The, to Carrie, very important theatrical performance was to take place at the Avery on conditions which were to make it more noteworthy than was at first anticipated. The little dramatic student had written to Hurstwood the very morning her part was brought her that she was going to take part in a play.
"I really am," she wrote, feeling that he might take it as a jest; "I have my part now, honest, truly."
Hurstwood smiled in an indulgent way as he read this.
"I wonder what it is going to be? I must see that."
He answered at once, making a pleasant reference to her ability. "I haven't the slightest doubt you will make a success. You must come to the park to-morrow morning and tell me all about it."
Carrie gladly complied, and revealed all the details of the undertaking as she understood it.
"Well," he said, "that's fine. I'm glad to hear it. Of course, you will do well, you're so clever."
He had truly never seen so much spirit in the girl before. Her tendency to discover a touch of sadness had for the nonce disappeared. As she spoke her eyes were bright, her cheeks red. She radiated much of the pleasure which her undertakings gave her. For all her misgivings—and they were as plentiful as the moments of the day—she was still happy. She could not repress her delight in doing this little thing which, to an ordinary observer, had no importance at all.
Hurstwood was charmed by the development of the fact that the girl had capabilities. There is nothing so inspiring in life as the sight of a legitimate ambition, no matter how incipient. It gives colour, force, and beauty to the possessor.
Carrie was now lightened by a touch of this divine afflatus. She drew to herself commendation from her two admirers which she had not earned. Their affection for her naturally heightened their perception of what she was trying to do and their approval of what she did. Her inexperience conserved her own exuberant fancy, which ran riot with every straw of opportunity, making of it a golden divining rod whereby the treasure of life was to be discovered.
"Let's see," said Hurstwood, "I ought to know some of the boys in the lodge. I'm an Elk myself."
"Oh, you mustn't let him know I told you."
"That's so," said the manager.
"I'd like for you to be there, if you want to come, but I don't see how you can unless he asks you."
"I'll be there," said Hurstwood affectionately. "I can fix it so he won't know you told me. You leave it to me."
This interest of the manager was a large thing in itself for the performance, for his standing among the Elks was something worth talking about. Already he was thinking of a box with some friends, and flowers for Carrie. He would make it a dress-suit affair and give the little girl a chance.
Within a day or two, Drouet dropped into the Adams Street resort, and he was at once spied by Hurstwood. It was at five in the afternoon and the place was crowded with merchants, actors, managers, politicians, a goodly company of rotund, rosy figures, silk-hatted, starchy-bosomed, beringed and bescarfpinned to the queen's taste. John L. Sullivan, the pugilist, was at one end of the glittering bar, surrounded by a company of loudly dressed sports, who were holding a most animated conversation. Drouet came across the floor with a festive stride, a new pair of tan shoes squeaking audibly at his progress.
"Well, sir," said Hurstwood, "I was wondering what had become of you. I thought you had gone out of town again."
"If you don't report more regularly we'll have to cut you off the list."
"Couldn't help it," said the drummer, "I've been busy."
They strolled over toward the bar amid the noisy, shifting company of notables. The dressy manager was shaken by the hand three times in as many minutes.
"I hear your lodge is going to give a performance," observed Hurstwood, in the most offhand manner.
"Yes, who told you?"
"No one," said Hurstwood. "They just sent me a couple of tickets, which I can have for two dollars. Is it going to be any good?"
"I don't know," replied the drummer. "They've been trying to get me to get some woman to take a part."
"I wasn't intending to go," said the manager easily. "I'll subscribe, of course. How are things over there?"
"All right. They're going to fit things up out of the proceeds."
"Well," said the manager, "I hope they make a success of it. Have another?"
He did not intend to say any more. Now, if he should appear on the scene with a few friends, he could say that he had been urged to come along. Drouet had a desire to wipe out the possibility of confusion.
"I think the girl is going to take a part in it," he said abruptly, after thinking it over.
"You don't say so! How did that happen?"
"Well, they were short and wanted me to find them some one. I told Carrie, and she seems to want to try."
"Good for her," said the manager. "It'll be a real nice affair. Do her good, too. Has she ever had any experience?"
"Not a bit."
"Oh, well, it isn't anything very serious."
"She's clever, though," said Drouet, casting off any imputation against Carrie's ability. "She picks up her part quick enough."
"You don't say so!" said the manager.
"Yes, sir; she surprised me the other night. By George, if she didn't."
"We must give her a nice little send-off," said the manager. "I'll look after the flowers."
