Part 4 out of 6
"That's what tickles 'em," said Birdie. "Besides, you can't ever tell
what makes a girl take. You got a independent way of walking and talking,
and Monte's crazy 'bout your laugh. But you're a funny kid; you beckon a
feller with one hand and slap his face with the other."
"Not unless he gets nervy!" said Nance.
After what euphemistically might be termed a buffet breakfast, prepared
over the gas and served on the trunk, Nance departed for Calvary Alley,
to proclaim to the family her declaration of independence. She was
prepared for a battle royal with all whom it might concern, and was
therefore greatly relieved to find only her stepmother at home. That
worthy lady surrendered before a gun was fired.
"Ain't that Irish luck fer you?" she exclaimed, almost enviously.
"Imagine one of Yager's and Snawdor's childern gittin' on the stage! If
Bud Molloy hadn't taken to railroading he could 'a' been a end man in a
minstrel show! You got a lot of his takin' ways, Nance. It's a Lord's
pity you ain't got his looks!"
"Oh, give me time!" said Nance, whose spirits were soaring.
"I sort 'er thought of joining the ballet onct myself," said Mrs.
Snawdor, with a conscious smile. "It was on account of a scene-shifter I
was runnin' with along about the time I met your pa."
"You!" exclaimed Nance. "Oh! haven't I got a picture of you dancing. Wait
'til I show you!" And ably assisted by the bolster and the bedspread, she
gave a masterly imitation of her stout stepmother that made the original
limp with laughter. Then quite as suddenly, Nance collapsed into a chair
and grew very serious.
"Say!" she demanded earnestly, "honest to goodness now! Do you think
there's any sin in me going on the stage?"
"Sin!" repeated Mrs. Snawdor. "Why, I think it's elegant. I was sayin'
so to Mrs. Smelts only yesterday when she was takin' on about Birdie's
treatin' her so mean an' never comin' to see her or writin' to her.
'Don't lay it on the stage,' I says to her. 'Lay it on Birdie; she always
was a stuck-up piece.'"
Nance pondered the matter, her chin on her palm. Considering the chronic
fallibility of Mrs. Snawdor's judgment, she would have been more
comfortable if she had met with some opposition.
"Mr. Demry thinks it's wrong," said Nance, taking upon herself the role
of counsel for the prosecution. "He took on something fierce when he saw
me last night."
"He never knowed what he was doin'," Mrs. Snawdor said. "They tell me he
can play in the orchestry, when he's full as a nut."
"And there's Uncle Jed," continued Nance uneasily. "What you reckon he's
going to say?"
"You leave that to me," said Mrs. Snawdor, darkly. "Mr. Burks ain't
goin' to git a inklin' 'til you've went. There ain't nobody I respect
more on the face of the world than I do Jed Burks, but some people is
so all-fired good that livin' with 'em is like wearin' new shoes the
"'T ain't as if I was doing anything wicked," said Nance, this time
counsel for the defense.
"Course not," agreed Mrs. Snawdor. "How much they goin' to pay you?"
The incredible sum was mentioned, and Mrs. Snawdor's imagination took
"You'll be gittin' a autymobile at that rate. Say, if I send Lobelia
round to Cemetery Street and git yer last week's pay, can I have it?"
Nance was counting on that small sum to finish payment on her spring
suit, but in the face of imminent affluence she could ill afford to be
"I'll buy Rosy V. some shoes, an' pay somethin' on the cuckoo clock,"
planned Mrs. Snawdor, "an' I've half a mind to take another policy on
William J. That boy's that venturesome it wouldn't surprise me none to
see him git kilt any old time!"
Nance, who had failed to convince herself, either as counsel for the
defense or counsel for the prosecution, assumed the prerogative of judge
and dismissed the case. If older people had such different opinions about
right and wrong, what was the use in her bothering about it? With a shrug
of her shoulders she set to work sorting her clothes and packing the ones
she needed in a box.
"The gingham dresses go to Fidy," she said with reckless generosity, "the
blue skirt to Lobelia, and my Madonna--" Her eyes rested wistfully on her
most cherished possession. "I think I'd like Rosy to have that when she
"All right," agreed Mrs. Snawdor. "There ain't no danger of anybody
takin' it away from her."
Nance was kneeling on the floor, tying a cord about her box when she
heard steps on the stairs.
"Uncle Jed?" she asked in alarm.
"No. Just Snawdor. He won't ast no questions. He ain't got gumption
enough to be curious."
"I hate to go sneaking off like this without telling everybody good-by,"
said Nance petulantly, "Uncle Jed, and the children, and the Levinskis,
and Mr. Demry, and--and--Dan."
"You don't want to take no risks," said Mrs. Snawdor, importantly.
"There's a fool society for everything under the sun, an' somebody'll be
tryin' to git out a injunction. I don't mind swearin' to whatever age you
got to be, but Mr. Burks is so sensitive about them things."
"All right," said Nance, flinging on her hat and coat, "tell 'em how it
was when I'm gone. I'll be sending you money before long."
"That's right," whispered Mrs. Snawdor, hanging over the banister as
Nance felt her way down the stairs. "You be good to yerself an' see if
you can't git me a theayter ticket for to-morrow night. Git two, an' I'll
take Mis' Gorman."
Never had Nance tripped so lightly down those dark, narrow stairs--the
stairs her feet had helped to wear away in her endless pilgrimages with
buckets of coal and water and beer, with finished and unfinished
garments, and omnipresent Snawdor babies. She was leaving it all
forever, along with the smell of pickled herrings and cabbage and
soapsuds. But she was not going to forget the family! Already she was
planning munificent gifts from that fabulous sum that was henceforth to
be her weekly portion.
At Mr. Demry's closed door she paused; then hastily retracing her steps,
she slipped back to her own room and got a potted geranium, bearing one
dirty-faced blossom. This she placed on the floor outside his door and
then, picking up her big box, she slipped quickly out of the house,
through the alley and into the street.
It was late when she got back to Birdie's room, and as she entered, she
was startled by the sound of smothered sobbing.
"Birdie!" she cried in sudden alarm, peering into the semi-darkness,
"what's the matter? Are you fired?"
Birdie started up hastily from the bed where she had been lying face
downward, and dried her eyes.
"No," she said crossly. "Nothing's the matter, only I got the blues."
"The blues!" repeated Nance, incredulously. "What for?"
"Oh, everything. I wish I was dead."
"Birdie Smelts, what's happened to you?" demanded Nance in alarm, sitting
by her on the bed and trying to put her arm around her.
"Whoever said anything had happened?" asked the older girl, pushing
her away. "Stop asking fool questions and get dressed. We'll be late
as it is."
For some time they went about their preparations in silence; then Nance,
partly to relieve the tension, and partly because the matter was of vital
"Do you reckon Mr. Mac and Mr. Monte will come again to-night?"
"You can't tell," said Birdie. "What do they care about engagements?
We are nothing but dirt to them--just dirt under their old
This bitterness on Birdie's part was so different from her customary
superiority where men were concerned, that Nance gasped.
"If they _do_ come," continued Birdie vindictively, "you just watch me
teach Mac Clarke a thing or two. He needn't think because his folks
happen to be swells, he can treat me any old way. I'll make it hot for
him if he don't look out, you see if I don't."
Once back at the Gaiety, Nance forgot all about Birdie and her love
affairs. Her own small triumph completely engrossed her. A morning paper
had mentioned the fantastic dance of the little bear, and had given her
three lines all to herself. Reeser was jubilant, the director was
mollified, and even the big comedian whose name blazed in letters of
fire outside, actually stopped her in the wings to congratulate her.
"Look here, young person," he said, lifting a warning finger, "you want
to be careful how you steal my thunder. You'll be taking my job next!"
Whereupon Nance had the audacity to cross her eyes and strike his
most famous pose before she dodged under his arm and scampered down
It seemed incredible that the marvelous events of the night before could
happen all over again; but they did. She had only to imitate her own
performance to send the audience into peals of laughter. It would have
been more fun to try new tricks, but on this point Pulatki was adamant.
"I vant zat you do ze same act, no more, no less, see?" he demanded of
When the encore came, and at Reeser's command she snatched off her bear's
head and made her funny, awkward, little bow, she involuntarily glanced
down at the orchestra. Mr. Demry was not there, but in the parquet she
encountered a pair of importunate eyes that set her pulses bounding. They
sought her out in the subsequent chorus and followed her every movement
in the grand march that followed.
"Mr. Mac's down there," she whispered excitedly to Birdie as they passed
in the first figure, but Birdie tossed her head and flirted persistently
with the gallery which was quite unused to such marked attention from the
principal show girl.
There was no supper after the play that night, and it was only after much
persuasion on Mac's part, reinforced by the belated Monte, that Birdie
was induced to come out of her sulks and go for a drive around the park.
"Me for the front seat!" cried Nance hoydenishly, and then, as Mac jumped
in beside her and took the wheel, she saw her mistake.
"Oh! I didn't know--" she began, but Mac caught her hand and gave it a
"Confess you wanted to sit by me!" he whispered.
"But I didn't!" she protested hotly. "I never was in a automobile before
and I just wanted to see how it worked!"
She almost persuaded herself that this was true when they reached the
long stretch of parkway, and Mac let her take the wheel. It was only when
in the course of instruction Mac's hand lingered too long on hers, or his
gay, careless face leaned too close, that she had her misgivings.
"Say! this is great!" she cried rapturously, with her feet braced and her
eyes on the long road ahead. "When it don't get the hic-cups, it beats a
horse all hollow!"
