Look in Your Glass

[RUTH GORDON is an American actress who has captivated many an audience in New York and London. Twenty-five years ago she was a stage-struck senior at the Quincy High School. She still has in her possession her schoolgirl Diary, and, using it as a point of departure, she tells her own unforgettable story of 1914. She lived in a double house at 14 Elmwood Avenue, Wollaston, Massachusetts, where, she says, ‘my mother and father and I and our cat hoped, dreamed, and somehow scrimped along on $37.50 a week, which my father earned as foreman at the Mellin’s Food factory in Boston.’
Earlier installments of Miss Gordon’s chronicle appeared in the Atlantic for August and SEPTEMBER.—THE EDITOR]


(For 1914, my Senior Year at Q.H.S.)

January 22. — Today I passed my map of Æneas’ Voyage in. It was really good looking — black and white sort of pen and ink sketch affair. In the afternoon Florence Crowell came up. She is a dear and we had lots of fun talking. Then I showed her some of the new dances.

At night we were invited to go to a Young People’s Party at the church, but I didn’t want to go. Father has bronchitis and is at home.

It was hard on all of us when my father was taken sick with bronchitis, for he was a difficult patient and illness always gave him a rip-snorting temper. A dismal pall hung over the whole house, broken only by requests to get him this and that, and if we hesitated he accompanied his requests with some smart directions for us to ‘get a wiggle on.’ Before he would allow us to call in a doctor he first tried mustard plaster, mustard foot bath, quinine, whiskey, Sloan’s Liniment, a gargle of Dobell’s Solution, and something out of a dark blue bottle bearing a prescription label printed in red, with a warning hand pointing to a statement that this medicine contained laudanum. I somehow associated laudanum with tabasco, which we also had a bottle of, and though I never tried either I knew that both were drastic.

If this dose failed to cure him, then he would let us send for Dr. Adams, not because he wanted or needed him, but as a kind of irritable present to my mother, who he said would land us all in the poorhouse calling in a doctor every time anyone got the pip. But my father would feel better after Dr. Adams had been there, for he liked him and even went so far as to admit that for a doctor he had pretty good sense. ‘Of course none of ‘em are any good,’ he said, ‘but at least Adams wouldn’t saw you up without first askin’ if he could.’

But we had thought that these days of illness were over, for about two years before that my father had enthusiastically taken up the fresh-air fad, and, strange as it made his conduct, my mother and I were grateful, since it banished his colds. My father had started in fairly simply, doing nothing more than remove the outer storm window in his bedroom and open the regular window wide. ‘Best thing in the world for you,’ he would tell my mother and me. ‘I don’t know how you can coddle yourselves like you do just openin’ up your windows a crack.’

‘Well, you’re a man, Clinton.’

‘Thanks,’ said my father; ‘you certainly believe in startin’ with elementary facts.’

‘Well, if you’d just let me finish! What I was going to say was you’re a man that was used to all kinds of weather because you were a sailor, and of course you had to be out rain or shine and I don’t know how you lived through it, but it’s different with Ruth and me. Of course, I don’t believe night air is bad like they used to, but just the same I don’t think you have to freeze to death to keep well.’

My father was so enthusiastic from the results of his wide-open window that he decided he must experiment further, and his next venture was a cold bath every morning, winter and summer. Our bathtub was a dank affair made of tin enclosed in a dark wooden frame. It was so dreary-looking that it was hard to believe good health could spring from anything to do with it, but every morning my father would start the water going in it with a great rush, and a moment later his splashing and shouting let us know what agony he was going through. ‘Hi! Oh my! Ow, that’s good!’ he would groan. ’Hi! Oh my!’ Then after the bath was over we could hear him jumping up and down in the bathroom trying to get warm.

‘You got an awful lot of will power, Clinton — I’ll always say that for you,’ said my mother.

‘I like it,’ declared my father; ‘best thing in the world for you. You and Ruth’d like it, too, if you weren’t so lazy or yellow — I don’t know which it is.’

The next step was to go through the winter without an overcoat. It used to make people’s teeth chatter just to look at him, but he said that the more you bundled up the colder you felt, and that if you were going to be cold that was your nature, and what good did one more overcoat do? Then he decided that what would really cure him was to sleep outdoors.

