Part 6 out of 7
I heard it. No, you'd not be so calm, if you didn't
know everything was all right.''
Her eyes lit up with sly humor. ``Perhaps I'm
calm because I feel that my future's secure as your wife.
What more could a woman ask?''
He forced an uncomfortable laugh. ``Of course--
of course,'' he said with a painful effort to be easy and
``I knew you'd marry me, even if I couldn't sing a
note. I knew your belief in my career had nothing to
do with it.''
He hesitated, blurted out the truth. ``Speaking
seriously, that isn't quite so,'' said he. ``I've got my
heart set on your making a great tear--and I know
you'll do it.''
``And if you knew I wouldn't, you'd not want to
``I don't say that,'' protested he. ``How can I say
how I'd feel if you were different?''
She nodded. ``That's sensible, and it's candid,'' she
said. She laid her hand impulsively on his arm. ``I
DO like you, Stanley. You have got such a lot of good
qualities. Don't worry. I'm not going to insist on
your marrying me.''
``You don't have to do that, Mildred,'' said he.
``I'm staring, raving crazy about you, though I'm a
damn fool to let you know it.''
``Yes, it is foolish,'' said she. ``If you'd kept me
worrying-- Still, I guess not. But it doesn't matter.
You can protest and urge all you please, quite safely.
I'm not going to marry you. Now let's talk business.''
``Let's talk marriage,'' said he. ``I want this thing
settled. You know you intend to marry me, Mildred.
Why not say so? Why keep me gasping on the hook?''
They heard the front door open, and the rustling of
skirts down the hall. Mildred called:
``Mrs. Brindley! Cyrilla!''
An instant and Cyrilla appeared in the doorway.
When she and Baird had shaken hands, Mildred said:
``Cyrilla, I want you to tell the exact, honest truth.
Is there any hope for a woman with a delicate throat to
make a grand-opera career?''
Cyrilla paled, looked pleadingly at Mildred.
``Tell him,'' commanded Mildred.
``Very little,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``But--''
``Don't try to soften it,'' interrupted Mildred.
``The truth, the plain truth.''
``You've no right to draw me into this,'' cried Cyrilla
indignantly, and she started to leave the room.
``I want him to know,'' said Mildred. ``And he
wants to know.''
``I refuse to be drawn into it,'' Cyrilla said, and
But Mildred saw that Stanley had been shaken. She
proceeded to explain to him at length what a singer's
career meant--the hardships, the drafts on health and
strength, the absolute necessity of being reliable, of
singing true, of not disappointing audiences--what
a delicate throat meant--how delicate her throat was
--how deficient she was in the kind of physical strength
needed--muscular power with endurance back of it.
When she finished he understood.
``I'd always thought of it as an art,'' he said
ruefully. ``Why, it's mostly health and muscles and
things that have nothing to do with music.'' He was
dazed and offended by this uncovering of the mechanism
of the art--by the discovery of the coarse and painful
toil, the grossly physical basis, of what had seemed
to him all idealism. He had been full of the delusions
of spontaneity and inspiration, like all laymen, and all
artists, too, except those of the higher ranks--those
who have fought their way up to the heights and, so,
have learned that one does not achieve them by being
caught up to them gloriously in a fiery cloud, but by
doggedly and dirtily and sweatily toiling over every inch
of the cruel climb.
He sat silent when she had finished. She waited,
``Now, you see. I release you, and I'll take no more
money to waste.''
He looked at her with dumb misery that smote her
heart. Then his expression changed--to the shining,
hungry eyes, the swollen veins, the reddened countenance,
the watering lips of desire. He seized her in his
arms, and in a voice trembling with passion, he cried:
``You must marry me, anyhow! I've GOT to have you, Mildred.''
If she had loved him, his expression, his impassioned
voice would have thrilled her. But she did not love him.
It took all her liking for him, and the memory of all
she owed him--that unpaid debt!--to enable her to
push him away gently and to say without any show of
the repulsion she felt:
``Stanley, you mustn't do that. And it's useless to
talk of marriage. You're generous, so you are taking
pity on me. But believe me, I'll get along somehow.''
``Pity? I tell you I love you,'' he cried, catching
desperately at her hands and holding them in a grip
she could not break. ``You've no right to treat me
It was one of those veiled and stealthy reminders of
obligation habitually indulged in by delicate people
seeking repayment of the debt, but shunning the coarseness
of direct demand. Mildred saw her opportunity.
Said she quietly:
``You mean you want me to give myself to you in
payment, or part payment, for the money you've loaned
He released her hands and sprang up. He had
meant just that, but he had not had the courage, or the
meanness, or both, to admit boldly his own secret wish.
She had calculated on this--had calculated well.
``Mildred!'' he cried in a shocked voice. ``YOU so
lacking in delicacy as to say such a thing!''
``If you didn't mean that, Stanley, what DID you mean?''
``I was appealing to our friendship--our--our love
for each other.''
``Then you should have waited until I was free.''
``Good God!'' he cried, ``don't you see that's
hopeless? Mildred, be sensible--be merciful.''
``I shall never marry a man when he could justly
suspect I did it to live off him.''
``What an idea! It's a man's place to support a
``I was speaking only of myself. _I_ can't do it.
And it's absurd for you and me to be talking about love
and marriage when anyone can see I'd be marrying you
only because I was afraid to face poverty and a struggle.''
Her manner calmed him somewhat. ``Of course it's
obvious that you've got to have money,'' said he, ``and
that the only way you can get it is by marriage. But
there's something else, too, and in my opinion it's the
principal thing--we care for each other. Why not be
sensible, Mildred? Why not thank God that as long as
you have to marry, you can marry someone you care for.''
``Could you feel that I cared for you, if I married
you now?'' inquired she.
``Why not? I'm not so entirely lacking in self-
esteem. I feel that I must count for something.''
Mildred sat silently wondering at this phenomenon so
astounding, yet a commonplace of masculine egotism.
She had no conception of this vanity which causes the
man, at whom the street woman smiles, to feel flattered,
though he knows full well what she is and her dire ne-
cessity. She could not doubt that he was speaking the
truth, yet she could not believe that conceit could so
befog common sense in a man who, for all his slowness
and shallowness, was more than ordinarily shrewd.
``Even if I thought I loved you,'' said she, ``I
couldn't be sure in these circumstances that I wasn't
after your money.''
``Don't worry about that,'' replied he. ``I
understand you better than you understand yourself.''
``Let's stop talking about it,'' said she impatiently.
``I want to explain to you the business side of this.''
She took her purse from the table. ``Here are the
papers.'' She handed him a check and a note. ``I
made them out at the bank this morning. The note is
for what I owe you--and draws interest at four per
cent. The check is for all the money I have left except
about four hundred dollars. I've some bills I must pay,
and also I didn't dare quite strip myself. The note may
not be worth the paper it's written on, but I hope--''
Before she could prevent him he took the two papers,
and, holding them out of her reach, tore them to bits.
Her eyes gleamed angrily. ``I see you despise me
--as much as I've invited. But, I'll make them out
again and mail them to you.''
``You're a silly child,'' said he gruffly. ``We're
going to be married.''
She eyed him with amused exasperation. ``It's too
absurd!'' she cried. ``And if I yielded, you'd be trying
to get out of it.'' She hesitated whether to tell him
frankly just how she felt toward him. She decided
against it, not through consideration--for a woman
feels no consideration for a man she does not love, if he
has irritated her--but through being ashamed to say
harsh things to one whom she owed so much. ``It's
useless for you to pretend and to plead,'' she went on. ``I
shall not yield. You'll have to wait until I'm free and
``You'll marry me then?''
``No,'' replied she, laughing. ``But I'll be able to
refuse you in such a way that you'll believe.''
``But you've got to marry, Mildred, and right away.''
A suspicion entered his mind and instantly gleamed in
his eyes. ``Are you in love with someone else?''
She smiled mockingly.
``It looks as if you were,'' he went on, arguing with
himself aloud. ``For if you weren't you'd marry me,
even though you didn't like me. A woman in your fix
simply couldn't keep herself from it. Is THAT why
you're so calm?''
``I'm not marrying anybody,'' said she.
``Then what are you going to do?''
Once more the passionate side of his nature showed
--not merely grotesque, unattractive, repellent, as in
the mood of longing, but hideous. Among men Stanley
Baird passed for a man of rather arrogant and
violent temper, but that man who had seen him at his
most violent would have been amazed. The temper men
show toward men bears small resemblance either in kind
or in degree to the temper of jealous passion they show
toward the woman who baffles them or arouses their
suspicions; and no man would recognize his most intimate
man friend--or himself--when in that paroxysm.
Mildred had seen this mood, gleaming at her through
a mask, in General Siddall. It had made her sick with
fear and repulsion. In Stanley Baird it first astounded
her, then filled her with hate.
``Stanley!'' she gasped.
``WHO is it?'' he ground out between his teeth.
And he seized her savagely.
