she said. “When you get to
be my age, you’ll find that sleep isn’t quite as attractive or necessary
as it used to be. I personally resent having to give up perfectly good
hours to what I consider an utter waste of time. Sit down, girls. I’ll
have what you need in a minute.”

In less time than that, she was back with a sheet of notepaper, which
she handed to Peggy. A moment’s looking, and a quick calculation of
dates, brought a sigh of disappointment. Peggy looked at the expectant
faces of Greta and Amy, and nodded unhappily.

“She’s still in Salt Lake City, according to this. The show closes there
tonight, and they won’t arrive in Los Angeles for two more days.”

“What’s this all about?” May Berriman asked. “That is, if I’m not
butting in on something that’s not my business.”

“It’s about Paula,” Peggy explained. “You know, the girl we’re all
chipping in to help. We ... we’ve got an idea about something that may
help her, only we need some information that’s in California, and we
hope Dot can get it for us.”

“Well, Peggy,” May Berriman said with a smile, “when they give out
prizes for artful dodging, I’m going to recommend you for a first! If
you didn’t want to answer my question, you only had to say so.”

Blushing, Peggy stammered, “I ... I didn’t mean ... I mean, it’s not as
if there’s anything to hide ... I just....”

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t tell May,” Greta said. “Besides, she
might have some ideas that could help us.”

“All right,” Peggy said, after a moment’s reflection. “I don’t mind at
all telling you about Paula, May. That’s not the point. It’s just that I
did something tonight that I’m a little uncomfortable about, and I
didn’t like the idea of telling you about that. Still, I did it, and
there’s no changing it, so you might as well know the kind of girl I
am.”

“The kind of girls we are,” Amy commented. “After all, I did it, too,
and I’m no more casual about it than you are.”

May Berriman sat down in her tall, straight-backed chair, folded her
hands in her lap and assumed an attentive look. “You can start talking
now,” she said a little sternly.

Peggy’s story did not take long, and when she was done, she looked
anxiously at the owner of the Gramercy Arms. “Do you think we did the
right thing?” she asked.

“Your motives in searching Paula’s room were certainly good ones,” May
Berriman said judicially, “and you didn’t actually break in, even if you
did enter on slightly false pretenses. All in all, I’d say that you
haven’t anything to be ashamed of. I also like your decision to get the
rest of the facts and talk to Paula about them before you contact her
parents. That’s both wise and considerate.”

Peggy felt a sense of relief, knowing that May, a stern and impartial
judge of her girls’ conduct, approved of her night’s undertaking. “It’s
been a pretty difficult time, May, as you can well imagine,” she said.
“But I suspect the next few days until Dot gets to Los Angeles will be
even more difficult. The three of us are simply bursting with
impatience.”

“Impatience,” May Berriman said in her most theatrical voice, “is for
amateurs waiting in the wings ten minutes before their cue. My best
advice to you is to relax—until it’s time to go on. There’s no way to
hurry the action.”


Of course, May was right. There was no way to hurry the action. On the
other hand, Peggy, Amy, and Greta found that there was also no easy way
to relax. The next two days dragged by only as days can drag when you
want nothing more than for them to come to an end.

Rehearsals, school, studying, all took up many hours, but for the first
time since Come Closer had started casting, Peggy seemed to have extra
hours in the day. And each of those extra hours seemed like a day in
itself.

As she went through the now-familiar routine of crowded days and nights,
she could not rid her mind of the thought of Paula Andrews and
of—somewhere—Paula’s parents, wondering where she was. And as Paula
began to bloom from her new, nourishing diet, Peggy seemed to fade with
her preoccupations.

But nothing lasts forever, and soon the two long days were at an end.

The girls put in their phone call at noon, knowing that it was only nine
in Los Angeles and that Dot would surely be asleep at that hour after a
late arrival the night before. It seemed a pity to wake her, but it was
better than waiting and taking a chance of missing her entirely.

“What? Who? Where?” Dot’s voice, fogged with sleep and confusion, came
over the three thousand miles of telephone wire as clearly as if she had
been next door.

“It’s me, Dot! Peggy Lane. In New York!”

“Why?” Dot demanded, this time a little less foggy. “It’s wonderful to
hear your nice, friendly, wide-awake, noontime New York voice,” she said
in her normal peppery manner, “but not when I was in the middle of a
dream about landing a movie lead that was going to get me an Oscar!”

“I’m sorry to wake you, Dot,” Peggy said, “but this is important, and I
didn’t want to find that you’d gone out. We want you to do a favor for
us.”

“What is it?” Dot asked. “It must be darned important to spend all this
money to call.”

“Dot, it’s too complicated to explain why I want you to do what I’m
going to ask, so don’t ask why. I want you to go to a house called
Eagletop, on Canyon Road in Beverly Hills, only don’t go in. I want you
to find out, in whatever way you can, who lives there. Also, I’d like
you to find out if they have a daughter and where she is.”

“And how am I going to do this without going in?” Dot asked. “And why
can’t I go in, anyway? I could just ring the bell and ask—”

“No!” Peggy exclaimed. “That’s just what you can’t do. And I can’t go
into the whys, as I said. I’ll write you a letter. Meanwhile, the
important thing is to learn what you can, and not to let anyone in the
house know that you’re asking questions.”

“Well, if you say it’s important to do it this way,” Dot answered, “I’ll
do my best. But how...?”

“You’ll think of a way,” Peggy said cheerfully. “You’re a bright girl!”

“Thanks,” Dot said sourly. “Your compliment puts the whole thing on my
shoulders ... which is what you had in mind, I guess.”

“Well, you know the city, and we don’t, and—” Peggy began.

“I know, I know,” Dot cut her off. “Don’t worry about it. I only have to
know one thing more. What do you want me to do when I find the answers?”

“Call here,” Peggy said. “If I’m not here, tell Amy or Greta or May, but
not one other person. Understand?”

“Okay,” Dot agreed, “and I feel a lot better, knowing May’s in on it.”

“Good. When do you think you can go up there?”

“Right after breakfast,” Dot said. “I’ll phone you by three this
afternoon—that’s six in New York. Will you be there?”

“You bet!” Peggy said. “And thanks a million, Dot!”

Peggy replaced the phone and turned to her friends. “We’ll have whatever
answers Dot can dig up today. She’ll phone us by six. That is, if she
doesn’t go back to sleep again.”

“And if I know our Dot,” Greta commented, “that’s a darned big ‘if.’”



                                  XII
                            Which Way to Go?


But Dot was as good as her word, and as resourceful as Peggy and her
friends had hoped she would be. The call came through on time, the
information was complete and accurate. Peggy put down the phone, turned
to the expectant faces of Amy, Greta, and May, and slowly sat down as if
in a daze.

“Wow!” she said quietly.

“What is it?” the girls asked in chorus.

“We’ve got our story,” Peggy said, “but I still don’t know exactly what
to make of it.”

“Well, for goodness’ sake, _tell_ us!” Greta said impatiently.

Peggy gathered her thoughts for a few seconds, drew a deep breath, and
began. “Paula Andrews is the daughter of Stacy Blair and—”

“Stacy Blair? The actress?” Amy gasped.

“Yes,” Peggy said. “The one and only Stacy Blair. And her father is Dean
Andrews, the producer and director.”

“Wow is the word all right,” Greta said.

“I knew she looked familiar,” Amy commented. “We all felt that we had
seen her somewhere before. She looks like her mother. And no wonder
she’s such a good actress.”

“This answers a lot of questions,” Peggy said. “But it leaves a lot of
questions, too. The big one is, with parents like that, why would Paula
pretend to be an orphan? And why would she go so far with the pretense
as to actually starve herself?”

“I would say that’s a question only Paula can answer,” put in May
Berriman, who had been silent until now. “And I think the best thing to
do is to go directly to her, tell her what you know, and ask her to give
you her full confidence. After all,” she added, “you have a right to
know. She’s taking money and help from you girls on—well, on false
pretenses. If you’re going to help her, at least you ought to know why.”

“The money isn’t important, May,” Peggy replied. “But there are
important reasons for knowing. For one thing, her parents must be
terribly worried about her. And for another thing, she’s the leading
lady in our play. I don’t know what kind of publicity—good or bad—would
come of having her discovered once we open. I think Mal and Randy should
know about this, so as to make their decisions.”

The others agreed, knowing that it would be impossible for Paula to act
in the play for long without being recognized.

“I suppose it’s not important,” Amy said, “but I can’t help wondering
how Dot found out all this in such a short time.”

“She’s a smart gal,” Peggy answered. “She simply took her camera and
bought a cheap autograph book and started walking around the streets in
the Canyon Road area, pretending to be a movie-fan tourist. She struck
up a conversation with a postman, and asked a lot of questions about who
lived in the houses around her. Whenever she asked about a famous
person’s house, she took a snapshot. When the postman saw she wasn’t
going to actually disturb any of the people on his route, he let her
walk with him, and he told her a lot about the people who lived in the
area. That’s how she found out about Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, and about
Paula. And she found out something else, too. Paula is supposed to be in
Europe.”