A narrow balcony led off his bedroom window, and here he had a sailor named Mr. Applegreen rig up an unsightly gray canvas awning and make him a hammock bed. The whole place was an eyesore, and it was hard to explain away because it sounded too eccentric to tell the truth and say that my father slept, outdoors. I really do not know how I did justify it.

For his night outdoors my father wore heavy flannel pajamas tucked into long bright blue woolen socks, a red skating cap pulled down over his ears, and mittens; and when he crawled out the window he took with him a small pillow which my mother had made and unmade several times to get it exactly like his directions. It was the shape of a lobster buoy, and he used it to pad his knees because he said that they were so bony they woke him up after he got to sleep.

The hammock itself was made up with red blankets and some heavy paper sheets which my father had seen advertised in a magazine. They were guaranteed to keep out the cold better than blankets; but, just in case these sheets let him down, my father kept a bottle of Green River under his hammock, and a nip of that turned the trick.

The fresh-air fad was working so wonderfully that my father could not resist trying one more field to conquer, so he threw away all his woolen underwear. My mother said she thought that was really going too far, because everybody knew the value of woolen close to the skin, and giving up his heavy underwear was really flying in the face of Providence. But he said that it would either kill him or cure him, and in the former event we could have his insurance.

The colds had disappeared, and we had about got used to my father’s odd new ways, when he came home one night and electrified us by saying that he had joined a gymnasium class in the Boston Y. M. C. A. My mother and I thought that it was crazy, but she said she did not care so long as it kept him happy, only he was fifty-six and she just hoped he would not bust anything.

His attendance at the Y. M. C.A. evening class was very regular, and eventually we received an invitation to come to an exhibition in which my father was to take part. My mother said that I had to go because Papa would make me, and so, as long as I had to go, it would be better for me to come along pleasantly. At the last minute my father felt so confident of the entertainment that he invited Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, who lived in the other side of our house, to come along with my mother and me. Also he told my mother to get herself three pinks to wear, and to add the price on to next week’s house money.

It was such a gorgeous and unique situation to be going into Boston in the evening that I wished I were going to something I really wanted to see. We arrived early, as my father had recommended us to, so that we could get seats in the centre of the front row in the gymnasium balcony. As we were settling ourselves, my mother whispered to me, ‘For my sake try and act as though you liked it, and I’ll do something nice sometime for you.’

My father turned out to be the chief source of entertainment, owing to the fact that he was years older than anyone else performing, and also because he looked so odd in his old-fashioned two-piece bathing suit. The pupils did setting-up exercises, formations, this and that with dumbbells, running, jumping, and tumbling somersaults. I sat wishing the balcony floor would open up and let me fall right through, for every time it would be my father’s turn people around us would say, ‘Oh, good! Here comes the old feller,’ or ‘Oh, look at that old one go!’ It was awful, but the worst was yet to come. As my father finished a somersault and rose awkwardly from the mattress to continue with a run around the track, a good two inches of bare skin showed in back between his jersey and his bathing pants. People around us were convulsed, but I sat there wondering that God did not show some mercy and strike the Jones family dead. Since that night I have lived many fairly happy years, enjoyed some success, and perhaps been of use now and then, but at the horrid moment when I had to sit and watch my father run around the gym track with his bathing jersey hiked up to show his spine I should have been willing to trade in my future for oblivion in Mount Wollaston Cemetery.

My mother told me not to act so silly, and said that she guessed people knew what bare skin looked like and hoped I never had anything worse to be ashamed of. I hoped that my father would have some sense and hurry us home after it was over, so that we could retire into permanent privacy with our disgrace, but so insensitive was he that instead he invited us all to accompany him to the old Thorndike Hotel on Boylston Street for a dish of raspberry sherbet. It was the only time that my mother and father and I were all in a hotel together.

Oh, how could bronchitis have attacked my father after all we had been through for his health? It must have been for some reason. Life cannot be so patternless as it seems. Perhaps it was that God in His infinite mercy knew that if He did not discourage my father with bronchitis he would keep on with his gymnastics until he really did bust something.

January 23. — Today I took the waist off my brown velvet suit and the suit looks stunning with a white waist. After school I went down to the Library with Florence to get a book for outside reading — Haremlik. It is positively interesting.

