Classic Vintage Books. The Leading Lady. 1926 Classic Vintage Books. The Leading Lady. 1926

Classic Vintage Books. The Leading Lady. 1926

2023 Edition

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The

LEADING LADY


PROLOGUE

One of the morning trains that tap the little towns along the Sound ran into the Grand Central Depot. It was very hot in the lower levels of the station and the passengers, few in number—for it was midsummer and people were going out of town, not coming in—filed stragglingly up the long platform to the exit. One of them was a girl, fair and young, with those distinctive attributes of good looks and style that drew men’s eyes to her face and women’s to her clothes.

People watched her as she followed the porter carrying her suit-case, noting the lithe grace of her movements, her delicate slimness, the froth of blonde hair that curled out under the brim of her hat. She appeared oblivious to the interest she aroused and this indifference had once been natural, for to be looked at and admired had been her normal right and become a stale experience. Now it was assumed, an armor under which she sought protection, hid herself from morbid curiosity and eagerly observing eyes. To be pointed out as Sybil Saunders, the actress, was a very different thing from being pointed out as Sybil Saunders, the fiancée of James Dallas of the Dallas-Parkinson case.

The Dallas-Parkinson case had been a sensation three months back. James Dallas, a well-known actor, had killed Homer Parkinson during a quarrel in a man’s club, struck him on the head with a brass candlestick, and fled before the horrified onlookers could collect their senses. Dallas, a man of excellent character, had had many friends who claimed mitigating circumstances—Parkinson, drunk and brutal, had provoked the assault. But the Parkinson clan, new-rich oil people, breathing vengeance, had risen to the cause of their kinsman, poured out money in an effort to bring the fugitive to justice, and offered a reward

[Pg 13]

 of ten thousand dollars for his arrest. Of course Sybil Saunders had figured in the investigation, she was the betrothed of the murderer, their marriage had been at hand. She had gone through hours of questioning, relentless grilling, and had steadily maintained her ignorance of Dallas’ whereabouts; from the night of his disappearance she had heard nothing from him and knew nothing of him. The Parkinsons did not believe her statement, the police were uncertain.

As she walked toward the exit she carried a newspaper in her hand. Other people in the train had left theirs in their seats, but she, after a glance at the head-lines, had folded hers and laid it in her lap. Three seats behind her on the opposite side of the aisle she had noticed a man—had met his eyes as her own swept back carelessly over the car—and it was then that she had laid the paper down and looked out of the window. Under the light film of rouge on her cheeks a natural color had arisen. She had known he would be there but was startled to find him so close.

[Pg 14]

Now as she moved across the shining spaciousness of the lower-level waiting-room she stole a quick glance backward. He was following, mounting the incline. It was the man who had gone up with her on Friday. She had been out of town several times lately on week-end visits and one of them was always on the train. Sometimes it was a new one but she had become familiar with the type.

She knew he was behind her at the taxi stand as she gave the address in a loud voice. But he probably would disappear now; in the city they generally let her alone. It was only when she left town that they were always on hand, keeping their eye on her, ready to follow if she should try to slip away.

The taxi rolled out into the sweltering heat; incandescent streets roaring under the blinding glare of the sun. Her destination was the office of Stroud & Walberg, theatrical managers, and here in his opulent office set in aerial heights above the sweating city, Mr. Walberg offered 

[Pg 15]

her a friendly hand and a chair. Mr. Walberg, a kindly Hebrew, was kindlier than ever to this particular visitor. He was sorry for her—as who in his profession was not—and wanted to help her along and here was his proposition:

A committee of ladies, a high-society bunch summering up in Maine, wanted to give a play for charity. They’d got the chance to do something out of the ordinary, for Thomas N. Driscoll, the spool-cotton magnate who was in California, had offered them his place up there—Gull Island was the name—for an outdoor performance. Mr. Walberg, who had never seen it, enlarged on its attractions as if he had been trying to make a sale—a whole island, just off the mainland, magnificent mansion to be turned over to the company, housekeeper installed. The crowning touch was an open-air amphitheater, old Roman effect, tiers of stone seats, said to be one of the most artistic things of its kind in the country. The ladies had wanted a classic which Mr. Walberg opined was all right seeing the show was for charity,

[Pg 16]

 and people could stand being bored for a worthy object. Twelfth Night was the play they had selected, and as that kind of stage called for no scenery one thing would go as well as another.

The ladies had placed the matter in Mr. Walberg’s hands, and he had at once thought of Sybil Saunders for Viola. She had played the part through the provinces, made a hit and was in his opinion the ideal person. There was a persuasive, almost coaxing quality in his manner, not his usual manner with rising young actresses. But, as has been said, he was a kindly man, and had heard that Sybil Saunders was knocked out, couldn’t get the heart to work; also, as she was a young person of irreproachable character, he inferred she must be hard up. That brought him to compensation—not so munificent, but then Miss Saunders was not yet in the star class—and all expenses would be covered, including a week at Gull Island. This opportunity to dwell in the seats of the mighty, free of cost, with sea air and scenery thrown in, Mr. Walberg held before her as the final temptation.