“In Europe?” Greta asked. “How does she know that?”

“From the letters the postman delivers.”

“You’re not making sense. How can he?” Amy complained.

“That’s the peculiar part,” Peggy said, “and it’s what I meant when I
said that there would be even more questions to answer. You see, Dot
said that the postman told her he delivered letters from Paula, from
different parts of Europe.”

“But Paula has been right here all the time!” Amy cried.

Peggy nodded slowly. “She’s been here for about three months that we
know of for sure. And the postman said that she wrote to her parents
regularly, at least once a week, until recently. He said that it’s been
perhaps a month since they’ve had a letter, and that her parents seem
pretty worried. Every so often they wait for the mail to come, and they
ask him to look again, to be sure that they don’t have a letter from
Paula.”

After a moment’s silence, while they all puzzled about the meaning of
this latest development, May Berriman spoke decisively. “It seems to me
that every minute we waste discussing the possibilities is a minute of
uncertainty and unhappiness for this girl’s parents—and for her, too.
Peggy, I think you should go right to her this minute and get to the
bottom of the affair immediately.”

“Oh dear,” Peggy said unhappily. “I know you’re right, but I’ve been
sort of trying to put it off. I just hate to be the one to tell her that
we’ve been spying on her.”

“I know how you feel, Peggy,” May Berriman said, managing to sound
gentle and stern at the same time, “but after all, you—”

“I know, May,” Peggy interrupted. “You don’t have to tell me. I started
the whole thing, and it’s up to me to finish it. Besides, I’ve formed a
closer friendship with Paula than any of the rest of you. You’re right.
I’d better do it, and I’d better do it right away.”

As she started from the room, Amy stood up to follow. “Peggy,” she
called, “I’m coming, too.”

“No, Amy,” Peggy said. “It’s good of you, but I think I’d better do it
alone. It may be harder for me that way, but it will be easier for
Paula. I’ll meet you all down at the theater as soon as I can get
there.”

With a distracted wave of her hand, she left.

On the way to Paula’s apartment, she rehearsed several possible opening
phrases, several tactful approaches to the problem of telling her friend
that she knew her identity. Somehow, nothing seemed quite right, and
when she finally stepped out of the little elevator and knocked on
Paula’s door, her mind was blank. Paula greeted her with a smile.

“Peggy! What a nice surprise! I was just thinking of calling you up. I
thought we might be able to have dinner together before going down to
the theater tonight.”

“I’m glad I caught you before you went out,” Peggy said. “Paula. Sit
down, will you? I—I want to talk to you. You see, this isn’t exactly
a—well—a social visit, although it is a friendly one. I’m coming to you
as a friend, to ask you to be honest with me.”

“Honest? Why, Peggy, I....” Paula’s voice trailed off, and she became
pale and still.

“Yes, you know what I mean,” Peggy said. “It’s time to be honest about
yourself—and honest with yourself. You can’t go on pretending to be what
you’re not. I’m sorry, Paula, but I know all about you. I know who you
are, and who your parents are, and I know that they think you’re in
Europe. I’ve ... I’ve been snooping.”

“Have you talked to them?” Paula asked in a quavery voice. “Do they know
where I am?”

“Nobody has talked to them,” Peggy assured her. “I think you ought to do
that yourself.”

“Thank goodness!” Paula breathed. “But why...?”

“Why did I poke into your affairs?” Peggy supplied. “Because I was sure
that you weren’t telling me the truth about yourself, and I was sure
that your parents didn’t know where you were and that they were probably
worried sick, whoever they were. I wanted to find out, so that I could
help you. You must believe that. I didn’t do it out of personal
curiosity, Paula, but just to help you.”

“I believe that, Peggy,” Paula said. “But really, it wasn’t necessary.
My parents think I’m all right. They believe I’m in Europe, and they get
letters from me, and—”

“No, they don’t,” Peggy interrupted. “They haven’t received a letter in
almost a month.”

“Oh, no!” Paula gasped. “I was afraid of that! But how do you know, if
you haven’t spoken to them?”

“Don’t bother about that now,” Peggy said. “I think the best thing is
for you to start at the beginning and tell me the whole story. Then we
can put the pieces together.”

Paula nodded in silent agreement, then drew a deep breath and started.

“My parents are wonderful people,” she began. “They’ve given me
everything a girl could want, and I love them dearly. They’re both
understanding and talented and charming and generous ... oh, all the
things you want people to be! When I decided that I wanted to be an
actress, they did everything they could to help me. I was sent to the
best dramatic coaches and schools, introduced to all the people who
would be good to know. They helped me get placed with the best repertory
theater group in California, and when I started to get good parts, they
saw to it that the leading critics came out to see me. I got wonderful
notices, and I got a few movie offers, but—”

“But what?” Peggy asked. “It sounds as if you had everything in the
world!”

“I did,” Paula answered. “Everything except self-confidence. I was never
sure whether I was getting the good parts and the good reviews because I
was me, or because I was my parents’ daughter. My mother is, well, very
popular with all the show people in Hollywood, as well as being a famous
actress. Nobody would ever do anything to hurt her. I was afraid I was
being carried along because everybody wanted to be nice to her. And my
father, too. He’s well-liked, and he’s also very—influential.”

“I see,” Peggy said thoughtfully. “And you wanted to try your talent on
your own. But why didn’t you explain that to your parents?”

“They thought I was being foolish,” Paula said. “They told me that I
should take whatever help I could get on my way to the stage, because
once I got there, I would have to stand on my own feet anyway. Maybe
they were right.”

“They were,” Peggy said decisively. “And it seems to me that we had this
conversation once before, and I told you the same thing. You have to be
willing to be helped. I think that you believe it a little more now than
you did before.”

“I guess so,” Paula agreed. “But I certainly wasn’t convinced before.
When I got the movie offers, I was afraid that I would be a failure. I
wanted to be sure first that I could get a part and please an audience
on my own merits. So I turned down the offers. I said that I wanted to
complete my education first. I asked my parents to let me spend a year
in Europe, so that I could learn a little more about people and the
world. They agreed, on condition that I went with a friend. My friend
Nancy Frome was planning to go abroad for a year anyway. She’s several
years older than I, and my parents were satisfied to have me go with
her.”

“And you arranged with her that she would mail previously written
letters to your parents to convince them that you were in Europe,
right?” Peggy put in.

“That’s right,” Paula said. “Nancy agreed to do that, and to mail me the
letters my parents sent. That way, I could answer any specific questions
and make my letters sound natural. I mailed my letters to my parents
over to Nancy, and she posted them from Europe.”

“But what went wrong?” Peggy asked. “How come you ran out of money, if
your parents gave you enough for a year in Europe? And how come your
friend stopped sending letters home?”

“I don’t know, Peggy,” Paula said earnestly. “I’ve been worried to death
about it. I haven’t heard from Nancy for almost a month. You see, that’s
why I ran out of money. My parents naturally didn’t want me to carry too
much cash with me, so they arranged to send regular monthly checks to me
at the cities I was supposed to visit. As soon as the checks came to the
hotel, Nancy would send them to me in New York, I would sign them and
mail them back, and Nancy would cash them in Europe. That way, the bank
markings on the backs of the checks wouldn’t be from New York, but from
Paris, or Milan or Rome or wherever Nancy was. Then Nancy would send me
a money order. The whole process only took about a week by air mail, and
it worked fine for a while.”

“It sounds complicated, but it makes sense,” Peggy said. “That is, as
much sense as it could make, once you had decided to do a foolish thing.
But what went wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Paula repeated miserably. “All of a sudden the money
stopped coming, and I didn’t get any letters from Nancy. At that point,
I didn’t know what to do. I’m convinced that Nancy either must have had
an accident, or else she’s ill, because I know that I can trust her. She
must be unable to send mail. I’m scared! I would have quit the show and
gone to Europe to find out, but by then I didn’t have any money left. My
father’s London office probably could locate her right away, but I
didn’t want to call my parents and tell them, because then no good at
all would have come of the whole affair. I just kept hoping each day
that I’d hear from Nancy. And meanwhile, opening night was coming
closer, and I thought that if I could just hold out until then—and until
I saw the notices in the papers—I could tell my parents, and maybe
they’d understand.”

“Well, maybe so,” Peggy said, “but, to tell you the truth, Paula, I
doubt it. They’ll surely understand your desire to prove yourself, but I
can’t imagine that they’ll appreciate the way you chose to do it.”

Paula nodded, looking unhappier every minute.

“What do you think I ought to do, Peggy?”

“I think you ought to call them right now and tell them you’re all
right. Then you can explain what you’ve done, and see what they say.”

