In the Wings

When Peggy awoke in the early-morning sunshine that slanted into her
room, it was not yet six o’clock. She reached over to shut off the alarm
so that it would not ring at seven, the time she had decided to get up
for her big day.

“People say that actors live in a dream world,” Peggy thought with a
smile. “Maybe that’s why I seem to want so little sleep. I get enough of
dreams when I’m supposed to be wide awake!”

Recognizing that it would be useless to try to doze off again, she
quickly slipped out of bed and quietly set about her morning routine of
washing and dressing. The extra time gained by her early awakening would
give her an opportunity to select her reading for the Academy, Peggy
told herself as she stepped into the shower. But first things first;
before she could think about the reading she would need a clear mind,
and that meant that all the many details of packing and dressing must be
taken care of. As she wrapped herself in an oversized bath towel, Peggy
was already mentally choosing her clothes.

An hour and a half later, when Mr. and Mrs. Lane came downstairs for
breakfast, they discovered Peggy, dressed and ready for the trip,
sitting surrounded by books at the big desk in the “library” end of the
living room. Her suitcase stood fully packed in the front hall, a large
traveling purse leaning next to it like a puppy sleeping by its mother.

“My goodness!” Mrs. Lane said. “What did you do, stay up all night? Why,
you’re ready to board the plane this very minute!”

“Not quite, Mother,” Peggy answered with a smile. “I still haven’t
settled on what to read tomorrow, and I want to do that before I go.
Otherwise I’ll be carting so many books with me to New York that we’ll
have to pay a fortune in extra-baggage charges!”

“Oh, I’m not worried about you,” her mother said. “You’ll have your mind
made up and your part memorized before we even leave, if I remember the
way you go at things! Now you can just put the books away until after
breakfast, because I’m going to need some help in the kitchen.”

As Peggy stood up, her mother looked approvingly at the costume she had
chosen for the flight. It was a smart beige suit with a short jacket
that was well cut to accent Peggy’s trim figure, and its tawny color was
the perfect complement for her even summer tan and her dark chestnut
hair. A simple pearl choker and a pair of tiny pearl earrings provided
just the right amount of contrast.

“Is it all right?” Peggy asked. Noting her mother’s admiring nod, she
added, “I packed my gray silk suit and two dresses—the green print and
the blue dress-up, in case we go someplace. I mean someplace dressy, for
dinner or something. And I have the right shoes packed, too, and
stockings and blouses and toothbrush and everything,” she added,
anticipating her mother’s questions.

Mrs. Lane smiled and sighed. “Well, I suppose there’s no use my
pretending that you’re not all grown up and able to take care of
yourself! You pass inspection with flying colors! Now, let’s get that
jacket off and get an apron on—we have some work to do!”

Peggy and her mother went into the kitchen to prepare what Mr. Lane
always called his “traveling breakfast,” a huge repast of wheat cakes,
eggs, sausages and coffee, with plenty of orange juice to start, maple
syrup to soak the wheat cakes in, and more coffee to finish up on. While
breakfast was cooking, Mr. Lane was on the phone, confirming their plane
reservations and, when this was done, arranging for hotel rooms in New
York. The last phone call was finished barely a minute before the first
steaming stack of wheat cakes was set on the kitchen table.

“Well,” he said, sitting down to look with satisfaction at his plate,
“everything’s under control. We leave at two this afternoon, which
should have us in New York by five. That gives us plenty of time. We’ll
leave the house about one.”

“Plenty of time!” Peggy wailed. “What about my reading? I’ve got to get
started right away!” She gave a fairly convincing performance of someone
who must get started right away, except for the fact that she showed not
the least sign of moving until she had finished her breakfast.

During the meal, the talk was all of reservations, changing planes at
Chicago, what kind of rooms they would have at the hotel, and all the
many little details of a trip, but Peggy hardly heard. She was still
sorting out plays and roles in her mind and trying to make a decision.

By the second cup of coffee, her decision was made. “I’ve got it!” she
announced in triumph and relief. “I’ll prepare three short readings
instead of one long one! That’ll give them a chance to see the kinds of
things I can do, and if I’m bad in one, I’ll have two more chances!”

“Makes sense,” her father agreed. “What three parts do you think you’ll
try?”

