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Title: Winnie Childs - The Shop Girl
Author: Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920, Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Winnie Childs - The Shop Girl" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



WINNIE CHILDS

THE SHOP GIRL

BY

C.N. & A.M. WILLIAMSON

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

Made in the United States of America



1914, 1916, by C.N. & A.M. WILLIAMSON



CONTENTS

Chapter

I. THE DRYAD DOOR

II. BALM OF GILEAD

III. AN ILL WIND

IV. THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS

V. SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"

VI. THE HANDS WITH THE RINGS

VII. THE TWO PETERS

VIII. No. 2884

IX. THE TEST OF CHARACTER

X. PETER ROLLS'S LITTLE WAYS

XI. DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST

XII. BLUE PETER

XIII. ONE MAN AND ANOTHER

XIV. FROM SCYLLA TO CHARYBDIS

XV. THE LADY IN THE MOON

XVI. THE SEED ENA PLANTED

XVII. TOYLAND

XVIII. THE BIG BLUFF

XIX. "YES" TO ANYTHING

XX. THE CLOSED HOUSE

XXI. THE TELEPHONE

XXII. THE FRAGRANCE OF FRESIAS

XXIII. MOTHER

XXIV. THINGS EXPLODING

XXV. A PIECE OF HER MIND

XXVI. WHEN THE SECRET CAME OUT

XXVII. THE BATTLE



THE SHOP GIRL



THE SHOP GIRL

CHAPTER I

THE DRYAD DOOR


It was a horrible day at sea, horrible even on board the new and
splendid _Monarchic_. All the prettiest people had disappeared from
the huge dining-saloon. They had turned green, and then faded away,
one by one or in hurried groups; and now the very thought of music at
meals made them sick, in ragtime.

Peter Rolls was never sick in any time or in any weather, which was
his one disagreeable, superior-to-others trick. Most of his qualities
were likable, and he was likable, though a queer fellow in some ways,
said his best friends--the ones who called him "Petro." When the ship
played that she was a hobby-horse or a crab (if that is the creature
which shares with elderly Germans a specialty for walking from side to
side), also a kangaroo, and occasionally a boomerang, Peter Rolls did
not mind.

He was sorry for the men and girls he knew, including his sister, who
lay in deck chairs pretending to be rugs, or who went to bed and
wished themselves in their peaceful graves. But for himself, the wild
turmoil of the waves filled him with sympathetic restlessness. It had
never occurred to Peter that he was imaginative, yet he seemed to
know what the white-faced storm was saying, and to want to shout an
answer.

The second morning out (the morning after the _Monarchic_ had to pass
Queenstown without taking on the mails or putting off enraged
passengers) Peter thought he would go to the gymnasium and work up an
appetite for luncheon. He had looked in the first day, and had seen a
thing which could give you all the sensations and benefits of a camel
ride across the desert. He had ridden camels in real deserts and liked
them. Now he did not see why waves should not answer just as well as
dunes, and was looking forward to the experiment; but he must have
been absent-minded, for when he opened what ought to have been the
gymnasium door, it was not the gymnasium door. It was--good
heavens!--_what_ was it?

Peter Rolls, the unimaginative young man, thought that he must be in
his berth and dreaming he was here. For this room that he was looking
into could not possibly be a room on a ship, not even on the
_Monarchic_, that had all the latest, day-after-to-morrow improvements
and luxuries. The very bread was to-morrow's bread; but these
marvellous creatures could not be supplied by the management as
improvements or luxuries of any kind. Peter seemed to have opened a
door into a crystal-walled world peopled entirely by dryads.

He thought of dryads, because in pictures, beings called by that name
were taller, slimmer, more graceful, more beautiful, and had longer
legs than young females of mortal breed. There were five of them (at
least he believed there were five), and though it was eleven o'clock
in the morning, they were dressed as if for the prince's ball in the
story of "Cinderella." Unless on the stage, Peter had never seen such
dresses or such girls.

He heard himself gasp; and afterward, when he and a wave together had
banged the door shut, he hoped that he had said: "I beg your pardon."
He was so confused, however, that he was not at all sure he had not
blurted out "Good Lord!"

For a moment he stood as still as the sea would let him in front of
the door, burning to open it again and see if the girls were really
there. But, of course, he could not do that. He would have been almost
inclined to believe they were wax figures if they had not moved, but
they had moved.

They had been--sprawling is not a word to use in connection with
dryads--yet certainly reclining, in easy chairs and on sofas, and had
started up as the door opened to stare at him. One had laughed. Peter
had shut the door on her laugh. He had brought away a vague impression
that chairs, sofas, and carpet were pale gray, and that the dryads'
dresses of wonderful tints, sparkling with gold and silver and jewels,
had been brilliant as tropical flowers against the neutral background.
Also, when he came to think of it, he wasn't sure that the walls were
not mostly made of mirrors. That was why he could not be certain
whether he had seen five dryads or five times five.

"The dryad door," he apostrophized it romantically, keeping his
balance by standing with his feet apart, as old men stand before a
fire. It was a very ordinary-looking door, and that made the romance
for Peter in giving it such a name--just a white-painted door, so new
that it smelled slightly of varnish--yet behind it lay dreamland.

Of course Peter Rolls knew that the tall, incredibly lovely beings
were not dryads and not dreams, although they wore low necks, and
pearls and diamonds in their wonderful, waved hair, at eleven o'clock
of a stormy morning on board an Atlantic liner. Still, he was blessed
if he could think what they were, and what they were doing in that
room of mirrors without any furniture which he could recall, except a
very large screen, a few chairs, and a sofa or two.

The next best thing to the forbidden one--opening the door again to
ask the beings point-blank whether they were pipe dreams or just
mermaids--was to go on to the gymnasium and inquire there. Toward this
end young Mr. Rolls (as he was respectfully called in a business house
never mentioned by his sister) immediately took steps. But taking
steps was as far as he got. Suddenly it seemed a deed you could not
do, to demand of an imitation-camel's attendant why five young ladies
wore evening dress in the morning in a room three doors away.

After all, why should a camel attendant dare to know anything about
them? Perhaps they were merely amusing themselves and each other by
trying on all their gladdest clothes. There might be girls who would
think this a good way to kill time in a storm. Yes, conceivably there
might be such girls, just as there might be sea serpents; but, though
Peter Rolls was too shy to have learned much about the female of his
species, the explanation did not appeal to his reason.

His mind would persist in making a mystery of the mirror-walled room
with its five dazzling occupants, and even the bumpings of the
imitation camel could not jerk out of his head speculations which
played around the dryad door. He was as curious as _Fatima_ herself,
and with somewhat the same curiosity; for, except that in one case the
beautiful ladies had their heads, and in the other had lost them,
there was a hint of resemblance between the two mysteries.

Peter Rolls wondered whether he would like to ask his sister Ena if
she knew the visions, or even if, being a woman, she could form any
theory to account for them. It would be interesting to see what she
would say; but then, unless she were too seasick, she would probably
laugh, and perhaps tell Lord Raygan.

As for the visions themselves, only one had spirit enough left in her
to be able to laugh at being thought a dryad or a mystery. She alone
of the five would have known what "dryad" means. And she could always
laugh, no matter how miserable or how sick she was.

That day she was very sick indeed. They were all very sick, but she
could not help seeing, at her worst, that it was funny.

"For heaven's sake, what are you giggling at?" snapped the longest,
slimmest, most abnormal dryad, diaphanously draped in yellow, when she
could gasp out an intelligible sentence after an exhausting bout of
agony.

"Us," said the girl who could always laugh, a vision in silver.

"Us? I don't see anything funny about us!" groaned a tall dream in
crimson and purple.

"Funny! I should think not!" snorted a fantasy in emerald.

"It makes me worse to hear you laugh," squealed a radiance in rose.

"I wish we were all dead, _especially_ Miss Child," snarled the last
of the five, a symphony in black and all conceivable shades of blue.
Because of this combination, the Miss Child in question had named her
the "Bruise."

"Sorry! I'll try not to laugh again till the sea goes down," Miss
Child apologized. "I wasn't laughing at any of _you_ exactly, it was
more the whole situation: us, dressed like stars of the Russian ballet
and sick as dogs, pearls in our hair and basins in our hands, looking
like queens and feeling like dolls with our stuffing gone."

"Don't speak of stuffing. It makes me think of sage and onions,"
quavered the tallest queen.

"Ugh!" they all groaned, except Winifred Child, who was to blame for
starting the subject. "Ugh! Oh! Ugh!"

When they were better they lay back on their sofas, or leaned back in
their chairs, their beautiful--or meant to be beautiful--faces pale,
their eyes shut. And it was at this moment that Peter Rolls burst open
the door.

As he had observed, the waxlike figures moved, sat upright, and
stared. This sudden disturbance of brain balance made them all giddy,
but the surprise of seeing a man, not a steward, at the door, was so
great that for a moment or two it acted as a tonic. Nothing dreadful
happened to any one of the five until after the smooth black head had
been withdrawn and the door closed.

"A man!" breathed Miss Devereux, the abnormally tall girl in yellow
chiffon over gold gauze.

"Yes, dear. I wonder what he wanted?" sighed Miss Carroll, the girl in
rose.

The one in green was Miss Tyndale, the one in black and blue Miss
Vedrine, all very becoming labels; and if they had Christian names of
equal distinction to match, the alien known at home simply as "Win"
had never heard them. They called each other Miss Devereux, Miss
Carroll, Miss Tyndale, and Miss Vedrine, or else "dear."

"I wish we could think he wanted to see us!" remarked Miss Tyndale.

"I hope he didn't notice the basins," added Miss Vedrine

"I think we hid them with our trains," said Miss Carroll.

"Was he nice looking?" Miss Vedrine had courage to ask. She had
wonderful red hair, only a little darker at the roots, and long,
straight black eyelashes. A few of these had come off on her cheeks,
but they were not noticeable at a distance.

"I don't know, I'm sure, dear," replied Miss Devereux, a fawn-eyed
brunette, who was nearest the door. "There wasn't time to see. I just
thought: 'Good heavens! have we got to parade?' Then, 'No, thank
goodness, it's a man!' And he was gone."

"What should we do if a woman did come, and we had to get up?"
wondered Miss Vedrine, whose great specialty was her profile and
length of white throat.

"She wouldn't be a woman; she'd be a monster, to care about clothes in
weather like this," pronounced the golden-haired Miss Carroll. "Parade
indeed! I _wouldn't_. I'd simply lie down and expire."

"I feel I've never till now sympathized enough with the animals in the
ark," said Miss Child, who had not chosen her own name, or else had
shown little taste in selection, compared with the others. But she
was somehow different, rather subtly different, from them in all ways;
not so elaborately refined, not so abnormally tall, not so startlingly
picturesque. "One always thinks of the ark animals in a procession,
poor dears--showing off their fur or their stripes or their spots or
something--just like us."

"Speak for yourself, if you talk about spots, please," said Miss
Devereux, who never addressed Miss Child as "dear," nor did the
others.

"I was thinking of leopards," explained the fifth dryad. "They're
among the few things you _can_ think of without being sick."

"I can't," said Miss Devereux, and was. They all were, and somehow
Miss Child seemed to be the one to blame.

"We were just getting better!" wailed Miss Vedrine.

"It was only a momentary excitement that cheered us," suggested
Winifred Child.

"What excitement?" they all wanted indignantly to know.

"That man looking in."

"Do you call that an excitement? Where have you lived?"

"Well, a surprise, then. But _would_ we have been better if it had
been madame who looked in?"

The picture called up by this question was so appalling that they
shuddered and forgot their little grudge against Miss Child, who was
not so bad when you were feeling well, except that she had odd ways of
looking at things, and laughed when nobody else could see anything to
laugh at.

"Thank heaven, she's a bad sailor!" Miss Devereux cried.

"Thank heaven, all the other women on board are bad sailors," added
Win.

"If madame was well she'd think _we_ ought to be," said Miss Carroll.
"She'd dock our pay every time we--- Oh, _this_ is bad enough, but if
she was well it would be a million times worse!"

"Could anything be worse?" Miss Tyndale pitifully questioned, for just
then the ship was sliding down the side of a wave as big as a
millionaire's house.

"Yes, it would be worse if we were wearing our waists slender this
year," said Win.

"Down, down, wallow, wallow, jump!" was the program the _Monarchic_
carried out for the twentieth time in half as many minutes. Slender
waists! Oh, horrible to think of, unless you broke in two and death
ended your troubles!

"Let's try breathing _in_ as she goes up and _out_ as she goes down.
I've heard that works wonderfully," said Win.

They tried, but it worked disappointingly that time. Perhaps it was
the ship's fault. It was impossible to time her antics with the most
careful breathing.

"Oh, why did we leave our peaceful homes?" moaned Miss Vedrine.

"I didn't," whispered Win.

"Didn't what?"

"Leave my peaceful home. If I'd had one I shouldn't be here."

This was the first time she had volunteered or had had dragged out of
her a word concerning her past. But at the moment no one could be
keyed to interest in anything except preparation for the next wave.

In the veranda cafe Peter Rolls was asking his sister Ena if she knew
anything about five incredibly beautiful girls in evening dress shut
up together in a room with walls made of mirrors.

Ena Rolls was not in a mood to answer irrelevant questions, especially
from a brother; but Lord Raygan and his sister were there, and pricked
up their ears at the hint of a mystery. She could not be cross and ask
Peter kindly to go to the devil and not talk rot, as she would have
done if the others had been somewhere else. But then, were it not for
Lord Raygan and his sister and mother, Miss Rolls would be flat in her
berth.

"Five incredibly beautiful girls in evening dress!" repeated Lord
Raygan, who, like Peter, was a good sailor.

Ena Rolls wanted him to be interested in her, and not in five
preposterous persons in evening dress, so she replied promptly to
Peter's question: "I suppose they must be Nadine's living models. We
all had cards about their being on board and the hours of their parade
to show the latest fashions. You saw the card, I suppose, Lady
Eileen?"

"Yes," returned Lord Raygan's flapper sister. "It's on the
writing-desk in that darling sitting-room you've given Mubs and me."

Ena felt rewarded for her sacrifice. She and Peter had engaged the
best suite on board the _Monarchic_, but when Lord Raygan and his
mother and sister were borne past Queenstown in most unworthy cabins
(two very small ones between the three), Ena had given up her own and
Peter's room to the two ladies. It was a Providential chance to make
their acquaintance and win their gratitude. (She had met Raygan in
Egypt and London, and sailed on the _Monarchic_ in consequence.)

"The stewardess told me before I moved down," she went on, "that Mme.
Nadine had taken the ship's nursery this trip for her show, and fitted
it with wardrobes and mirror doors at immense expense. I'm afraid she
won't get her money back if this storm lasts. Who could gaze at living
models?"

"I could, if they're as beautiful as your brother says," replied Lord
Raygan, a tall, lanky, red-headed Irishman with humorous eyes and a
heavy jaw. He was the first earl Ena had ever met, but she prayed
fervently that he might not be the last.

Peter somehow did not want those pale dryads sacrificed to make a
Raygan holiday. He regretted having remarked on their beauty. "They
looked more like dying than living models when I saw them," he said.

"Let's go and see what they look like now," suggested Raygan. "Eh,
what, Miss Rolls?"

"I don't know if men _can_ go," she hesitated.

"Who's to stop them? Why shouldn't I be wanting to buy one of the
dresses off their backs for my sister?"

"What a _melting_ idea! You do, don't you, dear boy?" the flapper
encouraged him.

"I might. Come along, Miss Rolls. Come along, Eily. What about you,
Rolls? Will you guide us?"

"Let's wait till after lunch," said Ena. She hoped that it might
disagree with everybody, and then they would not want to go.

"Oh, no!" pleaded Lady Eileen O'Neill. "We may be dead after luncheon,
and probably will be. Or Rags'll change his mind about the dress.
Nadine's dresses are too heavenly. I've never seen any except on the
stage, worn by wonderful, thin giantesses. All her gowns are named,
you know, Rags: 'Dawn,' or 'Sunset,' or 'Love in Spring,' or 'Passion
in Twilight,' and poetic things like that."

"Can't be very poetic bein' sick in 'em, by Jove! for those girls in
the nursery," remarked Rags, "especially if they've got a sense of
humour."

(One of them had. The shimmering sheath of silver and chiffon she wore
to-day, as it happened, rejoiced in the name of "First Love." It was
all white. She was being very careful of its virginal purity; but it
occurred to her that unless the sea's passion died, the frock would
soon have to be renamed "Second Love," or even "Slighted Affection,"
if not "Rejected Addresses.")

Urged by Eileen, who would think her a "pig" if she refused, Ena
reluctantly uncurled herself from a safe and graceful position on a
cushioned sofa. The result was alarming. Her swimming head warned her
that if she did not instantly sit down again something too awful to
think of in the presence of an earl would happen.

"You'd better go without me. I'm not very keen," she faintly
explained, appealing to Peter with her eyes.

He contrived to understand without asking stupid questions, as some
brothers would, and hurried the others off to the room of the mirrors.
No longer was it a room of mystery; yet romance, once awakened, cannot
be put to sleep in a minute, and Peter Rolls's heart beat with
excitement or shyness, he was not sure which, as Lady Eileen O'Neill
knocked at the dryad door.



CHAPTER II

BALM OF GILEAD


It was the worst possible moment for the dryads. But when their
tear-wet eyes beheld a girl and two men, some deep-down primordial
pride of womanhood rushed to their rescue and, flowing through their
veins, performed a miracle beyond the power of any patent remedy. The
five forlorn girls became at need the five stately goddesses Mme.
Nadine paid them to be. (Winifred Child, by the way, was not paid, for
she was not a goddess by profession. But she got her passage free. It
was for that she was goddessing.)

Miss Devereux was the leader, by virtue, not of extra age, no indeed!
but of height, manner, and experience. She apologized, with the most
refined accent, for Mme. Nadine, who was "quite prostrated"; for Mme.
Nadine's manageress, who was even worse; and for themselves. "I'm
afraid we must do the best we can alone," she finished with
unconscious pathos.

"It's a shame to disturb you," said Peter Rolls.

Miss Devereux and her attendant dryads turned their eyes to him. They
had fancied that he was the man who had burst in before and burst out
again; now they were sure. If he had been a woman, they would have
borne him a grudge for coming back and bringing companions worse than
himself; but as he was a man, young, and not bad looking, they forgave
him meekly.

They forgave the other man for the same reason, and forgave the girl
because she was with the men. If only they could behave themselves as
young ladies should through this ordeal! That was the effort on which
they must concentrate their minds and other organs.

"Not at all," returned Miss Devereux, every inch a princess. "We are
_here_ to be disturbed." (Alas, how true!)

She smiled at Lady Eileen, but not patronizingly, because a mysterious
instinct told her that the plain, pleasant young girl in Irish tweed
was a "swell." The men, too, were swells, or important in some way or
other. One exerted one's self to be charming to such people and to
keep the male members of the party from looking at the other girls.
"Would you like to see something else, different from what we are
showing? Evening cloaks? Day dresses? We have a number of smart little
afternoon frocks---"

"I think that white dress is the _meltingest_ thing I ever saw," said
Lady Eileen, who had walked into the room without waiting for Miss
Devereux's answer to Peter Rolls's objection.

She was a kind-hearted girl, but, after all, living models were living
models until they were dead, and she wasn't going to lose the chance
of getting a dreamy frock out of Rags! All the goddesses were on their
mettle and their feet now, though swaying like tall lilies in a high
wind and occasionally bracing themselves against mirrors, while Lady
Eileen was in the biggest chair, with Raygan and Peter Rolls standing
behind her. The men also were offered chairs by Miss Vedrine with a
lovely play of eyelashes, but refused them: the chairs, not the
eyelashes, which no man could have spurned, despite their scattered
effect.

"The white dress, _moddam?"_ (It thrills a flapper to be called
"_moddam_.") "It is one of the latest designs and considered perfect
for a débutante. No doubt you know it is Mme. Nadine's custom to name
her inspirations. Come here, if you please, Miss Child! This is 'First
Love.'"

"Looks like it," remarked Lord Raygan, as Miss Child obeyed. He might
have meant the wearer or the dress. Peter Rolls flashed a gimlet
glance his way to see which. He felt uncomfortably responsible for the
manners of the visitors and the feelings of the visited. But the face
of Rags was grave, and no offence could be taken. Peter Rolls withdrew
the glance, though not before Winifred Child had it intercepted and
interpreted.

"I believe he's a nice fellow," was the thought that slid through her
mind as, like a chicken on a spit, she turned and turned to let Lady
Eileen behold "First Love" from every point of view.

"Rippin', but a foot too tall for you," said Rags, more because it
amused him to prolong the scene than through a real desire to
criticise. "_You_ don't go in for bein' a sylph."

Another backhanded compliment for the wearer, if she cared to accept
it; but she was beautifully unconscious and, for once, not laughing.
Her eyes looked miles away. Peter Rolls wondered to what land she had
gone.

The girl appeared to be gazing over his head; but, as a matter of
fact, she could see him perfectly. He had black hair and blue eyes,
shrewd perhaps, yet they might be kind and merry; just now they looked
worried. She thought him not handsome, but tanned and thin (she
detested fat men) and somehow nice. Win wondered if she were taller
than he. She hated being taller than men, though she owed her present
engagement to her height and length of limb.

Miss Devereux respectfully argued that appearances were deceitful.
_Moddam_ was quite as sylphlike as the model. Might the dress be sent
to _moddam's_ cabin to try? Then it came out that _moddam_ was Lady
Eileen O'Neill, and the four tallest dryads visibly brightened, not so
much for the owner of the name as for her brother.

Their dull days had been dimly lightened by gossip on the ship,
brought to them by a stewardess from Lord Raygan's native isle, who
knew all about him: that he was an earl, that with his mother and
sister he had booked from Liverpool to Queenstown, but, owing to the
ferocity of the sea, had been unable to land and was being carried to
America. Also that a rich young American and his sister had given up
their suite to the ladies. This American was said to be of no birth,
the son of some big shopkeeper, and far, far outside even the fringe
of the Four Hundred; therefore the tallest dryads did their best
eyelash work for Lord Raygan. They were born British, hailing from
Brixton or other suburban health resorts, and now they knew he was a
"lord" the nickname of "Rags," which had sickened them at first,
seemed interesting and intimate as a domestic anecdote about royalty.

