She is now a woman ageless because she is famous. She is surrounded
by a swarm of lovers and possesses a great many beautiful things. She
has more than one Ming jar in the library at her country place; yards
upon yards of point de Venise in her top bureau-drawer. She is able to
employ a very pleasant, wholesome woman, whose sole duty it is to keep
her clothes in order.
She wears superb clothes—the last word in richness and the elegance
of perfection—clothes that no man can declaim over, stimulating
himself the while with shot after shot of that most insidious of all
dope, self-pity. You see, she earns them all herself, along with the
Ming jars, the point de Venise, the country place, and countless other
things. She is the funniest woman in the world—not in her
press-agent's imagination, but in cold, sober fact. She can make
anybody laugh; she does make everybody.
Night after night in the huge public theatres of the common people;
in the small private ones of the commoner rich; in Greek amphitheatres
where the laughter rolls away in thunderous waves to be echoed back by
distant blue hills; in institutions for the blind; in convalescent
wards; everywhere, every time, she makes them laugh. The day labourer,
sodden and desperate from too much class legislation, the ego in his
cosmos and the struggle for existence; the statesman, fearful of losing
votes, rendered blue and depressed by the unruliness of nations and all
the vast multitude of horrors that lie in between—all of these, all of
them, she makes laugh. She is queen of the profession she has
chosen—unusual for one of her sex. She is the funniest woman in the
When she is at home—which is seldom—she has many visitors and
strives, if possible, to see none of them.
“You know, I entertain so much,” she pleads in that vivid, whimsical
way of hers that holds as much of sadness as mirth.
But this time, it being so early in the afternoon, she was caught
The girls—they were nothing but girls, three of them—found her out
upon the lawn, sitting on a seat where the velvety green turf fell away
in a steep hillside, and far beneath them they could see the river
moving whitely beyond the trees. They halted there before her, happy
but trembling, giggling but grave. They were gasping and incoherent,
full of apologies and absurd tremors. It had taken their combined
week's savings to bribe the gardener. And they only wanted to know one
thing: How had she achieved all this fame and splendour, by what magic
process had she become that rarest of all living creatures, the
funniest woman in the world?
It was an easy enough question to ask and, to them, hovering
twittering upon high heels a trifle worn to one side, a simple one for
her to answer. She looked at them in that humorous, kindly way of hers,
looked at their silly, excited, made-up faces with noses sticking out
stark, like handles, from a too-heavy application of purplish-white
powder. Then her glance travelled down the velvety green slope to the
bright river glancing and leaping beyond the shady trees.
Did she think of that other girl? Sitting there with that strange
smile upon her face, the smile that is neither mirth nor sadness, but a
poignant, haunting compound of both, did she remember her and the Urge
that had always been upon her, racking her like actual pain, driving
her with a whip of scorpions, flaying her on and on with a far more
vivid sense of suffering than the actual beatings laid on by her
mother's heavy hand, the thing that found articulation in the words, “I
must be famous, I must!”
She belonged in the rear of a batch of a dozen, and had never been
properly named. The wind was blowing from the stockyards on the dark
hour when she arrived. It penetrated even to the small airless chamber
where she struggled for her first breath—one of a “flat” in the
poorest tenement in the worst slum in Chicago. Huddled in smelly rags
by a hastily summoned neighbour from the floor above, the newcomer
raised her untried voice in a frail, reedy cry. Perhaps she did not
like the smell that oozed in around the tightly closed window to combat
the foul odours of the airless room. Whatever it was, this protest
availed her nothing, for the neighbour hurriedly departed, having been
unwilling from the first, and the mother turned away and lay close
against the stained, discoloured wall, too apathetic, too utterly
resigned to the fate life had meted out to her to accord this most
unwelcome baby further attention. This first moment of her life might
easily serve as the history of her babyhood.
Her father was also indifferent. He brought home his money and gave
it to his wife—children were strictly none of his business. Her
brothers and sisters, each one busily and fiercely fending for himself,
gave no attention to her small affairs.
