Rehearsals

“So. ’Ow marches the search for the theater, Peggee?” Gaby asked,
bouncing into the living room at the Gramercy Arms.

“Awful,” Peggy admitted, looking up at Gaby from her position on the
floor. She was surrounded by scraps of paper, pencils, a classified
telephone directory, and several assorted notebooks, guidebooks, and
city maps. “I think it would be easier to list all the perfume shops in
Paris than all the theaters built in New York since the nineties.”

“Perfume shops! Pouf!” Gaby shrugged. “We don’t ’ave so manee. Most of
our perfume is export, to Amérique. But theaters! Oh! You would ’ave the
same trouble in Paree as you ’ave ’ere. So, _bonne chance_; mean to ’ave
the good luck.” With a wave of her hand she went upstairs.

“A little _bonne chance_ is what I could use right now,” Peggy confessed
to Greta, Maggie, and Amy, who were disposed in various chairs with
books and magazines.

“Anything I can help you with?” Maggie asked.

“No, thanks, Maggie. I’m through the help stage. Amy and I have spent
every afternoon for the last three days just trying to get a list of
theaters from the city archives. It’s not that they’re not helpful down
there. Everybody has been just as nice as can be, but nothing’s easy to
find. In the first place, all the records aren’t kept in one big handy
book, or in a list or anything simple. Oh, no! They’re in dozens and
dozens of volumes marked by year, and we’re trying to go back about
seventy years. Not only that, but the books aren’t separated by kinds of
licenses, so that you can’t just get a volume of theater licenses. You
have to look at each page to see what’s been licensed. There are
groceries and bakeries and amusement parks and drugstores and hardware
stores and livery stables and saddlemakers and—”

“Well, at least you’ve gotten into the early years, I see, if you’re on
livery stables and saddlemakers,” Greta commented.

“You’d think that it would be easier,” Maggie murmured. “I mean, if you
wanted to find out what year the Ziegfeld Theater was licensed, for
instance, would you have to go through all that?”

“Oh, no,” Peggy answered. “They have an alphabetical index by name, and
you could go right to it. But we don’t know the names of the places
we’re looking for, and that’s what makes it so difficult.”

“Even so … what if the police needed to know, for example, and they
had to know really fast? Suppose they wanted the names of all the
theaters? Would they have to do what you’re doing?” Maggie asked.

“No,” Peggy answered, “and that’s one of the things that makes this so
frustrating. The Police Department has all its own files, and the clerk
who’s been helping us says that we could find out what we want to know
from them in no time at all.”

“Then why…?” Greta began.

“Police files are for the use of the Police Department for police
business,” Peggy interrupted. “We’ve been told that very emphatically.”

“And there aren’t any exceptions,” Amy added, “so poor Peggy and I have
had to make our own police files.”

“And what’s worse,” Peggy went on gloomily, “is the hours we’ve had to
work at it. The bureau closes at four-thirty sharp, and isn’t open on
Saturday, and we’re busy with school all day long. Amy and I don’t
finish with our last class until three o’clock, and then we make a mad
dash downtown. That gives us about an hour a day to go through the
books.”

“How close are you to finishing?” Greta asked.

“That’s the happy part. We finished 1890 today, and that’s as far back
as we’re going to go, unless this batch turns up nothing for us. Then, I
suppose, we’ll try another ten years before we quit. My guess is that
anything built before 1880 wouldn’t be worth looking into anyway. If it
were still standing, it would probably be an old rat’s nest.”

Maggie smiled. “Don’t let May Berriman hear you say anything like that.
This beautiful old house that we’re living in was built in 1878, and
it’s hardly a rat’s nest! And you’ve passed the house that Washington
Irving lived in, just a few blocks south of here? It’s still a
fine-looking house, and I don’t know how old it is, but Washington
Irving died in 1859, so it’s got to be a lot older than that!”

“Oh, Maggie!” Peggy wailed. “You haven’t made me feel the least bit
better! I thought I had a logical date to stop looking, and that made
things easier somehow. Now you’ve opened up the whole thing again!”

