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Chapter 11

ANDY M'GEE'S CHORUS GIRL


Andy M'Gee was a fireman, and was detailed every evening to theatre duty at the Grand Opera House, where the Ada Howard Burlesque and Comic Opera Company was playing "Pocahontas." He had nothing to do but to stand in the first entrance and watch the border lights and see that the stand lights in the wings did not set fire to the canvas. He was a quiet, shy young man, very strong-looking and with a handsome boyish face. Miss Agnes Carroll was the third girl from the right in the first semi-circle of amazons, and very beautiful. By rights she should have been on the end, but she was so proud and haughty that she would smile but seldom, and never at the men in front. Brady, the stage manager, who was also the second comedian, said that a girl on the end should at least look as though she were enjoying herself, and though he did not expect her to talk across the footlights, she might at least look over them once in a while, just to show there was no ill feeling. Miss Carroll did not agree with him in this, and so she was relegated to the third place, and another girl who was more interested in the audience and less in the play took her position. When Miss Carroll was not on the stage she used to sit on the carpeted steps of the throne, which were not in use after the opening scene, and read novels by the Duchess, or knit on a pair of blue woollen wristlets, which she kept wrapped up in a towel and gave to the wardrobe woman to hold when she went on. One night there was a quicker call than usual, owing to Ada Howard's failing to get her usual encore for her waltz song, and Brady hurried them. The wardrobe woman was not in sight, so Agnes handed her novel and her knitting to M'Gee and said: "Will you hold these for me until I come off?" She looked at him for the first time as she handed him the things, and he felt, as he had felt several times before, that her beauty was of a distinctly disturbing quality. There was something so shy about her face when she was not on the stage, and something so kindly, that he stood holding the pieces of blue wool, still warm from her hands, without moving from the position he had held when she gave them to him. When she came off he gave them back to her and touched the visor of his cap as she thanked him. One of the other beautiful amazons laughed and whispered, "Agnes has a mash on the fire laddie," which made the retiring Mr. M'Gee turn very red. He did not dare to look and see what effect it had on Miss Carroll. But the next evening he took off his hat to her, and she said "Good-evening," quite boldly. After that he watched her a great deal. He thought he did it in such a way that she did not see him, but that was only because he was a man; for the other women noticed it at once, and made humorous comments on it when they were in the dressing-rooms.

Old man Sanders, who had been in the chorus of different comic-opera companies since he was twenty years old, and who was something of a pessimist, used to take great pleasure in abusing the other members of the company to Andy M'Gee, and in telling anecdotes concerning them which were extremely detrimental to their characters. He could not find anything good to say of any of them, and M'Gee began to believe that the stage was a very terrible place indeed. He was more sorry for this, and he could not at first understand why, until he discovered that he was very much interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and her character was to him a thing of great and poignant importance. He often wished to ask old Sanders about her, but he was afraid to do so, partly because he thought he ought to take it for granted that she was a good girl, and partly because he was afraid Sanders would tell him she was not. But one night as she passed them, as proud and haughty looking as ever, old Sanders grunted scornfully, and M'Gee felt that he was growing very red.

"Now, there is a girl," said the old man, "who ought to be out of this business. She's too good for it, and she'll never get on in it. Not that she couldn't keep straight and get on, but because she is too little interested in it, and shows no heart in the little she has to do. She can sing a little bit, but she can't do the steps."

"Then why does she stay in it?" said Andy M'Gee.

"Well, they tell me she's got a brother to support. He's too young or too lazy to work, or a cripple or something. She tried giving singing lessons, but she couldn't get any pupils, and now she supports herself and her brother with this."

Andy M'Gee felt a great load lifted off his mind. He became more and more interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and he began to think up little speeches to make to her, which were intended to show how great his respect for her was, and what an agreeable young person he might be if you only grew to know him. But she never grew to know him. She always answered him very quietly and very kindly, but never with any show of friendliness or with any approach to it, and he felt that he would never know her any better than he did on the first night she spoke to him. But three or four times he found her watching him, and he took heart at this and from something he believed he saw in her manner and in the very reticence she showed. He counted up how much of his pay he had saved, and concluded that with it and with what he received monthly he could very well afford to marry. When he decided on this he became more devoted to her, and even the girls stopped laughing about it now. They saw it was growing very serious indeed.

One afternoon there was a great fire, and he and three others fell from the roof and were burned a bit, and the boy ambulance surgeon lost his head and said they were seriously injured, which fact got into the afternoon papers, and when Andy turned up as usual at the Opera House there was great surprise and much rejoicing. And the next day one of the wounded firemen who had had to remain in the hospital overnight told Andy that a most beautiful lady had come there and asked to see him and had then said: "This is not the man; the papers said Mr. M'Gee was hurt." She had refused to tell her name, but had gone away greatly relieved.

Andy dared to think that this had been Agnes Carroll, and that night he tried to see her to speak to her, but she avoided him and went at once to her dressing-room whenever she was off the stage. But Andy was determined to speak to her, and waited for her at the stage door, instead of going back at once to the engine house to make out his report, which was entirely wrong, and which cost him a day's pay. It was Tuesday night, and salaries had just been given all around, and the men and girls left the stage door with the envelopes in their hands and discussing the different restaurants at which they would fitly celebrate the weekly walk of the ghost. Agnes came out among the last, veiled, and moving quickly through the crowd of half-grown boys, and men about town, and poor relations who lay in wait and hovered around the lamp over the stage door like moths about a candle. Andy stepped forward quickly to follow her, but before he could reach her side a man stepped up to her, and she stopped and spoke to him in a low tone and retreated as she spoke. Andy heard him, with a sharp, jealous doubt in his heart, and stood still. Then the man reached for the envelope in the girl's hand and said, "Give it to me, do you hear?" and she drew back and started to run, but he seized her arm. Then Andy jumped at him and knocked him down, and picked him up again by the collar and beat him over the head. "Stop!" the girl cried. "Stop!"

"Stop like--," said Andy.

"Stop! do you hear?" cried the woman again "He has a right to the money. He is my husband."

Andy asked to be taken off theatre duty, and the captain did what he asked. After that he grew very morose and unhappy, and was as cross and disagreeable as he could be; so that the other men said they would like to thrash him just once. But when there was a fire he acted like another man, and was so reckless that the captain, mistaking foolhardiness for bravery, handed in his name for promotion, and as his political backing was very strong, he was given the white helmet and became foreman of another engine-house. But he did not seem to enjoy life any the more, and he was most unpopular. The winter passed away and the summer came, and one day on Fifth Avenue Andy met old man Sanders, whom he tried to avoid, because the recollections he brought up were bitter ones; but Sanders buttonholed him and told him he had been reading about his getting the Bennett medal, and insisted on his taking a drink with him.

"And, by the way," said Sanders, just as Andy thought he had finally succeeded in shaking him off, "do you remember Agnes Carroll? It seems she was married to a drunken, good-for-nothing lout, who beat her. Well, he took a glass too much one night, and walked off a ferry-boat into the East River. Drink is a terrible thing, isn't it? They say the paddle-wheels knocked the--"

"And his wife?" gasped Andy.

"She's with us yet," said Sanders. "We're at the Bijou this week. Come in and see the piece."

Brady, the stage manager, waved a letter at the acting manager.

"Letter from Carroll," he said. "Sends in her notice. Going to leave the stage, she says; going to get married again. She was a good girl," he added with a sigh, "and she sang well enough, but she couldn't do the dance steps a little bit."


Richard Harding Davis

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