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Title: Peggy Finds the Theatre - Peggy Lane Theater Stories, #1
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: _Randy was, as Peggy had suspected, a fine dancer_]

                       PEGGY LANE THEATER STORIES



                       _Peggy Finds the Theatre_


                           By VIRGINIA HUGHES

                      Illustrated by Sergio Leone


                    GROSSET & DUNLAP    _Publishers_
                                NEW YORK

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

              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                CONTENTS


  1 Dramatic Dialogue                                                  1
  2 Dramatic Decision                                                  9
  3 In the Wings                                                      20
  4 Two Auditions                                                     33
  5 Starting a New Role                                               46
  6 Cast of Characters                                                57
  7 The Biggest Stage                                                 69
  8 First Act                                                         77
  9 Theater Party                                                     89
  10 Peggy Produces a Plot                                           102
  11 Rehearsals                                                      110
  12 Intermission                                                    119
  13 The Hidden City                                                 127
  14 The Hidden Theater                                              135
  15 The Stage Door                                                  145
  16 Understudies for Danger                                         154
  17 Backstage Fright                                                160
  18 Forecast—Fair!                                                  171



                        PEGGY FINDS THE THEATER



                                   I
                          _Dramatic Dialogue_


“Of course, this is no surprise to us,” Thomas Lane said to his daughter
Peggy, who perched tensely on the edge of a kitchen stool. “We could
hardly have helped knowing that you’ve wanted to be an actress since you
were out of your cradle. It’s just that decisions like this can’t be
made quickly.”

“But, Dad!” Peggy almost wailed. “You just finished saying yourself that
I’ve been thinking about this and wanting it for years! You can’t follow
that by calling it a quick decision!” She turned to her mother, her
hazel eyes flashing under a mass of dark chestnut curls. “Mother, you
understand, don’t you?”

Mrs. Lane smiled gently and placed her soft white hand on her daughter’s
lean brown one. “Of course I understand, Margaret, and so does your
father. We both want to do what’s best for you, not to stand in your
way. The only question is whether the time is right, or if you should
wait longer.”

“Wait! Mother—Dad—I’m years behind already! The theater is full of
beginners a year and even two years younger than I am, and girls of my
age have lots of acting credits already. Besides, what is there to wait
for?”

Peggy’s father put down his coffee cup and leaned back in the kitchen
chair until it tilted on two legs against the wall behind him. He took
his time before answering. When he finally spoke, his voice was warm and
slow.

“Peg, I don’t want to hold up your career. I don’t have any objections
to your wanting to act. I think—judging from the plays I’ve seen you in
at high school and college—that you have a real talent. But I thought
that if you would go on with college for three more years and get your
degree, you would gain so much worth-while knowledge that you’d use and
enjoy for the rest of your life—”

“But not acting knowledge!” Peggy cried.

“There’s more to life than that,” her father put in. “There’s history
and literature and foreign languages and mathematics and sciences and
music and art and philosophy and a lot more—all of them fascinating and
all important.”

“None of them is as fascinating as acting to me,” Peggy replied, “and
none of them is nearly as important to my life.”

Mrs. Lane nodded. “Of course, dear. I know just how you feel about it,”
she said. “I would have answered just the same way when I was your age,
except that for me it was singing instead of acting. But—” and here her
pleasant face betrayed a trace of sadness—“but I was never able to be a
singer. I guess I wasn’t quite good enough or else I didn’t really want
it hard enough—to go on with all the study and practice it needed.”

She paused and looked thoughtfully at her daughter’s intense expression,
then took a deep breath before going on.

“What you must realize, Margaret, is that you may not quite make the
grade. We think you’re wonderful, but the theater is full of young girls
whose parents thought they were the most talented things alive; girls
who won all kinds of applause in high-school and college plays; girls
who have everything except luck. You may be one of these girls, and if
you are, we want you to be prepared for it. We want you to have
something to fall back on, just in case you ever need it.”

Mr. Lane, seeing Peggy’s hurt look, was quick to step in with
reassurance. “We don’t think you’re going to fail, Peg. We have every
confidence in you and your talents. I don’t see how you could miss being
the biggest success ever—but I’m your father, not a Broadway critic or a
play producer, and I could be wrong. And if I am wrong, I don’t want you
to be hurt. All I ask is that you finish college and get a teacher’s
certificate so that you can always find useful work if you have to. Then
you can try your luck in the theater. Doesn’t that make sense?”

Peggy stared at the faded linoleum on the floor for a few moments before
answering. Then, looking first at her mother and then at her father, she
replied firmly, “No, it doesn’t! It might make sense if we were talking
about anything else but acting, but we’re not. If I’m ever going to try,
I’ll have a better chance now than I will in three years. But I can see
your point of view, Dad, and I’ll tell you what—I’ll make a bargain with
you.”

“What sort of bargain, Peg?” her father asked curiously.

“If you let me go to New York now, and if I can get into a good drama
school there, I’ll study and try to find acting jobs at the same time.
That way I’ll still be going to school and I’ll be giving myself a
chance. And if I’m not started in a career in one year, I’ll go back to
college and get my teacher’s certificate before I try the theater again.
How does that sound to you?”

“It sounds fair enough,” Tom Lane admitted, “but are you so confident
that you’ll see results in one year? After all, some of our top stars
worked many times that long before getting any recognition.”

“I don’t expect recognition in one year, Dad,” Peggy said. “I’m not that
conceited or that silly. All I hope is that I’ll be able to get a part
in that time, and maybe be able to make a living out of acting. And
that’s probably asking too much. If I have to, I’ll make a living at
something else, maybe working in an office or something, while I wait
for parts. What I want to prove in this year is that I can act. If I
can’t, I’ll come home.”

“It seems to me, Tom, that Margaret has a pretty good idea of what she’s
doing,” Mrs. Lane said. “She sounds sensible and practical. If she were
all starry-eyed and expected to see her name in lights in a few weeks,
I’d vote against her going, but I’m beginning to think that maybe she’s
right about this being the best time.”

“Oh, Mother!” Peggy shouted, jumping down from the stool and throwing
her arms about her mother’s neck. “I knew you’d understand! And you
understand too, don’t you, Dad?” she appealed.

Her father replied in little puffs as he drew on his pipe to get it
started. “I ... never said ... I didn’t ... understand you ... did I?”
His pipe satisfactorily sending up thick clouds of fragrant smoke, he
took it out of his mouth before continuing more evenly.

“Peg, your mother and I are cautious only because we love you so much
and want what’s going to make you happy. At the same time, we want to
spare you any unnecessary unhappiness along the way. Remember, I’m not a
complete stranger to show business. Before I came out here to Rockport
to edit the _Eagle_, I worked as a reporter on one of the best papers in
New York. I saw a lot ... I met a lot of actors and actresses ... and I
know how hard the city often was for them. But I don’t want to protect
you from life. That’s no good either. Just let me think about it a
little longer and let me talk to your mother some more.”

Mrs. Lane patted Peggy’s arm and said, “We won’t keep you in suspense
long, dear. Why don’t you go out for a walk for a while and let us go
over the situation quietly? We’ll decide before bedtime.”

Peggy nodded silently and walked to the kitchen door, where she paused
to say, “I’m just going out to the barn to see if Socks is all right for
the night. Then maybe I’ll go down to Jean’s for a while.”

As she stepped out into the soft summer dusk she turned to look back
just in time to see her mother throw her a comically exaggerated wink of
assurance. Feeling much better, Peggy shut the screen door behind her
and started for the barn.

Ever since she had been a little girl, the barn had been Peggy’s
favorite place to go to be by herself and think. Its musty but clean
scent of straw and horses and leather made her feel calm and alive.
Breathing in its odor gratefully, she walked into the half-dark to
Socks’s stall. As the little bay horse heard her coming, she stamped one
foot and softly whinnied a greeting. Peggy stopped first at the bag that
hung on the wall among the bridles and halters and took out a lump of
sugar as a present. Then, after stroking Socks’s silky nose, she held
out her palm with the sugar cube. Socks took it eagerly and pushed her
nose against Peggy’s hand in appreciation.

As Peggy mixed some oats and barley for her pet and checked to see that
there was enough straw in the stall, she thought about her life in
Rockport and the new life that she might soon be going to.

Rockport, Wisconsin, was a fine place, as pretty a small town as any
girl could ask to grow up in. And not too small, either, Peggy thought.
Its 16,500 people supported good schools, an excellent library, and two
good movie houses. What’s more, the Rockport Community College attracted
theater groups and concert artists, so that life in the town had always
been stimulating. And of course, all of this was in addition to the
usual growing-up pleasures of swimming and sailing, movie dates, and
formal dances—everything that a girl could want.

Peggy had lived all her life here, knew every tree-shaded street, every
country road, field, lake, and stream. All of her friends were here,
friends she had known since her earliest baby days. It would be hard to
leave them, she knew, but there was no doubt in her mind that she was
going to do so. If not now, then as soon as she possibly could.

It was not any dissatisfaction with her life, her friends, or her home
that made Peggy want to leave Rockport. She was not running away from
anything, she reminded herself; she was running _to_ something.

To what? To the bright lights, speeding taxis, glittering towers of a
make-believe movie-set New York? Would it really be like that? Or would
it be something different, something like the dreary side-street world
of failure and defeat that she had also seen in movies?

Seeing the image of herself hungry and tired, going from office to
office looking for a part in a play, Peggy suddenly laughed aloud and
brought herself back to reality, to the warm barn smell and the big,
soft-eyed gaze of Socks. She threw her arm around the smooth bay neck
and laid her face next to the horse’s cheek.

“Socks,” she murmured, “I need some of your horse sense if I’m going to
go out on my own! We’ll go for a fast run in the morning and see if some
fresh air won’t clear my silly mind!”

With a final pat, she left the stall and the barn behind, stepping out
into the deepening dusk. It was still too early to go back to the house
to see if her parents had reached a decision about her future. Fighting
down an impulse to rush right into the kitchen to see how they were
coming along, Peggy continued down the driveway and turned left on the
slate sidewalk past the front porch of her family’s old farmhouse and
down the street toward Jean Wilson’s house at the end of the block.

As she walked by her own home, she noticed with a familiar tug at her
heart how the lilac bushes on the front lawn broke up the light from the
windows behind them into a pattern of leafy lace. For a moment, or maybe
a little more, she wondered why she wanted to leave this. What for? What
could ever be better?



                                   II
                          _Dramatic Decision_


Upstairs at the Wilsons’, Peggy found Jean swathed in bath towels,
washing her long, straight red hair, which was now white with lather and
piled up in a high, soapy knot.

“You just washed it yesterday!” Peggy said. “Are you doing it again—or
still?”

Jean grinned, her eyes shut tight against the soapsuds. “Again, I’m
afraid,” she answered. “Maybe it’s a nervous habit!”

“It’s a wonder you’re not bald, with all the rubbing you give your
hair,” Peggy said with a laugh.

“Well, if I do go bald, at least it will be with a clean scalp!” Jean
answered with a humorous crinkle of her freckled nose. Taking a deep
breath and puffing out her cheeks comically, she plunged her head into
the basin and rinsed off the soap with a shampoo hose. When she came up
at last, dripping-wet hair was tightly plastered to the back of her
head.

“There!” she announced. “Don’t I look beautiful?”

After a brisk rubdown with one towel, Jean rolled another dry towel
around her head like an Indian turban. Then, having wrapped herself in
an ancient, tattered, plaid bathrobe, she led Peggy out of the steamy
room and into her cozy, if somewhat cluttered, bedroom. When they had
made themselves comfortable on the pillow-strewn daybeds, Jean came
straight to the point.

“So the grand debate is still going on, is it? When do you think they’ll
make up their minds?” she asked.

“How do you know they haven’t decided anything yet?” Peggy said, in a
puzzled tone.

“Oh, that didn’t take much deduction, my dear Watson,” Jean laughed. “If
they had decided against the New York trip, your face would be as long
as Socks’s nose, and it’s not half that long. And if the answer was yes,
I wouldn’t have to wait to hear about it! You would have been flying
around the room and talking a mile a minute. So I figured that nothing
was decided yet.”

“You know, if I were as smart as you,” Peggy said thoughtfully, “I would
have figured out a way to convince Mother and Dad by now.”

“Oh, don’t feel bad about being dumb,” Jean said in mock tones of
comfort. “If I were as pretty and talented as you are, I wouldn’t need
brains, either!” With a hoot of laughter, she rolled quickly aside on
the couch to avoid the pillow that Peggy threw at her.

A short, breathless pillow fight followed, leaving the girls limp with
laughter and with Jean having to retie her towel turban. From her new
position, flat on the floor, Peggy looked up at her friend with a rueful
smile.

“You know, I sometimes think that we haven’t grown up at all!” she said.
“I can hardly blame my parents for thinking twice—and a lot more—before
treating me like an adult.”

“Nonsense!” Jean replied firmly. “Your parents know a lot better than to
confuse being stuffy with being grown-up and responsible. And, besides,
I know that they’re not the least bit worried about your being able to
take care of yourself. I heard them talking with my folks last night,
and they haven’t got a doubt in the world about you. But they know how
hard it can be to get a start as an actress, and they want to be sure
that you have a profession in case you don’t get a break in show
business.”

“I know,” Peggy answered. “We had a long talk about it this evening
after dinner.” Then she told her friend about the conversation and her
proposed “bargain” with her parents.

“They both seemed to think it was fair,” she concluded, “and when I went
out, they were talking it over. They promised me an answer by bedtime,
and I’m over here waiting until the jury comes in with its decision. You
know,” she said suddenly, sitting up on the floor and crossing her legs
under her, “I bet they wouldn’t hesitate a minute if you would only
change your mind and decide to come with me and try it too!”

After a moment’s thoughtful silence, Jean answered slowly, “No, Peg.
I’ve thought this all out before, and I know it would be as wrong for me
as it is right for you. I know we had a lot of fun in the dramatic
groups, and I guess I was pretty good as a comedienne in a couple of the
plays, but I know I haven’t got the real professional thing—and I know
that you have. In fact, the only professional talent I think I do have
for the theater is the ability to recognize talent when I see it—and to
recognize that it’s not there when it isn’t!”

“But, Jean,” Peggy protested, “you can handle comedy and character lines
as well as anyone I know!”

Jean nodded, accepting the compliment and seeming at the same time to
brush it off. “That doesn’t matter. You know even better than I that
there’s a lot more to being an actress—a successful one—than reading
lines well. There’s the ability to make the audience sit up and notice
you the minute you walk on, whether you have lines or not. And that’s
something you can’t learn; you either have it, or you don’t. It’s like
being double-jointed. I can make an audience laugh when I have good
lines, but you can make them look at you and respond to you and be with
you all the way, even with bad lines. That’s why you’re going to go to
New York and be an actress. And that’s why I’m not.”

“But, Jean—” Peggy began.

“No buts!” Jean cut in. “We’ve talked about this enough before, and I’m
not going to change my mind. I’m as sure about what I want as you are
about what you want. I’m going to finish college and get my certificate
as an English teacher.”

“And what about acting? Can you get it out of your mind as easily as all
that?” Peggy asked.

“That’s the dark and devious part of my plan,” Jean answered with a
mysterious laugh that ended in a comic witch’s cackle and an
unconvincing witch-look that was completely out of place on her round,
freckled face. “Once I get into a high school as an English teacher, I’m
going to try to teach a special course in the literature of the theater
and maybe another one in stagecraft. I’m going to work with the
high-school drama group and put on plays. That way, I’ll be in a spot
where I can use my special talent of recognizing talent. And that way,”
she added, becoming much more serious, “I have a chance really to do
something for the theater. If I can help and encourage one or two people
with real talent like yours, then I’ll feel that I’ve really done
something worth while.”

Peggy nodded silently, not trusting herself to speak for fear of saying
something foolishly sentimental, or even of crying. Her friend’s
earnestness about the importance of her work and her faith in Peggy’s
talent had touched her more than she could say.

The silence lasted what seemed a terribly long time, until Jean broke it
by suddenly jumping up and flinging a last pillow which she had been
hiding behind her back. Running out of the bedroom, she called, “Come
on! I’ll race you down to the kitchen for cocoa! By the time we’re
finished, it’ll be about time for your big Hour of Decision scene!”


It was nearly ten o’clock when Peggy finally felt that her parents had
had enough time to talk things out. Leaving the Wilson house, she walked
slowly despite her eagerness, trying in all fairness to give her mother
and father every minute she could. Reaching her home, she cut across the
lawn behind the lilac bushes, to the steps up to the broad porch that
fronted the house. As she climbed the steps, she heard her father’s
voice raised a little above its normal soft, deep tone, but she could
not make out the words.

Crossing the porch, she caught sight of him through the window. He was
speaking on the telephone, and now she caught his words.

“Fine. Yes.... Yes—I think we can. Very well, day after tomorrow, then.
That’s right—all three of us. And, May—it’ll be good to see you again,
after all these years! Good-by.”

As Peggy entered the room, her father put down the phone and turned to
Mrs. Lane. “Well, Betty,” he said, “it’s all set.”

“What’s all set, Dad?” Peggy said, breaking into a run to her father’s
side.

“Everything’s all set, Peg,” her father said with a grin. “And it’s set
just the way you wanted it! There’s not a man in the world who can hold
out against two determined women.” He leaned back against the fireplace
mantel, waiting for the explosion he felt sure was to follow his
announcement. But Peggy just stood, hardly moving a muscle. Then she
walked carefully, as if she were on the deck of a rolling ship, to the
big easy chair and slowly sat down.

“Well, for goodness’ sake!” her mother cried. “Where’s the enthusiasm?”

Peggy swallowed hard before answering. When her voice came, it sounded
strange, about two tones higher than usual. “I ... I’m trying to be
sedate ... and poised ... and very grown-up,” she said. “But it’s not
easy. All I want to do is to—” and she jumped out of the chair—“to yell
_whoopee_!” She yelled at the top of her lungs.

After the kisses, the hugs, and the first excitement, Peggy and her
parents adjourned to the kitchen, the favorite household conference
room, for cookies and milk and more talk.

“Now, tell me, Dad,” Peggy asked, her mouth full of oatmeal cookies, no
longer “sedate” or “poised,” but her natural, bubbling self. “Who was
that on the phone, and where are the three of us going, and what’s all
set?”

“One thing at a time,” her father said. “To begin with, we decided
almost as soon as you left that we were going to let you go to New York
to try a year’s experience in the theater. But then we had to decide
just where you would live, and where you should study, and how much
money you would need, and a whole lot of other things. So I called New
York to talk to an old friend of mine who I felt would be able to give
us some help. Her name is May Berriman, and she’s spent all her life in
the theater. In fact, she was a very successful actress. Now she’s been
retired for some years, but I thought she might give us some good
advice.”

“And did she?” Peggy asked.

“We were luckier than I would have thought possible,” Mrs. Lane put in.
“It seems that May bought a big, old-fashioned town house and converted
it into a rooming house especially for young actresses. She always
wanted a house of her own with a garden in back, but felt it was foolish
for a woman living alone. This way, she can afford to run a big place
and at the same time not be alone. And best of all, she says she has a
room that you can have!”

“Oh, Mother! It sounds wonderful!” Peggy exulted. “I’ll be with other
girls my own age who are actresses, and living with an experienced
actress! I’ll bet she can teach me loads!”

“I’m sure she can,” her father said. “And so can the New York Dramatic
Academy.”

“Dad!” Peggy shouted, almost choking on a cooky. “Don’t tell me you’ve
managed to get me accepted there! That’s the best dramatic school in the
country! How—?”

“Don’t get too excited, Peg,” Mr. Lane interrupted. “You’re not accepted
anywhere yet, but May Berriman told me that the Academy is the best
place to study acting, and she said she would set up an audition for you
in two days. The term starts in a couple of weeks, so there isn’t much
time to lose.”

“Two days! Do you mean we’ll be going to New York day after tomorrow,
just like that?”

“Oh, no,” her mother answered calmly. “We’re going to New York tomorrow
on the first plane that we can get seats on. Your father doesn’t believe
in wasting time, once his mind is made up.”

“Tomorrow?” Peggy repeated, almost unable to believe what she had heard.
“What are we sitting here talking for, then? I’ve got a million things
to do! I’ve got to get packed ... I’ve got to think of what to read for
the audition! I can study on the plane, I guess, but ... oh! I’ll be
terrible in a reading unless I can have more time! Oh, Mother, what
parts will I do? Where’s the Shakespeare? Where’s—”

“Whoa!” Mr. Lane said, catching Peggy’s arm to prevent her from rushing
out of the kitchen. “Not now, young lady! We’ll pack in the morning,
talk about what you should read, and take an afternoon plane to New
York. But tonight, you’d better think of nothing more than getting to
bed. This is going to be a busy time for all of us.”

Reluctantly, Peggy agreed, recognizing the sense of what her father
said. She finished her milk and cookies, kissed her parents good night
and went upstairs to bed.

But it was one thing to go to bed and another to go to sleep.

Peggy lay on her back, staring at the ceiling and the patterns of light
and shade cast by the street lamp outside as it shone through the leaves
of the big maple tree. As she watched the shifting shadows, she reviewed
the roles she had played since her first time in a high-school play.
Which should she refresh herself on? Which ones would she do best? And
which ones were most suited to her now? She recognized that she had
grown and developed past some of the roles which had once seemed
perfectly suited to her talent and her appearance. But both had changed.
She was certainly not a mature actress yet, from any point of view, but
neither was she a schoolgirl. Her trim figure was well formed; her face
had lost the undefined, simple cuteness of the early teens, and had
gained character. She didn’t think she should read a young romantic part
like Juliet. Not that she couldn’t do it, but perhaps something sharper
was called for.

Perhaps Viola in _Twelfth Night_? Or perhaps not Shakespeare at all.
Maybe the people at the Academy would think she was too arty or too
pretentious? Maybe she should do something dramatic and full of stormy
emotion, like Blanche in _A Streetcar Named Desire_? Or, better for her
development and age, a light, brittle, comedy role...?

Nothing seemed quite right. Peggy’s thoughts shifted with the shadows
overhead. All the plays she had ever seen or read or acted in melted
together in a blur, until the characters from one seemed to be talking
with the characters from another and moving about in an enormous set
made of pieces from two or three different plays. More actors kept
coming on in a fantastic assortment of costumes until the stage was
full. Then the stage lights dimmed, the actors joined hands across the
stage to bow, the curtain slowly descended, the lights went out—and
Peggy was fast asleep.



                                  III
                             _In the Wings_


When Peggy awoke in the early-morning sunshine that slanted into her
room, it was not yet six o’clock. She reached over to shut off the alarm
so that it would not ring at seven, the time she had decided to get up
for her big day.

“People say that actors live in a dream world,” Peggy thought with a
smile. “Maybe that’s why I seem to want so little sleep. I get enough of
dreams when I’m supposed to be wide awake!”

Recognizing that it would be useless to try to doze off again, she
quickly slipped out of bed and quietly set about her morning routine of
washing and dressing. The extra time gained by her early awakening would
give her an opportunity to select her reading for the Academy, Peggy
told herself as she stepped into the shower. But first things first;
before she could think about the reading she would need a clear mind,
and that meant that all the many details of packing and dressing must be
taken care of. As she wrapped herself in an oversized bath towel, Peggy
was already mentally choosing her clothes.

An hour and a half later, when Mr. and Mrs. Lane came downstairs for
breakfast, they discovered Peggy, dressed and ready for the trip,
sitting surrounded by books at the big desk in the “library” end of the
living room. Her suitcase stood fully packed in the front hall, a large
traveling purse leaning next to it like a puppy sleeping by its mother.

“My goodness!” Mrs. Lane said. “What did you do, stay up all night? Why,
you’re ready to board the plane this very minute!”

“Not quite, Mother,” Peggy answered with a smile. “I still haven’t
settled on what to read tomorrow, and I want to do that before I go.
Otherwise I’ll be carting so many books with me to New York that we’ll
have to pay a fortune in extra-baggage charges!”

“Oh, I’m not worried about you,” her mother said. “You’ll have your mind
made up and your part memorized before we even leave, if I remember the
way you go at things! Now you can just put the books away until after
breakfast, because I’m going to need some help in the kitchen.”