"What do you know about horses?" teased Mac, giving unnecessary
assistance with the wheel.
"Enough to keep my hands off the reins when another fellow's driving!"
she said coolly--a remark that moved Mac to boisterous laughter.
When they were on the homeward way and Mac had taken the wheel again,
they found little to say to each other. Once he got her to light a
cigarette for him, and once or twice she asked a question about the
engine. In Calvary Alley one talked or one didn't as the mood suggested,
and Nance was unversed in the fine art of making conversation. It
disturbed her not a whit that she and the handsome youth beside her had
no common topic of interest. It was quite enough for her to sit there
beside him, keenly aware that his arm was pressing hers and that every
time she glanced up she found him glancing down.
It was a night of snow and moonshine, one of those transitorial nights
when winter is going and spring is coming. Nance held her breath as the
car plunged headlong into one mass of black shadows after another only to
emerge triumphant into the white moonlight. She loved the unexpected
revelations of the headlights, which turned the dim road to silver and
lit up the dark turf at the wayside. She loved the crystal-clear moon
that was sailing off and away across those dim fields of virgin snow. And
then she was not thinking any longer, but feeling--feeling beauty and
wonder and happiness and always the blissful thrill of that arm pressed
against her own.
Not until they were nearing the city did she remember the couple on the
"Wake up there!" shouted Mac, tossing his cap over his shoulder. "Gone
"I am trying to induce Miss Birdie to go to the carnival ball with me
to-morrow night," said Monte. "It's going to be no end of a lark."
"Take me, too, Birdie, please!" burst out Nance with such childish
vehemence that they all laughed.
"What's the matter with us all going?" cried Mac, instantly on fire at
the suggestion. "Mother's having a dinner to-morrow night, but I can join
you after the show. What do you say, Bird?"
But Birdie was still in the sulks, and it was not until Mac had changed
places with Monte and brought the full battery of his persuasions to bear
upon her that she agreed to the plan.
That night when the girls were tucked comfortably in bed and the lights
were out, they discussed ways and means.
"I'm going to see if I can't borrow a couple of red-bird costumes off
Mrs. Ryan," said Birdie, whose good humor seemed completely restored.
"We'll buy a couple of masks. I don't know what Monte's letting us in
for, but I'll try anything once."
"Will there be dancing, Birdie?" asked Nance, her eyes shining in the
"Of course, Silly! Nothing but. Say, what was the matter with you and Mac
to-night? You didn't seem to hit it off."
"Oh! we got along pretty good."
"I never heard you talking much. By the way, he's going to take me
to-morrow night, and you are going with Monte."
"Any old way suits me!" said Nance, "just so I get there." But she lay
awake for a time staring into the dark, thinking things over.
"Does he always call you 'Bird'?" she asked after a long silence.
"Who, Mac? Yes. Why?"
"Oh! Nothing," said Nance.
The next day being Saturday, there were two performances, beside the
packing necessary for an early departure on the morrow. But
notwithstanding the full day ahead of her, Birdie spent the morning in
bed, languidly directing Nance, who emptied the wardrobe and bureau
drawers and sorted and folded the soiled finery. Toward noon she got up
and, petulantly declaring that the room was suffocating, announced that
she was going out to do some shopping.
"I'll come, too," said Nance, to whom the purchasing of wearing apparel
was a new and exciting experience.
"No; you finish up here," said Birdie. "I'll be back soon."
Nance went to the window and watched for her to come out in the street
below. She was beginning to be worried about Birdie. What made her so
restless and discontented? Why wouldn't she go to see her mother? Why was
she so cross with Mac Clarke when he was with her and so miserable when
he was away? While she pondered it over, she saw Birdie cross the street
and stand irresolute for a moment, before she turned her back on the
shopping district and hastened off to the east where the tall pipes of
the factories stood like exclamation points along the sky-line.
Already the noon whistles were blowing, and she recognized, above the
rest, the shrill voice of Clarke's Bottle Factory. How she used to
listen for that whistle, especially on Saturdays. Why, _this_ was
Saturday! In the exciting rush of events she had forgotten completely
that Dan would be waiting for her at five o'clock at the foot of
Cemetery Street. Never once in the months she had been at Miss Bobinet's
had he failed to be there on Saturday afternoon. If only she could send
him some word, make some excuse! But it was not easy to deceive Dan, and
she knew he would never rest until he got at the truth of the matter.
No; she had better take Mrs. Snawdor's advice and run no risks. And yet
that thought of Dan waiting patiently at the corner tormented her as
she finished the packing.
When the time arrived to report at the theater, Birdie had not returned,
so Nance rushed off alone at the last minute. It was not until the first
chorus was about to be called that the principal show girl, flushed and
tired, flung herself into the dressing-room and made a lightning change
in time to take her place at the head of the line.
There was a rehearsal between the afternoon and evening performances, and
the girls had little time for confidences.
"Don't ask me any questions!" said Birdie crossly, as she sat before her
dressing-table, wearily washing off the make-up of the afternoon in order
to put on the make-up of the evening. "I'm so dog tired I'd lots rather
be going to bed than to that carnival thing!"
"Don't you back out!" warned Nance, to whom it was ridiculous that any
one should be tired under such exhilarating circumstances.
"Oh, I'll go," said Birdie, "if it's just for the sake of getting
something decent to eat. I'm sick of dancing on crackers and ice-water."
That night Nance, for the first time, was reconciled to the final
curtain. The weather was threatening and the audience was small, but that
was not what took the keen edge off the performance. It was the absence
in the parquet of a certain pair of pursuing eyes that made all the
difference. Moreover, the prospect of the carnival ball made even the
footlights pale by comparison.
The wardrobe woman, after much coaxing and bribing, had been induced
to lend the girls two of the property costumes, and Nance, with the
help of several giggling assistants, was being initiated into the
mysteries of the red-bird costume. When she had donned the crimson
tights, and high-heeled crimson boots, and the short-spangled slip
with its black gauze wings, she gave a half-abashed glance at herself
in the long mirror.
"I can't do it, Birdie!" she cried, "I feel like a fool. You be a red
bird, and let me be a bear!"
"Don't we all do it every night?" asked Birdie. "When we've got on our
masks, nobody 'll know us. We'll just be a couple of 'Rag-Time Follies'
taking a night off."
"Don't she look cute with her cap on?" cried one of the girls. "I'd give
my head to be going!"
Nance put on a borrowed rain-coat which was to serve as evening wrap as
well and, with a kiss all around and many parting gibes, ran up the steps
in Birdie's wake.
The court outside the stage entrance was a bobbing mass of umbrellas.
Groups of girls, pulling their wraps on as they came, tripped noisily
down the steps, greeting waiting cavaliers, or hurrying off alone in
"That's Mac's horn," said Birdie, "a long toot and two short ones. I'd
know it in Halifax!"
At the curbing the usual altercation arose between Mac and Birdie as to
how they should sit. The latter refused to sit on the front seat for fear
of getting wet, and Mac refused to let Monte drive.
"Oh, I don't mind getting wet!" cried Nance with a fine show of
indifference. "That's what a rain-coat's for."
When Mac had dexterously backed his machine out of its close quarters,
and was threading his way with reckless skill through the crowded
streets, he said softly, without turning his head:
"I think I rather like you, Nance Molloy!"
The tenth annual carnival ball, under the auspices of a too-well-known
political organization, was at its midnight worst. It was one of those
conglomerate gatherings, made up of the loose ends of the city--ward
politicians, girls from the department stores, Bohemians with an unsated
thirst for diversion, reporters, ostensibly looking for copy, women just
over the line of respectability, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the
other, and the inevitable sprinkling of well-born youths who regard such
occasions as golden opportunities for seeing that mysterious phantom
It was all cheap and incredibly tawdry, from the festoons of paper roses
on the walls to the flash of paste jewels in make-believe crowns. The big
hall, with its stage flanked by gilded boxes, was crowded with a shifting
throng of maskers in costumes of flaunting discord. Above the noisy
laughter and popping of corks, rose the blaring strains of a brass band.
Through the odor of flowers came the strong scent of musk, which, in
turn, was routed by the fumes of beer and tobacco which were already
making the air heavy.
On the edge of all this stood Nance Molloy, in that magic hour of her
girlhood when the bud was ready to burst into the full-blown blossom. Her
slender figure on tiptoe with excitement, her eyes star-like behind her
mask, she stood poised, waiting with all her unslaked thirst for
pleasure, to make her plunge into the gay, dancing throng. She no longer
cared if her skirts were short, and her arms and neck were bare. She no
longer thought of how she looked or how she acted. There was no Pulatki
in the wings to call her down for extra flourishes; there was no old
white face in the orchestra to disturb her conscience. Her chance for a
good time had come at last, and she was rushing to meet it with arms
"They are getting ready for the grand march!" cried Monte, who, with Mac,
represented the "two _Dromios_." "We separate at the end of the hall, and
when the columns line up again, you dance with your vis-à-vis."
"My who-tee-who?" asked Nance.
"Vis-à-vis--fellow opposite. Come ahead!"
Down the long hall swung the gay procession, while the floor vibrated to
the rhythm of the prancing feet. The columns marched and countermarched
and fell into two long lines facing each other. The leader of the
orchestra blew a shrill whistle, and Nance, marking time expectantly,
saw one of the _Dromios_ slip out of his place and into the one facing
her. The next moment the columns flowed together, and she found herself
in his arms, swinging in and out of the gay whirling throng with every
nerve tingling response to the summoning music.