In the afternoon I read and did my hair all sorts of ways. I think I am really overcoming my jealousy a little. Martha Robinson went out to Miss O’N’s this afternoon and I tried not to envy her.

I do not know how I ever heard of a book called Haremlik, unless I just ran across it by accident in the Quincy Public Library.

I think the title must have led me to believe I was about to embark on something pretty revealing, but it turned out to be as sedate as one of the ‘Little Cousin Series.’ My description, ‘It is positively interesting,’ just about let it out.

This must have been a grave disappointment, for what I was after was something definite about the facts of life. Of course in a book called Haremlik these facts, if any, must necessarily have been Turkish, but Turkish or anything was welcome, so long as they were facts.

My mother seemed too respectable to take up such matters with, so I had to resort to books. The dictionary proved helpful with definitions of anatomical words, and I owed much to a close study of Rubens’s lusty paintings, reproduced in an art book which lay on the lower shelf of our parlor table. I also enjoyed rereading at frequent intervals a wonderfully frank passage in Quo Vadis, the high spot being that someone mentioned a lady’s breasts right to her face.

All this gave me at least a groundwork of information, and unless the author of Haremlik was pulling his punches I could have told him a thing or two more than his book had told me.

January 24. — Today it rained and snowed all day but Katherine came down in the morning and stayed to lunch. Afterwards we walked up to the library altho the drizzle had almost become a rain. Up there I read half of Monsieur Beaucaire and I brought home Salome and Lady Windermere’s Fan and Memoirs of Rachel. Coming home we stopped in to see Gladys Bain. John Porter came up this morning and asked me to go to Dorothy Bowers’ but I didn’t go.

The Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy helped acquaint me with some worthy literature, but for real entertainment I had a side line of favorites which I felt were not sufficiently scholarly to mention in my diary. Among my special favorites were the C. N. and A. M. Williamson novels, which mentioned such names as Newport and the Riviera in a way that made one feel actually in society. The Lightning Conductor took me far from 14 Elmwood Avenue and set me down among magical people, who were always careless with money, drank sparkling Vouvray without thinking anything of it, and never once guessed that their chauffeur was a lord.

A jolly good time was a daily occurrence, and the whole thing ended up right as a trivet. The lord turned out to be no more stuck up than anybody, and the rich girl could not have been pleasanter if she had been poor. Everybody fell under her spell directly, and so great was her charm that she was allowed to maintain an even level of adorable willfulness during all of her waking hours. She did not give a fig for convention, but traveled daringly right through France with only her touchy old aunt for a companion and her unsuspected lord for a chauffeur. She wore her Paris clothes regardless and ran through mud puddles in her dainty little beautiful slippers. It was heaven to meet anyone improvident as this, and the lesson was so apparent that it made me feel like going out and scuffing up my Sunday boots.

From Brewster’s Millions I learned how hard it was to spend a million dollars in a year. Brewster had been forced into this trying situation because his relative had left a will saying that he must do so or else forfeit a legacy of a lot of millions which he might then spend at his leisure. The problem was a sidewinder, but I do not think that it made anyone stop wishing for a million. It merely helped to sour us on our relatives. It was terrible to have to watch Brewster struggle to get rid of his remaining forty or fifty thousand dollars with the end of the year coming at him quicker than you could say ‘ boo.’

Not only pleasure but knowledge came from my side line of reading, and I think that in one instance my whole understanding of life was broadened. This enlightenment I owed to a rousing book on the white-slave trade and its growth; according to the author, it seemed to be spreading faster than gypsy moths, the greatest menace, so far, to attack our district. The book came as a windfall one dreary afternoon while I was keeping house by myself. Our friend Mrs. Barnes brought it to lend my mother and warned me that I was not to read it until I got permission, although she said that personally she thought it was something every young girl should want to know.

Heretofore, Mrs. Barnes and I had not seen eye to eye on books, for the only other which she had recommended to my attention was about how children could share pleasantly in beautifying the home. It told how old worn-out things, which busy parents had overlooked or become inured to, could be brightened up and prettified by the efforts of little folks. It suggested painting tin bathtubs a neat white, making fern dishes out of meadow weeds, sewing brass rings on felt flatiron holders, and making penwipers out of old socks. These hints did not seem to awaken anything in me, but I did follow directions for making art work by pressing magazine-cover pictures into plaques of pink papier-mache, with the result that we had nothing anyone cared about. A picture by Penrhyn Stanlaws of a pretty young girl cheek to cheek with her favorite horse did not gain by being stuck into a plattershaped plaster, but it did upset my mother a good deal because I had ruined two of her best cooking spoons mixing up the papier-mache.