As Peggy stood up, her mother looked approvingly at the costume she had
chosen for the flight. It was a smart beige suit with a short jacket
that was well cut to accent Peggy’s trim figure, and its tawny color was
the perfect complement for her even summer tan and her dark chestnut
hair. A simple pearl choker and a pair of tiny pearl earrings provided
just the right amount of contrast.

“Is it all right?” Peggy asked. Noting her mother’s admiring nod, she
added, “I packed my gray silk suit and two dresses—the green print and
the blue dress-up, in case we go someplace. I mean someplace dressy, for
dinner or something. And I have the right shoes packed, too, and
stockings and blouses and toothbrush and everything,” she added,
anticipating her mother’s questions.

Mrs. Lane smiled and sighed. “Well, I suppose there’s no use my
pretending that you’re not all grown up and able to take care of
yourself! You pass inspection with flying colors! Now, let’s get that
jacket off and get an apron on—we have some work to do!”

Peggy and her mother went into the kitchen to prepare what Mr. Lane
always called his “traveling breakfast,” a huge repast of wheat cakes,
eggs, sausages and coffee, with plenty of orange juice to start, maple
syrup to soak the wheat cakes in, and more coffee to finish up on. While
breakfast was cooking, Mr. Lane was on the phone, confirming their plane
reservations and, when this was done, arranging for hotel rooms in New
York. The last phone call was finished barely a minute before the first
steaming stack of wheat cakes was set on the kitchen table.

“Well,” he said, sitting down to look with satisfaction at his plate,
“everything’s under control. We leave at two this afternoon, which
should have us in New York by five. That gives us plenty of time. We’ll
leave the house about one.”

“Plenty of time!” Peggy wailed. “What about my reading? I’ve got to get
started right away!” She gave a fairly convincing performance of someone
who must get started right away, except for the fact that she showed not
the least sign of moving until she had finished her breakfast.

During the meal, the talk was all of reservations, changing planes at
Chicago, what kind of rooms they would have at the hotel, and all the
many little details of a trip, but Peggy hardly heard. She was still
sorting out plays and roles in her mind and trying to make a decision.

By the second cup of coffee, her decision was made. “I’ve got it!” she
announced in triumph and relief. “I’ll prepare three short readings
instead of one long one! That’ll give them a chance to see the kinds of
things I can do, and if I’m bad in one, I’ll have two more chances!”

“Makes sense,” her father agreed. “What three parts do you think you’ll
try?”

“I’m not completely sure,” Peggy said, “but at least I know what kinds
of parts they’ll be, and that will make the job easier. One of them will
surely be Viola in _Twelfth Night_ because I’ve done it, and I’ve always
felt that it was me, and besides, it’s Shakespeare, and I think I ought
to have one Shakespeare anyway.”

“That’s a good choice,” Mrs. Lane said. “Now I think you’d better pick
out one that’s more dramatic and another that’s something of a comedy or
a character part, don’t you?”

“Exactly what I had in mind,” Peggy answered. “It shouldn’t be too hard
to select, now that I know what I’m looking for.”

But it wasn’t easy, either. Peggy spent the whole morning carefully
looking over her collection of play scripts. Every time she thought she
had the right role, she found there was no single scene that seemed to
be right for a short reading. There was no trouble over Viola, because
Shakespeare always wrote good scenes and speeches, and because there was
no need to sketch in what had led up to the scene in the play, since
everyone was sure to be perfectly familiar with it. But everything else
seemed to be a problem. It was not until her parents were all packed and
there was only half an hour before leaving, that she finally made up her
mind.

For the comedy reading, she determined to do Sabina in the first scene
of _Skin of our Teeth_, which had much more to it than simple comedy.
The business of Sabina’s stepping out of character to talk directly to
the audience as a disgusted actress criticizing the play and its author
gave added dimension to the reading. For her dramatic role, Peggy chose
the part of Miriamne in the last scene of _Winterset_, a hauntingly
beautiful tragedy. She selected this, she explained to her parents as
they drove to the airport, because it was one of the few dramatic,
poetic parts written for a girl of her own age, and she felt that she
could identify with the character. Then, book in hand, she started to
study.

[Illustration: _They waited for the passenger call_]

Peggy continued to read all through the arrival at the airport, the
business of checking in and loading baggage. They waited for the
passenger call, then walked up the steps into the plane. When she was
settled in her seat by the window, she lowered her book and turned,
wide-eyed, to her mother.

“Do you know,” she said in slow, awed tones, “that this is my first time
on an airplane, and I’m just sitting here reading?” She closed the book
on her lap. “That’s just going to wait for a while, until I see what’s
going on!”

Looking out the oval window, she saw the steep steps being wheeled away
from the plane. A red fuel truck drove under the wing and sped across
the wide concrete runway. Then the plane’s engines whirled, coughed once
and started, and the plane lumbered down the runway slowly. Reaching the
end, it deliberately turned, stopped for a moment, then suddenly
gathered up strength, leaped forward and sped into the wind. Peggy
watched, fascinated, as the ground dropped away and the shadow of wings
below grew smaller and smaller as the plane rose. She watched until the
tiny farms, winding ribbons of highway, and gleaming rivers disappeared
beneath a puffy layer of cloud. Then she looked back to her mother.

“Well,” she said, “it looks as if my new career is off to a flying
start! Now I’d better study these plays, or I’m in for an unhappy
landing.”

Reluctantly tearing her eyes from the fantastic cloud formations that
floated past, Peggy once more opened her book and was soon deep into the
even more fantastic world of Thornton Wilder’s _Skin of Our Teeth_.

The quick flight to Chicago, the change of planes, the landing and
take-off, scarcely attracted her notice, and the three hours flew by at
faster than air speed. Peggy had finished reading and marking Sabina’s
role, and was deep into Miriamne’s when her mother interrupted her.

“They want us to fasten our seat belts again,” she said. “We’re coming
into New York now.”

This time Peggy noticed! Spread below her, stretching out as if it would
never end, was the maze of streets and avenues, rivers and islands,
towers and bridges, that was the city of New York. The late afternoon
sun touched the windows of skyscrapers with fire, gilded the steelwork
of the bridges, cast deep, black shadows into the streets and over the
rooftops of low buildings. Giant liners stood tied at docks; others
steamed sedately up or down the river, pushed or pulled by tiny tugs.
Even from their soaring height above the scene, New York refused to look
small or toylike. It stubbornly looked only like the thing it was—the
busiest, tallest, most exciting city in the world!

Turning in a great, slow arc, the plane descended until it was skimming
only a few feet above the waters of a broad bay. Peggy wondered if they
had flown in on a seaplane, and if they were to land in the water and
have to take a boat to shore, but even as the thought occurred to her,
the rocky shoreline suddenly appeared beneath her, and the plane swiftly
settled down on the long, concrete runway of New York’s LaGuardia
Airport.

It was the rush hour, and parkways and streets were jammed with
homebound cars, but their cab driver knew his way around back streets,
and turned and twisted around one corner after another until Peggy lost
all sense of direction. Her father, though, seemed to know exactly where
they were at all times, and kept pointing out buildings and parks and
bridges to Peggy and her mother, telling the name of each and how it
figured in his memory. People, trucks, cars, buses, cabs, motor scooters
and little foreign autos filled the streets. Mr. Lane called out the
names of famous avenues as they came to and crossed them: Park Avenue
... Madison Avenue ... Fifth Avenue....

The taxi passed by store after store, their windows like so many stage
sets. By the edge of Central Park, they drew up in front of their hotel.
Bewildered, excited, dazzled, delighted, Peggy stepped out of the taxi
and stood for the first time on the sidewalks of New York!


The temptation had been strong to give in to all the glamour of the
city, to go for dinner in one of the famous restaurants, to ride in a
hansom cab through Central Park behind a plodding old horse, to race
through the bright streets and gather in all the excitement of New York
in one whirling evening. The temptation had been strong, but Peggy had
bravely fought it off. She had work to do before her tryout the next day
at the New York Dramatic Academy.

After a fine but hurried dinner in the hotel’s handsome, formal dining
room, Peggy and her parents went upstairs to work on her readings. She
read first the passage she had marked out from _Twelfth Night_, since
Viola was a familiar role for her and she needed only a short time to
work on it. The speech she selected was the best known in the play, and
for that reason it was probably the hardest to do, for everyone who
would hear it would have his own idea of how it should sound. Any actor
knows how hard it is to put new life into old, familiar words, and Peggy
was well aware of this. Still, because this short speech gave her a
chance, in only a dozen lines, to indicate the whole character of Viola,
she thought it was worth the risk.

Viola, pretending to be a boy, tells the Duke Orsino of a sister she
never had, and by so doing, confesses her own love for the Duke. The
first difficulty of the speech lay in making Viola seem both a boy and a
lovesick girl at the same time. The second difficulty was to make the
imaginary sister of the speech seem like a real person.

Mr. Lane began, reading the Duke’s lines, in which he says that no woman
can love as deeply as a man. When the speech was done, Peggy spoke,
sounding at first completely feminine, “Ay, but I know—” She broke off
the phrase in well-acted confusion, as Viola quickly realizes that she
has spoken as a woman, rather than as the boy she is supposed to be.

“What dost thou know?”

“Too well what love women to men may owe,” Peggy answered firmly, saying
the line with boyish confidence. Then she went on, in a confidential,
man-to-man tone: “In faith, they are as true of heart as we./My father
had a daughter loved a man,/As it might be, perhaps were I a woman,/I
should your lordship.”

“And what’s her history?” Mr. Lane said.

Now Peggy subtly shifted the character, and when she replied, after a
short pause, it was not in the manner of either the lovesick girl or the
confident, manly boy. Now she spoke dreamily, a story-teller, a poet, as
Viola fell into her own pretended character, half-believing in the
“sister” she had created.

“A blank, my lord. She never told her love,/But let concealment, like a
worm i’ the bud,/Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,/And
with a green and yellow melancholy/She sat, like Patience on a
monument,/Smiling at grief—”

She was interrupted by a round of applause from both her parents, and
responded with a start, suddenly realizing that she was in a hotel room,
not in the court of the Duke Orsino or even on a stage.

“But there’s more to the speech!” she said. “You shouldn’t have
applauded yet!”

“Couldn’t help it, Peg,” her father said. “Besides, I’m afraid that if
you work on that any more, you might ruin it. As far as I’m concerned,
it’s perfect just the way it is. You can do the whole speech tomorrow.”

“Oh, you’re just being a loving father,” Peggy answered, in pleased
confusion, but she knew that there was more to his comments and
compliments than this. She remembered how, during the weeks when she
first struggled to breathe life into the character of Viola, her father
had read lines with her and criticized sharply every time she did
something not quite true to the role. Remembering this, her pleasure now
was doubled. Even so, Peggy insisted on reading the whole speech, then
doing it several times over, before she would go on to her next marked
reading.

Sabina, in _Skin of Our Teeth_, was a complete change of pace. Peggy
worked on the satirical, comic, sometimes silly-sounding lines for two
hours before she felt she was ready to go on. Then, two more hours went
swiftly by as she developed the poetic, passionate lines of Maxwell
Anderson’s Winterset, working on Miriamne’s death scene.

When at last she was satisfied, it was a little after midnight, and
Peggy felt exhausted, as if she herself had died with Miriamne.

“I should have done Sabina last,” she said. “Maybe I wouldn’t feel so
much as if I had just been murdered after three acts of blank verse!”

“On the other hand,” Mrs. Lane said, “you might not have been so ready
for sleep as you are now, and sleep is what you need most, if you’re
going to do as well in the morning as you did tonight.”

“That’s right,” added Peggy’s father. “We have just time for eight good
hours of rest and a decent breakfast tomorrow before you go to keep your
ten-o’clock date with destiny. Let’s go.”

Peggy didn’t argue. She kissed her parents, went to her own adjoining
bedroom and, in three minutes, was curled up between the crisp, fresh
sheets. Tonight she was too tired to think about the excitement to come.
She had barely settled her head on the pillow before she was deep in a
dreamless sleep.



                                   IV
                            _Two Auditions_


Peggy hadn’t really known what to expect of the New York Dramatic
Academy, but whatever it was, it wasn’t this!

The Academy was housed on two floors of an ancient office building only
a few blocks away from their hotel. On either side of a tall door that
led into a long, dim hallway was an assorted collection of name plates,
telling passers-by what to expect inside. One somewhat blackened brass
plaque, about a foot square, gave the name of the Academy. Other
plaques, some brass, some plastic, some polished and others almost
illegible, announced that the building also provided offices for a
dentist, studios for two ballet schools and a voice teacher, and the
workshop of a noted costume designer. Other trades represented included
theatrical agents, song writers, an export-import company, an
advertising agency, and a custom bootmaker specializing in ballet
footwear.

At the end of the hall, two old elevators wheezed and grunted their way
up and down in grillwork shafts. Over the ornate elevator doors were
indicators telling on what floors the elevators were. Neither of them
worked. But, when one car landed with a sigh of relief and its gates
slid open with a creak, Peggy found that the operator was, surprisingly,
a young man, quite good-looking and smartly uniformed. He greeted her
courteously and took her to the top floor with the air of a man who was
giving her a lift in his own chauffeured limousine.

The minute Peggy looked around her, any misgivings she had about the
building vanished. The atmosphere was ageless, shabby, and completely
theatrical. The elusive smell, both indefinable and familiar, but which
was nothing but the smell of backstage, perfumed the hall. Through a
closed door to her left, Peggy heard a chorus reciting in unison some
lines from a Greek play she could not identify. Directly in front,
through an open door in a wall of doors, Peggy saw a tiny theater of
perhaps one hundred seats. A few people lounged in the front seats while
on the bare stage, under a single floodlight, two young men acted out
what sounded like a violent quarrel. To the right, where the long
hallway was crossed by another hall, a boy appeared, swinging a fencing
foil. He turned the corner out of sight.

“This must be where I go,” Peggy thought, starting for a nearby door
marked OFFICE. She took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked in.

The pretty receptionist, greeting her by name, said that she was
expected and that Mr. Macaulay, the director of the Academy, would see
her right away.

The first thing that Peggy noticed was the office, in the elaborate
clutter of which Mr. Macaulay seemed to have disappeared. It was a
large, square room, its walls paneled from the Oriental rugs to the
high, carved ceiling. Two tall windows draped in red velvet showed
glimpses of rooftops and river through lace curtains. Every available
piece of wall was covered with pictures: photographs of people who were
surely actors and actresses, paintings of people and of places, heavily
framed etchings, newspaper clippings, book jackets, theater programs,
old theater posters, magazine articles and, apparently, everything else
that could possibly fit into a frame. Where there were not pictures,
there were books, except for one narrow wall space between the windows,
where there was a small marble fireplace, over the mantel of which rose
a tall mirror. The mantel itself was a jumble of pipes, tobacco tins,
more pictures in small frames, china figurines, candlesticks and boxes
assembled around a pendulum clock which stood motionless under a
bell-shaped glass cover.

In one corner of the room was a heavily carved black grand piano,
covered with a fringed cloth and stacked high with ragged piles of sheet
music, play scripts, books, more pipes, more pictures.

In the opposite corner stood an immense desk, also heavily carved, and
behind its incredibly cluttered surface rose the tall back of a
thronelike chair. In the chair, almost lost from view, sat Mr. Macaulay.

When Peggy first realized he was there, she almost laughed, thinking of
various animals whose protective coloration lets them melt into their
natural backgrounds, the way the dappled coat of a deer seems merely
more of the forest pattern of light and shade.

Mr. Macaulay was as ornate as his room. He was a small, round man who
concealed a cherubic smile beneath a pair of curly, white handlebar
mustaches. His red cheeks and white hair made the perfect setting for
bright blue eyes that glittered behind an old-fashioned pair of
pince-nez glasses perched precariously on his nose. A black ribbon from
the eyeglasses ended in a gold fitting secured in his lapel. The round
expanse of his shirt front was covered by a brocaded, double-breasted
vest such as Peggy had never seen except in movies set in the Gay
Nineties, and when Mr. Macaulay rose in smiling greeting and came around
the end of the desk, Peggy could not help looking down to see if he wore
gray spats. He did.

“Welcome!” Mr. Macaulay boomed in a surprising bass voice. “Now let’s
sit down and talk this over.” He motioned Peggy to sit on one of a pair
of straight-backed chairs, while he stood by the other with one foot up
on its petit-point seat.

“Now,” he said abruptly, “what makes you think you can act?”

Taken aback, Peggy stammered a little. “Well ... well, I’ve been in a
lot of plays in college and high school and ... and I always got good
reviews ... I mean, everybody always thought that I was....”

“Won’t do.” Mr. Macaulay cut in decisively. “You’re telling me why other
people think you can act. What I want to know is why _you_ think you can
act.”

This time, Peggy answered with more control. “I don’t really think I
can, Mr. Macaulay,” she said calmly and earnestly, “even though I did
get those good notices. But I know that I want to, and I hope that I can
learn here.”

“A good answer!” the little director thundered happily. “Now tell me
_why_ you want to act, and how you _know_ it’s what you really want to
do, and we’ll be well on the way to a lasting friendship.”

Peggy thought for a minute before answering. She sensed that her answer
would be important in deciding whether she would be accepted as a member
of the Academy or not, and she wanted to be sure that the words were a
true reflection of what she wanted to say.

“Mr. Macaulay, I want to act for the same reason that I grew up in
Rockport, Wisconsin. It just happened. I didn’t choose it; it chose me.
And I know it’s what I really want because when I’m acting, I feel about
one hundred per cent more alive than when I’m not—and it’s a wonderful
feeling.”

Mr. Macaulay nodded solemnly, removed his foot from the chair and walked
twice around the room in silence, neatly dodging the chairs and tables
that filled the place. As he seemed to be starting a third circuit of
the room, he stopped, turned and replaced his foot on the chair.

“Young lady,” the little director said softly, “if you’re any more alive
on the stage than you are right here in this room, you’ll light up the
audience like an arc lamp!”

Then he strode rapidly to the door, opened it, and turned to smile
warmly at Peggy. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” he said.

“But, Mr. Macaulay,” Peggy said, “won’t you even give me a chance to
read for you? I’ve got three short selections prepared, and—”

“Not for at least six months,” the director cut in. “I never hear
readings from beginners.”

“Six months? Then I can’t start this term!” Peggy said, almost in tears.

“Of course you’ll start this term,” Mr. Macaulay said. “We begin in two
weeks. Miss Carson will give you all the necessary forms and the
catalogue and anything else you need. Glad to have you with us!”

“But ... but ...” Peggy sputtered. “You mean I’m accepted? Without even
reading for you? Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Mr. Macaulay agreed calmly. “I don’t believe in
readings. What I look for is personality and presence and a feeling for
the stage. The right kind of feeling for the stage,” he added. “As for
the readings, I’ll be glad to hear you after you’ve had about six months
of work with the Academy. I can tell you’ll be one of our good ones.”

With a few words of farewell to the confused Peggy, he led her to Miss
Carson’s desk and quickly retreated to what Peggy already thought of as
his “natural habitat.”


Only after she was through with Miss Carson and her papers and forms and
was on the way down in the ancient elevator did it finally dawn on Peggy
that she had actually gotten what she had wanted for years—she was
accepted in the best dramatic school in New York! The elevator seemed
hardly big enough to hold her; she wanted to run, to jump, to sing! What
she was actually doing seemed the silliest thing imaginable. She was
grinning a wide, foolish grin and at the same time tasting the salty
tears that were probably smearing her mascara.

“Congratulations,” said the elevator operator. “Not everyone makes it.”

“Oh! How did you know?” Peggy gasped, dabbing at her eyes with her
handkerchief.

“Knew you were trying when I saw you come up with the play scripts,” he
answered. “And I knew you made it when I saw your face.” He slid back
the squealing grillwork gate. “So long,” he said. “See you in a couple
of weeks.”

At the end of the long hall, the doorway filled with sunshine seemed to
be paved with gold. Outside, it seemed to Peggy, the whole city was
paved with gold. She impulsively ran to the door, poised in the
sunlight, and blew a theatrical kiss at the sky.

When Peggy, bubbling with her news, returned to the hotel, it was
decided to fill the time before lunch with a necessary shopping tour.
She needed so much, now that she was to live in New York. Mr. Lane
decided to let Peggy and her mother take care of this aspect of the
trip, while he visited some old newspaper friends. He arranged to meet
them for lunch at the hotel in two hours, kissed them fondly, and
boarded a bus downtown.

Rockport was never like this, Peggy thought, as she and her mother
walked along looking in shop windows. They were so excited just deciding
which stores to shop in and what things she needed, that before they had
a chance to actually buy anything, it was time for lunch.

“At least we had a chance to find out where all the nice stores are,”
Mrs. Lane said. “And it doesn’t matter that we didn’t get you your
things. You’ll probably have more fun going shopping by yourself or with
some of your new friends when you come back here to live. Besides, we
won’t have to bring things home and then carry them all the way back to
New York again.”

Peggy agreed that it made sense, and at the thought of her “new friends”
and of buying her own things in New York’s world-famous stores, she got
a little thrill of pleasure and anticipation.

After lunch, made memorable by Mr. Lane’s new collection of newspaper
stories picked up from his old friends, it was time to travel downtown
to meet May Berriman and see where Peggy would be living.

As their taxi took them downtown from the hotel, Peggy noticed how the
city seemed to change character every few blocks. The types of buildings
and the kinds of stores changed; the neighborhood grew progressively
more shabby; there were more trucks in the streets and fewer taxis.
Peggy wondered what sort of neighborhood May Berriman’s place was in.
Mrs. Lane, too, looked a bit concerned and whispered to Mr. Lane, “Are
you sure we’re going the right way?”

He nodded and said, “You don’t know New York. Wait and see.”

In the middle of what appeared to be a district of warehouses and office
buildings, the cab turned a corner, and a swift change again overtook
the city. Suddenly there were well-kept apartment houses and residential
hotels and then, with another turn, it was as if time itself had been
turned back!

The street ended in a beautiful old-fashioned park surrounded by a high
wrought-iron fence in which were set tall gates. The street around the
park was lined with old, mellow brick mansions whose steps led up to
high doors fitted with gleaming brass knobs, knockers, and hinges. Peggy
almost expected to see top-hatted gentlemen emerge from them to descend,
swinging slim canes, to waiting carriages.

“This is Gramercy Park,” her father said. “It’s still one of the most
fashionable and beautiful parts of the city. May’s house is just off the
park, and she tells me she has park rights for herself and the girls who
live with her.”

“Park rights?” Peggy said wonderingly. “Do you mean it’s a private
park?”

“That’s right,” her father answered. “One of the last in New York. Its
use is limited to people who live right around it, all of whom have keys
to the gates. That’s one thing that makes this such a nice place to
live.”

The cab had made almost a complete circle of the park when the driver
turned off into a side street. Two doors down he stopped before a
handsome brownstone house, complete with the steep steps and brass
fittings that were typical of the area. On either side of the steps, at
street level, stood a square stone column, and on each one was a
polished brass plate engraved: Gramercy Arms.

As Peggy started up the steps she caught a glimpse through the windows
in the little areaway below street level. The spacious kitchen she saw
looked far more typical of Rockport than anything she would have
expected to find in New York City, and it made her feel sure that she
would like living in May Berriman’s house.

May Berriman herself proved to be as big and as warm looking and as
countrified as her kitchen. Her erect carriage and bright-red hair
belied her more than sixty years, and her voice was deep and even, with
none of the quaver that Peggy was used to hearing in older people. She
met them at the door with vast and impartial enthusiasm, kissed them all
and ushered them into a tiny sitting room, tastefully furnished with a
mixture of modern and antique pieces. They had scarcely had time to say
hello when tea was served by a bright-eyed, kimonoed Japanese woman who
might have been any age at all. Peggy watched in silent pleasure as May
Berriman poured the tea in the formal English style, using an essence,
fresh boiled water, an alcohol burner to keep the tea hot, and an
assortment of tongs, spoons, and strainers. It was not until each of
them had a fragile cup of hot, fragrant tea and a plate of delicate
little sandwiches that May Berriman sat back, relaxed, for conversation.

