The Golden Goose (Tracy)
BUT they 're often managed by their husbands, are n't they?"
"Yes. That's why we want to get her away from him before he is her husband."
Renton turned from the speakers with a little smile of superiority, which proclaimed his opinion that they need not trouble themselves: Miss Bayard would marry or not, as she thought fit. He was still young enough to believe, dramatist though he might be, that one quality signifies another—that because a beautiful woman is the most intellectual actress of her time she is therefore likely to know what she wants. Renton was a little bit in love with Evelyn Bayard,—it was every man's business to be a little bit in love with her,—but he himself would no more have thought of marrying her than of marrying the moon. He would have preferred to write the most wonderful play in the world, and pass the rest of his life in seeing her play it.
There were a great many people on the veranda of the hotel, and Renton sat down on the balustrade, whence he could command a view of Aliss Bayard as she came out to the motor, now throbbing on the road below. He did not notice that the man sitting just at his back was James Hinney, that small, red-headed, surly manager of Miss Bayard whom she was reported to be engaged to marry; when she came straight in his direction, Renton had a moment's dizzying dream that it was he she sought. He slid quickly to his feet, and stood waiting in the joyous panic of her splendid and gentle presence.
Evelyn Bayard, absent-minded as she always seemed, gave him a smile of gratitude, a small, grave inclination of her dark head, which mutely apologized to him for its being her manager with whom she wished to speak. Two ladies and a gentleman from among the hotel guests wafted her before them, cooingly, and a curly-headed girl of the "rough soubrette" type, with Miss Bayard's wrap over her arm, followed stolidly, frowning at the manager.
"Mr. Hinney," said Miss Bayard; the meager and formal phrase fell with a certain quaintness from her lips. As she introduced her followers, she spoke with an exquisite precision; it struck Renton, nevertheless, that she was nervous. The soubrette shifted her weight and stood impassive. Hinney acknowledged each introduction with a nod; not rising, continuing to grind a fragment of toothpick round and round in his teeth. "They all very much wish that I should recite at the concert to-morrow night."
"Is that so?" said Hinney.
The followers broke out into a flutter of explanations in which the phrase "for charity" was prominent. Miss Bayard, with her graceful awkwardness, habitually let her long arms hang straight down; Renton saw that at this moment she was pressing her hands tight together. The curly-headed soubrette burst into a short, rude laugh and contrived to look at Hinney while she was still looking over his head.
A lady entreated:
"The least little thing—like Portia's mercy speech, you know, or—or the sleep-walking scene. Nothing elaborate—"
The others repeated, "Nothing elaborate—no, no!" and "For charity," and Miss Bayard, with her hands still clasping each other, kept her dark eyes in a bright quiet upon Hinney's face.
"Have n't you enough to do up here this summer?" He rose, as if to put an end to the question, and his eye impatiently sought the quivering motor. He put on his cap.
But these gentle pleaders were not so easily silenced.
"Just this once—" "Make the greatest difference to us—" "Miss Bayard's so obliging—"
"Yes; well, she's too obliging. She will oblige me a great deal better by keeping to herself." Seeing his path to the steps cut off, Hinney, intending a flank movement, had backed a trifle down the veranda, shielding himself with the sour smile, which now broke out into a snarl: "If she's anxious to act, I 'll hire your new Lyric Hall, and anybody who's just as anxious to see her can pay his two dollars. What good do your charities do her?"
In the shocked pause Miss Bayard, who had stood perfectly still, with her folded hands and her faint, fixed, and passive smile, now said clearly, "Mr. Hinney,"—Renton had supposed her all along to be merely reserving her thunderbolt; there had been no instant of this strange business when he had not expected to see the manager shriveled to the earth by a word, by a glance, of his imperial mistress. But what she said was only,—"it would be a great pleasure to me to do the sleep-walking scene."
Stillness. Renton felt that he was seeing history made. He was profoundly moved by the curbing of that spirit which he had often witnessed in great action, but he would have given much to know why she curbed it. And having done so, why did she bring Hinney up sharp? No ordinary provocation could have made her risk a public tussle. She had been hard pushed, she had determined to seek some crisis; Renton, tingling to the unexplained drama, exulted at her acceptance of an issue where the victory could be only hers. He was the more amazed to hear Hinney answer her declaration, "It will be a great pleasure," with, "Well, it's a pleasure I'm afraid you will have to forego."