“Oh, don’t start to feel sorry for yourself yet,” Greta put in. “You
have a lot of work to do on the theaters you’ve found since 1890 before
you start to think further back. And you may find just what you want in
that list.”

“I sure hope so,” Peggy agreed, smiling wanly. “But I’ll never find it
by lying here and talking. I’d better get back to work.”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Amy said. “What you’d better do now is go upstairs
and take a shower and fix yourself up! Don’t forget it’s Friday night,
we’ve got a date tonight, and you have a lot to do before the boys
come.”

“But, Amy, it’s still early, isn’t it?” Peggy asked. Then, with a glance
at the grandfather clock in the corner, she gasped. “Oh! Six o’clock
already and they’re coming at seven! And I haven’t even begun! Why
didn’t you tell me?”

Sweeping up all her papers, notebooks, and other gear in a single
gesture, she bounced out of the room with Amy right behind her,
protesting that she hadn’t realized herself how late it had grown, and
that she too had a lot to do to get ready, and….

But before she could finish her sentence, Peggy had dropped her papers,
grabbed a towel and bathrobe and raced for the bathroom. With the door
held open the merest crack, Peggy peeped through, grinning broadly at
Amy, who stood in the hall still apologizing.

“You’re forgiven,” Peggy said impishly, “but your punishment for loafing
and not watching the time while I was working is that I get the bathroom
first!” Then she quickly shut the door before her friend could push her
way through.

“I don’t care!” Amy called through the door. “I can always use the other
one upstairs!”

“You can,” Peggy answered with a laugh, “if you can figure a way to get
Irene the Beautiful Model out. She always goes in at six o’clock, and it
would take an atomic bomb to get her out before seven! You’ll just have
to wait for me!”

Any further conversation was made impossible by the noise of the water
running, and Amy resigned herself with a philosophical sigh, telling
herself that it was probably better for Peggy to go first anyway,
because she always finished quickly, as if that made a difference,
which, of course, it did not.

The timing, however, must have made sense in some mysterious way,
because both girls were ready at precisely the same moment. It was at
the exact instant that the grandfather clock began to chime softly that
Amy and Peggy both stepped from their rooms into the hall and said, in
chorus, “You look lovely! How do I look?”

Laughing at themselves, each girl whirled around and showed herself to
the other. Peggy’s turn made a wide sweep of her black taffeta dress
with its black satin cummerbund smartly making the most of her trim
figure. For this special occasion, her first real date in New York, she
had put her hair up and skillfully used a little eye make-up. Her long,
slender neck was accentuated by a single string of pearls, which were
echoed by her tiny pearl earrings.

Amy had chosen to set off her pale, blond beauty with a brocaded dress
of dark, lustrous green that seemed to add a green glint to her brown
eyes. She wore a delicate, flat gold necklace, small gold earrings and a
slim, antique gold bracelet set with semiprecious stones.

As Peggy fastened a hook and eye for Amy (it was located in that one
spot that just cannot be reached), the last notes of the clock sounded,
followed immediately by the sound of the doorbell.

“That’s Randy and Mal now!” Peggy said. “We’re all so prompt that it’s
hardly possible!” She ran down the stairs to answer the door, Amy at her
heels, and a few minutes later, the four were strolling down the street
arm in arm.

“You sure look beautiful tonight—both of you,” Randy said. “I’m glad
that I decided to wear a tie!”

“If you hadn’t, I’d have sent you right home to get one,” Peggy said
firmly. “And besides, you did say that we should dress up for dinner and
dancing. That is, if you’ll put up with me. I’ve never danced with a
professional dancer before.”

“Oh, I’m not a dancer, really,” Randy said. “I’m a hoofer. You know, tap
and soft-shoe and a couple of gestures and turns that make the customers
think I studied ballet. Mostly I dance just enough to carry off the
singing, so that the act will have a little movement. I hate singers who
just stand there and croon.”

