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Title: Clipped Wings
Author: Hughes, Rupert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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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                                BOOKS BY
                             RUPERT HUGHES


             CLIPPED WINGS.         Frontispiece. Post 8vo.
             WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?   Illustrated. Post 8vo.
            THE LAST ROSE OF SUMMER.    Frontispiece. 16mo.
             EMPTY POCKETS.          Illustrated. Post 8vo.

                 *        *        *        *        *

                      HARPER & BROTHERS. NEW YORK



[Illustration]



                             CLIPPED WINGS
              PUBLISHED SERIALLY AS “THE BARGE OF DREAMS”

                                A NOVEL


                                   BY

                             RUPERT HUGHES

                               AUTHOR OF
                        “WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?”
                          “EMPTY POCKETS” ETC.



                      HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                          NEW YORK AND LONDON



                             CLIPPED WINGS

                 *        *        *        *        *

                 Copyright, 1914, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America
                        Published January, 1916



                                   TO
                            ROBERT H. DAVIS
                      WITH AFFECTIONATE ADMIRATION



                             Clipped Wings



                               CHAPTER I


The proud lady in the new runabout was homeward bound from a shopping
raid. It was her first voyage down-town alone with the thing. She guided
the old family horse up to her curb in a graceful sweep, but, like a new
elevator-boy, could not come to a stop at the stopping-place.

She could go forward or back, but she could not exactly negotiate her
own stepping-block. As she blushingly struggled for it she heard the
scream of a child in desperate terror. It inspired an equal terror, for
it came from her own house.

She had left her two children at home, expecting playmate guests. She
had extracted from them every imaginable promise to be good and to
abstain from danger. But she knew how easily they romped into perils.
She heard the cry again, and clutched her breast in a little death of
fear as she half leaped, half toppled from her carriage and ran up the
walk, leaving the horse to his own devices.

The poor woman was wondering which of her beloved had fallen on the
shears or into the fire. Which of the dogs had gone mad, and bitten
whom. While she stumbled up the steps she heard the outcry repeated and
she paused.

That voice was the voice of neither of her own children. The thought
that a neighbor’s child might have perished in her home was almost more
fearful still. As she fumbled at the door-knob she heard the thud of a
little falling body. Then there was a most dreadful silence.

She hastened to the big living-room. She thrust back the somber hanging,
and stepped on the arm of her own son.

He was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. He did not move, though
his wrist rolled under her foot.

She flinched away, sickened, only to behold a yet ghastlier spectacle:
her daughter hung across the arm of a couch, her hair over her face, and
one limp hand touching the floor. At her feet was a young nephew in a
contorted huddle with his head under the table. The son of a neighbor
was stretched out on a chair, his face flung far back and his eyes
staring.

And on the panther-skin by the fireplace a young girl whom Mrs. Vickery
had never seen before lay sidelong, singularly beautiful in death.

Before this vision of inconceivable horror the mother stood petrified,
her throat in the grip of such fright that she could not utter a sound.
Then her knees yielded and she sank to the side of her boy, clutched him
to her breast, and cried:

“Eugene! my little ’Gene!”

She pressed her palsied lips to his cheek. Thank God, it was still warm.
He moved, he thrust her arms away, and mumbled. She bent to catch the
words:

“Lea’ me alone! I’m dead!”

With a sigh of infinite relief she spilled him back to the rug, where he
lay motionless. She called sharply to the girl on the couch:

“Dorothy! Dorothy!”

A tremor ran through the child—she seemed to struggle with herself.
From her cataract of curls came a sound as of torn canvas, a sound
dangerously like one of those explosions of snicker that Dorothy
frequently emitted in church during the long prayer. But she did not
look up.

Half angry, half ecstatic, Mrs. Vickery rose and moved among the
littered corpses, like Edith looking for King Harold’s body on Hastings
field. She passed by her nephew, Tommy Jerrems, and Mrs. Burbage’s boy,
Clyde, and proceeded to the eerie stranger on the panther-skin.

This child would have looked deader if she had not been breathing so
hard, and if her exquisite face had not been so scarlet in the tangle of
her hair, which was curiously adorned with bottle-straw and excelsior
from a packing-case in the cellar and with artificial flowers from a
last-summer’s hat of Mrs. Vickery’s in the attic.

Mrs. Vickery bent above the panting ruins, lifted one relaxed hand, and
inquired, “And who are you, little girl?”

“Don’t touch me, please; I’m all wet!”

Mrs. Vickery forgot her imagination long enough to expostulate, “Why,
no, you’re not, my dear!”

And now the eyes opened with the answer: “Oh yes, I am, if you please.
I’ve just drownded myself in the pool here—if you please.”

“Oh!” Mrs. Vickery assented. “Well, hadn’t you better get up before you
catch cold?”

The answer to this question was another—a poser.

“But how can I get up, if you please, until you lower the curtain?”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Mrs. Vickery had been a parent often enough and long enough to obey the
solemn behests of children without impertinent whys. She could not
imagine what incantational power might reside in the roller
window-shade, but she hurried to it and pulled it down.

The little girl scrambled to her feet with a smile of brave regret:
“Thank you ever so much! That’s not a ’maginary curtain, but only a real
one. Still, it will have to do, I s’pose.” Then she addressed the other
victims of fate, all of whom were craning their necks to peek: “Now,
ladies and gent’men, take your curtain calls.”

On every hand, as at a little local Judgment Day, the dead arose. They
joined hands in a line at her signal. Then she hissed from the side of
her mouth, “Now raise it, please.” The curtain shot up with a slap.
“Thank you. And if you wouldn’t mind applaudin’ a little.”

The reaction from her terror had rendered Mrs. Vickery almost
hysterical, but she managed to keep her face straight and her hands busy
while the line bowed and bowed.

Once more the directress whispered to Mrs. Vickery, “Pull the curtain
down a minute, please, and let it go up again.” When this was done she
said, “If you got any flowers handy, they’d be nice.”

Mrs. Vickery unpinned a small bouquet of violets she had presented
herself with at the florist’s and tossed it at the foot of the swaying
line.

The directress hissed from the other side of her mouth, “Pick ’em up,
’Gene, and give ’em to me.”

Eugene stooped so hastily and with such rigidity of knee that an
over-tried button at the back of his knickers shot across the room.
Dorothy, who had not ceased to giggle, whooped with joy at this, and
received a glare of rebuke from the star. This did not silence Dorothy.
But then her parents had tried for nine years to find some way of making
her stop laughing without making her begin to cry.

Eugene was solemn enough and blushed to his ears as he bestowed the
flowers upon the stranger, who first motioned the others back and then
acknowledged the tribute alone with profound courtesies to Mrs. Vickery
and to unseen and unheard plauditors at the right and left. Her smile
was the bizarre parody of innocence imitating sophistication. Then she
threw off the mien of artifice and became informal and a child again.
The game was evidently over.

Mrs. Vickery, realizing now that she was the belated audience at a
tragedy, assumed her most lion-hunting manner and pleaded, meekly,
“Won’t somebody please introduce me to Mrs. Siddons!”

Dorothy gasped with amazement and gulped with amusement at her mother’s
stupidity. But before she could make the presentation the stranger
cried:

“Oh, how did you know?”

“Know what, my dear?”

“That my name was Siddons!”

“Is it, really? But I was referring to the famous actress. She’s been
dead for a hundred years, I think.”

“Oh yes, but I’m named after her. My middle name is Mrs. Siddons—of
course I mean just Siddons. I’m a linyural descender from her.”

Dorothy broke in, seriously enough now: “Why, Sheila Kemble, how you
talk! You know you’re no such thing. Your name is Kemble. Isn’t it,
Clyde?”

Clyde nodded and Dorothy exclaimed, “Yah!”

Dorothy had not the faintest idea who Mrs. Siddons might be, save that
she was evidently a person of distinction, but Dorothy had a child’s
ferocious resentment at seeing any one else obtaining prestige under
false pretenses. Sheila regarded her with a grandmotherly pity and
answered:

“My name is Kemble, yes; but if you know so much, Miss Smarty-cat, you
ought to know that Mrs. Siddons’s name was Miss Kemble before she
married Mr. Siddons.” And now in her turn she added the deadly “Yah!”

Mrs. Vickery, in the office of peacemaker, tried to change the subject:
“‘Sheila’—what a beautiful name!” she cried. “It’s Irish, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes, ma’am. My papa says that if you’re a great actor you have to
have a streak of either Irish or Jew in you!”

“Indeed! And is your father a great actor?”

“Is he? Ask him!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Mrs. Vickery was tormented with an intuitional suspicion that she was in
the presence of a stage-child. She had never met one on the hither side
of the footlights. It was uncanny to stumble upon it dressed like other
children and playing among them as a child. There was a kind of
weirdness about the encounter as if she had found a goblin or a pixie in
the living-room, or a waif suspected of scarlet fever.

It was she and not the pixie that felt the embarrassment! The first
defense of a person in confusion is usually a series of questions, and
Mrs. Vickery was reduced to asking:

“What sort of plays does your father play?”

“Draw’n-room commerdies mostly. People call ’em Roger Kemble parts.”

Mrs. Vickery spoke with a sudden increase of respect:

“So your father is the great Roger Kemble! And is your mother an
actress, too?”

“Is my mother an actress? Why, Mrs. Vickery, didn’t you ever hear of
Miss Polly Farren?”

It would have been hard indeed to escape the name of Miss Polly Farren.
It was incessantly visible in newspapers and magazines, and on
bill-boards in letters a yard high, with colossal portraits attached.
Mrs. Vickery had seen Polly Farren act. A girlish, hoydenish thing she
was, who made even the women laugh and love her. Mrs. Vickery felt at
first a pride in meeting any relative of hers. Then a chill struck her.
She lowered her voice lest the children hear:

“But Miss Farren isn’t your mother?”

“Indeed and she is! And I’m her daughter.”

“And Roger Kemble is your father?”

“Yes, indeedy. We’re all each other’s.”

Mrs. Vickery turned dizzy; the room began to roll like a
merry-go-round—without the merriment. Sheila, never realizing the whirl
she had started, brought it to a sudden and gratifying stop by her next
chatter.

“You see, when mamma married papa” (Mrs. Vickery’s relief was audible)
“they wanted to travel as Mr. and Mrs. Kemble, but the wicked old
manager objected. He said mamma’s name was a household word, and she was
worth five hunderd a week as Polly Farren and she wasn’t worth
seventy-five as Mrs. Kemble.”

Mrs. Vickery, whose husband was proud of his hundred a week, was
awestruck at the thought of a woman who earned five hundred.

Of course it was wicked money, but wasn’t there a lot of it? She was
reassured wonderfully, and, though a trifle tinged with shame for her
curiosity, she baited the child with another question:

“And have you been on the stage, too?”

“Indeed, I have! Oh yes, Mrs. Vickery. I was almost born on the
stage—they tell me. I don’t ’member much about it myself. But I ’member
bein’ carried on when I was very young. They tell me I behaved perf’ly
beau’fully. And then once I was one of the little princes that got
smothered in the Tower, at a benefit, and then once we childern gave a
childern’s performance of ‘The Rivals.’ And I was Mrs. Mallerpop.”

Mrs. Vickery shook her head over her in pity and sighed, “You poor
child!”

Sheila gasped, “Oh, Mrs. Vickery!” Her eyes were enlarged with wonder
and protest as if she had been struck in the face.

Mrs. Vickery hastened to explain: “To be kept up so late, I mean:
and—and—weren’t you frightened to death of all those people?”

“Frightened? Why, they wouldn’t hurt me. They always applauded me and
said, ‘Oh, isn’t she sweet!’”

Mrs. Vickery had read much about the woes of factory children and of the
little wretches who toil in the coal-mines, and she had heard of the
agitation to forbid the appearance of children on the stage. The
tradition of misery was so strong that she was blinded for the moment to
the extraordinary beauty, vigor, and vivacity of this example. She felt
sorry for her.

Sheila had encountered such mysterious pity once or twice before and she
flamed to resent it. But even as eloquence rushed to her lips she
remembered her mother’s last words as she kissed her good-by—they had
been an injunction to be polite at all costs.

The struggle to defend her mother’s glory and to obey her mother’s
self-denying ordinance was so bitter that it squeezed a big tear out of
each big eye.

Mrs. Vickery, seeming to divine the secret of her plight, cuddled her to
her breast with a gush of affectionate homage. Reassured by this
surrender, Sheila became again a child.

                 *        *        *        *        *

And now Dorothy, with that professional jealousy which actors did not
invent and do not monopolize, that jealousy which is seen in animals and
read of in gods—Dorothy stood aloof and pouted at the invader of her
mother’s lap. Her lip crinkled and she batted out a few tears of her own
till her mother stretched forth an arm and made a haven for her at her
bosom. Then Mrs. Vickery spoke between the two wet cheeks pressed to
hers:

“And now what was this wonderful game where so many people got killed?
Was it a war or a shipwreck or—or what?”

Sheila forgot her tears in the luxury of instructing an elder. With
unmitigated patronage, as who in her turn should say, “You poor thing,
you!” she exclaimed: “Why, don’t you know? It’s the last ack of
‘Hamlet!’”

“Oh, I see! Of course! How perfectly stupid of me!”

Sheila endeavored to comfort her: “Oh no, it wasn’t stupid a tall, Mrs.
Vickery, if you’ll pardon me for cont’adictin’, but—well, you see, we
got no real paduction, no costumes or scenery or anything.”

Mrs. Vickery said: “That doesn’t matter; but who was who? You see, I got
in so late the usher didn’t give me a program.”

Sheila was rejoiced at this collaboration in the game. She explained:
“Oh, the p’ograms didn’t arrive in time from the pwinter, and so we had
a ’nouncement made before the curtain. He’s a most un’liable pwinter and
I sent the usher for the p’ograms and he never came back. ’Gene was
Hamlet and he was awful good. He read the silloloquy out of the book
there. He reads very well. And Dorothy was his mother, the Queen, and
she was awful good, too—very good, indeed, ’ceptin’ for gigglin’ in the
serious parts, and after she was dead.”

Dorothy giggled and wriggled again, to show how it was done. After this
interruption was quelled Sheila went on:

“Tommy Jerrems was Laertes and he was awful good. The duel with ’Gene
was terrible. I’m afraid one of your umbrellas was bent—the poisoned
one. Tommy didn’t want to die and I had to hit him with a hassock, and
then he was so long dyin’, he held up the whole paformance. But he was
very good. And Cousin Clyde he was the wicked King, and he was awful
good, but then, o’ course, he comes of our family, and you’d naturally
expeck him to be good.”

Mrs. Vickery suppressed a gasp of protest from Dorothy, who was
intolerant of self-advertisement, and said: “But you were dead, too,
Sheila. Who were you?”

“Why, I was Ophelia, o’ course!”

“Oh! But I thought Ophelia died long before the rest, and was buried,
and Hamlet and Laertes fought in her grave, and—”

“Oh yes, that’s the way it is in the old book. But I fixed it up so’s
Ophelia only p’tended to die—or, no, I mean they thought she was dead,
and they buried another lady, thinkin’ she was her—and all the while
Ophelia is away in a kind of a—a—insanitarum gettin’ cured up. And she
comes home in the last ack to s’prise everybody, and she enters,
laughing, and says, ‘Well, caitiffs and fellow-countrymen, I’m well
again!’ And she sees everybody lyin’ around dead—and then she goes mad
all over again and drownds herself in the big swimmin’-pool—or I guess
it’s a—a fountain—near the throne.”

“Oh, I see,” said Mrs. Vickery. “That sounds ever so much better.”

“Well,” said Sheila, shrugging her impudent little shoulders like any
other jackanapes of a reviser, “as my papa says, ‘It sort of knits
things together better and bolsters up the finish.’ You know it’s kind
of bad to leave the leading lady out of the last ack. It makes the
audience mad, you know.”

“Yes, I know! And was it you who screamed so at the end of the play?”

Sheila hung her head and tugged at a button on Mrs. Vickery’s waist as
she confessed: “Well, I did my best. O’ course I’m not very good—yet.”

Dorothy was so matter-of-fact that she would not tolerate even
self-depreciation. She exploded:

“Why, Sheila Kemble, you are so! She was wonderful, mamma! And she was
so mad crazy she gave me the creeps. And when finally she plounced down
and died, all us other deaders sat up and felt so scared we fell over
again. She went mad simply lovely.”

And Tommy Jerrems added his posy: “I bet you could ’a’ heard her holler
for three blocks.”

“I bet I did!” Mrs. Vickery sighed, remembering the fright she had had
from that edged cry.

The other children fell into a wrangle celebrating Sheila as a person of
amazing learning, powers of make-believe and command, and Sheila,
throned on Mrs. Vickery’s lap, sat twisting her fingers in the pleasant
confusion of one who is too truthful to deny and too modest to confess a
splendid achievement. Now and then she heaved the big lids from her eyes
and Mrs. Vickery read there rapture, deprecation, appeal for applause,
superiority to flattery, self-confidence, and meekness. And Mrs. Vickery
felt that those eyes were born to persuade, to charm, to thrill and
compel.

                 *        *        *        *        *

At last Mrs. Vickery said, mainly for politeness’ sake, “I wish I could
have seen the performance.”

The hint threw a bombshell of energy into the troupe. The mummers all
began to dance and stamp and shriek, “Oh, let’s do it again! Let’s! Oh,
let’s!”

Every one shouted but Sheila. Her silence silenced the others at last.
She already knew enough to be silent when others were noisy and to
shriek when others were silent. Then like a leaderless army the children
urged her to take the crown.

Sheila thought earnestly, but shook her head: “It isn’t diggenafied to
play two a day.” This evoked such a tomblike sigh that she relented a
trifle: “We might call this other one a matinée, though, and call the
other one a evening paformance.”

This was agreed to with ululation. The children set to gathering up the
disjected equipment, the deadly umbrellas, and the envenomed cup. The
last was a golf prize of Mr. Vickery’s. Dropped from the nerveless hand
of the dying king, it had received a bruised lip and a profound dimple.

With the humming-bird instinct, the children stood tremulously poised
before one flower only a moment, then flashed to another. It was a
proposal by Tommy Jerrems that called them away now.

Tommy Jerrems had frequently revealed little glints of financial
promise. He had been a notorious keeper of lemonade-stands, a frequent
bankrupt, a getter-up of circuses, and a zealous impresario of baseball
games in which he did all the work and got none of the play. He was of a
useful but unenviable type and would undoubtedly become in later life a
dozen or more unsalaried treasurers and secretaries to various
organizations.

Tommy Jerrems proposed that the play of “Hamlet” should be enacted at
his mother’s house as a regular entertainment with a fixed price of
admission. This project was hailed with riotous enthusiasm, and King
Claudius turned a cart-wheel in the general direction of a potted
palm—and potted it.

There was some excitement over the restoration of this alien verdure,
and Mrs. Vickery was glad that her own home had not been re-elected as
playhouse. She made a mild protest on behalf of Mrs. Jerrems, but she
was assailed with so frenzied a horde of suppliants that she
capitulated; at least she gave her consent that Dorothy and Eugene might
take part.

There was a strenuous Austrian parliament now upon a number of matters.
Somehow, out of the chaos, it was gradually agreed that there should be
real costumes as well as what Sheila called “props.” She explained that
this included gold crowns, scepters, thrones, swords, helmets, spears,
and what not.

Suddenly Sheila let out another of those heart-stopping shrieks of hers.
She had been struck by a very lightning of inspiration. She seized Tommy
as if she would rend him in pieces and howled: “Oh, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!
You ask your mother to have the bath-tub brought down to the back parlor
and filled up and then I can drownd myself in real water.”

A pack of wolves could not have fallen more noisily on a wounded brother
than the children fell on this.

Tommy alone was dubious. He was afraid that the bath-tub was too
securely fastened to the bath-room to be uprooted. But he promised to
ask his mother. Sheila, the resourceful, had an alternative ready:

“Well, anyway, she could have a wash-boiler brought in from the kitchen,
couldn’t she?”

Tommy thought mebbe she could, but would she?

Mrs. Vickery did not interfere. She had an idea that Mrs. Jerrems could
be trusted to see to it that Ophelia had an extra-dry drowning. Mrs.
Jerrems was rather fond of her furniture.

Money to buy gold paper for the crowns, and silver paper to make canes
look like swords and curtain-poles like spears, nearly wrecked the
project. But Tommy thought that by patience and assiduity he could shake
out of the patent savings-bank his father had given him enough dimes to
subsidize the institution, on condition that he might reimburse himself
out of the first moneys that were bound to flood the box-office.

There was earnest debate over the price of admission. Clyde Burbage
suggested five pins, but Sheila turned up her nose at this; it sounded
amateurish. She said that her father and mother would never play in any
but two-dollar theaters—or “fe-aters,” as she still called them. Still,
she supposed that since the comp’ny was all juveniles they’d better not
charge more than a dollar for seats, and fifty cents for the
nigger-heaven.

Tommy Jerrems, who had some bitter acquaintance with the ductile
qualities of that community, emitted a long, low “Whew!” He said that
they would be lucky to get five cents a head in that town, and not many
heads at that. This sum was reluctantly accepted by Sheila, and the
syndicate moved to adjourn.

Sheila put her hand in Mrs. Vickery’s and ducked one knee respectfully.
But Mrs. Vickery, with an impulse of curious subservience, knelt down
and embraced the child and kissed her.

She had an odd feeling that some day she would say, “Sheila Kemble? Oh
yes, I knew her when she was a tiny child. I always said she would
startle the world.”

She seemed even now to hear her own voice echoing faintly back from the
future.

The guests made a quiet exit at the door, but they stampeded down the
steps like a scamper of sheep. Sheila’s piercing cry came back. It was
wildly poignant, though it expressed only her excitement in a game of
tag.



                               CHAPTER II


The house seemed still to quiver after the neighbors’ young had left.
Mrs. Vickery moved about restoring order. And Dorothy bustled after her,
full of talk and snickers. But Eugene curled up in a chair by a window
as solemn as Sophokles.

Mrs. Vickery was still thinking of Sheila. She asked first of her, “How
did you come to meet this little Kemble girl?”

Dorothy explained: “Oh, I telephoned Clyde Burbage to come over and
play, and he said he couldn’t, ’cause they had comp’ny; and I said,
‘Bring comp’ny along,’ and he did, and she’s his cousin; her grandma
lives at his house, and her papa and mamma are going to visit there at
Clyde’s for a week. Isn’t Sheila a case, mamma? She says the funniest
things. I wish I could ’member some of ’em.”

Mrs. Vickery smiled and stared at Dorothy. In the grand lottery of
children she had drawn Dorothy. She saw in the child many of her own
traits, many of the father’s traits. She loved Dorothy, of course, and
had much good reason for her instinctive devotion, and many rewards for
it. And yet the child was singularly talentless, as her father was, as
Mrs. Vickery confessed herself to be.

She wondered at the strange distribution of human gifts—some dowered
from their cradles with the workaday virtues and commonplace vices, and
some mysteriously flecked with a kind of wildness that is both less and
more than virtue, an oddity that gives every speech or gesture an
unusual emphasis, a rememberable differentness.

Dorothy was a safe child to have; she would make a reliable, admirable,
good woman. But Mrs. Vickery felt that if Sheila had been her child she
would have been incessantly afraid of the girl and for her, incessantly
uncertain of the future. Yet, she would have watched her, and the
neighbors would have watched her, with a breathless fascination as one
watches a tight-rope walker who moves on a hazardous path, yet moves
above the heads of the crowd and engages all its eyes.

Little Eugene Vickery had a quirk of the unusual, but it was not
conspicuous; he was a burrower, who emerged like a mole in unexpected
places, and led a silent, inconspicuous life gnawing at the roots of
things.

His mother found him now, as so often, taciturn, brooding, thinking long
thoughts—the solemnest thing there is, a solemn child.

“Why are you so silent, Eugene?” she said.

He smiled sedately and shook his head with evasion. But Dorothy pointed
the finger of scorn at him; she even whittled one finger with another
and taunted him, shrilly:

“’Gene’s in love with Sheila! ’Gene’s in love with Sheila!”

“Am not!” he growled with a puppy’s growl.

“Are so!” cried Dorothy, jubilantly.

“Well, s’posin’ I am?” he answered, sullenly. “She’s a durned sight
smarter and prettier than—some folks.”

This sobered Dorothy and crumpled her chin with distress. Like her
mother, she had long ago recognized with helpless regret that she was
not brilliant.

Mrs. Vickery, amazed at hearing the somber Eugene accused of so
frivolous a thing as a love-affair, stared at him and murmured, “Why,
’Gene!”

Feeling a storm sultry in the air, she warned Dorothy that it was time
to practise her piano-lesson. Dorothy, whose other name was Dutiful,
made no protest, but began to trudge up and down the scales with a
perfect accuracy that was somehow perfectly musicless and almost
unendurable.

Mrs. Vickery knew that Eugene would speak when he was ready, and not
before. She pretended to ignore him, but her heart was beating high with
the thrill of that new era in a mother’s soul when she sees the first of
her children smitten with the love-dart and becomes a sort of painfully
amused Niobe, wondering always where the next arrow will come from and
which it will hit next.

After a long while Eugene spoke, though not at all as she expected him
to speak. But then he never spoke as she expected him to speak. He
murmured:

“Mamma?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Do you s’pose I could write a play as good as that old Shakespeare
did?”

“Why—why, yes, I’m sure you could—if you tried.”

Mrs. Vickery had always understood the rarely comprehended truth that
praise creates less conceit than the withholding of it, as food builds
strength and slays the hunger that cries for it.

Eugene was evidently encouraged, but he kept silence so long that
finally she gave him up. She was leaving the room when he murmured
again:

“Mamma.”

“Yes, honey.”

“I guess I’ll write a play.”

“Fine!” she said.

“For Sheila.”

“Oh!”

Mrs. Vickery cast up her eyes and stole out, not knowing what to say.
Already the child was turning his affections away from home and her.

An hour later she almost stepped on him again. He was lying on the rug
by the twilight-glimmering window of the dining-room, whither Dorothy’s
relentless scales had driven him. He was lying on his stomach with his
nose almost touching his composition-book, and he was scrawling large
words laboriously with a nub of pencil so stubby that he seemed to be
writing with his own forefinger bent like a grasshopper’s leg.

William Shakespeare, Gent., sleeping in Avon church, had no knowledge of
what conspiracy was hatching against his long-enough prestige. And if he
had known, that very human mind of his might have suspected the truth,
that the inspiration of his new rival was less a desire to crowd an old
gentleman from the top shelf of fame than to supplant him in the esteem
of a certain very young woman.

Shakespeare himself in that same kidnapped play of his called “Hamlet”
complained of the children’s theater that rivaled his own.

There was complaint now of the new children’s theater in the minor city
of Braywood. Three homes were topsy-turvied by the insatiable,
irrepressible mummers.



                              CHAPTER III


It was less than an hour after Sheila had left Mrs. Vickery’s when Mrs.
Jerrems was on the telephone, plaintively demanding, “Who on earth is
this Kemble child?”

Mrs. Vickery told her what she knew, and Mrs. Jerrems sighed: “A
stage-child! That explains everything. She’s got Tommy simply
bewitched.”

Besides the requisition for costumes and accessories that turned every
attic trunk inside out there was an uneasy social complication.

Mrs. Jerrems and Mrs. Burbage knew each other only slightly and liked
each other something less than that. Yet Tommy and Sheila had arranged
that Mrs. Burbage and her husband and her mother and the strangers
within their gates should all descend upon Mrs. Jerrems and pay five
cents apiece for the privilege of entering her drawing-room.

Only one thing could have been more intolerable than obeying the
children’s embarrassing demand, and that would have been breaking the
children’s hearts by refusing it. So Sheila’s mother and father, her
grandmother and her aunt, were all browbeaten into accepting the
invitations that Mrs. Jerrems had been browbeaten into extending.

Sheila assumed that Mrs. Jerrems was as much interested in Mr.
Shakespeare’s success as she was. And she rather took control of the
house, saying a great many “Pleases,” but uprooting the furniture from
the places it had occupied till they had become almost sacred. She had
half of the drawing-room cleared of chairs and the other half packed
with rows of them. She commandeered two of Mrs. Jerrems’s guest-room
sheets (the ones with the deep hemstitching and the swollen initials).
These she pinned upon a rope stretched from two nails driven into the
walls, with conspicuous damage to the plaster, since the first places
chosen did not hold the nails—and came out with them. The rope was the
clothes-line, which was needed in the yard, but which Tommy had calmly
cut down at Sheila’s requisition. He had cut his own finger incidentally
and it bled copiously on the dining-room drugget. He had later nailed
the bandage to the wall and gone overboard with the stepladder, carrying
with him what he could clutch from the mantelpiece _en passant_.

This was not the only damage; _item_, a wonderful imitation cut-glass
celery-jar used during rehearsals to represent the chalice of poison;
_item_, several gouges in furniture, which Mrs. Jerrems would almost
rather have had in her own flesh than in her mahogany.

But eventually the evening came and the guests went shyly into the rows
of chairs that made Mrs. Jerrems’s drawing-room look like a funeral.
Mrs. Jerrems was worried, too, by the thought of entertaining not only
the child of stage people, but an actor and an actress too famous to be
disguised.

She wondered what her preacher would say of it.

And she could not feel easy about the spectacle of her son standing in
her hallway and collecting money from callers before they were admitted.

The performance was a torment. The strutting children were so pompous
that it was impossible to watch them without laughter, yet laughter
would have been heinously cruel. The usual relations were reversed: the
children comported themselves with vast reverence for a great work of
art, and the naughty parents sat smothering their snickers.

The voice of the prompter was loud in the wings (the dining-room and
hall), and the action was suspended occasionally while the actors
quarreled with the prompter as to whose turn it was to speak. The
Sheila-ized Shakespeare had not been written down, and, though the play
was greatly compressed, the company forgot a good deal of what was left.
In her innocence, the editress had also neglected to omit certain
phrases that polite grown-ups suppress. These came forth with appalling
effect.

Laertes was so enraptured with counting and recounting the box-office
receipts that he had to be sent for on two occasions. Clyde and Eugene
came to blows on a dispute extraneous to the plot, and Dorothy, as the
mother, giggled all through the closet scene and continued to whinny
long after she had quaffed the fatal cup. Her last words were: “Oh
Ha-ha-hamlet, the drink, the d-d-drink! I am poi-hoi-hoi-hoisoned.”
This, combined with the litter of corpses, set the audience into a roar
of laughter.

Then Sheila entered as the late-returning Ophelia and sobered them
somehow on the instant.

Sheila won an indisputable triumph. The others were at best children,
and peculiarly childish in the rôles that have swamped all but the
largest hulls. But Sheila, for all her shortcomings and far-goings, had
an uncanny power. Even when she doubled as the Ghost and tripped over
the sheet in which she squeaked and gibbered nobody laughed. Her girlish
treble, trying to be orotund, had moments of gruesome influence. Her
Ophelia was pathetically winsome in the earlier scenes, and in the mania
she struck notes that put sudden ice into the blood. There was no
denying her a dreadful intuition of things she could not know, and a
gift for interpreting what she had never felt.

The other parents were ashamed of the contrast. As Mrs. Jerrems
whispered to Mrs. Vickery, “One thing is certain, your Dorothy and my
boy Tom will never know how to act.”

“But,” Mrs. Vickery whispered back, “that doesn’t prove that they won’t
go on the stage.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

After the final curtain and innumerable curtain calls the play was ended
and the audience filed back of the sheet to lavish its homage on the
troupe.

Mrs. Jerrems had resolved to make the best of it, once she was in for
it; and tried to take the curse off the profanation of collecting money
from her guests by entertaining them and the actors at a little supper.
Her son Tommy, always the financier, felt a greater profanation in the
idea of charging five cents admission and then throwing in a supper that
cost fifty cents a head. But Mrs. Jerrems told Tommy to take care of his
end of the enterprise and she would take care of hers. And she reminded
him that the supper would cost him nothing. He consoled himself with the
reflection that “Women got no head for business.”

The juvenile tragedians ate at a small side-table, and so completely
relaxed the solemnity they had revealed on the boards that the elder
laity chiefly listened and smiled among themselves.

Mrs. Jerrems studied Roger Kemble and his wife, “Miss” Farren,
surreptitiously, as one would study a Thibetan or a Martian. Knowing in
advance that they were actors, she felt sure that she found in them odd
and characteristic mannerisms, for it is easy to find proofs when we
have the facts. And once a man is known to be an actor it is easy to see
the marks of the grease-paint, though, not knowing it, one is as likely
to think him a preacher or a prize-fighter or whatever else he may
suggest. The talk of Mr. Kemble and Miss Farren was normal; their
manners polished, as became a class with so much leisure and culture.
But Mrs. Jerrems felt that she could see the glamour of the footlights
in everything they said or did.

She had seen them both in some of their plays. On her excursions to New
York, a visit to their theater was hardly less important, and much more
likely to be accomplished, than a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of
Art. When “Farren and Kemble,” as they were apt to be called, left New
York for a tour they rarely visited Braywood, or if they did the prices
at the opera-house were sure to be advanced and all Braywood put on its
best clothes.

For one thing, Polly Farren and Roger Kemble were pre-eminently
fashionable. Their plays dealt with the fashionable people of Europe and
America. They were generally English, and Roger Kemble was likely to be
Lord Somebody, and Polly Farren at least an Honorable Miss This-or-That.
Or, if they appeared in an American manuscript, they usually owned
country houses and yachts and had titles for guests. Their clothes were
sure to be a sort of prospectus of the next season’s modes. Roger Kemble
was never a fop, and always kept on the safe side of ostentation, yet he
was always scrupulously a pace ahead of the style and groomed to
flawlessness. He represented Piccadilly patterns and his clock was about
five hours ahead of New York time. Polly was a little braver. She was
beautiful, lithe, and dashing, and she was not afraid of anything that
French taste and caprice might prophesy.

Everybody knew, too, that Polly Farren and Roger Kemble “went with” the
smartest people. Those who knew they were married knew that their summer
cottage was among the handsomest in the Long Island groups. Their
manners were smart, too, with just the right flippancy and just the
right restraint. It was a school of etiquette to see them enter a
drawing-room or sip tea importantly, or tear a passion to embroidery.

Polly had made her first sensation in a play in which she was supposed
to have imbibed more champagne than her pretty head could carry. The
critics raved over her demonstration of the fine art of being tipsy in a
ladylike manner. Roger Kemble’s rôles frequently compelled him to be “as
drunk as a lord,” and young men of bibulosity tried to remember him in
their cups.

So now Mrs. Jerrems, watching the husband and wife at the homely task of
stowing away a small-city supper, seemed to be watching a scene on the
stage. She dreaded them, yet she tried to copy them. Faithful
church-member that she was, she abhorred the stage theoretically, and
practically followed its influence more than the church’s. She kept
taking notes on Polly Farren’s costume and carriage, and her husband
would later be admonished that many, many things he did were pitiably
below the standard of Roger Kemble.

The Kembles were not unaware of the inspection they underwent. They were
used enough to it, yet it irked them in this small community whither
they had retired during the Holy Week closing of their company. They
were glad to be gone as soon as they could decently take their leave and
carry off their wonder-child.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila was so exhausted by her labors as editress, directress, and
actress that she had yawned even in the midst of her prettiest
thank-yous for the praise she battened on. On the way she clung to her
father’s hand in a sleep-walking drowse, and lurched into him until he
caught her into his bosom and carried her home and up the stairs to her
bed. She slept while her mother undressed her, and there was no waking
her to her prayers. Even in her heavy slumbers she fell into an attitude
of such grace that it seemed almost conscious.

Roger and Polly looked at her and smiled; and shook their heads over
her.

“She is hopelessly ours,” said Kemble. “I’m afraid there’ll be no
keeping her off the stage when she grows up.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Kemble was in his bath-robe in the bath-room before his wife, who had
not moved from her posture of contemplation, suddenly thought aloud:

“After all, why not?”

Kemble paused with the tooth-paste tube above his tooth-brush to query,
“Why not what?”

“What better chance is there for a woman?”

Kemble moved close enough to her to nudge her out of her muse and demand
again, “What woman are you talking about?”

“That one,” said Polly. “That little understudy of life. You say we
sha’n’t be able to keep her off the stage. Why should we try to?”

“Well, knowing what we do of the stage, my dear,—it isn’t exactly the
ideal place for a girl, now is it?”

“No, of course not. But where is the ideal place for a girl? Is there
such a thing? We know all too well how much suffering and anxiety and
disappointment and wickedness there is on the stage; but where will you
go to escape it? Look at the society wives and daughters we know, in
town and out in the country. Look at the poor girls in the shops and
factories.”

“That’s so,” Kemble spluttered across his shuttling tooth-brush. “I
rather fancy a smaller city is better.”

His wife laughed softly: “You ought to have heard what I’ve been hearing
about this town! You’d think it was the home of all villainy. There’s
enough scandal and tragedy here to fill a hundred volumes. There are
problem-plays here—among busy church-members, too—that make Ibsen read
like a copy of _St. Nicholas_.”

She put out the light in Sheila’s room and went into her own, lighted
herself a cigarette from the cigar her husband had left in her hair-pin
tray, and sat down before the cold radiator as before a fireplace to
talk about life. People were all rôles to her and their histories were
scenarios that interested her more or less as she saw herself playing
them.

“When I look around at my old school friends and relatives off the
stage,” she said, “I can’t see that they’ve found any recipe for
happiness. Clara Gaines is a domestic soul and her husband is a
druggist, but he leaves her to be domestic all by herself, and she tells
me he never spends a minute at home that he can spend outside. Ella
Westover has divorced two husbands in Terre Haute already. Marjorie
Cranford tells me that her home town out in—in the Middle West
somewhere—has a fast set that makes the Tenderloin look stupid.
Clarice—What’s her name now?—well, she has married an awfully good
man, but she has to wheedle every cent she gets out of him or cheat him
out of it, and she says she wants to scream at his hypocrisy. She thinks
she’ll run off and leave him any day now.”

Kemble drew a chair to her side and put his feet on the radiator
alongside hers. He found his cigar out, and relighted it with difficulty
from her cigarette as he laughed:

“Polly is a bit of a pessimist to-night, eh? Is it the quietness of this
little burg? I was rather enjoying the peace and repose and all that
sort of thing.”

“So was I. But that’s because it’s a change for us to have an evening
off. Think of the women who never have anything else. They’re not happy,
Roger. You can’t find one of them that will say she is.”

“You don’t fancy small-town respectability for your daughter, then?”

“I hope she’ll be respectable. But there’s so little real respectability
in being just dull and bored to death, in just sitting round and waiting
for some man to come home, in having nothing to spend except what you
can steal out of his trousers or squeeze out of an allowance. I’d rather
have Sheila an actress than a toadstool or a parasite on some man. She
has one of those wild-bird natures that I had. The safest thing for her
is the freedom and a lot of work and admiration, and a chance to act.
The stage is no paradise, the Lord knows, but the first woman that ever
knew freedom was the actress. These votes-for-women rebels are all
clamoring now for what we actresses have always had. Would it break your
heart, Roger, if our little Sheila went on the stage?”

Kemble followed a slow cloud of smoke with the soft words:

“My mother was an actress.”

He drew in more smoke and let it curl forth luxuriously as he murmured,
“And my wife is an actress.”

It would have surprised the Farren-Kemble following to see those
flippant comedians so domesticated and holding a solemn _ante-vitam_
inquest over the future of their child. But a father is a father and a
mother a mother the world over.

Polly put out her hand and squeezed Roger’s, and he lifted hers and
touched it to his lips with an old comedy grace. She drew the two hands
back across the little gulf between them and returned the compliment,
then rested her cheek on their conjoined fingers and pondered:

“We could save Sheila the hardest part of it. She wouldn’t have to hang
round the agencies or bribe any brute with herself, or barnstorm with
any cheap company. And she wouldn’t have to go on the stage by way of
any scandal.”

Roger growled comfortably: “That’s so. She could step right into the
old-established firm of Farren & Kemble. The main thing for us to see is
that she is a good actress—as her mother was and her two grandmothers
and three of her four great-grandmothers, and so on back.”

Polly amended: “She mustn’t go on the stage too soon, though—or too
late; and she must have a good education—French and German, and travel
abroad and all that.”

“Then that’s settled,” Kemble laughed. “And as soon as we’ve got her all
prepared and established and on the way to big success, she’ll fall in
love with some blamed cub who’ll drag her to his home in Skaneateles.”

“Probably; but she’ll come back.”

“All right. And now, having written Sheila’s life for her to rewrite,
let’s go to bed. There’ll be no sleeping in this noisy house in the
morning.”



                               CHAPTER IV


That was a tremendous week for the children of Braywood. As some quiet
bayou harbors for a time a few birds of passage restlessly resting
before they fly on into the sky, so the domestic poultry of Braywood was
stirred by the Kemble wild fowl.

Four generations were gathered at the Burbage home. Sheila’s
great-grandmother was always there at the home of Clyde Burbage, senior,
who had fallen out of the line of strollers, and become a merchant. His
wife’s mother, who was Polly Farren’s mother, too, was there for a
visit. The old lady and the older lady had left the stage and now spent
their hours in regretting the decadence of earlier glories, as their
elders had done before them, and as their children would do in their
turn.

The Kembles and Farrens and Burbages were all peers in the aristocracy
of the theater, which, like every other world, has its princes and
peasants, its merchants and vagabonds, saints and sinners.

None of this line dated back, however, to the time when Holy Week was a
period of industry for the churchly actors who prepared their miracles
and moralities for the edification of the people. Nowadays Holy Week is
a time when most of the theaters close, and the others entertain
diminished audiences and troupes whose enthusiasm is diminished by the
halving of their salaries.

It is a period when so many people desire to be seen in church or fear
to be seen in the playhouse, that the receipts drop off amazingly,
though the same people feel it no sin to crowd the same theater the week
before or the week after the Passion sennight.

Sometimes a play is strong enough in draught to pack the theater in
spite of the anniversary. This year the Farren-Kemble play was not quite
successful enough to justify the risk of half-filled auditoriums. So
they “rested.”

But to the children, as to the other animals, there are no holy days, or
rather no unholy days. The children of Braywood made a theatrical week
of it, and Sheila reveled in her opportunity. She had an audience
everywhere she went.

The other children stood about her and wondered. She fascinated them,
and they were eager to do as she bade, though they felt a certain
uneasiness; as if they had wished for a fairy queen to play with and had
got their wish.

The other children commanded in their own specialties and in their
turns. At outdoor romps and sports Clyde Burbage led the way, and
endangered future limbs or present lives by his fearless banter. At
household games with dolls and diseases Dorothy had a matronly authority
and Sheila was like a novice. In hospital games, Dorothy, the head
nurse, must show her how babies should be handled, punished, and
medicined.

It should be set down to Sheila’s credit that she was meek as Moses in
the presence of domestic genius. But it must be added that the things
she learned from Dorothy were likely to be exploited later in some drama
where Sheila took full sway. In Dorothy’s games the dolls always
recovered when Dr. Eugene was called in with his grandmother’s
spectacles on. In Sheila’s dramas the dolls almost always perished in
agony, while the desperate mother clung to the embarrassed doctor, at
the same time screaming to him to save the child and whispering him to
pronounce it dead.

Roger Kemble happened to be passing Mrs. Vickery’s front yard during one
of these tragedies, and paused to watch it across the fence while Mrs.
Vickery attended from the porch. One of those startling unconscious
scandals in which children’s plays abound was suddenly developed, and
Roger moved on rapidly while Mrs. Vickery vanished into the house.

All the while the young Shakespeare of Braywood wrought upon his play
for Sheila. But the moment he thought he had it perfected, he would hear
her toss off one of the dramatic principles that she had overheard her
father and mother discussing after some rehearsal. Then Eugene would
blush to realize that his drama had violated this dictum and was
unworthy of the great actress. And he would steal away to unravel his
fabric and knit it up again.

At last it began to shape itself according to her ideals as he had
gleaned them. He sat up finishing it until he was sent to bed for the
fourth time, then he worked in his room till his mother knocked on his
door and ordered his light out and forbade him to leave his bed again.

He waited till he knew that his parents were asleep, then he cautiously
renewed his light and, sitting up in bed, wrote with that
grasshopper-legged finger of his till he could keep his eyes ajar no
longer. Then he held one eye open with his left hand till the hand
itself went to sleep. He never knew it when his head rolled over to the
pillow. He knew nothing more till he woke, shivering, to find the
daylight in the room and the light still burning expensively.

He put out the light and worked till breakfast and his play were ready.
After he had spooned up his porridge and chewed down his second glass of
milk he made haste toward Clyde Burbage’s house. He hesitated at the
nearest corner till he found courage to proceed. He mounted the steps
with his precious manuscript buttoned against his swinging heart. He
rang the bell. Mrs. Burbage came to the door, and he peeled his cap from
his burning head:

“Is—is Clyde at home, Mis’ Burbage?”

Mrs. Burbage was surprised at the formality of the visit. Boys usually
stood outside and whistled for Clyde or called “Hoo-oo!” or “Hay,
Clyde—oh, Cly-ud!” till he answered. In fact, he had only recently
answered just such a signal from another boy and slammed the door after
him.

When Eugene learned that Clyde was abroad he made as if to depart, then
paused and, with a violent carelessness, mumbled, “I don’t suppose
Sheila is home, either?”

“Sheila? Oh no! She and her father and mother left on the midnight
train.”

“Is that so?” said Eugene as casually as if he had just learned that all
his relatives were dead or that he had overslept Christmas.

He tried to make a brave exit, but he was so forlorn that Mrs. Burbage
forgot to smile as grown-ups smile at the big tragedies of the little
folk. She watched him struggling overlong at the gate-latch. She saw him
break into a frantic run for home as soon as he had gained the sidewalk.
Then she went inside, shaking her head and thinking the same words that
were clamoring in the boy’s sick heart:

“Oh, Sheila! Sheila!”



                               CHAPTER V


The big young man with the shoulders of a bureau would never have been
taken for a student if he had not been crossing the campus with a too
small cap precariously perched on his too much hair, and if he had not
been swinging a strapful of those thin, weary-worn volumes that look to
be text-books and not novels. The eye-glasses set on his young nose
mainly accented his youth. If he had not depended on them he would have
made a splendid center rush. Instead, he was driven to the ’varsity
crew, where he won more glory than in the class-room. He paused before a
ground-floor window of the oldest of the old dormitories. That
window-seat as usual displayed the slim and gangling form of a young man
who was usually to be found there stretched out on his stomach and
reading or writing with solemn absorption. It was necessary to call him
repeatedly before he came back from the mist he surrounded himself with:

“Hay! ’Gene! Oh, Vick! ’Gene Vickery! Hay you!”

“Hay yourself! Oh, hey-o, Bret Winfield, h’are you?”

“Rotten! Say—you going to the theater to-night?”

“I usually do. What’s the play?”

“‘A Friend in Need.’ Ran six months in New York.”

“All right, I’ll go.”

“Better get a seat under cover of the balcony.”

“Why?”

“Looks like a big night to-night. The Freshmen are going to bust up the
show.”

“Really? Why?”

Vickery was only a post-graduate, in his first year at Leroy University.
He had gone through the home-town schools and a preparatory school and a
smaller college, before he had moved on to Leroy to earn a Ph.D. He had
long ago given up his ambitions to replace Shakespeare. So now he asked
in his ignorance why the Freshmen of Leroy must break up the play. And
Winfield answered from his knowledge:

“Because about this time of year the Freshman class always busts up a
show. It’s one of the sacredest traditions of our dear old Alum Mater.
Last year’s Freshies put a big musical comedy on the blink. Kidnapped
half the chorus girls. This year there’s no burlesque in view, so the
cubs are reduced to pulling down a high comedy.”

“Won’t the faculty do anything about it?”

“Faculty won’t know anything about it till the morning papers tell how
many policemen were lost and how much damage was done to the theater. If
you’re going, either take an umbrella or sit under the balcony, for
there will be doings.”

“I’ll be there, Bret.”

“I wish I could have you with me, but a gang of us Seniors have taken a
front box together. S’long!”

“S’long!”

Vickery went back to his text-book. He was to be a professor of Greek.
He had almost forgotten that he had ever fallen in love with an actress.
He had kept no track of stage history.

His acquaintance with Bret Winfield had been casual until his sister
Dorothy came on to spend a few days near her brother. Dorothy had grown
up to be the sort of woman her childhood prophesied—big, beautiful,
placid, very noble at her best and stupid at her worst. Her big eyes
were the Homeric “ox-eyes,” and Eugene in the first flush of his first
Greek had called her thence Bo-opis, which he shortened later to “Bo.”

The bo-optic Dorothy made a profound impression on Bret Winfield, and he
cultivated Eugene thereafter on her account. He had a rival in the
scientific school, Jim Greeley, a fellow-townsman of Winfield’s.
Greeley’s matter-of-fact soul was completely congenial to Dorothy, but
the two young men hated each other with great dignity, and Dorothy
reveled in their rivalry. She was quite forgotten, however, when matters
of real college moment were under way—such as the Freshman assault on
the drama.

The news of the riot-to-be percolated through the two thousand students
without a word reaching the ears of the faculty or the officers of the
theater. There was no reason to expect trouble on this occasion. There
had been no football or baseball or other contest to excite the
students. They made a boisterous audience before the curtain rose—but
then they always did. They called to each other from crag to crag. They
whistled and stamped in unison when the curtain was a moment late; but
that was to be expected in college towns. Strangely, students have been
always and everywhere rioters.

The first warning the audience had of unusual purposes came when a round
of uproarious applause greeted a comedian’s delivery of a bit of very
cheap wit which had been left in because the author declined to waste
time polishing the seat-banging part of his first act. In this country
an audience that is extremely displeased does not hiss or boo; it
applauds sarcastically and persistently. The poor actor who had aimed to
hurry past the line found himself held up by the ironic hand-clapping.
When he tried to go on, it broke out anew.

An actor cannot disclaim or apologize for the lines he has to speak,
however his own prosperities are involved in them. So poor Mr. Tuell had
now to stand and perspire while the line he had begged the author to
delete provoked the tempest.

Whenever the fuming comedian opened his mouth to speak the applause
drowned him. It soon fell into a rhythm of one-two, one-two-three,
one-two, one-two-three. Tuell could only wait till the claque had grown
weary of its own reproof. Then he went on to his next feeble witticism,
another play upon words so childish that it brought forth cries of,
“Naughty, naughty!”

The other members of the company gathered in the wings, as uncomfortable
as a band of early martyrs waiting their turns to appear before the
lions. To most of them this was their first encounter with a mutinous
audience.

Audiences are usually a chaos of warring tastes and motives which must
somehow be given focus and unity by the actors. That was the hardest
part of the day’s work—to get the house together. To-night they must
face a ready-made audience with a mind of its own—and that hostile.

The actors watched the famous “first old woman,” Mrs. John Vining, sail
out with the bravery of a captive empress marching down a Roman street
in chains. She was greeted with harsh cries of, “Grandma!” and, “Oh,
boys, Granny’s came!”

Mrs. Vining smiled indulgently and went on with her lines. The applause
broke out and continued while she and Mr. Tuell conducted a dumb-show.
Then an abrupt silence fell just in time to emphasize the banality of
her next speech.

“You ask of Claribel? Speaking of angels, here she comes now.”

At the sound of her name the actress summoned clutched the cross-piece
of the flat that hid her from the audience. She longed for courage to
run away. But actors do not run away, and she made ready to dance out on
the stage and gush her brilliant first line: “Oh, auntie, there you are.
I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

Sheila had always hated the entrance because of its bustling
unimportance. It was exciting enough to-night. No sooner had Mrs. Vining
announced her name than there was a salvo of joy from the mob.

“Oh, girls, here comes Claribel!”

Some one stood up and yelped, “Three hearty cheers and a tigress for
Claribel.”

Sheila fell back into the wings as the clamor smote her. But she had
been seen and admired. There was a hurricane of protest against her
retreat:

“Come on in, Claribel; the water’s fine!” “Don’t leave the old farm,
Claribel; we need you!” “Peekaboo! I see You Hiding behind the chair.”

Each of the mutineers shrieked something that he thought was funny, and
laughed at it without heeding what else was shouted. The result was
deafening.

Eugene Vickery’s heart was set aswing at the glimpse of Sheila Kemble.
The sight of her name on the program had revived his boyhood memories of
her. He rose to protest against the hazing of a young girl, especially
one whose tradition was so sweet in his remembrance, but he was in the
back of the house and his cry of “Shame!” was lost in the uproar, merely
adding to it instead of quelling it.

Bret Winfield in a stage box had seen Sheila in the wings for some
minutes before her entrance. He knew nothing of her except that her
beauty pleased him thoroughly and that he was sorry to see how scared
she was when she retreated.

He saw also how plucky she was, for, angered by the boorish unchivalry
of the mob, she marched forth again like a young Amazon. At the full
sight of her the Freshmen united in a huge noise of kisses and murmurs
of, “Yum-yum!” and cries of, “Me for Claribel!” “Say, that’s some gal!”
“Name and address, please!” “I saw her first!” “Second havers!” “Mamma,
buy me that!” She was called a peach, a peacherino, a pippin, a
tangerine, a swell skirt—anything that occurred to the uninspired.

Sheila felt as if she were struck by a billow. Her own color swept past
the bounds of the stationary blushes she had painted on her cheeks. She
came out again and began her line: “Oh, auntie—”

It was as if echo had gone into hysterics. Two hundred voices mocked
her: “Oh, auntie!” “Oh, auntie!” “Oh, auntie!”

She wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry, she wanted to run, she wanted to
fight. She wished that the whole throng had but one ear, that she might
box it.

The stage-manager was shrieking from the wings: “Go on! Don’t stop for
anything!”

She continued her words with an effect of pantomime. The responses were
made against a surf of noise.

Then Eric Folwell, who played the hero, came on. He was handsome, and
knew it. He was a trifle over-graceful, and his evening coat fitted his
perfect figure almost too perfectly. He was met with pitiless
implications of effeminacy. “Oh, Clarice!” “Say, Lizzie, are you busy?”
“Won’t somebody slap the brute on the wrist?” “My Gawd! ain’t he
primeval?” “Oh, you cave-girl!”

As if this were not shattering enough, some of the students had provided
themselves with bags of those little torpedoes that children throw on
the Fourth of July. One of these exploded at Folwell’s feet. At the
utterly unexpected noise he jumped, as a far braver man might have done,
taken thus unawares.

This simply enraptured the young mob, and showers of torpedoes fell
about the stage. It fairly snowed explosives. The gravel scattered in
all directions. A pebble struck Sheila on the cheek. It smarted only a
trifle, but the pain was as nothing to the sacrilege.

Somehow the play struggled on to the cue for the entrance of the heroine
of the play. Miss Zelma Griffen was the leading woman. She was supposed
to arrive in a taxicab, and the warning “honk” of it delighted the
audience. She was followed on by a red-headed chauffeur who asked for
his fare, which she borrowed from the hero, then passed to the
chauffeur, who thanked her and made his exit.

Miss Griffen was a somewhat sophisticated actress with a large record in
college boys. While she waited for her cue, she had cannily decided to
appease the mob by adopting a tone of good-fellowship. She had also
provided herself with a rosette of the college colors. She waved it at
the audience and smiled.

This was a false note. It was resented as a familiarity and a
presumption. This same college had rotten-egged an actor some years
before for wearing a ’varsity sweater on the stage. It greeted Miss
Griffen with a storm of angry protest, together with a volley of
torpedoes.

Miss Griffen, completely nonplussed, gaped for her line, could not
remember a word of it, then ran off the stage, leaving Sheila and Mrs.
Vining and Tuell to take up the fallen torch and improvise the scene.
Sheila made the effort, asked herself the questions Miss Griffen should
have asked her, and answered them. It was her religion as an actress
never to let the play stop.

With all her wits askew, she soon had herself snarled up in a tangle of
syntax in which she floundered hopelessly. The student body railed at
her:

“Oh, you grammar! ’Rah, ’rah, ’rah, night school!”

This insult was too much for the girl. She lost every trace of
self-control.

All this time Bret Winfield had grown angrier and angrier. Bear-baiting
was one thing; but dove-baiting was too cowardly even for mob-action,
too unfair even for a night of sports, unpardonable even in Freshmen. He
was thrilled with a chivalrous impulse to rush to the defense of Sheila,
whose angry beauty had inflamed him further.

He stood up in the proscenium box and tried to call for fair play. He
was unheard and unseen; all eyes were fastened on the stage where the
fluttering actress besought the howling stage-manager to throw her the
line louder.

Winfield determined to make himself both seen and heard. Fellow Seniors
in the box caught at his coat-tails, but he wrenched loose and, putting
a foot over the rail, stepped to the apron of the stage. In his struggle
he lost his eye-glasses. They fell into the footlight trough, and he was
nearly blind.

Sheila, who stood close at hand, recoiled in panic at the sight of this
unheard-of intrusion. The rampart of the footlights had always stood as
a barrier between Sheila and the audience, an impassable parapet.
To-night she saw it overpassed, and she watched the invader with much
the same horror that a nun would experience at seeing a soldier enter a
convent window.

Winfield advanced with hesitant valor and frowned fiercely at the
dazzling glare that beat upward from the footlights.

He was recognized at once as the famous stroke-oar of the crew that had
defeated the historic rivals of Grantham University. He was hailed with
tempest.

Sheila knew neither his fame nor his mission. She felt that he was about
to lay hands on her; all things were possible from such barbarians. Her
knees weakened. She turned to retreat and clung to a table for support.

Suddenly she had a defender. From the wings the big actor who had played
the taxicab-driver dashed forward with a roar of anger and let drive at
Winfield’s face. Winfield heard the onset, turned and saw the fist
coming. There was no time to explain his chivalric motive. He ducked and
the blow grazed his cheek, but the actor’s impetus caught him off his
balance and hustled him on backward till one foot slid down among the
footlights. Three electric bulbs were smashed as he went overboard into
the orchestra.

He almost broke the backs of two unprepared viola-players, but they
eased his fall. He caromed off their shoulder-blades into the
multifarious instruments of the “man in the tin-shop.” One foot thumped
bass-drum with a mighty plop; the other sent a cymbal clanging. His
clutching hands set up a riot of “effects,” and he lay on the floor in a
ruin of orchestral noises, and a bedlam of din from the audience.

By the time he had gathered himself together the curtain had been
lowered and the whole house was in a typhoon.

A dozen policemen who had been hastily summoned and impatiently awaited
by the manager charged down the aisles and seized each a double arm-load
of the nearest rioters. The foremost policeman received Winfield as he
clambered, shamefaced, over the orchestra rail.

Winfield started to explain: “I went up there to ask the fellows to be
quiet.”

The officer, indignant as he was, let out a guffaw of contemptuous
laughter: “Lord love you, kid, if that’s the best lie you can tell,
what’s the use of education?”

Winfield realized the hopelessness of such self-defense. It was less
shameful to confess the misdemeanor than to be ridiculed for so impotent
a pretext. He suffered himself to be jostled up the aisle and tossed
into the patrol-wagon with the first van-load of prisoners. He counted
on a brief stay there, for it was a custom of the college to tip over
the patrol-wagon and rescue the victims of the police.

This year’s Freshmen, however, lacked the necessary initiative and
leadership, and before the lost opportunity could be regained the wagon
had rolled away, leaving the class to eternal ignominy.



                               CHAPTER VI


Deprived of its ringleaders, the mob fell into such disarray that it was
ready to be cowed by the manager of the theater. He had waited for the
police to remove the chief pirates, and now he addressed the audience
with the one speech that could have had success:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve lowered the curtain and I’m going to keep it
lowered till the hoodlums settle down or get thrown out. The majority of
people here to-night have paid good money to see this show. It is a good
show and played by a company of ladies and gentlemen from one of the
best theaters in New York, and I propose to have them treated as such
while they are in our city. We are going to begin the play all over
again, but if there is any further disturbance I’ll ring down the
asbestos and put out the house lights. And no money will be returned at
the box-office.”

This last argument converted the mob into a sheriff’s posse. The
house-manager received a round of applause and the first Freshman who
rose in his place was subdued by his own fellow-classmen.

Bret Winfield spent the night in a cell. He slept little, because the
Freshmen hardly ceased to sing the night long; they were solacing
themselves with doleful glees. Winfield could not help smiling at his
imprisonment. Don Quixote was tasting the reward of misapplied chivalry.

The next morning he made no defense before the glowering judge who had
played just such pranks in his college days and felt, therefore, a
double duty to repress it in the later generation. He excoriated Bret
Winfield especially, and Winfield kept silence, knowing that the truth
would gain him no credence and only added contempt. The judge fined the
young miscreants five dollars each and left their further punishment to
the faculty.

On his way back to his rooms after his release, Winfield met Eugene
Vickery, and said, with a wry smile, “Hello, ’Gene! I’ve just escaped
from the penitentiary.”

To his astonishment, Vickery snapped back, “I’m sorry to hear it.”

Winfield, seeing that he was in earnest, fumbled for words: “What
the—Why the—Well, say!”

The slight and spindling youth confronted the bureau-chested giant and
shook his finger in his face: “If you weren’t so much bigger than I am
I’d give you worse than that actor gave you. To think that a great big
hulk like you should try to attack a little girl like that! Don’t you
ever dare speak to me or my sister again.”

Winfield gave an excellent imitation of incipient apoplexy. He seized
Vickery by the lapels to demand: “Good Lord, ’Gene, you don’t think
I—Say, what do you think I am, anyway? Why—Well, can you beat it? I
ask you? Ah, you can all go plumb to—Ah, what’s the good!”

Winfield never was an explainer. He lacked language; he lacked the
ambition to be understood. It made him an excellent sportsman. When he
lost he wasted no time in explaining why he had not won. To him the
martyrdom of being misunderstood was less bitter than the martyrdom of
justifying himself. He was so dazed now by the outcome of his
knight-errantry that he resolved to leave the college to its own verdict
of him. Eugene Vickery’s ruling passion, however, was a frenzy to
understand and to be understood. He caught the meaning in Winfield’s
incoherence and seized him by the lapel:

“You mean that you didn’t go out on the stage to scare the girl, but
to—Well, that’s more like you! I’m a lunkhead not to have known it from
the first. Why, a copper collared me, too, and accused me of being one
of the Freshmen! I talked him out of it and proved I was a
post-graduate, or I’d have spent the night in a dungeon, too. Well,
well! and to think I got you so wrong! You write a statement to the
papers right away.”

“Ah, what’s the good?”

“Then I will.”

“Just as much obliged, but no, you won’t.”

“You ought to square yourself with the people who—”

“There’s just two people I want to square myself with—that little
actress who didn’t realize what I was there for, and that damned actor
who knocked me through the bass-drum. Who were they, anyway? I didn’t
get a program.”

“I didn’t see the man’s name; but the girl—I used to know her.”

“You did! Say!”

“She was only a kid then, and so was I. She could act then, too,—for a
kid, but now—You missed the rest of the show, though, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I was called away.”

“After you left, the audience was as good as a congregation. Sheila
Kemble—that’s the girl—was wonderful. She didn’t have much to do, but,
golly! how she did it! She had that thing they call ‘authority,’ you
know. I wrote a play for her as a kid.”

“You did! Say! Did she like it?”

“She never saw it. But I’m going to write her another. I planned to be a
professor of Greek—but not now—ump-umm! I’m going to be a playwright.
And I’m going to make a star out of Sheila Kemble, and hitch my wagon to
her.”

“Well, say, give me a ride in that wagon, will you? Do you suppose I
could meet her? I’ve got to square myself with her.”

Eugene looked a trifle pained at Bret’s interest in another girl than
Dorothy, but he said: “I’m on my way to the theater now to find out
where she’s stopping and leave this note for her. I don’t suppose she’ll
remember me; but she might.”

“Do you mind if I tag after you? I might get a swipe at that actor,
too.”

“Oh, well, come along.”

They marched to the theater, stepping high and hoping higher. The stage
door-keeper brought them to ground with the information that the company
had left on a midnight train after the performance. He had no idea where
they had gone.

The two youths, ignorant of the simple means of following theatrical
routes, went back to their dismal university with a bland trust that
fate would somehow arrange a rencounter for them.

Winfield was soon called before the faculty. He had rehearsed a speech
written for him by Eugene Vickery. He forgot most of it and ruined its
eloquence by his mumbling delivery.

The faculty had dealt harshly with the Freshmen, several of whom it had
sent home to the mercy of their fathers. But Winfield’s explanation was
accepted. In the first place, he was a Senior and not likely to have
stooped to the atrocity of abetting a Freshman enterprise. In the second
place, he would be needed in the next rowing-contest at New London. In
the third place, his millionaire father was trembling on the verge of
donating to the university a second liberal endowment.

Winfield and Vickery returned to their daily chores and put in camphor
their various ambitions. Winfield endured the multitudinous jests of the
university on his record-breaking backward dive across the footlights,
but he made it his business to find out the name of the actor who
brought him his ignominy. In time he learned it and enshrined “Floyd
Eldon” and “Sheila Kemble” in prominent niches for future attention.
Somehow his loneliness for Dorothy seemed less poignant than before.

Eugene Vickery could have been seen at almost any hour, lying on his
stomach and changing an improbable novel into an impossible play.



                              CHAPTER VII


It was Sheila Kemble’s destiny to pass like a magnet through a world
largely composed of iron filings, though it was her destiny also to meet
a number of silver chums on whom her powers exerted no drag whatever.
Her father had been greatly troubled by her growth through the various
strata of her personality. He had noted with pain that she had a company
smile which was not the smile that illumined her face when she was
simply happy. He had begun a course of education. He kept taking her
down a peg or two, mimicking her, satirizing her. Her mother protested.

“Let the child alone. It will wear off. She has to go through it, but
she’ll molt and take on a new set of feathers in due time.”

“She’s got to,” Kemble groaned. “I’d rather have her deformed than
affected. If she’s going to be conscious of something, let her be
conscious of her faults.”

Sheila had been schooled at school as well as at home. With both father
and mother earning large sums, the family was prosperous enough to give
its only child the most expensive forms of education—and did. In school
she tormented and charmed her teachers; she was so endlessly eager for
attention. It was true that she always tried to earn it and deserve it,
but the effort irritated the instructors, whose ideal for a girl was
that she should be as inconspicuous as possible. That was not Sheila’s
ideal. Not at all!

She had soon tired of her classes. She was by nature quick at study. She
learned her lessons by a sort of mental photography, as she learned her
rôles later. The grind of her lessons irked her, not because she wanted
to be out at play like other children, but because she wanted to be in
at work. As ambitious young men chafe to run away from school and begin
their destinies, so young women are beginning to fret for their own
careers.

But Sheila’s father and mother were eager for her to stay a baby. Polly
Farren especially was not unwilling to postpone acknowledging herself
the mother of a grown-up daughter.

“You must have your childhood,” Roger had said.

“But I’ve had it,” Sheila declared.

“Oh, you have, have you?” her father laughed. “Why, you little upstart
kid, you’re only a baby.”

Sheila protested: “Juliet was only thirteen years old when she married
Romeo, and Eleonora Duse was only fourteen when she played the part, and
here I’m sixteen and I haven’t started yet.”

“Help! help!” cried Roger, with a sickish smile. “But you must prepare
yourself for your career by first educating yourself as a lady.”

This argument had convinced her. She consented to play one more season
at Miss Neely’s school. She came forth more zealous than ever to be an
actress. Polly and Roger had wheedled her along as best they could,
tried to interest her in literature, water-colors, needlework, golf,
tennis, European travel. But her cry for “work” could not be silenced.

When the autumn drew on they had urged her to try one year more at
school, pleaded that there was no opening for her in their company. She
was too young, too inexperienced.

She murmured “Yes?” with an impudent uptilt of inflection.

She left the house, and came home that afternoon bringing a contract.
She handed it to her father with another of those rising inflections,
“No?”

He looked at the paper, gulped, called, “Polly!”

They looked it over together. The party of the first part was J. J.
Cassard.

“And who is J. J. Cassard?” said Polly, trying not to breathe fast.
Roger growled:

“One of those Pacific-coast managers trying to jimmy a way into New
York.”

Hoping to escape the vital question by attacking the details, Roger
glanced through the various clauses. It was a splendid contract—for
Sheila. The hateful “two-weeks’ clause” by which she could be dismissed
at a fortnight’s notice was omitted and in its place was an agreement to
pay for her costumes and a maid.

“Do you mean to say,” Kemble blustered, “that Cassard handed you a
document like that right off the reel?”

“Oh no,” perked Sheila; “he gave me a regular white-slave mortgage at
first.”

“Where does she learn such language!” gasped Polly.

Sheila went on, “But I whipped him out on every point.”

“It looks almost suspicious,” said Kemble, and Polly protested.

“I was ten years on the stage before I got my modern costumes and a
maid.”

“Well,” said Sheila, as blandly as if she were a traveling saleswoman
describing her wares, “Cassard said I was pretty, and I reminded him
that I had the immense advertising value of the great Roger Kemble’s
name, and I told him I had probably inherited some of the wonderful
dramatic ability of Polly Farren. I told him I might take that for my
stage name—Farren Kemble.”

Father and mother cast their eyes up and shook their heads, but they
could not help being pleased by the flattery implied and applied.

Roger said: “Well, if all that is true, we’d better keep it in the
family. You’ll go with us.”

“But you said there was no part for me to play.”

“There’s the chambermaid.”

“No, you don’t!” said Sheila. “You don’t hide me in any of those ‘Did
you rings?’ and ‘Won’t you sit down, ma’ams?”’

“We’ll have the author build up the part a little, and there’s a bit in
the third act that’s really quite interesting.”

Sheila refused flatly. But her mother cried all that night, and her
father looked so glum the next morning that she consented to chaperon
them for one more year.

She revealed a genuine gift for the stage, and she had a carrying
personality. When she entered as the chambermaid and said, “Did you
ring?” the audience felt a strangely vivid spark of reality at once. She
needed nothing to say. She just was. Like some of the curiously alive
figures in the paintings of the Little Dutch masters, she was perfectly
in and of the picture, and yet she was rounded and complete. She was
felt when she entered and missed when she left.