She took it straight in the face without a quiver. Dismissing her court with a bright, pale bow, she passed rapidly down to the automobile, sitting up straight beside the wraps which the soubrette threw in after her. Hinney mounted to the front seat, the car vibrated and leaped to his touch like some kindred monster, bearing away—Andromeda! Yes, a chainless, a free, a winged Andromeda, bound only by some secret spell, in that open day of brilliant sunshine, on that white road, into the reaching shadows of the pines.
Renton did not wait to hear the comments. He went straight back to Jane Rogers, of whom he had recently asked, "But they 're often managed by their husbands, are n't they?" He had lost his superior smile at her, "That's why we want to get her away from him."
Jane turned to him now.
"What do you want me to do?"
The Hyperion Hotel was only an expensive hostelry, supported by those mere plutocrats whose lack of lineage excluded them from that little village lower down the mountain which, having been the home of John Standish, the painter, had acquired from his masterpieces a vogue that had not yet died with his recent death. The hotel was so new and so magnificent that poor Renton, the slave of a small publishing-house and the author of some plays of which people expected great things if they should ever get produced, gasped to find himself a part of it.
Nevertheless, he had deliberately followed there the summons of that old friend of his whom he had always envied as a still older friend of Evelyn Bayard. Jane had long intended for Renton the privilege of an introduction, but until the last two years Miss Bayard had been too obscure to be reached east of the Alleghanies, and then she had been too illustrious to be reached at all.
There could no longer be anything arrestive for her, he had lately told himself, in a devotee who for years had admired her photographs and leaned a charmed, a credulous ear to the slowly rising rumor of her powers; it could never again be anything special for her to hear that the first time a young dramatist had seen her act he had also seen the modern drama drop its disguise of shifting tatters and shine out regnant and fulfilling, vivified by an intellect capable not only of garnering all the rich harvests of the past, but of inspiring with new hope the sowing of the pioneers.
Jane's letter had scattered this counsel of humility with the remark, "If you want ever really to know her, now is the time." Really to know her! If he wanted!
"She is here," Jane wrote, "and she has me here with her, and little Lou Lorraine, who are the last of her old friends. I dare say he will get rid of us when he marries her, if he succeeds in marrying her. He and two decent, stupid fellows from her company and Danny Folliot, who goes with her next season, have a cottage on the grounds; they 've put up a real little stage in its living-room, and he has advertised all over the mountains that she rehearses there for four hours a day on her new part. She does n't like any one there while she's rehearsing, but after rehearsal Lou and Danny and I go down and do physical exercises with her. She's teaching Danny to fence, and every now and then, when Hinney takes a hand, it's really something to see. I must admit he's a superb swordsman. How he ever managed to straighten up from the box-office accounts long enough to learn I can't imagine."
Renton had arrived on Saturday morning before breakfast; Jane's influence had procured him luncheon with Miss Bayard. It was at about three in the afternoon that he came back to Jane and Danny and Luella Lorraine and asked, "What do you want me to do?"
"Because I can see," he went on, "that you 're conspirators. There's a plot, and I want to join, and you want me to. You 've meant me to all along."
"It's not much of a plot," began Jane. "But you 're just the sort of person to interest Evva. He's trying to get me away from her—"
"The same here," Luella interrupted. "I played boys with them my first season; he's never let her have any one two seasons—nor Jane at all. They were always just on the verge of stranding—never came up to time with your salary. I must say he's the best dead-beat I ever saw, Hinney is; he certainly did get us from one town to another somehow, and when he did have to leave our hotel trunks, he got the wardrobe through all right. Gee! we followed the cow-tracks that year, and there were times when the smell of coffee 'd make your head swim! If there's anybody knows what it is to rough it, Evva does."
She! That presence as of moonlit dusk! Renton lifted his eyes to the whimsical flash that shot across Danny Folliot's thoroughbred and sensitive face.
"Can you imagine it?" he asked.
The boy's appetite for life grinned out at him.
"Is n't it corking?"
"Well, even then he was putting her up to all sorts of star's dodges she'd never thought of, trying to get her awful upstage with the company. But you can't be so dire exclusive when you got to borrow a nightgown from any lady that's managed to save an extra one—at least Evva could n't. So he had to take it out in insulting people himself. As fast as she made a friendship he broke it off. But I would n't let on I was insulted, and I would n't be broken off. And here I am. He thinks I 've got it in for him for the rotten things he 's done to me. But he's off. The only things I got against him are the things he's done to Evelyn."
