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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Light Of The Star: A Novel - Chapter 14
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The Light Of The Star: A Novel - Chapter 14 Post by :eagle75 Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :659

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The Light Of The Star: A Novel - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

At last the new play was finished and the author brought it and laid it in the hands of the actress as if it were a new-born child, and her heart leaped with joy. He was no longer the stern and self-absorbed writer. His voice was tender as he said, "I give this to you in the hope that it may regain for you what you have lost."

The tears sprang to Helen's eyes, and a word of love rose to her lips. "It is very beautiful, and we will triumph in it."

He seemed about to speak some revealing, sealing word, but the presence of the mother restrained him. Helen, recognizing the returning tide of his love, to which she related no self-seeking, was radiant.

"Come, we will put it in rehearsal at once," she said. "I know you are as eager to have it staged as I. I will not read it. I will wait till you read it for the company to-morrow morning."

"I do not go to that ordeal with the same joy as before," he admitted.

The company met him with far less of interest in this reading of the second play, and his own manner was distinctly less confident. Hugh and Westervelt maintained silence, but their opposition was as palpable as a cold wind. Royleston's cynical face expressed an open contempt. The lesser people were anxious to know the kind of characters they were to play, and a few were sympathetically eager to hear the play itself.

He read the manuscript with some assurance of manner, but made no suggestion as to the stage business, contenting himself with producing an effect on the minds of the principals; but as the girlish charm of _Enid's character made itself felt, the women of the company began to glow.

"Why, it's very beautiful!" they exclaimed.

Hugh, on the scent for another "problem," began to relax, and even Westervelt grunted a few words of approval, qualified at once by the whispered words, "Not a cent in it--not a cent." Royleston, between his acts, regarded the air with dreamy gaze. "I don't see myself in that part yet, but it's very good--very good."

The reading closed rather well, producing the desired effect of "happy tears" on the faces of several of the feminine members of the cast, and Helen again spoke of her pleasure in such work and asked them to "lend themselves" to the lines. "This play is a kind of poem," she said, "and makes a direct appeal to women, and yet I believe it will also win its way to the hearts of the men."

As they rose Douglass returned the manuscript to Helen with a bow. "I renounce all rights. Hereafter I am but a spectator."

"I think you are right in not attempting rehearsals. You are worn and tired. Why don't you go away for a time? A sea voyage would do you good."

"No, I must stay and face the music, as my father used to say. I do not wish to seem to run away, and, besides, I may be able to offer a suggestion now and then."

"Oh, I didn't mean to have you miss the first night. You could come back for that. If you stay we will be glad of any suggestion at any time--won't we, Hugh?"

Hugh refused to be brought into any marked agreement. "Of course, the author's advice is valuable, but with a man like Olquest--"

"I don't want to see a single rehearsal," replied Douglass. "I want to have the joy this time of seeing my characters on the opening night fully embodied. If the success of the play depended upon my personal supervision, the case would be different, but it doesn't. I trust you and Olquest. I will keep away."

Again they went to lunch together, but the old-time elation was sadly wanting. Hugh was silent and Douglass gloomy. Helen cut the luncheon for a ride in the park, which did them good, for the wind was keen and inspiriting and the landscape wintry white and blue and gold. She succeeded in provoking her playwright to a smile now and then by some audacious sally against the sombre silence of her cavaliers.

They halted for half an hour in the upper park while she called the squirrels to her and fed them from her own hands--those wonderful hands that had so often lured with jewels and threatened with steel. No one seeing this refined, sweet woman in tasteful furs would have related her with the _Gismonda and _Istar_, but Douglass thrilled with sudden accession of confidence. "How beautiful she will be as _Enid_!" he thought, as, with a squirrel on her shoulder, she turned with shining face to softly call: "This is David. Isn't he a dear?"

She waited until the keen-eyed rascals had taken her last nut, then slowly returned to the carriage side. "I like to win animals like that. It thrills my heart to have them set their fearless little feet on my arm."

Hugh uttered a warning. "You want to be careful how you handle them; they bite like demons."

"Oh, now, don't spoil it!" she exclaimed. "I'm sure they know me and trust me."