Rags consented to buy the dress for his sister if it fitted and didn't
cost a million pounds. The dryads thought this adorably generous, for
the stewardess, who knew all about Lord Raygan, said that the "family
had become impoverished; they were not what they had once been except
in name, which was of the best and oldest in Ireland." Stewardesses
can tell all the things that Marconi does not mention.

When the sale was settled Miss Devereux turned to Peter Rolls. "And
you, sir?" she asked, slightly coquettish because he was a man, though
not of the Four Hundred. "I suppose there's nothing we can do for
you?"

"I suppose not," Peter was echoing, when something occurred to him.
"Unless," he amended, "my sister would like to buy a dress. She's on
board."

"Would she care to look at Mme. Nadine's designs?" suggested Miss
Devereux. "We have wardrobes full of marvellous inspirations."

"The trouble is, she feels queer if she walks around much," said
Peter.

"Perhaps she would trust you to pick out something she might see in
her own room? Is she tall or short?"

"Not so tall as any of you."

"Things which would fit _this_ young lady would be the best, then.
Miss Child, Miss Vedrine will help you out of 'First Love' behind the
screen and put you into the 'Young Moon.' What"--_sotto voce_--"are
you laughing at _this_ time?"

"Nothing," said the smallest dryad meekly, though she gurgled under
her breath.

"We'd better go now, and I'll come back," hastily suggested Peter.
"Don't bother to change behind the screen for us, please. I must ask
my sister about the dress."

He got the others out, which was not difficult as far as Eileen was
concerned. She could hardly wait to try "First Love."

Rags was determined to ask Miss Rolls if he shouldn't choose a frock
for her. But she said no, she didn't want one. This would have seemed
to settle the matter, and did for Lord Raygan, who sat down beside
her, abandoning further thought of the dryads. Peter, however,
returned in due course to the room of the mirrors, because Miss Child
could not be allowed to get into the "Young Moon" in such weather for
nothing.

She was in it when he arrived. And pluck, mingled with excitement,
having had a truly bracing effect on the girls, in the absence of the
peer they were nice to the plebeian. The girl in the "Young Moon," to
be sure, had scarcely anything to say, but she had a peculiarly
fascinating way of not saying it.

By the time Mr. Rolls had bought the "Moon" for his sister, he had
become quite friendly with the other dryads, on the strength of a few
simple jokes about green cheese and blue moons and never having
dreamed he could obtain one by crying for it.

"I was wondering," he said at last, when he was about to go, "whether
you'd care for me to bring you some Balm of Gilead?"

"Balm of Gilead?" all five, even the girl in the "Moon," exclaimed.

"Yes. Stuff for seasickness. Not that you _are_ seasick of course. But
the balm's a good preventive. Did you never hear of it?"

They shook their heads.

"It's the great thing our side of the water. I don't need it myself,
but I know it's all right, because it's making my father a fortune."

"Did he invent it?" inquired Miss Carroll.

"No. But he named it and he sells it. It's the men who name things and
sell things, not the ones who invent them, that get the money. My
father is Peter Rolls, and I---"

"I hope you spell Rolls with an 'e,'" broke in Miss Vedrine. "Else it
would remind me of something I want to forget."

"Something you--But maybe I can guess! What the ship does now?"

"Don't speak of it!" they groaned.

"I won't! Or my name, either, if you'd rather not, especially as only
my sister spells it with an 'e.' I mentioned the name on account of
the balm. The barber has no end of bottles. I'll go and buy you one
now. It tastes good. Back in ten minutes." And he was gone.

"His father must be a chemist," sniffed Miss Devereux, as she unhooked
the "Young Moon."

When Peter returned Miss Child was wearing a robe like an illuminated
cobweb on a background of violets. This was the "Yielding Heart."
Peter had brought a bottle and a clean napkin and five teaspoons. "I
got these things off a dining-room steward," he explained.

"Sounds like a conjurer," murmured the girl who laughed.

"How rude of you!" Miss Devereux scolded in a whisper. "Don't mind
her, Mr. Rolls. She isn't a bit like the rest of us."

Peter had noticed that.

"She's always laughing at everything, and everybody, too," went on
Miss Devereux.

"She's welcome to laugh at me," said Peter. "I enjoy it."

"Ladies don't. She'd never do for a _permanence_ with Mme. Nadine.
Clients wouldn't stand being grinned at by models."

"I don't laugh at people. I laugh at the world," the model defended
herself.

"Why?" inquired Peter, with a straight look at the queer, arresting
face.

"To keep it from laughing at me first. And to make it laugh _with_
me--if I can."

"Do you think you can?"

"I shall try hard--against the biggest odds. And whatever it does to
me, I shan't _cry_."

"I shouldn't wonder if that wasn't the whole secret of life!" said
Peter Rolls, continuing to look at the face.

Suddenly it flashed a smile at him. "Shouldn't you? Give _me_ the Balm
of Gilead, and the rest would be easy!"

Peter was not stupid as a rule, yet he could not be quite sure what
she meant. If he guessed right, the rest wasn't as easy as she
thought. Yet the words made him wish that he could give the girl who
laughed--the girl who was not to be a "permanence" with Nadine--more
than a teaspoonful of balm.



CHAPTER III

AN ILL WIND


While the storm held, Peter Rolls went several times each dreadful day
to the room of the mirrors and dosed his dryads with Balm of Gilead.
The medicine--or something else--sustained them marvellously. And it
occurred to Peter that they would make a magnificent advertisement, if
there were any way of using them--the kind of advertisement his father
loved.

It was well that Peter senior was not on board, or he would certainly
propose a new feature for the balm department: scene, richly furnished
salon on a yacht; five fair effects in ball dresses sipping Balm of
Gilead; the whole arrangement on a rocking platform, with mechanism
hidden by realistically painted waves. But the dryads were previously
engaged by the prostrate Nadine--all except one.

When they were sufficiently restored to take an interest, Peter
smuggled grapefruit, chocolates, and novels into the nursery. The
novels his sister had brought with her to kill time during the voyage;
but as it happened, she was killing it with Lord Raygan instead and
never missed the books.

Nadine had been obliged to take first-class tickets for her models;
otherwise the rules of the ship would not have allowed them past the
barrier, even in the pursuit of business. But they sardined in one
cabin, near the bow, on the deepest down deck allotted to
first-classhood, and their private lives were scarcely more enjoyable
than the professional. They were, to be sure, theoretically able to
take exercise at certain hours, weather permitting; but weather did
not permit, and four of the dryads, when free, sought distraction in
lying down rather than walking. It was only the fifth who would not
take the weather's "no" for an answer.

She had a mackintosh, and with her head looking very small and neat,
wound in a brown veil the colour of her hair, she joined the brigade
of the strong men and women who defied the winds by night. From eight
to ten she staggered and slid up and down the wet length of the
least-frequented deck, or flopped and gasped joyously for a few
minutes in an unclaimed chair.

Being "not a bit like the rest" of her sister dryads, she refrained
from mentioning this habit to Mr. Rolls, whose prowling place was on
higher decks. Not that she was still what he would have called
"standoffish" with him. That would have been silly and Victorian after
the grapefruit and chocolates and novels, to say nothing of balm by
the bottleful. The last dress she had worn on the first day of their
acquaintance, the "Yielding Heart," had to a certain extent prophesied
her attitude with the one man who knocked at the dryad door. Miss
Child not only thought Mr. Rolls "might be rather nice," but was
almost sure he was. She was nice to him, too, in dryad land, when he
paid his visits to the sisterhood, but she did not "belong on his
deck."

By and by, however, he discovered her in the mackintosh and veil. It
was one night when a young playwright who had seized on him as prey
wished to find a quiet place to be eloquent about the plot.

"There's a deck two below," said the aspirant for fame, "where nobody
prowls except a young female panther tied up in a veil."

Five minutes later Peter Rolls took off his cap to the female panther.
The playwright noticed this, but was too much interested in himself
and the hope of securing a capitalist to care. In sketching out his
comedy he was blind to any other possibilities of drama, and so did
not see Peter's eagerness to get rid of him. He was even pleased when,
after a few compliments, Rolls junior said: "Look here, you'd better
leave me to think over what you've told me. I fix things in my memory
that way. And maybe when I've got it straight in my head
I'll--er--mention it to a man I know."

As the playwright was shivering, he obeyed with alacrity; and in the
warmth of the smoking-room revelled in the picture of his tame
capitalist pacing a cold deck, lost to the sea's welter in thoughts of
that marvellous last act.

But it was a first act which was engaging Peter Rolls's attention, and
he, though the only male character in it (by choice), had to learn his
part as he went on.

The play began by his joining the leading lady. (This has been done
before, but seldom with such a lurch and on such sloping boards.)

It would have been a mockery to say "good evening" on a night so vile,
and Mr. Rolls began by asking Miss Child if he might walk with her.

"Or tango," said she. "This deck is teaching me some wonderful new
steps."

"I wish you'd teach them to me," said Peter.

"I can't, but the ship can."

"Did you ever dance the tango?" he wanted to know.

"Yes. In another state of existence."

This silenced him for an instant. Then he skipped at least two
speeches ahead, whither his thoughts had flown. "Say, Miss Child, I
wish you'd tell me something about yourself."

"There isn't anything interesting to tell, thank you, Mr. Rolls."

"If that's your only reason, I think you might let me judge. Honestly,
I don't want to intrude or be curious. But you're so different from
the others."

"I know I'm not pretty. That's why I have to be so painfully sweet. I
got the engagement only by a few extra inches. Luckily it isn't the
face matters so much," she chattered on. "I thought it was. But it's
legs; their being long; Mme. Nadine engages on that and your figure
being right for the dresses of the year. So many pretty girls come in
short or odd lengths, you find, when they have to be measured by the
yard, at bargain price."

Peter laughed.

"You're not meant to laugh there," she said. "It's a solemn fact."

"But _you_ always laugh."

"That's because I'm what you'd call 'up against' life. It gives me
such a funny point of view."

"That's part of what I want to talk about. Please don't keep trying to
turn the subject. Unless you think I have no business seizing the
first chance when I find you alone, to---"

"It isn't that," said Win. "I think you're very kind to take the
slightest interest. But really there _is_ nothing to tell. Just the
usual sort of thing."

"It doesn't seem exactly usual to me for a girl about nineteen years
old--"

"Twenty!"

"--to be leaving home alone and starting for a new country."

"Not alone. Mme. Nadine might be furious if she were spoken of as my
chaperon; but she is, all the same. Not that an emigrant needs a
chaperon."

"You an emigrant!"

"Well, what else am I?"

"I've been thinking of you as a dryad."

"A poor, drenched dryad, thousands of miles from her native woods. Do
you know, my veil is _soaked_?"

"I'll get you a sou'wester hat to-morrow."

"Does the barber keep them as well as Balm of Gilead?"

"No, but my sister does. She keeps one. And she doesn't want it. I
shall annex it."

"Oh! I couldn't take it!"

"If you don't, I'll throw it overboard."

"Were the chocolates hers?"

"Yes."

"And the books?"

"Some were mine. But not the ones Miss Devereux says are pretty. Look
here, Miss Child, another thing she says is that you are not with
Nadine as a permanence. What does that mean, if you don't much mind my
asking?"

"Not what you think. I'm not going to be discharged. I was engaged
only for the voyage, to take the place of a prettier girl with still
longer legs who fell through at the last moment--literally. She
stepped into one of those gas-hole places in the street. And I stepped
into her shoes--lucky shoes!--sort of seven-league ones, bringing me
across the sea, all the way to New York free, for nothing. No! I hope
not for nothing. I hope it is to make my fortune."

"I hope so, too," said Peter gravely. "Got any friends there besides
me?"

"Thanks for putting it so, Mr. Balm of Gilead. Why, I've heard that
everybody in America is ready to be a friend to lonely strangers!"

"I guess your informant was almost too much of an optimist. Couldn't
you be serious for just a minute? You know, I feel quite well
acquainted with you--and the others, of course. But they _are_
different. And they _are_ 'permanences' with Nadine. That's the kind
of thing they're fit for. I don't worry about them, and I shan't worry
about you, either, if you tell me you have friends or know what you
are going to do when you land."

"I can't tell you that," Win answered in a changed tone, as if
suddenly she were weary of trying to "frivol." "But I have hopes; and
I have two letters of introduction and a respectable, recommended
boarding-house and a little money left, so I really believe I shall be
all right, thank you. My people thought my wanting to come showed 'my
wild spirit,' so I'm anxious to prove as soon as I can--not to them
any more, but to myself--that I can live my own life in a new world
without coming to grief."

"Why not prove to them any more?"

"Oh--because no one is going to care much. As I said, my native woods
are far behind, and most of the trees are cut down. Not a dryad of the
true dryad family left, and this one is practically forgotten already.
Her niche was all grown over with new bark long ago, so it was more
than time she ceased to haunt the place."

"I'm afraid you've had a great sorrow," said Peter.

"It was hardly big enough for that word--this thing that's sent me
seeking my fortune--though it began with a sorrow long ago."

"Some one you loved died?" Peter had a simple, direct way of asking
questions that led you on.

"My mother. When I was fourteen--not old enough to be of much use to
my father and the baby brother. So my father had to get some one to be
a kind of housekeeper and superior nurse. He's a clergyman. I don't
look like a clergyman's daughter, perhaps--and he thought I didn't
behave like one, especially after the housekeeper came. She's the kind
who calls herself 'a lady housekeeper.' I don't know if you have them
in America. She and I had rows--and that upset father. He didn't want
to get rid of her because she managed things splendidly--him and the
baby and the vicarage--and influential old ladies said she 'filled a
difficult position satisfactorily.' So it was simpler to get rid of
me. I went to boarding-school."

"Did you like that?"

"I loved it. After the first year I didn't go home even for the
holidays. Often I visited--girls were nice to me. But I didn't make
the most of my time--I'm furious with myself for that now. I learned
nothing--nothing, really, except the things I wanted to learn. And
those are always the ones that are least useful."

"I found that, too," said Peter, "at Yale."

"It didn't matter for you. You have the Balm of Gilead."

"That's my father's."

"What's his is yours, I suppose."

"He says so. But--we all have our own trouble. Mine's not living up to
my principles, or even knowing exactly what they are--being all in a
turmoil. But it's yours I want to talk about."

"I've forbidden myself the word 'trouble.' It builds a wall. And I've
just broken through my wall. I could have done it sooner and better if
I'd learned more difficult things, that's all. When I wanted to do
something for myself--why, I couldn't do a _thing_ that was any good
in a busy world. I'd had no training except for my voice."

"There! I thought you sounded as if you had a voice!"

"_I_ thought so, too. But that was another of my mistakes."

"I bet it wasn't."

"You'd lose your money, Mr. Rolls. I spent most of mine before I found
out. You see, my mother left a little. It wasn't to come to me till I
was twenty-one, but all sorts of things happened. My father kept me at
school till a year and a half ago because he didn't know what to do
with me. Then my little brother died. I ought to have cared more, but
I hardly knew him. His coming killed my mother; and he loved _that
woman_. I don't see how he could!

"When he was gone, people might have gossiped about her and father
perhaps. I believe she suggested it to him and said she must go away,
to make him think of marrying her; but all he did was to send for me.
I stood it for six months. It was horrid for all three. I dare say I
was to blame. I had a scene with father, and told him I'd made up my
mind to go to London for singing lessons so I could support myself: I
couldn't live at home. That forced the situation! Before any
one--except the 'lady housekeeper'--knew quite what was happening,
father had asked her to be his wife--or she'd asked him. I went before
the wedding. I'd worshipped my mother! And--but that's all the story."

"I call it only the preface. What about London?"

"Oh, father gave me my money ahead of time, for the lessons. He didn't
approve, on principle, but he would have had no peace with me at home,
and he likes peace better than anything. I had to promise I wouldn't
go into musical comedy. That makes me laugh now! But I thought then
I'd only to ask and to have. I took lessons of a man who'd been a
celebrated tenor. He must have known that my voice was nothing,
really, but he buoyed me up. I suppose they're all like that. It's
business.

"When the money was two thirds spent I dared not go on, and I asked
him to find me something to do. He'd often said he would when the
right time came. Apparently it hadn't come. He made the excuse that I
ought to have stayed with him longer. It would hurt his reputation to
launch a pupil too soon. So I had to try to launch myself. And it
didn't work. One manager of opera companies on whom I forced myself
tested my voice and said it wasn't strong enough--only a twilight
voice for a drawing-room, he called it. I was broken up--just at
first."

"Poor child!" Peter muttered, but the girl's quick ears caught the
words over the roar of that "ill wind" which had brought them
together.

"Child is my surname, and it's not polite to call me by it." She
brought him to his bearings by suddenly "frivolling" again. "They call
militant suffragettes and housemaids sent to prison for stealing their
kind mistresses' jewels by their surnames. I'm not a militant; and
I've not been a housemaid yet, though I may be, if New York isn't
kinder to me than London."

"I hope it will be--kind in just the right way!"

"My friend who gave me the two letters of introduction says it will:
that Americans _love_ English girls, if they have the courage to come
over. She says there are heaps more chances as well as heaps more room
for us in that country than there are at home."

"That's true, but---"

"Please don't discourage me!"

"Not on your life! Only---"

"'Only' is as bad a word as 'but.' I've got a letter of introduction
to the editor of a New York paper, _To-day and To-morrow_, and one to
the organist of a Higher Thought church. Maud Ellis says they're both
splendid men and interested in women's progress. Something good ought
to come from one or the other. Getting this chance of my passage free
seems a happy omen, as if I were _meant_ to take this great adventure.
I'm not one bit afraid. I feel boiling with courage--except when the
ship pitches and rolls at the same time."

"That's right. You're bound to make good, of course. I wouldn't
discourage you for the world. All I meant to say was that I'd like you
to think of me as a friend. I don't want to lose sight of you when we
land. I might be able to help in some way or other or--my family
might. Before we get off the ship I'll introduce you and my sister to
each other."

"Oh, thank you! You're very kind," the banished dryad said for the
third or fourth time. "But I should be sorry to trouble Miss Rolls.
She wouldn't---"

"Yes, she would," insisted Peter. "She'll be awfully interested when I
tell her about you, Miss Child, and very pleased to know you."

Win was silenced, though not convinced. It is not safe for a brother
to judge his sister by himself.



CHAPTER IV

THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS


Peter found it not so easy as he had expected to snatch an
opportunity of interesting Ena in Miss Child. His sister was even more
than ordinarily interested in her own affairs, which had reached a
critical stage, and if Peter, having run her to earth in her cabin,
attempted to talk of any one save Ena Rolls or Lord Raygan her eyes
became like shut windows. He could almost see her soul turning its
back and walking away behind the panes of opaque gray glass.

There had been another evening prowl with the young female panther
before the evasive chance was grasped, and the storm-tossed, overdue
_Monarchic_ hoped to dock within eighteen hours.

Things were growing desperate for Peter. He was not, of course, in
love with the "queer, arresting face," but he could not bear to think
of its arriving alone and unprotected in New York. Something must be
done, and he resorted to bribery.

"Look here, Sis," he began, "I've just thought there may be reasons
why Raygan can't make up his mind to visit a bit on our side, now he
and his family are here."

"He hasn't said he won't do it," Ena cut in.

"No, but he hasn't said he will, has he?"

"Not yet. I daren't seem too eager."

"To save my life, I don't see why you _should_ be eager. But as you
are, I've been giving my mind to the subject." (This was subtle of
Peter.) "I've come to the conclusion that the man would like to stay.
I'm sure his sister would. Perhaps you can answer for the mother. The
trouble may be money."

"Perhaps. I've thought of that. But what can we do? We can't go to him
out of a clear sky and offer to lend."

"I might propose to put him on to a good thing."

"Oh, Peter, _would_ you help me like that, in a man's way?"

"I would, if you'd do me a favour, in a woman's way."

"What is it? But whatever it is, I'm sure to!"

They were in Miss Rolls's cabin, the one she had generously taken over
from Lady Raygan and Eileen. Ena was sitting on the seat under the
window; Peter was looking uncomfortable on a camp-chair. It was a
small cabin, boiling over with dresses, though the "Young Moon" had
not yet been added to their number. Peter had never found his sister
in a propitious mood for the gift, and had been keeping the "Moon,"
figuratively, up his sleeve till the right moment came. Now, perhaps
it had come.

Ena had been lying down after luncheon. She had given herself this
little rest because she knew that Raygan was going to play poker in
the smoking-room. She had learned bridge--though cards bored her--just
as she had learned tennis and golf and all sorts of eccentric dances,
in order to be popular, to be in the swim, to do just what the
fashionable people were doing--the people at the top, where she wanted
to arrive.

But she could not play poker! And if she could, it would have been
impossible to go with Lord Raygan into the smoking-room. Luckily no
other girl would be there, so Ena resigned herself to the loss of
valuable time on her last day.

"Why, yes," Peter answered. "I believe you _are_ sure to! It won't be
a hard favour to do, Sis. It's only to let me introduce a girl, a very
nice girl, and then to be kind and help her if she needs it."

Ena laughed. "Is that all? I guess--I mean, I fancy--I can promise
that. Girls don't need much help nowadays Who is she? Have I seen
her?"

"No. You haven't seen her."

"Is she pretty?" Peter had expected that question. Ena, and all the
other girls he knew, invariably asked it. But he did not quite know
what to answer.

"She's awfully attractive," he said. "The sort you'd turn and look
after in a crowd. She hasn't got what you call features, but--you
can't take your eyes off her somehow. She looks--she looks--well, a
tiny bit like a--a--perfectly gloriously fascinating--golliwog."

"A golliwog!"

"Great big, wide-apart eyes, I mean; dark, floating ones, with immense
eyelashes that curl up and stick out when you see her profile. She's
got a short, round face--no, kind of heart-shaped, I guess, and a
little, delicate, turned-up nose, like the Duchess of Marlborough's;
and a lovely mouth--yes, her mouth _is_ lovely, no mistake! She's
nearly always laughing, even when she isn't happy. She's got a long
neck, like a flower stem, and long legs---"

"Good gracious, what a description! For heaven's sake, who is the
girl?"

