TILTING FLOORS

Her glorious Golden Circle; this is what the fellow members of her cast
were coming to be. How different was the atmosphere of this new setting
from that of the old Blackmoore.

“Of course,” she whispered charitably, “the Blackmoore was a horrible
shell of a place. And it is easier to be happy and kind in beautiful
surroundings. And yet I am sure that some of the most wonderful circles
of friendship are found in the west side tenement region.” She was
thinking of the blue-eyed Merry’s Golden Circle.

“Surely their lot is hard enough,” she told herself. “And yet they are
happy in their own little circles.

“What a sad place this grim old city would be,” she philosophized, “if
it were not for the thousands upon thousands of these little golden
circles of friendship we find everywhere! Sometimes it is a group that
meets periodically in a pool room or a drug store. There are tiny club
rooms everywhere. The people who work long days in downtown stores call
one another Mary, Bob and Tom. They, too, are happy as they feel their
tiny golden circle bind them round and round.

“But not one of them all,” she exclaimed loyally, “can boast of a more
wonderful circle than ours!”

She thought of the Junior Ballet, those beautiful, talented young women
who were being trained as her chorus. Their caresses and words of
encouragement on that first night were not flattery. Every day, by
little acts of kindness and courtesy, they proved this. They also
bestowed their affections upon the old trouper, Dan Baker.

“And how I love them for that!” the little French girl said fervently.

“And yet, who would not love him? His gray hair, his brooding blue eyes,
his gentle, kindly manner toward all; how could anyone resist them?”

Soon enough she was to learn that there were those who could resist the
old trouper’s kindly good nature. She was to learn, too, that this
gentle old man held within his heart the courage of a soldier, the will
and the power, if need be, to become a martyr for the right.

It was on that very evening that, as they loafed and talked over tea and
toast in the studio, Dan Baker was called to the telephone, and Petite
Jeanne heard him use language that she had believed quite foreign to his
tongue.

“What’s that?” she heard him say. “A fund for actors? I have subscribed
to the Fund for Aged Actors, yes. Yes. What’s that? Another fund? Five
hundred dollars? Impossible!

“You will!” She saw his face turn red. His hands twisted themselves into
livid knots. “Say, you! I know who you are now. It’s a racket! You’re
trying to shake me down. You’ll never do it! Good-bye!”

He slammed the receiver down on the hook and stood there until the hot
blood drained from his face and left him white as marble. Watching him,
Jeanne saw him totter. Thinking he was about to fall she hurried up to
encircle him with her slender arms.

“What is it, old trouper?” she asked gently.

“It—why, it’s nothing.”

“Please don’t lie to me,” she pleaded. “One has no need to lie to a
friend.”

“Well, then, if you must have it.” On his face a curious smile formed
itself. “There’s a racket been going on in this town for a long time. My
old friend Barney Bobson told me about it.

“You see,” he explained, leading her back to the fire, “most actors are
nervous, temperamental people. They can’t stand suspense, lurking danger
and all that. These crooks, knowing that, have taken to demanding sums
of money for what they term a good cause: The Actors’ Benefit. They are
the only actors benefited, and they are not actors at all, but deep-dyed
villains. They have reaped a harvest.

“But here—” He threw back his shock of gray hair. “Here is one golden
harvest that will never be reaped. I’d rather die. I’m an old man.
What’s a year more or less? How wonderful to go out like a candle;
providing you go for a good cause!”

As Jeanne looked at him it seemed to her that his face was lit with a
strange glory.

“But what will they do?” she asked. “And why do they come to you before
the opera has gone on the stage?”

“They know we have had some advances; can perhaps get others. The opera
may be a failure; at least that’s what they think. Now is the time to
strike.”

“And if you continue to refuse?”

“I may meet them on a dark night. Or—” His face turned gray. “Or they
may kidnap you.”

“Kidnap me?”

“Sometimes villains work through our friends to undo their victims,” he
replied wearily. “You must be very careful. Never go out on the street
without your capable Florence. And never walk when you can use a cab.
So, I think you will be safe.

“There!” he exclaimed, noting the wrinkles in her brow. “I have got you
worrying. Do not think of it again. Those men are cowards. All evil
doers are. We will not hear from them again.”

“No, no! Dear old trouper,” Jeanne said in the gentlest of tones, “I was
not thinking of myself, but of you.