“No! No, Peggy! I know you’re right, but I also know what they’d do!
They would come right to New York, and they’re unable to travel anywhere
without being recognized and followed by reporters and photographers.
And once the newspapers get hold of a story like this, it’ll be all over
the place, and when opening night is over, I’ll still not know whether I
was good or not—or if I made a splash because of my name and my
publicity.”

“But you can’t keep them worrying any longer!” Peggy exclaimed.

“It’s not much longer, Peggy,” Paula pleaded. “We open in three
days—just three more days! Then I’ll tell them!”

“I think you’re doing the wrong thing,” Peggy said, “but I suppose
there’s no way I can force you to do otherwise. Of course ... I can
always call them myself, but I’d rather you did it.”

“Please, Peggy! Promise me you won’t do that!” Paula begged.

“I ... I’ll think it over,” Peggy said. “I don’t want to make any
promises before I think.”

Both girls sat in unhappy silence for what seemed like a long time.

“Paula,” Peggy began after a while, “I hope you’ll forgive me for—”

“Of course,” Paula interrupted. “There’s nothing to forgive. I know you
were doing it for my own good. And if it hadn’t been for you—”

Peggy cut her off with an impatient nod. “Please don’t thank me for
that,” she said. “As long as you know I was just trying to help. And all
I want to know now is that we can keep on being friends.”

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” Paula said solemnly, “and I
don’t know why you even want to have anything to do with someone who’s
acted as selfishly and inconsiderately as I have.”

“It’s because I want to meet your famous parents!” Peggy said, laughing.

For a moment Paula was taken aback, then she too burst out laughing. The
surface strain of the meeting was broken, and in a much lighter mood,
the two girls left the apartment for dinner and the night’s rehearsal.

But Peggy knew that it was only the surface that was smooth. Underneath,
she still felt the strain of the last hour—of the last weeks. She had
been asked to give her promise to Paula, and she had not done so. The
decision was still to be made, and until it was, Peggy knew that she
would not have a moment’s peace.



                                  XIII
                               A Decision


During rehearsal that night, and afterward, Peggy managed to have as
little contact with Paula as possible. She felt that they were both
talked out on the subject by now, and any further conversation would
only serve to confuse the issue, rather than clarify it.

Shortly after midnight, when Mal dismissed the cast, Peggy, Amy, and
Greta made a quick and unobtrusive exit and hurried back to the Gramercy
Arms to discuss the matter with May Berriman.

May had been expecting a meeting this evening, and was waiting for the
girls in the huge and friendly kitchen downstairs. Hot chocolate
perfumed the air, and a tray of warm, freshly made cookies was set out
on the long sawbuck table.

When the girls were seated, and the chocolate had been poured, Peggy
repeated what Paula had told her. She finished by telling of Paula’s
request that nobody contact her parents until after opening night.

“And did you agree?” May Berriman asked.

“No,” Peggy said uneasily. “I couldn’t. But I didn’t say that I would
call them either. I told her that I would have to think it over.”

“What have you decided?” May asked, in a voice like a conscience.

“... I haven’t really come to a decision yet, May,” Peggy said. “I’ve
been thinking about it all evening.”

“Amy? Greta? What do you think?” May Berriman pursued.

The girls shook their heads and looked at each other.

“It seems to me,” the old actress said with slow dignity, “that Peggy
made her decision some days ago, even before the whole story was known.”

“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.

“I mean that I remember you saying that people were more important than
plays. And that, I presume, goes for careers, too. People, and people’s
feelings, are the most important thing in the world. I think that you’ve
already decided to call Paula’s parents.”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Peggy answered. “Even though I agree that
people and their feelings are the most important thing. You see, I have
to consider Paula’s feelings, too, don’t I?”

“No,” May Berriman said firmly. “She’s been considering her own feelings
long enough, and all of you have done nothing but help her to continue
her foolishness. Maybe it’s because of my age, but I can’t consider her
feelings anywhere near as important as the feelings of her parents. They
haven’t heard from her for a month. The checks they sent haven’t been
cashed. They probably are frightened to death, and I wouldn’t be
surprised if they had the police forces in half the countries of Europe
searching for Paula. I think it’s time somebody put a stop to it.”

The girls considered what May had said, and silently sipped their
chocolate. Nobody cared to say anything, Amy and Greta each having
decided individually that the final decision must come from Peggy.

It was a long time until the silence was broken.

“All right, May,” Peggy said. “I can’t argue with you, because I know
you’re right. There’s nothing to do but call them, and now’s as good a
time as any.”

She glanced at the tall grandfather clock in the corner. “It’s not quite
ten o’clock in California now,” she said. “I’ll go upstairs and call.”

“But what if it’s an unlisted phone number?” Amy asked.

“Oh-oh,” said Peggy. “You’re right, of course, Amy. A famous star like
Stacy Blair would never have a listed number. She’d be bothered to
death.” She sighed impatiently. “Well, I’ll just have to send her a
wire.”

“Wait a minute, Peggy,” May Berriman said suddenly. “I know someone
who’s a close friend of the Andrews, and she’s right here in New York.
Let me call her. She’s bound to know their number.”

May went up the stairs with surprising agility while the three girls
waited in excited silence. She soon returned waving a slip of paper and
announced dramatically, “I’ve got it!”

Peggy stood up and crossed the room. May handed her the slip on which
the number was written. At the foot of the stairs, Peggy paused and
said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Please wait up for me, will you?”

“You couldn’t get us to bed now at gunpoint!” Greta said.

Peggy went upstairs and put through the call. The Andrews telephone was
answered by a woman.

“Andrews residence,” she said crisply.

“I’d like to speak to Mrs. Andrews,” Peggy said.

“Who is calling, please?”

“My name is Peggy Lane. She doesn’t know me, but I’m a friend of her
daughter’s, and I have some information about her that I know Mrs.
Andrews would want to hear.”

“About Miss Paula? Tell me! Is she all right? Where—?”

“Yes, yes, she’s all right,” Peggy said, somewhat impatiently. “Now,
please, won’t you call Mrs. Andrews to the phone?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Lane,” the voice at the other end said, “but Mr. and
Mrs. Andrews aren’t here.”

“When do you expect them back?” Peggy asked.

“I don’t know. They’re in New York now, on their way to Europe, if they
haven’t left already. I believe they plan to catch a plane tonight.”

“Tonight! But ... what airline? How can I reach them if they haven’t
left yet?”

“You might try the hotel in New York,” the maid said. “They had to stop
over for plane connections, but I don’t know for how long. They always
stay at the Plaza, and you might get them there.”

“Thank you,” Peggy said hurriedly. “I’ll call them right—”

“But wait!” the maid interrupted. “Tell me about Miss Paula! Where is
she? Has she had an accident? What—?”

“She’s right here in New York!” Peggy cried. “And I can’t talk more now!
I have to stop her parents before they fly off to Europe! Thank
you—good-by!”

Peggy hurriedly hung up before the anxious woman could continue her
questioning. Swiftly thumbing through the phone book, she picked out the
number of the Plaza and dialed.

“I’m sorry,” a smooth clerkish voice answered, “but Mr. and Mrs. Andrews
have already checked out.”

“When?” Peggy asked. “What time?”

“About a half hour ago,” the voice said calmly. “I believe they left for
the airport.”

“I know,” Peggy said excitedly. “But which airline? Do you know, or is
there any way you could find out?”

“One moment, please,” the voice replied. “Perhaps the bell captain
knows.”

There was a clatter as the phone was placed on a marble surface, and
Peggy waited nervously. In the background, she heard the dim noises of
the hotel lobby, the thin sound of a dance tune, occasional small
voices. For what seemed an endless stretch of time, she waited. At last,
when it seemed that her nerves could stand not one moment more, she
heard the phone being picked up.

“The bell captain says they were going to International Airways
Terminal, miss,” the helpful voice said. “I’m sorry it took so much
time, but I checked the doorman as well, to see if he overheard the taxi
directions. Fortunately he did.”

“Thank you,” Peggy said fervently. “Thank you very much!” She rang off
and then promptly dialed Randy.

A sleepy voice answered at the seventh ring. “Wha’?” Randy said.

“Randy, it’s Peggy. I’m sorry to wake you, but don’t stop to ask why.
Just pull yourself together fast!”

“All right. Okay. I’m awake now,” Randy said. “What’s the trouble,
Peggy?”

“I’ll explain later, when there’s time,” she said. “Right now, we
haven’t a minute to lose. I want you to get dressed as fast as you can,
and come right up here with the car. Make sure you have plenty of gas.
I’ll be waiting.”

“But ... all right.” Randy said. “You don’t sound as if you’re kidding.
I’ll see you in about ten minutes!” He hung up.

Peggy ran down to the kitchen.

“I’m afraid we’ve talked about things for too long,” she said dismally,
“and acted a little too late. If only I had made up my mind an hour
sooner!”

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked.

Peggy explained what had happened. “Now they’re on their way to
Idlewild,” she concluded, “and I don’t know if we stand a chance of
reaching them before they take off. Randy’s on his way here now, and
we’re going to try to get there in time, even if it means getting a
police escort or the worst speeding tickets they hand out! Mr. and Mrs.
Andrews have over half an hour’s head start.”

