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Edith had never performed anything in her life, but she would rather make a fool of herself than remain at her old station.  Sitting outside in the shadow of the Star Theatre, Edith shivered slightly.  The winter was biting and her layers weren't much against the cold.

She never liked saying "It would have to do" because Edith constantly desired better things.  That was, of course, how she came to be sitting in front of Winchester's premiere Star Theatre at eight in the morning.  That was why she was auditioning for a role in the play, when she had never acted before in her life.

It was still early, and the streets had yet to fill with people.  Edith wondered whether or not she should leave to find a bakery.  Breakfast would have helped calm some of the nerves jolting her system.

Today was the big audition day, and Edith figured that when the hour become a little godlier, more actresses would arrive for the audition.  She had inquired about it, but was unhelpfully told to arrive at the Star Theatre at 9 A.M. sharp, where she would receive further instructions.

Around eight-thirty some more ladies began milling around the Theatre.  Some of them were finely dressed in fur coats and shawls; the others wore tired wool dresses like Edith's.

Edith always felt self-conscious when surrounded by humanity.  She spent all her time with her head in the clouds dreaming of a better life, and didn't want to be placed among the poor for her dress.  Edith was as pretty as any of the established, well-off actresses gathering for the audition.  If nothing else, she had that to hold above them.

Around 9 A.M., the manager came out to collect the ladies and take them inside.  Several had dispersed in their waiting.  They all gathered around him at the back of the theatre, oblivious to class distinctions (for which Edith was grateful).  The manager introduced himself as Quincy Perry.  Several of the ladies giggled, but Edith paid them no mind.  She was raptly listening to Mr. Perry's speech.

Finally, the girls were separated into groups based on the part they were auditioning for.  Several of the finely-dressed ladies were grouped for the part of Juliet; and Edith herself for the nurse.

The ladies were invited to sit in the pit during the auditions, coming up to the stage with their script when it was their turn.  The first lady called to audition was named Sofia; Edith didn't catch her last name.  She was a radiant, dark beauty and Edith sighed, examining her pale hand.  Sofia would be perfect for the role of the young Italian.

She was to perform the scene of Juliet's death.  An actor sprawled across the stage, in portrayal of Romeo.  Sofia had a pretty voice for Juliet, and she bent over the actor as though grace had given way to grief.

"Oh happy dagger, this is thy sheath.  There rust and let me die."

Sofia receieved a round of polite applause, and she stepped from the stage glowing with satisfaction.  Juliet hopefuls sat in their seats wringing their hands, unnerved by Sofia's performance.

When the Juliet roles were finished, Edith was first to be called to audition for the role of Juliet's nurse.  She was to perform the nurse's monologue:

Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
Susan and she (God rest all Christian souls!)
Were of an age.  Well, Susan is with God;
She was too good for me.  But, as I said,
On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen;
That shall she, marry; I remember it well.
'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years;
And she was weaned (I never shall forget it),
Of all the days of the year, upon that day;
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dovehouse wall.
My lord and you were then at Mantua.
Nay, I do bear a brain.  But, as I said,
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!
Shake, quoth the dovehouse!  'Twas no need, I trow,
To bid me trudge.
And since that time it is eleven years,
For then she could stand high-lone; nay, by th' rood,
She could have run and waddled all about;
For even the day before, she broke her brow;
And then my husband (God be with his soul!
'A was a merry man) took up the child.
'Yea,' quoth he, 'dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?' and, by my holidamn,
The pretty wretch left crying and said 'Ay.'
To see now how a jest shall come about!
I warrant, an I should live a thousand years
I never should forget it. 'Wilt thou not, Jule?' quoth he,
And, pretty fool, it stinted and said 'Ay.'


It was the most difficult thing that Edith had ever done.  Her voice wavered in the beginning, then picked up strength, and she worried gravely that she had not thrown enough force into the beginning of the monologue.  She once had the chance to read Romeo and Juliet aloud to Catherine and Beatrice Raleigh, thus she knew the demeanor of Juliet's nurse in this scene.

Was it acted thoughtfully enough?  Edith fretted.  A little tone goes a long way with two ditzy society girls; but in the theatre, the palatial Star Theatre, surrounded by actresses and managers, would it be enough?

Edith hurried off the stage and took her seat, focusing on a small corner of the stage and halfheartedly listening to the rest of the auditions.  When they were finished, she glanced at the corners of the room, sighed, and rose from her seat.  There was no way that her shoddy audition would be enough to land her a role at the Star Theatre.  Oh, there was no way.

"Miss Hargrove."

Edith nearly jumped when she heard her name.  She examined the man who approached her, with his neat suit and dark hair.

"I apologize for startling you, Miss Hargrove.  My name is Jacob Fisher, I am the casting director for the theatre."

"Oh, goodness," Edith said blushing, "I was horribly embarrassed by my performance.  I have never performed anything in my life."

Jacob's face lit up when he heard this, and smiled politely at Edith.

"I was very impressed by your performance.  I am only more impressed to hear that you have never performed.  There is a lot of hope for you, Miss Hargrove.  I hope that if I am so bold to ensure you the part of Juliet's nurse, that you will accept it."

