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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter SIXTEEN
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The Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter SIXTEEN Post by :mangomoon Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :860

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The Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN


1.

On the boardwalk at Atlantic City, that much-enduring seashore resort
which has been the birthplace of so many musical plays, there stands
an all-day and all-night restaurant, under the same management and
offering the same hospitality as the one in Columbus Circle at which
Jill had taken her first meal on arriving in New York. At least, its
hospitality is noisy during the waking and working hours of the day;
but there are moments when it has an almost cloistral peace, and the
customer, abashed by the cold calm of its snowy marble and the silent
gravity of the white-robed attendants, unconsciously lowers his voice
and tries to keep his feet from shuffling, like one in a temple. The
members of the chorus of "The Rose of America," dropping in by ones
and twos at six o'clock in the morning about two weeks after the
events recorded in the last chapter, spoke in whispers and gave their
orders for breakfast in a subdued undertone.

The dress-rehearsal had just dragged its weary length to a close. It
is the custom of the dwellers in Atlantic City, who seem to live
entirely for pleasure, to attend a species of vaudeville
performance--incorrectly termed a sacred concert--on Sunday nights:
and it had been one o'clock in the morning before the concert scenery
could be moved out of the theatre and the first act set of "The Rose
of America" moved in. And, as by some unwritten law of the drama no
dress-rehearsal can begin without a delay of at least an hour and a
half, the curtain had not gone up on Mr Miller's opening chorus till
half past two. There had been dress-parades, conferences,
interminable arguments between the stage-director and a mysterious
man in shirtsleeves about the lights, more dress-parades, further
conferences, hitches with regard to the sets, and another outbreak of
debate on the subject of blues, ambers, and the management of the
"spot," which was worked by a plaintive voice, answering to the name
of Charlie, at the back of the family circle. But by six o'clock a
complete, if ragged, performance had been given, and the chorus, who
had partaken of no nourishment since dinner on the previous night,
had limped off round the corner for a bite of breakfast before going
to bed.

They were a battered and a draggled company, some with dark circles
beneath their eyes, others blooming with the unnatural scarlet of the
make-up which they had been too tired to take off. The Duchess,
haughty to the last, had fallen asleep with her head on the table.
The red-headed Babe was lying back in her chair, staring at the
ceiling. The Southern girl blinked like an owl at the morning
sunshine out on the boardwalk.

The Cherub, whose triumphant youth had brought her almost fresh
through a sleepless night, contributed the only remark made during
the interval of waiting for the meal.

"The fascination of a thtage life! Why girls leave home!" She looked
at her reflection in the little mirror of her vanity-bag. "It _is a
face!" she murmured reflectively. "But I should hate to have to go
around with it long!"

A sallow young man, with the alertness peculiar to those who work on
the night-shifts of restaurants, dumped a tray down on the table with
a clatter. The Duchess woke up. Babe took her eyes off the ceiling.
The Southern girl ceased to look at the sunshine. Already, at the
mere sight of food, the extraordinary recuperative powers of the
theatrical worker had begun to assert themselves. In five minutes
these girls would be feeling completely restored and fit for
anything.

Conversation broke out with the first sip of coffee, and the calm of
the restaurant was shattered. Its day had begun.

"It's a great life if you don't weaken," said the Cherub, hungrily
attacking her omelette. "And the wortht is yet to come! I thuppose
all you old dears realithe that this show will have to be rewritten
from end to end, and we'll be rehearthing day and night all the time
we're on the road."

"Why?" Lois Denham spoke with her mouth full. "What's wrong with it?"

The Duchess took a sip of coffee.

"Don't make me laugh!" she pleaded. "What's wrong with it? What's
right with it, one would feel more inclined to ask!"

"One would feel thtill more inclined," said the Cherub, "to athk why
one was thuch a chump as to let oneself in for this sort of thing
when one hears on all sides that waitresses earn thixty dollars a
month."

"The numbers are all right," argued Babe. "I don't mean the melodies,
but Johnny has arranged some good business."

"He always does," said the Southern girl. "Some more buckwheat cakes,
please. But what about the book?"

"I never listen to the book."

The Cherub laughed.

"You're too good to yourself! I listened to it right along and take
it from me it's sad! Of courthe they'll have it fixed. We can't open
in New York like this. My professional reputation wouldn't thtand it!
Didn't you thee Wally Mason in front, making notes? They've got him
down to do the rewriting."

Jill, who had been listening in a dazed way to the conversation,
fighting against the waves of sleep which flooded over her, woke up.

"Was Wally--was Mr Mason there?"

"Sure. Sitting at the back."

Jill couldn't have said whether she was glad or sorry. She had not
seen Wally since that afternoon when they lunched together at the
Cosmopolis, and the rush of the final weeks of rehearsals had given
her little opportunity for thinking of him. At the back of her mind
had been the feeling that sooner or later she would have to think of
him, but for two weeks she had been too tired and too busy to
re-examine him as a factor in her life. There had been times when the
thought of him had been like the sunshine on a winter day, warming
her with almost an impersonal glow in moments of depression. And then
some sharp, poignant memory of Derek would come to blot him out. She
remembered the image she had used to explain Derek to Wally, and the
truth of it came home to her more strongly than ever. Whatever Derek
might have done, he was in her heart and she could not get him out.

