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Title: Peggy Goes Straw Hat - Peggy Lane Theater Stories, #3
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’ve wanted to tell you, Peggy,” said Chris, “what fun
it is working with you.”_]

                       PEGGY LANE THEATER STORIES



                         _Peggy Goes Straw Hat_


                           By VIRGINIA HUGHES

                      Illustrated by Sergio Leone

                    GROSSET & DUNLAP    _Publishers_
                                NEW YORK

                     © GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1963
                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                CONTENTS


  1 The Arrival                                                        1
  2 A Serious Complication                                            15
  3 A Broadcast                                                       27
  4 A Favorable Decision                                              41
  5 Opening Night                                                     48
  6 Chance Encounter                                                  58
  7 Unfair Play                                                       74
  8 An Explanation                                                    85
  9 A Lifeline                                                        96
  10 Friends—New and Old                                             108
  11 Quick Thinking                                                  121
  12 Varied Explosions                                               131
  13 Double Trouble                                                  143
  14 Ups and Downs                                                   156
  15 Summer Stock                                                    168



                          PEGGY GOES STRAW HAT



                                   I
                              The Arrival


Eight hours after leaving New York City, the rickety old Pathways Bus
lurched to a bouncing halt in a small Adirondack mountain town. Peggy
Lane rose from her seat and somewhat shakily managed to collect her
handbag, a small suitcase, a hatbox, two coats, and her precious tin
make-up kit.

“I wonder if I really look like an actress or more like a walking
luggage rack?” she thought excitedly as she stepped down from the bus.
The scene that greeted her was breath-taking; Peggy gasped aloud with
delight. Before her, Lake Kenabeek lay gleaming like a jewel in the
afternoon sun. Pine trees rose everywhere and although it was summer
there was a delicious nip and tang in the air. Peggy’s heart raced with
eagerness and the familiar nervous anticipation she always felt when
approaching something new. She had been hired as resident ingénue for
eight wonderful weeks with her first summer stock company. Each week she
would be playing a different part, gaining invaluable experience, and
learning new phases of life backstage.

“And I got the job all on my own!” Peggy thought exultantly. “Just by
reading for the producers! That must mean something—at least, it means
that I’m really a professional actress now and don’t have to depend on
friends and ‘contacts’ for my work!” She smiled happily, taking a deep
breath of the fragrant, pine-scented air.

“Miss Lane?” A voice interrupted Peggy’s thoughts. She turned and saw a
spectacled, studious-looking boy about seventeen who was wearing
dungarees and a paint-smeared shirt. Offering her a slightly stained
hand, he grinned shyly. “Scene paint,” he explained, “but it’s clean.”

Peggy could hardly shake his hand, laden down as she was, and the boy
stammered with embarrassment. “Oh, I’m so sorry—I was so busy looking at
you, I didn’t notice.” He relieved her of some of her bags, giving her a
frankly admiring stare. “You sure look like a good ingénue!”

“I do?” Peggy beamed.

“Just what I had in mind.” He smiled, taking in Peggy’s trim little
figure, dark chestnut hair and fresh, mobile face. “I’m Michael Miller,
and I have the jeep waiting to take you to your hotel.”

The jeep had been painted bright blue with an eye-catching sign on the
hood. Kenabeek Summer Theater, it proclaimed in large white letters.

“Good advertising,” Michael confided as they deposited Peggy’s bags in
the rear. “But then, you’re not bad advertising either!” He nodded in
the direction of a few bystanders who were casting curious glances at
Peggy. Peggy smiled back at the townspeople, and as she climbed into the
front seat, her nervousness unexpectedly dropped away. She was really
here at last, she realized, an actress with a season’s contract—and
suddenly she felt very professional.

As they drove carefully up the winding mountain road, Peggy discovered
that Michael was one of three local boys who were to work as
apprentices—helping the scene designer, doing odd chores, and playing
small parts when needed. Michael’s father was Howard Miller, a retired
theater man, who was to do all the older character parts during the
season.

“Oh, I’ve heard of him!” Peggy exclaimed. “He’s supposed to be a
wonderful actor, and we’re lucky to have him. You know how hard it is to
get good character men for stock. Michael,” she went on eagerly, “do you
think the theater will be a success?”

Michael considered a moment. “I don’t honestly know,” he replied
thoughtfully. “This is a very small town, and actually we don’t have a
large enough population to carry a summer theater all on our own. But
one of the ideas behind this venture is to bring in more summer resort
business.”

Peggy nodded. She knew that Richard Wallace, one of the two young
producers, was a resident of Lake Kenabeek, and wanted to help improve
his town—both culturally and financially.

“Of course Richard’s Aunt Hetty is vice-president of the Chamber of
Commerce,” Michael continued, “and the Chamber of Commerce put up half
the financial backing for the theater. So we do have solid support
there. But some people here resisted the idea of a group of actors—you
know, they think that actors are a strange, Bohemian breed—” He glanced
at Peggy and laughed. “Bohemian, huh! All they need is to take one look
at you, or any of the other actors who have come up from New York.”

Peggy smiled gratefully. She knew that a lot of people didn’t realize
what honest, hard work the theater could be. But obviously this
intelligent young boy had a deep feeling for the profession and knew
that an actress’ life wasn’t only curtain calls and bouquets after the
performance.

“Yes, we do have a lovely group of people,” Peggy agreed earnestly. She
had met most of them in New York during the tryouts and been impressed,
not only by their acting ability, but by their responsible and
intelligent attitude. “And we have a really good director, wonderful
plays, and at least half the town is behind us. That should be enough if
we work hard!” she concluded with a twinkle.

Michael turned from the twisting, ribbonlike shore line and drew up in
front of a large, old-fashioned, rustic building. “Here we are,” he
announced grandly, “Kenabeek Inn! But you’re not in the main building;
your company is staying in the annex.”

Peggy followed him around the side of the inn, down a little path
fringed with fir trees. In a small clearing, well away from the kitchen
noises issuing from the rear of the inn, Peggy saw a tiny, two-story
building. There was a roofed-over patio outside with two sofas, some
chairs, and a table on which stood a hot plate and stacked cups and
saucers. Peggy smiled to herself, recognizing the sure sign of an
actors’ residence—coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

Rita Stevens came bursting out of the door, a radiant smile transforming
her rather plain features. “Margaret, ‘Peggy’ Lane—Star of Stage,
Screen, Radio, Television, and Summer Stock! Welcome!” she cried,
running up and giving Peggy a hug.

They grinned at each other happily. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you!” Rita
bubbled. “I’ve been positively frantic for some female company around
here. We’ve been up for three days and Gus has spent every single minute
at the theater—”

Rita was married to Gus Stevens, the scene designer—a lucky combination
for the company. Although young, Rita had one of those ageless faces and
a maturity which made her a perfect character woman. Peggy had liked her
the instant they met at the readings in New York.

“No women?” Peggy asked, “Hasn’t Alison Lord arrived yet?”

“Oh, no, my deah,” Rita intoned in a stagy accent. “No, our leading lady
is being flown up in someone’s private plane and isn’t expected until
tomorrow morning.” She waved a hand airily, imitating perfectly a prima
donna.

“Oh, no!” Michael grimaced in disgust. “Is she really like that?”

“No, Mike,” Peggy said with a laugh, “she’s really quite friendly and
nice—and a very good actress. Just a little theatrical, but I’m sure
you’ll like her.”

“Well, I hope so,” Michael said, obviously still doubtful. “Look, I’ve
got to scoot back to the theater. May I leave your things here, Peggy?”

“Oh, I’ll take them, Mike.” Rita grabbed some of Peggy’s luggage and
started up the stairs of the little house. “See you later, Mike.”

“And thanks for the ride and everything,” Peggy called after him.

“He’s such a sweet kid,” Rita commented as they climbed. “A wonderful
help to Gus—I have a feeling Michael may make this business his life
work. Here’s where you live, Peggy!”

They stepped into a tiny white room, sparsely furnished with only a day
bed, a large bureau, a folding screen, straight chair, and a bedside
table.

“The manager of the inn must know something about summer stock
companies,” Rita observed ruefully. “Obviously he has a good idea of
just how much time we’ll be spending in our rooms.”

Peggy looked at her questioningly and Rita laughed. “It’s your first
season, I know—but just you wait and see!”

“My trunk!” Peggy interrupted with a sudden disturbing thought. “I sent
it ahead by Railway Express. Hasn’t it come?”

“Right here, madame.” Rita folded back the screen and revealed Peggy’s
large, black wardrobe trunk, which was somewhat dented and worn, parts
of old labels still sticking to it here and there. “You know, for a girl
who hasn’t done stock before, or been on the road, this trunk is really
strange. What did you do?” she asked with a teasing smile. “Stick on
labels, and tear them off, and then jump up and down on it wielding a
hammer?”

Peggy hooted. “Rita Stevens, you have a very suspicious mind! I want you
to know that this trunk belonged to a friend of my father’s—a wonderful
woman who was in the theater years ago.” Peggy’s face softened
wistfully. “And I imagine that this battered old trunk has seen more
drama—on stage and off—than we can even imagine.”

The girls looked at it thoughtfully, a picture of the old, romantic days
of the theater—great plays, great producers, great stars—all the golden
history of the stage firing their imagination.

Peggy broke the spell, “Well, anyway, May Berriman gave it to me. She
runs the rooming house where I live in New York, you know. And believe
me, I’m grateful! Besides needing a trunk, I think of it as a symbol of
good luck. Some time soon, Rita, would you mind taking a look at my
wardrobe? I think I brought enough, but I’d like to be sure.”

“I’d love to,” Rita said. “But now let me show you where everything is
in our little annex, and then you’d better rest awhile. I’m sure you’re
tired, and we have a company call tonight.”

Alison Lord would be in the room across the hall from Peggy. Rita and
Gus were also upstairs, on the opposite side of the house. Danny Dunn,
Chris Hill and Chuck Crosby, the director, were all downstairs. The
patio was community property for coffee, line rehearsals, and just plain
relaxation. It seemed like a good arrangement. Rita showed Peggy where
she could shower and freshen up and said she would call her in time for
dinner.

But Peggy was too keyed up to take a real nap. She sat on the edge of
her bed, thinking of all the steps that had led her here, to this place,
at this time. Her love of acting, the school plays, the productions in
college, coming to New York, the long, hard work at the Dramatic Academy
and in the Penthouse Theater. She was grateful for a private room where
she could be quiet and think.

She remembered her home town of Rockport, Wisconsin, and suddenly had a
vision of that other gay little bedroom where she had often sat quietly
and thought—much as she was doing now. She remembered her mother’s kind,
attractive face and her encouragement and understanding. Her father,
too, would be glad to hear of this job, Peggy thought, and would
probably run an article about her in his paper, the _Rockport Eagle_.
She smiled, visualizing the headline—Local Girl Signed in New York—or
something like that. Thomas Lane was a good newspaper man and would try
to “hook” them with the headline. Nothing so simple as Local Girl Makes
Good.

Peggy promised herself to write them good long letters as soon as
possible. And she should write to May Berriman, and to her housemate in
New York, Amy Preston. Well, there was a lot to do—and a lot ahead.
Peggy sighed and opened a suitcase to change into something fresh for
the evening.

After dinner, Peggy, Rita, and her young husband, Gus, walked up the
road to the theater. Gus had joined them for dinner in the little
roadside restaurant where the cast had made arrangements for meals at a
percentage off the regular cost.

“Mrs. Brady, who runs the place, is anxious to do all she can for the
theater,” Rita explained.

“To say nothing of the extra customers she hopes to attract by having
real actors in her dining room,” Gus added. “Not that I’m a candidate
for glamour, you understand—”

The girls laughed. Gus had hastily donned a clean shirt and a fresh pair
of blue jeans, but the unmistakable signs of sheer hard work still
showed on his pleasant, tanned face.

Rita squeezed his hand affectionately as they hurried up the road. “I do
wish you’d let up a little,” she said. “After all, we do have nine days
before opening.”

“And it’s going to take every minute!” Gus nodded emphatically. “You
haven’t seen the auditorium yet, have you, Peggy?”

“No, I haven’t. You know,” Peggy confessed, “I was really disappointed
when I learned that we were playing in the high school. I had visions of
a rustic barn with candlelight, bats in the wings and mice for
rehearsals—”

“There is one.” Gus chuckled warmly. “Aunt Hetty has a barn that we can
remodel next summer if this season is a success. But we couldn’t afford
to do it this year. It’s better to rent the school and see what happens.
If it bothers you, Peggy,” he added, looking at her with amusement,
“hold on to the thought that we’re helping education! We are, too. The
school needs the money.”

The front doors of the school auditorium faced the highway. A large sign
for the theater gleamed brightly under the floodlights that played on
it. “It’s never too early to advertise,” Gus observed as they walked to
the back of the building.

Entering the stage door, they came through the wings and walked out on a
dark stage, only a single worklight throwing a white circle on the bare
boards. The heavy drapes were pulled back, framing the empty house, the
vacant seats ghostlike in the silence.

“Well, where is everybody?” Peggy gasped in the eerie quiet.

Gus and Rita roared. “We just thought you’d like to see the stage,
Peggy,” Gus laughed.

“You didn’t think we were going to rehearse tonight, did you?” Rita
teased, and then took Peggy’s hand. “Come on, dear, we’re only kidding.
Everybody’s down here.”

They crossed the stage, descended some stairs, and entered a door that
led directly into the school gym. “Here’s our ingénue,” Rita called as
she ushered Peggy in, “ready to work!”

Peggy blinked, coming into the sudden light and busy scene. The gym was
bright as daytime. A huge canvas ground cloth covered the floor and
several people knelt, beside cans, buckets, and paintbrushes, over the
scenery flats that were strewn from one end of the gym to the other.
Peggy had difficulty recognizing anyone. They were all spotted and
paint-smeared, in a variety of strange work clothes.

“Hi!” someone called, raising a hand with a dripping brush. Peggy peered
intently at the slight figure and dark hair, and recognized Chuck
Crosby, their intense young director. “Get to work,” he ordered with a
smile and went back to his painting.

A well-built young man with a heavy mass of light-brown hair rose with
his can and beckoned to her. Peggy picked her way through buckets and
flats, following him.

“Danny Dunn!” she said with a shock of surprise. “How on earth am I
supposed to know you under that disguise?” Danny was to do juvenile and
some character parts for the company. Now he looked like a clown as he
smiled at her with a paint-dotted mouth.

“Tomorrow is another day!” he quoted dramatically. “Tomorrow and
tomorrow—I can hardly wait! By the way, sorry I couldn’t join you all
for dinner, but I just had a sandwich here. Tell me everything
tomorrow—if I’m still alive.” He made a face, “Here, ingénue, fill a
can.”

In a clear corner near the wall, Michael Miller sat hunched over a hot
plate with a bubbling pot of melting glue. He looked like an ancient
alchemist as he stirred and poured, mixing paint, whiting, and glue into
large buckets.

“The white cliffs of Dover,” Michael muttered romantically, taking a bag
of powdered chalk and measuring it into his caldron.

“Sure, double, double, and all that,” Danny replied, nodding kindly.
“Well, just keep steady, old chap, we’re all a little tired tonight.”

“It really is the white cliffs of Dover,” Michael protested as Danny
walked away. “For the ground coat,” he added, peering up at Peggy
through his steaming glasses. “Here, have fun.” He waved her away.

For the next four hours Peggy knelt on her hands and knees, laboriously
painting flats. These were frames of white pine, over which was
stretched unbleached muslin, like a painter’s canvas. They had already
been sized with a solution of glue and water until they were drum-tight.
Over the ground coat that Peggy was painting, Gus would design wallpaper
for interiors, fireplaces, outdoor scenes. Peggy’s back ached as she
worked silently. No one said a word.

                    [Illustration: Painting flats.]

“A funny way to begin,” thought Peggy, sighing. She had expected a line
reading, even some work on stage. “And Chuck hardly said how-do-you-do,
and I don’t know half the people here.” She glanced around, guessing
that the young boys must be Michael Miller’s friends, and that older man
by the other wall his father, Howard Miller. He noticed Peggy looking at
him and smiled.

“Well,” Peggy decided, acknowledging him with a sigh, “if a man his age
thinks nothing of working like this until all hours of the night, I
guess I can do it too!” She worked on with renewed energy. By the time
all the flats were finished, it was after midnight.

“Rehearsal promptly at nine o’clock in the morning,” Chuck announced
crisply as they cleaned up and prepared to go home.

“Heavens to Betsy!” Peggy thought wearily as she lay in her bed, her
back aching, muscles jumping from the unaccustomed effort. “Now I know
why everyone was so quiet. They’d been at it all day—and I feel like
this after only a few hours!” Her head spun dizzily as she closed her
eyes. “Well, I’m part of a company,” she mused dreamily, “and that’s
what counts. Even if I don’t like the parts I’m given—even if I have to
do other things than act.” Plays and parts and costumes danced before
her like a mirage. “I guess this is summer stock, all right!” she
thought as she fell asleep.



                                   II
                         A Serious Complication


“Not quite so serious, Peggy.” Chuck Crosby pulled on a lock of his
straight, black hair as he listened to her read. “If you don’t have a
slight tongue-in-cheek attitude, it’s not going to be funny. She is an
earnest young girl, but it’s got to be exaggerated in a comic way.”

Peggy tried again. “Dad, I’m disappointed in you,” she read. “The
world’s on fire and you’re occupied with a cigarette lighter!”

“Thank you,” Howard Miller answered dryly. He was reading the part of
Peggy’s father in their opening show, _Dear Ruth_.

The cast was having its first line rehearsal on the sunny patio of the
annex. Peggy had awakened excitedly with the expectation of working on
stage, only to find that the company would be at the annex all day. She
had wondered, in a resigned way, if she would ever see the stage at all.
But now, as they progressed to the second scene of Act One, her
disappointment was forgotten. She was concentrating on her part of
Miriam, “Dear Ruth’s” younger sister.

“We can _use_ you,” Peggy read on, addressing her father. “We can use
anybody we can get!” She read the last line in a hopeless, adolescent
fashion, timing it carefully, and the cast spontaneously laughed.

“That’s it,” Chuck cried. “That’s the quality I want.”

A pretty local girl, Mary Hopkins, who was playing the part of the maid,
Dora, didn’t come in on her cue. Everyone looked at her as she nervously
rattled her papers, looking quite lost.

“That’s your cue, Mary,” Chuck said patiently. “Miriam says, ‘We can use
anybody we can get,’ and you enter.”

“I don’t see it,” Mary replied helplessly.

“Right here.” Rita was sitting beside her and pointed it out. “Anybody
we can get.”

“But that’s not the whole line—oh, I see.” Mary blushed.

“We’re using sides, Mary,” Chuck said kindly. They were half sheets of
paper bound like a small pamphlet. “I have the master script here with
the whole play, but you’ll find only about four or five words of the
preceding speech printed on your sides. You can fill in the other words
if you find it easier.”

Peggy gave Mary an understanding smile. She had been busy writing in
speeches herself, as she found the short sides difficult to work from.
Peggy liked to think of the play as a whole, but she knew that some
actors worked better from short cue lines, and that for stock, with so
many different parts to learn each week, sides were often faster.

Rita read the part of the mother with assurance and humor. She made a
perfect partner for Howard Miller, and one could tell that she was used
to this type of part. Miriam made her exit, and then Ruth appeared for a
short scene with her father and mother. Before her next cue, Peggy had
time to examine, with a certain fascination, their leading lady.

Alison Lord had arrived that morning, making a grand and breathless
entrance at exactly nine A.M. Her luggage was still stacked in the
patio, and peering at it, Peggy raised her eyebrows. “And I thought I
had a lot!” She wondered how many costumes Alison expected to wear on
stage, but judging by the stunning outfit she was wearing for rehearsal,
Alison must intend to dress as glamorously off stage as on. Her bright
auburn hair was caught up under an eye-catching sun hat of fringed red
straw. The color exactly matched the sleeveless blouse she wore over a
beautiful pair of beige, basket-weave slacks. With her enormous straw
bag, gay sandals, and dark glasses, she looked like a visiting star. And
a really beautiful girl underneath all that, Peggy thought, noticing the
careful make-up that enhanced Alison’s features.

Peggy glanced down at her simple, peasant skirt and blouse. It was
pretty, but hardly spectacular like Alison’s attire. For a moment she
wished that she had thought of bringing more colorful everyday
clothes—was it good advertising for the theater perhaps?—but then she
laughed at herself. “You’re just a little bit envious, Peggy Lane, and
you know it! Now just forget about clothes, and tend to your knitting!”

Her cue came, and she jumped back into her part with gusto, really
enjoying it now that she had caught the flavor of Miriam. She found that
playing with Alison was fun. She was even better than Peggy remembered.
She had a certain awareness of herself, a special “here I am” quality
that would make an audience notice her. She wasn’t a very deep actress,
but she had poise and presence and moved the play along.

Chuck was pleased with the reading. He looked at his watch and called a
break. “Take five. Chris ought to be here any minute, and there’s no
point in going on now without him.”

The cast paused for coffee, waiting for their leading man to arrive.
Chris Hill, who was to play the part of Bill opposite Alison in _Dear
Ruth_, was the only cast member Peggy hadn’t met. He had been held up in
New York with a last-minute television show, and was due on the
ten-thirty bus.

“What’s he like?” Peggy asked Rita as she broke off a piece of doughnut
to share with her. The cast kept snacks in an old-fashioned icebox on
the patio.

“Oh, he’s lovely!” Rita grinned mischievously. “He’s quite tall and very
blond, tanned and terribly handsome, blue eyes, a great smile,
romantic—”

“Really! He’s all that, hm?” Peggy teased back. “Well, all I want to
know is, can he act?”

“He certainly can. I’ve worked with him before—” Rita looked at Peggy
curiously. “It will be very interesting to see your reaction to Chris.
It’s a shame that you didn’t have a chance to meet him before and more
or less prepare yourself.”

“Oh, Rita!” Peggy exclaimed, shaking her head in protest. She didn’t
know what a picture she was with the sunlight striking her dark hair and
framing her pretty face. Rita watched her, noticing the fine, high
cheekbones, straight nose, and soft, wide mouth.

“You really have a captivating quality, Peggy,” Rita said thoughtfully.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Hill is quite taken with you.”

“With me?” Peggy blurted in astonishment. “Oh, Rita, I haven’t even met
him yet, and anyway,” she added, “I’m not really interested in anyone.”
She was remembering Randy Brewster in New York, and all the fun they’d
had together in dramatic school and in the off-Broadway production
they’d been involved in. Kind, steady Randy, with the marvelous sense of
humor. It would have to be somebody quite wonderful to share the special
place that Randy occupied in Peggy’s thoughts. “Why, there’s no time for
romance here, Rita,” she said. “We’re all too busy. And besides, I
should think Alison would be more his type.”

“Um-hm. Maybe,” Rita interrupted rather mysteriously and nudged Peggy.
“You’ll soon have a chance to find out.”

Following her glance, Peggy looked up the little path and saw Chris
Hill, a duffel bag slung over one shoulder, hurrying down with long,
energetic strides. His appearance was certainly everything Rita had said
and more. She glanced at Rita, her eyes wide, and Rita returned a bland
“I-told-you-so” expression.

Chris ran the last few yards, dumped his bag carelessly on the patio,
and with a wide, completely engaging smile, announced, “Reporting for
duty—on the dot, I hope!” He shook Chuck’s hand. “Svengali, how are you?
You picked a beautiful spot—it’s just great. Alison!” He leaned over her
chair, planting an audible kiss on her cheek. Peggy’s eyes popped.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Rita whispered to Peggy. “Watch.”

“Darling!” Alison replied extravagantly. “What kept you so long? Did you
come up by dogcart?”

Chris noticed Rita and ran over, swooping her up in a big bear hug and
giving her a kiss, too. “My favorite actress!” he laughed, standing back
and looking at her with delight. “And where’s her favorite husband?
Don’t tell me—he’s up to his ears in flats! When do I see him? Don’t
tell me—probably never!”

Rita laughed. “Such energy, Chris! How do you do it after all night on a
bus? Chris, here’s someone you haven’t met—our ingénue, Peggy Lane. Star
of Stage, Screen, Radio—”

“Television and Summer Stock!” Chris finished for her. “Don’t mind us,
Peggy, it’s an old joke from another summer company. Well!”

He stopped and Peggy couldn’t tell whether he was pausing for breath or
from the interest in her which his look seemed to indicate.

“Well!” he said again, and there was something in his voice that caused
an unexpected flurry in Peggy’s emotions.

“Hello,” Peggy said tremulously. She would never know what his next
words might have been, because just then Chuck interrupted with a call
to resume the reading.

The company sat down again, and Peggy forgot Chris Hill, the young man,
as she listened to Chris Hill, the actor. He read the part of Bill with
so much energy and interest one would think he had just returned from a
long vacation instead of a grueling bus trip. He _was_ a good actor,
Peggy thought. He brought a special kind of magic to the play, and as
they finished the first act, Peggy had a sudden feeling that _Dear Ruth_
would be a hit. Chuck couldn’t have chosen a better opening bill for the
cast. It was perfect for their company, and she looked at him with
renewed respect.

After lunch the furniture was rearranged on the patio as it would be on
stage. Chuck wanted to block the first act. Pencils in hand, they busily
scribbled on their sides, marking movements as Chuck directed them. He
had blocked the play in advance, but it was still a long process, as,
with the actors in front of him, he saw many necessary changes.

Mary Hopkins had to be told that Stage Right was her right, and not the
right of the audience. She caught on quickly, though, and very soon
Peggy noticed that she was lightly penciling in initials—C.U.L. and
D.R., instead of writing out “Cross Up Left” and “Down Right.”

Danny Dunn was enjoying himself enormously. He had the part of Albert, a
stuffy, amusing character who is engaged to Ruth before Bill captures
her heart. Peggy was struck by this boy’s amazing versatility. She had
read with him in New York and knew how well he did juvenile parts. Yet,
here he was, playing a slightly older man and doing a perfectly
wonderful job. Danny had a face almost like putty; he could do anything
with it he wished, and Peggy realized that here was a true actor—who
would never be typed, who could play anything he was given.

