HAPPY DAYS

Happy days followed. Petite Jeanne, whose circle of true friends in this
great world had been pitiably small, found her horizon greatly enlarged.
Truly the day of adventures in Merry’s cellar and out in the park while
she danced the sun up from the depths of the lake had been her lucky
day. For one might well have gone about the city of three million souls
holding a lamp before every face without finding the equal to that brave
trio, Angelo the playwright, Swen the maker of melodies and Dan Baker
the beloved vagabond of the stage.

Happy days they were, and busy ones as well. Each evening found them
assembled in Angelo’s studio. In order that they might talk as they ate,
they brought dinner along. Each member of the little group contributed
something. Swen provided chops, steaks, oysters or fish; Angelo added
such strange viands as he could devise, curious hot Mexican dishes, rich
preparations from his native land, or unthinkable Russian mixtures;
Florence and Petite Jeanne arrived each evening with apple-squares,
date-tarts or some other form of tempting dessert; Dan Baker practiced
the ancient and all but lost art of coffee brewing so skilfully that
after drinking they all felt that dawn was on the point of breaking, and
they were ready to walk out into a dewy morn.

Wild, hilarious, dizzy hours followed. Was a light opera ever before
produced in such a fantastic fashion?

Angelo was continuously prepared with fresh script. This dark-eyed youth
was a worker. Swen kept pace with musical compositions.

And how Swen could beat out those melodies on the battered piano
reposing in the corner!

When it was music for her dance Petite Jeanne, bare-footed, bare-armed,
with eyes shining, sprang into motion with such abandon as made her seem
a crimson cardinal, a butterfly, a mere flying nothing.

How Swen would throw back his blonde mane and laugh! How Dan Baker shook
his old head and sighed with joy!

“Our play!” he would murmur. “Our play. How can it fail? With such an
angel of light even Heaven would be a complete success.”

So for hours they labored. Testing music, words, lighting effects,
dances, everything, until their heads were dizzy and their eyes dim.

Then, as the blaze flamed up in the broad fireplace, they cast
themselves upon Angelo’s rugs of wondrous thickness and softness, and
sighed deep sighs of content.

“How wonderful it is to have beautiful things!” Jeanne exclaimed, as on
one of these occasions she buried her white hands in the thick, velvety
surface of a Persian rug.

“Ah, yes!” Angelo sighed. “When you are sure you are to keep them.”

“But they are your own.”

“Oh, yes. Now they are mine. They belonged to some one else before me.
They may belong to others. The success of our play, that alone, will
make them secure. My happiness, yours, all our joy depends upon that.” A
shadow fell across his dark face.

This shadow reminded Petite Jeanne of a wider shadow that had been
sweeping over the wondrous land men called America. For long years this
land had known such joyous prosperity as no land before had ever known.
But now, as if struck by some mysterious blight, this prosperity was
falling away. Factories had been closing. Streets that once were
thronged with shoppers, were thronged no more. Stores and shops were all
but deserted. Wise men said, “Prosperity will return. It is just around
the corner.” Yet it did not return at once.

And Petite Jeanne, sensitive soul that she was, ever conscious of the
woes that come to others, was touched by the signs of fear and distress
that she saw all about her.

When she spoke of it to Angelo he, too, appeared distressed, not for
himself, but for others.

“This will make no difference to our play,” was his optimistic
pronouncement. “When hard times come, the people feel the need of
amusement, diversion, more than before. Only one playhouse in our city
is dark.”

“If so, where is our play to open?” Jeanne asked quickly.

“Leave that to me.” He shrugged. “Plays come. Plays go. A house dark
to-night will be aglow to-morrow. I have friends. Once our light opera
is on, it will go on forever.”

So they labored and hoped, shouted, danced, sang, dreamed, despaired and
hoped again, only at last to go creeping away in the wee small hours to
seek sleep. And the morning hours knew them not. So passed fourteen
happy, busy, delirious days.

All this time the light opera was taking form. At the close of Act I the
gypsy caravan, with Petite Jeanne and Dan Baker riding on burros,
departed for Paris.