[Pg 17]

He had no need for further persuasion for Miss Saunders accepted at once. She was grateful to him and said so and looked as if she meant it. He felt the elation of a good work done for the charitable ladies—they could get no one as capable as Sybil Saunders for the price—and for the girl herself whose best hope was to get back into harness. So, in a glow of mutual satisfaction, they walked to the door, Mr. Walberg telling over such members of the cast as had already been engaged: Sylvanus Grey for the Duke, Isabel Cornell for Maria, John Gordon Trevor for Sir Toby—no one could beat him, had the old English tradition—and Anne Tracy for Olivia. At that name Miss Saunders had exclaimed in evident pleasure. Anne Tracy would be perfect, and it would be so lovely having her, they were such friends. Mr. Walberg nodded urbanely as if encouraging the friendships of young actresses was his dearest wish, and at the door put the coping stone on these agreeable announcements:

“And I’m going to give you my best director, 

[Pg 18]

Hugh Bassett. If with you and him they don’t pull off a success the Maine public’s dumber than I thought.”

Later in the day he saw his director and told him of Miss Saunders’ engagement.

“Poor little thing,” he said. “She looks like one of those vegetables they grow in the dark to keep ’em white. But it’ll be the saving of her. Now you go ahead and get this started—three weeks rehearsal here and one up there ought to do you. And keep me informed—if any of these swell dames turn up asking questions, I want to know where I’m at.”

Her business accomplished, Miss Saunders went home. She lived in one of those mid-town blocks of old brownstone houses divided into flats. The flats were of the variety known as “push button” and “walk up,” but she pushed no button as she knew hers would be tenantless. Letting herself in with a latchkey she ascended the two flights at a rapid run, unlocked her door and entered upon the hot empty quietude of her own domain. 

[Pg 19]

The blinds in the parlor were lowered as she had left them. She pulled one up with a nervous jerk, threw her hat on a chair, and falling upon the divan opened the paper that she had carried since she left the Grand Central Station.

The news of the day evidently had no interest for her. She folded the pages back at the personal column and settled over it, bent, motionless, her eyes traveling down its length. Suddenly they stopped, focussed on a paragraph. She rose and with swift, tiptoe tread went into the hall and tried the front door. Coming back she took a pad and pencil from the desk, drew a small table up to the divan, spread the newspaper on it, and copied the paragraph on to the pad. It ran as follows:

“Sister Carrie:

Edmund stoney broke but Albert able to help him. Think we ought to chip in. Can a date be arranged for discussing his affairs?

Sam and Lewis.”

She studied it for some time, the pencil suspended.

[Pg 20]

 Then it descended, crossing out letter after letter, till three words remained—“Edmunton, Alberta, Canada.” The signature she guessed as the name he went by.

She burned the written paper, grinding it to powder in the ash-tray. The newspaper she threw into the waste-basket where Luella, the mulatto woman who “did up” for her, would find it in the morning. She felt certain Luella was paid to watch her, that the woman had a pass-key to the mail-box and every torn scrap of letter or note was foraged for and handed on. But she had continued to keep the evil-eyed creature, fearful that her dismissal would make them more than ever wary, strengthen their suspicion that Sybil Saunders was in communication with her lover.

The deadly danger of it was cold at her heart as she lay back on the divan and closed her eyes. Through her shut lids she saw the paragraph with the words of the address standing out like the writing on the wall. She had heard directly from him once, a letter the day after he had fled; the 

[Pg 21]

only one that even he, reckless in his despair, had dared to send. In that he had told her to watch the personal column in a certain paper and had given her the names by which she could identify the paragraphs. She had watched and twice found the veiled message and twice waited in sickening fear for discovery. It had not happened. Now he had grown bolder, telling her where he was—it was as if his hand beckoned her to come. She could write to him at last, do it this evening and take it out after dark. Lying very still, her hands clasped behind her head, she ran over in her mind letter-boxes, post-offices where she might mail it. Were the ones in crowded districts or those in secluded byways, the safest? It was like walking through grasses where live wires were hidden.

A ring at the bell made her leap to her feet with wild visions of detectives. But it was only Anne Tracy, come in to see if she was back from her visit on the Sound. It was a comfort to see Anne, she always acted as if things were just as they 

[Pg 22]

had been and never asked disturbing questions. In the wilting heat she looked cool and fresh, her dress of yellow linen, her straw hat encircled by a wreath of nasturtiums had the dainty neatness that always marked Anne’s clothes and Anne herself. She was pale-skinned and black-haired, satin-smooth hair drawn back from her forehead and rolled up from the nape of her neck in an ebony curve. Because her eyebrows slanted upward at the ends and her eyes were long and liquid-dark and her nose had the slightest retroussé tilt, people said she looked like a Helleu etching. And other people, who were more old-fashioned and did not know what a Helleu etching was, said she looked like a lady.