“However,” she added a moment later, “I shall be careful.”

Florence, in her big-hearted way, had given up her work at the
settlement house and, casting her lot with the others, had once more
become the little French girl’s stage “mother” and protector. She also
became the guardian of his Majesty the God of Fire. And it seemed to her
that he was quite as much in need of mothering as his youthful
possessor. For was there not a dark-faced gypsy lurking, as she
sometimes imagined, in every dark corner, ready at any moment to spring
upon her and snatch her strange treasure away?

She had fitted up a Boston bag with a chain, ending in a lock, run
through the leather and clamping the top tight. This she carried when
the ancient God of Fire, in pursuance of his art as a silent actor, was
obliged to make his way from their room to the theatre and back again.
At all other times his Highness continued to remain in hiding in the
hole beneath the floor of the room.

At times Florence thought of the red-faced man, their chance enemy of
Maxwell Street, the one who on that stormy night had apparently ridden
half way across the city in order to take down their street address.

“He’s planning some meanness,” she assured herself. “What it will be
only time can tell.”

When Petite Jeanne told her of the threat made to the old trouper over
the telephone, she redoubled her vigil. They traveled only in taxicabs,
and kept a sharp watch on every occasion. One other change was made by
the stout young guardian. Whenever the gypsy god went with them she
carried beneath her arm a rather heavy, paper-bound package, whose
contents were her secret.

The Grand Opera house became a veritable fairyland of adventure for
Petite Jeanne. In this place and in her own little theatre she felt
herself to be in a place of refuge. There were guards about. Entrance to
the place was only to be gained through long, tortuous ways of red tape
and diplomacy. No dark-faced gypsy, no would-be kidnaper could enter
here. Thus she reasoned and sighed with content. Was she right? We shall
see.

One afternoon, when a brief rehearsal of some small parts was over, not
expecting Florence for a half hour or more, she gathered up her
possession, her precious God of Fire, and tripping down the hallway
arrived before the door that led to the land of magic, the great stage
of the Opera.

Several times she had made her way shyly down this hall to open the door
and peer into the promised land beyond. She had found it to be a place
of magnificent transformations. Now it was a garden, now a castle, now a
village green, and now, reverting to form, it was but a vast empty stage
with a smooth board floor.

It was on this day only a broad space. Not a chair, not a shred of
scenery graced the stage.

“How vast it is!” she whispered, as she looked in. She had been told
that this stage would hold fifteen hundred people.

“What a place to dance all alone!”

The notion tickled her fancy. There was no one about. Slipping silently
through the door, she removed her shoes; then, with the god still under
her arm, she went tripping away to the front center of the stage. There,
having placed her god in position, she drew a long breath and began to
dance.

It was a delicate bit of a fantastic dance she was doing. As she danced
on, with the dark seats gaping at her, the place seemed to come to life.
Every seat was filled. The place was deathly silent. She was nearing the
end of her dance. One moment more—and what then? The thunder of
applause?

So real had this bit of fancy become to her that she clasped her hand to
her heart in wild exultation.

But suddenly for a fraction of time that racing heart stood still.
Something terrible was happening. She all but lost her balance, spun
round, grew suddenly dizzy and barely escaped falling. The end of a
large section of the floor, had risen a foot above the level of the
stage! It was still rising.

Her mind in a whirl, she sprang from the tilting floor to the level
space just beyond.

But horror of horrors! This also began to tilt at a rakish angle. At the
same time she realized in consternation that the Fire God was in danger
of gliding down the section on which he rested and falling into the pit
of inky blackness below.

Risking her own neck, she sprang back to her former position, seized the
god and went dashing away across section after section of madly rocking
floors, to tumble at last into some one’s arms.

This someone was beyond the door in the hallway. Realizing dimly that
only the stage floor and not the whole building was doing an earthquake
act, she gripped her breast to still the wild beating of her heart and
then looked into the face of her protector. Instantly her heart renewed
its racing. The woman who held her tightly clasped was none other than
the one who, in a cape of royal purple and white fox, had sat beside
Solomon and witnessed their rehearsal—Marjory Bryce, the greatest prima
donna the city had ever known. And she was laughing.

“Please forgive me!” she said after her mirth had subsided. “You looked
so much like Liza crossing the ice with the child in her arms.”