She came out of her thoughts to find that the talk had taken another
turn.

"And the wortht of it is," the Cherub was saying, "we shall rehearthe
all day and give a show every night and work ourselves to the bone,
and then, when they're good and ready, they'll fire one of us!"

"That's right!" agreed the Southern girl.

"They couldn't!" Jill cried.

"You wait!" said the Cherub. "They'll never open in New York with
thirteen girls. Ike's much too thuperstitious"

"But they wouldn't do a thing like that after we've all worked so
hard!"

There was a general burst of sardonic laughter. Jill's opinion of the
chivalry of theatrical managers seemed to be higher than that of her
more experienced colleagues. "They'll do anything," the Cherub
assured her. "You don't know the half of it, dearie," scoffed Lois
Denham. "You don't know the half of it!"

"Wait till you've been in as many shows as I have," said Babe,
shaking her red locks. "The usual thing is to keep a girl slaving her
head off all through the road-tour and then fire her before the New
York opening."

"But it's a shame! It isn't fair!"

"If one is expecting to be treated fairly," said the Duchess with a
prolonged yawn, "one should not go into the show-business."

And, having uttered this profoundly true maxim, she fell asleep
again.

The slumber of the Duchess was the signal for a general move. Her
somnolence was catching. The restorative effects of the meal were
beginning to wear off. There was a call for a chorus-rehearsal at
four o'clock, and it seemed the wise move to go to bed and get some
sleep while there was time. The Duchess was roused from her dreams by
means of a piece of ice from one of the tumblers; checks were paid;
and the company poured out, yawning and chattering, into the sunlight
of the empty boardwalk.

Jill detached herself from the group, and made her way to a seat
facing the ocean. Tiredness had fallen upon her like a leaden weight,
crushing all the power out of her limbs, and the thought of walking
to the boarding-house where, from motives of economy, she was sharing
a room with the Cherub, paralyzed her.

It was a perfect morning, clear and cloudless, with the warm
freshness of a day that means to be hotter later on. The sea sparkled
in the sun. Little waves broke lazily on the gray sand. Jill closed
her eyes, for the brightness of sun and water was trying; and her
thoughts went back to what the Cherub had said.

If Wally was really going to rewrite the play, they would be thrown
together. She would be obliged to meet him, and she was not sure that
she was ready to meet him. Still, he would be somebody to talk to on
subjects other than the one eternal topic of the theatre, somebody
who belonged to the old life. She had ceased to regard Freddie Rooke
in this light: for Freddie, solemn with his new responsibilities as a
principal, was the most whole-hearted devotee of "shop" in the
company. Freddie nowadays declined to consider any subject for
conversation that did not have to do with "The Rose of America" in
general and his share in it in particular. Jill had given him up, and
he had paired off with Nelly Bryant. The two were inseparable. Jill
had taken one or two meals with them, but Freddie's professional
monologues, of which Nelly seemed never to weary, were too much for
her. As a result she was now very much alone. There were girls in the
company whom she liked, but most of them had their own intimate
friends, and she was always conscious of not being really wanted. She
was lonely, and, after examining the matter as clearly as her tired
mind would allow, she found herself curiously soothed by the thought
that Wally would be near to mitigate her loneliness.

She opened her eyes, blinking. Sleep had crept upon her with an
insidious suddenness, and she had almost fallen over on the seat. She
was just bracing herself to get up and begin the long tramp to the
boarding-house, when a voice spoke at her side.

"Hullo! Good morning!"

Jill looked up.

"Hullo, Wally!"

"Surprised to see me?"

"No. Milly Trevor said she had seen you at the rehearsal last night."

Wally came round the bench and seated himself at her side. His eyes
were tired, and his chin dark and bristly.

"Had breakfast?"

"Yes, thanks. Have you?"

"Not yet. How are you feeling?"

"Rather tired."

"I wonder you're not dead. I've been through a good many
dress-rehearsals, but this one was the record. Why they couldn't have
had it comfortably in New York and just have run through the piece
without scenery last night, I don't know, except that in musical
comedy it's etiquette always to do the most inconvenient thing. They
know perfectly well that there was no chance of getting the scenery
into the theatre till the small hours. You must be worn out. Why
aren't you in bed?"

"I couldn't face the walk. I suppose I ought to be going, though."

She half rose, then sank back again. The glitter of the water
hypnotized her. She closed her eyes again. She could hear Wally
speaking, then his voice grew suddenly faint and far off, and she
ceased to fight the delicious drowsiness.

Jill awoke with a start. She opened her eyes, and shut them again at
once. The sun was very strong now. It was one of those prematurely
warm days of early Spring which have all the languorous heat of late
summer. She opened her eyes once more, and found that she was feeling
greatly refreshed. She also discovered that her head was resting on
Wally's shoulder.

"Have I been asleep?"