Two or three times when her mother fell ill Sheila played her part—that
of a young widow. She did not look it yet, of course, but there was that
same uncanny actuality that had stirred the people who watched her as an
infantile Ophelia.

Seeing that she meant to be a star and was meant to be one, her parents
gave her the best of their wisdom, taught her little tricks of make-up,
and gesture, and economy of gesture; of emphasis by force and of
emphasis by restraint; the art of underlining important words and of
seeming not to have memorized her speeches, but to be improvising them
from the previous speech or from the situation. They taught her what can
be taught of the intricate technique of comedy—waiting for the laugh
while seeming to hurry past it; making speed, yet scoring points; the
great art of listening; the delicate science of when to move and when
not to move, and the tremendous power of a turn of the eyes. And, above
all, they hammered into her head the importance of sincerity—sincerity.

“There are hundreds of right ways to read any line,” Roger would say,
“and only one way that’s wrong—the insincere way. Insincerity can be
shown as much by exaggeration as by indifference. Let your character
express what you feel, and the audience will understand you, if it’s
only a slow closing of the eyes once or a little shift of the weight. Be
sincere!”

Two seasons later, Roger’s manager brought over from Europe a well-tried
success that suited Roger and Polly to a T, but included no rôle at all
for Sheila. She simply could not play the fat old dowager, and she
simply would not play the laconic housemaid. The time had come for the
family to part.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Fathers are always frightened to death of their daughters’ welfares in
this risky, woman-trapping world. Roger Kemble knew well enough what
dangers Sheila ran. Whether they were greater than they would have been
in any other walk of life or in the most secluded shelter, he did not
know. He knew only that his child’s honor and honesty were infinitely
dear to him, and that he could not keep her from running along the
primrose path of public admiration. He could not be with her always.

He managed to get Sheila an engagement with the production called “A
Friend in Need.” The part was not important, but she could travel with
her great-aunt, Mrs. Vining, who could serve as her guardian and teach
her a vast deal about acting as an art and a business. Also Polly
decided to give Sheila her own maid, Nettie Pennock, a slim, prim, grim
old spinster whose very presence advertised respectability. Pennock had
spent most of her life in the theater, and looked as if she had never
seen a play. Polly said that she “looked like all the Hard-shell Baptist
ministers’ wives in the world rolled into one.”

But Pennock was broad-hearted and reticent, and as tolerant as
ministers’ wives ought to be. She was efficient as a machine, and as
tireless. She could be a tyrant, and her faultfindings were sparse and
sharp as drops of vinegar from a cruet. Polly was more afraid of them
than of all the thumps of the bladder-swatting critics.

Yet that frosty face could smile with the sudden sweetness of sunlight
on snow, and Sheila’s arms about her melted her at once, except when she
had done some mischief or malice. And then Pennock could be thawed only
by a genuine and lengthy penance.

Roger urged Polly to fill Sheila’s ears with good counsel, but Polly
Farren knew how little impression advice makes on those whom no inner
instinct impels to do the right thing anyway.

                 *        *        *        *        *

After the usual rehearsals in New York, “A Friend in Need” had the usual
preliminary weeks on the road before it was submitted to New York.

When the time came for Sheila to leave home and strike out for herself,
it fell to Roger to take her to the train. Polly was suffering from one
of those sick headaches of hers which prostrated her when she was not at
work, though they never kept her from giving a sparkling performance.
Indeed, Kemble used to say that if the Angel Gabriel wanted to raise
Polly from the grave on Judgment morning, all the trumpets of the
Apocalypse would fail to rouse the late sleeper. But if he murmured
“Overture!” she would be there in costume with all her make-up on.

On the way to the station with Sheila, who was as excited as a boy going
to sea, Roger was mightily troubled over her. She was indeed going to
sea, and in a leaky boat, the frail barge of dreams. He felt that he
must speak to her on the Importance of Being Good. The frivolous
comedian suffered anguishes of stage-fright, but finally mustered the
courage to deliver himself as Polonius might have done if it had been
Ophelia instead of Laertes who was setting out for foreign travel.

It was a task to daunt a preachier parent than Roger Kemble, and it was
not easy to talk first principles of behavior to a sophisticated young
woman who knew as much about things as Sheila did.

Roger made a dozen false starts and ended in gulps, till Sheila finally
said: “What’s the matter, old boy? You’re trying to say something, but I
can’t make out what it is. Tell me, and I may be able to throw you the
line.”

“It’s about you, honey. I’m—That is, Polly is—At least your mother and
I—Well, anyway—”

“Yes, and then?” said Sheila.

Roger got the bit in his teeth and bolted. “The fact is, young woman,
you are all the daughters of your father’s and mother’s house. We’re
awfully proud of you, of course. And we know you’re going to be a big
actress. But we’d rather have you Just a good girl than all the stars in
the Milky Way squeezed into one. Do you still say your prayers at night,
honey?”

“Sometimes,” she sighed, “when I’m not too sleepy.”

“Well, say ’em in the mornings, then, when you first get up.”

“I’m pretty sleepy, then, too.”

“Well, for Heaven’s sake, say ’em sometimes.”

“All right, daddy, I promise. Was that all?”

“Yes! No! That is—You see, Sheila, you’re starting out by yourself and
you’re awfully pretty, and you’re pretty young, and the men are always
after a pretty girl, especially on the stage. And being on the stage,
you’re sure to be misjudged, and men will attempt—will say things they
wouldn’t dare try on a nice girl elsewhere. And you must be very much on
your guard.”

“I’ll try to be, daddy, thank you. Don’t you worry.”

“You know you’ll have to go to hotels and wait in railroad stations and
take cabs and go about alone at all hours, and you must be twice as
cautious as you’d be otherwise.”

“I understand, dear.”

“You see, Sheila honey, every woman who is in business or professional
life or is an artist or a nurse or a doctor or anything like that has to
stand a lot of insult, but so long as she realizes that it really is an
insult for a man to be familiar or anything like that, why, she’s all
right. But the minute she gets to feeling too free or to acting as if
she were a man, or tries to be a good fellow and a Bohemian and all that
rot—she’s going to give men a wrong impression. And then—well, even a
man that is the very decentest sort is likely to—to grow a little too
enterprising if a girl seems to encourage him, or even if she doesn’t
discourage him right at the jump.”

“I know.”

That little “I know” alarmed him more than ever. He went on with
redoubled zeal.

“I want you to remember one thing always, Sheila—you’ve got only one
life to live and one soul to take care of and only one body to keep it
in. And it’s entirely up to you what you make of yourself. Education and
good breeding and all that sort of thing help, but they don’t guarantee
anything. Even religion doesn’t always protect a girl; sometimes it
seems to make her more emotional and—Well, I don’t know what can
protect a girl unless it’s a kind of—er—well, a sort of
a—conceitedness. Call it self-respect if you want to or anything. But
it seems to me that if I were a girl the thing that would keep me
straightest would be just that. I shouldn’t want to sell myself cheap,
or give myself away forever for a few minutes of—excitement, or throw
the most precious pearl on earth before any swine of a man. That’s it,
Sheila—keep yourself precious.”

“I’ll try to, dad. Don’t worry!” she murmured, timidly.

Such discussions are among the most terrifying of human experiences.
Roger Kemble was trembling as he went on: “Some day, you know, you’ll
meet the man that belongs to you, and that you belong to. Save yourself
for him, eh?”

Then the modern woman spoke sternly: “Seems to me, daddy, that a girl
ought to have some better reason for taking care of herself than just
because she’s saving herself for some man.”

“Of course. You’re quite right, my dear. But I only meant—”

“I understand. I’ll try to save myself for myself. I don’t belong to any
man. I belong just to me; and I’m all I’ve got.”

“That’s a much better way to put it. Much better.” And he sighed with
immense relief.

The idea of the man that should make his daughter his own was an odious
idea to the father. It was odious now to the girl, too, for she was not
yet ready for that stormy crisis when she would make a pride of humility
and a rapture of surrender.



                              CHAPTER VIII


The play that Sheila was surrendered to, “A Friend in Need,” proved a
success and raised its young author to such heights of pride and elation
that when his next work, an ambitious drama, was produced, he had a long
distance to fall. And fell hard.

Young Trivett had tossed off “A Friend in Need” and had won from it the
highest praise as a craftsman. He had worked five years on his drama,
only to be accused of being “so spoiled by success as to think that the
public would endure anything he tossed off.”

But the miserable collapse of his _chef-d’œuvre_ did not even check the
triumph of his _hors-d’œuvre_. “A Friend in Need” ran on “to capacity”
until the summer weather turned the theater into a chafing-dish. Then
the company was disbanded.

In the early autumn following it was reorganized for a road tour. Of the
original company only four or five members were re-engaged—Sheila, Mrs.
Vining, Miss Griffen, and Tuell.

During the rehearsals Sheila had paid little attention to the new
people. She was doomed to be in their company for thirty or forty weeks
and she was in no hurry to know them. She was gracious enough to those
she met, but she made no advances to the others, nor they to her. She
had noticed that a new man played the taxicab-driver, but she neither
knew nor cared about his name, his aim, or his previous condition of
servitude.

The Freshmen of Leroy University brought him to her attention with a
spectacular suddenness in the guise of a hero. The blow he struck in her
supposed defense served as an ideal letter of introduction.

As soon as the curtain had fallen on the riot, cutting off the view of
the battle between the police and the students, Sheila looked about for
the hero who had rescued her from Heaven alone knew what outrage.

The neglected member of the troupe had leaped into the star rôle, the
superstar rôle of a man who wages a battle in a woman’s defense. She ran
to him and, seizing his hands, cried:

“How can I ever, ever, ever thank you, Mr.—Mr.—I’m so excited I can’t
remember your name.”

“Eldon—Floyd Eldon, Miss Kemble.”

“You were wonderful, wonderful!”

“Why, thank you, Miss Kemble. I’m glad if you—if—To have been of
service to you is—is—”

The stage-manager broke up the exchange of compliments with a “Clear!
clear! Damn it, the curtain’s going up.” They ran for opposite wings.

When the play was over Eldon was not to be found, and Sheila went with
her aunt to the train. At the hour when Winfield was being released from
his cell the special sleeping-car that carried the “Friend in Need”
company was three hundred miles or more away and fleeing farther.

When Sheila raised the curtain of her berth and looked out upon the
reeling landscape the morning was nearly noon. Yet when she hobbled down
the aisle in unbuttoned shoes and the costume of a woman making a hasty
exit from a burning building, there were not many of the troupe awake to
observe her. Her aunt, however, was among these, for old age was robbing
Mrs. Vining of her lifelong habit of forenoon slumber. Like many another
of her age, she berated as weak or shiftless what she could no longer
enjoy.

But Sheila was used to her and her rubber-stamp approval of the past and
rubber-stamp reproval of the present. They went into the dining-car
together, Sheila making the usual theatrical combination of breakfast
and lunch. As she took her place at a table she caught sight of her
rescuer of the night before.

He was gouging an orange when Sheila surprised him with one of her best
smiles. His startled spoon shot a geyser of juice into his eye, but he
smiled back in spite of that, and made a desperate effort not to wink.
Sheila noted the stoicism and thought to herself, “A hero, on and off.”

Later in the afternoon when she had read such morning papers as were
brought aboard the train, and found them deadly dull since there was
nothing about her in them, and when she had read into her novel till she
discovered the familiar framework of it, and when from sheer boredom she
was wishing that it were a matinée day so that she might be at her work,
she saw Floyd Eldon coming down the aisle of the car.

He had sat in the smoking-room until he had wearied of the amusing
reminiscences of old Jaffer, who was always reminiscent, and of the grim
silence of Crumb, who was always taciturn, and of the half-smothered
groans of Tuell, who was always aching somewhere. At length Eldon had
resolved to be alone, that he might ride herd about the drove of his own
thoughts. He made his face ready for a restrained smile that should not
betray to Sheila in one passing glance all that she meant to him.

To his ecstatic horror she stopped him with a gesture and overwhelmed
him by the delightful observation that it was a beautiful day. He freely
admitted that it was and would have moved on, but she checked him again
to present him to Mrs. Vining.

Mrs. Vining was pleased with the distinguished bow he gave her. It was a
sort of old-comedy bow. She studied him freely as he turned in response
to Sheila’s next confusing words:

“I want to thank you again for coming to my rescue from that horrible
brute.”

Eldon looked as guilty as if she had accused him of being himself the
brute he had saved her from. He threw off his disgusting embarrassment
with an effort at a careless shrug:

“It was nothing—nothing at all, I am sure.”

“It was wonderful,” Sheila insisted. “How powerful you must be to have
lifted that monster clear over the apron of the stage into the lap of
the orchestra!”

A man never likes to deny his infinite strength, but Eldon was honest
enough to protest: “I caught him off his balance, I am afraid. And,
besides, it comes rather natural to me to slug a man from Leroy.”

“Yes? Why?”

“I am a Grantham man myself. I was on our ’varsity eleven a couple of
years.”

“Oh!” said Sheila. “Sit down, won’t you?”

                 *        *        *        *        *

She felt that she had managed this rather crassly. It would have been
more delicate to express less surprise and to delay the invitation to a
later point. But it was too late now. He had already dropped into the
place beside her, not noticing until too late that he sat upon a novel
and a magazine or two and an embroidery hoop on which she had intended
to work. But he was on so many pins and needles that he hardly heeded
one more.

College men are increasingly frequent on the stage, but not yet frequent
enough to escape a little prestige or a little prejudice, according to
the point of view. In Sheila’s case Eldon gained prestige and a touch of
majesty that put her wits to some embarrassment for conversation. It was
one thing to be gracious to a starveling actor with a two-line rôle; it
was quite another to be gracious to a football hero full of fame and
learning.

Mrs. Vining, however, had played _grandes dames_ too long to look up to
anybody. She felt at ease even in the presence of this big
third-baseman, or coxswain, or whatever he had been on his football
nine. She said, “Been on the stage long, Mr. Eldon?”

Eldon grinned meekly, looked up and down the aisle with mock anxiety,
and answered: “The stage-manager isn’t listening? This is my first
engagement.”

“Really?” was the only comment Sheila could think of.

After his long silence in the company, and under the warming influence
of Sheila’s presence, the snows of pent-up reminiscence came down in a
flood of confession:

“I don’t really belong on the stage, you know. I haven’t a big enough
part to show how bad an actor I really could be if I had the chance. But
I set my mind on going on the stage, and go I went.”

“Did you find it hard to get a position?”

“Well, when I left college and the question of my profession came up,
dad and I had several hot-and-heavies. Finally he swore that if I didn’t
accept a job in his office I need never darken his door again. Business
of turning out of house. Father shaking fist. Son exit center, swearing
he will never come back again. Sound of door slamming heard off.”

Sheila still loved life in theatrical terms. “But what did your poor
mother do?” she said.

A film seemed to veil Eldon’s eyes as he mumbled: “She wasn’t there. She
was spared that.” Then he gulped down his private grief and went on with
his more congenial self-derision: “I left home, feeling like Columbus
going to discover America. I didn’t expect to star the first year, but I
thought I could get some kind of a job. I went to New York and called on
all the managers. I was such an ignoramus that I hadn’t heard of the
agencies. I got to know several office-boys very well before one of them
told me about the employment bureaus. Well, you know all about that
agency game.”

Sheila had been spared the passage through this Inferno on her way to
the Purgatory of apprenticeship. But she had heard enough about it to
feel sad for him, and she spared him any allusions to her superior luck.
Still, she encouraged him to describe his own adventures.

He told of the hardships he encountered and the siege he laid to the
theater before he found a breach in its walls to crawl through.
Constantly he paused to apologize for his garrulity, but Sheila urged
him on. She had been born within the walls and she knew almost nothing
of the struggles that others met except from hearsay. And she had never
heard say from just such a man with just such a determination. So she
coaxed him on and on with his history, as Desdemona persuaded Othello to
talk. With a greedy ear she devoured up his discourse and made him
dilate all his pilgrimage. Only, Eldon was not a Blackmoor, and it was
of his defeats and not his victories that he told. Which made him
perhaps all the more attractive, seeing that he was well born and well
made.

He laughed at his own ignorance, and felt none of the pity for himself
that Sheila felt for him. When she praised his determination, he sneered
at himself:

“It was just bull-headed stubbornness. I was ashamed to go back to my
dad and eat veal, and so I didn’t eat much of anything for a long while.
The only jobs I could get were off the stage, and I held them just long
enough to save up for another try. How these actors keep alive I can’t
imagine. I nearly starved to death. It wouldn’t have been much of a loss
to the stage if I had, but it wasn’t much fun for me. I wore out my
clothes and wore out my shoes and my overcoat and my hat. I wore out
everything but my common sense. If I’d had any of that I’d have given
up.”

Mrs. Vining moved uneasily. “If you’d had common sense you wouldn’t have
tried to get on the stage.”

“Auntie!” Sheila gasped. But she put up her old hand like a decayed
czarina:

“And if you have common sense you’ll never succeed, now that you’re
here.”

When this bewildered Eldon, she added, with the dignity of a priestess:
“Acting is an art, not a business; and people come to see artists, not
business men. Half of the actors are just drummers traveling about; but
the real successes are made by geniuses who have charm and individuality
and insight and uncommon sense. I think you’re probably just fool enough
to succeed. But go on.”

Eldon felt both flattered and dismayed by this pronouncement. He began
to talk to hide his confusion.

“I’m a fool, all right. Whether I’m just the right sort of a fool—Well,
anyway—my money didn’t last long, and I owed everybody that would trust
me for a meal or a room. The office-boys gave me impudence until I wore
that out too, and then they treated me like any old bench-warmer in the
park. The agents grew sick of the sight of me. They sent me to the
managers until they had instructions not to send me again. But still I
stuck at it, the Lord knows why.

“One day I went the rounds of the agencies as usual. When I came to the
last one I was so nauseated with the idiocy of asking the same old
grocery-boy’s question, ‘Anything to-day?’ I just put my head in at the
door, gave one hungry look around, and started away again. The
agent—Mrs. Sanchez, it was—beckoned to me, but I didn’t see; she
called after me, but I didn’t hear; she sent an office-boy to bring me
back.

“When I squeezed through the crowd in the office it was like being
called out of my place in the bread-line to get the last loaf of the
day. I felt ashamed of my success and I was afraid that I was going to
be asked to take the place of some Broadway star who had suddenly fallen
ill.

“Mrs. Sanchez swung open the gate in the rail and said: ‘Young man, can
you sing?’

“My heart fell to the floor and I stepped on it. I heard myself saying,
‘Is Caruso sick?’

“Mrs. Sanchez explained: ‘It’s not so bad as all that. But can you carry
a tune?’

“I told her that I used to growl as loud a bass as the rest of them when
we sang on the college fence.

“‘That’s enough,’ said Mrs. Sanchez. ‘They’re putting on a Civil War
play and they want a man to be one of a crowd of soldiers who sing at
the camp-fire in one of the acts. The part isn’t big enough to pay a
singer and there is nothing else to do but get shot and play dead in the
battle scene.’

“I told her I thought I could play dead to the satisfaction of any
reasonable manager and she gave me a card to the producer.

“Then she said, ‘You’ve never been on the stage, have you?’

“I shook my head. She told me to tell the producer that I had just come
in from the road with a play that had closed after a six months’ run. I
took the card and dashed out of the office so fast I nearly knocked over
a poor old thing with a head of hair like a bushel of excelsior. It took
me two days to get to the producer, and then he told me that it had been
decided not to send the play out, since the theatrical conditions were
so bad.”

Mrs. Vining interpolated, “Theatrical conditions are like the
weather—always dangerous for people with poor circulation.”

“I went back to the office,” said Eldon, “and told Mrs. Sanchez the
situation. The other members of the company had beaten me there. The
poor old soul was broken-hearted, and I don’t believe she regretted her
lost commissions as much as the disappointment of the actors.

“A lot of people have told me she was heartless. She was always good to
me, and if she was a little hard in her manner it was because she would
have died if she hadn’t been. Agents are like doctors, they’ve got to
grow callous or quit. Her office was a shop where she bought and sold
hopes and heartbreaks, and if she had squandered her sympathy on
everybody she wouldn’t have lasted a week. But for some reason or other
she made a kind of pet of me.”

Mrs. Vining murmured, “I rather fancy that she was not the first, and
won’t be the last, woman to do that.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Eldon flushed like a young boy who has been told that he is pretty. He
realized also that he had been talking about himself to a most unusual
extent with most unusual frankness, and he relapsed into silence until
Sheila urged him on.

It was a stupid Sunday afternoon in the train and he was like a traveler
telling of strange lands, under the insatiable expectancy of a fair
listener. There are few industries easier to persuade a human being
toward than the industry of autobiography. Eldon described the dreary
Sahara of idleness that he crossed before his next opportunity appeared.

As a castaway sits in the cabin of a ship that has rescued him and
smiles while he recounts the straits he has escaped from, and never
dreams of the storms that are gathering in his future skies, so Eldon in
the Pullman car chuckled over the history of his past and fretted not a
whit over the miseries he was hurrying to.

The only thing that could have completed his luxury was added to him
when he saw that Sheila, instead of laughing with him, was staring at
him through half-closed eyelids on whose lashes there was more than a
suspicion of dew. There was pity in her eyes, but in her words only
admiration:

“And you didn’t give up even then!”

“No,” said Eldon; “it is mighty hard knocking intelligence into as thick
a skull as mine. I went back to the garage where I had worked as a
helper. I had learned something about automobiles when I ran the one my
father bought me. But I kept nagging the agencies. Awful idiot, eh?”

To his great surprise the cynical Mrs. Vining put in a word of implied
approval:

“We are always reading about the splendid perseverance of men who become
leading dry-goods merchants of their towns or prominent politicians or
great painters, but the actors know as well as anybody what real
perseverance is. And nobody gives them credit for being anything but a
lot of dissipated loafers.”

Sheila was not interested in generalizations. She wanted to know about
the immediate young man before her. She was still child enough to feel
tremendous suspense over a situation, however well she knew that it must
have a happy ending. When she had been littler the story of Jack the
Giant-killer had enjoyed an unbroken run of forty nights in the bedtime
repertoire of her mother. And never once had she failed to shiver with
delicious fright and suffer anguishes of anxiety for poor Jack whenever
she heard the ogre’s voice. At the first sound of his _leit motiv_,
“Fee, fi, fo, fum—” her little hands would clutch her mother’s arm and
her eyes would pop with terror. Yet, without losing at all the thrill of
the drama, she would correct the least deviation from the sacred text
and rebuke the least effort at interpolation.

It was this weird combination of childish credulity, fierce imagination,
and exact intelligence that made up her gift of pretending. So long as
she could keep that without outgrowing it, as the vast majority do, she
would be set apart from the herd as one who could dream with the eyes
wide open.

When she looked at Eldon she saw him as the ragged, hungry beggar at the
stage door. She saw him turned away and she feared that he might die,
though she knew that he still lived. There was genuine anxiety in her
voice when she demanded, “How on earth did you ever manage to succeed?”

“I haven’t succeeded yet,” said Eldon, “or even begun to, but I am still
alive. It’s hard to get food and employment in New York, but somehow
it’s harder still to starve there. One way or another I kept at work and
hounded the managers. And one day I happened in at a manager’s office
just as he was firing an actor who thought he had some rights in the
world. He snapped me up with an offer of twenty-five dollars a week. If
he had offered me a million it wouldn’t have seemed any bigger.”

Mrs. Vining had listened with unwonted interest and with some
difficulty, for sleep had been tugging at her heavy old eyelids. As soon
as she heard that Eldon had arrived in haven at last she felt no further
necessity of attention and fell asleep on the instant.

Sheila sighed with relief, too. And the train had purred along
contentedly for half a mile before she realized that after all Eldon was
not with that company, but with this. Seeing that her aunt was no longer
with them in spirit, she lowered her voice to comment:

“But if you went with the other troupe, what are you doing here?”

“Well, you see, I thought I ought to tell Mrs. Sanchez the good news. I
thought she would be glad to hear it, and I was going to offer her the
commission for all the work she had done and all the time she had spent
on me. She looked disappointed when I told her, and she warned me that
the manager was unreliable and the play a gamble. She had just found me
a position with a company taking an assured success to the road. It was
this play of yours. The part was small and the pay was smaller still,
but it was good for forty weeks.

“But I was ambitious, and I told her I would take the other. I wanted to
create—that was the big word I used—I wanted to ‘create’ a new part.
She told me that the first thing for an actor to do was to connect with
a steady job, but I wouldn’t listen to her till finally she happened to
mention something that changed my mind.”

He flushed with an excitement that roused Sheila’s curiosity. When he
did not go on, she said:

“But what was it that changed your mind?”

Eldon smiled comfortably, and, emboldened by the long attention of his
audience, ventured to murmur the truth: “I had seen you act—in New
York—in this play, and I—I thought that you were a wonderful actress,
and more than that—the most—the most—Well, anyway, Mrs. Sanchez
happened to mention that you would be with this company, so I took the
part of the taxicab-driver. But I found I was farther away from you than
ever—till—till last night.”

And then Eldon was as startled at the sound of his words and their
immense import as Sheila was. The little word “you” resounded softly
like warning torpedoes on a railroad track signaling: “Down brakes!
Danger ahead!”



                               CHAPTER IX


As Eldon’s words echoed back through his ears he knew that he had said
too much and too soon. Sheila was afraid to speak at all; she could not
improvise the exquisitely nice phrase that should say neither more nor
less than enough. Indeed, she could not imagine just what she wanted to
say, what she really felt or ought to feel.

The woman was never born, probably, who could find a declaration of
devotion entirely unwelcome, no matter from whom. And yet Sheila felt
any number of inconveniences in being loved by this man who was a total
stranger yesterday and an old acquaintance to-day. It would be endlessly
embarrassing to have a member of the company, especially so humble a
member, infatuated with her. It would be infinitely difficult to be
ordinarily polite to him without either wounding him or seeming to
encourage him. She had the theatric gift for carrying on a situation
into its future developments. She was silent, but busily silent,
dramatizing to-morrows, and the to-morrows of to-morrows.

Eldon’s thoughts also were speeding noisily through his brain while his
lips were uncomfortably idle. He felt that he had been guilty of a gross
indiscretion and he wanted to remove himself from the discomfort he had
created, but he could not find the courage to get himself to his feet,
or the wit to continue or even to take up some other subject.

It was probably their silence that finally wakened Mrs. Vining. She
opened her drowsy eyes, wondering how long she had slept and hoping that
they had not missed her. She realized at once that they were both
laboring under some confusion. She was going to ask what it was.

Sheila resented the situation. Already she was a fellow-culprit with
this troublesome young man. An unwitting rescuer appeared in the person
of the stage-manager who dawdled along the aisle in the boredom of a
stage-manager, who can never quite forget his position of authority and
is never allowed to forget that his flock are proud individuals who feel
that they know more than he does.

Sheila was impelled to appeal to Batterson on Eldon’s behalf, but she
and the stage-manager had been in a state of armed truce since a clash
that occurred at rehearsals. Batterson was not the original producer of
the play, but he put out the road company and kept with it.

A reading of Sheila’s had always jarred him. He tried to change it. She
tried to oblige him, but simply could not grasp what he was driving at.
One of those peculiar struggles ensued in which two people are mutually
astounded and outraged at their inability to explain or understand.

But if Mr. Batterson was hostile to Sheila, he was afraid of Mrs.
Vining, both because he revered her and because she had known him when
he was one of the most unpromising beginners that ever attempted the
stage. He had never succeeded as an actor, which was no proof of his
inability to tell others how to act, but always seemed so to them.

As he would have passed, Mrs. Vining, quite as if Sheila had prompted
her, made a gesture of detention:

“Oh, Mr. Batterson, will you do me a great favor?” He bowed meekly, and
she said, “Be a good boy and give Mr. Eldon here a chance to do some
real work the first opportunity you get.”

Batterson sighed. “Good Lord! has he been pestering you, too?”

“He has been telling me of his struggles and his ambitions,” Mrs. Vining
answered, with reproving dignity, “and I can see that he has ability. He
is a gentleman, at least, and that is more than can be said of some of
the people who are given some of the rôles.”

Batterson did not relish this. He had had one or two battles with Mrs.
Vining over some of her stage business and had been withered by her
comments on his knowledge of what really went on in real drawing-rooms.
She had told him that they were as different as possible from stage
drawing-rooms, and he had lacked information to answer. All he said now
was:

“I’ve promised Eldon a dozen times that he should have a try at the
first vacancy. But you know this old guard; they never surrender and
they never die.”

“Except when they get a cue,” was Mrs. Vining’s drop of acid.

Batterson renewed his pledge and moved on, with a glance in which Eldon
felt more threat than promise. But he thanked Mrs. Vining profusely and
apologized to Sheila for taking so much of her time talking about
himself. This made a good exit speech and he retired to his cell,
carrying with him a load of new anxieties and ambitions.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Triply happy was Eldon now. He had been commended to the stage-manager
and promised the first opportunity. He was getting somewhere. He had
established himself in the good graces of the old duchess of the troupe.
He had put his idol, Sheila, under obligations to him. He had ventured
to let her know that he had joined the company on her account, and she
had not rebuked him. This in itself was a thousand miles on his journey.

The meter of the train had hitherto been but a dry, monotonous
clickety-click like the rattle bones of a dolorous negro minstrel. Now
it was a jig, a wedding jig. The wheels and the rails fairly sang to him
time after tune. The amiable hippety-hop fitted itself to any joyful
thought that cantered through his heart.

By and by a town came sliding to the windows—Milton, a typical smallish
city with a shabby station, a stupid hotel, no history, and no sights;
it had reached the gawky age and stopped growing. But Eldon bade it
welcome. He liked anybody and any place. He set out for the hotel,
swinging his suit-case as if it were the harp of a troubadour. He walked
with two or three other men of the company.

Old Jaffer had said: “The Mansion House is the only hotel. It’s three
blocks to the right from the station and then two blocks to the left.”
Jaffer knew the least bad hotel and just how to find it in hundreds of
towns. He was a living gazetteer. “I’ve been to every burg in the
country, I think,” he would say, “and I’ve never seen one yet that had
anything to see.” The highest praise he could give a place was, “It’s a
good hotel town.”

But they were all paradises to Eldon. He had fed so dismally and so
sparsely, as a man out of a job, that even the mid-Westem coffee tasted
good to him. Besides, to-day he had fed on honey dew and drunk the milk
of paradise.

He was so jubilant that he offered to carry the hand-bag of Vincent
Tuell, who labored along at his side, groaning. Eldon’s offer offended
Tuell, who was just old enough to resent his age. It had already begun
to lop dollars off his salary and to cut him out of the line of parts he
had once commanded.

Tuell had never reached high—but he had always hoped high. Now he had
closed the books of hope. He was on the down grade. His career had not
been a peak, but a foot-hill, and he was on the wrong side of that. He
received Eldon’s proffer as an accusation of years. He answered with a
bitter negative, “No, thank you, damn you!”

Eldon apologized with a laugh. He felt as hilariously contented and
sportive as a young pup whom no rebuff can offend. As he strode along he
glanced back and saw that Sheila and Mrs. Vining were footing it, too,
and carrying such luggage as Pennock could not accommodate. Eldon was
amazed. He had supposed that they would ride. He dropped back to
Sheila’s elbow and pleaded:

“Won’t you let me take a cab and ride you to the hotel?”

Sheila thanked him No, and Mrs. Vining finished him off:

“Young man, if you’re going to be an actor you must learn to practise
small economies—especially in small towns where you gain nothing by
extravagance. You never know how short your season may be. The actor who
wastes money on cabs in the winter will be borrowing car fare in the
summer.”

Eldon accepted the repulse as if it were a bouquet. “I see; but at least
you must let me carry your suit-cases.”

Mrs. Vining threw him much the same answer as Tuell: “I’m not so old as
I look, and I travel light.”

He turned to Sheila, whose big carry-all was so heavy that it dragged
one shoulder down. She looked like the picture of somebody or other
carrying a bucket from the well—or was it from a cow? He put out his
hand. She turned aside to dodge him. He followed her closely and finally
wrested the suit-case from her. Seeing his success, Mrs. Vining yielded
him hers also. He let Pennock trudge with hers. And so they walked to
the hotel and marched up to the desk.

Jaffer and Tuell had already registered. Eldon thought they might at
least have waited till the ladies had had first choice. He was surprised
to hear Sheila and Mrs. Vining haggling over the prices of lodging and
choosing rooms of moderate cost.

He had no chance to speak to them at the performance or after it, but
the next morning he hung about the lobby till train-time. He pretended
much surprise at seeing Sheila,—as if he had not been waiting for her!
He was a bad actor. Again he secured the carry-all in spite of her
protests. If he had known more he would have seen that she gave up to
avoid a battle. But she dropped back with Pennock and left him to walk
with Mrs. Vining, who did not hesitate to assail him with her usual
directness:

“Young man, you’re very nice and you mean very well, but you’ve got a
lot to learn. Have you noticed that when the company gets into a train
or a public dining-room, everybody settles as far away as possible from
everybody else?”

Eldon had noticed it. It had shocked him. Mrs. Vining went on:

“And no doubt you’ve seen a big, husky actor let a poor, tired actress
drag her own baggage to a far-off hotel.”

Eldon had noted that, too, with deep regret. He was astounded when Mrs.
Vining said:

“Well, that actor is showing that actress the finest courtesy he can.
When men and women are traveling this way on business, the man who is
attentive to a woman is doing her a very dubious kindness, unless
they’re married or expect to be.”

“Why?” said Eldon. “Can’t he pay her ordinary human courtesy?”

“He’d better not,” said Mrs. Vining, “or he’ll start the other members
of the company and the gaping crowd of outsiders to whispering: ‘Oh,
he’s carrying her valise now! It’s a sketch!’”

“A ‘sketch’?” Eldon murmured.

“Yes, a—an alliance, an affair. A theatrical troupe is like a little
village on wheels. Everybody gossips. Everybody imagines—builds a big
play out of a little scenario. And so the actor who is a true gentleman
has to keep forgetting that he is one. It’s a penalty we women must pay
for earning our livings. You see now, don’t you, Mr. Eldon?”

He bowed and blushed to realize that it was all meant as a rebuke to his
forwardness. He had been treated with consideration, and had immediately
proceeded to make a nuisance of himself. He had no right to carry
Sheila’s burdens, and his insistence had been only an embarrassment to
her. He had behaved like a greedy porter at a railroad station to whom
one surrenders with wrath in order to silence his demands.

He had not progressed so far as he thought. His train had been ordered
to back up. When he had placed Sheila’s baggage and Mrs. Vining’s in the
seats they chose in the day coach, he declined Sheila’s invitation to
sit down, and sulked in the smoking-car.

The towns that followed Milton were as stupid as Jaffer had said they
were. The people who lived there seemed to love them, or at least they
did not leave them, but they were dry oases for the lonely traveler. Few
of the towns had even a statue, and most of those that had statues would
have been the richer for their absence.

Of one thing Eldon made sure—that he would never inflict another of his
compromising politenesses on Miss Sheila Kemble. He avoided her so
ostentatiously that the other members of the company noticed it. Those
who had instantly said when he carried her valise, “Aha! he is carrying
her valise now!” were presently saying, “Oh, he’s not carrying her
valise now!”



                               CHAPTER X


Gradually the company worked a zigzag passage to Chicago, where it was
booked for an indefinite stay. If the “business” were good, it would be
announced that, “owing to the unprecedented success, it has been found
necessary to extend the run originally contemplated.” If the business
were not so good, it would be announced that, “owing to previous
bookings, it would unfortunately be impossible to extend the run beyond
the next two weeks.”

Jaffer was saying as they rolled in: “There’s no telling in advance what
Chicago’s going to do to us. New York stood for this rotten show for a
whole season; Chicago may be too wise for us. I hope so. It’s a ghastly
town. The Lake winds are death to a delicate throat. I always lose my
voice control in Chicago.”

With Jaffer the success he was in was always a proof of the stupidity of
the public. In his unending reminiscences, which he ran serially in the
smoking-room like another _Arabian Nights_, the various failures he had
met were variously described. Those in which he had had a good part were
“over the heads of the swine”; those in which he had shone dimly were
“absolutely the worst plays ever concocted, my boy—hopeless from the
start. How even a manager could fail to see it in the script I can’t for
the life of me imagine.”

Old Jim Crumb said: “Chicago is a far better judge of a play than New
York is. Chicago’s got a mind of her own. She’s the real metropolis. The
critics have got a heart; they appreciate honest effort. If they don’t
like you they say so fairly, without any of the brutality of New York.”
Crumb’s last appearance in Chicago had been in a highly successful play.

Tuell stopped groaning long enough to growl: “Don’t you believe it!
Chicago’s jealous of New York, and the critics have got their axes out
for anything that bears the New York stamp. If they don’t like you, they
lynch you—that’s all, they just lynch you.” Tuell’s last appearance
there had been with a failure.

Eldon felt little interest in the matter one way or another. He had been
snubbed in his romance. The other rôle he played would never be
dignified even by a tap of the critical bludgeon. He was tired of the
stage.

And then the opportunity he had prayed for fell at his feet, after he
had ceased to pray for it.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The play opened on a Sunday night. It was Eldon’s first performance of a
play on the Sabbath. He rather expected something to come through the
roof. But the play went without a mishap. The applause was liberal, and
the next morning’s notices were enthusiastic.

Sheila was picked out for especial praise. The leading woman, Miss Zelma
Griffen, was slighted. She was very snappy to Sheila, which added the
final touch to Sheila’s rapture.

Old Jaffer was complimented and remembered, and now he was loud in the
praises of the town, the inspiring, bracing ozone from the Lake, and his
splendid hotel. Jim Crumb’s bit as a farmer was mentioned, and his
previous appearance recalled with “regret that he had not more
opportunity to reveal his remarkable gifts of characterization.”

This was too much for poor Crumb. He went about town renewing former
acquaintances with the fervor of a far voyager who has come home to
stay. When he appeared at the second performance his speech was glucose
and his gait rippling. In his one scene it was his duty to bring in a
lantern and hold it over an automobile map on which Sheila and Mrs.
Vining were trying to trace a lost road. It was a passage of some
dramatic moment, but Crumb in his cups made unexpected farce of it by
swinging the lantern like a switchman.

No comic genius from Aristophanes _via_ Molière to Hoyt has ever yet
devised a scene that will convulse an audience like the mistake or
mishap of an actor. Poor, befuddled Crumb’s wabbly lantern was the
laughing hit of the piece. He was too thick to be rebuked that night.
Friends took him to his hotel and left him to sleep it off.

When the next morning he realized what he had done, what sacrilege he
had committed, he sought relief from insanity in a hair of the dog that
bit him. He was soon mellow enough to fall a victim to an hallucination
that Tuesday was a matinée day. He appeared at the theater at half-past
one, and made up to go on. He fell asleep waiting for his cue, and was
discovered when his dressing-room mate arrived at seven o’clock. Then he
insisted on descending to report for duty. He was still so befogged that
Batterson did not dare let him ruin another performance. He addressed to
Crumb that simple phrase which is the theatrical death-warrant:

“Hand me back your part.”

With the automatic heroism of a soldier sentenced to execution, Crumb
staggered to his room and, fetching the brochure from his trunk,
surrendered it to the higher power, revealing a somewhat shaky majesty
of despair.

Eldon was standing in the wings, and Batterson thrust the document at
him and growled: “You say you’re a great actor. I’m from Missouri. Get
up in that and show me, to-night.”

If he had placed a spluttering bomb in Eldon’s hands, and told him to
blow up a Czar with it, Eldon could hardly have felt more terrified.



                               CHAPTER XI


Eldon climbed the three flights of iron stairway to his cubby-hole more
drunkenly than Crumb. The opportunity he had counted on was his and he
was afraid of it. This was the sort of chance that had given great
geniuses their start, according to countless legends. And he had been
waiting for it, making ready for it.

Weeks before during the rehearsals and during the first performances he
had hung about in the offing, memorizing every part, till he had found
himself able to reel off whole scenes with a perfection and a vigor that
thrilled him—when he was alone. Crumb’s rôle had been one of the first
that he had memorized. But now, when he propped the little blue book
against his make-up box and tried to read the dancing lines, they seemed
to have no connection whatsoever with the play. He would have sworn he
had never heard them. He had been told that the best method for quickly
memorizing a part was to photograph each page or “side.” But the lines
danced before him at an intoxicated speed that would have defied a
moving-picture camera.

He mumbled good counsels to himself, however, as if he were undertaking
the rescue of a drowning heroine, and at length the letters came to a
focus, the words resumed their familiarity.

He had received the part nearly an hour before the time for the
overture, that faint rumor which is to the actor what the bugle-call is
to the soldier. By half past seven he found that he could whisper the
lines to himself without a slip.

The character he was to impersonate did not appear until the third act,
but Eldon was in the wings made up and on tiptoe with readiness when the
first curtain rose. His heart went up with it and lodged in his pharynx,
where it throbbed chokingly.

The property-man had been recruited to replace Eldon as the
taxicab-driver, but Eldon was on such tenterhooks that when his old cue
came for entrance he started to walk on as usual. Only a hasty backward
shove from the arm of the property-man saved him from a public blunder.

The rest of the play seemed to unfold itself with an unendurable
slowness. The severer critics had remarked on this.

As Eldon watched, the lines he heard kept jostling the lines he was
trying to remember and he fell into a panic of uncertainty. At times he
forgot where he was and interfered with the entrances and exits of the
other actors, yet hardly heard the rebukes they flung at him.

Sheila, following one of her cues to “exit laughing L 2 E,” ran plump
into Eldon’s arms. He was as startled as a sleep-walker suddenly
awakened, and clung to her to keep from falling. His stupor was
pleasingly troubled by a vivid sense of how soft and round her shoulders
were when he caught them in his hands.

As he fell back out of her way he trod upon Mrs. Vining’s favorite toe
and she swore at him with an old-comedy vigor. She would have none of
his apology, and the stage-manager with another oath ordered him to his
room.

Once there, he fell to studying his lines anew. The more he whispered
them to himself the more they eluded him. The vital problem of positions
began to harass him. He began to wonder just where Crumb had stood.

He had learned from watching the rehearsals that few things upset or
confuse actors like a shift of position. They learned their lines with
reference to the geography of the stage and seemed curiously bewildered
if the actor whom they had addressed on the right side appeared on the
left.

Eldon foresaw himself throwing Sheila and Mrs. Vining out of their
stride by standing up-stage when he should stand down, or right when he
should stand left. He knew there was an etiquette about “giving the
stage” to the superior characters. He remembered one rather heated
argument in which Batterson had insinuated that old Mrs. Vining had been
craftily “stealing the stage” from one young woman who was selfish
enough in all conscience, but who had foolishly imagined that the closer
she was to the audience the more she commanded it.

Eldon was disgusted with his ability to forget what he had watched
incessantly. He was to make his entrance from the left, yet, as he
recollected it, Crumb had stood to the right of Sheila as he held the
lantern over the map. Now he wondered how he was to get round her. This
bit of stage mechanism had always impressed him. He had seen endless
time spent by the stage-manager in trying to devise a natural and
inconspicuous method for attaining the simple end of moving an actor
from one side of a table to the other side. At first he would have said,
bluntly, “The way to go round a table is to go round it.” But he had
finally realized that the audience must always be taken into account
while seeming always to be ignored.

The more he pondered his brief rôle the more intricate it grew. It began
to take on the importance of Hamlet. He repeated it over and over until
he fell into a panic of aphasia.

Suddenly he heard the third act called and ran down the steps to secure
his lantern. It was not to be found. The property-man was not to be
found. When both were discovered, the lighting of the lantern proved too
intricate for Eldon’s bethumbed fingers. The disgusted property-man
performed it for him. He took his place in the wings.

Agues and fevers made a hippodrome of his frame. He saw his time
approaching. He saw Sheila unfolding the road-map, scanning it closely.
She was going to see the farmer approaching with a lantern. She was
going to call to him to lend her the light of it. Now she saw him. She
called to him. But he must not start yet, for he was supposed to be at a
distance. She called again. She spoke to her aunt.

Now is the time! No, not yet! Now! Not yet!

“Why, here you are!” said Sheila.

But he was not there. He was a cigar Indian riveted to the floor. She
beckoned to him, and summoned him in a stage whisper, but he did not
move. Batterson dashed from his position near the curtain and shoved him
forward, with a husky comment, “Go on, you—”

Eldon never knew what Batterson called him, but he was sure that he
deserved it. He started like a man who has fallen out of bed. He
tripped, dropped to one knee, recovered himself with the lurch of a
stumbling horse, and plunged into the scene.

The quick and easy way to extinguish a lantern is to lower it quickly
and lift it with a snap. That is what Eldon did. He found himself in the
presence of two actresses on a little strip of dark beach with the
audience massed threateningly before it like a tremendous phosphorescent
billow curved inward for the crash. The billow shook a little as Eldon
stumbled; a few titters ran through it in a whispering froth.



                              CHAPTER XII


Eldon was unaware that his light was out. He was unaware of almost
everything important. He forgot his opening lines and marched across the
stage with the granite tread of the statue that visited Don Juan.

Sheila improvised at once a line to supply what Eldon forgot. But she
could not improvise a flame on a wick. Indeed, she had not noticed that
the flame was missing. Even when Eldon, with the grace of a scarecrow,
held out the cold black lantern, she went on studying the map and
cheerily recited:

“Oh, that’s better! Now we can see just where we are.”

The earthquake of joy that smote the audience caught her unaware. The
instant enormity of the bolt of laughter almost shook her from her feet.
They do well to call it “bringing down the house.” There was a sound as
of splitting timbers and din upon din as the gallery emptied its howls
into the orchestra and the orchestra sent up shrieks of its own. The
sound was like the sound that Samson must have heard when he pulled the
temple in upon him.

Sheila and Mrs. Vining were struck with the panic that such unexpected
laughter brings to the actor. They clutched at their garments to make
sure that none of them had slipped their moorings. They looked at each
other for news. Then they saw the dreadfully solemn Eldon holding aloft
the fireless lantern.

The sense of incongruity that makes people laugh got them, too. They
turned their backs to the audience and fought with their uncontrollable
features. Few things delight an audience like the view of an actress
broken up. It is so successful that in comic operas they counterfeit it.

The audience was now a whirlpool. Eldon might have been one of the
cast-iron effigies that hold up lanterns on gate-posts; he could not
have been more rigid or more unreal. His own brain was in a whirlpool,
too, but not of mirth. Out of the eddies emerged a line. He seized it as
a hope of safety and some desperate impulse led him to shout it above
the clamor:

“It ain’t a very big lantern, ma’am, but it gives a heap o’ light.”

Sheila’s answer was lost in the renewed hubbub, but it received no
further response from Eldon. His memory was quite paralyzed; he couldn’t
have told his own name. He heard Sheila murmuring to comfort him:

“Can’t you light the lantern again? Don’t be afraid. Just light it.
Haven’t you a match? Don’t be afraid!”

If Eldon had carried the stolen fire of Prometheus in his hand he could
not have kindled tinder with it. He heard Mrs. Vining growling:

“Get off, you damned fool, get off!”

But the line between his brain and his legs had also blown out a fuse.

The audience was almost seasick with laughter. Ribs were aching and
cheeks were dripping with tears. People were suffering with their mirth
and the reinfection of laughter that a large audience sets up in itself.
Eldon’s glazed eyes and stunned ears somehow realized the activity of
Batterson, who was epileptic in the wings and howling in a strangled
voice:

“Come off, you—! Come off, or—I’ll come and kick you off!”

And now Eldon was more afraid of leaving than of staying.

In desperation Sheila took him by the elbow and started him on his way.
Just as the hydrophobic Batterson was about to shout, “Ring!” Eldon
slipped slowly from the stage.

Little Batterson met the blinded Cyclops and was only restrained from
knocking him down by a fear that he might knock him back into the scene.
As he brandished his arms about the giant he resembled an infuriated
spider attacking a helpless caterpillar.

Batterson’s oration was plentifully interlarded with simple old
Anglo-Saxon terms that can only be answered with a blow. But Eldon was
incapable of resentment. He understood little of what was said except
the reiterated line, “If you ever ask me again to let you play a part
I’ll—”

Whatever he threatened left Eldon languid; the furthest thing from his
thoughts was a continuance upon the abominable career he had insanely
attempted.

He stalked with iron feet up the iron stairs to his dressing-room, put
on his street clothes, and went to his hotel. He had forgotten to remove
his greast-paint, the black on his eyebrows and under his eyes, or the
rouge upon his mouth. A number of passers-by gave him the entire
sidewalk and stared after him, wondering whether he were on his way to
the madhouse or the hospital.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The immensity of the disaster to the play was its salvation. The
audience had laughed itself to a state of exhaustion. The yelps of
hilarity ended in sobs of fatigue. The well-bred were ashamed of their
misbehavior and the intelligent were disgusted to realize that they had
abused the glorious privilege of laughter and debauched themselves with
mirth over an unimportant mishap to an unfortunate actor who had done
nothing intrinsically humorous.

Sheila and Mrs. Vining went on with the scene, making up what was
necessary and receiving the abjectly submissive audience’s complete
sympathy for their plight and extra approval for their ingenuity in
extricating themselves from it. When the curtain fell upon the act there
was unusual applause.

To an actor the agony of “going up” in the lines, or “fading,” is not
much funnier after the first surprise than the death or wounding of a
soldier is to his comrade. The warrior in the excitement of battle may
laugh hysterically when a friend or enemy is ludicrously maimed, when he
crumples up and grimaces sardonically, or is sent heels over head by the
impact of a shell. But there is little comfort in the laughter since the
same fate may come to himself.

The actor has this grinning form of death always at his elbow. He may
forget his lines because they are unfamiliar or because they are old,
because another actor gives a slightly different cue, some one person
laughs too loudly in the audience, or coughs, or a baby cries, or for
any one of a hundred reasons. That fear is never absent from the stage.
It makes every performance a fresh ordeal. And the actor who has
faltered meets more sympathy than blame.

If Eldon had not sneaked out of the theater and had remained until the
end of the play he would have found that he had more friends than before
in the company. Even Batterson, after his tirade was over, regretted its
violence, and blamed himself. He had sent a green actor out on the stage
without rehearsal. Batterson was almost tempted to apologize—almost.

But Eldon was not to be found. He was immured in the shabby room of his
cheap hotel sick with nausea and feverish with shame.

Somehow he lived the long night out. He read the morning papers fiercely
through. There were no head-lines on the front page describing his
ruinous incapacity. There was not even a word of allusion to him or his
tragedy in the theatrical notices. He was profoundly glad of his
obscurity and profoundly convinced that obscurity was where he belonged.
He wrote out a note of humble apology and resignation. He resolved to
send it by messenger and never to go near that theater again, or any
other after he had removed his trunk.

With the utmost reluctance he forced himself to go back to the scene of
his shame. The stage-door keeper greeted him with a comforting
indifference. He had evidently known nothing of what had happened.
Stage-door keepers never do. None of the actors was about, and the
theater was as lonely and musty as the tomb of the Capulets before Romeo
broke in upon Juliet’s sleep.

Eldon mounted to his dressing-room and stared with a rueful eye at the
make-up box which he had bought with all the pride a boy feels in his
first chest of tools. He tried to tell himself that he was glad to be
quit of the business of staining his face with these unmanly colors and
of rubbing off the stains with effeminate cold-creams. He threw aside
the soiled and multicolored towel with a gesture of disdain. But he was
too honest to deceive himself. The more he denounced the actor’s calling
the more he denounced himself for having been incompetent in it. He
writhed at the memory of the hardships he had undergone in gaining a
foothold on the stage and at the poltroonery of leaping overboard to
avoid being thrown overboard.

As he left the theater to find an expressman to call for his trunk he
looked into the letter-box where there was almost never a letter for
him. To his surprise he found his name on a graceful envelope gracefully
indited. He opened it and read the signature first. It was a note from
Sheila.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Eldon’s eyes fairly bulged out of his head with amazed enchantment. His
heart ached with joy. He went back to his dressing-room to read the
letter over and over.

    DEAR MR. ELDON,—Auntie John and I tried to see you last night,
    but you had gone. She was afraid that you would grieve too
    deeply over the mishap. It was only what might have happened to
    anybody. Auntie John says that she has known some of the most
    famous actors to do far worse. Sir Charles Wyndham went up in
    his lines and was fired at _his_ first appearance. She wants to
    tell you some of the things that happened to her. They had to
    ring down on her once. She wants you to come over to our hotel
    and have tea with us this afternoon. Please do!

                                                     Heartily,
                                                     SHEILA KEMBLE.

There was nothing much in the letter except an evident desire to make
light of a tragedy and cheer a despondent soul across a swamp. Eldon did
not even note that it was mainly about Aunt John. To him the letter was
luminous with a glow of its own. He kissed the paper a dozen times. He
resolved to conquer the stage or die. The stage should be the humble
stepping-stone to the conquest of Sheila Kemble. Thereafter it should be
the scene of their partnership in art. He would play Romeo to her
Juliet, and they should play other rôles together till “Mr. and Mrs.
Eldon” should be as famous for their art as for their domestic bliss.

Had she not already made a new soul of him, scattering his fright with a
few words and recalling him to his duty and his opportunity? He would
redeem himself to-night. To-night there should be no stumbling, no gloom
in the lantern, no gaiety in the audience during his scene. To-night he
would show Batterson how little old Crumb had really made of the part,
drunk or sober.

He placed the letter as close to his heart as he could get it, and it
warmed him like a poultice. He would go shave himself again and brush up
a bit for Sheila’s tea-fête.

As he groped slowly down the dark stairway he heard voices on the stage.
He recognized Crumb’s husky tones:

“If you’ll give me one more chance, Val, I swear I’ll never disappoint
you again. I’m on the water-mobile for good this time.”

Eldon felt sorry for the poor old man. He paused to hear Batterson’s
epitaph on him:

“Well, Jim, I’ll give you another try. But it’s against my will.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Val!”

“Don’t thank me. Thank that dub, Eldon. If he hadn’t thrown the scene
last night you’d never get another look-in. No more would you if I could
pick up anybody here. So you can go on to-night, but if your foot slips
again, Jim, so help me, you’ll never put your head in another of our
theaters.”

As Crumb’s heart went up, Eldon’s followed the see-saw law. All his
hopes and plans were collapsed. He would not go to Sheila’s tea with
this disgrace upon him and sit like a death’s-head in her presence.

And how could he present himself at her hotel in the shabby clothes he
wore? She and her aunt were living expensively in Chicago. It was good
advertisement to live well there; at least it was a bad advertisement
not to. It was a bad advertisement for Eldon to appear anywhere. He was
under the buffets of fortune. But he tore up his resignation.

Now of all times he needed the comfort of her cheer. Now of all times he
could not ask it or accept it. He wrote her a note of devout gratitude,
and said that a previous engagement with an old college friend prevented
his accepting her gracious hospitality. His old college friend was
himself, and they sat in his boarding-house cell and called each other
names.



                              CHAPTER XIII


Eldon resumed the livery of the taxicab-driver and spoke his two lines
each night with his accustomed grace, and received his accustomed
tribute of silence. He arrived on the stage just before his cue, and he
went to his room just after his exit.

He avoided Sheila, and she, feeling repulsed, turned her attention from
him. Friends of her father and mother and friends of her school days
besieged her with entertainment. People who took pride in saying they
knew somebody on the stage sought introductions. Rich or handsome young
men were presented to her at every turn. They poured their praises and
their prayers into her pretty ears, but got no receipt for them nor any
merchandise of favor. She was not quite out of the hilarious stage of
girlhood. She said with more philosophy than she realized that she “had
no use for men.” But they were all the more excited by her evasive
charms. Her prettiness was ripening into beauty and the glow of youth
from within gave her a more shining aureole than even the ingenuities of
stage make-up and lighting. Homes of wealth were open to her and her
growing clientèle frequented the theater. Miss Griffen was voted common,
and left to the adulation of the fast young men.

The traveling-manager of the company was not slow to notice this. He saw
that Sheila had not only the rare gifts of dramatic instinct and appeal,
but that she had the power of attracting the approval of distinguished
people as well as of the general. Men of all ages delighted in her; and
this was still more important—women of all ages liked her, paid to see
her. Women who gave great receptions in brand-new palaces bought up all
the boxes or several rows in the orchestra in honor of Sheila Kemble.
School-girls clambered to the balcony and shop-girls to the gallery to
see Sheila Kemble.

The listening manager heard the outgoing voices again and again saying
such things as, “It’s the third time I’ve seen this. It’s not much of a
play, but Sheila Kemble—isn’t she sweet?”

The company-manager and the house-manager and the press agent all wrote
to Reben, the manager-in-chief:

“Keep your eye on Kemble. She’s got draught. She makes ’em come again.”

And Reben, who had made himself a plutocrat with twenty companies on the
road, and a dozen theaters, owned or leased—Reben who had grown rich by
studying his public, planned to make another fortune by exploiting
Sheila Kemble. He kept the secret to himself, but he set on foot a still
hunt for the play that should make her while she seemed to be making it.
He schemed how to get her signature to a five-year contract without
exciting her cupidity to a duel with his own. He gave orders to play her
up gradually in the publicity. The thoughts of managers are long, long
thoughts.

He gave out an interview to the effect that what the public wanted was
“Youth—youth, that beautiful flower which is the dearest memory of the
old, and the golden delight of the young.”

His chief publicity man, Starr Coleman, a reformed dramatic critic,
wrote the interview for Reben, explained it to him, and was proud of it
with the vicarious pride of those strange scribes whose lives are
devoted to getting for others what they deny to themselves.

Reben had told Coleman to play up strong his belief in the American
dramatist, particularly the young dramatist. Reben always did this just
before he set out on his annual European shopping-tour among the foreign
play-bazars. Over there he could inspect the finished products of expert
craftsmen; he could see their machines in operation, in lieu of buying
pigs in pokes from ambitious Yankees who learned their trade at the
managers’ expense.

This widely copied “Youth” interview brought down on Reben’s play-bureau
a deluge of American manuscripts, almost all of them devoid of theme or
novelty, redolent of no passion except the passion for writing a play,
and all of them crude in workmanship. Reben kept a play-reader—or at
least a play-rejector, and paid him a moderate salary to glance over
submitted manuscripts so that Reben could make a bluff at having read
them before he returned them. This timid person surprised Reben one day
by saying:

“There’s a play here with a kind of an idea in it. It’s hopeless as it
stands, of course, but it might be worked over a little. It’s written by
a man named Vicksburg, or Vickery, or something like that. Funny
thing—he suggests that Sheila Kemble would be the ideal woman for the
principal part. And, do you know, I’ve been thinking she has the makings
of a star some day. Had you ever thought of that?”

“No,” said Reben, craftily.

“Well, I believe she’ll bear watching.”

In after-years this play-returner used to say, “I put Reben on to the
idea that there was star material in Kemble, before he ever thought of
it himself.”

But long before either of them thought of Sheila Kemble as a star, that
destiny had been dreamed and planned for her by Sheila Kemble.

Frivolous as she appeared on the stage and off, her pretty head was full
of sonorous ambitions. That head was not turned by the whirlwinds of
adulation, or drugged by the bouquets of flattery, because it was full
of self-criticism. She was struggling for expressions that she could not
get; she was groping, listening, studying, trying, discarding,
replacing.

She thought she was free from any nonsense of love. Nonsense should not
thwart her progress and make a fool of her, as it had of so many others.
It should not interrupt her career or ruin it as it had so many others.
She would make friends with men, oh yes. They were so much more
sensible, as a rule, than women, except when they grew sentimental. And
that was a mere form of preliminary sparring with most of them. Once a
girl made a fellow understand that she was not interested in spoony
nonsense, he became himself and gave his mind a chance. And all the
while nature was rendering her more ready to command love from without,
less ready to withstand love from within. She was becoming more and more
of an actress. But still faster and still more was she becoming a woman.

                 *        *        *        *        *

While Sheila was drafting herself a future, Eldon was gnashing his teeth
in a pillory of inaction. He could make no step forward and he could not
back out. He had taken cheap and nasty lodgings in the same
boarding-house with Vincent Tuell, who added to his depression by his
constant distress. Tuell could not sleep nights or days; he filled
Eldon’s ears with endless denunciations of the stage and with cynical
advice to chuck it while he could. Eldon would probably have taken
Tuell’s advice if Tuell had not urged it so tyrannically. In
self-defense Eldon would protest:

“Why don’t you leave it yourself, man? You ought to be in the hospital
or at home being nursed.”

And Tuell would snarl: “Oh, I’d chuck it quick enough if I could. But
I’ve got no other trade, and there’s the pair of kiddies in school—and
the wife. She’s sick, too, and I’m here. God! what a business! It
wouldn’t be so bad if I were getting anywhere except older. But I’ve got
a rotten part and I’m rotten in it. Every night I have to breeze in and
breeze out and fight like the devil to keep from dying on the job. And
never a laugh do I get. It’s one of those parts that reads funny and
rehearses the company into convulsions and then plays like a column from
the telephone-book. I’ve done everything I could. I put in all the old
sure-fire business. I never lie down. I trip over rugs, I make funny
faces, I wear funny clothes, but does anybody smile?—nagh! I can’t even
fool the critics. I haven’t had a clipping I could send home to the wife
since I left the big town.”

Eldon had been as puzzled as Tuell was. He had watched the expert actor
using an encyclopedia of tricks, and never achieving success. Tuell
usually came off dripping with sweat. The moment he reached the wings
his grin fell from him like a cheap comic mask over a tragic grimace of
real pain and despair. In addition to his mental distress, his physical
torment was incessant. In his boarding-house Tuell gave himself up to
lamentations without end. Eldon begged him to see a doctor, but Tuell
did not believe in doctors.

“They always want to get their knives into you,” he would growl.
“They’re worse than the critics.”

One day Eldon made the acquaintance of a young physician named Edie, who
had recently hung a sign in the front window and used the parlor as an
office during certain morning hours. Patients came rarely, and the
physician berated his profession as violently as Tuell his. Eldon
persuaded the doctor to employ some of his leisure in examining Tuell.
He persuaded Tuell to submit, and the doctor’s verdict came without
hesitation or delicacy:

“Appendicitis, old man. The quicker you’re operated on the better for
you.”

“What did I tell you?” Tuell snarled. “Didn’t I say they were like
critics? Their only interest in you is to knife you.”

The young doctor laughed. “Perhaps the critics turn up the truth now and
then, too.”

But Tuell answered, bitterly: “Well, I’ve got to stand them. I haven’t
got to stand for you other butchers.”

Eldon apologized for his friend’s rudeness, but the doctor took no
offense: “It’s his pain that’s talking,” he said. “He’s a sick man. He
doesn’t know how sick he is.”

One matinée day Tuell was like a hyena in the wings. He swore even at
Batterson. On the stage he was more violently merry than ever. After the
performance Eldon looked into his dressing-room and asked him to go to
dinner with him. Tuell refused gruffly. He would not eat to-day. He
would not take off his make-up. The sweat was everywhere about his
greasy face. His jaw hung down and he panted like a sick dog. Eldon
offered to bring him in some food—sandwiches or something. Tuell winced
with nausea at the mention. Then an anguish twisted through him like a
great steel gimlet. He groaned, unashamed. Eldon could only watch in
ignorant helplessness. When the spasm was over he said:

“You’ve got to have a doctor, old man.”

“I guess so,” Tuell sighed. “Get that young fellow, Edie. He won’t rob
me much. And he’ll wait for his fee.”

Eldon made all haste to fetch Edie from the boarding-house. They
returned to find Tuell on the floor of his room, writhing and moaning,
unheeded in the deserted theater. The doctor gave Eldon a telephone
number and told him to demand an ambulance at once.

Tuell heard the word, and broke out in such fierce protest that the
doctor countermanded the order.

“I can’t go to any hospital now,” Tuell raged. “Haven’t you any sense?
You know there’s an evening performance. Get me through to-night, and I
can rest all day to-morrow. I’ve got to play to-night. I’ve got to!
There’s no understudy ready.”

He played. They set a chair for him in the wings and the physician
waited there for him, piercing his skin with pain-deadening drugs every
time he left the stage. There was sympathy enough from the company. Even
Batterson was gentle, his fierce eyes fiercer with the cruelty of the
situation. The house was packed, and “ringing down on capacity” is not
done.

Tuell sat in a stupor, breathing hard like a groggy prize-fighter. But
whenever his cue came it woke him as if a ringside gong had shrilled. He
flung off his suffering and marched out to his punishment. Only,
to-night, somehow, he lacked his usual speed. The suffering and the
bromides dulled him so that in place of dashing on the stage he
sauntered on; in place of slamming his lines back he just uttered them.

And somehow the laughter came that had never come before—the laughter
the author had imagined and had won from the company at the first
reading from the script.

From the wings they could see Tuell’s knuckles whiten where he clung to
a chair to keep from falling.

The audience loved Tuell to-night, never suspected his anguishes, and
waited for him, laughed when he appeared. For his final exit he had
always stumbled off, whooping with stage laughter. It had always
resounded unaccompanied. To-night he was so spent that he was capable
only of a dry little chuckle. To his ears it was the old uproar. To the
audience it was the delicious giggle of this spring’s wind in last
year’s leaves. It tickled the multitude and all those united titters
made a thunder.

Tuell staggered past the dead-line of the wings and fell forward into
Eldon’s arms, whispering:

“I got ’em that time. Damn ’em, I got ’em at last.”

Eldon helped him to his chair, helped lift him in his chair and carry
him to the ambulance. Tuell didn’t know whither they were taking him. He
clawed at Eldon’s arm and muttered:

“I must write to the wife and tell her how I killed ’em to-night. And
I’ve got the trick now. I’ve just found the secret—just to-night. Of
course there wouldn’t be a critic there. Oh no, of course not.”

But there was a Critic there.



                              CHAPTER XIV


The next morning, as Eldon was leaving his boarding-house to call on
Tuell at the hospital, he was astounded to see Batterson at the foot of
the steps.

“I’m looking for you,” said the stage-manager.

Batterson’s eyes were so bloodshot and so wet that Eldon stared his
surprise. Batterson grumbled:

“No, I’m not drunk. Tried to get drunk, but couldn’t.”

Eldon was at a loss for what to say to this. Suddenly Batterson was
clinging to his arm, and sobbing with head bent down to hide his
weakness from the passers-by.

“Why, Mr. Batterson,” Eldon stammered, “what’s wrong?”

“Tuell’s dead.”

“No! My God!”

“He never came out of the ether. They were too late to save him. The
appendix had burst while he was working last night.”

Eldon, remembering that uncanny battle, felt the gush of brine to his
eyes. He hung his head for concealment, too.

Batterson raged on: “Remember what Hamlet said: ‘They say he made a good
end.’ Tuell was only a mummer, but he died on the firing-line, makin’
’em laugh. If he’d been a soldier trying to save somebody from paying
taxes without representation or trying to protect some millionaire’s
oil-wells, or a fireman trying to rescue somebody’s furniture—they’d
have called him a damned hero. But he was only an actor—he only tried
to make people happy. He was a comedian, and not a good comedian—just a
hard worker; one of these stage soldiers trying to keep the theater
open.

“He did the best he knew how. The critics ripped him open and made him
funnier than he could make himself. But he kept right on. I used to
roast him worse than they did, God help me! But he never laid down on
us. He died in his make-up. They didn’t take his grease-paint off till
afterward. They didn’t know how. I had to do it for him when I got
there. Poor old painted face, with the comedian’s smile branded on it!
That was his trade-mark. He was only an actor.”

Eldon noted that Batterson had led him, not to the hospital, but to the
theater, with its electric signs, its circus lithographs, its gaudy
ballyhoo of advertisement.

Batterson groaned: “Well, here’s the shop. We’ve got to do what Tuell
did. The theater’s got to keep open. It’s another sell-out to-night.
Somebody has to play Tuell’s part to-night. I want you to.”

In spite of the horror that filled his heart Eldon felt a shaft of hope
like a thrust of lightning in the night. Then the dark closed in again,
for Batterson went on:

“It’s only for to-night, old boy. I’ve wired to New York and a good
man’ll be here to-morrow. But there’s to-night. You’ve got to go on. You
fell down the other time, and I guess I told you so, but you didn’t have
a rehearsal. I can coach you up to-day. I’ve called the other people.
They ought to be here now.”

And so they were.

On the gloomy stage before the empty house the company stood about in
somber garb, under the oppression of Tuell’s death. Batterson walked
down to the footlights, clapped his hands, and said:

“Places, please, ladies and gentlemen, for poor old Tuell’s first scene.
Mr. Eldon will play the part to-night.”

Those who were not on at the entrance drew to the sides. The others
moved here and there and stood at their posts. Batterson directed with
an unwonted calm, with a dismal patience.

The part Eldon held in his hand had been taken from Tuell’s trunk. The
dead hands seemed to cling to it with grisly jealousy. The laughter of
Tuell seemed to haunt the place like the echo of a maniac’s voice. Eldon
could not give any color to the lines. He could barely utter them. The
company gave him his cues with equal lifelessness.

Sheila was present and read her flippancies in a voice of terror—the
terror of youth before the swoop of death. Mrs. Vining muttered her
cynicisms with the drear bitterness of one to whom this familiar sort of
thing had happened once more.

When the detached scenes had been run over several times Batterson
dismissed Eldon first that he might go and study. As he went he heard
Batterson saying:

“Help him out to-night, ladies and gentlemen. Do the best you can.
To-morrow we’ll have a regular man here. And now about poor Tuell. Some
of the comic-opera people in town will sing at his funeral. His wife is
coming out to get him. Mr. Reben telegraphed to pay the expenses of
taking him back. I guess he didn’t leave the wife anything much—except
some children. We’d better get up a little benefit, I guess—a matinée,
probably. The other troupes in town will help, of course. If any of you
know any good little one-act plays, let’s have ’em. I’ve got a screaming
little farce we might throw on. I think I can get some of the vaudeville
people to do a few comic turns.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

That night Eldon slipped into the dead man’s shoes—at least he wore the
riding-boots and the hunting-coat and carried the crop that Tuell had
worn. Tuell had had them made too large—for the comic effect that did
not come. They fitted Eldon fairly well. But it was like acting in
another man’s shroud.