``If you don't release me at once,'' said she calmly,
``I shall call Mrs. Brindley, and have you put out of
the house. No matter if I do owe you all that money.''
``Stop!'' he cried, releasing her. ``You're very clever,
aren't you?--turning that against me and making me powerless.''
``But for that, would you dare presume to touch me,
to question me?'' said she.
He lowered his gaze, stood panting with the effort to
subdue his fury.
She went back to her own room. A few hours later
came a letter of apology from him. She answered it
friendlily, said she would let him know when she could
see him again, and enclosed a note and a check.
MILDRED went to bed that night proud of her
strength of character. Were there many women--
was there any other woman she knew or knew about--
who in her desperate circumstances would have done
what she had done? She could have married a man
who would have given her wealth and the very best
social position. She had refused him. She could have
continued to ``borrow'' from him the wherewithal
to keep her in luxurious comfort while she looked about
at her ease for a position that meant independence.
She had thrust the temptation from her. All this from
purely high-minded motives; for other motive there
could be none. She went to sleep, confident that on the
morrow she would continue to tread the path of self-
respect with unfaltering feet. But when morning came
her throat was once more slightly off--enough to make
it wise to postpone the excursion in search of a trial
for musical comedy. The excitement or the reaction
from excitement--it must be the one or the other--
had resulted in weakness showing itself, naturally, at
her weakest point--that delicate throat. When life
was calm and orderly, and her mind was at peace, the
trouble would pass, and she could get a position of some
kind. Not the career she had dreamed; that was
impossible. But she had voice enough for a little part,
where a living could be made; and perhaps she would
presently fathom the secret of the cause of her delicate
throat and would be able to go far--possibly as far as
she had dreamed.
The delay of a few days was irritating. She would
have preferred to push straight on, while her courage
was taut. Still, the delay had one advantage--she
could prepare the details of her plan. So, instead of
going to the office of the theatrical manager--Crossley,
the most successful producer of light, musical pieces
of all kinds--she went to call on several of the girls
she knew who were more or less in touch with matters
theatrical. And she found out just how to proceed
toward accomplishing a purpose which ought not to be
difficult for one with such a voice as hers and with
physical charms peculiarly fitted for stage exhibition.
Not until Saturday was her voice at its best again.
She, naturally, decided not to go to the theatrical office
on Monday, but to wait until she had seen and talked
with Keith. One more day did not matter, and Keith
might be stimulating, might even have some useful
suggestions to offer. She received him with a manner that
was a version, and a most charming version, of his own
tranquil indifference. But his first remark threw her
into a panic. Said he:
``I've only a few minutes. No, thanks, I'll not sit.''
``You needn't have bothered to come,'' said she
``I always keep my engagements. Baird tells me
you have given up the arrangement you had with him.
You'll probably be moving from here, as you'll not have
the money to stay on. Send me your new address,
please.'' He took a paper from his pocket and gave it
to her. ``You will find this useful--if you are in
earnest,'' said he. ``Good-by, and good luck. I'll
hope to see you in a few weeks.''
Before she had recovered herself in the least, she was
standing there alone, the paper in her hand, her stupefied
gaze upon the door through which he had disappeared.
All his movements and his speech had been
of his customary, his invariable, deliberateness; but she
had the impression of whirling and rushing haste.
With a long gasping sigh she fell to trembling all over.
She sped to her room, got its door safely closed just
in time. Down she sank upon the bed, to give way to
an attack of hysterics.
We are constantly finding ourselves putting forth the
lovely flowers and fruit of the virtues whereof the heroes
and heroines of romance are so prolific. Usually nothing
occurs to disillusion us about ourselves. But now
and then fate, in unusually brutal ironic mood, forces
us to see the real reason why we did this or that virtuous,
self-sacrificing action, or blossomed forth in this
or that nobility of character. Mildred was destined
now to suffer one of these savage blows of disillusionment
about self that thrust us down from the exalted
moral heights where we have been preening into humble
kinship with the weak and frail human race. She
saw why she had refused Stanley, why she had stopped
``borrowing,'' why she had put off going to the theatrical
managers, why she had delayed moving into quarters
within her diminished and rapidly diminishing
means. She had been counting on Donald Keith. She
had convinced herself that he loved her even as she loved
him. He would fling away his cold reserve, would burst
into raptures over her virtue and her courage, would
ask her to marry him. Or, if he should put off that,
he would at least undertake the responsibility of getting
her started in her career. Well! He had come; he
had shown that Stanley had told him all or practically
all; and he had gone, without asking a sympathetic
question or making an encouraging remark. As
indifferent as he seemed. Burnt out, cold, heartless.
She had leaned upon him; he had slipped away, leaving
her to fall painfully, and ludicrously, to the ground.
She had been boasting to herself that she was strong,
that she would of her own strength establish herself in
independence. She had not dreamed that she would be
called upon to ``make good.'' She raved against Keith,
against herself, against fate. And above the chaos and
the wreck within her, round and round, hither and yon,
flapped and shied the black thought, ``What SHALL I do?''
When she sat up and dried her eyes, she chanced to
see the paper Keith had left; with wonder at her having
forgotten it and with a throb of hope she opened
and began to read his small, difficult writing:
A career means self-denial. Not occasional, intermittent,
but steady, constant, daily, hourly--a purpose that
A career as a singer means not only the routine, the
patient tedious work, the cutting out of time-wasting people
and time-wasting pleasures that are necessary to any and
all careers. It means in addition--for such a person--
sacrifices far beyond a character so undisciplined and so
corrupted by conventional life as is yours. The basis of a
singing career is health and strength. You must have
great physical strength to be able to sing operas. You
must have perfect health.
Diet and exercise. A routine life, its routine rigidly
adhered to, day in and day out, month after month, year
after year. Small and uninteresting and monotonous food,
nothing to drink, and, of course, no cigarettes. Such is
the secret of a reliable voice for you who have a ``delicate
throat''--which is the silly, shallow, and misleading way
of saying a delicate digestion, for sore throat always
means indigestion, never means anything else. To sing,
the instrument, the absolutely material machine, must be
in perfect order. The rest is easy.
Some singers can commit indiscretions of diet and of
lack of exercise. But not you, because you lack this
natural strength. Do not be deceived and misled by their
Exercise. You must make your body strong, powerful.
You have not the muscles by nature. You must acquire
The following routine of diet and exercise made one of the
great singers, and kept her great for a quarter of a century.
If you adopt it, without variation, you can make a career.
If you do not, you need not hope for anything but failure
and humiliation. Within my knowledge sixty-eight young
men and young women have started in on this system. Not
one had the character to persist to success. This may
suggest why, except two who are at the very top, all of the
great singers are men and women whom nature has made
powerful of body and of digestion--so powerful that
their indiscretions only occasionally make them unreliable.
There Mildred stopped and flung the paper aside.
She did not care even to glance at the exercises pre-
scribed or at the diet and the routine of daily work.
How dull and uninspired! How grossly material!
Stomach! Chewing! Exercising machines! Plodding
dreary miles daily, rain or shine! What could such
things have to do with the free and glorious career of
an inspired singer? Keith was laughing at her as he
hastened away, abandoning her to her fate.
She examined herself in the glass to make sure that
the ravages of her attack of rage and grief and despair
could be effaced within a few hours, then she wrote a
note--formal yet friendly--to Stanley Baird, informing
him that she would receive him that evening. He
came while Cyrilla and Mildred were having their after,
dinner coffee and cigarettes. He was a man who took
great pains with his clothes, and got them where pains
was not in vain. That evening he had arrayed himself
with unusual care, and the result was a fine, manly figure
of the well-bred New-Yorker type. Certainly Stanley
had ground for his feeling that he deserved and got liking
for himself. The three sat in the library for perhaps
half an hour, then Mrs. Brindley rose to leave the
other two alone. Mildred urged her to stay--Mildred
who had been impatient of her presence when Stanley
was announced. Urged her to stay in such a tone that
Cyrilla could not persist, but had to sit down again.
As the three talked on and on, Mildred continued to
picture life with Stanley--continued the vivid picturing
she had begun within ten minutes of Stanley's entering,
the picturing that had caused her to insist on Cyrilla's
remaining as chaperon. A young girl can do no such
picturing as Mildred could not avoid doing. To the
young girl married life, its tete-a-tetes, its intimacies,
its routine, are all a blank. Any attempt she makes to
fill in details goes far astray. But Mildred, with Stanley
there before her, could see her life as it would be.
Toward half-past ten, Stanley said, shame-faced and
pleading, ``Mildred, I should like to see you alone for
just a minute before I go.''
Mildred said to Cyrilla: ``No, don't move. We'll
go into the drawing-room.''
He followed her there, and when the sound of Mrs.
Brindley's step in the hall had died away, he began:
``I think I understand you a little now. I shan't
insult you by returning or destroying that note or the
check. I accept your decision--unless you wish to
change it.'' He looked at her with eager appeal. His
heart was trembling, was sick with apprehension, with
the sense of weakness, of danger and gloom ahead.