“Peggy, your father told me on the phone that you have been accepted in
the Academy. I’m delighted. Now tell me, what do you think of Archer
Macaulay?”

“I hardly know,” Peggy admitted. “I’ve never met anyone like him. Is he
always as abrupt as that?”

“Always!” May Berriman laughed. “Ever since I’ve known Archie—and that
goes back a good many years—he’s tried to act like a bad playwright’s
idea of an Early Victorian theatrical genius. It’s a peculiar sort of
act when you first see it, but after a while you get used to it and
hardly notice at all. Besides, it’s not all sham. He may not be Early
Victorian, but he is a theatrical genius.”

“Was he an actor?” Peggy asked.

“Goodness, no! Only in his personal life! There’s a world of difference
between acting and teaching; you hardly ever find anyone who’s good at
both. Macaulay’s a magnificent teacher, so he had sense enough never
even to try acting.”

“But,” Peggy objected, “how can you teach something you can’t do?”

May Berriman smiled. “Oh, Archie can do, all right. He’s that rarest of
all talents—a talented audience. He knows when something is good and
when it isn’t, and if it’s not good, he knows just what it lacks. He
just keeps asking for what he wants, and when he gets it—if he gets
it—it turns out to be just what everyone else wants, too. That’s why he
has been able to discover and develop more fine talent than any other
man of our time. You’re a lucky girl to be able to work with Archer
Macaulay. Even to be accepted for his school is a great honor.”

Peggy nodded in understanding as May Berriman talked about the talent
for recognizing talent, remembering her last conversation with her
friend Jean Wilson. Maybe some day, Peggy thought, she herself, an old
retired actress, would be serving tea in her own house, and talking in
just such tones of affection and admiration for her friend Jean, who
would then be the famous director of the best dramatic school in....

She was brought out of her daydream by her mother, who touched her arm
gently and said, “Back to earth, dear. Mrs. Berriman wants to show us
the room you’re to have.”

The room was small, but comfortably furnished as a sitting room, with a
large couch that opened to a bed. Two tall windows with window seats set
in their deep frames looked out into the tops of two lacy trees that
rose from a tiny, well-kept garden. An easy chair and a low table stood
in front of a little fireplace that really worked—a rare thing in New
York. An antique desk between the windows and a large bureau opposite
the fireplace completed the furnishings. The couch was covered in a deep
blue that matched the blue carpet, the walls were white, and the windows
were draped in a white fabric with blue cabbage roses. The same fabric
covered the easy chair.

“It’s perfect!” Peggy said, and rushed off to try the big easy chair.
“I’m going to love it here!” she said. “In fact, I hardly want to go
home!”

“I’m afraid, Peg,” Mr. Lane said, looking at his watch, “that that’s
just what we’re going to have to do, and in a very few minutes. If we
want to make our plane, we’d better be getting back to the hotel to
pack.”

The brief good-by, the taxi ride around Gramercy Park and back uptown,
the hurried packing, the trip to the airport and the now-familiar
process of boarding and take-off seemed to Peggy as fast, as jerky and
peculiar as a movie run backward. She wanted to play it back right
again, to put everything in its proper sequence, and live over her
exciting day.

And that’s exactly what she did, in her mind’s eye, all the way back to
Rockport.



                                   V
                         _Starting a New Role_


Rockport had never looked so little as it did from the air. The plane
circled the town at dusk, just as the stewardess finished serving
supper, and as Peggy looked down from the oval window next to her seat,
she saw the street lights suddenly flick on, section by section, all
over the town. The familiar streets glowed under their canopies of
trees, the houses were almost hidden under other trees and, in the
center of the town, a few neon lights added warmth and color.

Peggy hardly knew what she felt for the place where she had been born
and where she had lived her whole life. A wave of tenderness came over
her for Rockport, so small and homelike, surrounded by its farms and
forests and lakes. And at the same time, she compared this view from the
air with the sight of New York, towering and dramatic in the afternoon
sunshine. Who could settle for Rockport, after breathing the excitement
of the giant city? Still ... she wondered if New York could ever be to
her the home that Rockport was.

The somewhat bumpy runway of Armory Field was under their wheels. Peggy
was home again. But in her mind, she was still in the city, starting her
new and wonderful life.

After quickly unpacking and changing to a skirt and blouse more suitable
to Rockport than the smart traveling suit she had worn on the plane,
Peggy came running downstairs. Her father sat in his easy chair reading
the two issues of the _Eagle_ that had come out in his absence. Her
mother sat in the wing chair opposite, working serenely on her needle
point. To look at them, Peggy thought, one would suppose that they had
never left home, that nothing at all had changed from what it had been
two days ago.

“I’m going out for a while,” she announced. “I’ve just got to tell Jean
right away, or I’ll burst for sure!”

“All right, dear,” Mrs. Lane said. “But don’t stay out too late. You’ve
had an exciting day, and you’re going to need some sleep.”

With a wave of her hand, Peggy left and, whistling boyishly, skipped
down the front steps. Once on the street, the last of her grown-up
reserve left her, and she ran all the way to the Wilson house to arrive,
panting and breathlessly bright-eyed, a few moments later.

“Jean’s down at the Sweet Shop,” Mrs. Wilson said, “but I know she’ll
want to see you. I’ll call and tell her not to leave, and you can meet
her there.”

Peggy thanked Mrs. Wilson briefly, and ran back home once more to
collect her bike. As she pedaled down Chestnut Street, she wondered how
many more times she would ride her bike again. It was not the sort of
thing one did in New York, obviously. And besides, the bike was a part
of her childhood and early teens, and now she was coming out of them and
off to the great adventure of becoming a woman! Thinking this, she
slowed down a little, so as to enjoy the ride and the familiar sights
around her. Growing up would happen soon enough, she now knew.
Meanwhile, she wanted to slowly taste and enjoy the pleasures of
small-town girlhood that were not to come again.

Her subdued mood lasted only until she arrived at the Sweet Shop. There
she found Jean, Betty Dugan, Alice Schultz, and Millie Pratt crowded
around a soda-laden table, laughing and talking. They managed to make
room for one more chair and as soon as Peggy was seated, turned silent,
expectant faces to her.

Looking from face to face, Peggy suddenly laughed. “You look like a
nestful of baby birds waiting to be fed!”

Then she told her friends the whole story of her trip, starting, of
course, with the main fact that she had been accepted at Mr. Macaulay’s
famous New York Dramatic Academy. Describing him, she acted him out for
them, and soon had the girls in fits of laughter. Then she went on to
tell about May Berriman, the room she would live in, the quaint
old-fashioned neighborhood around Gramercy Park, the private park and
all the rest. When she had finished, she said to Jean, “Doesn’t it make
you want to change your mind? I do wish you’d come, too. It’s going to
be wonderful, but with you there, it would be absolutely perfect!”

Jean shook her head ruefully. “I must admit it sounds tempting,” she
said, “but I stand on what I told you before about what I want to do. I
don’t think I’m an actress at all, and if I tried to be one, I’d
probably only fail. And that wouldn’t make me happy at all. If I do what
I plan to, though, I’ll probably succeed, and that way I’ll have a happy
life.”

Peggy nodded her agreement. “I guess I was only testing you, in a way,”
she admitted, “just to see if you really meant it. Now that I know you
do, I’m sure that you’re absolutely right.”

Then she told her friend about the discussion she had had with May
Berriman about Mr. Macaulay, and what the older woman had told Peggy
about his great ability as a teacher and his lack of ability as an
actor.

“She said, too, that the ability to recognize talent and to develop it
is a lot rarer than the talent itself. And all the time she was talking,
I was thinking about you and our last talk together.”

“Well, that makes me feel a lot better,” Jean admitted. “It’s good to
know that there are other people—real professionals—who think about
things the same way I do. Thanks for telling me.”

Then the talk turned to other things besides the theater: clothes, boys,
the coming school year at Rockport Community College, for which Peggy
would not be there—all the hundreds of things that girls talk about.
Before Peggy realized it, it was ten-thirty, and she was beginning to
yawn.

“It’s not the company,” she said, “it’s the hour. Not exactly original,
but perfectly true. I’m afraid I’d better be getting home.”

The others agreed that it was their bedtime too, and they trooped out to
the bicycle rack to say their good nights. Peggy and Jean rode side by
side slowly down the leafy street, feeling the first slight chill that
announced the end of summer was at hand.

“When will you be leaving?” Jean asked.

“I guess in about a week,” Peggy said. “The term starts in two weeks,
and I want to get settled in New York before school begins, so that I
can have my mind all clear for work. I think I’ll need a week just to
get really comfortable in my room, do the shopping I’ll have to do, and
find my way around the city. I want to know about buses and subways and
things like that before I get started.”

“That sounds like a good idea to me,” Jean replied. “What I would do if
I were you is to get a street map of the city, and a guidebook, and
spend some time just wandering around so you get the idea of where
things are.”

“That’s just what I plan to do,” Peggy said. “In fact, my father
suggested the same thing. He said that I should go on a few guided
tours, too. They have buses that take tourists all around the city and
show them everything of interest. Dad says that native New Yorkers, and
people who are trying to make other people think that they’re native New
Yorkers, are ashamed to be seen on the sight-seeing buses, which seems
pretty silly to me. The result is that people who come from out of town
often know more about New York than the people who have grown up there!”

Both girls laughed at the idea, then Peggy continued, “I plan to spend
at least a week taking tours, and walking around the streets with a
guidebook, and shopping. I’d better leave next week, I guess.”

“It seems so soon,” Jean said a little sadly. “I’m going to miss you.”

“It is soon,” Peggy admitted, “but I’d rather be rushed than have to
wait for a month and think about nothing but the day I’m going to leave.
Even as it is, there’ll be too much time for good-bys, and I hate saying
good-by. Especially to people I care for.”

The girls rode the rest of the way in silence, each thinking her own
thoughts about their long association which was now to come to an end.
They came to Peggy’s house first and stopped their bikes.

Then Peggy said, “Of course I’ll write,” as if she were answering a
question that Jean had asked.

Jean laughed, “You’re right! That’s just what I was thinking! I wonder
how long it’ll be before either of us finds another person we can do
that with again?”

“I don’t suppose we ever will,” Peggy said. “And it’s probably just as
well. There’s something a little weird about it!”

Then, on common impulse, they recited in chorus the witches’ lines from
_Macbeth_, only changing the “three” to “two.”

“When shall we two meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

And with laughter and witchlike cackles, they said good night.


The next week flew by in a continual round of farewells, packing,
endless talk in the Sweet Shop about acting and the life Peggy would be
leading in New York and, the night before her departure, a big farewell
party at Jean’s house. It was a tired Peggy, glad to be on her way at
last, who found herself once more at the airport with her parents. But
this time, she was to fly alone.

“Are you sure you packed everything?” her mother asked for perhaps the
tenth time.

“Positive,” Peggy assured her.

“And you know how to get from the airport to Gramercy Park?” her father
asked, also for perhaps the tenth time.

“I’ll never forget!” Peggy laughed.

“Well...” Mrs. Lane said.

“Well...” Mr. Lane said.

They stood, all three, looking at one another, not knowing what to say.
Then Peggy’s mother, with more than a faint suspicion of tears in her
eyes, threw her arms about her daughter and kissed her.

“Oh dear!” she said. “You’d better get on that plane right away, or I am
going to be silly and cry!”

Peggy kissed both her parents and started through the gate across the
concrete strip where the big plane waited. As she turned to wave
good-by, her mother called, “Are you sure you have—”

“Yes!” Peggy shouted back. “I’m sure!”

“And don’t forget to phone the minute you get there!” her father called,
his last words drowned out by the sound of a plane that swooped low
overhead.

At the top of the boarding steps, Peggy waved again for the last time,
then went in to her seat to start her first flight alone—a flight that
would bring her to all she had ever hoped for.


It was dark when the plane arrived in New York this time, and if Peggy
had thought the sight breathtaking when she first saw it, she was
absolutely stunned by this!

In every direction, as far as she could see, the streets stretched out
like blazing strings of lights, white, red, blue, green, with sudden
bursts and knots of brighter light where major streets joined. As the
plane banked and turned, she saw a superhighway winding along the edge
of a bay, interrupted by complicated cloverleafs, underpasses and
overpasses. The lights on the highway were diamond-blue, and the road
was dotted with headlights and taillights of thousands of cars like
fireflies in the night.

Then the turning of the plane revealed midtown Manhattan, tall and
sparkling! The Empire State Building towered over all, its four bright
beams sweeping the sky over the city. The UN building stood out like a
solid slab of brilliance against the rest of the skyline. Beyond it,
Times Square blazed like a bonfire.

All around her in the plane, Peggy saw the rest of the passengers,
including obviously experienced travelers, pressed against the windows,
enchanted by the fairy-tale sight below. They were all talking,
pointing, comparing notes on the beauty of this or that.

The plane swept lower now, and the skyline seemed to rise and grow even
more mighty. Over the East River, the bridges were spider-webs and
pearls; small boats like water bugs skimmed under them and out again.
Then, abruptly, a new and closer brilliance of searchlights and whirling
red and green signals—and the plane settled smoothly into the bustle and
roar of LaGuardia Airport.

Peggy was glad that she had been there before with her parents, or she
might never have found her way out. Crowds of people swarmed about the
place, sweeping past in every direction. Piles of luggage and groups of
waiting travelers seemed to block her way no matter where she turned.
Ignoring the crowds as best she could, and following her sense of
direction and her memory of where she had gone the previous week, Peggy
worked her way to the front of the terminal where the taxi stand was. A
bank of phone booths reminded her to call home before going on. Then she
hailed a cab and gave the driver the address of the Gramercy Arms.

She had planned to take the airport bus to the terminal in Manhattan and
a cab from there, but she had changed her mind. This one extravagance,
Peggy felt, would be worth the price. Settling back in comfort, she
opened the window to a cool rush of air and became absorbed in the
passing sights of parkways, streets, bridges and, finally, the entrance
over the giant Triborough Bridge into the enchanted isle of Manhattan.

“Your first trip to New York?” the taxi driver asked, noticing her
fascination with the sights.

“No,” Peggy answered, feeling herself quite the experienced traveler. “I
was here last week. But that was the first time,” she confessed.

“Staying long?”

“Forever, I hope!” Peggy replied. “I’m going to live here.”

The East River Drive went into a sort of tunnel, supported on one side
by pillars, through which Peggy could see a string of barges slowly
forging upstream.

“You know what’s above us?” the driver asked. “No? It’s a park! That’s
right. This road is built under a park!”

Farther on, after they had come out of the tunnel, they plunged into
another one. “Another park?” Peggy asked.

“Nope. This time it’s an apartment house!”

The third time the road went underground, it was the UN building that
was above them. What a fantastic city! Peggy thought. Everything seemed
topsy-turvy. The idea of driving under parks, apartment houses and giant
office buildings was so queer! She said as much to the driver, who only
laughed. “Miss, you’ll get used to all sorts of queer things if you live
here! I’ve been driving a cab in this town for twenty-four years now,
and I haven’t seen the end of odd things. As fast as you can see one,
they build two more!”

When they arrived at the Gramercy Arms, the driver leaped out and helped
her with her bags up the steep front steps. She didn’t know then how
unusual it was for a cab driver to help with luggage. He was being
really gallant.

“Good luck,” he said, on leaving. “You’ll need it. It’s not an easy town
to get started in, but young girls like you come here every day to try,
and most of them make it somehow. Just don’t let it scare you. It’s big,
but it’s not unfriendly. And there’s no place else in this world that
I’d rather live!” With a wave of farewell, he climbed into his cab and
rode off around the corner.

Peggy took a deep breath, patted her hair, and rang the bell of her new
home.



                                   VI
                          _Cast of Characters_


The door was opened, not by Mrs. Berriman, but by a small, dark-haired
girl with huge, black eyes and a gamin grin, who greeted her with a
decided French accent.

“Allo, allo!” she said brightly. “Come een! Are you Amee or Peggee?”

“I—I’m Peggy,” Peggy said, somewhat taken aback.

“Good!” the French girl cried. “You don’t look like an Amee! I’m Gaby,
wheech ees short for Gabrielle. I leeve ’ere. Maman Berriman she ees out
shopping, mais les autres girls sont ici. Pardon. I meex too much French
een with my talk. Parlez-vous Français?”

“Un peu,” Peggy said. “A very little peu, I’m afraid. But I understood
you. You said the other girls are here, right?”

“Parfait!” Gaby grinned. “Maybee I can teach you how to speak, if you
would like that?”

“I would,” Peggy agreed enthusiastically, but added quickly, “not
starting right now, though!”

“Okay,” Gaby shrugged. “Come on! I first introduce you.”

Four girls waited in the large, comfortable living room, all looking
expectantly at the door. As Peggy entered, a pert-faced redhead bounced
out of her chair to say hello.

“I’m Dot,” she announced. “Are you Peggy or Amy?”

“Peggee, of course!” Gaby cut in, before Peggy could answer. “Does she
look like an Amee to you?”

“No, I guess she doesn’t,” Dot said reflectively. “Well, welcome!”

“Thank you,” Peggy said. “Now will somebody tell me who Amy is?”

“Let me introduce you first,” Dot answered, taking Peggy by the arm.
“This is Irene, our household beauty queen,” she said. Irene, a tall,
startlingly beautiful brunette, languidly waved a gesture of welcome
with long, perfectly manicured fingers. Smiling, she said, “Don’t mind
her jealous tones, Peggy. They say that beauty is in the eye of the
beholder, and that means that she must love me, or she’d think I was
ugly.”

A pretty, round-faced girl with almost white blond hair done in a long
single braid came over to Peggy.

“They sound very catty,” she said with a gentle smile, “but we think
they wouldn’t know what to do without each other. Now, no fighting
tonight,” she said to Dot and Irene. “We want to give Peggy a chance to
get used to us first.” Then, turning back to Peggy, she said, “My name
is Greta. Your room is right next door to mine. And this is Maggie.”

Maggie, all freckles, brown bangs, and bright China-blue eyes, was
sitting cross-legged on the floor. Without uncrossing her legs, she rose
effortlessly, offered a wiry handshake and a warm grin, and sank back to
her former position in one fluid movement.

“She’s not showing off,” Dot said, noticing Peggy’s startled look. “She
does that sort of thing all the time without even thinking about it.
She’s a dancer, and she makes the rest of us seem like a herd of
elephants by comparison.”

“Not elephants,” Maggie said. “Not since I’ve been teaching you all how
to move and walk. Maybe buffalo, but not elephants!”

“Do you know ’ow to move and walk?” Gaby asked.

“I always thought so, but now I’m beginning to have my doubts,” Peggy
replied.

“Walk to the door and then back,” Maggie said.

Peggy did so, trying to be as graceful as she could, without seeming in
any way affected. She had never really considered her walking ability
before, and now that she was doing so, under the close scrutiny of the
five girls, she suddenly felt that she had never walked before. Coming
back to Maggie, she waited hopefully for her judgment. “Elephant?” she
asked.

“Nope,” Maggie said, as if trying to find just the right kind of beast.

“Buffalo?”

“A little better than buffalo, I think. Maybe a well-bred cart horse.
But don’t feel bad about it. You haven’t had lessons yet. Now, we can
start by—”

“We can start by sitting down and getting to know each other first,”
Greta interrupted. “Come on, Peggy. You must be really confused by all
this.”

“A little,” Peggy admitted. “It seems that everyone wants to teach me
something. I was hardly in the house when Gaby was offering French
lessons! What do you teach?”

“I try to teach good manners to my crazy friends here,” Greta said with
a laugh, “but I don’t seem to be very good at it!”

When Peggy was established in a comfortable chair, with the other girls
around her, the first thing she asked was, “Now, who is Amy?”

“Amy Shelby Preston is all we know about her,” Dot said, “just as Peggy
Lane is all we know about you. That, and the fact that you were both due
to get here tonight.”

“Good!” Peggy said. “Then I won’t be the only new girl in the place!
That ought to make it a little easier on me, and on all of you.”

“Oh, you’re not a new girl any more!” Irene laughed. “You’re only new
around here for the first five minutes, and you’ve been here nearly ten
by now! If Amy Shelby Preston takes another half hour to get here,
you’ll be an old-timer by then!”

“Oui, that ees so!” Gaby put in. “Everybodee here ees so open—they tell
you everytheeng about themselves so très vite—that means veree fast—that
you know them so like old friends in no time, yes?”

Peggy thought that this was a fine idea, and she said so. Then, in
accordance with what she now knew to be the household custom, she told
the five girls as much about herself as she felt would be interesting to
them: where she was from, why she was in New York—a five-minute
autobiography.

“... so, you see,” she finished, “I wanted to study acting and I felt
that this was the only place to go, so here I am.”

“It’s pretty much the same with us,” Dot said. “None of us is from New
York either, and we all came to be in the theater or some part of it.
I’m a comedienne and eccentric dancer, and I sing a little, too. I’m not
going to any school but I still work with a voice coach and a drama
coaching group. I’m from California originally. I was in a few movies,
but not in any good roles. I’m not a movie type. I came here when I got
a chance to do a television series that originated live from New York,
and when the series ended, I stuck around. I’m in a Broadway musical
now, lost in the chorus. It’s not much, but it pays the rent.”

“She’s too modest,” Greta said. “She’s not just in the chorus. She has a
dance specialty and a few lines, and she’s understudying the lead
comedienne. And she’s good at it, too.”

Dot blushed and said roughly, “For goodness’ sake, don’t be nice to me!
It makes me feel I have to be nice to you, and that’s not my character!”

Greta answered promptly, “All right, then, let’s talk about me! Anyone
who doesn’t want stage center isn’t going to get it!” She stood up,
walked to the center of the room and made a small pirouette, her thick
braid whirling around her. “I am Greta Larsen and I come from Boston,”
she recited in a little-girl voice. “I know I have a face like a Swedish
dumpling, and everybody thinks I should have come from there or at least
from Wisconsin like you. If you come from Boston, you’re supposed to be
Irish. I’m an ingénue and I’ve been in four off-Broadway plays and one
Broadway play, and all of them were flops. Right now I’m working as a
script editor for a TV producer, and trying to make him realize that I’m
an actress. So far he hardly realizes I’m a script editor. He thinks I’m
a hey-you.” With a comic bow like a mechanical doll, she sat down to a
round of laughter and applause.

“Who’s next?” Peggy said, still laughing. “I haven’t had such fun in
ages!”

Gaby, who stood up next, threw the girls into gales of laughter by
announcing first that she was French. Then she went on to tell Peggy
that her full name was Gabrielle Odette Francine DuChamps Goulet, but
that she only used the name Gaby Odette. Her mother was dead and her
father worked for the UN in New York, but spent most of his time
traveling about the world, only returning for a few weeks at a time.
Gaby had studied acting in France, and had even attracted some critical
attention and good personal reviews in her one acting part in Paris, but
when her father came to America, she decided to come with him and make a
new start here. Since her arrival about a year ago, she had been
devoting all of her energy to studying English, and hoped that in
another six months or so she would be good enough to start looking for
parts.

“I guess I’m next,” Irene said, stretching her long, well-shaped legs
and leaning back in her chair. “I’m Irene Marshall, and I’m—” But just
then the doorbell rang, interrupting her.

“That must be Amy,” she said. “Now I don’t have to tell my history
twice.”

She strode to the door to let the new arrival in, and in a few seconds
ushered her into the living room.

“This is Amy Preston,” she announced, “and this,” she continued, waving
a hand at the five girls in the living room, “is a room full of girls.
Come on in and meet them.”

Peggy thought that Amy Preston was just about the prettiest girl she had
ever seen, and as she watched her gracefully shaking hands and saying
hello, she felt sure that they would be friends. Amy’s honey-blond hair
framed a small oval face, large brown eyes and a smiling, self-possessed
expression. When she spoke, it was with a soft, pleasant Southern accent
and a low voice. Irene introduced Amy to Peggy last of all, and Peggy
said, “I’m really glad to have you here. I’m new too. I just came in
about a half hour ago, and I was so relieved to know that I wasn’t going
to be the only new girl.”