“I think you have a good chance of making it,” May said calmly, “without
exceeding the speed limits. If you are stopped by a policeman, you’ll
lose more time than if Randy drives properly. Besides, their head start
isn’t as great as you think it is. The airlines always make passengers
arrive at least a half-hour before flight time, and most people allow
even more time than that, in case of traffic delays. Still ... I admit,
you haven’t got too much time to stand around talking.”

“Randy said he’d be here in ten minutes,” Peggy said, “and it’s just
about that now. I’d better go. Keep your fingers crossed.” She darted up
the stairs.

The two girls and May Berriman looked at each other.

“I suggest,” May Berriman said with an air of finality, “that we switch
from cocoa to coffee. I think it’s going to be a long night, and I, for
one, have no intention of trying to sleep until it’s all over.”



                                  XIV
                           Race Against Time


Peggy struggled into her coat and stepped out onto the front stoop of
the Gramercy Arms just in time to see Randy’s sleek old English
automobile turn the corner and pull up with a squeal of brakes in front
of the steps.

She ran down the steps, wrenched open the door and slid in next to
Randy.

“Idlewild Airport,” she gasped. “As fast as you can without getting
stopped!”

“But—”

“No but’s,” she interrupted. “Let’s go!”

Randy put the big car smoothly into motion, turned east and headed for
the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

“We’re going to the International Airways Building,” Peggy said. “Do you
know where it is?”

“Yes,” Randy answered. “And now that you’re settled down and have your
breath back, do you mind telling me what’s happening?”

“It’s Paula,” Peggy said. “Paula’s mother is Stacy Blair, the movie
star, and she’s going to Europe to hunt for Paula because she doesn’t
know she’s right here in New York and we have to stop them before the
plane leaves, and—”

“Wait a minute,” Randy interrupted. “Who thinks who’s in Europe and whom
do we have to stop? You mean that Paula’s going to Europe to find her
mother, or Paula’s mother is going to Europe to find Paula?”

“That’s right,” Peggy said. “I mean, the last thing you said is right.
Paula’s mother and father are on their way to Idlewild now to catch a
plane for Europe. They think Paula’s there. It’s simple.”

“It’s the most complicated piece of simplicity I’ve ever heard,” Randy
commented. “Now why don’t you start from the beginning and tell it
slowly and clearly? It’s not going to affect the time it takes to get to
Idlewild, so you might as well relax.”

Of course it wasn’t simple, as Peggy realized once she tried to explain
the whole affair. It was necessary to tell Randy how she found out about
Paula, and what Paula had been trying to accomplish, and how she had
found out that Paula’s parents were on their way. By the time she had
finished telling it, they had left Manhattan behind them, and were
speeding along the express highways of Long Island.

Every so often, coming to the top of one of the low rolling hills that
make up the gigantic sandbar that is Long Island, Peggy could see the
lights and towers of Manhattan, seeming never to drop much farther
behind. She had, for a moment, the nightmare sensation of running,
running, running with every possible effort, and getting nowhere at all.

Fortunately, the highways were nearly deserted at this late hour, and
Randy was able to make good time. The powerful engine under the long
hood of the big English car purred with a low, well-tuned sound as they
raced through the night, past the darkened windows of houses and garden
apartments. The speedometer needle quivered at the sixty mark, and Peggy
kept glancing nervously behind her, expecting at any moment to see the
flashing red light and hear the warning siren of a pursuing police
patrol car, but none came.

Once they passed a lurking police car, waiting with darkened lights to
catch a speeder, but Randy’s driving, though fast, was steady and
unobtrusive. The patrol car stayed parked in the field alongside the
road.

Finally, Peggy made out the searchlights of the airport, far ahead of
them, and then the general glow in the sky that marked the landing
strips, public buildings, lounges, and airline ticket offices.

As they approached the airport, Randy broke the silence. “I’ll drive
straight to the International Airways Building,” he said, “and I’ll put
the car in the employees’ parking lot. The regular parking lot takes a
little more time, especially if we have to wait for a ticket. We can go
right in from the employees’ lot, and worry about getting a ticket
later.”

“How do we go about finding Mr. and Mrs. Andrews when we get there?”
Peggy asked. “We don’t even know what plane they’re taking.”

“We shouldn’t have any trouble finding out about that,” Randy said. “I’m
sure that even International Airways doesn’t have more than one plane
bound for Europe at this time of night. We’ll look at the flight
schedule board, and then head for the gate. At least there’s no problem
about recognizing Paula’s mother when we do find her. She has one of the
most famous faces in the world, I guess.”

By now they were on the approach road to Idlewild Airport, which looked
like something out of a science-fiction movie. The highways curved in
symmetrical patterns, crossing over and under each other, and arched
over with slim, modern lamps. The airline terminal buildings, brightly
lighted, were each different from the other, and different, too, from
any buildings that Peggy had ever seen. One looked like a giant
glass-and-steel mushroom; others, in the most modern shapes, defied
simple description. The International Airways Building, one of the
largest, was a long, square, crystal box, with soaring bridges and
terraces connecting it to other buildings.

Randy drove under one of these bridges past the front entrance of the
building, swung sharply to the right, and pulled the car into the
parking lot reserved for pilots. Before anyone could come to question
them, he and Peggy were out of the car, running for the entrance.

Inside, in sharp contrast to the deserted highways and sleeping
landscape that they had just roared through, the terminal was alive with
hurrying people. Loud-speakers were crackling with announcements,
porters carried baggage in all directions, people stood in knots waiting
for planes to leave or for planes to arrive. Peggy’s head swam with the
excitement.

“This way!” Randy said, and grabbed her by the hand. He led her through
a maze of people to a counter at the far side of the room. Behind the
counter was a smartly uniformed young woman posting information on a
large blackboard.

“Miss,” Randy called, “could you please tell me if there’s a plane
leaving for Europe—or scheduled to leave for Europe—in the next few
minutes?”

The girl smiled, stepped away from the blackboard which she had been
obscuring, and pointed. “Take a look,” she said. “One left for Ireland
about five minutes ago. Another takes off for Lisbon in ten minutes.
Rome, fifteen minutes. Paris ... let’s see ... not for another
half-hour. That enough for you?”

“Oh dear!” Peggy said. “We’ll never find them this way! Miss, we’re
looking for some people who are probably scheduled to leave on one of
those planes, but we don’t know which. Perhaps you can help us?”

“The General Agent has all the passenger lists,” the girl said. “You’ll
find his office on the third floor, and I’m sure that you can get the
information you want there.”

“But....” Peggy began.

“It’s quite simple,” the girl said efficiently. “Take the elevator to
your left, and the General Agent will have your friends paged on the
public address system....”

“Paged!” Peggy gasped.

“Oh, boy, are we stupid!” Randy said. “We should have done that in the
first place, instead of taking this mad dash out here! Or we should have
done that, too, or had the girls do it....”

“But there’s no time for that now!” Peggy said. “They might be boarding
a plane this very minute!” She turned again to the now puzzled girl.
“Maybe you’ve seen them,” she began. “We’re looking for—”

“I’m sorry,” the girl said primly, “but I’m not allowed to give any
information about passengers, even if I do know their names. Which I
never do.”

“We’re looking for Mr. and Mrs. Dean Andrews,” Peggy went on, ignoring
the girl’s disclaimer. “She’s Stacy Blair, the famous movie—”

“Stacy Blair!” the girl exclaimed. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the
first place? Of course I’ve seen her! How could anyone miss? Why, I
never—”

“Has she left yet?” Randy interrupted.

“Not yet,” the girl said, annoyed at being cut off. “She’s scheduled to
take the Lisbon plane that leaves in eight minutes. But if you’re
looking for an autograph, you don’t have a chance. I tried myself, and
she didn’t even look at me. She’s in some sort of a bad mood, and won’t
talk to people. A lot of the girls and passengers tried, but—”

“Lisbon! Gate fifteen!” Peggy read from the notice board. “Thanks!” she
called back to the uniformed girl as she and Randy hurried for the exit
that led to the passenger loading gates.

They dashed past the gate attendant with a hurried explanation that they
just had to see somebody off. Before he could stop them, they were
racing down the long corridor past the numbered passenger gates. Through
the broad windows, they could see a large jet plane, its door opened and
a boarding ramp being wheeled up to its side. Through the trap below the
plane, they saw luggage being loaded.

“That must be it!” Randy panted.

“Attention, please!” rasped the loud-speaker. “Your attention, please!
Flight number two-oh-seven for Lisbon now taking on passengers at gate
fifteen! Gate fifteen! Will all passengers for Lisbon please go to gate
fifteen....”

“Good!” Peggy gasped. “We’re ahead of them! All we have to do is wait at
the gate and we’re sure to see them!”