She was Sybil’s best friend, was to have been her bridesmaid. But she knew no more of Sybil’s secrets since Jim Dallas had disappeared than any one else. And she never sought to know—that was why the friendship held.

They had a great deal to talk about, but chiefly the Twelfth Night affair. Anne was immensely

[Pg 23]

 pleased that Sybil had agreed to play. She did not say this—she avoided any allusions to Sybil’s recent conducting of her life—but her enthusiasm about it all was irresistible. It warmed the sad-eyed girl into interest; the Viola costume was brought from its cupboard, the golden wig tried on. When Anne took her departure late in the day, after iced tea and layer cake in the kitchenette, she felt much relieved about her friend—she was “coming back,” coming alive again, and this performance off in the country, far from her old associations, was just the way for her to start.

Anne occupied another little flat on another of the mid-town streets in another of the brownstone houses. Hers was one room larger, for her brother, Joe Tracy, lived with her when not pursuing his profession on the road. There were hiatuses in Joe’s pursuit during which he inhabited a small bedroom in the rear and caused Ann a great deal of worry and expense. Joe apparently did not worry, certainly not about the expense.

[Pg 24]

 Absence of work wore on his temper not because Anne had to carry the flat alone, but because he had no spending money.

They said it was his temper that stood in his way. Something did, for he was an excellent actor with that power of transforming himself into an empty receptacle to be filled by the character he portrayed. But directors who had had experience of him, talked about his “natural meanness” and shook their heads. When his name was mentioned it had become the fashion to add a follow-up sentence: “Seems impossible the same parents could have produced him and Anne.” People who tried to be sympathetic with Anne about him got little satisfaction. All the most persistent ever extracted was an admission that Joe was “difficult.” No one—not even Sybil or Hugh Bassett—ever heard what she felt about the fight he had had with another boy over a game of pool which had nearly landed him in the Elmira Reformatory. Bassett had dragged him out of that, and Bassett had found him work afterward, and Bassett had boosted and helped and lectured 

[Pg 25]

him since. And not for love of Joe, for in his heart Bassett thought him a pretty hopeless proposition.

That evening, alone in her parlor, Anne was thinking about him. He had no engagement and no expectation of one, and it was not wise to leave him alone in the flat without occupation. “Satan” and “the idle hands” was a proverb that came to your mind in connection with Joe. She went to the window and leaned out. The air rose from the street, breathless and dead, the heated exhalation of walls and pavements baked all day by the merciless sun. Passers-by moved languidly with a sound of dragging feet. At areaways red-faced women sat limp in loose clothing, and from open windows came the crying of tired little children. To leave Joe to this while she was basking in the delights of Gull Island—apart from anything he might do—it wasn’t fair. And then suddenly the expression of her face changed and she drew in from the window—Hugh Bassett was coming down the street.

The bell rang, she pushed the button and presently

[Pg 26]

 he was at the door saying he was passing and thought he’d drop in for a minute. He was a big thick-set man with a quiet reposeful quality unshaken even by the heat. It was difficult to think of Bassett shaken by any exterior accident of life, so suggestive was his whole make-up of a sustained equilibrium, a balanced adjustment of mental and physical forces. He had dropped in a great deal this summer and as the droppings-in became more frequent Anne’s outside engagements became less. They always simulated a mutual surprise, giving them time to get over that somewhat breathless moment of meeting.

They achieved it rather better than usual to-night for their minds were full of the same subject. Bassett had come to impart the good news about Sybil, and Anne had seen her and heard all about it. There was a great deal of talking to be done that was impersonal and during which one forgot to be self-conscious. Finally when they had threshed out all the matters of first importance Bassett said:

[Pg 27]

“Did you tell her that Walberg wanted Aleck Stokes for the Duke?”

“No, I didn’t say a word about it. What was the use? It would only have upset her and you’d put a stop to it.”

“You can always be relied on, Anne, to do the tactful thing. Walberg was set on it. Stokes can’t be beaten in that part and he’s at liberty. But I wasn’t going to take any chances of her refusing, and if Stokes was in the company I was afraid she might.”

“I don’t know whether she’d have gone that far, but it would have spoiled everything for her and for the rest of us too. It’s all plain sailing now except for one thing”—she stopped and then in answer to his questioning look—“about the police. If they have her under surveillance, as people say, what’ll they do about it up there?”