“I’m not completely sure,” Peggy said, “but at least I know what kinds
of parts they’ll be, and that will make the job easier. One of them will
surely be Viola in _Twelfth Night_ because I’ve done it, and I’ve always
felt that it was me, and besides, it’s Shakespeare, and I think I ought
to have one Shakespeare anyway.”

“That’s a good choice,” Mrs. Lane said. “Now I think you’d better pick
out one that’s more dramatic and another that’s something of a comedy or
a character part, don’t you?”

“Exactly what I had in mind,” Peggy answered. “It shouldn’t be too hard
to select, now that I know what I’m looking for.”

But it wasn’t easy, either. Peggy spent the whole morning carefully
looking over her collection of play scripts. Every time she thought she
had the right role, she found there was no single scene that seemed to
be right for a short reading. There was no trouble over Viola, because
Shakespeare always wrote good scenes and speeches, and because there was
no need to sketch in what had led up to the scene in the play, since
everyone was sure to be perfectly familiar with it. But everything else
seemed to be a problem. It was not until her parents were all packed and
there was only half an hour before leaving, that she finally made up her
mind.

For the comedy reading, she determined to do Sabina in the first scene
of _Skin of our Teeth_, which had much more to it than simple comedy.
The business of Sabina’s stepping out of character to talk directly to
the audience as a disgusted actress criticizing the play and its author
gave added dimension to the reading. For her dramatic role, Peggy chose
the part of Miriamne in the last scene of _Winterset_, a hauntingly
beautiful tragedy. She selected this, she explained to her parents as
they drove to the airport, because it was one of the few dramatic,
poetic parts written for a girl of her own age, and she felt that she
could identify with the character. Then, book in hand, she started to
study.

[Illustration: _They waited for the passenger call_]

Peggy continued to read all through the arrival at the airport, the
business of checking in and loading baggage. They waited for the
passenger call, then walked up the steps into the plane. When she was
settled in her seat by the window, she lowered her book and turned,
wide-eyed, to her mother.

“Do you know,” she said in slow, awed tones, “that this is my first time
on an airplane, and I’m just sitting here reading?” She closed the book
on her lap. “That’s just going to wait for a while, until I see what’s
going on!”

Looking out the oval window, she saw the steep steps being wheeled away
from the plane. A red fuel truck drove under the wing and sped across
the wide concrete runway. Then the plane’s engines whirled, coughed once
and started, and the plane lumbered down the runway slowly. Reaching the
end, it deliberately turned, stopped for a moment, then suddenly
gathered up strength, leaped forward and sped into the wind. Peggy
watched, fascinated, as the ground dropped away and the shadow of wings
below grew smaller and smaller as the plane rose. She watched until the
tiny farms, winding ribbons of highway, and gleaming rivers disappeared
beneath a puffy layer of cloud. Then she looked back to her mother.

“Well,” she said, “it looks as if my new career is off to a flying
start! Now I’d better study these plays, or I’m in for an unhappy
landing.”

Reluctantly tearing her eyes from the fantastic cloud formations that
floated past, Peggy once more opened her book and was soon deep into the
even more fantastic world of Thornton Wilder’s _Skin of Our Teeth_.

The quick flight to Chicago, the change of planes, the landing and
take-off, scarcely attracted her notice, and the three hours flew by at
faster than air speed. Peggy had finished reading and marking Sabina’s
role, and was deep into Miriamne’s when her mother interrupted her.

“They want us to fasten our seat belts again,” she said. “We’re coming
into New York now.”

This time Peggy noticed! Spread below her, stretching out as if it would
never end, was the maze of streets and avenues, rivers and islands,
towers and bridges, that was the city of New York. The late afternoon
sun touched the windows of skyscrapers with fire, gilded the steelwork
of the bridges, cast deep, black shadows into the streets and over the
rooftops of low buildings. Giant liners stood tied at docks; others
steamed sedately up or down the river, pushed or pulled by tiny tugs.
Even from their soaring height above the scene, New York refused to look
small or toylike. It stubbornly looked only like the thing it was—the
busiest, tallest, most exciting city in the world!

Turning in a great, slow arc, the plane descended until it was skimming
only a few feet above the waters of a broad bay. Peggy wondered if they
had flown in on a seaplane, and if they were to land in the water and
have to take a boat to shore, but even as the thought occurred to her,
the rocky shoreline suddenly appeared beneath her, and the plane swiftly
settled down on the long, concrete runway of New York’s LaGuardia
Airport.