``Why shouldn't I help you, at least, Mildred?'' he
Whence the courage came she knew not, but through
her choking throat she forced a positive, ``No.''
``And,'' he went on, ``I meant what I said. I love
you. I'm wretched without you. I want you to marry
me, career or no career.''
Her fears were clamorous, but she forced herself to
say, ``I can't change.''
``I hoped--a little--that you sent me the note to-
day because you-- You didn't?''
``No,'' said Mildred. ``I want us to be friends.
But you must keep away.''
He bent his head. ``Then I'll go 'way off somewhere.
I can't bear being here in New York and not seeing
you. And when I've been away a year or so, perhaps
I'll get control of myself again.''
Going away!--to try to forget!--no doubt, to
succeed in forgetting! Then this was her last chance.
``Must I go, Mildred? Won't you relent?''
``I don't love you--and I never can.'' She was
deathly white and trembling. She lifted her eyes to
begin a retreat, for her courage had quite oozed away.
He was looking at her, his face distorted with a mingling
of the passion of desire and the passion of jealousy.
She shrank, caught at the back of a chair for
support, felt suddenly strong and defiant. To be this
man's plaything, to submit to his moods, to his
jealousies, to his caprices--to be his to fumble and caress,
his to have the fury of his passion wreak itself upon
her with no response from her but only repulsion and
loathing--and the long dreary hours and days and
years alone with him, listening to his commonplaces,
often so tedious, forced to try to amuse him and to keep
him in a good humor because he held the purse-
``Please go,'' she said.
She was still very young, still had years and years
of youth unspent. Surely she could find something
better than this. Surely life must mean something more
than this. At least it was worth a trial.
He held out his hand. She gave him her reluctant
and cold fingers. He said something, what she did not
hear, for the blood was roaring in her ears as the room
swam round. He was gone, and the next thing she
definitely knew she was at the threshold of Cyrilla's
room. Cyrilla gave her a tenderly sympathetic glance.
She saw herself in a mirror and knew why; her face was
gray and drawn, and her eyes lay dully deep within
``I couldn't do it,'' she said. ``I sent for him to
marry him. But I couldn't.''
``I'm glad,'' said Cyrilla. ``Marriage without love
is a last resort. And you're a long way from last resorts.''
``You don't think I'm crazy?''
``I think you've won a great victory.''
``Victory!'' And Mildred laughed dolefully. ``If
this is victory, I hope I'll never know defeat.''
Why did Mildred refuse Stanley Baird and cut herself
off from him, even after her hopes of Donald Keith
died through lack of food, real or imaginary? It
would be gratifying to offer this as a case of pure
courage and high principle, untainted of the motives which
govern ordinary human actions. But unluckily this is
a biography, not a romance, a history and not a eulogy.
And Mildred Gower is a human being, even as you
and I, not a galvanized embodiment of superhuman
virtues such as you and I are pretending to be, perhaps
even to ourselves. The explanation of her strange
aberration, which will be doubted or secretly condemned
by every woman of the sheltered classes who loves her
dependence and seeks to disguise it as something sweet
and fine and ``womanly''--the explanation of her almost
insane act of renunciation of all that a lady holds
most dear is simple enough, puzzling though she found
it. Ignorance, which accounts for so much of the
squalid failure in human life, accounts also for much if
not all the most splendid audacious achievement. Very
often--very, very often--the impossibilities are
achieved by those who in their ignorance advance not
boldly but unconcernedly where a wiser man or woman
would shrink and retreat. Fortunate indeed is he or
she who in a crisis is by chance equipped with neither
too little nor too much knowledge--who knows enough
to enable him to advance, but does not know enough to
appreciate how perilous, how foolhardy, how harsh and
cruel, advance will be. Mildred was in this instance thus
fortunate--unfortunate, she was presently to think it.
She knew enough about loveless marriage to shrink
from it. She did not know enough about what poverty,
moneylessness, and friendlessness mean in the actuality
to a woman bred as she had been. She imagined
she knew--and sick at heart her notion of poverty
made her. But imagination was only faintest
foreshadowing of actuality. If she had known, she would
have yielded to the temptation that was almost too
strong for her. And if she had yielded--what then?
Not such a repulsive lot, as our comfortable classes look
at it. Plenty to eat and drink and to wear, servants
and equipages and fine houses and fine society, the envy
of her gaping kind--a comfortable life for the body,
a comfortable death for mind and heart, slowly and
softly suffocated in luxury. Partly through knowledge
that strongly affected her character, which was on the
whole aspiring and sensitive beyond the average to the
true and the beautiful, partly through ignorance that
veiled the future from her none too valorous and hardy
heart, she did not yield to the temptation. And thus,
instead of dying, she began to live, for what is life but
growth in experience, in strength and knowledge and
A baby enters the world screaming with pain. The
first sensations of living are agonizing. It is the same
with the birth of souls, for a soul is not really born
until that day when it is offered choice between life and
death and chooses life. In Mildred Gower's case this
birth was an agony. She awoke the following morning
with a dull headache, a fainting heart, and a throat
so sore that she felt a painful catch whenever she tried
to swallow. She used the spray; she massaged her
throat and neck vigorously. In vain; it was folly to
think of going where she might have to risk a trial of
her voice that day. The sun was brilliant and the air
sharp without being humid or too cold. She dressed,
breakfasted, went out for a walk. The throat grew
worse, then better. She returned for luncheon, and
afterward began to think of packing, not that she had
chosen a new place, but because she wished to have some
sort of a sense of action. But her unhappiness drove
her out again--to the park where the air was fine
and she could walk in comparative solitude.
``What a silly fool I am!'' thought she. ``Why did
I do this in the worst, the hardest possible way? I
should have held on to Stanley until I had a position.
No, I'm such a poor creature that I could never have
done it in that way. I'd simply have kept on bluffing,
fooling myself, putting off and putting of. I had to
jump into the water with nobody near to help me, or
I'd never have begun to learn to swim. I haven't
begun yet. I may never learn to swim. I may drown.
Yes, I probably shall drown.''
She wandered aimlessly on--around the upper
reservoir where the strong breeze freshened her through and
through and made her feel less forlorn in spite of her
chicken heart. She crossed the bridge at the lower end
and came down toward the East Drive. A taxicab
rushed by, not so fast, however, that she failed to
recognize Donald Keith and Cyrilla Brindley. They were
talking so earnestly--Keith was talking, for a wonder,
and Mrs. Brindley listening--that they did not
see her. She went straight home. But as she was
afoot, the journey took about half an hour. Cyrilla
was already there, in a negligee, looking as if she had
not been out of the little library for hours. She was
writing a letter. Mildred strolled in and seated herself.
Cyrilla went on writing. Mildred watched her
impatiently. She wished to talk, to be talked to, to be
consoled and cheered, to hear about Donald Keith. Would
that letter never be finished? At last it was, and
Cyrilla took a book and settled herself to reading. There
was a vague something in her manner--a change, an
attitude toward Mildred--that disturbed Mildred. Or,
was that notion of a change merely the offspring of her
own somber mood? Seeing that Mrs. Brindley would
not begin, she broke the silence herself. Said she awkwardly:
``I've decided to move. In fact, I've got to move.''
Cyrilla laid down the book and regarded her tran-
quilly. ``Of course,'' said she. ``I've already begun
to arrange for someone else.''
Mildred choked, and the tears welled into her eyes.
She had not been mistaken; Cyrilla had changed toward
her. Now that she had no prospects for a brilliant
career, now that her money was gone, Cyrilla had begun
to--to be human. No doubt, in the course of
that drive, Cyrilla had discovered that Keith had no
interest in her either. Mildred beat down her emotion
and was soon able to say in a voice as unconcerned as
``I'll find a place to-morrow or next day, and go at
``I'll be sorry to lose you,'' said Mrs. Brindley, ``but
I agree with you that you can't get settled any too
``You don't happen to know of any cheap, good
place?'' said Mildred.
``If it's cheap, I don't think it's likely to be good--
in New York,'' replied Cyrilla. ``You'll have to put
up with inconveniences--and worse. I'd offer to help
you find a place, but I think everything self-reliant one
does helps one to learn. Don't you?''
``Yes, indeed,'' assented Mildred. The thing was
self-evidently true; still she began to hate Cyrilla.
This cold-hearted New York! How she would grind
down her heel when she got it on the neck of New York!
Friendship, love, helpfulness--what did New York and
New-Yorkers know of these things? ``Or Hanging
Rock, either,'' reflected she. What a cold and lonely
``Have you been to see about a position?'' inquired
Mildred was thrown into confusion. ``I can't go--
for a--day or so,'' she stammered. ``The changeable
weather has rather upset my throat. Nothing serious,
but I want to be at my best.''
``Certainly,'' said Mrs. Brindley. Her direct gaze
made Mildred uncomfortable. She went on: ``You're
sure it's the weather?''
