Part 3 out of 6
it up. Some of us ain't built like that. We got to have some fun as we
go along, an' we're goin' to git it, you bet your sweet life, one way or
Soon after work was resumed, word was passed around that a big order had
come in, and nobody was to quit work until it was made up. A ripple of
sullen comment followed this announcement, but the girls bent to their
tasks with feverish energy.
At two o'clock the other new girl standing next to Nance grew faint, and
had to be stretched on the floor in the midst of the broken glass.
"She's a softie!" whispered Mag to Nance. "This ain't nothin' to what it
is in hot weather."
The pain between Nance's shoulders was growing intolerable, and her cut
fingers and aching feet made her long to cast herself on the floor beside
the other girl and give up the fight. But pride held her to her task.
After what seemed to her an eternity she again looked at the big clock
over the door. It was only three. How was she ever to endure three more
hours when every minute now was an agony?
Mag heard her sigh and turned her head long enough to say:
"Hang yer arms down a spell; that kind of rests 'em. You ain't goin' to
flop, too, are you?"
"Not if I can hold out."
"I knowed you was game all right," said Mag, with grim approval.
By six o'clock the last bottle was packed, and Nance washed the blood and
dirt off her hands and forced her swollen, aching feet into her shoes.
She jerked her jacket and tam-o'-shanter from the long row of hooks, and
half blind with weariness, joined the throng of women and girls that
jostled one another down the stairs. Every muscle of her body ached, and
her whole soul was hot with rebellion. She told herself passionately that
nothing in the world could induce her to come back; she was through with
factory work forever.
As she limped out into the yard, a totally vanquished little soldier on
the battle-field of industry, she spied Dan Lewis standing beside the
tall gas-pipe, evidently waiting for somebody. He probably had a
sweetheart among all these trooping girls; perhaps it was the pretty,
red-haired one named Gert. The thought, dropping suddenly into a
surcharged heart, brimmed it over, and Nance had to sweep her fingers
across her eyes to brush away the tears.
"I thought I'd missed you," said Dan, quite as a matter of course, as he
caught step with her and raised her umbrella.
Nance could have flung her tired arms about him and wept on his broad
shoulder for sheer gratitude. To be singled out, like that, before all
the girls on her first day, to have a beau, a big beau, pilot her through
the crowded streets and into Calvary Alley where all might see, was
sufficient to change the dullest sky to rose and lighten the heart of the
On the way home they found little to say, but Nance's aching feet fairly
tripped beside those of her tall companion, and when they turned Slap
Jack's corner and Dan asked in his slow, deliberate way, "How do you
think you are going to like the factory?" Nance answered
enthusiastically, "Oh, I like it splendid!"
EIGHT TO SIX
Through that long, wet spring Nance did her ten hours a day, six days in
the week and on the seventh washed her clothes and mended them. Her
breaking in was a hard one, for she was as quick of tongue as she was of
fingers, and her tirades against the monotony, the high speed, and the
small pay were frequent and vehement. Every other week when Dan was on
the night shift, she made up her mind definitely that she would stand it
But on the alternate weeks when she never failed to find him waiting at
the gas-pipe to take her home, she thought better of it. She loved to
slip in under his big cotton umbrella, when the nights were rainy, and
hold to his elbow as he shouldered a way for her through the crowd; she
liked to be a part of that endless procession of bobbing umbrellas that
flowed down the long, wet, glistening street; best of all she liked the
distinction of having a "steady" and the envious glances it brought her
from the other girls.
Sometimes when they paused at a shop window, she caught her reflection in
a mirror, and smiled approval at the bright face under the red tam. She
wondered constantly if Dan thought she was pretty and always came to the
conclusion that he did not.
From the time they left the factory until they saw the towering bulk of
the cathedral against the dusk, Nance's chatter never ceased. She
dramatized her experiences at the factory; she gave a lively account of
the doings of the Snawdor family; she wove tales of mystery around old
Mr. Demry. She had the rare gift of enhancing every passing moment with
something of importance and interest.
Dan listened with the flattering homage a slow, taciturn nature often
pays a quick, vivacious one. It was only when problems concerning the
factory were touched upon that his tongue lost its stiffness. Under an
unswerving loyalty to his employers was growing a discontent with certain
existing conditions. The bad lighting system, the lack of ventilation,
the employment of children under age, were subjects that rendered him
eloquent. That cruel month spent in the reformatory had branded him so
deeply that he was supersensitive to the wrongs of others, and spent much
of his time in planning ways and means to better conditions.
"Don't you ever want a good time, Dan?" Nance asked. "Don't you ever want
to sort of let go and do something reckless?"
"No; but I'll tell you what I do want. I want a' education. I've a good
mind to go to night school and try to pick up some of the things I
didn't get a chance to learn when I was a kid."
Nance scoffed the idea; school was almost invisible to her from the giddy
height of sixteen. "Let's go on a bat," she urged. "Let's go out and see
So on the four following Sundays Dan took her to see the library, the
reservoir, the city hall, and the jail. His ideas of recreation had not
The time in the week to which she always looked forward was Saturday
afternoon. Then they got out early, and if the weather was fine, they
would stop in Post-Office Square and, sitting on one of the iron benches,
watch the passing throng. There was something thrilling in the jostling
crowds, and the electric signs flashing out one by one down the long gay
Post-Office Square, at the end of the day, was always littered with
papers and trash. In its center was a battered, weather kiosk, and facing
it, was a huge electric advertisement which indulged in the glittering
generality, that "You get what you pay for."
It was not a place to inspire romance, yet every Saturday its benches
were crowded with boys and girls who had no place to visit except on
Through the long spring dusks, with their tender skies and silver stars,
Nance and Dan kept company, unconcerned with the past or the future,
wholly content with the May-time of the present. At a word or touch from
Dan, Nance's inflammable nature would have taken fire but Dan, under Mrs.
Purdy's influence, was passing through an acute stage of religious
conversion, and all desires of the flesh were sternly repressed by that
new creed to which he was making such heroic efforts to conform. With the
zeal of a new convert, he considered it his duty to guard his small
companion against all love-making, including his own.
Nance at an early age had developed a protective code that even without
Dan's forbidding looks and constant surveillance might have served its
purpose. Despite the high spirits and free speech that brought her so
many admiring glances from the boys in the factory, it was soon
understood that the "Molloy kid" was not to be trifled with.
"Say, little Sister, I like your looks," Bean had said to her one morning
when they were alone in the hall. "It's more than I do yours," Nance had
answered coolly, with a critical glance at his pimply nose.
As summer came on, the work, which at first was so difficult, gradually
became automatic, and while her shoulders always ached, and her feet were
always tired, she ceased for the most part to think of them. It was the
confinement that told upon her, and when the long bright days came, and
she thought of Forest Home and its woods and streams, her restlessness
increased. The stifling finishing room, the endless complaints of the
girls, and the everlasting crunching of glass under foot were at times
One day when the blue of the sky could not be dimmed even by factory
smoke, and the air was full of enticement, Nance slipped out at the noon
hour, and, watching her chance, darted across the factory yard out
through the stables, to the road beyond. A decrepit old elm-tree, which
had evidently made heroic effort to keep tryst with the spring, was the
one touch of green in an otherwise barren landscape. Scrambling up the
bank, Nance flung herself on the ground beneath its branches, and between
the bites of a dry sandwich, proceeded to give vent to some of her
"Arra, come in, Barney McKane, out of the rain," she sang at the top of
"And sit down until the moon comes out again,
Sure a cup of tay I'll brew, just enough for me and you,
We'll snuggle up together, and we'll talk about the weather,
Do you hear? Barney dear, there's a queer
Sort of feelin' round me heart, that gives me pain,
And I think the likes o' me could learn to like the likes o' ye,
Arra, come in, Barney McKane, out of the rain!"
So absorbed was she in trying operatic effects that she did not notice
an approaching automobile until it came to a stop in the road below.
"Hi there, Sembrich!" commanded a fresh young voice, the owner of which
emphasized his salute with his horn, "are you one of the factory kids?"
Nance rose to a sitting posture.
"What's it to you?" she asked, instantly on the defensive.
"I want to know if Mr. Clarke's come in. Have you seen him?"
"No, indeed," said Nance, to whom Mr. Clarke was as vague as the Deity;
then she added good-naturedly, "I'll go find out if you want me to."
The young man shut off his engine and, transferring two struggling
pigeons from his left hand to his right, dismounted.
"Never mind," he said. "I'll go myself. Road's too rotten to take the
machine in." Then he hesitated, "I say, will you hold these confounded
birds 'til I come back? Won't be gone a minute. Just want to speak to the
Nance scrambled down the bank and accepted the fluttering charges, then
watched with liveliest interest the buoyant figure in the light suit go
swinging up the road. There was something tantalizingly familiar in his
quick, imperious manner and his brown, irresponsible eyes. In her first
confusion of mind she thought he must be the prince come to life out of
Mr. Demry's old fairy tale. Then she caught her breath.
"I believe it's that Clarke boy!" she thought, with rising excitement, "I
wonder if he'd remember the fight? I wonder if he'd remember me?"
She went over to the automobile and ran her fingers over the silver
initials on the door.
"M.D.C," she repeated. "It _is_ him! It is!"
In the excitement of her discovery she relaxed her grasp on the pigeons,
and one of them escaped. In vain she whistled and coaxed; it hopped about
in the tree overhead and then soared away to larger freedom.
Nance was aghast at the catastrophe. She did not wait for the owner's
return, but rushed headlong down the road to meet him.
"I let one of 'em go!" she cried in consternation, as he vaulted the
fence and came toward her. "I wouldn't 'a' done it for anything in the
world. But I'll pay you for it, a little each week. Honest I will!"
The handsome boyish face above her clouded instantly.
"You let it go?" he repeated furiously. "You little fool you! How did
you do it?"
Nance looked at him for a moment; then she deliberately lifted the other
pigeon as high as she could reach and opened her hand.