So, having been stung once, I glanced at Mrs. Barnes’s new offering with a pardonably lacklustre eye, but fortunately I wasted no more than a fraction of a second before realizing my mistake. I felt deeply indebted to her for her wide range of reading matter, and so eager was I to justify her faith in my thirst for knowledge that I did not even trouble to find a comfortable chair.

I sank down on the first thing in sight, which happened to be the hard seat of our oak hat tree, where I was soon lost in such a whirl of misadventure that nothing in life seemed safe. There was no telling about anything, and even a ball of darning cotton might turn out to be drugged. It was next door to impossible to know who to trust, and even one’s cat was something to cope with because there had been several well-known instances where people had picked up girls by getting into conversation with them over their pets.

I read as fast as I could, and since my mother returned late I was able to cover most of the important ground before I could ask her permission. I could not help wishing, though, that I had had just one more half hour to find out whether the choir singer ever got back to her home in Delaware and if the police ever caught the man with the gray Willys-Overland.

January 26. — At school today I got 94 in a Latin composition test. Marjorie Snow got 95 and I was furious because I wanted to be the first. Nothing exciting happened, excepting Miss Zeller kept me after school for whispering. In the afternoon Kay came down and we read all the time. I am wild about De Barrerra’s Memoirs of Rachel. Aunt Ernestine wrote the most sympathetic and encouraging letter to Mother about my going on the stage.

Aunt Ernestine was not really my aunt. She was called so out of affection, for she had been my mother’s best friend, back in the faraway days when they had grown up together in the small town of Bainbridge, Georgia. She had come to visit us once, years ago when we still lived up on the hill and there seemed to be a few more dollars in our purse to be spent on entertaining. As the high spot of Aunt Ernestine’s visit, she and my mother took an excursion train to Newport to see the wonders of a society resort. There, for a day, they were to drive past fabulous mansions and to have pointed out to them the very palaces in which Belmonts, Astors, and Vanderbilts might at that selfsame moment be wearing some of the flossy creations so alertly described in the social column.

I cried at not being included in the party, but my mother and Aunt Ernestine softened the blow by leaving me a generous share of their box lunch: stuffed eggs, cold chicken, deviled-ham sandwiches, pickles, homemade salted peanuts, and some cupcakes which had fallen a little. So I at least enjoyed the same indigestion which must have disturbed my mother and Aunt Ernestine. When they got home that night they described Bailey’s Beach and Ochre Point so vividly that, although to this day I have never been to Newport, I still feel I know what it looks like.

At the outset, they had been discouraged because the carriages were all too expensive, but at last an old darky had shown up who agreed to take them along the Shore Drive for the modest charge of one dollar apiece. Then he led them out to a dilapidated, sagging old surrey drawn by a horse who seemed about to collapse. My mother said that she had never felt so ashamed in all her born days, and in Newport, of all places. She had asked grandly: ‘Do you call that a carriage?’

‘Hack’s what I calls it,’ declared the darky, ‘and hack it is.’ As they told about it, they went into gales of laughter. Aunt Ernestine had a joyous spirit, and during her visit to us my mother was equally gay. And now here she was again spreading cheer with her letter. She was the first person to be encouraging about my going on the stage.

For a long time my mother and I had known that I wanted to be an actress, but how we should break the news to my father was a great worry, for he wanted me to be a physical-culture instructress, and nothing would persuade him that I was unsuited to it, that I hated anything to do with gymnastics, and that I did not have even enough talent in that line to enable me to stand up straight. The strain of our secret proved too much for my mother, and she privately broke the news to her sister, who was so shocked and vexed that she said that for me to go and be an actress was no better than to go and be a prostitute. This lively identification, coupled with what my father was likely to say when he learned that my taste lay so far from Indian clubs and dumbbells, dimmed my mother’s spirits considerably and gave her a great deal to think about.