Suddenly a tender pressure made her glance up sharply at the white mask
of her companion.
"Why--why, I thought it was Mr. Monte," she laughed.
"Disappointed?" asked Mac.
"Then why are you stopping?"
Nance could not tell him that in her world a "High Particular" was not to
be trifled with. In her vigil of the night before she had made firm
resolve to do the square thing by Birdie Smelts.
"Where are the others?" she asked in sudden confusion.
"In the supper room probably. Aren't you going to finish this with me?"
"Not me. I'm going to dance with Mr. Monte."
"Has he asked you?"
"No; I'm going to ask him." And she darted away, leaving Mac to follow at
After supper propriety, which up to now had held slack rein on the
carnival spirit, turned her loose. Masks were flung aside, hundreds of
toy balloons were set afloat and tossed from hand to hand, confetti was
showered from the balcony, boisterous song and laughter mingled with the
music. The floor resembled some gigantic kaleidoscope, one gay pattern
following another in rapid succession. And in every group the most vivid
note was struck by a flashing red bird. Even had word not gone abroad
that the girls in crimson and black were from the "Rag Time Follies",
Birdie's conspicuous charms would have created instant comment and a host
Nance, with characteristic independence, soon swung out of Birdie's orbit
and made friends for herself. For her it was a night of delirium, and her
pulses hammered in rhythm to the throbbing music. In one day life had
caught her up out of an abyss of gloom and swung her to a dizzy pinnacle
of delight, where she poised in exquisite ecstasy, fearing that the next
turn of the wheel might carry her down again. Laughter had softened her
lips and hung mischievous lights in her eyes; happiness had set her
nerves tingling and set roses blooming in cheeks and lips. The smoldering
fires of self-expression, smothered so long, burst into riotous flame.
With utter abandonment she flung herself into the merriment of the
moment, romping through the dances with any one who asked her, slapping
the face of an elderly knight who went too far in his gallantries,
dancing a hornpipe with a fat clown to the accompaniment of a hundred
clapping hands. Up and down the crowded hall she raced, a hoydenish
little tom-boy, drunk with youth, with freedom, and with the pent-up
vitality of years.
Close after her, snatching her away from the other dancers only to have
her snatched away from him in turn, was Mac Clarke, equally flushed and
excited, refusing to listen to Monte's insistent reminder that a storm
was brewing and they ought to go home.
"Hang the storm!" cried Mac gaily. "I'm in for it with the governor,
anyhow. Let's make a night of it!"
At the end of a dance even wilder than the rest, Nance found herself with
Mac at the entrance to one of the boxes that flanked the stage.
"I've got you now!" he panted, catching her wrists and pulling her within
the curtained recess. "You've got to tell me why you've been running away
from me all evening."
"I haven't," said Nance, laughing and struggling to free her hands.
"You have, too! You've given me the slip a dozen times. Don't you know
I'm crazy about you?"
"Much you are!" scoffed Nance. "Go tell that to Birdie."
"I'll tell it to Birdie and every one else if you like," Mac cried. "It
was all up with me the first time I saw you."
With his handsome, boyish face and his frilled shirt, he looked so
absurdly like the choir boy, who had once sat on the fence flinging rocks
at her, that she threw back her head and laughed.
"You don't even know the first time you saw me," she challenged him.
"Well, I know I've seen you somewhere before. Tell me where?"
"Guess!" said Nance, with dancing eyes.
"Wait! I know! It was on the street one night. You were standing in a
drug store. A red light was shining on you, and you smiled at me."
"I smiled at you because I knew you. I'd seen you before that. Once when
you didn't want me to. In the factory yard--behind the gas-pipe--"
"Were you the little girl that caught me kissing Bird that day?"
"Yes! But there was another time even before that."
He searched her face quizzically, still holding her wrists.
Nance, no longer trying to free her hands, hummed teasingly, half under
"Do ye think the likes of ye
Could learn to like the likes o' me?
Arrah, come in, Barney McKane, out of the rain!"
A puzzled look swept his face; then he cried exultantly:
"I've got it. It was you who let my pigeons go! You little devil! I'm
going to pay you back for that!" and before she knew it, he had got both
of her hands into one of his and had caught her to him, and was kissing
her there in the shadow of the curtain, kissing her gay, defiant eyes and
her half-childish lips.
And Nance, the independent, scoffing, high-headed Nance, who up to this
time had waged successful warfare, offensive as well as defensive,
against the invading masculine, forgot for one transcendent second
everything in the world except the touch of those ardent lips on hers and
the warm clasp of the arm about her yielding shoulders.
In the next instant she sprang away from him, and in dire confusion fled
out of the box and down the corridor.
At the door leading back into the ball-room a group of dancers had
gathered and were exchanging humorous remarks about a woman who was being
borne, feet foremost, into the corridor by two men in costume.
Nance, craning her neck to see, caught a glimpse of a white face with a
sagging mouth, and staring eyes under a profusion of tumbled red hair.
With a gasp of recognition she pushed forward and impulsively seized one
of the woman's limp hands.
"Gert!" she cried, "what's the matter? Are you hurt?"
The monk gave a significant wink at Mac, who had joined them, and the
"She's drunk!" said Mac, abruptly, pulling Nance away. "Where did you
ever know that woman?"
"Why, it's Gert, you know, at the factory! She worked at the bench
next to mine!"
Her eyes followed the departing group somberly, and she lingered despite
Poor Gert! Was this what she meant by a good time? To be limp and silly
like that, with her dress slipping off her shoulder and people staring at
her and laughing at her?
"I don't want to dance!" she said impatiently, shaking off Mac's hand.
The steaming hall, reeking with tobacco smoke and stale beer, the men and
women with painted faces and blackened eyes leering and languishing at
each other, the snatches of suggestive song and jest, filled her with
"I'm going home," she announced with determination.
"But, Nance!" pleaded Mac, "you can't go until we've had our dance."
But for Nance the spell was broken, and her one idea was to get away.
When she found Birdie she became more insistent than ever.
"Why not see it out?" urged Mac. "I don't want to go home."
"You are as hoarse as a frog now," said Monte.
"Glad of it! Let's me out of singing in the choir to-morrow--I mean
to-day! Who wants another drink?"
Birdie did, and another ten minutes was lost while they went around to
the refreshment room.
The storm was at its height when at four o'clock they started on that mad
drive home. The shrieking wind, the wet, slippery streets, the lightning
flashing against the blurred wind-shield, the crashes of thunder that
drowned all other sounds, were sufficient to try the nerves of the
steadiest driver. But Mac sped his car through it with reckless
disregard, singing, despite his hoarseness, with Birdie and Monte, and
shouting laughing defiance as the lightning played.
Nance sat very straight beside him with her eyes on the road ahead. She
hated Birdie for having taken enough wine to make her silly like that;
she hated the boys for laughing at her. She saw nothing funny in the fact
that somebody had lost the latch-key and that they could only get in by
raising the landlady, who was sharp of tongue and free with her comments.
"You girls better come on over to my rooms," urged Monte. "We'll cook
your breakfast on the chafing-dish, won't we, Mac?"
"Me for the couch!" said Birdie. "I'm cross-eyed, I'm so sleepy."
"I'm not going," said Nance, shortly.
"Don't be a short-sport, Nance," urged Birdie, peevishly. "It's as good
as morning now. We can loaf around Monte's for a couple of hours and then
go over to my room and change our clothes in time to get to the station
by seven. Less time we have to answer questions, better it'll be for us."
"I tell you I ain't going!" protested Nance, hotly.
"Yes, you are!" whispered Mac softly. "You are going to be a good little
girl and do whatever I want you to."
Nance grew strangely silent under his compelling look, and under the
touch of his hand as it sought hers in the darkness. Why wasn't she angry
with Mr. Mac as she was with the others? Why did she want so much to do
whatever he asked her to? After all perhaps there was no harm in going to
Mr. Monte's for a little while, perhaps--
She drew in her breath suddenly and shivered. For the first time in her
life she was afraid, not of the storm, or the consequences of her
escapade, but of herself. She was afraid of the quick, sweet shiver that
ran over her whenever Mac touched her, of the strange weakness that came
over her even now, as his hands claimed hers.
"Say, I'm going to get out," she said suddenly.
"Stop the car! Don't you hear me? I want to get out!"
"Nonsense!" said Mac, "you don't even know where you are! You are coming
with us to Monte's; that's what you are going to do."
But Nance knew more than he thought. In the last flash of lightning she
had seen, back of them on the left, startlingly white for the second
against the blackness, the spire of Calvary Cathedral. She knew that they
were rapidly approaching the railroad crossing where Uncle Jed's signal
tower stood, beyond which lay a region totally unfamiliar to her.
She waited tensely until Mac had sped the car across the gleaming tracks,
just escaping the descending gates. Then she bent forward and seized the
emergency brake. The car came to a halt with a terrific jerk, plunging
them all forward, and under cover of the confusion Nance leapt out and,
darting under the lowered gate, dashed across the tracks. The next moment
a long freight train passed between her and the automobile, and when it
was done with its noisy shunting backward and forward, and had gone
ahead, the street was empty.
Watching her chance between the lightning flashes, she darted from cover
to cover. Once beyond the signal tower she would be safe from Uncle Jed's
righteous eye, and able to dash down a short cut she knew that led into
the street back of the warehouse and thence into Calvary Alley. If she
could get to her old room for the next two hours, she could change her
clothes and be off again before any one knew of her night's adventure.