“It makes me feel heaps better too,” Amy said. “In fact, as much as I’ve
been looking forward to New York, I’ve been half dreading this first
meeting. I may not look it, but I’m really quite shy.”

“And I was just thinking how well you handled yourself during all these
introductions!” Peggy said.

“Oh, you have to do that if you’re shy,” Amy said. “That way, people
never know about it. It’s the same thing as going on the stage, I guess.
They say that the best actresses and actors are always just nearly
paralyzed with stage fright. In fact, I think that’s what adds the extra
excitement to their presence. At least I hope so!”

“Did you come to New York to act, too?” Peggy asked.

“I hope to, if I’m lucky,” Amy replied. “But first off, I came to
study.”

“So did I,” Peggy said. “Where are you studying?”

“The New York Academy,” Amy answered, with a faintly perceptible touch
of pride.

“Why, so am I!” Peggy cried with delight.

The two of them quickly fell into an animated discussion of the Academy
and of Mr. Macaulay. They were just comparing notes on their interviews
with him when Dot gently but firmly interrupted.

“You girls will have a lot of time for all that, but now it’s time to do
all the introductions. Amy, you tell us about you, and then we’ll go on
about us. Gaby and Greta and Peggy and I have told about us already, so
we won’t repeat it now. We’ll catch you tomorrow. So there’s only you
and Irene and Maggie to go.”

Then she explained about the household method of introduction, which Amy
agreed was a fine idea.

Amy’s speech was short and direct. “I’m Amy Preston, and I come from
Pine Hollow, North Carolina, which nobody ever heard of except the
people who live there. I went to college for a year and acted in four
plays, and then I persuaded my parents to let me come to New York to
act. There’s nothing else to tell about me, except that I think I’m the
luckiest girl I ever knew to find a place like this to live in and a
place like the Academy to study at. I know I’m going to like you all,
and I hope you’re going to like me, too.” Blushing slightly, she sat
down, and Peggy noticed that her hands were trembling a little. She
hadn’t been fooling about the shyness and stage fright then, Peggy
thought, but she was certainly able to keep it from showing, unless you
looked very closely. Peggy was sure that Amy would prove to be a good
actress.

The rest of the introductory speeches went swiftly. Irene, it turned
out, was from Cleveland. Her real name was Irma Matysko, but she
thought, and everybody agreed, that Irene Marshall sounded a lot better
for a would-be actress. She had acted in several television dramas in
minor parts, and was supporting herself mostly as a fashion model.

Maggie, the dancer, spoke next. “I’m Maggie Delahanty,” she began, “and
I was actually born in Ireland, only my parents brought me here when I
was two, so I don’t remember anything about it. I was raised in
Philadelphia, where my father is a bus driver, and I’ve been dancing
since I was three. I’ve worked in musicals on Broadway and on the road,
and I’ve worked in night clubs, which I hate. Right now I’m studying
singing with a fine coach, so that I can get some good work, because
there’s nothing much for a dancer who can’t sing. I just got back last
week from a summer tour with a music circus, in which I danced my way
through ten states in as many weeks. Right now, I don’t know what I’m
going to do, except sit down as much as I can.”

With another one of her uncanny, fluid movements, she sat down.

The general introductions done, Peggy and Amy went back to their
conversation about Mr. Macaulay and the Academy. Amy’s experience in her
interview had been much the same as Peggy’s. She too had prepared
material to read and, like Peggy, had thought at first that she was
rejected when Mr. Macaulay wouldn’t let her read it. Now she could
hardly wait to get started.

Irene, who had heard all about Mr. Macaulay and his brusque approach
before she had tried to get into the Academy a year ago, said that she
knew she hadn’t made the grade the minute he had started being kind to
her.

“Why did he reject you?” Peggy asked.

“He said that a girl as pretty as me didn’t need acting lessons,” Irene
said with a laugh. “He said that even if I learned to be a good actress,
I would never have a chance to prove it, because I would be given the
kind of parts that just need looks. I told him that I wanted to be a
good actress as well as a pretty one and he told me that it would be a
tragic mistake, because there aren’t any parts written for people like
that!” She laughed again, then in a more sober tone, added, “I think he
was just being kind to me and trying to make me feel good. And you know
what? He succeeded!”

As the conversation turned to plays and roles and types of actresses,
the other girls joined in. They had just gotten to a spirited and
somewhat noisy discussion of the ability of a well-known actress, when
May Berriman came in.

“Well, Amy and Peggy!” she said. “I see you’ve met everybody and you’re
right at home! Good! Now let me make you feel even more at home by
acting like a mother. Do you girls know that it’s very late? And do you
know that I’ve been busy making hot chocolate for you? And that it’s
waiting in the kitchen right now, getting cool? Well, now you know, so
get moving!”

The seven girls and May Berriman trooped downstairs to the big, homey
kitchen that Peggy had noticed on her first visit. Full of friendly
people and the smell of hot chocolate and homemade cookies, the kitchen
seemed to Peggy the nicest place she had ever been. Seated in antique
painted chairs around the long sawbuck table with May Berriman at its
head, they passed around cookies and chocolate and continued the
discussion of the prominent actress, carefully taking her apart, gesture
by gesture, until it seemed a wonder that she had ever gotten so much as
a walk-on role.

“It’s all very easy to criticize your elders and betters,” May Berriman
finally said, “but it’s quite another thing to stand up on the stage
with them and act on their level! That’s not to say that I disapprove of
discussions like this. I think they’re good, because they do develop
your critical abilities, but I think they can be carried too far.” With
a glance at the clock, she added, “And I think this one has gone far
enough into the night. Now all of you, get up to bed. Peggy and Amy
haven’t even unpacked yet!”



                                  VII
                          _The Biggest Stage_


There were no meals served at May Berriman’s Gramercy Arms, but the big
kitchen was considered common property, and anyone who wanted to was
allowed to prepare breakfast and dinner there. Lunches were eaten at
restaurants and counters.

Each of the girls had a wire basket labeled and filled with her own food
in the giant hotel-size refrigerator, and each was given shelf space for
other things. Since Peggy and Amy had not stocked up the night before,
the other girls invited them to share breakfast with them.

“We have a system,” Dot said. “Each of us cooks for all the others in
turn, but that’s only for breakfast. At dinnertime, you shift for
yourself. The dishes are done for us, thank Heaven, by Aniko, the
housemaid. We each contribute to a dishwashing fund every week to keep
Aniko happy. Since you’re both new, we’ll put you at the end of the
list, which gives you about a week to get used to us in the morning,
before having to cook for us.”

“She’s being optimistic,” Maggie called over her shoulder from her
position at the range. “It’s impossible to get used to us in the
morning. How do you like your eggs?”

They settled on scrambled, which was diplomatic, since they noticed that
Maggie was whipping up a bowl of them for the others. In short order,
they were seated around the long table, eagerly eating the eggs, bacon,
toast and fresh sliced tomatoes, and washing it down with good, hot
coffee.

Irene and Greta huddled together, looking over a copy of _Variety_ and
writing in small notebooks. Catching Peggy’s inquiring glance, Irene
explained, “It’s _Variety_, the bible of show business. We’re looking at
the casting notes. Every time a producer has a play and wants to see new
actors, he puts a notice in the casting call page. The notices tell you
what kind of people he’s looking for and when he’ll see them. We’re
looking—along with a thousand other actors—to see if there’s something
for us. I’ve got two that sound interesting, and Greta’s got one.”

“And do you just go up and say, ‘Here I am’?” Amy asked.

“That’s about all I do,” Irene admitted with a laugh, “because I just
answer the ads for Showgirl types and beautiful ingénue roles. I just
stand there and hope they like my face and figure.”

“I don’t see how they couldn’t,” Peggy said.

“Oh, it’s easy! I’m too tall for some, and too fashionable-looking for
others, or I should be blond, or they wanted an outdoor type, or I’m
just what they’re looking for, but so are twelve other girls who all
have more acting credits. It’s not easy.”

“It’s no easier for me,” Greta put in mournfully. “I’m an even more
definite physical type than Irene is, and to make matters worse, I have
to act for them. Most of the time, my round, red face and my blond
braids eliminate me at the start. If they don’t, I then have to go
through an audition reading. I’m just waiting for a casting notice that
asks for a new actress with a face like a Campbell’s Soup kid, and I’ll
rush right up and get the part!”

“If I ever meet any playwrights, I’ll put in a word for a part like
that,” Peggy said. “But by then, you’ll be famous, and the ‘new actress’
part would disqualify you.”

When breakfast was over, the girls scraped the dishes, put them in the
sink for Aniko, and went their separate ways.

Gaby was off first, for an early English class at a language school,
which would be followed by a full day at Columbia University studying
English literature, American history, economics, and a special course
called Literature of the Theater. With a small “_au revoir_,” which was
all she had said since her first quiet “_bon jour_,” she slipped out.

“Gaby’s a night person,” Dot explained. “You can hardly get a word out
of her until sunset. Then you’re lucky if you can keep her quiet for
five minutes!”

“How about you?” Peggy asked. “Are you a night person, or a morning
person?”

“I think I must be a twenty-four-hour person.” Dot laughed. “I work on
stage until eleven-fifteen, but it doesn’t keep me from getting up as if
I were on a farm. I have to, though. I have a busy day. We rehearse
three days a week, just to keep the chorus work tight, and I have
special rehearsals for my understudy part. It keeps me going nearly
every day from nine in the morning until after midnight, but I seem to
thrive on it.”

Greta left for her office, to put in a day of script editing (whatever
that is, Peggy thought), Irene went upstairs to “put herself together”
for a photo shooting to take place later in the morning, and Maggie went
off to a rehearsal studio to practice her stretches and scales. Amy and
Peggy sat alone in the kitchen.

“What shall we do?” Peggy asked. “I feel so useless having no program,
and we sure can’t spend the day sitting here in the kitchen.”

“Why don’t we go out for a walk, and learn something about the
neighborhood?” Amy suggested.

“Good! In fact, why don’t we find a sight-seeing bus and take a ride
around the city? My father said—”

“So did mine!” Amy interrupted.

“We get more alike every minute!” Peggy said, grinning. “Let’s go up,
put our things away, and go out to learn all about New York.”


Later that afternoon, sipping her first cup of Automat coffee, Peggy
slipped her shoes off under the table and sighed, “I certainly had a lot
to learn when I said we’d go out and learn all about New York! My feet
are killing me, and we haven’t even begun to see the city!”

“We saw a lot, though,” Amy replied thoughtfully. “We saw Chinatown and
Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side and Riverside Drive and Park
Avenue and Central Park and Sutton Place and....”

“And neither of us could find our way back to any one of them unless we
took a sight-seeing bus again!” Peggy said. “Why, we’ve hardly begun!
I’ve been checking off where we’ve been on my city map and guidebook,
and we haven’t seen anything but the sights the guides think are
picturesque! I saw loads of places that we just shot by that I’d love to
go back and explore when we have time; and the guidebook lists hundreds
of things that we didn’t even come near! Did you know that there are
Italian street festivals, and an Indian mosque, and a Spanish museum,
and shops that sell nothing but cheeses from every country in the world,
and an Armenian district, and a Greek one, and Russian restaurants, and
Japanese, and French and German and Turkish and Mexican and....” She ran
out of breath and stopped, eyes shining with excitement.

“My goodness!” Amy said. “You make it sound like a World’s Fair!”

“It is. It’s the biggest permanent World’s Fair anywhere, and we have a
chance to see it without anything to take our minds off it from now
until school starts!”

“Your energy just scares me,” Amy said in a make-believe little-girl
voice, accentuating her Southern drawl. “Ah’m afraid you’ll just have to
carry li’l ol’ me.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to do the carrying,” Peggy retorted, “unless I
can get these shoes back on! I think all the walking we’ve done has made
my feet three sizes larger!”

Sensibly, they finished the day’s excursion with a Fifth Avenue bus ride
downtown.


The next few days until the Academy opened were a round of sight-seeing,
eating exotic foods in the restaurants of many lands that Peggy had only
started to enumerate, and shopping in the famous stores.

The shopping expeditions were among the most exciting things that Peggy
and Amy did. The huge stores, crammed with merchandise from all over the
world, were like nothing that they had ever seen before. Even the
afternoon that Peggy had spent window-shopping with her mother had
failed to prepare her for the size and complexity of these shops.
Everywhere were rows on rows of dresses, coats, skirts, blouses, robes,
and gowns. Counters and showcases displayed incredible arrays of
lingerie, purses, shoes, gloves, scarves, and other accessories. And
everywhere, at every time of day, the crowds of shoppers clustered as
thick as bees around a hive.

Beautifully dressed women in furs walked side by side with trim young
secretaries and vied with them for bargains at sales counters.
Embarrassed men sidled past lingerie departments in search of gifts for
their wives and sweethearts; short, stout women admired dresses designed
for tall, slim models; elderly ladies tried on hat after hat, each one
looking less suitable than the last; girls sprayed themselves with
perfume at the cosmetic counters, or stood and watched demonstrators at
work. One demonstrator who especially fascinated Peggy was a beautiful
girl with long blond hair, who was showing a new hairstyling spray. She
would spray it on, and with a few expert flips of a comb, create a
hairdo; then, combing it out again, she would quickly arrange it in a
different style. Each one took her only a minute or so to make perfect,
then, out it would come, more spray would be applied, and another
coiffure would be combed in. Peggy wondered how she wore it when it was
time to go home at night. Probably pulled back in a bun, she thought.

These shopping tours represented diversion as much as necessity, though
in the course of visiting all the stores, the girls did buy what they
needed. Peggy got several dresses, some skirts and sweaters, a new coat,
shoes, bag, and a hat. Also, on Amy’s advice, she bought some school
things that would be suitable for stage work, plus a leotard, tights and
ballet shoes that Mr. Macaulay’s secretary had told her she would need.

When neither girl could think of anything else that she needed to buy,
the temptation to revisit the stores just to see things was still great.

“We’d better not, though,” Peggy said sensibly. “I don’t think I’m
strong enough to resist temptation, and I’ve just about used up all my
clothing allowance. Let’s visit some museums next.”

“Oh dear,” Amy sighed. “I suppose it’s a good idea, all right, but I
just wish school would hurry up and start. I’m afraid I’m going to get
indigestion from swallowing all of New York in one big gulp!”

So did Peggy, but museums were on her “little list,” and museums it
would be. Besides, she knew that once school began, she would have
little time for anything else.

So the guidebook came out once more, together with the flat walking
shoes. But, though their time was spent in museums, their minds were in
the future, and their talk was of nothing but the Academy, which was due
to open in a few short days.



                                  VIII
                              _First Act_


Peggy and Amy thought they had arrived early for opening day at the New
York Dramatic Academy, but when they entered the old building, they
found the long hallway filled to capacity with students waiting their
turn on the ancient elevators.

Some obviously new students milled around aimlessly, looking somewhat
lost and more than a little frightened. Peggy wondered if she and Amy
looked the same, and made a determined effort to appear at ease and
knowing. But her pose couldn’t have been very convincing, for a small,
thin boy with huge glasses and a shock of black hair came over to them
with a grin and said, “You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Why, yes,” Peggy answered. “Do we show it?”

“Oh, no, not at all,” he assured them earnestly. “You look just fine.
It’s just that I’ve been here two years, and I know everyone. I’m Pete
Piper, but everyone calls me Pip. I just thought I’d help lead you
through the maze, if you’d like.”

Peggy and Amy introduced themselves, and thanked Pip for his help.

“Oh, don’t thank me,” he said. “Everybody does it. Whenever we see new
students on the first day, the old-timers introduce themselves and offer
to help. It’s kind of a custom.”

Looking around, Peggy noticed that the “lost lambs” she had first seen
were by now in conversation with other, older students, and all of them
looked a good deal more relaxed.

“I think it’s a lovely custom,” Amy said. “It makes our Southern
Hospitality look right cold by comparison!”

By this time, it was their turn at the elevator doors, which suddenly
flew open with their usual wail of protest. Peggy, Amy, and Pip were
almost carried in, with no need to walk at all, by the mass of students
around them, and soon were packed as tight as berries in a basket.
Protesting loudly, the elevator slowly ascended.

Upstairs, the halls which had been nearly empty when Peggy had last seen
them were now swarming with students. The ones who seemed to know where
they were going swirled and eddied around others who looked around
doubtfully and hesitated to go anywhere.

Pip shook his head and said, “More waifs and strays up here, I see. I’ll
set you on your way, and then gather up a new crop. You just go right
into the little theater—ahead of you, through those doors—and take
seats. From there on, you’ll be told what to do and where to go. I’ll
see you around.”

He started off to gather a new group of first-term students, but before
he had taken more than three steps, he was back again. “Let’s have lunch
together with some of the others,” he said. “That okay with you?”

“We’d love to,” the girls chorused.

“Good. Meet you downstairs in front of the building at twelve. S’long!”

Feeling no longer lost, but already a part of their new school
community, Peggy and Amy proceeded into the little theater, found seats
near the front, and started to introduce themselves to the other new
students nearest them. The exchange of names, home towns, impressions,
and ambitions occupied the next fifteen minutes or more until the
dimming of the house lights and the illumination of the stage brought a
hush to the small auditorium.

The last few whispers died when Mr. Macaulay walked to stage center,
bowed formally to the right, the left and the center, and then
unexpectedly sat down on the apron of the stage with his legs dangling.

“The bows were your formal welcome to the Academy, and I hope they take
the place of a speech,” Mr. Macaulay began. “I hate speeches. From now
on, we’re going to be informal and friendly, because that’s the only
atmosphere in which people can get any work done. And you have a lot of
work to do. You will have physical work in which you will learn to walk,
to move, to dance a little, to stand up and to sit down. You may think
you already know how to do these things, but you probably don’t.

“You will have mental work,” he went on, “in which you will learn how to
read a play, how to understand the motivation of a character and his
relationship to the other characters. You will learn elocution, voice
projection, and a dozen other things that have to do with speaking
lines. You will learn the history of the theater, become familiar with
the classic plays, and learn something about stage design and
construction. In this last area, you will pick up the practical craft of
making flats, painting scenery, and wiring lighting—a type of pedestrian
work that has occupied the time of nearly every actor before he was
allowed to appear even in a walk-on role.

“And last, and perhaps most important,” Mr. Macaulay concluded, “you
will learn that the informality and friendliness of the theater must not
be mistaken for lack of discipline; in short, you will learn how to take
direction!”

Still seated on the edge of the stage, Mr. Macaulay called out his staff
of instructors one by one, introduced each to the students, and gave a
short history of each one’s background and qualifications for his or her
work. All were seasoned professionals, and were very impressive to the
students.

Mr. Macaulay also explained that leading performers from the Broadway
stage, movies, and television would make regular guest appearances at
the Academy, as would outstanding directors, choreographers, designers,
and playwrights. The size of the staff, in effect, was unlimited.

After this, the individual instructors spoke, each saying a few words
about his specialty and what he hoped to achieve in his course. Each
one, it seemed to Peggy, opened up whole new areas of knowledge for her,
until at the end she felt that she knew absolutely nothing at all, and
wondered how she could ever have thought of herself as an actress. This
was going to take a lot of work!

After the meeting, the rest of the morning was spent in the routine of
registration, getting class cards, finding out where the rooms were,
getting locker assignments and book lists and, bit by bit, eliminating
the first sense of confusion.

Peggy and Amy, happily, were registered in the same class, and went
together through the busy morning. Before they knew it, it was time for
lunch with Pip Piper and “some of the others.”

The others proved to be Connie Barnes, a cheerful comedienne who managed
to be wonderfully attractive without being in the least pretty, and a
dark, muscular, tough-looking young man with a face like either a
private detective or a gangster in a grade-B movie, who was introduced
by Pip as Mallory Seton.

Much to Peggy’s surprise, when he spoke it was not at all the tough, New
York sound she had expected, but a quiet, cultured English accent. “Call
me Mal,” he said. “Mallory’s rather a mouthful, isn’t it? At least, it
seems so here. At home, they used to call me ‘Mallory John’ all the
time, so as not to confuse me with my father, who is named ‘Mallory
Peter,’ but I can’t imagine anyone in America doing that. If I’d been
brought up here, I’d probably have been called ‘Bud.’”

Following Pip, the students walked around the corner to stop in front of
a narrow delicatessen store. The sign on the window said, “Tables in the
rear,” but Peggy could see from the crowd that clustered at the counter
that there would be no chance of getting one. And besides, the place
didn’t look wide enough to hold a table that would seat the five of
them.

“Oh dear,” she said, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eat here,
there are so many of us. Perhaps if Amy and I went somewhere else, you
three would have a chance? We don’t want to make it difficult for you—”

“Don’t be silly,” Pip cut in. “We didn’t expect to get a table here.
You’re lucky if you can get a seat at the counter for one, much less a
table for more than one. We’re going to buy sandwiches here and take
them to the park.”

Whipping out a notebook, Pip started to take orders and money, with
frequent reference to the menu pasted to the delicatessen window. Then
he plunged into the place and, in less time than Peggy thought possible,
was back with a giant bag full of sandwiches and cold, bottled drinks.

It was only two blocks to the southern boundary of Central Park, and
once they had crossed Fifty-ninth Street and stepped into the
tree-shaded, winding footpath, the city seemed to disappear behind them
as if it had never been. At the foot of the first gentle hill, there was
a small lake bordered by a bench-lined path. There were some empty
benches, but Pip ignored them.

“If you don’t mind walking a little farther,” he said, “we have a
favorite spot on the opposite shore, where hardly anyone ever comes.”

The path brought them across a small arched footbridge, through a thick
copse, and out alongside a broad lawn which ran down to the lake’s
shore. It was here that they chose to eat, sitting on the grass.

“Now that we’re comfortably settled,” Mal said, “I have some great news
for you, but first I think we ought to tell Peggy and Amy what we’re
talking about, so they won’t feel left out of the conversation. Connie,
you tell them about the play.”

“Just a minute, Connie,” Pip interrupted. Then he turned to the
newcomers. “Do you know what the term ‘Off-Broadway’ means?”

“Why, yes, I think so,” Peggy replied. “It means you’re not using one of
the regular, big theaters, and you charge less admission, and—”

“More than that,” Pip broke in. “It’s generally an experimental
group—though that doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s amateur, and one
thing you can be sure of—it never has enough money. Everybody has to do
a little of everything. Now go on, Connie.”

“Well, the three of us are in that kind of group,” Connie started, “and
we’re trying to produce a play off-Broadway. We’ve been working at it
for about six months now, trying to raise the money and get a theater
and do all the rest of the work that goes into these things. The play is
called _Lullaby_, and it’s terrific, or it will be if it ever gets
produced. Mal’s going to direct it, and I’m already cast as the
comedienne, and Pip plays opposite me. There are a few more of us in it
too, of course, and there’s Randy Brewster, who wrote it and is
producing it. But I want to hear the great news before I talk any more.
What is it, Mal?”

“I don’t want it to be a shock,” Mal said, “so I’ll say it very slowly.
Randy has raised almost all the money we need, and he’ll have the rest
in a few days. It looks as if we’re actually going to get this on the
boards this season—if we can find a theater for it!”

“Wonderful!” Connie breathed.

“Wow!” Pip exploded.

“But where did he get the money? What happened? Do you know?” Connie
asked.

“You remember the reading we did at that Park Avenue penthouse a couple
of months ago?” Mal asked. “The one where all the people seemed so cold
and hostile, and we felt that we had made a miserable botch of it?”

“Don’t tell me!” Connie said.

“All right,” Mal said, his tough features composing themselves into a
broad grin, “I won’t.”

“It’s only an Americanism, Mal,” Pip said eagerly, “and it means ‘tell
me.’”

“Oh, I would never have guessed,” Mal said innocently. “Well, that was
the reading that did it. Actually, those penthouse people weren’t
hostile at all. It’s just what they consider good manners or something.
Anyway, several of them came through, and we have almost all we need to
put the play on. And Randy says that once you have most of the money, it
gives other investors confidence, and they come along, too.”