It was her habit to take ten or fifteen minutes every evening — which she said she really had to have — to do her thinking in and collect herself, for, though her day began at five o’clock in the morning, housework, cooking, making clothes for me, and mending clothes for all of us took up the rest of her time. Her thinking period was the brief interim between putting the potatoes on to boil and beginning active preparations for supper. She would sit alone in the dark parlor, rocking slowly back and forth and singing fragments of half-remembered old songs. ‘Golden Rain’ and ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’ were her favorites. But of late my mother had done her thinking without the aid of song.

On the night after Aunt Ernestine’s encouraging letter, it was pleasant to hear once more, coming from the dark parlor: —

‘ Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and washes known.’

January 27. — Our third period Latin class was invited by Miss Fay to see her sophomore English class give the first two acts of Julius Cœsar. Miss O’Neill sat with me. Today Mr. Collins called me down to the office and I told him I wasn’t going to college. I felt as tho I was cutting off the last ties of respectability. Miss O’Neill said to me, in an adorable talk after school, that I got the highest in our Latin test because 10 per cent was taken off M. Snow’s paper. This afternoon Kay and I went to a basketball game between Rockland and Quincy in our favor 36-19. I think we are going to have a telephone.

To go to college was the accepted thing, though whether we actually longed for further education or whether we were influenced by the ‘Patty’ books and Betty Wales at College I really do not know. I too should have been delighted to go to college, but only if I could have done so in style like the girls in the storybooks, with sofa cushions, draperies, a tea table, and a mandolin. I could not afford to go to college under any conditions at all, and I did not mind, really, except that I thought it looked unfashionable when all the rest of my set were making out applications for Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe. My sister had gone to Framingham Normal School, and I think my father could have managed that for me; but Normal School was not fashionable, and fashion was my goddess. Yet I had to earn my own living, and how could I accomplish that and still stay in style? It was a nice problem to wrestle with and it caused me no end of worry until fortune smiled on me in the unusual guise of an invitation to The Pink Lady.

The Pink Lady was a musical comedy which played at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, and with the first strains of the overture I was lost forever to a normal existence. When the final curtain fell, I knew that I had had the finest time of my whole life. The Colonial Theatre had conducted me into a world of magic where all was gay, tuneful, and rosy, and reigning here was the most dazzling of beauties, Hazel Dawn, all pink sequins, satins, and velvets, birds of paradise in her golden hair, and her radiantly sweet smile sweeping us all off our feet.

I had been invited to this matinee by Anna Witham. All the way home on the Wollaston train we talked of nothing but the wondrous Pink Lady and hummed over the strains of ‘Beautiful Lady,’ and ‘On the Banks of the Saskatchewan.’ I spent that night with Anna, and even after we had gone to bed we still talked of Hazel Dawn. Next morning we each wrote her a letter.

Days of waiting followed, Anna returned to boarding school, and the hoped-for answer from Hazel Dawn had been all but forgotten. The thought of Mr. Mullins delivering a letter from the Pink Lady to 14 Elmwood Avenue was really outside the bounds of common sense. Then one day a square white envelope arrived, written in a bold hand with a flourish. It was no writing that I could recognize, which was a rare experience, for my correspondence was so limited that I almost never had to open a letter to find out who it was from. I opened this one, still wondering, then read the signature, ‘Hazel Dawn,’ and experienced such a sense of good fortune as comes but rarely in one’s life. The letter was just the usual ‘Thank you for your nice letter, glad that you enjoyed the show.’ I at once made a copy of it and sent it to Anna, asking her to send me a copy of the one that she must have received, but when Anna wrote to me there was no copy enclosed, for Hazel Dawn had not answered her letter. I alone was chosen.

From this moment I knew that, I was among the elect, and it gave me a deep sense of responsibility towards my future. Suddenly the idea dawned upon me: With such a remarkable streak of good fortune trailing me, why not go on the stage myself? Who knew but what some day I too could become an actress like Hazel Dawn? With her letter as my talisman there was no telling to what heights I could climb. I’m sure I thought that merely going on the stage would make me look like Hazel Dawn. I should have pink sequins and birds of paradise and a radiant smile of my own. It was true that I had no talent for singing, but I would be doubly wonderful some other way to make up for all such minor disadvantages.