"Like that!" she cried.
Mac Clarke watched his second bird wheel into space; then his amazed
glance dropped to the slim figure of the young girl in her short
gingham dress, with the sunlight shining on her hair and on her bright,
"You've got your nerve!" he said with a short laugh; then he climbed into
his car and, with several backward glances of mingled anger and
amusement, drove away.
Nance related the incident with great gusto to Dan that night on
the way home.
"He never recognized me, but I knew him right off. Same old Smart Aleck,
calling people names."
"I was up in the office when he come in," said Dan. "He'd been held up
for speeding and wanted his father to pay his fine."'
"Did he do it?"
"Of course. Mac always gets what he wants. He told Bean he wasn't going
to stay at that school in Virginia if he had to make 'em expel him. Sure
enough they did. Wouldn't I like to have his chance though!"
"I don't blame him for not wanting to go to school," said Nance. Then she
added absently, "Say, he's got to be a awful swell-looker, hasn't he?"
That night, for the first time, she objected to stopping in
"It ain't any fun to hang around there," she said impatiently. "I'm sick
of doing tame things all the time."
The next time Nance saw Mac Clarke was toward the close of the summer.
Through the long sweltering hours of an interminable August morning she
had filed and chipped bottles with an accuracy and speed that no longer
gave cause for criticism. The months of confinement were beginning to
tell upon her; her bright color was gone, and she no longer had the
energy at the noon hour to go down the road to the elm-tree. She wanted
above all things to stretch out at full length and rest her back and
relax all those tense muscles that were so reluctantly learning to hold
one position for hours at a time.
At the noon hour she had the unexpected diversion of a visit from Birdie
Smelts. Birdie had achieved her cherished ambition of going on the stage,
and was now a chorus girl in the "Rag Time Follies." Meager news of her
had reached the alley from time to time, but nobody was prepared for the
very pretty and sophisticated young person who condescended to accept
board and lodging from her humble parents during the interval between her
engagements. Nance was genuinely glad to see her and especially gratified
by the impression her white coat-suit and black picture hat made on the
"It must be grand to be on the stage," said Gert enviously.
"Well, it's living," said Birdie, airily. "That's more than you can
claim for this rotten grind."
She put a high-heeled, white-shod foot on the window ledge to adjust its
bow, and every eye in the room followed the process.
"I bet I make more money in a week," she continued dramatically, "than
you all make in a month. And look at your hands! Why, they couldn't pay
me enough to have my hands scarred up like that!"
"It ain't my hands that's worryin' me," said another girl. "It's my feet.
Say, the destruction on your shoes is somethin' fierce! You orter see
this here room some nights at closin' time; it's that thick with glass
you don't know where to step."
"I'd know," said Birdie. "I'd step down and out, and don't you
Nance had been following the conversation in troubled silence.
"I don't mind the work so awful much," she said restlessly. "What gets me
is never having any fun. I haven't danced a step since I left Forest
"You'd get your fill of it if you was with me," Birdie said importantly.
"Seven nights a week and two matinées."
"'Twouldn't be any too much for me," said Nance. "I could dance in
Birdie was sitting in the window now, ostensibly examining her full red
lips in a pocket-mirror, but in reality watching the factory yard below.
"There goes your whistle!" she said, getting up suddenly. "Say, Nance,
can't you scare up an excuse to hook off this afternoon? I'll take you to
a show if you will!"
Nance's pulses leapt at the thought, but she shook her head and went
reluctantly back to her bench. For the next ten minutes her fingers
lagged at their task, and she grew more and more discontented. All the
youth in her clamored suddenly for freedom. She was tired of being the
slave of a whistle, a cog in a machine. With a sudden rash impulse she
threw down her tools and, slipping her hat from its peg, went in swift
pursuit of Birdie.
At the foot of the narrow stairs she came to a sudden halt. Outside the
door, in the niche made by the gas-pipe and the adjoining wall, stood Mac
Clarke and Birdie. He had his arms about her, and there was a look in his
face that Nance had never seen in a man's face before. Of course it was
meant for the insolent eyes under the picture hat, but instead it fell on
Nance standing in the doorway. For a full minute his ardent gaze held her
captive; then he dropped his arms in sudden embarrassment, and she melted
out of the doorway and fled noiselessly up the stairway.
On the upper landing she suffered a head-on collision with the foreman,
who demanded in no gentle tones what in the devil she was doing out there
with her hat on at that hour.
"None of your business," said Nance, recklessly.
Bean looked at her flashing eyes and flushed face, and laughed. She
was the youngest girl in the factory and the only one who was not
afraid of him.
"See here," he said, "I am going to kiss you or fire you. Which'll
Nance dodged his outstretched hand and reached the top step.
"You won't do neither!" she cried fiercely. "You can't fire me, because I
fired myself ten minutes ago, and I wouldn't kiss you to stay in heaven,
let alone a damned old bottle factory!"
It was the Nance of the slums who spoke--the Nance whose small bare fists
had fought the world too long for the knuckles to be tender. She had
drifted a long way from the carefully acquired refinements of Forest
Home, but its influence, like a dragging anchor, still sought to hold her
against the oncoming gales of life.
When one has a famishing thirst for happiness, one is apt to gulp down
diversions wherever they are offered. The necessity of draining the
dregs of life before the wine is savored does not cultivate a
discriminating taste. Nance saw in Birdie Smelts her one chance of
escape from the deadly monotony of life, and she seized it with both
hands. Birdie might not be approved of her seniors, but she was a
disturbingly important person to her juniors. To them it seemed nothing
short of genius for a girl, born as they were in the sordid environs of
Calvary Alley, to side-step school and factory and soar away into the
paradise of stage-land. When such an authority gives counsel, it is not
to be ignored. Birdie's advice had been to quit the factory, and Nance
had taken the plunge without any idea of what she was going to put in
For some reason best known to herself, she never mentioned that episode
in the factory yard to either Birdie or Dan Lewis. There were many things
about Birdie that she did not like, and she knew only too well what Miss
Stanley would have said. But then Miss Stanley wouldn't have approved of
Mr. Demry and his dope, or Mrs. Snawdor and her beer, or Mag Gist, with
her loud voice and coarse jokes. When one lives in Calvary Alley, one has
to compromise; it is seldom the best or the next best one can afford,
even in friends.
When Mrs. Snawdor heard that Nance had quit work, she was furious. Who
was Nance Molloy, she wanted to know, to go and stick up her nose at a
glass factory? There wasn't a bloomin' thing the matter with Clarke's.
_She'd_ begun in a factory an' look at her! What was Nance a-goin' to do?
Run the streets with Birdie Smelts? It was bad enough, God knew, to have
Snawdor settin' around like a tombstone, an' Fidy a-havin' a fit if you
so much as looked at her, without havin' Nance eatin' 'em out of house
an' home an' not bringin' in a copper cent. If she stayed at home, she'd
have to do the work; that was all there was to it!
"Anybody'd think jobs happened around as regerlar as the rent man," she
ended bitterly. "You'll see the day when you're glad enough to go back to
Before the month was over, Nance began to wonder if Mrs. Snawdor was
right. With unabating zeal she tramped the streets, answering
advertisements, applying at stores, visiting agencies. But despite the
fact that she unblushingly recommended herself in the highest terms,
nobody seemed to trust so young and inexperienced an applicant.
Meanwhile Birdie Smelts's thrilling prospect of joining her company at
an early date threw other people's sordid possibilities into the shade.
Every night she practised gymnastics and dance steps, and there being
no room in the Smelts' flat, she got into the habit of coming up to
One of the conditions upon which Nance had been permitted to return to
Calvary Alley, was that she should not sleep in the same bed with Fidy
Yager, a condition which enraged Mrs. Snawdor more than all the rest.
"Annybody'd think Fidy's fits was ketchin'," she complained indignantly
to Uncle Jed.
"That there front room of mine ain't doin' anybody no good," suggested
Uncle Jed. "We might let Nance have that."
So to Nance's great joy she was given a big room all to herself. The slat
bed, the iron wash-stand, the broken-legged chair, and the wavy mirror
were the only articles that Mrs. Snawdor was willing to part with, but
Uncle Jed donated a battered stove, which despite its rust-eaten top and
sagging door, still proclaimed itself a "Little Jewel".
No bride, adorning her first abode, ever arranged her possessions with
more enthusiasm than did Nance. She scrubbed the rough floor, washed the
windows, and polished the "Little Jewel" until it shone. The first money
she could save out of her factory earnings had gone to settle that
four-year-old debt to Mr. Lavinski for the white slippers; the next went
for bedclothes and cheese-cloth window curtains. Her ambition was no
longer for the chintz hangings and gold-framed fruit pieces of Mrs.
Purdy's cottage, but looked instead toward the immaculate and austere
bedroom of Miss Stanley, with its "Melodonna" over the bed and a box of
blooming plants on the window-sill.
Such an ideal of classic simplicity was foredoomed to failure. Mrs.
Snawdor, like nature, abhorred a vacuum. An additional room to her was a
sluice in the dyke, and before long discarded pots and pans, disabled
furniture, the children's dilapidated toys, and, finally, the children
themselves were allowed to overflow into Nance's room. In vain Nance got
up at daybreak to make things tidy before going to work. At night when
she returned, the washing would be hung in her room to dry, or the twins
would be playing circus in the middle of her cherished bed.
"It's lots harder when you know how things ought to be, than when you
just go on living in the mess, and don't know the difference," she
complained bitterly to Birdie.
"I've had my fill of it," said Birdie, "I kiss my hand to the alley for
good this time. What do you reckon the fellers would think of me if they
knew I hung out in a hole like this?"
"Does he know?" asked Nance in an unguarded moment.
Birdie shot a glance of swift suspicion at her.
"What's he got to do with me?" she asked coldly.
"Ain't he one of your fellers?"