Tossed by the careless hand of Fate into the dark sea of life to
swim or perish, she awoke to consciousness with but one thought—food;
one ruling passion—to get enough. And since, in her habitual
half-starved state, all food looked superlatively good to her, cake was
the first word she learned to speak. It formed her whole vocabulary for
a surprisingly long time, and Cake was the only name she was ever known
by in her family circle and on the street that to her ran on and on and
on as narrow and dirty, as crowded and as cruel as where it passed the
great dilapidated old rookery that held the four dark rooms that she
Up to the age of ten her life was sketchy. A passionate scramble for
food, beatings, tears, slumber, a swift transition from one childish
ailment to another that kept her forever out of reach of the truant
She lay upon the floor in a little dark room, and through the window
in the airless air-shaft, high up in one corner, she could see a
three-cornered spot of light. At first she wondered what it was, since
she lived in a tenement, not under the sky. Then it resolved itself
into a ball, white and luminous, that floated remote in that high place
and seemed to draw her, and was somehow akin to the queer, gnawing pain
that developed about that time beneath her breastbone. It was all
inarticulate, queer and confused. She did not think, she did not know
how. She only felt that queer gnawing beneath her breastbone, distinct
from all her other pains, and which she ascribed to hunger, and saw the
lovely, trembling globe of light. At first she felt it only when she
was ill and lay on the tumbled floor bed and looked up through the dark
window; afterward always in her dreams.
After she passed her tenth birthday the confusion within her seemed
to settle as the queer pain increased, and she began to think, to
wonder what it could be.
A year or two later her father died, and as she was the only child
over whom her mother could exercise any control, the report of her
death was successfully impressed upon the truant officer, so that she
might be put to work unhindered to help the family in its desperate
scramble for food, a scramble in which she took part with vivid
earnestness. She was hired to Maverick's to wash dishes.
Maverick was a Greek and kept an open-all-night chop-house, a mean
hole in the wall two doors from the corner, where Cake's surpassing
thinness made her invaluable at the sink. Also the scraps she carried
home in her red, water-puckered hands helped out materially. Then her
mother took a boarder and rested in her endeavours, feeling she had
performed all things well.
This boarder was a man with a past. And he had left it pretty far
behind, else he had never rented a room and meals from the mother of
Cake. In this boarder drink and debauchery had completely beaten out of
shape what had once been a very noble figure of a man. His body was
shrunken and trembling; the old, ragged clothes he wore flapped about
him like the vestments of a scarecrow. His cheeks had the bruised
congested look of the habitual drinker, his nose seemed a toadstool on
his face, and his red eyes were almost vanished behind puffy, purple,
pillow-like lids. His voice was husky and whispering, except when he
raised it. Then it was surprisingly resonant and mellow, with something
haunting in it like the echo of an echo of a very moving sweetness.
One night Cake, returning all weary and played-out from dish-washing
at Maverick's, heard him speaking in this loud voice of his, pushed the
door open a crack, and peeked in. He was standing in the middle of the
floor evidently speaking what the child called to herself “a piece.”
Her big mouth crooked derisively in the beginning of what is now her
famous smile. The lodger went on speaking, being fairly well stimulated
at the time, and presently Cake pushed the door wider and crept in to
the dry-goods box, where her mother always kept a candle, and sat down.
The lodger talked on and on while Cake sat rapt, the flickering
candle in her hands throwing strange lights and shadows upon her gaunt
face. How was she to know she was the last audience of one of the
greatest Shakespearian actors the world had ever seen?
It was a grave and wondering Cake that crept to her place to sleep
that night between her two older sisters. And while they ramped against
her and chewed and snorted in her ears, she listened all over again to
that wonderful voice and was awed by the colour and beauty of the words
that it had spoken. She slept, and saw before her the globe of light,
trembling and luminous, the one bright thing of beauty her life had
ever known, that seemed to draw her up from darkness slowly and with
great suffering. Trembling and weeping she awoke in the dawn, and the
strange pain that had tortured her so much and that she had called
hunger and sought to assuage with scraps from the plates that came to
the sink at Maverick's became articulate at last. With her hands
clasped hard against her breast she found relief in words.
“I gotta be somebody,” sobbed the child. “I mus' be famous, I mus'!”
She arose to find life no longer a confused struggle for food, but a
battle and a march; a battle to get through one day to march on to the
next, and so on and on until, in that long line of days that stretched
out ahead of her like chambers waiting to be visited, she reached the
one where rested Fame, that trembling, luminous globe of beauty it was
so vitally necessary for her to achieve. “How come he c'n talk like
that?” she demanded of herself, musing on the lodger's wonderful
exhibition over the greasy dish-water at Maverick's.
And that night she asked him, prefacing her question with the
offering of an almost perfect lamb-chop. Only one piece had been cut
from it since the purchaser, at that moment apprised by Maverick
himself that the arrival of the police was imminent, had taken a hasty
“Who learned you to talk that-a-way?” demanded Cake, licking a
faint, far-away flavour of the chop from her long, thin fingers.
The lodger, for a moment, had changed places with the candle. That
is to say, he sat upon the dry-goods box, the candle burned upon the
floor. And, having been most unfortunate that day, the lodger was
tragically sober. He bit into the chop voraciously, like a dog, with
his broken, discoloured teeth.