I sparkled my eyes at myself in the big oak mirror of my bureau, split my face into what I hoped was a replica of Hazel’s smile, pinched my cheeks to make them look rouged, and got some beet juice to dye my lips in private. All my problems were solved as if by magic, for going on the stage not only would make me a raving beauty but would still permit me to stay stylish. If I went to Normal School or Business College, that meant that I had to work, but to go on the stage was something that even society people had been known to do, and everyone knew they never did anything because they needed money.

All this had happened over a year ago, and since then I had never wavered from my decision. My mother had almost become used to the idea, and for some time had been urging me to convey the news to my father, but I did not seem able to get up courage for the struggle. I knew I was going to be an actress no matter what obstacles had to be cleared out of my path, and yet I did not know how I was going to get myself across the gap between Wollaston and Broadway. I wanted to have some definite scheme laid out before I talked to my father, and all I could do at the moment was just stave off all his ideas about me and gymnastics.

But when I came home and said that Mr. Collins had called me down to his office to find out if I was going to college, my mother got worried and said: ‘Well, now you’ve got to tell your father, because news’ll leak out somehow and your father’d just never get over it if he heard the story from somebody else.’

‘But, Mama,’ I said, ‘he’s going to get mad at my not being a physicalculture teacher.’

‘Well, never mind. He’s got to find out some day, and the sooner the better, so we can relax.’

‘But I’d rather wait till some time when I feel like it,’ I pleaded.

‘If you haven’t felt like it in all this time, it’s likely you’re never going to. You got to tell him some time or other, or else how’ll you do it? You can’t be an actress very well and not have your own father hear about it.’

During dinner that night I thought a good deal about it, but I still did not have the heart to bring up the subject. Then suddenly my father said something about the Sargent School of Gymnastics.

‘No, Papa,’ I said quite boldly. ‘I don’t want to go there.’ And then I got cold feet, but it was too late — the subject was right out in public.

‘That so?’ said my father. ‘Well, what do you want to do, then?’

My mother made a scries of telegraphic faces at me, the meaning of which I could read all too clearly, but still I avoided the issue and mumbled, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’

‘Why, yes you do, Ruth,’ said my mother brightly. ‘You tell Papa what’s on your mind.’

There was no way out. With my mother turning traitor there seemed no safe spot to cling to. ‘I want to go on the stage,’ I murmured weakly, with less conviction than the words could ever have conveyed before or since.

This was followed by silence, every moment of which I expected would end in an enraged outburst. Then my father said quietly, almost judicially: ‘What makes you think you got the stuff it takes?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said feebly, ‘but I guess I can learn it if anybody’ll teach it to me.’

‘Well, that sounds modest, all right, but how do you know you’re cut out for it? It must be a devil of a hard life.’

‘Oh, I don’t care how hard I have to work,’ I declared, gaining confidence. ‘And I don’t care even if I don’t succeed right off. A whole lot of famous people made awful beginnings, but I wouldn’t mind even if I had to wait five years before I was a star.’

‘Well,’ said my father, ‘no one’s tryin’ to rush you. I stood by you in everything so far and I guess I can probably see you through this; but what I’m tryin’ to get at the root, of — don’t you have to have some qualifications to be an actress?’

‘Well,’ I said doggedly, ‘I think I have.’

‘Explain them, then. That’s what I’m askin’.’

‘Land, Clinton, how’s she going to know till she tries it? She’s got all sorts of artistic leanings. Mrs. Moorehouse always said she put a whole lot into her piano pieces, and I guess certain things you got to trust in the Lord,’

‘Lord or no Lord, when you get up in meetin’ you got to deliver the goods. I don’t have to be no actor to know that. I can tell that from bein’ an audience. What have you got. that’ll interest people? You must have some rough notions on the subject.’

‘Well, I don’t know if I can explain how I feel. All I know is I just do want to be an actress.’

‘Well, how do you figure on settin’ about it? Would you start doin’ your actin’ in Boston, or would you have to be goin’ away from home?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about all that,’ I lied, feeling the subject had got, launched so peaceably I was loath to run it on shoals.

‘ Why, yes you do know, too,’ prompted my mother, whose usual amenability seemed to have got mislaid somewhere. ‘You tell Papa about Doris Olsson and how she’s going to speak to John Craig for you.’ And then the whole story came out, of how I had written to Miss Olsson to find out about the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but how it seemed likely now that, with Miss Olsson’s help, I might be able to start, in any minute at the Castle Square Theatre.