``What else could it be?'' demanded Mildred with a
latent resentment whose interesting origin she did not
pause to inquire into.
``Well, salad, or sauces, or desserts, or cafe au lait in
the morning, or candy, or tea,'' said Cyrilla. ``Or it
might be cigarettes, or all those things--and thin
stockings and low shoes--mightn't it?''
Never before had she known Cyrilla to say anything
meddlesome or cattish. Said Mildred with a faint sneer,
``That sounds like Mr. Keith's crankiness.''
``It is,'' replied Cyrilla. ``I used to think he was a
crank on the subject of singing and stomachs, and singing
and ankles. But I've been convinced, partly by
him, mostly by what I've observed.''
Mildred maintained an icy silence.
``I see you are resenting what I said,'' observed
``Not at all,'' said Mildred. ``No doubt you meant
``You will please remember that you asked me a question.''
So she had. But the discovery that she was clearly
in the wrong, that she had invited the disguised lecture,
only aggravated her sense of resentment against Mrs.
Brindley. She spent the rest of the afternoon in sorting
and packing her belongings--and in crying. She
came upon the paper Donald Keith had left. She read
it through carefully, thoughtfully, read it to the last
direction as to exercise with the machine, the last
arrangement for a daily routine of life, the last suggestion
as to diet.
``Fortunately all that isn't necessary,'' said she to
herself, when she had finished. ``If it were, I could
never make a career. I'm not stupid enough to be able
to lead that kind of life. Why, I'd not care to make a
career, at that price. Slavery--plain slavery.''
When she went in to dinner, she saw instantly that
Cyrilla too had been crying. Cyrilla did not look old,
anything but that, indeed was not old and would not
begin to be for many a year. Still, after thirty-five
or forty a woman cannot indulge a good cry without
its leaving serious traces that will show hours afterward.
At sight of the evidences of Cyrilla's grief Mildred
straightway forgot her resentment. There must have
been some other cause for Cyrilla's peculiar conduct.
No matter what, since it was not hardness of heart.
It was a sad, even a gloomy dinner. But the two
women were once more in perfect sympathy. And
afterward Mildred brought the Keith paper and asked
Cyrilla's opinion. Cyrilla read slowly and without
comment. At last she said:
``He got this from his mother, Lucia Rivi. Have
you read her life?''
``No. I've heard almost nothing about her, except
that she was famous.''
``She was more than that,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``She was great, a great personality. She was an
almost sickly child and girl. Her first attempts on the
stage were humiliating failures. She had no health, no
endurance, nothing but a small voice of rare quality.''
Cyrilla held up the paper. ``This tells how she became
one of the surest and most powerful dramatic sopranos
that ever lived.''
``She must have been a dull person to have been able
to lead the kind of life that's described there,'' said Mildred.
``Only two kinds of persons could do it,'' replied
Cyrilla--``a dull person--a plodder--and a genius.
Middling people--they're the kind that fill the world,
they're you and I, my dear--middling people have to
fuss with the trifles that must be sacrificed if one is to
do anything big. You call those trifles your freedom,
but they're your slavery. And by sacrificing them the
Lucia Rivis buy their freedom.'' Cyrilla looked at the
paper with a heavy sigh. ``Ah, I wish I had seen this
when I was your age. Now, it's too late.''
Said Mildred: ``Would you seriously advise me to
Cyrilla came and sat beside her and put an arm
around her. ``Mildred,'' she said, ``I've never thrust
advice on you. I only dare do it now because you ask
me, and because I love you. You must try it. It's
your one chance. If you do not, you will fail. You
don't believe me?''
In a tone that was admission, Mildred said: ``I
``Keith has given you there the secret of a successful
career. You'll never read it in any book, or get it
from any teacher, or from any singer or manager or
doctor. You must live like that, you must do those
things or you will fail even in musical comedy. You
would fail even as an actress, if you tried that, when
you found out that the singing was out of the question.''
Mildred was impressed. Perhaps she would have
been more impressed had she not seen Keith and Mrs.
Brindley in the taxi, Keith talking earnestly and Mrs.
Brindley listening as if to an oracle. Said she:
``Perhaps I'll adopt some of the suggestions.''
Cyrilla shook her head. ``It's a route to success.
You must go the whole route or not at all.''
``Don't forget that there have been other singers
``Not any that I recall who weren't naturally powerful
in every way. And how many of them break down?
Mildred, please do put the silly nonsense about nerves
and temperament and inspiration and overwork and
weather and climate--put all that out of your head.
Build your temple of a career as high and graceful
and delicate as you like, but build it on the coarse, hard,
solid rock, dear!''
Mildred tried to laugh lightly. ``How Mr. Keith
does hypnotize people!'' cried she.
Mrs. Brindley's cheeks burned, and her eyes lowered
in acute embarrassment. ``He has a way of being
splendidly and sensibly right,'' said she. ``And the
truth is wonderfully convincing--once one sees it.''
She changed the subject, and it did not come up--or,
perhaps, come OUT again--before they went to bed.
The next day Mildred began the depressing, hopeless
search for a place to live that would be clean,
comfortable, and cheap. Those three adjectives describe
the ideal lodging; but it will be noted that all these are
relative. In fact, none of the three means exactly the
same thing to any two members of the human family.
Mildred's notion of clean--like her notion of
comfortable--on account of her bringing up implied a
large element of luxury. As for the word ``cheap,'' it
really meant nothing at all to her. From one stand-
point everything seemed cheap; from another, everything
seemed dear; that is, too dear for a young woman
with less than five hundred dollars in the world and no
substantial prospect of getting a single dollar more--
unless by hook and crook, both of which means she was
resolved not to employ.
Never having earned so much as a single penny, the
idea of anyone's giving her anything for what she
might be able to do was disturbingly vague and unreal.
On the other hand, looking about her, she saw scores
of men and women, personally known to her to be dull
of conversation, and not well mannered or well dressed
or well anything, who were making livings without
overwhelming difficulty. Why not Mildred Gower? In
this view the outlook was not discouraging. ``I'll no
doubt go through some discomfort, getting myself
placed. But somewhere and somehow I shall be placed
--and how I shall revenge myself on Donald Keith!''
His fascination for her had not been destroyed by his
humiliating lack of belief in her, nor by his cold-hearted
desertion at just the critical moment. But his conduct
had given her the incentive of rage, of stung vanity--
or wounded pride, if you prefer. She would get him
back; she would force him to admit; she would win him,
if she could--and that ought not to be difficult when
she should be successful. Having won him, then--
What then? Something superb in the way of revenge;
she would decide what, when the hour of triumph came.
Meanwhile she must search for lodgings.
In her journeyings under the guidance of attractive
advertisements and ``carefully selected'' agents' lists,
she found herself in front of her first lodgings in New
York--the house of Mrs. Belloc. She had often
thought of the New England school-teacher, arrived by
such strange paths at such a strange position in New
York. She had started to call on her many times, but
each time had been turned aside; New York makes it
more than difficult to find time to do anything that does
not have to be done at a definite time and for a definite
reason. She was worn out with her futile trampings
up and down streets, up and down stairs. Up the stone
steps she went and rang the bell.
Yes, Mrs. Belloc was in, and would be glad to see
her, if Miss Stevens would wait in the drawing-room
a few minutes. She had not seated herself when down
the stairs came the fresh, pleasantly countrified voice
of Mrs. Belloc, inviting her to ascend. As Mildred
started up, she saw at the head of the stairs the frank
and cheerful face of the lady herself. She was holding
together at the neck a thin silk wrapper whose lines
strongly suggested that it was the only garment she
``Why should old friends stand on ceremony?'' said
Mrs. Belloc. ``Come right up. I've been taking a
bath. My masseuse has just gone.'' Mrs. Belloc
enclosed her in a delightfully perfumed embrace, and they
kissed with enthusiasm.
``I AM glad to see you,'' said Mildred, feeling all at
once a thrilling sense of at-homeness. ``I didn't realize
how glad I'd be till I saw you.''
``It'd be a pretty stiff sort that wouldn't feel at home
with me,'' observed Mrs. Belloc. ``New York usually
stiffens people up. It's had the opposite effect on me.
Though I must say, I have learned to stiffen with people
I don't like--and I'll have to admit that I like fewer
and fewer. People don't wear well, do they? What IS
the matter with them? Why can't they be natural and
not make themselves into rubbishy, old scrap-bags full
of fakes and pretenses? You're looking at my hair.''
They were in Mrs. Belloc's comfortable sitting-room
now, and she was smoking a cigarette and regarding
Mildred with an expression of delight that was most
flattering. Said Mildred:
``Your hair does look well. It's thicker--isn't it?''
``Think so?'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``It ought to be,
with all the time and money I've spent on it. My, how
New York does set a woman to repairing and fixing up.
Nothing artificial goes here. It mustn't be paint and
plumpers and pads, but the real teeth. Why, I've had
four real teeth set in as if they were rooted--and my
hips toned down. You may remember what heavy legs
I had--piano-legs. Look at 'em now.'' Mrs. Belloc
drew the wrapper to her knee and exposed in a pale-
blue silk stocking a thin and comely calf.