“A book 'learned' me,” he said, “and practice and experience—and
something else.” He broke off short. “They called it genius then,” he
Cake took a short step forward. That thing beneath her prominent
breastbone pained her violently, forced her on to speak.
“You learn me,” she said.
The lodger ceased to chew and stared, the chop bone uplifted in his
dirty hand. A pupil for him!
“You want to do this perhaps,” he began. “Pray do not mock me; I am
a very foolish, fond old man——”
The disreputable, swollen-faced lodger with a nose like a poisoned
toadstool vanished. Cake saw an old white-haired man, crazy and
pitiful, yet bearing himself grandly. She gasped, the tears flew to her
eyes, blinding her. The lodger laughed disagreeably, he was gnawing on
the chop bone again.
“I suppose you think because you've found me here it is likely I'll
teach you—you! You starved alley cat!” he snarled.
Cake did not even blink. It is repetition that dulls, and she was
utterly familiar with abuse.
“And suppose I did—'learn' you,” he sneered, “what would you
do with it?”
“I would be famous,” cried Cake.
Then the lodger did laugh, looking at her with his head hanging
down, his swollen face all creased and purple, his hair sticking up
rough and unkempt. He laughed, sitting there a degraded, debauched
ruin, looking down from the height of his memories upon the gaunt,
unlovely child of the slums who was rendered even more unlovely by the
very courage that kept her waiting beside the broken door.
“So you think I could learn you to be famous, hey?” Even the words
of this gutter filth he sought to construe into something nattering to
Cake nodded. Really she had not thought of it that way at all. There
was no thinking connected with her decision. The dumb hours she had
spent staring up the air-shaft had resolved themselves with the passing
years into a strange, numb will to do. There was the light and she must
reach it. Indeed the Thing there behind the narrow walls of her chest
gave her no alternative. She did not think she wanted to be an actress.
It was a long time after that before she knew even what an actress was.
She did not know what the lodger had been. No. Instinctively, groping
and inarticulate, she recognized in him the rags and shreds of
greatness, knew him to be a one-time dweller in that temple whither,
willing or not, she was bound, to reach it or to die.
The lodger looked down at the naked chop bone in his hand. The
juicy, broiled meat was comforting to his outraged stomach. Meat. The
word stood out in his mind to be instantly followed by that other word
that, for him, had spelled ruin, made him a ragged panhandler, reduced
him to living among the poorest and most hopeless. Drink! He raised his
head and eyed Cake with crafty calculation.
“What will you pay me for such teaching?” he demanded, and looked
down again at the bone.
What he did in the end, Cake herself was satisfied came to him
afterward. At first he was actuated only by the desire to procure food
and drink—more especially the drink—at the cost of the least possible
effort to himself.
Cake saw the look, and she knew. She even smiled a little in the
greatness of her relief. She saw she had been right to bring the chop,
and appreciated that her progress along road to fame would be as slow
or fast as she could procure food for him in lesser or larger
“I'll bring you eats,” she said cunningly. “From Maverick's,” she
added. By which she meant the eats would be “has-is”—distinctly second
class, quite possibly third.
The lodger nodded. “And booze,” he put in, watching her face.
“And booze,” Cake assented.
So the bargain was struck in a way that worked the most cruel
hardship on the girl. Food she could steal and did, blithely enough,
since she had no monitor but the lure of brightness and that Thing
within her breast that hotly justified the theft and only urged her on.
But booze was a very different proposition. It was impossible to steal
booze—even a little. To secure booze she was forced to offer money.
Now what money Cake earned at Maverick's her mother snatched from her
hand before she was well within the door. If she held out even a dime,
she got a beating. And Cake's mother, in the later years of her life,
besides being a clever evader of the police and the truant officer,
developed into a beater of parts. Broken food the child offered in
abundance and piteous hope. But the lodger was brutally indifferent.
“Food,” he scoffed. “Why, it says in the Bible—you never heard of
the Bible, hey?” Cake shook her tangled head.
“No? Well, it's quite a Book,” commented the lodger. He had been
fortunate that day and was, for him, fairly intoxicated. “And it says
right in there—and some consider that Book an authority—man cannot
live by food alone. Drink—I drink when I have occasion, and sometimes
when I have no occasion—Don't you know what drink is, alley-cat? Very
well, then, wine is wont to show the mind of man, and you won't see
mine until you bring me booze. Get out!”
And Cake got out. Also, being well versed in a very horrid wisdom,
she took the food with her. This was hardly what the lodger had
expected, and I think what respect he was capable of sprouted for her
Behind a screen of barrels in the corner of the alley Cake ate the
broken meats herself, taking what comfort she could, and pondering the
while the awful problem of securing the booze, since she must be
taught, and since the lodger moved in her sphere as the only available
There was a rush up the alley past her hiding-place, a shout, and
the savage thud of blows. Very cautiously, as became one wise in the
ways of life in that place, Cake peered around a barrel. She saw Red
Dan, who sold papers in front of Jeer Dooley's place, thoroughly
punishing another and much larger boy. The bigger boy was crying.