‘What! Miss finishin’ your schoolin’? ‘ asked my father, startled. ‘No, Ruth, whatever you do, don’t never agree to any notion like that.’

‘Well, on the stage,’ I argued, ‘every single minute counts. You can’t start early enough, Papa, and I might never get another wonderful chance like acting for John Craig.’

‘Who told you all that?’

‘Doris Olsson, Clinton. Everyone speaks highly of her, and the very fact that she’s taking all this interest in Ruth must mean something.’

‘Well,’ said my father thoughtfully, ‘wouldn’t some sort of preparation be better? You still ain’t told me how you’re goin’ to know how to start actin’, spang out of the barrel.’

‘Well, Miss Olsson thinks it’ll be all right, Papa, and she’s going to have me see John Craig, and if he says so, then I guess it’d be all right, because he’d know.’

‘Maybe so,’ said my father, ‘but I think some preparation wouldn’t hurt none, and that school you mention might set you off on a firmer foundation. I felt the lack of education terrible and I wouldn’t like to see you in the same straits.’

‘Oh well, Clinton,’ interrupted my mother, ‘that school costs a lot of money and I don’t want to keep on scrimpin’ all the days of my life.’ My mother’s loyalty to my wishes was so obvious that such an attitude fooled no one, least of all my father.

‘Well, I see you two got it all worked out between you. All I can say is I ain’t never tried to stand in your way or nothin’, and I ain’t goin’ to start now. Of course I don’t think life on the stage’d be near so benefitin’ as bein’ a gymnastic teacher. It ain’t a healthy life or an easy one, and my guess is it’ll take a whole lot of stayin’ power to keep goin’.’

‘I don’t think you mind hardships if you’re doing the thing you want to do,’ I said rather grandly.

‘That kind of talk’s just talkin’ through your hat. A thing ain’t a hardship unless it is a hardship, otherwise what’s the meanin’ of the word? Maybe if it’s a hardship on account of doin’ somethin’ you want to do, it’s easier to see past it out into clear sailin’ — that’s all the difference there is between hardships, and don’t let this Doris Olsson girl tell you no different. Of course in a way I can see your bein’ drawn to the stage. All my people had rovin’ blood from away back, and I guess you got it, too, an’ I can’t deny but what I always en joyed theatres. Most every time when I got ashore I took in whatever attraction was playin’. I been in some places where I wouldn’t ask no lady to accompany me and I also seen the best. I seen Modjeska and Barrett and Booth, and when Booth was actin’ Shylock and started to sharpen up his long-bladed knife I never see a man look meaner, even on the Barbary Coast. And them days seafarin’ wasn’t all brass buttons and salutin’. Back then we had a nice rugged lot of men to deal with, and when you differed with anyone’s opinion after sundown you did it with your hand in clear range of your case knife and your weather eye rovin’ to see where was the likeliest exit. But I never seen any man could handle a knife meaner than Booth. Booth and Lotta, I thought, could give them all cards and spades. She was a cute little tyke. Once when the Austria was layin’ in at Frisco I went and served as a stage hand at Lotta’s theatre to get to see her close to. She was all right! Fine woman, those associated with her told me, and I didn’t see nothin’ to lead me to believe different.’

‘Why, Clinton, I never knew you did that. Lordy, what won’t you have done next!’

‘I did it again, once on another occasion. That time I helped push stuff around for Booth. That was Frisco too, but not the same voyage. The Golden Gate’s a great sight. I can’t think of any I ever saw finer. I ain’t seen much inland, but I don’t have to, to know they couldn’t be no landscape to beat the Golden Gate.’ My father’s face took on a moody look and my mother hurried to bring him back to his former subject.

‘Well, my! That must have been interesting, working around those theatres. Booth, I guess, was the finest actor. I wish I could have seen him near by.’

‘He was great, all right. His first wife lies buried over to Dorchester. Well, I guess there’s decent people in the theatre just like any other place. But all I say is, from my own personal experience of knockin’ round the world, when you get off on your travels there’s more temptation browsin’ round than you’re likely to run up against at home. But all the same I never wanted to be a stillwater sailor and I guess you’re some like me. If you want to go on the stage I suppose you know what you’re talkin’ about, but promise me one thing, Ruth: don’t never let me hear of you performin’ in any place where they sell hard liquor.’