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Buttered Side Down: Stories

8. The Leading Lady
The leading lady lay on her bed and wept. Not as you have seen leading ladies weep,
becomingly, with eyebrows pathetically V-shaped, mouth quivering, sequined bosom
heaving. The leading lady lay on her bed in a red-and-blue-striped kimono and wept as a
woman weeps, her head burrowing into the depths of the lumpy hotel pillow, her teeth
biting the pillow-case to choke back the sounds so that the grouch in the next room might
not hear.
Presently the leading lady's right hand began to grope about on the bedspread for her
handkerchief. Failing to find it, she sat up wearily, raising herself on one elbow and
pushing her hair back from her forehead--not as you have seen a leading lady pass a lily
hand across her alabaster brow, but as a heart-sick woman does it. Her tears and sniffles
had formed a little oasis of moisture on the pillow's white bosom so that the ugly stripe of
the ticking showed through. She gazed down at the damp circle with smarting, swollen
eyes, and another lump came up into her throat.
Then she sat up resolutely, and looked about her. The leading lady had a large and saving
sense of humor. But there is nothing that blunts the sense of humor more quickly than a
few months of one-night stands. Even O. Henry could have seen nothing funny about that
room.
The bed was of green enamel, with fly-specked gold trimmings. It looked like a huge
frog. The wall-paper was a crime. It represented an army of tan mustard plasters climbing
up a chocolate-fudge wall. The leading lady was conscious of a feeling of nausea as she
gazed at it. So she got up and walked to the window. The room faced west, and the hot
afternoon sun smote full on her poor swollen eyes. Across the street the red brick walls of
the engine-house caught the glare and sent it back. The firemen, in their blue shirt-
sleeves, were seated in the shade before the door, their chairs tipped at an angle of sixty.
The leading lady stared down into the sun-baked street, turned abruptly and made as
though to fall upon the bed again, with a view to forming another little damp oasis on the
pillow. But when she reached the center of the stifling little bedroom her eye chanced on
the electric call-button near the door. Above the electric bell was tacked a printed placard
giving information on the subjects of laundry, ice-water, bell-boys and dining-room
hours.
The leading lady stood staring at it a moment thoughtfully. Then with a sudden swift
movement she applied her forefinger to the button and held it there for a long half-
minute. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed, her kimono folded about her, and
waited.
She waited until a lank bell-boy, in a brown uniform that was some sizes too small for
him, had ceased to take any interest in the game of chess which Bauer and Merkle, the
champion firemen chess-players, were contesting on the walk before the open doorway of
the engine-house. The proprietor of the Burke House had originally intended that the
 
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