Just as she reached the corner, a flash more blinding than the rest
ripped the heavens. A line of fire raced toward her along the steel
rails, then leapt in a ball to the big bell at the top of the signal
tower. There was a deafening crash; all the electric lights went out, and
Nance found herself cowering against the fence, apparently the one living
object in that wild, wet, storm-racked night.
The only lights to be seen were the small red lamps suspended on the
slanting gates. Nance waited for them to lower when the freight train
that had backed into the yards five minutes before, rushed out again. But
the lamps did not move.
She crept back across the tracks, watching with fascinated horror the
dark windows of the signal tower. Why didn't Uncle Jed light his lantern?
Why hadn't he lowered the gates? All her fear of discovery was suddenly
swallowed up in a greater fear.
At the foot of the crude wooden stairway she no longer hesitated.
"Uncle Jed!" she shouted against the wind, "Uncle Jed, are you there?"
There was no answer.
She climbed the steep steps and tried the door, which yielded grudgingly
to her pressure. It was only when she put her shoulder to it and pushed
with all her strength that she made an opening wide enough to squeeze
through. There on the floor, lying just as he had fallen, was the old
gate-tender, his unseeing eyes staring up into the semi-darkness.
Nance looked at him in terror, then at the signal board and the levers
that controlled the gates. A terrible trembling seized her, and she
covered her eyes with her hands.
"God tell me quick, what must I do?" she demanded, and the next instant,
as if in answer to her prayer, she heard herself gasp, "Dan!" as she
fumbled wildly for the telephone.
The shrill whistle that at noon had obtruded its discord into Nance
Molloy's thoughts had a very different effect on Dan Lewis, washing his
hands under the hydrant in the factory yard. _He_ had not forgotten that
it was Saturday. Neither had Growler, who stood watching him with an
oblique look in his old eye that said as plain as words that he knew what
momentous business was brewing at five o'clock.
It was not only Saturday for Dan, but the most important Saturday that
ever figured on the calendar. In his heroic efforts to conform to Mrs.
Purdy's standard of perfection he had studied the advice to young men in
the "Sunday Echo." There he learned that no gentleman would think of
mentioning love to a young lady until he was in a position to marry her.
To-day's pay envelope would hold the exact amount to bring his bank
account up to the three imposing figures that he had decided on as the
minimum sum to be put away.
As he was drying his hands on his handkerchief and whistling softly
under his breath, he was summoned to the office.
For the past year he had been a self-constituted buffer between Mr.
Clarke and the men in the furnace-room, and he wondered anxiously what
new complication had arisen.
"He's got an awful grouch on," warned the stenographer as Dan passed
through the outer office.
Mr. Clarke was sitting at his desk, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Well, Lewis," he said, "you've taken your time! Sit down. I want to
talk to you."
Dan dropped into the chair opposite and waited.
"Is it true that you have been doing most of the new foreman's work for
the past month?"
"Well, I've helped him some. You see, being here so long, I know the
ropes a bit better than he does."
"That's not the point. I ought to have known sooner that he could not
handle the job. I fired him this morning, and we've got to make some
temporary arrangement until a new man is installed."
Dan's face grew grave.
"We can manage everything but the finishing room. Some of the girls have
been threatening to quit."
"What's the grievance now?"
"Same thing--ventilation. Two more girls fainted there this morning. The
air is something terrible."
"What do they think I am running?" demanded Mr. Clarke, angrily, "a
"No, sir," said Dan, "a death trap."
Mr. Clarke set his jaw and glared at Dan, but he said nothing. The
doctor's recent verdict on the death of a certain one-eyed girl, named
Mag Gist, may have had something to do with his silence.
"How many girls are in that room now?" he asked after a long pause.
Dan gave the number, together with several other disturbing facts
concerning the sanitary arrangements.
"Well, what's to be done?" demanded Mr. Clarke, fiercely. "We can't
get out the work with fewer girls, and there is no way of enlarging
"Yes, sir, there is," said Dan. "Would you mind me showing you a way?"
"Since you are so full of advice, go ahead."
With crude, but sure, pencil strokes, Dan got his ideas on paper. He had
done it so often for his own satisfaction that he could have made them
with his eyes shut. Ever since those early days when he had seen that
room through Nance Molloy's eyes, he had persisted in his efforts to
Mr. Clarke, with his fingers thrust through his scanty hair, watched him
"Absolutely impractical," he declared. "The only feasible plan would be
to take out the north partition and build an extension like this."
"That couldn't be done," said Dan, "on account of the projection."
Whereupon, such is the power of opposition, Mr. Clarke set himself to
prove that it could. For over an hour they wrangled, going into the
questions of cost, of time, of heating, of ventilation, scarcely looking
up from the plans until a figure in a checked suit flung open the door,
letting in a draught of air that scattered the papers on the desk.
"Hello, Dad," said the new-comer, with a friendly nod to Dan, "I'm sorry
to disturb you, but I only have a minute."
"Which I should accept gratefully, I suppose, as my share of your busy
day?" Mr. Clarke tried to look severe, but his eyes softened.
"Well, I just got up," said Mac, with an ingratiating smile, as he
smoothed back his shining hair before the mirror in the hat-rack.
"Running all night, and sleeping half the day!" grumbled Mr. Clarke. "By
the way, what time did you get in last night?"
Mac made a wry face.
"_Et tu, Brute?_" he cried gaily. "Mother's polished me off on that
score. I have not come here to discuss the waywardness of your prodigal
son. Mr. Clarke, I have come to talk high finance. I desire to
negotiate a loan."
"As usual," growled his father. "I venture to say that Dan Lewis here,
who earns about half what you waste a year, has something put away."
"But Dan's the original grinder. He always had an eye for business. Used
to win my nickel every Sunday when we shot craps in the alley back of the
cathedral. Say, Dan, I see you've still got that handsome thoroughbred
cur of yours! By George, that dog could use his tail for a jumping rope!"
Dan smiled; he couldn't afford to be sensitive about Growler's beauty.
"Is that all, Mr. Clarke?" he asked of his employer.
"Yes. I'll see what can be done with these plans. In the meanwhile you
try to keep the girls satisfied until the new foreman comes. By the way I
expect you'd better stay on here to-night."
Dan paused with his hand on the door-knob. "Yes, sir," he said in evident
embarrassment, "but if you don't mind--I 'd like to get off for a couple
of hours this afternoon."
"Who's the girl, Dan?" asked Mac, but Dan did not stop to answer.
As he hurried down the hall, a boy appeared from around the corner and
beckoned to him with a mysterious grin.
"Somebody's waiting for you down in the yard."
"Who is he?"
"'T ain't a he. It's the prettiest girl you ever seen!"
Dan, whose thoughts for weeks had been completely filled with one
feminine image, sprang to the window. But the tall, stylish person
enveloped in a white veil, who was waiting below, in no remote way
suggested Nance Molloy.
A call from a lady was a new experience, and a lively curiosity seized
him as he descended the steps, turning down his shirt sleeves as he went.
As he stepped into the yard, the girl turned toward him with a quick,
"Hello, Daniel!" she said, her full red lips curving into a smile. "Don't
remember me, do you?"
"Sure, I do. It's Birdie Smelts."
"Good boy! Only now it's Birdie La Rue. That's my stage name, you know. I
blew into town Thursday with 'The Rag Time Follies.' Say, Dan, you used
to be a good friend of mine, didn't you?"
Dan had no recollection of ever having been noticed by Birdie, except on
that one occasion when he had taken her and Nance to the skating-rink.
She was older than he by a couple of years, and infinitely wiser in the
ways of the world. But it was beyond masculine human nature not to be
flattered by her manner, and he hastened to assure her that he had been
and was her friend.
"Well, I wonder if you don't want to do me a favor?" she coaxed. "Find
out if Mac Clarke's been here, or is going to be here. I got to see him
on particular business."
"He's up in the office now," said Dan; then he added bluntly "Where did
you ever know Mac Clarke?"
Birdie's large, white lids fluttered a moment.
"I come to see him for a friend of mine," she said.
A silence fell between them which she tried to break with a rather shame
"This girl and Mac have had a quarrel. I'm trying to patch it up. Wish
you'd get him down here a minute."
"It would be a lot better for the girl," said Dan, slowly, "if you didn't
patch it up."
"What do you mean?"
Dan looked troubled.
"Clarke's a nice fellow all right," he said, "but when it comes to
girls--" he broke off abruptly. "Do you know him?"
"I've seen him round the theater," she said.
"Then you ought to know what I mean."
Birdie looked absently across the barren yard.
"Men are all rotten," she said bitterly, then added with feminine
inconsistency, "Go on, Dan, be a darling. Fix it so I can speak to him
without the old man catching on."
Strategic manoeuvers were not in Dan's line, and he might have refused
outright had not Birdie laid a white hand on his and lifted a pair of
effectively pleading eyes. Being unused to feminine blandishments, he
Half an hour later a white veil fluttered intimately across a broad,
checked shoulder as two stealthy young people slipped under the window of
Mr. Clarke's private office and made their way to the street.
Dan gave the incident little further thought. He went mechanically about
his work, only pausing occasionally at his high desk behind the door to
pore over a sheet of paper. Had his employer glanced casually over his
shoulder, he might have thought he was still figuring on the plans of the
new finishing room; but a second glance would have puzzled him. Instead
of one large room there were several small ones, and across the front was
a porch with wriggly lines on a trellis, minutely labeled, "honeysuckle."