"Well, if he is, it ain't anybody's business but mine." Then evidently
repenting her harshness, she added, "I got tickets to a dance-hall
up-town to-night. I'll take you along if you want to look on. You wouldn't
catch me dancing with any of those roughnecks."
Nance found looking on an agonizing business. Not that she wanted to
dance with the roughnecks any more than Birdie did. Their common
experience at Forest Home had given them certain standards of speech and
manner that lifted them just enough above their kind to be scornful. But
to sit against the wall watching other people dance was nothing short of
agony to one of Nance's temperament.
"Come on and have a try with me, Birdie," she implored. "I'll pay the
dime." And Birdie, with professional disdain, condescended to circle the
room with her a few times.
That first dance was to Nance what the taste of blood is to a young
tiger. For days after she could think of nothing else.
"Never you mind," Birdie promised her. "When I get back on the road, I'm
going to see what I can do for you. Somebody's always falling out of the
chorus, and if you keep up this practising with me, you'll be dancing as
good as any of 'em. Ask old man Demry; he played in the orchestra last
time we was at the Gaiety."
But when Nance threw out a few cautious remarks to Mr. Demry, she met
with prompt discouragement:
"No, no, my dear child," he said uneasily. "You must put that idea out of
your head. The chorus is no place for a nice girl."
"That's what Dan says about the factory, and what Mrs. Snawdor says about
housework, and what somebody says about everything I start to do. Looks
like being a nice girl don't pay!"
Mr. Demry took her petulant little chin in his thin old hand, and turned
her face up to his.
"Nancy," he said, "these old eyes have seen a good deal over the fiddle
strings. I would rather see you go back to the glass factory, bad as it
is, than to go into the chorus."
"But I do dance as good as some of the girls, don't I, Mr. Demry?" she
teased, and Mr. Demry, whose pride in an old pupil was considerable, had
to acknowledge that she did.
Uncle Jed's attitude was scarcely more encouraging.
"No; I wouldn't be willin' to see you a playactor," he said, "walkin'
round in skin tights, with your face all painted up."
Nance knew before asking that Dan would disapprove, but she couldn't
resist mentioning the matter to him.
"That Birdie Smelts has been putting notions in your head," he said
sternly. "I wish you'd quit runnin' with girls older than you. Besides,
Birdie ain't your kind."
"I'd like to know why?" Nance challenged him in instant loyalty to her
friend. "Besides, who else have I got to run with? Maybe you think it
ain't stupid drudging around home all day and never having a cent to call
my own. I want to get out and do something."
Dan looked down at her in troubled silence.
"Mrs. Purdy's always asking me why I don't bring you to some of the
meetings at the church. They have real nice socials."
"I don't want to pray and sing silly old hymns!" cried Nance. "I want
"I don't believe in dancing," said Dan, firmly; then with a side-glance
at her unhappy face, he added, "I can't take you to the swimming school,
because they don't allow girls, but I might take you to the new
skating-rink some Saturday."
In an instant Nance was all enthusiasm.
"Will you, Dan? I'm just crazy about skating. We used to do it out at the
home. You ought to see Birdie and me do a Dutch roll. Say, let's take her
along. What do you say?"
Dan was not at all in favor of it, but Nance insisted.
"I think we ought to be nice to Birdie on account of Mr. Smelts' stiff
leg. Not that it ever did him any good when it was limber, but I always
feel mean when I see it sticking out straight when he sits down."
This was a bit of feminine wile on Nance's part, and it had the desired
effect. Dan, always vulnerable when his sympathy was roused, reluctantly
included Birdie in the invitation.
On the Saturday night appointed, the three of them set out for the
skating rink. Dan, with his neck rigid in a high collar and his hair
plastered close to his head, stalked somberly beside the two girls, who
walked arm in arm and giggled immoderately at each other's witticisms.
"Wake up, Daniel!" said Birdie, giving his hat a tilt. "We engaged you
for a escort, not a pallbearer."
The rink was in an old armory, and the musicians sat at one end of the
room on a raised platform under two drooping flags. It was dusty and
noisy, and the crowd was promiscuous, but to Nance it was Elysium. When
she and Birdie, with Dan between them, began to circle the big room to
the rhythm of music, her joy was complete.
"Hullo! Dan Lewis is carrying two," she heard some one say as they
circled past the entrance. Glancing back, she saw it was one of the boys
from the factory. A sudden impulse seized her to stop and explain the
matter to him, but instead she followed quite a contrary purpose and
detaching herself from her companions, struck out boldly for herself.
Before she had been on the floor ten minutes people began to watch her.
Her plain, neat dress setting off her trim figure, and her severe, black
sailor hat above the shining bands of fair hair, were in sharp contrast
to the soiled finery and draggled plumes of the other girls. But it was
not entirely her appearance that attracted attention. It was a certain
independent verve, a high-headed indifference, that made her reject even
the attentions of the rink-master, a superior person boasting a pompadour
and a turquoise ring.
No one could have guessed that behind that nonchalant air Nance was
hiding a new and profoundly disturbing emotion. The sight of Birdie,
clinging in affected terror to Dan Lewis, filled her with rage. Couldn't
Dan see that Birdie was pretending? Didn't he know that she could skate
by herself quite as well as he could? Never once during the evening did
Dan make his escape, and never once did Nance go to his rescue.
When they were taking off their skates to go home, Birdie
whispered to her:
"I believe I got old slow-coach going. Watch me make him smoke up
for a treat!"
"No, you sha'n't," Nance said. "Dan's spent enough on us for one night."
"Another quarter won't break him," said Birdie. "I'm as dry as a piece
Ten minutes later she landed the little party in a drug store and entered
into a spirited discussion with the soda-water boy as to the comparative
merits of sundry new drinks.
"Me for a cabaret fizz," she said. "What'll you have, Nance?"
"Nothing," said Nance, sullenly, turning and taking up her stand
at the door.
"What do you want, Dan?" persisted Birdie, adding, with a mischievous
wink at the white-coated clerk, "Give him a ginger ale; he needs
While Birdie talked for the benefit of the clerk, and Dan sat beside her,
sipping his distasteful ginger, Nance stood at the door and watched the
people pouring out of the Gaiety Theater next door. Ordinarily the
bright evening wraps, the glimpses of sparkling jewels, the gay confusion
of the scene would have excited her liveliest interest, but to-night she
was too busy hating Birdie Smelts to think of anything else. What right
had she to monopolize Dan like that and order him about and laugh at him?
What right had she to take his arm when they walked, or put her hand on
his shoulder as she was doing this minute?
Suddenly Nance started and leaned forward. Out there in the crowded
street a tall, middle-aged man, with grizzled hair and mustache, was
somewhat imperiously making way for a pretty, delicate-looking lady
enveloped in white furs, and behind them, looking very handsome and
immaculate in his evening clothes, walked Mac Clarke.
Nance's eager eyes followed the group to the curbing; she saw the young
man glance at her with a puzzled expression; then, as he stood aside to
allow the lady to enter the motor, he looked again. For the fraction of a
second their eyes held each other; then an expression of amused
recognition sprang into his face, and Nance met it instantly with a flash
of her white teeth.
The next instant the limousine swallowed him; a door slammed, and the car
moved away. But Nance, utterly forgetful of her recent discomfort, still
stood in the door of the drug store, tingling with excitement as she
watched a little red light until it lost itself in the other moving
lights on the broad thoroughfare.
Early in the autumn Birdie took flight from the alley, and Nance found
herself hopelessly engulfed in domestic affairs. Mr. Snawdor, who had
been doing the work during her long absence, took advantage of her return
to have malarial fever. He had been trying to have it for months, but
could never find the leisure hour in which to indulge in the preliminary
chill. Once having tasted the joys of invalidism he was loathe to forego
them, and insisted upon being regarded as a chronic convalescent. Nance
might have managed Mr. Snawdor, however, had it not been for the grave
problem of Fidy Yager.
"Ike Lavinski says she ought to be in a hospital some place," she urged
Mrs. Snawdor. "He says she never is going to be any better. He says it's
"Wel he ain't tellin' me anything' I don't know," said Mrs. Snawdor, "but
I ain't goin' to put her away, not if she th'ows a fit a minute!"
It was not maternal solicitude alone that prompted this declaration. The
State allowed seventy-live dollars a year to parents of epileptic
children, and Mrs. Snawdor had found Fidy a valuable asset. Just what her
being kept at home cost the other children was never reckoned.
"Well, I'll take care of her on one condition," stipulated Nance. "You
got to keep Lobelia at school. It ain't fair for her to have to stay home
to nurse Fidy."
"Well, if she goes to school, she's got to work at night. You was doin'
your two hours at Lavinski's long before you was her age."
"I don't care if I was. Lobelia ain't strong like me. I tell you she
ain't goin' to do home finishing, not while I'm here."
"Well, somebody's got to do it," said Mrs. Snawdor. "You can settle it
Nance held out until the middle of January; then in desperation she went
back to the Lavinskis. The rooms looked just as she had left them, and
the whirring machines seemed never to have stopped. The acrid smell of
hot cloth still mingled with the odor of pickled herrings, and Mr.
Lavinski still came and went with his huge bundles of clothes.
Nance no longer sewed on buttons. She was promoted to a place under the
swinging lamp where she was expected to make an old decrepit
sewing-machine forget its ailments and run the same race it had run in
the days of its youth. As she took her seat on the first night, she
looked up curiously. A new sound coming regularly from the inner room
made her pause.
"Is that a type-writer?" she asked incredulously.
Mr. Lavinski, pushing his derby from his shining brow, smiled proudly.
"Dat's vat it is," he said. "My Ike, he's got a scholarship offen de high
school. He's vorking his vay through de medical college now. He'll be a
big doctor some day. He vill cure my Leah."
Nance's ambition took fire at the thought of that type-writer. It
appealed to her far more than the sewing-machine.
"Say, Ike," she said at her first opportunity, "I wish you'd teach me how
to work it."