Drouet smiled at his good-nature.
"After the show you must come with me and we'll have a little supper."
"I think she'll do all right," said Drouet.
"I want to see her. She's got to do all right. We'll make her," and the manager gave one of his quick, steely half-smiles, which was a compound of good-nature and shrewdness.
Carrie, meanwhile, attended the first rehearsal. At this performance Mr. Quincel presided, aided by Mr. Millice, a young man who had some qualifications of past experience, which were not exactly understood by any one. He was so experienced and so business-like, however, that he came very near being rude—failing to remember, as he did, that the individuals he was trying to instruct were volunteer players and not salaried underlings.
"Now, Miss Madenda," he said, addressing Carrie, who stood in one part uncertain as to what move to make, "you don't want to stand like that. Put expression in your face. Remember, you are troubled over the intrusion of the stranger. Walk so," and he struck out across the Avery stage in almost drooping manner.
Carrie did not exactly fancy the suggestion, but the novelty of the situation, the presence of strangers, all more or less nervous, and the desire to do anything rather than make a failure, made her timid. She walked in imitation of her mentor as requested, inwardly feeling that there was something strangely lacking.
"Now, Mrs. Morgan," said the director to one young married woman who was to take the part of Pearl, "you sit here. Now, Mr. Bamberger, you stand here, so. Now, what is it you say?"
"Explain," said Mr. Bamberger feebly. He had the part of Ray, Laura's lover, the society individual who was to waver in his thoughts of marrying her, upon finding that she was a waif and a nobody by birth.
"How is that—what does your text say?"
"Explain," repeated Mr. Bamberger, looking intently at his part.
"Yes, but it also says," the director remarked, "that you are to look shocked. Now, say it again, and see if you can't look shocked."
"Explain!" demanded Mr. Bamberger vigorously.
"No, no, that won't do! Say it this way—EXPLAIN."
"Explain," said Mr. Bamberger, giving a modified imitation.
"That's better. Now go on."
"One night," resumed Mrs. Morgan, whose lines came next, "father and mother were going to the opera. When they were crossing Broadway, the usual crowd of children accosted them for alms—"
"Hold on," said the director, rushing forward, his arm extended. "Put more feeling into what you are saying."
Mrs. Morgan looked at him as if she feared a personal assault. Her eye lightened with resentment.
"Remember, Mrs. Morgan," he added, ignoring the gleam, but modifying his manner, "that you're detailing a pathetic story. You are now supposed to be telling something that is a grief to you. It requires feeling, repression, thus: 'The usual crowd of children accosted them for alms.'"
"All right," said Mrs. Morgan.
"Now, go on."
"As mother felt in her pocket for some change, her fingers touched a cold and trembling hand which had clutched her purse."
"Very good," interrupted the director, nodding his head significantly.
"A pickpocket! Well!" exclaimed Mr. Bamberger, speaking the lines that here fell to him.
"No, no, Mr. Bamberger," said the director, approaching, "not that way. 'A pickpocket—well?' so. That's the idea."
"Don't you think," said Carrie weakly, noticing that it had not been proved yet whether the members of the company knew their lines, let alone the details of expression, "that it would be better if we just went through our lines once to see if we know them? We might pick up some points."
"A very good idea, Miss Madenda," said Mr. Quincel, who sat at the side of the stage, looking serenely on and volunteering opinions which the director did not heed.
"All right," said the latter, somewhat abashed, "it might be well to do it." Then brightening, with a show of authority, "Suppose we run right through, putting in as much expression as we can."
"Good," said Mr. Quincel.
"This hand," resumed Mrs. Morgan, glancing up at Mr. Bamberger and down at her book, as the lines proceeded, "my mother grasped in her own, and so tight that a small, feeble voice uttered an exclamation of pain. Mother looked down, and there beside her was a little ragged girl."
"Very good," observed the director, now hopelessly idle.
"The thief!" exclaimed Mr. Bamberger.
"Louder," put in the director, finding it almost impossible to keep his hands off.
"The thief!" roared poor Bamberger.
"Yes, but a thief hardly six years old, with a face like an angel's. 'Stop,' said my mother. 'What are you doing?'
"'Trying to steal,' said the child.
"'Don't you know that it is wicked to do so?' asked my father.
"'No,' said the girl, 'but it is dreadful to be hungry.'
"'Who told you to steal?' asked my mother.
"'She—there,' said the child, pointing to a squalid woman in a doorway opposite, who fled suddenly down the street. 'That is old Judas,' said the girl."