“Anybody c'n sell pipers,” shouted Red Dan, pounding the information
home bloodily. “You hear me?—anybody!”
Cake crept out of her hiding-place on the opposite side.
She did not care what happened to the bigger boy, though she
respected Red Dan the more. She knew where the money was going to come
from to buy the lodger's booze. It meant longer hours for her; it meant
care to work only out of school hours; it meant harder knocks than even
she had experienced; it meant a fatigue there were no words to describe
even among the beautiful, wonderful, colourful ones the lodger taught
her. But she sold the papers and she purchased the booze.
Her mother did not know where she spent this extra time. She did not
care since the money came in from Maverick's steadily each week.
Neither did the lodger care how the booze was procured; the big thing
to him was that it came.
At first these lessons were fun for him; the big, gawky,
half-starved, overworked child seeing so vividly in pictures all that
he told her in words. Full-fed on the scraps from Maverick's—he was no
longer fastidious—well stimulated by the drink she brought, he took an
ugly sort of degraded pleasure in posturing before her, acting as he
alone could act those most wonderful of all plays, watching with
hateful, sardonic amusement the light and shadow of emotion upon her
dirty face. Oh, he was a magician, no doubt at all of that! Past master
in the rare art of a true genius, that of producing illusion.
Then he would make Cake try, rave at her, curse her, strike her,
kill himself laughing, drink some more and put her at it again.
Night after night, almost comatose from the fatigue of a day that
began while it was still dark, she carried a heaped-up plate and a full
bottle to the lodger's room and sat down upon the dry-goods box with
the candle beside her on the floor. And, having thus secured her
welcome, night after night she walked with him among that greatest of
all throngs of soldiers and lovers, kings and cardinals, queens,
prostitutes and thieves.
If the liquor was short in the bottle a dime's worth, the lesson was
curtailed. At first Cake tried to coax him. “Aw, c'mon, yuh Romeo on
th' street in Mantua.”
But the lodger was never so drunk that he made the slightest
“Yes, I'm Romeo all right—the lad's there, never fear,
gutter-snipe. But—the bottle is not full.”
After that she never attempted to change his ruling. She was letter
perfect in the bitter lesson, and if the sale of papers did not bring
in enough to fill the bottle, she accepted the hard fact with the calm
of great determination and did not go near the lodger's room, but went
to bed instead.
Perhaps it was these rare occasions of rest that kept her alive.
After the lodger had been teaching her for several years her mother
died and was buried in the potters' field. Cake managed to keep two
rooms of the wretched flat, and no word of his landlady's demise
reached the lodger's drink-dulled ears. Otherwise Cake feared he might
depart, taking with him her one big chance to reach the light. You see,
she did not know the lodger. Things might have been different if she
had. But he was never a human being to her, even after she knew the
truth; only a symbol, a means to the great end.
Her brothers went away—to the penitentiary and other places. One by
one the flood of life caught her sisters and swept them out, she did
not know to what. She never even wondered. She had not been taught to
care. She had never been taught anything. The knowledge that she must
be famous danced through her dreams like a will-o'-the-wisp; had grown
within her in the shape of a great pain that never ceased; only eased a
little as she strove mightily toward the goal.
So she still sold papers, a homely, gawky, long-legged girl in
ragged clothes much too small for her, and slaved at Maverick's for the
lodger's nightly dole that he might teach her and she be famous.
At first he was keen on the meat and drink—more especially the
drink. Later, gradually, a change came over him. Only Cake did not
notice this change. She was too set on being taught so she could become
famous. At first the lodger was all oaths and blows with shouts of
fierce, derisive laughter intermingled.
“My God!” he would cry. “If Noyes could only see this—if he only
This Noyes, it appeared, was a man he furiously despised. When he
was in the third stage of drunkenness he would never teach Cake, but
would only abuse his enemies, and this Noyes invariably came in for a
fearful shower of epithets. It was he as Cake heard it, sitting huddled
on the old dry-goods box, the candle casting strange shadows into her
gaunt, unchildlike face, who was the cause of the lodger's downfall.