``You HAVE been busy!'' said Mildred.
``That's only a little part. I started to tell you about
the hair. It was getting gray--not in a nice, pretty
way, all over, but in spots and streaks. Nothing else
makes a woman look so ragged and dingy and old as
spotted, streaky gray hair. So I had the hair-woman
touch it up. She vows it won't make my face hard.
That's the trouble with dyed or touched hair, you know.
But this is a new process.''
``It's certainly a success,'' said Mildred. And in fact
it was, and thanks to it and the other improvements Mrs.
Belloc was an attractive and even a pretty woman, years
younger than when Mildred saw her.
``Yes, I think I've improved,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Nothing to scream about--but worth while. That's
what we're alive for--to improve--isn't it? I've no
patience with people who slide back, or don't get on--
people who get less and less as they grow older. The
trouble with them is they're vain, satisfied with
themselves as they are, and lazy. Most women are too lazy
to live. They'll only fix up to catch a man.''
Mildred had grown sober and thoughtful.
``To catch a man,'' continued Mrs. Belloc. ``And
not much even for that. I'll warrant YOU'RE getting on.
Tell me about it.''
``Tell me about yourself, first,'' said Mildred.
``WHY all this excitement about improving?''
And she smiled significantly.
``No, you'll have to guess again,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Not a man. You remember, I used to be crazy about
gay life in New York--going out, and men, theaters,
and lobster-palaces--everything I didn't get in my
home town, everything the city means to the jays.
Well, I've gotten over all that. I'm improving, mind
and body, just to keep myself interested in life, to keep
myself young and cheerful. I'm interested in myself,
in my house and in woman's suffrage. Not that the
women are fit to vote. They aren't, any more than the
men. But what MAKES people? Why, responsibility.
That old scamp I married--he's dead. And I've got
the money, and everything's very comfortable with me.
Just think, I didn't have any luck till I was an old maid
far gone. I'm not telling my age. All my life it
had rained bad luck--pitchforks, tines down. And
``Yes, why?'' said Mildred. She did not understand
how it was, but Mrs. Belloc seemed to be saying the
exact things she needed to hear.
``I'll tell you why. Because I didn't work. Drudging
along isn't work any more than dawdling along.
Work means purpose, means head. And my luck began
just as anybody's does--when I rose up and got
busy. You may say it wasn't very creditable, the way
I began; but it was the best _I_ could do. I know it isn't
good morals, but I'm willing to bet that many a man
has laid the foundations of a big fine career by doing
something that wasn't at all nice or right. He had to
do it, to `get through.' If he hadn't done it, he'd never
have `got through.' Anyhow, whether that's so or not,
everyone's got to make a fight to break into the part of
the world where living's really worth living. But I
needn't tell YOU that. You're doing it.''
``No, I'm not,'' replied Mildred. ``I'm ashamed to
say so, but I'm not. I've been bluffing--and wasting
``That's bad, that's bad,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Especially, as you've got it in you to get there. What's
been the trouble? The wrong kind of associations?''
``Partly,'' said Mildred.
Mrs. Belloc, watching her interestedly, suddenly
lighted up. ``Why not come back here to live?'' said
she. ``Now, please don't refuse till I explain. You
remember what kind of people I had here?''
Mildred smiled. ``Rather--unconventional?''
``That's polite. Well, I've cleared 'em out. Not
that I minded their unconventionality; I liked it. It
was so different from the straight-jackets and the
hypocrisy I'd been living among and hating. But I soon
found out that--well, Miss Stevens, the average human
being ought to be pretty conventional in his morals
of a certain kind. If he--or SHE--isn't, they begin
to get unconventional in every way--about paying
their bills, for instance, and about drinking. I got sick
and tired of those people. So, I put 'em all out--made
a sweep. And now I've become quite as respectable as
I care to be--or as is necessary. The couples in the
house are married, and they're nice people of good
families. It was Mrs. Dyckman--she's got the whole sec-
ond floor front, she and her husband and the daughter
--it was Mrs. Dyckman who interested me in the
suffrage movement. You must hear her speak. And the
daughter does well at it, too--and keeps a fashionable
millinery-shop--and she's only twenty-four. Then
there's Nora Blond.''
``The actress. She's the quietest, hardest-working
person here. She's got the whole first floor front.
Nobody ever comes to see her, except on Sunday afternoon.
She leads the queerest life.''
``Tell me about that,'' said Mildred.
``I don't know much about it,'' confessed Mrs.
Belloc. ``She's regular as a clock--does everything on
time, and at the same time. Two meals a day--one
of them a dry little breakfast she gets herself. Walks,
fencing, athletics, study.''
``She's the happiest person I ever saw,'' retorted Mrs.
Belloc. ``Why, she's got her work, her career. You
don't look at it right, Miss Stevens. You don't look
happy. What's the matter? Isn't it because you
haven't been working right--because you've been doing
these alleged pleasant things that leave a bad taste
in your mouth and weaken you? I'll bet, if you had
been working hard, you'd not be unhappy now. Better
come here to live.''
``Will you let me tell you about myself?''
``Go right ahead. May I ask questions, where I
want to know more? I do hate to get things halfway.''
Mildred freely gave her leave, then proceeded to tell
her whole story, omitting nothing that was essential to
an understanding. In conclusion she said: ``I'd like
to come. You see, I've very little money. When it's
gone, I'll go, unless I make some more.''
``Yes, you must come. That Mrs. Brindley seems
to be a nice woman, a mighty nice woman. But her
house, and the people that come there--they aren't the
right sort for a girl that's making a start. I can give
you a room on the top floor--in front. The young
lady next to you is a clerk in an architect's office, and
a fine girl she is.''
``How much does she pay?'' said Mildred.
``Your room won't be quite as nice as hers. I put
you at the top because you can sing up there, part of
the mornings and part of the afternoons, without
disturbing anybody. I don't have a general table any
more. You can take your meals in your room or at the
restaurant in the apartment-house next door. It's good
and quite reasonable.''
``How much for the room?'' persisted Mildred,
``Seven dollars a week, and the use of the bath.''
Mildred finally wrung from her that the right price
was twelve dollars a week, and insisted on paying that
--``until my money gets low.''
``Don't worry about that,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``You mustn't weaken me,'' cried Mildred. ``You
mustn't encourage me to be a coward and to shirk.
That's why I'm coming here.''
``I understand,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``I've got the
New England streak of hardness in me, though I
believe that masseuse has almost ironed it out of my face.
Do I look like a New England schoolmarm?''
Mildred could truthfully answer that there wasn't a
trace of it.
When she returned to Mrs. Brindley's--already she
had ceased to think of it as home--she announced her
new plans. Mrs. Brindley said nothing, but Mildred
understood the quick tightening of the lines round her
mouth and the shifting of the eyes. She hastened to
explain that Mrs. Belloc was no longer the sort of
woman or the sort of landlady she had been a few
months before. Mrs. Brindley of the older New York,
could neither understand nor believe in the people of
the new and real New York whom it molds for better
or for worse so rapidly--and even remolds again and
again. But Mildred was able to satisfy her that the
house was at least not suspicious.
``It doesn't matter where you're going,'' said Mrs.
Brindley. ``It's that you are going. I can't bear
giving you up. I had hoped that our lives would flow on
and on together.'' She was with difficulty controlling
her emotions. ``It's these separations that age one,
that take one's life. I almost wish I hadn't met you.''
Mildred was moved, herself. Not so much as Mrs.
Brindley because she had the necessities of her career
gripping her and claiming the strongest feelings there
were in her. Also, she was much the younger, not
merely in years but in experience. And separations
have no real poignancy in them for youth
``Yes, I know you love me,'' said Cyrilla, ``but love
doesn't mean to you what it means to me. I'm in that
middle period of life where everything has its fullest
meaning. In youth we're easily consoled and distracted
because life seems so full of possibilities, and we can't
believe friendship and love are rare, and still more rarely
worth while. In old age, when the arteries harden and
the blood flows slow and cold, we become indifferent.
But between thirty-five and fifty-five how the heart can
ache!'' She smiled, with trembling lips. ``And how it
can rejoice!'' she cried bravely. ``I must not forget
to mention that. Ah, my dear, you must learn to live
intensely. If I had had your chance!''
``Ridiculous!'' laughed Mildred. ``You talk like an
old woman. And I never think of you as older than
``I AM an old woman,'' said Cyrilla. And, with a
tightening at the heart Mildred saw, deep in the depths
of her eyes, the look of old age. ``I've found that I'm
too old for love--for man-and-woman love--and that
means I'm an old woman.''
Mildred felt that there was only a thin barrier of
reserve between her and some sad secret of this strange,
shy, loving woman's--a barrier so thin that she could
almost hear the stifled moan of a broken heart. But
the barrier remained; it would have been impossible for
Cyrilla Brindley to talk frankly about herself.