He was without ambition, without hope of personal profit. He was merely
a stop-gap. He was too completely gloomy even to feel afraid of the
audience. He was only a journeyman finishing another man’s job.

His memory worked like a machine, so independently of his mind that he
seemed to have a phonograph in his throat. He kept wondering at the
little explosions of laughter at his words.

He saw the surprise in Sheila’s eyes as he brought down the house—with
so different a laughter now. He murmured to her in sudden dread, “Are
they guying me again?”

“No, no,” she answered. “Go on; you’re splendid!”

The news of Tuell’s death had taken little space in the evening papers.
The audience, as a whole, was oblivious of it, or of what he had played.
There was none of the regret on the other side of the footlights that
solemnized the stage. The play had been established as a successful
comedy. People came to laugh, and laughed with confidence.

But the pity of Tuell’s fate ruined any joy Eldon might have taken in
the success he was winning. He played the part through in the same dull,
indifferent tone. When he made his final exit he laughed as he had heard
Tuell laugh, with uncanny mimicry as if a ghost inhabited him. He was
hardly conscious of the salvo of applause that followed him. He supposed
that some one still on the stage had earned it. He sighed with relief as
he reached the shelter of the dark wings. Batterson, who had hovered
near him, ready with the unnecessary prompt-book, glared at him in
amazement and growled:

“Good Lord! Eldon, who’d have ever picked you for a comedian?”

Eldon smiled at what he imagined to be sarcasm, and took from his pocket
the little pamphlet he had carried with him for quick reference. He
offered it to Batterson. Batterson waved it back.

“Keep it, my boy. When the other fellow gets here from New York he can
play your old part.”



                               CHAPTER XV


The next night Eldon reached the theater in a new mood. He had been
promoted. He still felt sorry for poor Tuell. The grief of the wife whom
he had met at the train and taken to the undertaker’s shop where Tuell
rested had torn his heart as with claws. He had told her all things
beautiful of Tuell. He had wept to see her weep. He wept his heart clean
as a sheep’s heart.

As Villon said, “The dead go quick.” Eldon was ashamed to be so
merciless, but in spite of himself ambition blazed up in him. He was a
comedian. Batterson had told him so. The house had told him so. Sheila
had murmured, “You’re splendid.”

And now he was a comedian with a screamingly funny rôle. Now he could
build it up. He had been working on it half unconsciously all night and
all day.

The second night he marched into the scene with the authority of one who
is about to be very funny. In his first scenes he delivered his lines
with enthusiasm, with appreciation of their humor. He took pains not to
“walk into his laughs” as he had done the night before, when he had not
expected any laughs. He waited for his laughs. He was amazed to note
that they did not come. His pause left a hole in the action. He worked
harder, underlined his important words, cocked his head as one who says,
“The story I am about to tell you is the funniest thing you ever heard.
You’ll die when you hear it.”

It was the scene that died. A new form of stage-fright sickened him.
Hope perished. He was not a comedian, after all. His one success had
been an accident.

When the first curtain fell he slunk away by himself to avoid
Batterson’s searching eyes. To complete his shame he saw that Batterson
was talking earnestly with the new-comer from New York.

Old Mrs. Vining sauntered his way. He tried to escape, but the heavy
standard of a bunch-light cut him off. She approached him and began in
that acid tone of hers:

“Young man, there are two things that are important to a comedian. One
is to get a laugh, and the other is to nail it. You got your laughs last
night and you’ve lost ’em to-night. Do you know why?”

“If I only did! I’m playing twice as hard to-night.”

“You bet you are, and you’re hard as zinc. You keep telling the audience
how funny you’re going to be, and that finishes you. Now you’ve lived
long enough to know that there are few jokes in the world so funny that
they can stand being boosted before they’re told. Play your part
straight, man. You can fake pathos and rub it in, but of all things
always play comedy straight.

“And another thing, don’t fidget! One of the best comedians that ever
walked the stage told me once, ‘I know only one secret for getting
laughs, and that is, Nobody must move when the laugh comes.’ But
to-night you never waited for anybody else to kill your laughs. You
butchered ’em yourself by lolling your head and making fool gestures.
Quit it! Now you go on in the next act and play the part as you did last
night. Be gloomy and quiet and depressed. That’s what makes ’em laugh
out there—the sight of your misery. There’s nothing funny to them in
your being so damned cheerful as you were to-night.”

Eldon said, “Thank you very much, Mrs. Vining.” But he was not convinced
of anything except his fatal and eternal unfitness to be an actor. He
walked into the second act carrying his old burden of dejection; he
rather moaned than delivered his lines. And the people laughed.

The cruelty of the public heart angered Eldon and he made further
experiment in dolor. Laughs came now that he had not secured the night
before. The others were bigger than then. He threw into some of his
lines such subcellar misery that he broke up Sheila. When he made the
laughing exit he did not even chuckle, he moaned. And the result was a
tornado. People mopped their eyes.

Batterson met him with a quizzical smile: “You got ’em going to-night
nearly as good as the time your lantern went out.”

That was higher praise than it sounded at first hearing.

When Mrs. Vining made her exit she said, “Aha! What did I tell you,
young man?”

When Sheila came off she sought him out, and cried, “Oh, you were
wonderful, simply wonderful!”

And when Batterson growled at her: “You spoiled several of his best
laughs by talking through ’em. You ought to know better than that,”
Sheila was so pleased for Eldon’s sake that she relished the rebuke.

Mrs. Vining had warned him to nail his laughs. At the next performance
he tried to repeat his exact effects. Some of them he forgot, some of
them he remembered. But they did not work this time. Others went better
than ever. Each point was a new battle.

And so it was with every repetition. No two audiences were alike. Each
had its own individuality. He began to study audiences as individuals.
The first part of his first act was his period of getting acquainted.
Some houses were quick and some slow, some noisily demonstrative, some
quietly satisfied. It took all his powers to play his part. And he could
not tire of it because every night was a first night in a new rôle.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Success made another man of him. He was interested in his task. He was
winning praise for it. The management voluntarily raised his salary a
little. He held his head a trifle higher.

Sheila noted the change at once. She liked him the better for it. She
repeated her invitation to tea. He accepted now, and appeared in some
new clothes. They were vastly becoming. On the stage he played a
middle-aged henpecked plebeian. Off the stage he was young and handsome
and thoroughbred.

He was a reader, too, and Sheila, like most actresses, was an omnivorous
browser. They talked books. She lent him one of hers. He cherished it as
if it were a breviary. They argued over literature and life. He ventured
to contradict her. He was no longer a big mastiff at heel. He was
forceful and stubborn. These qualities do not greatly displease a woman
who likes a man.

Mrs. Vining was amused at first by the change in Sheila. Latterly the
girl was constantly quoting “Mr. Eldon.” By and by it was “As Floyd
Eldon says,” and one day Mrs. Vining heard, “Last night Floyd was
telling me.” Then Aunt John grew alarmed, for she did not want Sheila to
be in love—not for a long while yet, and never with an actor.

And Sheila had no intention of falling in love with an actor. But this
did not prevent her from being the best of friends with one. All of
Eldon’s qualities charmed Sheila as she discovered them. She had leisure
for the discovery. There were no rehearsals; business was good at the
theater; Eldon grew better and better in his performance. Sheila kept up
her pace and enlarged her following. They dwelt in an atmosphere of
contentment. But as her personal public increased and as the demands on
her spirits and her time increased she began to take more pleasure in
the company of Eldon and to like him best alone. She began to break old
engagements, or fulfil them briefly, and to refuse new invitations.

Mrs. Vining was not able to be about for a while. Her neuralgia was
revived by the knife-winds of Chicago. But Sheila and Eldon found them
highly stimulating. He joined her in her constitutionals.

Chicago was large enough to give them a kind of seclusion by multitude,
the solitude of a great forest. Among Chicago’s myriads the little
“Friend in Need” company was lost to view. It was possible to go about
with Eldon and never meet a fellow-trooper; to walk miles with him along
the Lake front, or through Lincoln Park, to sidle past the pictures in
the Art Institute or the Field Museum, and rest upon the benches in
galleries where the dumb beauty on the walls warmed the soul to
sensitiveness.

And when they were not alone their hearts seemed to commune without
exchange of word or glance. He told her first how wonderful an artist
she was, and by and by he was crediting her art to her wonderful
“personality.” She told him that he had “personality,” too, lots of it,
and charming. She told him that the stage needed men of birth and
breeding and higher education, especially when these were combined with
such—such—she could hardly say beauty—so she fell back again on that
useful term—“personality.”

They never tired of discussing the technic of their trade and its
emotional grandeurs. He told her that his main ambition was to see her
achieve the heights God meant her for; he only wished that he might
trudge on after her, in her wake. She told him that he had far greater
gifts than she had, and that his future was boundless.

Finally she convinced him that she was convinced of this, and over a
tea-table in the Auditorium Hotel he murmured—and trembled with the
terrific audacity of it as he murmured:

“If only we could always play together—twin stars.”

She was shocked as if she had touched a live wire of frightful
beatitude. And her lips shivered as she mumbled, “Would you like that?”

He could only sigh enormously. And his eyes were full of devout longing
as he whispered, “Let’s!”

They burst into laughter like children planning some tremendous game.
And then Mrs. Vining had to walk into their cloud-Eden and dissolve it
into a plain table at which she seated herself.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Mrs. Vining was thinking “Aha!” as she crossed the room to their table.
“It’s high time I was getting well. Affairs have been progressing since
I began to nurse my neuralgia.”

She resolved to stick around, like the “demon chaperon” of Fontaine
Fox’s comic pictures. At all costs she must rescue Sheila from the wiles
of this good-looking young man. For her ward to lose her head and find
her heart in an affair with an actor would be a disaster indeed; the
very disaster that Sheila’s mother had warned her against.

Of course Sheila’s mother had married an actor and been as happy as a
woman had a right to expect to be with any man. And of course Mrs.
Vining’s own dear dead John Vining had been the most lovable of rascals.
But such bits of luck could not keep on recurring in the same family.

And Mr. Reben did not believe in marriage for actors, either. He had
many reasons far from romantic. The public did not like its innocent
heroines to be wives. The prima donna’s husband is a proverb of
trouble-making. Separated, the couple pine; united, they quarrel with
other members of the company or with each other. Children arrive
contrary to bookings and play havoc with youth and vivacity, changing
the frivolous Juliet into a Nurse or a Roman Matron.

Reben would have been infuriated to learn that Sheila Kemble, his Sheila
of the golden future, was dallying on the brink of an infatuation for an
infatuated minor member of one of his companies. A flirtation, even, was
too dangerous to permit. He would have dismissed Eldon without a
moment’s pity if he had known what none of the company had yet
suspected. Unwittingly he accomplished the effect he would have sought
if he had been aware.

Reben ran out to Chicago ostensibly, according to his custom, to inspect
the troupe in the last fortnight of its run there. He invited Sheila to
supper with Mrs. Vining. He criticized Sheila severely and praised Miss
Griffen. Later, as if quite casually, he spoke to Mrs. Vining of a new
play he had found abroad. It was a man star’s play. “I bought it for Tom
Brereton,” he said, “but the leadin’ woman’s rôle is rather
interestin’.”

He described one of her scenes and noted that Sheila was instantly
excited. It was one of those craftsmanly achievements the English
dramatists arrive at oftener than ours, and it had made the instant fame
of the actress who played it in London. Having dropped this golden apple
before Atalanta, he changed the subject carelessly.

Sheila turned back to the apple:

“Tell me more about the play, please!”

Reben told her more, permitted her to coax him to tell it all. He yawned
so crudely that she would have noticed his wiles if she had been able to
think of anything but that rôle; for an actress thrills at the thought
of putting on one of these costumes of the soul as quickly as an average
woman grows incandescent before a new gown.

Sheila clasped her hands and shook her head like a beggar outside a
restaurant window: “Oh, but I envy the woman who plays that part! Who is
she?”

“Parton, I suppose,” Reben yawned. “But she’s fallen off lately. Gone
and got herself in love—and with a fool actor, of all people! The
idiot! I’ve a notion to chuck her. After all the money and publicity
I’ve wasted on her, to fall for a dub like that!”

Sheila did not dare plead for the part. But her eyes prayed; her very
attitude implored it.

Reben laughed: “In case anything awful happened to Parton—like sudden
death or matrimony—I don’t suppose the rôle would interest you?”

“I’d give ten years off my life to play that part.”

“Would you, now?” Reben laughed. “You don’t mean it. Ten years off your
life, eh? Would you give ten dollars off your salary?” He chuckled at
his shrewdness.

But she answered, solemnly, “I’d play it for nothing.”

“Well, well!” said Reben. “That would be a savin’!” He always would have
his little joke. Then he said: “But jokin’ aside, of course I couldn’t
afford to let you work for nothin’. Fact is, if the play was a success I
could afford to pay you a little better than you’re gettin’ now. What
are you gettin’ now?”

“Seventy-five,” said Sheila.

“Is that all!” said Reben. “Well, well, I don’t have to be as stingy as
that. But there’s one thing I can’t afford to do and that’s to work for
an actor—or actress—who quits me as soon as I make him—or her.”

“I’d never quit you if you gave me chances like that,” Sheila sighed,
hopelessly.

“So they all tell me,” said Reben. “Then they chuck me for the
management of Cupid & Co. Would you be willin’ to sign a five years’
contract with me, young lady?”

“In a minute!”

“Well, well! I’ll see what can be done. Good night!”

He left her to fret herself to an edge with the insomnia of frantic
ambition. The next day he sent her a contract to look over.

“Aha!” said Sheila to Mrs. Vining. “That’s his little game. He wanted me
all the time. Why couldn’t he have said so? I’ll make him pay for being
so clever.”

She sent the contract back with emendations.

He emended her emendations and returned it to her.

She emended further and wrote in the margin, “Oh, Mr. Reben!” and,
“Greedy, greedy!”

He rather enjoyed the duel with the little haggler. He belonged to the
race that best manages to combine really good art with really good
business and really good generosity.

When at last he had bargained Sheila to the wall he made her a present
of better terms than she had accepted—as if he were tossing her a
handsome diamond.

Sheila embraced him and called him an angel. He belonged, indeed, to the
same race as the only original angels.

She signed the contract with exclamations of gratitude. With his copy in
his pocket he put out both hands and wished her all the glory he planned
for her. Then he told her to get ready to leave within a week for New
York and rehearsals.

He had brought to Chicago a young woman stage-named Dulcie Ormerod to
replace her. He wanted Dulcie to play the part at least a week so that
the company could be advertised as “exactly the same that appeared in
Chicago.”

When he had gone Sheila fell from the clouds—at least she struck a hole
in the air and sank suddenly nearer to the earth. She cried, “Oh, Aunt
John, I forgot to ask if he wanted you in the new play!”

“No, he doesn’t, dearie. He told me how sorry he was that there was no
part for me while you were signing the contract.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry! I won’t leave you!”

“Of course you will, my child. You can’t go on forever chained to my old
slow heels. Besides, I’m too tired to learn a new part this season. I’ll
jog on out to the Coast with this company. I think California will be
good for me.”

A little later Sheila remembered Floyd Eldon. She gasped as if she had
been stabbed.

“Why, what’s wrong now, honey?” cried Mrs. Vining.

“I was just thinking—Oh, nothing!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila was dismayed at the idea of leaving Eldon, leaving him all by
himself—no, not by himself, for that Dulcie creature would replace her
in the company, and perhaps—no doubt—in his lonely heart. Sheila had
grown ever so fond of Eldon, but she could not expect any man, least of
all so handsome, so big-hearted a man, to resist the wiles of a cat, or,
worse, a kitten, who would select such a name as “Dulcie.”

An inspiration gave Sheila sudden cheer. She would ask dear Mr. Reben to
give Eldon a chance in the new company. It would be far better for Floyd
to “create” something than to continue hammering at his present
second-hand rôle. He might have to take a smallish part, but they would
be in each other’s neighborhood, and perhaps the star might fall ill.
Eldon would step in; he would make an enormous sensation; and then and
thus in a few short months they would have accomplished their
dream—they would be revolving as twin stars in the high sky together.

She called up Reben at the theater; he had gone to the hotel. At the
hotel, he had left for the station. At the station, he had taken the
train. Well, she would write to him or, better yet, see him in person
and arrange it the minute she reached New York.

That night she took her contract to the theater in her hand-bag. She
must tell Floyd about it.

He was loitering outside when she reached the stage door. Her face was
agleam with joy as she beckoned him under a light in the corridor. His
face was agleam, too, as he hurried forward. Before she could whisk out
her contract he brandished before her one of his own. Before she could
say, “See what I have!” he was murmuring: “Sheila! Sheila! What do you
suppose? Reben—the great Reben likes my work. He said he thought I was
worth keeping, but I ought to be playing the juvenile lead instead of a
second old man. He’s going to shift Eric Folwell to a new production
East, and he offered me his place! Think of it! Of course I grabbed it.
I’m to replace Folwell as soon as I can get up in the part. Would you
believe it—Reben gave me a contract for three years. He’s boosted me to
fifty a week already. I’m to play this part all season through to the
Coast. And next season he’ll give me a better part in something
else—and at a better salary.

“I wanted to telephone you about it, but I was afraid to mention it to
you for fear something might prevent him from signing. But he did!—just
before he took the train. See, there’s his own great name! After next
week I’m to be your lover in the play as well as in reality. Our dream
is coming true already, isn’t it—” He hesitated before the absolute
word, then, having made the plunge, went on and whispered, “Sheila
mine!”

Sheila stared at him, at the love and triumph in his eyes; and suddenly
her cake was dough. Her mouth twisted like a child’s when the rain
begins on a holiday. She turned her head away and passed the side of her
hand childishly across her clenched eyes, whence the tears came
thronging. She half murmured, half wept:

“I’m not your Sheila. I’m that hateful old Reben’s slave. And I don’t go
any further with you. Miss—Dulcie Somebody-or-other is to have my part.
She’s prettier than I am. And I’ve got to go to New York next week to
begin rehearsals of—a horrid old B-british success.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The voice of the call-boy warning them of the half-hour sent them
scurrying to their cells with their plight unsolved. They had a few
chances to exchange regrets during the performance, but other members of
the company who had heard of the good luck of both of them kept breaking
in with felicitations that sounded like irony. They were so desperate
for talk that Eldon waited for Sheila in the alley and walked to her
hotel with her. Mrs. Vining went along, very much along. They had to
accept her presence; she would not be ignored. She put in sarcastic
allusions to the uselessness of good luck in this world. In her day
actors and actresses would have been dancing along the streets over such
double fortune. As to their separation, it would be a good test of their
alleged affection. If it was serious it would outlast the test; if not,
it was a good time to learn how unimportant the whole thing was.

She regarded the elegies of young love with all the skepticism of the
old who have seen so much of it, heard so much repetition of such words
as “undying” and “forever,” and have seen the “undying” dying all about
like autumn leaves, and few of the “forevers” lasting a year.

Sheila accepted Eldon’s invitation to have a bite of supper in the
grill-room. Mrs. Vining was in a grill-room mood and invited herself
along. Other members of the troupe appeared and visited the funeral
table with words of envy.

In the spaces between these interruptions Sheila explained her plan to
ask Reben to give Eldon a chance with the new company.

Mrs. Vining sniffed: “Sheila, you ought to have sense enough to know
that the minute you mentioned this young man’s name Reben would send him
to Australia—or fire him.”

“Fire him?” said Sheila. “He has a three years’ contract.”

“Yes, with a two weeks’ clause in it, I’ll bet.”

They fetched the contract out and looked it over again. There was the
iniquitous clause, seated like a toad overlooked among the flowers, and
now it was impossible to see the flowers for the toad.

“Oh, you ought to have changed that,” said Sheila. “It’s different in
mine.”

“I didn’t know,” said Eldon, “and I shouldn’t have dared to argue with
Reben. I was afraid he might change his mind. But I could resign and
come East and get a job with another manager.”

Mrs. Vining poured on more vinegar: “You can’t resign. That two weeks’
notice works only one way. And if you break with Reben you’ll have a
fine chance getting in with any other manager! Besides, why let
your—well, call it ‘love’ if you want to—why let it make fools of you
both? Mr. Eldon has had a great compliment from the best manager in the
country, and a raise of salary, and a promise of his interest. Are you
thinking of slapping him in the face and kicking your own feet out from
under yourself just because this foolish little girl is going along
about her business?

“And another thing, Mr. Floyd Eldon, if you love this girl as much as
you say you’re taking a pretty way to prove it. Do you want to ruin her
career just as it’s beginning, drag this rising star back to the
drudgery of being the wife of a fifty-dollar-a-week actor? Oh, you’ll do
better. You’re the type that matinée girls make a pet of. You’ll have
draught, too, as soon as you learn a little more about your business.
But it wouldn’t help you any just now to be known as an old married man.
You mind your business and let her mind hers.

“You think you’re Romeo and Juliet in modern costume, I suppose. Well,
look what a mess they made of it. You are two fine young things and I
love you both, but you mustn’t try to prove your devotion to each other
by committing suicide together.”

Eldon’s thoughts were dark and bitter. His own career meant nothing to
him at the moment. His love of Sheila was all-important to him, and her
career was, above all, important. He said: “I certainly won’t do
anything to hurt Sheila’s career. That’s my religion—her career.”

He poured into her eyes all the idolatry a man can feel for a woman. He
had a curious feeling that he read in her eyes a faint fleck of
disappointment. His sacrifice was perfect and complete, but he felt an
odious little suspicion that it was not absolutely welcome.

Perhaps he guessed right. Sheila was hastening to that point in
womanhood where the chief demand of her soul is not that her lover
should exalt her on a pedestal and worship her, but should tear her
thence and love her. She did not suspect this yet herself. All she knew
was that she was dissatisfied with her triumph. She bade Eldon a ghostly
farewell at the hotel elevator and went up to her room, while he turned
away to his dingy boarding-house. He had not yet bettered his lodgings;
he was trying to save his pennies against the future need of a married
man.

When Sheila had made ready for bed she put out the lights and leaned
across the sill and stared across the dark boundless prairie of the
starlit Lake. It had an oceanic vastitude and loneliness. It was as
blank as her own future.



                              CHAPTER XVI


The last days of Sheila’s presence with the company were full of
annoyances. There was little opportunity for communion with Floyd. Mrs.
Vining was invincibly tenacious. All day long, too, Floyd was rehearsing
his new rôle. This proved intensely difficult to him. With a heart full
of devotion to Sheila, it was worse than awkward to be making love to
the parvenue who took her place, mimicked her intonations, made the same
steps and gestures, said the same words, and yet was so radically
different.

She was a forward thing—Miss Dulcie Ormerod. She patronized Eldon and
tried to flirt with him at the same time. She forced conversation on him
when he was morose. She happened to meet him with extraordinary
coincidence when he was outside the theater. And almost every time the
two of them happened to be together they happened to meet Sheila.

Dulcie was one of those women who seem unable to address one without
pawing or clinging—as if the arms were telephone cables, and there were
no communicating without contact.

Sheila was of the wireless type. A touch from her was as important as a
caress. To put a hand familiarly or carelessly on her arm was not to be
thought of, at least by Eldon. Others who attempted it found that she
flinched aside or moved to a distance almost unconsciously. She kept
herself precious in every way.

Eldon loathed the touch of Dulcie’s claws, especially as he could not
seem to convince Sheila that he did not enjoy her incessant contiguity.
And the prehensive Dulcie was calling him “Floyd” before the third
rehearsal.

Batterson was calling him all sorts of names of the familiarity that
implies contempt, for Eldon was not rehearsing well. He realized the
confusing inconveniences that love can weave into the actor’s trade. If
it had not been for Sheila he could have made a straight matter of art
or business out of the love-scenes with Dulcie, or he could have thrown
the hungry thing an occasional kind word to keep her quiet, or have
fallen temporarily in love with her, for Dulcie was one of those
actresses who insist that they “must feel a part to play it.” She was
forever alluding to one of her rôles in which “she knew she was great
because she wept real tears in it.”

Sheila belonged to the other school. Her father would say of a scene, “I
knew I was great in that because I could guy it.” For then he was like
the juggler who can chat with the audience without dropping a prop—a
Cyrano who can fight for his life and compose a poem at the same time.

Sheila felt the emotions of her rôle when she first took it up, but she
conquered them as soon as she could by studying and registering their
manifestations, so that her resources were like an instrument to play
on. Thereafter her emotions were those of the concert violinist who
plays upon his audience as well as his instrument.

Sheila watched a few rehearsals. She hated the exaggerated
sentimentalisms of Dulcie and her splay-footed comedy. Dulcie
underscored every important word like a school-girl writing a letter.
Sheila credited the audience with a sense of humor and kept its
intelligence alert. Sheila made no bones of criticizing her successor.
But when Eldon agreed with her, she was not convinced. She was far more
jealous of him than she was of her rôle. But Eldon was not wise enough
to take comfort from these proofs of her affection. They narrowly
escaped quarreling during their last few meetings.

When Sheila went away Eldon could not even go to the train with her.
Batterson held him to rehearsal.

Sheila said, “Don’t worry; Mr. Folwell will take care of me.” She could
hardly have been ignorant of the torment this meant to Eldon, but her
heart was aching, too, because he permitted a little thing like his
business to keep him from paying the last tributes of tenderness.

Folwell was one of those affable leading men who always proffer their
leading women as much gallantry as they care to accept. He had been a
devoted suitor to Zelma Griffen and had graciously pretended to suffer
agonies of jealousy over her humming-bird flirtations. He had done the
same with the women stars of his last three engagements. He was Scotch,
and had a gift of sad-eyed sincerity for the moment, and a vocabulary of
irresistible little pet names, and a grim earnestness about whatever
interested him at the time. His real name was, curiously, Robert Burns.
He had changed it lest he be suspected of stealing it, or of advertising
a much-advertised tobacco.

Eldon imagined that Folwell would begin to languish over Sheila the
moment the train started, and was tempted to bash in his head so that he
would be incapable of making love at all. He had won into Sheila’s good
graces by knocking an anonymous student over the footlights. If he sent
a pseudonymous actor the same way he might clinch his success with her.
He little knew that the blow he had struck Bret Winfield had not yet
ceased to sting that youth, and that Winfield was still repeating his
vow to square himself with Eldon and with Sheila—in very different
ways.

But Eldon let Folwell escape without planting his fists on him. And he
let Sheila escape without imprinting the seal of his kiss upon her. He
had never laid lip to her cheek. And now they were divorced, without
being betrothed.

If he had known how tenderly Sheila’s thoughts flew back to him, if he
had known that she locked herself in her state-room and wept and never
once saw Folwell on the train, he would have been happier and sadder
both, with the incurable perversity of a forlorn lover. If he could have
seen her very soul of souls he would have seen what she dared not admit
to herself, that she was a little disappointed in him because he let her
go. She doubted the greatness of his love of her because he loved the
artist she was so well. Sheila was more jealous of her actress self than
of Dulcie Ormerod.

It was not many days before Eldon, too, turned his back on Chicago, but
facing westerly. The city was dear to him: he had passed through a whole
lifetime of stages there, from crushing failure to success in a leading
rôle, and from loneliness to reciprocated love and widowerhood.

Mrs. Vining tried to console him when he turned to her as at least a
relative of Sheila’s. She made as much as she could of his performance
as Folwell’s successor. It was a creditable and a promising beginning,
though it offended her experienced standards in countless ways. But she
flattered him with honeyed words, and she tried to wear away his love
for Sheila.

She had seen so many nice young fellows and dear, sweet girls stretched
on the rack of these situations—wrenched by the wheels of separation
and all the suspicions that jealousy can imagine from opportunity. In
all mercy she wished this couple well cured of the inflammation. She did
her part to allay it with counter-irritants and caustics. She wrote
Sheila that Eldon was getting along famously with his rôle—and with
Dulcie, who was “a dear little thing and winning excellent press
notices.” She told Eldon that Sheila was in love with her new play, and
that Tom Brereton was turning her head with his compliments. Folwell,
who had the second male rôle in the new play, was also very attentive,
she said. And Sheila was going out a good deal in New York—dancing her
feet off nearly every night. The author of the play was a third rival
for her favor, in Mrs. Vining’s chronicles.

Everything collaborated to Eldon’s torture. The “Friend in Need” company
was moving West in long jumps. Sheila’s letters had farther and farther
to go. A sudden change of booking threw them off the track and two weeks
passed without a line. He sent her day letters and night letters as
affectionate in tone as he had the face to submit to the telegraph
operators. Her answers did not satisfy him. They were never so prompt as
his calculations and he did not credit her with restraint before the
cold-eyed telegraphers.

She was far busier, too, than he imagined. Costumes were to be ordered
and fitted; the new lines to be learned; photographs to be posed for;
interviews to be given. Reben was grooming her for a star already,
without giving her an inkling of his schemes. As for flirting with
Brereton or Folwell, she was as far as possible from the thought of such
a leisurely occupation. She was having battles with them, and still
bitterer conflicts with the author.



                              CHAPTER XVII


In the eyes of the playwright Sir Ralph Incledon, as in the eyes of the
early Spaniards, the Americans were savages with unlimited gold to
exchange for glass beads. He had a noble contempt for all of us except
our dollars, and he was almost ashamed to take those; their very
nomenclature was vulgar and the decimal system was French.

The London success of his piece following upon his arrival at knighthood
had completely spoiled him. Other great writers and actors who had
received the accolade had been rendered a little meeker and more
knightly as knights, but Incledon became almost unendurably offensive,
even to his fellows in London. The decent English in New York who had to
meet him abominated him as civilized Americans abroad abominate the
noisy specimens of Yankee insolence who go twanging their illiterate
contempt through the palaces and galleries and restaurants of Europe.

Sir Ralph was greatly distressed with the company Reben had proudly
mustered for him. Tom Brereton was English born and bred, but Sir Ralph
accused him of “an extraord’n’r’ly atrowcious Amayric’n acs’nt.”
Americans who had seen the London performance had been amazed not only
at the success of Miss Berkshire, but at her very tolerance on the
stage; they said she looked like a giraffe and talked like a cow. But
she pleased her own public somehow. When Sir Ralph saw Sheila he was not
impressed; he said that she was “even wahss” than Brereton and under
“absolutely neigh-o sec’mst’nces could he permit hah to deviate from the
p’fawm’nce of d’yah aold Bahkshah.”

Sheila had flattered herself that she knew something of England and
English; she had visited the island enough, and some of its stateliest
homes; and she had had some of the worst young peers making love to her.
But Sir Ralph, she wrote her aunt, evidently regarded her “as something
between a squaw and a pork-packer’s daughter.”

Sir Ralph threw her into such a bog of humiliation that she floundered
at every step. How could she give an intelligent reading to a line when
he wanted every word sung according to the idiom of another woman of
another race? How could she embody a rôle in its entirety when every
utterance and motion was to be patterned on Sir Ralph’s wretched
imitations of a woman she had never seen?

Sir Ralph not only threw his company into a panic, but he revealed a
positive genius for offending the reporters, the critics, the public.
Before the first curtain rose there was a feeling of hostility, against
which the disaffected and disorganized players struggled in vain.

His play was a beautiful structure, full of beautiful thoughts expertly
wrought into form. But Sir Ralph, like so many authors, seemed to
contradict in his person everything worth while in his work.

His wife, Lady Incledon, knew him to be earnest, hard-working,
emotional, timorous. His anxiety and modesty when at bay before the
public gave the impression of conceit, contempt, and insolence. If he
had been more cocksure of his play he would not have been so critical of
its interpreters. If he had not been so afraid of the Americans he would
not have tried to make them afraid of him. No tenderer-hearted novelist
ever wrote than Dickens, yet he had the knack of infuriating mobs of
people into a warm desire to lynch him. No sweeter-souled poet ever sang
than Keats, yet Byron said he never saw him but he wanted to kick him.

Sir Ralph Incledon had the misfortune to belong to this class. He was
not popular at home and he was maddening abroad. He made Americans
remember Bunker Hill and long to avenge Nathan Hale. The critics felt it
their patriotic duty to make reprisals for all the Americans who had
failed in London and to send this Piccadillian back with his coat-tails
between his legs.

The opening performance in New York was a first-class disaster. The
audience did not follow the London custom of calling the author out and
booing him. It left him in the wings, excruciated with ingrowing speech.
He had drawn up one of the most tactless orations ever prepared in
advance by a well-meaning author. He was not permitted to deliver it. He
had a cablegram written out to send his anxious wife overseas. He did
not send it. When he read the next morning’s papers he was simply dazed.
He had come as a missionary direct from the capital to a benighted
province and he was received with jeers—or “jahs,” as his dialect would
be spelled in our dialect.

He wept privately and then put on an armor of contempt. He sailed
shortly after, leaving the Americans marooned on their desert continent.

The actors were treated with little mercy by most of the critics, except
to be used as bludgeons to whack the author with. Sheila’s notices were
of the “however” sort. “Miss Sheila Kemble is a promising young actress;
the part she played, however, was so irritating—” or, “In spite of all
the cleverness of—” or, “Sheila Kemble exhausted her resources in vain
to give a semblance of life to—”

Sheila sent the clippings to Mrs. Vining, and added: “Every bouquet had
a brickbat in it. We are not long for this world, I fear.”

Reben fought valiantly for the play. He squandered money on extra spaces
in the papers and on the bill-boards. He quoted from the critics who
praise everything and he emphasized lines about the scenery. The play
simply did not endure the sea change. People who came would not enjoy
it, and would not recommend it. It was hard even to give away
complimentary seats, and the result was one that would have been more
amazing if it were less common; a successful play by a famous author
produced with a famous cast at a leading theater in the largest city of
the New World was played to a theater that could not be filled at any or
no price. The receipts fell to forty dollars one night.

A newspaper wit wrote, “Last night the crowds on Broadway were so dense
that a man was accidentally pushed into the Odeon Theater.” On another
day he said, “Last night during a performance of Sir Ralph Incledon’s
masterpiece some miscreant entered the Odeon Theater and stole all the
orchestra chairs.”

The slow death of a play is a miserable process. The actors began to see
the nobilities of the work once the author was removed from in front of
it. They regretted its passing, but plays cannot live in a vacuum.
Novels and paintings can wait patiently and calmly in suspended
animation till their understanders grow up, but plays, like infants,
must be nourished at once or they die and stay dead.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila and all the company had fought valiantly for the drama. Once Sir
Ralph’s back was turned, they fell to playing their rôles their own way,
and they at least enjoyed their work more. But the audiences never came.

Sheila was plunged into deeps of gloom. She felt that she must suffer
part of the blame or at least the punishment of the play’s non-success.
She wished she had stayed with “A Friend in Need.”

But Reben had always been known as a good sport, a plucky taker of
whatever medicine the public gave him. After a bastinado from the
critics he had waited to see what the people would do. There was never
any telling. Sometimes the critics would write pæans of rapture and the
lobby would be as deserted as a graveyard, leaving the box-office man
nothing to do but manicure his nails. Sometimes the critics would
unanimously condemn, and there would be a queue at the door the next
morning. Sometimes the critics would praise and the mob would storm the
window. Sometimes they would blame and audiences would stay away as if
by conspiracy. In any case, “the box-office tells the story.”

Cassard, the manager, once said that he could tell if a play were a
success by merely passing the theater an hour after the performance was
over. A more certain test at the Odeon Theater was the manner of Mr.
Chittick, the box-office man. If he laid aside his nail-file without a
sigh and proved patient and gracious with the autobiographical woman who
loitered over a choice of seats and their date, the play was a failure.
If Mr. Chittick insulted the brisk business man who pushed the exact sum
of money over the ledge and weakly requested “the two best, please” the
play was a triumph. Mr. Chittick was a very model of affability while
Incledon’s play occupied the stage of the unoccupied theater.

Reben’s motto was “The critics can make or break the first three weeks
of a play and no more. After that they are forgotten.” If he saw the
business growing by so much as five dollars a night he hung on. But the
Incledon play sagged steadily. At the end of a week Reben had the
company rehearsing another play called “Your Uncle Dudley,” an old
manuscript he had bought years ago to please a star he quarreled with
later.

Reben talked big for a while about forcing the run; then he talked
smaller and smaller with the receipts. Finally he announced that “owing
to previous bookings it will be necessary,” etc. “Mr. Reben is looking
for another theater to which to transfer this masterwork of Sir Ralph
Incledon. He may take it to Boston, then to Chicago for an all-summer
run.”

Eventually he took it to Mr. Cain’s storage warehouse.

“Your Uncle Dudley,” appealed to Reben as a stop-gap. It would cost
little. The cast was small; only one set was required. The title rôle
fitted Brereton to a nicety. He offered Sheila the heroine, who was a
“straight.” She cannily chose a smaller part that had “character.” The
play was flung on “cold”—that is, without an out-of-town try-out.

It caught the public at “the psychological moment,” to use a denatured
French expression. The morning after the first night the telephone drove
Mr. Chittick frantic. He almost snapped the head off a dear old lady who
wanted to buy two boxes. It was a hopeless success.

The only sour face about the place except his was the star’s. The
critics accused Tom Brereton of giving “a creditable performance.” All
the raptures were for Sheila. She was lauded as the discovery of the
year.

The critics are always “discovering” people, as Columbus discovered the
Indians, who had been there a long while before. Two critics told Reben
in the lobby between the acts that there was star-stuff in Sheila. He
thanked them both for giving him a novel idea: “I never thought of that,
old man.” And the old men walked away like praised children. Like
children, they were very, very innocent when they were good and very,
very incorrigible when they were horrid.

Tom Brereton behaved badly, to Sheila’s thinking. To his thinking she
was the evil spirit. He gave one of those examples of good business
policy which is called “professional jealousy” in the theater. He did
what any manufacturer does who resists the substitution of a “just as
good” for his own widely advertised ware. Tom Brereton was the star of
the piece according to his contracts and his prestige. He had toiled
lifelong to attain his height and he was old enough and wise enough to
realize that he must maintain himself stubbornly or new ambitions would
crowd him from his private peak.

Sheila had youth, femininity, and beauty, none of which qualities were
Brereton’s. The critics and the public acclaimed the comet and neglected
the planet. Reben’s press agent, Starr Coleman, flooded the press with
Sheila’s photographs and omitted Brereton’s, partly because the papers
will always give more space to a pretty woman than a plain man, and
would rather publish the likeness of a rear-row chorus girl than of the
eccentric comedian who heads the cast.

Coleman arranged interviews with Sheila, wrote them and gave them to
dramatic editors and the gush-girls of the press. Coleman compiled what
he called the “Sheila Kemble cocktail” and demanded it at the bars to
which he led the arid newspaper men. He did not object to the recipe
being mentioned.

Sheila won the audiences, and if Brereton omitted her at a curtain call
the audience kept on applauding stubbornly till he was forced to lead
her out. She was always waiting. She was greedy for points, and kept
building her scenes, encroaching little by little.

Brereton sulked awhile, then protested formally to the stage-manager,
who gave him little sympathy. Eventually Brereton tried to repress
Sheila’s usurpations.

Little unpleasantnesses developed into open wrangles. It was purely a
business rivalry, and Sheila had no right to expect gallantry in a field
where she condescended to put herself on an equality with men. But she
expected it, none the less. The labor-unions show the same jealousy of
women when they trespass on their profits in the mills or the
coal-mines.

Sheila began to hate Brereton with a young woman’s vivacity and
frankness, and to torment him mischievously. In one scene he had to
embrace her with fervor. She used to fill her belt with pins and watch
him wince as he smiled. He retaliated with as much dignity as he could
muster. He could not always muster much. His heart was full of rage.

He visited Reben in his office and demanded his rights or his release.
Reben tried to appease him; business was too good to be tampered with.
Reben promised him complete relief—next season. Then he would put
somebody else in Sheila’s place.

He could afford to be gracious because he felt that the hour had come to
launch Sheila as a star. Her success in a character rôle of peculiarly
American traits led him to abandon hope of finding a foreign success to
float her in. Besides, he had lost so much money on Incledon’s London
triumph that he was an intense partisan for the native drama—till the
next American play should fail, and the next importation succeed.

                 *        *        *        *        *

One evening, during the second _entr’acte_, he led a tall and
scholarly-looking young man down the side aisle and back of a box to the
stage. He left the uneasy alien to dodge the sections of scenery that
went scudding about like sails without hulls. Then he went to
dressing-room “No. 2” and tapped.

Old Pennock’s glum face appeared at the door with a threatening,
“We-ell?”

The intruder spoke meekly. “It’s Mr. Reben.”

Pennock repeated, “We-ell?”

Reben shifted to his other foot and pleaded, “May I speak to Miss Kemble
a moment?”

Pennock closed the door. Later Sheila opened it a little and peered
through, clutching together a light wrapper she had slipped into.

“Oh, hello!” she cried. “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. I’ve got a quick
change, you know.”

Even the manager must yield to such conditions and Reben spoke around
the casement. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “that since you are so
unhappy in this company you’d better have one of your own.”

“For Heaven’s sake!” Sheila gasped at this unexpected bouquet.

Reben went on: “Since we had such bad success with the masterpiece of
the foremost English dramatist, perhaps you might have good luck by
going to the other extreme. I’ve found the youngest playwright in
captivity. Nowadays these kindergarten college boys write a lot of
successes. Joking aside, the boy has a manuscript I’d like you to look
over. There is a germ of something in it, I think. Will you just say
Hello to him, please?”

Sheila consented with eagerness. Reben beckoned forward a long effigy of
youthful terror.

“Miss Kemble, let me present Mr. Eugene Vickery.”

“How do you do, Mr. Nickerson?” said Sheila, and thrust one bare arm
through the chink to give her hand to Vickery. The arm was all he could
see of her except a narrow longitudinal section of silhouette against
the light over her mirror.

Vickery was so hurt, and so unreasonably hurt, by her failure to recall
him who had cherished her remembrance all these years, that his surprise
escaped him: “I met you once before, but you don’t remember me.”

She lied politely, and squeezed the hand she felt around hers with a
prevaricating cordiality. “Indeed I do. Let me see, where was it we
met—in Chicago, wasn’t it, this fall?”

“No; it was in Braywood.”

“Braywood? But I’ve never been in Braywood, have I? Mr. Reben, have I
ever played Bray—Oh, that’s where my aunt and uncle live! But was I
ever there?”

“Very long ago.”

“Oh, don’t say that! Not before my manager!”

“As a very little girl.”

“Oh, that’s better. You see, I go to so many places. And that’s where I
met you? You’ve changed, haven’t you?”

She could see nothing of him except the large hand that still clung to
hers. She got it back as he laughed:

“Yes, I’ve grown some taller. I played Hamlet to your Ophelia. Then I
wrote a play for you, but you got away without hearing it. Now I’ve
written another for you. You can’t escape this time.”

“I won’t try to. I’m just dying to play it. What is it?”

A voice spoke in sternly: “Curtain’s going up. You ready, Miss Kemble?”

“Good Lord! Yes!” Then to Vickery. “I’ve got to fly. When can I see you,
Mr. Bickerton?”

Reben solved the problem: “Got an engagement to supper?”

“Yes, but I’ll break it.”

“We’ll call for you.”

“Fine! Good-by, Mr.—Mr. Braywood!”

The door closed and Vickery turned away in such a whirl of elation that
he almost walked into the scene where Tom Brereton was giving an
unusually creditable performance, since Sheila was off the stage.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


It must be a strangely thrilling thing to be a woman and meet a man who
has been so impressed by oneself in childhood that he has never
forgotten—a man who has indeed devoted his gifts and ambitions to the
perfection of a drama to exploit one’s charms and one’s gifts, and comes
back years after with the extraordinary tribute.

The idol needs the idolater or it is no idol, and it doubtless watches
the worshiper with as much respect and trepidation as the worshiper it.
That is why gods, like other artists, have always been jealous. Their
trade lies in their power to attract crowds and hold them. Rivals for
glory are rivals for business.

Vickery was Sheila’s first playwright. She could not fail to regard him
as a rescuer from mediocrity, and see a glamour about him.

She had planned to go to a late dance that night with some people of
social altitude. But she would have snubbed the abbess of all
aristocracy for a playwright who came offering her transportation to the
clouds.

She had taken her best bib and tucker to her dressing-room and she put
it on for Vickery. But she could not dredge up the faintest memory of
him, and he found her almost utterly strange as he stared at her between
the shaded candles on the restaurant table. She was different even from
the girl he had seen on the stage recoiling from Bret Winfield’s unlucky
chivalry. The few months of intermission had altered her with theatrical
speed. She had had her sentiments awakened by Eldon and her authority
enlarged by two important rôles. Her own character was a whole
repertoire.

When Vickery had last seen her she was playing the second young woman
under her aunt’s protection; now she was a metropolitan favorite at
whose side the big manager of the country sat as a sort of prime
minister serving her royalty.

First came the necessary business of ordering a supper. Sheila’s
appetite amazed Vickery, who did not realize that this was her dinner,
or how hard she had worked for it.

When the waiter had hurried off with a speed which he would not
duplicate in returning, Sheila must hear about her first acquaintance
with Vickery. He spoke with enthusiasm of the little witch she had been,
and described with homage her fiery interpretation of Ophelia and her
maniac shrieks. He could still hear them, he said, on quiet nights. He
pictured her so vividly as she had sat on his mother’s knee and defended
her family name and profession that Sheila’s eyes filled with tears and
she turned to Reben for confirmation of her emotions. There are few
children for whom we feel kindlier than for our early selves.

Her eyes glistened as Vickery recounted his own boyish ambitions to
write her a play; the depths of woe he had felt when he found her gone.
Then he described his retrieval of her during the riot at Leroy. He told
how his friend Bret Winfield had been knocked galley-west by some actor
in her troupe. He had forgotten the man’s name, but his words brought
Eldon back in the room and seated him like a forlorn and forgotten
Banquo at the table. Sheila blushed to remember that she had owed the
poor fellow a letter for a long time.

Then Vickery explained that Winfield had gone to her defense and not to
her offense, and she felt a pang of remorse at her injustice to him,
also. A pretty girl has to be unjust to so many men.

She had a queer thrill, too, from Vickery’s statement that Winfield had
vowed to meet her some day and square himself with her; also to meet
“that actor” some day and square himself with him.

This strange man Winfield began to loom across her horizon like an
approaching Goliath. She tried to remember how he had looked, but
recalled only that he was very big and that she was very much afraid of
him.

This confusion of retrospect and prospect was dissipated, however, when
Vickery began to talk of the play he had written for her. Then Sheila
could see nothing but her opportunity, and that strange self an actor
visualizes in a new rôle. The rest of us think of Hamlet as a certain
personage. The actor thinks of “Hamlet as Myself” or “Myself as Hamlet.”

Vickery’s play, as Reben’s play-reader had told him, contained an idea.
But an idea is as dangerous to a playwright as a loaded gun is to a
child. The problem is, What will he do with it?

When Vickery told Sheila the central character and theme of his play she
was enraptured with the possibilities. When he began to describe in
detail what he had done with them she was tormented with disappointments
and resentments. She gave way to little gasps of, “Oh, would she do
that?” “Oh, do you think you ought to have her say that?”

Vickery was young and opinionated and had never seen one of his plays
after the critics and the public had made tatters of it. He could only
realize that he had spent months of intense thought upon every word. He
was shocked at Sheila’s glib objections.

How could one who simply heard his story for the first time know what
ought to be done with it? He forgot that a play’s prosperity, like a
joke’s, lies in the ear of those who hear it for the first time.

He responded to Sheila’s skepticisms with all the fanatic eloquence of
faith. He convinced her against her will for the moment. She liked him
for his ardor. She liked the reasons he gave. She could not help
feeling: “What a decent fellow he is! What a kind, wholesome view of
life he takes!”

Woman-like, as she listened to his ideas she fell to studying his
character and the features that published it. She was contrasting him
with Eldon—Eldon so powerful, so handsome, so rich-voiced, so magnetic,
and so obstinate; Vickery so homely, so lean, so shambling of gait and
awkward of gesture, his voice so inadequate to the big emotions he had
concocted. And yet Eldon only wanted to join her in the interpretation
of other people’s creations. This spindle-shanks was himself a creator;
he had idealized and dramatized a play from and for Sheila’s very own
personality.

She began to think that there was something a trifle more exhilarating
about an alliance with a creative genius than with just another actor.
In her youth and ignorance she used the words “creative” and “genius”
with reverence. She had never known a “creative genius” before—except
Sir Ralph Incledon, and she loathed him. Vickery was different.

Suddenly in the midst of Vickery’s description of the complexest tangle
of his best situation Sheila dumfounded him by saying, “You have gray
eyes, haven’t you?”

He collapsed like a punctured balloon and a look of intense
discouragement dulled his expression. Misunderstanding the cause of his
collapse entirely, she hastened to add:

“Oh, but I like gray eyes! Really! Please go on!”

Vickery understood her misunderstanding, smiled laboriously, then with
an effort gathered together the wreckage of his plot for a fresh
ascension. Just as he was fairly well away from the ground again Sheila
turned to Reben and spoke very earnestly:

“He ought to write a good play. He has the hands of a creative
genius—those spatulate fingers, you know. See!”

Since she had known Vickery from childhood, she felt at liberty to stop
his hand in the midst of an ardent gesture and submit it to Reben’s
inspection. Vickery was hugely embarrassed. Reben was gruff:

“If he’s such a genius you’d better not hold his hand. Let him gene.”

She stared at Reben in amazement; there was a clang of anger in his
sarcasm. Abruptly she realized that she had quite ignored him. She had
lent Vickery her eyes and ears for half an hour. Reben’s anger was due
to hurt pride, the miff of a great manager neglected by a minor actress
and an unproduced author. But as she glanced up into the Oriental
blackness of his glare she saw something lurking there that frightened
her. Her instant intuition was, “Jealousy!” Slower-footed reason said,
“Absurd!”

Reben had been closely attached for years to the exaltation of the
famous actress, Mrs. Diana Rhys, who had floated to the stage on the
crest of a famous scandal from a city where she had been known as Diana
the Huntress. She had behaved rather better as an actress than as a
housewife, but none too well in either calling. For some years she had
been bound to Reben by ties that were supposed to be permanent.

Sheila reproached herself for imagining that Reben could be jealous of
herself. Yet she cherished a superstitious belief that when she
disregarded her intuition she went wrong. The superstition had fastened
itself on her, as superstitions do, from her habit of remembering the
occasional events that seemed to confirm it and forgetting the
numberless events that disproved it.

She restored her attention to Vickery’s plot, but the background of her
thoughts was full of ominous lightnings and rumblings like a summer sky
when a storm is far off but inevitable.

Now the plight of Vickery’s heroine seemed much less thrilling than her
own. Here she sat almost betrothed to the distant Eldon, almost
bewitched by the new-comer, Vickery, and threatened with the wrath of an
unexpected claimant who was her manager and held both her present and
her future in his hand.

She studied Reben out of the corner of her eye. This new, this utterly
unsuspected phase of his, made necessary a fresh appraisal of him. He
was now something more and something less than her manager. He was
something of a conquest of hers; but did he hope to be a conqueror, too?

It was strange to think of him as a suitor—an amorous manager! a
business man with a bouquet! In this guise he looked younger than she
had seen him, yet more crafty, more cruel than ever. The Orientalism
that had made him so shrewd a bargainer in the bazar was now in a harem
humor. His black hair was, after all, in curls; his big eyes were
shadowy, wet; his fat hands wore rings—a sanguine ruby twinned with a
gross diamond and a shifty opal, like the back of an iridescent and
venomous beetle.

Sheila thought of David and Solomon with their many loves, and she felt
that perhaps Mrs. Rhys was not sufficient for this man. If he should
claim her, too, what should she say to him? Must she sacrifice her
career at its very outset just because this man turned monster?

She became so involved in her own meditations that Vickery found her
almost deaf to his narrative. He lost the thread of his spinning and
tangled himself in it like another Lady of Shalott.

Finally Sheila confessed her bewilderment. She spoke with an assumption
of vast experience: “I never could tell anything from a scenario. The
play is written out, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes,” said Vickery. “May I send it to your hotel?”

“I’d rather you’d read it to me,” Sheila pleaded. “You could explain it,
you know. I’m so stupid.”

“That would be splendid!” said Vickery. “When? Where?”

Before Sheila could answer, Reben broke in, “At my office, at three
to-morrow, if that suits you, Miss Kemble.”

She demurred feebly that they would be interrupted all the time. Reben
promised absolute peace and said, with a grim finality: “That’s settled,
then, Mr. Vickery. To-morrow, my office, three o’clock.”

There was such a sharp dismissal in his tone that Vickery found himself
standing with his hand out in farewell before he quite realized what had
lifted him from his chair.

“You’re not going?” said Sheila. “You haven’t finished your coffee.”

“I’ve had more than is good for me,” said Vickery. “Good night, and
thank you a thousand times. Good night, Mr. Reben.”

As he shambled through the tables to the door Sheila said, “Nice boy.”

“So you seem to think,” Reben growled.

She stared at him again, troubled at his manner, confirmed in her
suspicion, afraid of it and of him. But she said nothing.

“Want a liqueur?” he snapped.

She shook her head.

He said to her, “I’ll take you home,” and to the waiter, “Check!”

“Just put me in a cab,” said Sheila.

He fumed with impatience over the waiter’s delay with the check and the
change, the time Sheila spent getting her wrap from the cloak-woman, and
her gloves and her hand-bag. He tapped his foot with impatience while
the starter whistled up a taxicab. Then he spoke to the driver and got
in with her.

He said nothing but, “May I smoke?” But she noted his fearsome mien as
the light of his match painted it with startling vividness against the
dark. The ruby of his ring was like an evil eye. His thick brows drew
down over the black fire of his own eyes, and his lips were red over the
big teeth that clenched the cigar. Then he puffed out the match and his
face vanished. He said nothing till they reached the apartment-hotel
where she lived. He helped her out and paid the driver. She put forth
her hand to bid him good night, but he said:

“I want a word with you, please.”



                              CHAPTER XIX


He led the way into the lobby. She was intensely disturbed, but she
could not find the courage to quarrel with him in the presence of the
hall-boys. Those who had suites of rooms were permitted to receive
guests in them. Reben was the first man that had come alone to Sheila’s
rooms, and she felt that the elevator-boy was trying to disguise his
cynical excitement.

What could she say to him? how rebuke an unexpressed comment? She hoped
that Pennock would be there or would come along speedily to save the
situation. She was angry and discomfited as she unlocked her door,
switched on the lights, and offered Reben a chair in her little parlor.

Sheila saw that Reben’s eyes were eagerly searching the apartment for
signs of a third person. She was tempted to go to Pennock’s room and
call some message to her imaginary presence. But she resented her own
cowardice and her need of a duenna. She laid off her hat, seated herself
with smiling hospitality, and waited for Reben to say his say.

He indicated his cigar with a querying lift of the eyebrows, and she
nodded her consent.

Then the business man of him began at the beginning as if he had much to
say in a short time and did not want to lose the momentum of his
emotion:

“Sheila, you’re a wonderful girl. If you weren’t I shouldn’t be taking
you up from the army of actresses that are just as ambitious as you are.
I’d be very blind not to see what the whole public sees and not to feel
what everybody feels.

“This cub Vickery felt your fascination when you were a child. He never
forgot you. He’s trying to put something of you into his play. That
other fellow he told you about has made a vow to get to you. You have
draught, and all that it means.

“But the brighter the light, the firmer its standard must be. The
farther your lantern shines, the bigger and stronger and taller a
lighthouse it needs. You know there’s such a thing as hiding a light
under a bushel.

“Now, I’m already as big a manager as you’ll ever be a star. I can give
you advantages nobody else can give you. I’ve given you some of them
already. I can give you more. In fact, nobody else can give you any, for
I’ve got you under a contract that makes it possible for me to keep
anybody else from exploiting you. But I’m willing and anxious to do
everything I can for you. The question is, what are you willing to do
for me?”

Sheila knew what he meant, but she answered in a shy voice: “Why, I’ll
do all I can—of course. I’ll work like a slave. I’ll try to make you
all the money I’m able to.”

“Money? Bagh!” he sneered. “What’s money to me? I love it—as a game,
yes. But I don’t mind losing it. You’ve known me to drop forty or fifty
thousand at a throw and not whimper, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll do all you can, you say. But will you? There’s something in life
besides money, Sheila. There’s—there’s—” He tried to say “love,” but
it was an impossible word to get out at once. Instead he groped for her
hand and took it in his hot clench.

She drew her cold, slim fingers away with a petulant, girlish, “Don’t!”

He sighed desperately and laughed with bitterness. “I knew you’d do
nothing for me. You’d let me work for you, and make you famous and rich,
and squander fortunes on your glory, and you’d let me die of loneliness.
You’d let me eat my heart out like a love-sick stage-door Johnny and you
wouldn’t care. But I tell you, Sheila, even a manager is a man, and I
can’t live on business alone. I’ve got to have some woman’s
companionship and tenderness and devotion.”

Sheila could not refrain from suggesting, “I thought Mrs. Rhys—”

“Mrs. Rhys!” he snarled. “That worn-out, burned-out volcano? She’s an
old woman. I want youth and beauty and—Oh, I want you, Sheila.”

“I—I’m sorry,” she almost apologized, trying not to insult such ardor.

“Oh, I know I’m not young or handsome, but I’ll surround you with youth.
I’ll buy that play of your friend Vickery’s; I’ll get the biggest man in
the country to whip it into shape; I’ll give it the finest production
ever a play had; I’ll make the critics swallow it; I’ll buy the ones
that are for sale, and I’ll play on the vanity of the others. If it
fails, I’ll buy you another play and another till you hit the biggest
success ever known. Then I’ll name a theater after you. I’ll produce you
in London, get you commanded to court. I’ll make you the greatest
actress in the world. These young fellows may be pretty to play with,
but what can they do for you except ruin your career and interfere with
your ambition and make a toy of you? I can give you wealth and fame
and—immortality! And all I ask you to give me is your—your”—now he
said it—“your love.”

“I—I’m sorry,” Sheila mumbled.

“You mean you won’t?” he roared.

“How can I?” she pleaded, still apologetic. “Love isn’t a thing you can
just take and give to anybody you please, is it? I thought it was
something that—that takes you and gives you to anybody it pleases.
Isn’t that it? I don’t know. I’m not sure I know what love is. But
that’s what I’ve always understood.”

He grunted at the puerility of this, and said, brusquely, “Well, if you
can’t give me love, then give me—you.”

“How do you mean—give you me?”

“Oh, you’re no child, Sheila,” he snarled. “Don’t play the ingenue with
me. You know what I mean.”

Her voice grew years older as she answered, icily: “When you say I’m no
child, it makes me think I understand what you mean. But I can’t believe
that I do.”

“Why?”

“Well, you’ve known my father and mother so long and they like you so
much, and—well—it doesn’t seem possible that you would mean me any
harm.”

No amount of heroics could have shamed him like that. His eyes rolled
like a cornered wolf’s. He shut them, and with one deep breath seemed to
absolve himself and purify his soul. He mumbled, “I—I want you to—to
marry me, Sheila!”

Sheila seemed to breathe a less stifling air. She felt sorry for him
now; but he asked a greater charity than she could grant. She answered:
“Oh, I couldn’t marry anybody; not now. I don’t want to marry—at all.”
She sought for the least-insulting explanation. “It—it would hurt me
professionally.”

His self-esteem blinded him to her tact. He persisted: “We could be
married secretly. No one needs to know.”

She protested, “You can’t keep such a thing secret.”

He retorted: “Of course you can. They never found out that Sonia
Eccleston was married to her manager.”

“She never was!”

“I saw her with their child in Switzerland.”

“Then it was true! I’ve heard so many people say so. But I never could
be sure.”

“It’s true. Our marriage could be kept just as secret as that.”

“Just about!” she laughed, with sudden triumph.

He was too earnest to realize that he had set a trap and stepped into it
till he sprung it.

He was suddenly enraged at her and at himself. He would not accept so
farcical a twist to his big scene. He broke out into a flame of wrathful
desire, and rose threateningly:

“Marriage or no marriage, Sheila, you’ve got to belong to me, or—or—”

“Or what?”

“Or you’ll never be a star. You’ll never play that play of Vickery’s or
anybody else’s. You’ll play whatever part I select for you, as your
contract says, or you’ll play nothing at all.”

He only kindled Sheila’s tindery temper. She leaped to her feet and
stormed up in his face: “Is this a proposal of marriage or a piece of
blackmail? I signed a contract, you know, not a receipt for one slave.
Marry you, Mr. Reben? Humph! Not if you were the last man on earth! Not
if I had to black up and play old darky women.”

The passion that overmastered him resolved to overmaster her.

“You can’t get away from me. I love you!”

He thrust his left arm back of her and enveloped her in a huge embrace,
seizing her right arm in his hand. Sheila had been embraced by numerous
men in her stage career. She had stood with their arms about her at
rehearsal and before the public. She had replied to their ardors
according to the directions of the manuscript—with shyness, with
boldness, with rapture.

At one of the rehearsals of “Uncle Dudley,” indeed, Reben himself, after
complaining of Brereton’s manner of clasping Sheila, had climbed to the
stage and demonstrated how he wanted Sheila embraced. She had smiled at
his awkwardness and thought nothing of it.

But that was play-acting, with people looking on. This was reality, in
seclusion. Intention is nearly everything. Then it was business. Now the
touch of his hand upon her elbow made her flesh creep; the big arm about
her was as repulsive as a python’s coil. She fought away from him in a
nausea of hatred. While his muscles exerted all their tyranny over her
little body, his lips were pleading, maundering appeals for a little
pity, a little love.

She fought him in silence, dreading the scandal of a scream. She wanted
none of that publicity. Her silence convinced him that her resistance
was not sincere; he thought it really the primeval instinct to put up an
interesting struggle and sweeten the surrender.

With a chuckle of triumph he drew her to his breast and thrust his head
forward toward the cheek dimly aglow. But just as he would have kissed
her she twisted in his clutch and lurched aside, wrenched her right arm
free, and bent it round her head to protect her precious flesh. Then as
he thrust his head forward again in pursuit of her, she swung her arm
back with all her might and drove her elbow into his face.

Some Irish instinct of battle inspired her to swing from waist and
shoulder and put her whole weight into the blow. Only his Reben luck
saved him from having a mouthful of loose teeth, a broken nose, or a
squashed eye. As it was, the little bludgeon fell on his eminent
cheek-bone with an impact that almost knocked him senseless amid a
shower of meteors.

Reben’s heartache was transferred to his head. His arms fell from her
and romance departed in one enormously prosaic “Ouch!”

The victorious little cave-woman cowered aside and rubbed her bruised
elbow, and pouted, and felt ashamed of herself for a terrible brute.
Then, as the ancient Amazons must undoubtedly have done after every
battle, she began to cry.

Reben was too furious to weep. He nursed his splitting skull in his
hands and thought of the Mosaic law “an eye for an eye.” He longed for
surcease of pain so that he might devise a perfect revenge against the
little beast that had tried to murder him just because he paid her the
supreme honor of loving her. He could not trust himself to speak. He
found his hat and went out, closing the door softly.

The elevator that took him down returned shortly with Pennock. She had
seen Reben cross the hotel lobby, and she came in with a glare of
horror. She sniffed audibly the cigar-smoke in the precincts. Her wrath
was so dire that she stared at Sheila weeping, and made no motion toward
her till Sheila broke out in a clutter of sobs:

“I—I—want some witch-hazel for my elbow. I think I b-b-broke it on old
Reben’s j-j-jaw.”

Then the amazing Pennock caught her in her arms and laughed aloud. It
was the first time Sheila had heard her laugh aloud. But when she looked
up Pennock was weeping as well, the tears sluicing down into her smile.



                               CHAPTER XX


Sheila wept more as Pennock helped her to undress and drew the sleeve
tenderly over the invincible elbow. She wept into the bath and she wept
into her pillow. She ran a gamut of emotions from self-pity to
self-contempt for so unlady-like a method of extricating herself from a
predicament that no lady would have got into. She reproached herself for
being some kind of miserable reptile to have inspired either the
affection or the insolence of so loathsome another reptile as Reben.

Then she bewailed the ruin of her career. That was gone forever. She
bewailed the destruction of Vickery’s hopes—such a nice boy! If she had
not permitted Reben to be so rude to Vickery he never would have been so
rude to her. She would give up the stage and go live at her father’s
house, and die an old maid or marry a preacher or a milkman or
something.

She wept herself out so completely that she slept till one o’clock the
next afternoon. When she was up she stood at her window and gazed
ruefully across the city. On a distant roof she could just see the tall
water-tanks marked “Odeon Theater,” and a wall of the theater carrying
an enormous blazon of the play with Tom Brereton’s name in huge letters
and hers in large. She would never appear there again. She supposed
Reben would send her understudy on to-night. Of course the reading of
Vickery’s play at three o’clock was all off.

It would be of no use to go to the office. Reben wouldn’t be there. He
would doubtless be in a hospital with his face in splints.

She wondered if she had fractured his skull—and how many years they
gave you for doing that to a man. She could claim that she did it in
self-defense, of course, but she had no witnesses to prove it.

She spent hours in putting herself into all imaginable disasters. The
breakfast Pennock commanded her to eat she only dabbed at.

At half past three the telephone rang. The office-boy at Reben’s hailed
her across the wire:

“That choo, M’Skemble? This is Choey. Say, M’Skemble, Mis’ Treben wantsa
speak choo. Hola wire a min’t, please.”

Sheila reached out and hooked a chair with her foot and brought it up to
catch her when the blow fell. Reben’s voice was full of restrained
cheerfulness:

“That you, Sheila? Are you ill?”

“Why, no! Why?”

“You had an appointment here at three. We’re still waiting.”

“But you don’t want to see—me, do you?”

“And why not?”

“But last night you said—”

“Last night I was talking to you about personal affairs. This is
business. That was at your home. This is my office. Hop in a cab and
come on over. I’ll explain.”

She was in such a daze as she made ready to go that when she had her hat
on she could not find it with her hat-pin. Pennock performed the office
for her. When she reached Reben’s office she meekly edged through the
crowd of applicants waiting like the penniless souls on the wrong side
of the River Styx. She thought that Eldon must have been one of these
once. Some of these were future Eldons, future Booths.

Joey, the office-boy, hailed her with pride, swung the gate open for
her, and led her to Reben’s door. He did that only for stars or managers
or playwrights of recent success.

Reben was alone. He was dabbing his mumpsy cheek with a handkerchief he
wet at a bottle. He smiled at her with a mixture of apology and rebuke.

“There you are! the suffragette that took my face for a shop window. I
told everybody I stumbled and hit my head on the edge of a table. If you
will be kind enough not to deny the story—”

“Of course not! I’m so sorry! I lost my head!”

“Thank you. So did I. Last night I made a fool of myself. To-day I’m a
business man again. I made you a proposition or two. You declined both
with emphasis. I ought not to have insisted. You didn’t have to
assassinate me. I’ll forgive you if you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course,” said Sheila, sheepishly.

Reben spoke with great dignity, yet with meekness. “We understand each
other better now, eh? I meant what I said about being crazy about you.
If you’d let me, I could love you very much. If you won’t, I’ll get over
it, I suppose. But the proposition stands. If you would marry me—”

“I’m not going to marry anybody, I tell you.”

“You promise me that?”

Sheila felt it safer not to promise forever, but safe enough to say,
“Not for a long time, anyway.”

Reben stared at her grimly. “Sheila, I’m a business man; you’re a
business woman. I’ll play fair with you if you’ll play fair with me.
I’ll make a star of you if you’ll do your share. You wouldn’t flirt with
me or let me make a fool of you. Then be a man and we’ll get along
perfectly. If you’ll stick to me, not quit me, not hamper me, not play
tricks on me, and abide by your contract, I’ll do the same for you. I’ll
put you up in the big lights. Will you stand by me, Sheila, as man to
man—on your honor as a gentleman?”

She repeated his words with a kind of amused solemnity: “As man to man,
on my honor as a gentleman, I’ll stand by you and fulfil my contract.”

“Then that’s all right. Shake hands on it.”

They shook hands. His grasp was hot and fierce and slow to let go. His
eyes burned over her with a menace that belied his icy words.

                 *        *        *        *        *

When the bond was sealed with the clasp of hands Reben breathed heavily
and pressed a button on his desk. “Now for the young Shakespeare. We’ve
kept him waiting long enough. He’s cooled his heels till he must have
cold feet by now. Joey, show Mr. Vickery in; and then I don’t want to be
disturbed by anybody for anything. I’ll wring your neck if you ring my
telephone—unless the building catches on fire.”

“Yes, sir; no, sir,” said Joey; and, holding the door ajar, he beckoned
and whistled to Vickery, and, having admitted him, dispersed the rabble
outside with brevity: “Nothin’ doin’ to-day, folks. Mis’ Treben’s went
home.”

Sheila, Vickery, and Reben regarded one another with the utmost anxiety.
They were embarking on a cruise to the Gold Coast. Success would mean a
fortune for all; the failure of any would mean disaster to all.

Usually it was next to impossible to persuade Reben to give three
consecutive hours of his busy life to an audition; but, once engaged, he
listened with amazing analysis. He tried to sit with an imaginary
audience. He listened always for the human note. He criticized, as a
woman criticizes with reference not to art or logic or truth, but to
etiquette, morality, and attractiveness.

The virtuous and scholarly Vickery, as he read his masterwork, was
astounded to find his ideals of conduct riddled by a manager, and
especially by a Reben. He blushed to be told that his hero was a cad and
his heroine a cat. And he could hardly deny the justice of the criticism
from Reben’s point of view, which was that of an average audience.

Sheila, feeling that Vickery needed support, gave him only her praise,
whatever she felt; little giggles of laughter, little gasps of
“Delicious!” and cries of, “Oh, charming!” When with the accidental
rarity of a scholar he stumbled into the greatness of a homely
sincerity, he was amazed to see that tears were pearling at her eyelids
suddenly.

His heart was melted into affection by the collaboration of her
sympathy. Without it he would have folded up his manuscript and slunk
away, for Reben’s comments were more and more confusingly cynical.