Wally laughed.

"You have been having what you might call a nap." He massaged his
left arm vigorously. "You needed it. Do you feel more rested now?"

"Good gracious! Have I been squashing your poor arm all the time? Why
didn't you move?"

"I was afraid you would fall over. You just shut your eyes and
toppled sideways."

"What's the time?"

Wally looked at his watch.

"Just on ten."

"Ten!" Jill was horrified. "Why, I have been giving you cramp for
about three hours! You must have had an awful time!"

"Oh, it was all right. I think I dozed off myself. Except that the
birds didn't come and cover us with leaves; it was rather like the
'Babes in the Wood.'"

"But you haven't had any breakfast! Aren't you starving?"

"Well, I'm not saying I wouldn't spear a fried egg with some vim if
it happened to float past. But there's plenty of time for that. Lots
of doctors say you oughtn't to eat breakfast, and Indian fakirs go
without food for days at a time in order to develop their souls.
Shall I take you back to wherever you're staying? You ought to get a
proper sleep in bed."

"Don't dream of taking me. Go off and have something to eat."

"Oh, that can wait. I'd like to see you safely home."

Jill was conscious of a renewed sense of his comfortingness. There
was no doubt about it, Wally was different from any other man she had
known. She suddenly felt guilty, as if she were obtaining something
valuable under false pretences.

"Wally!"

"Hullo?"

"You--you oughtn't to be so good to me!"

"Nonsense! Where's the harm in lending a hand--or, rather, an arm--to
a pal in trouble?"

"You know what I mean. I can't . . . that is to say . . . it isn't as
though . . . I mean . . ."

Wally smiled a tired, friendly smile.

"If you're trying to say what I think you're trying to say, don't! We
had all that out two weeks ago. I quite understand the position. You
mustn't worry yourself about it." He took her arm, and they crossed
the boardwalk. "Are we going in the right direction? You lead the
way. I know exactly how you feel. We're old friends, and nothing
more. But, as an old friend, I claim the right to behave like an old
friend. If an old friend can't behave like an old friend, how _can_
an old friend behave? And now we'll rule the whole topic out of the
conversation. But perhaps you're too tired for conversation?"

"Oh, no."

"Then I will tell you about the sad death of young Mr Pilkington."

"What!"

"Well, when I say death, I use the word in a loose sense. The human
giraffe still breathes, and I imagine, from the speed with which he
legged it back to his hotel when we parted, that he still takes
nourishment. But really he is dead. His heart is broken. We had a
conference after the dress-rehearsal, and our friend Mr Goble told
him in no uncertain words--in the whole course of my experience I
have never heard words less uncertain--that his damned rotten
high-brow false-alarm of a show--I am quoting Mr Goble--would have to
be rewritten by alien hands. And these are them! On the right, alien
right hand. On the left, alien left hand. Yes, I am the instrument
selected for the murder of Pilkington's artistic aspirations. I'm
going to rewrite the show. In fact, I have already rewritten the
first act and most of the second. Goble foresaw this contingency and
told me to get busy two weeks ago, and I've been working hard ever
since. We shall start rehearsing the new version tomorrow and open in
Baltimore next Monday with practically a different piece. And it's
going to be a pippin, believe me, said our hero modestly. A gang of
composers has been working in shifts for two weeks, and, by chucking
out nearly all of the original music, we shall have a good score. It
means a lot of work for you, I'm afraid. All the business of the
numbers will have to be re-arranged."

"I like work," said Jill. "But I'm sorry for Mr Pilkington."

"He's all right. He owns seventy per cent of the show. He may make a
fortune. He's certain to make a comfortable sum. That is, if he
doesn't sell out his interest in pique--or dudgeon, if you prefer it.
From what he said at the close of the proceedings, I fancy he would
sell out to anybody who asked him. At least, he said that he washed
his hands of the piece. He's going back to New York this
afternoon,--won't even wait for the opening. Of course, I'm sorry for
the poor chap in a way, but he had no right, with the excellent
central idea which he got, to turn out such a rotten book. Oh, by the
way!"

"Yes?"

"Another tragedy! Unavoidable, but pathetic. Poor old Freddie! He's
out!"

"Oh, no!"

"Out!" repeated Wally firmly.

"But didn't you think he was good last night?"

"He was awful! But that isn't why. Goble wanted his part rewritten as
a Scotchman, so as to get McAndrew, the fellow who made such a hit
last season in 'Hoots, Mon!' That sort of thing is always happening
in musical comedy. You have to fit parts to suit whatever good people
happen to be available at the moment. When you've had one or two
experiences of changing your Italian count to a Jewish
millionaire--invariably against time: they always want the script on
Thursday next at noon--and then changing him again to a Russian
Bolshevik, you begin to realize what is meant by the words 'Death,
where is thy sting?' My heart bleeds for Freddie, but what can one
do? At any rate he isn't so badly off as a fellow was in one of my
shows. In the second act he was supposed to have escaped from an
asylum, and the management, in a passion for realism, insisted that
he should shave his head. The day after he shaved it, they heard that
a superior comedian was disengaged and fired him. It's a ruthless
business."