But for Noyes—with a blasting array of curses before the name—he
would now have what Cake so ardently strove for: Fame. But for Noyes he
would be acting in his own theatre, riding in his own limousine,
wearing his own diamonds, entertaining his own friends upon his own
When he was still too sober to take a really vital interest in the
teaching, he was a misanthrope, bitter and brutal, with an astonishing
command of the most terrible words. At these times he made the gravest
charges against Noyes; charges for which the man should be made
accountable, even to such a one as the lodger. One evening Cake sat
watching him, waiting for this mood to pass so that the teaching might
“If I was youse,” she said at last, “and hated a guy like youse do
this Noyes, I'd fetch 'im a insult that'd get under his skin right. I'd
make evens wit' 'im, I would, not jes' talk about it.”
“Oh, you would!” remarked the lodger. He took a long pull at the
bottle. “You be Queen Kathrine, you alley-cat.”
So the nightly teaching began with the usual accompaniment of
curses, blows, and shouts of brutal laughter. But when it was over and
the lodger was sinking to the third stage that came inevitably with the
bottom of the bottle, he kept looking at his pupil queerly.
“Oh, you would! Oh, you would, would you?” He said it over and over
again. “Oh, you would, would you?”
And after that he was changed by the leaven of hate her suggestion
had started working in him. For one thing, he took a far greater
interest in the teaching for its own sake. Of that much the girl
herself was thankfully aware. And she thought, Cake did, that the dull
husk of self was wearing away from that part of her destined to be
famous, wearing away at last. The lodger's curses changed in tone as
the nights filed past, the blows diminished, the laughter became far
Cake, as rapidly reaching the end of her girlhood as the lodger was
nearing the limits of his drink-sapped strength, redoubled her efforts.
It was very plain to her that he could not live much longer; death in
delirium tremens was inevitable. After that, she decided, school would
not keep, and she must try her fortune.
Then one night in the midst of the potion scene when she felt
herself Juliet, soft, passionate, and beautiful, far away in the
land of tragic romance, she heard the lodger crying:
“Stop—my God, stop! How do you get that way? Don't you know there's
a limit to human endurance, alley-cat?”
He was fairly toppling from the dry-goods box. His eyes were popping
from his head, and in the flickering candlelight his face looked
strained and queer. In after life she became very familiar with that
expression; she saw it on all types of faces. In fact, she came to
expect to see it there. But she did not know how to analyze it then.
She glimpsed it only as a tribute to her performance, so immense that
she had to be halted in the middle, and felt correspondingly elated.
She was exactly right in her deduction. But Cake and the lodger
advanced along very different lines of thought.
The next night he was shaky, came all too quickly to the teaching
period, and left it as speedily. Then he retired to the flock mattress
in the corner of the room and called Cake to bring the candle.
“I've an idea I'm going to leave you, gutter-snipe,” he said, “and I
doubt if I ever see you again. The end of life cancels all bands. And
the one that bound you to me, alley-cat, was very material, very
material indeed. The kind that runs easily in and out of a black
bottle.” He laughed.
“You Shakespearian actress!” He laughed again, longer this time.
“But I have not forgotten you,” he resumed. “In addition to all that I
have taught you, I am going to leave you something. Here,” he fumbled
out a square envelope and Cake took it between her hands. “Take that to
the address written on it,” said the lodger, “and see what the
gentleman does.” He began to laugh again.
“Noyes——” he cried and broke off to curse feebly but volubly. Cake
did not even glance in his direction. She went away out of the room,
too utterly stunned with fatigue to look at the letter in her dingy
The next morning the lodger was dead. He was buried in the potters'
field quite near his old landlady.
This second funeral, such as it was, closed the shelter that Cake,
for want of a more fitting name, had called home. She decided to put
all her years of bitterly acquired learning to the test. And as she
best knew what she had bought and paid for it she felt she could not
fail. She unfolded from a scrap of newspaper the envelope presented her
by the lodger and carefully studied the address.
Cake could both read and write, having acquired these arts from a
waiter at Maverick's, who also helped her steal the broken meats with
which she secured her artistic education. And, watching the steady
disappearance of the food, this waiter marvelled that she got no fatter
as she grew upward, hovering about in hope of becoming her lover if she
ever did. But even if that miracle had ever been accomplished the
helpful waiter would still have waited. Cake's conception of a real
lady was Queen Katherine; Cleopatra her dream of a
dangerous, fascinating one. And what chance in the world for either
with a waiter?
Cake read the name and address upon the envelope freely as the
hopeful bread-caster had taught her: Arthur Payson Noyes, National
Theatre. With the simplicity and dispatch that characterized her, she
went to that place. To the man reposing somnolently in the broken old
chair beside the door she said she had a letter for Mr. Noyes. The
doorkeeper saw it was a large, swanking envelope with very polite
writing. He straightened up in the chair long enough to pass her in,
and then slumped down again.