When he finished the ordeal Vickery was exhausted, parched of throat and
of heart. Sheila flung him adjectives like flowers and his heart went
out toward her, but Reben was silent for a long and cruelly anxious
while. Then he spoke harshly:

“A manager’s main business is to avoid producing plays. It’s my business
to imagine what faults the public would find and then beat ’em to ’em.
There will be plenty of faults left. And don’t forget, Mr. Vickery, that
every compliment I pay a playwright costs me a thousand dollars or more.
Frankly, Mr. Vickery, I don’t think your play is right. The idea is
there, but you haven’t got it.”

Vickery’s heart sickened. Reben revived it a little.

“Maybe you can fix it up. If you can’t I’ll have to get somebody to help
you. It’s too late to produce it this season, anyway. Hot weather is
coming on. You have all summer to work at it.”

Vickery wondered if he should live so long.

Reben went on: “I—I’ve been thinking, Sheila—Miss Kemble, that it
might be a good idea to try this play out in a stock company. Then Mr.
Vickery could see its faults.”

Sheila protested, “Oh, but I couldn’t let anybody else play it first.”

“You could join the company as a guest for a week and play the part
yourself.”

“Fine!” Sheila exclaimed. “I’ve been planning to put in a good hard
summer in stock. It’s such an education—limbers your mind up so, to
play all sorts of parts. See if you can find me a good, coolish sort of
town with a decent stock company that will let me in.”

“Ay, ay, sir!” said Reben, with a salute. “And now, Mr. Vickery, you’ve
got your work cut out, too. See if you can get your play into shape for
a stock production.”

Reben was attempting to scare Vickery just enough to make him toil, but
he would have given up completely if Sheila had not begged him to go on,
asked him to come to see her now and then and “talk things over.”

He promised with gratitude and went, carrying that burden of delay which
weighs down the playwright until he reaches the swift judgment of the
critics. When he had gone Reben spoke more confidently of the play. He
was already considering the cast. He mentioned various names and
discarded this actor or that actress because he or she was a blond or
too dark, too tall, or too short, lean, fat, commonplace, eccentric.
Nobody quite fitted his pictures of Vickery’s people. At length he said:

“I’ll tell you a man I’ve had in mind for the lead. He’d be ideal, I
think. He’s young, handsome, educated; he’s got breeding; he can wear a
dress-suit; and he hasn’t been on the stage long enough to be spoiled by
the gush of fool women. He’s tall and athletic and a gentleman.”

“And who’s all that?” said Sheila. “The angel Gabriel?”

“Young fellow named—er—Elmore—no, Eldon; that’s it. You must know
him. He was with you in the ‘Friend in Need’ company.”

“Oh yes,” Sheila murmured, “I know him.”

“How do you think he would do?”

“I think he would be—he would be splendid.”

“All right,” said Reben. “The stock experience would be good for him,
too. He might make a good leading man for you. You could practise
team-work together. If he pans out, I could place him with the company
we select for you.”

“Fine!” said Sheila.

Reben could never have suspected from her tone how deeply she was
interested in Eldon. Unwittingly he had torn them asunder just as their
romance was ripening into ardor; unwittingly he was bringing them
together.

As soon as she left Reben’s office Sheila hurried to her room to write
Eldon of their reunion. She wrote glowingly and quoted their old
phrases. When she had sent the letter off she had a tremor of anxiety.
“What if he finds me changed and doesn’t like me any more? How will he
have changed after a season of success and—Dulcie Ormerod?”



                              CHAPTER XXI


Sheila had earned a vacation. And she had nearly a thousand dollars in
bank, which was pretty good for a girl of her years, and enough for a
golden holiday. But her ambition was burning fiercely now, and after a
week or two of golf, tennis, surf, and dance, at her father’s Long
Island home, she joined the summer stock company in the middle-sized
city of Clinton. She did twice her usual work for half her usual salary,
but she was determined to broaden her knowledge and hasten her
experience.

The heat seemed intentionally vindictive. The labor was almost
incredible. One week she exploited all the anguishes of “Camille” for
five afternoons and six evenings. During the mornings of that week and
all day Sunday she rehearsed the pink plights of “The Little Minister,”
learning the rôle of Lady Babbie at such odd moments as she could steal
from her meals or her slumber or her shopping tours for the necessary
costumes. The next week, while she was playing Lady Babbie eleven times,
she was rehearsing the masterful heroine of “The Lion and the Mouse” of
mornings. While she played this she memorized the slang of “The Chorus
Lady” for the following week.

Before the summer was over she had lived a dozen lives and been a dozen
people. She had become the pet of the town, more observed than its
mayor, and more talked about than its social leader.

She had established herself as a local goddess almost immediately,
though she had no time at all for accepting the hospitalities of those
who would fain have had her to luncheons, teas, or dinners.

She had no mornings, afternoons, or evenings that she could call her
own. The hardest-worked Swede cook in town would have given notice if
such unceasing tasks had been inflicted on her; and the horniest-handed
labor-unionist would have struck against such hours as she kept.

To the townspeople she was as care-free and work-free as a fairy, and as
impossible to capture. After the matinées throngs of young women and
girls waited outside the stage door to see her pass. After the evening
performances she made her way through an aisle of adoring young men. She
tried not to look tired, though she was as weary as any factory-hand
after overtime.

At first she hurried past alone. Later they saw a big fellow at her side
who proved to be a new-comer—Eldon. And now the matinée girls divided
their allegiance. Eldon’s popularity quickly rivaled Sheila’s. But he
had even less time for making conquests, for he had a slower memory and
was not so habited to stage formulas.

Nor had he any heart for conquests. A certain number of notes came to
his letter-box, some of them anonymous tributes from overwhelmed young
maidens; some of them brazen proffers of intrigue from women old enough
to know better, or bound by their marriage lines to do better.

Eldon, who had thought that vice was a city ware, and that actors were
dangerous elements in a small town, got a new light on life and on the
theory that women are the pursued and not the pursuers.

But these wild-oat seeds of the Clinton fast set fell upon the rock
where Sheila’s name was carved. He found her subtly changed. She was the
same sweet, sympathetic, helpful Sheila that had been his comrade in
art; but he could not recapture the Sheila that had shared his dreams of
love.

As in the old Irish bull of the two men who met on London Bridge, they
called each other by name, then “looked again, and it was nayther of
us.”

The Sheila and Eldon that met now were not the Sheila and Eldon that had
bade each other good-by. They had not outgrown each other, but they had
grown away from each other—and behold it was neither of them.

The Eldon that Sheila had grown so fond of was a shy, lonely,
blundering, ignorant fellow of undisclosed genius. It had delighted
Sheila to perceive his genius and to mother him. He was like the last
and biggest of her dolls.

But now he was no longer a boy; he was a man whose gifts had proved
themselves, who had “learned his strength” before audience after
audience clear across the continent. Dulcie Ormerod had irritated him,
but she had left him in no doubt of his power.

Already he had maturity, authority, and the confidence of a young
Siegfried wandering through the forest and understanding the birds that
sang him up and sang him onward.

He was a total stranger to Sheila. She could not mother him. He did not
come to her to cure his despair and kindle ambition. He came to her in
the armor of success and claimed her for his own.

At first he alarmed her more than Reben had. She felt that he could
never truly belong to her again. And she felt no impulse to belong to
him. She liked him, admired him, enjoyed his brilliant personality, but
rather as a gracious competitor than any longer as a partner.

To Eldon, however, the change endeared Sheila only the more. She was
fairer and wiser and surer, worthier of his love in every way. He could
not understand why she loved him no longer. But he could not fail to see
that her heart had changed. It seemed a treachery to him, a treachery he
could feel and not believe possible.

When he sought to return to the room he had tenanted in her heart he
found it locked or demolished. He could never gain a moment of solitude
with her. Their former long walks were not to be thought of.

“Clinton isn’t Chicago, old boy,” Sheila said. “Everybody in this town
knows us a mile off. And we’ve no time for flirting or philandering or
whatever it was we were doing in Chicago. I’m too busy, and so are you.”

Eldon’s heart suffered at each rebuff. He murmured to her that she was
cruel. He thought of her as false when he thought of her at all. But
that was not so often as he thought. He was too horribly busy.

To a layman the conditions of a stock company are almost unbelievable:
the actors work double time, day and night shifts both. Most of the
company were used to the life. In the course of years they had acquired
immense repertoires. They had educated their memories to amazing
degrees. They could study a new rôle between the acts of the current
production.

Sheila and Eldon had not that advantage. They spent the intermission
after one act in boning up for the next, rubbing the lines into the mind
as they rubbed grease-paint into the skin.

The barge of dreams was a freight-boat for them.

When Pennock wakened Sheila of mornings it was like dragging her out of
the grave. She came up dead; desperately resisting the recall to life.
At night she sank into her sleep as into a welcome tomb. She was on her
feet almost always. Her hours in the playmill averaged fourteen a day.
She grew haggard and petulant. Eldon feared for her health.

Yet the theater was her gymnasium. She was acquiring a post-graduate
knowledge of stage practice, supplying her mind as well as her muscles,
like a pianist who practises incessantly. If she kept at it too long she
would become a mere audience-pounder. If she quit in time the training
would be of vast profit.

One stifling afternoon Eldon begged her to take a drive with him between
matinée and night, out to “Lotus Land,” a tawdry pleasure-park where one
could look at water and eat in an arbor. She begged off because she was
too busy.

She had no sooner finished the refusal than he saw her face light up. He
saw her run to meet a lank, lugubrious young man. He saw idolatry in the
stranger’s eyes and extraordinary graciousness in Sheila’s. He heard
Sheila invite the new-comer to buggy-ride with her to “Lotus Land” and
take dinner outdoors.

Eldon dashed away in a rage of jealousy. Sheila did not reach the
theater that night till after eight o’clock.

She nearly committed the unpardonable sin of holding the curtain. The
stage-manager and Eldon were out looking for her when they saw a
bouncing buggy drawn by a lean livery horse driven by a lean, liverish
man. Up the alley they clattered and Sheila leaped out before the
contraption stopped.

She called to the driver: “G’-by! See you after the performance.” She
called to the stage-manager: “Don’t say it! Just fine me!” Eldon held
the stage door open for her. All she said was: “Whew! Don’t shoot!”

She had no time to make up or change her costume. She walked on as she
was.

After the performance Eldon came down in his street clothes to demand an
explanation. He saw the same stranger waiting for Sheila, and dared not
trust himself to speak to her.

The next morning, at rehearsal, he said to Sheila, with laborious
virulence, “Where’s your friend this morning?”

“He went back to town.”

“How lonely you must feel!”

Sheila was startled at the same twang of jealousy she had heard in
Reben’s voice when she and Vickery first met. It angered and alarmed her
a little. She explained to Eldon who Vickery was, and that he had run
down to discuss his new version of the play. Eldon was mollified a
little, but Sheila was not.

Vickery, whose health was none too good, found it tedious to make a
journey from Braywood to Clinton every time he wanted to ask Sheila’s
advice on a difficulty. He suddenly appeared in Clinton with all his
luggage. He put it on the ground of convenience in his work. It must
have been partly on Sheila’s account.

Eldon noted that Sheila, who had been rarely able to spare a moment with
him, found numberless opportunities to consult with this playwright.
Sheila’s excuse was that business compelled her to keep in close touch
with her next starring vehicle; her reason was that she found Vickery
oddly attractive as well as oddly irritating.

In the first place, he was writing a play for her, for the celebration
of her genius. That was attractive, certainly. In the second place, he
was not very strong and not very comfortable financially. That roused a
sort of mother-sense in her. She felt as much enthusiasm for his career
as for her own. And then, of course, he proceeded to fall in love with
her. It was so easy to modulate from the praise of her gifts to the
praise of her beauty, from the influence she had over the general public
to her influence over him in particular.

He exalted her as a goddess. He painted her future as the progress of
Venus over the ocean. He would furnish the ocean. He wrote poems to her.
And it must be intensely comforting to have poems written at you; it
must be hard to remain immune to a sonnet.

Vickery quoted love-scenes from his play and applied them to Sheila. He
very slyly attempted to persuade her to rehearse the scenes with him as
hero. But that was not easy when they were buggy-riding.

When he grew demonstrative she could hardly elbow his teeth down his
throat; for his manner was not Reben’s. It needed no blow to quell poor
Vickery’s hopes. It needed hardly a rebuke. It needed nothing more than
a lack of response to his ardor. Then his wings would droop as if he
found a vacuum beneath them.

To repel Reben even by force of arms had seemed the only decent thing
that Sheila could do. She was keeping herself precious, as her father
told her to. To keep Eldon at a distance seemed to be her duty, at least
until she could be sure that she loved him as he plainly loved her. But
to fend off Vickery’s love seemed to her a sin. That would be quenching
a fine, fiery spirit.

But, dearly as she cherished Vickery, she felt no impulse to surrender,
not even to that form of conquest which women call surrender. And yet
she nearly loved him. Her feeling was much, much more than liking, yet
somehow it was not quite loving. She longed to form a life-alliance with
him, but a marriage of minds, not of bodies and souls.

And Vickery proposed a very different partnership from the league that
Eldon planned. Eldon was awfully nice, but so all the other women
thought. And if she and Eldon should marry and co-star together, there
could be no success for them, not even bread and butter for two, unless
lots and lots of women went crazy over Eldon. Sheila had little doubt
that the women would go crazy fast enough, but she wondered how she
would stand it to be married to a matinée idol. She wondered if she had
jealousy in her nature—she was afraid she had.

In complete contrast with Eldon’s life, Vickery’s would be devoted to
the obscurity of his desk and the creation of great rôles for her to
publish. If any fascinating were to be done, Sheila would do it. She
thought it far better for a man to keep his fascination in his wife’s
name.

Thus the young woman debated in her heart the merits of the rival
claimants. So doubtless every woman does who has rival claimants.

Sometimes when Vickery was unusually harrowing in his inability to write
the play right, and Eldon was unusually successful in a performance,
Sheila would say that, after all, the better choice would be the great,
handsome, magnetic man.

Playwrights and things were pretty sure to be uncertain, absent-minded,
moody, querulous. She had heard much about the moods of creative
geniuses and the terrible lives they led their wives. Wasn’t it Byron or
Bulwer Lytton or somebody who bit his wife’s cheek open in a quarrel at
the breakfast-table or something? That would be a nice thing for Vickery
to do in a hotel dining-room.

He might develop an insane jealousy of her and forbid her to appear to
her best advantage. Worse yet, he might devote some of his abilities to
creating rôles for other women to appear in.

He might not always be satisfied to write for his wife. In fact, now and
then he had alluded to other projects and had spoken with enthusiasm of
other actresses whom Sheila didn’t think much of. And, once—oh
yes!—once he spoke of writing a great play for Mrs. Rhys, that statue
in cold lava whom even Reben could endure no longer.

A pretty thing it would be, wouldn’t it, to have Sheila’s own husband
writing a play for that Rhys woman? Well—humph! Well! And Sheila had
wondered if jealousy were part of her equipment!

Between the actor and the playwright there was little choice.

A manager also had offered himself to Sheila. She could have Reben for
the asking. If he were not so many things she couldn’t endure the
thought of, he might make a very good husband. He at least would be free
from temperament and personality. Two temperaments in one family would
be rather dangerous.

These thoughts, if they were distinct enough to be called thoughts,
drifted through her brain like flotsam on the stream of the unending
demands of her work. This was wearing her down and out till, sometimes,
she resolved that whoever it might be she married he needn’t expect her
to go on acting.

This pretty well cleared her slate of suitors, for Reben, as well as the
other two, had never suggested anything except her continuance in her
career. As if a woman had no right to rest! As if this everlasting
battle were not bad for a woman!

In these humors her fatigue spoke for her. And fatigue is always the
bitter critic of any trade that creates it. Frequently Sheila resolved
to leave the stage. Often, as she fell into her bed and closed her
lead-loaded eyelashes on her calcium-seared eyes and stretched her
boards-weary soles down into the cool sheets, she said that she would
exchange all the glories of Lecouvreur, Rachel, Bernhardt, and Duse for
the greater glory of sleeping until she had slept enough.

When Pennock nagged her from her Eden in the morning Sheila would vow
that as soon as this wretched play of that brute of a Vickery was
produced she would never enter a theater again at the back door. If the
Vickery play were the greatest triumph of the cycle, she would let
somebody else—anybody else—have it. Mrs. Rhys and Dulcie Ormerod could
toss pennies for it.



                              CHAPTER XXII


Eventually Vickery’s play was ready for production. At least Reben told
him, with Job’s comfort:

“We’ve all worked at it till we don’t know what it’s about. We’ve
changed everything in it, so let’s put it on and get rid of it.”

The weather of the rehearsal week for the Vickery play was barbarously
hot. The theater at night was a sea of rippling fans. The house was none
the less packed; the crowd was almost always the same. People had their
theater nights as they had their church nights. The prices were very low
and a seat could be had for the price of an ice-cream soda. People were
no hotter in the theater than on their own porches, and the play took
their minds off their thermometers.

Reben had come down for the rehearsals. There were to be few of
them—five mornings and Sunday. There was no chance to put in or take
out. The actors could do no more than tack their lines to their
positions.

Still Reben found so much fault with everything that Vickery was ready
for the asylum. Sheila simply had to comfort him through the crisis.
Eldon proceeded to complicate matters by developing into a fiend of
jealousy. Fatigue and strain and the weather were all he could bear. The
extra courtesies to Vickery were the final back-breaking straws.

He told Sheila he had a mind to throw the play. The distracted girl,
realizing his irresponsible and perilous state, tried to tide him over
the ordeal by adopting him and mothering him with melting looks and
rapturous compliments. This course brought her into further difficulties
with the peevish author.

While they were rehearsing Vickery’s play they were of course performing
another.

By some unconscious irony the manager had chosen to revive a melodrama
of arctic adventure, thinking perhaps to cool the audience with the
journey to boreal regions. The actors were forced to dress in polar-bear
pelts, and each costume was an ambulant Turkish bath. The men wore long
wigs and false beards. The spirit gum that held the false hair in place
frequently washed away from the raining pores and there were
astonishingly sudden shaves that sent the audience into peals of
laughter.

Eldon congratulated himself that his face at least was free, for he was
a faithful Eskimo. But in one scene, which had been rehearsed without
the properties, it was his duty to lose his life in saving his master’s
life. On the first night of the performance the hero and the villain
struggled on two big wabbly blocks of blue papier-maché supposed to
represent icebergs. Eldon, the Eskimo, was slain and fell dead to
magnificent applause. But his perspiratory glands refused to die and his
diaphragm continued to pant.

And then his grateful master delivered a farewell eulogy over him. And
as a last tribute spread across his face a great suffocating polar-bear
skin! There were fifteen minutes more of the act, and Sheila in the
wings wondered if Eldon would be alive or completely Desdemonatized when
the curtain fell.

He lived, but for years after he felt smothered whenever he remembered
that night.

During the rest of the week his master’s farewell tribute was omitted at
Eldon’s request. But it was impossible to change the scene to Florida
and the arctic costumes had to be endured. Sheila’s own costumes were
almost fatal to her.

And that was the play they played afternoons and evenings while they
devoted their mornings to whipping Vickery’s drama into shape.

And now Reben, goaded by the heat as by innumerable gnats, and fuming at
the time he was wasting in the dull, hot town where there was nothing to
do of evenings but walk the stupid streets or visit a moving-picture
shed or see another performance of that detestable arctic play—Reben
proceeded to resent Sheila’s graciousness to both actor and author and
to demand a little homage for the lonely manager.

Sheila said to Pennock: “I’m going to run away to some nice quiet
madhouse and ask for a padded cell and iron bars. I want to go before
they take me. If I don’t I’ll commit murder or suicide. These men! these
men! these infernal men! Why don’t they let me alone?”

All Pennock could say was: “There, there, there, you poor child! Let me
put a cold cloth on your head.”

“If you could pour cold water on the men I’d be all right,” Sheila would
groan. She had hysterics regularly every night when she got to her room.
She would scream and pull her hair and stamp her feet and wail: “I vow
I’ll never act again. Or if I do, I’ll never marry; or if I marry, I’ll
marry somebody that never heard of the stage. I’ll marry a Methodist
preacher. They don’t believe in the theater, and neither do I!”

Thus Sheila stormed against the men. But her very excitement showed that
love was becoming an imperious need. She was growing up to her
mating-time. Just now she was like a bird surrounded by suitors, and
they were putting on their Sunday feathers for her, trilling their best,
and fighting each other for her possession. She was the mistress of the
selection, coy, unconvinced, and in a runaway humor.

Three men had made ardent love to her, and her heart had slain them each
in turn. She was a veritable Countess of Monte Cristo. She had scored
off “One!” “Two!” and “Three!”

This left her with nothing to wed but her career. And she was disgusted
with that.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Only her long training and her tremendous resources of endurance could
have carried her through that multiplex exhaustion of every emotion.

Numbers of soldiers desert the firing-line in almost every battle.
Occasional firemen refrain from dashing into burning and collapsing
buildings. Policemen sometimes feel themselves outnumbered beyond
resistance. But actors do not abstain from first-night performances.
Even a death-certificate is hardly excuse enough for that treachery.

So on the appointed night Sheila played the part that Vickery wrote for
her, and played it brilliantly. She stepped on the stage as from a
bandbox and she flitted from scene to scene with the volatility of a
humming-bird.

Eldon covered himself with glory and lent her every support. The
kiln-dried company danced through the other rôles with vivacity and the
freshness of débutancy. They had had the unusual privilege of a Monday
afternoon off.

The big face of the audience that night glistened with joy and
perspiration, and found the energy somewhere to demand a speech from the
author and another from Sheila.

Vickery was in the seventh heaven. If there were an eighth it would
belong to playwrights who see the chaos of their manuscripts changed
into men and women applauded by a multitude. Vickery could not believe
the first howl of laughter from the many-headed, one-mooded beast. The
second long roll of delight rendered him to the clouds. He went up
higher on the next, and when a meek little witticism of his was received
with an earthquake of joy, followed by a salvo of applause, he hardly
recognized the moon as he shot past it.

Later, there were moments of tautness and hush when the audience sat on
the edge of its seats and held its breath with excitement. That was
heroic bliss. But when from his coign of espionage in the back of a box
he saw tears glistening on the eyes of pretty girls, and old women with
handkerchiefs at their wet cheeks, and hard-faced business men sneaking
their thumbs past their dripping lashes, the ecstasy was divine. When
the tension was relaxed and the audience blew its great nose he thought
he heard the music of the spheres.

The play was almost an hour too long, but the audience risked the last
street-cars and stuck to its post till the delightful end. Then it
lingered to applaud the curtain up three times. As the amiable mob
squeezed out, Vickery wound his way among it, eavesdropping like a spy,
and hearing nothing but good of his work and of its performers.

As soon as he could he worked his way free and darted back to the stage.
There he found Sheila standing and crying her heart out with laughter,
while Eldon held one hand and Reben the other.

Vickery thrust in between them, caught her hands away from theirs, and
gathered her into his arms. And kissed her. Both were laughing and both
were crying. It was a very salty kiss, but he found it wonderful.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


Were it not for hours like these, the hope of them or the memory of
them, few people would continue to trudge the dolorous road of the
playwright. Such hours come rarely and they do not linger unspoiled, but
they are glimpses of heaven while they last. It was not for long that
Vickery and Sheila were left seated upon the sunny side of Saturn with
the rings of unearthly glory swirling round them.

Their return to earth was all the more jolting for the distance they had
to fall.

Sheila saw Eldon turn away in a sudden rancor of jealousy. She saw Reben
turn swart with rage. His cruel mouth twisted into a sneer, and when
Vickery turned to him with the gratitude of a child to a rescuing angel
Reben’s comments wiped the smile off Vickery’s rosy face and left it
white and sick.

Sheila suffered all her own shocks and vicariously those of each of the
three she had embroiled. She suffered most for the young creator who had
seen that his work was good but must yet hear Satan’s critique. And
Reben looked like a wise and haughty Lucifer when in answer to Vickery’s
appealing “Well?” he said:

“Well, you certainly got over—here. They like it. No doubt of that. But
they liked ‘The Nautilus.’ It broke all records here in Clinton and
lasted two nights in New York.

“You mustn’t let ’em fool you, my boy. This stock company is a kind of
religion to these yokels. They snap up whatever you throw ’em the way a
sea-lion snaps up a fish. Anything on God’s earth will go here. Just
copper your bets all round. Whatever went here will flop in New York,
and _vice versa_. Did you hear ’em howl at that old wheeze in the first
act? Broadway would throw the seats at you if you sprung it. The one
scene that fell flat to-night is the one scene worth keeping in.

“You’ve got a lot of work to do. You’d better let me bring Ledley or
somebody down here to whip it into shape. As it stands, I don’t see how
I can use it. Look me up next time you’re in town—if you can bring me
some new ideas.”

Then he turned to Sheila and, taking her by that dangerous elbow, led
her aside and murdered her joy. He was perfectly sincere about his
distrust of the piece. He had seen so many false hopes come up like
violets in the snow, only to wither at the first sharp weather.

He answered Sheila’s defiant “Say it” with another icy blast:

“You poor child!” he said. “You were awful. I want you to close with
this stock company and take a good rest. You’re all frayed out. You
looked a hundred years old and you played like a hack-horse. That man
Eldon was the only one of you who played up to form. He’s a discovery.
Now I’m going back to town to see if I can get a real play for you, and
you run along home to your papa and mamma and see if you can’t get back
your youth. But don’t be discouraged.” Having absolutely crushed her, he
told her not to be discouraged.

When he had pointed out that the laurel crowns were really composed of
poison ivy he waved a cheerful good-by and hurried off to catch the
midnight train to New York.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila turned the eyes of utter wretchedness upon Vickery, in whose face
was the look of a stricken stag. They had planned to take supper
together, but she begged off. She felt that it was kinder.

Besides, Vickery would have to work all night. The stage director had
told him that he must cut at least an hour out of the manuscript before
the special rehearsal next morning. And the cuts must be made in chunks
because the company had to begin rehearsals at once of the next week’s
bill, an elaborate production of one of Mr. Cohan’s farces, in his
earlier manner.

As Sheila left the stage she met Eldon staring at her hungrily. Reben
had not spoken to him. Sheila had to tell him that the manager’s only
praise was for him. But he could get no pleasure from the bouquet
because it included rue for Sheila:

“He’s a liar. You were magnificent!” Eldon cried.

“Thank you, Floyd,” she sighed, and, smiling at grief like Patience,
shook her head sadly and went to her dressing-room. She was almost too
bankrupt of strength to take off her make-up. She worked drearily and
smearily in disgust, leaving patches of color here and there. Then she
slipped into a mackintosh and stumbled to the waiting carriage.

When she got to her room she let Pennock take off the mackintosh and her
shoes and stockings; she was asleep almost before she finished
whimpering her only prayer:

“O God, help me to quit the stage—forever. Amen!”

Pennock stared at her dismally and saw that even her slumber was shaken
with little sobs.



                              CHAPTER XXIV


Sheila was late at the rehearsal the next morning, and so dejected that
she hardly felt regret at hearing Vickery tell her how many of her
favorite scenes had to be omitted because they were not essential.
Vickery held command of the company with the plucky misery of a Napoleon
retreating from his Moscow.

When this rehearsal was over the director told Sheila that she need not
stay to rehearse the next week’s bill, since Reben had asked him to
release her from further work. He had telegraphed to New York for a
woman who had played the same part with great success, and received
answer that she would be able to step in without inconvenience. Sheila
was dolefully relieved. She felt that she could never have learned
another rôle. She felt almost grateful to Reben. “My brain has stopped,”
she told Pennock; “just stopped.”

The Tuesday afternoon matinée was always the worst of the week. The heat
was like a persecution. The actors played havoc with cues and lines, and
the suffocated audience was too indifferent to know or care.

After the performance Vickery was so lost to hope that he grew sardonic.
He said with a tormented smile:

“It’s a pity Reben didn’t stay over. If he had seen how badly this
performance went he would have sworn that the play would run a year on
his dear damned Broadway. I’m going to telegraph him so.”

Tuesday night the house was again poor, though better than at the
matinée. The company settled down into harness like draught-horses
beginning a long pull. The laughter was feeble and not focused. It was
indeed so scattered that the voice of one man was audible above the
rest.

Out of the silences or the low murmurs of laughter resounded the
gigantic roars of this single voice. People in the audience twisted
about to see who it was. The people on the stage were confused at first,
and later amused. They also made more or less concealed efforts to place
the fellow.

By and by the audience began to catch the contagion of his mirth. It
laughed first at his laughter, and then at the play. During the third
act the piece was going so well that it was impossible to pick out any
individual noise.

After the last curtain a number of townspeople went back on the stage to
tell Sheila how much they liked the play, and especially her work. They
had read the glowing criticisms in the morning and evening papers. They
had not heard what Reben had said of what Broadway would say. They would
not have cared. Broadway was suspect in Clinton.

These bouquets had the savor of artificial flowers to Sheila, but she
enacted the rôle of gratitude to the best of her ability. Back of the
knot surrounding her she saw Vickery standing with a towering big fellow
evidently waiting to be presented. Then she saw Eldon shaking hands with
the stranger.

Bret Winfield was suffering from stage-fright. He had met Vickery in New
York and had promised to run down to see his play, and incidentally to
square himself with the girl he had frightened. In the generally
disheveled state of brains that characterizes a playwright during
rehearsal, Vickery had neglected to tell Winfield that the company
contained also the man that Winfield had vowed to square himself with.

When, years before at Leroy, Eldon, as the taxicab-driver, had floated
Winfield over the footlights, he had worn a red wig and disguising
make-up. When Winfield saw him on the stage as a handsome youth
perfectly groomed, there was no resemblance. Eldon’s name was on the
program, but Winfield was one of those who pay little heed to programs,
prefaces, and title-pages. He was one of those who never know the names
of the authors, actors, composers, printers, and architects whose work
pleases them. They “know what they like,” but they never know who made
it.

As he waited to reach Sheila, Winfield noted Eldon standing in a little
knot of admirers of his own. He said to Vickery, with that elegance of
diction which has always distinguished collegians:

“That lad who played your hero is a great little actor, ’Gene. He’s
right there all the time. I’d like to slip it to him.”

Vickery absently led him to Eldon and introduced the two, swallowing
both names. The two powerful hands met in a warm clutch that threatened
to become a test of grip. Winfield poured out his homage:

“You’re certainly one actor, Mr.—er—er— You’ve got a sad, solemn way
of pulling your laughs that made me make a fool of myself.”

“You’re very kind to think so,” said Eldon, overjoyed to get such praise
from a man of such weight. And he crushed Winfield’s fingers with a
power that enhanced the layman’s respect still further. Winfield crushed
back with all his might as he repeated:

“Yes, sir. You’re sure some comedian, Mr.—Mr.—”

“Eldon,” said Eldon.

Winfield’s grip relaxed so unexpectedly that Eldon almost cracked a bone
or two before he could check his muscles. Winfield turned white and red
in streaks and said:

“Eldon? Your name’s Eldon?”

Eldon nodded.

“Are you the Eldon that knocked a fellow about my size about ten yards
for a touch-down across the footlights once?”

Eldon blushed to find his prowess fame, and said: “Yes. Once.”

“Well, I’m the fellow,” said Winfield, trying to call his ancient grudge
to the banquet. “I’ve been looking for you ever since. I promised myself
the pleasure of beating you up.”

Eldon laughed: “Well, here I am. I’ve been ashamed of it for a long
time. I took an unfair advantage of you.”

“Advantage nothing,” said Winfield. “I ought to have been on my guard.”

“Well,” Eldon suggested. “Suppose I stand down here on the apron of the
stage and let you have a whack at me. See if you can put me into the
orchestra chairs farther than I put you.”

Winfield sighed. “Hell! I can’t hit you now. I’ve shaken hands with you,
unbeknownst. I guess it’s all off. I couldn’t slug a man that made me
laugh so hard. Shake!”

He put out his hand and the enemies gripped a truce. Winfield was
laughing, but there was a bitterness in his laugh. He had been struck in
the face and he could not requite the debt.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Then Vickery called him to where Sheila, having rid herself of her
admirers, was making ready to leave the stage.

“Miss Kemble, I want to present my old friend, Mr. Bret Winfield. He’s
been dying to meet you again for a long while.”

“Again?” thought Sheila, but she said, as if to her oldest friend: “Oh,
I’m delighted! I haven’t seen you since—since— Chicago, wasn’t it?”

Vickery laughed and explained: “Guess again! You’ve met before, but you
were never introduced.”

Slowly Sheila understood. She stared up at Winfield and cried, “This
isn’t the man who—”

“I’m the little fellow,” said Winfield, enfolding her hand in a clasp
like a boxing-glove. “I scared you pretty badly, I’m afraid. But Vickery
tells me he told you my intentions were honorable. I’ve come to
apologize.”

“Oh, please don’t! I’m the one that ought to. I made an awful idiot of
myself; but, you see, I was afraid you were going to—to—well, kidnap
me.”

“I wish I could now!”

“Kidnap me?” Sheila gasped with a startled frown-smile, drawing her
brows down and her lips up.

He lowered his high head and his low voice to murmur, with an impudence
that did not offend her, “You’re too darned nice to waste your gifts on
the public.”

“Waste them!—on the public?” Sheila mocked. “And what ought I to do
with them, then?”

He spoke very earnestly. “Invest them in a nice quiet home. You oughtn’t
to be slaving away like this to amuse a good-for-nothing mob. You let
some big husky fellow do the work and build you a pretty home. Then you
just stay home and—and—bloom for him—like a rose on a porch. I tell
you if I had you I’d lock you up where the crowds couldn’t see you.”

Sheila put back her head and laughed at the utter ridiculousness of such
insolence. Then her laugh stopped short. The word “home” got her by the
throat. And the words “bloom just for him” brought sudden dew to her
eyes.

She had hurt Winfield by her laughter. Under the raillery of it he had
muttered a curt “Good night” without heeding her sudden softness.

He had rejoined Eldon and Vickery. Of the three tall men he was the
least gifted, the least spiritual. But he was the only one of the three,
the only one of all her admirers, who had not urged her forward on this
weary climb up the sun-beaten hill. He was the only one who had
suggested twilight and peace and home.

At any other time his counsel would have wakened her fiery dissent. Now
in her fatigue and her loneliness it soothed her like the occasional
uncanny wisdom of a fool.



                              CHAPTER XXV


That night Sheila went to bed to sleep out sleep. When Pennock asked, on
leaving her arranged for slumber, “Will you be called at the usual hour,
please?” Sheila answered, “I won’t be called at all, please!”

This privilege alone was like a title of gentility to a tired laundress.
There would be no rehearsal on the morrow for her.

The other galley-slaves in the company must still bend to the oar, but
she had shore leave of mornings, and after Saturday she was free
altogether.

Now that she had time to be tired, old aches and fatigues whose
consideration had had to be postponed came thronging upon her, till she
wondered how she had endured the toil. Still more she wondered why.

Then she wondered nothing at all for a good many hours, until the old
habit of being called awakened her. She glanced at her watch, saw that
it was half past ten, and flung out of bed, gasping, “They’ll be
rehearsing and I’m not there!”

Then she remembered her liberty, and stood feeling pleasantly foolish.
The joy of toppling back to bed was more than payment for the fright she
had suffered. It was glorious to float like a basking swimmer on the
surface of sleep, with little ripples of unconsciousness washing over
her face and little sunbeams of dream between.

In the half-awake moods she reviewed her ambitions with an indolent
contempt. That man Winfield’s words came back to her. After all, she had
no home except her father’s summer cottage. And she had been planning no
home except possibly another such place whither she would retire in the
late spring until the early fall, to rest from last season’s hotels and
recuperate for next season’s. Yes, that was just about the home life she
had sketched out!

It occurred to her now that her plans had been unhuman and unwomanly. “A
woman’s place is the home,” she said. It was not an original thought,
but it came to her with a sudden originality as sometimes lines she had
heard or had spoken dozens of times abruptly became real.

She wanted a pretty little house where she could busy herself with
pretty little tasks while her big, handsome husband was away earning a
pretty little provender for both of them. She would be a young
mother-bird haunting the nest, leaving the male bird to forage and
fight. That was the life desirable and appropriate. Women were not made
to work. An actress was an abnormal creature.

Sheila did not realize that the vast majority of home-keeping women must
work quite as hard as the actress, with no vacations, little income, and
less applause. The picture of the husband returning laughing to his
eager spouse was a decidedly idealized view of a condition more
unfailing in literature than in life. Some of those housewives who had
grown tired of their lot, as she of hers, would have told her that most
husbands return home weary and discontented, to listen with small
interest to their weary and discontented wives. And many husbands go out
again soon after they have come home again.

Sheila was doing what the average person does in criticizing the stage
life—magnifying its faults and contrasting it, not with the average
home, but with an ideal condition not often to be found, and less often
lasting when found.

Sheila had known so little of the average family existence that she
imagined it according to the romantic formula, “And so they were married
and lived happily ever afterward.” She thought that that would be very
nice. And she lolled at her ease, weltering in visions of cozy
domesticity with peace and a hearth and a noble American citizen and the
right number of perfectly fascinating children painlessly borne and
painlessly borne with.

Anything, anything would be better than this business of rehearsing and
rehearsing and squabbling and squabbling, and then settling down into a
dismal repetition of the same old nonsense in the same old theater or in
a succession of same old theaters.

How good it was, just not to have to learn a new play for next week! It
was good that there was no opportunity to rehearse any further revisions
even of poor Vickery’s play. There was almost a consolation in the
thought that it had not succeeded with Reben. Perhaps Reben would be a
long while discovering a substitute. Sheila hoped he would not find one
till the new year. She almost hoped he would never find one.

She was awfully sorry for poor Vickery. He had suffered so cruelly, and
she had suffered with him. Perhaps he would give up play-writing now and
take up some less inhuman trade. To think that she had once dallied with
the thought of marrying him! To play plays was bad enough, but to be the
wife of a playwright—no, thank you! Better be the gambler’s wife of a
less laborious gambler or the nurse to a moody lunatic under more
restraint.

Worse yet, Sheila had narrowly escaped falling in love with an actor!
They would have been Mr. and Mrs. Traveling Forever! Mr. and Mrs. Never
Rest! To live in hotels and railroad stations, sleeping-car berths, and
dressing-rooms of about the same size; to put on a lot of sticky stuff
and go out and parrot a few lines, then to retire and grease out the
paint, and stroll to a supper-room, and so to bed. To make an ambition
of that! No, thank you! Not on your _jamais de la vie_, never!

And thus having with a drowsy royalty effaced all her plans from her
books, she burned her books. Desdemona’s occupation was gone. She might
as well get up. She bathed and dressed and breakfasted with splendid
deliberation, and then, the day proving to be fine and sunny and cool
when she raised her tardy curtains, she decided to go forth for a walk,
the dignified saunter of a lady, and not the mad rush of a belated
actress. It wanted yet an hour before she must make up for the matinée.

She had not walked long when she heard her name called from a motor-car
checked at the curb. She turned to see Eugene Vickery waving his cap at
her. Bret Winfield, at the wheel, was bowing bareheaded. They invited
her to go with them for a ride. It struck her as a providential
provision of just what she would have wished for if she had thought of
it.

Vickery stepped down to open the door for her, and, helping her in,
stepped in after her. Winfield reached back his hand to clasp hers, and
Vickery said:

“Drive us about a bit, chauffeur.”

“Yes, sir!” said Winfield, touching his cap. And he lifted the car to a
lively gait.

“Where did you get the machine?” said Sheila.

“It’s his—Bret’s—Mr. Winfield’s,” said Vickery. “He came down in
it—to see that infernal play of mine. Do you know, I think I’ve
discovered one thing that’s the matter with it. In that scene in the
first act, you know, where—”

He rambled on with intense enthusiasm, but Sheila was thinking of the
man at the wheel. He was rich enough to own a car and clever enough to
run it. As she watched he guided it through a swarm of traffic with
skill and coolness.

Now and then Winfield threw a few words over his left shoulder. They had
nothing to do with things theatrical—just commonplace high spirits on a
fine day. Sheila did like him ever so much.

By and by he drew up to the curb and got down, motioning to Vickery with
the thumb of authority. “I’m tired of letting you monopolize Miss
Kemble, ’Gene. I’m going to ask her to sit up with me.”

“But I’m telling her about my play,” said Vickery. “Now, in the middle
of the last act—”

“If you don’t mind,” said Sheila, “I should like to ride awhile with Mr.
Winfield. The air’s better.”

Winfield opened the door for her, helped her down and in again, and
resumed his place.

“See how much better the car runs!” he said.

And to Sheila it seemed that it did run better. Their chatter ran about
as importantly as the engines, but it was cheerful and brisk.

Every man has his ailment, at least one. The only flaw in Winfield’s
powerful make-up was the astigmatism that compelled him to wear glasses.
Sheila rather liked them. They gave an intellectual touch to a face that
had no other of the sort. Besides, actor-people usually prefer a touch
of what they call “character” to what they call “a straight.”

Winfield told Sheila that his glasses had kept him from playing
football, but had not hampered his work in the ’varsity crew. He could
see as far as the spinal column of the oarsman in front of him, and that
was all he was supposed to see once the race began.

He explained that his glasses had fallen from his eyes when he stepped
on the stage at Leroy. That had been one reason why Eldon had got home
on him so easily.

Evidently this unpaid account was still troubling him.

“I hate to owe a man a dollar or a kindness or a blow,” he said. “I’ve
lost my chance to pay that man Eldon what was due, and I’ll never get
another chance. Our paths will never cross again, I’m afraid.”

“I hope not!” Sheila cried.

“Why?”

“Because you’re both such powerful men. He was a football-player, you
know.”

“Oh, was he?”

“Oh yes. And he keeps himself in trim. Most actors do. They never know
when they’ll have to appear bare-armed. And then they meet such awful
people sometimes.”

“Oh, do they? And you think he would whip me, eh?”

“Oh no. I don’t think either of you could whip the other. But it would
be terrible to have either of you hurt either of you.”

Winfield laughed, but all he said was, “You’re a mighty nice girl.”

She laughed, “Thanks.”

Then both looked about guiltily to see if Vickery were listening.
Nothing important had been said, but their hearts had been fencing, or
at least feinting, at a sort of flirtation.

Vickery was gone.

“For Heaven’s sake!” said Sheila.

“He probably dropped out when we stopped some time ago to let that wagon
pass.”

“I wonder why?” Sheila said, anxiously.

“Oh,” Winfield laughed, “’Gene’s such an omni—om—he reads so much he’s
probably read that two’s company and three’s a crowd.”

This was a trifle uncomfortable for Sheila, so she said, “What time is
it, please?”

“Half past one, or worse,” said Winfield, pointing with his toe to the
auto-clock. “That’s usually slow.”

“Good Lord! I ought to be in the shop this minute. Turn round and fly!”

They were far out in the country. Winfield looked regretfully at the
vista ahead. Turning round in a narrow road was a slow and maddening
process, and Sheila’s nerves grated like the clutch. Once faced
townward, they sped ferociously. She doubted if she would ever arrive
alive. There were swoops and skids and flights of chickens and narrow
escapes from the murder of dogs who charged ferociously and vanished in
a diminuendo of yelps.

There followed an exciting race with the voice of a motor-cycle coming
up from the rear. Winfield laughed it to scorn until Sheila, glancing
back, saw that it carried a policeman.

“He’s waving to us. Stop!”

“If I do we’ll never make it. I’ll put you in the theater on time if I
go to jail for life.”

“No, no; I won’t get you into trouble. Please stop. He looks like a nice
policeman. I’ll tell him you’re a doctor and I’m a trained nurse.”

Winfield slowed down, and the policeman came up, sputtering like his own
blunderbuss. Sheila tried to look like a trained nurse, but missed the
costume and the make-up. She began at once:

“Oh, please, Mr. Officer, it’s all my fault. You see, the doctor has a
dying patient, and I—I—”

“Why, it’s Sheila Ke— Miss Kemble! Ain’t you playin’ this afternoon?”

“Oh yes, it’s me—and I ought to be, but I was detained, and that’s
why—”

“Well, you better hurry up or you’ll keep folks waitin’. My wife’s there
this afternoon. I seen you myself last night.”

“Did you? Oh, thank you so much! Good-by!”

As Winfield’s car slid forward they heard the policeman’s voice: “Better
go kind o’ slow crossing Fifth Street. McGonigle is stricter ’n I am.”

Winfield was greatly impressed by the fame of his passenger. He carried
Calphurnia; no harm could come to him. They crossed Fifth Street at such
a pace that the car-tracks sent Sheila aloft. As she came down she
remembered Officer McGonigle. She saw that he or a vague film of him was
saluting her with admiring awe. The grinding toil of the stock actress
has its perquisites, after all.

She made Winfield let her out at the alley and ran with all her might.
Once more she was met at the stage door by the anxious Eldon. But now
she resented his presence. His solicitude resembled espionage. But it
was not he that had changed.

Pennock was in a furious mood and scolded Sheila roundly when she helped
her into her costume at a speed a fireman would have envied. As she made
up her face while Pennock concocted her hair, Sheila was studying some
new lines that Vickery had determined to try out that afternoon.

The performance went excellently well. Sheila was refreshed by her sleep
and the forced ventilation her soul had had. She dined with Vickery and
Winfield. Vickery was aflame with new ideas that had come to him in
Winfield’s car. He had dropped out, not to leave them alone, but to be
alone with his precious thoughts.

Sheila’s ambitions, however, were asleep. She was more interested in the
silent admiration of Winfield. The light on his glasses kept her from
seeing his eyes, but she felt that they were soft upon her, because his
voice was gentle when he spoke the few words he said.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It irritated Sheila to have to hurry back to the theater after dinner to
repeat again the afternoon’s repetition. The moon seemed to call down
the alley to her not to give herself to the garish ache of the calcium;
and the breeze had fingers twitching at her clothes and a voice that
sang, “Come walk with me.”

She played the play, but it irked her. When she left the theater at half
past eleven she found Winfield waiting, in his car. Vickery was walking
at her side, jabbering about his eternal revisions. Winfield offered to
carry them to their hotels. He saw to it that he reached Vickery’s
first. When they had dropped Jonah overboard Winfield asked Sheila to
take just a bit of the air for her health’s sake.

She hesitated only a moment. The need of a chaperon hardly occurred to
her. She had been living a life of independence for months. She had no
fear of Winfield or of anybody. Had she not overpowered the ferocious
Reben? She consented—for the sake of her health.



                              CHAPTER XXVI


There will always be two schools of preventive hygiene for women. One
would protect girls from themselves and their suitors by high walls,
ignorance, seclusion, and a guardian in attendance at every step. The
other would protect them by encouraging high ideals through knowledge,
self-respect, liberty, and industry.

Neither school ever succeeded altogether, or ever will. The fault of the
former is that what is forbidden becomes desirable; high walls are
scalable, ignorance dangerous, seclusion impossible, and guardians
either corruptible or careless.

The fault of the latter is that emotions alter ideals and subdue them to
their own color; that knowledge increases curiosity, self-respect may be
overpowered or undermined, and that liberty enlarges opportunity.

It always comes back to the individual occasion and the individual soul
in conflict with it. There has been much viciousness in harems and in
more sacred inclosures. And there has been much virtue in dual
solitudes, Liberty is not salvation, but at least it encourages
intelligence, it enforces responsibility, and it avoids the infinite
evils of tyranny. For that reason, while actresses and other women are
not always so good as they might be, they are not often so bad as they
might be.

Sheila, the actress, was put upon her mettle. She had no duenna to play
tricks upon. She had herself to take care of, her preciousness to waste
or cherish. Sometimes women respond to these encounters with singular
dignity: sometimes with singular indifference.

The town of Clinton was almost all asleep. The very houses seemed tucked
up in sheeted moonlight. And soon Sheila and her cavalier—or
engineer—were beyond the point where the streets were subtly changed to
roads. The last car on the suburban line growled and glittered past,
lurching noisily on its squealing rails. And then they were alone under
the moony vastitude of sky, with the dream-drenched earth revolving
around them in a huge, slow wheel.

The car purred with the contentment of a great house-cat and lapped up
the glimmering road like a stream of milk.

Sheila felt the spirit of the night, and felt that all the universe was
in tender rapport with itself. She felt as never before the grace of
love, the desire, the need of love. For years she had been exerting
herself for her ambition, and now her ambition was tired. The hour of
womanhood was striking, almost silently, yet as unmistakably as the
distant town clock that published midnight, so far away as to be less
overheard than felt in the slow throb of the air.

Bret Winfield’s response to the mood of the night was pagan. Sheila was
a mighty nice girl and darned pretty and she had consented to take a
midnight spin with him. But many darned pretty girls had done the same.
A six-cylinder motor-car is a very winsome form of invitation.

In place of inviting a young man to a cozy corner in a parlor or a
hammock on a piazza, the enterprising maiden of the day accepts his
invitation—and seats herself in a flying hammock. Seclusion is secured
and concealment attained by way of velocity.

A wonderful change had taken place in the world of lovers in the last
ten years. For thousands of years before—ever since, indeed, the first
man invented the taming of the first horse and took his cave-girl
buggy-riding on a pair of poles or in a square-wheeled cart—lovers had
been kept to about the same pace. Suddenly they were given a buggy that
can go sixty miles an hour or better; so fast, indeed, that it is veiled
in its own speed and its own dust. Even the naughty gods and the
goddesses of Homer never knew any concealment like it.

Winfield was an average young man who had known average young women
averagely well. He had found that demoiselles either would not motor
with him at all or, motoring with him, expected to be paid certain
gallant attentions. He always tried to live up to their expectations.
They might struggle, but never fiercely enough to endanger the
steering-wheel. They might protest, but never loudly enough to drown the
engine.

Such was his experience with the laity. Sheila was his first actress,
not including a few encounters with those camp-followers of the theater
who are only accepted as “actresses” when they are arrested, and who
have as much right to the name as washwomen for a convent have the right
to be called “nuns,” when they drink too much.

But Winfield had reasoned that if the generality of pretty girls who
motored with men were prepared for dalliance, by so much more would an
actress be. Consequently, when he reached a hilltop where there was a
good excuse for pausing to admire the view of a moon-plated river laid
along a dark valley, he shut off the power and slid his left arm back of
Sheila.

She sat forward promptly and his heart began to chug.

Making love is an old and foolish game, but strangely exciting at the
time. Winfield was more afraid to withdraw his arm than to complete the
embrace.

Sheila’s heart was spinning, too. She had thrilled to the love-croon of
the night. The landscape before her and beneath her seemed to be filled
with dreams. But she was in love with love and not with Bret Winfield.

When she recognized that he was about to begin to initiate her by a
familiar form of amorous hazing into the ancient society whose emblem is
a spoon, she abruptly decided that she did not want to belong. Winfield
became abruptly more of a stranger than ever.

Sheila did not want to hate this nice young man. She did not want to
quarrel with her chauffeur so far from home at so compromising an hour.
She did not want to wreck the heavenly night with idiotic combat. She
hated the insincerity and perfunctoriness that must be the effect of any
protest. She was actress enough to realize that the lines the situation
required of her had long ago lost their effectiveness and their very
sincerity.

But she did not want to be hugged. She loathed the thought of being
touched by this man’s arm. She felt herself as precious and her body as
holy as the lofty emotion of the night. Still, how could she protest
till he gave her cause? He gave her cause.

Her very shoulder-blades winced as she felt Winfield’s arm close about
her; she shivered as his big hand folded over her shoulder.

Sheila groped for appropriate words. Winfield’s big handsome face with
the two dim lenses over his eyes was brought nearer and nearer to her
cheek. Then, without giving him even the help of resistance, she
inquired, quite casually:

“Is it true that they can send you to the penitentiary if you hit a man
in the face when he’s wearing glasses?”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila was as astounded as Winfield was at this most unexpected query.
His lips paused at her very cheek to stammer:

“I don’t know. But why? What about it?”

“Because if it is true I want you either to take your arm away or take
your glasses off.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. All you have to understand is that I don’t want your
arm around me. I’d rather go to the penitentiary than have you kiss me.”

“For the Lord’s sake!” Winfield gasped, relaxing his clutch.

Sheila went on with that sarcasm which is cold poison to romance: “I
don’t blame you for attempting it. I know it’s the usual thing on such
occasions. But I don’t like it, and that ought to be enough.”

Winfield sighed with shame and regret. “It’s quite enough! I beg your
pardon very humbly. Shall we turn back now?”

“If you please.”

The very engine seemed to groan as Winfield started it up again. It
clucked reprovingly, “Ts! ts! ts!”

Winfield was more angry than sorry. He had made a fool of himself and
she had made another fool of him. He was young enough to grumble a
little, “Are you in love with that man Eldon?”

“He’s very nice.”

“You love him, then?”

“Not at all.”

“Well, then, if you keep me at such a distance, why do you—how can you
let him put his arms round you and kiss you twice a day before
everybody?”

“He gets paid for it, and so do I.”

“That makes it worse.”

“You think so? Well, I don’t. Actors are like doctors. They have special
privileges to do things that would be very wrong for other people.”

Winfield laughed this to scorn. Sheila was furious.

“If there weren’t any actors there wouldn’t be any Shakespeare or any of
the great plays. Doctors save people from death and disease. Actors save
millions from melancholy and from loneliness, and teach them sympathy
and understanding. So it is perfectly proper for an actress to be kissed
and hugged on the stage. Acting is the noblest profession in the world,
the humanest and the most fascinating. And a woman can do just as much
good and be just as good on the stage as she can anywhere else. If you
don’t think so, then you have no right to speak to an actress. And I
don’t want you to speak to me again—ever! for you come with an insult
in your heart. You despise me and I despise you.”

Winfield was in a panic. He had sought this girl out to square himself
with her, and he had wounded her deeper than before.

“Oh, please, Miss Kemble, I beg you!” he pleaded. “I don’t blame you for
despising me, but I don’t despise you. I think you are wonderful. I’m
simply crazy about you. I never saw a girl I—I liked so much. I didn’t
mean anything wrong, and I wouldn’t hurt you for the world. I just
thought—”

Sheila felt a little relentment. “I know what you thought, and I suppose
I oughtn’t to blame you. Actresses ought to get used to being
misunderstood, just as trained nurses are. But I hoped you were
different. I know I am. I’ve had so much stage loving that it doesn’t
mean anything to me. When I get the real I want it to be twice as real
as it would have to be for anybody else. Just because I pretend so much
I’d have to be awfully in love to love at all.”

“Haven’t you ever loved anybody?” Winfield asked, quite inanely.

She shook her head and answered, with a foolish solemnity. “I thought I
was going to, once or twice, but I never did.”

“That’s just like me. I’ve never really loved anybody, either.”

There was such unqualified juvenility in their words that they
recognized it themselves. Sheila could not help laughing. He laughed,
too, like a cub.

Then Sheila said, with the earnestness of a child playing doll’s house:
“You’re too young to love anybody, and I haven’t time yet. I’ve got much
too much work ahead of me to waste any time on love.”

“I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, too,” said Winfield.

“You have?” said Sheila. “What is your work—doctor, lawyer, merchant,
chief?”

She was surprised to realize that she had come to know this man pretty
well before she knew anything at all about him. She was discussing
Winfield’s future before she had heard of his past. Vickery’s
introduction had been his only credentials, his only history. And yet
she had already rested briefly in his arms. She was surprised further
when he said:

“I’m a— That is, my father is— We are Winfield’s Scales.”

She took this so blankly that he gasped, “Good heavens! didn’t you ever
hear of Winfield’s Scales?”

“I never did,” said Sheila.

“I’ll bet you were weighed in one of ’em when you were born.”

“I couldn’t read when I was born,” said Sheila.

“And you’ve never heard of them since?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

Winfield shook his head amiably over her childlike ignorance. But then,
what information could one expect of theatrical people? He went on:

“Well, anyway, my father is one of the biggest manufacturers of scales
and weighing-machines and such things that there is. He’s about the only
independent one left out of the trust. Haven’t you heard of the
tremendous fight we’ve been putting up?”

Sheila was less interested in the war than in the soldier.

“We?” she said.

“Well, I’m not in the firm yet, but my father expects me to step in
right away, so that he can step out. He’s not very well. That makes him
rather cranky. He didn’t want me to come down here, but I wanted to see
Vickery’s play and square myself with you. And I’ve made a mess of
that.”

“Oh no! we’re square now, I fancy,” said Sheila.

“Then I ought to be at home,” he sighed.

“Instead of sowing wild oats with actresses,” said Sheila.

“These oats are not very wild,” Winfield grumbled, not quite cured of
regret.

“Rather tame, eh?” Sheila laughed. “Well, you’ll find that most
actresses are. We’re such harness-broken, heart-broken hacks, most of
us, there’s not much excitement left in us. So you’re to be a scale
manufacturer. You’re awfully rich, I suppose.”

“When the market’s good, Dad makes a pile of money. When it’s bad—whew!
And it’s expensive fighting the trust.”

“Is it anything like the theatrical trust?”

“Is there a theatrical trust?”

“Good heavens! Haven’t you read about the war?”

“Was there a war?”

“For years. Millions of dollars were involved.”

“Is that so?”

“Why, yes! and Reben was right in the thick of it. Both sides were
trying to get him in.”

“Who’s Reben?” said Winfield. “What does he manufacture?”

Sheila laughed, shocked at his boundless ignorance. It was like asking,
“What does St. Peter do for a living?”

“You don’t know much about the theater, do you?”

“No,” he laughed, “and you don’t know much about weighing-machines.”

“No.”

“Neither do I. I’ve got to learn.”

“Then you’d better be hurrying home. I wouldn’t for worlds interfere
with your career.”

She felt quite grandmotherly as she said it. She did not look it,
though, and as he stole a glance at her beauty, all demure and moonlike
in the moon, he sighed: “But I can’t bear to leave you just as I’m
beginning to—” he wanted to say “to love you,” but he had not prepared
for the word, so he said, “to get acquainted with you.”

She understood his unspoken phrase and it saddened her. But she
continued to be very old and extremely sage. “It’s too bad; but we’ll
meet again, perhaps.”

“That’s so, I suppose. Well, all right, we’ll be sensible.”

And so, like two extremely good children, they put away temptation and
closed the door of the jam-closet. Who can be solemner than youth at
this frivolous age? What can solemnize solemnity like putting off till
to-morrow the temptation of to-day?

The moment Sheila and Winfield sealed up love in a preserve-jar and
labeled it, “Not to be opened till Christmas,” and shelved it, that love
became unutterably desirable.

Nothing that they could have resolved, nothing that any one else could
have advised them, could have mutually endeared them so instantly and so
pathetically as their earnest decision that they must not let themselves
grow dear to each other.

They finished their ride back in silence, leaving behind them a moon
that seemed to drag at their flying shoulders with silver
grappling-hooks. The air was humming forbidden music in their ears and
the locked-up houses seemed to order them to remain abroad.

But he drew up at her little apartment-hotel and took her to the door,
where a sleepy night-clerk-plus-elevator-boy opened the locked door for
her and went back to sleep.

Sheila and Winfield defied the counsel of the night by primly shaking
hands. Sheila spoke as if she were leaving a formal reception.

“Thank you ever so much for the lovely ride. And—er— Well, good
night—or, rather good-by, for I suppose you’ll be leaving to-morrow.”

“I ought to,” he groaned, dubiously. “Good night! Good-by!”

He climbed in, waved his hat to her, and she her gloves at him. Far down
the street he turned again to stare back and to wave farewell again. He
could not see her, but she was there, mystically sorrowing at the lost
opportunity of happiness, the unheeded advice of nature—in the mood of
Paul Bourget’s elegy as Debussy set it to music:

    “_Un conseil d’être heureux semble sortir des choses_
     _Et monter vers le cœur troublé,_
     _Un conseil de goûter le charme d’être au monde_
     _Cependant qu’on est jeune et que le soir est beau;_
     _Car nous nous en allons, comme s’en va cette onde—_
     _Elle à la mer, nous au tombeau._”



                             CHAPTER XXVII


Winfield had said, “I ought to!” It is strange that we always say “I
ought to” with skepticism, wondering both “Shall I?” and “Will I?” If
our selves are our real gods, we are all agnostics.

The next morning Sheila woke with less than her yester joy. Leisure was
not so much a luxury and more of a bore. Not that she felt regret for
the lack of rehearsals. She was not interested in plays, but in the raw
material of plays, and she was not so proud of her noble renunciation of
Bret Winfield as she had been.

To fight off her new loneliness she decided to go shopping. When men are
restless they go to clubs or billiard-parlors or saloons. Women go
prowling through the shops. The Clinton shops were as unpromising to
Sheila as a man’s club in summer. But there was no other way to kill
time.

As she set out she saw Bret Winfield’s car loafing in front of her
hotel. He was sitting in it. The faces of both showed a somewhat dim
surprise. Sheila quickened her steps to the curb, where he hastened to
alight.

“You didn’t go,” she said, brilliantly.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I—I couldn’t.”

“Why?”

“Well, I didn’t sleep a wink last night, and—”

“I didn’t close my eyes, either.”

It was a perfectly sincere statement on both sides and perfectly untrue
in both cases. Both had slept enviably most of the time they thought
they were awake. Sheila tried to make conversation:

“What was on your mind?”

“You!”

His words filled her with delicious fright. On the lofty hill under the
low-hanging moon he had scared love off by attempted caresses. With one
word he brought love back in a rose-clouded mantle that gave their
communion a solitude there on the noisy street with the cars brawling by
and the crowds passing and peering, people nudging and whispering:
“That’s her! That’s Sheila Kemble! Ain’t she pretty? She’s just grand in
the new show! Saw it yet?”

They stood in gawky speechlessness till he said, “Which way you going?”

“I have some shopping to do.”

“Oh! Too bad. I was going to ask you to take a little spin.”

They span.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Winfield did not leave Clinton till the week was gone and Sheila with
it. They were together constantly, making little efforts at concealment
that attracted all manner of attention in the whole jealous town.

Vickery and Eldon were not the least alive to Winfield’s incursion into
Sheila’s thoughts. Both regarded it as nothing less than a barbaric
danger. Both felt that Winfield, for all his good qualities, was a
Philistine. They knew that he had little interest in the stage as an
institution, and no reverence for it. It was to him an amusement at
best, and a scandal at worst.

But to Vickery the theater was the loftiest form of literary
publication, and to Eldon it was the noblest forum of human debate. To
both of them Sheila was as a high priestess at an altar. They felt that
Winfield wanted to lure her or drag her away from the temple to an
old-fashioned home where her individuality would be merged in her
husband’s manufacturing interests, and her histrionism would be confined
to an audience of one, or to the entertainment of her own children.

This feeling was entirely apart from the love that both of them felt for
Sheila the woman. Each was sure in his heart that his own love for
Sheila was far the greatest of the three loves.

Vickery forgot even his own vain struggles to make the heroine of his
play behave, in his eagerness to save Sheila from ruining the dramatic
unity of her life by interpolating a commercial marriage as the third
act. He found a chance to speak to her one afternoon just before the
second curtain rose. He was as excited as if he had been making a
curtain speech and nearly as awkward:

“Sheila,” he hemmed and hawed, “I want to speak to you very frankly
about Bret. Of course, he’s a splendid fellow and a friend I’m very fond
of, but if he goes and makes you fall in love with him I’ll break his
head.”

“He’s bigger than you are,” Sheila laughed.

“Yes,” Vickery admitted, “but there are clubs that are harder than even
his hard head. If he takes you off the stage I’ll never forgive myself
for introducing him to you. I’ll never forgive him, either—or you. In
Heaven’s name, Sheila, don’t let him take you off the stage. I’ve heard
of hitching your wagon to a star, but this would be hitching a star to a
wagon. I can’t ask you to marry me for the Lord knows how long; even
assuming that you would consider me if I had a million instead of being
a penniless playwright; but I at least would try to help you on in your
career. I’d rather you wouldn’t marry either of us than marry him.”

Sheila chuckled luxuriously: “Don’t you lose any sleep over me, Vick. In
the first place, Mr. Winfield has never even suggested that I should
marry him.”

Which was fact.

“In the second place, if he did I should decline him with thanks.”

Which was prophecy.

Vickery was so relieved that he returned to the discussion of his play.
He promised to have it ready for fall rehearsals. Sheila assured him
that she would be ready whenever the play was. Then her cue came and she
walked into her laboratory, while Vickery hastened out front to study
the effect of his new lines on the audience.

When Sheila issued from her dressing-room for the third act, in which
she did not appear for some time after the curtain was up, she found
Eldon waiting for her. He was suffering as from stage-fright, and he
delivered the lines he had been rehearsing in his dressing-room nearly
as badly as the lines he had forgotten the night he played the farmer
with the dark lantern. The substance of what he jumbled was this:

“Sheila, I want to speak very frankly to you. Don’t take it for mere
jealousy, though you have hardly looked at me since Mr. Vickery and the
Winfield fellow struck town. I don’t Suppose you care for me any more,
but I beg you not to let anybody take you off the stage. You belong. You
have the God-given gifts. Your success proves where your duty to
yourself lies.

“If you can’t marry me and you must marry some one, marry our author. It
would break my heart, but I’d rather he’d have you than anybody but me,
for he’d keep you where you belong, anyway. I suppose this Winfield has
some extraordinary charms for you. He seems a nice enough fellow and
he’ll come into a heap of money. But if I thought there was any danger
of his carrying you off, I’d knock him so far out of the theater that
he’d never—”

Sheila was bristling up to say that two could play at the same game, but
Eldon had heard his signal for entrance, and, leaving his gloomy
earnestness in the wings, he breezed on to the stage with all imaginable
flippancy. He came off just as gaily a little later, only to resume his
sobriety and his speech the moment he passed the side-line:

“As I was saying, Sheila, I implore you not to ruin your life by
marrying that man.”

Sheila had many things to say, but her actress self had heard the
approach of her cue, and she spoke hastily: “You are worrying yourself
needlessly, Floyd. In the first place, Mr. Winfield has never even
suggested that I should marry him; in the second place, if he did, I’d
decline with—”

And then she slipped into the scene and became the creature of Vickery’s
fancy.

On Saturday night the house-manager gave a farewell supper to Sheila on
the stage and naturally failed to include Winfield in the invitations.
He sulked about the somnolent town in a dreadful fit of loneliness, but
he could not get a word with Sheila. Sheila, now that she was leaving
the company, felt a mingling of fondness for the shabby old stage and
the workaday troupe and of happiness at being pardoned out of the
penitentiary.

On the morrow Winfield asked her by telephone if he might take her to
the train in his car. She consented. She was late getting ready, and he
had to go at high speed, with no chance for farewell conversation. As
they reached the station his agony at leaving her wrenched from him a
desperate plea:

“Won’t you kiss me Good-by?”

In the daylight, among the unromantic hacks, she laughed at the thought:

“Kiss you _Good-by_? Why, I haven’t kissed you _How-d’-do?_ yet!”



                             CHAPTER XXVIII


When Sheila reached the home of her father and mother she spent her
first few days renewing her kinship with them. They seemed older to her,
but they had not aged as she had. They had been through just one more
season. She had passed through an epoch.

They found her mightily changed. They were proud of her. They could see
that she had taken good care of her body. They knew that she had
succeeded in her art. They wondered what she had done with her soul.
They had reached that thrilling, horribly anxious state of parentage
when the girl child is grown to a woman and when every step is
dangerous. Authority is ended; advice is untranslatable, and the parents
become only spectators at a play whose star they have provided but whose
cast they cannot select.

Sheila was not troubled about these things. Her chief excitement was in
the luxury of having her afternoons to herself and every evening free.
She was like a night-watchman on a vacation. It was wonderful to be her
own mistress from twilight to midnight. She had no make-up to put on
except for the eyes of the sun. There were no footlights. The only need
for attention to her skin was to fight off sunburn and the attacks of
the surf in which she spent hours upon hours.

The business of her neighbors and herself was improvising hilarities:
the sea, the motors, saddle-horses, tennis, golf, watching polo-games,
horse-races, airship-races, all the summer industries of Long Island.

The Kembles had a wide and easy acquaintance with the aristocracy. Roger
and Polly forgot, if the others did not, that they were stage folk. They
enjoyed the elegancies of life and knew how to be familiar without being
vulgar. Sheila inherited their acquaintance and had been bred to their
graces.

Young women and old of social importance made the girl one of their
intimates. Any number of more or less nice young plutocrats offered to
lead her along the primrose path as far as she would go. But she
compelled respect, perhaps with a little extra severity for the sake of
her maligned profession. Before many days she would have to return to
it, but she was in no hurry.

One morning in the sun-flailed surf she grew weary of the jigging crowd
of rope-dancers. Seeing that one of the floats was empty, she swam out
to it. It was more of a journey than she thought, for we judge distances
as walkers, not as swimmers. She climbed aboard with difficulty and
rested, staring out to sea, the boundless sea where big waves came
bowing in, nodding their white feathers.

She heard some one else swimming up, but did not look around. She did
not want to talk to any of the men she had swum away from. She felt the
float tilt as whoever it was sprang from the water and seated himself,
dripping. Then she heard a voice with all the morning in it:

“Good morning!”

“Bret Winfield!” she cried, as she whirled on one hip like a mermaid.

“Sheila Kemble!” he laughed.

“What on earth are you doing here?”

“I’m not on earth; I’m alone in midocean with you.”

“But what brought you? Where did you come from?”

“Home. I just couldn’t stand it.”

“Stand what?”

“Being away from you.”

“Good heavens!”

“It’s been the other place to me.”

“Really?”

“I told Dad I needed a rest; that something was the matter with my mind.
He admitted that, but blamed it to lack of use. Then I ducked. I shipped
my car to New York, and flew down the Motor Parkway to here. Got here
yesterday. Been hanging round, trying to find you alone. Swell chance!
There’s a swarm after you all the time, isn’t there?”

“Is there?”

“Last night I saw you dancing at the hotel with every Tom, Dick, and
Harry. I hoped you’d come out and sit on the piazza so that I could
sandbag the man and carry you off. But you didn’t.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t care to be alone with any of them.”

“Lord bless your sweet soul! Were you thinking of me?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Are you glad to see me?”

“Oh yes. The more the merrier.”