"What'll you give me?" asked Ike, gravely. He had grown into a tall, thin
youth, with the spectacled eyes and stooped shoulders of a student.
"Want me to wash the dishes for your mother?" Nance suggested eagerly. "I
could do it nights before I begin sewing."
"Very well," Ike agreed loftily. "We'll begin next Sunday morning at nine
o'clock. Mind you are on time!"
Knowledge to Ike was sacred, and the imparting of it almost a religious
rite. He frowned down all flippancy on the part of his new pupil, and
demanded of her the same diligence and perseverance he exacted of
himself. He not only taught her to manipulate the type-writer, but put
her through an elementary course of stenography as well.
"Certainly you can learn it," he said sternly at her first sign of
discouragement. "I got that far in my second lesson. Haven't you got
Nance by this time was not at all sure she had, but she was not going to
let Ike know it. Stung by his smug superiority, she often sat up far into
the night, wrestling with the arbitrary signs until Uncle Jed, seeing her
light under the door, would pound on the wall for her to go to bed.
She saw little of Dan Lewis these days. The weather no longer permitted
them to meet in Post-Office Square, and conditions even less inviting
kept them from trying to see each other in Snawdor's kitchen. Sometimes
she would wait at the corner for him to come home, but this had its
disadvantages, for there was always a crowd of loafers hanging about Slap
Jack's, and now that Nance was too old to stick out her tongue and call
names, she found her power of repartee seriously interfered with.
"I ain't coming up here to meet you any more," she declared to Dan on one
of these occasions. "I don't see why we can't go to Gorman's Chili Parlor
of an evening and set down and talk to each other, right."
"Gorman's ain't a nice place," insisted Dan. "I wish you'd come on up to
some of the church meetings with me. I could take you lots of times if
But Nance refused persistently to be inveigled into the religious fold.
The very names of Epworth League, and prayer meeting made her draw a
"You don't care whether we see each other or not!" she accused
"I do," he said earnestly, "but it seems like I never have time for
anything. The work at the factory gets heavier all the time. But I'm
getting on, Nance; they give me another raise last month."
"Everybody's getting on," cried Nance bitterly, "but me! You and Ike and
Birdie! I work just as hard as you all do, and I haven't got a blooming
thing to show for it. What I make sewing pants don't pay for what I eat.
Sometimes I think I'll have to go back to the finishing room."
"Not if I can help it!" said Dan, emphatically. "There must be decent
jobs somewhere for girls. Suppose I take you out to Mrs. Purdy's on
Sunday, and see if she knows of anything. She's all the time asking me
The proposition met with little enthusiasm on Nance's part. It was Mrs.
Purdy who had got Dan into the church and persuaded him not to go to the
theater or learn how to dance. It was Mrs. Purdy who took him home with
her to dinner every Sunday after church and absorbed the time that used
to be hers. But the need for a job was too pressing for Nance to harbor
prejudices. Instead of sewing for the Lavinskis that night, she sewed for
herself, trying to achieve a costume from the old finery bequeathed her
by Birdie Smelts.
You would scarcely have recognized Dan that next Sunday in his best suit,
with his hair plastered down, and a very red tie encircling a very high
collar. To be sure Dan's best was over a year old, and the brown-striped
shirt-front was not what it seemed, but his skin was clean and clear, and
there was a look in his earnest eyes that bespoke an untroubled
Mrs. Purdy received them in her cozy fire-lit sitting-room and made Nance
sit beside her on the sofa, while she held her hand and looked with mild
surprise at her flaring hat and cheap lace collar.
"Dan didn't tell me," she said, "how big you had grown or--or how
Nance blushed and smiled and glanced consciously at Dan. She had felt
dubious about her costume, but now that she was reassured, she began to
imitate Birdie's tone and manner as she explained to Mrs. Purdy the
object of her visit.
"Deary me!" said Mrs. Purdy, "Dan's quite right. We can't allow a nice
little girl like you to work in a glass factory! We must find some nice
genteel place for you. Let me see."
In order to see Mrs. Purdy shut her eyes, and the next moment she opened
them and announced that she had the very thing.
"It's Cousin Lucretia Bobinet!" she beamed. "She is looking for a
"What's that?" asked Nance.
"Some one to wait on her and read to her and amuse her. She's quite
advanced in years and deaf and, I'm afraid, just a little peculiar."
"I'm awful good at taking care of sick people," said Nance complacently.
"Cousin Lucretia isn't ill. She's the most wonderfully preserved woman
for her years. But her maid, that she's had for so long, is getting old
too. Why, Susan must be seventy. She can't see to read any more, and she
makes mistakes over cards. By the way, I wonder if you know how to play
"Sure," said Nance. "Poker? seven-up?"
"Isn't there another game called penuchle?" Mrs. Purdy ventured,
evidently treading unfamiliar ground.
"Yes!" cried Nance. "That's Uncle Jed's game. We used to play it heaps
before Rosy cut up the queens for paper dolls."
"Now isn't it too wonderful that you should happen to know that
particular game?" said Mrs. Purdy, with the gentle amazement of one who
sees the finger of Providence in everything. "Not that I approve of
playing cards, but Cousin Lucretia was always a bit worldly minded, and
playing penuchle seems to be the chief diversion of her declining years.
How old are you, my child?"
"I'm seventeen. And I ain't a bit afraid of work, am I, Dan?"
"I am sure you are not," said Mrs. Purdy. "Dan often tells me what a fine
girl you are. Only we wish you would come to some of our services. Dan is
getting to be one of our star members. So conscientious and regular! We
call him our model young man."
"I expect it's time we was going," said Dan, greatly embarrassed. But
owing to the fact that he wanted very much to be a gentleman, and didn't
quite know how, he stayed on and on, until Nance informed him it was
At the door Mrs. Purdy gave final instructions about the new position,
adding in an undertone:
"It might be just as well, dearie, for you to wear a plainer dress when
you apply for the place, and I believe--in fact I am quite sure--Cousin
Lucretia would rather you left off the ear-rings."
"Ain't ear-rings stylish?" asked Nance, feeling that she had been
"Not on a little companion," said Mrs. Purdy gently.
Nance's elation over the prospect of a job was slightly dashed by
the idea of returning to the wornout childish garb in which she had
left the home.
"Say, Dan," she said, as they made their way out of Butternut Lane, "do
you think I've changed so much--like Mrs. Purdy said?"
"You always look just the same to me," Dan said, as he helped her on with
her coat and adjusted the collar with gentle, painstaking deference.
She sighed. The remark to a person who ardently desired to look different
"I think Mrs. Purdy's an awful old fogey!" she said petulantly by way of
venting her pique.
Dan looked at her in surprise, and the scowl that rarely came now
darkened his face.
"Mrs. Purdy is the best Christian that ever lived," he said shortly.
"Well, she ain't going to be a Christian offen me!" said Nance.
The next morning, in a clean, faded print, and a thin jacket, much too
small for her, Nance went forth to find Miss Lucretia Bobinet in Cemetery
Street. It was a staid, elderly street, full of staid, elderly houses,
and at its far end were visible the tall white shafts which gave it its
name. At the number corresponding to that on Nance's card, she rang the
bell. The door was opened by a squinting person who held one hand behind
her ear and with the other grasped the door knob as if she feared it
might be stolen.
"Who do you want to see?" she wheezed.
"Miss Bobinet!" said Nance, lifting her voice.
"Stop that hollering at me!" said the old woman. "Who sent you here?"
Nance explained her mission at the top of her voice and was grudgingly
admitted into the hall.
"You ain't going to suit her. I can tell you that," said the squint-eyed
one mournfully, "but I guess you might as well go in and wait until she
wakes up. Mind you don't bump into things."
Nance felt her way into the room indicated and cautiously let herself
down into the nearest chair. Sitting facing her was an imposing old
lady, with eyes closed and mouth open, making the most alarming noises
in her throat. She began with a guttural inhalation that increased in
ferocity until it broke in a violent snort, then trailed away in a
prolonged and somewhat plaintive whistle. Nance watched her with
amazement. It seemed that each recurrent snort must surely send the old
wrinkled head, with its elaborately crimped gray wig, rolling away under
the stiff horse-hair sofa.
The room was almost dark, but the light that managed to creep in showed a
gloomy black mantelpiece, with vases of immortelles, and somber walnut
chairs with crocheted tidies that made little white patches here and
there in the dusk. Everything smelled of camphor, and from one of the
corners came the slow, solemn tick of a clock.
After Nance had recovered from her suspense about Miss Bobinet's head,
and had taken sufficient note of the vocal gymnastics to be able to
reproduce them later for the amusement of the Snawdors, she began to
experience great difficulty in keeping still. First one foot went to
sleep, then the other. The minutes stretched to an hour. She had hurried
off that morning without her breakfast, leaving everything at sixes and
sevens, and she wanted to get back and clean up before Mrs. Snawdor got
up. She stirred restlessly, and her chair creaked.
The old lady opened one eye and regarded her suspiciously.
"I am Nance Molloy," ventured the applicant, hopefully. "Mrs.
Purdy sent me."
Miss Bobinet gazed at her in stony silence, then slowly closed her eye,
and took up her snore exactly where she had left it off. This took place
three times before she succeeded in getting her other eye open and
becoming aware of Nance's presence.
"Well, well," she asked testily, in a dry cracked voice, "what are you
sitting there staring at me for?"
Nance repeated her formula several times before she remembered that
Miss Bobinet was deaf; then she got up and shouted it close to the old
"Lida Purdy's a fool," said Miss Bobinet, crossly. "What do I want with
a chit of a girl like you?"
"She thought I could wait on you," screamed Nance, "and read to you and
play penuchle." The only word that got past the grizzled fringe that
bordered Miss Bobinet's shriveled ear was the last one.
"Penuchle?" she repeated. "Can you play penuchle?"
"Get the table," ordered the old lady, peremptorily.