At a quarter of five Dan made as elaborate a toilet as the washroom
permitted. He consumed both time and soap on the fractious forelock, and
spent precious moments trying to induce a limp string tie to assume the
same correct set that distinguished Mac Clarke's four-in-hand.
Once on his way, with Growler at his heels, he gave no more thought to
his looks. He walked very straight, his lips twitching now and then into
a smile, and his gaze soaring over the heads of the ordinary people whom
he passed. For twenty-one years the book of life had proved grim
reading, but to-day he had come to that magic page whereon is written in
words grown dim to the eyes of age and experience, but perennially
shining to the eyes of youth: "And then they were married and lived
happily ever after."
"Take care there! Look where you are going!" exclaimed an indignant
pedestrian as he turned the corner into Cemetery Street.
"Why, hello, Bean!" he said in surprise, bringing his gaze down to a
stout man on crutches. "Glad to see you out again!"
"I ain't out," said the ex-foreman. "I'm all in. I've got rheumatism in
every corner of me. This is what your old bottle factory did for me."
"Tough luck," said Dan sympathetically, with what attention he could
spare from a certain doorway half up the square. "First time you've
"No; I've been to the park once or twice. Last night I went to a show."
He was about to limp on when he paused. "By the way, Lewis, I saw an old
friend of yours there. You remember that Molloy girl you used to run with
up at the factory?"
Dan's mouth closed sharply. Bean's attitude toward the factory girls was
an old grievance with him and had caused words between them on more than
"Well, I'll be hanged," went on Bean, undaunted, "if she ain't doing a
turn up at the Gaiety! She's a little corker all right, had the whole
"You got another guess coming your way," said Dan, coldly, "the young
lady you're talking about's not on the stage. She's working up here in
Cemetery Street. I happen to be waiting for her now."
"Well, the drinks are on me. That girl at the Gaiety is a dead ringer to
her. Same classy way of handling herself, same--" Something in Dan's eyes
made him stop. "I got to be going," he said. "So long."
Dan waited patiently for ten minutes; then he looked at his watch. What
could be keeping Nance? He whistled to Growler, who was making life
miserable for a cat in a neighboring yard, and strolled past Miss
Bobinet's door; then he returned to the corner. Bean's words had fallen
into his dream like a pebble into a tranquil pool. What business had Bean
to be remembering the way Nance walked or talked. Restlessly, Dan paced
up and down the narrow sidewalk. When he looked at his watch again, it
Only thirty more minutes in which to transact the most important
business of his life! With a gesture of impatience he strode up to Miss
Bobinet's door and rang the bell.
A wrinkled old woman, with one hand behind her ear, opened the door
"Nance Molloy?" she quavered in answer to his query. "What you want
"I'd like to speak with her a minute," said Dan.
"Are you her brother?"
The old woman peered at him curiously.
"Who be you?" she asked.
"My name's Lewis."
"No, Lewis!" shouted Dan, with a restraining hand on Growler, who was
sniffing at the strange musty odors that issued from the half-open door.
"Well, she ain't here," said the old woman. "Took herself off last
Wednesday, without a word to anybody."
"Last Wednesday!" said Dan, incredulously. "Didn't she send any word?"
"Sent for her money and said she wouldn't be back. You dog, you!" This to
Growler who had insinuated his head inside the door with the fixed
determination to run down that queer smell if possible.
Dan went slowly down the steps, and Growler, either offended at having
had the door slammed in his face, or else sensing, dog-fashion, the
sudden change in his master's mood, trotted soberly at his heels. There
was no time now to go to Calvary Alley to find out what the trouble was.
Nothing to do but go back to the factory and worry through the night,
with all sorts of disturbing thoughts swarming in his brain. Nance had
been all right the Saturday before, a little restless and discontented
perhaps, but scarcely more so than usual. He remembered how he had
counseled patience, and how hard it had been for him to keep from telling
her then and there what was in his heart. He began to wonder uneasily if
he had done right in keeping all his plans and dreams to himself. Perhaps
if he had taken her into his confidence and told her what he was striving
and saving for, she would have understood better and been happy in
waiting and working with him. For the first time he began to entertain
dark doubts concerning those columns of advice to young men in the
Once back at the factory, he plunged into his work with characteristic
thoroughness. It was strangely hot and still, and somewhere out on the
horizon was a grumbling discontent. It was raining hard at eleven o'clock
when he boarded a car for Butternut Lane, and by the time he reached the
Purdy's corner, the lightning was playing sharply in the northwest.
He let himself in the empty house and felt his way up to his room, but he
did not go to bed. Instead, he sat at his table and with stiff awkward
fingers wrote letter after letter, each of which he tossed impatiently
into the waste-basket. They were all to Nance, and they all tried in vain
to express the pent-up emotion that had filled his heart for years.
Somewhere down-stairs a clock struck one, but he kept doggedly at his
task. Four o'clock found him still seated at the table, but his tired
head had dropped on his folded arms, and he slept.
Outside the wind rose higher and higher, and the lightning split the
heavens in blinding flashes. Suddenly a deafening crash of thunder shook
the house, and Dan started to his feet. A moment later the telephone
Half dazed, he stumbled down-stairs and took up the receiver.
"Hello, hello! Yes, this is Dan Lewis. What? I can't hear you. Who?" Then
his back stiffened suddenly, and his voice grew tense, "Nance! Where are
you? Is he dead? Who's with you? Don't be scared, I'm coming!" and,
leaving the receiver dangling on the cord, he made one leap for the door.
IN THE SIGNAL TOWER
It seemed an eternity to Dan, speeding hatless, coatless, breathless
through the storm, before he spied the red lights on the lowered gates at
the crossing. Dashing to the signal tower, he took the steps two at a
time. The small room was almost dark, but he could see Nance kneeling on
the floor beside the big gatekeeper.
"Dan! Is it you?" she cried. "He ain't dead yet. I can feel him
breathing. If the doctor would only come!"
"Who'd you call?"
"The first one in the book, Dr. Adair."
"But he's the big doctor up at the hospital; he won't come."
"He will too! I told him he had to. And the gates, I got 'em down. Don't
stop to feel his heart, Dan. Call the doctor again!"
"The first thing to do is to get a light," said Dan. "Ain't there a
lantern or something?"
"Strike matches, like I did. They are on the window-sill--only
Dan went about his task in his own way, taking time to find an oil lamp
on the shelf behind the door and deliberately lighting it before he took
his seat at the telephone. As he waited for the connection, his puzzled,
troubled eyes dwelt not on Uncle Jed, but on the crimson boots and
fantastic cap of Uncle Jed's companion.
"Dr. Adair is on the way," he said quietly, when he hung up the receiver,
"and a man is coming from the yards to look after the gates. Is he still
"Only when I make him!" said Nance, pressing the lungs of the injured
man. "There, Uncle Jed," she coaxed, "take another deep breath, just one
time. Go on! Do it for Nance. One time more! That's right! Once more!"
But Uncle Jed was evidently very tired of trying to accommodate. The
gasps came at irregular intervals.
"How long have you been doing this?" asked Dan, kneeling beside her.
"I don't know. Ever since I came."
"How did you happen to come?"
"I saw the lightning strike the bell. Oh, Dan! It was awful, the noise
and the flash! Seemed like I 'd never get up the steps. And at first I
thought he was dead and--"
"But who was with you? Where were you going?" interrupted Dan in
"I was passing--I was going home--I--" Her excited voice broke in a sob,
and she impatiently jerked the sleeve of her rain-coat across her eyes.
In a moment Dan was all tenderness. For the first time he put his arm
around her and awkwardly patted her shoulder.
"There," he said reassuringly, "don't try to tell me now. See! He's
breathing more regular! I expect the doctor'll pull him through."
Nance's hands, relieved of the immediate necessity for action, were
clasping and unclasping nervously.
"Dan," she burst out, "I got to tell you something! Birdie Smelts has got
me a place in the 'Follies.' I been on a couple of nights. I'm going away
with 'em in the morning."
Dan looked at her as if he thought the events of the wild night had
deprived her of reason.
"You!" he said, "going on the stage?" Then as he took it in, he drew away
from her suddenly as if he had received a lash across the face. "And you
were going off without talking it over or telling me or anything?"
"I was going to write you, Dan. It was all so sudden."
His eyes swept her bedraggled figure with stern disapproval.
"Were you coming from the theater at this time in the morning?"
Uncle Jed moaned slightly, and they both bent over him in instant
solicitude. But there was nothing to do, but wait until the doctor
"Where had you been in those crazy clothes?" persisted Dan.
"I'd been to the carnival ball with Birdie Smelts," Nance blurted out. "I
didn't know it was going to be like that, but I might 'a' gone anyway. I
don't know. Oh, Dan, I was sick to death of being stuck away in that dark
hole, waiting for something to turn up. I told you how it was, but you
couldn't see it. I was bound to have a good time if I died for it!"
She dropped her head on her knees and sobbed unrestrainedly, while the
wind shrieked around the shanty, and the rain dashed against the
gradually lightening window-pane. After a while she flung back her head
"_Stop_ looking at me like that, Dan. Lots of girls go on the stage and
"I wasn't thinking about the stage," said Dan. "I was thinking about
to-night. Who took you girls to that place?"
Nance dried her tears.
"I can't tell you that," she said uneasily.
"It wouldn't be fair."
Dan felt the hot blood surge to his head, and the muscles of his hands
tighten involuntarily. He forgot Uncle Jed; he forgot to listen for the
doctor, or to worry about traffic that would soon be held up in the
street below. The only man in the world for him at that moment was the
scoundrel who had dared to take his little Nance into that infamous
Nance caught his arm and, with a quick gesture, dropped her head on it.