This impudence brought his high hopes down. But they soared again when
she said, with charming inconsistency:

“Dog-on it! here comes somebody!”

A fat man who somewhat resembled the globular figures cartoonists use to
represent the world, wallowed out, splashing like a side-wheel
raft-boat. He tried to climb aboard, but his equator was too wide for
his short arms, and neither Sheila nor Winfield offered to lend him a
hand. He gave up and propelled himself back to shore with the grace of a
bell-buoy.

“Good-by, old flotsam and jetsam,” said Winfield.

Sheila could not but note the difference between the other man and
Winfield. There was every opportunity for observation in both cases.
Each inly acknowledged that the other was perfection physically. Each
wished to be able to observe the other’s soul in equal completeness of
display. But that power was denied them.

It would have served them little to know each other’s souls, since
happiness in love is not a question of individual perfections, but of
their combination and what results from it. Fire and water are excellent
in their place, but brought together, the result is familiar—either the
water changes the flame to sodden ashes, or the flame changes the water
to steam. Both lose their qualities, change unrecognizably.

In any case, Winfield courted Sheila with all the impetuous stubbornness
of his nature. He had no visible rivals to fight, but the affair was not
denied the added charm of danger.

One blistering day, when all of the populace that could slid off the hot
land into the water like half-baked amphibians, Sheila and Winfield
plunged into the nearest fringe of surf. The beach was like Broadway
when the matinées let out. They swam to the float. It was as crowded as
a seal-rock with sirens, sea-leopards, sea-cows, walruses, dugongs, and
manatees. There was no room for Sheila till an obliging faun gallantly
offered her his seat and dived from the raft more graciously than
gracefully, for he smacked the water flatly in what is known as a
belly-buster or otherwise. He nearly swamped her in his back-wash.

She felt a longing for the outer solitudes and, when she had rested and
breathed a few times, she struck out for the open sea beyond the ropes.
Winfield followed her gaily and they reveled in the life of mer-man and
mer-girl till suddenly she realized that she was tired.

Forgetting where she was, she attempted to stand up. She thrust her feet
down into a void. There is hardly a more hideous sensation, or a more
terrifying, for an inexpert swimmer. She went under with a gasp and came
up choking.

Winfield was just diving into a big wave and did not see her. The same
wave caught Sheila by the back of her head and held her face down, then
swept on, leaving her strangling and smitten into a panic. She struck
out for shore with all awkwardness, as if robbed of experience with the
water.

Winfield turned to her, and sang, “A life on the bounding waves for me.”
An ugly, snarling breaker whelmed her again, and a third found her
unready and cowering before its toppling wall. She called Winfield by
his first name for the first time:

“Bret, I can’t get back.”

He crept to her side with all his speed, and spoke soothing words: “You
poor child! of course you can.”

“I—I’m afraid.”

A massive green billow flung on her a crest like a cartload of
paving-stones, and sent her spinning, bewildered. Winfield just heard
her moan:

“I give up.”

He clutched her sleeve as she drooped under the petty wave that
succeeded. He tried to remember what the books and articles said, but he
had never saved anybody and he was only an ordinary swimmer himself.

He swam on his side, reaching out with one hand and dragging her with
the other. But helplessly he kicked her delicate body and she floated
face downward. He turned on his back and, suddenly remembering the
instructions, put his hands in her armpits and lifted her head above all
but the ripple-froth, propelling himself with his feet alone.

But his progress was dismally slow, and he could not see where he was
going. The laughter of the bathers and their shrieks as the breakers
charged in among them grew fainter. A longshore current was haling them
away from the crowds. The life-savers were busy hoisting a big woman
into their boat and everybody was watching the rescue. Nobody had missed
Sheila. Her own father and mother were whooping like youngsters in the
surf.

Winfield twisted his head and tried to make out his course, but his dim
eyes could not see so far without the glasses he had left at the
boat-house; and the light on the water was blinding.

He was tired and dismayed. He rested for a while, then struck out till
he must rest again. At last he spoke to her: “Sheila.”

“Yes, dear.”

“You’ll have to help me. I can’t see far enough.”

“You poor boy!” she cried. “Tell me what to do.”

“Can you put your hands on my shoulders, and tell me which way to swim?
I’m all turned round.”

He drew her to him, and revolved her and set her hands on his shoulders,
then turned his back to her, and swam with all-fours. She floated out
above him like a mantle, and, holding her head high, directed him. She
was his eyes, and he was her limbs, and thus curiously twinned they
fought their way through the alien element.

The sea seemed to want them for its own. It attacked them with waves
that went over them with the roar of railroad trains. Beneath, the icy
undertow gripped at his feet. His lungs hurt him so that he felt that
death would be a lesser ache than breathing.

Sheila’s weight, for all the lightness the water gave it, threatened to
drown them both. But her words were full of help. In his behalf she put
into her voice more cheer than she found in her heart. The shore seemed
rather to recede than to approach.

Now and then she would call aloud for help, but the salt-water had
weakened her throat and there was always some new sensation ashore.

At length, Winfield could hear the crash of the breakers and at length
Sheila was telling him that they were almost in. Again and again he
stabbed downward for a footing and found none. Eventually, however, he
felt the blessed foundation of the world beneath him and, turning,
caught Sheila about the waist and thrust her forward till she too could
stand.

The beach was bad where they landed and the baffled waters dragged at
their trembling legs like ropes, but they made onward to the dry sand.
They fell down, panting, aghast, and stared at the innocent sea, where
joyous billows came in like young men running with their hands aloft.
Far to their deft the mob shrieked and cavorted. Farther away to their
right the next colony of maniacs cavorted and shrieked.

When breathing was less like swallowing swords they looked at each
other, smiled with sickly lips, and clasped cold, shriveled hands.

“Well,” said Sheila, “you saved my life, didn’t you?”

“No,” he answered; “you saved mine.”

She gave him a pale-blue smile and, as the chill seized her, she spoke,
with teeth knocking together, “We s-saved dea-dea chother.”

“Ye-yes,” he ch-chattered, “so w-we bu-bu-bu-bulong to wea-weachother.”

“All r-r-right-t-t-t.”

That was his proposal and her acceptance. They rose and clasped hands
and ran for the bath-house, while agues of rapture made scroll-work of
their outlines. They had escaped from dying together, but they were not
to escape from living together.



                              CHAPTER XXIX


The betrothed couple had no opportunity to seal the engagement with the
usual ceremonies. When they met again, fully clothed, she was so late to
her luncheon that she had to fly.

Already, after their high tragedy and their rosy romance, the little
things of existence were asserting their importance. That afternoon
Sheila had an engagement that she could not get out of, and a dinner
afterward. She had booked these dates without dreaming of what was to
happen.

It was not till late in the evening that Sheila could steal away to
Winfield, who stole across the lawn to her piazza by appointment.

The scene was perfectly set. An appropriate moon was in her place. The
breeze was exquisitely aromatic. Winfield was in summer costume of
dinner-suit and straw hat. Sheila was in a light evening gown with no
hat.

They cast hasty glances about, against witnesses, and then he flung his
arms around her, and she flung hers around him. He crushed her as
fiercely as he dared, and she him as fiercely as she could. Their lips
met in the great kiss of betrothal.

She was happy beyond endurance. She was in love and her beloved loved
her.

All the Sheilas there were in her soul agreed for once that she was
happy to the final degree, contented beyond belief, imparadised on
earth. The Sheilas voted unanimously that love was life; love was the
greatest thing in the world; that woman’s place was with her lover, that
a woman’s forum was the home; and that any career outside the walls was
a plaything to be put away and forgotten like a hobby-horse outgrown.

As for her stage career—pouf! into the attic with it where her little
tin house and the tiny tin kitchen and her knitted bear and the glueless
dolls reposed. She was going to have a real house and real children and
real life.

While she was consigning her ambitions to the old trunk up-stairs,
Winfield was refurbishing his ambitions. He was going to do work enough
for two, be ambitious for both and make Sheila the proudest wife of the
busiest husband in the husband business.

But these great resolutions were mainly roaring in the back parlors of
their brains. On the piazzas of their lips were words of lovers’
nonsense. There is no use quoting them. They would sound silly even to
those who have used them themselves.

They sounded worse than that to Roger and Polly, who heard them all.

Roger and Polly had come home from dancing half an hour before, and had
dropped into chairs in the living-room. The moon on the sea was
dazzling. They watched it through the screens that strained the larger
mosquitoes, then they put out the lights because the view was better and
because enough mosquitoes were already in the house.

The conversation of the surf had made all the necessary language and
Roger and Polly sat in the tacit comfort of long-married couples. They
had heard Sheila brought home by a young man whom she dismissed with
brevity. Before they found energy to call to her, another young man had
hurried across the grass. To their intense amazement he leaped at Sheila
and she did not scream. Both merged into one silhouette.

Polly and Roger were aghast, but they dared not speak. They did not even
know who the man was. Sheila called him by no name to identify him,
though she called him by any number of names of intense saccharinity.

At length Roger’s voice came through the gloom, as gentle as a shaft of
moonlight made audible: “Oh, Sheila.”

The silhouette was snipped in two as if by scissors.

“Ye-yes, dodther.” She had tried to say “Daddy” and “father” at the same
time.

Roger’s voice went on in its drawing-roomest drawl: “I know that it is
very bad play-writing to have anybody overhear anybody, but your mother
and I got home first, and your dialogue is—well, really, a little of it
goes a great way, and we’d like to know the name of your leading man.”

Winfield and Sheila both wished that they had drowned that morning. But
there was no escape from making their entrance into the living-room,
where Roger turned on the lights. All eyes blinked, rather with
confusion than the electric display.

The elder Kembles had met Winfield before, but had not suspected him as
a son-in-law-to-be. Sheila explained the situation and laid heavy stress
on how Winfield had rescued her from drowning. She rather gave the
impression that she had fallen off a liner two days out and that he had
jumped overboard and carried her to safety single-handed.

Winfield tried to disclaim the glory, but he managed to gulp up a
proposal in phrases he had read somewhere.

“I came to ask you for your daughter’s hand.”

“It looked to me as if you had both of them around your neck,” Roger
sighed. Then he cleared his throat and said: “What do you say, Polly? Do
we give our consent?—not that it makes any difference.”

Polly sighed. “Sheila’s happiness is the only thing to consider.”

“Ah, Sheila’s happiness!” Roger groaned. “That’s a large order. I
suppose she has told you, Mr. Wyndham, that she is an actress—or is
trying to be?”

“Oh yes, sir,” Winfield answered, feeling like a butler asking for a
position. “I fell in love with her on the stage.”

“Ah, so you are an actor, too.”

“Oh no, sir! I’m a manufacturer, or I expect to be.”

“And is your factory one that can be carried around with you, or does
Sheila intend—”

                 “Oh, { I’m } going to leave the stage.”
                      {she’s}

“Hum!” said Roger. “When?”

“Right away, I hope,” said Winfield.

“I’m off the stage now,” said Sheila. “I’ll just not go back.”

“I see,” said Roger, while Polly stared from her idolized child to the
terrifying stranger, and wrung her hands before the appalling explosion
of this dynamite in the quiet evening.

“Well, mummsy,” Sheila cried, taking her mother in her arms, “why don’t
you say something?”

“I—I don’t know what to say,” Polly whimpered.

Roger’s uneasy eyes were attracted by the living-room table, where there
was a comfortable clutter of novels and magazines. A copy of _The
Munsey_ was lying there; it was open, face down. Roger picked it up and
offered the open book to Sheila.

She and Winfield looked down at a full-page portrait of Sheila.

“Had you seen this, Mr.—Mr.—Wingate, is it? It’s a forecast of the
coming season and it says—it says—” He produced his eye-glasses and
read:

    “‘The most interesting announcement among the Reben plans is the
    statement that Sheila Kemble is to be promoted to stellar honors
    in a new play written especially for her. While we deplore the
    custom of rushing half-baked young beauties into the electric
    letters, an exception must be made in the case of this rising
    young artist. She has not only revealed extraordinary
    accomplishments and won for herself a great following of
    admirers throughout the country, but she has also enjoyed a
    double heritage in the gifts of her distinguished forebears, who
    are no less personages than’—et cetera, et cetera.”

Sheila and Winfield stared at the page from which Sheila’s public image
beamed quizzically at herself and at the youth who aspired to rob her
“great following” of their darling.

“What about that?” said Roger.

Winfield looked so pitiful to Sheila that she cried, “Well, my ‘great
following’ will have to follow somebody else, for I belong to Bret now.”

“I see,” said Roger. “And when does the rising young star—er—set? When
does the marriage take place?”

“Whenever Bret wants me,” said Sheila, and she added “Ooh!” for he
squeezed her fingers with merciless gratitude.

“Oh, Sheila! Sheila!” said Polly, clutching at her other hand as if she
would hold her little girl back from crossing the stile of womanhood.

Roger hummed several times in the greatest possible befuddlement. At
length he said:

“And what do your parents say, Mr. Winston?—or are they—er—living?”

“Yes, sir, both of them, thank you. They don’t know anything about it
yet, sir.”

“And do you think they will be pleased?”

“When they know Sheila they can’t help loving her.”

“It has happened, I believe,” said Roger, “that parents have not
altogether echoed their children’s enthusiasms. And there are still a
few people who would not consider a popular actress an ideal
daughter-in-law.”

“Oh, they won’t make any trouble!” said Winfield. “They ought to be
proud of—of an alliance with such—er—distinguished forebears as you.”
He tried to include Polly and Roger in one look, and he thought the
tribute rather graceful.

Roger smiled at the bungled compliment and answered, “Well, the
Montagues and the Capulets were both prominent families, but that didn’t
help Romeo and Juliet much.”

Winfield writhed at Roger’s light sarcasm. “It doesn’t matter what they
say. I am of age.”

“So I judge, but have you an income of your own?”

“No, but— Well, I can take care of Sheila, I guess!” He was angry now.

Roger rather liked him for his bluster, but he said, “In any case there
is no especial hurry, I presume.”

To the young lovers there seemed to be the most enormous necessity of
haste to forsake the world and build their own nest in their own tree.

Roger was silent and Polly was silent. Winfield felt called upon to
speak. At last he managed to extort a few words from his embarrassment:

“Anyway, I can count on your consent, can I?”

“Our consent!” laughed Roger. “What have we to say? We’re only the
parents of a young American princess. If Sheila says yes, your next
trouble is your own parents, for you are only an American man.”

“Anyway, you won’t oppose us?” Winfield urged.

“My boy, I would no more oppose Sheila than I would oppose the Twentieth
Century Limited in full flight.”

Sheila pouted. “That’s nice! Now he’ll think I’m something terrible.”

Roger put his arm about his daughter, who was nearly taller than he was.
“My child,” he said, “I think you are the finest woman in the world
except your own mother. And if it would make you happy and keep you
happy I’d cut off my right arm.” Then he kissed her, and his eyes were
more like a sorrowful boy’s than a father’s. There was a lull in the
conversation and he escaped with the words: “Mother, it’s time for the
old folks to go to bed. The young people have a lot to talk over and
we’re in the way. Good night, Mr. Win—my boy, and good luck to
you—though God alone knows good luck when He sees it.”

When the veterans had climbed the stairs to the shelf on which younger
romance had put them, Bret and Sheila resumed that interrupted embrace,
but deliberately and solemnly. It was a serious matter, this getting
married and all.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The next morning brought a flood of sunlight on an infinitely cheerful
ocean and the two lovers’ thoughts flew to each other from their remote
windows like carrier-pigeons.

Sheila was perturbed, and as she watched Winfield approach she thought
that his very motor seemed to be a trifle sullen. Then she ran down to
the piazza to meet him. She carried a letter in her left hand. She waved
him welcome with the other.

As he ran up the walk he took from his pocket a telegram. They vanished
into the house to exchange appropriate salutes, but Pennock was there as
housemaid, and she was giving orders to Roger’s valet, who doubled as
the butler in summer-time.

So they returned to the porch embraceless. This began the morning wrong.
Then Winfield handed Sheila his telegram, a long night letter from his
father, saying that his health was bad and he might have to take a rest.
He added, vigorously:

“You’ve fooled away time enough. Get back on the job; learn your
business and attend to it.”

Winfield shook his head dolefully. “Isn’t that rotten?”

“Mate it with this,” said Sheila, and handed him her letter.

    DEAR SHEILA KEMBLE,—Better run in town and see me to-morrow.
    I’ve got a great play for you from France. Rehearsals begin
    immediately. Trusting your rest has filled you with ambition for
    a strenuous season, I am,

                                               Yours faithfully,
                                                         HY. REBEN.

This threw Winfield into a panic. “But you promised me—”

“Yes, dear,” she cooed, “and I’ve already written the answer. How’s
this?” She gave him the answer she had worked over for an hour, trying
to make it as business-like as possible:

    Letter received regret state owing change plans shall not return
    stage this season best wishes.

                                                     SHEILA KEMBLE.

Even this did not allay Winfield’s alarm. “Why do you say ‘this
season’?” he demanded. “Are you only marrying me for one season?”

“For all eternity,” she cried, “but I wanted to let poor old Reben down
easy.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila found that Reben was not so easily let down as stirred up. An
answer to the telegram arrived a few hours later, just in time to spoil
the day:

    You gave me word of honor as gentleman you would keep your
    contract better look it over again you will report for rehearsal
    Monday ten A.M. Odeon Theater.

                                                             REBEN.

Winfield stormed at Reben’s language as much as at the situation:

“How dares he use such a tone to you? Are you his servant or are you my
wife?”

“I’m neither, honey,” Sheila said, very meekly. “I’m just the darned old
public’s little white slave.”

“But you don’t belong to the public. You belong to me.”

“But I gave him my word first, honey,” Sheila pleaded. “If it were just
an ordinary contract, I could break it, but we shook hands on it and I
gave him my word as a gentleman. If I broke that I couldn’t be trusted
to keep my word to you, could I, dear?”

It was a puzzling situation for Winfield. How could he demand that the
woman in whose hands he was to put his honor should begin their compact
by a breach of honor? How could he counsel her to be false to one solemn
obligation and expect her to be true to another assumed later?

Reben followed up his telegram by a letter of protest against Sheila’s
bad faith. He referred to the expense he had been at; he had bought a
great foreign play, paying down heavy advance royalties; he had given
large orders to scene-painters, lithographers, and printers, and had
flooded the country with her photographs and his announcements. The cast
was selected, and her defection would mean cruelty to them as well as
disloyalty to him.

She felt helpless. Winfield was helpless. She could only mourn and he
rage. They were like two lovers who find themselves on separate ships.

Winfield went back to his father’s factory in a fume of wrath and grief.
Sheila went to Reben’s factory with the meekness of a mill-hand carrying
a dinner-pail.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila made a poor effort to smile at the stage-door keeper, who lifted
his hat to her and welcomed her as if she were the goddess of spring.
The theater had been lonely all summer, but with the autumn was
burgeoning into vernal activity.

The company in its warm-weather clothes made little spots of color in
the dimly lighted cave of the stage. The first of the members to greet
Sheila was Floyd Eldon.

Eldon seized both of Sheila’s hands and wrung them, and his heart cried
aloud in his soft words: “God bless you, Sheila. We’re to be together
again and I’m to play your lover again. You’ve got to listen to me
telling you eight times a week how much I—”

“Why, Mr. Batterson, how do you do?”

The director—Batterson again—came forward with other troupers, old
friends or strangers. Then Reben called to Sheila from the night beyond
the footlights. She stumbled and groped her way out front to him, and he
scolded her roundly for giving him such a scare.

The director’s voice calling the company together rescued her from
answering Reben’s questions as to the mysterious “change of plans” that
had inspired her telegram.

“I guess you must have been crazy with the heat,” he said.

“Call it that,” said Sheila. And she rejoined the company, trying not to
be either uppish or ’umble in her new quality as the star.

The author of the play was a Parisian plutocrat whose wares had
traversed all the oceans, though he had never ventured across the
English Channel. So he was not present to read the play aloud. Ben
Prior, the adapter, was a meek hack afraid of his own voice, and
Batterson was not inclined to show the company how badly their director
read. His assistant distributed the parts, and the company, clustered in
chairs, read in turn as their cues came.

Each had hefted his own part, and judged it by the number of its pages.
One might have guessed nearly how many pages each had by the vivacity or
the dreariness of his attack.

“Eight sides!” growled old Jaffer as he counted his brochure.

It is a saddening thing to an ambitious actor to realize that his
business for a whole season is to be confined to brief appearances and
unimportant speeches.

People congratulated old Jaffer because he was out of the play after the
first act. But, cynic as he was, he was not glad to feel that he would
be in his street mufti when the second curtain rose. It is pleasant to
play truant, but it is no fun to be turned out of school when everybody
else is in.

Of all the people there the most listless was the one who had the
biggest, bravest rôle, the one round which all the others revolved, the
one to whom all the others “fed” the words that brought forth the witty
or the thrilling lines.

Sheila had to be reminded of her cue again and again. Batterson’s voice
recalled her as from a distance.

It is as strange as anything so usual and immemorial can be, how madly
lovers can love; how much agony they can extract from a brief
separation; what bitter terror they can distil from ordinary events. As
the tormented girl read her lines and later walked through the positions
or stood about in the maddening stupidities of a first rehearsal, she
had actually to battle with herself to keep from screaming aloud:

“I don’t want to act! I don’t want the public to love me! I want only my
Bret!”

The temptation to hurl the part in Reben’s face, to mock the petty
withes of contract and promise, and to fly to her lover, insane as it
was, was a temptation she barely managed to fight off.



                              CHAPTER XXX


In a similar tempest of infinitely much ado about next to nothing the
distant Bret Winfield was browbeating himself silently, pleading with
himself not to disgrace himself by running away from his loathsome
factory. His father needed his presence, and Sheila needed his absence.

But gusts of desire for the sight of her swept through him like manias.
He would try to reach her on the long-distance telephone. At the
theater, where there was as yet no one in the box-office, it was usually
impossible to get an answer or to get a message delivered. The
attendants would as soon have called a priest from mass as an actor from
rehearsal. Sometimes, after hours of search with the long-distance
probe, he would find Sheila at the hotel and they would pour out their
longings across the distance till strange voices broke in and mocked
their sentimentalities or begged them to get off the wire. It was
strange to be eavesdropped by ghosts whose names or even whereabouts one
could never know.

Winfield’s mother observed her son’s distress and insisted that he was
ill. She demanded that he see a doctor; it might be some lingering fever
or something infectious. It was both, but there is no inoculation, no
antitoxin, yet discovered to prevent the attack on a normal being. The
mumps, scarlet fever, malaria, typhoid and other ailments have their
serums, but love has none. Light attacks of those affections procure
immunity, but not of this.

Winfield finally told his mother what his malady was. “Mother, I’m in
love—mad crazy about a girl.”

Mrs. Winfield smiled. “You always are.”

“It’s real this time—”

“It always was.”

“It means marriage.”

This was not so amusing.

“Who is she?”

“Nobody you ever saw.”

This was reassuring. Mrs. Winfield had never seen any girl in town quite
good enough for her daughter-in-law.

Mrs. Winfield was very strict, and very religious in so far as religion
is concerned with trying one’s neighbors as well as oneself by very
lofty and very inelastic laws of conduct.

Bret dreaded to tell his mother who Sheila was or what she was. He knew
her opinion of the stage and its people. She had not expressed it often
because she winced even at the mention of hopelessly improper subjects
like French literature, the theater, classic art, playing cards, the
works of Herbert Spencer, Ouida, Huxley, and people like that.

She knew so little of the theater that when she made him tell her the
girl’s name, “Sheila Kemble” meant nothing to her.

Mrs. Winfield demanded full information on the vital subject of her
son’s fiancée. Bret dodged her cross-examination in vain. He dilated on
Sheila’s beauty, her culture, her fascination, her devotion to him. But
those were details; Mrs. Winfield wanted to know the important things:

“What church does she belong to?”

“I never thought to ask her.”

“Are her people in good circumstances?”

“Very!”

“What is her father’s business?”

“Er—he’s a professional man.”

“Oh! A lawyer?”

“No.”

“Doctor?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“Er—well—you see—he’s very successful. He’s famous in his line—makes
a heap of money. He stands very high in his profession.”

“That’s good, but what is it?”

“Why—he— If you knew him—you’d be proud to have him for a
father-in-law or—a—whatever relative he’d be to you.”

“No doubt; but what _does_ this wonderful man do for a living?”

“He’s an actor.”

Mrs. Winfield would have screamed the word in echo, but she was too
weak. When she got her breath she hardly knew which of the myriad
objections to mention first.

“An actor! You are engaged to the daughter of an actor! Why, that’s
nearly as bad as if she were an actress herself!”

Bret mumbled, “Sheila is an actress.”

Then he ran for a glass of water.

At length his mother rallied sufficiently to flutter tenderly, with a
mother’s infinite capacity for forgiving her children—and nobody else:

“Oh, Bret! Bret! has my poor boy gone and fallen into the snare of some
adventuress—some bad, bad woman?”

“Hush, mother; you mustn’t speak so. Sheila is a good girl, the best in
the world.”

“I thought you said she was an actress.”

This seemed to end the argument, but he amazed her by proceeding: “She
is! and a fine one, the best actress in the country—in the world.”

When Mrs. Winfield tried to prove from the profundity of her ignorance
and her prejudice that an actress must be doomed he put his hand over
his ears till she stopped. Then she began again:

“And are you going to follow this angel about, or is she going to
reform?”

“She can’t quit just now. She has a contract, but after this season
she’ll stop, and then we’ll get married.”

Mrs. Winfield caught at this eagerly. “You’re not going to marry her at
once then?”

“No. I wish I could, but she can’t break her contract.”

Mrs. Winfield smiled and settled back with relief. She felt as if an
earthquake had passed by, leaving her alive and the house still on its
foundations. She knew Bret and she was sure that any marriage scheduled
for next year was as good as canceled already.

She wanted nothing more said about it. Her son’s relations with an
actress might be deplorable, but, fortunately, they were only transient
and need not be discussed.

But Bret would not permit his love to be dismissed with scorn. He
insisted that he adored Sheila and that she was adorable. He produced
photographs of her, and the mother could not deny the girl’s beauty. But
she regarded it with an eye of such hostility that she found all the
guiles and wiles that she wanted to find in it.

Bret insisted on his mother’s meeting Sheila, which she refused to do.
She announced that she would not meet her if she became his wife. She
would not permit the creature to sully her home. She warned Bret not to
mention it to his father, for the old man’s heart was weak and he was
discouraged enough over the conflict with the scales trust. The shock of
a stage scandal might kill him.

The elder Winfield wandered into the dispute at its height. He insisted
on knowing what it was. His wife tried to break it to him gently and
nearly drove him mad with her delay. When she finally reached the
horrible disclosure he did not swoon; he just laughed.

“Is that all! Mother, where’s your common sense of humor? The young cub
has been sowing some wild oats and he’s trying to spare your feelings.
Think nothing more about it. Bret is going to settle down to work, and
he won’t have time for much more foolishness. And now let’s drop it. Get
your things packed and mine, for I’ve got to run over to New York for a
board of directors’ meeting with some big interests, and while I’m there
I’ll just go to a real doctor. These fossils here all prescribe the same
pills.”

Bret glared at his father almost contemptuously. He was heavily
disappointed in his parents. They were unable to rise to a noble
occasion.

An inspiration occurred to him. Their trip to New York came pat to his
necessities. They had been cold to his description of Sheila. But once
they met her, they could not but be swept off their feet—not if they
had his blood in their veins.

He sent a voluminous telegram to Sheila asking her to call on his father
and mother and make them hers. It was a manlike outrage on the etiquette
of calls, but Sheila cared little for conventions of the stupid sort.

Bret could not persuade his mother to consent to meet Sheila and be
polite until he implored her to treat Sheila at least with the humanity
deserved by a Magdalen. That magic word disarmed Mrs. Winfield and gave
her the courage of a missionary. She saw that it was plainly her duty to
see the misguided creature. She might persuade her to change her ways.
Of course she would incidentally persuade her of the impossibility of a
marriage with Bret. She would appeal to the girl’s better nature, for
she imagined that even an actress was not totally depraved.

In an important conference with her husband Mrs. Winfield drew up a
splendid campaign. She would try the effect of reason, and, if she
failed, her husband would bring up the heavy artillery.

Mr. Charles Winfield determined to do his share by pointing out to the
woman that Bret had no income and would have none. This would scare the
creature away, for she was undoubtedly after the boy’s money. What else
could she want? If worst came to worst, they might even buy her off. A
few thousand dollars would be a cheap blackmail to pay for the release
of their son.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The train that carried the elder Winfields to the ordeal of meeting with
the threatening invader of their family was due in New York in the
forenoon.

When Charles Winfield bought a paper to glance over it during his
dining-car breakfast he was pleased to find a brief mention of the
meeting of the directors. His own name was included in small type, with
the initials wrong. Still, it was pleasant to be named in a New York
paper.

As he turned the page he was startled to see a familiar face pop up
before him as if with a cheerful “Good morning!” He studied it. It was
familiar, but he could not place it. He read the name beneath—“Sheila
Kemble”!

It was a large portrait and the text accompanying it was an adroit piece
of press-agency. Reben’s publicity man, Starr Coleman, had smuggled past
the dramatic editor’s jealous guard a convincing piece of fiction
purporting to describe Sheila’s opinions on woman suffrage as it would
affect the home. He had been unable to get at Sheila during rehearsals
and he had concocted the interview out of his own head.

Winfield passed the paper across to his wife. Both were decidedly
shaken. Winfield’s logical mind automatically worked out a problem in
ratio. If he himself felt important because a New York newspaper
included his name in a list of arrivals, how important was Sheila, who
received half a column of quotation and a photograph?

Furthermore, Sheila’s name was coupled with that of a prominent woman
whose social distinction was nation-wide.

Mrs. Winfield fetched forth her spectacles, read Sheila’s dictum
carefully and with some awe. There were two or three words in it that
Mrs. Winfield could not understand—neither could Sheila when she read
it. Starr Coleman liked big words. But in any case the interview scared
Mrs. Winfield out of her scheme to play the missionary. By the same
token Mr. Winfield decided not to offer Sheila a bribe.

Their plans were in complete disarray when they reached New York.

They had not been settled long in their hotel when the telephone-bell
rang.

Mrs. Winfield answered the call, since her husband was belatedly shaving
himself.

The telephone operator said, “M’ Skemble to speak to M’ Swinfield.”

Mrs. Winfield’s heart began to skip. She answered, feebly, “This is Mrs.
Winfield.”

The operator snapped, “Go ahead,” and another voice appeared, putting
extraordinary music into a lyrical “Hello!”

Mrs. Winfield answered: “Hello! This is Mrs. Winfield.”

“Oh, how do you do? This is Mrs. Kemble, Sheila’s mother. Your son asked
her to call you up as soon as you got in, but she is rehearsing and
asked me to.”

“That’s very n-nice of you.”

“Why, thank you. Your son probably explained to you that Sheila is a
horribly busy young woman. I know you are busy, too. You’ll be doing a
lot of shopping, I presume. I should like to call on you as one helpless
parent on another, but my husband and I are leaving in a day or two for
one of our awful tours to the Coast. The ocean is so beautiful that I
wondered if you wouldn’t be willing to run out here and take dinner with
us to-night.”

Mrs. Winfield’s wits were so scattered that she had not the strength
even to improvise another engagement. She was not an agile liar. She
murmured, feebly: “It would be very nice. Thank you.”

Then the irresistible Polly Farren voice purred on: “That’s splendid!
We’ll send our car for you. It’s not a long run out here, and the car
can bring Sheila out at the same time. You can have a little visit
together.”

“That would be very nice. Thank you,” Mrs. Winfield babbled.

“One more thing, if I may,” Polly chanted. “Our town car is in New York.
It took Sheila in, you know. The driver has nothing at all to do till
five. My husband says he would be ever so pleased if you’d let me put it
at your disposal. Please call it your very own while you’re in the city,
won’t you? The chauffeur is quite reliable, really.”

Poor Mrs. Winfield could only wail, “Hold the wire a moment, please.”

She was unutterably miserable. She dropped the receiver and called her
lather-jawed husband in conference. They whispered like two
counterfeiters with the police at the door. They could see no way of
escape without brutality.

Mrs. Winfield took up the receiver and wailed, “My husband says it is
very nice of you and of course we accept.”

“Oh, that’s splendid!” throbbed in her ear. “I’ll telephone the man to
call for you at once. Good-by till dinner, then. Good-by.”

Mr. Winfield glared at his wife, and she looked away, sighing:

“She has a right nice voice, anyway.”



                              CHAPTER XXXI


The car was a handsomer car than their own, and in the quietest taste.
Polly had somewhat softened the truth in the matter of its tender. Roger
had protested mightily against offering the car to the Winfields, but
Sheila and Polly had taken it away from him.

He had resisted their scheme for the dinner with even greater vigor, but
Polly mocked him and gave her orders. Seeing himself committed to the
plot, he said, “Well, if we’ve got to have this try-out performance
we’ll make a production of it with complete change of costumes,
calciums, and extra people.”

Polly and Roger did not approve of Bret any more than the Winfields
approved of Sheila; but they resolved to jolt the Philistines while they
were at it.

After a day in the Kemble limousine the Winfields picked up Sheila, who
had been spending an hour on her toilet, though she apologized for the
wreckage of rehearsals.

She dazzled both of them with her beauty. She did most of the talking,
but permitted restful silences for meditation. The Winfields were as shy
and as staring as children. It was the first time they had been so close
to an actress.

The Kemble cottage on Long Island was a pleasant enough structure at any
time, but at night under a flattering moon it looked twice its
importance.

The dinner was elaborate and the guests impressive. Roger apologized for
the presence of a famous millionaire, Tilton, his wife, and their
visitor Lady Braithwaite. He said that they had been invited before,
though it would have been more accurate to say that they had been
implored at the last moment, and had consented because Roger said he
needed them.

Sheila never acted harder. She never suffered worse from stage-fright
and never concealed it more completely. She suffered both as author and
as actor. Her little comedy was, like Hamlet’s brief tragedy, produced
for an ulterior purpose. Which it accomplished.

The Kembles had succeeded in shifting the burden of discomfort to their
observers. The Winfields felt hopelessly small town. Polly and Sheila
were exquisitely gracious, and Lady Braithwaite kept my-dearing Polly,
while the millionaire called Kemble by his first name. Roger set old
Winfield roaring over his stories and, as if quite casually, he let fall
occasional allusions to the prosperity of prosperous stage people. He
referred to the fact that a certain actress, “poor Nina Fielding,” had
“had a bad season, and cleared only sixty thousand dollars.”

Tilton exclaimed, “Impossible! that’s equivalent to six per cent, on a
million dollars.”

Roger shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there are others that make more,
and if Nina is worth a million, Sheila is worth two of her. And she’ll
prove it, too. And why shouldn’t actors get rich? They do the world as
much good as your manufacturers of shoes and electricity and
automobiles. Why shouldn’t they make as much money?”

Tilton said: “Well, perhaps they should, but they haven’t done so till
recently. It’s a big change from the time when you actors were rated as
beggars and vagabonds; you’ll admit that much, won’t you?”

He had touched Kemble on a sensitive spot, a subject that he had fumed
over and studied. Roger was always ready to deliver a lecture on the
topic. He blustered now:

“That old idiocy! Do you believe it, too? Don’t you know that the law
that branded actors as vagrants referred only to actors without a
license and not enrolled in an authorized company? At that very time the
chief noblemen had their own troupes and the actors were entertained
royally in castles and palaces.

“For a time the monks and nuns used to give plays, and there was a
female playwright who was a nun in the tenth century. The Church
sometimes fought against the theater during the dark ages, but so it
fought against sculpture and painting the human form. Actors were
forbidden Christian burial once and were treated as outlaws, but so were
the Catholics in Protestant countries and Protestants in Catholic
regions, and Presbyterians and Episcopalians in each other’s realms, and
Quakers in Boston.

“The Puritans did not believe in the theater any more than the theater
believed in the Puritans, and there was a period in England when plays
had to be given secretly in private houses. But what does that prove?
Religious services had to be given the same way; and political meetings.

“There are plenty of people who hate the theater to-day. It always will
have enemies—like the other sciences and arts.

“But one thing is sure. Wherever actors have been permitted at all, they
have always gone with the best people. Several English actors have been
knighted recently, but that’s nothing new. The actor Roscius was
knighted at Rome in 50 B.C. In Greece they carved the successful actors’
names in stone.

“We made big money then, too. The actor Æsopus—Cicero’s friend—left
his good-for-nothing son so much money that the cub dissolved a pearl in
vinegar and drank it. He tossed off what would amount, in our money, to
a forty-thousand-dollar cocktail.

“In the Roman Empire actors like Paris stood so high at court that
Juvenal said, ‘If you want to get the royal favor ask an actor, not a
lord.’ When Josephus went to Rome to plead for the lives of some
priests, a Jewish actor named Aliturus introduced him to Nero and his
empress and got him his petition. It seems funny to think of a Jewish
actor at the court of Nero. The Roman emperor Justinian married an
actress and put her on the throne beside him.

“In Italy after the Renaissance one of the actresses—I forget her
name—was so much honored that when she came to a town she was received
with a salute of cannon.

“Louis XIV. loved Molière, stood godfather to his child, and suggested a
scene for one of his plays. One of Napoleon’s few intimate friends was
the actor Talma.

“David Garrick was in high favor at court and he sold his interest in
Drury Lane, when he retired, for one hundred and seventy-five thousand
dollars. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

“And if I may speak of my own ancestors, Mrs. Siddons was one of the
most highly esteemed and irreproachable women of her time. Sir Joshua
Reynolds was proud to paint her as the Tragic Muse and old Dr. Samuel
Johnson wrote his autograph on the canvas along the edge of her robe
because he said he wanted his name to go down to posterity on the hem of
her garment.

“Her brother, John Philip Kemble, was so successful that he bought a
sixth share in Covent Garden for over one hundred thousand dollars. When
it burned down it would have ruined him if the Duke of Northumberland
had not made him a loan of fifty thousand dollars. And later he refused
repayment.

“Take an actress of our own time, Sarah Bernhardt. What woman in human
history has had more honor, or made more money? Or take—”

Polly felt it time to intervene. “For Heaven’s sake, ring down! You’re
not at Chautauqua, you know.”

Kemble started and blinked like a sleep-walker abruptly wakened. “I beg
your pardon,” he said. “I was riding my hobby and he ran away.”

The Winfields were plentifully impressed and Mrs. Winfield completely
overwhelmed when Lady Braithwaite said:

“He’s quite right, my dear. There’s no question of the social position
of the stage. So many actresses have married into our peerage that you
can’t tell which is the annex of which; and no end of young peers are
going on the stage. They can’t act, but it keeps them out of mischief in
a way. And I can’t see that stage-marriages are any less permanent than
the others. Can you? I mean to say, I’ve known most charming cases. My
poor friend the Duchess of Stonehenge had a son who was a hopeless
little cad and rotter—and he married an actress—you know the one I
mean—from the Halls she was, too. And you know she’s made a man of
him—a family man, too, she has, really! And she’s the most devoted of
mothers. Really she is!”

Somehow the character Lady Braithwaite gave the stage made more
impression on Mrs. Winfield than all of Roger’s history.

On the long, late ride back to their hotel the old couple were meek,
quite whipped-out. They had come to redeem an actress from perdition or
bribe her not to drag their son to her own level; they returned with
their ears full of stage glories and a bewildered feeling that an
alliance with the Kemble family would be the making of them.

As the train bore them homeward, however, their old prejudices resumed
sway. They began to feel resentful. If Sheila had been more lowly,
suppliant, and helpless they might have stooped to her. But a
daughter-in-law who could earn over fifty thousand dollars a year was a
dangerous thing about the house. Sheila’s scenario had worked just a
little too well.

Young Winfield met his parents at the train and searched their faces
eagerly. They looked guilty and almost pouting. They said nothing till
they were in their own car—it looked shabby after the Kemble turnout.
Then Bret pleaded:

“Well, what do you think of Sheila?”

“She’s very nice,” said his mother, stingily.

“Is that all? She wrote me that you were wonderful. She said my father
was one of the most distinguished-looking men she ever saw, and as for
my mother, she was simply beautiful, so fashionable and aristocratic—an
angel, she called you, mother.”

One may see through these things, but they can’t be resisted. As Roger
Kemble used to put it: “Say what you will, a bouquet beats a brickbat
for comfort no matter what direction it comes from.”

The Winfields blushed with pride and warmed over their comments on
Sheila. In fact, they went so far as to say that she would never give up
the fame and fortune and admiration that were waiting for her, just to
marry a common manufacturer’s son.

This threw the fear of love into Bret and made him more than ever
frantic to see Sheila and be reassured or put out of his misery. There
was no restraining him. His father protested that he was needed at home.
But it was mating-season with the young man, and parents were only in
his way, as their parents had been in theirs.



                             CHAPTER XXXII


Bret telegraphed Sheila that he was coming to New York to see her. She
telegraphed back:

    Awfully love see you but hideously busy rehearsals souls
    devotion.

These poor telegraph operators! The honey they have to transmit must
fairly stick to the wires and gum up the keys.

Winfield determined to go, anyway—and to surprise her. He set out
without warning and flew to the theater as soon as he reached New York.
The tip-loving doorman declined so fiercely to take his card in that he
frightened the poor swain out of the proffer of a bribe.

While Winfield loitered irresolutely near the stage entrance an actor
strolled out to snatch a few puffs of a cigarette while he was not
needed. Winfield was about to ask him to tell Miss Kemble that Mr.
Winfield was waiting for her. He saw that the actor was Eldon.

He dodged behind the screen of a fire-escape from the gallery and slunk
away unobserved. There was no fire-escape in his soul from the
conflagration of jealousy that shot up at the sight of his rival, and
the thought that Eldon was spending his days in Sheila’s company, while
her affianced lover gnashed his teeth outside.

He hung about like Mary’s lamb for meekness and like Red Riding-Hood’s
wolf for wrath. He would wait for Sheila to come out for lunch. Hours
passed. He saw Eldon dash across the street to a little restaurant and
return with a cup of coffee and a bundle of sandwiches. Ye gods, he was
feeding her!

With all a lover’s fiendish ingenuity in devising tortures for himself,
Winfield transported his soul from the vat of boiling oil to the rack
and the cell of Little Ease and back again. He imagined the most
ridiculous scenes in the theater and suspected Sheila of such
treacheries that if he had really believed them he would surely have
been cured of his love.

He saw that a policeman was regarding him with suspicion, and since he
was faint with torture on an empty stomach, he went to a restaurant to
kill time. When he returned he waited an hour before he ventured to
steal upon the stage-door keeper again. Then he learned that the
rehearsal had been dismissed two hours before. Aching with rage, he
taxicabbed to Sheila’s hotel. She had not returned. Out riding with
Eldon somewhere no doubt!

He went to the railroad station. He would escape from the hateful town
where there was nothing but perfidy and vice. He called up the hotel to
bid Sheila a bitter farewell. Pennock answered and informed him that
Sheila had been at the dressmaker’s all afternoon and was just returned,
so dead that Pennock had made her take a nap. She shouldn’t be disturbed
till she woke, no, not for a dozen Winfields, especially as she had an
evening rehearsal.

Winfield returned to her hotel and hung about like a process-server. He
waited in the lobby, reading the evening papers, one after another, from
“ears” to tail. He telephoned up to Pennock till she forbade the
operator to ring the bell again.

The big fellow was almost hysterical when a hall-boy called him to the
telephone-booth. He heard Sheila’s voice. She was fairly squealing with
delight at his presence. Instantly chaos became a fresh young world, all
Eden.

Sheila had just learned of Winfield’s arrival. She promised to be down
as soon as she had scrubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She invited him
to take her to dinner at Claremont before she went back to “the morgue,”
as she called the theater—and meant it, for she was fagged out.
Everything was wrong with the play, the cast, and, worst of all, with
her costumes.

There was further tantalism for Bret in the greeting in the hotel lobby.
A formal hand-clasp and a more ardent eye-clasp were all they dared
venture. The long bright summer evening made it impossible to steal
kisses in the taxicab, except a few snapshots caught as they ran under
the elevated road. But they held hands and wrung fingers and talked
rapturous nonsense.

The view of the Hudson was supremely beautiful from the restaurant
piazza, until Reben arrived with his old Diana Rhys and the two of them
filled the landscape like another Storm King and Dunderberg.

Mrs. Rhys had for some time resented Reben’s interest in Sheila and had
made life infernal for him. She began on him at the table. He was
furious with humiliation and swarthier with jealousy of the unknown
occupant of the chair opposite Sheila.

Sheila explained to Winfield in hasty asides that she was in hot water.
Reben did not like to have her appear in public places at all, and then
only with the strictest chaperonage.

Winfield sniffed at such Puritanism from him.

“It isn’t that, honey,” Sheila said, “it’s business. He says that
actresses, of all people, should lead secluded lives because—who wants
to pay two dollars to see a woman who can be seen all over town for
nothing? He’s planning a regular convent life for me, and he’s shutting
down on all the personal publicity. I’m glad of it—for I really belong
to you.

“Reben wants me to be especially strict because I’ve got to play
innocent young girls, and he says that many a promising actress has
killed herself commercially with the nice people, by thinking that it
was none of the public’s business what she did outside the theater. Of
course it isn’t really their business in a way, but the public make it
so.

“And you can’t wonder at it. I know I’m not prudish or narrow, but when
I see a play where a character is supposed to be terribly ignorant and
pathetic and trusting, it sort of hurts the illusion when I know that
the actress is really a hateful cat who has broken up a dozen homes.

“So you see Reben’s right. He’d come over here now and send me home if
old Rhys would let him. He’s dying to know who you are. But of course I
won’t tell him.”

This did not comfort Winfield in the least. It angered him, too, to
think of Reben as right about anything; and he felt no thanks to him for
his counsels of prudence. When it is insisted too strenuously that
honesty is good policy, even honesty becomes suspect.

The tête-à-tête and the dinner were ruined and it was not yet dark
enough on the way back to permit any of the embraces and kisses that
Winfield was famished for. He took no pleasure even in the spectacular
sunset along the Hudson—miles of assorted crimsons in the sky, with the
cool green Palisades as a barrier between the radiant heavens and the
long panel of the mirror-river that told the sky how beautiful it was.

Winfield was completely dissatisfied with life. It was peculiarly
distressing to be so deeply in love with so dear a girl so deeply in
love in turn, and to have her profession and its necessities brandished
like a flaming sword between them.

This experience is likely to play an increasing part in the romances of
the future as more and more women claim a larger and larger share of
life outside the home. Existence has always been a process of
readjustments, but certainly at no time in history has there been such a
revolution as this in the relations of man and woman. From now on
numbers of husbands will learn what wives have endured for ages in
waiting for the spouse to come home from the shop.

The usual pattern of emotion was almost ludicrously reversed when
Winfield took his sweetheart to her factory and left her at the door to
resume her overtime night-work, while he idled about in the odious
leisure of a housekeeper.

Winfield hated the situation with all the ferocity of a lover denied,
and all the indignation of an old-fashioned youth who believed in taking
the woman of his choice under his wing to protect her from the world.

But he had chosen a girl who proposed to conquer the world and who would
find the shadow under his wing too close. He felt himself as feeble and
misallied as a ring-dove mated with a falcon. She was an artist, a
public idol, while he at best was as obscure as a vice-president; he was
only the indolent heir of a self-made man.

He dawdled about, revolting against his dependency, till Sheila finished
her rehearsal. Then she met him and they rode through the moonlit Park.
She loved him immensely, but she was so exhausted that she fell asleep
in his arm. He kissed the wan little moon of her face as it lay back on
his shoulder. He loved her with all his might. He loved her enough to
take her home to her hotel and surrender her to herself while he moped
away to his own hotel.

The next day it was the same story except that she promised to ask for a
respite at the luncheon hour and meet him at a restaurant near the
theater. The appointment was for one o’clock. He waited until two-thirty
before she appeared. And then she had only time to tell him that Reben
had given her a merciless scolding for her escapade of the evening
before.

Winfield expressed his desire to punch Reben’s head, and Sheila rejoiced
at having a champion, even though (or perhaps because) the champion
claimed her more exclusively than Reben did.

Bret had to endure another dismal wait until dinner, and then there was
again an evening rehearsal. The time of production was approaching and
Batterson was growing demoniac. After the rehearsal Bret from across the
street watched all the other members of the company leave the theater.
Even Eldon came forth, but not Sheila.

Another hour Bret spent of watchful waiting, and then she appeared with
Reben and Prior. They had been having a consultation and a quarrel, and
they continued it to the hotel, Sheila not daring to shake them off.
Winfield shadowed them along the street, and waited outside till they
left the hotel; then he made haste to find Sheila.

She was distraught between the demands of her play and her lover.
Revisions had been made and she had a new scene to learn and a new
interpretation of the character to achieve before morning. The only
crumb of good news was the fact that Reben was to be out of town the
next day and she could sneak Winfield in to watch a rehearsal, if he
wanted to come.

He wanted to exceedingly. It was one way of borrowing trouble.

He stole in at the front of the house and sat in the empty dark,
unobserved, but not unobserving. He had the wretched privilege of
watching Eldon make love to Sheila and take her in his arms. A dozen
embraces were tried before Batterson could find just the attitude to
suit him. And that did not suit Sheila.

Partly because it is almost impossible for a man to show a woman how she
would act, and partly because Sheila could almost see Bret’s gaze
blazing from the dark like a wolf’s eyes, she was incapable of achieving
the effect Batterson wanted.

The stage-manager was reaching his ugly phase, and after leaving Sheila
in Eldon’s clasp for ten minutes while he tried her arms in various
poses, all of them awkward, he walked to the table where Prior sat and
muttered:

“Her mother would have grasped it in a minute. Isn’t it funny that the
children of great actors are always damned fools?”

The whole company overheard and Winfield rose to his feet in a fury. But
he heard Sheila say to Eldon, for Batterson’s benefit:

“Why, I didn’t know that Mr. Batterson’s parents were great actors, did
you?”

Batterson caught this as Sheila intended, and he flew into one of the
passions that were to be expected about this time. He slammed the
manuscript on the table and made the usual bluff of walking out. Sheila
did not follow. She sank into a chair and made signals to the invisible
Bret not to interfere, as she knew he was about to do.

He understood her meaning and restrained his impulse to climb over the
footlights once more.

Batterson fought it out with himself, then came back, and with a sigh of
heavenly resignation resumed the rehearsal. The company was refreshed by
the divertisement and Sheila and Batterson were as amiable as two
warriors after a truce. The embrace was speedily agreed upon.

Sheila met Bret at luncheon, and now she had him on her hands. He was
ursine with clumsy wrath.

“To think that my wife-to-be must stand up there and let a mucker like
that stage-manager swear at her! Good Lord! I’ll break his head!”

Sheila wondered how long she would be able to endure these alternating
currents, but she put off despair and cooed:

“Now, honey, you can’t go around breaking all the heads in town. You
mustn’t think anything of it. Poor old Batty is excited, and so are we
all. It’s just a business dispute. It’s always this way when the
production is near.”

“And are you going to let that fellow Eldon fondle you like that?”

“Why, honey dear, it’s in the manuscript!”

“Then you can cut it out. I won’t have it, I tell you! What kind of a
dog do you think I am that I’m to let other men hug my wife?”

“But it’s only in public, dearest, that he hugs me.”

At the recurrence of this extraordinary logic Winfield simply opened his
mouth like a fish on land. He was suffocating with too much air.

Sheila and he kept silence a moment. They were remembering the somewhat
similar dispute in another moonlit scene, at Clinton. Only then he was
an audacious flirter; now he was a conservative fiancé. Her logic was
the same, but he had veered to the opposite side. She murmured,
dolefully:

“You don’t understand the stage very well, do you, dear?”

“No, I don’t!” he growled. “And I don’t want to. It’s no place for a
woman. You’ve got to give it up.”

“I’ve promised to, honey, as soon as I can.”

“Well, in the mean while, you’ve got to cut out that hugging business
with Eldon—or anybody else. I won’t have it, that’s all!”

To her intense amazement Sheila was flattered by this overweening
tyranny. She rejoiced at her lover’s wealth of jealousy, the one supreme
proof of true love in a woman’s mind, a proof that is weightier than any
tribute of praise or jewelry or toil or sacrifice.

She said she would see if the embrace could be omitted. The next day
Reben sat in the orchestra and she went down to sit at his side. She did
not mention Winfield’s part in the matter, of course, but craftily
insinuated:

“Do you know something? I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s a mistake to
have that embrace in the second act. It seems to me to—er—to
anticipate the climax.”

Reben, all unsuspecting, leaped into the snare:

“That’s so! I always say that once the hero and heroine clinch, the
play’s over. We’ll just cut it there, and save it to the end of the last
act.”

Sheila, flushed with her victory, pressed further:

“And that’s another point. Wouldn’t it be more—er—artistic if you
didn’t show the embrace even then—just have the lovers start toward
each other and ring down so that the curtain drops before they embrace?
It would be novel, and it would leave something to the audience’s
imagination.”

Reben was skeptical of this: “We might try it in one of the tank towns,
but I’m afraid the people will be sore if they don’t see the lovers
brought together for at least one good clutch. Nothing like trying
things out, though.”

Sheila was tempted to ask him not to tell Batterson that it was her
idea. The fear was unnecessary. Any advice that Reben accepted became at
once his own idea. He advanced to the orchestra rail and told Batterson
to “cut out both clutches.”

Batterson consented with ill grace and Eldon looked so crestfallen, so
humiliated, that Sheila hastened to reassure him that it was nothing
personal. But he was not convinced.

He was enduring bitter days. His love for Sheila would not expire. She
treated him with the greatest formality. She paid him the deference
belonging to a leading man. She was more gracious and more zealous for
his success than most stars are. But he read in her eyes no glimmer of
the old look.

He hoped that this was simply because she was too anxious and too busy
to consider him, and that once the play was prosperously launched she
would have time to love him.

This comfort sustained him through the loss of the two embraces. He
could not have imagined that Sheila had cut them out to please Winfield,
of whose presence in her environs he never dreamed.

At dinner that evening Sheila told Bret how she had brought about the
excision of the two embraces. He was as proud as Lucifer and she
rejoiced in having contrived his happiness. This was her chief ambition
now. She was thinking more of him and his peace than of her own success
or of that disturbance of the public peace which makes actors,
story-tellers, acrobats, and singers and other entertainers interesting.



                             CHAPTER XXXIII


Sheila was passing through the meanest phase of play production when the
first enthusiasms are gone and the nagging mechanics of position,
intonation, and speed are wearing away the nerves: when those wrenches
and inconsistencies of plot and character that are inevitably present in
so artificial a structure as a play begin to stick out like broken
bones; when scenery and property and costumes are turning up late and
wrong; and when the first audience begins to loom nearer and nearer as a
tidal wave toward which a ship is hurried all unready and aquiver to its
safety or to disaster.

At such a time Sheila found the presence of Winfield a cool shelter in
Sahara sands. He was an outsider; he was real; he loved her; he didn’t
want her to be an actress; he didn’t want her to work; he wanted her to
rest in his arms. His very angers and misunderstandings all sprang from
his love of herself.

Yet only a few days and she must leave him. The most hateful part of the
play was still to come—the process of “trying it on the dog”—on a
series of “dog-towns,” where the play would be produced before small and
timid audiences afraid to commit themselves either to amusement or
emotion before the piece had a metropolitan verdict passed upon it.

It was a commonplace that the test was uncertain, yet what other test
was possible? There was too much danger in throwing the piece on “cold”
before the New York death-watch of the first night. That would be to
hazard a great investment on the toss of a coin.

Sheila was cowering before the terrors that faced her. The difficulties
came rushing at her one after another. She was only a young girl, after
all, and she had swum out too far. Winfield was her sole rescuer from
the world. The others kept driving her farther and farther out to sea.
He would bring her to land.

The thought of separating from him for a whole theatrical season grew
intolerable. Fatigue and discouragement preyed on her reserve of
strength. Fear of the public swept her with flashes of cold sweat. She
could not sleep; herds of nightmares stampeded across her lonely bed.
She saw herself stricken with forgetfulness, with aphasia; she saw the
audiences hooting at her; she read the most venomous criticism; she saw
herself in train wrecks and theater fires. She saw the toppling scenery
crushing her, or weight-bags dropping on her from the flies.

The production was heavy and complicated and Reben believed in many
scenery rehearsals. There were endless periods of waiting for stage
carpenters to repair mistakes, for property-men to provide important
articles omitted from the property plot. The big set came in with the
stairway on the wrong side. Almost the whole business of the act had to
be reversed and learned over again. The last-act scene arrived in a
color that made Sheila’s prettiest costume hideous. She must have a new
gown or the scene must be repainted. A new gown was decided on; this
detail meant hours more of fittings at the dressmaker’s.

The final rehearsals were merciless. Sheila left Bret at the stage door
at ten o’clock one morning and did not put her head out of the theater
till three o’clock the next morning. And five hours later she must stand
for costume photographs in a broiling gallery.

Reben, utterly discouraged by the look of the play in its setting,
feared to bring it into New York even after the two weeks of trial
performances he had scheduled. An opportunity to get into Chicago turned
up, and he canceled his other bookings. Sheila was liked in Chicago and
he determined to make for there. The first performance was shifted from
Red Bank, New Jersey, to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sheila was in dismay and Bret grew unmanageable. The only excuse for the
excitement of both was the fact that lovers have always been the same.
Romeo and Juliet would not wait for Romeo to come back from banishment.
They had to be married secretly at once. The world has always had its
Gretna Greens for frantic couples.

So this frantic couple—not content with all its other torments—must
inflict mutual torment. Bret loved Sheila so bitterly that he could not
endure the ordeal she was undergoing. The wearier and more harried she
grew, the more he wearied and harrowed her with his doubts, his demands,
his fears of losing her. He was so jealous of her ambition that he made
a crime of it.

He looked at her with farewell in his eyes and shook his head as over
her grave and groaned: “I’m going to lose you, Sheila. You’re not for
me.”

This frightened her. She was even less willing to lose him than he her.
When she demanded why he should say such things he explained that if she
left him now he would never catch up with her again. Her career was too
much for him, and her loss was more than he could bear.

She mothered him with eyes of such devoted pity that he said: “Don’t
stare at me like that. You look a hundred and fifty years old.”

She felt so. She was his nurse and his medicine, and she was at that
epoch of her soul when her function was to make a gift of herself.

When he sighed, “I wanted you to be my wife” it was the “my” that
thrilled her by its very selfishness; it was the past tense of the verb
that alarmed her.

“You wanted me to be!” she gasped. “Don’t you want me any more?”

“God knows there’s nothing else I want in the world. But I can’t have
you. My mother said that I couldn’t get you; she said that your ambition
and the big money ahead of you would keep you from giving yourself to
me.”

The primeval feud between a man’s mother and his wife surged up in her.
She said, less in irony than she realized: “Oh, she said that, did she?
Well, then, I’ll marry you just for spite.”

“If you only would, then I’d feel sure of you. I’d have no more fears.”

“All right. I’ll marry you.”

“When?”

“Whenever you say.”

“Now?”

“This minute.”

It was more like a bet than a proposal. He seized it.

“I’ll take you.”

They had snapped their wager at each other almost with hostility. They
glared defiantly together; then their eyes softened. Laughter gurgled in
their throats. His hands shot across the table; she put hers in them, in
spite of the waiters.

A fierce impulse to make certain of possession caught them to their
feet. He paid his bill standing up, and would not wait for change. They
found a jewelry-shop and bought the ring. They took the subway to City
Hall; a taxicab would be too slow.

There was no difficulty about the license. Every facility is offered to
those who take the first plunge into marriage. The ascent into Paradise
is as easy as the descent into Avernus. It is the getting back to earth
that is hard in both cases.

“Shall we be married here in the City Hall?” said the licentiate. “It’s
quicker.”

“I—I had rather hoped to be married in church,” Sheila pouted. “But
whatever you say—”

“It will make you late to rehearsal,” he said. He was very indulgent to
her career now that he was sure of her.

“Who cares?” she murmured. “Let’s go to the Little Church Around the
Corner.”

And so they did, and waited their turn at the busy altar.

Then there was a furious scurry back to the theater. Mrs. Winfield
kissed her husband good-by and dashed into the stage door to take her
scolding. But Mr. Winfield was laughing as he rode away to arrange for
their lodging for the remaining two days. Also his wife had made him
promise to break the news to Pennock. Her father and mother were
traveling now in the mid-West.

If Bret had known Pennock he might not have promised so glibly.

                 *        *        *        *        *

When Pennock finished with Winfield there was nothing further to say in
his offense. She told him he was a monstrous brute and Sheila was a
little fool to trust him. She declared that he had blighted the
happiness of the best girl in the world, and ruined her career just as
it was beginning. Then Pennock locked him out and went to packing
Sheila’s things. She wept all over the child’s clothes as if Sheila were
buried already. Then she took to her bed and cried her pillow soppy.

Sheila, all braced for a tirade from Batterson for her truancy, found
that she had not been missed. The carpenters had the scenery spread on
the floor of the stage like sails blown over, and the theater was a
boiler-factory of noise. Shortly after her appearance Batterson called
the company into the lobby for rehearsal. He took up the act at the
place where they had stopped in the forenoon—a point at which Eldon
caught Sheila’s hands in his and lifted them to his lips.

Now, as Eldon took those two beloved palms in his and bent his gaze on
her fingers it fell on Sheila’s shining new wedding-ring. The circlet
caught his eye; he studied it with vague surprise.

“A new ring?” he whispered, casually, not realizing its significance.

Sheila blushed so ruddily and snatched her hand away with such guilt
that he understood. He groaned, “My God, no!”

“I beg you!” she whispered.

“What’s that?” said Batterson, who had been speaking to Prior.

“I lost the line,” said Eldon, looking as if he had lost his life.
Batterson flung it to him angrily.

There was nothing for Sheila to do but throw herself on Eldon’s mercy at
the first moment when she could steal a word with him alone.

He did not say, “You had no mercy on me.”

She knew it. It was more eloquent unsaid. He was a gallant gentleman,
and sealed away his hopes of Sheila in a tomb.

At dinner Sheila told Bret about the incident, and he was secure enough
in the stronghold of her possession to recognize the chivalry of his
ex-rival.

“Mighty white of him,” he said. “Didn’t anybody else notice it?”

“I put my gloves on right afterward,” said Sheila, “but I—I don’t dare
wear it again.”

“Don’t dare wear your wedding-ring!” Winfield roared. “Say, what kind of
a marriage is this, anyway?”

“I hope it’s not dependent on a piece of metal round my finger,” Sheila
protested. “Your real wedding-ring is round my heart.”

This was not enough for Winfield. She explained to him patiently (and
gladly because of the importance he gave the emblem) that she played an
unmarried girl in the comedy. And the audience would be sure to spot the
wedding-ring.

It simply had to come off, and she begged him to understand and be an
angel and take it off himself.

He drew it away at last. But he did not like the omen. She put it on a
ribbon and he knotted it about her neck. Then she remembered that she
wore a dinner gown in the play, and it had to come off the ribbon. She
would have to carry it in her pocketbook.

The omens were hopelessly awry.



                             CHAPTER XXXIV


The brand-new couple forgot problems of this and every other sort in the
raptures and supernal contentments of belonging to each other utterly
and forever.

The notifying of their parents was one of the unpleasantest of tasks.
They put it off till the next day. Sheila’s father and mother had
already begun their tour to the Coast and the news found them in the
Middle West.

Sheila telegraphed to them:

    Hope my good news wont seem bad news to you Bret and I were
    quietly married yesterday please keep it secret both terribly
    terribly happy play opens Grand Rapids Monday best love from us
    both to you both.

Her good news was sad enough for them. It filled them with forebodings.
That phrase “terribly happy” seemed uncannily appropriate. Between the
acts of their comedy that night they clung to each other and wept,
moaning: “Poor child! The poor child!”

Winfield’s situation was summed up in a telegram to his home.

    Happiest man on earth married only woman on earth yesterday
    please send your blessings and forgiveness and five hundred
    dollars.

Bret’s mother fainted with a little wail and his father’s weak heart
indulged in wild syncopations. When Mrs. Winfield was resuscitated she
lay on a couch, weeping tiny old tears and whimpering:

“The poor boy! The poor boy!”

The father sat bronzed with sick anger. He had built up a big industry
and the son he had reared to carry it after him had turned out a loafer,
a chaser of actresses, and now the worthless dependent on one of them.

Charles Winfield pondered like an old Brutus if it were not his solemn
duty to punish the renegade with disinheritance; to divert his fortune
to nobler channels and turn over his industry to a nephew who was
industrious and loyal to the factory.

But he sent the five hundred dollars. In his day he had eloped with his
own wife and alienated his own parents and hers. But that had been
different. Now his mouth was full of the ashes of his hopes.

Reben was yet to be told. Sheila said that he had troubles enough on his
mind and was in such a state of temper, anyway, that it would be kinder
to him not to tell him. This was not altogether altruism.

She dreaded the storm he would raise and longed for a portable
cyclone-cellar. She knew that he would denounce her for outrageous
dishonor in her treatment of him, and from his point of view there was
no justifying her unfealty. But she felt altogether assured that she had
accomplished a higher duty. In marrying her true love she was fulfilling
her contract with God and Nature and Life, far greater managers than any
Reben.

She had, therefore, for her final rapture the exquisite tang of stolen
sweets. And to the mad completeness of the escapade was added the
hallowing sanction of law and the Church.

It was a honeymoon, indeed, but pitilessly interrupted by the tasks of
departure, and pitifully brief.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The question of whether or not her husband—how she did read that word
“husband”!—should travel on the same train with her to Grand Rapids was
a hard riddle.

Both of them were unready to publish the delirious secret of their
wedding.

There was to be a special sleeping-car for the company. For Sheila as
the star the drawing-room was reserved, while Reben had claimed the
stateroom at the other end of the coach.

To smuggle Bret into her niche would be too perilous. For her to travel
in another car with him was equally impossible. If he went on the same
train he might be recognized in the dining-car. For her to take another
train would not be permitted. A manager has to keep his flock together.

At length they were driven to the appalling hardship of separation for
the journey. Bret would take an earlier train, and arrange for their
sojourn at the quietest hotel in Grand Rapids. She would join him there,
and no one would know of her tryst.

So they agreed, and she saw him off on the noon express. Of all the
topsy-turvy households ever heard of, this was the worst! But they
parted as fiercely as if he were going to the wars.

The company car left at five o’clock in the afternoon, and was due in
Grand Rapids at one the next day. Eldon and Pennock alone knew that the
young star was a young bride. Both of them regarded Sheila with such
woeful reproach that she ordered Pennock to change her face or jump off
the train, and she shut herself away from Eldon in her drawing-room.

But she was soon routed out by Batterson for a reading rehearsal of a
new scene that Prior had concocted. She was so afraid of Eldon’s eyes
and so absent-minded with thoughts of her courier husband that Batterson
thought she had lost her wits.

Twice she called Eldon “Bret” instead of “Ned,” the name of his rôle.
That was how he learned who it was she had married.

Even when she escaped to study the new lines she could not get her mind
on anything but fears for the train that carried her husband.

After dinner Reben called on her for a chat. He alluded to the fact that
he had wired ahead for the best room in the best hotel for the new star.

Sheila was aghast at this complication, which she would have foreseen if
she had ever been either a star or a bride before.

Reben was in a mood of hope. The voyage to new scenes heartened
everybody except Sheila. Reben kept trying to cheer her up. He could
best have cheered her by leaving her. He imputed her distracted manner
to stage-fright. It was everything but that.

That night Sheila knew for the first time what loneliness really means.
She pined in solitude, an early widow.

The train was late in arriving and the company was ordered to report at
the theater in half an hour. The company-manager informed Sheila that
her trunk would be sent to her hotel as soon as possible. She thanked
him curtly, and he growled to Batterson:

“She’s playing the prima donna already.”

She was all befuddled by this new tangle. How was she to smuggle her
trunk from the hotel to her husband’s lodgings, and where were they? He
had arranged to leave a letter at the theater instructing her where they
were to pitch their tent. She went directly to the theater.

She found a corpulent envelope in the mail-box at the stage door. It was
full of mourning for the lost hours and full of enthusiasm over the cozy
nook Bret had discovered in the outer edge of town. He implored her to
make haste.

As she set out to find a telephone and explain to him the delay for
rehearsal, she was called back by Reben to the dark stage where
Batterson and Prior and Eldon were gathered under the glimmer of a few
lights on an iron standard. They were discussing a new bit of business.

Sheila was aflame with impatience, but she could not leave. Before the
council of war was finished the general rehearsal was called—a
distracting ordeal, with the company crowded to the footlights and
struggling to remember lines and cues in the battle-like clamor of
getting the scenery in, making the new drops fast to the ropes and
hoisting them away to the flies. Hammers were pounding, canvases going
up, stage-hands shouting and interrupting.

The rehearsal was vexatious enough in all conscience, but its crudities
were aggravated by the icy realization that this was the final rehearsal
before the production. In a few hours the multitude of empty chairs
would be occupied by the big jury.

Under this strain the actors developed disheartening lapses of memory
that promised complications at night. When the lines had been parroted
over, Reben spoke a few words like a dubious king addressing his troops
before battle. The stage-manager sang out with unwonted comradery:

“Go to it, folks, and good luck!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila dashed to the stage door, only to be called again by Reben. He
offered to walk to the hotel with her. She dared not refuse. He invited
her to dine with him. She said that she would be dining in her room. In
the lobby of the hotel he had much to say and kept her waiting. He was
trying to cheer up a poor fluttering girl about to go through the fire.
He found her peculiarly ill at ease.

At last she escaped him and flew to her room to telephone Bret. She knew
he must be boiling over by now. Pennock met her with exciting news.
Certain articles of her costume had not arrived as promised. Shopping
must be done at once, since the stores were about to close.

All things must yield to the battle-needs, and Sheila postponed
telephoning Bret; it was the one postponable duty. By the time she had
finished her purchases it was too late to make the trip out to the cozy
nook he had selected. She was bitterly disappointed on his account—and
her own.