“How much do you need?” Peggy asked. “I shouldn’t think it would take so
very much to do an off-Broadway play.”

“Those were the good old days,” Pip said mournfully. “Nowadays you need
at least ten thousand dollars, which is still practically nothing
compared to what it costs to put a show on Broadway. You have to pay
high rent for theaters now, if you can find one at all, and you have to
spend money on costumes and sets, because the public expects more from
off-Broadway than they used to. And you have to pay your actors, or else
Equity, which is the actors’ union, won’t let you open. And you have to
advertise, and print tickets, and pay for lighting equipment and a
hundred other things. It all adds up to a lot of cash.”

“Will the backers have a chance of making money?” Amy asked.

“Well, it all depends on the type of theater we can find, and on the
critical reviews of the play,” Mal explained. “If the reviews are good,
and if the theater holds enough people, and if they keep coming for long
enough, there’s a chance. If any one of those factors is lacking, then
there isn’t a chance.”

“What’s the play about?” Peggy asked.

Connie frowned and said, “That’s kind of hard to answer. It’s a comedy,
but at the same time it’s a serious play. I mean it’s serious in what it
talks about, but funny in the way it says it. It’s mostly about a boy
genius—”

“That’s me!” Pip interrupted.

“—who feels that the only way to get along in the world is not to let
people know how smart he is, because people are jealous and suspicious
of people who are too smart. He meets a girl genius—that’s me—who has
come to the same conclusion. Both of them try to act like ordinary
people, and to adjust to the world, because everybody says it’s best to
conform and be just like everybody else—”

“And one of the main problems is that neither one of them wants to let
the other one know that he or she is any different,” Pip interrupted,
“and that leads to a lot of misunderstanding and—”

“And a lot of serious discussion under the comedy,” Mal said, “about
whether or not conformity is any good, and what to do with outstanding
people, and how they can be educated, and how to use them properly in
the world. It’s a really first-rate play.”

“It sounds wonderful!” Peggy said. “Has this Randy Brewster written any
other plays? Who is he?”

“Randy has written lots of others,” Mal answered, “but this is the first
one that looks as if it’s going to be produced. He’s a good playwright,
and I think he’s going to be a success. At least I hope so, because if
the play is well received, we all have a chance of success too.”

“What does he do besides write plays?” asked Amy.

“He’s a dancer and a singer,” Connie said. “He’s been working in night
clubs and on television, and he’s good, but he has a real talent as a
writer, and we all agree that he’s wasted as just another song-and-dance
man. If you want to see him, you can tune in to your television set on
Saturday night. He’s got a spot on the Road Show hour.”

“I haven’t got a television set,” Peggy answered, “though I guess I
could find one to watch, but I’d like to do more than look in on this
via TV. Is there anything I could do to help with the show?”

“Well....” Mal began doubtfully, “we’re almost all cast for it now, and
the few parts that are open aren’t exactly your type—”

“Oh, no!” Peggy said. “I didn’t mean to ask for a part! Why, I’m just
beginning here, and I don’t think I’d be good enough at all! No, I meant
that if you need an extra pair of hands to make costumes, or to paint
flats or to sell space in the theater program, I’m volunteering. I’ll
run errands, or—”

“Me, too!” Amy put in. “Can you use a pair of maids-of-all-work?”

“We sure can!” Connie said eagerly. “That’s the hardest kind of people
to find. I’m certainly glad that Pip thought to ask you two to lunch!”

Mal looked quite relieved to find that he was not to be put in the
position of having to refuse more actresses. Since word about the
project had first gotten out around the Academy, he had been besieged
with students who wanted to be in it, and the work of casting and at the
same time not hurting the feelings of friends had been pretty difficult.

As they strolled back to the Academy, Mal told the girls that there was
to be a meeting of the theater group that evening at Connie’s apartment,
and invited them to attend. “I know that everybody will be glad to meet
you, and you’ll get a chance to read the play and to find out what we’re
up against in trying to produce it.”

After leaving their new friends in the school corridor, Amy and Peggy
went off to their first elocution class, feeling as if they were really
a part of the Academy and the new life around them, and looking forward
eagerly to the meeting at Connie’s that night.



                                   IX
                            _Theater Party_


Connie’s apartment was not the easiest place to find, but she had given
detailed instructions, even to drawing a little map on a paper napkin,
and after only a few wrong turnings, Peggy and Amy found themselves that
night at a low pink door set in a high brick wall on a winding street in
Greenwich Village. They pushed the button marked “Barnes-Lewis,” and
soon an answering buzz let them know that the door was unlocked.

Pushing it open, they entered, not a house, but a narrow alley between
two buildings. Along one wall was a bed of flowers and green borders,
and hidden among them were small floodlights which gave a gentle,
guiding glow. At its end, the alley opened into a little courtyard with
a small fountain and a statue of a nymph surrounded by canvas lawn
chairs. Fronting on it was an old, low, white-brick house, its door
opened wide. Connie came out to greet them.

“I see you didn’t have any trouble finding our hideaway,” she said. “I
must be a good map-maker.”

Tactfully refraining from telling her about the wrong turns, Peggy and
Amy agreed with her.

“What a wonderful place you have here!” Peggy said. “However did you
find it?”

“I didn’t find it,” Connie said. “I found Linda Lewis, my roommate,
which was a good deal easier. She was already living here, and when her
roommate got married, she asked me if I’d move in.”

“And how did she find it?” Amy asked.

“Same way,” Connie laughed. “These places get passed along from friend
to friend. You could hunt for apartments every day for a year and never
even see a place like this. You just have to know somebody, or be lucky.
I’d hate to show you the miserable place I lived in before I moved in
here.”

“Here” proved to be a spacious room with an extraordinarily high ceiling
and a fireplace with a tremendous copper hood. An open stairway mounted
up one wall to a landing, then turned a corner and went up again. The
only other room downstairs was a kitchen. Upstairs were two bedrooms and
a bath.

“That’s the whole house,” Connie explained. “It used to be a carriage
house for one of the big places on the street, before all the big places
were turned into apartments. Now come on in and meet everybody.”

Linda Lewis, Connie’s roommate, rose from the piano bench to greet the
girls. She had apparently been playing until the bell had announced
their arrival. Linda was a tall, slim, rather plain girl with a sweet
smile who was a music student at Juilliard, considered by most people to
be the best music school in the country. She greeted them shyly, and
returned to her place at the keyboard, where she began playing quietly,
as if to herself.

Pip rose from his seat on the raised hearth of the fireplace to greet
them and to introduce them to his companion, a striking woman in her
mid-thirties. “This is Mona Downs. She’s in the play, too.”

Before they had a chance to do more than say hello, Connie was
introducing them to the last person in the room, a handsome middle-aged
man with curly dark hair that had turned completely white at the
temples. His name was Thomas Galen, and he, too, was a member of the
cast.

“I suppose it’s terribly tactless of me,” Peggy said, “but I don’t mean
it that way at all. It’s just that I always thought that these
off-Broadway plays were done entirely by students or—or—very young
actors and actresses. I mean....”

Mona Downs laughed. “Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about our advanced
ages. We aren’t supposed to look like fresh young things!”

Tom Galen smiled in agreement. “We’re here because Randy needed some
actors for the more mature parts, and we were lucky enough to be picked.
The off-Broadway plays are a good showcase for experienced actors, too,
you know. Take me, for instance—I’ve been acting for a good many years
now, but I’ve never had any really good vehicles. I’ve made a living on
supporting roles and road shows, and I’ve even played some good leads in
stock, but somehow I’ve never quite hit it. Maybe I’m not good enough,
but on the other hand, I may just not have had the breaks. These
off-Broadway shows nowadays are seen by all the top critics in New York,
and if I do a good job, and if they like the play, I have a chance to go
on to a whole new kind of career. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why
Mona is here. Besides, you can’t do a believable show with just young
actors.”

“I see,” Peggy nodded. “And I hope you didn’t mind my mentioning it....”

But before Tom Galen or Mona Downs had a chance to reassure her again,
the buzzer rang, and they broke off.

“That must be Randy and Mal,” Connie said. “I’ll go get them.”

She pushed the button to unlock the gate, and opened the front door
expectantly. A few seconds later, Mal entered with a tall, grinning,
engaging-looking young man with flaming red hair. For a moment, everyone
seemed to be talking at once. Randy and Mal were apologizing for being
late; Connie was saying that they weren’t late at all; Pip was trying to
get Randy away to introduce him to Amy and Peggy; Mona and Tom were
asking him about the financing he had managed to get for the show, and
Linda was playing “Hail the Conquering Hero” in loud, solid chords.

When the initial excitement had died down and the last resounding notes
of the piano had quieted, Randy Brewster was introduced to Peggy and Amy
by an excited Connie.

“We’re having all the luck today!” she exclaimed. “You come up with the
backing for the play, and Pip discovers these two wonderful girls who
want to be beasts of burden for the show!”

“The two prettiest beasts in New York, I’m sure,” Randy said with a
smile, and Peggy was positive that she was blushing, though she tried
her hardest not to. “I’m grateful for your interest,” Randy continued,
“and I only hope that we have a chance to use your help.”

“Why, now that you’ve raised the money, isn’t it certain that the play
will be produced?” Peggy asked.

“We have a better chance today than we had yesterday,” Randy explained,
“but it’s far from a sure thing yet. You see, we have the central
problem now of trying to find a theater we can use. And I’m afraid
that’s going to prove to be a harder job than raising the money, or even
than writing the play in the first place.”

“Mal and Pip and Connie mentioned the problem of finding a theater a few
times today,” Peggy said, “but I didn’t know it was as serious as all
that. Why should there be such a shortage?”

“For a lot of reasons,” Randy answered. “And there’s a shortage even on
Broadway—maybe even a worse one. Forty years ago, there were more than
twice the number of theaters in New York than there are now, and every
year we lose a few more. One reason is the fire laws that make it
illegal to have a theater with anything built over it. In other words,
you can’t have a Broadway theater on the lower floors of an office
building; and with real-estate values as high as they are in Manhattan,
it just isn’t profitable to use up all the space a theater takes without
building high up as well. Off-Broadway rules are a little easier, but
the downtown theater has become so popular that everybody and his
brother wants to put on a play off-Broadway, and all the available
theaters are booked way in advance. Not only that, but dramatic groups
have rented almost all the places that can be converted to theaters, and
there don’t seem to be any left for us.” Then, breaking his serious
expression with a sudden grin, he said, “But don’t let it worry you. I’m
trusting to luck that we’ll find something.”

“I hope luck does it,” Peggy said doubtfully, “but I’d prefer to trust
in something a little more trustworthy!”

“If you have any ideas, I’ll be happy to hear them,” Randy said, “but
right now, we’d better get on with this evening’s meeting and reading.
I’ll talk to you over sandwiches and coffee afterward, if you like.”

Peggy delightedly accepted, then found herself a seat with Amy out of
the way to watch the proceedings.

First, Randy told the assembled group about the investment in the play,
and about his hopes for the small remaining amount they would need.
Then, having completed his report, he turned the evening over to Mallory
Seton, who immediately began the readings with an authority and
toughness that went well with his rugged face.

Peggy observed carefully how Mal would interrupt one or another of the
actors, acting out a line for him or her, or asking for a somewhat
different emphasis. Sometimes a small change in timing or inflection
would turn an ordinary line into an unexpectedly comic one, and Peggy
and Amy laughed aloud several times.

Randy followed with his master script, every so often stopping the
action to make a change in dialogue. “Sometimes a thing sounds fine when
you write it, but it just doesn’t read well,” he explained. “That’s one
of the main purposes of these early readings—to let me have a chance to
hear what I’ve written and see if it plays.”

Other changes were made at the suggestion of one or another of the cast,
who found a line unnatural to say, or somehow uncomfortable or out of
character. Randy listened to every suggestion, and took most of them,
but on one or two occasions he insisted that the actors accommodate
themselves to what he had written.

Peggy was fascinated by the whole process, and particularly appreciated
the air of good will with which changes in script, style of reading, and
interpretation of character were made. This was a company of willing,
hard-working friends, and they were already molding the play in a joint
effort. She was sure that they would be successful.

At last the readings for the evening were completed, and people started
to say good night. Randy brought Mal with him and said, “Why don’t you
come along for coffee and a sandwich with us? Peggy seems to have some
ideas about the theater problem.”

“Oh, no!” Peggy disclaimed. “Not really! I was just wondering if—”

“Let’s wonder over coffee,” Mal cut in. “Come on, Amy. Let them talk
about the theater, and we can talk about you!”

A few blocks’ walk brought the four of them to a coffee shop where,
seated around a tiny marble-topped table, they studied the menu. To
Peggy and Amy it was a revelation. There were over twenty kinds of
coffee offered, most of which they had never heard of, plus dozens of
exotic pastries and sandwiches. They finally settled, on Randy’s advice,
on _cappuccino_, which proved to be coffee flavored with cinnamon and
topped with a froth of milk, and which was perfectly delicious. With it,
they had an assortment of _amaretti_—hard, sweet Italian macaroons that
came wrapped in gaily decorated tissues, and cornetti—pastry horns
filled with some creamy whip.

“Now,” Randy said, when they were all served, “what did you have in mind
about a theater for us?”

“Well, nothing at the moment,” Peggy admitted, “but I’m against the idea
of just trusting to luck, the way you said you were going to do. It
seems to me that some hard looking would get better results.”

“I agree, and I have been looking,” Randy replied. “We have our names on
the waiting lists of every known off-Broadway theater in the city, and I
call regularly just to remind them that we’re serious about it.”

“Have you been looking around for a place that you might convert to a
theater, too?” Peggy asked.

“We gave up on that. We found that it would cost too much to do a decent
conversion, and not only that, but we’d be in the real-estate business
as well as the play-producing business, and we don’t want that.”

Peggy nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Well, how about all the theaters that
you said used to be in existence forty years ago? What’s happened to all
of them? Maybe some of them are just sitting around and not being used.”

“Oh, they’re being used!” Randy laughed. “They’re being used as movie
houses and television studios and ice-skating rinks and churches and
even supermarkets.”

“Have you looked at them all?” Peggy pursued.

“Well....” Randy said, “maybe not all, but....”

“Then that’s what I’m going to do for you first!” Peggy announced with
determination. “I’ll go look at them all, and maybe I can find some
usable place. At least, I’m willing to try.”

“But, Peggy,” Mal put in, “you don’t know anything about New York at
all! It’s not like Rockport, Wisconsin. It takes a lot of looking, and
you have to know where to look. How will you start?”

 [Illustration: A few blocks’ walk brought the four of them to a coffee
                               shop....]

“I don’t know just yet,” Peggy answered, “but I’ll think of a way. I
used to help out as a reporter on my father’s newspaper, and I’m used to
digging up facts. If there’s an empty theater in New York City, I’ll bet
I know about it in a couple of weeks. If there isn’t one, I’ll know that
too, and at least that will save the rest of you all the trouble of
looking.”

Randy looked a little doubtful. “I’m sure that you mean what you say,
and I don’t doubt that you can get things done as well as any of us,
Peggy, but as Mal said, New York isn’t Rockport. And I don’t mean just
that it’s bigger. It’s not a—well, a _nice_ city in every part. And a
search like this can lead you into some pretty tough parts of town.”

“Oh, pooh!” Peggy said. “In the last two weeks, I’ll bet Amy and I have
walked around more of New York than either of you has in the last two
years! And that included some pretty tough-looking neighborhoods, and
nobody bothered us, and everybody was very nice. I think that’s a lot of
nonsense! Besides, we’re big girls, and we can take care of ourselves by
now.”

“We certainly can,” Amy agreed. “And I plan to go, too, just the way
I’ve dragged my aching feet after Peggy for two weeks now. That girl can
cover more territory in a morning than a Tennessee Walking Horse can
manage in a whole day!”

“Well, if you really want to try, it’s okay with me,” Randy said. “And
I’m grateful to you for wanting to. If you need any help along the way,
be sure to ask for it.”

“You can start by giving me a list of all the places you’ve gone to, so
I won’t waste my time, and I’ll take it from there.”

Randy promised to bring the list to the Academy the next day, at which
time, if it was okay with Peggy and Amy, he would like to join them for
lunch. Then their interest turned to other things, including more coffee
for the girls and another huge sandwich to be split between the boys.

By the time they had finished and walked to the Gramercy Arms, it was
nearly midnight. Peggy and Amy whispered quiet good nights on the
stairs, and hurried up to bed. Tomorrow was school again, and they
needed all the sleep they could get.



                                   X
                        _Peggy Produces a Plot_


“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; a peck of pickled peppers
Peter Piper picked; if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”

“A perfect peck of pickled peppers, Peggy,” said Miss Linden, the
elocution instructor, “except that you picked them a trifle too quickly.
That’s the big temptation of tongue twisters; you always want to show
that you can rip them out at great speed without making a mistake. What
I want you to do this time is to say the same thing, but to concentrate
on a normal rate of delivery that will allow your voice to carry to the
rear of a hall without becoming blurred. Distance, you know, tends to
make sounds run together. Now, Peggy, if you don’t mind....”

More slowly this time, and concentrating on making her words reach the
back of some huge, imaginary hall, Peggy once more spoke the tongue
twister.

“Much better. Much better,” Miss Linden approved. “Now, John, will you
please read ‘round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascals ran,’
and try to read it as if it had a meaning, as if those ragged rascals
were at the end of their endurance, as if you were one of them, almost.
Make the words clear, project them, and at the same time give me a note
of urgency and a feeling of near-exhaustion.”

John, a handsome boy whom Peggy had already judged vain and stupid and
who, she suspected, had gone into acting on the strength of his
appearance, struggled with the assignment. Peggy tried to maintain an
interest in what he was doing, but her mind was on her coming lunch
meeting with Randy Brewster.

What on earth was she going to suggest? Why had she volunteered to
undertake the search for a theater with such confidence? It had been
bothering her since she had awakened this morning, and the more she
thought about it, the less likely it seemed that she would come up with
an idea worth pursuing. Still, there must be some angle that Randy and
Mal hadn’t thought of, some idea that would occur to her, with her
reporter’s training, that had escaped them. That all sounded very good,
she commented to herself, but what was the angle? Miss Linden’s tongue
twisters were child’s play compared to this puzzle.

Before her turn came to read again, it was time for the elocution class
to end and time to go, empty-headed, to meet Randy. Peggy had never in
her life felt so stupid, nor so embarrassed, for having made the boast
last night that she could find what they had missed.

Amy, sensing the reason for Peggy’s gloomy silence, didn’t question her
about it. Without a word, the two girls moved through the crowded
corridor to the elevators, rode downstairs, and stationed themselves at
the front door. Finally Peggy spoke.

“Oh, Amy, I hope he doesn’t think I’m a complete fool! I like him so
much, and I’ve made him take this special trip to bring me his list of
theaters, and if I don’t come up with an idea that makes sense, I won’t
blame him for thinking I’m a dope!”

“Are you trying to find a theater or a boy friend?” Amy asked with a sly
smile.

Blushing, Peggy stammered, “Why, Amy, I ... I just met him last night
... the same as you ... and ... Oh dear! Here he comes now, and I look
like an embarrassed lobster!”

“Don’t worry,” Amy said with a laugh, “with his red hair and your red
face, you make a lovely couple!”

Before Peggy could answer, Randy had reached them and either did not
notice, or gallantly pretended not to notice Peggy’s confusion. He
greeted them with a smile, and gaily waved a large paper bag.

“I took the liberty of ordering for you, ladies,” he announced in the
manner of a musical-comedy headwaiter. “The caviar, _pâté de foie gras_,
and pheasant under glass are not of the best quality today, so I decided
instead to get ham on rye, pickles, and potato chips. I also have two
cartons of milk of a superior vintage. We dine on the terrace by the
lake.”

In the laughter, Peggy regained her self-possession, and the three of
them started for the park where, Randy told them, they would be joined
by Pip and Connie.

At the mention of Pip, Amy said, “I was wondering how, with a name like
Peter Piper, Pip ever got through that tongue-twister stuff. It must
have been terrible for him!”

“Ask him to do it for you sometime,” Randy replied. “He’s learned that
the best defense is a good offense, so long before he came to the
Academy he had that one perfected. He can do Peter Piper in any accent
or dialect you ask, and can even do it in a rapid-fire stutter! It’s
funny enough so that nobody ever kidded him about it. In fact, he’s got
it worked up into part of a first-rate comedy bit.”

On their arrival at the lawn by the lake, they found that Randy had
brought a large paper table-cloth and some oversized paper napkins for
the girls to sit on. As she helped set out the lunch, Peggy was
impressed by this extra display of thoughtfulness, and felt that she had
been right in thinking Randy Brewster was a special kind of person. She
had just finished setting the “table” when Connie and Pip joined them
and added their own lunches to the spread.

When they were all settled comfortably, Randy opened the conversation
with the question that Peggy had been fearing all morning. “Well, Peggy,
I brought the list of theaters we’ve seen, and now will you tell us what
you have in mind?”

       [Illustration: When they were all settled comfortably....]

Much to her surprise, Peggy found herself answering as smoothly as if
she had known all along what she was going to do. “The first thing,” she
said, “is to make use of all the city records. Since a license is
required to operate a theater, there must be a list of all the places in
the city that have been licensed. I’m going to go to City Hall, find the
list, and copy the names and addresses of every theater that has been
opened in the last fifty or sixty years.”

“Are you sure the city will let you see the records?” Connie asked.

“Of course,” Peggy answered. “They have to. Anything in the city files
that doesn’t concern individuals is a matter of public record. I learned
that from my father. He always said that the city or town archives of
any place were the best reference books a reporter could want.”

“I think that makes good sense, Peggy,” Randy commented. “But it’s going
to be a long list. What are you going to do when you’ve got it?”

“I’m not sure,” Peggy admitted, “but I think the best thing to do would
be to cut the list down before I start to work with it.”

“I see,” Randy said. “That’s why you wanted the list of theaters we’ve
already visited, so you could eliminate them.”

“Right. The next thing to do, I think,” Peggy went on, with a dreamlike
feeling that she did not know at all what she was going to say next, “is
to look up theaters in the classified telephone book. All the ones that
are listed, I’ll eliminate from my list, on the theory that they’re
probably being used by somebody right now.”

“Peggy, you’re a smart girl,” Pip said admiringly.

“You sure are,” Connie echoed.

“I won’t dispute that,” Randy agreed, “but I’m still a little puzzled.
When you’ve eliminated all the theaters listed in the phone book from
the theaters listed by the license bureau, what will you have?”

“What I’ll have,” Peggy said triumphantly, “is a record of all the
places in New York that started out to be theaters and aren’t theaters
now!”

“Wonderful!” Amy said. “Then you and I will go to visit all the
addresses and see if any of the places aren’t being used, and if they’re
for rent!”

“It makes a lot of sense,” Randy admitted. “But you know, it’s going to
take a lot of work and a lot of walking. And disappointment, too. You
won’t be able to find even a trace of many of those theaters.”

“On the other hand,” Peggy answered, “we may be able to find a hidden
theater that nobody even knows is there! And wouldn’t that be grand?”

“I can see it all now,” Pip said in a hollow voice. “A huge, haunted
opera house of a theater, its hangings in tatters, its chandeliers
covered with dust and its stage peopled by the ghosts of players long
gone! There it sits, undiscovered, unknown, hiding behind a Chinese
restaurant just a block east of Broadway!”

“Don’t tease her, Pip,” Randy said. “I think Peggy has a good idea, and
it would be a pity to discourage her before she gives it a try. Maybe
she won’t find a theater, but at least this is the most sensible way
I’ve heard of yet to start looking for one.”

A little shamefaced, Pip said, “I didn’t mean to tease. You know me; I
always want to turn everything into a comedy routine. But, seriously, I
think this makes sense and, Peggy, if you need any help in tracking down
places, you can count on me!”

All the others chimed in their agreement, and Peggy thought proudly, and
with some surprise, that she had gotten herself out of a spot quite
well. At least Randy didn’t think she was a fool, and that was something
to be pleased about.

When lunch was finished, and the last crumbs had been fed to the ducks,
it was time to return to the Academy. Peggy said good-by to Randy and
went up to her afternoon’s work.