"The girls were saying that one of us would be dismissed."

"Oh, I shouldn't think that's likely."

"I hope not."

"So do I. What are we stopping for?" Jill had halted in front of a
shabby-looking house, one of those depressing buildings which spring
up overnight at seashore resorts and start to decay the moment the
builders have left them.

"I live here."

"Here!" Wally looked at her in consternation. "But . . ."

Jill smiled.

"We working-girls have got to economize. Besides, it's quite
comfortable--fairly comfortable--inside, and it's only for a week."
She yawned. "I believe I'm falling asleep again. I'd better hurry in
and go to bed. Good-bye, Wally dear. You've been wonderful. Mind you
go and get a good breakfast."


2.

When Jill arrived at the theatre at four o'clock for the chorus
rehearsal, the expected blow had not fallen. No steps had apparently
been taken to eliminate the thirteenth girl whose presence in the
cast preyed on Mr. Goble's superstitious mind. But she found her
colleagues still in a condition of pessimistic foreboding. "Wait!"
was the gloomy watchword of "The Rose of America" chorus.

The rehearsal passed off without event. It lasted until six o'clock,
when Jill, the Cherub, and two or three of the other girls went to
snatch a hasty dinner before returning to the theatre to make up. It
was not a cheerful meal. Reaction had set in after the overexertion
of the previous night, and it was too early for first-night
excitement to take its place. Everybody, even the Cherub, whose
spirits seldom failed her, was depressed, and the idea of an
overhanging doom had grown. It seemed now to be merely a question of
speculating on the victim, and the conversation gave Jill, as the
last addition to the company and so the cause of swelling the ranks
of the chorus to the unlucky number, a feeling of guilt. She was glad
when it was time to go back to the theatre.

The moment she and her companions entered the dressing-room, it was
made clear to them that the doom had fallen. In a chair in the
corner, all her pretence and affectation swept away in a flood of
tears, sat the unhappy Duchess, the center of a group of girls
anxious to console but limited in their ideas of consolation to an
occasional pat on the back and an offer of a fresh pocket-handkerchief.

"It's tough, honey!" somebody was saying as Jill came in.

Somebody else said it was fierce, and a third girl declared it to be
the limit. A fourth girl, well-meaning but less helpful than she
would have liked to be, was advising the victim not to worry.

The story of the disaster was brief and easily told. The Duchess,
sailing in at the stage-door, had paused at the letter-box to see if
Cuthbert, her faithful auto-salesman, had sent her a good-luck
telegram. He had, but his good wishes were unfortunately neutralized
by the fact that the very next letter in the box was one from the
management, crisp and to the point, informing the Duchess that her
services would not be required that night or thereafter. It was the
subtle meanness of the blow that roused the indignation of "The Rose
of America" chorus, the cunning villainy with which it had been
timed.

"Poor Mae, if she'd opened tonight, they'd have had to give her two
weeks' notice or her salary. But they can fire her without a cent
just because she's only been rehearsing and hasn't given a show!"

The Duchess burst into fresh flood of tears.

"Don't you worry, honey!" advised the well-meaning girl, who would
have been in her element looking in on Job with Bildad the Shuhite
and his friends. "Don't you worry!"

"It's tough!" said the girl, who had adopted that form of verbal
consolation.

"It's fierce!" said the girl who preferred that adjective.

The other girl, with an air of saying something new, repeated her
statement that it was the limit. The Duchess cried forlornly
throughout. She had needed this engagement badly. Chorus salaries are
not stupendous, but it is possible to save money by means of them
during a New York run, especially if you have spent three years in a
milliner's shop and can make your own clothes, as the Duchess, in
spite of her air of being turned out by Fifth Avenue modistes, could
and did. She had been looking forward, now that this absurd piece was
to be rewritten by someone who knew his business and had a good
chance of success, to putting by just those few dollars that make all
the difference when you are embarking on married life. Cuthbert, for
all his faithfulness, could not hold up the financial end of the
establishment unsupported for at least another eighteen months; and
this disaster meant that the wedding would have to be postponed
again. So the Duchess, abandoning that aristocratic manner criticized
by some of her colleagues as "up-stage" and by others as "Ritz-y,"
sat in her chair and consumed pocket-handkerchiefs as fast as they
were offered to her.

Jill had been the only girl in the room who had spoken no word of
consolation. This was not because she was not sorry for the Duchess.
She had never been sorrier for any one in her life. The pathos of
that swift descent from haughtiness to misery had bitten deep into
her sensitive heart. But she revolted at the idea of echoing the
banal words of the others. Words were no good, she thought, as she
set her little teeth and glared at an absent management,--a
management just about now presumably distending itself with a
luxurious dinner at one of the big hotels. Deeds were what she
demanded. All her life she had been a girl of impulsive action, and
she wanted to act impulsively now. She was in much the same Berserk
mood as had swept her, raging, to the defence of Bill the parrot on
the occasion of his dispute with Henry of London. The fighting spirit
which had been drained from her by the all-night rehearsal had come
back in full measure.