“Hello, Mother. Hello, Dad.” Danny made his entrance, and Peggy stifled
a laugh. He was really very funny.

They finished the second scene of Act One and Chuck called, “Curtain!”
There was a sound of hands clapping, and a voice said, “Bravo!” Peggy
looked around. She had been so engrossed in her work that she hadn’t
noticed Richard Wallace standing near the patio, looking on. Beside him
stood a tall, white-haired woman with strong, craggy features, and
sparkling blue eyes framed by a network of tiny lines.

“What a wonderful face!” Peggy exclaimed to herself, realizing that this
must be the famous Aunt Hetty.

“Bravo!” Richard repeated in a deep voice. He was a large young man,
mature for his age, with the same observant blue eyes as his aunt.

“It’s a pity to think that all this work may go to waste,” he said
bitterly, coming on to their outdoor stage.

There was a stunned silence. Peggy didn’t know what to think—was this
Richard’s way of kidding? Chuck got up to give Aunt Hetty a seat, and
plunking herself down heavily, she stated matter-of-factly, “You’re all
so good—so much better than I expected—I’ll hate to see you go!”

The cast looked blank. Chuck was struck dumb for a moment, and then he
suddenly exploded. “What are you talking about? We’re having a rehearsal
here and this is not the time for idiotic jokes!” He looked at Aunt
Hetty and controlled himself. “Excuse me, but really, Richard knows
better than to interrupt us like this.”

“It’s no joke, young man,” Aunt Hetty said bluntly. “Richard, tell them
all about it.” She peered closely at Chuck. “And you ought to know
better, Mr. Crosby, than to think we’d intrude for anything less than a
very good reason!”

“My!” Peggy thought. “It certainly isn’t wise to cross Aunt Hetty. She’s
a stubborn old girl. No wonder she got all that backing from the Chamber
of Commerce—they could hardly say no.”

“I imagine you haven’t seen this,” Richard said, holding up a newspaper
so the cast could see the front page.

The _Kenabeek Gazette_, Peggy read on the masthead, and right underneath
was a headline: Theater In School Illegal.

“I hate to bring you bad news,” Richard said as the cast gathered
around, “but the man who was responsible for this may be right.”

Peggy looked at the bottom of the column and saw that it was signed
“Ford Birmingham.”

“No, that’s just the man who wrote it,” Richard said, noticing Peggy’s
glance. “Ford Birmingham covers art, music, theater, and local features
for the paper—he’s supposed to write our reviews, too. But the man
behind this article is either Max Slade or his brother William—or both.
The Slade brothers run the local movie house and they’ve opposed this
theater from the beginning, thinking it will affect their business—”

“But it shouldn’t.” Peggy couldn’t help interrupting, and Richard agreed
with her.

“No, of course, it shouldn’t. Our theater could even help their business
by exposing more people to entertainment and thereby drawing them to the
movies, too. However, the Slade brothers don’t see it that way.”

“The Slade brothers don’t see much of anything at all,” commented Aunt
Hetty brusquely. “Not even their own movies, from what I gather. If they
used better judgment in selecting films, they might have better
business.”

“Why, I’ve known Max Slade for years,” said Howard Miller, coming over
to Aunt Hetty. “I realized that he didn’t exactly approve of the summer
theater, but what’s all this about our not being legal?” He ran a hand
through his handsome, graying hair, frowning.

“Read it and weep, Howard,” Aunt Hetty responded. “Apparently they’ve
found a loophole.”

“The article claims that a high school cannot legally be used by a
profit-making organization such as a summer theater,” Richard explained.

“But we’re helping the school by paying rent to them,” Chuck protested.

“Sure, but the Slade brothers aren’t concerned about the school,”
Richard continued. “They’re thinking of themselves and are willing to
use any means to get us out of town. This article says that we will be
taken to court if we don’t suspend our operation.”

“Can they?” asked Chris Hill. “I mean, wouldn’t the case be thrown out?”

“No,” Richard answered seriously, “I don’t think it would be thrown out,
because there’s a chance—a good chance—that they’re right!”

“Marvelous!” Alison Lord exclaimed ironically. “Just wonderful! And I
guess we’re just supposed to sit here and take it!”

“No, why should we?” Peggy rushed in with a sudden thought. “Why can’t
we stop the case before it even gets to court?”

“Right!” Richard smiled at her. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,
Peggy. I’m flying up to Albany tonight to see the commissioner of
education. But,” he said earnestly, “his decision may go against us, and
you’ll all have to be prepared for that. That’s really why I’m here. If
we can’t play in the school, we can’t play at all this year. I want to
know if you’re willing to go on rehearsing on the slight chance that
we’ll be able to open. I’ll probably be gone for several days, and you
may be working for nothing. It’s up to you.”

A determined chorus of voices responded.

“Of course, we’ll work.”

“I want to go on.”

“We’ll open or else—”

“I’d like to meet this Max Slade—”

Mary Hopkins’ little voice trailed on after everyone else’s, “... and
besides all the boxes of crackerjack, I see that the script calls for
dozens of bunches of lilacs. I may be able to make them for you”—she
faltered, a little embarrassed—“I—I’m kind of good with my hands.”

Everyone applauded, and Aunt Hetty came over to give her a hug. “Good
girl, Mary. You sound like the other professionals.” She beamed at the
cast, displaying an unexpected warmth, and then, as if remembering a
role, barked gruffly, “Back to work, then!”

“Why, she’s really soft and sentimental under that brusque exterior,”
Peggy thought, watching Aunt Hetty walk stiffly away. “She’s in love
with this theater and it would break her heart to see it fold.”

Everyone wished Richard luck in the state capital as he walked away
toward the interview that meant everything to this little group of
actors.

Chuck Crosby turned to face them, and with a resolute look that
reflected the feelings of all, he firmly called, “Places!”



                                  III
                              A Broadcast


The next few days were almost a mirage of feverish activity. Never had
Peggy worked so hard! Rehearsals morning and afternoon, helping Gus with
the scenery at night, and always, in back of everyone’s mind, the big
question—would the theater open at all?

“What do you think, Rita?” Peggy asked late one night when the two
exhausted girls returned to her room. They had stayed late at the
theater helping Gus, for tomorrow with the set finally up, the cast
would have its first rehearsal on stage.

“I think we’re going to open!” Rita answered hopefully. “At least I’m
working with that idea. It is disturbing not to hear from Richard again,
though.”

Richard had wired the company from Albany the disquieting news that the
commissioner of education was off on a fishing trip and could not be
reached. Now, on top of everything else, a new problem—would the
commissioner return in time? And if he did, would Richard be able to
persuade him to come to a favorable decision? It was already Sunday, and
_Dear Ruth_ was scheduled to open Thursday.

Thinking of all this, Peggy sighed loudly, unconsciously repeating the
heavy stage sigh she used in the play.

“All right, Miriam,” Rita laughed, “better be quiet or you’ll wake our
leading lady!”

Alison had returned to the annex early after rehearsal, saying that it
was about time she had some sleep.

“I do think she might have stayed to help, too,” Peggy whispered
indignantly. “After all, we’re all in this together, and I’m sure we’re
all equally tired. Gus needed the help—he’s still up there, for goodness
sake!”

“Well,” Rita said, “that’s Alison. And maybe she didn’t realize how much
was involved here.”

“Then why did she come?” Peggy persisted. “She must have known
beforehand that she’d be asked to do other things besides act.”

“Oh, a good company to work with, I suppose, and a good director and
parts that she wanted to play. Maybe she’s interested in the leading
man!” Rita laughed softly. “If there’s another reason, I’m sure I don’t
know it. Peggy,” she added eagerly, “while we’re here, why don’t I take
a look at your wardrobe? Unless you’re ready for bed—”

“I couldn’t sleep right now on a bed of down!” Peggy agreed
enthusiastically as she opened her trunk. “I’m too tired, and it always
takes me awhile to wind down. Gosh! I wonder if I’ll really be using all
these things!”

The trunk stood flat against the wall, rather like a second bureau, with
drawers on one side and hangers on the other. “I tried to think of
everything,” Peggy said. “If we don’t open, this certainly will be a
monument to wasted effort!”

The girls worked quickly through Peggy’s wardrobe. She had tried to
bring an average of three changes apiece for eight different plays,
knowing that summer audiences don’t like to see actresses wearing the
same thing twice. Besides appearing in a different costume each time,
Peggy had to think of the seasons of the plays and be prepared to dress
appropriately for spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Suits, dresses, jumpers, skirts, evening gowns, housecoats, sweaters,
blouses, shoes, hats, coats, aprons, scarfs! Rita exclaimed, “My! If
there’s anything you haven’t remembered, Peggy, I’d like to know what it
is. You’re beautifully prepared. It looks as if I might be borrowing
from you! And this would look lovely on Alison.” She lifted a
silver-sequined jacket from a bed of tissue paper. “I can just see her
in it, making a spectacular entrance!”

“Why, I’d be glad to lend it to her,” Peggy said. “I borrowed it myself.
But is that done?” She was surprised. “I mean, we all do borrow from
each other at the Gramercy Arms—my home in New York. In fact, that’s how
I managed this wardrobe. I just couldn’t have done it without help. But
somehow, well,” she confessed, “I didn’t think it would be very
professional in stock.”

“Pooh,” Rita chuckled. “Nobody ever has all the things she needs in
stock, Peggy. We all borrow from each other.”

“I doubt if Alison will want anything, anyway,” Peggy said, reflecting
on the piles of luggage Alison had brought. “Oh, Rita, here we are,
talking as if the theater will actually open, and for all we know,
Thursday night may come and we’ll all be on the bus going back to New
York!”

She sank dejectedly on her bed while Rita carefully folded the little
jacket. “We might be,” Rita conceded cheerfully, “but I don’t think we
will! You’re forgetting your trunk, Peggy. Remember? Your symbol of good
luck!” She patted it with a smile as she left the room, leaving Peggy
some of her contagious optimism.


On stage at last! Peggy could hardly believe it. She ran lightly up the
steps from the auditorium floor, crossed the stage, tried each piece of
furniture, moving back and forth—

“What on earth are you doing?” Alison called from the front row where
she was seated, holding a coffee container while she waited for
rehearsal to begin.

“Getting the feel of the set,” Peggy called happily as she ran to the
stairs up left, crossed down right, and exited. “Where’s the prop
phone?” she asked, reappearing from the wings.

“Michael’s out getting props,” Gus answered, coming on stage with a
paintbrush to put the finishing touches on the banister.

Peggy ran down to the auditorium floor again, walked up the aisle, and
stood looking at the stage. Gus had done a beautiful job, she realized
with a thrill. For their opening show an effective set was important,
and Gus had transformed the flats with a miracle of paint and
imagination. The room was so realistic that Peggy felt she could touch
the molding on the walls.

“You’d think you never saw a stage before in your life,” Alison
commented lazily, getting up and stretching.

“I feel like this every time,” Peggy said. “There’s something absolutely
magical about a good set—like moving into a brand-new home. I love it!”

“Well, let’s just hope it will be home for a week,” Alison remarked.
“Personally, I have my doubts.”

“Act One,” Chuck called, and the cast scrambled for the wings. “Places.”

At noon, Aunt Hetty presented herself at the theater and asked for two
people to do a radio interview at the station in Merion Falls about
twenty miles away.

“Anybody,” she said briskly, “as long as they’re part of the resident
company. John Hamilton wants people from New York—and we’ll be gone all
afternoon, Chuck, so give me someone you don’t need.”

“I need everybody,” Chuck said with a laugh, “but advertising is
important too, so—let’s see.” He looked around at the cast. “Peggy,
you’ll go—I need the rest of the family and Albert, but there should be
a man along, too—Chris! Your scenes with Ruth are going well—I won’t
need you today. Go along with Peggy.”

“Have fun, you lucky people,” Danny called after them. “This may be your
first and last day off!”

“And don’t let on that there’s any doubt about opening!” Chuck reminded
Chris and Peggy. “Tell them we’re doing fine!”

“Just fine!” Alison echoed, smiling grimly. Looking back at her, Peggy
realized with sudden surprise that Alison wanted to go too! Why? Peggy
wondered. Surely she didn’t think a local radio show was that important
to her career? And then Peggy recalled what Rita had said. She looked
curiously at Chris as he walked along beside her to Aunt Hetty’s car.
Maybe Rita was right and Alison _was_ interested in the leading man! Oh,
well, it wasn’t any of her business, anyway, Peggy told herself as she
got into the car.

“Sorry to take you off like this so suddenly,” Aunt Hetty was saying,
“but it’s quite important. I promised Richard to get in as much
advertising as I could while he’s gone, and John Hamilton requested this
interview on the spur of the moment.”

“Will he ask us to play a scene?” Chris questioned.

“Oh, I don’t think so. I imagine he’ll just want you to talk about what
you’ve done in the theater—personal stuff. Now you two hush and don’t
bother me with questions. I like to keep my mind on the road!”

Peggy and Chris exchanged amused glances. Aunt Hetty drove as carefully
and slowly as if she were on eggshells. Peggy could see why they would
indeed be all day getting to Merion Falls and she sat back with
resignation to enjoy the scenery. Chris winced as he watched Aunt Hetty
at the wheel, holding it so tightly with both hands that her knuckles
were actually white. He was itching to drive himself, and Peggy smiled
as she watched his inner struggle—whether or not to ask. Aunt Hetty won.
Looking at her determined shoulders from the back seat, he evidently
decided that she would never relinquish the wheel. Chris sighed in
defeat and slumped back. As he met Peggy’s twinkling eyes, they both had
to cover their laughter.

A good while later, when they finally reached Merion Falls, there was
barely time to find the radio station and John Hamilton’s studio. Aunt
Hetty plumped herself down in the booth with the engineer, and Peggy and
Chris took seats at a little table with Mr. Hamilton and a microphone.

Looking at the large clock over the booth, Mr. Hamilton shook his head.
“Four minutes to go,” he said anxiously. “I wish we had more time to
prepare, but this will have to do. I’ll just ask you both about your
background, and then you can plug your theater all you like. We want to
hear about your players and something about the plays if there’s time—”

“Can I hear some voices?” the engineer’s voice interrupted him from the
booth.

Peggy and Chris spoke into the microphone while the engineer tested
sound. “Okay. Fine,” he said. “One minute—” They watched his hand, held
up in the air while the minute hand of the clock made a full circle, and
then he brought his arm down sharply.

“Good afternoon. This is John Hamilton again, with another interview of
interest for residents of the lake area—”

Peggy was impressed, listening to this suave young man and the competent
way he handled himself at the microphone. She felt a beginning, just a
twinge, of mike fright, but then Mr. Hamilton introduced her, and as she
said a few words, Peggy felt easier. As the interview went on, she was
fascinated to hear details of Chris Hill’s background that she hadn’t
known.

“Then you’ve really been a professional actor for only two years or so?”
Mr. Hamilton was asking Chris.

“Yes, since I was discharged from the Army—but before that, of course, I
did a lot of work in college and little theaters—and in the Army I was
attached to Special Services overseas.”

“Soldier shows?”

“Partly, but my main job was ferreting out good civilian actors to work
with us—to bring about a better feeling between the local population and
the Army.”

John Hamilton laughed. “Sounds as if you were doing shows in two
languages—”

“Oh, no,” Chris said easily. “They had to be English-speaking, of
course. It was a wonderful experience all around, but then I was in a
skiing accident in Bavaria. Broke my leg. That finished both the job and
the Army for me, and I came straight to New York.”

Mr. Hamilton handled the questions and conversation so skillfully that
soon Peggy and Chris almost forgot this was a radio interview. They
spoke about theater and sketched the plot of _Dear Ruth_, talking up
Alison Lord as the star of the show.

“And the idea behind this theater, as I understand it,” Mr. Hamilton
said, “is to attract more visitors to our area, isn’t that right?”

Peggy and Chris agreed enthusiastically.

“Then certainly it should be a good thing for Lake Kenabeek,” Mr.
Hamilton went on, “and I want to wish you a lot of luck. But I’ve heard
a rumor recently that you two might set straight while we have the
opportunity here. People are saying that you are operating illegally in
the high school—”

Peggy gasped, but Hamilton didn’t give them a chance to reply just then.

“—and that you may not be able to open at all!” he continued. “Now, what
about this rumor? I’m sure our listening audience would like to hear.”
He sat back and looked at them—“as if we were two fish on a hook,” Peggy
thought, aghast at his question.

In the booth, Aunt Hetty had turned beet red and looked as though she
might explode. Chris’s mouth tightened and Peggy found that she was
becoming angrier by the moment. Of all the dirty tricks—John Hamilton
asking them here to “plug” their theater, and then bringing out this
issue! But Peggy had had enough experience with her father’s newspaper
to know how newsmen operated—and she knew how to counter. Before Chris
had a chance to reply, and in the face of Aunt Hetty gesturing
frantically from the booth to say nothing, Peggy lashed back.

“Oh, yes,” she said quite calmly. “We saw that little piece in the
paper. Rather childish, wasn’t it? Do you know that if we weren’t
renting the auditorium the high school wouldn’t make a penny this
summer? I’m sure you’ve heard of the great need for a new science lab.
By the way,” she went on in a new vein, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you
could help raise funds for the school, too—with your radio program. I’m
sure people would be glad to donate to a cause like that!”

It was John Hamilton’s turn to flush, which he did, as they looked at
each other like two sparring partners in a contest. Ignoring Peggy’s
thrust, he came back firmly to the question. “Is it true that the
theater may not open at all?”

In the booth, Peggy could see the engineer signaling thirty seconds to
go. If she hesitated, a lot of potential theatergoers might tune out
this program thinking of the Kenabeek Summer Theater as a myth, as a
good idea that failed. She couldn’t lie, but perhaps there was another
way. She thought quickly, and her pretty voice sounded young and gay as
it traveled through the microphone.

“The theater is scheduled to open this Thursday night, curtain at
eight-forty, for _Dear Ruth_. We’ll be looking forward to seeing you,
Mr. Hamilton, and we hope your listening audience will be there, too.”

Peggy had timed her speech carefully, and Mr. Hamilton had barely time
to say, “This is John Hamilton, good day.” The red light blinked off,
and they were off the air!

John Hamilton took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. Then he looked
at Peggy, laughed good-naturedly, and shook her hand. “You were a
charming guest! And a tough opponent! But you win, I won’t say another
word about your theater until you do open—and then I’d like to have you
both back.” He shook Chris’s hand. “I know you were angry, but that’s
the news business. Sorry. I’ll be there for your opening if I can make
it.”

Aunt Hetty looked grimly at Peggy as they walked out the studio door. “I
hope you knew what you were doing, young lady,” she said under her
breath. “You shouldn’t have said a thing! If we don’t open, you’ll have
made a laughingstock of my nephew’s name and mine—to say nothing of the
theater!”

Aunt Hetty drove back in a silence so thick that Peggy and Chris didn’t
have the courage to break it. Peggy felt acutely miserable. Had she done
wrong? She leaned over to Chris and whispered, “What else could I do?
But maybe she’s right. Maybe I should have let you speak instead. Now
I’ve probably messed everything up!”

“But I would have said the same thing!” Chris whispered back. “I was
_mad_!” He nodded at Peggy warmly, and she smiled back. She liked Chris
Hill, there was no question about that. He was impulsive, but
wonderfully kind and engaging.

Aunt Hetty dropped them off in front of the high school and was about to
drive away when Danny Dunn came racing out of the stage door.

“Wait a minute!” he yelled, tearing over to the car and waving a piece
of paper in the air. “We opened it,” he panted, handing Aunt Hetty the
telegram. “It’s to you and all of us, but we couldn’t wait. Where’s that
_brilliant_ girl!” He gave Peggy a tremendous pat on the back. “We
listened to you—and we nearly had heart failure when he pinned you down.
There wasn’t time to call you at the studio, but—”

“I suppose I owe you an apology,” Aunt Hetty interrupted, handing the
telegram to Peggy, “but I still think you were taking a terrible chance.
Terrible,” she repeated, but her eyes were twinkling.

  EVERYTHING OK STOP COMMISSIONER GIVES GO AHEAD STOP DETAILS ON RETURN
  TOMORROW STOP HALLELUJAH RICHARD

        [Illustration: Chris was still standing beside the car.]

“Oh, thank goodness!” Peggy cried. She could have almost wept with
relief, but Danny’s excitement affected them all, and instead of tears
there were hugs and handshakes and Danny pulling Peggy back to the
theater to display “the most intelligent girl who ever graced a stock
company!”

“Intelligent!” Peggy laughed. “Oh, Danny, just lucky!”

“Mental telepathy,” Danny insisted, “and that takes intelligence!”

“Have everybody come to my house after rehearsal,” Aunt Hetty called.
“We’ll celebrate the good news. That’s a nice girl,” she remarked to
Chris, who was still standing by the car. “Even if she is a little
hasty. Not that you wouldn’t have said the same thing.”

Startled, Chris stared at Aunt Hetty, who gave him an understanding
smile. Even in a whisper, it seemed, there was very little that Aunt
Hetty missed.



                                   IV
                          A Favorable Decision


When Richard returned from Albany the next day he couldn’t find enough
words to praise Peggy for what she had said on the radio.

“But your aunt _was_ upset,” Peggy exclaimed, “and she might have been
right! Just suppose we couldn’t have opened—”

“It wouldn’t have made a bit of difference,” Richard said. “But if you
had said we might not open, think of all the audience we would have
lost!”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking of,” Peggy declared happily. “That’s
why I went ahead.”

Richard called the cast together on stage to tell them what had happened
in Albany. “I got panicky when I heard that the commissioner was out of
town—almost decided to hire a guide and try to trail him in the woods!
But then he sent a wire from some little town saying he’d return Monday,
so I decided to wait.”

“By the way,” Chuck interrupted, “you know we have dress rehearsal
tomorrow night, and the next night we open! Have you sent anything to
the papers yet? Does the town know we’re going to open?”

Richard gave Chuck an amused “where-do-you-think-I’ve-been” look. “Mr.
Crosby, I sent out at least six press releases Monday afternoon from
Albany. Not only to Lake Kenabeek, but to the New York papers, too. The
Albany paper is running a long article on this—it’s an interesting
issue, you know. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a good press all
around. The Slade brothers may have actually helped this theater!”

Chris laughed out loud. “I’ll bet they love that idea!”

“Oh, certainly! They’ll be here with bells on Thursday night,” Alison
drawled.

Michael Miller was listening, too, covered with scene paint as usual,
and wearing his carpenter’s apron stuffed with tools. “I’ll bet anything
that when they hear about this, we’ll be hearing from them again! Those
boys don’t give up so easily!”

“Oh, now, Michael,” his father remonstrated, “they’re not as bad as all
that—”

“I want to hear what happened!” Rita urged Richard. “We don’t know how
you wangled this or what the commissioner said—”

“Well, I explained our problem to him,” Richard began. “That someone had
questioned the legality of operating a profit-making business in a
school, and that we were threatened with court proceedings if we
continued. I told him who was behind it and why—the brothers Slade and
their movie house—and I also explained that we were helping the school
by our rent. Of course, he couldn’t have agreed more with that, knowing
as much as he does about educational funds! And I ranted—really
ranted—about what the Kenabeek Summer Theater could do for this town—and
the whole area—and the school.” Richard was declaiming now as he walked
back and forth in front of the stage, and the cast was highly amused.

“So, the commissioner promised to look into the matter some time soon.”
Richard stopped dramatically. “Some time soon,” he repeated, obviously
enjoying the effect on the cast.

“Why, he’s a regular ham!” Peggy thought, grinning.

“Well, you should have seen me,” Richard continued, laughing himself. “I
got up from my seat, leaned over the desk, stared him straight in the
eye, and said, as if this was the biggest thing since the end of the Ice
Age, ‘The Kenabeek Summer Theater opens on Thursday. _This_ Thursday!’”

“What did he do? What happened?” Mary Hopkins asked breathlessly.

“He decided that he’d better do something about it!” Richard laughed.
“He was galvanized! He told his secretary to drop everything, and
together we went through a list of all the companies operating in the
state. We found that two other companies were playing in high schools!
If we couldn’t go ahead here, those theaters would have to fold, too!

“Well, it didn’t seem fair, and yet, since no one had ever before
questioned the legality of playing in a school, there was no precedent
to go by. And no time to get a court decision!” Richard was very serious
now, and the cast listened interestedly, hanging on every word. “So, the
commissioner decided that the only thing he could do legally was to
_postpone a decision_ until Labor Day! If anyone raises the question
again, they will be informed that nothing can be done about it until
after Labor Day—and by that time, of course, all the theaters will have
finished their seasons!”

“Very clever!” Mr. Miller nodded thoughtfully. “Very clever indeed!”

“Yes, but there’s one other little thing,” Richard added. “It was also
decided, in order to squelch any rumors or new questions, that this
theater will operate on a non-profit basis.”

“We are now a non-profit organization?” Chuck asked slowly.

“We are indeed,” Richard replied. “Any money left over at the end of the
season, after expenses, goes to the Kenabeek High School toward their
new science lab.”

“Well!” Chuck exclaimed, looking perfectly blank.

“Oh, what a pity!” Rita cried. “Then you two won’t make any money this
summer!” She knew that Chuck and Richard were working for nothing beyond
their living expenses. They weren’t even on regular salaries like the
rest of the company. Every penny would be poured back into the theater
to pay back the Chamber of Commerce and the individual investors.

Chuck laughed. “I had hoped to have something left over at the end of
the season, but I can’t imagine that we need the profits as much as the
school does. Actually, I’m glad about this arrangement!”

“There probably won’t be too much left over, anyway,” Richard added.
“Did you ever hear of a summer theater making a real profit on a first
season? I agree with Chuck. We just want to have a season successful
enough to warrant a return next year.”

