THE WORLD TURNS FLATTERER--AN EYE IN THE DARK
Installed in her comfortable room, Carrie wondered how Hurstwood had taken her departure. She arranged a few things hastily and then left for the theatre, half expecting to encounter him at the door. Not finding him, her dread lifted, and she felt more kindly toward him. She quite forgot him until about to come out, after the show, when the chance of his being there frightened her. As day after day passed and she heard nothing at all, the thought of being bothered by him passed. In a little while she was, except for occasional thoughts, wholly free of the gloom with which her life had been weighed in the flat.
It is curious to note how quickly a profession absorbs one. Carrie became wise in theatrical lore, hearing the gossip of little Lola. She learned what the theatrical papers were, which ones published items about actresses and the like. She began to read the newspaper notices, not only of the opera in which she had so small a part, but of others. Gradually the desire for notice took hold of her. She longed to be renowned like others, and read with avidity all the complimentary or critical comments made concerning others high in her profession. The showy world in which her interest lay completely absorbed her.
It was about this time that the newspapers and magazines were beginning to pay that illustrative attention to the beauties of the stage which has since become fervid. The newspapers, and particularly the Sunday newspapers, indulged in large decorative theatrical pages, in which the faces and forms of well-known theatrical celebrities appeared, enclosed with artistic scrolls. The magazines also or at least one or two of the newer ones-- published occasional portraits of pretty stars, and now and again photos of scenes from various plays. Carrie watched these with growing interest. When would a scene from her opera appear? When would some paper think her photo worth while?
The Sunday before taking her new part she scanned the theatrical pages for some little notice. It would have accorded with her expectations if nothing had been said, but there in the squibs, tailing off several more substantial items, was a wee notice. Carrie read it with a tingling body:
"The part of Katisha, the country maid, in 'The Wives of Abdul' at the Broadway, heretofore played by Inez Carew, will be hereafter filled by Carrie Madenda, one of the cleverest members of the chorus."
Carrie hugged herself with delight. Oh, wasn't it just fine! At last! The first, the long-hoped for, the delightful notice! And they called her clever. She could hardly restrain herself from laughing loudly. Had Lola seen it?
"They've got a notice here of the part I'm going to play to- morrow night," said Carrie to her friend.
"Oh, jolly! Have they?" cried Lola, running to her. "That's all right," she said, looking. "You'll get more now, if you do well. I had my picture in the 'World' once."
"Did you?" asked Carrie.
"Did I? Well, I should say," returned the little girl. "They had a frame around it."
"They've never published my picture."
"But they will," said Lola. "You'll see. You do better than most that get theirs in now."
Carrie felt deeply grateful for this. She almost loved Lola for the sympathy and praise she extended. It was so helpful to her-- so almost necessary.
Fulfilling her part capably brought another notice in the papers that she was doing her work acceptably. This pleased her immensely. She began to think the world was taking note of her.
The first week she got her thirty-five dollars, it seemed an enormous sum. Paying only three dollars for room rent seemed ridiculous. After giving Lola her twenty-five, she still had seven dollars left. With four left over from previous earnings, she had eleven. Five of this went to pay the regular installment on the clothes she had to buy. The next week she was even in greater feather. Now, only three dollars need be paid for room rent and five on her clothes. The rest she had for food and her own whims.
"You'd better save a little for summer," cautioned Lola. "We'll probably close in May."
"I intend to," said Carrie.
The regular entrance of thirty-five dollars a week to one who has endured scant allowances for several years is a demoralising thing. Carrie found her purse bursting with good green bills of comfortable denominations. Having no one dependent upon her, she began to buy pretty clothes and pleasing trinkets, to eat well, and to ornament her room. Friends were not long in gathering about. She met a few young men who belonged to Lola's staff. The members of the opera company made her acquaintance without the formality of introduction. One of these discovered a fancy for her. On several occasions he strolled home with her.
"Let's stop in and have a rarebit," he suggested one midnight.
"Very well," said Carrie.
In the rosy restaurant, filled with the merry lovers of late hours, she found herself criticising this man. He was too stilted, too self-opinionated. He did not talk of anything that lifted her above the common run of clothes and material success. When it was all over, he smiled most graciously.
"Got to go straight home, have you?" he said.
"Yes," she answered, with an air of quiet understanding.
"She's not so inexperienced as she looks," he thought, and thereafter his respect and ardour were increased.