"Oh, I know it must sound queer; but she's the most fascinating thing
you ever saw, and any man would say so. She's a Miss Child---"

"There's no Miss Child on the passenger list."

"Maybe not; because she's one of Nadine's models, and I bought you a
gorgeous dress off her. I've been--saving it for a surprise. It's
called the 'New'--no, the 'Young Moon.'"

Ena forgot for a moment that she badly needed help from her brother
and began sharply to catechize him. "_When_ did you buy me a dress?
The day Lord Raygan offered to go back to that room and choose me one
and I said no, I didn't want a dress?"

"Yes. That was the day. I couldn't let her try it on in vain."

"Oh, you bought it to please _her_--the girl like a golliwog?"

"She isn't like a golliwog, really. That's not fair. And I bought the
dress to please you, of course. It's mighty pretty. I've got it in my
room."

"I wonder what your steward thinks? Well, I'll thank you when I see
it. But what an idea, to introduce one of those girls to _me_! Lord
Raygan said they were all bleached and painted, except the one who
wasn't pretty."

"That's my one. But I think she is pretty, and better than pretty. Her
eyes--and her smile---"

"Never mind her eyes and her smile. I _can't_ be introduced to a
model, Petro. I _won't_ know a dressmaker."

"Mother was one. And father's mother was a washer---"

"Be still, for the love of heaven! If any one should hear!"

"I'm not ashamed of---"

"Well, I _am_! Oh, Petro, don't be horrid, just when I really need you
to be nice. And you can be nice--very nice. Don't let's even think
about the family past. It's awful! It's a blot! But it can't be
helped. We must try to live it down. And we can, with our money. We
can and we must. A great chance has come to us. All the more because
of--of what you reminded me--we must be careful of the sort of people
we mix ourselves up with--"

"This girl is a lady."

Then Ena lost her temper. "They all are," she snapped. "I suppose
she's a clergyman's daughter and her parents are dead."

"Her mother is," Peter admitted.

"She _would_ be! What does the girl want help for? Doesn't Nadine pay
her wages?"

"She only engaged with Nadine to work out her passage."

"Oh! They say girls from all over the world are bearing down on poor
little old New York since Owen Johnson wrote 'The Salamander.'"

"Jove, Ena, I never knew before you had anything of the cat in you!"

This, and a flash in the eyes which were bluer than hers, brought Miss
Rolls to her bearings. She remembered the reason for going softly with
Peter. Luckily she had done no great mischief yet.

"Can't you take a joke, Petro?" she teased him, laughing "I'm not a
cat, or a pig, either. But you do scare me a little. You don't _like_
this girl, do you?"

"Of course I like her."

"You know what I mean by 'like.' And I hope I know what _you_ mean.
You always yearn over every creature who hasn't as much money as we
have and needs ours. _Sure_ it's no more than that this time? It would
be--just the limit, the outside edge and down the other side, if you
fell in love with a dressmaker's model. It would be like--like
reverting to type. We must climb, not--_root_."

Peter laughed--nervously, his sister feared. "What a girl you are! You
needn't fash yourself about my feelings for Miss Child. All I want is
to help her to get on."

"Oh! To help her get on? Well, then, you may introduce her to me, if
it can be done without taking up too much time. You know, Petro, it's
my last day on board, and I have my feelings as much as you. How can
we manage it? Can you bring her here?"

"I can't 'bring' her anywhere," Peter retorted rather gruffly. "She
isn't a servant looking for a place. I've told you she's a lady."

"Oh, all right. What do you suggest?"

"She hasn't much time to herself. Since the weather improved, business
is brisker. But after her dinner she gets in a walk down on B deck,
where nobody else goes. I could take you there about half-past eight."

"Very well. That's the program." Ena spoke with regained cheerfulness,
because no one need witness an introduction effected on B deck, and
because a sentence of Peter's had been like a bull's-eye lantern
directing a ray along the right track. "I'll be _ever_ so nice to Miss
Child to-night--and afterward, too, in New York, if you can bring
anything off with Lord Raygan about the visit. Are you playing poker
with him this afternoon?"

"Yes. Some chaps wanted---"

"I know. He told me. But he didn't mention you. Afterward, will you
work right up to the 'good thing' you can put him on to? He'll be in
just the mood--if he loses. And he says he always does lose."

"Yes. I'll let him see that he might do well for himself by staying.
Gee! Think of a fellow needing a bribe to spend a couple of weeks in
God's country!"

"He doesn't know yet that it is God's country. We must show him. Oh,
Peter, won't the Van Raaltens and the Arlingtons fall over themselves
with rage if the Earl of Raygan and his mother and sister stop with us
for a fortnight!"

"Stop with us for a fortnight!" mimicked Peter, scornful yet
affectionate now. "You get more British every day in your accent and
conversation, my kid."

"Well, I try hard enough! I _do_ like their way of speaking. They make
our voices sound grating and our expressions crude."

"_Our_ ways for mine!"

"You can have them. Now run away, Petro. I'll see the 'Young Moon'
later. I need a nap. Lay awake last night worrying!"

But when he had gone she lay awake planning. This golliwog was
undoubtedly dangerous. The absorbed look in Peter's eyes when he
described her singular attractions contradicted the statement that his
feelings were Platonic.

He "only wanted to help!" Pooh! Still Ena was glad he had said that,
because it had given her a brilliant idea. It was also rather a cruel
idea, but all is fair in love and war: and this might be both.

Of course, if the girl were coming to New York to be a Salamander,
the weapon would be useless. Ena must find another. She could not be
sure until she had met Miss Child; but she told herself that no
glorified golliwog, however sly, could fool _her_ for five minutes!
She would soon know whether Peter were right or wrong about this
daughter of a clergyman whose mother was dead.

Poor Petro, he was such a fool about people--such a dear, nice, but
sometimes inconvenient fool! Just mother's disposition over again,
with a touch of father's cleverness splashed in here and there where
you'd least expect it--but _never_ in the place where it would be most
useful.

As Ena reflected thus, she was vaguely pleased with herself after the
fashion of an earnest student who suddenly finds himself actually
thinking in French. Before she Went to Mme. Yarde's Finishing School
for Young Ladies, she had been so accustomed to saying pa and ma that
it had been very difficult to overcome the habit. Even now, once in a
while, she--but, thank heaven, not _once_ since meeting Lord Raygan;
she was sure of that. He had said, "You talk quite like our girls."
And all the rest of the day she had been happy; for sometimes, in a
good-natured sort of way, he made fun of what he absurdly called "the
American accent."

Ena shut her eyes and composed herself to lie down without ruffling
her hair. But she could not sleep. She made pictures of Lord Raygan
and his mother and Lady Eileen visiting at their house on Long Island.

Would they think it more "swell" of the Rollses to be living in the
country than in New York? She hoped so, and almost believed they
would, for she understood from novels and what she had learned in
London, that the "smart people" only "ran into town for the theatre
and that sort of thing" in winter. Now it was October--almost winter.
And in the automobile it was only an hour and twenty-five minutes from
Sea Gull Manor (Ena had named the new place herself) to New York.

Besides, in the country the visitors wouldn't so easily find out that
the family hadn't got "into" things--the things that mattered. Of
course they could see what the family _was_. They could see that
anywhere, alas! But poor father and mother were better against a
country background. And foreigners might attribute some quaint tricks
of manner and speech to their being Americans, just as she and Peter
hadn't known how awful the cockney accent was until they had been told
by English people.

Oh, it was lovely over there! Nobody snubbed her. She would give
anything to live on that side all her life, married to a man of title,
and go home occasionally, to pay back the proud cats who had
scratched. Meanwhile, it would be a step on the golden ladder to
flaunt Lord Raygan and his mother and Eileen as guests. Then, if Rags
could swallow the family and propose (as sometimes she thought he
contemplated doing), how wonderful it would be! Her ideal
accomplished!

No golliwog on earth should be allowed to defeat this end. For the
addition of a model, dressmaking golliwog to the family would be the
final obstacle. Lord Raygan was now undecided. He was perhaps waiting
to see how the rest of the Rollses shaped up. If he could stand them
as relations, all would be well. All _must_ be well!

That night Win wore for her walk a long blue coat in place of the
mackintosh. It was shabby, but becoming; and her dark hair was tucked
into a close-fitting cap of the same blue as the cloak. She knew what
was due to happen at half-past eight, and though grateful to Mr. Balm
of Gilead, dreaded the result of his kindness.

Miss Rolls would be the first American girl she had ever met; but she
knew how an English girl would feel about being introduced to a vague
waif picked up by a brother in a dressmaker's showroom on shipboard.
It would have been ungracious to refuse the offered introduction so
well meant, but the fifth dryad was not looking forward to it with
pleasurable sensations.

When she saw the brother and sister coming toward her, however, the
smile on Miss Rolls's face was encouraging. It was dimly like Peter's
smile, and there was a certain family resemblance about the faces:
both dark, with eager eyes that seemed light in contrast with
dead-black hair, but the eagerness of Miss Rolls's look was different
from the eagerness of her brother's. His was slightly wistful in its
search for something he did not yet know. Hers was dissatisfied,
searching for something she wanted and had not got.

He was a lean young man, not very tall, but with rather the air of an
ex-college athlete. She was a plump, short girl, somewhat square in
build, but distinctly handsome, showing beautiful teeth in her cordial
smile. If the smile had been less cordial Miss Child might have
conceived the catty idea that the magnificent ruby-velvet hooded
evening cloak had been put on to impress the humble new acquaintance.
However, it would have been mean to suspect a sister of Mr. Balm of
Gilead of such a snobbish trick. And there _was_ the smile.

"Miss Child, I'm very pleased to meet you," said the handsome girl
warmly, just as her brother had hopefully prophesied. "Peter's told me
quite a lot about you. I think you're awfully brave."

"Perhaps one doesn't deserve much credit for courage in doing a thing
one wants to do," answered Winifred, her slim, ringless hand
responding to the kind pressure of the plump one wearing too many
rings. (They were all rubies to-night. Miss Rolls had read about a
wonderful Russian woman before whom men went down like ninepins and
who always matched her dresses with her jewels.)

Yes, Ena thought, Peter was right; the creature was a lady. She had a
soft, throaty voice, like a blackbird when it talks to itself, and oh,
a _creamy_ accent! Miss Rolls would have given anything to extract it,
like pith, from the long white stem in which it seemed to live. She
would have been willing to pay well for it, and for Miss Child's
length of limb, so necessary to show off the latest fashions. She saw
and appreciated the odd, golliwog charm of wide-apart eyes under high
arch of brow. And the full, laughing mouth, with the short upper lip,
was beautiful, like the mouths of marvellous girls on magazine covers.
The creature looked brave and rather sweet, and Miss Rolls was quite
sorry for her; but the thing had to be done.

"Petro, you go away and let us have a talk," said Petro's kind sister
gayly. "Two is company; three's none."

And Petro went, thinking Ena the grandest sort of a pal. He had done
his best for her already. Raygan and the two ladies had graciously
agreed to stay for a fortnight at least in the country upon which
Providence had thrust them. Peter had Marconied home, and home would
certainly Marconi back an invitation to Sea Gull Manor. As he had said
to Ena, he had pressed the button; she must do the rest. But he felt
now as if he would enjoy doing a great deal more for her than he had
yet done.

"And just what do you want to do in New York, Miss Child?" inquired
Miss Rolls, as they began slowly to pace the otherwise deserted deck.

"I have wild hopes of getting newspaper work of some sort through one
letter of introduction I have," answered Win, "or into a choir as
contralto from the other. If not--oh, well, every one says America's
the country for women."

"Yes, it is. We have splendid fun," Ena assured her. "The men are so
kind to us."

"I think they must be," Win agreed. "Mr. Rolls has been very kind. Are
all the rest like him?"

"I--suppose they have different ways of being kind--some of them. Some
may be _safer_ than others. I hardly know how to put it!"

"I think I understand."

"I--wonder if you do. Oh, Miss Child, I _wish_ I dared speak to you
frankly!"

When people begin thus there is invariably something disagreeable to
follow; but Winifred Child braced herself and said calmly: "Please
do."

"It's very difficult. I'm quite afraid of you."

"It's I who ought to be afraid of you."

"Don't be! I wish I could make you trust me. Can I?"

"Why not?"

"I'm throwing things at you so suddenly. But what else can I _do_? We
haven't much time. My brother'll come back and join us. And--it's
about him I want to speak. He's so--interested in you."

"That's very nice of him." Winifred's voice was as cold and bright as
a very small icicle.

"It ought to be! _But_--well, he's a dear brother and a splendid
fellow in many ways. I hate to say anything against him. Yet I'd hate
still more to have you--disappointed. His one fault is--he's rather
foolish about women, especially those not exactly in his own set. Do
you see what I mean? It's so hard for me! He said to-day he was going
to try to help you. That frightened me a little. I felt I must give
you this tiny warning, for Peter has such a _trustworthy_ air, hasn't
he?"

"Yes, indeed he has," answered Win, loyal still to Mr. Balm of Gilead,
_alias_ Peter Pan. But the night had grown colder.

"I'm his sister. I can't help feeling responsible for him. And, in a
way, I feel responsible for you, too, as it's through him I've met
you--and you'll be a stranger in our country. That's why I shouldn't
have _dared_ let this chance pass without speaking. Yet I keep
rambling on without the courage to say much."

"It isn't necessary to dot all the i's and cross the t's," returned
Winifred, trying not to let her voice be sharp or her tone bitter, for
she had to believe that this girl was sincere. A sister would not
blacken the character of a brother for the mere pleasure of hearing
herself talk!

"You do take this as I mean it, don't you?"

"I think so."

"Thank you _so_ much. It's very sweet and generous of you not to be
angry with me and think me a busybody meddling in other people's
business. But it _is_ my business to see that my brother doesn't hurt
a girl who trusts him--a stranger in a strange land. All I want you to
promise is that instead of letting _him_ help you, when he offers to,
as he's sure to do--if he hasn't already--you'll let _me_ do it."

"I'm hoping not to need help, except from the friends of my friend who
has given me introductions," Win justified her pride of womanhood.

"I don't suppose you will need anything else. You look as if you could
get along _anywhere_. But if you do need a push, promise you won't
accept favours from my brother, or let him come into your life at all.
It's entirely for your own sake I ask."

"I understand that, Miss Rolls. What other reason could there be?"

"There couldn't be any other. Do promise. I'm so frightened for you."

"I shall certainly accept no help from Mr. Rolls."

"That's good! It relieves my mind. And swear you won't let him dream
that I've said anything or interfered with his plans."

"His plans!"

"Well--when a man with Peter's _one_ fault offers to help a girl get
on in New York--Please don't be offended"

"I am not. Of course it goes without saying that I won't let him know
I've had a warning from you."

"He'd never speak to me again if you even gave him a hint."

"Don't be afraid. I won't; not the faintest. Why, we're landing
to-morrow morning early! There won't be a chance to say more than
'Good-bye.'"

"There's to-night, after I go in. He'll be back---"

"I'm going in, too. I shall go when you go."

"Perhaps it would be better. Oh, you don't know what a weight is off
my mind!"

"I'm glad it is gone."

"And you'll write to _me,_ won't you, and let me know how you get
along? Write just what you need. I'll be delighted---"

"If I need anything--thank you."

"My address is Sea Gull Manor, Old Chesterton, Long Island. Shall I
write it down?"

"No, please don't trouble. I can always remember addresses. You're
really very good--to take an interest. And--and I know it must have
been hard for you to--to feel you had to speak."

It was also hard, desperately hard, for Win to pay this tribute to
Miss Rolls's unselfish interest in her moral welfare. She tried to be
grateful, to feel that her late friend's sister had been brave and
fine and unconventional thus to defend a strange girl against one so
near. But despite reason's wise counsel, her heart was hot within her.
She felt like a heathen assured by an earnest missionary that her god
was a myth.

She disliked kind Miss Rolls intensely, and would have loved to let
loose upon her somewhat obtuse head the sarcasm of which at that
moment she felt herself a past mistress. She wanted to be rich and
important and have Miss Rolls, poor and suppliant, at her mercy.
Horrified, she saw by the searchlight of her own anger dark depths of
cruelty and revenge in her own nature. She longed to rush to Peter and
tell him everything, and believe in him again, for it was hard to lose
a friend--an ideal ewe-lamb of a friend. She wished she might wake up
in her overcrowded stateroom and find that this hateful conversation
had been a dream.

But she could not do any of these brutal, silly, or impossible things.
She was not dreaming. All was true. Miss Rolls had meant well, and Mr.
Balm of Gilead did not exist. He was only Peter Rolls, a rich, selfish
fellow who thought girls who had to work fair game. His sister must
know his true inwardness. Probably she had learned through unpleasant
hushed-up experiences, through seeing skeletons unfleshed by Peter
stalk into the family cupboard.

"You ungrateful beast, behave yourself!" Miss Child boxed the ears of
her sulky ego and shook it.

The throaty quiver in the blackbird voice of the dangerous golliwog
went vibrating through Miss Rolls's conscience in a really painful
way. She felt as if she had had a shock of electricity. But, thank
goodness, the worst was over, and now that she had grasped safety (for
instinct said that the girl would not betray), she could afford to be
generous.

She reminded herself that she had acted entirely in self-defence, not
through malice, and she had not told a single lie about Peter. She had
but said--in words--that some men were safer than others, which every
one knew to be true; that Peter was rather foolish about women (so he
was--ridiculously soft, not modern in his ideas at all!), and that it
would be better for the girl to accept help from her--Ena--than from a
young man. It was very good advice, and nothing Peter ought to be
angry about, even if he should ever hear--which, pray heaven, he might
not! As Ena reminded herself how wise and tactful she had been, a
faint glow stole into the chilly zone round her heart, just as you can
heat a cold foot by concentrating yourself on telling it that it is
warm.

"I want to be your _friend_," she went on sweetly. "Perhaps you aren't
very rich? As girl to girl, let me offer you a little, little
present--or a loan--a hundred dollars. I've got it with me---"

"Oh, thank you many times, but I couldn't possibly!" cried Win. "I
don't need it. I have lots of money."

"I'm glad--though I should have liked the pleasure," said Ena. And she
genuinely would, because the act of giving would have pumped warmth
into the cold place without waiting for time to change the
temperature.

"There's one thing you must let me do, anyhow," she persisted. "That
dress--the 'Blue Moon,' isn't it?--that you tried on and my brother
bought for me, I want you to accept it. Oh, don't say no! It's miles
too long for me" (she couldn't have brought herself to confess that it
was hopelessly small for waist and hips), "and I never enjoy altered
dresses--the style's lost. So you'll not be robbing me. If you won't
have it, I shall believe it's a sign that you're offended at my
interference."

Winifred thought for an instant and drew a long breath. "Then I must
take the dress," she said. "It's more than good of you, of course. I
shan't be in the kind of world where I can wear it, but---"

"Keep it to remember this evening--I mean, to remember me," Miss Rolls
hastily amended.

"I will," said Win simply. But there was no danger that she would ever
forget Miss Rolls--or her kindness.



CHAPTER V

SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"


When Peter thought that he might decently return to B deck without
breaking into charming womanly confidences, it was deserted. The moon
was struggling out through black clouds and pouring silver into the
sea's ink, but the girl in the moon was gone.

When he found Ena again--which was easy because of the ruby cloak--she
was sitting between Raygan and Lady Eileen on the boat deck. He knew
that she would be annoyed if he mentioned Miss Child in this
distinguished company, and, in any case, he would not have cared to
speak of the girl there.

Realizing that he had kept away too long and lost his chance of seeing
Miss Child again that night, he consoled himself by knocking at Ena's
door when she had evaded him and sought sanctuary in her cabin. She
let him in at once, not because she wanted to do so, but because he
would "turn suspicious" if she made an excuse to keep him out.

"Well?" said he. "What did you think of her?"

"Miss Child? She seems a very nice girl, and you're perfectly
right--she is a lady. I don't know if she's quite as young as you
think, and _I_ don't call her pretty; but she is attractive in spite
of being so awfully tall. We had a pleasant talk, and I offered to do
anything I could. I gave her our address, and she is to write."

"Did you tell her you'd invite her down?" Peter put this question
diffidently.

"I--intimated it. She was rather independent but _very_ nice, and said
she was grateful, especially after I insisted on giving her that
'Moon' dress, which now I've sent to her cabin. You know, she _has_
friends in New York, and seems to know just what she wants to do, so I
couldn't thrust myself upon her. But I think I did the right thing."

"I'm sure of that, you dear girl," said Peter.

And so was the dear girl herself.

Next morning the room of the mirrors was destitute of dryads. Its once
crowded wardrobes were empty; the huge screen was folded and leaning
against the wall. The dryad door stood open (as Peter Rolls observed
when he "happened" to pass, about the time the _Monarchic_ neared the
Statue of Liberty) and nothing reminiscent remained save a haunting
perfume of "Rose-Nadine" sachet powder, a specialty which might have
been the lingering wraith of a dryad.

As the visions had vanished with all their belongings, Peter thought
it probable they would be on some deck or other watching for the New
York skyscrapers. And he was right concerning four of his model
acquaintances. The fifth was not visible, and Miss Devereux explained
her absence by saying that she was "lazy."

"She's on her own now, you know," she added, "and can sleep as late as
she likes. But I wouldn't miss the first sight of New York for a
pound! Some people have no romance in them."

Up till the last minute Peter had hopes of B deck; but they were
blighted and disappointed, even depressed; he had to land with Ena and
her friends without having seen Miss Child. Still, there was the pier,
crowded with people who had come to wave welcome to the _Monarchic_.
There appeared to be a fearful confusion, and this was Peter's first
return from his first trip abroad; but he knew that the excited throng
would soon be sorted out under letters of the alphabet.

Peter senior had come to meet his returning children and the
distinguished guests Marconi had bestowed on him (a little, dry, thin
man, who looked as though a lost resemblance to Peter might come out
if he were freshened up by being soaked for a long time in warm
water), and he had already secured a tame official to glance
graciously into the luggage. After shaking heartily the small bag of
bones that was his father's hand, and saying "Hello, Dad! How's
yourself? How's mother? How's everything?" Peter was free for a few
minutes to sprint from "B" to "C."