"What are you going to _do?_" she cried. "Aren't you going to _do_
something?"

Do? The members of "The Rose of America" ensemble looked doubtfully
at one another. Do? It had not occurred to them that there was
anything to be done. These things happened, and you regretted them,
but as for doing anything, well, what _could you do?

Jill's face was white and her eyes were flaming. She dominated the
roomful of girls like a little Napoleon. The change in her startled
them. Hitherto they had always looked on her as rather an unusually
quiet girl. She had always made herself unobtrusively pleasant to
them all. They all liked her. But they had never suspected her of
possessing this militant quality. Nobody spoke, but there was a
general stir. She had flung a new idea broadcast, and it was
beginning to take root. Do something? Well, if it came to that, why
not?

"We ought all to refuse to go on tonight unless they let her go on!"
Jill declared.

The stir became a movement. Enthusiasm is catching, and every girl is
at heart a rebel. And the idea was appealing to the imagination.
Refuse to give a show on the opening night! Had a chorus ever done
such a thing? They trembled on the verge of making history.

"Strike?" quavered somebody at the back.

"Yes, strike!" cried Jill.

"Hooray! That's the thtuff!" shouted the Cherub, and turned the
scale. She was a popular girl, and her adherence to the Cause
confirmed the doubters. "Thtrike!"

"Strike! Strike!"

Jill turned to the Duchess, who had been gaping amazedly at the
demonstration. She no longer wept, but she seemed in a dream.

"Dress and get ready to go on," Jill commanded. "We'll all dress and
get ready to go on. Then I'll go and find Mr Goble and tell him what
we mean to do. And, if he doesn't give in, we'll stay here in this
room, and there won't be a performance!"


3.

Mr Goble, with a Derby hat on the back of his head and an unlighted
cigar in the corner of his mouth, was superintending the erection of
the first act set when Jill found him. He was standing with his back
to the safety-curtain glowering at a blue canvas, supposed to
represent one of those picturesque summer skies which you get at the
best places on Long Island. Jill, coming down stage from the
staircase that led to the dressing-room, interrupted his line of
vision.

"Get out of the light!" bellowed Mr Goble, always a man of direct
speech, adding "Damn you!" for good measure.

"Please move to one side," interpreted the stage-director. "Mr Goble
is looking at the set."

The head carpenter, who completed the little group, said nothing.
Stage carpenters always say nothing. Long association with fussy
directors has taught them that the only policy to pursue on opening
nights is to withdraw into the silence, wrap themselves up in it, and
not emerge until the enemy has grown tired and gone off to worry
somebody else.

"It don't look right!" said Mr Goble, cocking his head on one side.

"I see what you mean, Mr Goble," assented the stage-director
obsequiously. "It has perhaps a little too much--er--not quite
enough--yes, I see what you mean!"

"It's too--damn--BLUE!" rasped Mr Goble, impatient of this
vacillating criticism. "That's what's the matter with it."

The head carpenter abandoned the silent policy of a lifetime. He felt
impelled to utter. He was a man who, when not at the theatre, spent
most of his time in bed, reading all-fiction magazines: but it so
happened that once, last summer, he had actually seen the sky; and he
considered that this entitled him to speak almost as a specialist on
the subject.

"The sky _is blue!" he observed huskily. "Yessir! I seen it!"

He passed into the silence again, and, to prevent a further lapse,
stopped up his mouth with a piece of chewing-gum.

Mr Goble regarded the silver-tongued orator wrathfully. He was not
accustomed to chatter-boxes arguing with him like this. He would
probably have said something momentous and crushing, but at this
point Jill intervened.

"Mr Goble."

The manager swung round on her.

"What _is it?"

It is sad to think how swiftly affection can change to dislike in
this world. Two weeks before, Mr Goble had looked on Jill with favor.
She had seemed good in his eyes. But that refusal of hers to lunch
with him, followed by a refusal some days later to take a bit of
supper somewhere, had altered his views on feminine charm. If it had
been left to him, as most things were about his theatre, to decide
which of the thirteen girls should be dismissed, he would undoubtedly
have selected Jill. But at this stage in the proceedings there was
the unfortunate necessity of making concessions to the temperamental
Johnson Miller. Mr Goble was aware that the dance-director's services
would be badly needed in the re-arrangement of the numbers during the
coming week or so, and he knew that there were a dozen managers
waiting eagerly to welcome him if he threw up his present job, so he
had been obliged to approach him in quite a humble spirit and enquire
which of his female chorus could be most easily spared. And, as the
Duchess had a habit of carrying her haughty languor onto the stage
and employing it as a substitute for the chorea which was Mr.
Miller's ideal, the dancer-director had chosen her. To Mr Goble's
dislike of Jill, therefore, was added now something of the fury of
the baffled potentate.

"'Jer want?" he demanded.

"Mr Goble is extremely busy," said the stage-director. "Ex-tremely."