She could not help sharing in Lola's love for a good time. There were days when they went carriage riding, nights when after the show they dined, afternoons when they strolled along Broadway, tastefully dressed. She was getting in the metropolitan whirl of pleasure.
At last her picture appeared in one of the weeklies. She had not known of it, and it took her breath. "Miss Carrie Madenda," it was labelled. "One of the favourites of 'The Wives of Abdul' company." At Lola's advice she had had some pictures taken by Sarony. They had got one there. She thought of going down and buying a few copies of the paper, but remembered that there was no one she knew well enough to send them to. Only Lola, apparently, in all the world was interested.
The metropolis is a cold place socially, and Carrie soon found that a little money brought her nothing. The world of wealth and distinction was quite as far away as ever. She could feel that there was no warm, sympathetic friendship back of the easy merriment with which many approached her. All seemed to be seeking their own amusement, regardless of the possible sad consequence to others. So much for the lessons of Hurstwood and Drouet.
In April she learned that the opera would probably last until the middle or the end of May, according to the size of the audiences. Next season it would go on the road. She wondered if she would be with it. As usual, Miss Osborne, owing to her moderate salary, was for securing a home engagement.
"They're putting on a summer play at the Casino," she announced, after figuratively putting her ear to the ground. "Let's try and get in that."
"I'm willing," said Carrie.
They tried in time and were apprised of the proper date to apply again. That was May 16th. Meanwhile their own show closed May 5th.
"Those that want to go with the show next season," said the manager, "will have to sign this week."
"Don't you sign," advised Lola. "I wouldn't go."
"I know," said Carrie, "but maybe I can't get anything else."
"Well, I won't," said the little girl, who had a resource in her admirers. "I went once and I didn't have anything at the end of the season."
Carrie thought this over. She had never been on the road.
"We can get along," added Lola. "I always have."
Carrie did not sign.
The manager who was putting on the summer skit at the Casino had never heard of Carrie, but the several notices she had received, her published picture, and the programme bearing her name had some little weight with him. He gave her a silent part at thirty dollars a week.
"Didn't I tell you?" said Lola. "It doesn't do you any good to go away from New York. They forget all about you if you do."
Now, because Carrie was pretty, the gentlemen who made up the advance illustrations of shows about to appear for the Sunday papers selected Carrie's photo along with others to illustrate the announcement. Because she was very pretty, they gave it excellent space and drew scrolls about it. Carrie was delighted. Still, the management did not seem to have seen anything of it. At least, no more attention was paid to her than before. At the same time there seemed very little in her part. It consisted of standing around in all sorts of scenes, a silent little Quakeress. The author of the skit had fancied that a great deal could be made of such a part, given to the right actress, but now, since it had been doled out to Carrie, he would as leave have had it cut out.
"Don't kick, old man," remarked the manager. "If it don't go the first week we will cut it out."
Carrie had no warning of this halcyon intention. She practised her part ruefully, feeling that she was effectually shelved. At the dress rehearsal she was disconsolate.
"That isn't so bad," said the author, the manager noting the curious effect which Carrie's blues had upon the part. "Tell her to frown a little more when Sparks dances."
Carrie did not know it, but there was the least show of wrinkles between her eyes and her mouth was puckered quaintly.
"Frown a little more, Miss Madenda," said the stage manager.
Carrie instantly brightened up, thinking he had meant it as a rebuke.
"No; frown," he said. "Frown as you did before."
Carrie looked at him in astonishment.
"I mean it," he said. "Frown hard when Mr. Sparks dances. I want to see how it looks."
It was easy enough to do. Carrie scowled. The effect was something so quaint and droll it caught even the manager.
"That is good," he said. "If she'll do that all through, I think it will take."
Going over to Carrie, he said:
"Suppose you try frowning all through. Do it hard. Look mad. It'll make the part really funny."
On the opening night it looked to Carrie as if there were nothing to her part, after all. The happy, sweltering audience did not seem to see her in the first act. She frowned and frowned, but to no effect. Eyes were riveted upon the more elaborate efforts of the stars.
In the second act, the crowd, wearied by a dull conversation, roved with its eyes about the stage and sighted her. There she was, grey-suited, sweet-faced, demure, but scowling. At first the general idea was that she was temporarily irritated, that the look was genuine and not fun at all. As she went on frowning, looking now at one principal and now at the other, the audience began to smile. The portly gentlemen in the front rows began to feel that she was a delicious little morsel. It was the kind of frown they would have loved to force away with kisses. All the gentlemen yearned toward her. She was capital.