“We won’t have a season _this_ year if we don’t get back to work!” Chuck
declared. “We have a lot to clean up today. Places for the second act,
everybody, Scene Two.”

“Congratulations, Richard,” Peggy said as she took a seat in the
auditorium. She had some time before she was due on stage, and she
wanted to watch the other actors. “I think you did a wonderful job!”

“The Chamber of Commerce is going to be awfully pleased with the way
this turned out,” Mr. Miller said, shaking Richard’s hand. “And the
School Board will be delighted.”

“Thanks, Mr. Miller,” Richard said. “I hope Max Slade will change his
mind about us now, too.”

“He might,” Mr. Miller agreed. “He just might. If I have an opportunity,
I’ll try to speak with him about it. Well, back to work, now.
Congratulations again, Richard.”

Watching him go, Peggy was struck again by the company’s good fortune in
having Howard Miller. He was such a finished actor and lent dignity to
the theater by his position with the Chamber of Commerce and the School
Board. “Mr. Miller did a lot in the theater in his time, didn’t he?”
Peggy whispered to Richard as the act began.

“He certainly did. His background’s very impressive!”

“Do you think he might be able to work something out with Max Slade?”
Peggy asked.

“It’s possible, but if he can’t,” Richard whispered with a twinkle,
“maybe I’ll sic you on the job! You did just fine with John Hamilton.”

Peggy laughed. “Oh, Richard! All I said was that _Dear Ruth_ would open
Thursday. What on earth would I say to Max Slade?”

“I would leave that entirely up to you!” Richard teased. “I’m sure you’d
think of something!”

“But not until after Thursday,” Peggy said with mock seriousness.

“No, no, certainly not until after Thursday!” Richard agreed, chuckling.
“We couldn’t take a chance on losing you opening night! He might lock
you up in the movies!”

“And I’d have to look at one of those awful pictures twelve times.” They
both laughed. “But isn’t it exciting, really?” Peggy said. “I mean the
opening—only two more days! It doesn’t seem possible.”

“Two more days,” Richard echoed thoughtfully, “and there’s such a lot to
do.”

“NO!” Chuck suddenly shouted from the orchestra, and Peggy and Richard
both jumped. “No! How many times do I have to tell you—you cannot throw
that line away!”

He ran up on stage and motioned Danny out of the way, saying, “Now watch
this! I hate to show you how to do your part, but we can’t get hung up
on this every time we play the scene!”

Peggy’s eyes opened wide. She had never seen Chuck Crosby like this
before.

“You _pause_ after you say, ‘I got to the turnstile,’ etc. _Then_ you
say, ‘I didn’t have a nickel’—and you _don’t_ throw it away! You’ll kill
your next line if it isn’t just right. Now watch.”

“I see,” Danny said when Chuck had finished. “Thanks, Chuck.”

“This is not Chekhov we’re playing, it’s a Norman Krasna _comedy_!”
Chuck said, speaking to everybody. “Now suppose we get to work! And stop
playing Alison Lord and Chris Hill and Danny Dunn—_and_ Peggy Lane,
radio heroine.” He pointed straight at her. “Let’s play _Dear Ruth_!”

He jumped off the stage and resumed his place down front. “Take it
again,” he called, “from the beginning!”

And he was right. Watching him, Peggy knew that it was time to get down
to serious work. In two days they had to have a play ready. Really
ready, not half-way. And Chuck, like all good directors, was giving them
the impetus and the drive to do it.



                                   V
                             Opening Night


Thursday! Peggy woke up with a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach
and for a moment wondered why. Then she remembered—opening night!

“Oh!” she groaned and turned over, feeling the butterflies come and go
somewhere in the region of her chest. “Oh,” she moaned again and turned
over on her back.

“Good morning!” There was a knock at her door, and Rita entered bearing
a steaming cup of coffee. The cup rattled a bit in the saucer as she put
it down, spilling coffee over the sides.

“You, too?” Peggy asked, sitting upright.

“Naturally!” Rita held her arm out, showing Peggy her trembling hand.

“That’s nothing!” Peggy scoffed. “Look at this!” They compared hands,
and indeed, Peggy’s was much the shakier.

“Well, you haven’t been up as long as I have,” Rita said. “Wait awhile.”

“I know. It’ll get better, and by noon I’ll feel fine, and by dinnertime
I’ll wish I’d never thought of being an actress in the first place. Oh
dear!” Peggy steadied herself with a sip of coffee. “I wonder how Alison
feels.”

“I’d better wake her up, too,” Rita said and went out for more coffee.
In a moment she was back, and Alison, beautifully sleepy-eyed, joined
them in Peggy’s room.

“Why, oh, why did I ever decide to be an actress in the first place?”
Alison muttered over her coffee.

Peggy and Rita went off into gales of laughter while Alison looked at
them indignantly. “It isn’t funny,” she said. “I don’t feel funny in the
least.”

“We know!” Peggy laughed. “It’s just exactly what I said a minute ago—I
mean what I said I would be saying about eight o’clock tonight!”

“Well, but you don’t have to carry the show,” Alison said, still glum.
“I’ll blow up, I know I will—or I’ll trip over the stairs coming
down—I’ll probably fall flat on my face on my first entrance. Oh, I wish
it were over! Heavens, my hair! I’ve got to wash and set my hair!” She
gulped down the last of her coffee and fled to the shower.

Peggy and Rita watched her go with real compassion—they knew exactly how
she felt!

Chuck Crosby knew what he was about when he called the cast together for
a morning reading of next week’s play, _Angel Street_. By the time the
cast had finished, they had forgotten their anxiety about opening night.
It helped to be reminded that _Dear Ruth_ was not the only play of the
season. There would be other opening nights, too. But this was the big
one—everyone felt that as the day wore on and nervousness slowly
returned.

The company gathered together at a large table for an early dinner at
Mrs. Brady’s. They seldom ate _en masse_ like this, but tonight they
did, almost huddled together for support.

“It feels like the last meal!” Danny mourned as he stirred his soup
listlessly.

“I can’t even stand the thought of food!” Alison declared, looking at
her bowl with distaste.

Even Chris was nervous. Peggy couldn’t help giggling as she watched him
break cracker after cracker into his soup until it looked like a
snowbank. He didn’t have the slightest idea of what he was doing. Rita
plowed into her food, grimly determined to put something into her
stomach, and urged Peggy to do the same.

“Never mind how you feel about it—you’ll have more energy.”

“I can’t,” Peggy said, still giggling. “I just can’t. There’s something
absolutely ridiculous about food at a time like this! Imagine—tomato
soup and _Dear Ruth_—they just don’t mix!” She started laughing again,
and everyone looked at her accusingly. “I can’t help it.” She giggled
helplessly. “I always do this—it’s just nerves. It’ll stop in a while!”
She took a deep breath, trying to calm down, but then another thought
sent her off again. “What do you imagine your husband is having for
dinner tonight?” she asked Rita. “I can just see him up at the theater,
decorating the set and eating lilacs dipped in crackerjack!”

“Oh, Peggy, please stop!” Danny protested as he choked on a mouthful of
soup. “Stop talking and eat.”

“Please!” everyone echoed, and Peggy subsided, trying to force down some
food. It was worse, though, than nervous giggles. The palms of her hands
were first icy and then hot, her stomach felt as if a thousand birds
were migrating through, and the very thought of walking on stage gave
her a shiver from head to toe.

“Well, the worst is over!” Rita said with relief as they finished dinner
and left, with Mrs. Brady’s good wishes following them.

And she was right. Somehow the food, the sparkling night air, the
familiar feeling of the auditorium, and the good smell of grease paint
in their dressing rooms relaxed everyone. This was their job—it was
opening night. In half an hour when they walked on stage, they would be
fine—and everybody knew it.

“It’s funny how the anticipation is always worse than the fact,” Rita
mused as she started to put on her make-up. “And that dinner is the most
dreadful thing of all. It’ll never be that bad again.”

“Aren’t you nervous?” Mary Hopkins asked innocently from her table. The
girls all shared one large dressing room, and the men another.

“What a question!” Peggy laughed. “Aren’t you?”

“Well, a little,” Mary replied. “Not much.”

“That’s because you’re not a professional,” Alison said. “If you ever
become one—just watch. You’re not nervous at first, but the more you
work, the more nervous you get.”

“I think that’s because in the beginning we all think we’re just
wonderful,” Peggy said, “but after a while, we realize how much we have
still to learn.”

“Zip me up, please?” Alison asked Peggy. She looked perfectly beautiful,
Peggy thought, in her pretty two-piece dress, and marvelous make-up.
Alison sat down again and took a little black candle out of her make-up
kit. She lit it and tilted it over a small tin cup.

“Is that some kind of a ritual?” Peggy asked in amazement. “What on
earth are you doing, Alison?”

“Eyelashes,” Alison replied, dipping a brush in the cup and carefully
lifting it to her eyes. “I always do this last.”

“Eyelashes!” Peggy exclaimed—and looked into the little cup. It held
black wax melted by the flame, which thickened when Alison applied it,
making her lashes look thick and long.

“I don’t like to wear false lashes,” Alison explained, “and this works
just as well if not better.”

“If you’ll put a little white at the outer corner of your eyelid,
Peggy,” Rita offered, “it will give you a young effect—and a dot of red
in the inner corner helps, too.”

Peggy tried it and it worked.

“No line under your eyes,” Rita said. “That makes you look older, and
you have to shave off about five years since Miriam is supposed to be
about fourteen. Now, bring your rouge up a little closer to your eyes
and not so far out on your cheek—you want to have a round effect.
There!” Rita looked at Peggy appraisingly. “What do you think?”

Peggy looked at herself and was pleased. She would appear about fourteen
on stage, she thought. She hadn’t been quite satisfied with her make-up
at dress rehearsal. She put on her little navy-blue jumper and white
blouse, brushed on her powder and was done.

“Telegrams!” a voice outside the door announced. “Are you decent?”

“We are, come in,” Rita said, and Richard came through with a stack of
yellow envelopes, handing them to the girls.

“I have to get out front,” Richard said, “but I know you’ll be terrific.
Break a leg!”

“Break a leg!” Mary gasped as he left. “Why—what a thing to say!”

“It means good luck,” Peggy explained as she put her telegrams in front
of her mirror. “Theater people always say that, or something like
it—it’s an old superstition.”

“I see. Why don’t you open your telegrams?” Mary asked.

“Oh, we never do,” Alison answered. “Not until after the show.”

“That’s in case any of them are bad news,” Rita explained.

“But they’re just good-luck wires, aren’t they?”

“Of course,” Peggy laughed, “but it’s another old superstition—like
whistling in the dressing room!”

“Fifteen minutes!” Gus called, rapping a tattoo on the door.

“Where’s the music?” Chuck asked, coming by. “Get that turntable going,
Gus—and better check the door buzzer again.” He came into the room.
“Alison, don’t worry about the orange juice—if you’re shaky about
drinking it tonight, let it go. Peggy, let’s see your make-up. Good!
That’s much better! Now listen—I know it’s opening night and I know it
means a lot—to all of us. And I know we’re all excited and nervous—but I
know you’re going to be just fine!

“Remember—pace it! Keep it moving! It’s a terrific comedy and it ought
to carry you along. It will, if you just keep it moving. I’ll be
watching, but I don’t think you’ll see me until after the show unless
there’s someone I can’t hear. Mary, watch that. I couldn’t hear you in
the last row last night.” He paused a moment. “What else? Guess that’s
it. Break a leg, everyone!”

As Chuck left, the girls heard the music begin, and Gus came by,
calling, “Five minutes!”

There was a sudden silence in the dressing room as everyone felt the
mounting tension. It was a different excitement, though, from their
morning nerves. Peggy began to yawn while Rita took very deep breaths
and Alison did a bending exercise. All these things helped their systems
adjust to the impending effort.

Peggy felt that she had to move. Movement always helped and it was time,
anyway. She walked backstage and took her place in the wings.

“Peggy,” a voice whispered behind her, “have a lot of fun.”

“Thanks, Michael,” Peggy replied shakily. “Do you know what kind of a
house we have?”

“I think it’s pretty good—there’s a peephole in the curtain if you want
to look.”

“No, not tonight—”

“Have fun, Dad,” Michael said to his father as Howard Miller took his
place beside Peggy.

“How do you feel, Peggy?” Mr. Miller asked.

“Nervous!” Peggy smiled. “Break a leg, Dad.”

“House lights!” they heard Gus call to Michael, who was at the
lightboard. “Music! Spots!”

Peggy took a deep breath and adjusted the little beret she wore for her
entrance. Suddenly her knees felt like water. “What’s my first line?”
she thought frantically. “I don’t remember what I’m supposed to say—”

“Curtain!” Gus said, and the heavy drapes swept back.

There was dead silence for a moment, and then Peggy heard a gasp from
the audience followed by a wave of applause for the set. It was evident
they hadn’t expected anything so charming and good.

“Morning, Mis’ Wilkins.” Mary Hopkins entered with her first line.

“Good morning, Dora,” Rita said, her voice clear and steady.

Five more lines before Peggy’s entrance. She was desperately trying to
remember her first line....

“... and that’s the last box of Kleenex,” Mary said. That was it—Peggy’s
cue.

Almost in a trance she made her entrance. “Good morning, Dora,” she
said, the words coming from somewhere—and the minute she spoke, bathed
in the bright lights of the familiar, homey set, everything connected,
everything fell into place.

Peggy began to act easily, feeling out the audience, trying to sense its
mood. It was a curious, rather tight house in the beginning. She felt
the spectators were silently saying, “Show me!”

Mr. Miller and Alison got nice hands on their entrances, but nothing
seemed to “zip” yet—the audience still seemed too polite. Peggy watched
from the wings when Chris made his entrance—and then it happened. That
magical moment when a play suddenly comes to life. Chris entered with
exuberance and power, carrying the audience right along with him, and
the play began to move. It did have pace and rhythm, just as Chuck had
said. The whole cast could feel it and the audience began to laugh. At
the end of the first act there was a resounding wave of applause.

Chuck couldn’t wait out front as he had said he would. He came running
backstage with a huge grin. “It’s great,” he cried, slapping everybody
on the back. “It’s great—just great! Keep it up—keep it moving—it’s
great!” Vocabulary had apparently deserted Chuck Crosby, and his praise
made the actors very happy. They knew how he felt out there, watching
his actors, as nervous as they were, and probably praying that they
would come through. Directing was a big responsibility.

There were six curtain calls! Richard presented Alison Lord with a big
bouquet of flowers from the Chamber of Commerce—a nice gesture for a
special opening, and by the way the applause went on and on, the cast
knew that this audience didn’t want to leave. A sure indication that
they had really had a wonderful time!

Gus finally turned on the music, the curtains closed on the company, and
opening night of _Dear Ruth_ was over.

Almost over. There was to be a party later in the dining room of the
Kenabeek Inn, and now there were congratulations and backstage visitors,
and the exhilaration that always follows a good show.

As she rubbed cold cream on her face in the dressing room, Peggy finally
read her telegrams. BREAK A LEG LITTLE ONE, from her big brother, David,
now off in San Francisco on an assignment for his news service. BEST
WISHES FOR A GRAND OPENING STOP WE KNOW YOU AND THE COMPANY WILL BE
WONDERFUL, from Mother and Dad. A wire from May Berriman and all the
girls in New York; and another from Randy Brewster, THINKING ABOUT A
VERY SPECIAL ACTRESS.

The telegrams brought family and friends backstage as if they were right
here, congratulating her now. Peggy looked at Rita, remembering the way
they had felt in the morning. “Did I ever say I didn’t want to be an
actress?” she asked, and they laughed, comparing absolutely steady hands
this time.



                                   VI
                            Chance Encounter


There was no review of _Dear Ruth_ in the _Kenabeek Gazette_ the next
day! The cast sat around the patio after blocking the first act of
_Angel Street_, glum and disheartened. The wonderful elation of last
night’s opening had left them.

“Isn’t Ford Birmingham going to review us at all?” Peggy wondered
unhappily. “Isn’t it his job? Doesn’t he have to?”

“Oh, he’ll probably write a token piece—it would be too obvious if he
didn’t,” Chuck answered grimly. “But I imagine he won’t do it until the
middle of the week when we’re almost finished with _Dear Ruth_. By that
time we’ll have lost an audience—people will lose interest in our
theater.”

“But didn’t he like the play?” Alison demanded. “Everyone else simply
loved it!”

“He wasn’t there,” Chuck said shortly. “He didn’t come last night, and I
doubt if he’ll come at all. Max Slade must have that man wrapped around
his little finger! We had an audience last night only because of our own
advertising and publicity. But people expect reviews! And if Birmingham
doesn’t give us one next week on opening night—I’ll write one myself!”

“Oh, you can’t!” Peggy said anxiously. “If you do, he’ll be sure to
bring it out in the paper, and then we’ll seem like amateurs!”

Chuck sighed. “I know, Peggy. I wouldn’t, of course, but I just don’t
see any other way!”

“Well, for heaven’s sake!” Alison protested. “He can’t write a review
unless he comes to see a play!”

“Sure he can,” Chris Hill returned. “Easy. He’ll write about two lines
to the effect that _Dear Ruth_ opened at the high school last Thursday,
and in the cast were..., et cetera and et cetera. By saying nothing
he’ll create the impression we were terrible!”

Peggy looked uneasily at Chris. He was terribly angry. She had a
momentary vision of him storming into the offices of the _Kenabeek
Gazette_ and demanding to have it out with Mr. Birmingham. She wasn’t
far wrong.

“Why don’t I go to see him?” Chris fumed. “I’d love to see that guy
and—”

“—tell him just exactly what you think of him!” Chuck finished. “Yes, I
know. So would I, but that’s probably what they expect us to do, so we’d
better not. Better sit tight.”

“Just what is the connection between Max Slade and Birmingham?” Peggy
persisted. “It seems very mysterious to me. I can’t imagine why a
newspaperman would be working hand in glove with a theater manager—it
doesn’t make sense. Newsmen usually just want news! Period!”

“Who knows?” Chuck shrugged. “All I know is that we’ll be able to judge
from the house tonight how it’s going to go from now on without a
review. It’s too early to tell—maybe people will come anyway. But if
they don’t, I can tell you this theater isn’t going to last long!”

Watching Chuck, Peggy felt worried. She noticed that Chris was looking
at their director too, and catching his eye, she knew that he felt as
she did. This meant so much to Chuck, and he had worked so hard. If
there were only something she could do....

“Peggy,” Chuck said, as if in answer to her thought, “would you mind
going with Danny and Mike Miller this afternoon to hunt for furniture?”
He was going to work on the second act of _Angel Street_, in which Peggy
didn’t appear. “You don’t have to—I know you need a rest—but if you feel
like it, it would be a great help.”

“I’d love to!” Peggy beamed cheerfully. “Really, I would. It’ll give me
a chance to see the town.”

Chuck smiled gratefully. “Well, if you’re sure—”

“Anything that’s Victorian?” Peggy asked as she collected her sides and
pencil, dropping them into the large knitting bag she carried to
rehearsals.

“Mike has the furniture and prop list up at the theater,” Chuck said.
“I’d like you to keep an eye out for decoration. Knickknacks and
pictures and maybe a statue—you know.”

“They shouldn’t be hard to find here,” Peggy called gaily as she left
the annex. “These houses look as if they’re stuffed with Victorian
antiques!”

“Thanks, Peggy.” The cast went back to rehearsal, and Peggy started up
to the theater.

“We need a chaise longue, a desk, two tables, four straight chairs, two
easy chairs, and a hall table plus extras.” Danny Dunn checked the list
as Michael Miller turned the little blue jeep out of the school driveway
and down the main road.

“Are you sorry not to be in _Angel Street_?” Peggy asked him. Danny
would not be playing next week and had taken the job of stage-managing
instead, giving Gus an opportunity to concentrate on the set alone.

“Not a bit!” Danny grinned. “You know I’ve played Sergeant Rough before,
and although I enjoyed doing it, I felt I was a little young. It will be
a real treat to see Howard Miller in the part. I think he’ll be
fabulous!”

Peggy chuckled. Danny’s remarks were always liberally peppered with
words like _fabulous_, _terrific_, _fantastic_, _out of this world_.
Danny asked why she laughed and Peggy told him.

“Well,” he pronounced expansively, “the theater _is_ a little bit out of
this world—and I’m in the theater. So where am I?”

“Passing the office of that ‘fantastic’ paper, the _Kenabeek Gazette_,”
Michael informed him, laughing. “There it is, children, look your fill.”

Peggy and Danny whipped around in their seats to look. “The building
looks just like my father’s newspaper in Rockport,” Peggy said, “only a
little smaller. I wonder if Ford Birmingham is in.”

“Well, you won’t have a chance to find out,” Michael said. “I’m taking
you across town to see Mary Hopkins’ mother. Mary said they might have
some things we could use.”

Peggy looked eagerly around the little town of Lake Kenabeek as they
drove through. It was only a few buildings on either side of the main
highway. A post office, drugstore, general store, and sporting goods
shop, the newspaper building, and a couple of restaurants. The
residents’ houses and cottages were almost all off the main highway, on
twisting roads, hidden behind the profusion of pine trees and thick
forest growth.

Peggy wished she could have just a few minutes to stroll around.
“Goodness,” she said, “I’ve been here ten days, and this is the first
time I’ve been into town since I got off that bus!”

“You mean ten years!” Michael retorted. “I’ve felt at least ten years go
by since I first saw you that afternoon!”

Danny and Peggy laughed. Looking at Michael, though, Peggy realized that
he wasn’t far wrong about himself. He had grown up in the past week! And
he seemed to be having more fun. He wasn’t as serious and shy as he had
been at the start. For his sake, Peggy was glad of the change.

“The jeep has aged, too,” Danny commented. “Don’t I detect a cough in
the engine?”

“Oh, no, that’s only her way of saying hello.” Michael patted the wheel
as if the jeep were alive. “Look—there it is—the ogre!” Michael pointed
to the movie house and shook a fist playfully as they drove by.

“Well, you certainly don’t seem too worried about the state of affairs!”
Danny commented.

“I’m not!” Michael responded. “I have absolute faith in the ultimate
triumph of the Kenabeek Summer Theater! Hey!” Michael suddenly braked
the jeep and pulled to the side of the road. “Bladen’s Antiques! I’d
forgotten about them. This is the one antique store in the area, Peggy.”

They looked at the little house at the side of the road. Outside, by the
gate, was a huge iron elk carrying the shop’s sign on his antlers. The
yard was strewn with marble pedestals, bird cages hanging from trees,
and a huge red sleigh with massive iron runners. There was even a small
weather-beaten totem pole leaning rather precariously to one side.

“Is that the real thing?” Peggy asked Michael.

“Well, if it wasn’t when they put it up, it’s certainly an antique by
now! No, it’s not a real Indian one, Peggy. It’s a fake, like a lot of
souvenir items up here. But we don’t pretend they’re real.”

“Think we might borrow one of those pedestals?” Peggy asked. “We could
use one on the set.”

“Couldn’t carry it back—they’re too heavy,” Michael answered. “Why don’t
I drop you here, Peggy, and you can browse around inside? We’ll pick you
up on our way back from Mrs. Hopkins’.”

“Well, all right,” Peggy agreed doubtfully, climbing out. “But suppose
they don’t want to lend us anything?”

“Make a big pitch about the program credit. Say it’s great advertising!
See you later.” They drove off, leaving Peggy feeling even more dubious.
She had never been very good at this type of thing—program credit or
not. She remembered a time when she had been asked to sell advertising
for the high school yearbook at home, and how shy she had felt about it.
Acting was one thing, but this was another.

Some people didn’t realize that actors and actresses didn’t always make
good salesmen, she thought, as she entered the gate and walked up the
little flagstone path to the shop. She wished that Richard Wallace were
with her. He could talk anybody into anything! But then, Peggy recalled,
he seemed to think the same of her. She smiled, remembering how he had
kidded about sending her to see Max Slade. Well, even if that had been a
joke, at least she could try to do something useful here.

Chimes rang above her head as she opened the door, and Peggy blinked,
coming into a room so stuffed with bric-a-brac and furniture that she
could hardly see her way. There was a narrow path of clear space, only
about a foot wide, that led to the counter. She had to avoid things
hanging from the ceiling: bunches of toy bark canoes on strings, birds
carved out of wood that danced merrily in the air at the breeze from the
door. Leaning down from the wall behind the counter and staring at her
roundly was a huge, stuffed owl, his eyes gleaming strangely in the dim
light. Peggy stared back at the owl, fascinated.

“Yes, may I help you?” For a moment Peggy almost thought the owl had
spoken, but then she saw a little splinter of a man, so fragile and old
that it seemed as if he might break into a thousand pieces at any
moment.

“Oh dear!” Peggy thought. “He’s so old, and probably can’t hear very
well, and won’t know what I’m talking about!” But she had to begin
somewhere.

“Why, yes,” she said, speaking clearly in hopes he could hear. “I’m
Peggy Lane from the Kenabeek Summer Theater, and we hoped you might be
able to help us. We’re doing a Victorian play next week—_Angel
Street_—and we thought you might have some furniture or decoration we
could use on our set....” Peggy stopped lamely while the old man just
smiled and said nothing. Obviously, he hadn’t understood a word.

“We couldn’t pay you for them, of course,” she rushed on, determined to
finish at any rate. “But if you’d be interested, we’d give you a good
credit in our programs, and that’s free advertising for you, you know.”

Peggy felt bumbling and awkward, at a loss for words. Well, there was
only one thing left to say. She would finish and leave quickly. “We
would take very good care of whatever you lent us,” she mumbled
faintly—it didn’t matter, he couldn’t hear anyway. “Well, I’ve certainly
made a mess of this,” Peggy thought. “They should have sent somebody who
knows the old man and how to talk to him!”

“Ah, yes. _Angel Street_ is an excellent play!” Peggy could hardly
believe her ears as the old man spoke. “Quite a thriller, yes, indeed. I
made a special trip to New York to see that play once—type of thing I
like. I was waiting for you to say something about taking care of
anything I might lend you,” he went on. “You see, some of my things here
are quite valuable and I would have to be sure they were in responsible
hands.”