“But—but what—” The little French dancer was still confused and
bewildered.

“Don’t you understand, child?” The prima donna’s tone was soft and
kindly as a mother’s. Petite Jeanne loved her for it. “The floor is laid
in sections. Each section may be raised or lowered by lifts beneath it.
That is for making lakes, mountains, great stairways and many other
things. Just now they are making a mountain; just for me. To-night I
sing. Would you like to watch them? Have you time? It is really quite
fascinating.”

“I—I’d love to.”

“Then come. Let us sit right here.” She drew a narrow bench from a
hidden recess. “This section will not be lifted. We may remain here in
safety.”

In an incredibly short time they saw the stage transformed into a giant
stairway. After that, from somewhere far above the stage, dangling from
ropes, various bits of scenery drifted down. Seized by workmen, these
bits were fitted into their places and—

“Behold! Here is magic for you!” exclaimed the prima donna. “Here we
have a mountain.”

As Petite Jeanne moved to the front of the stage she found herself
facing a mountainside with slopes of refreshing green. A winding path
led toward its summit. At the top of the path were the stone steps of a
palace.

“Come,” said her enchantress, “Come to the castle steps and rest with me
for a time.”

As Jeanne followed her up the winding path she felt that she truly must
be in fairyland. “And with such a guide!” she breathed.

“Now,” said the prima donna, drawing her down to a place beside herself,
“we may sit here and tell secrets, or fortunes, or what would you like?”
She laughed a merry laugh.

“Do you know,” she said as her mood changed, “you are really very like
me in many ways? I sing in parts you might take without a make-up. I,
who am very old,” she laughed once more, “I must be made up for them
very much indeed.”

“Oh, no, surely not!” the little French dancer exclaimed. “You are very
young.”

“Thank you, little girl.” The prima donna placed a hand upon her knee.
“None of us wish to grow old. We would remain young forever and ever in
this bright, beautiful and melodious world.

“I saw you dancing here this afternoon,” she went on after a moment’s
silence.

Jeanne started.

“Was it very terrible?”

“Oh, no. It was beautiful, exquisite!” The prima donna’s eyes shone with
a frank truthfulness. Jeanne could not doubt. It made her feel all hot
and cold inside.

“Would you like to dance before all that?” The smiling woman spread her
arms wide. “All those seats filled with people?”

“Oh, yes!” Jeanne caught her breath sharply.

“It is really quite simple,” the lady went on. “You look up at the
people, then you look back at the stage and at the ones who are to act
or sing with you. Then you say: ‘I have only to do it all quite
naturally, as if they, the people in the seats, were not there at all.
If I do that they will be pleased. And when I succeed in doing that,
they like me.’

“So you think you’d enjoy it,” she went on musingly.

“Oh, yes; but—but not yet,” the little girl cried. “Sometime in the
dreamy future. Now I want my own stage in my own sweet little theatre,
and I want to be with just my own little Golden Circle.”

“Brave girl!” The prima donna seized her hand and squeezed it tight.
“You are indeed wise for your years.

“But you said ‘with my own little Golden Circle.’ What is this circle?”

Jeanne explained as best she could.

“My child,” said her illustrious friend, “you have discovered a great
truth. You know the secret of happiness. Or do you? What is it that
makes us happy?”

“Doing things for others.”

“Ah, that is but half of it! You know the rest, but you do not tell me.
The other part is to allow others to do things for you. Doing things for
others and refusing to accept benefits in return is the most selfish
unselfishness the world knows.

“Ah, but your Golden Circle! What a beautiful name!

“Tell me,” she demanded quite suddenly, after a moment of silence, “Do
they say that I am a great prima donna?”

“They tell me,” said Jeanne quite frankly, “that you are the greatest of
all.”

“But they do not tell you that I have a great voice?”

“N—no.” The dancer’s eyes and her tone told her reluctance.

“Ah, no,” the great one sighed, “they will never say that! It would not
be true.

“But if they say I am great,” again her mood changed, “if they say it in
truth, that is because I have always had your Golden Circle in the back
of my poor little head; because I have striven ever and always, not for
my success but for _our_ success—for the success of the whole company,
from the least to the greatest.

“You have learned at a very tender age, my child, that this alone brings
true success and lasting happiness.”

