It was obvious to her that this quality was destroying whatever slim chance for success they had. The lines, with the new ugly twist that had been imparted to them, might draw a half dozen rude guffaws from different parts of the audience, but the chill disfavor with which they were received by the rest of the house, must, she felt, have been apparent to everybody. There seemed, though, to be a superstition that a laugh was a sacred thing; something to be fed carefully with more of the same thing that had originally produced it. This treatment was persisted in, despite the fact that the audiences shrank and shriveled and the box-office receipts, she gathered from the gossip of the company, hung just about at the minimum required to keep them going.
What troubled her was her own apathetic acceptance of it all. Just as her ear seemed to have grown dull to the offenses that nightly were committed against it on the stage, and to the leering response, which was all they ever got from across the footlights, so her spirit submitted tamely to the prospect of failure. She hardly seemed to herself the same person who had set to work in a blaze of eager enthusiasm, on the part she played so mechanically now.
She tried to reassure herself with the reflection that the tour meant nothing to her, except as it fell in with an ulterior purpose, and that it was actually serving that purpose well enough. She’d deliberately turned aside from the main channel of her new life to give mind and soul a rest they needed. When she’d got that rest and rallied her courage, she’d take a fresh start. She had, lying safely in the bank in Chicago, where Galbraith had taken her, something over two hundred dollars; for she’d lived thriftily during the Chicago engagement and had added a little every week to her nest-egg of profit from the costuming business. So she had enough to get her to New York and see her through the process of finding a new job. What sort of job it would be, she was still too tired to think, but she was sure she could find something.
Meantime, out there on the road, she was making no effort to save. She indulged in whatever small ameliorations to their daily discomforts her weekly wage would run to.
It was thus that matters stood with her, when, with the rest of the company, she arrived in Dubuque on a Wednesday morning, with an hour or so to spare before the matinee.
It was a beastly day. A gusty rain, whipping up from the south, by way of answer to the challenge of a heavy snowfall the day before, inflicted a combination of the rigors of winter, with a debilitating, disquieting hint of spring. The train, for which they had been routed out that morning at seven o’clock, had been blistering hot and the necessarily open windows had let in choking clouds of smoke.
The hotel was hot, too. Rose and Dolly, as soon as they had registered, went up to their room and washed off the stains of travel, as well as they could in translucent water that was the color of weak coffee. Then Rose, in a kimono, stretched out on the bed to make up some of the rest their early departure from Cedar Rapids had deprived her of. She did this methodically whenever opportunity offered, but without any great conviction.