"What has he done to her, exactly?" Renton asked them.
"To start with, he's kept her for ten years out of New York."
"But, Jane, how? And why? Why?"
"Do you think he did n't know that if he ever let Broadway set eyes on her he'd lose her?"
"He has n't, it seems."
"Not yet. But if there's any justice in heaven, he will."
"What's his object in being disagreeable? Does he think that will keep her?"
"It has kept her. It's hypnotized her; it's stupefied her a little, I sometimes think. People used to say he struck her; I don't know. But he's bound her somehow. Why, even when I was at school with her she was ambitious. She always had a wonderful deep, big voice; as I remember it now, it must have been very loud and inflexible and young, of course. But then we thought it was magnificent simply to be tossed about on such a great tide of it, even by the poorest, palest girl in school, with torrents of slipping black hair and an old brown cashmere dress and shabby shoes. That was only three years before she was leading-woman, even if it was in a one-night-stand melodrama. You can see how easily she got on. Then in some little town in the interior she put all her savings into a stock company; Hinney was the stage-manager, and he helped her run things. Well, the theater burned down. It was the chance of his life, and he took it. He did everything for her. He bound her hand and foot with gratitude, and he's kept her so ever since. He got a little bit of money together, and took her out starring in what Lou would call 'the tall timber.' They had n't been creeping up and down the coast but a year or two, playing in any old rattletrap that had a roof to it, when people began to notice her and managers came to her with offers. But they did n't want him, of course, and he would n't let her go without him. He had to be her personal representative, he had to direct her stage, he had to have an interest in the management. His nightingale was n't to fly away and take—it is n't the nightingale that lays golden eggs, is it? But he would n't have cared how much I mixed my metaphors. He did n't care anything about the bird at all; only that the golden eggs should n't be taken to market by anybody but him. Well, of course no manager will undertake a star who is managed by another man. So there came near being no golden eggs at all."
"Why did she stand it?" Renton marveled. "Why?"
"All the big men came to her, and all the new men looking for new stars. Poor girl, I 've seen her almost stepping on to Broadway, holding up her skirts for whole harvests of gold and glory people were trying to throw into them, and then always the same thing! She would repeat, like an angelic parrot, Hinney's conditions, and the others would drop her as if she burned. And she would cry and cry and cry. For she despaired, as I despaired. All the time we could see her youth going, going. But—'He stood by me, Jennie, when I had no one else. He believed in me when no one else did. He's worked for me all these years. He's made me.' Oh! As if he'd ever even have been heard of without her!"
"Having no money, of course, he could n't get plays. And as a poor little scrub of an outside manager he could n't get booking. So they would go back again to one-night stands, to the old bills she was so tired of, the old debts, the old gowns, all the old obscurity and insecurity and shabby makeshifts—she that was made to live in Verona moonlight and drink pearls!"
Renton was trying to keep his head.
"Still, you know, he did get her into New York."
"She got into New York when some failure had left the theater dark for a fortnight. They let her creep into it, dragging Hinney after her, because she was playing creeks and coal-heaps in Pennsylvania and could get there over Sunday. She opened with 'Magda' in an opera-cloak cut out of an old portière Hinney had bought at a storehouse sale. And after that—ah, but if his crass stupidity could keep her down all those years, it can ruin her in the end!"
There was a long silence.
"But to marry him!" Renton cried. "Is n't that carrying even the most grateful loyalty rather further than you need fear? If she could do such a thing, would n't he have persuaded her long ago?"
"He could n't have married her before. He had a wife in Australia, or wherever he comes from. She died last fall."
"Oh. And Miss Bayard? It is n't possible she's in love with him?"
"How can she be? Of course that would explain all the impossibilities if it were n't more impossible than the impossibilities. But I don't want her sacrificed to him, even if she is in love with him. That would make her more and more the slave of his baseness. And it is n't love; it's some kind of fear. She's bound, I tell you—" Jane choked up, and pressed her knuckles against her lips. "To be married—Evva! Evva!—to that little poisonous toad! Oh, he's done her every injury in the world except to marry her! Can't we save her from that?"