They slackened their pace somewhat, as they saw that nobody was at the
loading gate but a uniformed airline official who was waiting to inspect
the passengers’ tickets before letting them board. As they pulled up
breathlessly at the railing, the man smiled.

“You didn’t have to rush,” he said. “We’re just boarding now, and we
won’t be taking off for another ten minutes or so.”

“Oh, we’re not flying,” Peggy explained. “We just wanted to be here
first so that we wouldn’t miss some people we want to see.”

“Oh, seeing off some friends,” the uniformed man said. “You must really
be fond of them to come out at a late hour like this just for the fun of
waving good-by!”

“Well, you might say that,” Randy said, reluctant to give away the real
purpose of their visit.

“If you wait right here, you can’t miss them,” the man smiled. “In fact,
here come the first ones now.”

Looking down the long corridor, Peggy and Randy saw a knot of passengers
approaching at a leisurely pace. None of them seemed, even at this
distance, to be Stacy Blair. Peggy cast a puzzled look at Randy.

“They’ll probably be along in a minute or two,” he said reassuringly. “I
guess it’s only the new travelers who hurry to be the first on board.”

They stood quietly by as the passengers checked in, one by one, offering
their tickets for inspection to the uniformed official. As each
passenger passed through the gate, the inspector checked off his or her
name against a master list on his little standing desk.

Peggy watched with mounting alarm as name after name was checked off,
and still Paula’s parents did not appear. Catching her expression, the
airline official paused in his paperwork.

“Say,” he said, “you’re not waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Blackstone, are
you? Because if you are, I got word that they had canceled, and your
trip out here would be for nothing.”

“No,” Peggy said, “not Blackstone. Why?”

“Because everybody else is on board already!” he replied. “Sure you have
the right flight number?”

“I certainly hope so!” Peggy said. “Please, may I see your passenger
list?”

“Sure. Help yourself.” He moved aside from the desk to let her look.

At the top of the list stood the names of Mr. and Mrs. Dean Andrews.

“This is the right flight, all right,” Peggy said. “We’re waiting to see
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews—and they surely didn’t come on board!”

“Not when you were looking,” the man said with a grin. “Sorry, kids, but
you’ll have to collect your autographs some other time. Mr. and Mrs.
Andrews were allowed to board before the other passengers, just so they
could avoid being noticed. It seems that everybody wants Stacy Blair’s
autograph, and she had a headache or something. Tough luck!”

“We’re not autograph hunters,” Peggy said, “but we have to see Mr. and
Mrs. Andrews! Can we please go on board? It’s very important!”

The man shook his head. “Sorry. It’s strictly against the rules.”

“But—”

“You sure are a persistent girl,” he interrupted, “but it’s not going to
do you any good. Now why don’t you just run along and chase some other
movie star? Mrs. Andrews asked to be left alone, and we’re going to do
everything we can to see that her wishes are—Hey!”

Realizing that further discussion would be useless, Peggy decided that
the time had come for direct action. She simply ran through the gate and
out on to the field. Before the uniformed man could get around the
railing and start in pursuit, she had already covered half the distance
to the waiting jet.

“Stop!” She heard a shout behind her. Still running, she turned her head
in time to see Randy grab the man by the sleeve to hold him back. Hoping
that Randy wouldn’t get into a fight or in any serious trouble, she ran
straight on and up the steps of the boarding ramp where a stewardess
with a startled expression stood waiting for her.

Knowing what the answer would be to any explanations she might make,
Peggy simply dashed past her, muttering, “Excuse me!” before the
surprised girl could stop her.

In the softly lighted cabin, all that Peggy could see were the backs of
heads. She knew that she must find Mr. and Mrs. Andrews in a hurry, or
she would be put off the plane before she ever got a chance to speak to
them. There was no time to go quietly from seat to seat looking for the
familiar features of Paula’s mother. Peggy drew a deep breath, looked
once around her, and shouted:

“Mr. Andrews! Mr. Andrews! Telegram!”

There was a sudden silence in the plane, then a murmur as heads swiveled
around and saw a young girl standing in the aisle, nervously biting her
lip. Among the heads was the beautiful but worn and strained face of
Stacy Blair. Peggy ran down the aisle, the stewardess close behind her.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Mr. Andrews began angrily. “Who are you,
and what do you—”

“Please!” Peggy interrupted, almost whispering. “It’s about Paula!”

The airline stewardess reached them, grabbed Peggy’s arm, and said, “I
couldn’t stop her, Mr. Andrews! I’m sorry, but—”

“Wait, please!” Paula’s mother said, as the stewardess started to force
Peggy away. The girl relaxed her grip. The famous actress looked at
Peggy and said, “What about Paula?”

“She’s right here in New York,” Peggy whispered, conscious of the
surrounding passengers, whose attention was riveted on the strange,
dramatic scene. “I’m her friend, and I came to stop you from going to
Europe. I’m sorry I caused such a fuss ... but they didn’t want to let
me on the plane, and—”

“Wait, please,” Mr. Andrews interrupted in a quiet voice. “This is no
place to talk.” He turned to his wife. “Stacy, we’re not taking this
plane. Don’t say a word now. We’ll talk where it’s more private.”

Paula’s father instructed the baffled stewardess to see to it that their
luggage was removed, then shepherded his wife and Peggy out of the
plane, leaving behind a cabin full of puzzled, buzzing passengers.

“Are ... are you sure about this?” Paula’s mother said to her husband.

“No,” he said calmly, “but we can’t leave here until we are sure, one
way or the other.”

At the passenger gate, they found Randy—uncomfortably under the guard of
two airport policemen. The official who had tried to stop Peggy was
sitting on a stool with an angry expression and what looked like the
beginning of a classic black eye.

“This is my friend, Randy Brewster,” Peggy said. “He drove me out here,
and it looks as if he had to do some fighting to see to it that I got on
the plane.”

Randy grinned sheepishly. “Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.”

Mr. Andrews smiled at Randy. To the policemen he said, “Let him come
along with us, please.”

“I dunno, Mr. Andrews,” one of the policemen said. “I think Mr. Watkins
here wants to hold him on an assault charge.”

“I was just trying to protect you, Mrs. Andrews,” the official said,
“but if he is a friend of yours, as he says he is, I suppose I ought to
apologize instead of pressing charges.”

“Yes, he’s a friend,” Mrs. Andrews said, adding under her breath, “at
least I think he is!”

“Well ... no charge, then,” the uncomfortable Mr. Watkins said.

Randy was released and fell into step alongside Peggy and Paula’s
parents as they walked down the corridor.

“This had better be on the up-and-up,” Mr. Andrews said darkly, “or I’ll
see to it that both of you face a good deal more than a simple assault
charge as a result of it!”

He cut off Peggy’s protestations, saying that he didn’t want to say one
more word until they were seated in privacy in the airport restaurant.
The next minutes until they reached their destination were spent in
uncomfortable silence.

Once seated, after introductions and assurances that Paula was safe and
well, Peggy recited the story that had by now become as familiar to her
as her lines in the play. Carefully, omitting nothing, she explained
what Paula had tried to do, and how things had gone wrong. She explained
her own part in Paula’s life, and how she had decided, on May Berriman’s
advice, to disregard her friend’s wishes and call her parents. Then she
told of her fast detective work in tracing them to the hotel and the
airport, and of the final dash for the plane.

“So there was nothing I could do but stand there and yell,” she
concluded. “I’m sorry it caused such a fuss, but I didn’t know how else
to find you before they put me off the plane. Anyway, that brings us to
here.”

“It’s quite a story,” Mr. Andrews said. “Both of us are very grateful to
you, Peggy, for the care you’ve taken of Paula and for your concern
about us. And we’re grateful to you too, Randy,” he added.

“We are,” Paula’s mother echoed, a smile lighting her face. “Now, my
dear, will you please take us to Paula?”

“I ... I was afraid you’d ask that,” Peggy said. “I will, of course, if
you really insist on it, but I wish you’d think about it awhile first.
Paula has gone through so much—and put both of you through so much,
too—just to prove something to herself. If you go to her now, her whole
effort will have been wasted. I think you ought to let her stay in
obscurity for just a few days longer until we open the show, and give
her the chance she wanted.”

“I understand your point of view, Peggy,” Paula’s mother said, “but
can’t you understand mine? All I want is to see my daughter and be sure
that she’s safe and well!”

“Can’t you take my word for that, please?” Peggy begged. “You’ve waited
so long, what does it matter if you wait another three days until
opening night? If you do that, then Paula will get the chance she wants,
and I won’t feel so miserable about having called you when she asked me
not to. I just want everybody—you two and Paula—to be happy. Won’t you
please wait and give her a chance to prove to herself that she’s as good
as we all know she is?”

“Is she good?” her mother asked fervently.

“She’s wonderful!” Peggy and Randy said in chorus.

“I knew it! I knew it!” The famous actress beamed. “I _knew_ all those
good reviews weren’t just because of us....”