The big man shrugged:

“Camp in the village on the mainland—they certainly can’t come on the island. We’ve special instructions about it—no one but the company to 

[Pg 28]

be allowed there till the performance. Did she speak to you about that?”

“No, she hardly ever alludes to the subject. But they would keep a watch on her, wouldn’t they?”

He nodded, frowning a little at a complication new in his experience:

“I should think so—a woman in her position. Men under sentence of death have been unable to keep away from the girl they were in love with. And then she may know where he is, be in communication with him.”

“Oh, I don’t think that,” Anne breathed in alarm. “She’d never take such a risk.”

“Well, we’re her friends and we’re as much in the dark as anybody. I only know one thing—if they try to hound her down on that island—the first chance she’s had to recuperate and rest—I’ll—”

A slight grating noise came from the hall. Anne held up a quick cautioning hand.

“Take care,” she murmured. “Here’s Joe.”

[Pg 29]

Joe came in, his Panama hat low on his brow. He gave no sign of greeting till he saw Bassett, then he emitted an abrupt “Hello” and snatched off the hat:

“Little Anne’s got a caller. Howdy, Bassett! How’s things?”

There was a jovial note in his voice, a wide grin of greeting on his face. It was evident the sight of Bassett pleased him, and he stood teetering back and forth on his toes and heels, looking ingratiatingly at the visitor. He was like Anne, the same delicate features, the same long eyebrows and the same trick of raising them till they curved high on his forehead. But his face had an elfish, almost malign quality lacking in hers, and the brown eyes, brilliant and hard, were set too close to his nose. He was two years younger than she—twenty-two—but looked older, immeasurably older, in the baser worldly knowledge which had already set its stamp upon him.

He launched forth with a suggestion of pouncing eagerness on the Twelfth Night performance. 

[Pg 30]

He had heard this and that, and Anne had told him the other. His interest surprised Anne, he hadn’t shown much to her; only a few laconic questions. And she was wondering what was in his mind, as she so often wondered when Joe held the floor, when a question enlightened her:

“Have you got anybody to play Sebastian yet?”

“No. I wanted that boy who played with her on the southern tour last year, but he’s in England. He gave a first-rate performance and he did look like her.”

“That was a lucky chance. You’ll search the whole profession before you get any one that looks like Sybil’s twin brother.”

“He ought to bear some resemblance to her,” and Bassett quoted, “‘One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons.’ I wonder if Shakespeare had twins in his eye when he wrote the play.”

“Not he! They did the same in his day as they do now—dressed ’em up alike and let it go at that. Why, Mrs. Gawtrey, the English actress, when 

[Pg 31]

she was over here, had a boy to play Sebastian who looked as much like her—well, not as much as I look like Sybil.”

Bassett had seen his object as Anne had and was considering. He had been looking forward to the week at Gull Island with Anne, it loomed in his imagination as a festival. There would be a pleasant, companionable group of people, friendly, working well together. But Joe among them——

The boy, looking down at his feet, said slowly:

“What’s the matter with letting me do it?”

“Nothing’s the matter. I’ve no doubt you could, but you and she have about as much resemblance as chalk and cheese.”

Joe wheeled and gathering his coat neatly about his waist walked across the room with a mincing imitation of Sybil’s gait. It was so well done that Bassett could not contain his laughter. Encouraged, the boy assumed a combative attitude, his face aflame with startled anger, and striking out, at imaginary opponents, shouted: 

[Pg 32]

“‘Why there’s for thee, and there and there and there. Are all the people mad?’” Then as suddenly melted to a lover’s tone and looking ardently at Anne said: “‘If it be thus to dream then let me sleep.’”

“Oh, he could play it,” she exclaimed, and Bassett weakened before the pleading in her eyes.

He understood how to manage Joe, he could keep him in order. The boy was afraid of him anyway, and by this time knew that his future lay pretty well in Bassett’s hands. If there was anything Anne wanted that was within his gift there could be no question about its being hers.

She was very sweet, murmuring her thanks as she went with him to the door and assurances that Joe would acquit himself well. Bassett hardly heard what she said, looking into her dark eyes, feeling the soft farewell pressure of her hand.

Joe had left the sitting-room when she went back there and she supposed he had gone to bed. But presently he came in, his hat on again and said he was going out. She was surprised, it was 

[Pg 33]

past eleven, but he swung about looking for his cane, saying it was too hot to sleep. She tried to detain him with remarks about the new work. He answered shortly as was his wont with her, treating it as a small matter, nothing to get excited about—also a familiar pose. But she noticed under his nonchalance a repressed satisfaction, the glow of an inner elation in his eyes.

GENRE
Fiction & Literature
RELEASED
2022
February 11
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
99
Pages
PUBLISHER
Rectory Print
SELLER
Babafemi Titilayo Olowe
SIZE
9.8
MB

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