“Oh, of course,” Peggy said eagerly.

“If you hadn’t mentioned that, I might not have said anything at all!
Might have let you leave thinking I was deaf as a stone!” He cocked his
head humorously on one side, giving Peggy a wink that reminded her of
the wise old owl.

“I’m Mr. Bladen,” the old man said as he came out from behind the
counter and threaded his way among the piles of stuff on the floor,
crooking a finger for Peggy to follow. There was hardly room to squeeze
through, but she valiantly held her breath and went sideways, picking
her way carefully around the vases, picture frames, statues, tables, and
chairs.

“Been here forty years,” he added, leading her over to one wall under a
window. He drew back the curtains and a dust cloud rose as he pinned
them back to get some light. Peggy sneezed. “_Gesundheit!_” Mr. Bladen
said.

Peggy sneezed again. “_Gesundheit!_” he repeated, and Peggy giggled.

“Think I’m a funny old codger, don’t you?” he said, his eyes twinkling.
“And you’re right—I am—I am! Can’t get to be as old as I am and not be
funny somehow! Now look—” He started removing a pile of odds and ends
that were burying a piece of furniture covered with a dusty red shawl.
“Take this and put it somewhere.” He handed Peggy a plaster cast of a
nymph blowing a conch shell. Peggy looked around and placed it on a
table already filled with other figurines. “And this—and this—” He gave
her pictures, frames, little boxes, lamps. Peggy was hard pressed to
find a place for them, but somehow she managed. Finally they reached
bottom and Mr. Bladen pulled off the shawl. After the cloud of dust had
subsided, among more sneezes and _Gesundheits_, Peggy looked at the
“buried treasure” and gasped. It was a perfect Victorian chaise longue
with a curving, dark mahogany frame, beautifully upholstered in red and
gold striped satin.

“It’s perfect!” Peggy cried excitedly. “Oh, Mr. Bladen, it’s simply
perfect! We couldn’t find anything better if we looked for a million
years! Oh, may we use it, really?” She clasped her hands eagerly.

“Of course!” Mr. Bladen laughed, his thin, sensitive fingers patting the
edge of the sofa. “I know it’s perfect. Just like the one they used in
New York—noticed it myself when I saw the play. Been waiting, really, to
find a use for it. Nobody would ever discover it under all this stuff!”

Peggy looked around, wondering how many other lovely pieces were hidden
under the incredible litter.

“Yep,” Mr. Bladen said, “I have a lot of nice things here, but can’t
ever find the time to straighten things up so they can be seen. Too old,
I guess—and then there’s my work.”

Peggy’s surprise was evident. His work? Wasn’t this his work? Mr. Bladen
answered her unspoken question with another conspiratorial wink.

“Write poetry, you see—only thing worth doing at my age. Wouldn’t you
agree?”

Peggy was charmed. She hadn’t met anyone so delightful as Mr. Bladen for
a long time. Wouldn’t her parents love to hear about this wonderful old
man with his fantastic little shop and his poetry!

“Then of course you’d know about the theater and plays and everything,”
she cried with sudden understanding. “No wonder!”

[Illustration: _“It’s perfect!” Peggy cried excitedly._]

“Yes,” Mr. Bladen answered cheerfully. “And it’s nice to know that
someone’s bringing the theater to us here. Town needs it—wish you a lot
of luck. Anxious to help all I can. Now, let’s see if we can’t find some
little extras for that set—” He poked around, and like a magician
drawing rabbits out of a hat, triumphantly produced pictures, ornaments,
a student lamp, and two beautiful porcelain vases.

“Think you’ll need these,” he told Peggy, holding up the vases. “Seems
to me I remember something special about a vase—”

“That’s right.” Peggy smiled. “The rubies are hidden in a vase. But
those are much too good, Mr. Bladen!”

“Nonsense,” he scoffed. “You want to be realistic, don’t you? Now you
just take these vases and scoot along. I’ll put them in your care. Here,
take this along with you now, too.” He balanced the student lamp
precariously between the vases that Peggy held in each hand. The china
shade was just under her chin.

“But I really don’t think—” Peggy started.

“Send somebody back for the rest of the things.” Mr. Bladen ignored her
protest. “I’m here all the time,” he said as he opened the door.

“Well, now about the advertising for the program—”

“Worry about that later—have to get back to work now. Run along and good
luck.”

Mr. Bladen closed the door firmly, the chimes ringing good-by as Peggy
found herself outside. She hadn’t even thanked him, she realized,
looking back at the house. Why was he in such a sudden hurry, she
wondered? And then she remembered—poetry! Peggy laughed softly. Mr.
Bladen must have had a new idea and wanted to write it down quickly. She
wondered if the poem would be about the theater, or _Angel Street_, or
if the sofa could have given him an idea, or the vases. It could be
anything! Peggy smiled broadly as she stepped down the little path to
the gate, carefully holding the vases and lamp. What a surprise to find
someone like Mr. Bladen in Lake Kenabeek! It proved that it paid to get
into town once in a while—there might be other fascinating people to
meet in this resort.

Peggy leaned forward to open the gate and the lamp started to tumble.
Grabbing it, she almost let go of one of the precious vases which
started to slide out of her hand. It kept slipping and she couldn’t get
a secure grasp on it. In a flash she saw an awful picture of shattered
porcelain, and Mr. Bladen’s disappointment at having entrusted something
so valuable to her. Just as it was about to fall entirely and crash on
the pavement, two hands reached over the gate, grabbed the vase, and
removed the lamp from her arms.

“Now maybe you’ll be able to see where you’re going!” A handsome young
man in a conservative summer suit stood there smiling, and Peggy sighed
with relief.

“Thank you so much!” she said gratefully. “I don’t know what I’d have
done if they’d been broken. You’ve really saved the day—I can’t thank
you enough!”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” the young man said, grinning, “It may
be enough to know that I’ve saved the day! How have I saved the day, by
the way?” He looked amused and interested, and Peggy laughed.

“By the way, you’ve saved the day and helped the play!” she rhymed.
“Really you have. And you’ve also saved one of Mr. Bladen’s precious
antiques!”

He raised an eyebrow, turning the vase over in his hand. “Is it really
good?” he asked. “And what does it have to do with a play?”

“We’re going to use them in _Angel Street_,” Peggy explained. She liked
this friendly young man who somehow made her feel as if she’d known him
for years. Was he another interesting resident, she wondered. “I’m Peggy
Lane from the Summer Theater,” she said, “and next week’s play is _Angel
Street_.”

“Oh,” he said slowly, and Peggy was surprised to see him frown slightly.
But then he smiled again, handing back the vase. “How are you going to
manage all this?” he asked, still holding on to the lamp. “I don’t think
you can carry them all without breaking something. Can I drop you
somewhere?”

Peggy noticed a car parked a few feet away and shook her head,
declining, “No, thank you—”

“I realize we haven’t met formally,” he said, bowing a little, “but in
Lake Kenabeek we’re not very formal. I’d be glad to drive you to the
theater.”

He hadn’t introduced himself, Peggy realized suddenly, but he seemed so
well-mannered that she imagined it was just a slip. “No, thanks again,
but the jeep is coming back for me. I’d better wait.”

He gave her a regretful glance and put the lamp carefully on the ground.
“Well, I’m sorry,” he said. “It would be a pleasure to help you. A real
pleasure,” he added softly, almost under his breath. “But perhaps we’ll
meet again sometime.” He looked at her as if about to add something, but
then, apparently changing his mind, gave her a peculiar smile and walked
to his car. “Good luck,” he called as he got in, leaving Peggy
thoroughly puzzled.

The little blue jeep was coming back just as the young man drove away,
and they passed each other on the road. Michael turned and pulled up in
front of Peggy, exclaiming when he saw the lamp and vases.

“Success! They look wonderful, Peggy, and look what we have!”

The back of the jeep was crammed with chairs and tables. “Mrs. Hopkins
has taken care of the table and chair department, and all we have left
now of any real importance is that couch. Can’t seem to find one,” Danny
said.

“I’ve found it!” Peggy declared. “And wait until you see it! But we have
to come back for it later. Oh, I have such a lot to tell you!” She
handed Danny the lamp and climbed into the front seat, carefully holding
the vases.

“By the way,” Michael said as they drove back to the theater, “did you
see one of the ogres? He drove right past you—back there in front of
Bladen’s.”

“Who? What ogre?” Peggy asked. “Where?”

“Remember the car that passed us just as we came back for you?”

Peggy certainly did remember, and her heart sank as she guessed what
Michael’s next words would be.

“That, my girl,” he confirmed, “was none other than our Mr. Slade!”

“Max Slade!” Peggy breathed softly. “Why, it doesn’t seem possible....”

“No, not Max,” Michael corrected. “That was his shadow—his younger
brother, Bill.”

Peggy had such a peculiar expression that Danny worriedly asked, “What’s
the matter, Peggy? You all right?”

“Why, I don’t know,” she said slowly, hardly hearing as she recalled
Bill Slade’s parting words—

“... it would be a pleasure to help you ... a real pleasure.”

“Oh, Michael,” Peggy cried, “I’ve got to see your father and Richard
Wallace right away! There may be a lot more to all this than we realize!
There may even be a way to help the theater!”



                                  VII
                              Unfair Play


“I think you should send someone to see him. I’m sure he’d really like
to help!” Peggy was saying. She had dropped into Aunt Hetty’s home with
Richard and Mr. Miller to discuss her meeting with Bill Slade. “I had
the feeling when he spoke that he doesn’t approve of what his brother’s
doing, doesn’t like this feud—”

“Whether he approves or not, there’s nothing he can do about it!” Aunt
Hetty said firmly. “They both run the movie house, but it’s Max who
makes the decisions and Bill just follows along.”

“That’s right, Peggy,” Howard Miller agreed. “I’d hate to stir up any
friction between those two brothers. I spoke at length to Max the other
night, and I’ve never heard him so unreasonable about anything in all
the years I’ve known him! He won’t even discuss the problem. He’s so
terrified that we’re going to ruin his business that he just clams up.”

“Was Bill Slade there when you saw him?” Peggy asked curiously.

Mr. Miller nodded. “And he didn’t say a word. I hate to disappoint you
about Bill, Peggy, but he’s never been strong enough to stand up to his
brother; and no matter how he impressed you, I don’t think this issue is
the one to change his character.”

Peggy sighed. “Well, I guess that’s that,” she said regretfully. “I’m
sorry—for a while I thought something could be done. He seemed so
nice—and sad somehow. It’s a shame.”

“How’s _Angel Street_ going?” Aunt Hetty asked, tactfully closing the
subject of Bill Slade.

“Wonderful,” Richard said. “It’s going to be even better than _Dear
Ruth_—if that’s possible! Come on, Peggy,” he said, “I’ll walk you
home.”

“Thank you for the coffee and the cake,” Peggy said to Aunt Hetty. “It
was wonderful to have something homemade for a change!”

“Remind you of home?” Aunt Hetty asked.

“Yes—it all does,” Peggy said wistfully, looking around the comfortable
living room with the beamed ceiling, fireplace, and gay chintz coverings
on the furniture. “But then,” she laughed, “anything like this is a
startling change from the annex! It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t go
home for a visit after the season is over....”

“Good idea,” Aunt Hetty agreed. “You’ll need a rest.”

“Are you staying, Mr. Miller?” Richard asked.

“Yes, I want to go over some things with your aunt, Richard. We have to
give a report soon to the Chamber of Commerce.”

“And I want to talk over some more promotion ideas with you,” Richard
said, “if you’ll be here when I get back.”

“Your aunt and Mr. Miller make a nice couple,” Peggy observed as she and
Richard started back to the annex. “Have you ever noticed?”

Richard grinned at Peggy. “You mean that just occurred to you? Why, I
guess everybody in town has seen that for years. We’re all just waiting
for Aunt Hetty and Mr. Miller to wake up and notice it, too!

“I’m sorry that we had to squelch your idea of appealing to Bill Slade,”
Richard went on seriously, “and believe me, we wouldn’t if there were
the slightest chance of his making any headway with his brother. But I’m
afraid Mr. Miller’s right. Bill Slade is a pretty weak character. If he
really felt strongly about this, he’d do something about it on his own.
Don’t you think so, Peggy?”

“Yes, I do,” Peggy said thoughtfully. “And do you know, Richard, I
wouldn’t be surprised if he did do something! Maybe he isn’t as weak as
all of you think. I just have a feeling—”

“Woman’s feelings!” Richard laughed. “For once, I’m afraid your
intuition is wrong, Peggy!”

And as the week wore on, it seemed that Richard was right. By the night
of dress rehearsal for _Angel Street_, the cast was terribly dispirited,
having seen audiences diminish little by little each night for _Dear
Ruth_. Apparently Max Slade was talking down the theater at every
opportunity—calling them amateurs, and saying that if Ford Birmingham
wouldn’t even bother to go, the townspeople could certainly judge from
that. Unfortunately, the company hadn’t been playing long enough to
secure the loyal audience that could keep it going regardless.

Alison Lord, who was playing the very demanding lead of “Mrs.
Manningham” in _Angel Street_, was particularly upset.

“It’s bad enough to be under the strain of doing this part,” she said
tearfully to Chuck. “Sometimes I wonder why I bother at all—why not just
quit? It doesn’t seem worth the effort!”

“It will, tomorrow night, when we open,” Chuck reassured her. “You’re
doing a beautiful job, Alison, and, of course, it’s worth while!”

“Cheer up, Mrs. Manningham,” Howard Miller said, patting Alison on the
shoulder, “you and I are going to have a wonderful time out there,
audience or not. Right?”

“I guess so.” Alison dried her tears and smiled ironically. “I’m unhappy
enough really to feel like Mrs. Manningham, anyway. If this keeps up, I
won’t have to work very hard!” She went to the dressing room to change
into her costume. Peggy followed, worried about Alison’s mood. “Mrs.
Manningham” was on stage almost constantly and really carried the show.
If some of Alison’s fire was gone, even the fine performance that Howard
Miller was giving wouldn’t be enough to save the play.

“How is your costume?” Peggy asked Alison, thinking that clothes and
make-up always seemed to have a magical effect on the leading lady.
“Have you unpacked it yet?” The large boxes of costumes had arrived
earlier in the afternoon from New York. Because _Angel Street_ was a
period piece, everything had to be rented. Measurements had been sent,
and now the girls could only hope that everything fitted properly. If
not, there would be last-minute sewing—a difficult project to fit into
the next few short hours.

“It’s dull,” Alison replied disinterestedly, “but it fits. At least I
don’t have to worry about that!” She put on a smock and sat down at the
table to apply her make-up. Watching her draw in the tiny lines on her
forehead, and apply blue shadow under her eyes, Peggy had to giggle.

“Oh, Alison!” She laughed. “Forgive me, but really, what a change!”

Alison stared blankly into her mirror and then had to smile at herself.
Gone was the bright, vivacious “Ruth,” and even beautiful Alison. In her
place was a wan, haunted woman about thirty, with circles under her eyes
and an expression of fear. “For once I look just the way I feel,” said
Alison, and as Peggy and Rita laughed, even she had to join in.

“I really should be a blonde for this,” Peggy considered as she put up
her hair, arranging it in little curls on the top of her head. She was
playing the pert, saucy maid, Nancy.

“You could spray your hair,” Rita told her, “but it’s a mess, and I
wouldn’t advise it. I think you’re all right just like that.”

“Except that my skirt is too long,” Peggy noticed as she walked about
the dressing room, strutting a bit as “Nancy” did, with a rustle of
taffeta. “I’ll trip on it, I’m afraid.”

“Here, maybe I can pin it,” Rita offered.

Finally, dressed in their costumes and make-up, the girls walked out on
stage for an inspection under lights.

“What base are you using, Alison?” Chuck called from the aisle. “You’re
too yellow under all this amber light. Gus, kill that spot and let me
see what happens. Now, will you walk over and sit on the sofa, Alison?
And Peggy, let me see you up by the fireplace.”

The girls moved around the stage while Gus worked with the lights,
changing filters and spots until Chuck was satisfied. It was a
wonderful, eerie set, Peggy thought. Gus had stenciled a wallpaper
design on the flats, and with the couch that Mr. Bladen had lent them,
and the other Victorian pieces and bric-a-brac, the room had a heavy,
mysterious quality. The atmosphere affected Peggy strongly. She felt as
if some dire event was going to take place. She walked down to the
auditorium to look at the stage.

“Now try the bracket circuit,” Chuck called. “Let me see how they dim.
Where’s Mr. Miller? Get him and take that bit in Act Two, Alison, where
the lights go down.”

Already nine o’clock, and dress rehearsal hadn’t even started yet. It
would go on until the early hours of the morning, Peggy knew. Missing
props would be found and put in place, movements changed, and
last-minute touches made to the set. Peggy settled down, curling up as
comfortably as she could on the hard seat, as she waited for rehearsal
to begin.

Chris Hill walked out on stage, his appearance completely transformed
with the mustache, small beard, and sideburns that he used for Mr.
Manningham. Even his attitude was different, Peggy noticed. He seemed a
lot older and his voice was deep and serious as he checked his make-up
with Chuck.

Finally, at nine-thirty, they were ready. The curtains were drawn,
Alison settled herself in her chair, Chris stretched out on the couch,
and Peggy took her place in the wings. Even a dress rehearsal, she
thought, as she mentally prepared for her entrance, had a feeling of
excitement and pressure. Well, this was their one chance to feel the
play as it would be on opening night—to rehearse with continuity.

“I’m not going to stop you,” Chuck called. “I’ll be taking notes and
we’ll iron out the flaws later. Ready, Danny?”

“All set,” Danny affirmed, his hands on the curtain.

“All right then; make it a performance, everyone.”

The first half of Act One went well. Peggy had a very small part and was
able to watch almost continuously from the wings. Chris was really
sinister, she thought, shivering as she observed his scene with Alison.
And Alison was wonderful. She was a little young to play Mrs. Manningham
but her own personality had disappeared in the part, and she was
completely believable.

“How I would love to play that part someday!” Peggy dreamed. “Or
something like it. I wish I had just one dramatic part to do this
summer!” She sighed as she thought of the season ahead—one comedy part
after another.

Chris made his exit with a slam of the door, and Rita, as the
housekeeper, came on to announce the arrival of Sergeant Rough. Peggy
drew up a box near Gus at the switchboard, and leaned forward excitedly
to watch. With his old-fashioned cape-coat and painstaking make-up,
Howard Miller was the very picture of a Scotland Yard Inspector. Peggy
tensed as the suspense mounted; even Gus at the lights was so engrossed
in the play that he almost forgot to dim the lights at the right time.

“Gus,” Peggy whispered, “the lights! Gus, isn’t that your cue?”

He started, quickly dimmed the lights, and then shook his head
sheepishly. “Thanks, Peggy!”

“I’m afraid you are married to a tolerably dangerous gentleman,”
Sergeant Rough said to Mrs. Manningham, and as she stood there, slowly
realizing his meaning, the curtain closed on Act One.

“House lights,” Chuck called. “Open the curtain, Danny, and everybody on
stage.”

Surprised, the cast gathered on the set.

“I thought we were doing a straight run-through” Alison complained
crossly. “I need it, Chuck, to get a feeling of the continuity!”

“I know, Alison,” Chuck said, “I’m sorry. But something’s come up that
you’ll all know about tomorrow, and it might ruin opening night. I’d
rather tell you now so you can work it out during rehearsal. Better a
bad dress rehearsal than a dreary opening.”

“What now?” Peggy wondered. She had never seen Chuck so depressed or
listless. All his energy seemed to have left him as he walked forward
and looked up at everybody.

“You’re all wonderful,” he said slowly, “and you’re doing a job that’s
worthy of Broadway—honestly, you are.” He watched Alison closely as he
spoke, letting the words sink in. “Now, I don’t want this to throw you.
Just hear it quietly, and then we’ll finish rehearsal. Aunt Hetty
dropped in a minute ago—she’d been in town and happened to drive past
the movie house. She saw the advertisement for the new bill which opens
tomorrow night.”

“Oh, no!” Chris broke in with instant comprehension.

“I’m afraid so, Chris,” Chuck said quietly. “They are showing the movie
of _Angel Street_ this week. Under another title, of course, but
everybody knows it’s the same play. The story’s too famous. Slade is
counting on the stars of the film to draw audiences away from our
production.” Chuck tried to think of something else to say, but it was
no good. Everyone recognized the seriousness of this move, and what it
could mean. “I—I’m sorry.” Chuck concluded lamely.

Alison was standing stiffly, her hands clenched and her mouth tight as
she tried to control her tears. But then she broke. “I told you it
wasn’t worth the effort,” she sobbed. “I’m not going to ruin my health
and nerves doing this part and then have nobody in the audience! They
can all go to the movies as far as I’m concerned! This whole theater has
been a fiasco from the beginning, and the sooner we close the better.
You can give the part to somebody else—I’m through!” She ran off the
stage and to the dressing room as the rest of the cast looked after her
unhappily.

Rita started to follow her, but Chuck shook his head. “Let her go,” he
said. “She doesn’t really mean it, and she might as well get it out of
her system. The part is a terrific strain, and I’m not surprised at her
reaction!”

Peggy dropped onto the couch beside Howard Miller, who was sitting there
twirling his hat thoughtfully. “I had a feeling something was going to
happen,” Peggy said sadly, “but I never dreamed it would be this. Guess
I really was all wrong about Bill Slade. If he didn’t make an effort to
stop his brother this time, I guess he never will. Maybe he’s just as
opposed to the theater as Max.”

“I don’t know, Peggy,” Mr. Miller replied, “I’m beginning to wonder if
we shouldn’t have had someone go to see him as you suggested. Perhaps
any try would have been better than none at all. This move of theirs may
ruin the theater for good. We can’t possibly stay open if business drops
off any more.” He frowned. “The Chamber of Commerce will never want to
hear of a summer theater again, and we can’t afford the loss of money
either.”

“Do you think it’s too late?” Peggy questioned intently. “Too late to
see Bill Slade?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said. “I’ve already spoken to Max. Aunt Hetty is so
furious that she won’t talk to either one of them, and they won’t speak
to Richard or Chuck.” He smiled ruefully. “Impasse. Like nations trying
to get together without a common language.”

Peggy was silent, remembering that Bill Slade had seemed to speak her
language. Could she have been so very wrong about that, after all? Why
couldn’t she see him herself? Why did it have to be one of the directors
of the theater or of the Chamber of Commerce? If the Slades were too
stubborn or unreasonable to talk with “authority,” maybe they—or at
least Bill—would be freer with her. She laughed softly to herself,
thinking of the Hatfields and McCoys. This feud was every bit as
unreasonable and silly—and in the stories, it was always the younger
generation that somehow managed to work things out! Feeling a little
like a heroine in a legend, Peggy decided to try.

But how? All through the rest of the rehearsal—with Alison back and
working just as Chuck had predicted—Peggy thought about it. She couldn’t
call and ask for an appointment. It had to be subtler than that. She
would have to arrange something that seemed quite accidental. Yes, a
chance meeting with Bill Slade! But how?



                                  VIII
                             An Explanation


“Chuck, are you up yet?” Peggy knocked cautiously on the door of his
combination office-living quarters on the lower floor of the annex. It
was eleven o’clock and the tired company hadn’t turned in until
three-thirty in the morning.

“Come in, Peggy.” Chuck opened the door and motioned her in. His desk
was covered with work, and crumpled wads of paper littered the floor.
“Been up for hours,” he said. “I was just going over the budget.” His
eyes were hollow and ringed from lack of sleep. “The answer is, _what_
budget?” He tore up the piece of paper he was holding and dropped it in
the waste-basket. “It doesn’t look good, Peggy.”

“Oh, Chuck, I’m sorry!” Peggy felt dreadful, realizing the enormous
amount of work that he had put into the theater, and the possible
futility of it all. But she couldn’t reveal her plan, much as she would
like to, even to offer him some hope. It might not work out after all,
and Chuck was so depressed that he would probably try to dissuade her
from seeing Bill Slade. She had determined to try, at any cost, and she
must do it very quietly and all alone.

“Could I possibly be excused from the reading today?” Peggy asked.
“There are so many things I need from town, and I haven’t had a chance
yet to catch up on shopping—”

“Go ahead,” Chuck answered dully. “There isn’t going to be a reading,
anyway. I don’t know if we’ll even be open after this week, so I’m not
going to work you any harder than I have to. Today everyone gets a rest;
tomorrow we’ll begin again.”

“Thank you,” Peggy said, wishing she could wave a magic wand and set
everything right. “Is there anything I can get for you while I’m in
town?”

“No, thanks, Peggy. By the way, we will have a line rehearsal before the
show tonight. Five o’clock here.”

Five o’clock. Peggy calculated. Yes, that would work out. She could be
about her business and get back in plenty of time. She left quietly,
hoping that nobody noticed her as she walked up the little path around
the side of the inn and down the hill to the highway.

The weather was changing, Peggy noticed, as she walked along. When she
had arrived a hint of spring had still been in the air, but now it was
hot and beginning to feel like real summer. Wouldn’t it be fun to enjoy
some of the pleasures of the resort, she thought, looking at the
beautiful blue of the lake dotted with sails and speedboats. Michael had
promised to take her out in his boat someday. Someday! Everyone had been
so busy that even Michael hadn’t had an opportunity to be out on the
water that he so dearly loved.

“When we get settled into a routine,” the company had dreamed
optimistically. “In a few weeks, after things are going smoothly, well,
then we’ll have time to swim once in a while and go boating!”

Peggy sighed, taking off the little jacket that topped her gaily
flowered summer dress. It could still work out, she thought, things
could run smoothly if everyone knew that the theater would stay open.
This uncertainty, though, was terrible for everyone’s morale and left no
time for play. Actors needed relaxation, too, she mused. The theater was
fun, but it was hard work as well.