A momentary doubt as to the best way of approaching her subject had
troubled Jill on her way downstairs, but, now that she was on the
battle-field confronting the enemy, she found herself cool,
collected, and full of a cold rage which steeled her nerves without
confusing her mind.

"I came to ask you to let Mae D'Arcy go on tonight."

"Who the hell's Mae D'Arcy?" Mr Goble broke off to bellow at a
scene-shifter who was depositing the wall of Mrs Stuyvesant van
Dyke's Long Island residence too far down stage. "Not there, you
fool! Higher up!"

"You gave her her notice this evening," said Jill.

"Well, what about it?"

"We want you to withdraw it."

"Who's 'we'?"

"The other girls and myself."

Mr Goble jerked his head so violently that the Derby hat flew off, to
be picked up, dusted, and restored by the stage-director.

"Oh, so you don't like it? Well, you know what you can do . . ."

"Yes," said Jill, "we do. We are going to strike."

"What!"

"If you don't let Mae go on, we shan't go on. There won't be a
performance tonight, unless you like to give one without a chorus."

"Are you crazy!"

"Perhaps. But we're quite unanimous."

Mr Goble, like most theatrical managers, was not good at words of
over two syllables.

"You're what?"

"We've talked it over, and we've all decided to do what I said."

Mr Goble's hat shot off again, and gambolled away into the wings,
with the stage-director bounding after it like a retriever.

"Whose idea's this?" demanded Mr Goble. His eyes were a little foggy,
for his brain was adjusting itself but slowly to the novel situation.

"Mine."

"Oh, yours! I thought as much!"

"Well," said Jill, "I'll go back and tell them that you will not do
what we ask. We will keep our make-up on in case you change your
mind."

She turned away.

"Come back!"

Jill proceeded toward the staircase. As she went, a husky voice spoke
in her ear.

"Go to it, kid! You're all right!"

The head-carpenter had broken his Trappist vows twice in a single
evening, a thing which had not happened to him since the night three
years ago, when, sinking wearily onto a seat in a dark corner for a
bit of a rest, he found that one of his assistants had placed a pot
of red paint there.


4.

To Mr Goble, fermenting and full of strange oaths, entered Johnson
Miller. The dance-director was always edgey on first nights, and
during the foregoing conversation had been flitting about the stage
like a white-haired moth. His deafness had kept him in complete
ignorance that there was anything untoward afoot, and he now
approached Mr Goble with his watch in his hand.

"Eight twenty-five," he observed. "Time those girls were on stage."

Mr Goble, glad of a concrete target for his wrath, cursed him in
about two hundred and fifty rich and well-selected words.

"Huh?" said Mr Miller, hand to ear.

Mr Goble repeated the last hundred and eleven words, the pick of the
bunch.

"Can't hear!" said Mr Miller, regretfully. "Got a cold."

The grave danger that Mr Goble, a thick-necked man, would undergo
some sort of a stroke was averted by the presence-of-mind of the
stage-director, who, returning with the hat, presented it like a
bouquet to his employer, and then his hands being now unoccupied,
formed them into a funnel and through this flesh-and-blood megaphone
endeavored to impart the bad news.

"The girls say they won't go on!"

Mr Miller nodded.

"I _said it was time they were on."

"They're on strike!"

"It's not," said Mr Miller austerely, "what they like, it's what
they're paid for. They ought to be on stage. We should be ringing up
in two minutes."

The stage director drew another breath, then thought better of it. He
had a wife and children, and, if dadda went under with apoplexy, what
became of the home, civilization's most sacred product? He relaxed
the muscles of his diaphragm, and reached for pencil and paper.

Mr Miller inspected the message, felt for his spectacle-case, found
it, opened it, took out his glasses, replaced the spectacle-case,
felt for his handkerchief, polished the glasses, replaced the
handkerchief, put the glasses on, and read. A blank look came into
his face.

"Why?" he enquired.

The stage director, with a nod of the head intended to imply that he
must be patient and all would come right in the future, recovered the
paper, and scribbled another sentence. Mr Miller perused it.

"Because Mae D'Arcy has got her notice?" he queried, amazed. "But the
girl can't dance a step."

The stage director, by means of a wave of the hand, a lifting of both
eyebrows, and a wrinkling of the nose, replied that the situation,
unreasonable as it might appear to the thinking man, was as he had
stated and must be faced. What, he enquired--through the medium of a
clever drooping of the mouth and a shrug of the shoulders--was to be
done about it?

Mr Miller remained for a moment in meditation.

"I'll go and talk to them," he said.

He flitted off, and the stage director leaned back against the
asbestos curtain. He was exhausted, and his throat was in agony, but
nevertheless he was conscious of a feeling of quiet happiness. His
life had been lived in the shadow of the constant fear that some day
Mr Goble might dismiss him. Should that disaster occur, he felt,
there was always a future for him in the movies.

Scarcely had Mr Miller disappeared on his peace-making errand, when
there was a noise like a fowl going through a quickset hedge, and Mr
Saltzburg, brandishing his baton as if he were conducting an unseen
orchestra, plunged through the scenery at the left upper entrance and
charged excitedly down the stage. Having taken his musicians twice
through the overture, he had for ten minutes been sitting in silence,
waiting for the curtain to go up. At last, his emotional nature
cracking under the strain of this suspense, he had left his
conductor's chair and plunged down under the stage by way of the
musician's bolthole to ascertain what was causing the delay.