Nance tried to explain that she had not come to stay, that she would go
home, and get her things and return in the afternoon, but Miss Bobinet
would brook no delay. Without inviting Nance to remove her hat and
jacket, she ordered her to lift the shade, sit down, and deal the cards.
They were still playing when the squinting person hobbled in with a
luncheon tray, and Miss Bobinet promptly transferred her attention from
royal marriages to oyster stew.
"Have her come back at three," she directed Susan; then seeing Nance's
eyes rest on the well filled tray, she added impatiently, "Didn't I tell
you to stop staring? Any one would think you were watching the animals
feed in the zoo."
Nance fled abashed. The sight of the steaming soup, the tempting bird,
and dainty salad had made her forget her manners.
"I reckon I'm engaged," she said to Mrs. Snawdor, when she reached
home and had cut herself a slice of dry bread to eat with the
warmed-over coffee. "She never said what the pay was to be, but she
said to come back."
"What does she look like?" asked Mrs. Snawdor, curiously.
"A horse," said Nance. "And she's deaf as anything. If I stay with her,
she'll have to get her an ear-trumpet or a new wig before the month's
out. I swallow a curl every time I speak to her."
"Well," said Mrs. Snawdor, "companions ain't in my line, but I got sense
enough to know that when a woman's so mean she's got to pay somebody to
keep her company, the job ain't no cinch."
Nance's new duties, compared with those at the bottle factory, and the
sweat-shop seemed, at first, mere child's play. She arrived at eight
o'clock, helped Susan in the basement kitchen, until Miss Bobinet awoke,
then went aloft to officiate at the elaborate process of that lady's
toilet. For twenty years Susan had been chief priestess at this ceremony,
but her increasing deafness infuriated her mistress to such an extent
that Nance was initiated into the mysteries. The temperature of the bath,
the choice of underclothing, the method of procedure were matters of the
utmost significance, and the slightest mistake on the part of the
assistant brought about a scene. Miss Bobinet would shriek at Susan, and
Susan would shriek back; then both would indulge in scathing criticism of
the other in an undertone to Nance.
The final rite was the most critical of all. Miss Bobinet would sit
before her dresser with a towel about her neck, and take a long breath,
holding it in her puffed-out cheeks, while rice powder was dusted over
the corrugated surface of her face. She held the theory that this opened
the pores of the skin and allowed them to absorb the powder. The sight of
the old lady puffed up like a balloon was always too much for Nance, and
when she laughed, Miss Bobinet was obliged to let her breath go in a
sharp reprimand, and the performance had to start all over again.
"You laugh too much anyhow," she complained irritably.
When the toilet and breakfast were over, there followed two whole hours
of pinochle. Nance came to regard the queen of spades and the jack of
diamonds with personal animosity. Whatever possible interest she might
have taken was destroyed by the fact that Miss Bobinet insisted upon
winning two out of every three games. It soon became evident that while
she would not cheat on her own behalf, she expected her opponent to cheat
for her. So Nance dutifully slipped her trump cards back in the deck and
forgot to declare while she idly watched the flash of diamonds on the
wrinkled yellow hands, and longed for the clock to strike the next hour.
At lunch she sat in the kitchen opposite Susan and listened to a recital
of that melancholy person's woes. Susan and her mistress, being mutually
dependent, had endured each other's exclusive society for close upon
twenty years. The result was that each found the other the most
stimulating of all subjects of conversation. When Nance was not listening
to tirades against Susan up-stairs, she was listening to bitter
complaints against Miss Bobinet down-stairs.
In the afternoon she was expected to read at the top of her voice from
"The Church Guide," until Miss Bobinet got sleepy; then it was her duty
to sit motionless in the stuffy, camphor-laden room, listening to an
endless succession of vocal gymnastics until what time the old lady saw
fit to wake up.
If Nance had been a provident young person, she might have improved those
idle hours during that interminable winter by continuing her study of
stenography. But, instead, she crouched on the floor by the window,
holding her active young body motionless, while her thoughts like
distracted imprisoned things flew round their solid walls of facts,
frantically seeking some loophole of escape. Day after day she crouched
there, peeping out under the lowered shade with hungry eyes. The dreary
street below offered no diversion; sometimes a funeral procession dragged
its way past, but for the most part there was nothing to see save an
occasional delivery wagon or a staid pedestrian.
She was at that critical time of transition between the romance of
childhood, when she had become vaguely aware of the desire of the spirit,
and the romance of youth, when she was to know to the full the desires
of the flesh. It was a period of sudden, intense moods, followed by
spells of languor. Something new and strange and incommunicable was
fermenting within her, and nothing was being done to direct those
mysterious forces. She was affectionate, with no outlet for her
affection; romantic, with nothing for romance to feed upon.
The one resource lay in the bookcase that rose above the old-fashioned
secretary in Miss Bobinet's front hall. She had discovered it on the day
of her arrival and, choosing a volume at random, had become so engrossed
in the doings of one of Ouida's heroes, that she had failed to hear Miss
Bobinet's call. From that time on she was forbidden to take any books
away from the bookcase, an order which she got around by standing beside
it and eagerly devouring bits at a time.
The monotony of the days she might have endured if there had been any
relief at the close of them. But when she returned home there was always
endless work to be done. Her four years' absence at Forest Home had
separated her from the young people she had known, and she had had no
time to make new friends. The young bar-keeper at Slap Jack's, who always
watched for her to pass in the morning, the good-looking delivery boy who
sometimes brought parcels to Cemetery Street, the various youths with
whom she carried on casual flirtations on her way to and from work, were
her nearest approach to friends.
Dan, to be sure, still came for her every Saturday afternoon, but
Cemetery Street was across the city from Clarke's, and their time
together was short. Nance lived for these brief interviews, and then came
away from them more restless and dissatisfied than before. Dan didn't
look or talk or act like the heroes in the novels she was reading. He
never "rained fervent kisses on her pale brow," or told her that she was
"the day-star of his secret dreams." Instead he talked of eight-hour
laws, and minimum wage, and his numerous church activities. He was
sleeping at Mrs. Purdy's now, looking after the place while she was away
with her brother, and Nance was jealous of his new interests and new
As the long weeks stretched into long months, her restlessness grew into
rebellion. So this was the kind of job, she told herself bitterly, that
nice girls were supposed to hold. This was what Miss Stanley and Mrs.
Purdy and Mr. Demry approved. But they were old. They had forgotten. Dan
Lewis wasn't old. Why couldn't he understand? What right had he to insist
upon her sticking it out when he knew how lonesome and unhappy she was?
Dan didn't care, that was the trouble; he thought more of his old church
and the factory than he thought of her.
She remembered, with sudden understanding, what red-haired Gert had said
in the finishing room; some people weren't content with a good job; they
had to have a good time with it. She told herself that she was one of
these; she wanted to be good and do what was expected of her; she wanted
fervently to please Dan Lewis, but she couldn't go on like this, she
couldn't, she couldn't!
And yet she did. With a certain dogged commonsense, she stayed at her
post, suppressing herself in a thousand ways, stifling her laughter,
smothering the song on her lips, trying to make her prancing feet keep
pace with the feeble steps of age. She lived through each day on the
meager hope that something would happen at the end of it, that elusive
"something" that always waits around the corner for youth, with adventure
in one hand and happiness in the other and limitless promise in its
Almost a year crawled by before her hope was realized. Then one Tuesday
morning as she was coming to work, she spied a bill poster announcing
the appearance of the "Rag-Time Follies." Rows upon rows of saucy girls
in crimson tights and gauzy wings smiled down upon her, smiled and
seemed to beckon.
Since Birdie's departure from the alley, eighteen months ago, Nance had
heard no word of her. Long ago she had given up the hope of escape in
that direction. But the knowledge that she was in the city and the
possibility of seeing her, wakened all manner of vague hopes and exciting
Whatever happened Nance must see the play! She must be on hand to-morrow
night when the curtain went up; perhaps she could wait outside for
Birdie, and speak to her after the performance!
If only Dan would take her, and they could sit together and share the
fun! But the very thought of Dan in connection with those frisky girls
made her smile. No; if she went, she would have to go alone.
The all-important question now was how to get the ticket. Miss Bobinet
could never be induced to advance a penny on the week's wages, and Susan,
while ready to accept financial favors, was adamant when it came to
By six o'clock Nance had exhausted every resource but one. On her way
home she visited a small shop which was all too familiar to the residents
of Calvary Alley. When she emerged, the beloved locket, which usually
dangled on the velvet ribbon around her neck, was no longer there, but
tied in the corner of her handkerchief was a much desired silver coin.
In high spirits she rushed home only to be confronted on the threshold by
a serious domestic complication. Mrs. Snawdor, with her hat on, was
standing by the bed in the dark inside room that used to be Nance's,
futilely applying a mustard plaster to whatever portion of Fidy's
anatomy happened to be exposed.
"How long has she been like this?" cried Nance, flinging her jacket off
and putting the tea kettle on the stove.
"Lord knows," said Mrs. Snawdor in a tone that implied a conspiracy on
the part of poor Fidy and her Maker to interfere with her plans. "When I
come in ten minutes ago, she was tryin' to eat the sheet."
"Didn't you give her the medicine the doctor left last time?"
"There ain't a drop left. Mr. Snawdor took every bit of it."
"Where's the bottle? We must get it filled."
"What's the use? It ain't no good. I was handlin' Fidy's fits before that
there young dispensary doctor was out of knee pants. Besides I ain't got
fifty cents in the house."
Nance stood for a moment irresolute. She looked at the writhing figure on
the bed; then she snatched up her hat and jacket.
"Quick! Where's the bottle?" she cried. "I got the money."
But after the medicine had been bought, and Fidy had grown quiet under
its influence, Nance went across the hall to her own cold, barren room
and flung herself across her narrow bed. The last chance of seeing the
play had vanished. The only light of hope that had shone on her horizon
for months had gone out.