It was the rush hour, and parkways and streets were jammed with
homebound cars, but their cab driver knew his way around back streets,
and turned and twisted around one corner after another until Peggy lost
all sense of direction. Her father, though, seemed to know exactly where
they were at all times, and kept pointing out buildings and parks and
bridges to Peggy and her mother, telling the name of each and how it
figured in his memory. People, trucks, cars, buses, cabs, motor scooters
and little foreign autos filled the streets. Mr. Lane called out the
names of famous avenues as they came to and crossed them: Park Avenue
… Madison Avenue … Fifth Avenue….

The taxi passed by store after store, their windows like so many stage
sets. By the edge of Central Park, they drew up in front of their hotel.
Bewildered, excited, dazzled, delighted, Peggy stepped out of the taxi
and stood for the first time on the sidewalks of New York!

The temptation had been strong to give in to all the glamour of the
city, to go for dinner in one of the famous restaurants, to ride in a
hansom cab through Central Park behind a plodding old horse, to race
through the bright streets and gather in all the excitement of New York
in one whirling evening. The temptation had been strong, but Peggy had
bravely fought it off. She had work to do before her tryout the next day
at the New York Dramatic Academy.

After a fine but hurried dinner in the hotel’s handsome, formal dining
room, Peggy and her parents went upstairs to work on her readings. She
read first the passage she had marked out from _Twelfth Night_, since
Viola was a familiar role for her and she needed only a short time to
work on it. The speech she selected was the best known in the play, and
for that reason it was probably the hardest to do, for everyone who
would hear it would have his own idea of how it should sound. Any actor
knows how hard it is to put new life into old, familiar words, and Peggy
was well aware of this. Still, because this short speech gave her a
chance, in only a dozen lines, to indicate the whole character of Viola,
she thought it was worth the risk.

Viola, pretending to be a boy, tells the Duke Orsino of a sister she
never had, and by so doing, confesses her own love for the Duke. The
first difficulty of the speech lay in making Viola seem both a boy and a
lovesick girl at the same time. The second difficulty was to make the
imaginary sister of the speech seem like a real person.

Mr. Lane began, reading the Duke’s lines, in which he says that no woman
can love as deeply as a man. When the speech was done, Peggy spoke,
sounding at first completely feminine, “Ay, but I know—” She broke off
the phrase in well-acted confusion, as Viola quickly realizes that she
has spoken as a woman, rather than as the boy she is supposed to be.

“What dost thou know?”

“Too well what love women to men may owe,” Peggy answered firmly, saying
the line with boyish confidence. Then she went on, in a confidential,
man-to-man tone: “In faith, they are as true of heart as we./My father
had a daughter loved a man,/As it might be, perhaps were I a woman,/I
should your lordship.”

“And what’s her history?” Mr. Lane said.

Now Peggy subtly shifted the character, and when she replied, after a
short pause, it was not in the manner of either the lovesick girl or the
confident, manly boy. Now she spoke dreamily, a story-teller, a poet, as
Viola fell into her own pretended character, half-believing in the
“sister” she had created.

“A blank, my lord. She never told her love,/But let concealment, like a
worm i’ the bud,/Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,/And
with a green and yellow melancholy/She sat, like Patience on a
monument,/Smiling at grief—”

She was interrupted by a round of applause from both her parents, and
responded with a start, suddenly realizing that she was in a hotel room,
not in the court of the Duke Orsino or even on a stage.

“But there’s more to the speech!” she said. “You shouldn’t have
applauded yet!”

“Couldn’t help it, Peg,” her father said. “Besides, I’m afraid that if
you work on that any more, you might ruin it. As far as I’m concerned,
it’s perfect just the way it is. You can do the whole speech tomorrow.”

“Oh, you’re just being a loving father,” Peggy answered, in pleased
confusion, but she knew that there was more to his comments and
compliments than this. She remembered how, during the weeks when she
first struggled to breathe life into the character of Viola, her father
had read lines with her and criticized sharply every time she did
something not quite true to the role. Remembering this, her pleasure now
was doubled. Even so, Peggy insisted on reading the whole speech, then
doing it several times over, before she would go on to her next marked
reading.