"Dan," she pleaded, "don't be mad at me. I promise you I won't go to any
more places like that. I knew it wasn't right all along. But I got to go
on with the 'Follies,' It's the chance I been waiting for all these
months. Maybe it's the only one that'll ever come to me! You ain't going
to stand in my way, are you, Dan?"
"Tell me who was with you to-night!"
"No!" she whispered. "I can't. You mustn't ask me. I promise you I won't
do it again. I don't want to go away leaving you thinking bad of me."
His clenched hands suddenly began to tremble so violently that he had to
clasp them tight to keep her from noticing.
"I better get used to--to not thinking 'bout you at all," he said,
looking at her with the stern eyes of a young ascetic.
For a time they knelt there side by side, and neither spoke. For over a
year Dan had been like one standing still on the banks of a muddy stream,
his eyes blinded to all but the shining goal opposite, while Nance was
like one who plunges headlong into the current, often losing sight of the
goal altogether, but now and again catching glimpses of it that sent her
stumbling, fighting, falling forward.
At the sound of voices below they both scrambled to their feet. Dr.
Adair and the man from the yards came hurriedly up the steps together,
the former drawing off his gloves as he came. He was a compact, elderly
man whose keen observant eyes swept the room and its occupants at a
glance. He listened to Nance's broken recital of what had happened, cut
her short when he had obtained the main facts, and proceeded to examine
"The worst injury is evidently to the right arm and shoulder; you'll have
to help me get his shirt off. No--not that way!"
Dan's hands, so eager to serve, so awkward in the service, fumbled over
their task, eliciting a groan from the unconscious man.
"Let me do it!" cried Nance, springing forward. "You hold him up, Dan, I
can get it off."
"It's a nasty job," warned the doctor, with a mistrustful glance at the
youthful, tear-stained face. "It may make you sick."
"What if it does?" demanded Nance, impatiently.
It was a long and distressing proceeding, and Dan tried not to look at
her as she bent in absorbed detachment over her work. But her steady
finger-touch, and her anticipation of the doctor's needs amazed him. It
recalled the day at the factory, when she, little more than a child
herself, had dressed the wounds of the carrying-in boy. Once she grew
suddenly white and had to hurry to the door and let the wind blow in her
face. He started up to follow her, but changed his mind. Instead he
protested with unnecessary vehemence against her resuming the work, but
she would not heed him.
"That's right!" said the doctor, approvingly. "Stick it out this time and
next time it will not make you sick. Our next move is to get him home.
Where does he live?"
"In Calvary Alley," said Dan, "back of the cathedral."
"Very good," said the doctor, "I'll run him around there in my machine as
soon as that last hypodermic takes effect. Any family?"
Dan shook his head.
"He has, too!" cried Nance. "We're his family!"
The doctor shot an amused glance at her over his glasses; then he laid a
kindly hand on her shoulder.
"I congratulate him on this part of it. You make a first class
"Is he going to get well?" Nance demanded.
"It is too early to say, my dear. We will hope for the best. I will have
one of the doctors come out from the hospital every day to see him, but
everything will depend on the nursing."
Nance cast a despairing look at the bandaged figure on the floor; then
she shot a look of entreaty at Dan. One showed as little response to her
appeal as the other. For a moment she stood irresolute; then she slipped
out of the room and closed the door behind her.
For a moment Dan did not miss her. When he did, he left Dr. Adair in the
middle of a sentence and went plunging down the steps in hot pursuit.
"Nance!" he called, splashing through the mud. "Aren't you going to
She wheeled on him furiously, a wild, dishevelled, little figure, strung
to the breaking point:
"No!" she cried, "I am not going to say good-by! Do you suppose I could
go away with you acting like that? And who is there to nurse Uncle Jed,
I'd like to know, but me? But I want to tell you right now, Dan Lewis, if
ever another chance comes to get out of that alley, I'm going to take
it, and there can't anybody in the world stop me!"
"I don't take no stock in heaven havin' streets of gold," said Mrs.
Snawdor. "It'll be just my luck to have to polish 'em. You needn't tell
me if there's all that finery in heaven, they won't keep special angels
to do the dirty work!"
She and Mrs. Smelts were scrubbing down the stairs of Number One, not as
a matter of cleanliness, but for the social benefit to be derived
therefrom. It was a Sunday morning institution with them, and served
quite the same purpose that church-going does for certain ladies in a
more exalted sphere.
"I hope the Bible's true," said Mrs. Smelts, with a sigh. "Where it says
there ain't no marryin' nor givin' in marriage."
"Oh, husbands ain't so worse if you pick 'em right," Mrs. Snawdor said
with the conviction of experience. "As fer me, I ain't hesitatin' to say
I like the second-handed ones best."
"I suppose they are better broke in. But no other woman but me would 'a'
looked at Mr. Smelts."
"You can't tell," said Mrs. Snawdor. "Think of me takin' Snawdor after
bein' used to Yager an' Molloy! Why, if you'll believe me, Mr. Burks,
lyin' there in bed fer four months now, takes more of a hand in helpin'
with the childern than Snawdor, who's up an' around."
"Kin he handle hisself any better? Mr. Burks, I mean."
"Improvin' right along. Nance has got him to workin' on a patent now.
It's got somethin' to do with a engine switch. Wisht you could see the
railroad yards she's rigged up on his bed. The childern are plumb crazy
"Nance is gittin' awful pretty," Mrs. Smelts said. "I kinder 'lowed Dan
Lewis an' her'd be makin' a match before this."
Mrs. Snawdor gathered her skirts higher about her ankles and transferred
her base of operations to a lower step.
"You can't tell nothin' at all 'bout that girl. She was born with the bit
'tween her teeth, an' she keeps it there. No more 'n you git her goin' in
one direction than she turns up a alley on you. It's night school now.
There ain't a spare minute she ain't peckin' on that ole piece of a
type-writer Ike Lavinski loaned her."
"She's got a awful lot of energy," sighed Mrs. Smelts.
"Energy! Why it's somethin' fierce! She ain't content to let nothin'
stay the way it is. Wears the childern plumb out washin' 'em an' learnin'
'em lessons, an' harpin' on their manners. If you believe me, she's got
William J. that hacked he goes behind the door to blow his nose!"
"It's a blessin' she didn't go off with them 'Follies,'" said Mrs.
Smelts. "Birdie lost her job over two months ago, an' the Lord knows what
she's livin' on. The last I heard of her she was sick an' stranded up in
Cincinnati, an' me without so much as a dollar bill to send her!" And
Mrs. Smelts sat down in a puddle of soap-suds and gave herself up to the
luxury of tears.
At this moment a door on the third floor banged, and Nance Molloy, a
white figure against her grimy surroundings, picked her way gingerly down
the slippery steps. Her cheap, cotton skirt had exactly the proper flare,
and her tailor-made shirtwaist was worn with the proud distinction of one
who conforms in line, if not in material, to the mode of the day.
"Ain't she the daisy?" exclaimed Mrs. Snawdor, gaily, and even Mrs.
Smelts dried her eyes, the better to appreciate Nance's gala attire.
"We're too swell to be Methodist any longer!" went on Mrs. Snawdor,
teasingly. "We're turned 'Piscopal!"
"You ain't ever got the nerve to be goin' over to the cathedral," Mrs.
Smelts asked incredulously.
"Sure, why not?" said Nance, giving her hat a more sophisticated tilt.
"Salvation's as free there as it is anywhere."
It was not salvation, however, that was concerning Nance Molloy as she
took her way jauntily out of the alley and, circling the square, joined
the throng of well-dressed men and women ascending the broad steps of the
From that day when she had found herself back in the alley, like a bit of
driftwood that for a brief space is whirled out of its stagnant pool,
only to be cast back again, she had planned ceaselessly for a means of
escape. During the first terrible weeks of Uncle Jed's illness, her
thoughts flew for relief sometimes to Dan, sometimes to Mac. And Dan
answered her silent appeal in person, coming daily with his clumsy hands
full of necessities, his strong arms ready to lift, his slow speech
quickened to words of hope and cheer. Mac came only in dreams, with gay,
careless eyes and empty, useless hands, and lips that asked more than
they gave. Yet it was around Mac's shining head that the halo of romance
It was not until Uncle Jed grew better, and Dan's visits ceased, that
Nance realized what they had meant to her. To be sure her efforts to
restore things to their old familiar footing had been fruitless, for Dan
refused stubbornly to overlook the secret that stood between them, and
Nance, for reasons best known to herself, refused to explain matters.
But youth reckons time by heart-throbs, and during Uncle Jed's
convalescence Nance found the clock of life running ridiculously slow.
Through Ike Lavinski, whose favor she had won by introducing him to Dr.
Adair, she learned of a night school where a business course could be
taken without expense. She lost no time in enrolling and, owing to her
thorough grounding of the year before, was soon making rapid progress.
Every night on her way to school, she walked three squares out of her way
on the chance of meeting Dan coming from the factory, and coming and
going, she watched the cathedral, wondering if Mac still sang there.
One Sunday, toward the close of summer, she followed a daring impulse,
and went to the morning service. She sat in one of the rear pews and held
her breath as the procession of white-robed men and boys filed into the
choir. Mac Clarke was not among them, and she gave a little sigh of
disappointment, and wondered if she could slip out again.