Only by dint of the most intense concentration on the study of
Elizabethan drama did Peggy keep her attention from the theater-hunting
problem. But the minute the class was ended, all other thoughts fled
from her mind. “Come on, Amy!” she said. “I’m heading for City Hall
right now!”

“I’m sorry, Peggy,” Amy said, “but you’ll have to count me out today. I
didn’t know that you’d have any plans, so I made a date to have a soda
with Mallory Seton. I’ll go with you tomorrow, though.”

“And you accused _me_ of looking for a boy friend instead of a theater!”
Peggy said with a grin. “If anybody around here should blush, I think
it’s you, Amy Shelby Preston!”

“Why, Ah don’t know what yo’ talkin’ about!” Amy said, in her best
Southern belle manner. “Mistah Seton asked me to join him, an’ Ah
scarcely thought it would be ladylike to refuse the gentleman!”

Then both girls dissolved into very unladylike giggles, and Peggy made a
dash for the elevator. “See you tonight,” she called.



                                   XI
                              _Rehearsals_


“So. ’Ow marches the search for the theater, Peggee?” Gaby asked,
bouncing into the living room at the Gramercy Arms.

“Awful,” Peggy admitted, looking up at Gaby from her position on the
floor. She was surrounded by scraps of paper, pencils, a classified
telephone directory, and several assorted notebooks, guidebooks, and
city maps. “I think it would be easier to list all the perfume shops in
Paris than all the theaters built in New York since the nineties.”

“Perfume shops! Pouf!” Gaby shrugged. “We don’t ’ave so manee. Most of
our perfume is export, to Amérique. But theaters! Oh! You would ’ave the
same trouble in Paree as you ’ave ’ere. So, _bonne chance_; mean to ’ave
the good luck.” With a wave of her hand she went upstairs.

“A little _bonne chance_ is what I could use right now,” Peggy confessed
to Greta, Maggie, and Amy, who were disposed in various chairs with
books and magazines.

“Anything I can help you with?” Maggie asked.

“No, thanks, Maggie. I’m through the help stage. Amy and I have spent
every afternoon for the last three days just trying to get a list of
theaters from the city archives. It’s not that they’re not helpful down
there. Everybody has been just as nice as can be, but nothing’s easy to
find. In the first place, all the records aren’t kept in one big handy
book, or in a list or anything simple. Oh, no! They’re in dozens and
dozens of volumes marked by year, and we’re trying to go back about
seventy years. Not only that, but the books aren’t separated by kinds of
licenses, so that you can’t just get a volume of theater licenses. You
have to look at each page to see what’s been licensed. There are
groceries and bakeries and amusement parks and drugstores and hardware
stores and livery stables and saddlemakers and—”

“Well, at least you’ve gotten into the early years, I see, if you’re on
livery stables and saddlemakers,” Greta commented.

“You’d think that it would be easier,” Maggie murmured. “I mean, if you
wanted to find out what year the Ziegfeld Theater was licensed, for
instance, would you have to go through all that?”

“Oh, no,” Peggy answered. “They have an alphabetical index by name, and
you could go right to it. But we don’t know the names of the places
we’re looking for, and that’s what makes it so difficult.”

“Even so ... what if the police needed to know, for example, and they
had to know really fast? Suppose they wanted the names of all the
theaters? Would they have to do what you’re doing?” Maggie asked.

“No,” Peggy answered, “and that’s one of the things that makes this so
frustrating. The Police Department has all its own files, and the clerk
who’s been helping us says that we could find out what we want to know
from them in no time at all.”

“Then why...?” Greta began.

“Police files are for the use of the Police Department for police
business,” Peggy interrupted. “We’ve been told that very emphatically.”

“And there aren’t any exceptions,” Amy added, “so poor Peggy and I have
had to make our own police files.”

“And what’s worse,” Peggy went on gloomily, “is the hours we’ve had to
work at it. The bureau closes at four-thirty sharp, and isn’t open on
Saturday, and we’re busy with school all day long. Amy and I don’t
finish with our last class until three o’clock, and then we make a mad
dash downtown. That gives us about an hour a day to go through the
books.”

“How close are you to finishing?” Greta asked.

“That’s the happy part. We finished 1890 today, and that’s as far back
as we’re going to go, unless this batch turns up nothing for us. Then, I
suppose, we’ll try another ten years before we quit. My guess is that
anything built before 1880 wouldn’t be worth looking into anyway. If it
were still standing, it would probably be an old rat’s nest.”

Maggie smiled. “Don’t let May Berriman hear you say anything like that.
This beautiful old house that we’re living in was built in 1878, and
it’s hardly a rat’s nest! And you’ve passed the house that Washington
Irving lived in, just a few blocks south of here? It’s still a
fine-looking house, and I don’t know how old it is, but Washington
Irving died in 1859, so it’s got to be a lot older than that!”

“Oh, Maggie!” Peggy wailed. “You haven’t made me feel the least bit
better! I thought I had a logical date to stop looking, and that made
things easier somehow. Now you’ve opened up the whole thing again!”

“Oh, don’t start to feel sorry for yourself yet,” Greta put in. “You
have a lot of work to do on the theaters you’ve found since 1890 before
you start to think further back. And you may find just what you want in
that list.”

“I sure hope so,” Peggy agreed, smiling wanly. “But I’ll never find it
by lying here and talking. I’d better get back to work.”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Amy said. “What you’d better do now is go upstairs
and take a shower and fix yourself up! Don’t forget it’s Friday night,
we’ve got a date tonight, and you have a lot to do before the boys
come.”

“But, Amy, it’s still early, isn’t it?” Peggy asked. Then, with a glance
at the grandfather clock in the corner, she gasped. “Oh! Six o’clock
already and they’re coming at seven! And I haven’t even begun! Why
didn’t you tell me?”

Sweeping up all her papers, notebooks, and other gear in a single
gesture, she bounced out of the room with Amy right behind her,
protesting that she hadn’t realized herself how late it had grown, and
that she too had a lot to do to get ready, and....

But before she could finish her sentence, Peggy had dropped her papers,
grabbed a towel and bathrobe and raced for the bathroom. With the door
held open the merest crack, Peggy peeped through, grinning broadly at
Amy, who stood in the hall still apologizing.

“You’re forgiven,” Peggy said impishly, “but your punishment for loafing
and not watching the time while I was working is that I get the bathroom
first!” Then she quickly shut the door before her friend could push her
way through.

“I don’t care!” Amy called through the door. “I can always use the other
one upstairs!”

“You can,” Peggy answered with a laugh, “if you can figure a way to get
Irene the Beautiful Model out. She always goes in at six o’clock, and it
would take an atomic bomb to get her out before seven! You’ll just have
to wait for me!”

Any further conversation was made impossible by the noise of the water
running, and Amy resigned herself with a philosophical sigh, telling
herself that it was probably better for Peggy to go first anyway,
because she always finished quickly, as if that made a difference,
which, of course, it did not.

The timing, however, must have made sense in some mysterious way,
because both girls were ready at precisely the same moment. It was at
the exact instant that the grandfather clock began to chime softly that
Amy and Peggy both stepped from their rooms into the hall and said, in
chorus, “You look lovely! How do I look?”

Laughing at themselves, each girl whirled around and showed herself to
the other. Peggy’s turn made a wide sweep of her black taffeta dress
with its black satin cummerbund smartly making the most of her trim
figure. For this special occasion, her first real date in New York, she
had put her hair up and skillfully used a little eye make-up. Her long,
slender neck was accentuated by a single string of pearls, which were
echoed by her tiny pearl earrings.

Amy had chosen to set off her pale, blond beauty with a brocaded dress
of dark, lustrous green that seemed to add a green glint to her brown
eyes. She wore a delicate, flat gold necklace, small gold earrings and a
slim, antique gold bracelet set with semiprecious stones.

As Peggy fastened a hook and eye for Amy (it was located in that one
spot that just cannot be reached), the last notes of the clock sounded,
followed immediately by the sound of the doorbell.

“That’s Randy and Mal now!” Peggy said. “We’re all so prompt that it’s
hardly possible!” She ran down the stairs to answer the door, Amy at her
heels, and a few minutes later, the four were strolling down the street
arm in arm.

“You sure look beautiful tonight—both of you,” Randy said. “I’m glad
that I decided to wear a tie!”

“If you hadn’t, I’d have sent you right home to get one,” Peggy said
firmly. “And besides, you did say that we should dress up for dinner and
dancing. That is, if you’ll put up with me. I’ve never danced with a
professional dancer before.”

“Oh, I’m not a dancer, really,” Randy said. “I’m a hoofer. You know, tap
and soft-shoe and a couple of gestures and turns that make the customers
think I studied ballet. Mostly I dance just enough to carry off the
singing, so that the act will have a little movement. I hate singers who
just stand there and croon.”

“Where did you study singing?” Peggy asked.

“Oh, I’m not really a singer,” Randy said with a grin. “I just sing
enough so the customers won’t notice that I’m not dancing well!”

“I’d love to see you work and make up my own mind,” Peggy said. “When
can I get a chance?”

With an expression halfway between a smile and a frown, Randy answered,
“I hope that you never get a chance. I’m not working now, and with any
luck, I won’t have to do night-club work again. I’ve always wanted to
write for the theater, and I believe in the play we’re doing now, so
I’ve turned down all engagements until we get it produced. It may be the
break I need. I’ve been able to put away enough to live on for a while,
so I don’t need the night clubs. If the play flops, though, I can always
go back to them, much as I don’t want to.”

“In that case, I hope I never get a chance to see your act, too,” Peggy
said.

“A sensible wish!” Mal put in. “I’ve seen it, and I tell you, as a
singer and dancer, Red Brewster—as he bills himself—is a darn good
playwright. I won’t say it’s the worst night-club act in New York, but—”

“I know,” Randy interrupted cheerfully, “but it is.”

“But he makes a living at it,” Amy protested, taking the lighthearted
insults a little too seriously.

“Just proves an old contention of mine,” Mal answered airily, “that the
public has a lot more money than taste!”

By this time, they had reached Fourteenth Street, a wide, busy
thoroughfare bright with neon lights and gaudy store windows crammed
full of bargain merchandise. It hardly looked the sort of neighborhood
to come to dressed as they were, and for a moment Peggy had a feeling
that Randy hadn’t been joking about coming without a tie. “Where are we
going?” she asked cautiously, not wanting to offend the boys.

Randy laughed. “I wondered whether or not you knew about Fourteenth
Street. Since you’re so deep in the history of the theater, I thought
that we’d take you right into some. This run-down street was once the
heart of the fashionable theater district!” He waved a hand to indicate
the tawdry movie houses, the corner hot-dog stands, the poolrooms, the
pizza places.

“This?” Peggy said.

“This,” Randy answered solemnly. “And the funny thing is that this is
far from being a bad neighborhood. Especially when you compare it with
some of the places you’ll be visiting in the next few days!”

“You see that movie house?” Mal said, pointing to a place plastered with
signs for a double horror monster show. “That was once the most famous
musical theater in the city. And the Irving Theater over there was a
great dramatic showcase.”

“But why are we here tonight?” Amy asked in bewilderment.

“To show you that, in the ashes of the past, a good bit of the past
still flourishes with no sign of decay,” Mal intoned dramatically.

“He means,” Randy interpreted, “that we’re here to eat dinner at
Luchow’s, one of the best restaurants in the city. It’s German, not
Chinese, and you pronounce it with a German _ch_ that sounds like a
cough, if you can. If you can’t, you settle on ‘Loo-shau’s,’ which most
people do. It’s been here since the theater district was here, and it
hasn’t changed at all through all these years. Diamond Jim Brady and
Lillian Russell and Tony Pastor ate here, and tonight we’re going to do
the same!”

With a bow and a flourish, Mal and Randy opened the doors and led the
girls into, not just a restaurant, but another century and another
world.



                                  XII
                             _Intermission_


Peggy had never seen anything like it! The tremendous, high-ceilinged
rooms paneled in darkly polished brown wood led in a seemingly endless
procession from one to the other, connected by arch after arch. In front
of them, across the first room, four steps mounted up to a kind of
gallery, itself an immense chamber that stretched back as far as one
could see. In the front of the gallery, near the steps, a small,
three-piece orchestra played Viennese waltz music. Peggy noted with
amusement that the three musicians looked as old as the restaurant,
almost as if they had been playing ever since opening night.

To the right, an oversized archway connected the room they were in with
what appeared to be the central room of the place, even higher and more
glittering than the others. Peggy’s eyes mounted up toward the ceiling,
which appeared to be three or more stories high, and she saw that it was
a kind of old-fashioned leaded glass skylight.

Another arch between the rooms contained the largest ship model that she
had ever seen. It was a full-rigged ship and stood easily six feet high.
Everything here was on such a large scale! Even the beer steins that
stood all around on shelves high on the paneled walls were immense. Some
would easily hold two quarts of beer.

Everywhere were waiters scurrying about between the crowded tables,
carrying trays loaded to improbable heights with dishes, glasses,
covered serving vessels, baskets of bread, rolls, and cheeses. The whole
place glittered with hundreds of lights, each caught and reflected in
the tall mirrors, the glassware and the polished wood.

And the noise! The many conversations, the clink of silver on dishes,
the rattle of glasses, the waltz tunes of the small orchestra, all
blended into one happy, congenial roar.

Peggy and Amy stood dazzled by the sights and sounds of Luchow’s, and
tried to get their bearings, while Randy and Mal checked their
reservations with the headwaiter. Soon they were assigned by this
impressive personage to a lesser headwaiter whom Peggy thought of as
their guide. This gentleman, beckoning them to follow, plunged into the
jungle of tables and, in a kind of safari fashion, they tracked him
through several rooms, up some steps to a gallery like the one on which
the band was playing, and to a large round table by the rail.

It was not until they were seated that Peggy realized that there was not
an endless number of rooms, but only about six. The illusion was caused
by giant mirrors on either wall, set in arched frames like the arches
that separated the rooms. Even so, it was the biggest and busiest
restaurant that either she or Amy had ever seen.

“Well, what do you think of it?” Randy asked. When Peggy replied with a
smile and a bewildered shake of her head, he continued, “I know. It
always affects me that way, too, but I still love to come here. This is
what New York was really like in the Gay Nineties, and they haven’t
changed a thing that they didn’t have to change. Even the lighting
fixtures,” he pointed out, “are the original gaslights, except that
they’ve had to wire them for electricity. But the best thing is—as it
should be—the food. That hasn’t changed either. Let’s order now, then we
can talk.”

The menu, Peggy thought, was of a size to match the restaurant, and it
was crammed with dishes she had never heard of, most with German names,
many with British names. At Randy’s suggestion, she let him order her
dinner, which was sauerbraten, the house specialty. Amy, less
adventurous about food, settled for roast beef. Randy ordered a lobster
for himself, and Mal asked for roast larded saddle of hare, which made
Amy shudder a little.

“I just don’t like the idea of eating rabbits,” she explained. “They’re
such cute little things!”

Mal grinned. “If you once start to think like that,” he said, “you’d
have a hard time eating at all. Think about all those cute lambs, and
those nice, sweet-tempered cows. And think about—”

“I do my best not to think about them,” Amy interrupted, “and if you
don’t stop, I’m going to order a vegetable dinner and have an awful
time!”

Still, when the food came, she and Peggy consented to try the hare, and
were forced to agree that it was one of the most delicious things they
had ever tasted. Amy also liked Peggy’s sauerbraten, which was a kind of
sweet-and-sour pot roast of beef, done in a rich brown gravy and served
with potato dumplings and red cabbage.

“You know, it’s an odd thing the way Americans eat,” Mal said between
bites of the saddle of hare. “I’ll wager that there are millions of
people in this country who have never eaten anything but beef and pork
and perhaps a bit of fish. And I don’t mean poor people, either. I found
out on my first tours here that there are many parts of the country
where you can’t even get lamb or veal, and mutton is almost unheard of.”

“Is it very different in England?” Peggy asked.

Randy answered before Mal had a chance to reply. “In England they eat
things that would make the average American turn pale with fright.” He
laughed. “They eat suet puddings and kidney pies and chopped toad....”

“Chopped toad!” Amy almost shrieked.

“It’s not at all what it sounds,” Mal explained in his most British
tones. “It’s actually a sort of a hamburger thing, and it’s not made of
toads or anything like toads. And, personally, I can’t stand it.”

“Is the food the reason why you left England?” Amy asked teasingly.

“Partly,” Mal said with a smile. “But not because I didn’t like it. I
liked it well enough when I could get it. The reason I left was that I
wasn’t able to earn enough money to eat with any degree of regularity.
When I got a part with an American movie company that was filming a
picture in England, I was asked to come back with them, and I jumped at
the chance. I made a few films in Hollywood, and then I decided to come
to New York.”

“Why did you leave pictures?” Peggy asked. “I mean, if you were working,
and if you were starting to be an established actor, why did you come to
the Academy to study?”

“I didn’t like the roles I was being given,” Mal answered. “It’s because
of my face, you know. I look like a young thug, so I was given nothing
but young thug parts. But, when you come to think of it, how many roles
are there for young thugs with English accents? Besides, I didn’t want
to spend the whole of my life in cops-and-robbers films. I decided that
I should try the stage, where I might have a chance to play a variety of
roles. Also, I thought I might like to direct. The trouble was that I
had no experience with stage technique, so I applied to the Academy for
a year of basic training. It was there that I met Randy, who has given
me my first chance to direct, and now that I’ve had a taste of it, I
know that’s what I really want to do.”

“It’s nice of you to say that I’ve given you a chance to direct,” Randy
put in, “but unless Peggy and Amy can produce a theater, I’m afraid that
the chance will be a strictly imaginary one. Which reminds me, how are
you girls doing with the search?”

Peggy told him about the troubles they had encountered in making up a
list, and he nodded sympathetically. “We’re finished with that part of
it now,” she said in tones of relief, “and we only have to finish
checking against the phone book before we go out to look.”

“And when will you start?” Randy asked.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I think,” she said. “We ought to be done with the
telephone book by noon, if we don’t sleep the whole morning away as a
result of this heavy dinner. Then we can look in the afternoon.”

“Sounds good,” Randy said. “It looks as if the best help we can give you
is to see to it that you work off this dinner so that you don’t waste
the morning in sleep! What do you suggest, Mal?”

“Dancing,” Mal said firmly. “Best way to get rid of the full feeling.
But, unfortunately, I can’t dance on an empty stomach, so we’d best
order a sweet, right?”

The girls and Randy protested with groans, but somehow managed to eat
every scrap of the thin pancakes with lingonberries that Mal ordered for
them. A final cup of coffee, and then it was time to go.

“I feel as if my dress is going to split any minute!” Peggy whispered to
Amy. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk to the door, much less
dance!”

Stepping out of Luchow’s, leaving its noise, gaiety, and glitter behind,
was once more like making a transition between worlds. Fourteenth
Street, now almost deserted, looked even sadder and more run-down than
before. The night lights in the windows of the closed shops cast baleful
gleams on the pavement; the thin sound of a cheap dance band far off
lent its sad jazz beat to the relatively quiet night. Peggy shivered a
little in the first chill of autumn.

“It’s like two different cities, in there and out here,” she said. “It’s
a shame, isn’t it, that the real one is out here?”

Catching her mood, Randy put a reassuring arm about her shoulders. “It’s
two hundred different cities,” he said, “and the real one is wherever
you happen to be at the moment. So let’s leave this one, to make it
unreal, and go uptown. By the time we turn our backs on this, it will
disappear.”

And it did disappear, or nearly, in the sophisticated decor and subdued
harmonies of the St. Regis Roof. Randy was, as Peggy had suspected, a
fine dancer. His lightness and his certainty helped her, and she knew
that she had never danced so well before. But even as they floated about
the gleaming floor, the sounds of the elegant music could not quite
drown out the tinny jazz sound of Fourteenth Street that echoed in her
mind.

No, she thought, Randy had not been altogether right. This beautiful
room, these handsome, well-dressed people were not nearly so real as the
world outside. And it was that world, in which she would start her
search tomorrow, that stayed uppermost in her thoughts through the rest
of the dreamlike night with its dancing, its carriage ride around the
park and (or was this too a dream?) Randy’s gentle good-night kiss on
the steps of the Gramercy Arms.



                                  XIII
                           _The Hidden City_


When the list was completed, Peggy had found over forty theaters built
since 1890 and not currently listed as theaters in the classified phone
book. Now there was nothing to do except visit each one to see if it was
still there at all, and if there, to see what it was being used for.
Checking the addresses against her city map and street-number guide,
Peggy listed those that she would visit first.

“I’ve started out with a group I think we can cover in one afternoon,”
she explained to Amy. “And the district I’ve picked is not too far away
from most of the off-Broadway theaters in Greenwich Village. I’d like it
best if we could find a theater near where people are used to going, or
at least in districts that are easy to get to by bus or subway.”

“Don’t worry too much about that,” Greta commented from the depths of an
easy chair. “If you can just find a place to put on the play, and if the
play is good, people will come. Even if they have to walk, or pay
tremendous cab fares. That’s one wonderful thing about New York. People
love the theater, and they’re willing to go through all kinds of
hardships to see a good play.”

“The proof of that is the prices people pay to see a Broadway show,” Amy
agreed. “Six and eight dollars a seat for some of them!”

“And that’s at box-office prices,” Irene commented. “They pay
twenty-five dollars to a ticket broker sometimes to see a really popular
show. I think that the thing to be in this business is a broker, not an
actress. That’s where the big money is!”

“We’ll remember that when we get our theater,” Peggy said, laughing.
“I’ll put aside a whole lot of seats in my name, and if the show’s a hit
I’ll make a fortune on them!”

“No theater, no tickets,” Amy said dryly. “And no show either. We’d
better get going now.”

The area that Peggy had decided to cover first was a section south of
Fourteenth Street, and somewhat farther east than where they had been.
This was an old part of town, in which the theater had once been
centered even before it had moved “uptown” to Fourteenth Street.
(Fourteenth Street itself is now very much downtown from the present
theater district in the west Forties and Fifties.)

This old district had seen wave after wave of immigrants come from
various lands. Each nation had left its mark. There were Russian stores,
Rumanian restaurants, Irish bars, Jewish delicatessens, Italian grocery
stores, and Spanish shops of all sorts.

“It’s like looking at a cross section of certain kinds of rocks,” Peggy
said. “You know, the kinds that give you a million-year history of the
earth and the kinds of life that have come and gone. Finding all these
traces of different languages and peoples is sort of like geology.”

“Yes,” Amy agreed, “and you can tell pretty well which groups came to
the neighborhood first and which ones followed, and which are the
latest. I’d say the Irish were first, and then the Rumanians and the
Russians, a lot of whom were Jewish, and finally the Puerto Ricans. Look
at that store!”

She pointed to an old building with store windows lettered
“_Carnecería_,” which is Spanish for “butcher shop.” Over the windows
was a faded old signboard which the present tenants had neglected to
remove. Its gilt letters, nearly illegible, read, “A. Y. Ravotsky,
Inc.,” and on either side of the lettering, carved into the wood, was an
Irish shamrock and harp.

“It’s like a one-stop history of New York!” Peggy said. “I’ll bet if you
dug underneath it you’d find Dutch shoes and Indian arrowheads!”

A few blocks’ walk brought them to their first address. There was no
sign of a theater at all. In its place was a large, squat hospital; on
its cornerstone appeared the date it was built—1912.

“Well, that takes care of Hewett’s Theater,” Peggy said sadly, crossing
off the name on her list. “Now let’s try the Emperor. It’s only two
blocks away.”

The Emperor Theater was now effectively disguised as a Greek Orthodox
church, complete with a turnip-shaped steeple and a Russian signboard
outside. The next theater on the list was a large and gaudy caterer’s
hall, used for weddings, parties, lodge meetings, and dances, according
to its poster. The next two on the list had also totally disappeared,
giving way to a garage and an apartment house.

“This is hardly encouraging,” Amy said. “I somehow feel already that
we’re on a wild-goose chase.”