Sabina, in _Skin of Our Teeth_, was a complete change of pace. Peggy
worked on the satirical, comic, sometimes silly-sounding lines for two
hours before she felt she was ready to go on. Then, two more hours went
swiftly by as she developed the poetic, passionate lines of Maxwell
Anderson’s Winterset, working on Miriamne’s death scene.

When at last she was satisfied, it was a little after midnight, and
Peggy felt exhausted, as if she herself had died with Miriamne.

“I should have done Sabina last,” she said. “Maybe I wouldn’t feel so
much as if I had just been murdered after three acts of blank verse!”

“On the other hand,” Mrs. Lane said, “you might not have been so ready
for sleep as you are now, and sleep is what you need most, if you’re
going to do as well in the morning as you did tonight.”

“That’s right,” added Peggy’s father. “We have just time for eight good
hours of rest and a decent breakfast tomorrow before you go to keep your
ten-o’clock date with destiny. Let’s go.”

Peggy didn’t argue. She kissed her parents, went to her own adjoining
bedroom and, in three minutes, was curled up between the crisp, fresh
sheets. Tonight she was too tired to think about the excitement to come.
She had barely settled her head on the pillow before she was deep in a
dreamless sleep.

Peggy hadn’t really known what to expect of the New York Dramatic
Academy, but whatever it was, it wasn’t this!

The Academy was housed on two floors of an ancient office building only
a few blocks away from their hotel. On either side of a tall door that
led into a long, dim hallway was an assorted collection of name plates,
telling passers-by what to expect inside. One somewhat blackened brass
plaque, about a foot square, gave the name of the Academy. Other
plaques, some brass, some plastic, some polished and others almost
illegible, announced that the building also provided offices for a
dentist, studios for two ballet schools and a voice teacher, and the
workshop of a noted costume designer. Other trades represented included
theatrical agents, song writers, an export-import company, an
advertising agency, and a custom bootmaker specializing in ballet
footwear.

At the end of the hall, two old elevators wheezed and grunted their way
up and down in grillwork shafts. Over the ornate elevator doors were
indicators telling on what floors the elevators were. Neither of them
worked. But, when one car landed with a sigh of relief and its gates
slid open with a creak, Peggy found that the operator was, surprisingly,
a young man, quite good-looking and smartly uniformed. He greeted her
courteously and took her to the top floor with the air of a man who was
giving her a lift in his own chauffeured limousine.

The minute Peggy looked around her, any misgivings she had about the
building vanished. The atmosphere was ageless, shabby, and completely
theatrical. The elusive smell, both indefinable and familiar, but which
was nothing but the smell of backstage, perfumed the hall. Through a
closed door to her left, Peggy heard a chorus reciting in unison some
lines from a Greek play she could not identify. Directly in front,
through an open door in a wall of doors, Peggy saw a tiny theater of
perhaps one hundred seats. A few people lounged in the front seats while
on the bare stage, under a single floodlight, two young men acted out
what sounded like a violent quarrel. To the right, where the long
hallway was crossed by another hall, a boy appeared, swinging a fencing
foil. He turned the corner out of sight.

“This must be where I go,” Peggy thought, starting for a nearby door
marked OFFICE. She took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked in.

The pretty receptionist, greeting her by name, said that she was
expected and that Mr. Macaulay, the director of the Academy, would see
her right away.

The first thing that Peggy noticed was the office, in the elaborate
clutter of which Mr. Macaulay seemed to have disappeared. It was a
large, square room, its walls paneled from the Oriental rugs to the
high, carved ceiling. Two tall windows draped in red velvet showed
glimpses of rooftops and river through lace curtains. Every available
piece of wall was covered with pictures: photographs of people who were
surely actors and actresses, paintings of people and of places, heavily
framed etchings, newspaper clippings, book jackets, theater programs,
old theater posters, magazine articles and, apparently, everything else
that could possibly fit into a frame. Where there were not pictures,
there were books, except for one narrow wall space between the windows,
where there was a small marble fireplace, over the mantel of which rose
a tall mirror. The mantel itself was a jumble of pipes, tobacco tins,
more pictures in small frames, china figurines, candlesticks and boxes
assembled around a pendulum clock which stood motionless under a
bell-shaped glass cover.

