Winston sat leaning forward, his hand gripping the rail, staring at her. But for that one slender figure the entire stage before him was a blank. Suddenly he caught Craig by the arm.
“Who is that?” he questioned, sharply. “The one in the costume of a peasant girl?”
“Who is it? Are you crazy? Why, that ’s Lizzie; read your programme, man. She must have had a faint spell just now. By Jove, I thought for a moment she was going to flop. You ’re looking pretty white about the lips yourself, ain’t sick, are you?”
He shook his head, sinking back into his seat. Hastily he opened the pages of the crushed programme, his hand shaking so he was scarcely able to decipher the printed lines. Ah! there it was in black-faced type: “Renee la Roux—Miss Beth Norvell.”
THE MISSION OF A LETTER
All through the remainder of the play he sat as one stunned, scarcely removing his eyes from the glittering stage, yet seeing nothing there excepting her. He could not later have recalled a single scene. Between the acts he conversed rationally enough with those about him, congratulating her people upon the brilliant success of the evening, and warmly commending the work of the Star. Yet this was all mechanical, automatic, his mind scarcely realizing its own action.
She never glanced in that direction again; during all the four acts not once did she permit her eyes to rest upon their box. The others may not have noticed the omission, but he did, his interpretation of the action becoming a pain. It served to strengthen the resolve which was taking possession of him. He noticed, also, that she played feverishly, vehemently, not with that quiet restraint, that promise of reserve power, always so noticeable in the old days. It caused him to realize that she was working upon her nerves, holding herself up to the strain by the sheer strength of will. The papers the next day commented upon this, hinting at nervousness, at exhilaration consequent upon so notable a greeting. But Winston knew the cause better—he knew the spectre which had so suddenly risen before her, turning her white and frightened at the very moment of supreme triumph. There, in front of them all, under the full glare of the lights, herself the very focus of thousands of eyes, she had been compelled to fight down her heart, and win a victory greater than that of the actress. In that instant she had conquered herself, had trodden, smiling and confident, over the awakened memories of the past.