His spirit rose at the comparative dearth of "C's." Not more than a
dozen of the crowded _Monarchic's_ passengers were dancing with
impatience beneath the third letter of the alphabet, and Mr. Rolls,
Jr., walked straight up to tall Miss Child without being beaten back
by a surf of "C's." To be sure, Miss Carroll was under the same
letter, and observed the approach of Peter with interest, if not
surprise; but she was seated on a trunk at some distance key in hand.

"Well, I'm mighty glad to find you!" exclaimed Peter cordially. "I
began to think it must be a trick of dryads to wait themselves ashore
without waiting for the clumsy old ship to dock."

"I was busy packing this morning," replied the alleged dryad, with a
hard, undryadic expression on her "heart-shaped" face.

"You disappeared so early last night, I'd an idea you were doing your
packing then so as to be up with the dawn and get a good look at the
harbour."

"I could see a great deal from our porthole."

"I shouldn't have thought you were the kind of girl to be satisfied
with portholes," said Peter, hoping to wake up one of her smiles. Her
voice sounded rather tired.

"Beggars mustn't be choosers," was the dry reply.

"But dryads may be," he encouraged her.

"I've left my dryadhood hanging up behind the door." She spoke
sharply, almost irritably, it seemed. "I shan't need it in New York."

"Oh, won't you? That's where you're mistaken! There'll be lots of
times when you'd rather have it than the grandest opera cloak."

"I shan't need an opera cloak, either."

Peter was still smiling, though less confident of the old friendly
understanding which had given them a language of their own with words
which would have been nonsense for others.

"We'll see. Anyhow, I shall ask you to go to the very first
worth-while opera that comes along. Consider it a formal invitation."

"Very well, I will, and answer it formally. 'Miss Child thanks Mr.
Rolls for his kind invitation, and regrets that a previous engagement
makes it impossible for her to accept.'"

"By Jove, that does sound formal enough! How do you know you'll have a
previous engagement?"

"I'm perfectly certain I shall."

This was the real thing! There was no joke in the bottom of the
medicine glass.

Peter's face grew red, like a scolded schoolboy's. Winifred (who was
looking at Miss Carroll's trunk, but saw only Mr. Rolls) thought that
he was going to speak out angrily, and perhaps give her a glimpse of
his black heart. She hoped he would, for it would have been a relief;
but he did not.

"Have I done anything to offend you?" he asked with a straight look;
and though he spoke in a low tone, it was not a secret tone at all.

"No, certainly not," she answered, opening her eyes at him. "Why do
you ask?"

"Because--you weren't like this on the ship."

"I've left my ship manners hanging up behind the door with my
dryadhood. I shan't use them in New York, either!"

"Well--I'm sorry!"

"I don't know why you should be." If she had not stared hard at Miss
Carroll's trunk, and tried anxiously to make out the name on a very
small label, she would have done what she had boasted of never doing,
whatever the world did to her: she would have cried. As it was, she
wore the expression of a budding basilisk.

"_Don't_ you know? Well, then, you didn't realize what it meant to me
to have you for a friend."

"I really didn't think much about it, Mr. Rolls!"

"Evidently not. But I did. Look here, Miss Child. Did my sister put
you against me--or our friendship--in any way?"

"What an extraordinary idea!" sneered Winifred. "She spoke very nicely
of you, as far as I can remember, and said you were a dear brother."

"Then why are you so unkind to me now after being nice on the ship?"

"Oh, _that_! It was for a cinema, a motion picture. Didn't you
understand?"

This slapped Peter in the face: that she should retort with flippant
slang, when he was earnestly begging for an explanation. At last she
had succeeded in freezing him.

"I'm afraid I didn't quite understand," he said in a new tone which
she had not heard before. Mr. Balm of Gilead, _alias_ Peter Pan, had
suddenly grown up, and as Peter Rolls, Jr., was all politeness and
conventionality.

"I do understand now, though. Well, Miss Child, I must--thank that
'cinema' for some very pleasant hours. Here comes a man to look at
your baggage. Just remind him that you're a British subject, and he
won't make you any trouble. Neither will I!" Peter's hat was off, but
his smile could have been knocked off only with a hammer.

"Good-bye," replied Win hastily, frightened at her own appalling
success as a basilisk. "And thank _you_--for your part of the cinema."

"I'm afraid I don't deserve any credit. Good-bye. And good luck."

He was gone--but no, not quite. Without turning round to look at her
again, he was stopping to speak with the Irish-faced servant of the
customs. The latter nodded and even touched his cap. Peter Rolls
certainly had a way with him. But Win already knew this, to her
sorrow. She was _glad_ she had thought of that horrid speech about the
cinema. The man deserved it.

"That's the last I shall see of him!" she said to herself almost
viciously, as the Irish-American official spied upon her toque the
wing of a fowl domesticated since the ark. Yet for the second time
Peter came back, stiffly lifting his hat.

"I only wanted to say," he explained, "that, cinema or no cinema, I
hope, if I can be of service now or later, you will allow me the
privilege. My address---"

"I have your _sister's_, thank you," she cut his words short as with a
pair of scissors. "That's the same thing, isn't it?"

"Yes," he answered heavily--perhaps guiltily. And this time he was
gone for good.

"What a neat expression," thought Winifred. "Gone for good!"

It sounded like a long time.



CHAPTER VI

THE HANDS WITH THE RINGS


Peter Rolls, Jr., unlike his father, had practically no talent for
revenge. In common with every warm-blooded creature lower than the
angels, he could be fiercely vindictive for a minute or two--long
enough, when a small boy, to give a bloody nose and to get one; long
enough, at all ages, to want to hit a man, thoroughly smash him,
perhaps, or even to kick him into the middle of next week; long enough
to feel that he would like to make a woman sorry that she had been
rude.

But there was always a spiritual and mental reckoning of a painful
description: a soul's housecleaning which turned him out of doors a
miserable waif; and it invariably came too soon, before he had had
time to gloat over the blood on another boy's nose, or a man's
humiliation, or a woman's repentant blush. Instead of heartily
disliking people for the spiteful things they sometimes did, he was
apt to turn round and wonder if the fault had not been his; if he were
not the abysmal beast.

He had not half repaid Winifred Child for her rudeness with his
coldness, yet no sooner was he in the huge gray automobile--which
could comfortably have seated eight instead of six--than he felt a
pang of remorse, exactly like a gimlet twisting through his heart from
top to bottom.

"I oughtn't to have left her like that!" he reproached himself. "I
ought to have hung around and seen that everything went all right. She
said she had the address of a good, cheap boarding-house. But it may
have changed. Or it may be full. And, anyway, how will she get there?
She ought to take a cab. But will she? And if she does, won't she fall
dead at the price? I ought to have warned the poor child. There are
shoals of tips I might have put her up to if I hadn't always been
talking about myself. What if she _was_ cross? There must have been a
reason. I must have done something she didn't feel like pointing out
when I asked. What I don't know about women would make three
encyclopedias."

It was too late, however, to act upon second thoughts which might or
might not be "best." Peter was in the automobile, and it had started.
Even if he went back, it would doubtless be only to find Miss Child
gone. He tried to console himself with the fact that Ena had been nice
to the girl, and that Miss Child had said--or anyhow intimated--that
she would write. If she didn't, he could, at worst, find out her
whereabouts by going to Nadine. Superior as Miss Child was to the
other dryads, she would surely keep up communication with them. Miss
Devereux was the sort who might lunch with him on the strength of "old
friendship." He would give her oysters and orchids, and find out how
things were going with the girl who had left her dryadhood behind the
cabin door.

He tried to console himself with these arguments, but the pleasure of
homecoming was spoiled. Father did not show any very exuberant joy at
seeing him again, and it was disappointing to a warm-hearted nature
if people were not exuberant, even for a minute, when you had been
away for months.

The automobile, with its gray-silk cushions, its immense plate-glass
windows, its travelling boudoir of mirrors, gold scent bottles, and
other idiocies, its bouncing bouquet of fresh violets, its electric
fittings, its air pillow embroidered with silver monograms and crests,
its brocade-lined chinchilla rugs, tricky little extra seats, and
marvellous springs, struck Peter as disgustingly ostentatious.

He wondered what Raygan and his mother and sister would think of folks
in a democratic country using chinchilla for automobile rugs; and he
was sure they must be having interior hysterics over the Rolls coat of
arms--a dragon holding up a spiky crown of some nondescript sort on a
cushion. The dragon looked rather like a frog rampant, and the crowned
cushion bore a singular resemblance to a mushroom with an angry
ladybird on its apex. How this family insignia had been obtained Peter
did not know. His ribald questions had been treated by his sister with
silent scorn. He would not be surprised if Ena had designed the thing
herself!

As the car smoothly bowled Peter out of Winifred Child's life, away
toward the Long Island manor house and the welcome mother would give,
the deposed dryad was having her first experience of New York.

She parted company on the pier with Nadine (in private life Lady
Darling), Nadine's manageress, Miss Sorel, and the quartet of models.
They had almost forgotten her before they had gone two blocks
"uptown"; and she had no reason to remember any of them with
affection, except, perhaps, Miss Sorel, a relative of her one-time
dressmaker who had "got her the job."

Win had heard that the cost of cabs was "something awful" in America,
but she said to herself: "Just this first time I _must_ have one." A
bad night and the scene with Peter had dimmed the flame of her
courage, and she felt a sinking of the heart instead of a sense of
adventure in the thought of taking a "trolley." She would be sure to
lose herself in searching for the boarding-house.

Her luggage--checked and in the hypnotic power of a virile
expressman--had already vanished. It would arrive at its destination
ahead of her. Perhaps there was no room there. In that case it would
be sent away. Dreadful picture! False economy not to take a cab! Win
supposed that a taxi would be no dearer than the horse variety and one
would sooner learn the secrets of the future.

One of these secrets began to hint at its own hideous nature with
every convulsive tick of the metre. It hiccuped nickels, and as Win's
terrified eyes, instead of taking in New York, watched the spendthrift
contrivance yelping for her dollars, she remembered that she owned but
two hundred. She had had to be "decent" about tips on board. But forty
pounds--two hundred dollars--had looked magnificent in her hand bag
that morning. Paper money spread itself in such a lordly manner and
seemed able to buy so many separate things. But by the time the
merciless taxi had bumped her through devious ways up to Fifty-Fourth
Street, three of the beautiful green dollar bills were as good as
gone.

She longed to pray "Oh, _do_ stop taxying!" at the doorstep before she
darted up to inquire whether Miss Hampshire still kept the
boarding-house; and it was maddening to hear that "teuf, teuf"
desperately going on, chewing its silver cud, in the long pause before
an answer came to the bell.

A black woman who flung open the door was startling as a
jack-in-the-box for the English girl. Win had thought of American
negroes but vaguely, as a social problem in the newspapers or dear
creatures in Thomas Nelson Page's books. What with the surprise and
the nervous strain of the disappearing dollars, she asked no further
questions after the welcome news that Miss Hampshire existed and had a
"room to rent." Hastily she paid off the chauffeur, adding something
for himself (it seemed like tipping the man at the guillotine) and
breathed again only when her trunk and dressing-bag blocked the narrow
hall.

"I'm sure I don't see whoever's goin' to tote them things up to the
third story," sighed the female jack-in-the-box, who was, after all,
more purple than black when you looked closely, an illusion produced
by a dusting of pink powder over a dark surface. "And how do I know
Miss Hampshire'll _take_ you?"

"But you said there was a room." The freeborn independence of a whole
nation, irrespective of colour, shocked the effete stranger's breath
away. She gasped slightly.

"Yeh. But that ain't to say you can have it. Miss Hampshire's mighty
pertickler about her woman boarders," explained the purple lady. "You
catched me all of a heap or I wouldn't o' let that feller slam yer
things into the house and git away. You'll have to wait till I call
Miss Hampshire. _She'll_ talk to you."

"Tell her I was recommended by Miss Ellis, from London who boarded
here three years ago," Win desperately tossed after a disappearing
figure.

It was a mortifying commentary upon her personal appearance not to be
invited to wait in the drawing-room, and Miss Child wondered what
foreign strangeness in hat, hair arrangement, or costume had excited
suspicion. She did not know whether to be more angry or amused, but
recalled her own motto, "Laugh at the world to keep it from laughing
first."

Suddenly the episode became part of an adventure, a great and wildly
funny adventure, of which she was dying to see the next part. How she
would love to tell Mr. Balm of Gilead! How his eyes would twinkle!
But--there was no Mr. Balm of Gilead in this or any world. It was a
dreary hall she stood in, with varnished brown paper pretending to be
oak panels, a long-armed hatrack that would have made an ideal
scarecrow, and ghosts of past dinners floating up from below with
gloomy warnings.

From the same region came Miss Hampshire, smelling slightly of Irish
stew. She was pale with the pallor which means shut windows and
furnace heat, a little sharp-nosed, neat-headed woman in brown, whose
extraordinarily deep-set eyes were circled with black, like spectacle
rims. She was graciously willing to accept a guest recommended by Miss
Ellis, hinting that, as she was of British ancestry, the English for
her came under the favoured nation clause.

"To _you_ the room with board'll be ten dollars a week," she said with
flattering emphasis. "A well-known poetess has just left it to be
married. It's not large, but, being at the back of the house, it's
nice and quiet."

When Win was shown the third-floor back hall bedroom she saw that
even a poetess of passion might have snapped at her first proposal. As
Miss Hampshire said, it was not large; but there was the advantage of
being able to reach anything anywhere while sitting on the bed, and
unless the people six feet distant in a back room of the opposite
house snored at night it ought to be quiet.

Win christened her room the "frying pan," because to search for
another boarding-house might be jumping into the fire. And luckily her
trunk would just squeeze under the bed.

"I suppose it would be no use calling on a business man before three
o'clock?" She applied to Miss Hampshire for advice when she had
unpacked her toothbrush and a few small things for which she could
find niche or wall space.

"Before three? And why not?" The pale lady opened her eyes in their
dark caverns.

"Why, I only thought they wouldn't be back in their offices from
luncheon," explained the English girl.

"When you know a little more about N'York," replied Miss Hampshire,
whose manner was involuntarily less mellow when she had hooked a fish,
"you'll see why it could never be run as it is along _those_ lines.
Many of our most prominent business men consider a piece of pie with a
tumbler of milk a good and sufficient lunch, and it takes them five
minutes to swallow it."

Primed with this information and intricate instructions concerning
street cars (a child once burned dreads a taxi), Winifred started out
soon after her own midday meal, eaten in a basement dining-room.

She went first to see the editor; for somehow newspaper reporting
seemed more congenial to the vivid New York climate than singing in a
church choir, and the hugeness of the _To-day and To-morrow_ building
turned her again into a worm. It did not so much scrape the sky as
soar into it, and when she timidly murmured the words "editorial
offices" she was shot up to the top in an elevator as in a
perpendicularly directed catapult.

When the fearsome thing stopped she had the sensation that her head
alone had arrived, the rest had been shed on the way, but in a large
open space furnished with roll-top desks and typewriters and men and
girls she was looked at as though nothing unusual had happened.

"A letter of introduction for Mr. Burritt?" repeated a young man with
a whimsical expression. "I'm afraid you'll have to go higher up to
deliver it."

"I thought I'd got to the top," said Win. "Or"--and she tried to catch
the office note of sprightliness--"does he inhabit a roof garden?"

The young man smiled. "He used to be fond of them after office hours.
But not being a spiritualist, I haven't heard from him concerning his
present habits."

"He is--dead?"

"That's about it," said the young man. "A year ago. But he was only
our city editor, so maybe he didn't get a black border in your English
papers."

Miss Child did not ask how one knew that she was English. She
recovered herself, thought of taking leave, and then decided not to be
precipitate. Instead, she inquired if she could see any other editor.

"Which other have you got a letter to?" the young man temporized.

"None. But---"

"Then I'm afraid it's no use without an appointment. Anyhow, this
isn't the right hour to snapshot editors of daily papers. They're
night-blooming flowers. Would you like to try for an appointment with
Mr. Shaw, Burritt's successor?"

Win thanked him, but thought it would be no use. She would have liked
to walk down, only there seemed to be no stairs. A merry youth who ran
the nearest elevator asked if she would care to use the fire-escape.

The address of Mr. Noble, the organist, was that of a private house.
It was a far cry from _To-day and To-morrow_, up in the hundreds, and
Miss Hampshire had told Miss Child to take the elevated. Easier said
than done. You could go up the steps and reach a platform on top of
the improved Roman viaduct, but there were so many other people intent
on squeezing through the iron gate and onto the uptown train--people
far more indomitable than yourself--that nothing happened except the
slam, slam of that gate in your face.

At last, however, Miss Child was borne along with a rush from behind
and found herself swinging back and forth like a pendulum on a strap
which she clutched wildly. Men in America were supposed to jump up and
give women their seats, but there were no men in this train. It was
peopled with women who had been shopping, and who carried bundles.
Many went on so far that Win began to believe they were taking a jaunt
for fun, especially as they did not seem at all tired, but chewed
something unremittingly with an air of calm delight. This was,
perhaps, what Americans called a "joy ride!"

There seemed to be no end to New York, and vistas of cross streets
looked so much alike that Win did not wonder they were named only with
numbers. She wanted One Hundred and Thirty-Third Street, and Mr.
Noble's house was a long way from the elevated station. When she found
it at last it was only to learn that six months ago the organist had
accepted a position in Chicago. And New York seemed twice as big,
twice as absent-minded, when both letters of introduction had failed.

Win had often tried to check her tendency to over-optimism by telling
herself that neither Mr. Burritt nor Mr. Noble might have work to
give. But Miss Ellis (now comfortably married in London) had said they
were kind men. If they had nothing to offer, they would certainly
introduce Miss Child to some one who had. It had never occurred to her
that they might thoughtlessly have died or gone elsewhere. Editors and
organists seemed so importantly permanent to the lay mind.

This was indeed being alone in New York! And at the very thought--now
she could guess what it might be like--her one hundred and ninety-six
dollars and twenty-eight cents seemed to be shrinking in the wash.

"Nonsense!" said she, on the elevated again, tearing downtown. "Don't
be a silly. Any one would think you were the leading lady in a
melodrama, turned out of the house without your hat, in a snowstorm
that followed you round the stage like a wasp! You'll be all right.
Miss Ellis told you they _loved_ English girls in New York. Just you
wait till to-morrow, my dear!"

The rest of the day she spent in the frying pan, "pulling herself
together," and "seeing where she stood," a process consisting mostly
of counting her greenbacks and comparing them with their equivalent in
English money. After all, there was not too much time for this mental
adjustment of things, because, being late in October, darkness fell
early, and Miss Hampshire's boarders dined at six-thirty. Promptness
was obligatory if you were a female. A little more latitude--a raising
of the eyebrows instead of a frown--was granted if you were fortunate
enough to be of the opposite sex. Miss Hampshire's sad smile seemed to
concede that men had temptations.

There were bank clerks and schoolteachers and translators though no
more poetesses; and everybody was kind to the new boarder, the
Englishwoman, especially in telling her all about New York.

"What do you think of Broadway?" asked her neighbour a handsome young
German Jew, who was more insistently American than any of those native
born.

Win was shamefacedly not sure whether she had seen it.

"Not sure whether you have seen _Broadway_!" exclaimed Mr. Löwenfeld.
"Wait till you've been on the Great White Way after dark. _Then_ I
guess you won't make any mistake."

"Is it so wonderful?" she asked.

"I should smile! There's nothing like it on earth. Would you like to
walk out and see it to-night? Miss Secker and I'll take you, if you
would, won't we, Miss Secker?"

"Only too pleased," rather shrilly replied a fair-haired girl on his
other side--a pretty girl in eyeglasses who, Miss Hampshire had
announced, was "translating secretary" for a firm of toy importers.
Somehow the tone suggested to Win an incipient engagement of marriage
and jealousy of new importations.

But Mr. Löwenfeld had spoken no more than the truth. Broadway at
night, seen as a pedestrian at the side of Miss Secker, was
astonishing, was marvellous, was unique. The whole sky was alight and
pulsing with its magnificence. Twenty moons would not have been
noticed. Everything that could happen was happening by electricity. It
was Crystal Palace Fireworks, and the Lord Mayor's Show, and
Coronation, and Mafeking, and naval manoeuvres with searchlights, all
flashing and flaming, blazing and gyrating at the same time. Broadway
gleamed white as the north pole, jewelled with rainbow colours,
amazing rubies, emeralds, topazes, grouped in letters or forming
pictures on invisible frames rising high above tall buildings or
appearing on their façades.

Green sea waves billowed brightly, a giant cat winked golden eyes, two
brilliant boxers fought an endless round, a dazzling girl put on and
took off illuminated gloves; a darky's head, as big as a balloon, ate
a special brand of pickled melon; a blue umbrella opened and shut; a
great gilded basket dropped ruby roses (Buy them at Perrin Frères); a
Japanese Geisha, twice life-size, told you where to get kimonos; a
trout larger than a whale appeared and disappeared on a patent hook;
and above all, brighter than all, rose against the paling sky from
somewhere behind Broadway a pair of titanic hands.

These hands fascinated Win. They beckoned her gaze and held it. Slowly
they came up and drew attention to themselves, silently filching it
from Broadway's emblems of business success. The stranger in New York
stopped involuntarily as if hypnotized, watching for the ten colossal
outspread fingers to materialize on their unseen frames; to become
hands, with wrists and upraised arms; and then to drop out of sight,
like the last appeal for help of a drowning Atlas who had lost his
grip on the globe.

Yet this immense, arresting gesture was never the last. Three seconds
gone, then blazing back again, came fingers, hands, wrists, arms. And
on every one of the ten fingers (including thumbs) flashed a huge
ring, each different from the other in colour and design. Each ring
was adorned with a jewelled letter, and as the hands reached toward
the zenith the colour of the rings changed rapidly twice. It was
impossible to remove the eyes from this sign until the gesture pageant
had completed itself. To the lost dryad New York seemed dominated by
Peter Rolls's Hands.