In one corner of the room was a heavily carved black grand piano,
covered with a fringed cloth and stacked high with ragged piles of sheet
music, play scripts, books, more pipes, more pictures.

In the opposite corner stood an immense desk, also heavily carved, and
behind its incredibly cluttered surface rose the tall back of a
thronelike chair. In the chair, almost lost from view, sat Mr. Macaulay.

When Peggy first realized he was there, she almost laughed, thinking of
various animals whose protective coloration lets them melt into their
natural backgrounds, the way the dappled coat of a deer seems merely
more of the forest pattern of light and shade.

Mr. Macaulay was as ornate as his room. He was a small, round man who
concealed a cherubic smile beneath a pair of curly, white handlebar
mustaches. His red cheeks and white hair made the perfect setting for
bright blue eyes that glittered behind an old-fashioned pair of
pince-nez glasses perched precariously on his nose. A black ribbon from
the eyeglasses ended in a gold fitting secured in his lapel. The round
expanse of his shirt front was covered by a brocaded, double-breasted
vest such as Peggy had never seen except in movies set in the Gay
Nineties, and when Mr. Macaulay rose in smiling greeting and came around
the end of the desk, Peggy could not help looking down to see if he wore
gray spats. He did.

“Welcome!” Mr. Macaulay boomed in a surprising bass voice. “Now let’s
sit down and talk this over.” He motioned Peggy to sit on one of a pair
of straight-backed chairs, while he stood by the other with one foot up
on its petit-point seat.

“Now,” he said abruptly, “what makes you think you can act?”

Taken aback, Peggy stammered a little. “Well … well, I’ve been in a
lot of plays in college and high school and … and I always got good
reviews … I mean, everybody always thought that I was….”

“Won’t do.” Mr. Macaulay cut in decisively. “You’re telling me why other
people think you can act. What I want to know is why _you_ think you can
act.”

This time, Peggy answered with more control. “I don’t really think I
can, Mr. Macaulay,” she said calmly and earnestly, “even though I did
get those good notices. But I know that I want to, and I hope that I can
learn here.”

“A good answer!” the little director thundered happily. “Now tell me
_why_ you want to act, and how you _know_ it’s what you really want to
do, and we’ll be well on the way to a lasting friendship.”

Peggy thought for a minute before answering. She sensed that her answer
would be important in deciding whether she would be accepted as a member
of the Academy or not, and she wanted to be sure that the words were a
true reflection of what she wanted to say.

“Mr. Macaulay, I want to act for the same reason that I grew up in
Rockport, Wisconsin. It just happened. I didn’t choose it; it chose me.
And I know it’s what I really want because when I’m acting, I feel about
one hundred per cent more alive than when I’m not—and it’s a wonderful
feeling.”

Mr. Macaulay nodded solemnly, removed his foot from the chair and walked
twice around the room in silence, neatly dodging the chairs and tables
that filled the place. As he seemed to be starting a third circuit of
the room, he stopped, turned and replaced his foot on the chair.

“Young lady,” the little director said softly, “if you’re any more alive
on the stage than you are right here in this room, you’ll light up the
audience like an arc lamp!”

Then he strode rapidly to the door, opened it, and turned to smile
warmly at Peggy. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” he said.

“But, Mr. Macaulay,” Peggy said, “won’t you even give me a chance to
read for you? I’ve got three short selections prepared, and—”

“Not for at least six months,” the director cut in. “I never hear
readings from beginners.”

“Six months? Then I can’t start this term!” Peggy said, almost in tears.

“Of course you’ll start this term,” Mr. Macaulay said. “We begin in two
weeks. Miss Carson will give you all the necessary forms and the
catalogue and anything else you need. Glad to have you with us!”

“But … but …” Peggy sputtered. “You mean I’m accepted? Without even
reading for you? Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Mr. Macaulay agreed calmly. “I don’t believe in
readings. What I look for is personality and presence and a feeling for
the stage. The right kind of feeling for the stage,” he added. “As for
the readings, I’ll be glad to hear you after you’ve had about six months
of work with the Academy. I can tell you’ll be one of our good ones.”

With a few words of farewell to the confused Peggy, he led her to Miss
Carson’s desk and quickly retreated to what Peggy already thought of as
his “natural habitat.”