She reached the telephone at last, only to learn that he had gone out,
leaving a message that if his wife called up she was to be told to come
to their lodgings at once. But this she could not do. And she could not
find him to explain why.

He found her at last by telephone, and when she described her plight to
him he was furious with disappointment and wrath. He had bought flowers
lavishly and decorated the rooms and the table where they were to have
had peace at last for a while. Nullified hope sickened him.

He could not visit her at the theater during her make-up periods or
between the acts. He had to skulk about during the performance, dodging
Reben, who watched the play from the front and shifted his position from
time to time to get various points of view, and overhear what the people
said.

Numberless mishaps punctuated the opening performance of “The Woman
Pays,” as the play had been relabeled for the sixth time at the eleventh
hour. Lines were forgotten and twisted, and characters called out of
their names.

In the scene where Eldon was to propose to Sheila and she to accept him,
the distraite Sheila, unable to remember a line exactly, gave its
general meaning. Unfortunately she used a phrase that was one of Eldon’s
cues later on. He answered it mechanically as he had been rehearsed, and
then gave Sheila the right cue for the wrong scene. Her memory went on
from there and she heard herself accepting Eldon before he had proposed.
He realized the blunder at the same time.

They paused, stared, hesitated, wondering how to get back to the
starting-point, and improvised desperately while the prompter stood
helpless in the wings, not knowing where to throw what line. Reben swore
silently and perspired. The audience blamed itself for its bewilderment.

But even amid such confusion Sheila was fascinating. There was no doubt
of that. When she appeared the spectators sat forward, the whole face of
the house beamed and smiled “welcome” with instant hospitality. Reben
recognized the mysterious power and told Starr Coleman and the
house-manager that Kemble was a gold-mine.

Bret felt his heart go out to the brave, pretty thing she was up there,
sparkling and glowing and making people happy. He was proud that she
belonged to him. He felt sorry for the public because it had to lose
her. But he was not the public’s keeper. He was glad he had made her cut
out that embrace with Eldon—both of the embraces.

The last curtain fell just before the lovers moved into each other’s
open arms. This was the “artistic” effect that Sheila had persuaded
Reben to try. Even Bret felt a lurch of disappointment in the audience.
There was applause, but the rising curtain disclosed the actors bowing.
There was something wanting. Bret would have regretted it himself if he
had not been the husband of the star.

He was aching with impatience to see her and tell her how wonderful she
was. He did not dare go back on the stage, lest his presence in Grand
Rapids should require explaining. He must wait in the alley—he, the
owner of the star, must wait in the alley!

He hated the humiliation of his position, and thanked Heaven that after
this season Sheila would be at home with him. He hoped that it would not
take her long to slip into her street clothes.

He was the more eager to see her as he had prepared a little banquet in
their rooms. In his over-abundant leisure he had bought a chafing-dish
and the other things necessary to a supper. Everything was set out,
ready. He chuckled as he trudged up and down the alley and pictured
Sheila’s delight, and the cozy housewifeliness of her as she should
light the lamp and stir the chafing-dish. They would begin very light
housekeeping at once, with never a servant to mar their communion.

But Sheila did not come. None of the company emerged from the stage
door. It was long after twelve and nobody had appeared. He did not know
that the company had been held after the performance for criticism.
Aligned in all its fatigue and after-slump, it waited to be harangued by
Reben while the “grips” whisked away the scenery. Reben read the copious
notes he had made. He spared no one. Every member in turn was rebuked
for something, and he carefully refrained from any words of approval
lest the company should become conceited.

Reben believed in lashing his horses to their tasks. Others believe
otherwise and succeed as well, but Reben was known as a “slave-driver.”
He paid good prices for his slaves and it was a distinction to belong to
him; but he worked them hard.

Batterson and Prior had also made notes on the performance and the
dismal actors received spankings one after another. Sheila was not
overlooked. Rather she was subjected to extra severity because she
carried the success or failure on her young shoulders.

As usual, the first performance found the play too long. The first rough
cuts were announced and a rehearsal called for the next morning at ten.

It was half past twelve when the forlorn and worn-out players were
permitted to slink off to their dressing-rooms.

Sheila knew that her poor Bret must have been posting the alley outside
like a caged hyena. She was so tired and dejected that she hardly cared.
She sent Pennock out to explain. Pennock could not find him. She did not
look long. She did not like him. When at length Sheila was dressed for
the street she found Reben waiting for her with the news that he had
ordered a little supper in a private room at the hotel, so that she and
Batterson, Prior and Eldon and the company-manager and the press agent,
Starr Coleman, and the house-manager, might discuss the play while it
was fresh in their minds.

Sheila had never sat on one of these inquests before, and she had not
foreseen the call to this one. Such conferences are as necessary in the
theater as a meeting of generals after a hard day’s battle. Long after
the critics have turned in their diatribes or eulogies and gone home to
bed, the captains of the drama are comparing notes, quoting what the
audience has said, searching out flaws and discussing them, often with
more asperity than the roughest critic reveals.

                 *        *        *        *        *

In these anxious night-watches the fate of the new play may be settled,
and advance, retreat, or surrender decided upon.

Sheila, thinking of her poor husband, asked Reben to excuse her from the
conference.

His look of amazement and his sharp “Why?” found her without any
available excuse. She drearily consented and was led along.

During and after the cold supper everybody had much to say except
Sheila. Endless discussions arose on minutely unimportant points or upon
great vague principles of the drama and of public appeal. At three
o’clock Sheila began to doze and wake in short agonies. There was a hint
of daybreak in the sky when the meeting broke up. She was too sleepy to
care much whether she lived or died or had a husband or had just lost
one. She made a somnambulistic effort to search for Bret, but Reben and
the others had adjourned to the hotel lobby for further debate and she
dared not challenge their curiosity.

She went to the room the manager had reserved for her and slept there
like a Juliet on her tomb.



                              CHAPTER XXXV


The next morning Pennock did not call Sheila till the last moment. Then
her breakfast was on the table and her bath in the tub. The old dragon
had again forbidden the telephone operator to ring the bell, and the
bell-boys that came to the door with messages from Bret she shooed away.

Sheila found on her breakfast-tray a small stack of notes from Bret.
They ranged from incredulous amazement at her neglect to towering rage.

Sheila was still new enough to wedlock to feel sorrier for him than for
herself. She had a dim feeling that Bret had in him the makings of a
very difficult specimen of that most difficult class, the prima donna’s
husband. But she blamed her profession and hated the theater and Reben
for tormenting her poor, patient, devoted, long-suffering lover.

Yet as the soldier bridegroom, however he hates the war, obeys his
captain none the less, so Sheila never dreamed of mutiny. She was an
actor’s daughter and no treachery could be worse than to desert a
manager, a company, and a work of art at the crisis of the whole
investment. She regretted that she was not even giving her whole mind
and ambition to her work. But how could she with her husband in such a
plight?

She wrote Bret a little note of mad regret, abject apology, and insane
devotion, and asked Pennock to get it to him at once.

Pennock growled: “You better give that young man to me. You’ll never
have time to see him. And his jealousy is simply dretful.”

At the theater Sheila met Reben in a morning-after mood. He had had
little sleep and he was sure that the play was hopeless. The only thing
that could have cured him would have been a line of people at the
box-office. The lobby was empty, and few spaces can look quite so empty
as a theater lobby. The box-office man spoke to him, too, with a
familiarity based undoubtedly on the notices.

One of the papers published a fulsome eulogy that Starr Coleman would
not have dared to submit. Of the opposite tenor was the slashing abuse
of a more important paper that nursed one of those critics of which each
town has at least a single specimen—the local Archilochus whose similar
ambition seems to be to drive the objects of his satire to suicide.

His chief support is his knowledge that his readers enjoy his vigor in
pelting transient actors as a small boy throws rocks at express trains.
His highest reward is the town boast, “We got a critic can roast an
actor as good as anybuddy in N’York, and ain’t afraid to do it, either.”

As children these humorists first show their genius by placing bent pins
on chairs; later they pull the chairs from under old ladies and start
baby-carriages on a downward path. Every day is April fool to them.

Reben was always arguing that critics had nothing to do with success or
failure and always ready to document his argument, and always trembled
before them, none the less. It is small wonder that critics learn to
secrete vitriol, since their praise makes so little effect and only
their acid etches.

Reben had tossed aside the paper that praised his company and his play,
but he clipped the hostile articles. The play-roaster began, as usual,
with a pun on the title, “The Woman Pays but the audience won’t.”

As a matter of fact, Reben was about convinced that the play was a
failure. It had succeeded in France because it was written for the
French. The process of adaptation had taken away its Gallic brilliance
without adding any Anglo-Saxon trickery. Reben would make a fight for
it, before he gave up, but he had a cold, dismal intuition which he
summed up to Batterson in that simple fatal phrase:

“It won’t do.”

He did not tell Sheila so, lest he hurt her work, but he told Prior that
the play was deficient in viscera—only he used the grand old
Anglo-Saxon phrasing.

He gave Prior some ideas for the visceration of the play and set him to
work on a radical reconstruction, chiefly involving a powerful injection
of heart-interest. Till this was ready there was no use meddling with
details.

When Sheila reached the theater the rehearsal was brief and perfunctory.
Reben explained the situation, and told her to take a good rest and give
a performance at night. He had only one suggestion:

“Put more pep in the love-scenes and restore the clutch at the last
curtain.”

Sheila gasped, “But I thought it was so much more artistic the way we
played it last night.”

Reben laughed: “Ah, behave! When the curtain fell last night the thud
could be heard a mile. The people thought it fell by accident. If the
box-office hadn’t been closed they’d have hollered for their money back.
You jump into Eldon’s arms to-night and hug as hard as you can. The same
to you, Eldon. It’s youth and love they come to see, not artistic
omissions.”

Sheila felt grave misgivings as to the effect of the restoration on her
own arch-critic and private audience. But she rejoiced at being granted
a holiday. She telephoned to Bret from a drug-store.

“I’ve got a day off, honey. Isn’t it gee-lo-rious!”

Then she sped to him as fast as a taxicab could take her. He had an
avalanche of grievances waiting for her, but the sight of her beauty
running home to him melted the stored-up snows. The chafing-dish was
still in place after its all-night vigil, and it cooked a luncheon that
rivaled quails and manna.

That afternoon Bret chartered a motor and they rode afar. They talked
much of their first moonlight ride. It was still moonlight about them,
though people better acquainted with the region would have called it
afternoon sunlight. When Bret kissed her now she did not complain or
threaten. In fact, she complained and threatened when he did not kiss
her.

They dined outside the city walls and scudded home in the sunset. Sheila
would not let Bret take her near the theater, lest he be seen. Indeed,
she begged him not to go to the theater at all that night, but to spend
the hours of waiting at the vaudeville or some moving-picture house. He
protested that he did not want her out of his sight.

The reason she gave was not the real one: “Everybody always plays badly
at a second performance, honey. I’d hate to have you see how badly I can
play. Please don’t go to-night.”

He consented sulkily; she had a hope that the romantic emphasis Reben
had commanded and the final embrace would fail so badly that he would
not insist on their retention. She did not want Bret to see the
experiment. But there was no denying that warmth helped the play
immensely. Sheila’s increased success distressed her. Her marriage had
tied all her ambitions into such a snarl that she could be true neither
to Bret nor to Reben and least of all to herself.

Reben was jubilant. “What d’I tell you? That’s what they pay for; a lot
of heart-throbs and one or two big punches. We’ll get ’em yet. Will you
have a bite of supper with us to-night?”

“Thanks ever so much,” said Sheila. “I have an engagement
with—friends.”

She simply had not the courage to use the singular.

Reben laughed: “So long as it’s not just one. By the by, where were you
all day? I tried all afternoon to get you at the hotel. I wanted to take
you out for a little fresh air.”

“That’s awfully nice of you, but I got the air. I—I was motoring.”

“With friendzz?” he asked, peculiarly.

“Naturally not with enemies.”

She thought that rather quick work. But he gave her a suspicious look.

“Remember, Sheila—your picture is pasted all over town. These small
cities are gossip-factories. Be careful. Remember the old saying, if you
can’t be good, be careful.”

She blushed scarlet and protested, “Mr. Reben!”

He apologized in haste, convinced that his suspicions were outrageous,
and glad to be wrong. He added: “I’ve got good news for you: the office
sale for to-morrow’s matinee and night shows a little jump. That tells
the story. When the business grows, we can laugh at the critics.”

“Fine!” said Sheila, half-heartedly. Then she hurried from the theater
to the carriage waiting at the appointed spot. The door opened magically
and she was drawn into the dark and cuddled into the arms of her
“friends,” her family, her world.

After the first informalities Bret asked, “Well, how did it go?”

“Pretty well, everybody said. But it needs a lot of work. Reben is sure
we’ve got a success, eventually.”

“That’s good,” Bret sighed.

When they reached the hotel they found that they had neglected to
provide supplies for the chafing-dish. Sheila was hungry.

“We’re old married people now,” said Sheila. “Let’s have supper in the
dining-room. There’ll be nobody we know in this little hotel.”

They took supper in the little dining-room. There were only two other
people there. Sheila noted that they stared at her with frank delight
and plainly kept talking about her. She was used to it; Winfield did not
see anybody on earth but Sheila.

“Kind of nice being together in public like decent people,” he beamed.

“Isn’t it?” she gleamed.

“Let’s have another motor-ride to-morrow afternoon.”

“I can’t, honey. It’s matinée day.”

“We’ll get up early and go in the morning, then.”

“Oh, but I’ve got to sleep as late as I can, honey! It’s a hard day for
me.”

The next morning they had breakfast served in their apartment at twelve
o’clock. She called it breakfast. It was lunch for Bret.

He had stolen out of the darkened room at eight and gone down to his
breakfast in the cafe. He had dawdled about the town, buying her flowers
and gifts. When he got back at eleven she was still asleep. She looked
as if she had been drowned.

He sat in the dim light till it was time to call her. They were eating
grapefruit out of the same spoon when the telephone rang. A gruff voice
greeted Bret:

“Is this Mr. Winfield?”

“Yes. Who are you?”

“Is—Miss—is Sheila there?”

“Ye—yes. Who are you?”

“Mr. Reben.”



                             CHAPTER XXXVI


That morning Reben had wakened early with a head full of inspirations.
He was fairly lyrical with ideas. He wanted to talk them over with
Sheila. He called up her room. Pennock answered the telephone.

“Can I speak to Miss Kemble?”

“She—she’s not up yet.”

“Oh! Well, as soon as she is up have her let me know. I want a word with
her.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pennock, in dismay, called up Winfield’s hotel to forewarn Sheila. But
Winfield had gone out, leaving word that his wife was not to be
disturbed. Pennock left a message that she was to call up Miss Pennock
as soon as she was disturbable. The message was put in Winfield’s box.
When he came in he did not stop at the desk to inquire for messages,
since he expected none.

Reben grew more and more eager to explain his new ideas to Sheila. He
called up Pennock again.

“Isn’t Miss Kemble up yet?”

“Oh yes,” said Pennock.

“I want to speak to her.”

The distracted Pennock groped for the nearest excuse:

“She—she’s gone out.”

“But I told you to tell her! Didn’t you tell her I wanted to speak to
her?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing, sir; nothing,” Pennock faltered. She had told one big lie that
morning and her invention was exhausted.

“That’s damned funny,” Reben growled. Slapping the receiver on the hook,
he went to the cigar-stand, fuming, and bought a big black cigar to bite
on.

When plays are failures one’s friends avoid one. When plays are
successes strangers crowd forward with congratulations. The cigar girl
said to the angry manager, who had given her free tickets the night
before; “That’s a lovely show, Mr. Reben. I had a lovely time, and Miss
Kemble is simpully love-la.”

A stranger who was poking a cheap cigar into the general chopper spoke
in: “I was there last night, too—me and the wife. You the manager?”

Reben nodded impatiently.

The stranger went on: “That’s a great little star you got there—Miss
Kemble—or Mrs. Winfield, I suppose I’d ought to say.”

Reben looked his surprise. “Mrs. Winfield?”

“Yes. She’s stopping at our hotel with her husband. Right nice-lookin’
feller. Actor, too, I s’pose? I’m on here buying furniture. I always
stop at the Emerton. Right nice hotel. Prices reasonable; food fair to
middlin’. Has she been married long?”

But Reben had moved off. He was in a mood to believe any bad rumor.
This, being the worst news imaginable, sounded true. He felt queasy with
business disgust and with plain old-fashioned moral shock. He rushed for
the telephone-booth and clawed at the book till he found the number of
the Emerton Hotel. He was puffing with anxious wrath.

When Winfield answered, Reben almost collapsed. While he waited he took
his temper under control. When he heard Sheila’s voice quivering with
all the guilt in the world he mumbled, quietly:

“Oh, Sheila, I’d like to have a word with you.”

“Wh-where?” Sheila quivered.

“Here. No—at the theater. No—yes, at the theater.”

“All right,” she mumbled. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”



                             CHAPTER XXXVII


Sheila went to the theater with the joyous haste of a child going up to
the teacher’s desk for punishment. She wondered how Reben could have
learned of the marriage. She wished she had told him of it when it was
celebrated. She felt that poor Reben had a just grievance against her.
It would be only fair to let him scold his anger out, and bear his
tirade in quiet resignation.

Bret thought that he might as well come along, since he had been
unearthed. But Sheila would not permit him to enter the theater lest
Reben and he fall to blows. She did not want Reben to be beaten up. She
left Bret in the alley, and promised to call for him if she were
attacked.

The theater was quite deserted at this hour. Sheila found Reben pacing
the corridor before her dressing-room. She advanced toward him timidly
with shame that he misinterpreted. He fairly lashed her with his glare
and groaned in all contempt:

“My God, Sheila, I’d never have thought it of you!”

“Thought what?” Sheila gasped.

He laughed harshly: “And you called me down for insulting you! And you
got away with it! But, say, you ought to use your brains if you’re going
to play a game like that. Coarse work, Sheila; coarse work!”

Sheila bit her lip to keep back the resentment boiling up in her heart.

He went on with his denunciation: “I warned you that you would be known
everywhere you went. I told you your picture was all over town. And now
your name is. A stranger comes up to me and says he saw you and
your—your ‘husband,’ Mr. Winfield? Who’s the man? What’s his real
name?”

“Mr. Winfield, of course.”

“Oh, of course! Where did you meet him? Does he live here?”

“Live here! Indeed, he doesn’t!”

“He followed you here, then?”

“He preceded me here.”

“It’s as bad as that, eh? Well, you leave him here, at once. If he comes
near you again I’ll break every bone in his body.”

Sheila laughed. “You haven’t seen my husband, have you?”

“Your husband?” Reben laughed. “Are you going to try to bluff it out
with me, too?”

Sheila blenched at this. “He is my husband!” she stormed. “And you’d
better not let him hear you talk so to me.”

Reben’s knees softened under him. “Sheila! you don’t mean that you’ve
gone and got yourself married!”

“What else should I mean? How dare you think anything else?”

“Oh, you fool! you fool! you little damned fool!”

“Thanks!”

“You little sneaking traitor. Didn’t you promise me, on your word of
honor—”

“I promised to carry out my contract. And here I am.”

“I ought to break that contract myself.”

“You couldn’t please me better.”

He stood over her and glowered while his fingers twitched. She stared
back at him pugnaciously. Then he mourned over her. She was both his
lost love and his lost ward. His regret broke out in a groan:

“Why did you do this, Sheila? Why, why—in God’s name, why?”

Sheila had no answer. He might as well have shouted at her: “Why does
the earth roll toward the east? Why does gravity haul the worlds
together and keep them apart? Why are flowers? or June? what’s the
reason for June?”

Sheila knew why no more than the rose knows why.

At length Reben’s business instinct came to the rescue of his
heartbreak. He thought of his investment, of his contracts, of his
hoped-for profits. His experience as a manager had taught him to be
another Job. He ignored her challenge, and groaned, “How are we going to
keep this crime a secret?”

Sheila, seeing that he had surrendered, forgot her anger. “Have we got
to?”

“Of course we have. You know it won’t help you any to be known as a
married woman. O Lord! what fools these mortals be! We’ve got to keep it
dark at least till the play gets over in New York. If it’s a hit it
won’t matter so much; if it’s a flivver, it will matter still less.”

He was heartsick at her folly and her double-dealing. Such things and
worse had happened to him and to other managers. They force managers to
be cynical and to drive hard bargains while they can. Like captains of
ships, they are always at the ultimate mercy of any member of the crew.
But they must make voyages somehow.

Feeling the uselessness of wasting reproaches, Reben left Sheila and
groped through the dark house to the lobby. There he found a most
interesting spectacle—a line at the box-office. It was a convincing
argument. Sheila had draught. Even with a poor play in an unready
condition, she drew the people to the box-office. He must make the most
of her treason.

But his heart was sick. He was managing a married star. This was double
trouble with half the fun.



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII


Now that the cat was out of the bag, and the husband out of the closet,
Sheila decided to produce Bret at the train the next morning. He was
about to get a taste of the gipsying life known as “trouping” and he was
to learn the significance of the one-night stand.

He had felt so shamefaced for his part in the deception of Reben that
when he visited the play during the evening performance, and saw the
much-discussed embrace restored, he had no heart to make a vigorous
protest. And Sheila was too weary after the two performances to be
hectored. It was heartbreaking to him to see her so exhausted.

“Where do we go from here?” he asked, helplessly.

“Petoskey,” she yawned.

“Petoskey!” he gasped. “That’s in Russia. In Heaven’s name, do we—”

He was ready to believe in almost anything imbecile. But she explained
that their Petoskey was in Michigan. He did not approve of Michigan.

His hatred of his wife’s profession began to take deeper root. It
flourished exceedingly when they had to get up for the train the next
morning at six. It was hard enough for him to begin the new day.
Sheila’s struggles to fight off sleep were desperate. Sleep was like an
octopus whose many arms took new hold as fast as they were torn loose.
Bret was so sorry for her that he begged her to let the company go
without her. She could take a later train. But even her sad face was
crinkled with a smile at the impossibility of this suggestion.

Breakfast was the sort of meal usually flung together by servants
alarm-clocked earlier than their wont. For all their gulping and hurry,
Bret and Sheila nearly missed the train. It was moving as they clambered
aboard.

“Which is the parlor-car?” Bret asked the brakeman.

“Ain’t none.”

“Do you mean to say that we’ve got to ride all day in a day coach?”

“That’s about it, Cap.”

Bret was furious. Worse yet, the train was so crowded that it was
impossible for them even to have a double space. Their suit-cases had to
be distributed at odd points in racks, under seats, and at the end of
the car.

Bret remembered that he had forgotten to get his ticket, but the
business-manager, Mr. McNish, passed by and offered his congratulations
and a free transportation, with Mr. Reben’s compliments. Bret did not
want to be beholden to Mr. Reben, but Sheila prevailed on him not to be
ungracious.

When the conductor came along the aisle she said, “Company.”

“Both?” said the conductor, and she smiled, “Yes,” and giggled, adding
to Bret, “You’re one of the troupe now.”

Bret did not seem to be flattered.

Reben came down the aisle to meet the bridegroom. He was doing his best
to take his defeat gracefully. Bret could not even take his triumph so.

Other members of the company drifted forward and offered their
felicitations. They made themselves at home in the coach, sitting about
on the arms of seats and exchanging family jokes.

The rest of the passengers craned their necks to stare at the
bridegroom, crimson with shame and anger. Bret loathed being stared at.
Sheila did not like it, but she was used to it. Both writhed at the
well-meant humor and the good wishes of the actors and actresses. Their
effusiveness offended Bret mortally. He could have proclaimed himself
the luckiest man on earth, but he objected to being called so by these
actors. If he had been similarly heckled by people of any sort—college
friends, club friends, doctors, lawyers, merchants—he would have
resented their manner, for everybody hazes bridal couples. But since he
had fallen among actors, he blamed actors for his distress.

Eldon alone failed to come forward with good wishes, and Bret was
unreasonable enough to take umbrage at that. Why did Eldon remain aloof?
Was he jealous? What right had he to be jealous?

Altogether, the bridegroom was doing his best to make rough weather of
his halcyon sea. Sheila was at her wits’ end to cheer him who should
have been cheering her.

At noon a few sandwiches of the railroad sort were obtained by a dash to
a station lunch-counter. Bret apologized to Sheila, but she assured him
that he was not to blame and was not to mind such little troubles; they
were part of the business. He minded them none the less and he hated the
business.

The town of Petoskey, when they reached it, did not please him in any
respect. The hotel pleased him less. When he asked for two rooms with
bath the clerk snickered and gave him one without. He explained with
contempt, “They’s a bath-room right handy down the hall and baths are a
quarter extry.”

It was a riddle whether it were cleanlier to keep the grime one had or
fly to a bath-room one knew not of. When Bret and Sheila appeared at the
screen door which kept the flies in the dining-room they were beckoned
down the line by an Amazonian head waitress. She planted them among a
group of grangers who stared at Sheila and picked their teeth snappily.

The dinner was a small-hotel dinner—a little bit of a lot of things in
a flotilla of small dishes.

The audience at the theater was sparse and indifferent. The play had
begun to bore Winfield. It irritated him to see Sheila repeating the
same love-scenes night after night—especially with that man Eldon.

After the play supper was to be had nowhere except at a cheap and
ill-conditioned little all-night restaurant where there was nothing to
eat but egg sandwiches and pie, the pastry thicker and hardly more
digestible than the resounding stone china it was served on.

The bedroom at the hotel was ill ventilated, the plush furniture greasy,
the linen coarse, and the towels few and new. Bret declared it
outrageous that his beautiful, his exquisite bride should be so shabbily
housed, fed like a beggar, and bedded like a poor relation. Almost all
of his ill temper was on her account, and she could not but love him for
it.

After a dolefully realistic night came again the poignant tragedy of
early rising, another gulped breakfast, another dash for the train. The
driver of the hack never came. Bret and Sheila waited for him till it
was necessary to run all the way to the station. The station was handier
to the railroad than to the hotel. Since red-caps were an institution
unknown to Petoskey, they carried their own baggage.

The itinerary of the day included a change of trains and an eventual
arrival at no less—and no more—a place than Sheboygan.

There they found a county fair in progress and the hotels packed. Decent
rooms were not to be had at any price. It took much beseeching even to
secure a shelter in a sample-room filled with long tables for drummers
to display their wares on. They waited like mendicants for luncheon in
an overcrowded dining-room where over-driven waitresses cowed the
timorous guests. Sheila had not time to finish her luncheon before she
must hurry away to a rehearsal. Bret left his and went with her, racing
along the streets and growling:

“Why is Reben such a fool as to play in towns like this?”

“He has to play somewhere, honey, to whip the play into shape,” Sheila
panted.

“Well, he’s whipping you out of shape.”

“I don’t mind, dearest. It’s fun to me. It’s all part of the business.”

“Well, I want you to get out of the business. It’s unfit for a decent
woman.”

“Oh—honey!”

It was a feeble little wail from a great hurt. Plainly Bret would never
comprehend the majestic qualities of her art, or realize that its
inconveniences were no more than the minor hardships of an army on a
great campaign.

                 *        *        *        *        *

At the rehearsal the first of Prior’s new scenes was gone over. It
emphasized the “heart-interest” with a vengeance. Sheila trembled to
think what her husband would do when he saw it played. She was glad that
it was not to be tried until the following week. Every moment of
postponement for the inevitable storm was so much respite.

They rehearsed all afternoon. The struggle for dinner was more trying
than for the luncheon. The performance was early and hasty, as it was
necessary to catch a train immediately after the last curtain, in order
to reach Bay City for the Saturday matinée. Worse yet, they had to leave
the car at four o’clock in the morning.

This time it was Bret who was hard to waken. His big body was so
famished for sleep that Sheila was afraid she would have to leave him on
the train. She was wiry, and her enthusiasm for the battle gave her a
courage that her disgusted husband lacked. There was no carriage at the
station and Bret stumbled and swore drowsily at the dark streets and the
intolerable conditions.

He had nothing to interest him except the infinite annoyances and
exactions of his wife’s career. There was nothing to reward him for his
privations except to lumber along in her wake like a coal-barge hauled
by a tug.

His pride was mutinous, and it seemed a degradation to permit his bride
to run from place to place as if she were a fugitive from justice. He
had wealth and the habit of luxury, and his idea of a honeymoon was the
ultimate opposite of this frenzied gipsying.

He had always understood that actors were a lazy folk whose life was one
of easy vagabondage, with all the vices that indolence fosters. Three
days of trouping had wrecked his strength; yet he had done none of the
work but the travel.

When he protested the next morning at early breakfast that the tour
would be the death of them both Sheila looked up from the part she was
studying and laughed:

“Cheer up! The worst is yet to come. We haven’t made any long jumps yet.
The route-sheet says we leave Bay City at one o’clock to-night and get
to Ishpeming at half past four to-morrow afternoon. We rehearse Sunday
night and all day Monday, play that night, and take a train at midnight
back to Menominee. From there we rush back to Calumet, and then on to
Duluth.”

Bret set his coffee-cup down hard and growled, “Well, this is where I
leave you.”

He spoke truer than he knew. He had kept his family informed of his
whereabouts by night-letters, in which he alluded to the blissful time
he ought to have been having. When he took Sheila to the theater for the
matinée he found a telegram for him.

He winced at the address: “Bret Winfield, Esq., care of Miss Sheila
Kemble, Opera House, Bay City.” He forgot the pinch of pride when he
read the message:

    Please come home at once your father dangerously ill and asking
    for you.

                                                            MOTHER.



                             CHAPTER XXXIX


Sheila saw the anguish of dread cover his face like a sudden fling of
ashes. He handed the telegram to her, and she put her arms about his
shoulders to uphold him and shelter him from the sledge of fate.

“Poor old dad!” he groaned. “And mother! I must take the first train.”

She nodded her head dismally.

He read the telegram again in a stupor, and mumbled, “I wish you could
come with me.”

“If I only could!”

“You ought to,” he urged.

“Oh, I know it—but I can’t.”

“You may never see my father again.”

“Don’t say that! He’ll get well, honey; you mustn’t think anything else.
Oh, it’s too bad! it’s just too bad!”

He felt lonely and afraid of what was ahead of him. He was afraid of his
father’s death, and of a funeral. He was terrified at the thought of his
mother’s woe. He could feel her clutching at him helplessly,
frantically, and telling him that he was all she had left. His eyes
filled with tears at the vision and they blinded him to everything but
the vision. He put his hands out through the mist and caught Sheila’s
arms and pleaded:

“You ought to come with me, now of all times.”

She could only repeat and repeat: “I know it, but I can’t, I can’t. You
see that I can’t, don’t you, honey?”

His voice was harsh when he answered: “No, I don’t see why you can’t.
Your place is there.”

She cast her eyes up and beat her palms together hopelessly over the
complete misunderstanding that thwarted the union of their souls. She
took his hands again and squeezed them passionately.

Reben came upon them, swinging his cane. Seeing the two holding hands,
he essayed a frivolity. “Honeymoon not on the wane yet?”

Sheila told him the truth. He was all sympathy at once. His race made
him especially tender to filial love, and his grief brought tears to his
eyes. He crushed Bret’s hands in his own and poured out sorrow like an
ointment. His deep voice trembled with fellowship:

“If I could only do anything to help you!”

Winfield caught at the proffer. “You can! Let Sheila go home with me.”

Reben gasped. “My boy, my boy! It’s impossible! The matinée begins in
half an hour. She should be making up now.”

“Let somebody else play her part.”

“There is no understudy ready. We never select the understudy for the
try-out performances. Sheila, you must understand.”

“I do, of course; but poor Bret—he can’t seem to.”

“Oh, all right, I understand,” Winfield sighed with a resignation that
terrified Sheila. “What train can I get? Do you know?”

Reben knew the trains. He would get the company-manager to secure the
tickets. Bret must go by way of Detroit. He could not leave till after
five. He would reach Buffalo early Sunday morning and be home in the
late afternoon.

The big fellow’s frame shook with anxiety. So much could happen in
twenty-four hours. It would seem a year to his poor mother. He hurried
away to send her a telegram. Sheila paused at the stage door, staring
after his forlorn figure; then she darted in to her task.

Bret came back shortly and dropped into a chair in Sheila’s
dressing-room. His eyes, dulled with grief, watched her as she plastered
on her face the various layers of color, spreading the carmine on cheek
and ear with savage brilliance, penciling her eyelashes till thick beads
of black hung from them, painting her eyelids blue above and below, and
smearing her lips with scarlet.

He turned from her, sick with disgust.

Sheila felt his aversion, and it choked her when she tried to comfort
him. She painted her arms and shoulders white and powdered them till
clouds of dust rose from the puff. Pennock made the last hooks fast and
Sheila rose for the final primpings of coquetry.

Pennock opened the door of the dressing-room to listen for the cue. When
the time came Sheila sighed, ran to Bret, clasped him in a tight
embrace, and kissed his wet forehead. Her arms left white streaks across
his coat, and her lips red marks on his face.

He followed to watch her make her entrance. She stood a moment between
the flats, turned and stared her adoration at him through her viciously
leaded eyelashes, and wafted him a sad kiss. Then she caught up her
train and began to laugh softly as from a distance. She ran out into the
glow of artificial noon, laughing. A faint applause greeted her, the
muffled applause of a matinée audience’s gloved hands.

Bret watched her, heard her voice sparkle, heard it greeted with waves
of hilarity. He could not realize how broken-hearted she was for him. He
could not understand how separate a thing her stage emotions were from
her personal feelings.

Good news would not have helped her comedy; bad news could hardly alter
it. She went through her well-learned lines and intonations as a
first-class soldier does the manual of arms without reference to his
love or grief.

All Bret knew was that his wife was out there, laughing and causing
laughter, while far away his mother was sobbing—sobbing perhaps above
the chill clay of his father.

He hurried from the stage door to pack his trunk. He went cursing the
theater, and himself for lingering in its infamous shadow. He did not
come back till the play was over and Sheila in her street clothes. In
her haste she had overlooked traces of her make-up—that odious blue
about the eyes, the pink edging of the ears, the lead on the eyelashes.

Once more Sheila went to the train with her husband. They clung together
in fierce farewells, repeated and repeated till the train was moving and
the porter must run alongside to help Bret aboard.

When he looked back he could not see Sheila’s pathetic figure and her
sad face. When he thought of her he thought of her laughing in her
motley. All the next day he thought of her in the theater rehearsing.

He loved her perhaps the more for that unattainable soul of hers. He had
won her, wed her, possessed her, made her his in body and name; but her
soul was still uncaptured. He vowed and vowed again that he would make
her altogether his. She was his wife; she should be like other wives.

                 *        *        *        *        *

When he reached home his father was dead. His mother was too weak with
grief to rebuke him for being on a butterfly-hunt at such a time.

He knelt by her bed and held her in his arms while she told him of his
father’s long fight to keep alive till his boy came back. She begged him
not to leave her again, and he promised her that he would make her home
his.

The days that ensued were filled with tasks of every solemn kind. There
was the funeral to prepare for and endure, and after that the assumption
of all his father’s wealth. This came to him, not as a mighty treasure
to squander, but as a delicate invalid to nurture and protect.

Sheila’s telegrams and letters were incessant and so full of devotion
for him that they had room for little about herself.

She told him she was working hard and missing him terribly, and what her
next address would be. She tried vainly to mask her increasing terror of
the dreadful opening in Chicago.

He wished that he might be with her, yet knew that he had no real help
to give her. He prayed for her success, but with a mental reservation
that if the play were the direst failure he would not be sorry, for it
would bring them to peace the sooner.

He tried to school his undisciplined mind to the Herculean task of
learning in a few days what his father had acquired by a life of toil.
The factory ran on smoothly under the control of its superintendents,
but big problems concerning the marketing of the output, consolidation
with the trust, and enlargement of the plant, were rising every hour.
These matters he must decide like an infant king whose ministers
disagree.

To his shame and dismay, he could not give his whole heart to the work;
his heart was with Sheila. He thought of her without rancor now. He
recognized the bravery and honor that had kept her with the company. As
she had told him once before, treachery to Reben would be a poor
beginning of her loyalty to Bret. The very things he cherished bitterly
against her turned sweet in his thoughts. He decided that he could not
live without her, and might as well recognize it.

He found himself clenching his hands at his desk and whispering prayers
that the play should be a complete failure. How else could they be
reunited? He could not shirk his own responsibilities. It was not a
man’s place to give up his career. There was only one hope—the failure
of the play.

But “The Woman Pays” was a success. The Grand Rapids oracle guessed
wrong. As sometimes happens, the city critics were kinder than the
rural. Sheila sent Bret a double night-telegram. She said that she was
sorry to say that the play had “gone over big.” She had an enormous
ovation; there had been thirty curtain calls; the audience had made her
make a speech. Reben had said the play would earn a mint of money. And
then she added that she missed Bret “terribly,” and loved him “madly and
nothing else mattered.”

The next day she telegraphed him that the critics were “wonderful.” She
quoted some of their eulogies and announced that she was mailing the
clippings to him. But she said that she would rather hear him speak one
word of praise than have them print a million. He did not believe it,
but he liked to read it.

He did not wait to receive the clippings. He gave up opposing his
ravenous heart, and took train for Chicago. He could not bear to have
everybody except himself acclaiming his wife in superlatives.

He decided to surprise her. He did not even telegraph a warning. Indeed,
when he reached Chicago in the early evening, he resolved to see the
performance before he let her know he was in town.

He could not get by Mr. McNish, who was “on the door,” without being
recognized, but he asked McNish not to let “Miss Kemble” know that he
was in the house. McNish agreed readily; he did not care to agitate
Sheila during the performance. After the last curtain fell her emotions
would be her own.

McNish was glowing as he watched the crowd file past the ticket-taker.
He chuckled: “It’s a sell-out to-night I bet. This afternoon we had the
biggest first matinée this theater has known for years. I told Reben two
years ago that the little lady was star material. He said he’d never
thought of it. She’s got personality and she gets it across. She plays
herself, and that’s the hardest kind of acting there is. I discover her,
and Reben cops the credit and the coin. Ain’t that life all over?”

Bret agreed that it was, and hurried to his seat. It was in the exact
center of a long row. He was completely surrounded by garrulous women
trying to outchatter even the strenuous coda of the band.

A fat woman on his right bulged over into his domain and filled the arm
of his chair with her thick elbow. A lean woman on his left had an arm
some inches too long for her space, and her elbow projected like a spur
into Bret’s ribs. He could have endured their contiguity if they had
omitted their conversation. The overweening woman was chewing gum and
language with the same grinding motions, giving her words a kind of
stringy quality.

“Jevver see this Sheilar Kemble?” she munched. “I seen her here some
time ago. She didn’t have a very big part, but she played it perfect.
She was simpully gurrand. I says at the time to the gempmum was with me,
I says, ‘Somebody ought to star that girl.’ I guess I must ’a’ been
overheard, for here she is.

“A lady frien’ o’ mine went last night, and told me I mustn’t miss it.
She says they got the handsomest actor playin’ the lover—feller name of
Weldon or Weldrum or something like that—but anyway she says he makes
love something elegant, and so does Sheilar. This frien’ o’ mine says
they must be in love with each other, for nobody could look at one
another that way without they meant it. Well, we’ll soon see.”

To hear his wife’s name and Eldon’s chewed up together in the gum of a
strange plebeian was disgusting.

The sharp-elbowed woman was talking all the while in a voice of affected
accents:

“She’s almost a lady, this Kemble gull. Really, she was received in the
veribest homes hyah lahst wintuh. Yes, I met hah everywhah. She was
really quite refined—for an actress, of cawse. Several of the nicest
young men made quite fools of themselves—quite. Fawtunately their
people saved them from doing anything rahsh. I suppose she’ll upset them
all again this season. There ought to be some fawm of inoculation to
protect young men against actresses. Don’t you think so? It’s fah more
dangerous than typhoid fevah, don’t you think so?”

All about him Bret heard Sheila’s name tossed carelessly as a public
property.

The curtain rose at last and the play began. Sheila made a conspicuously
inconspicuous entrance without preparation, without even the laughter
she had formerly employed. She was just there. The audience did not
recognize her till she spoke, then came a volley of applause.

Bret’s eyes filled with tears. She was beautiful. She seemed to be sad.
Was she thinking of him? He wanted to clamber across the seats and over
the footlights to protect her once more from the mob, not from its
ridicule as at that first sight of her, but from its more odious
familiarity and possession.

He hardly recognized the revised play. The character she played—and
played in her very selfhood—was emotional now, and involved in a
harrowing situation with a mystery as to her origin, and hints of a
past, a scandal into which an older woman, an adventuress, had decoyed
her.

Then Eldon came on the scene and they fell in love at once; but she was
afraid of her past, and evaded him for his own sake. He misunderstood
her and accused her of despising him because he was poor; and she let
him think so, because she wanted him to hate her.

The audience wept with luxurious misery over her saintly double-dealing.
The gum-chewer’s tears salted her pepsin and she commented: “Ain’t it
awful what beasts you men are to us trusting girrls! Think of the demon
that loored that girrl to her roon!”

The sharp-elbowed woman dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief and said
that it was “really quite affecting—quite. I’ve made myself
ridiculous.” Then she blew her nose as elegantly as that proletarian
feat can be accomplished.

Winfield was astounded at the changes in the play. A few new scenes
altered the whole meaning of it. Everything pink before was purple now.
The rôles of Sheila and Eldon had been rendered melodramatic. Sheila’s
comedy was accomplished now in a serious way. With a quaint little pout,
or two steps to the side and a turn of the head, she threw the audience
into convulsions.

Suddenly Sheila would quench the hilarity with a word, and the hush
would be enormous and strangely anxious; then the handkerchiefs would
come out.

Bret would have felt with the mob had the actress been any woman on
earth but his own. That made all the difference in the world. He told
himself that she was the victim of her art. But his ire burned against
Eldon, since Eldon made love to her for nearly three hours. And he said
and did noble things that made her love him more and more. And there was
no lack of caresses now.

In the second act Eldon overtook the fugitive Sheila and claimed her for
his own. She broke loose and ran from him, weeping, because she felt
“unworthy of a good man’s love.” But she followed him with eyes of
doglike adoration. Her hands quivered toward him and she held them back
“for his dear sake.” Then he caught her again and would not let her
escape. He held her by both hands.

“Mary!”—that was her name in the play. “Mary,” he cried, “I love you.
The sight of you fills my eyes with longing. The touch of your hand sets
my very soul on fire. I love you. I can’t live without you!”

He seized her in his arms, crushed her fiercely. She struggled a moment,
then began to yield, to melt toward him. She lifted her eyes to
his—then turned them away again. The audience could read in them
passion fighting against renunciation. She murmured:

“Oh, Jack! Jack! I—”

He pressed his conquest. “You do love me! You must! You can’t scorn a
love like mine. I have seen you weeping. I can read in your eyes that
you love me. Your eyes belong to me. Your lips are mine. Give them to
me! Kiss me! Kiss me—Ma-ry!”

She quivered with surrender. The audience burned with excitement. The
lover urged his cause with select language.

It was the sort of thing the women in the audience did not get from
their own lovers or husbands; the sort of thing the men in the audience
wanted to be able to say in a crisis and could not. Therefore, for all
its banality, it thrilled them. They ate it up. It was a sentimental
banquet served at this emotion restaurant every evening.

At length, as Eldon repeated his demand in tones that swept the
sympathetic strings in every bosom to response, Mary began to yield; her
hands climbed Eldon’s arms slowly, paused on his shoulders. In a moment
they would plunge forward and clasp him about the neck.

Her lips were lifted, pursed to meet his. And then—as the audience was
about to scream with suspense—she thrust herself away from him, broke
loose, moaning:

“No, I am unworthy—no, no—I can’t, I don’t love you—no—no!”

The curtain fell on another flight.

Bret wanted to push through the crowd and go back to the stage to forbid
the play from going on. But he would have had to squeeze past the fat
woman’s form or stride across the lean woman’s protrusive knees. And fat
women and men, and lean, were wedged in the seats on both sides of him.
He was imprisoned in his wrath.

As if his own doubts and certainties were not torture enough, he had to
hear them voiced in the dialects of others.

The gumstress was saying: “Well, I guess that frien’ o’ mine got it
right when she says those two actors must be in love with each other. I
tell you no girrl can look at a feller with those kind of looks without
there bein’ somethin’ doin’, you take it from me. No feller like Mr.
Eldon is goin’ to hold no beauty like Sheila in his arms every evening
and not fall in love with her.”

Her escort was encouraged by her enthusiasm to rhapsodize over Sheila on
his own account. It seemed to change the atmosphere. He had paid for
both seats, but he had not bought free speech. He said—with as little
tact as one might expect from a man who would pay court to that woman:

“Well, all I gotter say is, if that guy gets wore out huggin’ Sheila
I’ll take his place and not charge him a cent. Some snap, he has,
spendin’ his evenin’s huggin’ and kissin’ an A1 beaut like her and
gettin’ paid for it.” He seemed to realize a sudden fall in the
temperature. Perhaps he noted that the gum-crunching jaw had paused and
the elastic sweetmeat hung idle in the mill. He tried to retreat with a
weak:

“But o’ course she gets paid for huggin’ him, too.”

The anxious escort bent forward to look into his companion’s face. He
caught a glimpse of Bret’s eyes and wondered how that maniac came there.
He sank back alarmed just as Bret realized that, however unendurable
such comment was, he could not resent it while his wife belonged to the
public; he could only resolve to take her out of the pillory.

But his Gehenna was not ended yet, for he must hear more from the woman.

“Well, o’ course, Mr. Jeggle, if you’re goin’ to fall for an actress as
easy as that, you’re not the man I should of thought you was. But that’s
men all over. An actress gets ’em every time.

“I could of went on the stage myself. Ma always said I got temper’munt
to beat the band. But she said if I ever disgraced her so far as to show
my face before the footlights I need never come home. I’d find the door
closed against me.

“And my gempmum friend at that time says if I done so he’d beat me with
a rollin’-pin. The way he come to use such words was he was travelin’
for a bakery-supply house—he was kind of rough in his talk—nice,
though—and eyes!—umm! Well, him and I quarreled. I found he had two
other wives on his route and I refused to see him again—that’s his ring
there now. He was a wicked devil, but he did draw the line at actresses.
He married often, but he drew the line: and he says no actress should
ever be a wife of his.

“And he had it right. No sane man ain’t goin’ to leave his wife layin’
round loose in the arms of any handsome actor, not if he’s a real man.
If she’ll kiss him like that in public—well, I say no more. Not that I
blame a poor actress for goin’ wrong. I never believe in being merciless
to the fallen. It’s the fault of the stage. The stage is a nawful
immor’l place, Mr. Jeggle. The way I get it is this: if a girl’s not
ummotional she’s got no right on the stage. If she is ummotional she’s
got no chance to stay good on the stage. Do you see what I mean?”

Mr. Jeggle said he saw what she meant and he forbore to praise Sheila
further. He changed the perilous subject hastily and lowered his voice.

Bret, on a gridiron of intolerable humiliation, could hear now the dicta
of the elbow-woman.

“I fancy the young men in Chicago are quite safe from that Kemble gull
this season. She must be hopelessly infatuated with that actor. And no
wonder. If she doesn’t keep him close to hah, though, he’ll play havoc
with every gull in town. He’s quite too beautiful—quite!”

In the last act Sheila poured out the confession of her sins to Eldon.
This was a bit that Bret had not seen, and it poured vinegar into his
wounds to hear his own wife announcing to a thousand people how she had
been duped and deceived by a false marriage to a man who had never
understood her. That was bad enough, but to have Eldon play the saint
and forgive her—Bret gripped the chair arms in a frenzy.

Eldon offered her the shelter of his name and the haven of his love. And
she let him hold her in his arms while he poured across her shoulder his
divine sentiments. Now and then she would turn her head and gaze up at
him in worship and longing, and at last, with an irresistible passion,
she whirled and threw her arms around him and gave him her kisses, and
his arms tightened about her in a frenzy of rapture.

That could not be acting. Bret swore that it was real.

They clung together till several humorous characters appeared at doors
and windows and she broke away in confusion. There were explanations,
untying of knots and tying of others, and the play closed in a comedy
finish.

The curtain went down and up and down and up in a storm of applause, and
Sheila bowed and bowed, holding Eldon’s hand and generously recommending
him to the audience. He bowed to her and bowed himself off and left her
standing and nodding with quaint little ducks of the head and mock
efforts to escape, mock expressions of surprise at finding the curtain
up again and the audience still there.

Bret had to wait till the women got into their hats and wraps. They were
talking, laughing, and sopping up their tears. They had been well fed on
sorrow and joy and they were ready for supper and sleep.

Bret wanted to fight his way through in football manner, but he could
hardly move. The crowd ebbed out with the deliberation of a glacier, and
he could not escape either the people or their comments. The Chicago
papers had not heard of Sheila’s marriage to him. He was a nonentity.
The sensation of the town was the romance of Sheila Kemble and Floyd
Eldon.

When at last Bret was free of the press he dashed round to the stage
entrance. The old doorkeeper made no resistance, for the play was over
and visitors often came back to pay their compliments to the troupe.
Bret was the first to arrive.

In his furious haste he stumbled down the steps to the stage and almost
sprawled. He had to wait while a squad of “grips” went by with a huge
folded flat representing the whole side of a canvas house.

He stepped forward; a sandbag came down and struck him on the shoulder.
He tripped on the cables of the box lights and lost his glasses. While
he groped about for them he heard the orchestra, muffled by the curtain,
playing the audience out to a boisterous tune. His clutching fingers
were almost stepped on by two men carrying away a piece of solid
stairway.

Before he found his glasses he was demoniac with rage. He rubbed them on
his sleeve, set them in place, and again a departing wall obstructed his
view. An actress and an actor walked into him. At last he found the
clear stage ahead of him. He made out a group at the center of it.
McNish, Batterson, and Prior were in jovial conference, slapping each
other’s shoulders and chortling with the new wine of success.

He brushed by them and saw Sheila at last. Reben was holding her by one
arm; his other hand was on Eldon’s shoulder. He was telling them of the
big leap in the box-office receipts.

Sheila seemed rapturous with pride and contentment. Bret saw her murmur
something to Eldon. He could not hear what it was, but he heard Eldon
chuckle delightedly. Then he called:

“Eldon!”

Eldon looked forward just in time to see Bret coming on like a striding
giant, just in time to see the big arm swing up in a rigid drive,
shoulder and side and all.

The clenched fist caught Eldon under the chin and sent him backward
across a heavy table.



                               CHAPTER XL


The thud of the fist, the grunt of Bret’s effort, the shriek of Sheila,
the clatter of Eldon’s fall, the hubbub of the startled spectators, were
all jumbled.

When Eldon, dazed almost to unconsciousness, gathered himself together
for self-defense and counter attack, the stage was revolving about him.
Instinctively he put up his guard, clenched his right fist, and shifted
clear of the table.

Then his anger flamed through his bewilderment. He realized who had
struck him, and he dimly understood why. A blaze of rage against this
foreigner, this vandal, shot up in his soul, and he advanced on Winfield
with his arm drawn back. But he found Winfield struggling with Batterson
and McNish, who had flung themselves on him, grappling his arms. Eldon
stopped with his fists poised. He could not strike that unprotected
face, though it was gray with hatred of him.

An instant he paused, then unclenched his hand and fell to straightening
his collar and rubbing his stinging flesh. Sheila had run between the
two men in a panic. All her thought was to protect her husband. Her eyes
blazed against Eldon. He saw the look, and it hurt him worse than his
other shame. He laughed bitterly into Bret’s face.

“We’re even now. I struck you when you didn’t expect it because you
didn’t belong on the stage. You don’t belong here now. Get off! Get off
or—God help you!”

This challenge infuriated Bret, and he made such violent effort to reach
Eldon that Batterson, Prior, McNish, and an intensely interested and
hopeful group of stage-hands could hardly smother his struggles. He bent
and wrestled like the withed Samson, and his hatred for Eldon could find
no word bitter enough but “You—you—you actor!”

Eldon laughed at this taunt and answered with equal contempt, “You
thug—you business man!” Then, seeing how Sheila urged Bret away, how
dismayed and frantic she was, he cried in Bret’s face: “You thought you
struck me—but it was your wife you struck in the face!”

Sheila did not thank him for that pity. She silenced him with a glare,
then turned again to her husband, put her arms about his arms, and clung
to them with little fetters that he could not break for fear of hurting
her. She laid her head on his breast and talked to his battling heart:

“Oh, Bret, Bret! honey, my love! Don’t, don’t! I can’t bear it! You’ll
kill me if you fight any more!”

The fights of men and dogs are almost never carried to a finish. One
surrenders or runs or a crowd interferes.

Winfield felt all his strength leave him. His wife’s voice softened him;
the triumph of his registered blow satisfied him to a surprising degree;
the conspicuousness of his position disgusted him. He nodded his head
and his captors let him go.

The reaction and the exhaustion of wrath weakened him so that he could
hardly stand, and Sheila supported him almost as much as he supported
her.

                 *        *        *        *        *

And now Reben began on him. An outsider had invaded the sanctum of his
stage, had attacked one of his people—an actor who had made good.
Winfield had broken up the happy family of success with an omen of
scandal.

Reben denounced him in a livid fury: “Why did you do it? Why? What right
have you to come back here and slug one of my actors? Why? He is a
gentleman! Your wife is a lady! Why should you be—what you are? You
should apologize, you should!”

“Apologize!” Bret sneered, with all loathing in his grin.

Eldon flared at the look, but controlled himself. “He doesn’t owe me any
apology. Let him apologize to his wife, if he has any decency in him.”

He sat down on the table, but stood up again lest he appear weak. Again
Sheila threw him a look of hatred. Then she began to coax Winfield from
the scene, whispering to him pleadingly and patting his arms soothingly:

“Come away, honey. Come away, please. They’re all staring. Don’t fight
any more, please—oh, please, for my sake!”

He suffered her to lead him into the wings and through the labyrinth to
her dressing-room.

                 *        *        *        *        *

And now the stage was like a church at a funeral after the dead has been
taken away. Everybody felt that Sheila was dead to the theater. The look
in her eyes, her failure to rebuke her husband for his outrage on the
company, her failure to resent his attitude toward herself—all these
pointed to a slavish submission. Everybody knew that if Sheila took it
into her head to leave the stage there would be no stopping her.

The curtain went up, disclosing the empty house with all the soul gone
out of it. In the cavernous balconies and the cave of the orchestra the
ushers moved about banging the seats together. They went waist-deep in
the rows, vanishing as they stooped to pick up programs and rubbish.
They were exchanging light persiflage with the charwomen who were
spreading shrouds over the long windrows. The ushers and the
scrub-ladies knew nothing of what had taken place after the curtain
fell. They knew strangely little about theatrical affairs.

They were hardly interested in the groups lingering on the stage in
quiet, after-the-funeral conversation. But the situation was vitally
interesting to the actors and the staff. Without Sheila the play would
be starless. How could it go on? The company would be disbanded, the few
weeks of salary would not have paid for the long rehearsals or the
costumes. The people would be taken back to New York and dumped on the
market again, and at a time when most of the opportunities were gone.

It meant a relapse to poverty for some of them, a postponement of
ambitions and of loves, a further deferment of old bills; it meant
children taken out of good schools, parents cut off from their
allowances; it meant all that the sudden closing of any other factory
means.

The disaster was so unexpected and so outrageous that some of them found
it incredible. They could not believe that Sheila would not come back
and patch up a peace with Reben and Eldon and let the success continue.
Successes were so rare and so hard to make that it was unbelievable that
this tremendous gold-mine should be closed down because of a little
quarrel, a little jealousy, a little rough temper and hot language.

Eldon alone did not believe that Sheila would return. He had loved her
and lost her. He had known her great ambitions, how lofty and beautiful
they had been. He had dreamed of climbing the heights at her side; then
he had learned of her marriage and had seen how completely her art had
ceased to be the big dream of her soul, how completely it had been
shifted to a place secondary to love.

No, Sheila would not make peace. Sheila was dead to this play, and this
play dead without her, and without this play Sheila would die. Of this
he felt solemnly assured.

Therefore when the others expressed their sympathy for the attack he had
endured, or made jokes about it, he did not boast of what he might have
done, or apologize for what he had left undone, or try to laugh it off
or lie it off.

He could think only solemnly of the devastation in an artist’s career
and the deep damnation of her taking off.

Batterson said, “Say, that was a nasty one he handed you.”

Eldon confessed: “Yes, it nearly knocked my head off; but it was coming
to me.”

“Why didn’t you hand him one back?”

“How could I hit him when you held his hands? How could I hit him when
his wife was clinging to him? And what’s a blow? I’ve had worse ones
than that in knock-down and drag-out fights. I’ll get a lot more later,
no doubt. But I couldn’t hit Winfield. He doesn’t understand. Sheila has
trouble enough ahead of her with him. Poor Sheila! She’s the one that
will pay. The rest of us will get other jobs. But Sheila is done for.”

By now the scenery was all folded and stacked against the walls. The
drops were lost in the flies. The furniture and properties were
withdrawn. The bare walls of the naked stage were visible.

The electrician was at the switchboard, throwing off the house lights in
order. They went out like great eyes closing. The theater grew darker
and more forlorn. The stage itself yielded to the night. The footlights
and borders blinked and were gone. There was no light save a little glow
upon a standard set in the center of the apron.

Eldon sighed and went to his dressing-room.



                              CHAPTER XLI


Meanwhile Sheila was immured with her husband. She sent Pennock away and
locked the door, pressed Bret into a chair, and knelt against his knee
and stretched her arms up.

“What is it, honey? What’s happened? I didn’t know you were within a
thousand miles of here.”

He was still ugly enough to growl, “Evidently not!”

She seemed to understand and recoiled from him, sank back on her heels
as if his fist had struck her down. “What do you mean?” she whispered.
“That I—I—You can’t mean you distrust me?”

“That dog loves you and you—”

“Don’t say it!” She rose to her knees again and put up her hands. “I
could never forgive you if you said that now—and our honeymoon just
begun.”

“Honeymoon!” he laughed. “Look at this.” He held up his right hand.
Grease-paint from Eldon’s jaw was on his knuckles. He put his finger on
her cheek and it was covered with the same unction. Then he rubbed the
odious ointment from his hands. She blushed under her rouge.

“I know it’s been a pitiful honeymoon. But I couldn’t help it, Bret. I
did what I could. It has been harder for me than for you, and I’m just
worn out. There’s no joy in the world for me. The success is nothing.”

“He loves you, I tell you, and you let him make love to you.”

“Of course, honey; it’s in the play; it’s in the play!”

“Not love like that. Why, everybody in the audience was saying it was
real. All the people round me were saying you two were in love with each
other.”

“That’s what we were working for, isn’t it?”

“Oh, not the characters, but you two; you and Eldon. Couldn’t I see how
he looked at you, how you looked at him, how you—you crushed him in
your arms?”

“How else could we show that the characters were madly in love with each
other, dear?”

“But you didn’t have to play it so earnestly.”

“It wouldn’t be honest not to do our best, would it? Can’t you
understand?”

“I can understand that my wife was in the arms of a man that loves her,
and that even if you don’t love him, you pretended to, and he took
advantage of it to—to—to kiss you!”

“Why, he didn’t kiss me, honey.”

“I saw him.”

“No, you didn’t. We just pretended to kiss each other. Not that a stage
kiss makes any difference with rouge pressing on grease-paint—but,
anyway, he didn’t.”

“You’ll be telling me he didn’t make love to you next.”

“Of course he didn’t, honey. We’d be fined for it if Reben or Batterson
had noticed it; but the fact is we were trying to break each other up.
Actors are always doing that when they’re sure of a success. We’ve been
under a heavy strain, you know, and now we let down a little.”

Bret could hardly believe what he wanted so to believe—that while the
audience was sobbing the actors were juggling with emotions, the mere
properties of their trade. He asked, grimly, “If he wasn’t making love
to you, what was he saying?”

“It was nothing very clever. He’s not witty, Eldon; he’s rather heavy
when he tries to write his own stuff. He accused me of letting the scene
lag, and he was whispering to me that I was ‘asleep at the switch, and
the switch was falling off,’ and I answered him back that Dulcie Ormerod
would please him better.”

“Dulcie Ormerod? Who’s Dulcie Ormerod?”

“Oh, she’s a little tike of an actress that took my place in the ‘Friend
in Need’ company a long while ago. And she’s come on here to be my
understudy. Eldon hates her because she makes love to him all the time.”

Bret’s gaze pierced her eyes, trying to find a lie behind their defense.
“And you dare to tell me that you and Eldon were joking?”

“Of course we were, honey. If I’d been in love with him I wouldn’t
choose the theater to display it in, with a packed house watching, would
I? If we’d been carried away with our own emotion we’d have played the
scene badly.

“Another thing happened. Batterson noticed that something was wrong with
our work, and he stood in the wings close to me and began to whip us up.
He was snarling at us: ‘Get to work, you two. Put some ginger in it.’
And he swore at us. That made us work harder.”

Bret was dumfounded. “You mean to tell me that you played a love-scene
better because the stage-manager was swearing at you?”

Sheila frowned at his ignorance. “Of course, you dear old stupid. Acting
is like horse-racing. Sometimes we need the spur and the whip; sometimes
we need a kind word or a pat on the head. Acting is a business, honey.
Can’t you understand? We played it well because it’s a business and we
know our business. If you can’t understand the first thing about my
profession I might as well give it up.”

“That’s one thing we agree on, thank God.”

“Oh, I’d be glad to quit any time. I’m worn out. I don’t like this play.
It hasn’t a new idea in it. I’m tired of it already and I dread the
thought of going on with it for a year—two years, maybe. I wish I could
quit to-night.”

“You’re going to.”

She was startled by the quiet conviction of his tone. Again she sighed:
“If I only could!”

“I mean it, Sheila,” he declared. “This is your last night on the stage
or your last night as my wife.”

She studied him narrowly. He really meant it! He went on:

“Joking or no joking, you were in another man’s arms and you had no idea
when you were coming home. We have no home. I have no wife. It can’t go
on. You come back with me to-morrow or I go back alone for good and
all.”

“But Reben—” she interposed, helpless between the millstones of her two
destinies as woman and artist.

“I’ll settle with Reben.”

She hardly pondered the decision. Suddenly it was made for her. She
looked at her husband and felt that she belonged to him first, last, and
forever. She was at the period when all her inheritances and all nature
commanded her to be woman, to be wife to her man. It was good to have
him decide for her.

She dropped to the floor again and breathed a little final, comfortable,
“All right.”

Bret bent over and caught her up into his arms with a strength that
assured her protection against all other claimants of her, and he kissed
her with a contented certainty that he had never known before. Then he
set her on her feet and said with a noble authority:

“Hurry and get out of those things and into your own.”

She laughed at his magistral tone, and her last act of independence was
to put him out of the actress’s room and call Pennock to her aid. Bret
stood guard in the corridor. If he had had any qualms of conscience they
would have been eased by the sound of Sheila’s cheerful voice as she
made old Pennock bestir herself.

At length Sheila emerged with no trace of the actress about her, just a
neat little, tight little armful of wife.

As they were about to turn out at the stage door they saw Reben
lingering in the wings. He beckoned to Sheila and called her by name.
She moved toward him, not because he was her boss, but because he did
not know that he was not. She rejoiced to feel that she had changed
masters. Her husband, already the protector and champion, motioned her
back and went to Reben in her stead.

“I wanted Miss Kemble,” Reben said, very coldly.

To which Bret retorted, calmly, “Mrs. Winfield has decided to resign
from your company.”

Reben had fought himself to a state of self-control. He had resolved to
leave Sheila and Bret to settle their own feud. He would observe a
strict neutrality. His business was to keep the company together and at
work. The word “resign” alarmed him anew.

“Resign!” he gasped. “When?”

“To-night.”

“Nonsense! She plays to-morrow.”

“She cannot play to-morrow.”

“She is ill? I don’t wonder, after such scenes. Her understudy might get
through to-morrow night, but after that she must appear.”

“She cannot appear again.”

“My dear fellow, I have a contract.”

“I am breaking the contract.”

“Your name is not on the contract.”

“It is on a contract of marriage.”

“So you told me. She plays, just the same.”

“She does not play.”

“I will make her play.”

“How?”

“I—She—You—Sheila, you can’t put such a trick on me.”

Sheila crept forward to interpose again: “I’m awfully sorry, Mr. Reben.
But my husband—”

“Have I treated you badly? Have I neglected anything? Have I done you
any injury?”

“No, no. I have no fault to find with you, Mr. Reben. But my husband—”

“Before you married him—before you met him, you promised me—”

“I know. I’m terribly sorry, but my duty to my husband is my highest
duty. Please forgive me, but I can’t play any more.”

“You shall play. I have invested a fortune in your future. I have made
you a success. You can’t desert me and the company now. You can’t! You
sha’n’t, by—”

Sheila shook her head. She was done with the stage. Reben was throttled
with his own anger. He turned again on Winfield and shook a jeweled fist
under his nose:

“This is your infernal meddling. You get out of here and never come near
again.”

Winfield pressed Reben’s fist down with a quiet strength. “We’re not
going to.”

“You, I mean; not Sheila. Sheila belongs to me. She is my star. I made
her. I need her. She means a fortune to me.”

“How much of a fortune does she mean to you?”

“I will clear a hundred thousand dollars from this piece at least; a
hundred thousand dollars! You think I will let you rob me of that?”

“I’m not going to. I will pay you that much to cancel her contract.”

Reben gasped in his face. “You—you will pay me
a—hun—dred—thou—sand—dol—lars?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“I haven’t that much cash in the bank.”

“Ha, ha! I guess not!”

“But I will pay it to you long before Sheila could earn it for you.”

“I will believe that when I see it.”

“I haven’t my check-book with me. I will send you a check for ten
thousand on account to-morrow morning.”

Reben laughed wildly at him. Bret took out his card-case. There was a
small gold pencil on his key-chain. He wrote a few words and handed the
card to Reben:

                      ──────────────────────────────

                             _I O U $100,000_

                           =MR. BRET WINFIELD=

                                     _Bret Winfield_

                      ──────────────────────────────

Reben tossed his mane in scorn.

Bret answered: “It is a debt of honor. I’m able to pay it and I will.”

Reben stared up into the man’s cold eyes, looked down at the card,
tightened his mouth, put the card into his pocketbook, and snarled:

“Honor! We’ll see. Now get out—both of you!”

Winfield accepted the dismissal with a smile of pride, and, turning,
took Sheila’s arm and led her away.

“Oh, Bret! Bret!” she moaned.

“Don’t you worry, honey. You’re worth it,” he laughed.

“I wonder!” she sighed.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The next morning after breakfast Bret sat down to write the
ten-thousand-dollar check. “It makes an awful hole in my back account,”
he said, “but it heals a bigger one in my heart.”

Just then a note was brought to the door. When he opened it the “I O U”
torn into small bits fell into his hands from a sheet of letter-paper
containing these words:

    MY DEAR MR. WINFIELD,—Please find inclosed a little
    wedding-present for your charming bride. One of the unavoidable
    hazards of the manager’s life is the fatal curiosity of
    actresses concerning the experiment of marriage. Please tell
    Miss Kemble—I should say Mrs. Winfield—that no fear of
    inconveniencing me must disturb her honeymoon. Miss Dulcie
    Ormerod will step into her vacant shoes and fill them nicely. I
    cannot return her contract, as it is in my safe in New York. I
    will leave it there until she feels that her vacation is over,
    when I shall be glad to renew it. The clever little lady
    insisted on cutting out the two weeks’ clause in her contract
    with me—I wonder if she left it in yours.

    With all felicitation, I am, dear Mr. and Mrs. Winfield,

                                               Faithfully yours,
                                                       HENRY REBEN.
    BRET WINFIELD, Esq.

Sheila read the ironic words across Bret’s arm. She clung to it as to a
spar of rescue and laughed. “I’ll never go back.”

And this time it was Bret who sighed, “I wonder.”



                              CHAPTER XLII


The impromptu epilogue to the play and the abandonment of the theater by
the young star had occurred too late to reach the next morning’s papers.

The evening sheets were sure to make a spread. The actors were bound to
gossip, and the stage-hands. Somebody would tell some reporter and gain
a little credit or a little excitement. Therefore almost everybody would
join in the race for publication.

Reben understood this, and he held a council of war with Starr Coleman
as to the best form of presentation. He had a natural and not
unjustified desire to have the story do the least possible harm to his
play. He collaborated with his press agent for hours over the campaign,
and they decided upon a formal telegram to be given to the Associated
Press and the other bureaus. They would flash it to all the crannies of
the continent. It was too bad that such easy publicity should be wasted
on an expiring instead of a rising star.

For the Chicago papers Reben decided upon an interview which he would
give with seeming reluctance at the solicitation of Coleman on behalf of
the reporters.

The loss of Sheila was a serious blow. The problem was whether or not
“Hamlet” could succeed with Hamlet omitted; or, rather, if “As You Like
It” would prosper without Rosalind.

Reben had been tempted to close the theater at once; then get Winfield’s
money out of him if he had to levy on his father’s business, which, the
manager had learned, was big and solvent.

But his egotism revolted at such a procedure, and in a fine burst of
pride he had written the letter to Bret and, tearing the “I O U” to
shreds, sealed it in. At the same time he resolved not to give up the
ship. It was never easy to tell who made the success of a play. He had
known road companies to take in more money without a famous star than
with one.

He rounded up Batterson, got him out of bed, and sent for Dulcie Ormerod
to meet him in the deserted hotel parlor and begin rehearsals at once.
She could make up her sleep later in the day or next week. Then he went
to his own bed.

Sometimes luck conspires with the brave. The first stage-hand who met
the first early morning reporter and sold him the story for a drink had
the usual hazy idea one brings away from a fist-battle. According to him
Winfield had come back on the stage drunk and started a row by striking
at Mr. Eldon.

Eldon knocked Winfield backward into the arms of Batterson and McNish,
and would have finished him off if Sheila had not sheltered him.
Thereupon Eldon ordered Winfield out of the theater, and he retreated
under the protection of his wife, for it seemed that the poor girl had
been deluded into marrying the hound.