“Then you had your doubts too, didn’t you, Mrs. Andrews?” Randy put in
quickly.

“Why ... why, not really,” Paula’s mother answered, taken aback. “But,
still....”

“But still, even though you were sure Paula is a good actress, you never
knew for a fact that the critics sincerely thought so too!” Randy said.

“In a way, I suppose you’re right,” Mrs. Andrews said.

“Then you can understand Paula’s view?” Peggy asked.

“Yes. I can understand.”

“Peggy,” Mr. Andrews said, “I’m willing to wait a few days to see her,
if you really think it’s best—and if my wife agrees. But what harm would
it do for us to call her on the phone?”

“It would be the same thing,” Peggy said. “She’d know that you’re in
town, and she’d start to suspect that you were doing things for her
again. Besides, it might throw her into such a state of excitement that
she wouldn’t do her best on opening night.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Paula’s mother said thoughtfully. “Nerves do get
on edge close to opening, and from what you tell me, I can’t imagine
that Paula’s are in the best of shape now.”

“Then you’ll wait?” Peggy asked.

“Yes, Peggy, I’ll wait. If only as a favor to you. Heaven knows, we owe
you a favor for all you’ve done. Do you agree, dear?”

Mr. Andrews looked thoughtful. “All right,” he said at length. “But
we’re going to be at the opening! We’ll sit in the back of the house so
she won’t see us. My wife will have to wear a veil or a false mustache
or something, but you can bet we’re going to be there!”

“We’ll put you in the projection booth!” Randy said. “You’ll have a
perfect view, and nobody will see you at all!”

“Fine,” Mr. Andrews agreed. “And what do you want us to do until opening
night? Shall we just hang around New York, or shall we lie low
somewhere?”

“It does sound like a conspiracy, doesn’t it?” Peggy laughed.

“It is,” Paula’s mother said. “And Mr. Andrews has a point. We two are
considered to be—well—newsworthy, you know. And while it’s not much of a
story just to leave for Europe, it would be considered a story if the
papers found out about our sudden cancellation of the trip. If that gets
into the papers, and Paula sees it, she’ll know we’re in town, and
she’ll probably be more nervous than ever. Shouldn’t we go somewhere?”

“We should,” Mr. Andrews said, getting up from the table. “And before we
waste any more time, I’d better get hold of those policemen and that Mr.
Watkins and see that they don’t start talking to any reporters about
tonight.”

He returned somewhat later, looking pleased with himself.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ve taken care of them, and I’ve rented a car.
We’re going to do something we’ve both wanted to do for years, and
haven’t had time for. We’re taking a nice, leisurely sight-seeing trip
by car. We won’t come back till opening night, and then we’ll go
straight to the theater!”

Final plans were hurriedly made for the trip, and for the timing of
their arrival on opening night, as Peggy and Randy walked Mr. and Mrs.
Andrews to their waiting car. Good nights and thanks were exchanged once
more.

By the time that Randy delivered Peggy to the doorstep of the Gramercy
Arms, the first light of dawn was showing in the east. It was nearly
five in the morning. Through the kitchen windows at street level, Peggy
could see May Berriman, Amy, and Greta, surrounded by coffee cups,
doggedly waiting up for her. It would still be awhile, she knew, before
she would get to bed.



                                   XV
                                Act One


First Night!

A magic phrase and a magic moment to everyone in show business! The
glitter, the jitters, the excitement of a first night are the same
everywhere—for the big new Broadway show, with its stars, its lavish
sets and costumes, its important audience in formal dress, as well as
for the smallest theater in the smallest town in America. In high school
and college auditoriums, in summer tents and barns, in tiny converted
carriage-house theaters in the back streets of Greenwich Village, the
glamour comes as always, and with it, the feverish excitement.

Last-minute problems suddenly arise, as suddenly are solved. Something
is wrong with the second row of baby spots; they’re out of focus. Did
someone move the lighting bar? Fix it! An important door, vital to
certain entrances and exits, gets stuck. When you try to pull it, the
canvas wall in which it is set trembles. Brace the canvas! Plane down
the door jamb! Oil the hinges and the door latch! Better? Fine!

“Where’s the ladder? How can I fix those spots....”

“Who has some blue thread? This darned blouse....”

“I’ll never make that costume change in time! We’ll have to open the
back and put in snaps, but there has to be a dresser to help me or....”

“Who took the tennis racket from this prop table? Come on! This is no
time to fool around!”

“Where’s the ladder?”

“Mal, did you change the position of that sofa in Act Three, or am I
just imagining it? If you did....”

“Yes, I restaged it in last night’s rehearsal. I thought it would....”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me? Now I have to relight the whole scene!
You directors think that all you have to do is tell the actors! There
are other people who are important too....”

“Sorry. Really, I am. Must have slipped my mind.”

“Slipped your mind? Well!”

“Please! This is no time for a quarrel. Here, let me show you....”

“Where’s that ladder? I have to have that ladder!”

“Who wanted blue thread? I found the sewing kit on top of the
switchboard!”

“What time is it?”

“One ladder, coming up!”

“I wanted blue thread—but this is the wrong color blue. Do you think it
will show from out front?”

“It’s seven o’clock!”

“Hold still, Peggy! I’m cutting the back open now, and I don’t want to
hurt you. Do you turn your back to the audience at any time, or can I
fake this hem, do you think?”

“Do I turn? Let me think ... No. You can fake it. But it has to look all
right in a profile, because I cross a lot. Will I have a dresser right
here?”

“I’ll be here, and we have a screen right by the switchboard ... or we
should have one. Joe! What about that dressing screen off right?”

“As soon as you finish with that ladder, may I please....”

“All right, Peggy. Take it off now, and I’ll sew it up. Plenty of time!”

Peggy stepped behind the switchboard and slipped off the blouse, which
now came off like a smock. The snaps in back would keep her from having
to unbutton the whole front and then having to button it up again—a
saving of at least a minute. And a minute is a long time. She put on a
lightweight bathrobe, handed the blouse to the wardrobe mistress, and
stepped out into the confusion of the stage, to see what was going on
now.

On top of the tall extension ladder, Sam Marcus, the electrician, was
fixing the position of the three end baby spots in order to light the
sofa properly in its new position. Below him, Joe Banks, chief
stagehand, was waiting impatiently to carry off the ladder as soon as it
was free. Amy, on her hands and knees in front of the troublesome door,
was tacking down a hump that had suddenly appeared in the canvas
groundcloth, and which threatened to stop the door from opening. As
Peggy approached her, she looked up and managed a grin, despite the fact
that her mouth was full of long carpet tacks.

“Why, Grandma, what big teeth you have!” Peggy said, looking down at her
friend.

“Mmph!” Amy said. She pounded in two more tacks, took the remaining few
from between her lips, and surveyed her handiwork. “Think that’ll do?”
she asked.

“It looks good to me,” Peggy replied. “Now let’s see what’s going to go
wrong next!”

“There isn’t much left to go wrong that hasn’t already done so and been
fixed at least twice.” Amy laughed. “Now, if everything will just be
kind enough to hold together through tonight, I’ll be most grateful to
Fate.”

Randy suddenly appeared through the door, which worked smoothly this
time.

“I’m not worried about the costumes and sets holding together,” he said,
“as much as I am about the play holding together. I suppose it’s just
first-night jitters, but I have the terrible feeling that the whole play
ought to be rewritten from beginning to end. But Mal won’t let me change
so much as one single word now.”

“Randy! The play is beautiful,” Peggy said, “and I don’t think there’s a
word in it that should be changed. Besides, you shouldn’t say things
like that out loud, even if you feel them. Some of the cast might hear
you, and they’re already nervous enough, without having to worry about
the quality of the play.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Randy said moodily. “And anyway, it’s too
late. How are the actors holding up? Are they really nervous? You look
as cool as an orchid on ice.”

“I’m not,” Peggy said, “but if I’m going to fool the audience into
thinking so, I have to start by fooling myself. The rest of the gang
seem all right, too, except that their good-humored kidding around
sounds suspiciously on the edge of hysteria!”

“How’s our leading lady?” Randy asked cautiously. “She looked a little
strange when I saw her last, about an hour ago.”

“I don’t know,” Peggy said slowly. “She seemed ... strange ... to me,
too. She wasn’t nervous, and she wasn’t kidding around with the rest of
the cast, and at the same time, she didn’t seem cool and calm. She just
looked sort of distant and detached. I think she’s collecting her
strength, in a way—preparing herself to _be_ Alison, rather than just to
play her.”

“That’s the way it seemed to me,” Randy said. “It’s as if she has
written a sort of pre-play ... you know, the action that takes place
before the play begins. She’s figured out what Alison’s frame of mind
must have been before she arrived at the resort, and that’s the part
she’s playing now.”

“That’s just what it is,” Amy said. “I know, because I talked to her
about it last night, and she told me that the hardest part of acting for
her was what she had to imagine for herself before ever coming on stage.
I’ll bet by now she’s completely forgotten that she’s Paula Andrews and
an actress, and that nothing is real for her but the character of
Alison. That’s what makes her so good.”