“And today I’m free for a while!” She smiled with a sudden sharp
enjoyment at being outdoors and away from the theater.

As Peggy passed the offices of the _Kenabeek Gazette_, she paused for a
moment. She needed a newspaper and wondered if she should go in. But no,
she decided, somebody might recognize her, so she hastened on and walked
into the drugstore. There were several copies of the paper left and
Peggy bought one along with some cosmetics she needed. Outside again,
she flipped through the paper, seeking the information she wanted. There
it was—the first showing of the movie today would be at noon. She had
just enough time. Hurriedly, she walked on, nodding back at several
people who smiled at her, apparently part of their grateful, if small,
audience.

“Oh, Miss Lane—” A middle-aged woman, smartly attired in sports clothes,
stopped her on the sidewalk. “I just want to tell you how much my
husband and I enjoyed you in _Dear Ruth_. We saw it on Broadway years
ago and I must say we were surprised at the professional excellence of
your cast. Tell me, who did that lovely set?”

“Oh, thank you.” Peggy smiled. “Our set designer is Gus Stevens. He’s
the husband of the girl you saw playing the part of the mother. And she
was awfully good, wasn’t she?”

“Wonderful,” the woman agreed warmly. “Just wonderful. You know, we’ve
been coming up here to Lake Kenabeek for years—our son goes to a camp
nearby. This is the first summer that we’ve had any real entertainment!
You tell your director that we wish him a lot of luck—and the whole
cast. We hope you’ll be here every year from now on!”

Peggy left her thoughtfully, realizing that if the theater should have
to close, it would affect more than just the company and the Chamber of
Commerce. People here really wanted entertainment. Surely there was room
for a summer theater and the movies to exist side by side!

She bought her ticket for the film, hoping that the woman in the booth
didn’t recognize her. Probably not, Peggy thought. It might be a sin for
anyone employed at the movies to go to the Summer Theater! She shook her
head impatiently and went into the dark interior. Now that she was here,
Peggy wondered if her plan had been so ingenious after all. Perhaps Bill
Slade wouldn’t even be here today. Perhaps instead of finding him, she
would run smack into his brother Max! And that was a prospect she didn’t
particularly want to face.

Peggy took a seat in the first row at the side of the balcony. Here she
was close enough to the mezzanine to get up frequently and look around
the lounge where a sign on a door announced, Office of the Manager.
Looking at it doubtfully as she left her seat for what must have been
the tenth time, Peggy wondered if anyone was inside. She might have to
stay here all day, seeing the film several times as she waited for
someone to emerge. Two ushers walked by and Peggy heard one of the girls
say, “No, Mr. Slade isn’t here yet. He said he’d be in around
five-thirty. But you’re off duty then, aren’t you?” They went on,
leaving Peggy feeling that her brilliant idea hadn’t been so brilliant
after all! She was just about to go back and watch the end of the movie,
when the door opened and Bill Slade walked out!

Peggy was in luck! It must be Max who was expected later on.

Bill Slade saw her standing there, and an incredulous expression
suffused his face. “Why—why, it’s you!” he blurted, in utter
astonishment.

“Oh, Mr. Slade! How nice to run into you again!” Peggy’s acting
experience came in handy right now. She hoped she seemed genuinely
surprised.

“And you know my name now, it seems,” he said, reddening slightly as he
came over to her. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t dare introduce myself
that day, not knowing how you’d feel about it.”

Something tugged at Peggy’s heart. She felt she had never met anyone so
basically nice or so unhappy with a situation.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he asked, frowning a little as if he
had only just realized where they were.

Peggy had planned the answer. “Why, I was having a little difficulty
with my part this week,” she said easily, “and I thought I’d take a look
at the movie to see how it was done.” From the balcony, the sound of the
closing music of the film swelled around them, followed by the martial
strains of music for the news-reel.

“You missed the end,” Bill Slade observed, looking at her closely.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter.” Peggy was slightly flustered. “I’m not in the
end, anyway. I’m just playing the maid.” She hoped it sounded logical.

Bill laughed. “No wonder you were having trouble,” he said. “That’s
miscasting if I ever heard of it!”

“Oh, no, it isn’t.” Peggy smiled back. “You just come to see the play
and you’ll see what a good character actress I can be!”

Again she noticed that sad expression come into his eyes, but then he
brightened and said, “Miss Peggy Lane, why don’t we do something utterly
insane and go out for some lemonade or something together? Do you have
time?”

Peggy glowed. This invitation was exactly what she had hoped for! “I’d
love to,” she agreed happily.

Bill Slade walked with her back to the drugstore and they took one of
the little booths in the rear, well away from curious eyes. In the
middle of the afternoon there were few people in the store, and they
could speak freely without being overheard.

“I wish you would come up to the theater just once,” Peggy implored. “I
think you’d enjoy seeing a play for a change.”

“I know I would,” Bill said slowly. “I love the theater, Miss Lane—”

“Peggy, please!” she twinkled.

“Peggy!” he agreed. “All right. But we might as well not beat about the
bush. You know how my brother feels about the theater! I’ve talked to
him, Peggy, believe it or not.” He looked at her pleadingly, and she
wondered how an attractive, intelligent young man like this could bear
to remain so entirely under his brother’s influence. Bill Slade looked
as though he should have a more independent role.

“But what does your brother have to do with it?” Peggy asked, hoping to
jolt him a little. “Surely, if you would like to be on our side—and I
gathered from the way you spoke that day that you would—?”

Bill answered her implied question with an emphatic nod.

“Well, then,” Peggy urged, “why not take a stand? Come up to the theater
and let your brother know exactly how you feel.”

“He does know,” Bill said softly.

“I don’t see why we have to be in competition,” Peggy went on earnestly.
“Don’t you think the two forms of entertainment could complement each
other? For instance, we’re doing a melodrama this week, and if instead
of choosing the same story, you had run a comedy film, both our
businesses would have benefited. Or don’t you agree?”

She looked at him anxiously over her glass of lemonade, her large eyes
serious and her pretty dress making a splash of color against the dull
gray of the seat. Bill Slade smiled, saying, “You make an incongruous
picture, Peggy! You’re much too young and pretty to be carrying the
weight of rival businesses on your shoulders. Tell me—” he leaned
forward intently—“did anyone ask you to come and see me about this? I
can’t quite believe your story about the movie!”

Peggy decided to be completely honest with him. “No, no one asked me to
come—but I did hope to see you. I came with that intention. I thought
perhaps if we talked together, you might see our point of view and
persuade your brother to put an end to this silly feud!”

“I have tried to persuade him, Peggy,” Bill said uneasily. “I’ve argued
about it from the beginning. Then when he decided to run this particular
movie this week—well, it was almost the last straw!”

“Well, then,” Peggy cried, “why not let it _be_ the last straw? Why
don’t _you_ choose a picture for once instead of your brother? He
doesn’t have everything to say about your business, does he?”

Bill looked at her unhappily. “There’s a lot you don’t know, Peggy,” he
said. “We are partners, yes, but partners in name only. You see, when we
bought that theater, Max was the one who put up the money. He was older,
and had been in a very successful public relations business in New York.
His dream had always been to come back here to live, with a business of
his own. I had just come out of the Army and didn’t have any money to
invest.”

“And your brother bought the theater all on his own?” Peggy asked. “My!
He must have saved a lot!”

“No, not entirely on his own,” Bill said. “I don’t know why I’m telling
you all this, Peggy—” he smiled as her wistfully—“I guess it’s because I
want you to like me, and I want to clear myself. But please promise me
that anything I say will be a confidential matter between us.”

“Of course,” Peggy agreed warmly. She was glad to know that Bill Slade
trusted her, and thought that it was probably a very good thing for him
to talk to somebody. She had an impression that he was very lonely.

“Max couldn’t have done it all on his own,” Bill confided. “He had
another investor—a silent partner whom almost nobody knows about. Not
that there’s anything wrong about it, but—”

“Ford Birmingham!” Peggy guessed excitedly as the pieces began to fall
into place.

“That’s right. Ford put up the rest of the money. He keeps his
partnership silent because of his job on the paper. He loves the
newspaper business and writing, and manages to carry both jobs very
well. However, if people knew he was a partner, they might think his
movie reviews were prejudiced!” Bill laughed. “They’re not, of course.
Ford is a painfully honest critic!”

“And he goes right along with your brother’s attitude about us?” Peggy
asked incredulously.

“Well, you see, I’m afraid that Max has said some pretty awful things
about your theater to Ford.” Bill seemed almost ashamed. “Not about the
people personally,” he added hastily, “but professionally. Max honestly
thinks you’re all amateurs and he’s persuaded Ford of that.” He shook
his head ruefully. “And Max resents a little company of newcomers coming
into the town and possibly drawing away his business. He—he’s not a very
happy man, Peggy, and he is my brother. I have to understand how he
feels.”

“Of course,” Peggy said sympathetically. “I know some people like that
in my home town. They’re terrified of anything new and become completely
unreasonable about it.”

Bill nodded. “If Max would just let me choose some of the films, as you
said, I think our own business would pick up. It’s been terrible lately,
but I know why. It isn’t the Summer Theater, as Max thinks. It’s his
choice of old, dull movies that nobody wants to see. This is the first
good one we’ve shown in a long time!” He sighed ironically. “And it took
your theater to make him choose it—for all the wrong reasons!”

They were silent, each thinking of the seemingly impossible situation.
Now that she saw the design more clearly, Peggy couldn’t think of a way
out. Apparently, neither could Bill. He frowned and shook his head
again. “I’m sorry, Peggy, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything I
can do. I wish I could. Believe me, I wish I could!”

Peggy walked back to the annex for the line rehearsal, feeling
disconsolate and subdued. It was really almost hopeless, she thought,
mulling over all the problems. Without any real authority in the
business, Bill couldn’t be of much help. But she had been right about
one thing. Bill Slade was certainly not the weak, spineless creature
that people imagined! He had good reason for his actions, and actually,
it was wonderfully loyal and brave of him to stick by his brother in the
face of a lot of criticism. Peggy didn’t doubt that more persons than
those concerned with the Summer Theater regarded Bill as his brother’s
younger shadow—possibly even Ford Birmingham!

Peggy thought of the little paragraph Mr. Birmingham had written on
_Dear Ruth_ toward the end of the week—just as Chuck had predicted.
Chris had been right, too. It had said almost less than nothing—a mere
notice, in fact! Well, it was all a shame, Peggy thought sadly, a
terrible and unnecessary shame!



                                   IX
                               A Lifeline


_Angel Street_ opened to a house of twelve persons!

Fortunately, Alison was so engrossed in her work that she was not aware
of the ridiculously small audience until curtain calls, when they showed
their intense appreciation of the play by standing while they applauded
and shouted, “Bravo!” It was indicative of the fine performances the
actors had given and a deliberate gesture of support. Almost everyone in
the audience came backstage after the show, congratulating the company
and telling Alison and Howard Miller in particular how wonderful they
had been. Aunt Hetty was singularly impressed. “I knew you were a good
actress, Alison,” she complimented her, “but I really had no idea you
could do a demanding, difficult part like this so well!”

Overhearing, Peggy couldn’t help wishing again that she could have a
chance to sink her teeth into a dramatic part, too. Not that she was at
all envious of Alison—or was she, Peggy wondered? No, she didn’t think
so. It was just that seeing someone else in a serious role opened up a
part of Peggy that hadn’t been tapped this summer and wished to be used.

There was something else to it, too, Peggy thought, smiling secretly.
Something that almost nobody outside of the theater knew. And it wasn’t
such a bad idea to keep audiences in ignorance about it—otherwise their
enjoyment might be lessened. The secret was that in many ways it was
really easier to play a dramatic part than a comedy role. Comedy was the
hardest thing of all.

Peggy suddenly saw Mr. Bladen, who was popping about on stage like a
sprightly old bird, nodding with satisfaction at the set. The friendly
woman Peggy had met on the street that morning had come with her
husband, and they were speaking with Richard Wallace. She noticed Peggy
and smiled, beckoning her to come and join their group.

“I’d like you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Cook, Peggy,” Richard said. “They’re
interested in our theater and in some of the furniture we’re using this
week.”

“Oh,” Peggy exclaimed. “Well, I met part of the family this morning.”
She smiled at Mrs. Cook. “And if you’re interested in the pieces on
stage, you might speak to Mr. Bladen. He’s here somewhere—”

“I noticed in the program that he loaned the couch,” Mr. Cook said. “We
think it’s such a beautiful piece that we’d be very interested in buying
it.”

“Well, wait a minute, and I’ll find him for you.” Peggy beamed and
hurried away. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the theater could be of
assistance to Mr. Bladen, too! She found him behind a flat, looking
curiously at a prop table and, pinned above it, the list of scenes in
which the things were used.

“Neat. Very neat,” Mr. Bladen said. “Haven’t been backstage since I was
a boy. It smells wonderful!”

Peggy laughed. She knew exactly what he meant. There was a very special
aroma about backstage. It had a hint of glue, paint, make-up, and even
the peculiar, musty odor of ropes and pulleys.

“I think you’ve sold your chaise longue,” Peggy told him happily. “That
is, if you’re interested in selling it!” She brought him back to meet
the Cooks, and soon all were engrossed in a discussion of antiques.
Peggy saw that it might indeed be a fruitful night for Mr. Bladen. When
the boys returned the props and furniture after _Angel Street_ was over,
maybe they would be willing to clean up Mr. Bladen’s shop a bit. It was
little enough to do in return for the things he had lent them. Peggy
made a mental note to remind Michael and his friends.

The audiences for the rest of the week were uniformly small. Either
people were going to the movie instead of the play, as Max Slade had
hoped, or his comments about the company were having their effect. The
absence of anything in the paper except their own advertisements was
keeping people away, too. If only Ford Birmingham would break down and
come to the theater, Peggy thought!

The company began rehearsals for the next play, _Charley’s Aunt_, not
knowing if they would even have an opportunity to play it! Rehearsals
had never gone so badly. All the fire had left Chuck’s direction, and
the cast responded just as dully. Toward the middle of the week, Richard
and Chuck called everyone together and announced that the theater would
definitely have to close unless everyone took a cut in salary. If the
actors were willing to do this and work just for expenses, they might be
able to pull through another week.

Rita and Gus looked at each other gloomily. Peggy knew that they had
counted on saving something this summer to take a long-dreamed-of
vacation. In the four years they’d been married, they had never had a
honeymoon! Still, Rita and Gus were the first to say they’d be glad to
forego their salaries.

Rita even laughed about it. “It’s fate, that’s all. We might have known
it! And if we did leave now, we’d only have to go back unemployed to New
York. It’s too late to get other jobs this summer. Might as well stay
here another week and enjoy the scenery!”

Everyone else felt the same way. There was little point in not making
one last effort, even though they knew the theater couldn’t last long.

“Maybe I can talk the manager of Kenabeek Inn into letting us stay for a
few days after we close,” Chuck added glumly. “Then you could all at
least have a little leisure and swimming after your work!”

“Do you remember when we had all that space in the paper after the
commissioner of education made his decision about the theater?” Chris
Hill asked. “It probably accounted for the good house we had opening
night of _Dear Ruth_. Couldn’t we somehow find something else that would
bring us space in the paper—maybe to be mentioned in some of the social
columns—anything, as long as they write about us!”

“I’ve tried,” Richard said. “I’ve been to see everyone on that paper who
could do us the slightest bit of good, and Aunt Hetty has used her
influence, too. We do get things in. But the social columns aren’t the
answer, Chris, as long as people regard us as amateurs. They don’t want
to spend money on anything that isn’t professional! That’s why we only
get the same small audience over and over again. Even people who bought
season tickets before we opened aren’t using them! They’re beginning to
regard their investment as some kind of charity to help the town! No,
Chris, I’m afraid we’re licked.”

And for the first time, Peggy thought so, too. Until now she always had
felt a stirring of hope, an optimistic sense that the theater would pull
through somehow. But now everything looked too bleak. It would be
unrealistic to hope for a miracle at this point.

Peggy began to visualize the letters she would shortly have to write
home: “Sorry, we folded! How would you like a visitor for a while?” If,
she thought dismally, she could even manage a ticket home now with the
cut in salary. It would be too defeating to ask her parents for that.
Maybe she wouldn’t be able to go home after all!

On the last night of _Angel Street_ a pall hung over the entire theater.
It was so thick the company could almost taste it. All the magic had
deserted the dressing rooms and the stage, and Peggy realized anew how
much the theater was a two-way romance. Plays needed an audience. One
couldn’t work to a vacuum. Still, there was a job to be done, and
although the actors had long since lost their excitement, they began the
play with a determination to do the best possible job, and with that
inexplicable feeling of loss that always occurred on the last night of a
show. It was sad, saying good-by to a part and a story. _Angel Street_
wouldn’t live again until some other company somewhere took it and
molded it into being.

The curtain fell to loud but scattered applause, and the actors, too
enervated to rush to their dressing rooms tonight, stood about on stage
longer than usual. Peggy was talking to Rita about _Charley’s Aunt_,
when a movement in the wings caught her eye, and she turned to see a
sight so astonishing that she literally dropped onto Mr. Bladen’s couch.

Bill Slade, accompanied by two other men, was walking onto the stage and
heading straight for Chuck Crosby with a purposeful air and a broad
smile.

Peggy gasped, unwilling to trust her eyes! The men were all talking to
Chuck now, and he seemed as flabbergasted as Peggy.

Rita pulled on her sleeve, “Who are they, Peggy? What’s it all about?”

“That’s Bill Slade, one of them,” Peggy said. “I don’t know who the
others are.”

“Bill Slade!” Rita exclaimed in disbelief. “Well, for heaven’s sake!”

Suddenly the little group laughed, and Bill turned to smile at Peggy. “I
took your advice, you see,” he said, coming over to her. “I know I’m a
little late getting here, but I wanted to bring someone with me. Peggy,
this is Ford Birmingham!”

Ford Birmingham! Everyone heard the name and stared openly. Mr.
Birmingham was an interesting, distinguished-looking man, younger than
Peggy had imagined, with streaks of premature gray in his hair. As he
spoke to her, Peggy felt a quality of integrity in everything he said.

“I’m so sorry that I didn’t come on my own initiative sooner. I feel
that I owe you all an apology—particularly in view of the superb play I
saw tonight! I’m afraid I misjudged you. I had no idea it would be like
this.”

He was kind enough to see each member of the company personally and
offer his apologies. Peggy was struck by the graciousness of the
gesture. It couldn’t be easy for him.

“So that is Ford Birmingham!” she exclaimed to Bill. “He’s so—so
entirely different from my picture of him!”

“Thought you’d like him.” Bill smiled. “And I think there’s another
surprise for the cast, Peggy!” He indicated the other member of the
trio, who was still deep in conversation with Chuck.

“Who is he?” Peggy asked curiously. But before Bill could answer, Chuck,
grinning from ear to ear, asked the cast to gather around.

“Someone here has a proposition for us,” Chuck said, introducing Mr.
Eugene Vincent, the entertainment director for Lake Manor, a huge resort
hotel three miles down the highway.

“If you people would be interested,” Mr. Vincent said, his plump face
wreathed with good humor, “I’d like to have you play one night a week
down at the Manor! It would be a wonderful addition to our program, and
you wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. We’d do our own sets for your
plays, take care of moving your props, and transport you back and forth.
All you have to do is act!” He beamed at them. “How does that sound to
you?”

“It might mean that we’d be able to continue our season,” Chuck broke in
anxiously. “I’m not sure yet, but the additional money might carry us
through—”

“And there’s one other inducement,” Mr. Vincent added. “You’d come early
for dinner on performance days, and have the recreation facilities
available for your use at any time. Swimming, Ping-pong, volleyball....”
He raised his eyebrows and peered at them like a genie offering infinite
temptations.

They couldn’t believe their ears. After a stunned silence, Chris Hill
was the first to give a mighty whoop. “Mr. Vincent,” he exclaimed,
pumping his hand furiously, “I have always believed in Santa Claus, and
now that you have come along, I _know_ it’s true!” He turned to the
company. “What about the rest of you? Don’t you believe in miracles?”

“You mean it’s true,” Danny said, with a perfectly blank expression.
Then as it sank in he grinned, and grabbing Peggy, began to waltz about
on stage.

“It’s true,” he sang, “it’s terrific, it’s fantastic, it’s the most
amazing ever!”

The cast merrily congratulated one another, showering Mr. Vincent with
handshakes and praise, and finally dragging him and even Ford Birmingham
into an impromptu conga line about the stage. Gus turned on the music
and it wasn’t long before a real party developed. Michael Miller went
out to bring back sandwiches and soft drinks, and the set of _Angel
Street_ changed, miraculously, from a gloomy room to one of brightness
and gaiety.

“How did it all happen?” Peggy asked Bill Slade breathlessly during a
lull in the dancing.

“Simple,” he answered, smiling. “It occurred to me after our talk that
there was one effort I could make in your behalf. I had never spoken
seriously to Ford about the theater. I took it for granted that he knew
how I felt, but then I remembered that I’d never actually told him so.
He’d only heard Max’s side of the story. So”—he grinned at her—“after I
saw you that day, I went to see Ford. It took all week to persuade him
to come up here, but I finally managed.”

“But what did you say to him?” Peggy questioned, her eyes alight with
interest. “It must have been good!”

“I appealed to his sense of honor,” Bill said. “Since we’re all in the
same business, I felt he should make an effort to understand your side
of the question, too. And after enough insistence that you were really
professional, and that he ought to check that for himself, well—he
agreed. You know,” Bill added rather sheepishly, “I was terribly
impressed. I really didn’t think the play would be as good as it was.
Will you forgive me?”

Peggy laughed delightedly, “Oh, Bill! Of course!”

“I think Ford will give you a terrific review,” Bill said.

“And what about Mr. Vincent?” Peggy asked, “Was that your doing, too?”

“No.” Bill shook his head shyly. “Just a coincidence, Peggy. Ford was
having dinner with him—”

“And you persuaded both of them to come!” Peggy cried. “Now don’t deny
it, Bill Slade, I know you did!”

“Well,” he admitted reluctantly, “I just said that it might be
interesting.”

“Oh, Bill, how will we ever be able to thank you!” Peggy’s face was
flushed with gratitude. “And I’ll bet Chuck and Richard don’t know a
thing about this—” She got up with every intention of telling them, but
Bill put out his hand to stop her.

“No, please don’t, Peggy,” he pleaded. “They think we came out of simple
curiosity and were pleasantly surprised. If the real story should get
back to Max, it might hurt him dreadfully. I’d rather keep the whole
thing as quiet as possible.”

“Of course,” Peggy agreed, sitting down again. “I hadn’t thought of
that. Bill, what are you going to do about your brother? I’m sure he
thought the theater would close, and he’ll be furious at this new
development.”

“Well,” Bill said slowly, “he’s bound to know I had something to do with
it, but he doesn’t have to know how much—until I prove to him that your
theater isn’t the problem! I’ve already talked with Ford and together
we’re going to try to improve our choice of films. Ford’s on my side
about that.” He smiled ruefully. “If I’d only spoken to him before,
Peggy! I guess it took a nudge from you to open my eyes!”

“Say! When’s this set coming down?” Gus Stevens asked everyone. “Do you
people know what time it is?”

And it was late—so late that no one could think of leaving Gus and the
boys to work all alone. Everyone, including Ford Birmingham and Mr.
Vincent, pitched in to help. The wonderful night ended as the last flat
was stacked away and Mr. Vincent, dusting himself off, waved good-by
with the cheery promise, “Be seeing you next week at the Manor!”

Bill said good-by to Peggy, holding her hand for a moment as he reminded
her, “Don’t forget, Peggy, if you’re grateful to me, that I have a lot
to thank you for, too. A lot!”

“Well,” Chris observed as he watched Bill drive away with his friends,
“I think there’s more to this than meets the eye! You two seem to know
each other very well!” He looked at Peggy curiously as they started the
walk back to the annex together under a bright night sky so clear that
it looked like a canopy of diamonds.

“Oh, well, you heard the story of my meeting Bill Slade when I went to
Mr. Bladen’s that day,” Peggy reminded him, hoping that it would satisfy
Chris. She didn’t want anyone to know of their further talk.

“And you two became such fast friends in all of about five minutes?”
Chris raised his eyebrows. “Oh, now, Peggy! I watched you together
tonight and I still say—there’s more to this than meets the eye!”

“Well”—Peggy was glad of the night that effectively covered her
blush—“he’s really nice, Chris.” She wasn’t very good at evasion and
wished that she could tell the whole story, but for Bill’s sake she
mustn’t.

“I see,” Chris said softly. “Yes, he is a pleasant fellow, Peggy, but
you know there are other people around, too. I hope you won’t forget
that when you’re thinking of Mr. Slade.”

“What does he mean?” Peggy wondered in silence all the way home. Could
Chris possibly be putting a different interpretation on her friendship
with Bill Slade? “Oh dear,” Peggy thought, “I may have helped untangle
the theater, but I’ve certainly tangled up my personal affairs!” She
sighed, remembering a little nervously that tomorrow _For Love or Money_
would go into rehearsal and she would be playing a romantic lead
opposite Chris Hill!



                                   X
                          Friends—New and Old


“‘Last night a group of professional actors, backed by years of
experience on Broadway, television, and radio, presented a stunning
performance of _Angel Street_ to an audience of fewer than twenty
persons. It is this reviewer’s duty to apologize publicly for having
neglected the Kenabeek Summer Theater. Until now he has not had the
pleasure of viewing one of its productions. It is his loss. And he would
like to say that the Summer Theater is one of the finest additions to
our town in many years. It deserves all the support our local residents
and out-of-towners can give it.’

“Oh, just listen to that!” Peggy interrupted herself and squealed with
delight as she read Ford Birmingham’s review in the _Gazette_ to Rita,
Alison, and Chris. They were having dinner together before the opening
of _Charley’s Aunt_. Ford Birmingham had timed the appearance of the
review to coincide with the opening of the new play, and tomorrow there
would be yet another review in the _Gazette_.