Renton turned his eyes from those watchful eyes, fanatic with devotion, in Jane's plain, pale, and intelligent face and looked with relief at Luella's belligerent curls, ruffling about her round little head. Danny Folliot sat next to Luella, swinging his heels against the rail, and spying from one feminine countenance to the other and back again into Renton's with his bright, nervous, healthy glance, full of curiosity and mirth and the conviction of life. There was a refreshing sense of balance in that young man's gay worldliness which made Renton smile at him past the intensity of Jane's appeal as Danny put forth his hand and gathered her clenched fingers into a chivalrous squeeze.
"Trot out your bomb, Jane Rogers," said the boy. "We 'll draw lots."
"All I can think of is this: it would be something if we could get her, just in the least little thing, to defy him once. It might lead to a big quarrel. There's always the chance of his going too far and opening her eyes. Even her dear head must have reared a little higher lately; she can't think of herself just as she did out in Deer's Lick and Anaconda, when people used to say he knocked her down whenever there was a bad house. It seems to me that the first breach might be everything."
"Yes, but how are you going to get your breach? You 've been nosing for one the last ten years."
"Listen. Do you know why they were so awfully anxious for her to speak to-morrow night? So as to make a precedent for the other, bigger benefit later on." She turned to Renton. "The big one's not for charity, you may be sure. It's for a memorial to John Standish; they want to build an arch or something, Hinney's made himself such an outsider that he has n't heard of it at all; there's an example of his ignorant touch on her career! Well, when the advertising begins, I want Evelyn Bayard's name to be in the announcements. There's to be a wood pageant, and all these society women around here are crazy to go on as dryads. Not that I want her to do anything with them, of course; but—you, Ernest Renton, could n't you write her a sketch?"
It was just as if she had struck Renton the happiest kind of blow on the heart. He was staggered, but he was electrified.
"Would—would she play it?" he gasped.
"She 'll do anything to help people. We can tell her it's a great kindness. That's the whole point—that you 're young and," said Jane, weightily, "obscure. We can tell her that it's your one chance at a great audience. If we can bring about a quarrel with Hinney, and at the same time a fresh triumph—" They all glared forward, palpitating.
People were dancing that evening in the ball-room of the hotel, and Miss Bayard came out to her little group on the dark veranda. Mr. Hinney discouraged her dancing; he feared human intercourse, as bringing her off her pedestal and diminishing the curiosity of a paying public. She was wearing a gown of silvery, grayish green that looked like water in the starlight, and round her long throat and over her breast fell and looped and trickled on again a swaying string of the gray-green of cats'-eyes and the shine of brilliants. Her slender arms hung long and gloveless and very softly pale; she looked tired out. But her serenity was undisturbed, and as she sank into the chair that Renton proffered she had not forgotten her kind smile.
"Jennie," she said, "can you do me a great favor? Can you stay with me another month?"
"Why, will Mr. Hinney let me?" snapped Jane's savage, implacable love.
Miss Bayard responded tranquilly:
"Mr. Hinney will not be here. He is going to Paris on my business. He is worried about my play. Monsieur Hector has not finished it, and he is ill."
They were all struck into dumbness. It was too pat-like a hoax, like something conscious. And then Jane said slowly:
"Are you sure? And leave you here alone with us—with me?"
"Mr. Hinney is very much worried. There are endless things that Monsieur Hector was to have seen to. It is very unfortunate, but it cannot be helped." They were all greatly surprised when this reserved lady added, "And I think it is as well that I should have a little time to myself."
It was a thaw, a chance in a lifetime.
"See here, Evva, if I stay for you, will you do something for me? And for Mr. Renton? He adores you."
Without seeming to find anything remarkable in this latter statement, Miss Bayard turned eyes full of absent-minded sweetness upon the gentleman indicated.
"You wish me to do something for you?"
Renton's heart smote him to think how largely from this point of view the world must present itself to a successful actress.
"He's afraid to ask," said Jane. "But what he wants is for you to play a little sketch of his at the Standish benefit. He's awfully clever and a modern of the moderns, and his work 's everything that you love and believe in. But he can't get a hearing. You know what that is, Evva. Won't you give him one?"
Miss Bayard looked slowly from Renton to Jane.
"At the Standish Memorial performance? Yes, they have been speaking to me about that."
"Well, Mr. Renton, although he came all the way from New York for the purpose, does n't like to speak to you because he was a witness of that agreeable scene out here this afternoon."
