"Yes, there ought, but there isn't. They've got things down to a fine point, and the fellow they don't fear has got to fear them. . . . I'll put your number early to-night, so that you can get off by nine. Good luck, Nance."
At nine, then, behold Nancy Olden in her white muslin dress, long-sleeved and high-necked, and just to her shoe-tops, with a big white muslin sash around her waist. Oh, she's no baby, is Nance, but she looks like one in this rig with her short hair--or rather, like a school-girl; which makes the stunts she does in mimicking the corkers of the profession all the more surprising.
"We're just a little party," said Mrs. Paul Gates, coming into the bedroom where I was taking of my wraps. "And I'm so glad you could come, for my principal guest, Mr. Latimer, is an invalid, who used to love the theaters, but hasn't been to one since his attack many years ago. I count on your giving him, in a way, a condensed history in action of what is going on on the stage."
I told her I would. But I didn't just know what I was saying. Think of Latimer there, Maggie, and think of our last meeting! It made me tremble. Not that I fancied for a moment he'd betray me. The man that helps you twice don't hurt you the third time. No, it wasn't that; it was only that I longed to do well--well before him, so that--
And then I found myself in an alcove off the parlors, separated from them by heavy curtains. It was such a pretty little red bower. Right behind me was the red of the Turkish drapery of a cozy corner, and just as I took my place under the great chandelier, the servants pulled the curtains apart and the lights went out in the parlors.
In that minute I got it, Mag--yes, stage fright. Got it bad. I suppose it was coming to me, but Lordy! I hadn't ever known before what it was. I could see the black of the men's clothes in the long parlors in front of me, and the white of the women's necks and arms. There were soft ends of talk trailing after the first silence, and everything was so strange that I seemed to hear two men's voices which sounded familiar--Latimer's silken voice, and another, a heavy, coarse bass, that was the last to be quieted.
I fancied that when that last voice should stop I could begin, but all at once my mind seemed to turn a somersault, and, instead of looking out upon them, I seemed to be looking in on myself--to see a white-faced little girl in a white dress, standing alone under a blaze of light in a glare of red, gazing fearfully at this queer, new audience.
Fail? Me? Not Nancy, Maggie. I just took me by the shoulders.
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