“She is good,” Randy agreed, “and she certainly is Alison. I only hope
she doesn’t completely convince herself that she’s living this rather
than playing it, or she might start making up her own lines! And, at
that,” he added gloomily, “they’d probably be a lot better than the ones
I wrote.”

With a theatrical gesture of mock despair, he backed through the doorway
and gently shut the door.

“Here, Peggy! Try this on now!” It was the wardrobe mistress, back with
the blouse.

“Amy! You’d better get changed and start to get the ushers ready!”

“Where’s that ladder now! Why can’t I ever find....”

“What time is it?”

“Try number four dimmer down and number three up at the same time, and
with your other hand....”

“Who has the ladder?”

“It’s seven-forty!”

“I only have two hands, you know!”

“Did somebody call for the ladder? Who wanted that ladder?”

“No, no! Number four down and number three up, not number three down and
number four up!”

“What time did you say?”

“Did anybody see the first-aid kit? I cut my finger on this gel frame.”

“Give me a hand with the ladder, will you? Just set it right here,
under....”

“Look out! Don’t bleed all over the sofa!”

“It’s seven-forty-five.”

“Ouch!”


With all the past weeks of preparation, Peggy thought, you’d suppose
that nothing at all would have to be left till the last moment, but
somehow, no matter how well you planned, there was always something left
undone. Or something that had to be redone. Less than an hour before
curtain time, it seemed as if _Come Closer_ had not the least chance of
opening that night. But she knew that it would open, and she was sure
that it would go smoothly and well. At least she hoped that she was
sure.

Peggy went down the circular iron stairway to the dressing room she
shared with Greta. It was time to start putting her make-up on. Greta
was already applying the base, and the tiny room, no bigger than a
closet, was perfumed with the peculiar odor of grease paint. Every inch
of wall space except for the mirrors was covered with clothing—their own
and their costumes—hanging from nails and hooks. A few garments were
even suspended from some of the pipes that crisscrossed the low ceiling.
The room was so narrow that when Peggy sat at the dressing table, the
back of her chair was touching the wall behind her. The dressing table
itself, a rough board counter covered with plastic shelving paper, was
littered with bottles, jars, tubes, powder boxes, puffs, make-up
brushes, eyebrow pencils, eye-liners, grease crayons, hairbrushes,
combs, sprays, hairpins and other odds and ends.

Looking at the cramped, messy little room, Peggy suddenly thought of a
movie she had seen, where several scenes took place in a star’s dressing
room. It was an enormous room, she remembered, with a carved Victorian
sofa and chairs grouped around a little marble tea table. At one side of
the room had been an elaborate make-up table surmounted by a gold-framed
mirror. On it were a very few bottles and jars. A pleated silk screen
stood nearby, concealing an immense closet which held row upon row of
costumes. Overhead was a crystal chandelier.

Peggy laughed out loud when she thought of the chandelier.

“What’s funny?” Greta asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Peggy said. “I was just thinking that the best thing
about being an actress is the glamorous backstage life!”


“Five minutes!” called Dick Murphy, the stage manager. “Everybody ready
in there?”

“All ready!” Peggy and Greta sang out.

“Five minutes!” they heard him call at the next door.

“Let’s go up,” Peggy said. “I’m dying to see what kind of house we
have!”

“Murphy doesn’t want us up until he calls for places,” Greta said
doubtfully.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Peggy said. “We’re both on within five minutes
of curtain, and our places in the wings aren’t in anybody’s way.”

“All right,” Greta agreed, knowing that she was as eager as Peggy.

At the stage level, a few stagehands were making last-minute
adjustments. Mal stood to one side, seemingly watching nothing at all.
There was hardly a sound, except for the chatter of the audience, muted
by the curtain that separated them from the stage. The hundreds of
voices of the audience merged into a single sound, as the splashes of
thousands of wavelets in a single wave combine to become the murmur of
the sea. Peggy put her eye to the tiny peephole in the curtain. Almost
every seat was already filled, and the ushers were leading a few
last-minute arrivals down the aisles.

As she watched, the house lights began to dim, and the floods came up
brightly. An expectant hush came over the audience. She felt a hand on
her arm, and turned to see Dick Murphy, looking comically stern. He
silently gestured with a nod of his head, to indicate that it was time
for her to leave the stage. She took her place in the wings with the
other waiting actors. They were silent and outwardly calm, but she could
feel the tension in all of them.

A little behind them, seated on a suitcase that she would carry in with
her, was Paula, wearing an expression that gave away nothing.

“Okay,” she heard Dick Murphy say. “Places!”

Alan Douglas and Betsy Crane stepped out onto the empty stage and sat in
two widely separated lounge chairs. Alan spread his newspaper to read,
and Betsy began to knit.

“Curtain!” Murphy said.

And the play was on.



                                  XVI
                                Act Two


“I was awful! I just know I was awful!” Peggy moaned. “I never felt so
stiff and scared in my life! I think I must have walked like a
mechanical doll! Oh, Greta!”

“You were fine,” Greta said. “I mean it. You know I’m too good a friend
to lie to you. You were as natural as....”

“And I muffed two lines!” Peggy went on, as if she hadn’t even heard
Greta.

“What lines?”

“Didn’t you notice? Two of my lines came out all wrong, and if Alan and
Paula hadn’t picked them up and gone on as if nothing had happened, I
don’t know what I would have done!”

“I never noticed,” Greta said. “And I guess that means the audience
didn’t either. And they seemed to like it. That was one of the best
first-act curtain receptions I ever heard. If they like the rest of the
play as well, we’ve got a hit on our—”

“Don’t say it!” Peggy said. “It’s bad luck! Oh dear ... I don’t know how
I’ll ever get through it!”

“You’ll get through it beautifully,” Greta said, “the same way you got
through the first act.”

Reassured by Greta’s calm, businesslike manner, Peggy pulled herself
together with an almost visible effort. “How much longer before we go
on?” she asked. “Amy said she’d come back between acts with a report
from out front. She should be here by now.”

“She is here,” Amy said from the doorway. “And the report from out front
is great. You were both wonderful, and the play is perfect, and
everybody in the whole cast is grand!”

“Amy, I’m afraid that as a reporter, you’re a good friend,” Greta said.
“I’m glad you think it’s so good, but what I want to know is how is the
audience reacting? What’s the intermission talk like?”

“I’ve just come back from the lounge,” Amy said, “and I couldn’t ask for
better talk! Everybody is intrigued with the play, and they all seem to
think the production is a sure hit. And they’re wild about Paula! I’ve
never heard such talk in my life! Even the man from the _Times_ and the
man from the _Post_ were smiling and talking about Paula!”

“I knew that Paula would make a hit,” Peggy said warmly. “Isn’t she
good?”

“She couldn’t be better,” Amy agreed. “I just hope that she comes out of
this between-the-acts trance of hers when the play is over.”

“She’s still doing that?” Peggy asked, concerned.

“Good!” Greta said. “As long as she keeps it up, I have a feeling that
the play will go. Don’t worry about it. It’s just an especially strong
case of character identification. She’ll be herself again when she reads
the reviews in the morning.”

The lights flickered on and off.

“Oh-oh!” Amy said. “I’d better get back out front. See you between the
acts again!” With a wave of her hand she was gone.

“Let’s go, Greta,” Peggy said. “We’re on.”

Peggy felt calmer, somehow, in Act Two than she had before. The first
feelings of stage fright had left her, and she fell into her lines with
a practiced ease. No longer worrying about the words or about the stage
directions, both of which had been so drilled into her as to become
second nature, she became aware of the audience in a new and pleasant
way.

The faceless crowd out front was suddenly transformed for her into a
large group of friendly people. They were not hostile. They were warm
and eager to be pleased, interested in the play and the players. For the
first time, she felt a communication between herself and them, and as
she felt it, she realized that she was acting better, playing the part
as she had never done in rehearsals. Her confidence grew, and with it,
her pleasure in her craft. Peggy was learning how it really feels to be
an actress.

The second act went smoothly and well. The cast was sharp and alert; no
cues were missed; no lines were muffed. The timing was sharp and
professional, and remained so as the pace increased to build to the
shattering second-act curtain.

Watching it from the wings, Peggy was entranced with Paula and all the
supporting cast. If she had thought that this scene was already worked
to perfection in rehearsals, she had been mistaken. Now, in the presence
of the audience, a new life and vigor suffused Paula, and a new note of
urgency was felt. At the climax of the scene, when Paula collapsed in
tears and the actors standing round her seemed almost to flicker from
one personality to the other, the silence in the theater was electric.