When she got up, cold and miserable, and lighted the gas, she saw on
the floor, where it had evidently been slipped under the door, a
mysterious pink envelope. Tearing it open, she found, written in a
large, loose scrawl:
"Dear Nance. We have just struck town. Reckon you thought I was a
quitter, but I ain't. You be at the Gaiety to-morrow morning at nine A.M.
Maybe I can land you something. Don't say a word to anybody about it, and
make yourself look as pretty as you can, and don't be late. Don't tell my
folks I'm here. I got a room down-town.
Nance's breath caught in her throat. The bubble was so radiant, so
fragile, so unbelievable, that she was afraid to stir for fear of
breaking it. She waited until she heard Mrs. Snawdor's heavy feet
descending the stairs, and then she crept across the hall and sat on the
side of Fidy's bed, waiting to give her the next dose of medicine. Her
eyes were fixed on the bare lathes over the headboard where she had once
knocked the plaster off tacking up a tomato-can label. But she did not
see the hole or the wall. Calvary Alley and Cemetery Street had ceased to
exist for her. She was already transported to a region of warmth and
gaiety and song. All that was ugly and old and sordid lay behind her,
and she told herself, with a little sob of joy, that at last the
beautiful something for which she had waited so long was about to happen.
BEHIND THE TWINKLING LIGHTS
The gaiety, with its flamboyant entrance, round which the lights flared
enticingly at night, had always seemed to Nance an earthly paradise into
which the financially blessed alone were privileged to enter. At the
"Star" there were acrobats and funny Jews with big noses and Irishmen who
were always falling down; but the Gaiety was different. Twice Nance had
passed that fiery portal, and she knew that once inside, you drifted into
states of beatitude, which eternity itself was too short to enjoy. The
world ceased to exist for you, until a curtain, as relentless as fate,
descended, and you reached blindly for your hat and stumbled down from
the gallery to the balcony, and from the balcony to the lobby, and thence
out into the garish world, dazed, bewildered, unreconciled to reality,
and not knowing which way to turn to go home.
But to-day as she passed the main entrance and made her way through a
side-passage to the stage-door, she tingled with a keener thrill than she
had ever felt before.
"Is Miss Smelts here?" she asked a man who was going in as she did.
"Smelts?" he repeated. "What does she do?"
He shook his head.
"Nobody here by that name," he said, and hurried on.
Nance stood aside and waited, with a terrible sinking of the heart. She
waited a half hour, then an hour, while people came and went. Just as she
was about to give up in despair, she saw a tall, handsome girl hurry up
the steps and come toward her. She had to look twice before she could
make sure that the imposing figure was Birdie.
"Hello, kid," was Birdie's casual greeting. "I forgot all about you. Just
as cute looking as ever, eh! Where did you get that hat?"
"Ten-cent store," said Nance, triumphantly.
"Can you beat that?" said Birdie. "You always did have a style about you.
But your hair's fixed wrong. Come on down to the dressing-room while I
change. I'll do it over before you see Reeser."
Nance followed her across a barn of a place where men in shirt-sleeves
were dragging scenes this way and that.
"Mind the steps; they are awful!" warned Birdie, as they descended into a
gas-lit region partitioned off into long, low dressing-rooms.
"Here's where I hang out. Sit down and let me dude you up a bit. You
always did wear your hair too plain. I'll fix it so's it will make little
Peroxide Pierson green with envy."
Nance sat before the mirror and watched Birdie's white fingers roll and
twist her shining hair into the elaborate style approved at the moment.
"Gee! it looks like a horse-collar!" she said, laughing at her
reflection. "What you going to do to me next?"
"Well, I haven't got much to do on," said Birdie, "but you just wait till
I get you over to my room! I could fit you out perfect if you were just a
couple of sizes bigger."
She was putting on a pair of bloomers herself as she spoke, and slipping
her feet into her dancing slippers, and Nance watched every movement with
"Come on now," Birdie said hurriedly. "We got to catch Reeser before
rehearsal. He's the main guy in this company. What Reeser says goes."
At the head of the steps they encountered a gaunt, raw-boned man, with an
angular, expressive face, and an apple in his long neck that would have
embarrassed Adam himself.
"Well! Well!" he shouted at them, impatiently, "come on or else go back!
Don't stand there in the way."
"Mr. Reeser, please, just a minute," called Birdie, "It's a new girl
wants to get in the chorus."
The stage-manager paused and looked her over with a critical eye.
"Can she sing?"
"No," said Nance, "but I can dance. Want to see me?"
"Well, I think I can live a few minutes without it," said Reeser dryly.
"Ever been on before?"
"No; but everybody's got to start some time." Then she added with a
smile, "I wish you'd give me a chance."
"She's a awful cute little dancer," Birdie recommended. "She knows all
the steps in the Red-Bird chorus. I taught her when I was here before.
If you'd say a word to Mr. Pulatki he might try her out at rehearsal
Nance held her breath while Reeser's quizzical eyes continued to
"All right!" he said suddenly. "She's pretty young, but we'll see what
she can do. Now clear the way. Lower that drop a little, boys. Hurry up
with the second set."
The girls scurried away to the wings where they found a narrow space in
which Nance was put through the half-forgotten steps.
"It's all in the team work," Birdie explained. "You do exactly what I do,
and don't let old Spagetti rattle you. He goes crazy at every rehearsal.
Keep time and grin. That's all there is to it"
"I can do it!" cried Nance radiantly. "It's easy as breathing!"
But it proved more difficult than she thought, when in a pair of property
bloomers she found herself one of a party of girls advancing, retreating,
and wheeling at the arbitrary command of an excitable little man in his
shirt-sleeves, who hammered out the time on a rattling piano.
Pulatki was a nervous Italian with long black hair and a drooping black
mustache, both of which suffered harsh treatment in moments of dramatic
frenzy. His business in life was to make forty lively, mischievous girls
move and sing as one. The sin of sins to him, in a chorus girl, was
"You! new girl!" he screamed the moment he spied Nance, "you are out
of ze line. Hold your shoulders stiff, so! Ah, _Dio!_ Can you not move
wiz ze rest?"
The girls started a stately number, diagonal from down-stage left toward
"Hold ze pose!" shouted the director. Then he scrambled up on the stage
and seized Nance roughly by the arm. "You are too quick!" he shouted.
"You are too restless. We do not want that you do a solo! Can you not
keep your person still?"
And to Nance's untold chagrin she found that she could not. The moment
the music started, it seemed to get into her tripping feet, her swinging
arms, her nodding head; and every extra step and unnecessary gesture that
she made evoked a storm from the director.
Just when his irritation was at his height, Reeser joined him from
"Here's a howdy-do!" he exclaimed. "Flossy Pierson's sprained her ankle."
"Ze leetle bear?" shrieked Pulatki; then he clutched his hair in both
hands and raved maledictions on the absent Flossy.
"See here," said Reeser, "this is no time for fireworks. Who in the devil
is to take her place?"
"Zere is none," wailed Pulatki. "She make her own part. I cannot
"It's not the part that bothers me," said Reeser. "It's the costume.
We've got to take whoever will fit it. Who's the smallest girl in
The eyes of the two men swept the double column of girls until they
rested on the one head that, despite its high coiffure, failed to achieve
the average height.
"Come here!" called Reeser to Nance.
"But, no!" protested the director, throwing up his hands. "She is
impossible. A cork on ze water! A leaf in ze wind! I cannot teach her. I
vill not try!"
"It's too late to get anybody else for to-night," said Reeser,
impatiently. "Let her walk through the part, and we'll see what can be
done in the morning." Then seeing Nance's indignant eyes on the director,
he added with a comical twist of his big mouth, "Want to be a bear?"
"Sure!" said Nance, with spirit, "if the Dago can't teach me to dance,
maybe he can teach me to growl."
The joke was lost upon the director, but it put Reeser into such a good
humor that he sent her down to the dressing-room to try on the costume.
Ten minutes later, a little bear, awkward but ecstatic, scrambled madly
up the steps, and an excited voice called out:
"Look, Mr. Reeser, it fits! it fits!"
For the rest of the morning Nance practised her part, getting used to
the clumsy suit of fur, learning to adjust her mask so that she could
see through the little, round, animal eyes, and keeping the other girls
in a titter of amusement over her surreptitious imitation of the
When the rehearsal was over there was much good-natured hustling and
raillery as the girls changed into their street costumes. At Birdie's
invitation Nance went with her to the rooming-house around the corner,
where you had to ring a bell to get in, a convention which in itself
spelt elegance, and up one flight, two flights, three flights of
carpeted steps to a front-hall bedroom on the fourth floor.
"Gee, it's a mess!" said Birdie, tossing some beribboned lingerie from a
chair into an open trunk. "There's a bag of rolls around here some place.
We can make some tea over the gas."
Nance darted from one object to another with excited cries of admiration.
Everything was sweet and wonderful and perfectly grand! Suddenly she came
to a halt before the dresser, in the center of which stood a large,
"That's my High Particular," said Birdie, with an uneasy laugh,
"It's Mac Clarke!" exclaimed Nance, incredulously, "how on earth did you
ever get his picture?"
"He give it to me. How do you reckon? I hadn't laid eyes on him for a
couple of years 'til I ran across him in New York about a month ago."
"Where'd you see him?"
"At the theater. He come in with a bunch of other college fellows and
recognized me straight off. He stayed in New York two or three days, and
maybe we didn't have a peach of a time! Only he got fired from college
for it when he went back."
"Where's he now?"
"Here in town. Liable to blow in any minute. If he does, you don't want
to let on you ever saw him before. He won't remember you if you don't
remind him. He never thinks of anybody twice."
Nance, poring over every detail of the photograph, held her own counsel.
She was thinking of the night she had stood in the drug-store door, and
he had kept the motor waiting while he smiled at her over his shoulder.
That was a smile that remembered!