On second thought she decided to stay. Even in the old days when she had
stolen into the cathedral to look for nickels under the seats, she had
been acutely aware of "the pretties." But she had never attended a
service, or seen the tapers lighted, and the vast, cool building, with
its flickering lights and disturbing music, impressed her profoundly.
Presently she began to make discoveries: the meek apologetic person
tip-toeing about lowering windows was no other than the pompous and
lordly Mason who had so often loomed over her as an avenging deity. In
the bishop, clad in stately robes, performing mysterious rites before
the altar, she recognized "the funny old guy" with the bald head, with
whom she had compared breakfast menus on a historical day at the
So absorbed was she in these revelations that she did not notice that she
was sitting down while everybody else was standing up, until a small
black book was thrust over her shoulder and a white-gloved finger pointed
to the top of the page. She rose hastily and tried to follow the service.
It seemed that the bishop was reading something which the people all
around her were beseeching the Lord to hear. She didn't wonder that the
Lord had to be begged to listen. She wasn't going to listen; that was one
Then the organ pealed forth, and voices caught up the murmuring words and
lifted them and her with them to the great arched ceiling. As long as the
music lasted, she sat spell-bound, but when the bishop began to read
again, this time from a book resting on the out-stretched wings of a big
brass bird, her attention wandered to the great stained glass window
above the altar. The reverse side of it was as familiar to her as the
sign over Slap Jack's saloon. From the alley it presented opaque blocks
of glass above the legend that had been one of the mysteries of her
childhood. Now as she looked, the queer figures became shining angels
with lilies in their hands, and she made the amazing discovery that "Evol
si dog," seen from the inside, spelled "God is Love."
She sat quite still, pondering the matter. The bishop and the music
and even Mac were for the time completely forgotten. Was the world
full of things like that, puzzling and confused from the outside, and
simple and easy from within? Within what? Her mind groped uncertainly
along a strange path. So God was love? Why hadn't the spectacled lady
told her so that time in the juvenile court instead of writing down
her foolish answer? But love had to do with sweethearts and dime
novels and plays on the stage. How could God be that? Maybe it meant
the kind of love Mr. Demry had for his little daughter, or the love
that Dan had for his mother, or the love she had for the Snawdor baby
that died. Maybe the love that was good was God, and the love that was
bad was the devil, maybe--
Her struggle with these wholly new and perplexing problems was
interrupted by the arrival of a belated worshiper, who glided into the
seat beside her and languidly knelt in prayer. Nance's attention
promptly leaped from moral philosophy to clothes. Her quick eyes made
instant appraisal of the lady's dainty costume, then rested in startled
surprise on her lowered profile. The straight delicate features, slightly
foreign, the fair hair rippling from the neck, were disconcertingly
familiar. But when Nance saw her full face, with the petulant mouth and
wrinkled brow, the impression vanished.
After a long time the service came to an end, and just as Nance was
waiting to pass out, she heard some one say:
"When do you expect your son home, Mrs. Clarke? We miss him in the
And the fair-haired lady in front of her looked up and smiled, and all
her wrinkles vanished as she said:
"We expect him home before next Sunday, if the naughty boy doesn't
disappoint us again!"
Nance waited to hear no more, but fled into the sunlight and around the
corner, hugging her secret. She was not going to let Mr. Mac see her, she
assured herself; she was just going to see him, and hear him sing.
When the next Sunday morning came, it found her once more hurrying up the
broad steps of the cathedral. She was just in time, for as she slipped
into a vacant pew, the notes of the organ began to swell, and from a side
door came the procession of choir boys, headed by Mac Clarke carrying a
great cross of gold.
Nance, hiding behind the broad back of the man in front of her, watched
the procession move into the chancel, and saw the members of the choir
file into their places. She had no interest now in the bishop's robes or
the lighted tapers or cryptic inscriptions. Throughout the long service
her attention was riveted on the handsome, white-robed figure which sat
in a posture of bored resignation, wearing an expression of Christian
When the recessional sounded, she rose with the rest of the congregation,
still keeping behind the protecting back of the man in front. But when
she saw Mac lift the shining cross and come toward her down the chancel
steps at the head of the singing procession, something made her move
suddenly to the end of the pew, straight into the shaft of light that
streamed through the great west window.
Mac, with his foot on the lowest step, paused for the fraction of a
second, and the cross that he held swayed slightly. Then he caught step
again and moved steadily forward.
Nance hurried away before the benediction. She was never going to do it
again, she promised herself repeatedly. And yet, how wonderful it had
been! Straight over the heads of the congregation for their eyes to meet
like that, and for him to remember as she was remembering!
For three weeks she kept her promise and resolutely stayed away from the
cathedral. One would have to be "goin' on nineteen" and live in Calvary
Alley to realize the heroic nature of her moral struggle. Victory might
have been hers in the end, had not Dan Lewis for the first time in years,
failed one Saturday to spend his half-holiday with her. He had come of
late, somber and grimly determined to give her no peace until he knew the
truth. But Dan, even in that mood, was infinitely better than no Dan at
all. When he sent her word that he was going with some of the men from
the factory up the river for a swim, she gave her shoulders a defiant
shrug, and set to work to launder her one white dress and stove-polish
her hat, with the pleasing results we have already witnessed through the
eyes of Mrs. Snawdor and Mrs. Smelts.
There is no place where a flirtation takes quicker root or matures more
rapidly than in ecclesiastical soil. From the moment Nance entered the
cathedral on that third Sunday, she and Mac were as acutely aware of each
other's every move as if they had been alone together in the garden of
Eden. At first she tried to avert her eyes, tried not to see his
insistent efforts to attract her attention, affected not to know that he
was singing to her, and watching her with impatient delight.
Then the surging notes of the organ died away, the bishop ascended the
pulpit, and the congregation settled down to hear the sermon. From
that time on Nance ceased to be discreet. There was glance for glance,
and smile for smile, and the innumerable wireless messages that youth
has exchanged since ardent eyes first sought each other across
It was not until the end of the sermon that Nance awoke to the fact that
it was high time for Cinderella to be speeding on her way. Seizing a
moment when the choir's back was turned to the congregation, she slipped
noiselessly out of the cathedral and was fleeing down the steps when she
came face to face with Monte Pearce.
"Caught at last!" he exclaimed, planting himself firmly in her way.
"I've been playing watchdog for Mac for three Sundays. What are you
doing in town?"
"Yes; we thought you were on the road with the 'Follies.' When did you
"You're seeking information, Mr. Monte Carlo," said Nance, with a smile.
"Let me by. I've got to go home."
"I'll go with you. Where do you live?"
"Under my hat."
"Well, I don't know a nicer place to be." Monte laughed and looked at
her and kept on laughing, until she felt herself blushing up to the
roots of her hair.
"Honest, Mr. Monte, I got to go on," she said appealingly. "I'm in no
end of a hurry."
"I can go as fast as you can," said Monte, his cane tapping each step as
he tripped briskly down beside her. "I've got my orders from Mac. I'm to
stay with you, if you won't stay with me. Which way?"
In consternation for fear the congregation should be dismissed before she
could get away, and determined not to let him know where she lived, she
jumped aboard a passing car.
"So be it!" said her plump companion, settling himself comfortably on the
back seat beside her. "Now tell your Uncle Monte all about it!"
"There's nothing to tell!" declared Nance, with the blush coming back.
She was finding it distinctly agreeable to be out alone like this with a
grandly sophisticated young gentleman who wore a light linen suit with
shoes to match, and whose sole interest seemed to center upon her and
"But you know there is!" he persisted. "What made you give us the shake
that night of the ball?"
Nance refused to say; so he changed the subject.
"How's Miss Birdie?"
"Give it up. Haven't seen her since you have."
"What? Didn't you go on with the show that next morning?"
"And you've been in town all summer?"
She nodded, and her companion gave a low, incredulous whistle.
"Well, I'll be darned!" he said. "And old Mac sending letters and
telegrams every few minutes and actually following the 'Follies'
"Birdie was with 'em up to two months ago," said Nance.
"Mac wasn't after Birdie!" said Monte. "He hasn't had but one idea in his
cranium since that night of the carnival ball. I never saw him so crazy
about a girl as he is about you."
"Yes, he is!" scoffed Nance, derisively, but she let Monte run on at
length, painting in burning terms the devastating extent of Mac's
passion, his despair at losing her, his delight at finding her again, and
his impatience for an interview.
When Monte finished she looked at him sidewise out of her
"Tell him I've gone on a visit to my rich aunt out to the sea-shore
"Give him another show," coaxed Monte. "We were all a bit lit up that
night at the ball."
"No, we weren't either!" Nance flashed. "I hadn't had a thing, but one
glass of beer, and you know it! I hate your old fizz-water!"
"Well, make it up with Mac. He's going back to college next month, and
he's wild to see you."
"Tell him I haven't got time. Tell him I'm studying instrumental."
Nance was fencing for time. Her cool, keen indifference gave little
indication of the turmoil that was going on within. If she could manage
to see Mac without letting him know where she lived, without Dan's
finding it out--
The car compassed the loop and started on the return trip.
"Where do we get off?" asked Monte.
"I'm not getting off anywhere until after you do."
"I've got lots of nickels."
"I've got lots of time!" returned Nance, regardless of her former haste.
At Cathedral Square, Monte rang the bell.
"Have it your own way," he said good-naturedly. "But do send a
message to Mac."
Nance let him get off the back platform; then she put her head out of
"You tell him," she called, "that he can't kill two birds with one
BACK AT CLARKE'S
The promotion of Uncle Jed from the bed to a pair of crutches brought
about two important changes in the house of Snawdor. First, a financial
panic caused by the withdrawal of his insurance money, and, second, a
lightening of Nance's home duties that sent her once more into the world
to seek a living.