Again the actress slowly turned her eyes to Renton, and in a voice of ravishing gentleness she uttered the words:
"Mr. Hinney is always careful that I shall not overwork." And then: "Oh," she cried, "but that was wrong! That was cruel!" In the dead silence she rose quietly, as if to go because she had said too much. But she paused. "He should have spoken—differently. He hurt people." She lifted her eyes, and they were full of tears. "He hurt people. And they meant to be kind."
She looked hard, like an exile, at the lighted windows. Renton thought he had never heard anything more exquisite, more angelic, than the tender, selfless abnegation of that little cry.
"Then if you could make it up to them, Evelyn, please them without quarreling publicly with Mr. Hinney—while he was away, in fact—and make Mr. Renton's fortune, insure the benefit's success, and honor John Standish— Evelyn, would n't you do it?"
Evelyn Bayard turned directly to Renton, a tall, mild wonder in her gray gown of the light on darkened water, touched with stars. Seriously, with the innocent dignity of a child and a goddess, she asked him:
"You would like me to play something you have written?"
"It would be the dearest honor in this world."
"I should like to do that." She considered. "And for the memorial to John Standish." She gave Renton a look which was more thrilling to him than if she had given him her hand. "Yes," she said, "I will do that."
Andromeda! dear Andromeda!
Renton felt himself consecrated to a supreme effort and a consummate hope.
Within a fortnight items concerning the Standish Memorial performance began to be conspicuous in the newspapers. The name of Evelyn Bayard had made a successful magnet, drawing not the public alone, but other celebrities. Jane's bulletins brightened with the names of a tragedian, a comedienne, and a classic dancer. A great director was to produce the wood pageant, a great dramatist was to make the opening address.
"We 'll have the two most artistic managers in America. Well, do you suppose that when they see Evelyn here, without Hinney, they won't jump at one more try for her? And she, who knows nobody and never meets her equals equally, when she comes into the wings with them and sees what they think of her—pray, pray that it goes to her sweet head!"
Presently Renton looked down at the cold print where Miss Bayard's name was followed by the words "assisted by Mr. Blake and Mr. Merrill of her own company in 'The Nightingale,' a modern one-act play by Ernest Allen Renton." Beneath the wings of a high hope chills and fever brooded upon his heart.
But Jane's next note contained a quaver.
"As was only to be expected, Evva has had two cablegrams from Hinney forbidding her appearance. She did n't answer the first, and I wish she had n't answered the second. There was a propitiatory, explanatory note about having given her word which corroborates all my hidden terrors."
Renton lived through a day or two of ominous silence, and then read:
"Everything is going splendidly. Hinney cabled the committee, threateningly, a most abusive, insulting message. If she were n't the highly advertised heart of the benefit, I am sure they would have dropped her then and there. The committee inclosed it to her, and I got her to sign an answer, saying Mr. Hinney had no rights in the matter. Was that a triumph or was it not? But I went to see some of the leading spirits, quite quietly, and begged them, if it were mortally possible, to put the benefit a little forward. For I know Hinney! They 've moved it forward two days."
Renton had never realized how little expectation of fulfilment life had hitherto conveyed to him till he felt the almost nauseous stir of nervousness with which he presently tore open Jane's extravagant, ebullient telegram:
"Hurrah! He's started, but can't possibly get here till the day after the fair! Just the right time for a row!" Five days later Renton set out for the Standish Memorial performance.
Tearing a Saturday from his employers, he traveled all day, and on the late afternoon of the benefit Danny met him at the station with Miss Bayard's car.
"She's held out so far," that young gentleman gaily informed him; "but he lands some time this evening. To my mind, it would n't be any bad idea to put her pretty early in the bill."
"You don't mean—"
"Oh, nothing definite. But perhaps I don't wish it were over! Mephistopheles is a little too close to suit me. You don't suppose Hinney can really pop up through a trap?"
"Rubbish!" Renton expostulated with the fervor of a lover. "She could n't fail us now!"
"She's found herself, you think? Very likely. All the same, I'm glad it's not my nightmare. I'm glad it 's not D. Folliot who would have to step forth and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, a little red-headed rat has gnawed his way into our cheese, and owing to an organic weakness of character, our goddess refuses—"
Danny was interrupted by their arrival at the hotel and their passage into Jane's strenuous and sterner keeping. Would Renton have some tea? No one could see Evva; she had rehearsed all day, she was lying down, she was very nervous. He must realize what it meant to her, poor darling; what a breaking it was with her whole past, thank God! Jane thanked God with a somewhat sinister accent. If she served tea in Miss Bayard's sitting-room with the knit brows of an oracle, it was also with the wracked pulses of a conspirator who has one ear cocked for the police and the other for the defection of the chief, and Renton left her ordering up Miss Bayard's early dinner with something the manner of a queen's taster.