Mrs. Morgan read this rather flatly, and the director was in despair. He fidgeted around, and then went over to Mr. Quincel.
"What do you think of them?" he asked.
"Oh, I guess we'll be able to whip them into shape," said the latter, with an air of strength under difficulties.
"I don't know," said the director. "That fellow Bamberger strikes me as being a pretty poor shift for a lover."
"He's all we've got," said Quincel, rolling up his eyes. "Harrison went back on me at the last minute. Who else can we get?"
"I don't know," said the director. "I'm afraid he'll never pick up."
At this moment Bamberger was exclaiming, "Pearl, you are joking with me." "Look at that now," said the director, whispering behind his hand. "My Lord! what can you do with a man who drawls out a sentence like that?"
"Do the best you can," said Quincel consolingly.
The rendition ran on in this wise until it came to where Carrie, as Laura, comes into the room to explain to Ray, who, after hearing Pearl's statement about her birth, had written the letter repudiating her, which, however, he did not deliver. Bamberger was just concluding the words of Ray, "I must go before she returns. Her step! Too late," and was cramming the letter in his pocket, when she began sweetly with:
"Miss—Miss Courtland," Bamberger faltered weakly.
Carrie looked at him a moment and forgot all about the company present. She began to feel the part, and summoned an indifferent smile to her lips, turning as the lines directed and going to a window, as if he were not present. She did it with a grace which was fascinating to look upon.
"Who is that woman?" asked the director, watching Carrie in her little scene with Bamberger.
"Miss Madenda," said Quincel.
"I know her name," said the director, "but what does she do?"
"I don't know," said Quincel. "She's a friend of one of our members."
"Well, she's got more gumption than any one I've seen here so far—seems to take an interest in what she's doing."
"Pretty, too, isn't she?" said Quincel.
The director strolled away without answering.
In the second scene, where she was supposed to face the company in the ball-room, she did even better, winning the smile of the director, who volunteered, because of her fascination for him, to come over and speak with her.
"Were you ever on the stage?" he asked insinuatingly.
"No," said Carrie.
"You do so well, I thought you might have had some experience."
Carrie only smiled consciously.
He walked away to listen to Bamberger, who was feebly spouting some ardent line.
Mrs. Morgan saw the drift of things and gleamed at Carrie with envious and snapping black eyes.
"She's some cheap professional," she gave herself the satisfaction of thinking, and scorned and hated her accordingly.
The rehearsal ended for one day, and Carrie went home feeling that she had acquitted herself satisfactorily. The words of the director were ringing in her ears, and she longed for an opportunity to tell Hurstwood. She wanted him to know just how well she was doing. Drouet, too, was an object for her confidences. She could hardly wait until he should ask her, and yet she did not have the vanity to bring it up. The drummer, however, had another line of thought to-night, and her little experience did not appeal to him as important. He let the conversation drop, save for what she chose to recite without solicitation, and Carrie was not good at that. He took it for granted that she was doing very well and he was relieved of further worry. Consequently he threw Carrie into repression, which was irritating. She felt his indifference keenly and longed to see Hurstwood. It was as if he were now the only friend she had on earth. The next morning Drouet was interested again, but the damage had been done.
She got a pretty letter from the manager, saying that by the time she got it he would be waiting for her in the park. When she came, he shone upon her as the morning sun.
"Well, my dear," he asked, "how did you come out?"
"Well enough," she said, still somewhat reduced after Drouet.
"Now, tell me just what you did. Was it pleasant?"
Carrie related the incidents of the rehearsal, warming up as she proceeded.
"Well, that's delightful," said Hurstwood. "I'm so glad. I must get over there to see you. When is the next rehearsal?"
"Tuesday," said Carrie, "but they don't allow visitors."
"I imagine I could get in," said Hurstwood significantly.
She was completely restored and delighted by his consideration, but she made him promise not to come around.
"Now, you must do your best to please me," he said encouragingly. "Just remember that I want you to succeed. We will make the performance worth while. You do that now."
"I'll try," said Carrie, brimming with affection and enthusiasm.
"That's the girl," said Hurstwood fondly. "Now, remember," shaking an affectionate finger at her, "your best."
"I will," she answered, looking back.
The whole earth was brimming sunshine that morning. She tripped along, the clear sky pouring liquid blue into her soul. Oh, blessed are the children of endeavour in this, that they try and are hopeful. And blessed also are they who, knowing, smile and approve.