“Where did you study singing?” Peggy asked.

“Oh, I’m not really a singer,” Randy said with a grin. “I just sing
enough so the customers won’t notice that I’m not dancing well!”

“I’d love to see you work and make up my own mind,” Peggy said. “When
can I get a chance?”

With an expression halfway between a smile and a frown, Randy answered,
“I hope that you never get a chance. I’m not working now, and with any
luck, I won’t have to do night-club work again. I’ve always wanted to
write for the theater, and I believe in the play we’re doing now, so
I’ve turned down all engagements until we get it produced. It may be the
break I need. I’ve been able to put away enough to live on for a while,
so I don’t need the night clubs. If the play flops, though, I can always
go back to them, much as I don’t want to.”

“In that case, I hope I never get a chance to see your act, too,” Peggy
said.

“A sensible wish!” Mal put in. “I’ve seen it, and I tell you, as a
singer and dancer, Red Brewster—as he bills himself—is a darn good
playwright. I won’t say it’s the worst night-club act in New York, but—”

“I know,” Randy interrupted cheerfully, “but it is.”

“But he makes a living at it,” Amy protested, taking the lighthearted
insults a little too seriously.

“Just proves an old contention of mine,” Mal answered airily, “that the
public has a lot more money than taste!”

By this time, they had reached Fourteenth Street, a wide, busy
thoroughfare bright with neon lights and gaudy store windows crammed
full of bargain merchandise. It hardly looked the sort of neighborhood
to come to dressed as they were, and for a moment Peggy had a feeling
that Randy hadn’t been joking about coming without a tie. “Where are we
going?” she asked cautiously, not wanting to offend the boys.

Randy laughed. “I wondered whether or not you knew about Fourteenth
Street. Since you’re so deep in the history of the theater, I thought
that we’d take you right into some. This run-down street was once the
heart of the fashionable theater district!” He waved a hand to indicate
the tawdry movie houses, the corner hot-dog stands, the poolrooms, the
pizza places.

“This?” Peggy said.

“This,” Randy answered solemnly. “And the funny thing is that this is
far from being a bad neighborhood. Especially when you compare it with
some of the places you’ll be visiting in the next few days!”

“You see that movie house?” Mal said, pointing to a place plastered with
signs for a double horror monster show. “That was once the most famous
musical theater in the city. And the Irving Theater over there was a
great dramatic showcase.”

“But why are we here tonight?” Amy asked in bewilderment.

“To show you that, in the ashes of the past, a good bit of the past
still flourishes with no sign of decay,” Mal intoned dramatically.

“He means,” Randy interpreted, “that we’re here to eat dinner at
Luchow’s, one of the best restaurants in the city. It’s German, not
Chinese, and you pronounce it with a German _ch_ that sounds like a
cough, if you can. If you can’t, you settle on ‘Loo-shau’s,’ which most
people do. It’s been here since the theater district was here, and it
hasn’t changed at all through all these years. Diamond Jim Brady and
Lillian Russell and Tony Pastor ate here, and tonight we’re going to do
the same!”

With a bow and a flourish, Mal and Randy opened the doors and led the
girls into, not just a restaurant, but another century and another
world.

Peggy had never seen anything like it! The tremendous, high-ceilinged
rooms paneled in darkly polished brown wood led in a seemingly endless
procession from one to the other, connected by arch after arch. In front
of them, across the first room, four steps mounted up to a kind of
gallery, itself an immense chamber that stretched back as far as one
could see. In the front of the gallery, near the steps, a small,
three-piece orchestra played Viennese waltz music. Peggy noted with
amusement that the three musicians looked as old as the restaurant,
almost as if they had been playing ever since opening night.

To the right, an oversized archway connected the room they were in with
what appeared to be the central room of the place, even higher and more
glittering than the others. Peggy’s eyes mounted up toward the ceiling,
which appeared to be three or more stories high, and she saw that it was
a kind of old-fashioned leaded glass skylight.