"You want to be careful what you say to anybody," Birdie continued,
"there ain't any use airing it around where you live, or what you been
doing. There ain't a girl in the chorus knows my real name, or where I
The allusion to home stirred Nance's conscience, and reminded her that
over there beyond the cathedral spire, dimly visible from the window, lay
a certain little alley which still had claims upon her.
"I ain't said a thing to 'em at home about this," she said. "Suppose they
don't let me do it?"
"Let nothing!" said Birdie. "Write a note to Mrs. Snawdor, and tell her
you are spending the night down-town with me. You'll know by morning
whether Reeser is going to take you on or not. If he does, you just want
to announce the fact that you are going, and go."
Nance looked at her with kindling eyes. This high-handed method appealed
to her. After all wasn't she past eighteen? Birdie hadn't been that old
when she struck out for herself.
"What about Miss Bobinet?" she asked ruefully.
"The wiggy old party up in Cemetery Street? Let her go hang. You've
swallowed her frizzes long enough."
Nance laughed and gave the older girl's arm a rapturous squeeze. "And you
think maybe Mr. Reeser'll take me on?" she asked for the sixteenth time.
"Well, Flossie Pierson has been shipped home, and they've got to put
somebody in her place. It's no cinch to pick up a girl on the road,
just the right size, who can dance even as good as you can. If Reeser
engages you, it's fifteen per for the rest of the season, and a good
chance for next."
"All right, here goes!" cried Nance, recklessly, seizing paper and pen.
When the hard rolls and strong tea which composed their lunch had been
disposed of, Nance curled herself luxuriously on the foot of the bed and
munched chocolate creams, while Birdie, in a soiled pink kimono that
displayed her round white arms and shapely throat, lay stretched beside
her. They found a great deal to talk about, and still more to laugh
about. Nance loved to laugh; all she wanted was an excuse, and everything
was an excuse to-day; Birdie's tales of stage-door Johnnies, the recent
ire of old Spagetti, her own imitation of Miss Bobinet and the ossified
Susan. Nance loved the cozy intimacy of the little room; even the heavy
odor of perfumes and cosmetics was strange and fascinating; she thought
Birdie was the prettiest girl she had ever seen. A thrilling vista of
days like this, spent with her in strange and wonderful cities, opened
"I'll rig you up in some of my clothes, until you get your first pay,"
Birdie offered, "then we can fit you out right and proper. You got the
making of an awful pretty girl in you."
Nance shrieked her derision. Her own charms, compared with Birdie's
generous ones, seemed absurdly meager, as she watched the older girl blow
rings from the cigarette which she held daintily between her first and
Nance had been initiated into smoking and chewing tobacco before she was
ten, but neither appealed to her. Watching Birdie smoke, she had a sudden
desire to try it again.
"Give us a puff, Birdie," she said.
Birdie tossed the box over and looked at her wrist-watch.
"We ought to be fixing something for you to wear to-night," she
said. "Like as not Mac and Monte 'll turn up and ask us to go
somewhere for supper."
"Who is Monte?" asked Nance with breathless interest.
"He's a fat-headed swell Mac runs with. Spends dollars like nickels. No
rarebit and beer for him; it's champagne and caviar every time. You
cotton to him, Nance; he'll give you anything you want."
"I don't want him to give me anything," said Nance stoutly. "Time I'm
earning fifteen dollars a week, I'll be making presents myself."
Birdie lifted her eyebrows and sighed.
"You funny kid!" she said, "you got a heap to learn."
During the early part of the afternoon the girls shortened one of
Birdie's dresses and tacked in its folds to fit Nance's slender figure.
Birdie worked in fits and starts; she listened every time anything
stopped in the street below, and made many trips to the window. By and by
her easy good humor gave place to irritability. At five o'clock she put
on her hat, announcing that she had to go over to the drug store to do
"Lock the door," she counseled, "and if anybody knocks while I'm gone,
Nance, left alone, sewed on for a while in a flutter of happy thoughts;
then she got up and turned her chair so she would not have to crane her
neck to see the photograph on the dresser.
"The making of an awful pretty girl!" she whispered; then she got up and
went over to the mirror. Pulling out the hairpins that held the
elaborate puffs in place, she let her shining mass of hair about her
shoulders and studied her face intently. Her mouth, she decided, was too
big, her eyes too far apart, her neck too thin. Then she made a face at
herself and laughed:
"Who cares?" she said.
By and by it got too dark to sew; the match box refused to be found, and
she decided it was time to stop anyhow. She opened the window and, gaily
humming the music of the Little Bear dance, leaned across the sill, while
the cool evening air fanned her hot cheeks.
Far away in the west, over the housetops, she could see the stately spire
of the cathedral, a brown silhouette against a pale, lemon sky. Down
below, through the dull, yellow dusk, faint lights were already defining
the crisscross of streets. The whispers of the waking city came up to
her, eager, expectant, like the subdued murmur of a vast audience just
before the curtain ascends. Then suddenly, written on the twilight in
letters of fire, came the familiar words, "You get what you pay for."
Nance's fingers ceased to drum on the window-sill. It was the big sign
facing Post-Office Square, old Post-Office Square, with its litter of
papers, its battered weather kiosk, and the old green bench where she and
Dan had sat so many evenings on their way home from the factory. Dan! A
wave of remorse swept over her. She had forgotten him as completely as if
he had never existed. And now that she remembered what was she to do? Go
to him and make a clean breast of it? And run the risk of having him
invoke the aid of Mrs. Purdy and possibly of Miss Stanley? Not that she
was afraid of their stopping her. She repeated to herself the words of
defiance with which she would meet their objections and the scorn which
she would fling at their "nice girl jobs." No; it was Dan himself she was
afraid of. Her imagination quailed before his strong, silent face, and
his deep, hurt eyes. She had always taken Dan's part in everything, and
something told her she would take it now, even against herself.
The only safe course was to keep away from him, until the great step was
taken, and then write him a nice long letter. The nicest she had ever
written to anybody. Dear old Dan--dear, dear old Dan.
A long, low whistle from the sidewalk opposite made her start, and look
down. At first no one was visible; then a match was struck, flared yellow
for a second, and went out, and again that low, significant whistle.
Nance dropped on her knees beside the window and watched. A man's figure
emerged from the gloom and crossed the street. A moment later she heard
the ringing of the doorbell. Could Dan have heard of her escapade and
come after her? But nobody knew where she was; the note to Mrs. Snawdor
still lay on the corner of the dresser.
She heard a step on the stairs, then three light taps on the door. She
scrambled to her feet before she remembered Birdie's caution, then stood
Again the taps and, "I say, Bird!" came in a vibrant whisper from
It seemed to Nance that whoever it was must surely hear the noisy
beating of her heart. Then she heard the steps move away and she sighed
Birdie, coming in later, dismissed the matter with gay denial.
"One of your pipe-dreams, Nance! It must have been one of the other
boarders, or the wash woman. Stop your mooning over there by the window
and get yourself dressed; we got just thirty-five minutes to get down to
Nance shook off her misgivings and rushed headlong into her adventure. It
was no time to dream of Dan and the letter she was going to write him, or
to worry about a disturbing whistle in the street, or a mysterious
whisper on the other side of the door. Wasn't it enough that she, Nance
Molloy, who only yesterday was watching funerals crawl by in Cemetery
Street, was about to dance to real music, on a real stage, before a great
audience? She had taken her first mad plunge into the seething current of
life, and in these first thrilling, absorbing moments she failed to see
the danger signals that flashed across the darkness.
THE FIRST NIGHT
At a quarter-past eight in the dressing-rooms of the Gaiety, pandemonium
reigned. Red birds, fairies, gnomes, will-o'-the-wisps flitted about,
begging, borrowing, stealing articles from each other in good-humored
confusion. In and out among them darted the little bear, slapping at each
passerby with her furry paws, practising steps on her cushioned toes, and
rushing back every now and then to Birdie, who stood before a mirror in
red tights, with a towel around her neck, putting the final touches on
It was hot and stuffy, and the air reeked with grease paint. There was a
perpetual chatter with occasional outbursts of laughter, followed by
peremptory commands of "Less noise down there!" In the midst of the
hub-bub a call-boy gave the signal for the opening number of the chorus;
the chatter and giggling ceased, and the bright costumes settled into a
definite line as the girls filed up the stairs.
Nance, left alone, sat on a trunk and waited for her turn in a fever of
impatience. She caught the opening strains of the orchestra as it swung
into the favorite melody of the day; she could hear the thud of dancing
feet overhead. She was like a stoker shut up in the hold of the vessel
while a lively skirmish is in progress on deck.
As she sat there the wardrobe woman, a matronly-looking, Irish
person, came up and ordered her peremptorily to get off the trunk.
Nance not only complied, but she offered her assistance in getting it
out of the passage.
"May ye have some one as civil as ye are to wait on ye when ye are as old
as I am!" said the woman. "It's your first night, eh?"
"Yep. Maybe my last for all I know. They 're trying me out."
"Good luck to ye," said the woman. "Well I mind the night I made me
"No less. I'd a waist on me ye could span wid yer two hands. And legs!
well, it ain't fer me to be braggin', but there ain't a girl in the
chorus kin stack up alongside what I oncet was! Me an' a lad named Tim
Moriarty did a turn called 'The Wearing of the Green,'--'Ryan and
Moriarty' was the team. I kin see the names on the bill-board now! We had
'em laughin' an' cryin' at the same time, 'til their tears run into their
"Wisht I could've seen you," said Nance. "I bet it was great."
The wardrobe woman, unused to such a sympathetic listener, would have
lingered indefinitely had not a boy handed Nance a box which absorbed all
"Miss Birdie La Rue," was inscribed on one side of the card that dangled
from it on a silver cord, and on the other was scribbled, "Monte and I
will wait for you after the show. Bring another girl. M.D.C."
"And I'm the other girl!" Nance told herself rapturously.
There was a flurry in the wings above and the chorus overflowed down
"It's a capacity house," gasped Birdie, "but a regular cold-storage
plant. We never got but one round. Spagetti is having spasms."