“Amy, this is no time to get discouraged!” Peggy said. “Why, we’ve only
gone to five places, and we’ve got nearly forty more on the list! And,
after all, it’s not as if we were looking for a dozen theaters. All we
want is one, so I don’t care if all but one prove to be shut or
converted. And we have to see them all, just in case it’s the last one
that turns out to be for us!”

“That makes sense,” Amy agreed, “and I certainly don’t want to quit.
It’s just that I wish we had hit it right the first time!”

“You’re a lazy girl,” Peggy reproached her. “Do you know the way I feel
about it? Even if we had found a good theater on our first call, I’d
still want to see everything else on the list, just to make sure that we
had the best one!”

After some more walking, in which they found two more missing theaters
and one that had been converted to a funeral parlor, they decided to
stop for lunch in a delicatessen where sausages of every shape and size
hung like decorations from the ceiling. They sat at a small table near
open barrels of pickles, pickled tomatoes, and sauerkraut and stuffed
themselves with corned-beef sandwiches on fresh, fragrant rye bread
dotted with caraway seeds, homemade potato salad, cole slaw, and
pickles. Afterward, they felt much better, and more heartened for the
rest of the day’s search.

As they worked their way downtown, the neighborhood began to change once
more, and the girls were unable to guess what might be the nationality
of the dark, strong-faced people they now saw about them. The signs on
the windows didn’t help either, being in a language they could not
identify.

It might have remained a mystery, had they not been stopped by a
policeman who said, “What are a couple of nice-looking girls like you
doing in the Gypsy section? This is no place to sight-see, you know. I’d
advise you to take a guided tour.”

“We’re not sight-seeing,” Peggy said. “We’re looking for an
address—actually for an old theater. Maybe you can help us. We want to
find the Burke Theater, if it still exists.”

The policeman was puzzled until Peggy showed him the address, and then
he smiled broadly. “Well, you might just as well forget it,” he said.
“It might have been a theater once, but not any longer. The Settlement
House has it now, and it’s the local boys’ club, complete with a
gymnasium equipped for every sport. It’s done a lot of good in this
neighborhood, I can tell you.”

Peggy and Amy thanked him, and then asked him about the Gypsies. They
hadn’t realized there were any in the city—or at least not enough to
make up a whole district.

“It’s not a large district,” he said. “No more than a thousand or so, at
the most. At least that’s what they say, but it’s not easy getting them
to hold still to be counted. They’re good people, once you get to know
them. Only they speak a language nobody can understand, and their ways
are different. If I were you, I wouldn’t hang around here much.”

Thanking him, the girls left, not without casting a few glances back
over their shoulders until they were sure they were clear of the area.

The remaining theaters on their first day’s list were to the west of the
Gypsy district, and these too proved to offer nothing. The district they
now found themselves in was on the outskirts of Chinatown, and was half
Chinese and half mixed-New-York. Of the theaters on the list for this
part of town, one had been at one time a Chinese movie house, and was
now a Rescue Mission. Signboards in rusty black with large white
lettering warned sinners to repent, and offered soup and bread to anyone
who attended the services. From inside, the girls heard some wheezy
voices and an even wheezier organ sounding the plaintive notes of a
hymn.

Peggy realized with a start that this was the Bowery, the sinister,
pathetic district inhabited by the poorest examples of humanity—those
who had almost resigned from the human race. Looking about her, she saw
tattered men in doorways, sleeping figures huddled under stairs, groups
of tough-looking tramps standing idly on street corners. She was
suddenly aware that she and Amy were the only women in sight.

“Amy,” she said in a shaky voice, “I’m afraid we shouldn’t have come
here! This is the Bowery, and you remember what the guide said about it
when we took that bus trip. He called it the worst district of the
city!”

“Oh dear!” Amy whispered, looking nervously about her. “What should we
do now?”

“I think we’d better go,” Peggy said. “Chinatown starts right across the
street, and I remember what the guide said about that, too. He said not
to believe all the old mystery stories; Chinatown is just about the
safest place in the city. The Chinese have practically no criminals
among them, and any tourist is safe there. Let’s go!”

Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, and doing all they could to
avoid the appearance of hurrying, Peggy and Amy crossed the street and
turned into a narrow alley between two Chinese food shops whose windows
were filled with things that neither girl could identify.

Once more they were made aware of the sudden changeability of the city.
In no time at all, they were out of the frightening streets of the
Bowery and in the crowded, noisy, bright-colored center of Chinatown.
The streets, so narrow that in some places the sidewalks were scarcely a
foot wide, were lined with restaurants, gift shops, importing houses
that specialized in tea and spices, and more of the oddly stocked
Oriental groceries and markets. Somewhat shaken by their fear on the
Bowery, they stopped for tea and rice cookies in a large Chinese
restaurant, where they sat at a small table on a balcony overhanging the
main street of the district.

“I think we’d better stop looking for theaters today,” Peggy suggested.
“Besides, it’s after five-thirty now, and almost time for dinner. Why
don’t we look around some of the shops here, and then come back to this
restaurant for dinner? We can look for theaters again tomorrow.”

Amy agreed, but looked pained at the suggestion that they do more
searching the next day. “I don’t know how you can stand it,” she said.
“My feet are killing me from today’s walk. Why don’t we wait awhile?”

“Because tomorrow’s Sunday,” Peggy replied firmly, “and it’s our last
chance to get in a full day’s looking before next week. After-school
hours just aren’t enough. If we really want to check out this whole
list, we have to work weekends.”

Amy sighed. “My worst habit isn’t laziness,” she said, “it’s picking the
wrong kind of friends. If I had known, when we first met, how much
energy you have, I would have refused to know you!”



                                  XIV
                          _The Hidden Theater_


Sunday, like Saturday, produced one blank after another.

Peggy and Amy saw theaters that had been turned into television studios,
union halls, social clubs, and lodges; theaters converted to restaurants
and supermarkets; sites of theaters long vanished and forgotten now
occupied by office buildings, apartment houses or the blank-faced,
featureless warehouses that fill much of lower Manhattan.

On Monday, when their last class was over at two-thirty, Peggy once more
took up her list and her bundle of city maps and guides. “Let’s go,
Amy,” she said in tones of mixed determination and resignation. “We’ve
got a couple of hours this afternoon, and we might as well use them.”

“Why don’t we take the afternoon off?” Amy asked. “My feet are just
killing me, and I’m sure if I walk for another two hours I’ll come down
with an awful blister. We can look again tomorrow, after a day’s rest.”

Peggy considered the suggestion for a moment. It would be a relief to
take an afternoon off and just loaf about the house. But then she shook
her head. “No. If we don’t have any luck, we can take tomorrow off, but
I’d like to go out again today. There’s a meeting of the players tonight
at Connie’s, you know, and I’d love to be able to report that we found
something today. Let’s give it a try.”

“All right, Peggy,” Amy agreed, “if you’re game, so am I. And it would
be nice to have some good news for the gang tonight. I’m just afraid
that we’ll put a damper on the evening when we show up all tired out
with some more of our usual bad news.”

Peggy half agreed, but knew that if she gave in and let down her pace,
she might never again get up the kind of drive she had been working on
for the last week. With a deep breath and a determined expression, she
swept Amy off with her.

“The section we’re looking in today,” she explained as they walked to
the subway, “is a little west and south of Greenwich Village. It’s
mostly warehouses now, but there were once several theaters there, and
since there’s been almost no new construction in the area in the last
fifty years, there’s a chance that some of the theaters have been left
alone. I’m particularly interested in two of them that I think have a
better chance of being there than the others we’ve looked for.”

“Why should these two have a better chance?” Amy asked.

“The licenses show that there were several theaters built in the city at
one time in a way that got around the fire laws. The law said that you
couldn’t build a theater with any other kind of space over it, and with
land so expensive, it kept a lot of people from building theaters. So a
few smart builders put theaters on the top floors of office buildings,
and got more rentable space on their ground that way. I’ve found permits
for over a dozen of these top-floor theaters.”

“But why should they still be there,” Amy asked, “any more than any of
the other old theaters?”

“Two reasons,” Peggy answered. “In the first place, nobody would want to
convert a top-floor theater to a restaurant or a garage or anything like
that. And in the second place, the district we’re going to has
practically no apartment buildings in it, and that means that there
aren’t residents in the neighborhood to want to use a theater for a
social club or a church or a funeral parlor. I have a feeling that we’re
going to find our theater here, if we find it anywhere.”

Amy agreed with Peggy’s logic and further noted that, if they did find a
theater in this district, it would be a good location. There were two
subway lines that had stops on either side of the area, and several bus
lines as well.

These observations gave them a somewhat more cheerful outlook, and it
was with a renewed sense of anticipation that they came up from the
subway and started their search in this promising new district.

The streets in this part of town were narrow, and crowded with trucks
that were backed up at all angles to loading platforms that ran like
boardwalks along the fronts of the buildings. Most of the buildings were
produce markets where wholesale food merchants received the meats,
vegetables, fruits, and packaged goods that fed the city. Wide
protective canopies that overhung their fronts gave the loading
platforms the appearance of old-fashioned porches. Other buildings were
warehouses, obviously designed for storage. Their blank windowless walls
and heavy steel doors made them look like ancient fortresses. Here and
there, between these and the produce markets, stood the most familiar
kind of New York business building, the so-called “loft,” used for light
industry or, occasionally, offices. It was in front of one of these that
Peggy stopped.

“Here’s our first address,” she said. “According to my list, a theater
was licensed here by the original construction permit in 1892.”

Amy looked at the worn, red brick front, unconvinced. “A theater here? I
can’t imagine it! Maybe this place was built later, after the original
building with the theater was torn down.”

Peggy shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve gotten pretty good at
architecture in the last few days, and I think I can guess the date of a
New York building within a couple of years. This wasn’t built much later
than 1892. It must be the original building with the theater. Let’s see
if we can get any clue to it.”

The girls walked across the street in order to get a better view of the
building and, as soon as they turned to look, Peggy’s eyes lighted.
“Look up!” she said. “There’s a theater up there, all right!”

“How do you know?” Amy asked wonderingly.

“Look at the windows! The first five floors have windows all the same
height—a normal ceiling height. But the top floor has windows that must
be twenty feet high! That means that the ceiling height is over twenty
feet up there. What else could it be but the theater?”

“You must be right!” Amy agreed with excitement. “What do we do now?”

“Let’s see if there’s a janitor or anyone who can tell us about it; if
it’s being used, and what for. Even if someone’s using it, we might be
able to rent it from him if we can pay him more than he’s paying now.
Let’s go and look!”

They ran across the street and into the vestibule of the building, but
when Peggy tried the door, she found it locked. A small sign on the door
read O & O TRUCKING Co. And the same name was written over the bank of
mailboxes. Apparently there were no other tenants in the building, and
nobody seemed to be in the O & O offices.

“We can always write to them,” Amy suggested, “or we can try them on the
phone until we find someone in.”

“I guess we’ll have to,” Peggy agreed. But then she noticed the
doorbell, almost invisible under many layers of thick green paint. “Wait
a minute! Let’s see if the bell works. Maybe there’s a watchman, or
somebody else.”

                  [Illustration: The door swung open]

A push at the button produced a loud ringing from deep within the
building. Its sound seemed to echo for seconds after Peggy released the
button.

“If there’s anybody in there, that’s going to bring him,” she said.
After a few minutes’ wait, she decided to try again. This time, at the
same instant that she touched the doorbell, the door swung open,
revealing a man in dirty overalls who stood blinking at the light and
regarding them with a scowl.

“Whatta ya want?” he grated.

“Are you the superintendent?” Peggy asked politely.

“I’m the janitor. Whatta ya wanta know for?”

“Well, we’re just wondering about the theater upstairs—”

“Theater? Ain’t no theater here, kid,” the man growled, and started to
shut the door.

“Wait!” Peggy said, holding the door open. “There is a theater upstairs!
We know there is! All I want to know is what it’s used for.”

“It ain’t used for nothin’,” the janitor started angrily. Then he
stopped himself, remembering his first statement. “Besides, you got the
wrong place. Like I said, no theater here. Now beat it!” With an extra
push, he slammed the door shut, and Peggy and Amy once more were faced
with nothing more enlightening than the O & O sign.

“Why, I’ve never in my life seen such awful manners!” Amy said, almost
with a stamp of her foot. “I’m going to write to that company as soon as
we get home and tell them about—”

“Amy,” Peggy interrupted, “I think you’re getting excited about the
wrong thing. Let’s get away from here and talk this over.”

But before leaving the district, she crossed the street once more to be
sure that she was not mistaken about the building. Her second look
convinced her that she had been right. Those windows could only mean a
high-ceilinged room of some sort, and the license clearly stated that it
had been a theater.

“Amy, there’s just one thing to do now. We’ve got to check the city
records again, this time to see the plans of this building. Then, once
we’re sure it’s a theater, we’ve got some thinking to do before we act.”

“But why would that janitor say there was no theater there if there is
one?” Amy said.

“That’s the question,” Peggy agreed darkly. “I want to know why he said
that, and I want to know what the place is being used for.”

“But, Peggy,” Amy protested, “why should we go poking into other
people’s business? We already know that they’re not going to rent us
this theater, and that they’re downright unpleasant people. Why don’t we
just cross this one off, and go look at the others on your list?”

“Amy, you’re not thinking clearly,” Peggy said patiently. “It seems to
me that the only reason anyone would have for acting the way that
janitor did is that there’s something wrong going on in there—something
that makes it important for them to keep people out.”

“If that’s the case,” Amy said reasonably, “why did the janitor act so
suspiciously? If he had just said that the theater’s been converted to
some other use and isn’t for rent, we would have gone away and not
thought a thing about it.”

“That’s true,” Peggy agreed, “but I think we caught him off guard. After
all, it’s undoubtedly the first time anyone’s come around to ask him
about the theater, and he just didn’t know what to say. Besides, I don’t
think he’s very smart. He’s certainly not the man in charge of whatever
crooked business is going on in there.”

“If you’re sure it’s something crooked, why don’t we just report it to
the police?” Amy asked.

“We can’t go to the police with just our suspicions,” Peggy replied.
“They want some kind of indication that there’s something illegal before
they can investigate. In fact, I know they can’t even get a search
warrant without evidence. No, I’m afraid we’ll have to look into this on
our own.”

“But, Peggy,” Amy protested, “we’re supposed to be looking for a
theater, not playing cops and robbers!”

“This _is_ looking for a theater,” Peggy said intently. “If we uncover
something crooked going on in there, and if we can convince the police
of it, that building’s going to be vacant pretty soon. Come on! Let’s
dig up the plans for this place before the Bureau closes for the night!
I want to see what kind of stage the group is going to have to play on!”



                                   XV
                            _The Stage Door_


This time, knowing the name and address of the theater, and knowing
exactly what they were looking for, the girls had little trouble finding
the file set of plans for the theater, kept with the Fire Department as
a record of the seating plan, capacity, and exits.

Mason’s Starlight Theater, as the place had originally been called, had
a good working stage plan, not too wide, but with extraordinarily good
depth. It accommodated four hundred seats, which was a small auditorium
by Broadway standards, but larger than most of the off-Broadway houses.
Wing and fly space was generous, to allow for easy movement of scenery
off to the sides (or wings) or up on ropes and pulleys to the flies. The
dressing rooms were small, but they were well located. It seemed to Amy
and Peggy like the perfect jewelbox of a theater that they had dreamed
of since they had started their search.

The entrance to the theater, they found, was not through the street door
of the loft building, but down an L-shaped alley that ran alongside the
building and, when it turned, opened into a sort of courtyard. Playgoers
had been taken up to the top floor on an oversized freight elevator
which also had served for bringing in scenery and props, and which was
rated to carry fifty passengers at once. Two additional exits were
provided by fire-escapes outside the building. There was no way to enter
or leave the theater from the rest of the building, and the elevator
stopped only at the theater level. The loft floors were served by a
regular-sized passenger elevator reached through the front hall.

“Well, it looks just perfect,” Peggy said triumphantly. “Now all we have
to do is find out what it’s being used for, expose it, and move in when
the crooks move out!”

“I think you’re jumping to conclusions,” Amy said. “It seems to me that
the janitor might actually not have known about the theater. After all,
it can’t be reached through the building, and if he’s never been told
about the back elevator, or never been allowed to use it, he might not
know what’s up there.”

“Maybe,” Peggy said doubtfully, “but it seemed to me that he looked
awfully guilty about something. I’m sure he’s part of whatever’s going
on there.”

Amy protested. “That’s just the point! Maybe there’s nothing going on
there! Maybe the janitor doesn’t know about the theater, and it’s not
being used by crooks, but just sitting up there empty, gathering dust!
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“It sure would,” Peggy agreed, “but I don’t think we’re that lucky. Of
course we could look up the name of the owner of the building and ask
him about the theater, but if it is a crooked game, and if the owner is
in on it.... No. I don’t think that’s the way to do it.”

“How do you think we should handle it, then?” Amy asked.

“I think we ought to go back to the place right now,” Peggy said,
“before it gets dark. I want to look around that back alley and theater
entrance just to see if we can pick up any clues. Then we’ll talk it
over with the boys and listen to their ideas.”

“I can believe that you’ll talk it over with them,” Amy laughed, “but I
have my doubts about your listening to anybody’s ideas! Still, I said
I’d go theater hunting with you, and I’m not going to back out now!”

By the time they had turned in their plans and charts to the file clerk
and returned to the loft-theater building, it was almost six o’clock.
Most of the trucks that had filled the streets were gone now, not to
return until after midnight, when the produce market would open for one
more business “day.” A few of the offices, small manufacturing
businesses and printing shops that filled the surrounding lofts, were
still open, judging by the lights in their windows, but for the most
part the streets and buildings were empty in the pearly twilight.

Making every effort to be inconspicuous, the girls ducked down the alley
to the rear courtyard entrance of the Starlight Theater. A miniature
marquee bearing the name “Mason’s” overhung a short flight of stairs
that led up to a loading platform, at the back of which was a wide, high
elevator door with pillars on either side. Above it, a plaster arch was
decorated with the twin masks of Comus—comedy and tragedy.

“Do you still think that the janitor didn’t know there was a theater in
the building?” Peggy whispered. “He’d have had to be blind as well as
dumb.”

Walking very quietly, the girls ascended the steps and approached the
huge elevator door. “Look!” Peggy whispered, pointing to the metal
doorsill. Amy nodded, clearly understanding the meaning of the bright
metal.

“It’s being used regularly,” Peggy said. “You can see where the sill is
dark and rusted toward the sides, and bright in the center, where people
have been walking over it.”

“And the lock!” Amy said. She and Peggy examined the heavy padlock that
secured the door to the frame by stout hasps. It was bright and clean,
of modern design and well-oiled. Any further doubts they might have had
were dispelled by examination of the door hinges, which were coated with
a heavy layer of fresh grease.

“Not only is the theater in use,” Peggy whispered, “but whoever is using
it is being awfully careful that he doesn’t make any noise opening and
shutting these doors. Are you convinced now?”

Amy nodded, wide-eyed. “I surely am. And I’m convinced that we’d better
get out of here before the man with the keys comes along! I’d hate to be
caught snooping around!”

Feeling not in the least as calm as she hoped she looked, Peggy motioned
Amy to wait while she took a last look around to be sure that there was
nothing she had missed. Then, her heart beating wildly, she and Amy left
the alley as cautiously as they had entered it. But neither of them felt
really safe until they were blocks away, and on their way to Connie’s
for the meeting of the players.

“We seem to be practically living in alleys,” Amy said as they let
themselves in through the street gate and started down the passage to
Connie’s little house.

“Yes, but I feel a lot better in this one than in the last,” Peggy said.
“When we get the theater, we’ll have to fix up that alley like this one,
with flower borders and lights to make it cheerful. We can fix up the
courtyard, too, with a little fountain and some garden seats and—”

“You’re awfully confident about getting that theater,” Amy interrupted.
“I hope that you’re not going to be disappointed.”

“I won’t be,” Peggy said. “I know that it was just meant for us, and I
mean to make sure that we get it!”

Connie let the girls in, and while they were saying hello to her and the
others, the buzzer announced the arrival of Tom Galen and Mona Downs.

“I’m so glad everyone’s here at once!” Peggy said. “We’re so full of
news that if we had to wait for anyone, I think we’d burst!”

“Don’t tell us you’ve found a theater!” Randy exclaimed.

“I will tell you,” Peggy answered, “because we did!”

“What’s wrong with it?” Mal asked.

“Where is it?” Connie said at the same time.

“And how much is it?” Randy put in, in the same instant.

“Whoa! One at a time!” Peggy protested. “If everybody will get settled
and hold the questions for a few minutes, I’ll tell you all about it.
Now,” she said, when the players were seated in expectant attitudes,
“now I’ll tell you everything you want to know. It’s called Mason’s
Starlight Theater; it’s on the top floor of a loft in the market area
southwest of Greenwich Village; we don’t know the rent; it’s a perfect
theater, just the right size, and—.”

“I feel a _but_ coming, rather than an _and_,” Randy said.

“Well, only a small _but_,” Peggy said. “The place happens to be in use
right now.”

“Great,” Mal said sarcastically. “You can now add your name to the long
list of those among us who have located perfect theaters that happen to
be in use!”

“Wait!” Peggy said. “This is different. In the first place, nobody will
admit to using it; in the second place, we think there’s something
crooked going on there; and if we do a little bit of detective work, I
think we can find out what it is. If I’m right, and if it’s being used
by crooks, we can get the theater for ourselves by getting the crooks
out!”

Their interest aroused by this unusual statement, the players began to
question Peggy and Amy about their suspicions and about the
circumstances that surrounded their discovery of the Starlight Theater.
When the girls had told them about their interview with the janitor, and
about their later visit to the alley behind the building, everyone
seemed convinced that there was something peculiar going on at the
place.

“The polished doorsill and the greased hinges and the new lock prove
that it’s being used,” Peggy concluded. “And the janitor’s attitude
seems to indicate that it’s being used for something illegal.”

“It sounds like an airtight case to me,” Pip said. “Why don’t we just
take the facts to the police and let them investigate?”

“Because there are no facts yet,” Peggy said. “All we have are guesses.
There must be thousands of places in use in the city, and thousands of
janitors who don’t want to be friendly and tell what they’re used for,
and I don’t think that the police would be willing to agree that they’re
all run by gangsters.”

“Peggy’s right. We can’t go to the police without more evidence,” Randy
said. “Before they’ll swear out a search warrant, we have to have
something more definite for them.”

“Then let’s get it!” Pip said with enthusiasm. “What do you suggest,
Peggy?”

“I think we ought to set up a lookout post in that back alley,” she
answered decisively. “There’s a place under the fire stairs on the far
side of the building where two people could hide and see without being
seen, and it shouldn’t take more than a couple of nights of looking to
find out what’s going on.”

“Why nights?” Randy asked. “They might be doing whatever it is they do
in the daytime, too. I’m afraid we’d have to set up a twenty-four-hour
watch to be sure of finding anything out.”

“I don’t think so, Randy,” Peggy argued. “If they were using the place
by day, they probably wouldn’t have taken so much care with the hinges.
What’s more, I’m sure the janitor was sleeping when we rang the bell,
which is why he took so long in answering it. I would guess that he
works at night with the rest of the gang. Besides, that neighborhood
would be perfect for night work. The markets are practically deserted
between six and midnight. Probably after midnight, when the markets open
up, the crooks run a legitimate trucking business as a cover-up.”

“The girl’s a positive Sherlock,” Mal said fondly. “Anyway, we can try a
few nights, and if nothing shows up, we can then worry about extending
the watch during the daytime as well.”

“When do we start?” Tom Galen asked.

“Tomorrow night,” Peggy said. “It’s too late to start tonight. We’d want
to be in the alley and under the stairs before it gets really dark.
Tomorrow Amy and I will stand watch, then—”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Randy said. “You two have done your part in this.
The lookout work will be done by men!”

“You’re probably right,” Peggy said, outwardly reluctant to give in, but
secretly happy that she wouldn’t have to spend nights crouching under
those dark stairs and waiting for heaven only knew what.

“I’ll go tomorrow,” Pip said.