When Mildred came out of her room the next morning,
Cyrilla had gone, leaving a note:
I can't bear good-bys. Besides, we'll see each other very
soon. Forgive me for shrinking, but really I can't.
Before night Mildred was settled in the new place and
the new room, with no sense of strangeness. She was
reproaching herself for hardness, for not caring about
Cyrilla, the best and truest friend she had ever had.
But the truth lay in quite a different direction. The
house, the surroundings, where she had lived luxuriously,
dreaming her foolish and fatuous dreams, was
not the place for such a struggle as was now upon her.
And for that struggle she preferred, to sensitive, sober,
refined, impractical Cyrilla Brindley, the companionship
and the sympathy, the practical sympathy, of Agnes
Belloc. No one need be ashamed or nervous before
Agnes Belloc about being poor or unsuccessful or having
to resort to shabby makeshifts or having to endure
coarse contacts. Cyrilla represented refinement,
appreciation of the finished work--luxurious and sterile
appreciation and enjoyment. Agnes represented the
workshop--where all the doers of all that is done live
and work. Mildred was descending from the heights
where live those who have graduated from the lot of the
human race and have lost all that superficial or casual
resemblance to that race. She was going down to live
with the race, to share in its lot. She was glad Agnes
Belloc was to be there.
Generalizing about such a haphazard conglomerate
as human nature is highly unsatisfactory, but it may
be cautiously ventured that in New England, as in old
England, there is a curiously contradictory way of
dealing with conventionality. Nowhere is conventionality
more in reverence; yet when a New-Englander, man or
woman, happens to elect to break with it, nowhere is
the break so utter and so defiant. If Agnes Belloc,
cut loose from the conventions that had bound her from
childhood to well into middle life, had remained at home,
no doubt she would have spent a large part of her nights
in thinking out ways of employing her days in outraging
the conventionalities before her horrified and
infuriated neighbors. But of what use in New York to
cuff and spit upon deities revered by only an insignificant
class--and only officially revered by that class?
Agnes had soon seen that there was no amusement or
interest whatever in an enterprise which in her New
England home would have filled her life to the brim with
excitement. Also, she saw that she was well into that
time of life where the absence of reputation in a woman
endangers her comfort, makes her liable to be left alone
--not despised and denounced, but simply avoided and
ignored. So she was telling Mildred the exact truth.
She had laid down the arms she had taken up against
the social system, and had come in--and was fighting
it from the safer and wiser inside. She still insisted
that a woman had the same rights as a man; but she took
care to make it clear that she claimed those rights only
for others, that she neither exercised them nor cared for
them for herself. And to make her propaganda the
more effective, she was not only circumspect herself,
but was exceedingly careful to be surrounded by
circumspect people. No one could cite her case as proof
that woman would expand liberty into license. In
theory there was nothing lively that she did not look
upon at least with tolerance; in practice, more and more
she disliked seeing one of her sex do anything that might
cause the world to say ``woman would abuse liberty if
she had it.'' ``Sensible people,'' she now said, ``do as
they like. But they don't give fools a chance to titter
Agnes Belloc was typical--certainly of a large and
growing class in this day--of the decay of ancient temples
and the decline of the old-fashioned idealism that
made men fancy they lived nobly because they professed
and believed nobly. She had no ethical standards. She
simply met each situation as it arose and dealt with it
as common sense seemed in that particular instance to
dictate. For a thousand years genius has been striving
with the human race to induce it to abandon its
superstitions and hypocrisies and to defy common sense, so
adaptable, so tolerant, so conducive to long and healthy
and happy life. Grossly materialistic, but alluringly
comfortable. Whether for good or for evil or for both
good and evil, the geniuses seem in a fair way at last
to prevail over the idealists, religious and political.
And Mrs. Belloc, without in the least realizing it, was
a most significant sign of the times.
``Your throat seems to be better to-day,'' said she to
Mildred at breakfast. ``Those simple house-remedies
I tried on you last night seem to have done some good.
Nothing like heat--hot water--and no eating. The
main thing was doing without dinner last night.''
``My nerves are quieter,'' advanced Mildred as the
likelier explanation of the return of the soul of music to
its seat. ``And my mind's at rest.''
``Yes, that's good,'' said plain Agnes Belloc. ``But
getting the stomach straight and keeping it straight's
the main thing. My old grandmother could eat anything
and do anything. I've seen her put in a glass of
milk or a saucer of ice-cream on top of a tomato-salad.
The way she kept well was, whenever she began to feel
the least bit off, she stopped eating. Not a bite would
she touch till she felt well again.''
Mildred, moved by an impulse stronger than her
inclination, produced the Keith paper. ``I wish you'd
read this, and tell me what you think of it. You've
got so much common sense.''
Agnes read it through to the end, began at the
beginning and read it through again. ``That sounds
good to me,'' said she. ``I want to think it over. If
you don't mind I'd like to show it to Miss Blond. She
knows a lot about those things. I suppose you're going
to see Mr. Crossley to-day?--that's the musical
manager's name, isn't it?''
``I'm going at eleven. That isn't too early, is it?''
``If I were you, I'd go as soon as I was dressed for
the street. And if you don't get to see him, wait till
you do. Don't talk to under-staffers. Always go
straight for the head man. You've got something that's
worth his while. How did he get to be head man?
Because he knows a good thing the minute he sees it. The
under fellows are usually under because they are so
taken up with themselves and with impressing people
how grand they are that they don't see anything else.
So, when you talk to them, you wear yourself out and
waste your time.''
``There's only one thing that makes me nervous,''
said Mildred. ``Everyone I've ever talked with about
going on the stage--everyone who has talked candidly
``Yes, I know,'' said Mrs. Belloc, as Mildred paused
to search for smooth-sounding words in which to dress,
without disguising, a distinctly ugly idea. ``I've heard
that, too. I don't know whether there's anything in it
or not.'' She looked admiringly at Mildred, who that
morning was certainly lovely enough to tempt any man.
``If there is anything in it, why, I reckon YOU'D be up
against it. That's the worst of having men at the top
in any trade and profession. A woman's got to get
her chance through some man, and if he don't choose
to let her have it, she's likely to fail.''
Mildred showed how this depressed her.
``But don't you fret about that till you have to,''
advised Mrs. Belloc. ``I've a notion that, even if it's
true, it may not apply to you. Where a woman offers
for a place that she can fill about as well as a hundred
other women, she's at the man's mercy; but if she knows
that she's far and away the best for the place, I don't
think a man's going to stand in his own light. Let him
see that he can make money through YOU, money he
won't make if he don't get you. Then, I don't think
you'll have any trouble.''
But Mildred's depression did not decrease. ``If my
voice could only be relied on!'' she exclaimed. ``Isn't
it exasperating that I've got a delicate throat!''
``It's always something,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``One
thing's about as bad as another, and anything can be
``No, not in my case,'' said Mildred. ``The peculiar
quality of my voice--what makes it unusual--is due
to the delicateness of my throat.''
``Maybe so,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Of course, I can always sing--after a fashion,''
continued Mildred. ``But to be really valuable on the
stage you've got to be able always to sing at your best.
So I'm afraid I'm in the class of those who'll suit, one
about as well as another.''
``You've got to get out of that class,'' said Mrs.
Belloc. ``The men in that class, and the women, have
to do any dirty work the boss sees fit to give 'em--and
not much pay, either. Let me tell you one thing, Miss
Stevens. If you can't get among the few at the top
in the singing game, you must look round for some game
where you can hope to be among the few. No matter
WHAT it is. By using your brains and working hard,
there's something you can do better than pretty nearly
anybody else can or will do it. You find that.''
The words sank in, sank deep. Mildred, sense of her
surroundings lost, was gazing straight ahead with an
expression that gave Mrs. Belloc hope and even a
certain amount of confidence. There was a distinct
advance; for, after she reflected upon all that Mildred had
told her, little of her former opinion of Mildred's
chances for success had remained but a hope detained
not without difficulty. Mrs. Belloc knew the human
race unusually well for a woman--unusually well for
a human being of whatever sex or experience. She had
discovered how rare is the temperament, the combination
of intelligence and tenacity, that makes for success.