By one of those little ironies in which life seems to delight, the only
opportunity that presented itself lay directly in the path of temptation.
A few days after her interview with Monte Pearce, Dan came to her with an
offer to do some office work at the bottle factory. The regular
stenographer was off on a vacation, and a substitute was wanted for the
month of September.
"Why, I thought you'd be keen about it," said Dan, surprised at her
"Oh! I'd like it all right, but--"
"You needn't be afraid to tackle it," Dan urged. "Mr. Clarke's not as
fierce as he looks; he'd let you go a bit slow at first."
"He wouldn't have to! I bet I've got as much speed now as the girl he's
had. It's not the work."
"I know how you feel about the factory," said Dan, "and I wouldn't want
you to go back in the finishing room. The office is different. You take
my word for it; it's as nice a place as you could find."
They were standing on the doorless threshold of Number One, under the
fan-shaped arch through which the light had failed to shine for twenty
years. From the room on the left came the squeak of Mr. Demry's fiddle
and the sound of pattering feet, synchronizing oddly with the lugubrious
hymn in which Mrs. Smelts, in the room opposite, was giving vent to her
Nance, eager for her chance, yearning for financial independence,
obsessed by the desire to escape from the dirt and disorder and confusion
about her, still hesitated.
"If you're afraid I'm going to worry you," said Dan, fumbling with his
cap, "I can keep out of your way all right."
In an instant her impulsive hand was on his arm.
"You shut up, Dan Lewis!" she said sharply. "What makes me want to take
the job most is our coming home together every night like we used to."
Dan's eyes, averted until now, lifted with sudden hope.
"But I got a good reason for not coming," she went on stubbornly. "It
hasn't got anything to do with you or the work."
"Can't you tell me, Nance?"
The flicker of hope died out of his face as she shook her head. He looked
down the alley for a moment; then he turned toward her with decision:
"See here, Nance," he said earnestly, "I don't know what your reason is,
but I know that this is one chance in a hundred. I want you to take this
job. If I come by for you to-morrow morning, will you be ready?"
Still she hesitated.
"Let me decide it for you," he insisted, "will you, Nance?"
She looked up into his earnest eyes, steadfast and serious as a collie's.
"All right!" she said recklessly, "have it your own way!"
The first day in Mr. Clarke's office was one of high tension. Added to
the trepidation of putting her newly acquired business knowledge to a
practical test, was the much more disturbing possibility that at any
moment Mac might happen upon the scene. Just what she was going to do and
say in such a contingency she did not know. Once when she heard the door
open cautiously, she was afraid to lift her eyes. When she did, surprise
took the place of fear.
"Why, Mrs. Smelts!" she cried. "What on earth are you doing here?"
Birdie's mother, faded and anxious, and looking unfamiliar in bonnet and
cape, was evidently embarrassed by Nance's unexpected presence.
"He sent for me," she said, nervously, twitching at the fringe on her
cape. "I wrote to his wife, but he sent word fer me to come here an' see
him at ten o'clock. Is it ten yet?"
"Mr. Clarke sent for _you_?" Nance began incredulously; then remembering
that a stenographer's first business is to attend to her own, she crossed
the room with quite a professional manner and tapped lightly on the door
of the inner office.
For half an hour the usually inaccessible president of the bottle factory
and the scrub woman from Calvary Alley held mysterious conclave; then the
door opened again, and Mrs. Smelts melted into the outer passage as
silently as she had come.
Nance, while frankly curious, had little time to indulge in idle
surmise. All her faculties were bent on mastering the big modern
type-writer that presented such different problems from the ancient
machine on which she had pounded out her lessons. She didn't like this
sensitive, temperamental affair that went off half-cocked at her
slightest touch, and did things on its own account that she was in the
habit of doing herself.
Her first dictation left her numb with terror. She heard Mr. Clarke
repeating with lightning rapidity phrases which she scarcely
comprehended: "Enclose check for amount agreed upon." "Matter settled
once and for all." "Any further annoyance to be punished to full extent
of the law."
"Shall I address an envelope?" she asked, glancing at the "Dear Madam" at
the top of the page.
"No," said Mr. Clarke, sharply, "I'll attend to that."
Other letters followed, and she was soon taking them with considerable
speed. When mistakes occurred they could usually be attributed to the
graded school which, during its brief chance at Nance, had been more
concerned in teaching her the names and the lengths of the rivers of
South America than in teaching her spelling.
At the noon hour Mr. Clarke departed, and she stood by the window eating
her lunch and watching the men at work on the new wing. The old finishing
room was a thing of the past, and Dan's dream of a light, well-ventilated
workroom for the girls was already taking definite form. She could see
him now in the yard below, a blue-print in his hand, explaining to a
group of workmen some detail of the new building. One old glass-blower,
peering at the plan through heavy, steel-rimmed spectacles, had his arm
across Dan's shoulder. Nance smiled tenderly. Dear Dan! Everybody liked
him--even those older men from the furnace-room who had seen him promoted
over their heads. She leaned forward impulsively and called to him.
"Danny!" she cried, "here's an apple. Catch!"
He caught it dexterously in his left hand, gave her a casual nod, then
went gravely on with the business in hand. Nance sighed and turned away
from the window.
In the afternoon the work went much easier. She was getting used to Mr.
Clarke's quick, nervous speech and abrupt manner. She was beginning to
think in sentences instead of words. All was going famously when a quick
step sounded in the passage without, followed by a gaily whistled tune,
and the next instant the door behind her was flung open.
Mr. Clarke went steadily on with his dictation, but the new stenographer
ceased to follow. With bent head and lips caught between her teeth, she
made futile efforts to catch up, but she only succeeded in making
"That will do for this afternoon," said Mr. Clarke, seeing her confusion.
"Make a clear copy of that last letter and put it on my desk." Then he
turned in his chair and glared over his shoulder. "Well, Mac!" he said,
"I've waited for you just one hour and thirty-five minutes."
"Dead sorry, Dad. Didn't know it was so late," said the new-comer,
blithely. "How long before you are going home?"
"Ten minutes. I've got to go over to the new building first. Don't go
until I return. There's something I want to see you about."
Nance heard the door close as Mr. Clarke went out; then she waited in a
tremor, half trepidation, half glee, for Mac to recognize her. He was
moving about restlessly, first in one office, then in the other, and she
could feel his bright inquisitive eyes upon her from different angles.
But she kept her face averted, changing her position as he changed his.
Presently he came to a halt near her and began softly to whistle the
little-bear dance from the "Rag-Time Follies." She smiled before she knew
it, and the next instant he was perched on the corner of her desk,
demanding rapturously to know what she was doing there, and swearing that
he had recognized her the moment he entered the room.
"Let go my hand, Mr. Mac!" she implored in laughing confusion.
"I'm afraid to! You might give me the slip again. I've been scouring the
town for you and to think I should find you here!"
"Look out!" warned Nance. "You're upsetting the ink-bottle!"
"What do I care? Gee, this is luck! You ought to see my new racer, a
regular peach! Will you come out with me sometime?"
"Will you let me run it?"
"I'll let you do anything you like with anything I've got," he declared
with such ardor that she laughed and regretted it the next moment.
"Now look here, Mr. Mac!" she said, severely, "you touch me again, and I
quit to-night. See?"
"I'll be good. I'll do anything you say if you'll just stay and
play with me."
"Play nothing! I've got work to do."
"Work be hanged! Do you suppose when I haven't seen you for four months
that I'm not going to claim my inning?"
"Well, I want to tell you right here," she said, shaking a warning pencil
in his face, "that I mean what I say about your behaving yourself."
Mac caught the end of the pencil and held it while their eyes challenged
"So be it!" he said. "I promise to be a model of discretion. Nance, I've
been mad about you! Did Monte tell you--"
"Mr. Monte didn't tell me anything I wanted to hear," she said in her
cool, keen way, as she got the imperiled ink-well to a place of safety,
and straightened the other articles on the desk.
"You wouldn't be so down on a fellow if you knew how hard hit I am,"
persisted Mac. "Besides, I'm in for an awful row with the governor. You
may see my scalp fly past the window in less than ten minutes."
"What's the row about?"
"Same old thing. I am the original devil for getting found out." For
the space of a minute he gloomily contemplated a spot in the carpet;
then he shrugged his shoulders, rammed his hands in his pockets, and
began to whistle.
"The governor'll fork out," he said. "He always does. Say, Nance, you
haven't said a word about my moustache."
"Let's see it," said Nance in giggling derision. "Looks like a baby's
eyebrow. Does it wash off?"
A step in the hall sent them flying in opposite directions, Nance back to
her desk, and Mac into the inner office, where his father found him a
moment later, apparently absorbed in a pamphlet on factory inspection.
When Nance started home at six o'clock, she found Dan waiting at his old
post beside the gas-pipe.
"It's like old times," he said happily, as he piloted her through the
out-pouring throng. "I remember the first night we walked home together.
You weren't much more than a kid. You had on a red cap with a tassel to
it. Three years ago the tenth of last May. Wouldn't think it, would you?"
"Think what?" she asked absently.
"Tired?" he asked anxiously. "Is the work going to be too heavy?"
She shook her head impatiently.
"No, the work's all right. But--but I wish you hadn't made me come
"Stick it out for a week," he urged, "and then if you want to stop, I
won't say a word."