In Paris Petite Jeanne and her amiable substitute for the bear danced in
the beautiful public gardens. There, surrounded by noble statues and
flowering trees, they were discovered by the chorus who at this time
were dressed in bright smocks, posing with brushes, stools and easels as
artists from the Latin Quarter.

They joined the pair in a beautiful “Dance of the Flowers,” and then
lingered to sketch Dan Baker, Petite Jeanne and their burros. Meanwhile
Dan Baker entertained Petite Jeanne and all who cared to listen with one
of his wondrously impossible tales of fairyland: America across the
seas.

Scarcely were the sketches completed, the tales brought to an end, than
a stranger, stepping from the throng of onlookers, denounced Dan Baker
as an impostor and accused him of being one of the richest men in
America. The ancient wanderer resented the accusation. A fight ensued in
which a burro assisted the aged dancer to win a victory by butting his
adversary over and then sitting on him.

Millionaire or no millionaire, Dan Baker adopted Petite Jeanne as his
daughter. The next scene found them in a beautiful private garden, all
their own, still dancing.

A young hero appeared. He found Jeanne dancing barefooted before a
fountain and fell madly in love with her.

They were interrupted by the chorus, now doing a nature dance to spring,
and arrayed much as spring damsels are supposed to be dressed.

A villain appeared in the shadows. He had discovered that Petite Jeanne,
who had lived after the death of her parents with wandering gypsies, was
rich in her own name. He, a terrible apache, proposed to kidnap her.

The plot grew apace. Dan Baker told one more story while the villain
stood not ten feet away, ready, if need be, to stab him.

The fool of the play, a young Scotchman who missed every golden
opportunity because he held his pennies too tightly gripped, appeared.

By the aid of the chorus, now dressed as wild and terrible apache
damsels, Petite Jeanne was kidnapped.

The fool barely missed eternal glory by rescuing her. He took a three
cent subway car instead of spending a whole nickel on the plush seated
car boarded by the villain and his band.

The last scene was in a stone paved, walled court of a fearsome secret
prison, where Dan Baker, who had become a voluntary prisoner, revived
the fainting Jeanne with one more romantic tale.

Meanwhile, the hero, at the head of a brave band of gendarmes, who in
the end proved to be the chorus in disguise, stormed the secret prison
and rescued the fair gypsy maid.

The truth of her riches was revealed to Jeanne. She wept on the hero’s
shoulder. Then she and Dan Baker, joined once more by the chorus—this
time in the most gorgeous of filmy French creations—danced the wild
Dance of the Fire God beneath the moon while the ancient god, lighted in
some magical way, beamed and grimaced at them from the dark.

Such was the rough outline for the opera, presented by Angelo.

“Of course,” he added many times, with a smile, “the young hero may turn
up later with a rich, pompous and irate mother who does not purpose to
marry her son to a gypsy. There may be many other complications. But we
shall iron them out one by one.

“Fortune is with us in one respect. The plot of a light opera is never
very closely knit. So long as there is music and dancing, mirth and
song, all is well. And that we shall have in superabundance.”

“But where are we to get the donkeys?” Petite Jeanne asked on one
occasion.

“My dear!” exclaimed Dan Baker. “Nothing is easier. There are nearly as
many donkeys on the stage as off it.”

The laugh went round.

When it had subsided Angelo said: “I know where there are two burros, in
a vacant lot on the west side. They’ve been on the stage in vaudeville.
One is trained to bowl a man over and sit on him.

“So, you see,” his grin broadened as he turned to Dan Baker, “I have
written that part expressly for him, just as I have for the other
donkeys in the cast.”

The laugh was now on Dan Baker. He responded by narrating one more
fantastic yarn, and the work went on.

Then came the night when Angelo exclaimed over the last wild dance, when
even Florence joined in the ballet, “It is enough! To-morrow I go to
seek a producer. To-night, before you sleep, say a little prayer for our
success.”

Let us hope no one will be shocked when we declare that on that night,
long after Florence was lost in slumber, Petite Jeanne crept from the
warm bed to the cold floor, pried up the loose boards, drew forth the
hidden God of Fire and whispered to him some words that sounded
suspiciously like a prayer. For, after all, you must recall that Petite
Jeanne was more than half gypsy. Besides, she was dreadfully in earnest.
For had she not, in an impersonal way, come to love very much the fiery
little composer, the blonde-maned musician and, most of all, the
appealing old trouper, he of long gray locks and plaintive, melodious
voice? For these more than for herself she wished the light opera to be
a great and lasting success.