CHAPTER VII

THE TWO PETERS


The hands of Peter Rolls!

They had Winifred Child's imagination in their grip. Sleeping and
waking, she saw the glitter of their rings. For on her first night in
New York Mr. Löwenfeld told her a story about the hands.

They were the hands of Peter senior. His commercial genius had spread
them across the sky to beckon the public to his great new department
store on Sixth Avenue. Just as at the beginning of the gesture you saw
only the tips of the fingers, so Peter Rolls, Sr., had begun with a
tiny flicker, the first groping of his inspiration feeling its way to
success.

Everybody in the United States had heard of Peter Rolls, or it was not
the fault of the magazines and Sunday papers. Peter Rolls had been for
years one of the greatest advertisers in America. Mr. Winfield didn't
see how, even on a remote little island like England, Miss Child could
have escaped hearing about Peter Rolls's hands. This had now become
the snappy way of saying that you intended to shop at Peter Rolls's
store: "I'm going to the Hands." "I'll get that at the Hands." And
Peter Rolls had emphasized the phrase on the public tongue by his
method of advertising.

Each advertisement that appeared took the same form--a square space
heavily outlined in black or colour, held up by a pair of ringed
hands, facsimiles in miniature of his famous sky sign. And the several
thousand salespeople in the huge store were slangily nicknamed "Peter
Rolls's hands." But naturally these insignificant morsels of the great
mosaic were not spelled with a capital H, unless, perhaps by
themselves, and once when a vaudeville favourite sang a song, "I'm a
Hand, I'm a Hand." It was a smart song, and made a hit; but Peter
Rolls was said to have paid both the star and the management.

Apparently nothing concerning Peter Rolls, Sr., and his family was
hidden from Mr. Löwenfeld and Miss Seeker, although they claimed no
personal acquaintance with the great. Probably, if Win had asked, they
could have told how many servants Mrs. Rolls kept and how many cases
of champagne her husband ordered in a year. But questions were
unnecessary. The subject of a self-made millionaire was a fascinating
one to the lately naturalized German.

Peter Rolls, Sr., had emigrated from the north of Ireland as a young
boy. He had contrived to buy a few cheap odds and ends likely to
attract women buried in the country far from shops. He had somehow
known exactly what odds and ends to select. That was genius; and he
had coined money as a peddler. In his wandering life he made
acquaintance with many tramps and saw how he might make even the
lowest useful. After a few years he scraped up enough capital to start
a small store in New York, far downtown, where rents were cheap.

Like his peddler's pack, the store was stocked with odds and ends.
But again they were just the right odds and ends, the odds and ends
that every one in that neighbourhood wanted and had never been able to
obtain under one roof. No article cost less than five cents, none more
than a dollar, and it was marvellous what Peter Rolls could afford to
sell for a dollar.

"I Can Furnish Your Flat for Ten Dollars. Why? Because I Work with My
Own Hands," was Peter Rolls's first advertisement. And the Hands had
never lost their cunning since.

He could undersell any other shopkeeper in New York because he got his
salesmen for next to nothing. They were a judicious selection from
among his friends, the tramps. Any man who could recall enough of his
schooling to do a little sum in addition was eligible. He was fed,
clothed, tobaccoed, judiciously beered, watched all day while at work,
and shut up at night in a fireproof, drink-proof cubicle. The plan
proved a brilliant success. The little store downtown became a big
one, and grew bigger and bigger, swallowing all the other stores in
its block; and it was now ten years since the great Sixth Avenue
department store, which could call itself the largest in New York, was
opened under the benediction of the Hands.

Winifred had fancied, because of the balm which was making a fortune,
that Peter Rolls, Sr., was some sort of a glorified chemist. But Mr.
Löwenfeld roared at this idea. The Balm of Gilead was only one of the
lucky hits in the drug department, in itself as big as a good-sized
provincial store. The Hands sold everything, and though the tramps
were long ago dead or abolished, Peter Rolls still undersold every
other store in New York. How did he do it? Well--there were ways.
The hands without a capital H might tell, perhaps; but they did not
talk much. Peter Rolls never had any difficulty in obtaining or
keeping as many of them as he wanted, and could get double the number
if he liked.

"Does he still 'work with his own hands?'" quoted Win at last, feeling
half guilty, as if she ought not to ask questions about Peter's father
behind Peter's back. But the affairs of the Rolls family seemed to be
public property. Mr. Löwenfeld and Miss Seeker both laughed.

"I should love," said the latter, "to see Ena Rolls's face if her
father _did_ work! She spells their name with an 'e'--R-o-l-l-e-s--and
hopes the smart set on Long Island, where their new palace is, won't
realize they're the Hands. Isn't it ridiculous? Like an ostrich hiding
its head in the sand. She runs her father and mother socially. I guess
the old man hardly dares put his nose inside the store, except about
once a year; and Ena and the old lady never buy a pin there. As for
the young fellow, they say he doesn't bother: hates business and wants
to be a philanthropist or something outlandish on his own. I should
say to him, if he asked _me_: 'Charity begins at home.'"

Those last two sentences spoken by Miss Emma Seeker on Winifred
Child's first night in New York had as direct an effect upon the
girl's life as if the ringed hands had come down out of the sky and
clutched her dress. She did not attach much importance to the words at
the time, except to think it snobbish of Miss Rolls and weak of her
mother never to show themselves under the roof where their fortune was
being piled up. Also, she thought it disappointing of Peter junior not
to "bother" about the business which had been his father's life work.
But then Peter was altogether disappointing, as Miss Rolls (with an
"e") had disinterestedly warned her.

It was not until Win had been in New York for a month that the
influence of Miss Seeker's words made itself felt, and the Hands gave
their twitch at the hem of her dress. They had been on her mind often
enough during the four weeks--morning, noon, and night--but she had
never known that she was physically within touching distance.

The "happy omen" of getting her passage to New York free had stopped
working on the _Monarchic_. Since then bad luck had walked after her
and jumped onto her lap and purred on her pillow, exactly like a cat
that persistently clings to a person who dislikes it. All the
positions which she was competent to fill were filled already. Only
those she could not undertake seemed to be open. She tried to sing,
she tried to teach, she tried to report news, she tried to be a
publisher's reader, and to get work in a public library. She tried to
make hats, she tried to act, but nobody wanted her to do any of these
things, unless, perhaps, she went away and trained hard for a year.
When matters began to look desperate, and not till then, she applied
to Nadine.

But Lady Darling had gone back to England, and Miss Sorel, not having
recovered her health after the great tossing at sea, had been replaced
by a brand-new American manageress. No more models were wanted. There
was nothing that Miss Child could do, and the only result of her visit
was delight in the heart of Miss Devereux because "that queer Child
girl was laughing on the wrong side of her mouth." The new manageress
was so preoccupied in manner and so sure that Miss Child's services
would not be needed that Win did not even leave her address. Besides,
as it happened, she had given Miss Hampshire "notice," and had not yet
found another boarding-house.

"I think I ought to try to get into a cheaper place," she explained.
And that was a reason; but another, just as important, was pretty Miss
Seeker's jealousy because Mr. Löwenfeld talked too much to the English
girl at the table.

After all, the best that Win could accomplish after three days' dismal
search was a saving of two dollars a week. For eight dollars she
secured a fourth-story back hall bedroom half as big and half as clean
as Miss Hampshire's, and she laughed aloud to find herself feeling
desperately homesick for the "frying pan." For Win could still laugh.

It was counting her money, the day after a servant at the new
boarding-house stole twenty dollars, that whisked Miss Child's skirt
within reach of the Hands. Things could not go on like this. She must
get something to do at once--no matter what. Another girl in that
house bought newspapers for the sake of the employment notices.
Winifred borrowed the papers and answered many of the most attractive
offers in vain. Next she tried the less attractive ones. When they
were used up--and she also--she came down to what she called bed rock.

In bed rock were advertisements of several large stores for extra help
through the holiday season. Of these Peter Rolls's store was at the
head. "The Hands want hands," was part of the appeal, and Win
instantly turned to something else. It was not until she had applied
for work at six other shops, and found herself too late at all, that
it began to seem faintly possible for her to think of going to Peter
Rolls's father's store.

When the idea did knock at the door of her mind hesitatingly as Peter
junior used to knock at the dryad door, the Hands' advertisement for
help was the last of its kind in the papers. The Hands needed more
hands than any of the other stores.

When Win was just about to say to herself, "That's the one thing I
couldn't do," she remembered Miss Seeker's words. Miss Rolls ruled her
father and mother socially. Peter senior was allowed to show his nose
in the place only about once a year. Mrs. and Miss Rolls never bought
a pin there. Young Peter didn't bother, but wanted to be a
philanthropist. In fact, you would, apparently, be far more likely to
meet a member of the Rolls family in any other shop than their own.

Instead of saying that she could not, Win said: "Why shouldn't I?" She
told herself that in a vast house of business which employed over two
thousand salespeople she would be a needle in a haystack--a needle
with a number, not a name. "I'll go and ask for a place," she answered
her own question.

But almost she hoped that she would not succeed. If she tried, failure
would not be her fault.



CHAPTER VIII

NO. 2884


Morning and girl were gray with cold as Win hovered before the vast
expanse of plate glass which made of Peter Rolls's department store a
crystal palace. Customers would not be admitted for an hour, yet the
lovely wax ladies and the thrilling wax men in the window world wore
the air of never having stopped doing their life work since they were
appointed to it.

But then they had a life work of the most charming description.
Winifred envied them. It was indeed their business to make all men,
women, and children who passed envy them enough to stop, enter the
store, and purchase things to make real life as much as possible like
life in the window world.

All the nicest things which could be done in the strenuous outside
world could in a serene and silent way be done in window world. And
the lovely ladies and their thrilling men had not to hustle from one
corner of the earth to another in order to find different amusements.

In one section of plate-glass existence beautiful girls were being
dressed by their maids for a ball. Some were almost ready to start.
Exquisite cloaks were being folded about their shoulders by
fascinating French soubrettes with little lace caps like dabs of
whipped cream. Other willowy creatures were lazy enough to be still in
filmy "princess" petticoats and long, weblike, silk corsets
ensheathing their figures nearly to their knees. A realistic
dressing-table, a lace-canopied bed, and pale-blue curtains formed
their background. Instead of having to rush half across New York to
the dance, it was apparently taking place next door, with only a thin
partition as a wall.

In a somewhat Louis Seize room several wondrous wax girls and the same
number of young men, with extremely broad shoulders and slender hips,
were dancing a decorous tango. But, if they tired of that, they had
only to move on a section, to find a party of four young people
playing tennis in appropriate costumes against a trellis of crimson
ramblers. Strange to say, a mere wall divided this summer scene from
sports in the high Alps. There was gorgeous fun going on in this
portion of window world, where men and girls were skeeing,
tobogganing, and snowballing each other in deep cotton snow. Next door
they were skating on a surface so mirrorlike that, in fact, it _was_ a
mirror.

A little farther on a young wax mother of no more than eighteen was in
a nursery, caressing an immense family of wax children of all ages,
from babyhood up to twelve years. A grandmother was there, too, and a
hospital nurse, and several playful dogs and cats. In another house
they were having a Christmas tree, and Santa Claus had come in person
to be master of ceremonies. How the children on the other side of a
partition, engaged in learning lessons at school desks, must have
envied those whose Christmas had prematurely come! But best of all was
the automobile race; or, perhaps, the zoo of window world, where
Teddy bears and Teddy monkeys and Teddy snakes and Teddy everythings
disported themselves together among trees and flowers in Peter Rolls's
conception of Eden.

Win had often glanced into these windows before, hurrying nervously
past, but now she lingered, trying to fill her heart with the waxen
peace of that luxurious land of leisure. She walked very slowly all
around the great square, three sides of which were crystal, the fourth
being given up to huge open doors, through which streamed men and
parcels and hurled themselves into motor vans. The idea flashed into
the girl's head that here was the cemetery of window land. In those
big boxes and packages that men furiously yet indifferently carried
out, were the dolls or animals that had smiled or romped behind the
plate glass, or the dresses and hats, the tennis rackets and toboggans
they had fondly thought their own.

This promenade of inspection and introspection put off the evil minute
for a while; but the time came when Win must hook herself on to the
tail of a procession constantly entering at an inconspicuous side
door, or else go home with the project abandoned.

"_Of course_ I shall never see Peter Rolls or his sister here," she
told herself for the twentieth time, and passed through the door
almost on the back of an enormous young man, while a girl closed in
behind her with the intimacy of a sardine.

"Gee! Get on to the tall Effect in brown!" murmured a voice.

"Ain't she the baby doll?" another voice wanted to know.

Winifred heard, and realized that she was the Effect and baby doll in
question. She flushed, and her ears tingled. She thought of the
Arabian Nights tale, where the searcher after the Golden Water was
pestered by voices of those who had been turned to black stones on the
way.

When the cue of tightly packed men and women had advanced along a
corridor on the other side of the doorway, it began mounting a
fireproof staircase. Up and up it went, slowly, steadily rising from
story to story, but it did not spread across the whole width of the
wide, shallow steps. Other men and women, in single file and with no
attention to order, pushed themselves down, the ascending gang
flattening them against the varnished, green wall as they sneaked
hastily past. No one spoke to Win or told her anything (though the big
fellow in front threw her a jovial glance when she trod on his heel,
and she herself ventured a look at the rear sardine), but she knew
somehow that the irregular, descending procession was the defeated
army in flight; those who "would not do." She wondered if she should
be among them after a few hours of vain waiting and standing on her
feet.

Seven flights of stairs she counted, and then she and those in front
and behind debouched into a corridor much longer than that at the
entrance on the ground floor.

"They might have shot us up in the customers' lifts!" snapped the
sardine who had just detached herself from Winifred's spine. "'Twould
have saved their time and our tempers."

"They don't spend money putting up fireproof staircases for nothing,"
mumbled a voice over the sardine's shoulder. "They want to give us a
free exhibition of an emergency exit. But it'll be the only thing we
ever will get free here."

"Except maybe the sack--or the bounce," tittered the sardine.

There was something likable about that sardine. Win felt drawn to her,
which was fortunate in the circumstances.

Nearer and nearer they approached, with a kind of shuffle step, to an
office whose whole front consisted of window. This window was raised,
and electric light streaming out brightened that distant end of the
otherwise economically lit corridor. The advance guard of would-be
hands stepped one at a time in front of a counter which took the place
of a window ledge. Now and then a girl or a man was kept for several
moments talking to a person whom Win could not yet see; a kind of god
in the machine. This halt delayed the procession and meant that a hand
was being engaged; but oftener than not the pause was short, and the
look on the late applicant's face as he or she turned to scurry back
like a chased dog along the corridor told its own story.

Win read each human document, as a page opened and then shut forever
under her eyes, with a sick, cold pang for the tragedy of the
unwanted. She ceased to feel that she was alien to these young men and
women, because they were American and she English. A curious
impression thrilled through her that she and these others and all
dwellers on earth were but so many beads threaded on the same
glittering string, that string the essence of the Creator, uniting all
if they but knew it.

The realization that hearts near hers were beating with hope or dread,
or sinking with disappointment, was so keen that the heavy air of the
place became charged for Win with the electricity of emotion. She felt
what all felt in a strange confusion; and when a stricken face went
by, it was she, Winifred Child, who was stricken. What happened to
others suddenly mattered just as much and in exactly the same degree
as what might happen to her. The weight of sadness and weariness
pressed upon her. The smell of unaired clothes and stale, cheap
perfumes made her head ache.

"Tired, girlie?" inquired the big young man on whose broad back Win
had involuntarily reposed on the way upstairs She was startled at this
manner of address, but the brotherly benevolence on the square face
under a thick brushwood of blond hair reassured her. Evidently
"girlie" was the right word in the right place.

"Not so very. Are you?" She felt that conversation would be a relief.
It was intensely cold yet stuffy in the corridor, and time seemed
endless.

"Me? Huh! Bet yer my place yer can't guess what my job was up to a
month ago."

He turned a strongly cut profile far over his shoulder, his head
pivoting on a great column of throat above a low, loose collar that
had a celluloid gleam where the light touched it. Only one eye and the
transparent gleam of another cornea were given to Winifred's view, but
that one green-gray orb was as compelling as a dozen ordinary seeing
apparatuses.

"If I guessed what's in my mind, I'm afraid it would be silly," said
Win. "You look as if you might be a--a boxer--or---"

"Or what?"

"Or as if you could train things--animals, I mean---"

"Gee-whittaker! If she ain't hit it square in the jaw first round! Go
up ahead, little girl. This is where I move down one."

The sardines were now so loose in their partially emptied box that
they could wriggle and even change positions if they liked. The big
young man wheeled, passed his arm round Winifred's waist as if for a
waltz, half lifted her off her feet, and set her down where he had
been.

"Good gracious!" she gasped.

"That's what you get for bein' a bright child," he explained "The
place is yours. See? If Peter Rolls wants only one more hand when your
turn comes, you're it, and I'm left. I was lion man in Jakes's and
Boon's show, but my best lion died on me, and that kind o' got my
goat. Guess my nerve went; and then brutes is as quick as fleas to
jump if they feel you don't know where you are for once. That shop is
shut for yours truly, so I'm doin' my darnedest to get another. If
Peter Rolls can use me, he can have me dirt cheap. I want to feed my
face again. It needs it!"

"You give Father one straight look between the eyes," suggested the
sardine, now at his back, "sort of as if he was a lion, and I'd bet my
bottom dollar, if I had one, he dasn't hand you the frosty mitt."

"Who's Father?" the lion tamer threw over his shoulder Win had longed
to ask the same question, but had not liked to betray herself as an
amateur.

"Oh, I forgot this was your first party! Wish 'twas mine. Father's
what the supe--the superintendent, the gent in the window--gets
himself called by us guyls."

"Wipe me off the map! I'm some Johnny to cost you all that breath.
But gee! the thought of standin' up to him gets my goat worse 'n twice
his weight in lions. I'm mighty glad this young lady's gotta go
through with it in front of me. Say, maybe you'll push the right bell
with him, too."

"I hope we both may," answered Win fervently. "It's more than kind of
you to give me your place, but really I---"

"Ain't we the polite one?" remarked the lion tamer. "Say, girlie,
you've made a hit with me. Where did you buy your swell accent?"

"Don't make fun of me, please, or I shall drop!" exclaimed Win with a
laugh nipped in the bud, lest it should reach the august ear of
Father.

This way of taking the joke appeased those within hearing, who had
perhaps believed that the tall Effect in brown thought a lot of
herself and was putting on airs. Her seeming to imply that she might
be considered ridiculous inclined censors to leniency.

"Have a spruce cream?" asked a girl in front, screwing her head round
to see what the Effect was like, and offering a small, flat object
about an inch in width and two in length.

"Thank you very much," said Win.

Every one near tittered good-naturedly. Perhaps it was that accent
again! Funny, thought Win. Her idea had been that Americans had an
accent, because they didn't talk like English people who had invented
the language. Americans appeared to think it was the other way round!

She put the flat thing into her mouth and began to chew it. At first
it was very nice; sugary, with a fresh, woodsy flavour which was new
to her. Presently, however, the sweetness and some of the taste melted
away, and instead of dissolving, so that she could swallow it, the
substance kept all its bulk and assumed a rubbery texture exactly like
a doll's nose she had once bitten off and never forgotten. She coughed
a little and did not quite know what to do.

"Good heavens', she's goin' to absorb it!" ejaculated the girl in
front, still twisting to gaze at the tall Effect. "Didn't you never
chew gum before?"

"Only millionaires can afford it in my country," said Win, recovering
herself. The laugh was with her! But every sound made was _piano_.
There was the feeling among the mice that this was the cat's house.

The girl in front who had offered the chewing gum was small and just
missed being very pretty. She had curly hair of so light a red that it
was silvery at the roots. Seeing her from behind, you hoped for a
radiant beauty, but she had pale, prominent eyes and a hard mouth. Win
imagined that the muscles in her cheeks were overdeveloped because of
chewing too much gum.

At last the procession had moved on so far that this girl arrived at
the lighted window. Win's heart, which had missed a beat in a sudden
flurry of fear now and then, began to pound like a hammer.

For the first time she could see the god in the machine, the
superintendent of Peter Rolls's vast store, a kind of prime minister
with more power than the king. She had fancied that he would be old, a
man of such importance in a great establishment, a person who had the
nickname of Father. But her anxious gaze, as she carefully kept her
distance, told that he was not even middle-aged. He was, it seemed, a
curious mixture of cherub and Mephistopheles in type: round faced,
blue eyed, with smooth cheeks that looked pink even in the cruel
electric light. His hair and brushed-up eyebrows were thin and of a
medium brown; but he had a sharply waxed moustache and a little
pointed goatee or "imperial" so much darker in colour that they were
conspicuous objects.

He was talking to the girl in a high-keyed yet somewhat blustering
voice, asking questions which Win could not and did not try to hear.
The answers were given purposely in a low tone, and the girl laid on
the counter several papers from a little black bag at her waist. These
the superintendent took up, unfolding them with plump, dimpled
fingers, like those of a young woman.

With his bright, glancing blue eyes he skimmed the contents of each
paper--probably references, thought Win--and then returned them to
their owner.

"These are no good," he pronounced in a louder voice than before. "And
you don't look strong enough for Christmas work---"

Suddenly the red-haired girl darted her head forward, like that of a
pecking bird, hastily muttered a few words, and drew back, as if
hoping that those not concerned might fail to notice the manoeuvre.

"Oh--er--that's different," said the superintendent in an odd,
uncomfortable tone, with the hint of "bluster" still in it. Win
fancied she heard him add: "What salary?" In any case, the girl
mentioned the sum of eight dollars, and at the same time scribbled
something on a printed paper form pushed over the counter.

"Bet that ain't _your_ line, kid," there came a murmur round the
corner of a velvet bow on Win's hat. So faint was the murmur that she
might almost have dreamed it; but, if uttered, it must have dropped
from heaven or the lion tamer's lips.

Win was burning with curiosity. What two or three talismanic words
could the red-haired girl have whispered so quietly, so secretively,
to change in a second the superintendent's decision? It was almost
like freemasonry. You whispered to the hangman, and he, realizing that
you were a member, took the noose off your neck!