The reporter was overjoyed at this glorious find. He hunted up Sheila
and Winfield first. Sheila answered the telephone, and at Bret’s advice
refused to see or be seen. She gave the reporter the message that her
husband had absolutely nothing to say.

It is a safe statement at times, but just now it confirmed the reporter
in a beautiful theory that Eldon had beaten Winfield up so badly that he
was in no condition to be seen.

The reporter found Batterson next and told him his suspicions.
Batterson, surly with wrecked slumber, was pleased to confirm the theory
and make a few additions. He owed Winfield no courtesies.

When Starr Coleman and Reben were found they needed no prompting to set
that snowball rolling and to play up Eldon’s heroism. Coleman added the
excellent thought that Winfield’s motive was one of professional
jealousy because Eldon had run away with the play and the star’s laurels
were threatened. For that reason she had basely deserted the ship; but
the ship would go on. Mr. Reben, in fact, had felt that Miss Kemble was
an unfortunate selection for the play and had already decided to
substitute his wonderful discovery, the brilliant, beautiful Dulcie
Ormerod—photographs herewith.

That was the story that Bret and Sheila read when it occurred to them to
send down for an evening paper. Bret was desperate with rage—rage at
Eldon, at Reben, at the entire press, and the whole world. But he
remembered that his father, who had been a politician, had used as his
motto: “Don’t fight to-day’s paper till next week. You can’t whip a
cyclone. Take to the cellar and it will soon blow over.”

Sheila was frantic with remorses of every variety. She blamed Eldon for
it all. She did not absolve him even when a little note arrived from
him:

    DEAR MRS. WINFIELD,—After the exciting events of last night I
    overslept this morning. I have but this minute seen the
    outrageous stories in the newspapers. I beg you to believe that
    I had no part in them and that I shall do what I can to deny the
    ridiculous rôle they put upon me.

                                               Yours faithfully,
                                                       FLOYD ELDON.

Eldon’s denials were as welcome as denials of picturesque newspaper
stories always are. They were suppressed or set in small type, with
statements that Mr. Eldon very charmingly and chivalrously and with his
characteristic modesty attempted to minimize his share in a most
unpleasant matter.

Bret was so annoyed by a chance encounter with a group of
cross-examining reporters, and found himself so hampered by his
inability to explain his own anger at Eldon and the theater without
implying gross suspicion of his wife’s behavior, that he broke away,
returned to the policy of silence that he ought not to have left, and,
gathering Sheila up, fled with her to his own home.

The play profited by the advertisement, and Dulcie Ormerod slid into the
established rôle like a hand going into a glove several sizes too large.
Eldon was doubly a hero now, and Reben went back to New York with
triumph perched on his cigar.



                             CHAPTER XLIII


A honeymoon is like a blue lagoon divinely beautiful, with a mimicry of
all heaven in its deeps; blinding sweet in the sun, and almost
intolerably comfortable in the moon.

But by and by the atoll that circles it like a wedding-ring proves to be
a bit narrow and interferes with the view of the big sea pounding at its
outer edges. The calm becomes monotonous, and at the least puff of wind
the boat is on the reefs. They are coral reefs, but they cut like knives
and hurt the worse for being jewelry.

To Bret and Sheila the newspaper storm over her departure from the
theater, her elopement from success, was like the surf on the shut-out
sea.

The Winfield influence had suppressed most of the newspaper comment in
the home papers, but the people of Blithevale read the metropolitan
journals, and Sheila’s name flared through those for many days.

When the news element had been exhausted there were crumbs enough left
for several symposiums on the subject of “Stage Marriages,” “Actresses
as Wives,” “Actresses as Mothers,” “The Home _vs._ the Theater,” and all
the twists an ingenious press can give to a whimsy of public interest.

Bret and Sheila suffered woefully from the appalling pandemonium their
secret wedding had raised, and Winfield began to be convinced that the
policy of the mailed fist, the blow and the word, had not brought him
dignity. But it had brought him his wife, and she was at home; and when
they could not escape the articles on “Why Actresses Go Back to the
Stage,” she laughed at the prophecies that she would return, as so many
others had done.

“They haven’t all gone back,” she smiled. “And I am one of those who
never will, for I’ve found peace and bliss and contentment. I’ve found
my home.”

They were relieved of all that had been unusual in their marriage, and
they shared and inspired the usual raptures, which were no less poignant
for being immemorially usual. This year’s June was the most beautiful
June that ever was, while it was the newest June.

Their honeymoon was usual in being sublime. It was also usual in running
into frequent shoals and reefs.

The first reef was Bret’s mother. Bret had always been amazed at the
professional jealousy of actors and their contests for the largest type
and the center of the stage. Suddenly he was himself the center of the
stage and his attention was the large type. He was dismayed to behold
with what immediate instinct his mother and his wife proceeded to take
mutual umbrage at each other’s interest in him, and to take astonishing
pain from his efforts to divide his heart into equal portions.

Sheila recognized that poor Mrs. Winfield had a right to her son’s
support in a time of such grief, but she felt that she herself had a
right to some sort of honeymoon. And being a stranger in the town and
all, she had especial claim to consideration.

Sheila told Bret one day: “Of course, honey, your mother is a perfect
dear and I don’t wonder you love her, but she’d like to poison me— Now
wait, dearie. Of course I don’t mean just that, but—well, she’s like an
understudy. An understudy doesn’t exactly want the star to break her
neck or anything, but if a train ran over her she’d bear up bravely.”

Another reef was the factory. Of course Sheila expected her husband to
pay the proper attention to his business and she wanted him to be
ambitious, but she had not anticipated how little time was left in a day
after the necessary office hours, meal hours, and sleep hours were
deducted.

She wrote her mother:

    Bret is an ideal husband and I’m ideally happy, of course, but
    women off the stage are terrible loafers. They just sit in the
    window and watch the procession go by.

    When I chucked Reben I said, “Thank Heaven, I don’t have to go
    on playing that same old part for two or three years night after
    night, matinée after matinée.” But that’s nothing to the record
    of the household drama. This is the scene plot of my daily
    performance:

    SCENE: Home of the Winfields. TIME: Yesterday, to-day, and
    forever.

    ACT I. SCENE: Dining-room. Time: 8 A.M. Husband and wife at
    breakfast. Soliloquy by wife while hubby reads paper and eats
    eggs and says, “Yes, honey,” at intervals.

    Exit husband. CURTAIN.

    Five hours elapse.

    ACT II. SCENE: Same as ACT I. Luncheon on table. Husband enters
    hurriedly, apologizes for coming home late and dashing away
    early. Tells of trouble at factory.

    Exit hastily. CURTAIN.

    Five hours elapse.

    ACT III. SCENE: Same as ACT II. Dinner on table. Husband
    discusses trouble at factory. Wife tells of troubles with
    servants. Neither understands the other. CURTAIN. Two hours
    elapse.

    ACT IV. SCENE: Living-room. Husband reads evening papers; wife
    reads stupid magazines. Business of making love. Return to
    reading-matter. Husband falls asleep in chair. CURTAIN.

    That’s the scenario, and the play has settled down for an
    indefinite run at this house.

Roger and Polly read the letter and shook their heads over it. Roger
sighed.

“How long do you think it’s really booked for, Polly?”

“Knowing Sheila—” Polly began, then shook her head. “Well, really I
don’t know. There are so many Sheilas, and I haven’t met the last three
or four of them.”

For many months Sheila was royally entertained by what she called “the
merry villagers.” She was the audience and they the spectacle. She took
a childish delight in mimicking odd types, to Bret’s amusement and his
mother’s distress. She took a daughter-in-law’s delight in shocking her
mother-in-law by pretending to be shocked at the Blithevale vices.

Hitherto Sheila had gone to church regularly next Sunday, but seldom
this. In Blithevale Mrs. Winfield compelled her to attend constantly.
Sheila took revenge by quoting all the preacher said about the
wickedness of his parishioners.

When she heard of a divorce or a family wreck she would exclaim, “Why, I
thought that only actors and actresses were tied loose!”

When she heard of one of those hideous scandals that all communities
endure now and then as a sort of measles she would make a face of
horror: “Why, I’ve always read that village life was ninety-nine and
forty-four one-hundredths pure.”

When Bret would fume at the petty practices of business rivals, the
necessity for crushing down competition and infringement, the importance
of keeping the name at the top of the list, Sheila would smile, “And do
manufacturers have professional jealousy, too?”

She soon realized, however, that her comedy was not getting across the
footlights as she meant it.

Seen through the eyes of one who had been used to hard work, far travel,
and high salary, the business of being a wife as the average woman
conducted it was a farce to Sheila.

That the average wife was truly a helpmeet appeared to her merely a
graceful gallantry of the husbands. As a matter of fact, as far as she
could see, the only help most of the men got from their wives was the
help of the spur and the lash. The women’s extravagances and discontent
compelled the husbands to double energy and increased achievement.

Thus, while the village was watching with impatient suspicion the
behavior of this curious actress-creature who had settled there, the
actress-creature was learning the uglier truths about that most
persistently flattered of institutions, the American village.

But after the failure of her first satires Sheila resolved to stop being
“catty,” and to dwell upon the sweeter and more wholesome elements of
life in Blithevale. She ceased to defend the theater by aspersing the
town.

She said never a word, however, of any longing for a return to the
stage. Now and then an exclamation of interest over a bit of theatrical
news escaped her when she read the New York paper that had been coming
to the Winfield home for years. It arrived after Bret left for the
office, and he usually glanced at it during his luncheon. One noon
Bret’s eye was caught by head-lines on an inner page devoted largely to
dramatic news. The “triumph” of “The Woman Pays” was announced; it had
been produced in New York the night before. In spite of the handicap of
its Chicago success it had conquered Broadway. As sometimes happens, it
found the Manhattanites even more enthusiastic than the Westerners.

Bret noted with a kind of resentment that Sheila was not mentioned as
the creator of the leading rôle. He hated to see that Dulcie Ormerod was
taken seriously by the big critics. He winced to read that Floyd Eldon
was a great find, a future star of the first magnitude.

Winfield had once been wretched for fear that his kidnapping of Sheila
had ruined the chances of the play. Yet it was not entirely comfortable
to see that the play prospered so hugely without her. He had not been
entirely glad that Reben had returned his “I O U”; and he was not
entirely glad that Reben stood to make a greater profit than he had
estimated at first in spite of Sheila. It was a peculiarly galling
humiliation.

Bret would have concealed the paper from Sheila, but he knew that she
had read it before he came home to luncheon. He had wondered what made
her so distraught. Now that he knew, he said nothing, but he could see
the torment in the back of her smiling eyes, the labored effort to be
casual and inconsequential. That Mona Lisa enigma haunted him at his
office, and he resolved to take her for a spin in the car. She would be
having a hard day, for ambitious fevers have their crises and relapses,
too. Bret wanted to help his wife over this bitter hour.

When he came in unexpectedly he found her lying asleep on the big divan
in the living-room. The crumpled newspaper lay on the floor at her side.
She had been reading it again. Her lashes were wet with recent tears,
yet she was smiling in her sleep. As he bent to her lips moved. He
paused, an eavesdropper on her very dreams. And he made out the muffled,
disjointed words:

“What can I say but, thank you—on behalf of the company—your
applause—I thank you.”

She was taking a curtain call!

Bret tiptoed away, wounded by her and for her. He struggled for
self-control a moment, telling himself that he was a fool to blame her
for her dreams. He knocked loudly on the door and called to her. She
woke with a start, stared, realized where she was and who he was, and
smiled upon him lovingly. She explained that she had been asleep and
“dreaming foolish dreams.”

But when he asked what they were she shrugged her shoulders and laughed,
“I forget.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Afterward Bret read that “The Woman Pays” had settled down for a long
run on Broadway. Sheila settled down also and attended to her knitting.
And knitting became a more and more important office. She was more and
more content to sit in an easy-chair and wait.

Bret paused one day to pick up some of the curious doll-clothes.

“I knat ’em myself,” said Sheila, with boundless pride.

Bret, the business man, pondered the manufacturing cost.

“You could buy the whole lot for ten dollars,” he said. “And they’ve
taken you a month to finish them. You’re not charging as much for your
time as you did.”

“No,” she said, “I could buy ’em for less, and it would be still less
trouble to adopt a child to wear ’em; but it wouldn’t be quite the same,
would it?”

He agreed that it would not.



                              CHAPTER XLIV


The most thrilling first night of Sheila’s life was her debut as a
mother. The doctor and the stork had a nip-and-tuck race. The young
gentleman weighed more than ten pounds.

According to all the formulas of tradition, this epochal event should
have made a different woman of Sheila. The child should have filled her
life. According to actual history, Sheila was still Sheila, and her son,
while he brought great joys and great anxieties, rather added new
ambitions than satisfied the old.

Bret senior did not change his business interests or give up his office
hours because of the child. Indeed, he was spurred on to greater effort
that he might leave his heir a larger fortune.

The trained nurse, who received twenty-five dollars a week, and the
regular nurse, who received twenty-five dollars a month, knew infinitely
more about babies than Sheila.

The elder Mrs. Winfield, with the best intention and the worst tact,
thought to make Sheila happy by telling her how happy she ought to be.
This is an ancient practice that has never been discarded, though it has
never yet succeeded.

The elder Mrs. Winfield said, “It’s a splendid thing for baby that
you’ve given up the stage.”

Sheila felt an implied attack on her own family, and she bristled
gently: “It’s fine for me, but I don’t think the baby would notice the
difference if I acted every night. My mother didn’t leave the stage, and
her mother and my father’s mother were hard-working actresses. And their
children certainly prospered. Besides, if I were out of the way, the
baby would have the advantage of its grandmother uninterrupted.”

The new grandmother accepted the last statement as an obvious truth and
attacked the first. “You’re still thinking of going back, then?”

“Not at all,” said Sheila. “I’ll never act again. I was just saying that
it wouldn’t harm the baby if I did. And,” she added, meekly, “it might
be the making of him to have me out of the way.”

She said this with honest deprecation. She was troubled to find that she
had not become one of those mere mothers that are so universal in books.
She was horrified to discover that at times the baby lost its novelty,
that its tantrums tried her nerves. She did not know enough to know that
this was true of all mothers. She felt ashamed and afraid of herself.
She did not return to her normal glow of health so soon as she should
have done. She kept thin and wan. Cheerfulness was not in her, save when
she played it like a rôle.

At length the doctor recommended a change of scene. Since it was not
quiet that she needed, he suggested diversion, a trip to the city. The
three Winfields made the journey—father, mother, and baby, not to
mention the nurse.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The quick pulse and exultant life of New York reacted upon Sheila. She
found the theaters a swift tonic, and, since “The Woman Pays” was now on
the road after a long season on Broadway, there was no danger of
choosing the wrong theater. She and Bret reveled in the plays with the
ingenuous gaiety of farmers in town.

At this time, also, a monster “all-star” benefit was being extensively
advertised. A great fire had destroyed a large part of one of our highly
inflammable American cities, leaving thousands of people in such
distress that public charity was invoked. The actors, as usual the most
prompt of all classes to respond to any call upon their generosity,
organized a huge performance to be given at the Metropolitan Opera
House.

Players, managers, scene-painters, and scene-shifters were emulous in
the service. Stars offered to scintillate in insignificant rôles. A
program lasting from one o’clock to six was speedily concocted. The
Opera House was not large enough for the demand. Boxes were sold by
eminent auctioneers at astonishing premiums.

Bret took it into his head to assist. He paid two hundred dollars for a
box.

Sheila left the baby with the nurse, put on a brand-new Paris frock, and
gulped an early luncheon that she might not miss a line. Bret saw with
mingled relief and dismay that she was as eager as a child going to her
first party.

They read with awe the name-plate on the door of the box they had
rented; it was that of one of the war lords of American finance.

The Opera House was seething with people. Bret and Sheila wedged their
way through a dense skirmish-line of prominent actresses selling
programs printed free with illustrations designed free. Bret had bought
five for ten dollars before Sheila restrained him.

The bill was a reckless hash; everything was in it from a morsel of
tragedy to a bit of juggling and repartee. The vast planes of the
auditorium were crowded with people. The dean of the dramatists
announced from the stage that the receipts were over fifteen thousand
dollars and that a program autographed by every participant would be
auctioned later.

Bret, in a mood of extravagance, determined to buy it for Sheila. It
would show that he was not ashamed of her past or afraid of her future.
During an intermission they promenaded the corridors thronged with
notables. Sheila bowed her head almost off and was greeted with an
effusiveness usually reserved for long-lost children.

At length Sheila heard her name called, felt a hand plucking at her
elbow. She turned and faced Dulcie Ormerod, who gushed like a faucet:

“How are you, Sheila dear? I haven’t seen you for ages. How well you
look! Isn’t this wonderful? Our play is in Trenton this week, so Mr.
Eldon and I just ran over to take in this show. And is this your
husband? Mayn’t I meet him?”

Sheila made the presentation helplessly, and Dulcie gushed on:

“I’ve been dying to see you. You remember Mr. Eldon, don’t you? Where is
that man? Oh, Floydie dear, here’s an old friend of yours.”

To Sheila’s horror and Bret’s she turned and seized the elbow of a man
whose back was turned and whose existence they had not noted in the
thick crowd. Dulcie dragged Eldon about and swung him into his place at
her side. He confronted Sheila and Bret as by miracle.



                              CHAPTER XLV


Dulcie had plotted it all for her own personal entertainment. Like a mad
King of Bavaria she commanded the actors before her. She had caught
sight of Sheila, and she knew who Bret was from the descriptions of him.
She had a grudge against Sheila on general principles and another
against Eldon for not going mad over her.

Eldon had received no answer to the note he sent Sheila denying his part
in the newspaper notoriety. This had rankled in his heart. Bret still
believed that the note was a lie and an effort to keep a hook on Sheila.
He loved Eldon less than ever.

There was a longing for battle in both the big hearts, and each would
have been glad to beat the other down before the whole crowd; yet,
because of the crowd, neither could strike.

Sheila guessed at once that Dulcie had planned it; the cat was
overacting her rôle of surprise and regret, as her little heart thrilled
to see the two men braced in scarlet confusion and Sheila fluttering
between them.

Bret endured a year of compressed agony. The foolishness of resuming the
fight, the foolishness of not resuming it, the inextricable tangle of
contradictory duties and impulses, shattered him. Eldon was undergoing
the same return to chaos.

Yet the crowd shoving past observed nothing and did not pause. Bret felt
Sheila’s hand clasp his arm both to protect and to be protected, and she
urged him on. Then he managed to bow with formality to Eldon and to
Dulcie. And so the great rencounter ended. Dulcie alone was made happy.

Sheila could not let her get away with that baby stare. She smiled with
pretended amusement and said, “Thank you ever so much, Miss Ormerod.”

“Thank me for what?” gasped Dulcie. But Sheila just twinkled her eyes
and smiled as she walked on.

Her muscles were tired for half an hour with the effort that smile cost
them.

She led Bret to the box, and he was shivering with the unsatisfied
emotions of a fighter for the battle missed. Sheila sank into a chair
exhausted. She looked about anxiously. The one thing needed to complete
the situation was for Eldon to walk into the next box and spend the rest
of the afternoon. They were spared this coincidence.

Bret was in no mood to remain, but she kept him there. There would be
some distraction at least in the spectacle. If they went back to their
hotel they would have only their bitterness to chew upon.

The auction of the autographed program began. There was excited bidding
from all parts of the house. But Bret kept silent. The program brought
five hundred dollars. Bret sneered at the price of the trash.

A musical number came next. The orchestra struck up a tune that would
have set gravestones to jigging. A platoon of young men and women in
fantastic bravery was flung across the stage, singing and caracoling. A
famous buffoon waddled to the footlights and beamed like a new red moon
with its chin on the horizon. He was a master of the noble art of
tomfoolery and the high-school of horse-play. He probed into the
childhood core of every heart, and no grief could resist him.

Sheila forgot to be dismal and tried to look solemn for Bret’s sake till
she saw that he was overpowered, too. He began to grin, to sniff, to
snort, to shake, to roll, to guffaw. He laughed till tears poured down
his cheeks. Sheila laughed in a dual joy. Everything solemn, ugly,
hateful, dignified, had become foolish and childish; and foolishness had
become the one great wisdom of the world.

The jester always wins in a contest with the doldrums because philosophy
and honor present riddles that cannot be solved. The mystery of fun is
just as insoluble, but you laugh while you wait.

Sheila watched the thousands of people rocking and roaring in a surf of
delight, and she watched her husband’s soul washed clean as a child’s
heart. It was a noble profession, this clownery; comedy was a
priesthood.

Suddenly she saw Bret’s eyes, roving the hilarious multitude, pause and
harden. She followed the line of his gaze across the space and saw Eldon
in a box. He was laughing like a huge boy, putting back his head and
baying the moon with yelps of delight.

She watched Bret anxiously and saw a kind of forgiveness softening his
glare. The contagion of laughter reinfected him and he laughed harder
than ever. If Eldon and he had met now they would have leaned on each
other to laugh. Music and buffoonery and grief are the universal
languages that everybody understands.

The excerpt from the comic opera was succeeded by a little play, and now
the audience, shaken from its trenches by the artillery of laughter, was
helpless before the pathos. The handkerchiefs fluttered like little
white flags everywhere. Sheila saw through her tears that Bret was
swallowing hard; a tear rolled out on his cheek, and he was ashamed to
brush it off. It splashed on his finger and startled him. He looked at
Sheila, and she smiled at him with ineffable tenderness. He reached out
and took her hand.

In that mood a swift understanding could have been reached with Eldon.
Sheila might almost have forgiven Dulcie. But they did not meet. As they
left the Opera House, pleasantly fatigued with the exercise of every
emotion, she felt immensely contented.

But the inevitable reaction followed. In this wonderful work of the
stage, why was she idle? Why was she skulking at a distance when her
training, her gifts, her ambitions, called her to do her share—to make
people glad and sad and wise in sympathy? Why? Why? Why?

                 *        *        *        *        *

Two years later there was another baby—a daughter, its mother’s
exquisite miniature. There was some bad luck for Sheila on this
occasion, and the physician warned her against further child-bearing for
several years. She was not up and about so soon as before, and a vague
haze of melancholy settled about her. She took less interest in life.

Her laughter was not half so frequent or so clear; her mischief of
satire was gone. She smiled on Bret more tenderly than ever, but it was
tenderness rather than amusement. She had nerve-storms and idled about
incessantly, and sometimes, with no apparent reason or warning, she
would sigh frantically, leap to her feet, and pace the floor or the
porch or the lawn aimlessly. When Bret anxiously asked her what was the
matter she would gaze at him with sorrowful eyes and that doleful effort
at a smile and say:

“Nothing, honey; nothing at all.”

“But you’re not happy?”

“Yes, I am, dear. Why shouldn’t I be? I have everything: my lover for my
husband, my children, the home—everything.”

“Everything,” he would groan, “except—”

Then she would put her hands over his lips.



                              CHAPTER XLVI


Eugene Vickery’s sister Dorothy lived in Blithevale. Having lost her
first choice, Bret Winfield, to the scintillating Sheila, she had
sensibly accepted the devotion of his rival, Jim Greeley, who was now a
junior partner in the big chemical works where his father manufactured
drug staples.

Dorothy had never forgotten the child Sheila, and the two women resumed
their acquaintance, their souls little changed, for all their bodily
evolution. They were still two little girls playing with dolls. They
were still utterly incomprehensible to each other, and the friendlier
for that fact. Dorothy found Sheila a trifle insane, but immensely
interesting, and Sheila found Dorothy stodgily Philistine, but
thoroughly reliable, as normal as a yardstick.

Sheila gave to her two children all the adoration of a Madonna. They
were fascinating toys to her; though at times she tired of them. She
entertained them with all her talents, wasting on the infantile private
audience graces and gifts that the public would have paid thousands of
dollars to see.

But the children tired of their expensive toy, too, and preferred a rag
doll or a little tin automobile that banged into chair legs and turned
over at the edge of a rug.

Sheila had nursed her babies with an ecstatic pride. That was more than
many of the village women did. She had been amazed to learn how many
bottle-fed infants there were in town. Dorothy herself strongly
recommended one or two foods prepared in other factories than the
mother’s veins.

Dorothy was not the mother one meets in romance, but very much like the
mothers next door and across the street—the ones the doctors know. Her
children drove her into storms of impatience and outbursts of temper.
Now and then she had to get away from them for half a day or for many
days. If she could not escape on a shopping prowl to some other city she
would send them off with the nurse under instructions to stay as long as
the light held out. She welcomed their visits to relatives, she
encouraged them to play in other people’s yards. Other mothers with
headaches urged their children to play in one another’s yards. Nobody
knew very well where they played or at what.

Dorothy was a violent anti-suffragist and the head of the local league,
whose motto was that woman’s place is in the home. She was kept away
from home a good deal in the furtherance of this creed.

Jim Greeley, the normal business man, spent his days at his desk, his
evenings at his club, and his free afternoons at baseball games.
Sometimes he added a little variety to the peace of his household by
rolling in late, lyrical and incoherent.

There was a general impression about town that he found his home so well
ordered that he sought a recreative disorder elsewhere. From the first
meeting with him Sheila disliked the way he looked at her. His eyes, as
it were, crossed swords with hers playfully and said, “Do you fence?”
She found the compliments he murmured to her whenever opportunities
arrived uncomfortably unctuous. But there was nothing that she could
openly resent.

In the summer all the wives of Blithevale whose husbands had the money
or could borrow it followed the national custom and went to the
seashore, the mountains, anywhere to get away from home and husband;
they took the children with them. The husbands stuck to their jobs and
made occasional dashes to their families. All signs fail in hot weather.
Even the churches close up. It is curious. It is even agreed that the
rule about woman’s place being the home does not hold in hot weather.

Dorothy and Sheila and their youngsters went together one summer to a
beach with nearly as much boardwalk as sand.

Sheila fretted about leaving Bret at his lonely grindstone. Dorothy
ridiculed her and told her she must get over her honeymoon. Dorothy
emphasized the importance of the sea air “for the children.” She
insisted that a mother’s first duty was to them. Dorothy paid little
enough heed to her own. She slept late, played cards, watched the
dancing, and changed her clothes with a chameleonic frequence.

Sheila found that her children, like the rest, preferred the company of
fellow-children and the sea to any other attractions. Their mothers
bored them, hampered them, disgraced them. The children were
self-sufficient, and better so. By the early evening they had played
themselves into a comatose condition and never knew who took off their
shoes or put them to bed. The long evenings remained to the mothers and
they formed porch-colonies, and rocked and gabbled and stared through
the windows at the dancers.

All over the country wives were enjoying their summer divorce.
Thousands, millions of wives deserted their husbands and loafed at great
cost, and it was all right. But for an actress to desert her husband and
work—that was all wrong!

Sheila felt that her husband needed her more than her children did. She
pictured him distraught with longing for her. And he was—so far as his
business worries gave him time for sentimental worries. Sheila left the
children in charge of the governess and fled back to Bret, who was
enraptured at the sight of her and had an enormous amount of factory
news to tell her.

The men-folk were working in spite of the summer, and glad to be
working. Bret was absorbed in his business and left Sheila all day to
sit in the darkened oven of the closed-up house, alone.

She contrasted her life this summer with the summer she had played in
the stock company and toiled so hard to furnish amusement to the people
who could not get away to seashores or mountains. She wondered wherein
her present indolence was an improvement over her period of toil.

Still she was glad to be where her husband could find her in the brief
_entr’actes_ of his commercial drama. She had learned enough of the
village to know that some of the men whose wives left them for the
summer found substitutes among the village belles who could not or would
not leave the old town.

Sheila had heard a vast amount of gossip concerning Jim Greeley. She had
not repeated any of it to Dorothy, of course. It is not according to the
rules of the game and only very unpleasant persons do it.

Bret knew of Jim’s repute, but did not forbid Jim his house. The village
was full of such scandals and it was dangerous to begin cutting and
snubbing. When the gossips whispered they made a terrifying picture of
village life, yet whenever the theater was mentioned they assumed an air
of Pharisaic superiority.

As soon as Sheila hurried back to Blithevale Jim Greeley began to spoil
her evening communions with her husband by “just dropping round.” He
talked till Bret yawned him home.

Still, Sheila was glad to keep Jim interested in respectable
conversation, for Dorothy’s sake. Sometimes when Bret had to go back to
his office, after dinner, and Jim was free, he just dropped round just
the same.

On these occasions he seemed to be laboring under some excitement, full
of audacious impulses restrained by timidity. Sheila felt a nausea at
her suspicions; she was ashamed of them.

One cruelly hot evening when Bret was at the factory and the only stir
of air eddied in a vine-covered corner of the big piazza she heard Jim
come up the walk. She did not speak, hoping that he would go away. But
he called her twice, and she had to answer.

He invited himself to sit down, and after violently casual chatter began
to talk of his loneliness and her kindliness. She was his one salvation,
he said.

In the dusk he was only a voice, a voice of longing and appeal, like a
disembodied Satan in a mood of desire. In the gloom she felt his hand
brush hers, then cling. She drew hers away. His followed. It was very
strange that two beings should conflict so tangibly, audibly, without
any other evidence of existence.

Suddenly she knew that he was standing close to her, bending over her.
She pushed her chair back and rose. Unseen arms caught her to a ghost as
invisible and ineluctable as the wrestler with Jacob.

Sheila was horrified. She blamed herself more than Jim. She hated
herself and humanity. “Don’t! please!” she pleaded in a whisper. She
dreaded to have the servants overhear such an encounter. Jim
misinterpreted her motive, clenched her tighter, and tried to find her
lips with his.

“I thought you were Bret’s friend,” she protested as she hid her face
from him.

“I like Bret,” Jim whispered in a frenzy, “but I love you. And I want
you to love me. You do! You must! Kiss me!”

She tried to release the proved weapon of her elbow, but he held her by
the wrists till she wrenched her hand loose with great pain and gave him
her knuckles for a kiss.

The shock to his self-esteem was more than to his mouth, and he let her
go. She rebuked him in guttural disgust:

“I suppose you think that because I’m an actress you’ve got to be a
cad.”

“No, no,” he mumbled. “It’s just because you are you, and because you
are so wonderful. Forgive me, won’t you?”

Even as he asked for forgiveness his hand sought her arm again. She
slipped away and went into the starlight and sat on the steps.

“You’d better go now,” she said, “and you’d better not come back.”

“All right,” he sighed.

In the silence she heard Bret’s car far away. “Sit down,” she said, “and
stay awhile. And smoke!”

She had foreseen Bret arriving as Jim hurried away. She did not like the
way it would appear. If Bret’s suspicions were aroused he could not but
look uneasily on her, and once he suspected her she felt that she would
never forgive him. And it was altogether odious, too, to be included in
the list of women whose names were remembered when Jim Greeley’s was
mentioned.

And so she conspired with a knave by lies and concealments to keep peace
in her husband’s home. Jim lighted a cigar and dropped down on the
steps, puffing with ostentation.

Sheila looked out on the innocent seeming of the village and the gentle
benignity of the stars, and hated to think how much evil could cloak
itself and prosper in these deep shadows and soft lights and peaceful
hours.

The car bustled to the curb, stopped while Bret got out. Then the
chauffeur shot away with it to the garage. Bret came drowsily up the
walk, kissed his wife, gripped the hand of his friend, and sat down.

Jim asked how business was, and they talked shop with zest while Sheila
sat in utter solitude, watching the village Lothario play the rôle of
honest Horatio.

Her husband had spent the day and half the evening at his business, and
yet it interested him more than Sheila did. He showed no impatience to
be rid of this man, no eagerness to be alone with his wife who had given
up all her own industry to be his companion.

No instinct warned him that his absorption in his business was
imperiling his home, nor that his crony was a sneaking conspirator
against his happiness.

Sheila was wildly excited, but she pretended to be sleepy and yawningly
begged to be excused. It was an hour later before Bret finished talking
and she heard him exchange cheery good nights with Jim Greeley. When
Bret arrived up-stairs she pretended to be asleep. Before long he was
asleep, worn out with honest toil, while she lay battling for the
slumber she had not earned. She was sleeping little and ill nowadays,
and she rose unrefreshed from unhappy nights to uninteresting days. The
effect on her health was growing manifest.



                             CHAPTER XLVII


The morning after the Jim Greeley adventure Sheila went back to her
children and the seaside. She had no energy and everything bored her.
The shock of the surf did not thrill her with new energy; it chilled and
weakened her. She found Dorothy all aflutter over the attentions of a
rich old widower who complimented her brutally.

Dorothy called him her “conquest” and spoke of her “flirtation.” Sheila
knew that she used the words rather childishly than with any
significance, but her face betrayed a certain dismay.

Dorothy bristled at the shadow of reproof. “Don’t look at me like that!
I guess if Jim can butterfly around the way he does I’m not going to
insult everybody that’s nice to me.”

Sheila disclaimed any criticism, but the incident alarmed her. And she
thought of what Satan provided for idle hands.

Civilization keeps robbing women of their ancient housework. Spinning,
weaving, grinding corn, making clothes, and twisting lamp-lighters are
gone. Their husbands do not want them to cook or sweep or wait upon
their own children. With the loss of their back-breaking,
heart-withering old tasks has come a longer life of beauty and desire
and a greater leisure for curiosity. They were unhappy and discontented
in their former servitude. They are unhappy and discontented in their
useless freedom.

Sheila saw everywhere evidences that grown-ups, like children, must
either become sloths of indolence, or find occupation, or take up
mischief for a business. She wondered and dreaded what the future might
hold for herself.

The summers were not quite so hard to get through, for they had usually
been periods of vacation for her. Sometimes she spent a month or two
with her father and mother, or they with her. Sometimes old Mrs. Vining
visited her and shamed her with the activity that kept the veteran
actress alert at seventy years.

Sheila found a cynical amusement in pitting Mrs. Vining and Bret’s
mother against each other. They began always with great mutual
deference, but soon the vinegar of age began to render their comments
acidulous. Mrs. Winfield had grown old in the domestic world and the
church. Mrs. Vining had grown old in the wicked theater. Of course
Sheila was prejudiced, but to save her she could not discover wherein
Mrs. Winfield was the better of the two. She was certainly narrower,
crueler, more somber. Moreover, she was also less industrious, for to
Sheila the hallowed duties of the household were not industry at all, or
at best were the proper toil for servants. Mrs. Winfield seemed to her
to be a Penelope eternally reweaving each day the same dull pattern she
had woven the day before.

When the autumn came her father and mother and Mrs. Vining and the other
theater folk emerged from their estivation and made ready for the year’s
work, while Sheila must return to the idleness of the village, or its
more insipid dissipations.

Daughter-in-law and mother-in-law began to get on each other’s nerves.
Sheila could not forget the glory of the theater. Mrs. Winfield could
not outgrow her horror of it, and she could not refrain from nagging
allusions to its baleful influences. To Sheila it was a case of the
sooty pot eternally railing at the simmering kettle.

One day Sheila was wrought to such a pitch of resentment that she
blurted out the whole story of her encounter with Jim Greeley.

“He was no actor,” said Sheila, triumphantly, “but he tried to win his
friend’s wife away.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Winfield, “but his friend’s wife was an actress.”

Against such logic Sheila saw that she would beat her head in vain. She
suppressed an inclination to tear her hair out and dance on it. And she
gave Mrs. Winfield up as hopeless. Mrs. Winfield had long before given
Sheila up as beyond redemption, and eventually she moved away from
Blithevale to live with a widowed sister in the Middle West.

Sheila asked herself, bitterly, “What am I getting out of life? When one
trouble goes another bobs into its place.” By the time the mother-in-law
retired the children had grown up to a noisy, uncontrollable
restlessness that drove the office-weary Bret frantic.

It was he, and not Sheila, that insisted on their occasional flights to
New York, where they made the rounds of the theaters. Sometimes Sheila
ran back on the stage to embrace her old friends and tell them how happy
she was. And they said they envied her, knowing they lied.

They always asked her, “When are you coming back?” and when she always
answered, “Never,” they did not believe her. Yet they saw that
discontent was aging her. Discontent was never yet a fountain of youth.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Sheila returned to Blithevale like a caught convict. Plays came there
occasionally, and Bret liked to see them as an escape from the worries
he found at home or the worries that followed him from the office. He
enjoyed particularly the entertainments concocted with the much-abused
mission of furnishing relaxation for the tired business man. As if the
tired business man were not an important and pathetic figure, and his
refreshment one of the noblest and most needful acts of charity.

At these times when Sheila sat and watched other people playing, and
often playing atrociously, the rôles that she should have played or
would have enjoyed, her homesickness for the boards swept over her in
waves of anguish. Sometimes the yearning to act goaded her so cruelly
that she almost swooned. She felt like a canary full of song with her
tongue cut out.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Now and then Eugene Vickery came to visit his sister Dorothy. He usually
spent a deal of time with Bret and Sheila.

He was a different Eugene so far as success and failure can alter a man.
That play of his which Sheila had tried in stock and Reben had allowed
to lapse Eugene had patched up and sold to another manager who had a
star in tow.

Play and star had been flayed with jubilant enthusiasm by the New York
critics, but had drawn enough of the public to keep them on Broadway
awhile, and then had succeeded substantially on the road in the cheaper
theaters known as the “dollar houses.”

Vickery the scholar was both irritated and amused by the irony of his
success. Almost illiterate journalists called his wisdom trash and only
the less sophisticated people would accept it. His feelings were only
partly soothed by the dollar anodyne and the solace of regular
royalties.

His manager ordered another play, and Vickery tried to write down to his
public. The result was a dismal fiasco, critically and box-officially.
The lesson was worth the price. He went back to writing for himself in
the belief that if he could succeed in the private theater of his own
heart he would be sure at least of one sympathetic auditor. That was one
more than the insincere writer could count on.

His bookish tastes and training led him to a bookish ideal. He felt that
the highest dramatic art was in the blank-verse form, and he felt that
there was something nobler in the good old times of costumes and
rhetoric. In fact, blank verse demanded heroic garb, for when the words
strut the speakers must. His Americanism was revealed only in the fact
that he chose for his chief character a man struggling for liberty, for
the right of being himself.

He selected the epic argosy of the Puritans and their battle for freedom
of worship. His central figure was a granite and velvet soul of the type
of Roger Williams.

He told Sheila and Bret a little about his scheme and they thought it
wonderful. Bret found any literary creation incredibly ingenious, though
more brilliant mental processes applied to mechanical problems seemed
simple enough.

Sheila thought Vickery’s plan wonderful because her heart swelled at the
lofty program of the plot. Blank verse had been her first religion and
Shakespeare her first Scripture. It was one of her bitterest regrets
that she had never paid the master the tribute of a performance of any
of his works since she adapted his “Hamlet” to the needs of her own
children’s theater.

“Who’s going to play your hero?” Bret asked, idly.

Vickery answered, “Well, I haven’t read it to him yet, but there’s only
one man in the country with the brains and the skill and the good
looks.”

“And who might all that be?” Sheila asked, with a laugh.

“Floyd Eldon.”

The name seemed to drop into a well of silence.

Vickery had forgotten for the moment the feud of the two men. The
silence recalled it to him. He spoke with vexation:

“Good Lord, people! haven’t you got over that ancient trouble yet? When
a grudge gets more than so old the board of health ought to cart it
away. Eldon’s got over it, I know. A year or two ago he was telling me
how kindly he felt toward Sheila and how he didn’t really blame Bret.”

Bret was not at all obliged for Eldon’s magnanimity, but Vickery went on
singing Eldon’s praises till he noticed the profound silence of his
auditors. He suddenly felt as if he had been speaking in an empty room.
He saw that Bret was sullen and Sheila uneasy. Vickery spread the praise
a little thicker in sheer vexation.

“Reben is going to star Eldon the minute he finds his play. I’m hoping I
can fit him with this. He’s on the way up and I want to ride up on his
coat-tails. He’s a gentleman, a scholar, an athlete—”

“But, after all, he’s an actor,” sniffed Bret.

“So was Shakespeare, the noblest mind in English literature.”

“I don’t care for the type,” said Bret. “Always posing, always talking
about themselves.”

“Thanks, dear,” said Sheila, flushing.

“Oh, I don’t mean you, honey,” Bret expostulated. “That’s why I loved
you—you almost never talk about yourself. You’re everything that’s
fine.”

Vickery tried to restore the conversation to safer generalities. “Actors
talk about their personality sometimes because that is what they are
putting on the market. But did you ever hear traveling-men talk about
their line of goods? or clergymen about the church? or manufacturers
about what they are making? Do you ever talk shop yourself?”

“Oh no!” Sheila laughed ironically, and now Bret flushed.

“Shop talk is merely a question of manners,” said Vickery. “Some people
know enough not to talk about themselves, and some don’t. There are lots
of old women that will talk you to death about their cooks and their
aches. I’m one of those who jaw about themselves all the time. It’s not
because I’m conceited, for the Lord knows I have too much reason for
modesty. It’s just a habit. Eldon hasn’t got it. He’ll talk about a
rôle, or about an audience, but you’ll never hear him praise himself.
And there are plenty of actors like him.”

Bret grunted his disbelief.

“You don’t know enough of them to be a judge,” Vickery insisted.

“No, and I don’t want to,” Bret growled. “I prefer good, honest,
wholesome, normal, real men—men like Jim Greeley and other friends of
mine.”

A little shiver passed through Sheila. Bret felt it, and assumed that
she was distressed at hearing Eldon’s name taken in vain. Vickery was
not impressed with the choice of his brother-in-law as an ideal. Dorothy
had told him too much about Jim. He did not suspect, however, that
Sheila had cause to loathe him. He continued to talk his own shop, and
to praise Eldon, to celebrate his progress, his increasing science in
the dynamics of theatricism.

“He’s becoming a great comedian,” he said. “And comedy requires brains.
Pathos and tragedy are more or less matters of emotion and temperament,
but comedy is a science.”

As Vickery chanted Eldon up, Sheila’s eyes began to glow again. Bret
fumed with jealousy, imputing that glow of hers to enthusiasm for Eldon.

The fact was that she was thinking of Eldon without a trace of
affection. She was thinking of him as a successful competitor, as a
beginner who was forging ahead and growing expert, growing famous while
she had fallen out of the race.

She was more jealous of Eldon than Bret was.



                             CHAPTER XLVIII


Sheila suffered the very same feeling to a more sickening degree, a
little later, when “The Woman Pays” company, now in its fourth year,
reached Blithevale in cleaning up the lesser one-night stands. The play
that Sheila had rejected had become the corner-stone of Reben’s
fortunes. It was as inartistic and plebeian and reminiscent as apple
pie. But the public loves apple pie and consumes tons of it, to the
great neglect of _marrons glacés_.

That play was a commodity for which there is always a market. A great
artist could adorn it, but it was almost actor-proof against
destruction.

Even Dulcie Ormerod could not spoil it for its public. When she played
it Batterson gnashed his teeth and Reben held his aching head, but there
were enough injudicious persons left to make up eight good audiences a
week.

Dulcie “killed her laughs” by fidgeting or by reading humorously or by
laughing herself. She lost the audience’s tears by the copiousness of
her own. But she loved the play and still “knew she was great because
she wept herself.” When she laughed she showed teeth that speedily
earned a place in the advertisement of dentifrice, and when she wept, a
certain sort of audience was overawed by the sight of a genuine tear.
Real water has always been impressive on the stage.

By sheer force of longevity the play slid her up among the prominent
women of the day. She stuck to the rôle for four years, and was
beginning to hope to rival the records of Joseph Jefferson, Denman
Thompson, Maggie Mitchell, and Lotta.

The night the company played in Blithevale Bret and Eugene, Sheila,
Dorothy and her Jim, made up a box-party.

Jim proclaimed that Dulcie was a “peach,” but he alluded less to the art
she did not possess than to the charms she had. She was pretty, there
was no question of that—as shapely and characterless as a Bouguereau
painting, as coarsely sweet as granulated sugar. Dorothy credited her
with all the winsome qualities of the character she assumed, and took a
keen dislike to the actress who played the adventuress, an estimable
woman and a genuine artist whose oxfords Dulcie was not fit to untie.

Eugene and Sheila suffered from Dulcie’s utter falsehood of
impersonation. Even Bret felt some mysterious gulf between Dulcie’s
interpretation and Sheila’s as he remembered it.

Sheila was afraid to speak her opinion of Dulcie lest it seem mere
jealousy. Eugene voiced it for her.

“To think that such a heifer is a star! Getting rich and getting
admiration,” he growled, “while a genius like Sheila rusts in idleness.
It’s a crime.”

“It’s all my fault,” said Bret. “I cut her out of it.”

“Don’t you believe it, honey,” Sheila cooed. “I’d rather be starring in
your home than earning a million dollars before the public.”

But somehow there was a clank of false rhetoric in the speech. It was
lover’s extravagance, and even Bret felt that it could not quite be
true, or that, if it were true, somehow it ought not to be.

He felt himself a dog in the manger, yet he was glad that Sheila was not
up there with some actor’s arms about her.

                 *        *        *        *        *

After the third act Dulcie sent the company-manager—still Mr.
McNish—to invite Mrs. Winfield to come back at the end of the play.

Sheila had hoped to escape this test of her nerves, but there was no
escape. She felt that if Dulcie were haughty over her success she would
hate her, and if she were not haughty and tried to be gracious she would
hate her more.

Dulcie assumed the latter rôle and played it badly. She condescended as
from a great height, patronized like a society patroness. Worse yet, she
pawed Sheila and called her “Sheila” and “dearie” and congratulated her
on having such a nice quiet life in such a dear little village, while
“poor me” had to play forty weeks a year. Sheila wanted to scratch her
big doll-eyes out.

On the way home Bret confessed that it rather hurt him to see a “dub
like Dulcie rattling round in Sheila’s shoes.” The metaphor was meant
better than it came out, but Sheila was not thinking of that when she
groaned: “Don’t speak of it.”

Bret invited Vickery to stop in for a bit of supper and Vickery
accepted, to Bret’s regret. Sheila excused herself from lingering and
left Bret to smoke out Vickery, who was in a midnight mood of garrulity.
The playwright watched Sheila trudge wearily up the staircase, worn out
with lack of work. He turned on Bret and growled:

“Bret, there goes the pitifulest case of frustrated genius I ever saw.
It’s a sin to chain a great artist like that to a baby-carriage.”

Bret turned scarlet at the insolence of this, but Vickery was too feeble
to be knocked down. He was leaner than ever, and his eyes were like wet
buckeyes. His speech was punctuated with coughs. As he put it, he
“coughed commas.” Also he coughed cigarette-smoke usually. His friends
blamed his cough to his cigarettes, but they knew better, and so did he.

He was in a hurry to do some big work before he was coughed out. It
infuriated him to feel genius within himself and have so little strength
or time for its expression. It enraged him to see another genius with
health and every advantage kept from publication by a husband’s
selfishness.

He was in one of his irascible spells to-night and he had no mercy on
Bret. He spoke with the fretful tyranny of an invalid.

“It’s none of my business, I suppose, Bret, but I tell you it makes me
sick—sick! to see Sheila cooped up in this little town. New York would
go wild over her—yes, and London, too. There’s an awful dearth on the
stage of young women with beauty and training. She could have everything
her own way. She’s a peculiarly brilliant artist who never had her
chance. If she had reached her height and quit—fine! But she was
snuffed out just as she was beginning to glow. It was like lighting a
lamp and blowing it out the minute the flame begins to climb on the
wick.

“Dulcie Ormerod and hundreds of her sort are buzzing away like cheap
gas-jets while a Sheila Kemble is here. She could be making thousands of
people happy, softening their hearts, teaching them sympathy and charm
and breadth of outlook; and she’s teaching children not to rub their
porridge-plates in their hair!

“Thousands used to listen to every syllable of hers and forget their
troubles. Now she listens to your factory troubles. She listens to the
squabbles of a couple of nice little kids who would rather be outdoors
playing with other kids all day, as they ought to be.

“It’s like taking a lighthouse and turning the lens away from the sea
into the cabbage-patch of the keeper.”

“Go right on,” Bret said, with labored restraint. “Don’t mind me. I’m
old-fashioned. I believe that a good home with a loving husband and some
nice kids is good enough for a good woman. I believe that such a life is
a success. Where should a wife be but at home?”

“That depends on the wife, Bret. Most wives belong at home, yes. Most
men belong at home, too. They are born farmers and shoemakers and
school-teachers and chemists and inventors, and all glory to them for
staying there. But where did Christopher Columbus belong? Where would
you be if he had stayed at home?”

“But Sheila isn’t a man!”

“Well, then, did Florence Nightingale belong at home? or Joan of Arc?”

“Oh, well, nurses and patriots and people like that!”

“What about Jenny Lind and Patti?”

“They were singers.”

“And Sheila is a singer, only in unaccompanied recitative. Actors are
nurses and doctors, too; they take people who are sick of their hard
day’s work and they cure ’em up, give ’em a change of climate.”

“Home was good enough for our mothers,” Bret grumbled, sinking back
obstinately in his chair.

“Oh no, it wasn’t.”

“They were contented.”

“Contented! hah! that’s a word we use for other people’s patience.
Old-fashioned women were not contented. We say they were because other
people’s sorrows don’t bother us, especially when they are dead. But
they mattered then to them. If you ever read the newspapers of those
days, or the letters, or the novels, or the plays, you’ll find that
people were not contented in the past at any time.

“People used to say that laborers were contented to be treated like
cattle. But they weren’t, and since they learned how to lift their heads
they’ve demanded more and more.”

Bret had been having a prolonged wrestle with a labor-union. He snarled:
“Don’t you quote the laboring-men to me. There’s no satisfying them!”

“And it’s for the good of the world that they should demand more. It’s
for the good of the world that everybody should be doing his best, and
getting all there is in it and out of it and wanting more.”

“Is nobody to stay at home?”

“Of course! There’s my sister Dorothy—nicest girl in the world, but not
temperamental enough to make a flea wink. She’s got sense enough to know
it. You couldn’t drive her on the stage. Why the devil didn’t you marry
her? Then you both could have stayed at home. You belong at home because
you’re a manufacturer. I should stay at home because I’m a writer. But a
postman oughtn’t to stay at home, or a ship-captain, or a fireman.”

Bret attempted a mild sarcasm: “So all the women ought to leave home and
go on the stage, eh?”

Vickery threw up his hands. “God forbid! I think that nine-tenths of the
actresses ought to leave the stage and go home. Too many of them are
there because there was nowhere else to go or they drifted in by
accident. Nice, stupid, fatheads who would be the makings of a farm or
an orphan-asylum are trying to interpret complicated rôles. Dulcie
Ormerod ought to be waiting on a lunch-counter, sassing brakemen and
brightening the lot of the traveling-men. But women like Mrs. Siddons
and Ellen Terry, Bernhardt and Duse and Charlotte Cushman and Marlowe
and any number of others, including Mrs. Bret Winfield, ought to be
traveling the country like missionaries of art and culture and
morality.”

“Morality!” Bret roared. “The stage is no place for a good woman, and
you know it.”

“Oh, bosh! In the first place, what is a good woman?”

“A woman who is virtuous and honorable and industrious and—Well, you
know what ‘good’ means as well as I do.”

“I know a lot better than you do, you old mud-turtle. There are plenty
of good women on the stage. And there are plenty of bad ones off. There
are more Commandments than one, and more than one way for a woman to be
bad. There are plenty of wives here in Blithevale whose physical
fidelity you could never question, though they’re simply wallowing in
other sins. You know lots of wives that you can’t say a word against
except that they are loafers, money-wasters, naggers of children,
torturers of husbands, scourges of neighbors, enemies of everything
worth while—otherwise they are all right.

“They neglect their little ones’ minds; never teach them a lofty ideal;
just teach them hatred and lying and selfishness and snobbery and spite
and conceit. They make religion a cloak for backbiting and false
witness. And they’re called good women. I tell you it’s an outrage on
the word ‘good.’ ‘Good’ is a great word. It ought to be used for
something besides ‘the opposite of sensual’!”

“All right,” Bret agreed, “use it any way you want to. You’ll admit, I
suppose, that a good woman ought to perpetuate her goodness. A good
woman ought to have children.”

“Yes, if she can.”

“And take care of them and sacrifice herself for them.”

“Why sacrifice herself?”

“So that the race may progress.”

“How is it going to progress if you sacrifice the best fruits of it?
Suppose the mother is a genius of the highest type, a beautiful-bodied,
brilliant-minded, wholesome genius. Why should she be sacrificed to her
children? They can’t be any greater than she is. Since genius isn’t
inherited or taught, they’ll undoubtedly be inferior. And at that they
may die before they grow up. Why kill a sure thing for a doubtful one?”

“You don’t believe in the old-fashioned woman.”

“She’s still as much in fashion as she ever was. The old-fashionedest
woman on record was Eve. She meddled and got her husband fired out of
Paradise. And she never had any stage ambitions or asked for a vote or
wore Paris clothes, but she wasn’t much of a success as a wife; and as a
mother all we know of her home influence was that one of her sons killed
the other and got driven into the wilderness. You can’t do much worse
than that. Even if Eve had been an actress and gone on the road, her
record couldn’t have been much worse, could it?”

Bret was boxing heavily and sleepily with a contemptuous patience. “You
think women ought to be allowed to go gadding about wherever they
please?”

“Of course I do! What’s the good of virtue that is due to being in jail?
We know that men are more honest, more decent, more idealistic, more
romantic, than women. Why? Because we have liberty. Because we have
ourselves to blame for our rottenness. Because we’ve got nobody to hide
behind. The reason so many women are such liars and gossips and so
merciless to one another is because they are so penned in, because all
the different kinds of women are expected to live just the same way
after they are married. But some of them are bad mothers because they
have no outlet for their genius. Some of them would be better wives if
they had more liberty.”

Bret was entirely unconvinced. “You’re not trying to tell me that the
stage is better than the average village?”

“No, but I think it’s as good. There will never be any lack of sin. But
the sin that goes on in harems and jails and hide-bound communities is
worse than the sin of free people busily at work in the splendid fields
of art and science and literature and drama and commerce.

“I think Sheila belongs to the public. I don’t see why she couldn’t be a
better wife and a better mother for being an eminent artist. And I like
you, Bret, so much. You’re as decent a fellow at heart as anybody I
know. I hate to have it you, of all men, that’s crushing Sheila’s soul
out of her. I hate to think that I introduced you to her. And I let you
cut me out.

“She wouldn’t have loved me if she’d married me, but, by the Lord Harry!
her name would be a household word in all the homes in the country
instead of just one.”

Vickery dropped to a divan and lay outstretched, exhausted with his
oration. Bret sat with his lips pursed and his fingers gabled in long
meditation. At length he spoke:

“I’m not such a brute as you think, ’Gene. I don’t want to sacrifice
anybody to myself, least of all the woman I idolize. If Sheila wants to
leave me and go back, I’ll not hinder her. I couldn’t if I wanted to.
There’s no law that enables a man to get out an injunction against his
wife going on the stage. If she wants to go, why doesn’t she?”

Vickery sat up on the couch and snapped: “Because she loves you, damn
it! I’m madder at her than I am at you.” Then he fell back again,
puffing his cigarette spitefully.

Bret smoked slowly at a long cigar. He was thinking long thoughts.

A little later Vickery spoke again: “Besides, Sheila won’t say she wants
to go back, for fear it would hurt your feelings.”

Bret took this very seriously. “You think so?”

“I know so.”

Bret smoked his cigar to ash, then he rose with effort and solemnity,
went to the door, and called, “Oh, Sheila!”?

From somewhere in the clouds came her voice—the beautiful Sheila voice,
“Yes, dear.”

“Come to the stairs a minute, will you?”

“Yes, dear.”

Vickery had risen wonderingly. He could not see Sheila’s nightcapped
head as she looked over the balustrade. He did not know that Sheila had
been listening to his eulogy of her and agreeing passionately with his
regrets at her idleness.

“’Gene here,” said Bret, “has been roasting me for keeping you off the
stage. I want him to hear me tell you that I’m not keeping you off the
stage. Do you want to go on the stage, Sheila?”

Sheila’s voice was housewifely and matter-of-fact. “Of course not. I
want to go to bed. And it’s time ’Gene was in his. Send him home.”

She heard Bret cry, “You see!” and heard his triumphant laughter as he
clapped Vickery on the shoulder. Then she went to her room and locked
herself in. The click of the bolt had the sound of a jailer’s key. She
was a prisoner in a cell, in a solitary confinement, since her husband’s
soul was leagues away from any sympathy with hers. She paced the floor
like a caged panther, and when the sobs came she fell on her knees and
silenced them in her pillow lest Bret hear her. She had made her
renunciation and plighted her troth. She would keep faith with her lover
though she felt that it was killing her. Her soul was dying of
starvation.



                              CHAPTER XLIX


Vickery went to his sister’s house and sat up all night, working on his
play for Eldon. For months he toiled and moiled upon it. Sometimes he
would write all day and all night upon a scene, and work himself up into
a state of what he called soul-sweat.

He would go to bed patting himself on the shoulder and talking to
himself as if he were a draught-horse and a Pegasus combined: “Good boy,
’Gene! Good work, old Genius!”

In the morning he would wake feeling all the after-effects of a
prolonged carouse. He would reach for a cigarette and review with
contempt all he had previously done. No critic could have reviled his
work with less sympathy.

“By night I write plays and by day I write criticisms,” he would say.

Lazily he would cough himself out of bed, cough through his tub and into
his clothes, and go to his table like a surly butcher to carve his play
with long slashes of the blue pencil.

At length he had it as nearly finished as any play is likely to be
before it has been read. He went to New York, where Eldon was playing,
and easily persuaded him to listen to the drama. Vickery would not
explain the story of the play beforehand.

“I want you to get it the way the audience does.”

He marched his buskined blank verse with the elocution of a poet and all
the sonority his raucous voice could lend him. He was shocked to note
that Eldon was not helping him along with enthusiasm. His voice wavered,
faltered, sank. He was hardly audible at the climax of his big third
act.

Here the Puritan hero, who had left the Old World for the New World and
liberty, discovered that the other Puritans wanted liberty only for
themselves, and so abhorred his principles of toleration that they
exiled him into the wilderness, mercilessly expecting him to perish in
the blizzards or at the hands of the Indians. The hero, like another
Roger Williams, turned and denounced them, then vowed to found a state
where a man could call his soul his own, and plunged into the storm.

Vickery closed the manuscript and gulped down a glass of water. He had
not looked at Eldon for two acts; he did not look at him now. He simply
growled, “Sorry it bored you so.”

“It doesn’t bore me!” Eldon protested. “It’s magnificent—”

“But—” Vickery prompted.

“But nothing. Only—well—you see you said it was a play for me, and
I—I’ve been trying to like it for myself. But—well, it’s too good for
me. I feel like a man who ordered a suit of overalls and finds that the
tailor has brought him an ermine robe and velvet breeches. It’s too
gorgeous for me.”

“Nonsense!” said Vickery. “You don’t have to softsoap me. Why don’t you
like it?”

“I do! As a work of art it is a masterpiece. The fault is mine. You see,
I admire the classic blank-verse plays so much that I wish people
wouldn’t try to write any more of them. They’re not in the spirit of our
age. In Shakespeare’s time men wore long curls and combed them in
public, and tied love-knots in them and wrote madigrals and picked their
teeth artistically with a golden picktooth. The best of them cried like
babies when their feelings were hurt.

“Nowadays we’d lynch a man that behaved as they did. Then they tried to
use the most eloquent words. Now we try to use the simplest or, better
yet, none at all. I think that our way is bigger than theirs, but,
anyway, it’s our way.

“And then the Puritans. I admire them in spots. My people came over in
one of the early boats. But plays about Puritans never succeed. Do you
know why? It’s because the Puritans preached the gospel of Don’t!
Everything was Don’t—don’t dance, don’t sing, don’t kiss, don’t have
fun, don’t wear bright colors, don’t go to plays, don’t have a good
time. But the theater is the place where people go to have a good time,
a good laugh, a good cry, or a good scare. The whole soul of the theater
is to reconcile people with life and with one another.

“The Puritans call the theater immoral. It is so blamed moral that it is
untrue to life half the time, for wickedness always has to be punished
in the theater, and we know it isn’t in real life.

“And another thing, Vick, why should the theater do anything for the
Puritans? They never did anything for us except to tear down the
playhouses and call the actors hard names. And what good came of it all?

“Here’s a book I picked up about the Puritans, because it has a lot
about my ancestors. They had a daughter named Remember and a son named
Wrastle. But look at this.” Eldon got up, found the volume, and hunted
for the page, as he raged: “Now the Puritans in our country had none of
the alleged causes of immorality—they had no novels, no plays, no grand
or comic operas, no nude art, no vaudeville, no tango, and no moving
pictures. They ought to have been pretty good, eh? Well, take a peek at
what their Governor William Bradford writes.”

He handed the book to Vickery, whose eyes roved along the page:

    Anno Dom: 1642. Marvilous it may be to see and consider how some
    kind of wickednes did grow breake forth here, in a land wher the
    same was so much witnesed against, and so narrowly looked unto,
    & severly punished when it was knowne; as in no place more, and
    so much, that I have known or head of . . . . . espetially
    drunkennes and unclainnes; not only incontinencie betweene
    persons unmaried, for which many both men & women have been
    punished sharply enough, but some maried persons allso. . .
    things fearful to name have broak forth in this land, oftener
    then once . . . one reason may be, that ye Divell may carrie a
    greater spite against the churches of Christ and ye gospell
    hear, by how much ye more they endeavor to preserve holynes and
    puritie amongst them . . . that he might cast a blemishe &
    staine upon them in ye eyes of ye world, who use to be rashe in
    judgmente.

Vickery smiled sheepishly, and Eldon relieved him of the book,
exclaiming:

“Think of it, those terribly protected people were so bad they could
only explain it by saying that Satan worked overtime! There is one of
the most hideous stories in here ever published and you can find facts
that make _The Scarlet Letter_ look innocent.”

Vickery protested, mildly: “Of course the Puritans were human and
intolerant. That’s the whole point of my play, the struggle of a man
against them.”

Eldon opposed him still. “But why should we worry over that? The
Puritans have been pretty well whipped out. Liberty is pretty well
secured for men in America. Why try to excite an audience about what
they all are as used to as the air they breathe? Let Russia write about
such things. Why not write a play about the exciting things of our own
days? If you want liberty for a theme, why don’t you write about the
fight the women are waging for freedom? Turn your hero into a heroine;
turn your Puritans into conservative men and women of the day who stand
just where they did. Show up the modern home as this book shows up the
old Puritans.”

Vickery was dazed. Of all the critical suggestions he had ever heard,
this was the most radical, to change the hero to a heroine, and _vice
versa_.

He stared at Eldon. “Are you in favor of woman suffrage, you, of all
men?”

Eldon laughed. “You might as well ask me if I am in favor of the coming
winter or the hot spell or the next earthquake. All I know is that my
opposition wouldn’t make the slightest difference to them and that I
might as well reconcile myself to them.

“There’s nothing on this earth except death and the taxes that’s surer
to come than the equality of women—in the sense of equality that men
mean. The first place where women had a chance was the stage; it’s the
only place now where they are put on the same footing with the men. They
have every advantage that men have, and earn as much money, or more, and
have just as many privileges, or more. The one question asked is, ‘Can
you deliver the goods?’ That’s the question they ask of a business man,
or painter, or sculptor, or architect, or soldier. Private morals are an
important question, but a separate question, just as they are with men.

“So the stage is the right place for freedom to be preached by women,
because that is the place where it is practised. The stage ought to lend
its hand to free others because it is free itself.”

Vickery was beginning to kindle with the new idea, though his kindling
meant the destruction of the building he had worked on so hard. He made
one further objection: “You’re not seriously urging me to write a
suffragette play, are you?”

“Lord help us, no!” Eldon snorted. “The suffragette is less entertaining
on the stage than the Puritan, or the abolitionist, or any fighter for a
doctrine. What the stage wants is the story of individuals, not of
parties, or sects, or creeds. Leave sermons to the pulpits and lectures
to the platform. The stage wants stories. If you can sneak in a bit of
doctrine, all right, but it must be smuggled. Why don’t you write a play
about the tragedy of a woman who has great gifts and can’t use them—a
throttled genius like—well, like Sheila Kemble, for instance?”

“Oh, Sheila!” Vickery sighed. But the theme became personal, concrete,
real at once. He made still a last weak objection: “But I wrote this
play for you. I wanted to see you star in it.”

Eldon thought a moment, then he said: “You write the play for the woman,
and let me play her husband. Give her all the fire you want, and make me
just an every-day man with a wife he loves and admires and wants to
keep, and doesn’t want to destroy. You do that and I’ll play the husband
and I’ll give the woman star the fight of her life to keep me from
running away with the piece. Don’t make the husband brilliant or heroic;
just a stupid, stubborn, every-day man, and give him the worst of it
everywhere. That all helps the actor. The woman will be divine, the man
will be human. And he’ll get the audience—the women as well as the
men.”

Vickery began to see the play forming on the interior sky of his skull,
vaguely yet vividly as clouds take shape and gleam. “If only Sheila
could play it,” he said.

Eldon tossed his hands in despair.

Vickery began to babble as the plot spilled down into his brain in a
cloudburst of ideas: “I might take Sheila for my theme. To disguise her
decently she could be—say—Let me see—I’ve got it!—a singer! Her
voice has thrilled Covent Garden and the Metropolitan and she marries a
nice man and has some children and sings ’em little cradle-songs. She
loves them and she loves her husband, but she is bursting with bigger
song—wild, glorious song. Shall she stick to the nursery or shall she
leave her babies every now and then and give the world a chance to hear
her? Her mother-in-law and the neighbors say, ‘The opera is immoral, the
singers are immoral, the librettos are immoral, the managers are
immoral; you stay in the nursery, except on Sundays, and then you may
sing in the choir.’

“But she remembers when she sang the death-love of Isolde in the
Metropolitan with an orchestra of a hundred trying in vain to drown her;
she remembers how she climbed and climbed till she was in heaven, and
how she took five thousand people there with her, and—Oh, you can see
it! It’s Trilby without Svengali; it’s Trilby as a mother and a wife.
It’s all womankind.”

His thoughts were stampeded with the new excitement. He picked up the
play he had loved so well and worked for so hard, and would have tossed
it into the fire if Eldon’s room had not been heated by a
steam-radiator. He flung it on the floor with contempt:

“That!” and he trampled it as the critics would have trampled it had it
been laid at their feet.

“What to call my play?” he pondered, aloud. “It’s always easier for me
to write the play than select the name.” As he screwed up his face in
thought a memory came to him. “My mother told me once that when she was
a little girl in the West her father wounded a wild swan and brought it
home. She cared for it till it got well, then he clipped one of its
wings so that it could not balance itself to fly. It grew tame and
stayed about the garden, but it was always trying to fly.

“One day my grandfather noticed that the clipped wing was growing out
and he sent a farm-hand to trim it down again. The fellow didn’t
understand how birds fly, and he clipped the long wing down to the
length of the short one. The bird walked about, trying its pinions. It
found that, short as they were, they balanced each other.

“She walked to a high place and suddenly leaped off into the air; my
mother saw her and thought she would fall. But her wings held her up.
They beat the air and she sailed away.”

“Did she ever come back?” Eldon asked.

“She never came back. But she was a bird and didn’t belong in a garden.
A woman would come back. We used to have pigeons at home. We clipped
their wings at first, too, till they learned the cote. Then we let them
free. You could see them circling about in the sky. Pigeons come back.
I’m going to call my play ‘Clipped Wings.’ How’s that for a
title?—‘Clipped Wings’!”

Eldon was growing incandescent, too, but he advised caution:

“Be easy on the allegory, boy, or you’ll have only allegorical
audiences. Stick to the real and the real people will come to see it. Go
on and write it, and don’t forget I play the husband; I saw him first.
Don’t write a lecture, now; promise me you won’t preach or generalize.
You stick to your story of those two people, and let the audience
generalize on the way home. And don’t let your dialogue sparkle too
much. Every-day people don’t talk epigrams. Give them every-day talk.
That’s as great and twice as difficult as blank verse.

“Don’t try to sweeten the husband. Let him roar like a bull, and
everybody will understand and forgive him. I tell you the new wife has
it all her own way. She’s venturing out into new fields. The new husband
is the one I’m sorry for.

“I hate Winfield for taking Sheila off the stage, and I hate him for
keeping her away. But if I were in his place I’d do the same. I’d hate
myself, but I’d keep her. The more you think of it, the harder the
husband job is.

“The new husband of the new woman is up against the biggest problem of
the present time and of the future: what are husbands going to do about
their wives’ ambitions? What are wives going to do about their husbands’
rights to a home? Where do the children come in? It doesn’t do the kids
much good to have ’em brought up in a home of discontent by a
broken-hearted mother raising her daughter to go through the same
tragedy. But they ought to have a chance.

“There’s a new triangle in the drama. It’s not a question of a lover
outside; the third member is the wife’s ambition. Go to it, my boy—and
give us the story.”

Vickery stumbled from the room like a sleep-walker. The whole play was
present in his brain, as a cathedral in the imagination of an architect.

When he came to drawing the details of the cathedral, and figuring out
the ground-plan, stresses, and strains, the roof supports, the flying
buttresses, the cost of material, and all the infernally irreconcilable
details—that was quite another thing yet.

But he plunged into it as into a brier-patch and floundered about with a
desperate enthusiasm. His health ebbed from him like ink from his pen.
His doctor ordered him to rest and to travel, and he sought the
mountains of New York for a while. But he would not stop work. His theme
dragged him along and he hoped only that his zest for writing would not
give out before the play was finished. If afterward his life also gave
out, he would not much care.

He had lost Sheila, and Sheila had lost herself. If he could find his
work, that would be something at least.



                               CHAPTER L


There was a certain birch-tree on the hill behind the old Winfield
homestead.

The house itself sat well back in its ample green lawn, left fenceless
after the manner of American village lawns. In the rear of the house
there were many acres of gardens and pasture where cattle stood about,
looking in the distance like toy cows out of a Noah’s Ark.

Beyond the pasture was the steep hill they flattered with the name of
“the mountain.” To the children it furnished an unfailing supply of
Indians, replenished as fast as they were slaughtered.