Angelo had a few well chosen friends in the world of stage people. As
soon as offices were open the next morning, his card was presented to
one of these. An hour later, with a bulky manuscript under his arm and a
letter of introduction in his pocket, he entered the lobby of a second
office.

He was ushered at once into the presence of a broad shouldered, rather
dull, but quite determined appearing man who sat in a swivel chair
before a birch-mahogany desk. In another corner of the room sat a tall,
dark, young man whose face had the appearance of having been moulded out
of chilled gray steel.

“It’s a light opera,” said Angelo, placing his manuscript on the desk.
“If you’ll let me tell you about it I am sure you will be able to decide
at once whether or not it will fit the Blackmoore Theatre.”

The stout man nodded.

Angelo began to talk. As he continued to talk he began to glow. He was
full of his subject.

“Wait!” The stout man held up a hand.

“Drysdale,” he said to the gray, steel-eyed man, “you had better sit in
on this.”

Gray Steel arose, dragged a chair forward and sat down.

“All right.” The stout man nodded to Angelo.

“Shall—shall I begin over again?”

“Not necessary. Drysdale is clever. Takes a thing in the middle, and
works both ways.”

Angelo talked and glowed once more. For fully half an hour, like a small
car on a country road at night, he rattled and glowed.

“What do you think of it?” the stout man demanded, when the recital was
finished. “Drysdale, what do you think? Find a chorus, right enough.
Know one right now. House is dark. What do you think?”

“Paris.” Gray Steel Face cupped his chin. “Americans go wild over
Paris.”

“Sure they do, just wild. They—” Angelo’s flow of enthusiasm was cut
short by a glower from Gray Steel Face.

“Mr. Drysdale is our director,” the stout man explained. “Directed many
plays. Very successful. Makes ’em march. You’re right he does!”

“Gypsy stuff goes well,” Drysdale continued. “But who ever heard of
taking a gypsy for a star? She’d need training. No end of it.”

“Oh, no! She—”

“We’d have to read the script. Have to see them perform.” Drysdale gave
no heed to Angelo. “Say you bring ’em here to-morrow night, say eight
o’clock.”

“No stage,” said the stout manager.

“We—we have a small one,” Angelo explained eagerly. “Come to my studio,
won’t you? There you’ll see them at their best.”

“What say, Drysdale?”

“We’ll be there. Mind! Eight sharp. None of your artistic foolishness!”

Next night, the two men did see Petite Jeanne and Dan Baker at their
best.

Was their best good enough? The face of the director was still a steel
mask. He conferred with his manager in the corner of the room for half
an hour.

In the meantime Angelo perspired profusely. Petite Jeanne felt hot and
cold spasms chase one another up her back, but Dan Baker sat placidly
smoking by the fire. He was an old trouper. The road lay always before
him.

But for Angelo and Jeanne hopes had run high. Their ambitions were on
the altar. They were waiting for the fire.

“We’ll have a contract for you by eleven o’clock to-morrow,” said the
stout man, in a tone as unemotional as he might have used to call a
waiter. “Drysdale here says it’s a bit crude; but emotional stuff—got
some pull, he believes. Office at eleven.”

Petite Jeanne could scarcely await their departure. Hardly had the door
closed when, in true French fashion, she threw her arms about the old
trouper and kissed him on both cheeks. Nor was Angelo neglected.

“We’re made!” she cried joyously. “The footlights, oh, the blessed
footlights!” She walked the young composer about the room until she was
dizzy. Then, springing like a top, she landed in a corner by the fire
and demanded a demi-tasse of coffee.

As they drank their coffee Angelo was strangely silent. “I don’t like
what they said about the opera,” he explained, when Jeanne teased him.
“They’ll want to tear it all to pieces, like as not, and put in a lot of
half-indecent stuff.

“And that theatre,” he sighed. “It’s a frightful old barn of a place.
Going to be torn down to make way for a skyscraper next year, I’m told.
I hope you may not hate it too much.” As he looked at Petite Jeanne two
wrinkles appeared on his high forehead.