Cake found herself in a queer, barnlike place, half room and half
hallway, feebly illumined by a single electric bulb suspended above the
door. Very composedly she looked about her. If Mr. Arthur Noyes lived
in this place, he was one of her own kind and there was no need for any
palpitation on her part. Anyway, she was looking solely for her chance
to become famous, and she brought to this second stage of her search
the same indifference to externals, the same calm, unfaltering courage
as she had to the first.
“Now, then,” said a voice briskly. “Say what you want. We have not
advertised for any extra people. At least—not this year.”
A short, stout man emerged from the shadows. He was very blond, with
his hair cut snapper, and his pale eyes popped perpetual astonishment.
She returned his look steadily and well. She knew she was born to be
famous, and fame has a certain beauty of dignity utterly lacking in
“I am not an extra person,” she replied. “I have come to see Mr.
Noyes,” and she displayed once more the large square envelope, her
legacy from the lodger, the knife with which she proposed to shuck from
its rough shell that oyster, the world.
The man looked even more astonished, if the thing could have been
accomplished, and regarded her keenly—stared.
“Come this way,” he said.
Cake followed him along a narrow passage that turned off to the
right, down five steps, across a narrow entry, up three more
steps—although it seems quite silly, she never in her life forgot the
odd number of those worn steps—and halted before a closed door. On
this the fat man knocked once and opened immediately without waiting.
“Someone I think you'll see,” he said, standing between Cake and the
interior. There came to her a murmur over his chunky shoulder.
“She has a letter from——” The fat man dropped his voice and
mumbled. “Positive,” he said, aloud, after a pause broken only by the
vague murmur within the room. “I'd know his fist anywhere. Yes.” Then
he pushed the door open wide, stood aside, and looked at Cake. “Walk
in,” he said.
She did so. Beautifully. Poems have been written about her walk. Two
The room she entered was square, with concrete floor and rough
walls. But Cake did not notice the room for three reasons: The rug on
the floor, four pictures on the walls, and the man who looked at her as
They gazed at each other, Cake and this man, with sudden, intense
concentration. He was a genius in his line, she as surely one in hers.
And, instinctively, to that strange, bright flame each rendered instant
homage. What he saw he described long afterward when a million voices
were vociferously raised in a million different descriptions. What she
saw she likened in her mind to a dark sheath from which a sword flashed
gloriously. That sword was his soul.
“He says your name is Plain Cake—is that true?” He referred to the
lodger's letter held open in his hand, and by that she knew he was
Arthur Noyes. And great. That last she had not needed any telling.
“Yes,” she replied.
“He says you are the right Shakespearian actress for me,” Noyes
referred to the letter again. “Do you know Shakespeare?”
“All the way,” said Cake. It was not quite the answer Queen
Katherine might have made, perhaps, but her manner was perfect.
“Come here”—he pointed to the centre of the rapturous rug—“and do
the potion scene for me.” Cake stepped forward.
Perhaps you have been so fortunate as to see her. If so you know
that to step forward is her only preparation. She was poised, she was
gone. Then suddenly she heard the lodger's voice crying:
“Stop—my God, stop! How do you get that way? Don't you know there's
a limit to human endurance, alley-cat?”
She broke off, staring confusedly into space just the height of his
debauched old figure crouching on the dry-goods box. Then with swift
realization of her surroundings, her vision cleared. It was the fat man
in the checked suit she saw leaning helplessly against the closed door.
His jaw sagged, his eyes were frightfully popped, his face wore the
same strained, queer look she had come to see so often on the lodger's,
and he made weak little flapping gestures with his hands.
Cake looked then at Arthur Noyes. His face was white as the letter
in his hand, his dark eyes were dilated with a look of dreadful
suffering, the numb, unconscious reaction of one who has received a
“Come here, Crum,” he cried as if there was no one else in the room.
And Crum fairly tottered forward.
“What do you make of this?” asked Noyes, while Cake stood and
“I—I—” stammered Crum exhaustedly. “My God,” he groaned, “it's too
much for me. And training!”
“Oh, trained,” Cake heard Noyes say. “Such training as only he could
give. Years of it, that's plain. And then to send her to me. A
Shakespearean actress for me! To insult me like that—”
“It's too much for me, Boss,” said Crum again. “Still—Oh—oh, my!”
His back was turned, but Cake saw his whole body shake.
“Telephone Meier,” exclaimed Noyes suddenly.
“Meier?” Crum became immediately composed, and Cake saw that he was
tremendously surprised. “You don't mean that you're going to—After
this? Why, she's in the know. Look at her. It's perfect!”
And they both turned and looked at Cake standing unconscious and
serene on the other side of the room. You who have seen her know just
how perfect the pose was.