"What is it? What is it? What is it? What is it?" enquired Mr
Saltzburg. "I wait and wait and wait and wait and wait. . . . We
cannot play the overture again. What is it? What has happened?"

Mr Goble, that overwrought soul, had betaken himself to the wings,
where he was striding up and down with his hands behind his back,
chewing his cigar. The stage director braced himself once more to the
task of explanation.

"The girls have struck!"

Mr Saltzburg blinked through his glasses.

"The girls?" he repeated blankly.

"Oh, damn it!" cried the stage director, his patience at last giving
way. "You know what a girl is, don't you?"

"They have what?"

"Struck! Walked out on us! Refused to go on!"

Mr Saltzburg reeled under the blow.

"But it is impossible! Who is to sing the opening chorus?"

In the presence of one to whom he could relieve his mind without fear
of consequences, the stage director became savagely jocular.

"That's all arranged," he said. "We're going to dress the carpenters
in skirts. The audience won't notice anything wrong."

"Should I speak to Mr Goble?" queried Mr Saltzburg doubtfully.

"Yes, if you don't value your life," returned the stage director.

Mr Saltzburg pondered.

"I will go and speak to the children," he said. "I will talk to them.
They know _me! I will make them be reasonable."

He bustled off in the direction taken by Mr Miller, his coattails
flying behind him. The stage director, with a tired sigh, turned to
face Wally, who had come in through the iron pass-door from the
auditorium.

"Hullo!" said Wally cheerfully. "Going strong? How's everybody at
home? Fine! So am I! By the way, am I wrong or did I hear something
about a theatrical entertainment of some sort here tonight?" He
looked about him at the empty stage. In the wings, on the prompt
side, could be discerned the flannel-clad forms of the gentlemanly
members of the male ensemble, all dressed up for Mrs Stuyvesant van
Dyke's tennis party. One or two of the principals were standing
perplexedly in the lower entrance. The O. P. side had been given over
by general consent to Mr Goble for his perambulations. Every now and
then he would flash into view through an opening in the scenery. "I
understood that tonight was the night for the great revival of comic
opera. Where are the comics, and why aren't they opping?"

The stage director repeated his formula once more.

"The girls have struck!"

"So have the clocks," said Wally. "It's past nine."

"The chorus refuse to go on."

"No, really! Just artistic loathing of the rotten piece, or is there
some other reason?"

"They're sore because one of them has been given her notice, and they
say they won't give a show unless she's taken back. They've struck.
That Mariner girl started it."

"She did!" Wally's interest became keener. "She would!" he said
approvingly. "She's a heroine!"

"Little devil! I never liked that girl!"

"Now there," said Wally, "is just the point on which we differ. I
have always liked her, and I've known her all my life. So, shipmate,
if you have any derogatory remarks to make about Miss Mariner, keep
them where they belong--_there!_" He prodded the other sharply in the
stomach. He was smiling pleasantly, but the stage director, catching
his eye, decided that his advice was good and should be followed. It
is just as bad for the home if the head of the family gets his neck
broken as if he succumbs to apoplexy.

"You surely aren't on their side?" he said.

"Me!" said Wally. "Of course I am. I'm always on the side of the
down-trodden and oppressed. If you know of a dirtier trick than
firing a girl just before the opening, so that they won't have to pay
her two weeks' salary, mention it. Till you do, I'll go on believing
that it is the limit. Of course I'm on the girls' side. I'll make
them a speech if they want me to, or head the procession with a
banner if they are going to parade down the boardwalk. I'm for 'em,
Father Abraham, a hundred thousand strong. And then a few! If you
want my considered opinion, our old friend Goble has asked for it and
got it. And I'm glad--glad--glad, if you don't mind my quoting
Pollyanna for a moment. I hope it chokes him!"

"You'd better not let him hear you talking like that!"

"An contraire, as we say in the Gay City, I'm going to make a point
of letting him hear me talk like that! Adjust the impression that I
fear any Goble in shining armor, because I don't. I propose to speak
my mind to him. I would beard him in his lair, if he had a beard.
Well, I'll clean-shave him in his lair. That will be just as good.
But hist! whom have we here? Tell me, do you see the same thing I
see?"

Like the vanguard of a defeated army, Mr Saltzburg was coming
dejectedly across the stage.

"Well?" said the stage-director.

"They would not listen to me," said Mr Saltzburg brokenly. "The more
I talked, the more they did not listen!" He winced at a painful
memory. "Miss Trevor stole my baton, and then they all lined up and
sang the 'Star-Spangled Banner'!"

"Not the words?" cried Wally incredulously. "Don't tell me they knew
the words!"

"Mr Miller is still up there, arguing with them. But it will be of no
use. What shall we do?" asked Mr Saltzburg helplessly. "We ought to
have rung up half an hour ago. What shall we do-oo-oo?"