The contagion of exultant terror spread till he could eat no dinner of his own. The packed dining-room stirred him like a personal responsibility; the fever and the thrill of the warm night fed his nerves with a wine in which the ominous and brilliant lights before Lyric Hall expanded, trembled, and danced in triumph; and the song of the hissing motors as they swept in from house after house among the hills greeted him at the threshold of the palace of his hopes with a challenge and a cry of praise.
The hall was already filled by people in evening clothes, with animated faces. It was lighted by arches of mellowed electric bulbs, and the glass of its upper walls was still lowered to let in the summer night. As Renton followed incongruous little Lou Lorraine down the aisle, a bird circled sharply above their heads, and every now and then a swifter and a wider dart of darkness warned them that a bat sought the light, over the chatter and the expectation.
Luella was afraid of bats, and she said even birds made her feel creepy. But Renton's heart had begun to soar, and presently young Folliot joined them and said the last train before midnight was safely in. "Anyhow, the bouncer of the hotel bar's on the back door, and if Hinney gets past him, Jane has drawn up her own chair outside Miss Bayard's room; it would take a mighty thin stream of gore to trickle in over that threshold from the knife in his dead heart." There was now no fear whatever, and as soon as the music struck up, Renton began to wonder if he had ever really entertained any fear.
It was a splendid program, and professional rigors were so far relaxed that, after finishing their respective numbers, the various artists came out into the auditorium and set up their stimulus and luster there. Danny, glancing hither and yon, crowed happily:
"Jane's right. It's an audience of crowned heads. Could n't find these people in the winter in any one house on Broadway."
Renton responded only with an excited grin. The swift advance of the crisis was straining, was lifting, his nerves. If, as a devoted champion, he found himself at white heat, the personal issue was also enormous.
The curtain music of their play—his play and hers—stole forth. It seemed scarcely to drown the drumming of his pulses. The lights sank low; the curtain rose; the music ceased. The two actors from Miss Bayard's company spoke the opening lines, and the thing was on, was going: Renton was an acted dramatist. It was too late for Hinney now; Fate had not played them false.
Renton, with his mouth a little open and his ears deaf to his own lines, watched the door through which she would come. And then she was there. Her presence struck him that dazzling blow of light which always seemed for the first moment to cut him off from the rest of the world; as though he were nothing but a single nerve wholly lost in its own fulfilment. The gale of applause, of released welcome, rocked round him, at first deafening him still further as he sat there motionless. Then it began to speak to his exultation, and tell him that even to those others she was not merely an illustrious fad; it was not in the minds of her intimates alone that to-night Andromeda defied her monster. Most of all the brethren of her working world, from whom she had been held apart so long, leaned to her in utter welcome, with hands eager to do her honor.
She stood before them in her luminous beauty, silent perforce, swaying a little to their violence, bending in thanks her imperial head or lifting to theirs the radiant eyes, darker and brighter for quick tears. Renton saw her breast lift on a long breath, and when through the new silence he heard the first notes, golden-warm, but fresh as springtime, of her voice, he lowered his eyes in that excess of contentment which could forego for a moment half its riches. Oddly enough, it was then he began to be aware of mortality in perfection: what, as his heroine, was she doing in that dress?
An extraordinary sensation of something unfamiliar recalled him to the stage. Were those his lines? Was he awake? Was he dreaming? And was this Evelyn Bayard? There was her midnight loveliness, and there the thrilling music of her voice; the garish gown blighted, but could not destroy, the natural drama of that personality, that temperament, which were still sovereign there. But from those lips of poetry and passion fell lines flat, cold, and pointless, a little jerky, a little noisy, twisted to a hundred falsities, loaded with a by-play crude and common, of which Renton had never dreamed. What had happened? What did it mean? He was merely stupefied.
The play went on, and he began to get himself together. As the action deepened, he looked, half mazed, about the house, and watched the puzzled shadow on its lifted face. Into his own face Danny Folliot was sending a distended glance. "What's got into her?" Renton shook his head. His whole vitality concentrated itself upon that magnificent, that dreadful changeling. Was she under an evil spell? Or were they? What was it? What could it be? What had changed her?