She had learned that most people, judged by any stand-
ard, were almost total failures, that most of the more
or less successful were so merely because the world had
an enormous amount of important work to be done,
even though half-way, and had no one but those half-
competents to do it. As incompetence in a man would
be tolerated where it would not be in a woman, obviously
a woman, to get on, must have the real temperament
She now knew enough about Mildred to be able to
``place'' her in the ``lady'' class--those brought up
not only knowing how to do nothing with a money
value (except lawful or unlawful man-trapping), but
also trained to a sensitiveness and refinement and false
shame about work that made it exceedingly difficult if
not impossible for them to learn usefulness. She knew
all Mildred's handicaps, both those the girl was
conscious of and those far heavier ones which she
fatuously regarded as advantages. How was Mildred ever
to learn to dismiss and disregard herself as the pretty
woman of good social position, an object of admiration
and consideration? Mildred, in the bottom of her heart,
was regarding herself as already successful--successful
at the highest a woman can achieve or ought to
aspire to achieve--was regarding her career, however
she might talk or might fancy she believed, as a mere
livelihood, a side issue. She would be perhaps more
than a little ashamed of her stage connections, should
she make any, until she should be at the very top--
and how get to the top when one is working under the
handicap of shame? Above all, how was this indulgently
and shelteredly reared lady to become a work-
ing woman, living a routine life, toiling away day in
and day out, with no let up, permitting no one and
nothing to break her routine? ``Really,'' thought
Agnes Belloc, ``she ought to have married that Baird
man--or stayed on with the nasty general. I wonder
why she didn't! That's the only thing that gives me
hope. There must be something in her--something
that don't appear--something she doesn't know about,
herself. What is it? Maybe it was only vanity and
vacillation. Again, I don't know.''
The difficulty Mrs. Belloc labored under in her
attempt to explore and map Mildred Gower was a difficulty
we all labor under in those same enterprises. We
cannot convince ourselves--in spite of experience
after experience--that a human character is never
consistent and homogeneous, is always conglomerate,
that there are no two traits, however naturally exclusive,
which cannot coexist in the same personality, that
circumstance is the dominating factor in human action
and brings forward as dominant characteristics now
one trait or set of traits, consistent or inconsistent, and
now another. The Alexander who was Aristotle's model
pupil was the same Alexander as the drunken debaucher.
Indeed, may it not be that the characters which play
the large parts in the comedy of life are naturally those
that offer to the shifting winds of circumstances the
greatest variety of strongly developed and contradictory
qualities? For example, if it was Mildred's latent
courage rescued her from Siddall, was it not her strong
tendency to vacillation that saved her from a loveless
and mercenary marriage to Stanley Baird? Perhaps
the deep underlying truth is that all unusual people
have in common the character that centers a powerful
aversion to stagnation; thus, now by their strong
qualities, now by their weaknesses, they are swept inevitably
on and on and ever on. Good to-day, bad to-morrow,
good again the day after, weak in this instance, strong
in that, now brave and now cowardly, soft at one time,
hard at another, generous and the reverse by turns, they
are consistent only in that they are never at rest, but
incessantly and inevitably go.
Mildred reluctantly rose, moved toward the door with
lingering step. ``I guess I'd better make a start,''
``That's the talk,'' said Mrs. Belloc heartily. But
the affectionate glance she sent after the girl was dubious--
TWO minutes' walk through to Broadway, and she
was at her destination. There, on the other side of the
way, stood the Gayety Theater, with the offices of Mr.
Clarence Crossley overlooking the intersection of the
two streets. Crossley was intrenched in the remotest
of a series of rooms, each tenanted by under-staffers
of diminishing importance as you drew way from the
great man. It was next to impossible to get at him--
a cause of much sneering and dissatisfaction in theatrical
circles. Crossley, they said, was exclusive, had
the swollen head, had forgotten that only a few years
before he had been a cheap little ticket-seller grateful
for a bow from any actor who had ever had his name
up. Crossley insisted that he was not a victim of folie
de grandeur, that, on the contrary, he had become less
vain as he had risen, where he could see how trivial a
thing rising was and how accidental. Said he:
``Why do I shut myself in? Because I'm what I am
--a good thing, easy fruit. You say that men a hundred
times bigger than I'll ever be don't shut themselves
up. You say that Mountain, the biggest financier in
the country, sits right out where anybody can go up to
him. Yes, but who'd dare go up to him? It's generally
known that he's a cannibal, that he kills his own
food and eats it warm and raw. So he can afford to sit
in the open. If I did that, all my time and all my
money would go to the cheap-skates with hard-luck
tales. I don't hide because I'm haughty, but because
I'm weak and soft.''
In appearance Mr. Crossley did not suggest his name.
He was a tallish, powerful-looking person with a
smooth, handsome, audacious face, with fine, laughing,
but somehow untrustworthy eyes--at least untrustworthy
for women, though women had never profited by
the warning. He dressed in excellent taste, almost
conspicuously, and the gay and expensive details of his
toilet suggested a man given over to liveliness. As a
matter of fact, this liveliness was potential rather than
actual. Mr. Crossley was always intending to resume
the giddy ways of the years before he became a great
man, but was always so far behind in the important
things to be done and done at once that he was forced
to put off. However, his neckties and his shirts and his
flirtations, untrustworthy eyes kept him a reputation for
being one of the worst cases in Broadway. In vain did
his achievements show that he could not possibly have
time or strength for anything but work. He looked
like a rounder; he was in a business that gave endless
dazzling opportunities for the lively life; a rounder he
He was about forty. At first glance, so vivid and
energetic was he, he looked like thirty-five, but at second
glance one saw the lines, the underlying melancholy signs
of strain, the heavy price he had paid for phenomenal
success won by a series of the sort of risks that make the
hair fall as autumn leaves on a windy day and make
such hairs as stick turn rapidly gray. Thus, there
were many who thought Crossley was through vanity
shy of the truth by five or six years when he said forty.
In ordinary circumstances Mildred would never have
got at Crossley. This was the first business call of her
life where she had come as an unknown and unsupported
suitor. Her reception would have been such at the
hands of Crossley's insolent and ill-mannered underlings
that she would have fled in shame and confusion.
It is even well within the possibilities that she would
have given up all idea of a career, would have sent for
Baird, and so on. And not one of those who, timid
and inexperienced, have suffered rude rebuff at their first
advance, would have condemned her. But it so chanced
--whether by good fortune or by ill the event was to
tell--that she did not have to face a single underling.
The hall door was open. She entered. It happened
that while she was coming up in the elevator a
quarrel between a motorman and a driver had heated
into a fight, into a small riot. All the underlings had
rushed out on a balcony that commanded a superb view
of the battle. The connecting doors were open;
Mildred advanced from room to room, seeking someone who
would take her card to Mr. Crossley. When she at
last faced a closed door she knocked.
``Come!'' cried a pleasant voice.
And in she went, to face Crossley himself--Crossley,
the ``weak and soft,'' caught behind his last entrenchment
with no chance to escape. Had Mildred looked
the usual sort who come looking for jobs in musical
comedy, Mr. Crossley would not have risen--not be-
cause he was snobbish, but because, being a sensitive,
high-strung person, he instinctively adopted the manner
that would put the person before him at ease. He
glanced at Mildred, rose, and thrust back forthwith the
slangy, offhand personality that was perhaps the most
natural--or was it merely the most used?--of his
many personalities. It was Crossley the man of the
world, the man of the artistic world, who delighted
Mildred with a courteous bow and offer of a chair, as he
``You wished to see me?''
``If you are Mr. Crossley,'' said Mildred.
``I should be tempted to say I was, if I wasn't,''
said he, and his manner made it a mere pleasantry to
put her at ease.
``There was no one in the outside room, so I walked
on and on until your door stopped me.''
``You'll never know how lucky you were,'' said he.
``They tell me those fellows out there have shocking
``Have you time to see me now? I've come to apply
for a position in musical comedy.''
``You have not been on the stage, Miss--''
``Gower. Mildred Gower. I've decided to use my
``I know you have not been on the stage.''
``Except as an amateur--and not even that for
several years. But I've been working at my voice.''
Crossley was studying her, as she stood talking--
she had refused the chair. He was more than favorably
impressed. But the deciding element was not
Mildred's excellent figure or her charm of manner or
her sweet and lovely face. It was superstition. Just
at that time Crossley had been abruptly deserted by
Estelle Howard; instead of going on with the rehearsals
of ``The Full Moon,'' in which she was to be starred,
she had rushed away to Europe with a violinist with
whom she had fallen in love at the first rehearsal.
Crossley was looking about for someone to take her
place. He had been entrenched in those offices for
nearly five years; in all that time not a single soul of the
desperate crowds that dogged him had broken through
his guard. Crossley was as superstitious as was everyone
else who has to do with the stage.
``What kind of a voice?'' asked he.
``You have music there. What?''
`` `Batti Batti' and a little song in English--`The
Rose and the Bee.' ''
Crossley forgot his manners, turned his back squarely
upon her, thrust his hands deep into his trousers
pockets, and stared out through the window. He presently
wheeled round. She would not have thought his
eyes could be so keen. Said he: ``You were studying
for grand opera?''
``Why do you drop it and take up this?''
``No money,'' replied she. ``I've got to make my
living at once.''
``Well, let's see. Come with me, please.''
They went out by a door into the hall, went back to
the rear of the building, in at an iron door, down a
flight of steep iron skeleton steps dimly lighted.
Mildred had often been behind the scenes in her amateur
theatrical days; but even if she had not, she would have
known where she was. Crossley called, ``Moldini!