"We must go and talk to Goble," said Wally. "Something has got to be
settled quick. When I left, the audience was getting so impatient
that I thought he was going to walk out on us. He's one of those
nasty, determined-looking men. So come along!"

Mr Goble, intercepted as he was about to turn for another walk
up-stage, eyed the deputation sourly and put the same question that
the stage director had put to Mr Saltzburg.

"Well?"

Wally came briskly to the point.

"You'll have to give in," he said, "or else go and make a speech to
the audience, the burden of which will be that they can have their
money back by applying at the box-office. These Joans of Arc have got
you by the short hairs!"

"I won't give in!"

"Then give out!" said Wally. "Or pay out, if you prefer it. Trot
along and tell the audience that the four dollars fifty in the house
will be refunded."

Mr Goble gnawed his cigar.

"I've been in the show business fifteen years . . ."

"I know. And this sort of thing has never happened to you before. One
gets new experiences."

Mr Goble cocked his cigar at a fierce angle, and glared at Wally.
Something told him that Wally's sympathies were not wholly with him.

"They can't do this sort of thing to me," he growled.

"Well, they are doing it to someone, aren't they," said Wally, "and,
if it's not you, who is it?"

"I've a damned good mind to fire them all!"

"A corking idea! I can't see a single thing wrong with it except that
it would hang up the production for another five weeks and lose you
your bookings and cost you a week's rent of this theatre for nothing
and mean having all the dresses made over and lead to all your
principals going off and getting other jobs. These trifling things
apart, we may call the suggestion a bright one."

"You talk too damn much!" said Mr Goble, eyeing him with distaste.

"Well, go on, _you say something. Something sensible."

"It is a very serious situation . . ." began the stage director.

"Oh, shut up!" said Mr Goble.

The stage director subsided into his collar.

"I cannot play the overture again," protested Mr Saltzburg. "I
cannot!"

At this point Mr Miller appeared. He was glad to see Mr Goble. He had
been looking for him, for he had news to impart.

"The girls," said Mr Miller, "have struck! They won't go on!"

Mr Goble, with the despairing gesture of one who realizes the
impotence of words, dashed off for his favorite walk up stage. Wally
took out his watch.

"Six seconds and a bit," he said approvingly, as the manager
returned. "A very good performance. I should like to time you over
the course in running-kit."

The interval for reflection, brief as it had been, had apparently
enabled Mr Goble to come to a decision.

"Go," he said to the stage director, "and tell 'em that fool of a
D'Arcy girl can play. We've got to get that curtain up."

"Yes, Mr Goble."

The stage director galloped off.

"Get back to your place," said the manager to Mr Saltzburg, "and play
the overture again."

"Again!"

"Perhaps they didn't hear it the first two times," said Wally.

Mr Goble watched Mr Saltzburg out of sight. Then he turned to Wally.

"That damned Mariner girl was at the bottom of this! She started the
whole thing! She told me so. Well, I'll settle _her! She goes
tomorrow!"

"Wait a minute," said Wally. "Wait one minute! Bright as it is, that
idea is _out!_"

"What the devil has it got to do with you?"

"Only this, that, if you fire Miss Mariner, I take that neat script
which I've prepared and I tear it into a thousand fragments. Or nine
hundred. Anyway, I tear it. Miss Manner opens in New York, or I pack
up my work and leave."

Mr Goble's green eyes glowed.

"Oh, you're stuck on her, are you?" he sneered. "I see!"

"Listen, dear heart," said Wally, gripping the manager's arm, "I can
see that you are on the verge of introducing personalities into this
very pleasant little chat. Resist the impulse! Why not let your spine
stay where it is instead of having it kicked up through your hat?
Keep to the main issue. Does Miss Mariner open in New York or does
she lot?"

There was a tense silence. Mr Goble permitted himself a swift review
of his position. He would have liked to do many things to Wally,
beginning with ordering him out of the theatre, but prudence
restrained him. He wanted Wally's work. He needed Wally in his
business: and, in the theatre, business takes precedence of personal
feelings.

"All right!" he growled reluctantly.

"That's a promise," said Wally. "I'll see that you keep it." He
looked over his shoulder. The stage was filled with gayly-colored
dresses. The mutineers had returned to duty. "Well, I'll be getting
along. I'm rather sorry we agreed to keep clear of personalities,
because I should have liked to say that, if ever they have a
skunk-show at Madison Square Garden, you ought to enter--and win the
blue ribbon. Still, of course, under our agreement my lips are
sealed, and I can't even hint at it. Good-bye. See you later, I
suppose?"

Mr Goble, giving a creditable imitation of a living statue, was
plucked from his thoughts by a hand upon his arm. It was Mr Miller,
whose unfortunate ailment had prevented him from keeping abreast of
the conversation.

"What did he say?" enquired Mr Miller, interested. "I didn't hear
what he said!"

Mr Goble made no effort to inform him.

Content of CHAPTER SIXTEEN (P G Wodehouse's novel: The Little Warrior)

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