For a time they sat in silence. Changes were taking place all about
them, but the little French girl was not at all conscious of them. She
was wrapped in her own thoughts.

“But what is this curious thing you have at your side?” her companion
asked soberly.

“That? Why—oh, that is the gypsy God of Fire.” Seeing the prima donna’s
eyes light with sudden interest, she went on. “He fell from some planet,
to the land of India. There, beneath the palms, the gypsy folk worshiped
him before they came to Europe. After that they brought him to France.
And now I have him,” she ended quite simply.

“But how did you come into possession of so rare a treasure?”

Jeanne told her.

“But why do you not keep him locked away in a vault?”

“Because without him I cannot do my dances as they should be done. It is
he who inspires me.”

“Ah!” sighed the great one. “I, too, once believed in fairies and
goblins, in angels and curious gods.”

“I shall always believe,” the little French girl whispered.

“You have one good angel in whom you may believe to your heart’s
content. He is a very substantial angel and not very beautiful to look
upon; but he is beautiful inside. And that is all that counts.”

“You mean Mr. Solomon?”

“Yes. I have known him a long time. You are very fortunate.”

“And to think—he is a Jew. I used to believe—”

“Yes, I know. So did most of us believe that Jews had no hearts, that
they were greedy for gold. That is true sometimes; it may be said of any
race. But there are many wonderful men and women of that race. Perhaps
no race has produced so many.”

“Doesn’t it seem strange!” Petite Jeanne mused. “There we are, all
working together, all striving for the success of one thing, our light
opera. And yet we are of many races. Angelo is Italian; Swen a Swede;
Dan Baker very much American; Mr. Solomon is a Jew and he has found me a
very handsome young stage lover who is very English, who has a golden
voice and perfect manners. And poor me, I am all French. So there we
are.”

“Very strange indeed, but quite glorious. When we all learn that races
and names, countries, complexions and tongues do not count, but only the
hearts that beat beneath the jackets of men, then we shall begin to
succeed.”

“Ah, yes! Succeed!” Jeanne’s voice went quite sober again. Unconsciously
she was yielding to influences outside herself. As they sat there on the
stage mountainside a change had been taking place. So gradually had it
come that she had not noticed it. In the beginning, all about them had
been stage daylight, though none the less real. Gradually, moment by
moment shadows had lengthened; the shades of evening had fallen;
darkness was now all but upon them. Only dimly could they discern the
difference between gray paths and green mountainsides.

“Success,” Jeanne murmured once more. “There are times when I feel that
it will come to us. And we all want it so much. We have worked _so_
hard. You know, we tried once before.”

“In the old Blackmoore?”

“Yes. And we failed.”

“Dear child.” The prima donna threw an arm about her waist. “All will be
different this time.

“But look! While we have been talking, twilight, a stage twilight, has
fallen upon us. You did not know, it came so gradually. Such is the
magic of modern science.

“It is, however, only one of those Arctic summer nights, lasting a few
brief moments. Watch, and you will see that already we are looking upon
the first faint flush of dawn.”

Together, hand in hand, they watched the coming of day as it stole
across the mountainside. Only when day had fully come did the spell of
enchantment break.

“Grand Opera,” said the prima donna, with some show of feeling, “will
live forever because it combines the most beautiful of everything we see
with the most melodious of all we hear.

“That,” she added, “is why I cling to Grand Opera. Friends tell me over
and over: ‘You might become the greatest actress of your age.’ But no, I
will not. Grand Opera is the greatest of all!

“But come!” she exclaimed. “We must go. There is work to be done.”

As they walked down the operaland mountain in silence, it seemed to the
little French girl that she had been on the Mount of Transfiguration.

“Your little opera,” said the prima donna, as they parted at the door,
“it is beautiful. I am sure it will be a great success. And I am coming
on your first night.”

“Th—thanks.” Scarcely could the little dancer keep back her tears.
“I—I’ll tell Angelo and Swen, and Mr. Solomon and the old trouper
and—and all the rest.”

“Your Golden Circle.” The prima donna pressed her hand, and was gone,
leaving her feeling as though she had spoken with an angel.

“But I must not dream!” She shook herself free from golden fancies.
“There is much work to be done! Ten long, hard days, and then—ah then!”
She drank in one long, deep breath. Then she went dancing down the
hallway to find Florence anxiously awaiting her return.

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