Another arch between the rooms contained the largest ship model that she
had ever seen. It was a full-rigged ship and stood easily six feet high.
Everything here was on such a large scale! Even the beer steins that
stood all around on shelves high on the paneled walls were immense. Some
would easily hold two quarts of beer.

Everywhere were waiters scurrying about between the crowded tables,
carrying trays loaded to improbable heights with dishes, glasses,
covered serving vessels, baskets of bread, rolls, and cheeses. The whole
place glittered with hundreds of lights, each caught and reflected in
the tall mirrors, the glassware and the polished wood.

And the noise! The many conversations, the clink of silver on dishes,
the rattle of glasses, the waltz tunes of the small orchestra, all
blended into one happy, congenial roar.

Peggy and Amy stood dazzled by the sights and sounds of Luchow’s, and
tried to get their bearings, while Randy and Mal checked their
reservations with the headwaiter. Soon they were assigned by this
impressive personage to a lesser headwaiter whom Peggy thought of as
their guide. This gentleman, beckoning them to follow, plunged into the
jungle of tables and, in a kind of safari fashion, they tracked him
through several rooms, up some steps to a gallery like the one on which
the band was playing, and to a large round table by the rail.

It was not until they were seated that Peggy realized that there was not
an endless number of rooms, but only about six. The illusion was caused
by giant mirrors on either wall, set in arched frames like the arches
that separated the rooms. Even so, it was the biggest and busiest
restaurant that either she or Amy had ever seen.

“Well, what do you think of it?” Randy asked. When Peggy replied with a
smile and a bewildered shake of her head, he continued, “I know. It
always affects me that way, too, but I still love to come here. This is
what New York was really like in the Gay Nineties, and they haven’t
changed a thing that they didn’t have to change. Even the lighting
fixtures,” he pointed out, “are the original gaslights, except that
they’ve had to wire them for electricity. But the best thing is—as it
should be—the food. That hasn’t changed either. Let’s order now, then we
can talk.”

The menu, Peggy thought, was of a size to match the restaurant, and it
was crammed with dishes she had never heard of, most with German names,
many with British names. At Randy’s suggestion, she let him order her
dinner, which was sauerbraten, the house specialty. Amy, less
adventurous about food, settled for roast beef. Randy ordered a lobster
for himself, and Mal asked for roast larded saddle of hare, which made
Amy shudder a little.

“I just don’t like the idea of eating rabbits,” she explained. “They’re
such cute little things!”

Mal grinned. “If you once start to think like that,” he said, “you’d
have a hard time eating at all. Think about all those cute lambs, and
those nice, sweet-tempered cows. And think about—”

“I do my best not to think about them,” Amy interrupted, “and if you
don’t stop, I’m going to order a vegetable dinner and have an awful
time!”

Still, when the food came, she and Peggy consented to try the hare, and
were forced to agree that it was one of the most delicious things they
had ever tasted. Amy also liked Peggy’s sauerbraten, which was a kind of
sweet-and-sour pot roast of beef, done in a rich brown gravy and served
with potato dumplings and red cabbage.

“You know, it’s an odd thing the way Americans eat,” Mal said between
bites of the saddle of hare. “I’ll wager that there are millions of
people in this country who have never eaten anything but beef and pork
and perhaps a bit of fish. And I don’t mean poor people, either. I found
out on my first tours here that there are many parts of the country
where you can’t even get lamb or veal, and mutton is almost unheard of.”

“Is it very different in England?” Peggy asked.

Randy answered before Mal had a chance to reply. “In England they eat
things that would make the average American turn pale with fright.” He
laughed. “They eat suet puddings and kidney pies and chopped toad….”

“Chopped toad!” Amy almost shrieked.

“It’s not at all what it sounds,” Mal explained in his most British
tones. “It’s actually a sort of a hamburger thing, and it’s not made of
toads or anything like toads. And, personally, I can’t stand it.”

“Is the food the reason why you left England?” Amy asked teasingly.