Every now and then Sheila had to be captured and tied to a tree and
danced around by little Polly and young Bret and their friends, bedecked
with feathers from dismantled dusters, brandishing “tommyhawks” and
shooting with “bonarrers.”

Just as the terrified pale-face squaw was about to be given over to the
torture the Indians would disappear, take off their feathers, rub the
war mud off their noses, and lay aside their barbarous weapons; then
arming themselves with wooden guns, they would charge to Sheila’s
rescue, fearlessly annihilating the wraiths of their late selves.

One day when Sheila was bound to the tree she saw Bret stealing up to
watch the game. He waved gaily to her and she nodded to him. Then the
whim came to her to cease burlesquing the familiar rôle and play it for
all it was worth. She imagined herself really one of those countless
women whom the Indians captured and subjected to torment. Perhaps some
woman, the wife of a pioneer, had once met her hideous doom in this same
forest. She fancied she saw her house in flames and Bret shot dead as he
fought toward her. She writhed and tugged at the imaginary and
unyielding thongs. She pleaded for mercy in babbling hysteria, and for a
climax sent forth one sincere scream of awful terror. If Dorothy’s
mother had heard it she would have remembered the shriek of the little
Ophelia.

Sheila noted that the redskins were silent. She looked about her through
eyes streaming with fictional tears. She saw that Bret was plunging
toward her, ashen with alarm. The neighbors’ children were aghast and
her own boy and girl petrified. Then Polly and young Bret flung
themselves on her in a frenzy of weeping sympathy.

Sheila began to laugh and Bret looked foolish. He explained:

“I thought a snake was coiled round you. Don’t do that again, in
Heaven’s name.” That night he dreamed of her cry.

It was a long while before Sheila could comfort her children and
convince them that it was all “pretend.”

After that, when they were incorrigible, she could always cow them by
threatening, “If you don’t I’ll scream.”

The children would have been glad to make little canoes from the bark of
the birch, but Sheila would not let them peel off the delicate
human-like skin. The tree meant much to her, for she and Bret had been
wont to climb up to it before there were any amateur Indians. Bret had
carved their names on it in two linked hearts.

On the lawn in front of the house there was another birch-tree. It
amused Bret to name the tree on the hill “Sheila” and the tree on the
lawn “Bret.” And the nearest approach he ever made to poetry was to
pretend that they were longing for each other. He probably absorbed that
idea from the dimly remembered lyric of the pine-tree and the palm.

Sheila suggested that the birch from the lawn should climb up and dwell
with the lonely tree on the heights. Bret objected that he and Sheila
would never see them then, for they made few such excursions nowadays.

It struck him as a better idea to bring “Sheila” down to “Bret.” He
decided to surprise his wife with the view of them together. He chose a
day when Sheila was to take the children to a Sunday-school picnic. On
his way to the office he spoke to the old German gardener he had
inherited from his father. When Bret told him of his inspiration the old
man (Gottlieb Hauf, his name was) shook his head and crinkled his thin
lips with the superiority of learning for ignorance. He drawled:

“You shouldn’t do so,” and, as if the matter were ended, bent to snip a
shrub he was manicuring.

“But I want it,” Bret insisted.

“You shouldn’t vant it,” and snipped again.

Opposition always hardened Bret. He took the shears from the old man and
stood him up. “You do as I tell you—for once.”

Gottlieb could be stubborn, too. “Und I tell you die Birke don’t vant
it. She don’t like it down here.”

“The other birch-tree is flourishing down here.”

“Dot makes nuttink out. Die Birke up dere she like vere she is. She like
plenty sun.”

“This one grows in the shade.”

“Diese Birke don’t know nuttink about sun. She alvays grows im
Schatten.”

“Well, the other one would like the shade if it had a chance. You bring
it down here.”

The old man shook his head stubbornly and reached for the shears.

Bret was determined to have his own way. “Is it my tree or yours?”

“She is your tree—but she don’t like. You move her, she dies.”

“Bosh! You do as you’re told.”

“All right. I move her.”

“To-day?”

“Next vinter.”

“Now!”

“_Um Gotteswillen!_ She dies sure. Next vinter or early sprink, maybe
she has a chence, but to move her in summer—no!”

“Yes!”

“_Nein doch!_”

Bret choked with rage. “You move that tree to-day or you move yourself
out of here.”

Gottlieb hesitated for a long while, but he felt that he was too old to
be transplanted. Besides, that tree up there was none of his own
children. He consented with as bad grace as possible. He moved the tree,
grumbling, and doing his best for the poor thing. He took as large a
ball of earth with the roots as he could manage, but he had to sever
unnumbered tiny shoots, and the voyage down the mountain filled him with
misgivings.

When Bret came home that night the two trees stood close together like
Adam and Eve whitely saluting the sunset. Over them a great tulip-tree
towered a hundred feet in air, and all aglow with its flowers like a
titanic bridal bouquet. When the bedraggled Sheila came back with the
played-out children she was immeasurably pleased with the thoughtfulness
of the surprise.

The next morning Bret called her to the window to see how her namesake
laughed with all her leaves in the early light. The two trees seemed to
laugh together. “It’s their honeymoon,” he said. When he left the house
old Gottlieb was shaking his head over the spectacle. Bret triumphantly
cuffed him on the shoulder. “You see! I told you it would be all right.”

“Vait once,” said Gottlieb.

                 *        *        *        *        *

A few days before this Dorothy had called on Sheila to say that the
church was getting up an open-air festival, a farewell to the
congregation about to disperse for the summer. They wanted to borrow the
Winfield lawn.

Sheila consented freely. Also, they wanted to give a kind of masque.
Masques were coming back into fashion and Vickery had consented to toss
off a little fantasy, mainly about children and fairies, with one or two
grown-ups to hold them together.

Sheila thought it an excellent idea.

Also, they wanted Sheila to play the principal part, the mother of the
children.

Sheila declined with the greatest cordiality.

Dorothy pleaded. Sheila was adamant. She would work her head off and
direct the rehearsals, she said, but she was a reformed actress who
would not backslide even for the church.

Other members of the committee and even the old parson begged Sheila to
recant, but she beamed and refused. Rehearsals began with Dorothy as the
mother and Jim’s sister Mayme as the fairy queen. Sheila’s children and
Dorothy’s and a mob of others made up the rest of the cast, human and
elfin.

Sheila worked hard, but her material was unpromising—all except her own
daughter, whom she had named after Bret’s mother and whom she called
“Polly” after her own. Little Polly displayed a strange sincerity, a
trace of the Kemble genius for pretending.

When Vickery, who came down to see his work produced and saw little
Polly, it was like seeing again the little Sheila whom he still
remembered.

He told big Sheila of it, and her eyes grew humid with tenderness.

He said, “I wrote my first play for you—and I’d be willing to write my
last for you now if you’d act in it.”

Sheila blessed him for it as if it were a beautiful obituary for her
dead self. He did not tell her that he was writing her into his
masterpiece, that she was posing for him even now.

On the morning of the performance Miss Mayme Greeley woke up with an
attack of hay-fever in full bloom. The June flowers had filled her with
a kind of powder that went off like intermittent skyrockets. She began
to pack her trunk for immediate flight to a pollenless clime. It looked
as if she were trying to sneeze her head into her trunk. There was no
possibility of her playing the fairy queen when her every other word was
ker-choo!

Sheila saw it coming. Before the committee approached her like a
press-gang she knew that she was drafted. She knew the rôle from having
rehearsed it. Mayme’s costume would fit her, and if she did not jump
into the gap the whole affair would have to be put off.

These were not the least of the sarcasms fate was lavishing on her that
her wicked past as an actress, which had kept her under suspicion so
long, should be the means of bringing the village to her feet; that the
church should drive her back on the stage; that the stage should be a
plot of grass, that her own children should play the leading parts, and
she be cast for a “bit” in their support.

Thus it was that Sheila returned to the drama, shanghaied as a reluctant
understudy. The news of the positive appearance of the great Mrs.
Winfield—“Sheila Kemble as was, the famous star, you know”—drew the
whole town to the Winfield lawn.

The stage was a level of sward in front of the two birches, with
rhododendron-bushes for wings. The audience filled the terraces, the
porches, and even the surrounding trees.

The masque was an unimportant improvisation that Vickery had jingled off
in hours of rest from the labor of his big play, “Clipped Wings.”

But it gained a mysterious charm from the setting. People were so used
to seeing plays in artificial light among flat, hand-painted trees with
leaves pasted on visible fishnets, that actual sunlight, genuine grass,
and trees in three dimensions seemed poetically unreal and unknown.

The plot of the masque was not revolutionary.

Dorothy played a mother who quieted her four clamoring children with
fairy-stories at bedtime; then they dreamed that a fairy queen visited
them and transported them magically in their beds to fairyland.

At the height of the revel a rooster cock-a-doodle-did, the fairies
scampered home, the children woke up to find themselves out in the woods
in their nighties, and they skedaddled. Curtain.

The magic transformation scene did not work, of course. The ropes caught
in the trees and Bret’s chauffeur and Gottlieb Hauf had to get a
stepladder and fuss about, while the sleeping children sat up and the
premature fairies peeked and snickered. Then the play went on.

Bret watched the performance with the indulgent contempt one feels for
his unprofessional friends when they try to act. It puzzled him to see
how bad Dorothy was.

All she had to do was to gather her family about her and talk them to
sleep. Sheila had reminded her of this and pleaded:

“Just play yourself, my dear.”

But Dorothy had been as awkward and incorrigible as an overgrown girl.

To the layman it would seem the simplest task on earth—to play oneself.
The acting trade knows it to be the most complex, the last height the
actor attains, if he ever attains it at all.

Bret watched Dorothy in amazement. He was too polite to say what he
thought, since Jim Greeley was at his elbow. Jim was not so polite. He
spoke for Bret when he groaned:

“Gee whiz! What’s the matter with that wife of mine? She’s put her kids
to bed a thousand times and yet you’d swear she never saw a child in her
life before. You’d swear nobody else ever did. O Lord! Whew! I’ll get a
divorce in the morning.”

The neighbors hushed him and protested with compliments as badly read
and unconvincing as Dorothy’s own lines. At last Sheila came on, in the
fairy-queen robes. Everybody knew that she was Mrs. Winfield, and that
there were no fairies, at least in Blithevale, nowadays.

Yet somehow for the nonce one fairy at least was altogether undeniable
and natural and real. The human mother putting her chicks to bed was the
unheard-of, the unbelievable fantasm. Sheila was convincing beyond
skepticism.

At the first slow circle of her wand, and the first sound of her easy,
colloquial, yet poetic speech, there was a hush and, in one heart-throb,
a sudden belief that such things must be true, because they were too
beautiful not to be; they were infinitely lovely beyond the cruelty of
denial or the folly of resistance.

Bret’s heart began to race with pride, then to thud heavily. First was
the response to her beauty, her charm, her triumph with the neighbors
who had whispered him down because he had married an actress. Then came
the strangling clutch of remorse: What right had he to cabin and confine
that bright spirit in the little cell of his life? Would she not vanish
from his home as she vanished from the scene? Actually, she merely
walked between the rhododendron-bushes, but it had the effect of a
mystic escape.

There was great laughter when the children woke up and scooted across
the lawn in their bed-gear, but the sensation was Sheila’s. Her ovation
was overwhelming. The women of the audience fairly attacked Bret with
congratulations. They groaned, shouted, and squealed at him:

“Oh, your wife was wonderful! wonderful! WONderful! You must be so PROUD
of her!”

He accepted her tributes with a guilty feeling of embezzlement, a
feeling that the prouder he was of her the more ashamed he should be of
himself.

He studied her from a distance as she took her homage in shy simplicity.
She was happy with a certain happiness he had not seen on her face since
he last saw her taking her last curtain calls in a theater.

Sheila was so happy that she was afraid that her joy would bubble out of
her in disgraceful childishness. With her first entrance on the grassy
“boards” she had felt again the sense of an audience in sympathy and in
subjection, the strange clasp of hands across the footlights, even
though there were no footlights. It was a double triumph because the
audience was Philistine and little accustomed to the theater. But she
could feel the pulse of all those neighbors as if they had but one wrist
and she held that under her fingers, counting the leap and check of
their one heart and making it beat as she willed.

The ecstasy of her power was closely akin, in so different a way, to
what Samson felt when the Philistines that had rendered him helpless
called him from the prison where he did grind, to make them sport:

“He said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may
feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth that I may lean upon
them.” As he felt his strength rejoicing again in his sinews, he prayed,
“Strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged of the
Philistines for my two eyes.”

Nobody could be less like Samson than Sheila, yet in her capacity she
knew what it was to have her early powers once more restored to her. And
she bowed herself with all her might—“And the house fell.”

An almost inconceivable joy rewarded Sheila till the final spectator had
italicized the last compliment. Then, just as Samson was caught under
his own triumph, so Sheila went down suddenly under the ruination of her
brief victory.

She was never to act again! She was never to act again!

When Bret came slowly to her, the last of her audience, she read in his
eyes just what he felt, and he read in her eyes just what she felt. They
wrung hands in mutual adoration and mutual torment. But all they said
was:

“You were never so beautiful! You never acted so well!” and “If you
liked me, that’s all I want.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The next morning Bret woke to a new and busy day after a night of
perfect oblivion. Sheila did not get up, as her new habit was, but she
reverted to type. She said that she had not slept and Bret urged her to
stay where she was till she was rested.

Later, as he was knotting his tie, he glanced from the window as usual
at the birches whose wedding he was so proud of. His hands paused at his
throat and his fingers stiffened. He called, “Sheila! Sheila! Come
look!”

He forgot that she had not risen with him. She lifted herself heavily
from her pillow and came slowly to his side. She brushed back her heavy
hair from her heavy eyes and said, “What is it?”

“Look at the difference in the birches. ‘Bret’ is bright and fine and
every leaf is shining. But look at ‘Sheila’!”

The Sheila tree seemed to have died in the night. The leaves drooped,
shriveled, turning their dull sides outward on the black branches. The
wind, that made the other tree glisten like breeze-shaken water, sent
only a mournful shudder through her listless foliage.



                               CHAPTER LI


Bret turned with anxious, almost with superstitious query to Sheila. He
found her wan and tremulous and weirdly aged. He cried out: “Sheila!
What’s the matter? You’re ill!”

She tried to smile away his fears: “I had a bad night. I’m all right.”

But she leaned on him, and when he led her back to bed she fell into her
place like a broken tree. She was stricken with a chill and he bundled
the covers about her, spread the extra blankets over her, and held her
in his arms, but the lips he kissed shivered and were gray.

He was in a panic and begged her to let him send for the doctor, but she
reiterated through her chattering teeth that she was “all right.” When
he offered to stay home from the office she ridiculed his fears and
insisted that all she needed was sleep.

He left her anxiously, and came home to luncheon earlier than usual. He
did not find Sheila on the steps to greet him. She was not in the hall.
He asked little Polly where her mother was, and she said:

“Mamma’s sick. She’s been crying all day.”

“No, I haven’t,” said Sheila; “I’m all right.”

She was coming down the stairs; she was bravely dressed and smiling
bravely, but she depended on the banister, and she almost toppled into
Bret’s arms.

He kissed her with terror, demanding: “What’s the matter, honey? Please,
please tell me what’s the matter.”

But she repeated her old refrain: “Why, I’m all right, honey! I’m
perfectly all right!”

But she was not. She was broken in spirit and her nerves were in shreds.

Though she sat in her place at table, Bret saw that she was only
pretending to eat. Dinner was the same story. And there was another bad
night and a haggard morning.

Bret sent for the doctor in spite of her. He found only a general
constitutional depression, or, as Bret put it, “Nothing is wrong except
everything.”

A week or two of the usual efforts with tonics brought no improvement.
Meanwhile the doctor had asked a good many questions. It struck him at
last that Sheila was suffering from the increasingly common malady of
too much nervous energy with no work to expend it on. She must get
herself interested in something. Perhaps a change would be good, a long
voyage. Bret urged a trip abroad. He would leave the factory and go with
her. Sheila did not want to travel, and she reminded him of the vital
importance of his business duties. He admitted the truth of this and
offered to let her go without him. She refused.

The doctor advised her to take up some active occupation. Bret suggested
water-colors, authorship, pottery, piano-playing, the harp, vocal
lessons—Sheila had an ear for music and sang very well, for one who did
not sing. Sheila waved the suggestions aside one by one.

Bret and the doctor hinted at charity work. It is necessary to confess
that the idea did not fascinate Sheila. She had the actor’s instinct and
plenteous sympathy, and had always been ready to give herself gratis to
those benefit performances with which theatrical people are so generous,
and whose charity should cover a multitude of their sins. But charity as
a job! Sheila did not feel that going about among the sick and poverty
stricken people would cheer her up especially.

The doctor as his last resort suggested a hobby of his own—he suggested
that Sheila take up the art of hammering brass. He had found that it
worked wonders with some of his patients.

Sheila, not knowing that it was the doctor’s favorite vice and that his
home was full of it, protested: “Hammered brass! But where would I hide
it when I finished it? No, thank you!”

She said the same to every other proposal. You can lead a woman to an
industry, but you cannot make her take it up. Still Bret agreed with the
doctor that idleness was Sheila’s chief ailment. There was an abundance
of things to do in the world, but Sheila did not want to do them. They
were not to her nature. Forcing them on her was like offering a banquet
to a fish. Sheila needed only to be put back in the water; then she
would provide her own banquet.

Bret gave up trying to find occupations for her. The summer did not
retrieve her strength as he hoped. She tired of beaches and mountains
and family visitations.

In Bret’s baffled anxiety he thought perhaps it was himself she was so
sick of; that love had decayed. But Sheila kept refuting this theory by
her tempests of devotion.

He knew better than the doctor did, better than he would admit to
himself, what was the matter with her. She wanted to go on the stage,
and he could not bear the thought of it. Neither could he bear the
thought of her melancholia.

If Sheila had stormed, complained, demanded her freedom he could have
put up a first-class battle. But he could not fight the poor, meek
sweetheart whose only defense was the terrible weapon of reticence, any
more than he could fight the birch-tree that he had brought from its
native soil.

The Sheila tree made a hard struggle for existence, but it grew shabbier
and sicker, while the Bret tree, flourishing and growing, offered her
every encouragement to prosper where she was. But she could not prosper.

One evening when Bret came home, nagged out with factory annoyances, he
saw old Gottlieb patting the trunk of the Sheila tree and shaking his
head over it. Bret went to him and asked if there were any hope.

There were tears in Gottlieb’s eyes. He scraped them off with his
wrist-bone and sighed:

“_Die arme schöne Birke._ Ain’t I told you she don’t like? She goink
die. She goink die.”

“Take her back to the sunlight, then,” said Bret.

But Gottlieb shook his head. “_Jetzt ist’s all zu spät._ She goink die.”

Bret hurried on to the house, carrying a load of guilt. Sheila was lying
on a chair on the piazza. She did not rise and run to him. Just to lift
her hand to his seemed to be all that she could achieve. When he dropped
to his knee and embraced her she seemed uncannily frail.

The servant announcing dinner found him there.

Bret said to Sheila, “Shall I carry you in?”

She declined the ride and the dinner.

Bret urged, “But you didn’t eat anything for lunch.”

“Didn’t I? Well, no matter.”

He stared at her, and Gottlieb’s words came back to him. The two Sheilas
would perish together. He had taken them both from the soil where they
had first taken root. Neither of them could adapt herself to the new
soil. It was too late to restore the birch to its old home. Was it too
late to save Sheila?

He would not trust the Blithevale fogies longer. She should have the
best physician on earth. If he were in New York, well and good; if he
lived in Europe, they would hunt him down. Craftily he said to Sheila:

“How would you like to take a little jaunt to New York?”

“No, thanks.”

“With me. I’ve got to go.”

“I’m sorry I can’t; but it will be a change for you.”

“I’ll be lonely without you.”

“Not in New York,” she laughed.

“In heaven,” he said, and the extravagance pleased her. He took courage
from her smile and pleaded: “Come along. You can buy a raft of new
clothes.”

She shook her head even at that!

“You could see a lot of new plays.”

This seemed to waken the first hint of appetite. She whispered, “All
right; I’ll go.”



                              CHAPTER LII


Paris fashions rarely get a good word from men or a bad word from women.
The satirists and the clergy and native dressmakers who do not import
have delivered tirades in all languages against them for centuries. They
are still giving delight and refreshment from the harems on the Bosporus
to the cottages on the Pacific and the rest of the way around the world.

The doctors have not seemed to recognize their medicinal value. They
recommend equally or even more expensive changes of occupation or of
climate which work a gradual improvement at best in the condition of a
failing woman.

But for instant tonic and restorative virtue there is nothing to match
the external application of a fresh Paris gown. For mild attacks a Paris
hat may work, and where only domestic wares are obtainable they
sometimes help, if fresh. For desperate cases both hat and gown are
indicated.

Mustard plasters, electric shocks, strychnia, and other remedies have
nothing like the same potency. The effect is instantaneous, and the
patient is not only brought back to life, but stimulated to exert
herself to live up to the gown. Husbands or guardians should be excluded
during the treatment, as the reaction of Paris gowns on male relatives
is apt to cause prostration. There need be no fear, however, of
overdosing women patients.

As a final test of mortality, the Paris gown has been strangely
overlooked. Holding mirrors before the lips, lifting the hands to the
light, and like methods sometimes fail of certainty. If, however, a
Paris gown be held in front of the woman in question, and the words
“Here is the very newest thing from Paris just smuggled in” be spoken in
a loud voice, and no sign of an effort to sit up is made, she is dead,
and no doubt of it.

Bret had decoyed Sheila to New York with an elaborate story of having to
go on business and hating to go alone. When they arrived she was so weak
that Bret wanted to send a red-cap for a wheeled chair to carry her from
the train to the taxicab. Her pride refused, but her strength barely
sufficed the distance.

Bret chose the Plaza for their hotel, since it required a ride up Fifth
Avenue. His choice was justified by the interest Sheila displayed in the
shop windows. She tried to see both sides of the street at once.

She was as excited as a child at Coney Island. She astounded Bret by
gifts of observation that would have appalled an Indian scout.

After one fleeting glance at a window full of gowns she could describe
each of them with a wealth of detail that dazzled him and a technical
terminology that left him in perfect ignorance.

At the hotel she displayed unsuspected vigor. She needed little
persuasion to spend the afternoon shopping. He was afraid that she might
faint if she went alone, and he insisted that his own appointments were
for the next day.

He followed her on a long scout through a tropical jungle of
dressmakers’ shops more brilliant than an orchid forest. Sheila clapped
her hands in ecstasy after ecstasy. She insisted on trying things on and
did not waver when she had to stand for long periods while the fitters
fluttered about her. She promenaded and preened like a bird-of-paradise
at the mating season. She was again the responsive, jocund Sheila of
their own seaside mating period.

She found one audacious gown and a more audacious hat that suited her
and each other without alterations. And since Bret urged it, she let him
buy them for her to wear that night at the theater. She made
appointments for further fittings next day.

On the way to the hotel she tried to be sober long enough to reproach
herself for her various expenditures, but Bret said:

“I’d mortgage the factory to the hilt for anything that would bring back
that look to your face—and keep it there.”

At the hotel they discussed what play they should see. The ticket agent
advised the newest success, “Twilight,” but Sheila knew that Floyd Eldon
was featured in the cast and she did not want to cause Bret any
discomfort. She voted for “Breakers Ahead” at the Odeon, though she knew
that Dulcie Ormerod was in it. Dulcie was now established on Broadway,
to the delight of the large rural-minded element that exists in every
city.

Bret bought a box for the sake of the new gown. It took Sheila an age to
get into it after dinner, but Bret told her it was time well spent. When
they reached the theater the first act was well along, and in the
otherwise deserted lobby Reben was talking to Starr Coleman concerning a
learned interview he was writing for Dulcie.

Both stared at the sumptuous Delilah floating in at the side of Bret
Winfield. They did not recognize either Bret or Sheila till Sheila was
almost past them. Then they leaped to attention and called her by name.

All four exchanged greetings with cordiality. Time had blurred the old
grudges. The admiration in the eyes of both Reben and Coleman reassured
Sheila more than all the compliments they lavished.

Reben ended a speech of Oriental floweriness with a gracious
implication: “You are coming in at the wrong door of the theater. This
is the entrance for the sheep. The artists—Ah, if we had you back there
now!”

Bret whitened and Sheila flushed. Then they moved on. Reben called after
her, laughingly:

“I’ve got that contract in the safe yet.”

It was a random shot, but the arrow struck. When the Winfields had gone
on Reben said to Coleman:

“She’s still beautiful—she is only now beautiful.”

Coleman, whose enthusiasms were exhausted on his typewriting machine,
agreed, cautiously: “Ye-es, but she’s aged a good deal.”

Reben frowned. “So you could say of a rosebud that has bloomed. She was
pretty then and clever and sweet, but only a young thing that didn’t
know half as much as she thought she did. Now she has loved and suffered
and she has had children and seen death maybe, and she has cried a lot
in the night. Now she is a woman. She has the tragic mask, and I bet she
could act—my God! I know she could act—if that fellow didn’t prevent.”

“Fellow” was not the expression he used. Reben abhorred Bret even more
than Bret him.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Once more Sheila was in the Odeon, but as one of the laity. When she
entered the dark auditorium her eyes rejoiced at the huge, dusty, gold
arch of the proscenium framing the deep brilliant canvas where the
figures moved and spoke. It was a finer sight to her than any sunset or
seascape or any of the works of mere nature, for they just happened;
these canvas rocks and cloth flowers were made to fit a story. She
preferred the human to the divine, and the theatrical to the real.

The play was good, the company worthy of the Odeon traditions. Even
Dulcie was not bad, for Reben had subtly cast her as herself without
telling her so. She played the phases of her personality that everybody
recognized but Dulcie. The play was a comedy written by a gentle
satirist with a passion for making a portrait of his own times. The
character Dulcie enacted was that of a pretty and well-meaning girl of a
telephonic past married into a group of snobs, through having fascinated
a rich man with her cheerful voice. Dulcie could play innocence and
amiability, for she was not intelligent enough to be anything but
innocent, even in her vices, and she usually meant well even when she
did her worst.

The author had selected Dulcie as his ideal for the rôle, but he had
been at a loss how to tell her to play herself without hurting her
feelings. She saved him by asking:

“Say, listen, should I play this part plebean or real refined?”

He hastened to answer, “Play it real refined.”

And she did. She was delicious to those who understood; and to those who
didn’t she was admirable. Thus everybody was pleased.

Sheila would have enjoyed the rôle as a _tour de force_, or what she
called a stunt, of character-playing. But she was glad that she was not
playing it. She felt immortal longings in her for something less trivial
than this quaint social photograph; something more earnest than any
light satire.

She did not want to play that play, but she wanted to play—she
smoldered with ambition. Her eyes reveled in the splendor of the
theater, the well-groomed informality of the audience so eager to be
swayed, in the boundless opportunity to feed the hungry people with the
art of life. She felt at home. This was her native land. She breathed it
all in with an almost voluptuous sense of well-being.

Bret, eying her instead of the stage, caught that contentment in her
deep breathing, the alertness of her very nostrils relishing the
atmosphere, the vivacity of her eager eyes. And his heart told him what
her heart told her, that this was where she belonged.

He leaned close to her and whispered, “Don’t you wish you were up
there?”

She heard the little clang of jealousy in his mournful tone, and for his
sake she answered, “Not in the least.”

He knew that she lied, and why. He loved her for her love of him, but he
felt lonely.

Dulcie did not send for Sheila to come back after the play. Broadway
stars are busy people, with many suppliants for their time. Dulcie had
no time for ancient history.

Sheila was glad to be spared, but did not misunderstand the reason. As
she walked out with the audience she did not feel the aristocracy of her
wealth and her leisure. She wanted to be back there in her
dressing-room, smearing her features into a mess with cold-cream and
recovering her every-day face from her workaday mask.

Bret and she supped in the grand manner, and Sheila had plenty of stares
for her beauty. But she could see that nobody knew her. Nobody
whispered: “That’s Sheila Kemble. Look! Did you see her in her last
play?” It was not a mere hunger for notoriety that made her regret
anonymity; it was the artist’s legitimate need of recognition for his
work.

She went back to the hotel and took off her fine plumage. It had lost
most of its warmth for her. She had not earned it with her own success.
It was the gift of a man who loved her body and soul, but hated her
mind.

Sheila was very woman, and one Paris gown and the prospect of more had
lifted her from the depths to the heights. But she was an ambitious
woman, and clothes alone were not enough to sustain her. In her
situation they were but gilding on her shackles. The more gorgeously she
was robed the more restless she was. She was in the tragi-comic plight
of the man in the doleful song, “All dressed up and no place to go!”

Fatigue enveloped her, but it was the fag of idleness that has seen
another day go by empty, and views ahead an endless series of empty days
like a freight-train.

She tried to comfort Bret’s anxiety with boasts of how well she was, but
she fell back on the pitiful refrain, “I’m all right.” If she had been
all right she would not have said so; she would not have had to say so.

Both lay awake and both pretended to be asleep. In the two small heads
lying as motionless on the pillows as melons their brains were busy as
ant-hills after a storm. Eventually both fell into that mysterious state
called sleep, yet neither brain ceased its civil war.

Bret was wakened from a bitter dream of a broken home by Sheila’s
stifled cry. He spoke to her and she mumbled in her nightmare. He
listened keenly and made out the words:

“Bret, Bret, don’t leave me. I’ll die if I don’t act. I love you, I love
my children. I’ll take them with me. I’ll come home to you. Don’t hate
me. I love you.”

Her voice sank into incoherence and then into silence, but he could tell
by the twitching of her body and the clutching of her fingers that she
was still battling against his prejudice.

He wrapped her in his arms and she woke a little, but only enough to
murmur a word of love; then she sank back into sleep like a drowning
woman who has slipped from her rescuer’s grasp.

He fell asleep again, too, but the daybreak wakened him. He opened his
eyes and saw Sheila standing at the window and gazing at her beloved
city, her Canaan which she could see but not possess.

She shook her head despairingly and it reminded him of the old
gardener’s farewell to the birch-tree that must die.

She looked so eery there in the mystic dawn; her gown was so fleecy and
her body so frail that she seemed almost translucent, already more
spirit than flesh. She seemed like the ghost, the soul of herself
departed from the flesh and about to take flight.

Bret thought of her as dead. It came to him suddenly with terrifying
clarity that she was very near to death; that she could not live long in
the prison of his love.

He was the typical American husband who hates tyranny so much that he
would rather yield to his wife’s tyranny than subject her to his own. He
took no pride in the thought of sacrificing any one on the altar of his
self, and least of all did he want Sheila’s bleeding heart laid out
there.

The morning seemed to have solved the perplexities of the night; chill
and gray, it gave the chill, gray counsel: “She will die if you do not
return her where you found her.” He vowed the high resolve that Sheila
should be replaced upon the stage.

The pain of this decision was so sharp that when she crept back to bed
he did not dare to announce it. He was afraid to speak, so he let her
think him asleep.

That morning Sheila was ill again, old again, and jaded with discontent.
He reminded her of her appointments with the dressmakers, but she said
that she would put them off—or, better yet, she would cancel the
orders.

He had their breakfast brought to the room, and he chose the most
tempting luxuries he could find on the bill of fare. Nothing interested
her. He suggested a drive in the Park. She was too tired to get up.

Suddenly he looked at his watch, snapped it shut, rose, said that he was
late for his conference. She asked him what time it was, and he did not
know till he looked at his watch again. He kissed her and left her,
saying that he would lunch down-town.



                              CHAPTER LIII


Though there was a telephone in their rooms, Bret went down to the
public booths. He remembered Eugene Vickery’s tirade about the crime of
Sheila’s idleness. He telephoned to Vickery’s apartments and told
Vickery that he must see him at once. Vickery answered:

“Sorry I can’t ask you up or come to where you are this morning, but the
fact is I’m at the last revision of my new play and I can’t leave it
while it’s on the fire. Meet me at the Vagabonds Club and we’ll have
lunch, eh?—say, at half past twelve.”

Bret reached the club a little before the hour. Vickery had not come.
The hall captain ushered Bret into the waiting-room. He sat there
feeling a hopeless outsider. “The Vagabonds” was made up chiefly of
actors. From where he sat he could see them coming and going. He studied
them as one looking down into a pool to see how curious fish behave or
misbehave. They hailed each other with a simple cordiality that amazed
him. The spirit was rather that of a fraternity chapter-house than of a
city club, where every man’s chair is his castle. Everything was without
pose; nearly everybody called nearly everybody by his first name. There
were evidences of prosperity among them. Through the window he could see
actors, whose faces were familiar even to him, roll up in their own
automobiles.

At one o’clock Vickery had not come, and a friend of Bret’s, named
Crashaw, who had grown wealthy in the steel business, caught sight of
Bret and took him under his wing, registered him in the guest-book and
led him to the cocktail desk. Then Crashaw urged him to wait for the
uncertain Vickery no longer, but to lunch with him. Bret declined, but
sat with him while he ate.

Bret, still looking for proof that actors were not like other people,
asked Crashaw what the devil he was doing in that galley.

“It’s my pet club,” said Crashaw, “and I belong to a dozen of the best.
It’s the most prosperous and the most densely populated club in town,
and the only one where a man can always find somebody in a cheerful
humor at any hour of the day or night, and I like it best because it’s
the only club where people aren’t always acting.”

“What!” Bret exclaimed.

“I mean it,” said Crashaw. “In the other clubs the millionaire is always
playing rich, the society man always at his lah-de-dah, the engineer or
the painter or the athlete is always posing. But these fellows know all
about acting and they don’t permit it here. So that forces them to be
natural. It’s the warmest-hearted, gayest-hearted, most human, clubbiest
club in town, and you ought to belong.”

Bret gasped at the thought and rather suspected Crashaw than absolved
the club.

Bret was introduced to various members, and even his suspicious mind
could not tell which were actors and which business men, for there are
as many types of actor as there are types of mankind, and as many grades
of prosperity, industry, and virtue.

Some of the clubmen joined Bret’s group, and he was finally persuaded to
give Vickery up for lost and eat his luncheon with an eminent tragedian
who told uproarious stories, and the very buffoon who had conquered him
at the benefit in the Metropolitan Opera House. The buffoon had an
attack of the blues, but it yielded to the hilarity of the tragedian,
and he departed recharged with electricity for his matinée, where he
would coerce another mob into a state of rapture.

It suddenly came over Bret that this club of actors was as benevolent an
institution in its own way as any monastery. Even the triumphs of
players, which they were not encouraged to recount in this sanctuary,
were triumphs of humanity. When an actor boasts how he “killed ’em in
Waco” it does not mean that he shot anybody, took anybody’s money away,
or robbed any one of his pride or health; it means that he made a lot of
people laugh or thrilled them or persuaded them to salubrious tears. It
is the conceit of a benefactor bragging of his philanthropies. Surely as
amiable an egotism as could be!

Bret was now in the frame of mind that Sheila was born in. He felt that
the stage did a noble work and therefore conferred a nobility upon its
people.

All this he was mulling over in the back of his head while he was
listening to anecdotes that brought the tears of laughter to his eyes.
He needed the laughter; it washed his bitter heart clean as a sheep’s.
Most of the stories were strictly men’s stories, but those abound
wherever men gather together. The difference was that these were better
told.

Gradually the clatter decreased; the crowd thinned out. It was Wednesday
and many of the actors had matinées; the business men went back to their
offices. Still no Vickery.

By and by only a few members were left in the grill-room.

Bret had laughed himself solemn; now he was about to be deserted.
Vickery had failed him, and he must return to that doleful, heartbroken
Sheila with no word of help for her.

He had come forth to seek a way to compel her to return to the stage as
a refuge from the creeping paralysis that was extinguishing her life. He
hated the cure, but preferred it to Sheila’s destruction. Now he was
persuaded that the cure was honorable, but beyond his reach. He had
heard many stories of the hard times upon the stage, and of the unusual
army of idle actors and actresses, and he was afraid that there would be
no place for Sheila even though he was himself ready to release her.

Crashaw rose at length and said: “Sorry, old man, but I’ve got to run.
Before I go, though, I’d like to show you the club. You can choose your
own spot and wait for Vickery.”

He led Bret from place to place, pointing out the portraits of famous
actors and authors, the landscapes contributed by artist members, the
trophies of war presented by members from the army and navy, the cups
put up for fearless combatants about the pool-tables. He gave him a
glimpse of the theater, where, as in a laboratory, experiments in drama
and farce and musical comedy were made under ideal conditions before an
expert audience.

Last he took him to the library. It was deserted save by somebody in a
great chair which hid all but his feet and the hand that held a big
volume of old plays. Crashaw went forward to see who it was. He
exclaimed:

“What are you doing here, you loafer? Haven’t you a matinée to-day?”

A voice that sounded familiar to Bret answered, “Ours is Thursday.”

“Fine. Then you can take care of a friend of mine who’s waiting for
Vickery.”

The voice answered as the man rose: “Certainly. Any friend of
Vickery’s—” Crashaw said:

“Mr. Winfield, you ought to know Mr. Floyd Eldon. Famous
weighing-machine, shake hands with famous talking-machine.”

The two men shook hands because Crashaw asked them to. He left them with
a hasty “So long!” and hurried to the elevator.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It is a curious contact, the hand-clasp of two hostile men. It has
something of the ritual value of the grip that precedes a prize-fight to
the finish.

Once Bret’s and Eldon’s hands were joined, it was not easy to sever
them. There was a kind of insult in being the first to relinquish the
pressure. They looked at each other stupidly, like two school-boys who
have quarreled. Neither could say a harsh word or feel a kind one. They
had either to fight or to laugh.

Eldon was more used than Bret to speaking quickly in an emergency. He
ended what he would have called a “stage wait” by lifting his left hand
to his jaw, rubbing it, and smiling.

“It’s some time since we met.”

“Nearly five years, I guess,” said Bret, and returned the compliment by
rubbing his own jaw.

“We meet every few years,” said Eldon. “I believe it’s my turn to slug
now.”

“It is,” said Bret. “Go on. I’ve found that I didn’t owe you that last
one. I misunderstood. I apologize.” Bret said this not because of any
feeling of cordiality, but because he believed it especially important
not to be dishonest to an enemy.

Eldon, with equal punctilio and no more affection, answered: “I imagine
the offense was outlawed years ago. I never knew what the cause of your
anger was, but I’m glad if you know it wasn’t true.”

Silence fell upon them. Bret was wondering whether he ought to describe
the injustice he had done Eldon. Eldon was debating whether it would be
more conspicuous to ask about Sheila or to avoid asking about her.
Finally he took a chance:

“And how is Mrs. Winfield?”

The question cleared the air magically. Bret said, “Oh, she’s well,
thank you, very well—that is, no, she’s not well at all.”

Bret had attempted a concealment of his cross, but the truth leapt out
of him. Eldon was politely solicitous:

“Oh, I am sorry! Very sorry! She’s not seriously ill, I hope.”

“She’s worse than ill. I’m worried to death!”

Eldon’s alarm was genuine. “What a pity! Have you been to see a
specialist? What seems to be the trouble?”

“She’s pining away. She—I think I made a mistake in taking her off the
stage. I think she ought to be at work again.”

Eldon was as astounded at hearing this from Winfield as Bret at hearing
himself say it. But Bret was in a panic of fear for Sheila’s very life
and he had to tell some one. Once he had betrayed himself so far, he was
driven on:

“She won’t admit it. She’s trying to fight off the longing. But the
battle is wearing her out. You see, we have two children. We have no
quarrel with each other. We’re happy—ideally happy together. She feels
that she ought to be contented. She insists that she is. But—well, she
isn’t, that’s all. I’ve tried everything, but I believe that the only
hope of saving her is to get her back where she belongs. Idleness is
killing her.”

Eldon hid in his heart any feeling that might have surged up of
disprized love finding itself vindicated. His thoughts were solemn and
he spoke with earnestness:

“I believe you are right. You must know. I can quite understand. People
laugh a good deal at actresses who come back after leaving the stage.
They think it is a kind of craze for excitement. But it is better than
that. The stage is still the only place where a woman’s individuality is
recognized and where she can be really herself.

“Sheila—er—Miss Kemble—pardon me—Mrs. Winfield has the theater in
her blood, of course. Almost all the Kemble women have been actresses,
and good ones. Your wife was a charming woman to act with. We fought
each other—for points. I feel very grateful to her, for she gave me my
first encouragement. She and her aunt, Mrs. Vining, taught me my first
lessons. I grew very fond of them both and very grateful.

“There’s a natural enmity between a leading woman and a leading man.
They love each other as two rival prize-fighters do. The better boxer
each of them is, the better the fight. Sheila—your wife, always gave me
a fight—on the stage—and after, sometimes, off the stage. She was a
great actress—a born aristocrat of the theater.”

Bret took fright at the word “was.” It tolled like a passing-bell. He
had made up his mind that Sheila should not be destroyed on his account.
He had determined, after the morning’s relapse, that he would restore
his stolen sweetheart to her rightful owners as soon as he could. He
would keep as close to her as might be. His business would permit him to
make occasional journeys to Sheila. His mother would take care of the
children and be enchanted with the privilege. Sometimes they could
travel a little with Sheila.

His great-grandmother had crossed the plains in a prairie-schooner with
five children, and borne a sixth on the way. That was considered
praiseworthy in all enthusiasm. Wherein was it any worse for an actress
to take her children with her?

There was no hiding from slander in any case, and he must endure the
contempt of those who did not understand. The one unendurable thing was
the ruination of his beloved’s happiness, of her very life, even.

He had sought out Vickery as an old friend who knew the theater world.
But Vickery had failed him. He dreaded to go back to Sheila without
definite news.

Of all men he most hated to ask Eldon’s help, but Eldon was the sole
rescuer on the horizon. He threw off his pride and appealed to the man
he had fought with.

“Mr. Eldon, you say you think my wife is a great artist. Will you help
me to—to set her to work? I’m afraid for her, Mr. Eldon. I’m afraid
that she is going to die. Will you help me?”

“Me? Will I help?” Eldon stammered. “What can I do? I’m not a manager, I
have no company, no theater, hardly any influence.”

Bret’s courage went to pieces. He was a stranger in a strange land. “I
don’t know any manager—except Reben, and he hates me. I don’t know
anything at all about the stage. I only know that my wife wants her
career, and I’m going to get it for her if I have to build a theater
myself. But that takes time. I thought perhaps you would know some way
better than that.”

Eldon was stirred by Bret’s resolution. He said: “There must be a way.
I’ll do anything I can—everything I can, for the sake of the stage—and
for the sake of an old colleague—and for the sake of—of a man as big
as you, Mr. Winfield.”

And now their hands shot out to each other without compunction or
restraint and wrestled, as it were, in a tug of peace.



                              CHAPTER LIV


It was thus that Eugene Vickery found them. His gasp of astonishment
ended in a fit of coughing as he came forward, trying to express his
amazement and his delight.

Bret seized his right hand, Eldon his left. Bret was horrified at the
ghostly visage of his friend. Already it had a post-mortem look.

Vickery saw the shock in Bret’s eyes. He dropped into a seat.

“Don’t tell me how bad I look. I know it. But I don’t care. I’ve
finished my play! Incidentally my play has finished me. But what does
that matter? I put into it all there was of me. That’s what I’m here
for. That’s why there’s nothing much left. But I’m glad. I’ve done all I
can. _J’ai fait mon possible._ It’s glorious to do that. And it’s a good
play. It’s a great play—though I do say it that shouldn’t. Floyd, I’ve
got it!” He turned back to Bret. “Poor Floyd here has heard me read it a
dozen times, and he’s suggested a thousand changes. I was in the vein
this morning. I worked all day yesterday, and all night till sunrise.
Then I was up at seven. When you called me I was writing like a madman.
And when the lunch hour came I was going so fast I didn’t dare stop then
even to telephone. I apologize.”

“Please don’t,” said Bret.

“I see you’ve had your luncheon. Will you have another with me? I’m
famished.”

He rang for a waiter and ordered a substantial meal and then returned to
Bret.

“How’s Sheila?”

“She—she’s not well.”

“What a shame! She ought to be at work and I wish to the Lord she were.
I may as well tell you, Bret, that I took the liberty of imagining
Sheila as the principal woman of my play. And now that it’s finished, I
can’t think of anybody who fills the bill except your wife. There are
thousands of actresses starving to death, but none of them suits my
character. None of them could play it but your Sheila.”

“Then for God’s sake let her play it!” Bret groaned. Vickery, astonished
beyond surprise, mumbled, “What did you say?”

Bret repeated his prayer, explained the situation to the incredulous
Vickery, apologized for himself and his plight. Vickery’s joy came
slowly with belief. The red glow that spotted his cheeks spread all over
his face like a creeping fire.

When he understood, he murmured: “Bret, you’re a better man than I
thought you were. Whether or not you’ve saved Sheila’s life, you’ve
certainly saved mine.” A torment of coughing broke down his boast, and
he amended, “Artistically, I mean. You’ve saved my play, and that’s all
that counts. The one sorrow of mine was that when I had finished it
there was no one to give it life. But what if Sheila doesn’t like it?
What if she refuses!”

His woe was so profound that Bret reached across the table and squeezed
his arm—it was hardly more than a bone. Bret said, “I’ll make her like
it!”

“She’s sure to,” Eldon said.

Vickery broke in: “You ought to hear him read it. Sometimes he reads a
doubtful scene to me. Then it sounds greater to me than I ever dreamed.
A manuscript is like an electric-light bulb, all glass and brass and
little loops of thread that don’t mean anything. When the right actor
reads it it fills with light like a bowl of fire and shines into dark
places.” His mood was so grave that it influenced his language.

Bret said, “Let me take the manuscript to Sheila.”

Vickery frowned. “It’s not in shape for her eyes. It ought to be read to
her.”

“Come read it to her, then.”

“My voice is gone and I cough all the time, but if—”

He paused. He did not dare suggest that Eldon read it for him. Eldon did
not dare to volunteer. Bret did not dare to ask him. But at length,
after a silence of crucial distress, he overcame himself and said, with
difficulty:

“Perhaps Mr. Eldon would be—would be willing to read it.”

“I should be very glad to,” said Eldon in a low tone.

It was strange how solemn and tremulous they were all three over so
small a matter. A razor edge is a small thing, but a most uncomfortable
place to balance.

Vickery broke out with a revulsion to hope. “Great!” he exclaimed.
“When?”

“This afternoon would please me best,” said Bret, rather sickly, now
that the business had gone so far. “If Mr. Eldon—”

“I am free till seven,” said Eldon.

“I’ll go back and ask Mrs. Winfield, if she hasn’t gone out,” said Bret,
rising.

“I’ll go fasten the manuscript together,” said Vickery, rising.

“I’ll go along and glance over the new scenes,” said Eldon, rising.

“Telephone me at my place,” said Vickery, “and let me know one way or
the other as soon as you can. The suspense is killing.”

They walked out on the steps of the club, and Bret hailed a passing
taxicab. As he turned round he saw Eldon lifting Vickery into a car that
was evidently his own, for he took the wheel.

The nearer he got to the hotel the more Bret repented of his rash
venture, the uglier it looked from various angles. He hoped that Sheila
would be at the dressmaker’s, contenting herself with rhapsodies in
silk.

But she was sitting at the window. She was dressed, but her eyes were
dull as she turned to greet him.

“How are you, honey?” he asked.

“I’m all right,” she sighed. The old phrase!

Then he knew he had crossed the Rubicon and must go forward. “Why didn’t
you go to your fitting?”

“I tried to, but I was too weak. I don’t need any new clothes. How was
your business talk?”

“I can’t tell yet,” he said, and, after a battle with his stage-fright,
broached the most serious business of his life. He had a right to be a
bad actor and he read wretchedly the lines he improvised on his own
scenario. “By the way, I stumbled across Eugene Vickery this afternoon.”

“Oh, did you? How is he?”

“Pretty sick. He’s just finished a new play.”

“Oh, has he?”

“He says it’s the work of his life.”

“Poor boy!”

“I don’t think he’ll write another.”

“Great heavens! Is he so bad?”

“Terribly weak. I told him you were in town and he was anxious to see
you.”

“Why didn’t you invite him up?”

“I did. He said he’d like to come this afternoon if you were willing.”

“By all means. Better call him up at once.”

Bret went to the telephone, but turned to say, trying to be casual, “He
asked if you’d be interested in hearing his play.”

“Indeed I would!” There was distinct animation in this. “Ask him to
bring it along.”

Bret cleared his throat guiltily. “I told him I was sure you’d be dying
to hear it, and he said he wondered if you would mind if he—er—brought
along a friend to read it. Vick’s voice is so weak, you know.”

“I’m not in the mood for strangers, but if Vickery wants it, why—of
course. Did he say who it was?”

“Floyd Eldon.”

That name had a way of dropping into the air like a meteor. When two
lovers have fought over an outsider’s name that name always recurs with
all its battle clamor. It is as hard to mention idly as “Gettysburg” or
“Waterloo.”

Sheila knew what Bret had said of Eldon, what he had thought of him and
done to him. She was amazed, and it is hard not to look guilty when old
accusations of guilt are remembered. Bret saw the sudden tensity in her
hands where they held the arms of her chair. He felt a miserable return
of the old nausea, the incurable regret of love that it can never count
on complete possession of its love, past, present, and future. But he
was committed now to the conviction that he could not keep Sheila behind
bars, and had no right to try. He had given her back to herself and the
world, as one uncages a bird, hoping that it will hover about the house
and return, but never sure what will draw it, or whither, once it has
climbed into the sky.

To escape the ordeal of watching Sheila, and the ordeal of being
questioned, he called up Vickery’s’ number and told him to come over at
once, and added, “Both of you.”

Then he hung up the receiver and went forward to face Sheila’s eyes. He
told her all that had happened except his appeal to Eldon and their
conspiracy to get her back on the stage.

She was agitated immensely, and risked his further suspicion by setting
to work to primp and to change her gown to one that her nature found
more appropriate to such an audition.

Eldon and Vickery arrived while she was in the dressing-room, and Bret
whispered to them:

“I haven’t told her that the play is for her. Don’t let her know.”

This threw Eldon and Vickery into confusion, and they greeted Sheila
with helpless insincerity.

She saw how feeble Vickery was and how well Eldon was, and both saw that
she was not the Sheila that had left the stage. Eldon felt a resentment
against Winfield for what time and discontent had wrought to Sheila, but
he knew what the theater can do for impaired beauty with make-up and
artifice of lights.

After a certain amount of small talk and fuss about chairs the reading
began. To Bret it was like a death-warrant; to Vickery and Eldon it was
a writ of habeas corpus; to Sheila it was like the single copy of a
great romance that she could never own.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Eldon read without action or gesticulation and with almost no attempt to
indicate dialect or characterization. But he gave hint enough of each to
set the hearers’ imagination astir and not enough to hamper it.

Outside in the far-below streets was a muffled hubbub of motors and
street-cars. And within there was only the heavy elegance of hotel
furniture. But the listeners felt themselves peering into the lives of
living people in a conflict of interests.

The light in the room grew dimmer and dimmer as Eldon read, till the air
was thick with the deep crimson of sunset straining across the roofs. It
served as the very rose-light of daybreak in which the play ended,
calling the husband and wife to their separate tasks in the new manhood
and the new womanhood, outside the new home to which they should return
in the evening, to the peace they had earned with toil.

Bret hated the play because he loved it, because he felt that it had a
right to be and it needed his wife to give it being; because it seemed
to command him to sacrifice his old-fashioned home for the sake of the
ever-demanding world.

Sheila made no comment at all during the reading. She might have been an
allegory of attention.

Even when Eldon closed the manuscript and the play with the quiet word
“Curtain” Sheila did not speak. The three men watched her for a long
hushed moment, and then they saw two great tears roll from the clenched
eyes.

She murmured, feebly: “Who is the lucky woman that is to—to create it?”

“You!” said Bret.

Woman-like, Sheila’s first emotion at the vision of her husband urging
her to go back on the stage was one of pain and terror. She stared at
Bret through the tears evoked by Vickery’s art, and she gasped: “Don’t
you love me any more? Are you tired of me?”

“Oh, my God!” said Bret.

But when he collapsed Vickery took the floor and harangued her till she
yielded, to be rid of him and of Eldon, that she might question her
husband.



                               CHAPTER LV


When they were alone Bret explained his decision and the heartbreaking
time he had had arriving at it. He would not debate it again. He
permitted Sheila the consolation of feeling herself an outcast, and she
reveled in misery. But the first rehearsal was like a bugle-call to a
cavalry horse hitched to a milk-wagon.

She entered the Odeon Theater again by the back door and bowed to the
same old man, who smiled her in with bleary welcome. And Pennock was at
her post looking as untheatrical as ever. She embraced Sheila and said,
“It’s good to see you workin’ again.”

The next person she met was Mrs. Vining, looking as time-proof as ever.

“What on earth are you doing here?” Sheila cried.

And Mrs. Vining sighed. “Oh, there’s an old catty mother-in-law in the
play, and Reben dragged me out of the Old Ladies’ Home to play it.”

Sheila’s presence at the Odeon was due to the fact that when Eldon asked
Reben to release him so that he might play in “Clipped Wings,” with
Sheila as star and Bret Winfield as the angel, Reben declined with
violence.

When Eldon told him of the play he demanded the privilege of producing
it. He ridiculed Bret as a theatrical manager and easily persuaded him
to retire to his weighing-machines. Reben dug out the yellowed contract
with Sheila, had it freshly typed, and sent it to her, and she signed it
with all the woman’s terror at putting her signature to a mortgage.

One matinée day, as Sheila left the stage door, she met Dulcie coming in
to make ready for the afternoon’s performance.

Dulcie clutched her with overacted enthusiasm and said: “Oh, my dear,
it’s so nice that you’re coming back on the stage, after all these
years. Too bad you can’t have your old theater, isn’t it? We’re doomed
to stay here forever, it seems. But—oh, my dear!—you mustn’t work so
hard. You look all worn out. Are you ill?”

Sheila retreated in as good order as possible, breathing resolutions to
oust Dulcie from the star dressing-room and quench her name in the
electric lights. That vow sustained her through many a weak hour.

But at times she was not sure of even that success. At times she was
sure of failure and the odious humiliation of returning to Blithevale
like a prodigal wife fed on husks of criticism.

Bret was called back to his factory by his business and by his request.
He did not want to impede Sheila in any way. He had gone through
rehearsals and try-outs with her once, and, as he said, once was plenty.

Sheila wept at his desertion and called herself names. She wept for her
children and called herself worse names. She wept on Mrs. Vining at
various opportunities when she was not rehearsing.

At length the old lady’s patience gave out and she stormed, “I warned
you not to marry.”

“You warned me not to marry in the profession, and I didn’t.”

“Well,” sniffed Mrs. Vining, “I supposed you had sense enough of your
own not to marry outside of it.”

“But—”

“And now that you did, take your medicine. You’re crying because you
want to be with your man and your children. But when you had them you
cried just the same. All the women I know on the stage and off, married
and single, childless or not, are always crying about something. Good
Lord! it’s time women learned to get along without tears. Men used to
cry and faint, and they outgrew it. Women don’t faint any more. Why
can’t they quit crying? The whole kit and caboodle of you make me sick.”

“Thank you!” said Sheila, and walked away. But she was mad enough to
rehearse her big scene more vigorously than ever. Without a slip of
memory she delivered her long tirade so fiercely that the company and
Vickery and Batterson broke into applause. From the auditorium Reben
shouted, “Bully!”

As Sheila walked aside, Mrs. Vining threw her arms around her and called
her an angel and proved that even she had not lost the gift of tears.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Bret was not without his own torments. The village people drove him
frantic with their questions and their rapturous horror and the gossip
they bandied about.

His mother, who hurried to the “rescue” of his home and his “abandoned
children,” strengthened him more by her bitterness against Sheila than
she could have done by any praise of her. A man always discounts a
woman’s criticism of another woman. It always outrages his male sense of
fairness and good sportsmanship.

Besides, Bret was driven by every reason of loyalty to defend his wife.
He told his mother and his neighbors that he would see her oftener than
a soldier or a sailor sees his wife. He would keep close to her. His
business would permit him to make occasional journeys to her. Their
summers would be honeymoons together.

He made good use of the _argumentum ad feminam_ by telling his mother
how well the children would profit by their grandmother’s wisdom, and he
promised them the fascinating privilege of traveling with their mother
at times.

But it was not easy for Bret. He knew that many people would laugh at
him for a milksop; others would despise him for a complacent assistant
in his wife’s dishonor. At times the dread of this gossip drove him
almost mad.

He had his dark hours of jealous distrust, too, and the very thought of
Eldon filled him with dread. Eldon was gifted and handsome, and
congenial to Sheila, and a fellow-artist as well. And his other self,
the Iago self that every Othello has, whispered that hateful word
“propinquity” in his ear with vicious insinuation.

He gnashed his teeth against himself and groaned, “You fool, you’ve
thrown her into Eldon’s arms.”

His better self answered: “No, you have given her to the arms of the
world. Propinquity breeds hatred and jealousy and boredom and emulation
as often as it breeds love.”

He would have felt reassured if he had seen Sheila fighting Eldon for
points, for positions, and for lines.

There was one line in Eldon’s part that Sheila called the most beautiful
line in the play, a line about the husband’s dead mother. Sheila first
admired then coveted the line.

At last she openly asked for it. Eldon was furious and Vickery was
aghast.

“But, my dear Sheila,” he explained, “you couldn’t use that line. Your
mother is present in the cast.”

“Couldn’t we kill her off?” said Sheila.

“I like that!” cried Mrs. Vining, who was playing the part.

Sheila gave up the line, but with reluctance. But it was some time
before Eldon and Vickery regained their illusions concerning her.

And yet it was something more than selfish greed that made her grasp at
everything for the betterment of her rôle. It was like a portrait she
was painting and she wished for it every enhancement. An architect who
plans a cathedral is not blamed for wishing to raze whole acres so that
his building may command the scene. The actor’s often berated avarice is
no more ignoble, really. And the actor who is indifferent or
over-generous is like the careless artist in other fields. He builds
neither himself nor his work.

Mrs. Vining fought half a day against the loss of a line that emphasized
the meanness of her character. She wanted to be hated. She played
hateful rôles with such exquisite art that audiences loved her while
they loathed her.

So Sheila spared nothing and nobody to make the part she played the
greatest part was ever played. Least of all she spared herself, her
strength, her mind, her time. But she battened on work, she was a
glutton for punishment. She had her stage-manager begging for a rest,
and that is rare achievement.

And all the while she grew stronger, haler, heartier; she grew so
beautiful from needing to be beautiful that even Dulcie Ormerod, passing
her once more at the mail-box, gasped:

“My Gawd! but that hat is becoming. Tell me quick what’s the address of
your milliner.”

That was approbation indeed from Dulcie.

At length the dreadful dress-rehearsal was reached. The usual unheard-of
mishaps happened. Everybody was hopeless. The actors parroted the old
saying that “a bad dress-rehearsal means a good first performance,”
knowing that it proves true about half the time.

The piece was tried first in Plainfield. The local audience was not
demonstrative. Eldon tried to comfort himself by saying that the play
was too big, too stunning, for them to understand.

The next night they played in Red Bank and were stunned with applause in
the first scene and increasing enthusiasm throughout. But that proved
nothing, and Jaffer, who was with the company, remembered a famous
failure that had been a triumph in Red Bank and a disaster on Broadway.

The fear of that merciless Broadway gauntlet settled over the company.
Success meant everything to every member. It meant the paying of bills,
a warm home for the winter, a step upward for the future. Even one of
the stage-hands had a romance that required a New York run.



                              CHAPTER LVI


Some of the provincial cities said the play was disgustingly immoral and
the police ought to stop it. The accusation hurt. Was it immoral? A
certain clergy man said the play was a sermon; a certain critic said it
was vile. Which was true? It is not pleasant to be called vile even
though the epithet has been hurled at many of the noblest.

The bitter discussion it aroused wounded Vickery mortally. Eldon told
him that nothing was better for success than to arouse discussion, and
that the final proof of great art is its ability to make a lot of people
ferociously angry.

But Vickery would not be cheered up. He said that the bumps were killing
him.

“You see, I’m so lean and weak, I’ve got no shock-absorbers. I can’t do
anything but cough like a damned he-Camille.”

Sheila and Batterson and even Reben begged him to leave the company and
go back to town. But he was in a frenzy for perfection. He was
relentless with his own lines and scenes. He denounced them rabidly. He
tore out pages of manuscript from the prompt-copy, and sat at the table
writing new scenes while the rehearsals went on. Between the acts he
wrote new lines. He wrote in a terrible hurry. He was in a terrible
hurry.

But he was in a frenzy for perfection. He was relentless with the
actors. Every word, every silence, was important to him as a link in his
chain of gold.

Batterson and Reben and Sheila questioned many of his words, phrases,
and even whole scenes. Everybody had a more or less respectful
criticism, a more or less brilliant contribution, but Vickery had had
enough of this piecemeal microscopy.

“A play succeeds or falls by its big idea,” he said, “by its big sweep,
and nothing else matters. The greatest play in the world is ‘Hamlet,’
and it’s so full of faults that a whole library has been written about
it. But you can’t kill its big points. What difference does it make how
the shore-line runs if your ocean is an ocean? Let me alone, I tell you.
Do my play the best you can, then we’ll soon know if the public wants
it.

“You ruined one play for me, Mr. Reben, but you can’t monkey with this
one. I thought of all the objections you’ve made and a hundred others
when I was writing it. I liked it this way then, and I knew as much then
as I do now—only I was red-hot at the time, and I’m not going to fool
with it in cold blood.”

There were arguments and instances enough against him, and Reben and
Batterson showered him with stories of plays that had been saved from
disaster by collaboration. He answered with stories of plays that had
succeeded without it and plays that had crashed in spite of it.

“It’s all a gamble,” he cried. “Let’s throw our coin on one number and
either make or lose. Anyway, my contract says you can’t alter a line
without my consent, and you’ll never get that. It’s my last play, and
it’s my own play, and they’ve got to take it or leave it just as I write
it.”

They yielded more in deference to his feelings than to his art.

At last the company turned to charge down upon New York. They arrived at
three o’clock on a Sunday morning.

As Sheila and Mrs. Vining rode through the streets to their hotel they
saw on all sides the work of the advertising men. On bill-boards were
big “stands” with Sheila’s name in letters as big as herself. On smaller
boards her full-length portrait smiled at her from “three sheets.” In
the windows were “half-sheets.” Even the garbage-cans proclaimed her
name.

Fame was a terrifying thing.

Sunday was given over to a prolonged dress-rehearsal beginning at noon
and lasting till four the next morning. At about three o’clock in the
afternoon Eugene Vickery in the midst of a wrangle over a scene was
overcome with his illness.

A doctor who was brought in haste picked him up and carried him to a
taxicab and sped with him to a hospital. The troupe was staggered like a
line of infantry in which the first shell drops. Then it closed together
and went on.

The next day Sheila visited Eugene and never found a rôle so hard to
play as the character of Hope at the bedside of Despair.

The nurse would not let her stay long and forbade Vickery to talk, but
he managed to whisper, brokenly:

“Don’t worry about me. Don’t think about me. Work for yourself and the
play. That will be working for me. If it succeeds, it’s a kind of a
little immortality for me; if it fails—well, don’t worry, I won’t
mind—then. Go and rest now. I’ve no strength to give you, or I’d make
you as strong as a giant—you poor, brave, beautiful little woman! God
bless you! Good luck!”



                              CHAPTER LVII


Eight o’clock and a section of Broadway is a throng of throngs, as if
all the world were prowling for pleasure. At this theater or that, parts
of the crowd turn in. Where many go there is success; but there are sad
doorways where few cabs draw up and few people march to the lonely
window; and that is a home of failure, though as much work has been done
and as much money deserved. Only, the whim of the public is not for that
place.

Eight o’clock and Sheila sits in her dressing-room in an ague of dread,
painting her face and wondering why she is here, a lone woman fighting a
mob for the sake of a dying man’s useless glory, and for the ruin of a
living man’s schedule of life. Why is she not where Bret Winfield said a
woman’s place was—at home?

She wonders about Bret. If she fails, if she succeeds, what does it mean
to him and her? She understands that he has left her alone till now
because he could not help her. But no flowers, no telegram, nothing? She
looks over the heap of telegrams—no, there is nothing from him.

Then a note comes. He is there. Can he see her? Her heart leaps with
rapture, but she dares not see him before the play. She would cry and
mess her make-up, and she must enter with gaiety. She sends Pennock with
word begging him to come after the play is over—“if he still wants
to—if he’s not ashamed of me; tell him that.”

She thinks of him wincing as he is turned away from the stage door. Then
she banishes the thought of him, herself, everybody but the character
she is to play.

Outside the curtain is a throng eager to be entertained, willing to pay
a fortune for entertainment, but merciless to those who fail. There is
no active hostility in the audience—just the passive inertia of a dull,
dreary, anxious mob afraid of being bored and cheated of an evening.

“Here are our hearts,” it says; “we are sick of our own lives. We do not
care what your troubles are or your good intentions. We have left our
homes to be made happy, or to be thrilled to that luxurious sorrow for
some one else that is the highest happiness. We have come here at some
expense and some inconvenience. We have a hard day ahead of us
to-morrow. It is too late to go elsewhere. You have said you have a good
show. Show us!”

Back of that glum curtain the actors, powdered, caparisoned, painted,
wait in the wings like clowns for the crack of the whip—and yet also
like soldiers about to receive the command to charge on trenches where
unknown forces lie hidden. No one can tell whether they are to be hurled
back in shame and confusion, or to sweep on in uproarious triumph. Their
courage, their art, will be the same. The result will be history or
oblivion, homage or ridicule.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It is an old story, an incessantly recurring story, a tragi-farce so
commonplace that authors and actors and managers and critics make jokes
of their failures and successes—afterward. But they are not jokes at
the time.

It was no joke for the husband who had intrusted Sheila to the mercy of
the public and the press, and who made one of the audience, though he
quivered with an anguish of fear as each line was delivered, and an
anguish of joy or woe as it scored or lapsed.

It was no joke to Eugene Vickery, lying in the quiet white room with the
light low and one stolid stranger in white to sentinel him. It was hard
not to be there where the lights were high, where the throngs heard his
pen and ink made flesh and blood. It was hard not to know what the words
he had put on paper sounded like to New York—the Big Town of his
people. He wanted to see and hear and his soul would have run there if
it could have lifted his body. But that it could not do.

It could lift thousands of hands to applause and lift a thousand voices
to cry his name, but it could not lift his own hands or his own voice.

The nurse, who did not understand playwrights, tried to keep him quiet.
She kept taking the sheet from his hands where they kept tugging at its
edge. She forbade him to talk. She refused to tell him what time it was.

But he would say, “Now the overture’s beginning,” and then, later, “Now
the curtain’s going up.” He tried to rise with it, but she pressed him
back. Later he reckoned that the first act was over, and then that the
second act was begun.

Then a telephoned message was brought to him that Mr. Reben telephoned
to say, “the first act got over great.”

That almost lifted him to his feet, but he fell back, sighing, “He’d say
it anyway, just to cheer me up.”

The same message or better came after the other acts. But he would not
believe, he dared not believe, till suddenly Sheila was there in her
costume of the last act. The divine light of good news poured from her
eyes. She had not waited to meet the people who crowded back to
congratulate her—“and they never crowd after a failure,” she said.

She had not waited to change her costume lest she be too late with her
music. She had waited only for Bret to run to her and tell her how
wonderful she was, and to crush him as hard as she could in her arms.
Then she had haled him to the cab that was held in readiness, and they
had dashed for Vickery’s bed—his “throne,” she called it.

Perhaps she exaggerated the excitement of the audience; perhaps she drew
a little on prophecy in quoting what the critics had been overheard to
say in praise of the drama—“epoch-making” was the least word she
quoted.

But she brought in with her a very blast of beauty and of rapture, and
she carried flowers that she would have flung across his bed if she had
not suddenly feared the look of them there.

As for Vickery, he felt the beauty and fragrance of the triumphal red
roses on the towering stems.

But he closed the great eyelids over the great eyes and inhaled the
sweeter, the ineffable aroma of success. It was so sweet that he turned
his face to the wall and sobbed.

Sheila tried to console him—console him for his triumph! She said:
“Why, ’Gene, ’Gene, the play is a sensation! The royalties will be
enormous. The notices will be glorious. You mustn’t be unhappy.”

He put out a hand that tried to be soft, he made a sound that tried to
be a laugh, and he spoke in a sad rustle that tried to be a voice:

“I’m not unhappy. I never was happy till now. The royalties won’t be
necessary where I’m going—just a penny to pay the ferryman. The notices
I’ll read over there—I suppose they get the papers over there so that
the obituary notices can be read—the first kind words some of us ever
get from this world.

“I owe it to you two that my play got on and succeeded. Success! to
write your heart’s religion and have it succeed with the people—that’s
worth living for—that’s worth dying for—”

His speech was frail, and broken with long pauses and with paroxysms:

“I hope I haven’t ruined your lives for you two. But you weren’t very
happy when I came along, were you? Sheila was breaking your heart, Bret,
just because she couldn’t keep her own from breaking. You were like a
man chained to a dead woman. If you had gone on, maybe you would have
been less happy than you will be now. Look at poor Dorothy. How long
will she stand her unhappiness? My royalties will go to her! They will
make her independent of that—But I’ve got no time to be bitter against
anybody now.

“I hope you’ll be happy, you two. But happiness isn’t the thing to work
for. The thing to work for is work—to do all you can with what you
have. I’m a poor, weak, ramshackle sack of bones, but I’ve done what I
could—and a little more. _J’ai fait mon possible._ That’s all God or
man can ask. Go on and do your possible, Bret—you in your factory—and
Sheila in her factory. I can’t see why your chance for happiness isn’t
as good as anybody’s, if you’ll be patient with each other and run home
to each other when you can—and—and—now I’ve got to run home, too.”

Then a deep peace soothed him, and them.

CURTAIN

                                THE END



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.





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