“Go on,” Alison urged.

“‘_Angel Street_ was so electrifying,’” Peggy continued, “‘that despite
the small house, your reviewer was sitting—literally—on the edge of his
hard seat in our high school auditorium. (That he was unaware of his
discomfort is another indication of the quality of the performance.) Do
not make the mistake of assuming that a production given in the high
school is an amateurish effort. The set was excellently executed by Gus
Stevens, a young man, who, we suspect, will shortly be designing for
Broadway.

“‘Alison Lord, as Mrs. Manningham, gave a controlled, vibrant
performance that was a delight to watch. As that colorful inspector,
Sergeant Bough, our own Howard Miller was simply superb.’” As Peggy read
on, the wonderful words of praise made everyone glow with a feeling of
success and satisfaction.

“‘Peggy Lane, in the small role of the maid Nancy, was pert and
charming, leaving us with the notion that we’d like to see her do
something else—’”

“Well, they will,” Chris interrupted, giving Peggy a wink. “Next week,
Peggy the Star!”

“Oh, Chris,” Peggy laughed. “I’m not really the star—it’s you—and
Alison, too.”

“Leave me out,” Alison said mockingly. “I had my big chance and no
audience. It’s your turn next, Peggy, and it looks as if you’ll be
luckier.” There was a hint of envy in Alison’s tone that surprised
Peggy. Only last week she had been complaining about having two big
leads in a row. Peggy had thought Alison was looking forward to the
smaller but very good part she had in _For Love or Money_.

“Doesn’t he say anything about me?” Chris asked. “Go on, Peggy, I can’t
believe he isn’t going to offer any criticism at all.”

Peggy resumed reading: “‘Rita Stevens was excellent as the housekeeper;
so believable in fact, that one might tend to overlook a program note
which explains that she is much younger than she appeared.’

“Oh, and here you are, Chris,” Peggy said. “‘Chris Hill, a romantic
leading man if ever we saw one, made a valiant effort to create the
difficult, heavy role of Mr. Manningham. That he didn’t quite succeed is
no slur on his ability. He was very good indeed and there were moments
in the play when he was truly spine-chilling. We suspect, however, that
underneath those sideburns Mr. Hill is basically just too nice a fellow.
We’re looking forward to him in _Charley’s Aunt_ where, we understand,
he will be playing something closer to his type. This should be a real
treat for the young women of the area, and we assure you, if you’re
interested, that you needn’t look further for a living, breathing
matinee idol!’

“Oh, Chris!” Peggy whooped and burst out laughing.

“Why, Christopher Barrymore Hill!” Alison giggled. “I had no idea you
were such a heart throb!”

“Heavens! You won’t be able to walk down the street alone after that!”
Rita teased, as Chris got redder and redder and looked as if he would
like to vanish into the floor.

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “And I was beginning to think that Ford Birmingham
was a pretty nice guy! Why did he have to do this to me?”

“Because it’s wonderful publicity, that’s why!” Peggy cried. “Oh, Chris,
don’t you see? Look at everything he said—about the quality of the
actors, and then establishing you as a draw. Why,” she declared
brightly, “we’ll have everybody in town rushing up to see you! And
they’ll bring their friends. It’s a beautiful idea!”

“Umphm,” Chris moaned dismally. “It’s a hideous idea! However, he was
right in his criticism. There were moments when I did feel distant from
the part.”

“After this, you won’t even have to act any more.” Alison laughed. “Just
be yourself while everyone swoons!”

“Oh, Alison, cut it out!” Chris pleaded, looking around as if a thousand
eyes were fastened on him. “I wish Birmingham had settled on you for a
drawing card instead.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Alison smiled, preening a little. “As a matter of
fact, I’d probably love it!”

“I’ll bet you would,” Chris muttered, while Peggy frowned uneasily. The
conversation was taking an unpleasant turn, she thought, noticing the
look Alison gave Chris.

“Well,” Peggy said cheerily, trying to change the subject, “who’s
looking forward to Monday besides me? Personally I can’t wait!”

Monday was the day that Mr. Vincent had asked the company to give their
first performance at Lake Manor. It would be the last night of the play
each week, as Chuck and Richard had decided to move the opening up one
day to Wednesday instead of Thursday. This meant also that there would
be one day less than usual to get _For Love or Money_ into shape.

Talking excitedly about the Manor, the group finished dinner in good
spirits and left the restaurant with Mrs. Brady’s wish for good luck
trailing after them.

From the first night of _Charley’s Aunt_, Ford Birmingham’s review made
its effect felt. There was a difference in everyone’s attitude now that
the theater had gained status. Audiences improved nightly, and Richard
said that if things kept up like this, the theater might even be able to
recoup some of its losses.

“And this is the way summer stock should be,” Peggy thought as she
greeted each day with the anticipation of a good rehearsal and a
satisfying show. Now she could concentrate more fully on her part in
_For Love of Money_. “A good thing, too, that I’m not worried about the
theater at a time like this,” she realized. For as the week wore on,
Peggy saw more and more that Alison had been right about the role of
Janet. It was a long, demanding lead, and Peggy worked furiously,
knowing that next week she would have to carry the show.

She found it a strange sensation to work opposite Chris. He was so good
in his part and made it all seem so real that Peggy often caught herself
wondering if she were in a play or doing something right out of life. At
times she forgot herself completely. She was Janet Blake, a young girl
who was gradually growing deeply fond of Preston Mitchell.

Alison was quite evidently annoyed at the developing friendship between
Chris and Peggy. “Don’t forget, dear, that you’re supposed to be playing
comedy,” she said to Peggy one day at rehearsal. “Sometimes I get a
feeling that you think you’re doing _Camille_.”

Peggy was worried and hurt, wondering if Alison was right. “Do you think
I’m funny enough?” she asked Rita privately. “Alison is finding fault
with everything I do.”

“Well, are you going to listen to her or to your director?” Rita
demanded. “Chuck seems satisfied with your work. Look, Peggy, Alison is
jealous because you’re playing opposite Chris. I wouldn’t pay any
attention to anything she says. My own private opinion is that you’re
more interested in Chris than you think—”

“Rita!” Peggy blushed furiously. “Here we go again! It’s just that I
like Chris enormously and—well—it is exciting to work with him!”

“I know!” Rita teased her. “It seems to me I told you something like
that ages ago! Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Peggy Lane! Before you know
it, you’ll have a dyed-in-the-wool crush on our new matinee idol!” Both
the girls laughed, remembering how uncomfortable Chris had been with the
role Ford Birmingham had assigned him.

The week flew by and when Monday arrived, Peggy noticed an excitement
she hadn’t felt since the theater opened. Something new was in the air;
they were to face a fresh audience in unfamiliar surroundings. None of
the cast had seen the famous Lake Manor, and all were intensely curious
as they rode along in the station wagon the Manor had sent for them.

“This is more like it!” Danny observed gleefully. “Our own private
chauffeur and dinner awaiting—I always did like to live in style!”

“How could I have missed the Manor on the way up by the bus?” Peggy
wondered as they drove down the highway. “This is the way I came—”

“Ah, yes, but you don’t see the Manor from the road,” Danny replied
poetically. “It is hidden, like all goodies, a surprise package lurking
in the midst of tall trees and sparkling waters. And as we leave the
highway,” he intoned in travelogue fashion, “we find ourselves driving
under an arch of fir trees, their graceful fronds meeting as they
embrace above the roadway—”

“Oh, Danny,” Peggy giggled, “we can see it, too.”

But he wasn’t to be deterred. “And around a winding road which curves
gracefully through acres—and acres—and acres—”

The cast laughed and joined in the joking as they drove through the
spacious grounds that belonged to the Manor.

“And finally,” Danny said as the Manor came into view, “as we reach our
destination—Oh, my gosh! It’s a palace!” he concluded abruptly,
forgetting his travelogue as the car stopped under the awning in front
of the entrance.

“It really is a palace,” Peggy marveled as she stepped out of the car,
“or the next thing to it!”

The main house of Lake Manor was a huge white building frosted with
turrets and bay windows and surrounded by cottages and a few other
sprawling buildings that appeared to be recreation halls. Peggy saw
stables, tennis courts, and a swimming pool off in the distance.
Ping-pong tables, croquet courts, and lawn chairs dotted the
velvet-green grass.

“Oh, it’s absolutely beautiful!” Rita exclaimed. “I had no idea anything
like this existed here!”

Just then Mr. Vincent appeared and, smiling broadly, took the cast on a
short tour of the Manor.

“It’s early,” he said, showing them the stage in one of the recreation
halls where they would play, “and dinner won’t be served until six
o’clock. Come along and I’ll show you your dining room. We have several,
and I don’t want you to get lost! Then please do anything you’d like to
amuse yourselves. We want you to have a good time!”

“How about some Ping-pong, Peggy?” Chris asked after Mr. Vincent had
left them.

“I’d love it,” Peggy said, “but I wish we could look at the stage again
first—Mr. Vincent took us through so quickly.”

“Don’t you ever think of anything besides the stage, Peggy?” Alison
asked waspishly. “Really, it gets a little boring after a while!” She
turned and left the group in a sudden huff.

“What’s the matter with her?” Danny asked wonderingly. “I thought she
was all a-flutter about playing at the Manor.”

“Maybe she was all a-flutter about playing _before_ the show,” Rita said
softly with a knowing look at Peggy.

Peggy suddenly realized what she meant. Alison was disappointed that
Chris had asked Peggy instead of her. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she
thought wearily, “how could Alison possibly be upset over a little thing
like a game of Ping-pong!” When a group of people lived so closely
together, Peggy was beginning to realize, little things could cause
undue friction. A word or a glance could be magnified out of all
proportion. Hadn’t she even been a little guilty of that herself when
Alison had criticized her performance?

“Your serve, Miss Lane,” Chris reminded her. “Where are you anyway—off
in a dream?”

“Yes,” Peggy smiled, “I guess I was!” She couldn’t help observing how
handsome Chris was with his wonderful tan and his blond hair gleaming in
the sun. He did look like a movie star, and several people stopped to
watch them play together. Peggy felt almost ashamed to realize that she
was proud to be seen with him. “And a minute ago you were condemning
Alison for the same thing!” she chided herself fiercely. “I think it’s
about time you had a long talk with yourself, Peggy Lane!” She slammed
the ball hard, and it hit the far corner of the table, out of Chris’s
reach.

“Good play!” he cried. “That’s it.”

“Who won?” Peggy asked. She hadn’t even noticed.

“You don’t deserve to know,” he grinned. “You’re off on a cloud
somewhere. Come on, ingénue, let’s go for a walk.”

They strolled through the lovely grounds, finding that one winding path
led to another even more charming. Most of the landscaping was designed
to offer the best possible view of the lake, and Peggy felt actively
envious watching the boats dart back and forth like large birds.

“I’ve wanted to tell you, Peggy,” Chris said as they sat down on a large
rock that jutted out over the water, “what fun it is working with you.
So far I’m enjoying _For Love or Money_ more than any other play we’ve
done. It means more to me than just a play,” Chris went on seriously. “I
feel that we do awfully well together—in almost anything.” He stopped,
looking at her intently as Peggy caught her breath. She didn’t know what
to say. Finally, a moment later, she tremulously suggested that they had
better get back to dinner.

“Dinner!” Chris exclaimed with humorous disgust. “At a time like this,
with romance in the very air around you! Honestly, Peggy, you’re enough
to try anybody’s patience!”

Peggy wished with all her might that she knew what her real feelings
were in regard to Chris. It was all so confusing, she thought, as they
found their way back to the dining room through the maze of pathways.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair and a refreshing change from the good but
rather plain food at Mrs. Brady’s.

“Cheddar cheese soup!” Michael Miller peered at his bowl like a hungry
owl. “Haven’t seen this since Dad took me to New York last year!”

“Personally, I prefer turtle Madeira,” Alison said languidly, taking a
few sips of the delicious broth.

“Listen to the prima donna,” Chris whispered to Peggy. “She was fine as
long as she had all the leads, but now wait and see. For the rest of
next week she’ll be impossible. I know—I’ve seen it happen before.”

“But I thought you liked her,” Peggy said softly. She had decided she
might as well find out how things stood between Chris and Alison.

“I do,” Chris answered, slightly surprised, “I like her a lot. She’s a
very good actress.”

Thoughtfully, Peggy wondered if Chris judged people by their acting
ability—if that was the basis of his sudden pronounced interest in her.
Peggy was very conscious of his presence beside her as they finished
dinner together.

_Charley’s Aunt_ was riotously received by the Lake Manor audience. The
actors had to be unusually alert to restrict their movements
sufficiently to work on the smaller stage. There were several times when
Peggy, almost bumping into another player, came close to breaking up and
laughing out loud. And when an angry bee somehow found his way on stage
and got lost in the tea things, all the cast had a difficult time
controlling themselves. Microphones were suspended overhead to overcome
the poor acoustics in the hall, and the buzz of the bee came loud and
clear over the actors’ voices. The audience loved it! They roared and
applauded when the bee finally made a grand exit over their heads and
out the rear door.

Weak with laughter, Peggy made her way back toward the tiny, dark
dressing room that was stacked with boxes of costumes and props. The
hall was usually reserved for the individual comedy acts that the Manor
booked for its guests.

“I’m sure they think we’re just another variation on the same theme!”
Peggy giggled. “That silly bee! He sounded like a dive bomber!”

“They loved it!” Chris cried exuberantly, whirling Peggy around in the
small hall. Chris was always like this after a show, Peggy noticed.
Excited and gay and ready to go on for the rest of the night.

“Miss Lane?” one of the stagehands called to her. “There’s someone
outside to see you.”

“Aha!” Chris intoned dramatically. “An admirer, no doubt. Come along,
Peggy—take me to your stage-door Johnny and I’ll protect you!” Laughing,
they stepped out of the door into the courtyard of the building.

“Peggy!” A tall, lanky, redheaded boy grinned down at her, stretching
out both hands in greeting.

“Randy Brewster!” Peggy cried, “Randy—of all people! Well, how on
earth—why—how did you—oh, Randy!” She was so excited and pleased that
she stuttered.

“I loved the show,” Randy declared happily, hugging her, “and I was so
surprised to see you down here at the Manor! I thought I’d have to wait
to surprise you up at the theater.”

“Oh, Chris,”—Peggy remembered him—“I’d like you to meet a very dear
friend of mine—I met him when I started in dramatic school. This is
Randy Brewster—Chris Hill.”

“How nice,” Chris said shortly, his exuberance gone.

“I certainly enjoyed your performance,” Randy congratulated him. “Very
funny. You have a lot of vitality. Hope I’ll do as well here—”

“Oh,” Peggy exclaimed with sudden understanding, “is that why you’re
here? The Manor hired you?”

“Yep,” Randy said. “I’ll be here for a week doing a new comedy routine.
I hope we’ll be able to see each other often. I was so pleased, Peggy,
knowing you’d be in the neighborhood.” He grinned at her with that
funny, warm, crooked smile that Peggy remembered so well.

“I’m coming to see your opening day after tomorrow,” Randy went on.
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything. I’m glad that I’ll be here while you’re
playing a lead.”

“Are you familiar with the play?” Chris interrupted suddenly.

“No,” Randy said with a smile, “but that will make it even more fun.”

“Well,” Chris said mysteriously, “I don’t know how much fun it will be
for you, but you should certainly find it interesting! You’re familiar
with the old saying, ‘All’s fair in love and war’?” He flashed a teasing
smile at Randy. “Well, we’ll look forward to seeing you, Mr.
Brewster—yes, indeed!”

Chris left them gaping after him while Randy shook his head. “That’s a
strange fellow,” he puzzled. “He’s very charming, but I’d swear that he
doesn’t like me one little bit! I wonder why! What have you been up to,
Peggy?”

He looked at her curiously while Peggy wondered if things could
conceivably get any more complicated! She had been so happy to see a
friend from New York—and especially Randy. Now, she realized suddenly,
she would have to play her big lead with the knowledge that Randy was in
the audience, watching her and Chris. “Well,” she thought, shivering
slightly, “that will be quite an experience!”



                                   XI
                             Quick Thinking


Peggy sat at her dressing table applying her make-up carefully. For the
first time this summer she had to be just as beautiful as possible with
no little tricks or different hair styles for characterization. This
time she could look just like Peggy, only more so. After she had put on
the gown she wore for her entrance, she combed out her thick, glowing
hair that had grown in the past few weeks until it just touched her
shoulders. It framed her face in soft waves, and as she looked at
herself in the mirror, she was pleased.

“You look absolutely lovely, Peggy,” Rita said, “dreamy, in fact. I
think the audience will go into a tail spin—to say nothing of your
friend Randy.”

The minute she mentioned his name, Peggy’s knees began to shake. “Here I
go again,” she said nervously. “Opening night! Clammy hands and
butterflies!”

“Well, don’t worry about it,” Rita said gently. “It’s only because
you’re doing a lead. It’ll go away.”

But privately, Peggy wasn’t so sure. Was she nervous because of the play
or Randy in the audience? “Oh, I wish he hadn’t told me,” Peggy thought
desperately. “Now I’ll be thinking of him out there—”

“Five minutes!” Gus called, and Peggy made her way to the wings.

“Break a leg, leading lady,” Chris whispered as he walked by, “and don’t
worry about a thing.” He grinned at her encouragingly and Peggy thought
again what a wonderful person Chris was. She wished he hadn’t teased
Randy in that manner, but then Chris did everything all the way. No half
measures for him! Peggy watched him close his eyes for a moment, getting
into character and collecting his energy. Chris would be good, Peggy had
no doubt. “And what about me?” she wondered. “I hope I can concentrate
and not be distracted by my own private thoughts.”

“Curtain!” The play had begun.

Peggy didn’t make her entrance until the second scene of Act One. Now
she wished that she had stayed in her dressing room instead of watching
from the wings. By the time she walked on she was more nervous than
ever, but fortunately, Janet was supposed to be in an excited state,
too. Peggy was just beginning to relax and feel comfortable, timing her
laugh—when the phone didn’t ring on cue!

Peggy looked at Chris and Chris looked at Peggy. There was dead silence
for a moment. Something must have gone wrong with the phone bell or,
worse, someone had forgotten! They couldn’t go on, either, until it
rang. The call was necessary to the action.

“Well”—Peggy plunged in with an improvisation—“I’ve heard of sea gulls
that are supposed to be angels of ships at sea.” Preston and Janet had
just been talking about gulls—perhaps they could continue until the
phone rang. But Chris didn’t pick it up. He looked perfectly blank, and
Peggy read in his eyes that desperation that means an actor is
completely at a loss. In theater terms, Chris had “gone up”—higher than
a kite.

“I think there was an article about sea gulls in the _Reader’s Digest_,”
Peggy ad libbed valiantly while Chris stayed silent as a tomb. If only
he would come back a little and help her out! Peggy got up from the
couch and strolled around the room as if seeing it for the first time.
If she could disappear in the wings for a moment, she might be able to
signal someone. “I hadn’t noticed what a lovely place you have here, Mr.
Mitchell,” she went on, making her way upstage to the hall. “Is this the
way to the kitchen?” She was out in the hall now and disappeared for a
moment, waving her hand frantically in the wings.

Chris suddenly came to life and realized what she was doing. “Why, don’t
tell me you’re hungry,” he called after her. “But if you want to snoop
around—go ahead.”

“I’m not snooping!” Peggy reappeared for a second. This was better—at
least they were improvising in character. “I’m just naturally curious,
that’s all.” She disappeared again, desperately whispering,
“_Sst—sst—where’s the phone?_”

Michael signaled her that they were working on it, the battery was dead!
“Well, use the doorbell then—anything!” Peggy whispered. She came back
on stage, her ingenuity giving out—but there it was, the ring! Chris
dived for the receiver. Gus had used the doorbell but they managed to
cover well enough and finished the first act with relief.

“_Whew!_” Chris said when the curtain closed. “Thanks a lot for pulling
me through, Peggy. When that bell didn’t ring, I blew completely. First
time that’s happened in ages.”

“You were wonderful, Peggy,” Rita said. “I don’t think the audience
noticed a thing!”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.” Gus came up apologetically. “We should have used the
doorbell right away instead of tinkering with the phone. That was quick
thinking, Peggy.”

“So I did have my mind on my work after all!” Peggy thought happily.
“How silly of me to worry about it.”

But as the play progressed to the last act where Preston finally
embraces Janet, Peggy was amazed to find that the simple scene had
suddenly acquired enormous value. All she could think of was Randy out
in the audience! As they took their curtain calls she looked anxiously
for him, wondering what he was thinking.

“Terrific!” Randy congratulated her with a friendly hug when he came
backstage. “You were funny and wonderful and perfect and you looked like
a vision!”

“Why don’t you introduce me, Peggy?” Alison asked as she came by. “This
must be your famous friend—”

“Randolph Clark Brewster,” Peggy said gaily, relieved that Randy had
taken the play as a play. “He’s a wonderful comedian, but his heart
isn’t in it. He wants to be a playwright.”

“Really!” Alison drawled. “You aren’t related to the Brewsters of Long
Island by any chance?”

Randy frowned and sent an appealing look to Peggy. He hated anyone to
know about his wealthy family as he was trying his best to be successful
on his own. “Well, uh, yes,” he muttered reluctantly. “Look, Peggy,
change your things, and let’s go out for a snack. This is my night off
and I want to make the most of it!”

“I always did like that strong, silent type,” Alison said as they
entered the dressing room, “and besides having that wonderful face and
red hair, he comes from a very prominent family. I don’t blame you for
leaving Chris in the lurch for your old friend.” The barb sank in, and
Alison’s contrived innocent smile did nothing to relieve it.

“Well,” Peggy thought miserably as she took off her make-up, “if people
can’t understand a thing like friendship, then let them think whatever
they like!”

“Hey, open up, Peggy.” Peggy got up to open the door and saw Bill Slade
standing there. “You were great, Peggy. You’ll have to do another lead
this summer. Want to go out for some coffee?” He smiled, accepting her
silence as consent.

“Peggy—a small tribute to a great leading lady!” It was Chris, and he
handed her a huge bouquet of roses with an elegantly mocking little bow.
“But let’s eat. I’m famished.”

“That’s a really fine set,” Randy commented, returning from a tour of
the stage. “Are you ready yet?”

Peggy hastily excused herself and closed the door while the three boys
waited in the hall, each assuming that she was his special date for the
evening.

           [Illustration: The three boys waited in the hall]

Rita looked at Peggy’s perplexed expression with undisguised amusement,
finally breaking into laughter. “The only solution, as I found out long
ago, is marriage!” she chuckled. “You’d better start thinking about it,
Peggy!”

“That is the last thing in the world I’m going to think about—for a long
time!” Peggy said emphatically. She picked up her bag and sighed
heavily, wondering how to handle the situation.

Alison was grimly combing her hair and putting her make-up away. “I
don’t blame her for feeling left out,” Peggy thought. “Playing a lead
does seem to make a difference in people’s interest—although it
shouldn’t. And taking a back seat isn’t easy for Alison.” Peggy wondered
how Alison would react if she asked her to join them. It would simplify
everything, but she mustn’t appear to do it out of kindness.

“Are you ready, Alison?” Peggy asked matter-of-factly.

“Ready for what?” Alison looked up, surprised.

“Why, to go to Mrs. Brady’s or the inn—or wherever we’re going. I think
we ought to let the boys decide.” Peggy treated it as if it had been
understood from the beginning. “Are you and Gus coming along, too?” she
asked Rita.

“I’m sorry, we can’t, Peggy. We have to go over the prop list for _You
Can’t Take It with You_. It’s a difficult show on the backstage end, and
I want to help all I can.”

Peggy nodded. Next week was going to be a challenge for everyone.
“Better hurry, Alison,” she said. “We can’t stay out too late. We have
an early call tomorrow.”

It worked out just as Peggy had hoped. They went to the inn for
sandwiches and Alison attached herself to Chris, leaving Peggy free to
enjoy Randy’s company. Bill Slade had a marvelous time with all of them.
Alison’s presence prevented Chris from kidding Randy, which, Peggy
suspected, Chris would have loved to do. Just once in the evening, when
Alison excused herself for a moment, Chris leaned across the table and
said, “Say—how’d you like that last act, Randy? Think it was realistic?”

Randy looked from Chris to Peggy and back again. “Well,” he said with a
slow smile, “it wasn’t exactly the way I would have played it, a little
too theatrical for me. But then, Preston Mitchell _was_ an actor! I’d be
inclined to take that scene too seriously, I’m afraid.” He looked
steadily at Peggy and she thought she understood. Randy was telling her
that Chris’s interest in her was a professional mood—something she had
guessed already. But more important, he was saying that his own feelings
went deeper. Peggy felt comforted and secure. Whatever happened with
their friendship, it would always be a lasting one. Peggy smiled at him
understandingly.

“What’s your play next week, Peggy?” Randy asked.

“_You Can’t Take It With You!_ And it’s going to be a job! We have to
use a lot of townspeople because it’s such a large cast—”

“It’s a great show, though,” Chris added enthusiastically.

“And the most awful thing, Randy,” Peggy continued, “is that I won’t be
able to see your act down at the Manor.”

“Well, at least you can say good-by.” Randy smiled. “The day you play
there is the day I leave.”

“Leave!” Peggy suddenly had an inspiration. “Oh, Randy, why don’t you
stay here for another week? We’re going to need so many people in _You
Can’t Take It with You_—I’m sure Chuck and Richard would love to have
you.”

“The Russian!” Alison cried. “Everyone’s been biting their nails,
wondering who could play the Russian!”

“Oh, yes, you’d be perfect, Randy,” Peggy urged. “And I’m doing Essie,
the little ballerina. We could work together—do say you’ll stay!”

“We-e-ell,” Randy hesitated, “I suppose I don’t have to rush back—”

“You’re absolutely sure?” Chris asked, raising an eyebrow. “I mean, we
wouldn’t want you to miss anything in New York—” He looked at Peggy for
a moment, and noticing her pained expression, laughed good-naturedly,
leaning across the table to shake Randy’s hand. “Okay. You win, Mr.
Brewster! I can’t compete with old school ties and all that. You would
be great for the part and we’d love to have you.”