"What's a round?" demanded Nance, but nobody had time to enlighten her.
It was not until the end of the second act that her name was called, and
she went scampering up the stairs as fast as her clumsy suit would
permit. The stage was set for a forest scene, with gnarled trees and
hanging vines and a transparent drop that threw a midnight blue haze over
"Crawl up on the stump there!" ordered Reeser, attending to half a dozen
things at once. "Put you four paws together. Head up! Hold the pose until
the gnomes go off. When I blow the whistle, get down and dance. I'll get
the will-o'-the-wisps on as quick as I can. Clear the stage everybody!
Ready for the curtain? Let her go!"
Nance, peering excitedly through the little round holes of her mask, saw
the big curtain slowly ascend, revealing only a dazzling row of
footlights beyond. Then gradually out of the dusk loomed the vast
auditorium with its row after row of dim white faces, reaching back and
up, up further than she dared lift her head to see. From down below
somewhere sounded the weird tinkle of elfin music, and tiptoeing out from
every tree and bush came a green-clad gnome, dancing in stealthy silence
in the sleeping forest. Quite unconsciously Nance began to keep time. It
was such glorious fun playing at being animals and fairies in the woods
at night. Without realizing what she was doing, she dropped into what she
used to call in the old sweat-shop days, "dancin' settin' down."
A ripple of amusement passed through the audience, and she looked around
to see what the gnomes were up to, but they were going off the stage, and
the suppressed titter continued. A soft whistle sounded in the wings, and
with a furiously beating heart, she slid down from her high stump and
ambled down to the footlights.
All might have gone well, had not a sudden shaft of white light shot
toward her from the balcony opposite, making a white spot around the
place she was standing. She got out of it only to find that it followed
her, and in the bewilderment of the discovery, she lost her head
completely. All her carefully practised steps and poses were utterly
forgotten; she could think of nothing but that pursuing light, and her
mad desire to get out of it.
Then something the director had said at the rehearsal flashed across the
confusion. "She makes her own part," he had said of Flossy Pierson, and
Nance, with grim determination, decided to do the same. A fat man in the
left hand box had laughed out when she discovered the spotlight. She
determined to make him laugh again. Simulating the dismay that at first
was genuine, she began to play tag with the shaft of light, dodging it,
jumping over it, hiding from it behind the stump, leading it a merry
chase from corner to corner. The fat man grew hysterical. The audience
laughed at him, and then it began to laugh at Nance. She threw herself
into the frolic with the same mad abandonment with which she used to
dance to the hand-organ in front of Slap Jack's saloon. She cut as many
fantastic capers as a frisky kitten playing in the twilight; she leapt
and rolled and romped, and the spectators, quick to feel the contagion of
something new and young and joyful, woke up for the first time during the
evening, and followed her pranks with round after round of applause.
When at last the music ceased, she scampered into the wings and sank
gasping and laughing into a chair.
"They want you back!" cried Reeser, excitedly beckoning to her. "Go on
again. Take the call."
"The what?" said Nance, bewildered. But before she could find out, she
was thrust forward and, not being able to see where she was going, she
tripped and fell sprawling upon the very scene of her recent triumph.
In the confusion of the moment she instinctively snatched off her mask,
and as she did so the sea of faces merged suddenly into one. In the
orchestra below, gazing at her with dropped jaw over his arrested
fiddle-bow, was old Mr. Demry, with such a comical look of paralyzed
amazement on his face that Nance burst into laughter.
There was something in her glowing, childish face, innocent of
make-up, and in her seeming frank enjoyment of the mishap that took
the house by storm. The man in the box applauded until his face was
purple; gloved hands in the parquet tapped approval; the balcony
stormed; the gallery whistled.
She never knew how she got off the stage, or whether the director shouted
praise or blame as she darted through the wings. It was not until she
reached the dressing-room, and the girls crowded excitedly around her
that she knew she had scored a hit.
She came on once more at the end of the last act in the grand ballet,
where all the dancers performed intricate manoeuvers under changing
lights. Every time the wheeling figures brought her round to the
footlights, there was a greeting from the front, and, despite warnings,
she could not suppress a responsive wag of the head or a friendly wave
of the paw.
"She is so fresh, so fresh!" groaned Pulatki from the wings.
"She's alive," said Reeser. "She'll never make a show girl, and she's got
no voice to speak of. But she's got a personality that climbs right over
the footlights. I'm going to engage her for the rest of the season."
When the play was over, Nance, struggling into Birdie's complicated
finery in the dressing-room below, wondered how she could ever manage to
exist until the next performance. Her one consolation was the immediate
prospect of seeing Mac Clarke and the mysterious Monte to whom Birdie had
said she must be nice. As she pinned on a saucy fur toque in place of her
own cheap millinery, she viewed herself critically in the glass. Beside
the big show girls about her, she felt ridiculously young and slender and
"I believe I'll put on some paint!" she said.
"What for, Silly? Your cheeks are blazing now. You'll have time enough
to paint 'em when you've been dancing a couple of years."
They were among the last to leave the dressing-room, and when they
reached the stage entrance, Birdie spied two figures.
"There they are!" she whispered to Nance, "the fat one is Monte,
Nance had an irresistible impulse to run away. Now that the time had
come, she didn't want to meet those sophisticated young men in their long
coats and high hats. She wouldn't know how to act, what to say. But
Birdie had already joined them, and was turning to say airily:
"Shake hands with my friend Miss Millay, Mr. Clarke--and, I say, Monte,
what's your other name?"
The older of the young men laughed good-naturedly.
"Monte'll do," he said. "I'm that to half the girls in town."
Mac's bright bold eyes scanned Nance curiously. "Where have I seen you
before?" he asked instantly.
"Don't you recognize her?" said Monte. "She's the little bear! I'd know
that smile in ten thousand!"
Nance presented him with one on the spot, out of gratitude for the
diversion. She was already sharing Birdie's wish that no reference be
made to Calvary Alley or the factory. They had no place in this
Monte and the two girls had descended the steps to the street when the
former looked over his shoulder.
"Why doesn't Mac come on?" he asked. "Who is the old party he is
"Oh, Lord! It's old man Demry," exclaimed Birdie in exasperation. "He
plays in the orchestra. Full of dope half of the time. Why don't Mac come
on and leave him?"
But the old musician was not to be left. He pushed past Mac and,
staggering down the steps, laid his hand on Nance's arm.
"You must come home with me, Nancy," he urged unsteadily. "I want to talk
to you. Want to tell you something."
"See here!" broke in Mac Clarke, peremptorily, "is this young lady your
Mr. Demry put his hand to his dazed head and looked from one to the other
in troubled uncertainty.
"No," he said incoherently. "I had a daughter once. But she is much older
than this child. She must be nearly forty by now, and to think I haven't
seen her face for twenty-two years. I shouldn't even know her if I should
see her. I couldn't make shipwreck of her life, you know--shipwreck of
one you love best in the world!"
"Oh, come ahead!" called Birdie from below. "He don't know what he's
But the old man's wrinkled hand still clung to Nance's arm. "Don't go
with them!" he implored. "I know. I've seen. Ten years playing for girls
to dance. Stage no place for you, Nancy. Come home with me, child. Come!"
He was trembling with earnestness and his voice quavered.
"Let go of her arm, you old fool!" cried Mac, angrily. "It's none of your
business where she goes!"
"Nor of yours, either!" Nance flashed back instantly. "You keep your
hands off him!"
Then she turned to Mr. Demry and patiently tried to explain that she was
spending the night with Birdie Smelts; he remembered Birdie--used to live
across the hall from him? She was coming home in the morning. She would
explain everything to Mrs. Snawdor. She promised she would.
Mr. Demry, partly reassured, relaxed his grasp.
"Who is this young man, Nancy?" he asked childishly. "Tell me his name."
"It's Mr. Mac Clarke," said Nance, despite Birdie's warning glance.
A swift look of intelligence swept the dazed old face; then terror
gathered in his eyes.
"Not--not--Macpherson Clarke?" he stammered; then he sat down in the
doorway. "O my God!" he sobbed, dropping his head in his hands.
"He won't go home 'til morning!" hummed Monte, catching Birdie by the
arm and skipping down the passage. Nance stood for a moment looking
down at the maudlin old figure muttering to himself on the door-step;
then she, too, turned and followed the others out into the gay
PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT
What a radically different place the world seems when one doesn't have to
begin the day with an alarm clock! There is a hateful authority in its
brassy, peremptory summons that puts one on the defensive immediately. To
be sure, Nance dreamed she heard it the following day at noon, and sprang
up in bed with the terrifying conviction that she would be late at Miss
Bobinet's. But when she saw where she was, she gave a sigh of relief, and
snuggled down against Birdie's warm shoulder, and tried to realize what
had happened to her.
The big theater, the rows of smiling faces, the clapping hands--surely
they must have all been a dream? And Mr. Demry? Why had he sat on the
steps and cried into a big starchy handkerchief? Oh, yes; she remembered
now, but she didn't like to remember, so she hurried on.
There was a café, big and noisy, with little tables, and a woman who
stood on a platform, with her dress dragging off one shoulder, and sang a
beautiful song, called "I'm A-wearying for You." Mr. Monte didn't think
it was pretty; he had teased her for thinking so. But then he had teased
her for not liking the raw oysters, and for saying the champagne made her
nose go to sleep. They had all teased her and laughed at everything she
said. She didn't care; she liked it. They thought she was funny and
called her "Cubby." At least Mr. Monte did. Mr. Mac didn't call her
anything. He talked most of the time to Birdie, but his eyes were all for
_her_, with a smile that sort of remembered and sort of forgot, and--
"Say, Birdie!" She impulsively interrupted her own confused reflections.
"Do you think they liked me--honest?"
"Who?" said Birdie, drowsily, "the audience?"
"No. Those fellows last night. I haven't got any looks to brag on, and
I'm as green as a string-bean!"