The name was caught up by other voices and
repeated again and again, more and more remotely. A
moment, and a small dark man with a superabundance
of greasy dark hair appeared. ``Miss Gower,'' said
Crossley, ``this is Signor Moldini. He will play your
accompaniments.'' Then to the little Italian, ``Piano
on the stage?''
To Mildred with a smile, ``Will you try?''
She bent her head. She had no voice--not for song,
not for speech, not even for a monosyllable.
Crossley took Moldini aside where Mildred could not
hear. ``Mollie,'' said he, ``this girl crept up on me,
and I've got to give her a trial. As you see, she's a
lady, and you know what they are.''
``Punk,'' said Moldini.
Crossley nodded. ``She seems a nice sort, so I want
to let her down easy. I'll sit back in the house, in the
dark. Run her through that `Batti Batti' thing she's
got with her. If she's plainly on the fritz, I'll light a
cigarette. If I don't light up, try the other song she
has. If I still don't light up make her go through that
`Ah, were you here, love,' from the piece. But if
I light up, it means that I'm going to light out, and
that you're to get rid of her--tell her we'll let her
know if she'll leave her address. You understand?''
Far from being thrilled and inspired, her surroundings
made her sick at heart--the chill, the dampness,
the bare walls, the dim, dreary lights, the coarsely-
painted flats-- At last she was on the threshold of her
chosen profession. What a profession for such a person
as she had always been! She stood beside Moldini,
seated at the piano. She gazed at the darkness,
somewhere in whose depths Crossley was hidden. After
several false starts she sang the ``Batti Batti'' through,
sang it atrociously--not like a poor professional, but
like a pretentious amateur, a reversion to a manner of
singing she had once had, but had long since got rid of.
She paused at the end, appalled by the silence, by the
awfulness of her own performance.
From the darkness a slight click. If she had known!
--for, it was Crossley's match-safe.
The sound, slight yet so clear, startled her, roused
her. She called out: ``Mr. Crossley, won't you please
be patient enough to let me try that again?''
A brief hesitation, then: ``Certainly.''
Once more she began. But this time there was no
hesitation. From first to last she did it as Jennings
had coached her, did it with all the beauty and energy
of her really lovely voice. As she ended, Moldini said
in a quiet but intense undertone: ``Bravo! Bravo!
Fresh as a bird on a bright spring morning.'' And
from the darkness came: ``Ah--that's better, Miss
Gower. That was professional work. Now for the
Thus encouraged and with her voice well warmed, she
could not but make a success of the song that was nearer
to what would be expected of her in musical comedy.
Crossley called out: ``Now, the sight singing, Moldini.
I don't expect you to do this well, Miss Gower. I simply
wish to get an idea of how you'd do a piece we
have in rehearsal.''
``You'll have no trouble with this,'' said Moldini, as
he opened the comedy song upon the rack with a
contemptuous whirl. ``It's the easy showy stuff that suits
the tired business man and his laced-in wife. Go at it
Mildred glanced through it. There was a subtle
something in the atmosphere now that put her at her
ease. She read the words aloud, laughing at their silly
sentimentality, she and Moldini and Crossley making
jokes about it. Soon she said: ``I'm ready.''
She sang it well. She asked them to let her try it
again. And the second time, with the words in her
mind and the simple melody, she was able to put
expression into it and to indicate, with restraint, the
action. Crossley came down the aisle.
``What do you think, Mollie?'' he said to Moldini.
``We might test her at a few rehearsals.''
Crossley meekly accepted the salutary check on his
enthusiasm. ``Do you wish to try, Miss Gower?''
Mildred was silent. She knew now the sort of piece
in which she was to appear. She had seen a few of
them, those cheap and vulgar farces with their thin
music, their more than dubious-looking people. What
a come-down! What a degradation! It was as bad
in its way as being the wife of General Siddall. And
she was to do this, in preference to marrying Stanley
``You will be paid, of course, during rehearsal; that
is, as long as we are taking your time. Fifty dollars
a week is about as much as we can afford.'' Crossley
was watching her shrewdly, was advancing these
remarks in response to the hesitation he saw so plainly.
``Of course it isn't grand opera,'' he went on. ``In
fact, it's pretty low--almost as low as the public taste.
You see, we aren't subsidized by millionaires who want
people to think they're artistic, so we have to hustle to
separate the public from its money. But if you make
a hit, you can earn enough to put you into grand opera
in fine style.''
``I never heard of anyone's graduating from here
into grand opera,'' said Mildred.
``Because our stars make so much money and make
it so easily. It'll be your own fault if you don't.''
``Can't I come to just one rehearsal--to see whether
I can--can do it?'' pleaded Mildred.
Crossley, made the more eager and the more superstitious
by this unprecedented reluctance, shook his head.
``No. You must agree to stay as long as we want
you,'' said he. ``We can't allow ourselves to be trifled
``Very well,'' said Mildred resignedly. ``I will
rehearse as long as you want me.''
``And will stay for the run of the piece, if we want
that?'' said Crossley. ``You to get a hundred a week
if you are put in the cast. More, of course, if you
make a hit.''
``You mean I'm to sign a contract?'' cried Mildred
``Exactly,'' said Crossley. A truly amazing
performance. Moldini was not astonished, however, for he
had heard the songs, and he knew Crossley's difficulties
through Estelle Howard's flight. Also, he knew Crossley--
never so ``weak and soft'' that he trifled with
unlikely candidates for his productions. Crossley had got
up because he knew what to do and when to do it.
Mildred acquiesced. Before she was free to go into
the street again, she had signed a paper that bound her
to rehearse for three weeks at fifty dollars a week and
to stay on at a hundred dollars a week for forty weeks
or the run of ``The Full Moon,'' if Crossley so desired;
if he did not, she was free at the end of the rehearsals.
A shrewdly one-sided contract. But Crossley told himself
he would correct it, if she should by some remote
chance be good enough for the part and should make
a hit in it. This was no mere salve to conscience, by
the way. Crossley would not be foolish enough to give
a successful star just cause for disliking and distrusting
him and at the earliest opportunity leaving him to make
money for some rival manager.
Mrs. Belloc had not gone out, had been waiting in a
fever of anxiety. When Mildred came into her sitting-
room with a gloomy face and dropped to a chair as if
her last hope had abandoned her, it was all Agnes Belloc
could do to restrain her tears. Said she:
``Don't be foolish, my dear. You couldn't expect
anything to come of your first attempt.''
``That isn't it,'' said Mildred. ``I think I'll give it
up--do something else. Grand opera's bad enough.
There were a lot of things about it that I was fighting
my distaste for.''
``I know,'' said Agnes. ``And you'd better fight
them hard. They're unworthy of you.''
``But--musical comedy! It's--frightful!''
``It's an honest way of making a living, and that's
more than can be said of--of some things. I suppose
you're afraid you'll have to wear tights--or some
nonsense like that.''
``No, no. It's doing it at all. Such rotten music
--and what a loathsome mess!''
Mrs. Belloc's eyes flashed. ``I'm losing all
patience!'' she cried. ``I know you've been brought up
like a fool and always surrounded by fools. I suppose
you'd rather sell yourself to some man. Do you know
what's the matter with you, at bottom? Why, you're
lazy and you're a coward. Too lazy to work. And
afraid of what a lot of cheap women'll say--women
earning their board and clothes in about the lowest way
such a thing can be done. Haven't you got any self-
Mildred rose. ``Mrs. Belloc,'' she said angrily, ``I
can't permit even you to say such things to me.''
``The shoe seems to fit,'' retorted Mrs. Belloc. ``I
never yet saw a lady, a real, silk-and-diamonds, sit-in-
the-parlor lady, who had any self-respect. If I had
my way they wouldn't get a mouthful to eat till they
had earned it. That'd be a sure cure for the lady
disease. I'm ashamed of you, Miss Stevens! And you're
ashamed of yourself.''
``Yes, I am,'' said Mildred, with a sudden change of
``The best thing you can do is to rest till lunch-time.
Then start out after lunch and hunt a job. I'll go
``But I've got a job,'' said Mildred. ``That's what's
Agnes Belloc's jaw dropped and her rather heavy
eyebrows shot up toward the low sweeping line of her
auburn hair. She made such a ludicrous face that Mildred
laughed outright. Said she:
``It's quite time. Fifty a week, for three weeks of
rehearsal. No doubt _I_ can go on if I like. Nothing
could be easier.''
``Yes. He was very nice--heard me sing three
pieces--and it was all settled. I'm to begin to-morrow.''
The color rose in Agnes Belloc's face until she looked
apoplectic. She abruptly retreated to her bedroom.
After a few minutes she came back, her normal complexion
restored. ``I couldn't trust myself to speak,''
said she. ``That was the worst case of ingratitude
I ever met up with. You, getting a place at fifty
dollars a week--and on your first trial--and
you come in looking as if you'd lost your money and
your reputation. What kind of a girl are you, anyway?''
``I don't know,'' said Mildred. ``I wish I did.''
``Well, I'm sorry you got it so easy. Now you'll
have a false notion from the start. It's always better