At last, the chief comedian, singing in the centre of the stage, noticed a giggle where it was not expected. Then another and another. When the place came for loud applause it was only moderate. What could be the trouble? He realised that something was up.
All at once, after an exit, he caught sight of Carrie. She was frowning alone on the stage and the audience was giggling and laughing.
"By George, I won't stand that!" thought the thespian. "I'm not going to have my work cut up by some one else. Either she quits that when I do my turn or I quit."
"Why, that's all right," said the manager, when the kick came. "That's what she's supposed to do. You needn't pay any attention to that."
"But she ruins my work."
"No, she don't," returned the former, soothingly. "It's only a little fun on the side."
"It is, eh?" exclaimed the big comedian. "She killed my hand all right. I'm not going to stand that."
"Well, wait until after the show. Wait until to-morrow. We'll see what we can do."
The next act, however, settled what was to be done. Carrie was the chief feature of the play. The audience, the more it studied her, the more it indicated its delight. Every other feature paled beside the quaint, teasing, delightful atmosphere which Carrie contributed while on the stage. Manager and company realised she had made a hit.
The critics of the daily papers completed her triumph. There were long notices in praise of the quality of the burlesque, touched with recurrent references to Carrie. The contagious mirth of the thing was repeatedly emphasised.
"Miss Madenda presents one of the most delightful bits of character work ever seen on the Casino stage," observed the stage critic of the "Sun." "It is a bit of quiet, unassuming drollery which warms like good wine. Evidently the part was not intended to take precedence, as Miss Madenda is not often on the stage, but the audience, with the characteristic perversity of such bodies, selected for itself. The little Quakeress was marked for a favourite the moment she appeared, and thereafter easily held attention and applause. The vagaries of fortune are indeed curious."
The critic of the "Evening World," seeking as usual to establish a catch phrase which should "go" with the town, wound up by advising: "If you wish to be merry, see Carrie frown."
The result was miraculous so far as Carrie's fortune was concerned. Even during the morning she received a congratulatory message from the manager.
"You seem to have taken the town by storm," he wrote. "This is delightful. I am as glad for your sake as for my own."
The author also sent word.
That evening when she entered the theatre the manager had a most pleasant greeting for her.
"Mr. Stevens," he said, referring to the author, "is preparing a little song, which he would like you to sing next week."
"Oh, I can't sing," returned Carrie.
"It isn't anything difficult. 'It's something that is very simple,' he says, 'and would suit you exactly.'"
"Of course, I wouldn't mind trying," said Carrie, archly.
"Would you mind coming to the box-office a few moments before you dress?" observed the manager, in addition. "There's a little matter I want to speak to you about."
"Certainly," replied Carrie.
In that latter place the manager produced a paper.
"Now, of course," he said, "we want to be fair with you in the matter of salary. Your contract here only calls for thirty dollars a week for the next three months. How would it do to make it, say, one hundred and fifty a week and extend it for twelve months?"
"Oh, very well," said Carrie, scarcely believing her ears.
"Supposing, then, you just sign this."
Carrie looked and beheld a new contract made out like the other one, with the exception of the new figures of salary and time. With a hand trembling from excitement she affixed her name.
"One hundred and fifty a week!" she murmured, when she was again alone. She found, after all--as what millionaire has not?--that there was no realising, in consciousness, the meaning of large sums. It was only a shimmering, glittering phrase in which lay a world of possibilities.
Down in a third-rate Bleecker Street hotel, the brooding Hurstwood read the dramatic item covering Carrie's success, without at first realising who was meant. Then suddenly it came to him and he read the whole thing over again.
"That's her, all right, I guess," he said.
Then he looked about upon a dingy, moth-eaten hotel lobby.
"I guess she's struck it," he thought, a picture of the old shiny, plush-covered world coming back, with its lights, its ornaments, its carriages, and flowers. Ah, she was in the walled city now! Its splendid gates had opened, admitting her from a cold, dreary outside. She seemed a creature afar off--like every other celebrity he had known.
"Well, let her have it," he said. "I won't bother her."
It was the grim resolution of a bent, bedraggled, but unbroken pride.