Alas, if Father refused her services, as he almost surely would, she
had no such magic charm to make him change his mind! There was
certainly a mystery, a secret password that did the trick; but the
lion tamer, though a newcomer in this business like herself, appeared
to know or guess, and bet that it "wasn't in her line."

Too late to ask questions! Her time had come. The red-haired girl,
looking prettier than before because of a bright flush on her sallow
face, pranced away, head triumphantly up, and a key and a queer little
book in her hand.

Before Win realized what was happening she stood before the big,
lighted window, longing though not daring to rest her trembling elbows
on the counter. The cherubic yet keen blue eyes were staring into hers
with the oddest expression she had ever seen. If the man had not been
an important official, far above her (he would have thought) in
position, Win might have fancied that he was afraid of her, afraid of
something which he half expected, half dreaded, wishing to avert it,
yet likely to be mortified if it did not come.

"I must be out of my mind," she told herself, at the same time telling
him that she desired an engagement as an extra hand.

"What references?" he inquired, with the mechanical intonation of one
who has put the same question thousands of times.

"I--haven't any," stammered Win. "I'm lately over from England---"

"You don't need to mention that," broke in the superintendent. "I know
London. Have you worked in any of the big department stores
there--Harrods' or Selfridge's?" He looked, Win thought (clinging to a
straw of hope), as if he were not unwilling to help her.

"No, none. I was a model for Nadine. I'm quick at doing figures---"

"The figures that models _cut_ are more to the point, I guess!" The
cherub Mephistopheles smiled at this joke and did not seem to care
just then that his every extra word kept the procession back an extra
instant. "We're not wanting models at present. But if you've had any
experience as a saleslady--you look all right--well, see here, I'll
try and give you a chance. It's up to you to make good, though. What
money do you want? Write it down."

He indicated one of those forms which Win had seen. She hesitated,
then felt that the blue eyes were watching her keenly. Hesitation was
not the way to succeed in this home of hustle. She remembered that
the red-haired girl, though she must have had experience or she would
not have possessed references, had said something about eight dollars.
"I'll say seven," Win told herself, and wrote accordingly on the
paper.

"We can't pay seven dollars per week to a girl without experience,"
pronounced the superintendent promptly. "If you want to take six, I'll
give you a test of character. You ought to be thankful for six. By and
by you may work up into one of the departments where we pay
commissions."

"I'll take six," Win said.

Though already she knew something of the expense of living in New
York, six dollars a week certainly seemed generous compared with
shop-girls' wages at home. She had been told that there they got only
twelve or fourteen shillings, and sometimes less. Of course, in
England, you "lived in." Win had heard that expression, and was aware
of its meaning. She was not yet quite sure what you did in America,
for she had talked to none of her very few acquaintances about the
need she had to look for work in a department store. There was only
one thing she did know in that connection: it would be unwise to ask
Father questions.

She must appear to be "all there," and trust to finding out the
routine of a New York shop-girl's life from one of themselves. She
hoped the sardine would be engaged--nice, trim little sardine with
smooth black pompadour, small white face, jewel-bright eyes,
pugnacious nose, determined chin! A snappy yet somehow trustworthy
sardine.

Still the superintendent was observing her, as if to see whether she
were warranted sound and kind. "I'm going to put you into a bargain
square," said he thoughtfully. "Do you know what that means?"

"I can guess," said she.

"One of our two-hour bargain sales will tell better than anything else
whether you've got stuff in you," he went on. "Have you ever seen a
check book?" was the question now flashed at her.

Win had just sense enough left not to blurt out any nonsense about a
bank. In an instant she realized that the pads upon which salespeople
did hasty sums must be called check books, anyhow in America. She
answered that she had seen one.

"Know what to do with it?"

"On principle. I can soon learn the method."

"Soon's a long word. You may have time for it, _your_ side. We
haven't. Things have gotta be learned on the nail. See here, what
about your dress? Are you wearing black under that jacket?"

Win's heart jumped. She had not expected, if engaged, to begin work
the next moment. She had supposed that she would be told to return the
next morning before the opening hour for customers; otherwise it might
have occurred to her that it would be well to get a ready-made black
dress. But she must not throw away this chance which seemed to be
hanging in the balance.

"No," she answered quickly. "I thought it would be better to buy
something here when I knew just what was wanted. I can find a dress
which will fit, I know. I always can, and I can be in it fifteen
minutes from now."

"Well," the superintendent said with half-grudging approval that lit
a faint twinkle in his eyes, "you're no slow coach for an
Englishwoman. You may do. We sell 10 per cent. off to our employees.
Here's the key of your locker. Here's your check book. When you've got
your dress, ask for the schoolroom. Take fifteen minutes' lesson on
the blackboard for making out your checks, and the rest's up to you.
But look sharp. We've been open to customers for half an hour now. At
ten-thirty a two-hours' bargain sale of blouses, sashes, and ladies'
fancy neckwear opens on the first floor. That's yours. You must be in
the square more than half an hour before the sale begins, to see stock
and learn your job."

He eyed her sharply to see if she were "feazed." But Win had the
feeling that a "stiff upper lip" was needed for the honour of England
and the pluck of its womanhood. She remembered one of the stories she
had loved best as a child--the story of the task Venus set for Psyche
before she could be worthy of Cupid, the lover whose wings she had
burned with a drop of oil from her lamp. Now the girl, grown out of
childhood, understood how Psyche had felt when told to count the
grains of wheat in Venus's granary within a certain time limit.

"Well, anyhow, Psyche didn't ask questions, and I won't," she said to
herself. "The kind ants came and told her things: maybe the sardine
will come to me."

Looking almost preternaturally intelligent and pleased with life, Win
accepted the key and check book, and learned with a shock that, as one
of Peter Rolls's hands, she was No. 2884.



CHAPTER IX

THE TEST OF CHARACTER


The sardine's ears must have been sharp, for although the lion tamer
was between her and Win (like a thick chunk of ham in a thin
sandwich), she had heard something of the conversation at the
superintendent's window.

"Try the basement bargain counters for your dress; you'll get it
cheaper," she flung after the tall Effect in a shrill whisper as the
newly engaged hand flashed by.

There wasn't a second, or even half a second to lose, yet Win
slackened her pace to say "Thank you. I do hope we shall meet again."

Even the lion tamer threw her a look, though already he had taken his
turn at the window; but Win did not see the admiring glance. She was
flying down the stairs she had come up so slowly, and did not pause
for breath until she was in the basement. There it was so crowded and
so hot, though the store had been open to customers not quite an hour,
that there seemed little air to breathe, even had there been time.

Win could see no means of ventilation in the immense room, which was
brightly and crudely lit by pulsing white globes of electricity. There
were no partitions to divide one department from another, and it
seemed as if samples of every article in the world were being sold on
these rows upon rows of heaped-up tables.

Taking her for a customer, a floorwalker saved the bewildered girl
from wasting more than a minute of her valuable time. The thermometer
of his manner fell a degree when he learned that she was an employee;
nevertheless, he directed her to the bargain counter where black dress
skirts were being sold. There was another nearby which offered black
silk and satin blouses. The man asked if she had been told that extra
hands, if on probation, must give money down for anything above the
first week's wage, and looked impressed when the tall girl answered
that she preferred to pay cash for the whole.

"Princess, queen!" he murmured _sotto voce_, and Win might have had
the privilege of exchanging a smile with him on the strength of the
joke, but thought it might be wiser not to have heard.

Luckily black skirts and blouses were not the craze of the moment.
Women were besieging a beehive of corsets and a hotbed of petticoats,
reduced (so said huge red letters overhead) to one third of their
original price. In less than five minutes Win had secured a costume
with the right measurements, and for the two portions of which it
consisted, had paid exactly one week's salary.

With an unwrapped parcel rolled under one arm, she battled her way
back to the staircase she had descended (not daring to squeeze her
unworthy body into a crowded elevator), and toiled up to the eighth
floor. There, she had been told, were dressing-rooms as well as
lockers; a rest room (converted into a schoolroom from the hour of
eight until ten), and the restaurant for women employees.

Lightning change act first! Black Effect to take the place of brown,
a rush for the dressing-room, vague impression of near marble basins
and rows of mirrors; tall, slim girl in front of one, quite the proper
"saleslady" air, in new, six-dollar black skirt and silk blouse
lightened with sewed-in frills of white, fit not noticeably bad; dash
along corridor again for locker room, but sudden wavering pause at
sight of confused group: half-fainting girl in black being handed over
to capped and aproned nurse by two youths at an open door, glimpse of
iron bedsteads etched in black against varnished white wall, door shut
with slap; youths marching light heartedly away, keeping time to the
subdued whistle of "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee."

Girls sometimes faint here, then, before ten o'clock in the morning!
And quite a matter of course to shed them in the hospital room,
otherwise one wouldn't try one's tango steps going away. But never
mind; laugh first, or the world will! Life easier for Peter Rolls's
hands as well as other people if they can live it in ragtime. Your
turn to fall to-day. Mine to-morrow. "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee!"
And whatever you may think, don't lose a minute.

Winifred did not. Perhaps she, too, was beginning to think in ragtime.
She was telling her number to the doorkeeper of the locker room as the
slap of the hospital door ceased to vibrate through the long corridor
on the eighth story.

The locker room had countless rows of narrow cells with iron gratings
for doors; and the gimlet gaze of two stalwart young females pierced
each newcomer. It was their business to see that Peter Rolls's hands
did not pilfer each other's belongings. The gimlet eyes must note the
outdoor clothing each girl wore on arrival, in order to be sure that
she did not go forth at evening clad in the property of a comrade.
Being paid to cultivate suspicion had soured the guardian angels'
tempers. One had a novel by Laura Jean Libbey, the other an
old-fashioned tale by Mary J. Holmes, to while away odd minutes of
leisure; but it appealed to the imagination of neither that any or all
of the girls flitting in and out might be eligible heroines for their
favourite authors, stolen at birth from parent millionaires,
qualifying through pathetic struggles with poverty to become the
brides of other millionaires, or, perhaps, to win an earl or duke.

All the regularly engaged hands had long ago shut up their hats and
cloaks in prison and gone about their business. It was only the extras
who were arriving at this late hour to show their numbers and claim
their lockers. There were comparatively few amateurs. Most of the
girls had had shop experience, but greenhorns betrayed ignorance as
they entered. To them, shortly and succinctly, were explained the
rules: the system of "stubs" dealt out to newcomers as they gave their
numbers and had lockers assigned them--stubs to be religiously kept
for the protection of property from false claimants; the working of a
slot machine, in which must be slipped a card, and the moment of the
morning and midday arrival thus recorded with ruthless exactitude
(twenty-five cents docked off your pay if you were late), and other
odds and ends of routine information, such as the hours at which
lockers might or might not be opened without the presentation of
special passes.

As Win fitted her key into the grated door which would in future
pertain to No. 2884, into the locker room bounced the sardine.

"Hello, Lady Ermyntrude!" said she. "I thought I'd pick you up some
place. Just a jiffy, and we can skip to the schoolroom together, if
your ladyship pleases."

"I am glad!" said Win, and as they went out side by side she ventured
to add: "Please do tell me why you call me Lady Ermyntrude. I hope I'm
not like anything so awful as that?"

"Oh, there's always a Lady Ermyntrude in every English book you read,
and you look as if you'd walked out of one. I don't know why, but you
do. I kind of like you, though."

"So do I you," said Win, but did not tell her that she was a sardine.
This might be a worse epithet in a foreign language even than Lady
Ermyntrude.

"I'm for the toy department. What are you?" rapped out the clear
little voice that matched the clear little personality--a personality
which, at the top of its pompadour, did not reach the tip of Win's
ear.

"Mine is called a two-hour bargain sale---"

"Heaven help you! Basement?"

"No, ground floor."

"Thank your stars. That's a cut above. Most amatoors start in the
basement bargain sales. If they live through the first day of
that--_well!_ But you're all right. You've got the look of the ones
who win."

"That's my name--'Win'--Winifred Child."

"If you ain't the Champion Giant Kid! I'm Sadie Kirk. Here's the
schoolroom. When it ain't that, it calls itself the rest room, you
know. I'm here only because there's a little difference in Rolls's
check system from Bimgel's, where I worked till the grippe laid me low
and my place was filled. I thought I'd try the Hands for a change,
though they say it's the _limit_ and down the other side. So me for
the school! We'll sit together, and if I can help you I will."

"You're a dear," whispered Win.

"You're another. Go there yourself," was the swift retort.

The rest room was really very nice, if there were ever a chance to
rest in it--which, Miss Kirk whispered, was not likely to be the case.
There were wall bookcases with glass doors, a few oak-framed
engravings with a pale-green, "distempered" background, several
chintz-covered sofas with cushions, and plenty of easy chairs.

On small tables lay very back numbers of illustrated papers and
magazines. The high windows had green curtains which softened their
glare and (said Sadie) prevented dust from showing. The brown-painted
floor had decorative intervals of rugs, like flowery oases. Altogether
the room would have been an excellent "show place" if any influential
millionairess began stirring up public interest in "conditions of
shop-girl life."

One end wall of the long, narrow room was almost entirely covered by
an immense blackboard, supposed to represent a check book. In front of
this stood a pale young man with a timid air, who coughed and cleared
his throat a good deal as he explained to a group of girls Peter
Rolls's specially simplified, modernly improved system of adding up
the prices of purchased "goods" in the quickest and most scientific
manner. Win listened intently, easily catching the idea, but wondering
if she should get "rattled" when she had to put it into practice in
the coming "two-hour bargain sale." Miss Kirk, however, soon saw that
the difference between this and other systems was not complicated
enough to trouble her, and let her wits wander from one subject to
another.

"That's a salesman teaching," she whispered up to her tall protégée.
"He's new to the job, I guess, and scared of us guyls; but I bet he
bullies men when he gets the chance! He'll tuyn out another Father."

Win, not having forgotten her curiosity concerning the red-haired
girl's mysterious murmur to the superintendent, longed to question the
sardine, who had the air of knowing everything she ought and ought not
to know. But the newcomer could not afford to lose a word that dropped
from the nervous teacher's lips. "Do tell me about it later," she
pleaded. "I must listen to this."

"All right. Are you lunching in or out?"

"Oh, in, I suppose."

"So will I, then, though I hear it's filthy and the grub vile. We'll
try and make a date."

Win dared not answer. With difficulty she caught the last part of the
lecture. Then her fifteen minutes of schooling were over and the real
battle of life as one of Peter Rolls's hands was to begin.

No time for the luxury of luncheon appointments. The two girls must
meet or not, as luck ordained. The toy department was on the sixth
floor, so the parting came almost at once, and Win went down to meet
her fate alone.

A floorwalker, or "aisle manager," showed her the place where the
"great two-hour bargain sale of coloured blouses, sashes, and ladies'
fancy neckwear" was advertised to begin at ten-thirty. As he steered
the girl through the crowd he looked at her with interest, and she
would have looked with interest at him could she have done so without
his knowing it. She had vaguely heard that shopwalkers in England
could make or break the salespeople. Probably floorwalkers in America
were the same, or more powerful, because everybody in this free
country who had any power at all seemed to have more than he could
possibly have anywhere else.

This man was extremely handsome she saw in the one quick, veiled
glance which can tell a girl as much as a boy is able to take in with
a long stare. He was tall and dark and clean shaven, with polished
black hair like a jet helmet, and brown eyes. Few princes could hope
to be as well dressed, and if he had been an actor, only to see his
shoulders would have made a matinée girl long to lay her head upon
one. _Why_ wasn't he an actor, then, at many dollars a week, instead
of a floorwalker at a few? It must be that his fairy godmother had
forgotten to endow him with some essential talent.

Seeing that he looked at her sympathetically with his rather sad, dark
eyes, Win ventured with all respect to beg a little enlightenment as
to a two-hour bargain sale.

"It means that certain things are marked down for two hours," he
explained, "and after that anything left of the lot goes up to the old
price again. It's a pretty hard test for one who's new to the whole
business. The superintendent, Mr. Meggison, has put you on to a pretty
stiff thing," he added. And then again, after an instant's pause:
"You're going to land in a wasps' nest over there. There's some
electricity in the atmosphere this morning. But keep your head and
you'll be all right."

They came within sight of a hollow square formed by four long
counters. Above it was a placard with red and black lettering which
announced the sale to begin at half-past ten; everything to be sold at
bargain price till twelve-thirty. Within were six saleswomen, two for
each side of the square; and the question flashed through Win's head:
Why had she been imported to make an odd number? It was an exciting
question, taken in connection with the floorwalker's warning.

Until sale time these counters were out of the congested region; and
the six saleswomen were taking advantage of the lull before the storm
to put finishing touches on the arrangement of the stock. The instant
that Win was inside the square it was as if she had been suddenly
swallowed up in a thunder cloud. The head saleswoman (she must be
that, Win thought, judging from the attention paid her by the rest)
was in a black rage--a beautiful Jewess, older than the others, and
growing overplump, but magnificently browed, and hardly thirty yet.

"It's damnable!" she panted, full breast heaving, throat swelling with
stifled sobs, "to put this onto me! Anybody with half an eye can see
through the trick. The Queen of England couldn't get rid of these
nasty rags at a charity bazaar."

She went on without noticing the newcomer, except to flash across
Win's face and figure a lightning, Judith glance which seemed to pitch
a creature unknown and unwanted into the bottomless pit where all was
vile. Her satin-smooth olive hands, with brilliantly polished coral
nails, trembled as, gesticulating, she waved them over the stock which
littered the four counters. She seemed to be throwing her curse upon
blouses, sashes, and ladies' neckwear; and had she been a witch, with
power of casting spells, the masses of silk and satin would have burst
into coloured flame.

"Oh, Miss Stein, don't feel that way about it," pleaded a thin girl
who looked utterly bloodless. "The things are marked down so low maybe
they'll go off."

"Look at them--_look_ at them!" broke out the Jewess. "Is there
anything you'd take for a present, one of you? They might as well have
sent me to the basement and be done with it. But I'll show _him_, and
her, too, how much I care before the day's out."

So fierce was the splendid creature's emotion that Win felt the hot
contagion of it. What had happened she did not know, though evidently
the others did and sympathized, or pretended to. But even she, a
stranger, could spring at a conclusion.

Miss Stein was called upon to sell things which she thought no
customers would buy. Somebody in power had put her in this position,
out of spite, to get her into trouble. There was another woman in the
case. There must be jealousy. This tigerish Judith was suffering as
keenly as a human creature could suffer, and all because of some
blouses, some sashes, and ladies' fancy neckwear, which certainly had
an unattractive appearance as they lay on the counters in confused
heaps.

"He says, 'it's up to you, Miss Stein!'" the quivering voice jerked
out in bitter mimicry. "Up to _me_, indeed! And he gives me this rag
bag!"

"It'll be nuts to _her_ if you're downed," remarked a girl with a
round, pink face.

"Don't you think I _know_ it?" Miss Stein demanded fiercely. Her eyes
filled with tears, which she angrily dried with a very dirty
handkerchief that looked strangely out of keeping in the manicured
hands. "There's nothing to do, or I'd do it, except to give him a
piece of my mind and throw up the job before they have the chance to
fire me."

"You wouldn't--just at this time!" cried the anemic girl.

"Wouldn't I? You'll see. I don't care a tinker's curse what becomes of
me after to-day."

Win's ears were burning as if they had been tweaked. The minutes were
passing. She could ask no help, no information concerning her duties.
If she put a question as to what she was to do she would be snubbed,
or worse. Could the far-away and almost omnipotent Mr. Meggison have
had secret knowledge of this lion's den into which he had thrown her?
He had said the bargain square and the two-hours' sale would be a test
of character. At this rate, she would fail ignominiously, and she did
not want to fail. But neither did she want the beautiful Jewess to
fail. Her anxiety was not all selfish. "A test of character!" Was
there nothing, _nothing_ she could do for her own and the general
good?

Suddenly her spirit flew back to the ship. Peter Rolls's face came
before her. She saw his good blue eyes. She heard him say: "If ever I
can help---"

How odd! Why should she have thought of him then? And no one could
help, least of all he, who had probably forgotten all about her by
this time, Miss Rolls having spoiled his horrid, deceitful game. She
must help herself Yet it was just as if Peter had come and suggested
an idea--really quite a good idea, if only she had the courage to
interrupt Miss Stein.

She and Peter had chatted one night on B deck about the Russian
dancers and Leon Bakst's designs. She had lectured Peter on the
amazing beauty of strangely combined colours, mixtures which would not
have been tolerated before the "Russian craze." Now Peter seemed to be
reminding her of what she had said then, a silly little boast she had
made, that with "nothing but a few rags and a Bakst inspiration" she
could put together a gorgeous costume for a fancy-dress ball.

"When you want to set up for a rival to Nadine, I'll back you," Peter
had retorted, and they had both laughed.

Now, with the immense but impersonal "backing" of Peter Rolls, Sr.'s,
great shop, she had the Bakst inspiration and the tingling ambition to
set up (in a very small way) as a rival to Nadine.

"I beg your pardon," she stammered to Miss Stein, and hastened on as a
fierce, astonished look was fastened upon her from under a black cloud
of stormy brow. "I--I hope you'll excuse my interrupting, but I've
been a model of Nadine's, and--and I have an idea, if you'll allow
me--I mean, you don't seem to like these things we have to sell. I
believe we could make something of them if we hurried."

All through she had the feeling that if she could not hold Miss
Stein's eyes until she had compelled interest, hope was lost. She put
her whole self into the effort to hold the eyes, and she held them,
talking fast, pouring the magnetic force of her enthusiasm into the
angry, unhappy soul of the other.

"What do you mean?" asked Miss Stein, abruptly taking the sharp,
judicial air of the business woman. Half resentful, half contemptuous,
she could not afford to let slip the shadow of a chance.

"I'll show you, if I may," said Win.

She, the outsider, the intruder, suddenly dominated the situation. The
others, even Miss Stein herself, gave way before the Effect in black
as it came close to one of the counters and with quick, decided
touches began manipulating those blouses, sashes, and ladies' fancy
neckwear which the Queen of England could not sell at a charity
bazaar.