Edith stood, stunned, swaying slightly in place.  Although the theatre was rather cool, she suddenly felt her cheeks were hot with excitement.  It would have wounded her pride if she was forced to return to Raleigh Manor, pleading for a job.

"Of course, Mr. Fisher," Edith said, "I would be honored to accept the part of Juliet's nurse."

"Then it is settled; the casting sheets will be posted at the door of the theatre next Saturday morning.  Act surprised."  Jacob Fisher bowed at Edith, and left her trembling.

The Star Theatre was an important centerpiece of culture in Winchester.  Its actors and actresses came from all walks of life, and the best among them went on to live fantastic lives completely free of want.

~*~

Florence Kelleher was in charge of Kelleher House, a whore-house.  Occasionally, however, she'd take in a young virgin with nowhere else to go.

Florence was seated at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, and sighed.  Edith was an ambitious girl, and Florence wished her well for the audition.  Florence entertained a fleeting notion that if Edith's audition failed, she could work at Kelleher House.  Then Florence sighed; she knew Edith's ambitions were higher than becoming a tart, or so she hoped.

Deep in her heart, Florence reminisced about a time when she wanted to be a virtuous, successful actress like Edith.  Those dreams were long gone, and the rat Jacob Fisher had ruined her.  Despite her resolve to hate him, Florence still loved Jacob deeply.  She thought bitterly on years past, when he refused to take any more than Florence's virginity.

When Florence discovered she was with child, she begged Jacob to marry her.  Florence almost spat in her tea.  The thought of her younger self groveling to marry Jacob Fisher was disgusting.  Jacob had married for, for the sake of propriety, but that was all the propriety he possessed.  He persuaded Florence to retain her maiden name, and when their daughter Ethel was born disallowed his wife from calling the child Fisher.

Jacob's wife and child settled into the family home nicely, and it had always been and remained a beautiful residence.  Of course, Jacob spent his nights at the Star Theatre, undoubtedly slouched in his desk with a bottle of booze within reach.  Or, Florence thought bitterly, he was fornicating with one of the young actresses.  Most of them were virgins - very career oriented, ambitious girls - but every once in a while, Jacob would send them the wrong way with false ideas and ambitions.

Florence tried to shelter her favorites, or simply girls who came to her looking for a place to stay.  Kelleher House wasn't only a whore-house; it was a safe haven for desperate, destitute women in Winchester.  Florence took great pleasure in sheltering women from her husband's influence; she only worried about Edith a little, because of her age.

"Is there tea in the pot?" Edith asked.  Startled, Florence turned around and nodded.  Edith stood by the door in her threadbare winter dress, shivering.  Florence practically jumped out of her seat to kindle the fire that crackled in the hearth.

Florence was wealthy enough to afford a stove because of Jacob's good humor.  She took the tea off the stove and set a cup in front of Edith, who was siting happily at the kitchen table.

"How was the audition?" Florence asked, leaning back and crossing her arms in her seat.

"I didn't think it went too well," Edith admitted, "But the casting director Jacob Fisher approached me after the audition and told me I had done very well for a beginning.  He assured me that I would have the part."

"Oh," Florence responded, clicking her tongue.

Edith was young, but she could read the displeasure in Florence's tone.  That, and the older woman had flinched just a little when she'd spoken Jacob's name.

"Is something wrong, Florence?"

Florence sighed.  "Jacob Fisher is a rat.  Take the part but don't trust him with anything - your career, your virginity, and so on."

Edith blushed.

"It's embarrassing to girls, yes," Florence quipped, not amused, "I've lost track of the number of girls who've come out of his office in tears after an audience with him and they're always the same.  They're always the ones whom he flatters the most, always the pretty ones like you who think they have their career figured out, but really only want a man."

"Yes, Ms. Kelleher," Edith said, feeling chastised like a small child.

"It's Florence, dear," the woman sighed.  "I was one of those girls once, the very first, or the first who got with child.  You know Ethel, of course; she is our child.  He married me out of duty, but has no sense of it."

"Florence - " Edith began, but her words were lost amongst Florence's bitter, angry tone.

"Jacob did the right thing by marrying me, but he is not a respectful man.  I've been a faithful wife to him and a good mother.  But he can't even commit himself to a single mistress."

"Of course," Edith whispered, ashamed of allowing herself to feel flattered by Mr. Fisher.

Florence saw the look of despair on Edith's face and smiled.

"Don't cry, Edith," Florence said, "You're a beautiful girl.  You'll be a beautiful woman, too, someday.  Don't let people like Jacob ruin your reputation for the sake of cheap romance.  Follow your dream and save your heart for someone who really loves you.  Jacob plays women - the most beautiful, talented, stupid women in the whole damn theatre.  But you're intelligent, Edith, so you have to play him."

Edith nodded.  Florence knew she felt chastised, but couldn't be bothered to try and correct the girl's feelings.  If she felt shame - even an ounce of shame - compared to what Florence had experienced, for even thinking of Jacob Fisher, then so be it.

The poor girl, Florence though, Theatre girls in this town always are.
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