“Partly,” Mal said with a smile. “But not because I didn’t like it. I
liked it well enough when I could get it. The reason I left was that I
wasn’t able to earn enough money to eat with any degree of regularity.
When I got a part with an American movie company that was filming a
picture in England, I was asked to come back with them, and I jumped at
the chance. I made a few films in Hollywood, and then I decided to come
to New York.”

“Why did you leave pictures?” Peggy asked. “I mean, if you were working,
and if you were starting to be an established actor, why did you come to
the Academy to study?”

“I didn’t like the roles I was being given,” Mal answered. “It’s because
of my face, you know. I look like a young thug, so I was given nothing
but young thug parts. But, when you come to think of it, how many roles
are there for young thugs with English accents? Besides, I didn’t want
to spend the whole of my life in cops-and-robbers films. I decided that
I should try the stage, where I might have a chance to play a variety of
roles. Also, I thought I might like to direct. The trouble was that I
had no experience with stage technique, so I applied to the Academy for
a year of basic training. It was there that I met Randy, who has given
me my first chance to direct, and now that I’ve had a taste of it, I
know that’s what I really want to do.”

“It’s nice of you to say that I’ve given you a chance to direct,” Randy
put in, “but unless Peggy and Amy can produce a theater, I’m afraid that
the chance will be a strictly imaginary one. Which reminds me, how are
you girls doing with the search?”

Peggy told him about the troubles they had encountered in making up a
list, and he nodded sympathetically. “We’re finished with that part of
it now,” she said in tones of relief, “and we only have to finish
checking against the phone book before we go out to look.”

“And when will you start?” Randy asked.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I think,” she said. “We ought to be done with the
telephone book by noon, if we don’t sleep the whole morning away as a
result of this heavy dinner. Then we can look in the afternoon.”

“Sounds good,” Randy said. “It looks as if the best help we can give you
is to see to it that you work off this dinner so that you don’t waste
the morning in sleep! What do you suggest, Mal?”

“Dancing,” Mal said firmly. “Best way to get rid of the full feeling.
But, unfortunately, I can’t dance on an empty stomach, so we’d best
order a sweet, right?”

The girls and Randy protested with groans, but somehow managed to eat
every scrap of the thin pancakes with lingonberries that Mal ordered for
them. A final cup of coffee, and then it was time to go.

“I feel as if my dress is going to split any minute!” Peggy whispered to
Amy. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk to the door, much less
dance!”

Stepping out of Luchow’s, leaving its noise, gaiety, and glitter behind,
was once more like making a transition between worlds. Fourteenth
Street, now almost deserted, looked even sadder and more run-down than
before. The night lights in the windows of the closed shops cast baleful
gleams on the pavement; the thin sound of a cheap dance band far off
lent its sad jazz beat to the relatively quiet night. Peggy shivered a
little in the first chill of autumn.

“It’s like two different cities, in there and out here,” she said. “It’s
a shame, isn’t it, that the real one is out here?”

Catching her mood, Randy put a reassuring arm about her shoulders. “It’s
two hundred different cities,” he said, “and the real one is wherever
you happen to be at the moment. So let’s leave this one, to make it
unreal, and go uptown. By the time we turn our backs on this, it will
disappear.”

And it did disappear, or nearly, in the sophisticated decor and subdued
harmonies of the St. Regis Roof. Randy was, as Peggy had suspected, a
fine dancer. His lightness and his certainty helped her, and she knew
that she had never danced so well before. But even as they floated about
the gleaming floor, the sounds of the elegant music could not quite
drown out the tinny jazz sound of Fourteenth Street that echoed in her
mind.

No, she thought, Randy had not been altogether right. This beautiful
room, these handsome, well-dressed people were not nearly so real as the
world outside. And it was that world, in which she would start her
search tomorrow, that stayed uppermost in her thoughts through the rest
of the dreamlike night with its dancing, its carriage ride around the
park and (or was this too a dream?) Randy’s gentle good-night kiss on
the steps of the Gramercy Arms.