Douglass was moved to their defence, and strove during the remainder of the ride to add to Helen's pleasure; and this effort on his part made her eyes shine with joy--a joy almost pathetic in its intensity.

As they parted at the door of his hotel he said: "If you do not succeed this time I will utterly despair of the public. I know how sweet you will be as _Enid_. They must bow down before you as I do."

"I will give my best powers to this--be sure nothing will be neglected at rehearsal."

"I know you will," he answered, feelingly.

She was better than her promise, laboring tirelessly in the effort to embody through her company the poetry, the charm, which lay even in the smaller roles of the play. That one so big and brusque as Douglass should be able to define so many and such fugitive feminine emotions was a constant source of wonder and delight to her. The discovery gave her trust and confidence in him, and to her admiration of his power was added something which stole into her mind like music, causing foolish dreams and moments of reckless exaltation wherein she asked herself whether to be a great actress was not, after all, a thing of less profit than to be a wife and mother.

She saw much less of him than she wished, for Hugh remained coldly unresponsive in his presence, and threw over their meetings a restraint which prevented the joyous companionship of their first acquaintanceship.

More than this, Helen was conscious of being watched and commented upon, not merely by Hugh and Westervelt, but by guests of the hotel and representatives of the society press. Douglass, in order to shield her, and also because his position in the world was less secure than ever, returned to his self-absorbed, impersonal manner of speech. He took no part in the rehearsals, except to rush in at the close with some changes which he wished embodied at once, regardless of the vexation and confusion resulting. His brain was still perilously active, and not only cut and refined the dialogue, but made most radical modifications of the "business."

Helen began to show the effects of the strain upon her; for she was not merely carrying the burden of _Lillian's Duty_, and directing rehearsals of the new piece--she was deeply involved in the greatest problem than can come to a woman. She loved Douglass; but did she love him strongly enough to warrant her in saying so--when he should ask her?

His present poverty she put aside as of no serious account. A man so physically powerful, so mentally alert, was rich in possibilities. The work which he had already done entitled him to rank above millionaires, but that his very forcefulness, his strong will, his dominating idealism would make him her master--would inevitably change her relation to the world--had already changed it, in fact--she was not ready to acknowledge.

Up to this time her love for the stage had been single-minded. No man had touched her heart with sufficient fire to disturb her serenity, but now she was not merely following where he led, she was questioning the value and morality of her avocation.

"If I cannot play high roles, if the public will not have me in work like this I am now rehearsing, then I will retire to private life. I will no longer be a plaything for the man-headed monster," she said one day.

"You should have retired before sinking your good money in these Douglass plays," Hugh bitterly rejoined. "It looks now as though we might end in the police station."

"I have no fear of that, Hugh; I am perfectly certain that _Enid is to regain all our losses."

"I wish I had your beautiful faith," he made answer, and walked away.

Westervelt said little to her during these days; he only looked, and his doleful gestures, his lugubrious grimaces, were comic. He stood to lose nothing, except possible profits for Helen. She was paying him full rental, but he claimed that his house was being ruined. "It will get the reputation of doing nothing but failures," he said to her once, in a last despairing appeal, and to this she replied:

"Very well. If at the end of four weeks _Enid does not pull up to paying business I will release you from your contract. I will free your house of Helen Merival."

"No, no! I don't want that. I want you, but I do not want this crazy man Douglass. You must not leave me!" His voice grew husky with appeal. "Return to the old plays, sign a five-year contract, and I will make you again rich."

"There will be time to consider that four weeks hence."

"Yes, but the season is passing."

"Courage, mein Herr!" she said, with a smile, and left him almost in tears.

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CHAPTER XAt two o'clock, when Douglass returned to his hotel, tired and reckless of any man's scorn, the night clerk smiled and said, as he handed him a handful of letters, "I hear you had a great audience, Mr. Douglass." The playwright did not discover Helen's note among his letters till he had reached his room, and then, without removing his overcoat, he stood beneath the gas-jet and read:  "MY DEAR AUTHOR,--My heart bleeds for you. I know how you must suffer, but you must not despair. A first night is not conclusive. Do not blame yourself. I took up your
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