Only after she was through with Miss Carson and her papers and forms and
was on the way down in the ancient elevator did it finally dawn on Peggy
that she had actually gotten what she had wanted for years—she was
accepted in the best dramatic school in New York! The elevator seemed
hardly big enough to hold her; she wanted to run, to jump, to sing! What
she was actually doing seemed the silliest thing imaginable. She was
grinning a wide, foolish grin and at the same time tasting the salty
tears that were probably smearing her mascara.

“Congratulations,” said the elevator operator. “Not everyone makes it.”

“Oh! How did you know?” Peggy gasped, dabbing at her eyes with her
handkerchief.

“Knew you were trying when I saw you come up with the play scripts,” he
answered. “And I knew you made it when I saw your face.” He slid back
the squealing grillwork gate. “So long,” he said. “See you in a couple
of weeks.”

At the end of the long hall, the doorway filled with sunshine seemed to
be paved with gold. Outside, it seemed to Peggy, the whole city was
paved with gold. She impulsively ran to the door, poised in the
sunlight, and blew a theatrical kiss at the sky.

When Peggy, bubbling with her news, returned to the hotel, it was
decided to fill the time before lunch with a necessary shopping tour.
She needed so much, now that she was to live in New York. Mr. Lane
decided to let Peggy and her mother take care of this aspect of the
trip, while he visited some old newspaper friends. He arranged to meet
them for lunch at the hotel in two hours, kissed them fondly, and
boarded a bus downtown.

Rockport was never like this, Peggy thought, as she and her mother
walked along looking in shop windows. They were so excited just deciding
which stores to shop in and what things she needed, that before they had
a chance to actually buy anything, it was time for lunch.

“At least we had a chance to find out where all the nice stores are,”
Mrs. Lane said. “And it doesn’t matter that we didn’t get you your
things. You’ll probably have more fun going shopping by yourself or with
some of your new friends when you come back here to live. Besides, we
won’t have to bring things home and then carry them all the way back to
New York again.”

Peggy agreed that it made sense, and at the thought of her “new friends”
and of buying her own things in New York’s world-famous stores, she got
a little thrill of pleasure and anticipation.

After lunch, made memorable by Mr. Lane’s new collection of newspaper
stories picked up from his old friends, it was time to travel downtown
to meet May Berriman and see where Peggy would be living.

As their taxi took them downtown from the hotel, Peggy noticed how the
city seemed to change character every few blocks. The types of buildings
and the kinds of stores changed; the neighborhood grew progressively
more shabby; there were more trucks in the streets and fewer taxis.
Peggy wondered what sort of neighborhood May Berriman’s place was in.
Mrs. Lane, too, looked a bit concerned and whispered to Mr. Lane, “Are
you sure we’re going the right way?”

He nodded and said, “You don’t know New York. Wait and see.”

In the middle of what appeared to be a district of warehouses and office
buildings, the cab turned a corner, and a swift change again overtook
the city. Suddenly there were well-kept apartment houses and residential
hotels and then, with another turn, it was as if time itself had been
turned back!

The street ended in a beautiful old-fashioned park surrounded by a high
wrought-iron fence in which were set tall gates. The street around the
park was lined with old, mellow brick mansions whose steps led up to
high doors fitted with gleaming brass knobs, knockers, and hinges. Peggy
almost expected to see top-hatted gentlemen emerge from them to descend,
swinging slim canes, to waiting carriages.

“This is Gramercy Park,” her father said. “It’s still one of the most
fashionable and beautiful parts of the city. May’s house is just off the
park, and she tells me she has park rights for herself and the girls who
live with her.”

“Park rights?” Peggy said wonderingly. “Do you mean it’s a private
park?”

“That’s right,” her father answered. “One of the last in New York. Its
use is limited to people who live right around it, all of whom have keys
to the gates. That’s one thing that makes this such a nice place to
live.”

The cab had made almost a complete circle of the park when the driver
turned off into a side street. Two doors down he stopped before a
handsome brownstone house, complete with the steep steps and brass
fittings that were typical of the area. On either side of the steps, at
street level, stood a square stone column, and on each one was a
polished brass plate engraved: Gramercy Arms.