The curtain descended and, a moment later, the audience burst into
thunderous applause. Peggy, limp with excitement, watched in almost
shocked surprise as Paula rose from the stage. She had half expected her
to remain sobbing on the floor as she had done in rehearsals, but now,
when Paula stood up, Peggy saw that her face was suffused with a smile
of pure girlish delight. She was good! The audience knew she was good
... the cast knew she was good ... and—most important—she now knew it
herself. Radiantly, she came to Peggy and said, in a quiet and
controlled voice, “I think we’re doing well, don’t you?”

Then both of them laughed aloud, knowing beyond all shadow of a doubt
that this was the understatement of the evening.


A few minutes before the third act, Randy knocked at the dressing-room
door.

“Come in,” Peggy said. “We’re decent.”

“You’re more than decent,” Randy said with a grin, “you’re marvelous!
Both of you,” he added, with a nod to Greta.

“Thank you,” Greta said. “And now, if I know anythink about anything, I
think I’d better leave you two alone!”

“Greta!” Peggy said in confusion. “I don’t know what you mean by....”

“You tell her, Randy,” Greta said, edging past him. “But don’t take too
long. We’re on in a few minutes.”

“She’s ... she’s just being silly,” Peggy said, blushing.

“Is she?” Randy asked innocently. “I thought she was making perfect
sense!”

Peggy began carefully to inspect her make-up and touch up her eyebrows.

“Don’t get so shy all of a sudden,” Randy said. “Besides, I didn’t come
here to ... well, I mean, I had no intention....” He paused awkwardly.
“Anyway,” he finished, “at least not now, I didn’t. I really came to
tell you that I’ve been to see Paula’s parents in the projection booth,
and I’ve never seen two happier people in my life. If they glowed any
more than they’re doing now, they’d throw the whole lighting plan out of
kilter!”

“Then they don’t mind having waited to see Paula?” Peggy asked.

“Not at all. They feel sure now that you were right. Mrs. Andrews said
that she wouldn’t have done anything that could have hurt Paula’s
performance. And what a performance!”

The lights flicked off and on, warning them that curtain time was near.

“I’d better go,” Randy said. “I just wanted to tell you I’d seen them,
and also to tell you that we’re all invited to a party they’re giving
after the show. They want to wait up for the first editions of the
papers to see what kind of reviews we get.”

“Will we get reviews in the first editions?” Peggy asked. “I thought
only the first-string critics did that, for important show openings.”

“That’s right,” Randy said, helping Peggy up the circular stair. “And
we’ve got the first-string critics! That’s the one piece of
‘interference’ that Mr. Andrews indulged in. He called the newspaper
reviewers and told them that he had heard of the show, and that it would
be worth their while to cover it themselves, instead of sending
assistants the way they do with so many off-Broadway openings.
Apparently a word from him is all it takes, because they’re all out
there ... and a lot of other important people, too!”

“Oh dear!” said Peggy. “I wish you hadn’t told me! It’s going to make
the whole thing difficult all over again!”

“Places!” Murphy called.

“So long!” Randy said, and left, but not before he had quickly placed a
kiss on the back of Peggy’s neck, where it wouldn’t spoil her make-up.



                                  XVII
                                 S.R.O.


Peggy was writing a letter to Jean Wilson, her friend back home in
Rockport, Wisconsin. She was already on the third page.


... so Paula’s parents agreed to stay out of sight until after opening
night. As you can see from the clippings I’ve enclosed, the play went
off wonderfully. Every paper loved us—and the whole audience, too. At
the final curtain, they wouldn’t let us off! We got curtain after
curtain, and I thought the applause would never stop for Paula. She got
seven solo curtain calls! (I shouldn’t brag, but I got two myself.)

When Paula was handed an enormous bouquet of roses somewhere along about
the third or fourth curtain call, and when she saw that the card on them
was from her mother and father, I thought she was going to fly around
the stage like Peter Pan! She managed to keep her head, though, and they
kept out of sight in the projection booth until all the critics and
everybody else had left the theater. They didn’t want Paula to think
that their presence had any effect on whatever it was the critics were
going to write.

I don’t think it would have mattered, anyway. When I saw Paula right
after the final curtain, she said that she had lost all her silly fears,
and that she didn’t even care about the reviews, because she knew for
herself what she was worth. I’m glad she finally figured it out!

After it was all over, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews gave a party for the
cast—and you’ll never guess where! It was at Sir Brian Alwyne’s house!
It seems that they’re old friends of Sir Brian—as I told you, he’s
really interested in the theater—and that explains why Paula wouldn’t go
there for the audition. Sir Brian has known her since she was a child,
and he knew that she was supposed to be in Europe. When she heard that
the audition was to be at his home, Paula just panicked. She didn’t know
what to do, so she ran.

Sir Brian was very charming to me at the party. He said that although he
was pleased that Paula had played the lead, and although she had done a
magnificent job, he had been looking forward to seeing me in the part. I
thought it was very sweet of him.

It was a wonderful party. We stayed up almost all night, until the early
editions of the papers came out, and then we sat around reading the best
phrases out of each of the reviews, and repeating them to each other
endlessly.

We owe a lot to Paula’s parents for getting the top critics down to see
us. And we also owe them a lot for getting other people to come too. The
play has been running for a week now and we’ve actually had to put up
the S.R.O. sign (“standing room only,” you know). Let me tell you about
a few of the good things that have happened.

First, Paula. After the opening, she got two major movie studio contract
offers again, and right now she’s in the process of deciding which one
to take. She has all the confidence in the world—as well as all the
talent—and she has definitely decided to go into the movies. But she has
told both the studios that she won’t be available until the play is
over, because she wants to play out the entire run at the Penthouse
Theater. It’s darned nice of her, because we have no run-of-play
contract with anybody in the cast. Still, looking at it honestly, and in
as practical a light as I can, I guess she does owe us something. But
not as much as we owe her for being as good as she was! (And is.)

Next, Randy. One of the biggest Broadway producers (I’m not allowed to
say who) has bought an option on Randy’s next play. That means that, if
he likes it, he’ll produce it in a Broadway theater! Not only that, but
he wants Mal to direct it, because he says that Mal is a wonderful
director, and has an obvious sympathy and understanding for Randy’s
work. Just think, Jean, my friends may be the new celebrities of the
theater world!

Then there’s Greta. She’s been offered a leading role in the national
company of _Moonbeam_, which is the biggest hit on Broadway today. They
start on tour in two months, so we’re going to have to find a
replacement for her. I’ll miss her, but it’s a wonderful break, and
she’d be wrong to turn it down.

Some of the other cast members have done well, too, but I don’t want to
bore you with a lot of details about people you don’t know, and don’t
really care about. It’s enough to say that we all feel that we’ve hit a
jackpot.

Finally, there’s me. I don’t have any real offers yet, or anything like
that, but I did get some really good notices—you’ll see when you read
them—and two producers have sent me nice notes asking me to come to see
them when I have time. But I did get one very important thing out of it
already. I have an agent!

That may not sound like much, but the good agents won’t even talk to a
beginning actress. I have been signed by N.A.R. (National Artists’
Representatives) and they’re nearly the biggest in the business! Randy
says that being signed by them is almost a guarantee of steady work, so
I guess I can really start to call myself an actress now! It’s a good
thing, too, because school is coming to an end, and unless I want to go
back to Rockport and college, I’m going to have to keep acting and
making a living at it.

Don’t misunderstand me, Jean. I have nothing against college. In fact, I
really miss it sometimes, the same way I miss you and a few of my other
good friends. But it just isn’t acting, and for me, nothing will ever be
as good as being on stage!

I wish you could come to New York next week with Mother and Dad when
they come to see the play, but I know how busy you are with school. If
we’re still running by summer, will you make the trip?

But of course we’ll still be running by summer!

We’ve got a hit! And we know it! and there’s nothing better than that!

                                                    More next time, from
                                                                   Peggy

                       [Illustration: Endpapers]


                       [Illustration: Back cover]



                        PEGGY PLAYS OFF-BROADWAY


In the second book of a thrilling new series for girls, Peggy Lane,
aspiring young actress, takes her first important step up the ladder of
success. She lands a small part in Randy Brewster’s experimental play
_Come Closer_—a part she secretly suspects Randy wrote especially for
her.

Unknowns all, the cast is headed by lovely Paula Andrews, an inspiration
on stage but something of a problem otherwise. Hits don’t just happen
for an experimental group. They are created out of hardships and
disappointments. The show’s production is threatened with financial
difficulties, and everyone’s hopes now depend on the special
presentation they are to give for a prospective backer. When Paula, at
the last minute, backs out, Mal Seton, the director, blows up. Peggy, he
says, can have the part.

Peggy, knowing she is not yet ready for a leading role, proposes a
radical solution. Then, trying to help Paula, who appears tense and
troubled, Peggy inadvertently discovers a mystery that cannot be
unraveled until Peggy herself resolves a dilemma!


                      _Peggy Lane Theater Stories_

                        Peggy Finds the Theater
                        Peggy Plays Off-Broadway
                          Peggy Goes Straw Hat
                           Peggy on the Road



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.





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