“I’ll go with you,” Tom Galen said. “We’d better go two at a time, at
least for the purpose of having two witnesses to anything we see.”

“Good. Randy and I will go the next night,” Mal said. “We can alternate
from there.”

Everything arranged, Mal tried to turn the group to the original purpose
of the meeting, which was to work on further readings of the play. He
soon realized that everyone was too keyed up to concentrate, and
canceled work for the night.

“I think, in fact, that we’d better forget about rehearsals entirely,”
he said, “at least until we have this theater business settled one way
or the other. For one thing, we’re going to need all the sleep we can
get on the nights that we’re not standing watch.”

Everyone agreed, and in varying states of tension and excitement, said
good night and parted, knowing that the next few days might be very,
very busy.



                                  XVI
                       _Understudies for Danger_


School the next day seemed almost unreal to Peggy. Or was it the dark
alley and the night watch to come that was the unreal thing? Considered
carefully, nothing seemed quite real, even her home and her parents in
the neat, orderly world of Rockport. A ride on Socks around the autumn
fields of Wisconsin would clear her mind, she thought, or just an hour
alone in her favorite thinking spot in the harness room.

Her thoughts, shuttling restlessly between the friendly barn and the
now-sinister alley, were definitely not on her work, which was a lecture
session on television acting technique.

At lunch in the park, the discussion centered on the night’s work that
waited for Pip and Tom Galen. It all seemed very melodramatic.

“I’ve arranged with Tom,” Pip was saying, “to meet me downtown a little
before six. We’re both going to wear black slacks and sweaters, and
we’ll take black gloves. That way, we ought to melt into the shadows
perfectly.”

“How about your faces?” Connie giggled. “Are you going to go in
blackface like a couple of Al Jolsons?”

“We considered it,” Pip said seriously, “but we decided that it wasn’t
necessary. If anyone comes, we’ll hold our gloved hands over our faces,
and look through our fingers.”

“I must say you’ve thought of everything,” Amy said in admiration.

“Everything,” Pip echoed gloomily, “except what to do if we get caught.
We even worked out something about that, but I don’t know how good it
is.”

“What have you worked out?” Peggy asked.

“We’re supposed to call Randy at one in the morning to tell him that
we’re going off duty. If we don’t call by then, he’s supposed to call
the police. Tomorrow night, he and Mal will call me at one.”

“That sounds sensible,” Peggy commented.

“Sure. Sensible. But if they catch us, say, at ten o’clock, we could be
in some pretty bad trouble by the time the police come around after
one.”

Feeling that this line of conversation was doing them no good at all,
Peggy tried, with little success, to change the subject. By the time
lunch was over and they had returned to the Academy, all four of them
felt thoroughly depressed.

Somehow, Peggy got through the afternoon.

And somehow, she got through the night, but it was scarcely a restful
one. She lay awake until one o’clock worrying about Pip and Tom, and
finally, at one-fifteen, called Randy. He answered at the first ring,
quite awake.

“Did they call?” she asked.

“At one o’clock sharp,” he assured her. “They haven’t seen anything at
all, and they’re perfectly all right. Now get some sleep. Good night.”

Feeling relieved, Peggy went back to bed, but it was not easy to sleep.
What had seemed such a good idea yesterday was beginning to seem foolish
today. The boys were engaging in unknown risks, and nobody knew what
dangers they might encounter. Perhaps they should have gone to the
police in the first place, and tried to convince them that something was
amiss. Perhaps they should still do so....

Finally, she slept, troubled by vague, unpleasant dreams.

The next day, her doubts grew stronger. Pip appeared at school late,
looking like a molting owl. He had rings under his eyes and seemed not
to have slept at all.

“We decided to stay on until daylight,” he explained wanly, “just in
case your idea that any action would take place between six and twelve
was wrong. Nothing happened, and we left at five-thirty in the morning.”

“But, Pip!” Peggy protested. “That’s a twelve-hour watch! You shouldn’t
be in school today!”

“It’s all right,” he assured her with a weak smile. “I’m rested. Slept
from six until nearly nine.”

He tackled his work gamely, but by noon agreed with Peggy that the
wisest course would be to cut school for the afternoon and go home to
sleep.

“Remember,” she cautioned him, “you have to set your alarm clock for one
in the morning, in case you don’t get a call from Randy and Mal.”

“I’m going to do better than that,” Pip said. “I’m going to shut off the
bell on my telephone so I can sleep straight through to midnight. Then
I’ll have the alarm wake me, so I can turn the phone on, and I’ll set
the alarm for one o’clock then.”

Pip left, somewhat unsteadily, and Peggy went to her afternoon class on
Elizabethan drama. She forced herself to concentrate, knowing that she
would have more than enough time that night to worry about the mystery
of the alley, and to speculate on what troubles the second night watch
might bring.


It was five-thirty and teatime at the Gramercy Arms when the troubles
began.

“Your redheaded boy friend’s on the phone for you, Peggy,” Greta
announced from the head of the stairs. “He sounds worried.”

Hurriedly putting down her teacup, Peggy ran from the kitchen and up to
the phone in the hall.

“Randy,” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid so, Peggy,” he answered. “Nothing serious, but I’m afraid
that Mal and I are going to be hopelessly late for our watch tonight,
and unless you want to take a chance on missing whatever action might
take place in the alley, Pip and Tom are going to have to cover it
again. At least for the first few hours.”

“What happened?” she asked. “Where are you?”

“It’s my car,” he answered. “I had to go out to my family’s place on
Long Island to get some stuff, and Mal came along for the ride. We
thought we’d have plenty of time, but on the way back, the car broke
down. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and the trouble will take at least
another hour to fix. That means that we couldn’t possibly be at the
alley until about seven-thirty, and, to tell the truth, eight or nine
would be more like it. Will you get hold of Pip and Tom and tell them
the sad news?”

Peggy agreed, wished him good luck with the car, and hung up.

Pip’s phone didn’t answer, and after ringing for several minutes, Peggy
remembered his decision to shut off the bell until midnight. She next
tried the midtown hotel where Tom Galen lived, but he was not in his
room, and the desk clerk had not seen him for several hours.

Hurrying downstairs to the kitchen and her now cold cup of tea, she
broke the news to Amy.

“Well, maybe nothing will happen before eight or nine,” Amy said
hopefully, but not looking too convinced.

“I’m afraid that if anything is going to happen, that’s just about the
time for it,” Peggy said. “The neighborhood doesn’t really empty out
until after six, and it starts to get busy again a little before
midnight. If I wanted to do any work in that alley, I think I’d plan to
arrive by eight and leave by ten, if it could be done.”

“Nothing happened last night,” Amy said, “so maybe nothing will happen
tonight either.”

“I’m going to have to disagree again. Just because nothing happened last
night, I think that we stand a better chance of seeing something
tonight. Judging from the used condition of that doorsill, whoever’s
using the place doesn’t let too much time go by between visits.”

“But what can we do about it?” Amy said. “With Randy and Mal out on Long
Island, and Pip and Tom unreachable, that leaves only us.”

“I know,” Peggy said firmly. “And that’s who’s going to go tonight!”

“Oh, Peggy! Do you think we ought to?” Amy asked. “I mean, it might be
dangerous, and we are a couple of girls, and....”

“This is no time to play the feminine Southern belle,” Peggy said. “We
have to go. And besides, there’s no danger. It’s not as if we’ll be
seen, or as if we meant to rush out and stop the crooks if we see them!
We’ll just hide under the stairs and watch. Anyway, even if you don’t
want to go, you can’t stop me.”

“That settles it,” Amy said with conviction. “You’re not going to go to
that place alone. When do we start?”

“Right now!” Peggy said eagerly. “It’s almost six o’clock, and we
haven’t got too much time to get there before it’s dark. Come on! We
have to get dressed for the occasion!”



                                  XVII
                           _Backstage Fright_


Peggy giggled uneasily as she and Amy inspected themselves in the hall
mirror before leaving the Gramercy Arms. “We look like a couple of
character actors dressed up for a skit on the Beat Generation.”

“Or like a couple of weird vampires from a horror movie,” Amy replied
with a nervous laugh.

Greta surveyed them critically. “At least you don’t have to worry about
anything,” she said acidly. “Those getups would frighten off any man in
the world. If the crooks do catch sight of you, all it’ll take is one
look before they scream and run!”

Both girls were dressed identically, having taken their cue from Pip in
the matter of appropriate clothes for playing detective in a dark alley.
They wore black skirts and sweaters, black stockings and black shoes.
They carried black gloves and black scarves. The scarf was necessary for
Amy to cover her bright, blond hair, and Peggy thought it was a good
idea for her to take one, too, as a face covering. Neither wore any
jewelry at all, so there would be nothing to rattle or jingle or catch
the light.

“If we’re not back by morning,” Peggy said wryly, “send out the
bloodhounds for us.”

“I’m waiting up for you,” Greta said. “And if you’re not back by
one-thirty, the first bloodhound to pick up your trail is going to be
me. With an appropriate police escort,” she added.

“Don’t worry,” Peggy said. “We’ll be all right. Just wish us luck, and
we’ll be on our way.”

“All right, then. Good luck,” Greta said, opening the door for them. “I
just hope the police don’t pick you up, for looking like suspicious
characters.”

Peggy and Amy left, feeling a little foolish about their costumes, but
after walking for a block or two, they realized that nobody was even
looking at them.

“That’s the wonderful thing about New York,” Peggy said. “You can wear
anything, or do anything, and nobody seems to care as long as you don’t
disturb the peace.”

Amy nodded in agreement. “The other day I noticed a man with a beard
down to his waist. He was wearing a long Biblical-looking white robe and
a pair of sandals, and nobody on the street was paying the least bit of
attention to him. Just try to picture him passing unnoticed in Pine
Hollow or in Rockport!”

“Just try to picture us passing unnoticed in Pine Hollow or in
Rockport!” Peggy laughed. “We’d probably have a crowd of people and
barking dogs and small boys throwing stones by now!”

The driver scarcely glanced at them as they boarded a bus.

“I suppose it’s nice to know that nobody bothers about you in New York,”
Peggy said when they were seated, “but in a way it’s kind of scary. I
mean, supposing something were to happen to us, do you think that anyone
would even notice it if we screamed?”

Amy shivered. “I know what you mean,” she said. “I suppose a lot of
people would notice it, and then they’d just put it out of their minds
and do nothing about it. They’d just figure it was none of their
business, after all, and go right on doing what they were doing.”

The thought was not a happy one, and both girls lapsed into a tense
silence as the bus bore them downtown into the deepening twilight.

They got off in a district of office buildings, shops, and showrooms,
all dark now. The streets were empty, save for an occasional car or taxi
and the taillights of their bus, receding in the distance. As they
turned to the west, down a narrow side street, the street lights came
on. They seemed to accentuate the darkness rather than relieve it. The
girls hurried on past closed doors and shuttered windows. Each block
they walked brought them past older and lower buildings. The smell of
the river was brought to them by an incoming mist. Somewhere in the
distance a foghorn sounded two short, mournful blasts and then was
still.

They were in the market and warehouse district now. Parked trucks stood
silently by darkened loading docks, and shadows crouched behind tall
stacks of crates and boxes. One shadow suddenly detached itself from the
rest and shot by them with a wail! Peggy’s heart leaped and she clutched
Amy’s arm before she realized it was only an alley cat.

   [Illustration: One shadow suddenly detached itself from the rest]

“A cat!” she exclaimed, her voice trembling in mixed fear and relief.
“Just a cat! Oh dear, if I let that sort of thing scare me, I’m not
going to be much good tonight!”

“I ... I was frightened, too,” Amy said. “It was so sudden! We’ll
probably see more of them here, chasing the rats that must live around
these food markets. We’d better get used to it.”

But the thought of rats did nothing to calm Peggy’s nerves, or Amy’s
either. What if, in the alley behind the theater, rats should come? What
if they should come at the same time as the crooks? What if, under the
fire stairs, there should come a quiet scratching...? Peggy wondered if
she would be able to keep her silence then.

But they were near the theater alley now, and Peggy resolutely put her
fear of rats out of her mind. Let’s just worry about one thing at a
time, she told herself. The street was deserted, as she had hoped it
would be, and they were able to slip into the alley unobserved.

They walked cautiously, taking care with each step. If there was any
work going on in the alley now, this would be no time to disturb it.
Before turning the corner into the back court, they paused and listened
for what seemed a very long time. Not a sound disturbed the night. The
immediate silence was so perfect that they could hear, far in the
distance, the never-ending rumble and stir of the city, the growl of
subways and motors, the far-off drone of airplanes.

They turned into the empty courtyard, darted noiselessly for the fire
stairs and crouched in the shadows, their hearts drumming loudly and the
blood roaring in their ears like the noise of the distant subways.

It was some time before they felt calm enough to take stock of their
position. The fire stair was, as Peggy had told the boys, a perfect
place to hide. Most of it mounted out of sight in an airshaft on the
side of the building opposite the entrance alley. Only the last six
steps came out into the court, having turned the corner of the building
at a landing. The space below the landing made a cramped little lean-to,
protected by the steps themselves on one side and by a latticework of
metal on the other. The space was open only in the rear, from which
direction nobody could approach them.

The steps themselves were steel, and the risers between the steps were
of the same metal grillwork as that on the side. It was almost
impossible for anyone to see into the shadowed cubbyhole behind the
grill, but quite an easy matter for the girls to see out.

“I think we’re safe enough here,” Peggy whispered, tactfully restraining
herself from adding, “as long as no rats come around.”

“It seems safe,” Amy agreed, “but I wouldn’t exactly call it
comfortable. It’s too low to stand in, and I hate the thought of sitting
down on the dirt that’s collected here. There’s a box out there in the
courtyard. Why don’t we bring it in to sit on?”

“Better not,” Peggy answered. “Someone may remember having seen it
there, and if it’s missing, it might give them the idea that somebody’s
been here. And we don’t want anyone to get ideas like that.”

Amy agreed reluctantly with the sense of Peggy’s argument, and shifted
her position. “No wonder Pip was so tired,” she whispered. “A whole
twelve hours of crouching like this must be a terrible thing to go
through! We’ve only been here for about fifteen minutes, and I’m
beginning to get pins and needles already.”

The next hour and a half, spent mostly in silence, and in trying to get
used to the cramped position beneath the stairs, passed by with terrible
slowness. Every so often, the roar of a truck would be heard in the
street, and the girls would grow tense, waiting for it to turn into the
alley. But it always went by, leaving an even deeper silence behind it.

“It’s almost time for Randy and Mal to come,” Peggy whispered. “I don’t
envy them their night, but I’ll sure be glad to get out of here!”

“So will—quiet! I hear another truck,” Amy said.

Quietly shifting into new positions of comparative comfort, the girls
held their breath and waited to hear the sound of the truck passing the
alley. But this one didn’t pass.

A bright beam of headlights swept down the alley and lighted up the
court as the truck turned in off the street.

“Those headlights!” Peggy whispered. “When they turn the corner into the
court, they’re bound to light up this whole stairway!”

“Just hope the driver doesn’t look this way!” Amy whispered in return.

But before the truck came into sight, the headlights were switched off,
and the driver came in under the soft glow of the parking lamps. The
truck was an ordinary-looking, box-body affair, a little shabby, dented,
and in need of both a washing and a paint job. Faded, once-gold letters
high up on its side read “O & O TRUCKING Co.” The forlorn appearance of
the truck was belied by the soft, powerful sound of its well-tuned
engine as it turned into the alley and was expertly backed up to the
loading platform.

Two men silently leaped out of the cab and carefully closed the doors.
Moving on rubber-soled shoes, they climbed onto the platform, unlocked
the rear doors of the truck and swung them back. A third man, holding a
rifle in his hand, stepped out of the truck.

“Okay,” he said quietly. “You get the stuff out, and I’ll keep watch.”

He jumped lightly down and stationed himself at the corner by the alley,
his rifle held ready, while the other men unlocked the elevator doors
and opened them.

They worked swiftly and quietly in the darkness, which was relieved only
by a very dim work light mounted in the truck body. By its pale glow,
Peggy and Amy saw only an anonymous series of boxes being transferred
from the truck to the elevator. There was no way to tell what they held
but, Peggy thought, it couldn’t have been anything legal—not if it had
to be loaded secretly at night and under an armed guard.

Thinking of the armed guard, she suddenly shivered with fright as a new
thought came to her. The boys! Randy and Mal! What if they should choose
this moment to make their appearance? The man with the rifle stood
motionless and poised for action. Peggy was sure he would not hesitate
to shoot anyone who walked into that alley. Biting her lip and holding
tightly to the steel support of the stair, she prayed that Randy’s
engine would give him more trouble, or that they would run into heavy
traffic or want to stop for dinner or ... or anything! Anything to keep
them from coming here until the truckmen had finished their business and
gone.

At least she was not kept long in suspense. The men were quick and
efficient, and their cargo was not a very large one. In a very few
minutes, the elevator was loaded and, with a smooth whir not at all like
the Academy elevators, it ascended to the theater. It returned not long
after, emptied of its crates, and the workmen shut off the mechanism,
swung the doors closed, and clicked the lock on them.

The watchman with the rifle nodded his approval, climbed back into the
rear of the truck and once more allowed himself to be locked in. Without
a word, the truckmen took their places in the cab, soundlessly shut the
doors, and the battered truck swung smoothly into the courtyard, backed
up, and turned down the alley.

It seemed like the first time in ten minutes that Peggy had breathed.

“I was frightened to death that the boys would come!” she said.

“That’s all I could think of, too,” Amy whispered in a shaky voice.

“Now all I want is for them to come fast!” Peggy said. “We’ve got all
the evidence we need for the police, I think, and I just want to get out
of here!”

“If we do get this theater for our play,” Amy said, “I wonder if I’ll
feel good about it. I’m afraid I’ll never feel quite right about this
place after tonight!”

“Oh, we’ll make it all over,” Peggy said with enthusiasm. “We’ll put
bright lights in the little marquee, and we’ll put up lighted theater
posters on the walls, and I think we could paint the wall behind the
loading platform white with gilt trim on the pillars on each side of the
elevator. Then, if we can find a fountain for the court, the way I
suggested before, and maybe a few stone benches, we—Oh!” She gave a
start of fright as a male voice laughed close to her ear.

“Just like a woman!” Randy said. “Supposed to be keeping a lookout, and
you’re decorating an alley! But where are Pip and Tom? And what are you
doing here? And—”

“We’ll tell you everything over coffee,” Peggy said. “Oh, Randy! It’s
all over! We’ve got our crooks—and they’re crooks all right—and we’ve
got our theater, I’m sure—and I’m so glad you didn’t come ten minutes
earlier, and.... Oh, let’s get out of here!”

“Let’s,” Mal said. “This is hardly my idea of a place for a date! Amy,
take my arm. I have a feeling you need it. And Randy, get a firm grip on
Peggy, if you please.”

“Stop directing, Mal,” Randy laughed. “I think I’ve already written this
scene quite nicely, and the hero has the heroine well in hand!”



                                 XVIII
                            _Forecast—Fair!_


Seated at the desk in her room, Peggy selected a fresh sheet of paper.
She was on the fifth page of a letter to her friend Jean Wilson.


So you see I was right. There _were_ crooks using the theater all the
time. The next day, Amy and I told the police what we had seen in the
alley, and I think they were really pleased, even though they did bawl
us out for poking around in police affairs. At that, they admitted that
if we had come to them the first time with nothing but suspicions, they
probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything. Anyway, they put a
guard under the stairs and stationed some more policemen around, and two
nights later they caught the gang.

It seems they were hijackers, which means that they held up trucks on
the road and stole valuable cargo from them. They were using the theater
as a warehouse for the stolen goods until they could dispose of them in
whatever way crooks get rid of stolen goods. When the police searched
the place, they found thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of furs
and silverware and liquor and appliances and all sorts of things. The
cartons that we saw them unload the night we were there turned out to
contain nylon stockings, and they were worth about twenty thousand
dollars, which is an awful lot of nylon stockings.

The police say we’re going to get a big reward from the insurance
people. The boys wanted to give it all to me, but I refused it. I’m
going to give it to the players’ group, which really means to Randy and
Mal, to rent the theater on a long-term lease and to fix it up properly.
They said once before that they didn’t want to be in the real estate
business, but I think that they’re changing their minds about that.

The police got in touch with the owner of the building, who is retired
and has been living in Florida for a long time. He didn’t know anything
about what was going on in the theater and was quite grateful that we
had gotten his crooked tenants out of the place. It seems he has been so
long away from the New York real-estate scene, that he didn’t know his
property was in demand as a theater. He says it hasn’t been used as one
for over fifty years! Of course, he could get more money renting it as a
theater than as a warehouse, but he says he doesn’t need more money, and
we need a theater. He has offered it to us on a ten-year lease for the
same rent he was getting before.

Randy says that the rent is so low that even a moderately successful
season would give him and Mal enough profit to live on comfortably, so
they’re now beginning to talk about becoming managers, doing their own
shows and, when they don’t happen to have a show for a particular
season, renting the theater to other groups.

What’s more, the rent covers the whole building, and the boys are
thinking of turning part of it into apartments for themselves, and the
rest of it into apartments for other young actors, something like a
Gramercy Arms for boys!

Incidentally, the theater is beautiful. The police let us in to take a
look at it today, and even with all those boxes and crates and fur coats
and things stacked around, we could see how nice it is. It’ll need new
seats, I’m afraid, and a new lighting system and a switchboard and a
curtain and loads of other things, but the reward money will more than
cover all that. And we even have a name for it—the Penthouse Theater.
How does that strike you? I only hope you can come to New York to see it
when it’s all ready.

Or, better than that, plan to come to New York next season when, with
luck, I might have a part in a play there. One of the things I like best
about Randy and Mal is that, even though they’re just bursting with
gratitude and they keep calling me a heroine, they haven’t tried to ‘pay
me off’ by offering me a part in the play. I’m still going to help just
by painting scenery and selling ads in the program and running errands
and things like that. This way, I know that if I ever get a part in one
of their plays, it will be because I deserve it as an actress.

Another thing I like about Randy is that he’s coming to take me out
again tonight. Which reminds me—I’d better sign off now, before Irene
and Amy install themselves in the bathrooms!

Do you suppose that’s what they mean when they say that one of the most
important things for an actress to learn is timing?

                                                     More next time from
                                                                   Peggy

                       [Illustration: Endpapers]


                       [Illustration: Back cover]



                        PEGGY FINDS THE THEATER


As far back as she can remember, Peggy Lane—young, pretty, and
talented—has wanted to become an actress. Ambitious but realistic, Peggy
knows her name isn’t going to be in lights immediately but finally
persuades her cautious parents to let her spend a year in New York to
try to gain a foothold in the fabled world of the theater.

Peggy’s first big test is an audition at the New York Dramatic Academy,
whose eccentric director will decide whether she shows sufficient
promise to be accepted for professional training. Meanwhile, Peggy
becomes friends with Randy Brewster, a young playwright, and Mal Seton,
who will direct Randy’s experimental play if and when they can find an
off-Broadway theater in which to produce it. Peggy eagerly volunteers to
help in their desperate search and, exploring the byways of the city for
a forgotten theater, unwittingly stumbles into a mysterious and
dangerous situation.

The launching of Peggy’s career, her struggle to make her dreams become
a reality, is a delightful and heart-warming story.


                      _Peggy Lane Theater Stories_

                        Peggy Finds the Theater
                        Peggy Plays Off-Broadway
                          Peggy Goes Straw Hat
                           Peggy on the Road


                      _Peggy Lane Theater Series_

                           By VIRGINIA HUGHES

                       [Illustration: Back cover]

Peggy Lane, the young heroine of this exciting new series, is an
aspiring and talented actress. Her adventures as a drama student in New
York City, and her slow climb to success, with dedicated young theater
people like herself, make the theme of this inspiring new career series
for girls.

  1 PEGGY FINDS THE THEATER
  2 PEGGY PLAYS OFF-BROADWAY
  3 PEGGY GOES STRAW HAT
  4 PEGGY ON THE ROAD

                 GROSSET & DUNLAP _Publishers_ NEW YORK



                          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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