As Peggy started up the steps she caught a glimpse through the windows
in the little areaway below street level. The spacious kitchen she saw
looked far more typical of Rockport than anything she would have
expected to find in New York City, and it made her feel sure that she
would like living in May Berriman’s house.

May Berriman herself proved to be as big and as warm looking and as
countrified as her kitchen. Her erect carriage and bright-red hair
belied her more than sixty years, and her voice was deep and even, with
none of the quaver that Peggy was used to hearing in older people. She
met them at the door with vast and impartial enthusiasm, kissed them all
and ushered them into a tiny sitting room, tastefully furnished with a
mixture of modern and antique pieces. They had scarcely had time to say
hello when tea was served by a bright-eyed, kimonoed Japanese woman who
might have been any age at all. Peggy watched in silent pleasure as May
Berriman poured the tea in the formal English style, using an essence,
fresh boiled water, an alcohol burner to keep the tea hot, and an
assortment of tongs, spoons, and strainers. It was not until each of
them had a fragile cup of hot, fragrant tea and a plate of delicate
little sandwiches that May Berriman sat back, relaxed, for conversation.

“Peggy, your father told me on the phone that you have been accepted in
the Academy. I’m delighted. Now tell me, what do you think of Archer
Macaulay?”

“I hardly know,” Peggy admitted. “I’ve never met anyone like him. Is he
always as abrupt as that?”

“Always!” May Berriman laughed. “Ever since I’ve known Archie—and that
goes back a good many years—he’s tried to act like a bad playwright’s
idea of an Early Victorian theatrical genius. It’s a peculiar sort of
act when you first see it, but after a while you get used to it and
hardly notice at all. Besides, it’s not all sham. He may not be Early
Victorian, but he is a theatrical genius.”

“Was he an actor?” Peggy asked.

“Goodness, no! Only in his personal life! There’s a world of difference
between acting and teaching; you hardly ever find anyone who’s good at
both. Macaulay’s a magnificent teacher, so he had sense enough never
even to try acting.”

“But,” Peggy objected, “how can you teach something you can’t do?”

May Berriman smiled. “Oh, Archie can do, all right. He’s that rarest of
all talents—a talented audience. He knows when something is good and
when it isn’t, and if it’s not good, he knows just what it lacks. He
just keeps asking for what he wants, and when he gets it—if he gets
it—it turns out to be just what everyone else wants, too. That’s why he
has been able to discover and develop more fine talent than any other
man of our time. You’re a lucky girl to be able to work with Archer
Macaulay. Even to be accepted for his school is a great honor.”

Peggy nodded in understanding as May Berriman talked about the talent
for recognizing talent, remembering her last conversation with her
friend Jean Wilson. Maybe some day, Peggy thought, she herself, an old
retired actress, would be serving tea in her own house, and talking in
just such tones of affection and admiration for her friend Jean, who
would then be the famous director of the best dramatic school in….

She was brought out of her daydream by her mother, who touched her arm
gently and said, “Back to earth, dear. Mrs. Berriman wants to show us
the room you’re to have.”

The room was small, but comfortably furnished as a sitting room, with a
large couch that opened to a bed. Two tall windows with window seats set
in their deep frames looked out into the tops of two lacy trees that
rose from a tiny, well-kept garden. An easy chair and a low table stood
in front of a little fireplace that really worked—a rare thing in New
York. An antique desk between the windows and a large bureau opposite
the fireplace completed the furnishings. The couch was covered in a deep
blue that matched the blue carpet, the walls were white, and the windows
were draped in a white fabric with blue cabbage roses. The same fabric
covered the easy chair.

“It’s perfect!” Peggy said, and rushed off to try the big easy chair.
“I’m going to love it here!” she said. “In fact, I hardly want to go
home!”

“I’m afraid, Peg,” Mr. Lane said, looking at his watch, “that that’s
just what we’re going to have to do, and in a very few minutes. If we
want to make our plane, we’d better be getting back to the hotel to
pack.”

The brief good-by, the taxi ride around Gramercy Park and back uptown,
the hurried packing, the trip to the airport and the now-familiar
process of boarding and take-off seemed to Peggy as fast, as jerky and
peculiar as a movie run backward. She wanted to play it back right
again, to put everything in its proper sequence, and live over her
exciting day.

And that’s exactly what she did, in her mind’s eye, all the way back to
Rockport.