A box of steel pins of assorted sizes lay on a cleared corner of the
counter which Win had approached. It had been brought, perhaps, for
the pinning of labels onto the newly repriced stock. Win took a purple
sash and draped it round the waistline of a dull-looking, sky-blue
blouse. Quickly the draping was coaxed into shape and firmly held with
pins. Then under the collar was fastened a crimson bow ("ladies' fancy
neckwear!") which had been hideous in itself, but suddenly became
beautiful as a butterfly alighting on a flower.

"My!" exclaimed the anemic girl, and glanced cautiously from under her
eyelids to see whether approval or disgust were the popular line to
take.

But Miss Stein--still resentful, and now beginning to be jealous of a
green hand's originality and daring taste--was not an Oriental for
nothing. She didn't possess the initiative ability of a designer, but
she could appreciate the crashing music of gorgeous colours met
together on the right notes. Love of colour was in her Jewish blood,
and she was a shrewd business woman also, animated with too vital a
selfishness to let any opportunity of advancement go. She seized the
new girl's idea at a glance, realized its value and its possible
meaning for herself.

"That's queer, but it's smart," she pronounced, and five anxious faces
brightened. "I'd 'a' thought o' that if I hadn't been so awful
worried; my head feels stuffed full o' wadding. I don't seem to have
room for two ideas. Me and you can tell the guyls what to do, and
they'll do it. See here, as fast as we get those things fixed we'll
hang 'em up on the line and make a show. Gee! they'll draw the dames a
mile off, just out of curiosity and nothing else."

"And when we get them we'll get their money, too," Win prophesied
cheerfully. "We'll christen these things Pavlova Russian Sash-Blouses,
and say it's the latest dodge only to _pin_ them together so
purchasers can change the drapery to fit their figures. When we've
sold all we can finish before ten-thirty we'll make a point of pinning
on drapery and neckties in the customers' presence to suit their
taste. I can undertake that part, if you like."

"You do think you're _some_ girl, don't you?" was Miss Stein's only
comment. But Win saw that she meant to accept the scheme and "work it
for all it was worth."

A light of hope and the excitement of battle shone down the dull flame
of anger in her eyes. There was no gleam of gratitude there, and if
Win had wanted it she would have been disappointed; but just at this
moment she wanted nothing on earth save to push that beautiful Jewess
to a triumph over "_him and her_" and to make the two-hour sale of
Pavlova Russian Sash-Blouses a frantic, furious success.



CHAPTER X

PETER ROLLS'S LITTLE WAYS


Something strange had happened in the ground-floor bargain square. The
wasps' nest had suddenly turned into a beehive. The buzz of rage had
lulled to the hum of industry. Fred Thorpe, the "aisle manager," was
blessed with the tact which only some secret sympathy or great natural
kindness can put into a man; and it had kept him at a distance from
Miss Stein that morning. He knew the inner history of that particular
bargain sale, and there were reasons why he should understand with
peculiar acuteness the humiliation she had been doomed to endure. His
presence on the scene would make matters worse, and he had obliterated
himself as much as possible.

Nevertheless he saw all that went on in that direction, and the sudden
and remarkable change which took place immediately after the tall
English girl's arrival amazed him. He did not know what to make of it,
but it was so evidently a change for the better, and the time before
the sale was so short, that he decided to sink conventions and let the
saleswomen alone.

The floorwalker had plenty of other things to keep him busy, but his
subself eyed the strenuous, mysterious preparations for the coming
two-hour sale of blouses, sashes, and ladies' fancy neckwear. Five
minutes ago the unfortunate stock (which finished the latest chapter
of Stein-Horrocks-Westlake-Thorpe inner history) had laid in neglected
heaps on the four counters which walled in the hollow square. Miss
Stein and her five companions had confined their energies to examining
labels, and that in a perfunctory manner, a mere cloak for feverish
whisperings. The sale was doomed to failure--had been doomed from the
moment that Mr. Horrocks, the manager of the department (who was also
a sub-buyer), had "dumped" a disastrous purchase from a bankrupt sale
onto the girl whom every one knew he had jilted for Miss Westlake.
There was far more in it than that; an intricate intrigue of shop
life. But so much at least was common property in the department; and
the elevation of Miss Westlake, the humiliation of Miss Stein, could
be seen by all, for Miss Westlake close by was selling the most
entrancing new fichus which had begun the day with a _succès fou_.

No use advising Miss Stein to buck up and do her best. Anything Fred
Thorpe could say on the subject would be bitterly misconstrued. He
realized that her conception of the part to play was to make the worst
of things instead of the best and snatch what satisfaction she could
from a flare-up. That was what Horrocks wanted, of course, but she was
past caring, or so it seemed until the sudden change took place after
the appearance of the new girl.

Soon Thorpe began to understand the scheme. With an eye for colour and
a swiftness of touch that was almost incredible, unsympathetic blouses
were changed into daring yet dainty "confections." As fast as the
girls finished draping the sashes and pinning on fantastically
knotted ties of contrasted colours, they hung up the most attractive
of their creations on lines above the counters which had been meagrely
furnished forth with a few stringy, fringed sashes. While some girls
worked like demons in transforming "stock," others arranged it on the
lines and counters. Complete "Pavlovas" only were displayed in
prominent places. Such things as could not be ready in time for the
sale opening were grouped as prettily as possible, according to colour
schemes, on the two less conspicuous of the four counters--those which
faced away from the more frequently occupied avenues of approach.

This was doubtless Miss Stein's experienced contribution to the plan
of battle; but, clever saleswoman as she was, when brain and heart
were cool, Thorpe realized that all credit for originating the scheme
should be given to the new girl. "She's a live wire," he said to
himself, though his deepest sympathies were for Miss Stein. And he saw
the "smartness" of Mr. Meggison in "spotting" No. 2884 for this place.

Meggison was, of course, "onto" the situation, for the whole secret of
the man's sudden rise lay in his capacity for knowing and keeping
track of every current and undercurrent of life in each department.
With Miss Stein at their head, her five assistants would not put the
energy of one into disposing of the hated stock, therefore Meggison
had sent an "extra." He had chosen a new girl because she would not
"take sides," and a girl who looked as if she might hold her own
against odds, because she would need all her "ginger" if she were to
"make good." Besides Thorpe said to himself, Meggison might have his
eye upon her, perhaps, as something out of the common run of extras
merely hired for the holidays and intend to test her.

Somehow all the department managers and floorwalkers and head salesmen
smiled dryly when they thought of Meggison (who had lately been
promoted) in connection with any girl. They seldom put into words what
lay behind the smile, for you never knew who might be a spy--a "sneak"
or a "quiz." But all the men knew his one laughable weakness, and
would rather get hold of a "sample" of it than be treated to a
champagne dinner at the Waldorf.

Long before half-past ten women who wanted blouses and had seen the
newspaper advertisements of the two-hour bargain sale began to inquire
where it would be held. Thorpe was constantly obliged to direct them,
and watching them group where they could see the decorations of the
square, his ears were sharpened for comments.

The quick minds of American women soon caught the idea which the
colour arrangement conveyed. "Why, it's like the things the Russian
dancers wear!" said one.

"It's the newest trick I've seen yet," said another.

Thorpe could not help thinking of the difference between these
exclamations and those he had expected to hear when the advertised
blouses first burst on the beholders eyes.

At ten-thirty to the second the waiting women pounced. Win's nerve
failed her for an instant in the hot forefront of her first battle,
but she caught at Miss Kirk's remembered words: "You've got the look
of those who win," and the floorwalker's advice: "Keep your head and
you'll be all right." She mustn't be a coward. She mustn't fall at
her first shot.

Soon she realized that she need expect no help from Miss Stein or the
five satellites who took their cue from her. The Russian inspiration
had happened to be acceptable but she was to be shown that she mustn't
take advantage of her start. The question or two she began to ask had
for an answer: "Good Lord, don't bother _me_!" "If you can't see for
yourself, what are your eyes for?" or "This ain't the schoolroom, I
_don't_ think!"

Maybe, she told herself, the girls were not always like this. To-day
they were desperate, and no wonder. She mustn't mind a few snubs. They
hardly knew what they were saying. The check book was more formidable
than it had seemed on the blackboard, and she envied the others their
quick, almost mechanical way of adding and subtracting. Would she ever
be like that? Meanwhile the thing was to keep the entries in her check
book correct.

She was saved, perhaps, by the need which soon arose for one girl to
put in shape for customers the blouses, sashes, and ties which had not
been pinned together. Just as her brain began to reel over a difficult
calculation which must be made in a clamouring hurry, Miss Stein
commanded a change of work.

"As soon as you're through with this customer," was the order.

Win took time to draw breath and finished the sum correctly "I should
have gone flump over the next!" she thought, with a thankful sigh, for
she was in her element, choosing colours and draping sashes to suit
customers' "styles." Miss Stein grudged her the distinction, but
granted it for the sake of business. If the girl showed signs of
"uppishness" when the sale was over she should soon be made to see
that it wouldn't pay.

Even as it was, Win used up one whole check book, containing fifty
order forms, and also her own vitality. She had no time to realize how
tired she was until half-past twelve brought the sale to an end. Even
then a thing that happened pushed away thought of self for a few more
moments.

Walking beside Mr. Thorpe, the aisle manager, came a big,
auburn-haired, red-moustached man of thirty three or four, with a
particularly pleasant, smiling face of florid colour and excitable
blue eyes. He looked boyishly obstinate, and yet, Win thought, as if
he might be easy to "get round," unless some prejudice kept him firm.
She would not have thought of him at all had not the flush which
suddenly swept over Miss Stein's face suggested that this was "he."

Win was instantly sure that here was the man in the case; now,
_cherchez la femme_! And she had not to search far.

The two men did not come to the bargain square, but he of the red
moustache slowed down to throw a glance of intense interest at the
denuded counters and the customers who lingered, though the sale was
ended, to buy "Pavlovas" at their suddenly augmented price. He spoke
to the floorwalker, and got some answer which Miss Stein would
evidently have given at least a week out of her life to hear. Then the
pair passed on, but only to pause again plainly--too plainly--in sight
of all eyes in the hollow square.

The red-moustached man parted company with his companion and went
straight to a counter where lace scarfs and fichus and wonderful
boudoir caps were achieving a brilliant success. Instantly a
fairy-like brunette with cherry lips and a bewitching, turned-up nose
came forward with a sweet meekness that was the subtlest kind of
coquetry. Whatever he had to say was said in a second or two, and the
girl answered as quickly. But she went back to work with a conscious
look which would to any watching woman announce that she considered
the man her property.

"Little pig!" Win said to herself. "She's purring with joy because
Miss Stein saw. (_Do_ pigs purr?) Anyhow I _am_ glad we've made a
success. That must be some comfort! Why, at the Hands it's like a big
theatre with a lot of different stages, where the curtains go up
unexpectedly and give you a glimpse of an act."

But exciting as the plays were, the one in which she herself had a
part began to seem very long drawn out when the first wild rush of the
two-hour act was over. Miss Stein, without a word of appreciation to
the new recruit who had saved the day, went off with the anemic girl
to lunch. Two others left at the same time, and only a couple of the
old guard remained to hold the fort with Win. Three were quite enough,
however, to cope with the diminished trade. Customers, as well as
saleswomen, were thinking of food; and as the crowd in the shopping
centres of the great store thinned perceptibly, no doubt it thickened
to the darkening of the air in the famous Pompeian restaurant on the
top floor.

Most of the best "confections" in the hollow square were sold, and
Win was aware, as interest slackened, that she felt "rather like a
hollow square" herself.

There was a little "flap" chair turned up against each of the four
counters, and at ebb-tide of custom Win looked at them wistfully.

"I suppose we're allowed to sit down for a minute when there's nothing
to do?" she inquired of a plump, dull-eyed girl who was furtively
polishing the nails of one hand with the ball of her other palm.

"We're legally allowed to, if that's what you mean," replied the
other. "But we're not encouraged to. I wouldn't, my first day,
anyways, if I was you."

"Thank you very much," said Winifred. "It's good of you to tell me
things. I won't sit down, since you advise me not. But it is hard,
standing up so long, especially after such a rush as we've had, isn't
it?"

"Oh, if you think _this_ is hard!" echoed the plump girl, Miss Jones.
(Win noticed that the saleswomen called each other by name, though
officially they were numbers.) "You ain't bin three hours yet. Wait
and see how you feel to-night when ten o'clock comes."

"Ten o'clock!" gasped Win. "I thought we closed at six."

"We're supposed to shut up then, but folks won't go these busy weeks.
They can't be chased out. And _we_ have to stay hours after they
_have_ gone, putting away stock and--oh, shucks of things. Little do
the swell dames care what happens to _us_ once they're outside the
doors. I guess they think we cease to exist the minute they don't need
us to wait on them."

"I've always heard that rich American women took such an interest in
the working--I mean, in us, who work," Win hastily amended.

"Oh, when they're old or sick of their diamonds and their automobiles
they think it'll be some spree to come and stir us guyls up to strike
against our wrongs. But when we've struck it's just about their time
for getting sick of us. I got caught that way once when I worked in a
candy-box factory. I bet I don't again! See here, I'm kind of sorry
for you if you thought the Hands was a party where they asked you to
sit down and have afternoon tea. Fred Thorpe, the floorwalker in this
depart, is a real good feller, and he'd be glad to give us a rest--a
big difference between him and _some_ I've knowed! But he dasn't treat
us as white as he'd like. In this show every _Jack_ and _Jill_ is
watched from above. There ain't nobody except Father himself das' call
his soul his own. If a chap thinks he's safe to do some tiny thing his
own way, gee! a brick falls smack on his head. That's one of Peter
Rolls's little ways."

Win shivered slightly to hear that name thus used, but Miss Jones was
absorbed in her subject.

"Us guyls ain't even supposed to talk to each other, except about
business," she went on. "But that's just the one thing they _can't_
stop, and they know they can't, so they have to wink at it. You see,
though, the way I keep folding the goods or pretending to look for
something every instant, so you'd most think I'd got the St. Vitus's
dance? Well, that's because if we just stood with our heads together
poor Thorpe would have to come careering over here and inquire what
was the subject of our earnest conversation. He'd hate it like poison,
but he'd do it all the same, or the feller above would know the
reason why."

"I thought he seemed kind and nice--I mean Mr. Thorpe," said Win.

"No use trying to mash him! He's gone on Dora Stein. Say, did you get
on to the _sale_ job? I somehow thought you did."

"I saw there was some trouble," Win hesitated.

"Trouble? There's nothing but trouble. Anybody'd think we was asking
for it! This blessed depart is upset from way back since the
promotions began. Our last superintendent got the sack through his
drunken wife coming around the place makin' scenes. And Mr. Meggison
was put over another man's head. That made t'other feller so mad he
blowed out his brains. 'Twas in the papers, but it got hushed up
mighty quick. The news, not the brains, I mean! Old Saint Peter knows
some tricks of hushin' up.

"Well, anyways, that set the ball rolling, and our head salesman was
jumped up to be department manager and buyer right over Thorpe's head.
'Twas too much for him, and he gave Dora Stein the toss. Now he wants
her out of his shine, and he dumped some jay stuff he bought in a
bankrupt sale on her to get rid of. The head buyer give him beans for
bein' fooled over a snide lot of trash like that, so what he does is
to visit it on us. He hoped Dora'd get mad and clear out so he
wouldn't see her eyes on him every time he walked past to give Miss
Westlake, his new guyl, the glad eye. But I guess now Miss Stein's
made such a big success where he hoped she'd fail, she'll stay pat."

As Miss Jones finished her story she watched Win's face to see if it
changed, but there was no sign that the newcomer grudged Miss Stein
the credit. She was actually smiling.

"There's something _queer_ about that girl," Miss Jones presently
murmured to Miss McGrath at the other end of the square, as Win was
called upon to serve a lady who had been told at luncheon about the
Pavlovas. "She ain't _natural._ What'll you bet she's a spy? I'm goin'
to ask Miss Stein what she thinks."



CHAPTER XI

DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST


Miss Kirk was almost ready to go from the restaurant to work again
when Win appeared, a three-cent entrance ticket in her hand, to face
an atmosphere crowded with sundry uncongenial members of the vegetable
kingdom.

"Hello, 2884 England!" Sadie feigned facetiously to call her up by
telephone. "Got yer number, all right, you see! I begun to think
they'd rung me off, so I wouldn't get onto you again this side heaven.
And say, that reminds me: heaven looks a long way from here, don't
it?"

Win smiled.

"Good thing! You ain't got yer smile rubbed off yet. Stick to it if
y'can. It's a fine prop. I otta go in a minute, but you're such a
chicken if I don't watch out for you y'might get lost in the wash. Any
one put you wise on that three-cent billy doo?"

"The girl at the door told me I was to buy it of her," said Win, "and
then I could divide it up for three different things to eat. But _can_
one get _three_ different things to eat for three cents? It seems
wonderful!"

"You won't be so much surprised when you've got 'em et. _I'd_ try a
soup, a mutton sandwich, and a cuppa cawfee for _eight_ cents, if I
was you. But see here, I ain't goin' to feed my face in this ranch
after to-day. I knowed pretty near how punk 'twould be from things
guyls told me about the Hands, and I only took a meal so as to see you
and ask how the Giant Child was gettin' along. No more o' this grub
for mine! And if I was in your place I'd go out to eat. You get a
breath o' fresh air; and a cuppa hot chocolate for a nickel at a drug
store, with a free lunch o' crackers thrown in, 'll do you a sight
more good than the best there is in _this_ dope shop."

Long before Miss Kirk had finished pouring out advice, the eight-cent
lunch of soup, sandwich, and coffee had been slapped down on a dirty
tablecloth by a frantic rabbit of a waitress. The big restaurant was
dim, even at midday, because its only windows gave upon a narrow court
which separated that part of the building from another part of equal
height. It was so dark that perhaps the hard-worked females who
cleaned it might be excused for passing blemishes sunlight would have
thrown into their faces.

One did not exactly _see_ the dirt (except on the cheap, unbleached
"damask" flung crookedly over the black oilcloth nailed onto table
tops); but, like a cowardly ghost that dares not show itself, in some
secret, shuddering way the squalor was able to make its presence felt.
Now and then a black beetle pottered across the oilcloth-covered
floor; and though a black beetle may happen anywhere, it potters only
where it feels at home, otherwise it scurries about in desperate
apology for living. The soup was cold and greasy and tasted of an
unscoured pot. The mutton sandwich, as Sadie remarked, would have been
better suited to the antique department; and the coffee, though hot,
might as easily have been tea or cocoa, or a blend of all three.

"What a shame to feed their people like this!" exclaimed Win, who had
thought she was hungry, but now found herself mistaken. And again the
eyes of Peter Rolls, Jr., seemed to be looking straight into hers. No
wonder he was what his sister hinted at if he knew all about this and
had not the heart to care! And if he didn't trouble to know, it was
just as bad.

"They don't want to feed us, you see," said Sadie, slowly finishing a
baked apple which looked like a head-hunter's withered trophy. "On the
low prices they're obliged to charge they can't make a cent offen us.
Besides if all the guyls et in the house they'd have to give up more
of their valuable room. They'd rather we'd go out, so long as we're
back in time. Only the poorest ones, who have to look twice at every
cent, feed in the restaurant as a reg'lar thing; or the weak ones,
who're so dead tired they can't bear to take a nextra step. And oh, by
the way, talkin' o' that, you'll need foot powder. Your first week
your feet'll hurt that bad you'll be ready to bawl. But if you can
stand it and your back bein' broke in two at the waist it'll be better
the week after, and so on, till you won't notice so much. Now I _must_
go or I'll be docked, and I ain't the betrothed of a millionaire yet.
But tell me where you live. Me and you might see something of e'
juther, if you feel the way I do."

"I liked you the minute I looked round the corner of my shoulder and
saw you plastered onto my back!" laughed Win, already revived, not by
the food, but by some subtle emanation of strength and sympathy from
the more experienced girl. "I wish I could live near you. The
boarding-house where I am is too expensive, and I've given notice to
leave on Saturday."

"My! You'd turn up your nose at Columbus Avenue, I guess," said Miss
Kirk. "That's where I hang out. It ain't a boardin'-house. What's the
use shellin' out for meals and not bein' home to them? I'd like awful
well to have you in the same movie with me. There ain't a guyl I care
to speak to on the film! But the 'L' runs past the place, and some
folks say it otta be spelled with 'H.' The noise pretty near drove me
bughouse at fyst, but I'm settlin' down to it now. And oh, say, that
big feller whose best lion died on him (good thing 'twasn't his best
guyl!) he told me he's come to Columbus to room with the chum w'at put
him onto wuykin for the Hands. He's in the toy department with me and
feels real at home with the Teddy bears. I could get you a room in my
house for two dollars per."

"Per what?" Win was obliged to ask.

"Per week. Per everything. And if you take my tips about grub, and do
your own waists and hank'chiffs Sundays--laundry 'em, I mean, instead
of wallerin' in bed like a sassiety bud, you'll have money to burn or
put in the mishrunny box."

"I'll come!" exclaimed Win. "Please engage the room. If it's good
enough for you, it's good enough for me, and I'll put up with the
noise for the sake of your society."

"My! Thanks for the bookays and choclits! Ta, ta! I'll wait for you
to-night at the stage entrance with the other Johnnies."

She was off with the promptness of a soubrette after an "exit
speech," and Win was left to sip her stale coffee or spend what
remained of her "off time" in the rest room next door.

Legally, Peter Rolls was supposed to give his hands an hour for the
midday meal, but in the rush of the holiday season a way had been
found for whipping the inconvenient little law devil round the post.
Employees were asked to "lend" the management half of the legally
allotted hour, the time to be repaid them later, so that after
Christmas they might take once a week an hour and a half in the middle
of the day instead of an hour. Those in the know had learned that, as
on Christmas Eve most of the extra hands received with their pay
envelope a week's notice to quit, they, at least, never got back the
half-hours lent. As for the permanent hands, it would amount to a
black mark secretly put against their names if they dared lay claim to
the time owing. Win, however, was blissfully ignorant of this, and
though she was tired, the arrangement seemed fair to her. As she got
up from the table to spend fifteen minutes in the rest room she was
almost happy in the thought of having the sardine for a neighbour.