“It is perfect,” Noyes said. “I'd be a pretty poor sport if I
did not acknowledge that.” Then his voice dropped and Cake only caught
snatches here and there. “... such genius ... once in a century ... get
even with him in a way he least expects ... wipe off the slate entirely
... no comeback to my play ... let him see that for himself. Call
Meier.” Then he turned to Cake.
“Sit down, please,” he said courteously. “I have sent for a man who
may give you an engagement.”
She returned his gaze so quietly that he was puzzled. About her was
neither nervous anticipation nor flighty vivacity. The actions of her
audience of two left her in-curious and calm. You see, she was used to
the lodger. Also she had worked to be famous so long that all the
flowery borders of self were worn down to the keen edge of doing. Of
Plain Cake she thought not at all. But then, she never had. Only of the
light at the end of the passage that now loomed so bright to her
It seemed only a minute before Noyes spoke again: “This is Mr.
Meier.” He regarded her shrewdly all the time.
Cake bowed to Mr. Meier, a fat, gaudy gentleman with thick, hairy
hands. And Mr. Meier looked at Noyes and shook his head. She realized
they had already been talking together.
“Never before,” Mr. Meier said.
“If you will repeat the potion scene,” Arthur Noyes suggested. “This
time, I trust, you will not be interrupted,” he added politely.
And Cake stepped once more into that rich orgy of emotion. This
time, though dimly aware of noise and a confusion of shouting, she
carried the scene through to the end. “Romeo, I come! This do I drink
to thee.” She lay for a moment where she had fallen close to the
heavenly colours of the rug.
“Goo-hood Gaw-hud!” gasped Mr. Meier, and Cake sat up.
She saw he was rather collapsed upon a chair near which he had been
standing up when she began. His fat face was purple, and tears stood in
his eyes. But Arthur Noyes had not changed. White, with that look of
mortal hurt, he still stood straight and slim against the table.
“You cannot offer her less than two hundred a week to begin,” he
said with the same air of being alone with Mr. Meier.
“No, oh, no, no, no, no!” sighed Mr. Meier, wiping his eyes.
He rose and bowed to Cake with the queerest respect, still wiping
his eyes with the back of his thick, hairy hands. It was a striking
commentary upon her years of training that both of these men,
successful from long and hard experience, paid her the compliment of
thinking her an old hand at the game.
“Mine is the Imperial Theatre, Miss,” said Meier. “You should be
there to-night by seven o'clock. It ain't necessary we should rehearse.
No, oh, no, no, no, no! And now, perhaps”—he looked her up and down,
oddly—“perhaps I can take you to your—hotel?”
Cake looked him back, serene in her belief in what the lodger had
“I'll be there at seven,” she said. “No, thank you.” She walked out
and across into a small park where she sat until the appointed time.
Then she went to the stage entrance of the Imperial Theatre,
presented the card Mr. Meier had given her, and entered. Once inside
she was taken to a dressing room by a fat, comfortable, middle-aged
woman who seemed to be waiting for her. After a very short and, to
Cake, tranquil period, Mr. Meier bustled in.
“Of course, Miss, you know this is a Revue,” he explained, rubbing
his hands with a deference that Cake shed utterly, because she did not
know it was there.
She nodded, accepting his statement. “We make 'em laugh here,” said
Mr. Meier. Again Cake nodded; she knew exactly as much about the show
as she did before. “You close the second act; it's the best place for
you. Leafy, here, will help you dress.”
Cake sat still while Leafy dressed her, very hushed and still. The
light blazed so near after all these hard, lean years of pursuit, years
in which the little affairs of life, like the business of growing from
a child to a woman, had simply passed her by. Of that Urge to be famous
she was even more burningly aware; herself she did not know at all.
Mr. Meier came and took her by the hand. His fat face was pale and
sweating, he seemed almost awestruck by Cake's calm. He drew her out of
the dressing room and through a crowd of people, men and women with
painted faces, some beautifully, some extravagantly and strangely
dressed. They all stared. One woman shook her head. A man said: “Search
me! I never saw her before.”
Then Mr. Meier thrust her out in the face of a bright light.
“Begin,” he said hoarsely. “Walk over there and begin.”
Quietly Cake obeyed. She had walked right into the bright light that
had drawn her so hard and so long. Of course it was time for her to
begin. And with this bright light in her face, which soon became to her
the candle in that dark room left so far behind, she fared away to the
magic land of beautiful make-believe.
And only when Juliet, that precocious child, sank down
poisoned did she become aware of the uproar about her. The shouts of
the lodger, “Stop—my God, stop! How do you get that way?” augmented a
million times. It was this she heard.