Oh, there were certain things that she could do! She could move, she could speak, she could modulate her great voice into the heavenly cadences that some musician had fashioned in her throat. But she felt nothing, she understood nothing, she could portray nothing. Comedy fell from her like lead; noise flowed from her in a mad, unseemly stream; she pounded her emotion with a hundred raw and miserable tricks, like fireworks exploding damply, ridiculously, against the calm of night. And Renton longed to cry out, to spring upon the stage, to silence her and hide her face—the sacred loveliness of her dear face! Then that, too, passed. The sense of shame deadened to a sense of cold; of the dramatist's bitter disappointment, of the disaffected lover's emptiness and distaste, of youth's unbalancement, which loses the whole world in losing one soul. His entire artistic faith faded, crumbled, and dissolved before his eyes.
The curtain came down. There was a faint, chill flutter of applause. The curtain rose. She stood there bowing. Down came the curtain, and, having been prepared to rise a dozen times, went quickly up again. It caught the stricken audience off its guard, and they faced each other, Evelyn Bayard and her adoring public, in a grim silence—a silence long and profound and terrible. Slowly her eyes, bewildered, shocked, incredulous, began to reflect its crass embarrassment.
Renton still sat there until he felt Danny plucking at him.
"Come on! Let's get out of this!"
Once again on a sunlit summer morning before the Hyperion Hotel, the Bayard-Hinney motor-car stood waiting on the broad, white road. It was very early, and the veranda was empty of guests save for Hinney himself. He walked up and down, with his cap on the back of his head and his cigar clenched between his teeth. Then there came out, in answer to his summons, one after the other of last night's conspirators.
To these he threw out the words: "Much obliged to you. I suppose I can rely on you to give it out that she's off to New York to see a specialist—nervous breakdown last night? That's all."
He stopped in front of them, however, with his legs wide apart and his hands clasped behind his back. "God! you 've shrunk a bit!" he remarked. "And why? You were all a little in love with—something yesterday. Well, come and kiss me!"
He took his cigar tight between his teeth, but his smile sagged in an irony as loose as license. "Cheer up!" he said. "I'm here."
Danny Folliot cast him a quick stare of interest.
"Great Scott! but I should like to know—I wonder—"
He hesitated, and Hinney sang out:
"Yes, you 've all wondered what was in that lovely head. Well, now you know: there was nothing in it."
"Temperament! Oh, yes, that's hers. It's the one thing that can't be made. It runs out of her eyelashes and the tips of her fingers. Temperament! If I'd had enough of it to cover a ten-cent piece, I—just as I am—I'd have moved the earth. But I had to take hers."
He blew forth a great gust of smoke. "As for hypnotizing her, Jane, a common stone-breaking slave-driver like me turns his tricks by the plain drudgery of coaching. Svengali's job was an easy one to mine; he just had to get it into her system—I had to get it into her head. They 'll make a strange conflagration some day—the note-books of great directors! We untemperamental ones, if we signed all our public monuments— Believe me, I never could have hammered the sleep-walking scene into her in less than a month. We 'll keep that play of yours, though, Renton. You shall see it acted to its top note yet. Unless, of course, ladies and gentlemen, you happen to have cracked the bell."
"She never knew?"
"Sure not. She knew we were hard workers, but she supposed she was a great actress. Well, you got her up before the one out of a hundred of our rank audiences that could put her wise. Do you remember the line in the old piece, my Jennie, 'Nothing can work such havoc as a fool'?" He turned. "Hustle, Evelyn!"
Evelyn Bayard passed among her fondest friends, allowing each of them to take her hand and endeavoring to smile upon them—a kind, uncertain, troubled smile. She uttered no articulate phrase while her reddened, darkly circled eyes went searching quickly till they found Hinney, who had run down the steps and stood impatiently puffing his cigar beside the motor. Then the baffled hesitation of her face resolved itself into the content and confidence of a rescued child. She passed quickly down to him, and she had scarcely mounted into the motor, with the beautiful, free dignity which had molded so many of Renton's dreams, when Hinney turned the steering-wheel, and they were off. Just before they passed out of earshot, Hinney turned round, caught Renton's eye, and yelled out to him two words, "Farewell, Perseus!" There came back to Renton the memory of what he had most valued in Miss Bayard's acting—its trenchant, its luminous perceptions.
Then she was gone down the white road.