“Oh, the Paris Opera,” she laughed. “That was but a small bit. I am sure
I shall be quite deliriously happy!”

It was thus that she left Angelo’s studio. But the morrow, a gray day,
was to find them all in quite another mood.

When Angelo returned to the studio next day at noon, he was in a sober
mood.

His eyes lighted as he found a small table standing before the fire,
spread with spotless linen and piled with good things to eat.

“This,” he said, taking Petite Jeanne’s hands in his own, “is your
doing.”

“Not entirely, and not hardly at all,” laughed the little French girl.
“I’m a poor cook, and a very bad manager. You may credit it all to
Florence.”

Florence, at that, stepped from the shadows. For once her ready smile
was not forthcoming.

“Florence!” he exclaimed in surprise. “How is it you are here? I thought
you were at your work at the gym.”

“There is no more gym,” said the girl soberly. “It has been turned into
a lodging house for those poor unfortunates who in these sad times have
no place to sleep.

“Of course,” she added quickly, as a mellow tone crept into her voice,
“I am glad for them! But this leaves me exactly flat; no job, and no
prospect of one for months.”

“No job? Of course you have one!” Jeanne placed an inadequate arm about
Florence’s ample waist. “You will be my stage ‘mother’ once more.”

At this they turned an inquiring glance upon Angelo. For once it seemed
he had nothing to say.

The meal was half finished before he spoke about the matter nearest all
their hearts. When he did speak, it was in a very indirect manner. “In
this world,” he began quite soberly, “there’s very little real
generosity. People who have money cling to it as if it had power to
carry them to the very gates of Heaven. Those who have nothing often
feel very generous, but have nothing with which to prove the genuineness
of their feeling.

“Generosity!” He almost growled. “You read a lot about it in the papers.
Capital agrees to do this. Big money is ready to do that. Wages shall be
kept up. Those who are in tight places shall be dealt with in a generous
fashion. That’s what they give out for publication.

“What they’re really doing, many of them, is undermining the uncertain
foothold of those who have very little. They’re cutting wages here,
putting on screws there, in secret, wherever they dare. And our friendly
enemy, the manager, who wants our light opera, old Mr. Rockledge,” he
declared with a flourish, as if to conclude the whole matter, “is no
exception.”

“Didn’t he give us a contract?” asked Petite Jeanne, as her eyes opened
wide.

“Yes. A contract. But such a contract! He said we could take it or leave
it. And old Gray Steel Face nodded his head and snapped his steel jaw
shut, so I took it away; but we needn’t sign if we don’t care to.”

The remainder of the meal was eaten for the most part in silence. Just
as they finished, Swen and Dan Baker entered. They had been for a long
stroll along the lake front, and had dined at a place which Swen had
found where they could get genuine black bread and spiced fillet of
sole.

“What luck?” Swen demanded.

“Rotten!” Angelo threw the contract on the table. “Read it and weep!”
The others crowded around to do so.

A silence, broken only by the rustle of turned pages, ensued.

As the perusal was concluded Jeanne’s face was a brown study. Florence,
who had read over her shoulder, was plainly angry. Baker neither smiled
nor frowned. Swen smiled.

“Well,” Swen drawled, “since this is to be our first production, and
success will keep the wolf from the door for six months to come, I don’t
see that it’s so worse. One success calls for another. And it’s on the
second that you have a chance to tell ’em where they get off.”

“I think,” said Petite Jeanne quietly, “that Swen is right. It means
renewed hope for all of us. Winter is at our door. There are no turnips
in our cellar, nor hams in our smoke-house.” She thought of the old days
in France.

“That’s me,” agreed Dan Baker.

Since Florence had no contract to sign, she said nothing.

“Then,” said Angelo with a sigh, half of relief and half of
disappointment, “we sign on the dotted line. To-day we visit the
theatre. To-morrow rehearsals begin. The thing is to be put on as soon
as it can be whipped into shape. Every day a theatre is dark means a
loss to its owners.”

They signed in silence. Then, drawing chairs before the fire, they sat
down for half an hour of quiet meditation. Many and varied were the
thoughts that, like thin smoke, passed off into space as they lingered
there.

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