Slowly Cake lifted herself on her hands, dazedly she peered through
the heart of the great light that had caused her such suffering and
that she had followed faithfully so bitterly long. On the other side
she saw faces, rows and rows of them mounting up to the very roof.
Faces laughing; faces convulsed, streaming with tears; faces with eyes
fixed and wearing that same queer, strained look she had noticed
before; hundreds of faces topping each other in semicircular rows, all
different but all alike in that they were all laughing.
She rose to her knees and rested there on all fours—staring.
Laughter! A great clapping of hands rolled about her like thunder,
dying down and rising again to even greater volume. Cries of “Go on,”
assailed her ears, mingled with, “Stop, stop! I can't bear it!”
The curtain fell before her, blotting out the vision of those faces,
making the uproar slightly dimmer. Mr. Meier advanced and lifted her to
her feet. He moved weakly, exhausted with mirth.
“Even Noyes,” he gasped. “He—he can't help it. Oh, my goo-hood
Cake looked away from him to the men and women that thronged about
her. The same faces that had turned to her such a short while ago; but
now, how different!
“Oh, don't criticise,” one woman cried. “Hand it to her! She can't
be beat. She's the one that comes once in a century to show the rest of
us what really can be done.”
“Meier,” shouted a man. “Meier—she'll have to go back, Meier; she's
stopped the show.”
Quiet and very still, Cake drew away.
It seemed to her only a moment later that Leafy touched her arm.
“Mr. Meier has taken a suite for you here in this hotel,” she said.
“Can't you eat a little, Miss?”
Eat? She had never had enough to eat in her life. Her life? She had
spent her life securing food for the lodger that he might teach her to
be famous. Leafy lifted the spoon of hot soup to her lips and
immediately she drank—she who had never had enough to eat in her life.
Morsel by morsel from the bountifully filled table the kindly dresser
fed her. Obediently she ate, and the hot, rich food stimulated her to
swifter, more agonizing thought.
Then, for the first time, she saw Arthur Noyes standing with his
back against a closed door. She read pity in his eyes, comprehension,
great wonder, and what she did not know then was the love that came to
a rare perfection between them and has never faded—and has no place in
“Will you tell me,” he said, “what your name is, where your home is,
and who are those that love you there?”
Then he broke off and shrank a little against the door. “Oh, don't,”
Yet she had only looked at him and smiled. But it came to her keenly
in her new awareness that his questions covered the whole of a woman's
life: Her name, her home, and the ones that loved her there. While
she—she had no name, she did not even know the lodger's name. She
looked down with strange astonishment at her grown-up figure, her
woman's hands. She saw herself a ragged, gaunt, bushy-headed child
moving on a tight rope above a dark abyss, intent only upon a luminous
globe floating just out of reach ahead of her, that she stretched out
for eagerly with both her hands. Suddenly the lovely bubble burst and
the child was a woman, falling and falling among rows of convulsed,
shining white faces to the sound of gargantuan laughter.
“You tell me,” Arthur Noyes pleaded gently.
And she did so very simply and beautifully. She did know
Shakespeare; it was the only English that she had ever been taught. So
Noyes heard how she became an instrument in the hands of the man who
hated him mortally, and owed her debut and her terrible awakening to
what he considered the only sporting answer to that insult. While he
listened he pondered, awestruck, upon the fact that out of all this
muck and blackness, the degradation of hate by the lodger, the
refinement of hate by himself, had flowered that rarest of all human
creatures—one that could make the whole world laugh.
“He always hated me,” he said. “I told him he had traded his genius
for drink, and he never forgave me. Where is he now?”
“Now?” Cake looked up at him in startled wonder. It came over her
suddenly that he counted upon the lodger's being in the Imperial
Theatre that night.
“Now?” she repeated. “Why, he is dead.”
It took Noyes a minute to recover. “What will you do?” he asked her.
“Will you go on from this start, continue this—this sort of success?”
He felt it the basest cruelty, in the face of her story, to say it was
the only kind she was ever destined to make. He waited for her answer,
wondering, and a little awestruck. It seemed to him they had come to
the supreme test of her genius.
And she looked up at him with such sadness and such mirth—such
tragic, humorous appreciation of the darkness in which she had been
born, the toilsome way she had travelled to the Great Light and what it
actually revealed when she arrived.
“I will go on from this success,” she said. Involuntarily she raised
her hand to her breast. “I must, since it is the only way for me. You
see,” with a humour far more touching than the saddest tears, “I must
And she smiled that smile that hurt him, the smile the world loves
and will give anything to see.
The most famous funmaker of her time looked away from the bright
river fleeting beyond the trees to her giggling, half-terrified
“Fame,” she said, “is a secret that cannot be told. It must be
discovered by the seeker. Let me offer you tea as a substitute.”