The boys shook hands, grinning at each other, while Peggy looked on,
happy and relieved. Chris had evidently decided to “bury the hatchet.”

Alison seemed a little mystified. “What’s going on with you two? You
look as though you had a deep, dark secret.”

“Deep, but not dark, Alison,” Chris laughed. “Light as summer. Which
reminds me, who knows something good for mosquito bites? They’ve decided
all of a sudden that I’m a particularly delectable morsel!”

“Oh, oh, you’ve come to the right place,” Bill Slade offered eagerly.
“Take it from an old hand—”

“No, no, I know the best thing of all—” Alison urged.

“But I found something brand-new—” Peggy started, and then everyone
laughed, plying Chris with their favorite remedies. Randy promised Peggy
that he’d speak to the producers the next day, and the party broke up
with happy expectations of next week’s show.



                                  XII
                           Varied Explosions


Just as Peggy had expected, the producers were delighted to have Randy
stay an extra week and play the Russian ballet teacher, Kolenkhov, in
_You Can’t Take It with You_. With Randy in the cast and everyone
working comfortably together, Peggy couldn’t remember ever having such
fun at rehearsals! And what a cast! The play needed so many actors that
everyone was pressed into service. Michael Miller and the apprentices
all had small parts, Chuck Crosby played the part of Peggy’s father as
well as directing, Mr. Miller brought some friends of his to fill in,
and even Aunt Hetty was persuaded to play. Mary Hopkins brought a friend
to try out for the part of the Grand Duchess. June Tilson was a lovely
young girl who turned out to have a really fine talent.

“Where have you been all summer?” Chuck asked when he heard her read for
the first time. “We could have used you before!”

“She’s been in hiding,” Mary laughed, “or I would have brought her long
ago.”

“I’ve been at the music camp, actually,” June explained. “You know—the
group of folk singers who have a summer session nearby.”

“Oh, yes.” Chuck nodded. “We’re giving them the auditorium one night for
a benefit performance. Let’s see—it comes during the week of _Guest in
the House_, I believe.”

“Oh, will I be glad when we do that play!” Alison said. “I love the
part!”

“The part of Evelyn?” Chuck asked.

“Yes, I’ve done it before and I can hardly wait to play it again.”

“Don’t count too much on having the same part this time,” Chuck
cautioned her. “I’m not sure yet how we’re going to cast the play.”

Alison shrugged. “Well, of course, I’m doing Evelyn,” she commented
blithely. “That was one of the reasons I came up here!”

“We’ll discuss it later,” Chuck said firmly. “And now, let’s get to
work. By the way, does anyone have an idea on how to handle the
fireworks?”

The script of _You Can’t Take It with You_ calls for a display of
fireworks onstage and an explosion offstage during the show. Michael
Miller assured Chuck that he could easily take care of it.

“I have a workshop, you know, and it won’t be any trouble—be fun, in
fact!”

“You’ll have to be very careful,” his father warned.

“Naturally!” Michael said indignantly.

“And don’t make it too realistic.” Peggy giggled. “Just a loud noise. We
don’t want the auditorium down around our heads.”

“That Michael Miller is quite a character,” Randy commented to Peggy
during a lull in rehearsal. “He seems so serious and yet sometimes I
catch a gleam of sheer mischief under those horn rims. You don’t think
he’ll do anything silly with the explosion, do you?”

“Of course not!” Peggy laughed. “Michael’s much too intelligent for
that!”

Rehearsals went along as smoothly as could be expected with such a large
cast. It was amazing, Peggy thought, that the local people were able to
work so professionally with the rest of the company. Aunt Hetty was a
delight to watch. She was enjoying herself hugely in her small but
important role, and took all the direction that Chuck gave her with the
greatest good humor.

“She’s a wonderful sport,” Peggy thought, watching her with amusement,
“and I think she really loves this.”

Randy was so good that it seemed as if he might steal the show. It was
hard for him, too, playing late at the Manor every night and then
rushing to the high school each morning.

“What a schedule!” he sighed. Randy and Peggy were having a picnic lunch
on the school grounds together. “But after tonight it will all be over.”
It was Randy’s last night at the Manor.

“For you,” Peggy said, “but not for us. Tomorrow we play _For Love or
Money_ at the Manor, then comes the dress rehearsal and opening of _You
Can’t Take It_, and after that we start on the old-fashioned melodrama.
I wish you could be here for that one, too!”

“So do I—” Randy smiled affectionately—“but I really will have to get
back to New York soon. Let’s not talk about it now, Peg, we still have a
whole week! And you have two more nights as Janet.”

_For Love or Money_ had been the most successful play of the season.
People came in droves all week and money flowed into the box office.

“You think it would have happened anyway, after Mr. Birmingham’s
review,” Randy told her seriously, “but that isn’t the whole story. I
don’t think you realize how good you actually are in that part, Peggy.
People are coming to see _you_—I’ve heard the comments around town!”

“Oh, Randy!” Peggy beamed at the delicious compliment. Randy was very
cautious with his praise, and coming from him, the words made Peggy
doubly happy.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard and Chuck gave you another fat lead
to do this summer,” Randy went on. “As a matter of fact, they’d be
foolish if they didn’t.”

“But there isn’t another lead I could do,” Peggy said, surprised.
“There’s just the little part in the melodrama and then, I suppose, the
model in _Guest in the House_—”

“What about Evelyn?” Randy asked, looking at her intently.

“Oh,” Peggy laughed, “that’s Alison’s part. She’s been waiting for it
all summer!”

Randy nodded and said nothing while Peggy suddenly remembered what Chuck
had said to Alison—not to count on the part. Her heart skipped a beat as
she wondered if Chuck had meant that he might give it to her! Oh! Peggy
took a deep breath, feeling a little giddy. It just couldn’t happen, it
was too good to possibly be true! No, she simply wouldn’t let herself
think about it. She looked at Randy and caught him smiling at her.

“Yep,” he agreed with her unspoken thought. “Don’t think about it.
You’re quite right. Put it entirely out of your mind!” They laughed
happily and went back to rehearsal.


Opening night of _You Can’t Take It with You_ made a permanent place in
the history of Lake Kenabeek. With so many local people in the cast, the
auditorium was overflowing with relatives and friends as well as summer
guests. It was the best house the theater had had.

Michael Miller arrived with a little package carefully wrapped in cotton
wool and asked Chuck where he should set it off.

“Set what off?” Chuck demanded, distracted and intent on getting things
settled backstage as well as remembering his own part.

“My Kenabeek Special!” Michael answered. “You know, the explosion.” He
hadn’t brought it to dress rehearsal with the explanation that there was
only one firecracker. It hadn’t mattered—everyone was too busy to care.
At this point, Chuck was crossing his fingers and trusting to luck that
everything would turn out all right.

“Is it loud?” Chuck asked hastily.

“Very,” Michael assured him. “At least I hope so—I followed instructions
to the letter.”

“What instructions?” Chuck almost yelped. “Didn’t you just make an
ordinary firecracker?”

“Good heavens no! You can’t trust those things. This is very special and
safe!”

“Well, put it in an ashcan out on the stairs and set it off there. Be
sure you’re careful!” Chuck called after him.

“Don’t worry, I will be.”

The play went unbelievably well. None of the props were missing,
everyone came in on cue, the action zipped along, the audience was in
stitches at the comedy. The end of Act Two approached and Peggy was
onstage with Randy, Chris, Mr. Miller, the apprentices, and June Tilson.
They had paced the show furiously, warming up to the big scene. Mr.
Miller gave the cue for the explosion. A moment of silence—and then they
heard it.

_Wham!_

It sounded as if the roof of the auditorium had been blown off. Huge,
billowing clouds of smoke poured on stage, almost obscuring the actors
as they finished the scene amid coughs and tears, with a hysterical
audience laughing as if their sides would split as the curtain closed.

The applause was deafening, but the actors hardly heard as they rushed
backstage to see what had happened. There stood Michael Miller, black
with smoke and ashes, peering at them helplessly from glasses that were
absolutely opaque with grime.

“I put it in the ashcan, Chuck, just like you said,” Michael offered
timidly. “I think it blew the top off.”

The ashcan was a crumpled mass of tin. The top had been blown across the
stair well and ashes were strewn about, several inches deep.

“I guess you didn’t look in the can first,” Chuck said very quietly, his
eyes still smarting.

“I didn’t know it would make so much smoke—” Michael whispered.

“No, I guess you didn’t,” Chuck agreed softly.

“I was very careful, but I guess maybe I should have just used a
firecracker.” Michael sat down sorrowfully on the stairs, looking like a
lump of coal in a bin.

Peggy couldn’t restrain herself any longer. She burst out laughing. “Oh,
Michael,” she gasped, “and you worked so hard! It couldn’t have been
funnier if you’d tried!”

Nobody could control himself any longer, and they all laughed until
their sides hurt. The play ended without another mishap and the audience
left, still talking about the “bomb.”

“Your place in folklore is assured, Michael,” his father told him dryly.
“But next time I suggest you take a simple little walk to the store!”


The week flew by so quickly that Peggy didn’t know where the time had
gone. They were rehearsing the melodrama, _Love Rides the Rails_, and
during the day Randy would come to the theater to watch and cue the
actors.

“Only one more day,” Peggy said incredulously, “and then you’ll be off
to New York and we’ll only have three more weeks here! Oh, the summer is
going so fast!”

“I’ll miss all this,” Randy admitted, “the theater and the lake—and
you!”

Randy decided to go back to New York on the night bus that left the
Manor right after the last performance of _You Can’t Take It with You_.
Peggy walked with him to the gates to say good-by, feeling that the
nicest part of the summer was going with him.

“It’s been fun, Randy,” she said shyly. “I’m awfully glad you were
here—”

“I am too,” he said seriously, taking her hand. “I think maybe I came
along at the right time. Chris is an awfully nice guy, but—well—this is
summer stock, Peggy. Funny things can happen when you act with people.
If you’re really interested in him, I hope you’ll see him in a different
environment—maybe back in New York.” He smiled and suddenly leaned down
and kissed her. “In the meantime, don’t forget me!”

Randy started to get on the bus and then paused with another thought.
“And don’t forget that you’re an awfully good actress,” he said. “I have
a lot of faith in you. I’d like you to remember that for the next few
weeks.”

The bus pulled away, leaving Peggy with a funny lump in her throat.
She’d be seeing Randy again in a little while—why did she feel so
strange, she wondered. She suddenly had an acute appreciation of the
difference between Randy’s loyal and generous attitude and the
impulsive, surface interest of Chris Hill. That was it, she realized.
She was a little ashamed of herself for having been swept up in a
current by a dashing leading man, nice as he was. She watched Randy’s
bus turn the corner and disappear, knowing that nobody could quite take
his place.

The annex seemed strangely quiet the morning of the day _Love Rides the
Rails_ was to open. Rita and Gus were down first as usual, having coffee
and relaxing on the patio before rehearsals started. Peggy joined them,
having hastily dressed in pedal pushers and a halter.

“It’s getting hotter and hotter,” she remarked, looking for a shady
place to sit down and have her breakfast.

“But so peaceful after that hectic show,” Rita said lazily. “Really
cozy! Will you ever forget Michael’s bomb?”

“I thought my hair would stand on end.” Gus laughed. “But it turned out
to be a wonderful show. Your friend Randy certainly did a remarkable
job!”

“I’m hoping that at last I get to play a nice young woman my own age.”
Rita stretched out luxuriously on the wicker couch. “It doesn’t happen
to me very often, you know!”

“You mean the wife in _Guest in the House_?” Peggy asked.

Rita nodded. “The wife to Chris Hill’s husband.” She grinned
mischievously at Gus. “That is, if Gus approves!”

“Oh, certainly certainly.” Gus smiled and rumpled her hair as he rose.
“Chris may be the Kenabeek heart throb, but I think my place is assured
at home. See you all later—I have to go build a house!”

“He must really love his work,” Peggy sighed as she watched him go. “I
think he’s worked harder than any of us this summer.”

“Except maybe Richard and Chuck,” Rita agreed. “I’m going to make him
take a vacation after we’re through here, whether he likes it or not!”

One by one, the other actors appeared, and after breakfast Chuck started
to hand out the sides for _Guest in the House_. Peggy felt unusually
nervous. She had promised herself not to think of the possibility of
playing Evelyn, but as the moment approached when her part was to be
handed her, Peggy’s heart beat faster and her hand trembled. Chuck gave
her the sides without a word, and after closing her eyes for a moment,
Peggy took a deep breath and looked.

Evelyn! He had given it to her! She hugged the little pamphlet as if it
were a long-lost friend. Here it was at last—a wonderful, rich, dramatic
role, far, far different from all the ingénues she had played all
summer!

Rita noticed her ecstatic expression and peeked at the sides. “Well,”
she breathed softly, “I kind of thought so. I’m awfully glad, Peggy. You
should play it!”

“Just a minute!” Alison’s voice was shrill in the quiet patio. “I’m not
playing the model, Chuck. You gave me the wrong part!”

“No,” Chuck said firmly. “Peggy is going to do Evelyn and I want you to
play Miriam Blake. You’re right for it, Alison, just as Peggy is right
for Evelyn. It’s the only way to cast this show.”

“That’s true,” Rita whispered to Peggy.

“Well, I’m not going to do it!” Alison interrupted. “I’ve played Evelyn
before and this just doesn’t make sense.”

“She did play it,” Chris broke in cautiously with a concerned look at
Peggy. “We were both in the play last summer—”

“And who did the model?” Chuck asked.

“A girl we got from New York. We had to job the part,” Chris replied.

“Yes, you had to job the part, and we can’t afford to do that. I’m
sorry, Alison,” Chuck said gently, “I know you’d like to do it again and
I’m sure you were wonderful. But you yourself can see that with our
company this is the only possible casting. Peggy is too young and
unsophisticated to play the model. It just wouldn’t work out.”

“Well, then, get somebody else to play the model,” Alison said
impatiently. “Why not get that June Tilson—what’s the matter with her?”

“Because audiences want to see Peggy again in a good part.” Chuck was
adamant. “They want to see you, too. That’s part of stock, Alison. Your
summer audiences grow fond of their actors and are interested in seeing
them in varied roles. The model is a perfect part for you, Alison, and
you’ll be good in it. Now let’s start the reading!”

Peggy had listened anxiously, almost without breathing. Now, as she
looked at Alison, who was obviously seething as she opened her sides,
Peggy wondered if this casting wouldn’t create too many difficulties.
She knew that Chuck was right, though. His explanation made perfect
sense. It was best for the play. But how was Alison going to react? How
would rehearsals go if Alison remained as hostile as she was now? Peggy
watched her worriedly and was shocked to see the hateful glance that
Alison returned.

Peggy grew more and more nervous as the time approached for her to read.
She hadn’t considered this before, but Alison was a very good actress
with a fine technique. Would Peggy be able to do as well in this part?
Her mouth was dry and she was terribly tense. She stumbled over her
first lines as she felt everyone watching her—Chuck hopefully, Chris and
Danny curiously, Rita with calm compassion, and Alison with a spiteful
expression that said, “All right—let’s see you try and do it!”

No audience could ever be as critical as this small group of
professional actors. And even though she had a week to work, Peggy knew
that she was being severely judged on this first reading.



                                  XIII
                             Double Trouble


During the week of rehearsal Peggy found that the drama inherent in the
part itself wasn’t going to be enough to carry her through. Evelyn was a
girl who was emotionally disturbed and there was one scene toward the
end of the play when she broke down altogether and appeared in a state
of unreasonable fear. Peggy worked and worked on the scene, trying it
every conceivable way, while Chuck patiently encouraged her. But it
wasn’t going right and she knew it. Alison was doing a marvelous job as
the model and it was a trial for Peggy to know that she was watching,
criticizing, and comparing Peggy’s efforts with her own past success as
Evelyn.

“I don’t think I can do it!” Peggy told Chuck miserably one day after
rehearsal. “You should have given the part to Alison after all! I’m
terrible.”

“You’ll be fine,” Chuck said quietly, but Peggy knew by the tone of his
voice that Chuck had his doubts, too. She hadn’t made a real
identification with the role yet, and it was drawing fearfully close to
opening night. Worried and unhappy, Peggy wondered if she had any right
to call herself an actress after all. If she couldn’t do this part that
she had been so overjoyed to get, what hope was there?

She was tense and straining and finally even Chuck lost patience.
“What’s the matter with you, Peggy?” he said sharply at rehearsal one
day. “You’re missing this thing by a mile. You’re acting like an insipid
little daisy that’s about to wilt on the stem! Evelyn isn’t like
that—she’s crazy like a fox! She has power in her own strange way—”

“Could I say something, Chuck?” Alison interrupted, coming out from the
wings where she’d been watching. “It might help Peggy. When I played the
part I did it as though I were perfectly sane. Peggy’s trying to _act_
crazy and it’s never believable that way.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Chuck admitted, “it’s a good suggestion, Peggy. Try
the scene again with that in mind.”

Peggy didn’t protest or try to justify herself, even though she had been
perfectly aware all along of what Alison had just said. She tried again,
doing even more badly than before, terribly conscious of Alison watching
from the wings and judging every move.

“That was a rotten trick!” Rita fumed in a whisper when the scene was
finished and Peggy, almost in tears, ran off stage. “Alison offering to
help you! She knew exactly what she was doing—trying to draw attention
to herself and make comparisons. Peggy, you’re never going to relax in
this part if you can’t forget that Alison played it before. Can’t you
see what she’s doing?”

“But it’s too late to give her the part,” Peggy said dully, “so she
can’t be after that. Alison’s never been like this before. I’ve always
liked her, really. What is she trying to do?”

“Make you give a dreadful performance!” Rita insisted strongly. “I know
Alison Lord like a book. She’s a fine, nice girl as long as she’s in the
limelight, but her career comes first, and she’ll walk roughshod over
anyone who interferes with it!”

“But this is only a summer stock company—” Peggy protested.

“Yes, and people go back to New York saying, ‘Gosh, have you seen Peggy
Lane in _Guest in the House_? She was great!’ These things do get
around, Peggy. Alison came up here to be the big cheese, and she wants
it to stay that way. If she can’t play the part at least she figures
that people can say, ‘They really should have given that part to Alison
Lord; Peggy Lane was awful!’”

Rita spelled it out in no uncertain terms, leaving Peggy feeling bleaker
than ever. She knew that Rita was trying to prod her, make her angry
enough to forget Alison and come through with a good performance. But
Peggy didn’t work that way. She couldn’t act out of spite or anger. She
was aware, too, that other people in the company were disappointed in
her. Danny Dunn couldn’t conceal his surprise or Chris Hill his
impatience. The fine rapport that Peggy and Chris had had in _For Love
or Money_ was a thing of the past.

Dress rehearsal for _Guest in the House_ took place Tuesday afternoon.
The company had to be out of the theater by five P.M. for the group of
folk singers who had the auditorium for the evening. It was a benefit
affair and the Summer Theater was glad to donate its stage for the
night. Peggy didn’t know if it was the strangeness of working in the
afternoon or if it would have happened in any case, but her performance
was the worst one she had ever given. Not only was she unable to get
into the role at all, but she forgot her lines on several
occasions—something that hadn’t happened all season. Chuck was so
unhappy with the show that he didn’t even criticize her. It was obvious
that he thought it too late.

Miserably, Peggy took off her make-up and started to leave the theater,
wishing that she had never been given the part at all. Perhaps she would
never attempt to play a dramatic role again. “And I was feeling so
self-satisfied, thinking it was easy!” she thought as she walked out the
stage door.

“Peggy, how’s it going?” Michael Miller rounded the corner of the
building, coming from the little shack the boys used for a scene shop.

“Awful.” Peggy tried an unsuccessful smile.

“What you need is a little relaxation—a change of scenery.” Michael
smiled. “What are you going to do with your first free evening of the
summer?”

“Tonight?” Peggy shook her head. “Going to work on my part again, I
guess—see if I can come up with something—”

“Why don’t you forget it for a while?” Michael asked. “I’m going to take
Mary Hopkins over to the other side of the lake for dinner; we’d love to
have you come along.”

“In your boat?” Peggy asked, feeling a faint stirring of interest.

“What else?” Michael laughed. “We’re not going to swim, that’s for sure!
Come on, Peggy, it’ll do you good.”

It would at that, Peggy thought, suddenly feeling a sense of freedom at
the prospect of being far away from the theater for a while, if even
just for dinner. Maybe she could regain her perspective out on the
water; there was nothing like putting a little distance between one’s
self and one’s problem.

“I will, Michael,” she accepted gratefully. “I’d love to. Goodness,
it’ll be the first boat ride I’ve had all summer!”

“And long overdue. I promised you a ride once, remember?”

Peggy felt better than she had all week when they arrived at Michael’s
house and walked down to his dock where Mary Hopkins was already
waiting.

“Peggy—how nice!” she cried. “Are you coming with us?”

“I certainly am—if I’m not intruding,” Peggy said, suddenly wondering if
she was interrupting a date.

“Oh, heavens, no!” Mary laughed. “I’ve been pestering Michael to take me
out in the boat for weeks. This is the first time he’s been free!”

“I’ll just go and tell Dad we’re off,” Michael said. “That’s a rule
around here when I take out the boat.”

He was back in a minute and they all got into the trim little craft,
Peggy feeling almost carefree as Michael started the motor and they
zipped away.

“We call her the _Merry Mac_,” Michael shouted over the noise of the
motor to the two girls. “She’s Dad’s pride and joy—and mine.”

“I can see why,” Peggy laughed, loving the feel of the water underneath
as they skimmed along. It had been a beautiful day. The lake was
sky-blue and frosted with little points of white whipped up by the wind.

            [Illustration: “Dad’s pride and joy—and mine.”]

“It’s a little choppy,” Michael called.

“Fun!” Peggy cried as the spray blew over the windshield and splashed
her face.

“You’re going to get wet,” Mary warned as Michael passed over the wake
of another boat, the _Merry Mac_ slapping across, the spray leaping to
drench Peggy’s face.

“I love it!” Peggy cried happily. “The wetter the better! Where are we
going, Michael?”

“Straight across.” Michael cut his speed a little so he could hear. “See
that cluster of buildings? The Golden Hound is the last one on the left.
Good food and music—very rustic.”

They were in the middle of the lake now, and Peggy realized that it was
much larger than she had thought. There were islands dotted all around,
some so tiny that there was only room for one or two houses.

“Private islands,” Michael informed her. “How would you like one of
those, Peggy?”

“Oh, would I! It would be sheer heaven!” Peggy took a deep breath of the
wonderful fresh air. “No wonder you love this place, Michael. I wouldn’t
ever want to leave if I’d been raised here!”

“The winters are _cold_, though.” Mary laughed. “How do you feel now,
Peggy? Better?”

“Marvelous! I’ve almost forgotten about the theater entirely. This is
just what the doctor ordered!”

Michael slowed the _Merry Mac_ and carefully turned her into the dock in
front of the restaurant. Peggy was impressed by his expert handling of
the boat.

“Dad would never forgive me if anything happened to our little friend
here, and I’d never forgive myself!” he said as he stepped out and
helped the girls up from the boat.

They had a wonderful dinner at a lovely candlelit table by a picture
window that afforded a sweeping view of the lake.

“What a beautiful spot,” Peggy said dreamily as twilight fell, and
lights in the little cottages dotting the shore twinkled on like a
fringe of decoration. “Why haven’t we been here before?”

“We can come again during the last week of the season,” Michael said.
“I’ll bring everybody over sometime.”

“Michael, isn’t it getting awfully dark?” Mary interrupted, watching the
sky that had changed from sunset violet to a deep, heavy gray.

Michael looked at the sky and smiled. “Sure, it’ll be dark before we get
back. You’re not worried about going back at night, are you?”

“Well,”—Mary hesitated—“do you know how to find your way back at night?”

Michael laughed. “Mary Hopkins! And you’ve lived at Lake Kenabeek for
sixteen years!”

“How do you find your way back?” Peggy asked.

“By my landing light.” Michael was still laughing at Mary. “I take a
straight course from here, across the lake, home. It’s impossible to
miss it. Where have you been all these years, Mary?”

“Well,” she said with a shy smile, “I guess I just never thought of it
before.”

They finished dinner in a leisurely fashion, enjoying the music and the
peaceful atmosphere of this beautiful spot.

“This really has been lovely, Michael,” Peggy thanked him as they left
the restaurant. “I feel so relaxed and different—not half as worried as
I was this afternoon.”

“You’ll probably knock ’em in the aisles tomorrow night,” Michael said
cheerfully as they got into the _Merry Mac_ again.

And Peggy thought he might be right, at that. Somehow, getting away from
the part had done her a world of good. She found that she was actually
looking forward to trying it again, and sure that she could improve her
performance.

“My, it really is rough!” Mary said nervously as they started back. A
high wind had come up and the choppy water was blowing in all
directions, making the boat rock furiously.

Michael was quite unconcerned. “See—there’s the light, Mary.” He pointed
it out to her dead ahead across the black lake. “We just take a bead on
that, and home we go without obstacles—in the rain, it seems.”

A freak summer storm had suddenly come up, and the rain pelted down
heavily, mixing with the spray that rose over the sides of the little
boat.

“This is nothing,” Michael reassured Mary. “I’ve been out in storms much
worse than this. As long as we can see the landing light there’s nothing
to worry about, and it doesn’t look—”

But Michael had spoken too soon. The rain suddenly poured down in such
force that it was impossible to see. In an instant it descended in
driving torrents and Michael lost the landing light! In a second he had
cut the motor. “I don’t think,” he began—but then it happened. There was
a grinding crash that threw Peggy and Mary forward, their heads hitting
the windshield, while the _Merry Mac_ reared up and came to a shuddering
stop.

There was dead silence for a moment. Then, “Is anybody hurt?” Michael
asked tightly.

“No, I don’t think so....” Peggy moved a bit. “Mary, are you all right?”

“My head,” she said shakily. “No—it’s all right—I just bumped it.”

“Thank heaven!” Peggy breathed. “And thank goodness you cut the motor so
fast, Michael. If you hadn’t been so quick....” They were all silent,
realizing that it was only Michael’s alert action that had saved them
from a much more serious accident.

“Where are we?” Peggy finally asked.

“I don’t know,” Michael said, “but we’d better get out and see. I hope
we’re not on a rock somewhere.”

The rain was so thick and the night so black that they couldn’t see a
foot in front of them. Michael climbed out first, feeling his way. “It’s
rock, all right,” he said nervously. “No—then it goes on into sand.
Maybe we’re on a small island. Peggy, throw out the cushions from the
seats, will you? I don’t know if the boat is lodged too tightly to sink
or not, but we might as well have them to sit on.”

Groping in the dark, Peggy withdrew the cushions and handed them to
Michael. Her hands touched something slick and cold. “What’s in the back
seat, Michael?” she asked.

“Oh, good girl! Oilskin raincoats. I would have forgotten all about
them. We keep them there—for emergencies.” Michael’s voice was hollow
and Peggy knew that he was beginning to feel the situation. Michael had
wrecked his precious boat. Well, there was no time now to think about
that. Peggy took out the coats and wrapped one around Mary, who was
still shivering slightly from shock.

They climbed up on their hands and knees, feeling their way precariously
from the rocks on which the boat had crashed to the sandy beach. Peggy
bumped into something and shrieked, then she realized it was a tree
trunk. “Michael, we’re in some woods! Come on, Mary, get under cover and
out of the rain!”

“Why doesn’t somebody light a match?” Mary asked plaintively. “Let’s
make a fire or something.”

At this, Peggy dropped down on the boat cushion and began to laugh
helplessly.

“What do you find so funny, may I ask?” Michael questioned sourly from
the gloom beside her.

“A fire!” Peggy giggled. “A fire in all this rain! I’m sorry,
Michael—it’s just nerves!”

“Very funny,” Michael said. “Well, I suggest we just sit here until the
storm stops. Then we’ll be able to see where we are.”

But the storm continued in full fury for hours while the three, drenched
and shivering, waited. Mary lay down on a cushion and, unbelievably, in
a few minutes, was fast asleep. Michael too began to yawn as the hours
passed, and Peggy offered him her cushion to doze on. She couldn’t
possibly have slept. She curled up at the base of a tree, wrapped in her
oilskin, and waited for the rain to stop. By the time the storm had
subsided a little, dawn was breaking in a gray haze that filtered
through the rain and trees and gave Peggy a view of the surroundings.
She judged that they must be on an island, and getting up to look
through the woods, saw a little path. Looking back at her sleeping
comrades, Peggy decided to explore a little before awakening them. She
hadn’t followed the path more than a few yards when she came to a
clearing and a cottage among the trees. All night, a refuge had been
this close! Seeing the house, Peggy realized how cold and exhausted she
was. She raced back to the others and woke them up.

“I feel like the three bears,” Mary said sleepily. “I hope they have
three beds and a stove; I’m chilled through.”

“It’s a lucky break we had your raincoats,” Peggy told Michael. “Do you
realize we might all have caught pneumonia?”

Peggy knocked timidly at the door, hating to rouse anyone at this hour.
It must be close to five in the morning, she guessed. There was no
answer and Michael knocked again, louder this time.

A sleepy, startled voice called out, “Who is it?” and Peggy knew that
the voice was familiar. Before she could place it, the door opened a
crack and then was flung wide. There stood Mrs. Cook, wide awake now
with the shock of seeing the three young people—wet and bedraggled as
lost kittens.

“Oh, come in, come in!” she cried. “What on earth happened?”

If Mrs. Cook was astonished to see them, it was nothing to Peggy’s
surprise at finding her here. “Mrs. Cook!” she exclaimed. “I thought you
were staying at one of the hotels—”

“Oh, no, we’ve had this house for years, only one on the island.”

Now the little group knew that they had crashed on one of the little
private islands in the middle of the lake. Within minutes the story was
told and Mrs. Cook had given them all warm bathrobes and hot drinks,
fussing over them as if they were her own children.

“Now, all of you get some real rest,” she commanded, showing Peggy and
Mary into her own room and giving Michael the couch. “We’ll talk about
everything later after you’ve had some sleep!”

As she gratefully snuggled down under the warm covers on the comfortable
bed, Peggy sleepily wondered why they hadn’t seen Mr. Cook. But she was
too tired to think for more than a moment. Almost immediately she
dropped off into a deep, dreamless sleep, utterly exhausted.



                                  XIV
                             Ups and Downs


Hours later Peggy awoke to the sound of rain beating on the windows and
a whining wind that lashed the tree tops mercilessly. It was a bleak
world, dark as evening, and it was only noon. Mary and Michael had been
up for some time, and Peggy found them in the living room, chatting with
Mrs. Cook, who had prepared a hearty breakfast for everybody.

“Peggy—good!” Mrs. Cook said as she saw her emerging from the bedroom.
“I was going to wake you any minute. You must be ravenous.”

“I am,” Peggy admitted, sitting down at the table Mrs. Cook had set in
front of the fireplace. “A fire in the summertime! It doesn’t seem
possible.”

“Well, when these storms come up it can get good and chilly here. The
dampness goes right through you.” Mrs. Cook smiled.

“Have you called to notify your father that we’re all right?” Peggy
asked Michael. “It just occurred to me that everyone must be terribly
worried about us.”

“Can’t call,” Michael replied, frowning. “The phone’s out. Wire’s blown
down, I guess. But I’m not too worried. I’m pretty sure Dad will assume
we stayed on the other side of the lake because of the storm. It’s
happened before. He’ll have called Mrs. Hopkins, and the theater for
you, Peggy.”

Peggy noticed the worry in Michael’s eyes. There was something he wasn’t
telling her, she felt sure. Mrs. Cook came to the rescue, gently putting
her hand on Peggy’s shoulder as she said, “I’m afraid you may have to
stay here all day, dear. My husband took the boat to town and couldn’t
get back last night in the storm. He called to tell me before the phone
went out. None of the boats are out today. We’ll just have to wait until
it clears before you can be picked up.”

“But the show!” Peggy cried. “I have to get back for the opening.”

“Well, maybe you can,” Mrs. Cook placated her. “It should clear by
evening, and my husband is sure to return as soon as he can.”

But as the hours progressed, the storm showed no sign of relenting. The
wind whistled angrily, blowing the rain in blinding sheets. No boat
could dare the lake in weather like this.

“A fine idea I had!” Michael accused himself grimly. “A little fun, a
little relaxation—and what happens? I not only wreck the _Merry Mac_,
but I’m responsible for your missing the show!”

“Oh, Michael, it isn’t your fault,” Peggy comforted him. But she was
sick at heart. She had felt so optimistic about her new approach to the
part, ready to play Evelyn tonight as if she had never played it before.
Now she might not even be there. She had no doubt as to what Chuck would
do; he would have Alison play the part and get somebody to read the
model for this one performance. It had been done before in stock. And
there went Peggy’s chance to prove herself, not only to the company, but
to a deep part of her that said, “If I fail this, the opportunity may
never come again.” She wandered over to the window and stood there,
looking out, trying to hold back the tears of disappointment. “Maybe
it’s better this way,” she told herself. “Perhaps I wouldn’t do any
better than I have all week.” But she remembered Randy’s words as he
left her that day on the bus—“You’re a fine actress and I have faith in
you!” Randy must have foreseen both the part and the trouble with
Alison. What he could never have imagined was the possibility of Peggy’s
not being there to play it at all.

By six o’clock the storm finally showed signs of subsiding. Peggy
anxiously watched the sky, wondering if it would be possible after all
to get back in time for the curtain. At seven-thirty the rain had
stopped and the wind was reduced to a murmur. Mrs. Cook took the group
down to the dock to watch for her husband’s boat. “He’s sure to come
soon,” she said. “I think you’ll make it, Peggy.”

Peggy strained to see across the lake. The sky was still gray, but in
the distance they could hear a motor.

“Somebody’s out, Peggy,” Mary cried happily. “I think we will get back!”

But the boat appeared and it wasn’t Mr. Cook after all. They waved and
shouted frantically, but the owner didn’t see them and he veered off in
the opposite direction. A few minutes later another boat came into view
and Mrs. Cook gave Peggy an impulsive hug. “There he is, dear.” She
laughed. “Get ready to dash!”

Mr. Cook didn’t have a chance to say hello as he pulled into the
landing. The three young people practically fell into the boat with Mrs.
Cook shouting hasty directions and waving him off as if to a fire.

“Hurry,” she called as he turned around and sped off. “And good luck,
Peggy—” Her voice trailed away and Peggy gripped the sides of the boat,
her heart in her mouth as the possibility of making the curtain became a
reality.

“This little runabout isn’t too fast,” Mr. Cook warned, “but I’ll make
her do her best!” He pushed the little boat to her limit and in about
twenty minutes they pulled up at Michael’s landing. “This is the closest
one to the theater, Peggy,” Mr. Cook said. “Run! Don’t say thanks—just
make that curtain!”

But Peggy was already out and running up the stairs. With a hasty wave
she sprinted up the walk beside Michael’s house and started to run to
the theater.

The parking lot was jammed with cars, but Peggy didn’t see anyone going
into the theater. Panting, she started to run back to the stage door,
but then realized that Chuck might be out front. She’d better let him
know she was here. She dashed back to the entrance and tore through the
large doors by the box office. Richard was just coming out of the little
room and, seeing her, he grabbed her arm with a sigh of relief. “Thank
goodness, Peggy! We were beginning to think you’d drowned!”

“Where is everybody?” Peggy gasped. “I’m here—tell Chuck—”

“Wait a minute,” Richard held on to her with concern. “The show’s
started, Peggy....”

Breathlessly, Peggy stopped short while it sank in. Of course! Nobody in
the lounge, the doors to the auditorium closed— The audience were in
their seats and the curtain had opened! Still trying to get her breath,
she looked at Richard helplessly while tears came to her eyes.

“Oh, come on, Peggy.” Richard patted her shoulder kindly. “It isn’t that
important. If you only knew how worried we were about you! I’m so glad
you’re safe and sound I don’t give a hoot about the show!”

“Thank you,” Peggy managed to say. “I couldn’t help it—I tried to get
back.”

“I know. You can tell me all about it later. Why don’t you go home now
and get some rest?”

“No! Oh, no.” Peggy collected herself and took a deep breath. “As long
as I’m here, I’m going to watch!” It was a difficult decision. “Who’s
doing the model?”

“That girl, June Tilson; she’s winging it.”

“Well, come on, then.” Peggy smiled bravely. “Aren’t you going to give
me a seat?”

Richard grinned at her admiringly. “You’re quite a girl, Peggy. I’ll
give you the best seat in the house!”

But Peggy preferred to watch from the rear of the auditorium, so she and
Richard quietly found places together. It was almost unbearable to see
someone else doing her part, but Peggy grimly watched, determined to be
as objective as possible. It was doubly difficult to admit that Alison
was quite marvelous as Evelyn. She was obviously working on emotion and
excitement, but it didn’t matter. She established herself as the star of
the play, projecting her self-assurance and technique so that the
audience had eyes for no one else on stage. June Tilson did a remarkable
job as the model on such short notice. No one but Peggy or another actor
could have known that she was reading the part in bits and pieces before
she made an entrance, improvising, and finding her lines on the back of
furniture where they had been carefully pasted before the show.

“She’s good!” Peggy whispered. “My, she’s good! Winging a part like that
takes a lot of courage. I thought she probably would read it.”

“Chuck said she could, but she wanted to do it this way. She’s a fast
study, too!” Richard nodded in agreement.

Watching _Guest in the House_ was one of the most painful experiences of
Peggy’s life. By the time the play was over she felt as though she’d
been drawn through a wringer. Wearily, she left her seat, as the actors
were taking curtain calls, and bravos for Alison’s performance were
filling the air. She walked outside and back to the stage door. Alison
deserved her congratulations, and she sincerely wanted to tell June
Tilson how good she had been.

Alison was still in make-up on stage, flushed with excitement and
satisfaction. Everyone was milling around with words of praise for her
wonderful job. No one would ever know what courage it took for Peggy to
join the group and add her congratulations. Alison was too much in a
whirl with her own triumph to take any special satisfaction from Peggy’s
praise, and Peggy realized how right Rita had been. Alison had no
personal spite; it was only her career that concerned her.

Everyone was glad to see Peggy back unharmed, but it was impossible to
miss the undercurrent backstage. The company also was relieved that
Alison had played Evelyn and “saved the show.”

A middle-aged man from the audience drew Alison away from her group of
admirers and took her aside for a private discussion. In a few minutes,
Alison rushed back excitedly, looking for Chuck. “I’ve got a screen
test!” she exulted. “I have to leave tomorrow!”

“Leave!” The entire company was stunned. Actresses just didn’t walk out
on a theater in the middle of the season. But Alison was blithely
unconcerned.

“That was Sidney Mitchell, the talent scout from Lion Studios! He said
he’d never been so impressed with a performance in summer stock! He
thinks I’m great, said he couldn’t believe anybody could do a job like
that at the last minute!”

“But you told him you’d played the part before, didn’t you?” Chris Hill
demanded incredulously.

“Of course not!” Alison hotly defended herself. “Why should I? Let him
think whatever he likes. The important thing is that he wants to test me
for a part immediately. They’re looking for an unknown, and the part is
of a girl very like Evelyn. Oh,” Alison glowed, looking more beautiful
than ever with her taste of success, “just think, I might actually get
to Hollywood!”

“Well, of course we can’t ask you to stay,” Chuck said. “I suppose June
won’t mind continuing in your part—”

“I’d love to,” June agreed, “and by tomorrow I’ll know the lines.”

“Good.” Chuck smiled. “And Peggy will resume Evelyn tomorrow night.”

Everyone turned to look thoughtfully at Peggy, only now realizing that
if she hadn’t missed the show, the talent scout would have seen her,
maybe “discovered” her, instead of Alison. Their expressions were easy
to read. Curiosity, pity, and a slight feeling of guilt at their obvious
approval of Alison’s performance. Peggy bravely accepted their glances
and smiled back at Alison. “I hope you do get the part, Alison,” she
said gravely. “Be sure to let us know.”

Peggy couldn’t wait to get back to the annex and be by herself for a
while. The reaction was just beginning to set in. If she had to stay
another minute, she felt, she would break into tears. Hastily excusing
herself with a promise to recount her adventure the next day, she
started to leave.

But Rita stopped her at the stage door. “Don’t let it bother you too
much, Peggy,” she said gently. “These things happen all the time. It’s
just rotten luck for you. The only time we’ve had a talent scout all
summer, and you had to have an accident!”

“It doesn’t matter, Rita,” Peggy said with difficulty. She didn’t want
to talk another minute.

“But it does—I mean Alison’s lying like that....”

“But she wasn’t lying,” Peggy protested.

“Well, it amounts to the same thing, withholding the fact that she’d
played the part before—that wasn’t very honest. I just thought you ought
to know that everyone feels the same way about that. It wasn’t very
ethical.”

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” Peggy pleaded, and Rita, understanding
that she wanted to be alone, gave her a comforting pat and let her go.

Once in the privacy of her tiny bedroom, Peggy finally broke down and
wept. It _was_ rotten luck, she admitted to herself. The one chance
she’d had all summer, and she’d missed it. Why did Mr. Mitchell have to
pick this particular night to come?

“It isn’t that I don’t wish Alison good luck,” she cried softly, “but at
least he could have seen both of us in the play. He would probably have
picked Alison anyway, because she’s good movie material. But if he had
only seen my work—it would have been something to take back to New York
with me.”

And on top of that she had missed the opportunity to play Evelyn at the
peak of her feeling about the part. Would she be able to do it at all
tomorrow night? She buried her face in the pillow and sobbed until she
was too exhausted to cry any more. Then, blessedly, sleep came.

Alison was gone by the time Peggy awoke the next morning. It seemed
unbelievable that she had managed to assemble her things and pack in
such a short time, but her little room was as stark and bare as if no
one had been in it all summer.

The cast didn’t attempt to disguise their disapproval of Alison’s hasty
exit. “That’s typical of anybody so career-minded,” sniffed Danny Dunn.
“No gratitude. Alison doesn’t have the least conception of anyone’s
problems except her own.”

“Thank goodness we have June Tilson to take her place,” Rita echoed. “I
don’t know what Chuck and Richard would have done.”

By evening Peggy was so exhausted that she almost didn’t care how the
play went. She was tired of questioning looks and concern. Tired of
thinking about Evelyn. She put on her make-up and dressed for her
entrance, as unconcerned as if she were simply going out to dinner. She
watched the other actors begin the play and waited for her cue with such
a lack of emotion that she wondered for a moment if she could possibly
be coming down with a cold or a fever. She simply didn’t care. Her cue
came up, and marshaling as much energy as possible under the
circumstances, Peggy walked on stage.

For the two hours that she played Evelyn, Peggy worked with a most
peculiar sensation. She felt as though she were standing beside herself,
looking on. She watched Evelyn, heard Evelyn, moved her around like a
puppet, with an objective, detached viewpoint completely new to her. She
felt nothing whatsoever inside.

After the play Peggy took her solo curtain call and received the most
tremendous ovation she had ever heard in the theater. She bowed and
smiled, wondering what all the shouting was about, and was utterly
astonished to see Chuck come to her with real tears in his eyes.

“That was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever seen in my
life,” he said, looking at her with something like awe. “I won’t even
ask you what happened. It was too wonderful to spoil by trying to
analyze it!”

Ford Birmingham came back to congratulate her, too. “I haven’t yet
written my review, Peggy, because I heard what happened last night. I
saw both of you play it. Alison was awfully good, but I haven’t seen a
job like yours in years! I’m truly grateful for having had the
opportunity to see you!”

The entire cast looked at Peggy with a respect so new and surprising
that Peggy didn’t know what to think. “You’re not fooling me, are you,
Chuck?” she whispered. “I didn’t feel a thing out there. Was I really
that good?”

“Oho!” Chuck grinned at her mysteriously. “So our little ingénue has
discovered another secret—and all by accident! Listen, Peggy, sometimes
it happens that way. Just when you feel dead inside you’ll give a
performance so electrifying that everybody wonders what happened. It
doesn’t always work, you can’t always be so objective. But I guess
that’s what happened to you tonight. Tomorrow it’ll be different, but
you’ll never have trouble with Evelyn again!”

And Peggy never did. Whether it was because Alison was no longer in the
wings, watching and criticizing, or just because Peggy had finally
“caught” it, she finished the week giving a glorious performance that
brought more and more people to the theater, and sent them away knowing
that they’d had a rare experience.

“This is what really counts,” Peggy thought gratefully. “Not a screen
test or my ‘career,’ but the knowledge that I can really contribute
something to the theater. Play a part with the author’s intention, not
from my personal viewpoint.” Peggy felt immensely gratified to know that
she was beginning to return a little of what the theater had already
given to her.



                                   XV
                              Summer Stock


The season closed with a rollicking farce that drew a full house every
night. Enough money poured into the box office to pay back the investors
and the Chamber of Commerce and even leave something over for the new
science lab. On the last night of _See How They Run_, a tremendous party
was held backstage after the show. Everybody was there. Aunt Hetty was
hostess, beaming and brusque as ever, with lavish promises of what the
theater would do with her barn next summer. For it was certainly
established now that the Kenabeek Summer Theater was here to stay!

The directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the members of the School
Board were there; all the apprentices and their families came; Mr.
Bladen read a special poem of praise for the theater; Mr. and Mrs. Cook
and Mrs. Hopkins and all their friends joined the celebration. Mr.
Miller and Michael were happy to report that the _Merry Mac_ had not
been damaged beyond repair after all, and that next summer she would be
back, ready to take the cast across the lake to the Golden Hound for
dinner.

“Are you game, Peggy?” Michael asked with a twinkle.

“Any time,” Peggy laughed. “Tonight if you like!”

“Well! That certainly speaks well for my son’s seamanship,” Mr. Miller
declared.

“If it weren’t for him, we’d all be at the bottom of Lake Kenabeek,”
Mary Hopkins said. “Wreck or no wreck, Michael’s a mighty good sailor!”

“And the _Merry Mac_ was a smart boat to pick the Cooks’ island out of
all the islands in the lake!” Peggy said. “I’d trust her again any
time.”

“And the Cooks have practically put Bladen’s Antiques out of business,”
Mr. Bladen added, winking at Peggy. “After your boys cleaned up my shop,
the Cooks couldn’t seem to take things away fast enough. Then their
friends started to come! Pretty soon, I’ll have to start buying more
antiques or just stick to poetry!”

Bill Slade dashed into the theater, breathlessly waving an envelope and
calling for everyone to be quiet. “I know this is going to be a huge
shock,” he cried excitedly, “but you all know how much our business has
improved since the Kenabeek Summer Theater came to town—for many
reasons.” He grinned at Peggy. “Well! Although my brother Max is too
shy, and to be honest, still too stiff-necked to come here personally
and admit a mistake, he’s tried to redeem himself in a mighty concrete
way!” With a huge smile of satisfaction, Bill dramatically opened the
envelope. “Here’s a check to match whatever the Summer Theater is
donating to the high school—from Maximilian W. Slade! You just fill in
the amount!”

Amid cheers and hurrahs, the School Board gratefully accepted the check.

“Oh, Bill, that’s just about the nicest thing that’s happened all
summer!” Peggy cried.

“It makes me very happy!” Bill said, grinning from ear to ear. “Next
summer, Max might even put in an appearance at a play!”

Richard Wallace made a short, funny speech, thanking everyone for their
cooperation, and at the end giving a word of special praise to the
actors who “worked together without undue friction, without too many
complaints, and with only a minimum of backstage feuds, which is
probably a ‘first’ for any Adirondack stock company! Or any other, for
that matter!”

There were toasts to the actors, toasts to Gus and the apprentices,
toasts to everyone, including the _Merry Mac_, the annex, Lake Manor,
the audiences, and Mrs. Brady’s food. The party lasted long, with all
the actors talking about the possible jobs that awaited them in New
York.

“What do you think you’ll do when you get back to New York, Peggy?”
Chris Hill asked. “Do you suppose we’ll have a chance to work together
again?”

“I hope so,” Peggy replied, glad to know that she could now talk to
Chris naturally and calmly, as actor to actor. “I’m going home for a
visit first, but after that anything can happen!”

“And next time we won’t let personal feelings interfere with our work,
right?” Chris beamed at her, his handsome face teasing a little, but now
Peggy understood.

“Right!” Peggy smiled.

“And give Randy my regards,” Chris added seriously. “He’s a great guy,
and I really hope to see him again sometime.”

The party finally broke up, with everyone going back to the annex to
start packing. Chuck and Richard had to stay after the close of the
season to wind things up, but almost everybody else was leaving Lake
Kenabeek on tomorrow’s bus. Peggy remained quietly in the theater after
everyone had gone. She wanted to be alone for a little in this theater
that she might never see again.

The flats had been stacked away for the party, and now only the
worklight was left, its circle casting a small pool of light on the
empty stage. Peggy stood there alone, looking out at the silent
auditorium and thinking of everything that had happened this summer. She
remembered the first time Rita and Gus had brought her up to the
theater—the stage had looked just like this. That night she had had her
first taste of the hectic backstage activity of painting flats. She had
learned so much this summer, Peggy thought gratefully. She had learned
about the theater and about working with people—even about summer
romance and handsome leading men! Peggy smiled wistfully, wishing that
Randy could be here with her now. He was the only person she knew who
could share her feelings about a dark theater like this—the smell and
the memories and the ghosts.

For it seemed to her that the house was filled with echoes from all the
plays they had done that summer, that all the parts and the plays and
the authors were still alive here somehow. This emotion was the magic
that had brought Peggy to the theater in the first place—this sense of
life, of living literature, of a communication that was nowhere else so
special as between actor and audience.

Peggy remembered the first time she had walked out on this stage in
_Dear Ruth_. How nervous she had been! And then as the weeks progressed,
her sureness had developed, her professionalism had increased. She had
learned from Rita and Gus and Chuck, from Richard and Danny and Alison.
Yes, perhaps most of all from Alison Lord, who had shown her the
contrast between career and dedication.

“I hope I will come back here sometime,” Peggy said aloud in farewell.
She was sentimental enough to wish to say a private good-by to her
summer. “And thank you,” she whispered, “thank you for everything.”

As she finally walked out the stage door for the last time, her make-up
kit tucked under her arm, she could already hear the questions her
parents would ask when she arrived home for her visit.

“Well! What did you do this summer, Peggy?” they would say. “What
happened? Tell us all about it.”

“My goodness,” Peggy wondered, smiling at the stars, “how can I possibly
tell them?”

                       [Illustration: Endpapers]


                       [Illustration: Back cover]



                          PEGGY GOES STRAW HAT


Peggy Lane’s education in the theater and in life is “accelerated,” the
summer she takes to the Straw Hat Circuit. Signed with the newly
organized Kenabeek Summer Theater, Peggy is thinking only of her work
when she arrives at the Adirondack resort. But acting turns out to be
only one of her problems.

Immediately, she learns that the Summer Theater is opposed by Max Slade,
the local movie theater owner, who is exerting every effort to force the
“competition” to leave town. And she meets Chris Hill, blond, exciting,
romantic leading man of the company—who can make any girl feel she’s his
One and Only, and not realize himself that he’s insincere. Finally,
there’s the back-breaking, bone-wearying, nerve-jangling job of mounting
a new play a week—never knowing if it will open!

The maneuvering—legal and personal—as the actors fight to save their
theater is as dramatic as their nightly shows. But in the end it is
Peggy’s own warmth, charm, and intelligence which precipitate the
surprising climax to their efforts to make the theater an accepted part
of the community!


                      _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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