Two of the girls who had come up from the bargain square with her, on
the return of Miss Stein and their other seniors, looked after Win as
she passed out of the restaurant.

"There goes Miss Thank-you-I-beg-your-pardon," said the young lady who
had wondered if 2884 were a spy. "She's got a smile as if she was
invited to tea with the Vanderbilts."

"By this time next week I bet she smiles the wrong side of her mouth
if she puts on any airs with Dora Stein."

"Hum-m, yeh. Unless what you think's so, and she's on the right side
o' Father."

It was true, as the girls had warned the new hand, when six
o'clock--closing time--came, you "couldn't chase the dames out." The
salespeople began to put things away, and some even ventured to remind
customers that the shop shut at six; but ladies who believed
themselves possessed of the kindest hearts on earth pleaded that they
must have _one_ more thing, only _just_ one, to complete their list
for that day. Those who were too cross and tired to think about hearts
or anything else except their own nerves, made no excuses at all, but
demanded what they wanted or threatened a report to the floorwalker if
a saleswoman were "disagreeable."

"Look at them!" snapped Miss Stein, maddened by a consignment of more
blouses from the bankrupt sale (which had brought upon Horrocks the
gibes of the head buyer), blouses without sashes, which not even
Poiret could have turned into "Pavlovas." "Look at them, the fat, old,
self-satisfied lemons, with their hats and their dresses and their
squeezed-in corsets and shoes, and even their back hair, bought in
sweat shops like ours! Pills, going to their homes to say their
prayers, and then, full o' dinner, to the meeting of the Anti-Sweats.
I know em! Maybe _they'll_ do some o' the sweatin' in kingdom come!"

Already Win had learned that a "lemon" or a "pill" was a customer who
made as much trouble as possible for as small as possible a return;
but it gave her a stab to hear Peter Rolls's great department store
called a "sweat shop." Again she saw the eyes. Was she never to get
rid of the memory of those hypocritical blue eyes?

Nobody thought of being ready for home until nearly ten o'clock; and
long before that Miss Stein's nerves felt as if they had been run,
like threads, through the eyes of hot needles. Again Win had helped
her in the afternoon by placing blouses of congenial colours together
on the counters instead of letting them lie anyhow, as Miss Stein, in
her recklessness, would have done. But less than ever had the elder
girl seen reason for thanking Miss Child when the second instalment of
"punk" goods was brought out of "reserve."

If the first lot had not gone off so soon they would not have been
saddled with this, and so 2884 had, in Miss Stein's estimation, done
nothing at the end of the day except "show herself off" and make
everybody work twice as hard as necessary. She would not tell Win how
to put things away, or let anybody else help her out.

"You gotta learn for yourself or you never will," she said sharply,
all the more sharply because Fred Thorpe, the floorwalker, happened to
be within earshot.

"I don't care what he thinks of me!" she said fiercely to herself,
knowing that Thorpe would understand and disapprove her injustice to
the new girl. But it was only half true that she did not care.

She was longing desperately for somebody to love her; and though she
could not in decency have accepted, after the way she had treated him,
she wished that Thorpe would ask her to have supper with him that
night. The Westlake pig, she knew, was going to Dorlon's for a pan
roast with Horrocks, for the creature had told all the girls who were
sure to run with it to her, Dora Stein. Thorpe would have been a faded
flag to flaunt in the face of the enemy--a floorwalker, to one who had
mashed a department manager! Still it would have been comforting to
know that she still had attractions for some one, and at least she
would have liked the chance to refuse an invitation.

Thorpe, on his part, would joyfully have asked her, for he could not
quite "unlove" the beautiful face he had once adored, though he knew
now exactly what a fierce spirit lived behind it. He was well aware of
his own weakness and was humble enough to confuse with it the kindness
of heart which permitted such treatment as he had received.

No girl, not even Dora Stein herself, would dare risk offending any
other of the floorwalkers, men able to break a saleswoman if they "got
a down" on her. But Dora knew only too well that he would not demean
himself to take revenge on her or any one. And probably she believed
that he would not punish or even "call her down" for injustice to a
newcomer.

Thorpe was miserable that night, for he had missed few incidents of
the day in Dora's neighbourhood. He recognized a "live wire" when he
saw one, and he did see that 2884 had "stuff" in her. She deserved to
be praised, and encouragement was all that she needed to turn her into
a valuable saleswoman, one who might become a "real winner" some day.
He could help her by speaking a few kind words, but Miss Stein would
think them spoken on purpose to spite her, and that wouldn't do 2884
much good if she stayed in the blouse department. Also he could help
her by mentioning in the right quarter her generalship in the matter
of the "Pavlovas" instead of letting Dora take the credit. But if he
did the girl any sort of justice he would be harming Miss Stein.

"I don't know what to do! I guess I shall have to leave the thing to
Providence--and the devil take the hindmost!" he thought gloomily.

It seemed to Win, as she went out at last, a week since she had come
in by the same door. It was like a play she had seen, where, in the
second act, the people who had been young in the first were
middle-aged when the curtain next rose; and in the third they were
old, all in the course of a few hours. But a year or two seemed to
drop from her shoulders when she caught sight of Miss Kirk waiting for
her in the street. Beside Miss Kirk, to the surprise of 2884, towered
the lion tamer.

"Well, I thought you'd never come!" was the greeting of Sadie. "But
all's well that ends well. And Mr. Teddy Lion here wants to take us
some place for a little supper."

"That ain't no way to interdooce me to the lady, kid," said the big
fellow. "She won't look my way if you treat me light like that. My
name's Earl Usher. Honest truth, 'tis, off the bills! Y'will come
along, won't you?"

"You're very kind," Win began in the conventional way that he had
laughed at in the morning. Then, afraid of being teased again, she
said that she must go home.

"I don't know what my landlady will think," she excused herself. "I
walked out early this morning, never dreaming I should be gone until
late at night."

"Well, she can't kill you," suggested Miss Kirk, "and, anyhow, you're
leavin' the end of the week. I think you'll be real mean if you won't
come. I know what your reason is, and so does _he._ He ain't nobody's
fool. Do you s'pose I'm the sort would do anything myself, or ask you
to do anything, that wasn't all right? We ain't in the Four Hundred,
nor yet in court circles, I _don't_ think. And this ain't London nor
it ain't Boston. Thank Gawd it's little old N'York."

"But---" Win persisted, and stopped.

"I know what's got her goat," said Earl Usher. "It's that slush o'
mine this morning about not bein' a millionaire and my face needin' to
be fed. I thought afterward 'that's no talk for a gen'leman to use
before a lady.' Well, I may not be a millionaire at present, but I can
see my way to feedin' our t'ree faces and not feel the pinch."

"Ain't you the fresh guy?" exclaimed Miss Kirk. "Our faces are our
own, thank you _just_ the same, and this is a Dutch treat. You might
'a' knowed we'd stick _that_ close to ettiket. I can run to fifteen
cents, as far as I'm concerned How is it with you, Miss Child?"

"I can run to that, too," said Win.

"Same here," announced the big young man; "though I'd set my heart on
t'other kind o' treat. Where shall it be? I suppose we mustn't think
o' the Waldorf--what?"

"Huh!" snorted Miss Kirk, "not for mine, if I owned the mint! I bin to
the Waldorf wunst, of course. I went just out of curiosity to see how
the swells et. Wunst is enough, like goin' to the menagerie. Y'owe it
to yer intelligence to see all the different forms of animal life the
good Lord has created, behavin' accordin' to their kind, and then
come back to your own, thankin' Gawd you're not as they are. We'll eat
at Ginger Jim's, where we can lean our elbows on the tables and get
perfectly good oyster soup for ten cents a head!"

They walked for a while, Earl Usher insisting on the two girls taking
his arms, one on either side. By and by they got into a crosstown car,
and it was when Win was being helped out by the lion tamer that a
motor dashed past. The existence of people who went about in splendid
gray motor cars seemed to Win so far away from her own just then that,
standing in the street, her hand in Earl Usher's, she gazed into the
large, lighted window of the automobile as she might have gazed
through a powerful telescope at a scene of family life on Mars.

There were two girls in evening dress and two young men in the
illuminated chariot. It flashed by like a Leonid, but left a gay
impression of flower-tinted velvet cloaks and ermine and waved hair
with a glitter of diamonds and oval white shirtfronts and black coats.
Also a pair of eyes seemed to look for the twentieth part of a second
into Winifred's.

"I don't believe it was he!" she said to herself when the motor had
gone by.



CHAPTER XII

BLUE PETER


Peter Rolls, Sr., and Peter junior were both unhappy in vastly
different ways. One difference was that Peter junior knew he was
unhappy and suspected why. Peter senior had no idea that what he
suffered from was unhappiness. He thought that it was indigestion, and
he supposed that feeling as he felt was the normal state of men
passing beyond middle age. When you were growing old you could not
expect to keep much zest or personal interest in life or to enjoy
things, so he had always been told; and dully, resignedly, he believed
what "they" said.

If any one had told him that he was a miserable man he would have been
angry, and also surprised. Why the dickens should he be miserable? He
considered himself one of the most successful men in New York, and his
greatest pleasure was in recalling his successes, step by step, from
the time before he got his foot on the first rung of the ladder all
the way up to the top.

Often he lay awake at night pondering on those first days and first
ambitions. If he began to think of them when he went to bed it was
fatal. He became so pleasantly excited, and the past built itself up
so realistically all about him, that he could not go to sleep for
hours. What a sensational "bed book" is to some tired brains, that
was his past to the head of the Hands. Besides, he had everything in
the world that he or anybody else (it seemed to him) could possibly
want. Perhaps it was a little irritating when you could have all you
wanted not to know what to want. But, he consoled himself, that must
be so with all rich people. The best thing was not to think about it.

He was convinced that he loved mother as dearly as ever a husband had
loved a wife. They were uncomfortable together, but wretched apart.
That was marriage. There was nothing more in it.

They hadn't much to say to each other. But you never saw husbands and
wives chatting together like love birds after the honeymoon. You
wanted a bright-cheeked, laughing girl, and you got her. If you were
faithful to each other, and didn't have rows, it was an ideal match,
especially if there were children.

Peter Rolls was very fond of his children. When they were little they
had been the joy of his life; the thought of them had been the only
one that warmed his heart and gave him almost superhuman energy to
take the future by the horns like a bull and force a ring through its
bleeding nose that it might be ready for them to ride when they grew
up.

Now they were grown up, and they were riding; and it was natural that
the fire of the heart should have calmed. He was proud of the pair,
very proud. Pete (no, he mustn't call him by that name. Ena didn't
like it, said it sounded common) Peter--or Petro, if he preferred--was
a gentleman and made a good show for every dollar that had been spent
on him. Put him with an Astor or a Livingston and you couldn't tell
the difference!

Once, a long time ago, old Peter had dreamed of a young Peter
succeeding him in the business; but Ena had made him see what a
foolish dream that was--foolish and inconsistent, too--because, what
was the good of slaving to satisfy your ambition, and then, when you
reached the goal, instead of profiting by what you'd got, ordering
your heir down to the level you'd worked to leave behind?

Peter senior had entirely come round to Ena's view, and instead of
regretting that Peter junior hadn't in him the making of a hard-boiled
man of business who'll do anything to succeed, father stopped Peter
abruptly whenever he showed an inconvenient sign of interest in the
Hands and what went on under the glitter of their rings. Nor was
Peter's interest of the right kind. It was not what Peter senior
called practical.

Ena, now! There was a girl to be proud of. Father was so proud that
pride of his splendid daughter had frozen out or covered with ashes
the glow which used to fill his heart at the thought of her. But pride
was the right thing! That was what he had worked for: to make of his
children a man and woman to be proud of when the top stone was on his
pile.

Ena was _more_ than a lady. She was an orchid, a princess. She ruled
father with her little finger--a beautifully manicured, rose-and-white
finger, such as he had hardly seen when he was young. There was so
much of himself in Ena that Peter yielded to her mandates as to the
inarticulate cry of his own soul translated into words. The princess
in whose veins his blood ran must understand what he ought to want
better than he himself could understand.

She said: What was the fun of having money if you couldn't know all
the best people everywhere, and be of them as well as merely among
them? She began saying this even before she came home "for good" from
school. It was a school for millionaires' daughters, and the daughters
of other millionaires had showed her the difference between her father
and theirs, oil magnates and steel and railway magnates, and magnates
who magnated on their ancestors' fortunes made in land or skins of
animals.

Nothing really worth having--nothing really worth father's years of
hard work--could come to them as a family until Peter Rolls ceased to
identify himself personally with the Hands, Ena had pleaded, and at
last the head of the establishment engaged an official "understudy" to
represent him every day in the gorgeously furnished office which had
seemed to old Peter what the body is to the soul.

Rolls senior and Henry Croft, the man he appointed as dictator,
corresponded daily, by letter and telephone, but Peter Rolls himself
was not supposed to enter the great commercial village he had brought
together under one roof. Ena was able to say to any one rude enough to
ask, or to those she suspected of indiscreet curiosity: "Father never
goes _near_ the place. He's tired of business, and, luckily, he
doesn't need to bother."

She would not much have cared whether the statement were true or not
if she were sure that the carefully careless sounding words were
believed. But it would have been distressing to have any one say: "Ena
Rolls pretends that her father doesn't work in the shop any more, but
I know for a fact that he goes every day." So it comforted her to feel
sure that her arguments had really impressed father and that he never
did go to the Hands unless, perhaps twice a year or so for important
meetings. It pleased her that he had joined a rich club in New York
which had enough "swell" members to make it pleasant for her to remark
casually, "Father belongs to the Gotham."

When father went to New York in the evening, as he often did, not
returning to Sea Gull Manor till late, and sometimes staying away all
night, he used to say as an excuse to mother or Ena: "I'm going to the
club." After a while it was taken for granted, and he made no excuse
at all. But if Ena had known the mystery of those late evenings she
would have been struck with fear--the fear which comes of finding out
that those we think we know best are strangers to us.

Of all the sad millionaires of New York who pin together the pages of
certain mysterious life chapters not to be read by eyes at home,
perhaps no other had a mystery like that of Peter Rolls. It was now
the one thing that he intensely enjoyed; but it was a guilty, furtive
enjoyment which made a nervous wreck of him and ruined a stomach once
capable of salvation.

Peter junior had never been entirely happy since he left Yale at
twenty-three. It was only then that he began to look life in the face
and see the freckles on its complexion The minute he saw them on that
countenance which should be so beautiful, he wanted to help in some
way to rub them off. To help--to help! That was the great thing.

He didn't care much for business, but he felt that, being Peter
Rolls's only son, it was his duty to care. He imagined father deeply
hurt at the indifference of his two children to that which had been
his life--hurt, but hiding the wound with proud reserve. So Peter
junior determined to sacrifice himself. He offered to go into the
shop, to begin at the bottom if father wished, and in learning all
there was to learn, gradually work up to a place where he could be a
staff to lean upon.

It was in the "library" that they had this talk--an immense and
appalling room, all very new oak panelling and very new, uniform sets
of volumes bound in red leather and gold, with crests and bookplates,
bleakly glittering behind glass doors. Peter senior tried to kill time
there, because a library seemed to his daughter the right background
for a father, and Peter junior, who had saved mother's poor old
furniture for his own rooms, found it singularly difficult to open his
heart between walls that smelled of money and newness. However, he did
his best to blunder out the offer of himself; while the chill gleam in
his father's eyes (so remarkably like that of the bookcase glass
doors) made him feel, as he went on, that he must have begun all
wrong.

"So you don't trust your own father?" was the answer he got when he
stopped, as one might be stopped short by the sharp edge of a marble
mantelpiece when trying to find the way across a dark room.

"Don't--trust you?" stammered Peter, sure now that he was a fool not
to understand, not to have made his father understand.

"You think the old man's got past running his own business, and if
you don't want your money to go to the dogs you must look after it
yourself."

"Good heavens, no!" Peter broke out. "You can't dream that any such
thought entered my mind! I--why, Father, I'd rather die than have you
believe that of me."

"Prove I'm wrong, then," said the elder dryly, pulling, as was his
habit, a thin, grizzled beard with thin, sallow fingers. "You can do
it easy enough."

"How? Only tell me."

"By turning your attention to other things, my boy. Leave me alone to
manage what I know how to manage. You let me do it my own way, without
shoving in your oar, and don't you listen to what any of your highbrow
friends say about me and my methods behind my back."

"As if I would!"

"Well, I wasn't sure. You go with a set of raw boys who think they
know better than their fathers how to run creation; and now and then
you blow off some of those soap-bubble ideas in your conversation.
I've been kind of hurt once in a while, though I didn't let it out.
But now we're on the subject I will say: if you've got faith in the
old man, hands off the Hands!"

"That settles it, Father," returned Peter heavily. "I never meant to
hinder, only to help if I could. From now on the watchword is, 'hands
off the Hands!'"

This was a promise, and he kept it scrupulously. But the steady fire
in his heart was scattered as a flaming log is broken into many embers
by the clumsy stab of a poker. He had no longer a settled aim in life.
He saw no niche which he could fill, and felt that the world had no
particular use for the second Peter Rolls. The one thing he had
longed for as a boy, which did not now in his young manhood appear
stale and unprofitable, was a journey round the world and a glimpse of
the East. When his father said uneasily: "Why don't you travel, my
boy?" Peter answered that perhaps it would be a good thing.

The subject was broached to mother, and mother did not object. She had
learned long ago, when she was first married to Peter, never to object
to anything that he proposed. When she smiled and agreed with every
suggestion she was a dear little woman, and so she had spent her
existence in being a dear little woman until her hair turned white.
With her sunny nature, it had not needed a very great effort; but
sometimes, since Peter had begun to grow up, he had dimly fancied a
look of wistfulness in her ever-young blue eyes--eyes of a girl gazing
out from the round, rosy-apple face of a middle-aged woman.

She was always the same in her ways and manner, if it could be called
manner: comfortable and comforting, contented with life as it was,
happy in her children, and putting up gently with her husband;
but--when you had said good-bye to her you remembered the look which
always changed instantly into a smile when it met yours. You
remembered, and seemed to see another woman hovering wraithlike behind
mother's plump figure, as she sat contentedly crocheting those endless
strips of trimming for towels and things--mother as she might have
been if no dominating nature had ringed hers in with an iron fence.

When Peter was up the White Nile, in elephant and lion land, he used
suddenly, mysteriously, to see an irrelevant vision of his mother
just stretching out plump arms to say good-bye to him in his own room
which he had furnished with the mahogany odds and ends that had
started her bridal housekeeping. She had smiled and had not seemed to
mind very much his going--not half as much as a hen mother minds its
duckling's first dash into water. And yet her eyes--There are some
things it hurts and at the same time warms your heart to think of at
the other end of the world.

Peter had gone up the White Nile to shoot big game; but when he met it
face to face, on a social equality, so to speak, he wondered how he
could ever have harboured so monstrously caddish a design. He found
the animals he had thought he wanted to kill so much handsomer and
more important than himself that he felt like begging the alleged
"game's" pardon for calling on it without invitation in its country
home (as if he'd been a book agent), and bowed himself away with only
a few photographs to remember it by. While Ena was working up
conversations to the point of mentioning "my brother, who is such a
great shot, you know, and is shooting big game in Africa," Peter's
only shots were snapshots, and he was too stupidly conscientious to
atone for his weakness by obtaining elephant tusks and lion skins with
coins instead of bullets.

He wished he had saved Egypt and its temples for his honeymoon, in
case he should ever find exactly the right girl, for the mystery and
wonder made him sad because he had nobody to feel it with him. It was
the same in India and all the East, and there were thousands of
thoughts imprisoned in his breast (which he hardly understood and
dared not let escape) by the time he arrived in England to meet Ena.

They were still struggling in prison when he went on board the
_Monarchic_, but there a light shone fitfully through the keyhole of
the cell. It was a beautiful light, almost beautiful enough to be a
light Peter had read and dreamed of which was said never to shine on
land or sea. Then, suddenly and surprisingly, it went out. The prison,
full of thoughts, was left a place of dark confusion.

This was the inner state of Peter Rolls, Jr., when he arrived at home
after his long absence. But outwardly he appeared to be much as usual,
and was so nice to the Irish guests that Ena was grateful, though
never remorseful. Indeed, she had so much to think about that she
almost forgot her little act of diplomacy in eliminating an
undesirable sister-in-law.

She was on tenterhooks lest Lord Raygan and his mother and sister
should be finding the _ménage_ at Sea Gull Manor "all wrong," and
laughing secretly at father and mother. If there had been that fear
about the dressmaker's model on top of the rest of her anxieties she
would have broken down with nervous prostration. But, thanks to her
for saving him (without his knowledge), Peter seemed to have got over
his silliness and was able to stand by her like a brick.

Lady Raygan, a singularly young-looking, red-faced woman of boyish
figure, and with stick-out teeth, was a leading militant suffragette.
When she embarked hastily for Queenstown she had just been rescued by
her son from the London police. At first she had been too seasick to
care that she was being carried past her home and that a series of
lectures she had intended giving would be delayed. Now, in America,
she had determined to make the best of a bad bargain by sending the
fiery cross through the States.

She stayed in her room and jotted down notes. Also, she
conscientiously tried to make Mrs. Rolls a suffragette. About most
other things she was absent-minded; therefore Ena did not waste gray
matter in worrying over the impression that Sea Gull Manor was making
on Lady Raygan.

It was Rags and Eileen whose observing eyes and sense of humour had to
be feared. Eileen, for instance, had a little way of saying that
anything she considered odd was "too _endlessly_ quaint." Things she
admired were "melting." If only Ena had known enough about earls and
their families to be sure whether Lord Raygan and Eileen would, in
their secret hearts, think the ways of the Rollses endlessly quaint or
melting, she might have been spared sleepless nights. Because the
difference between those two adjectives would mean the difference
between ecstasy and despair for her. Rags might be poor for an earl,
even an Irish earl, but he was hardly the sort to propose to a girl
his sister could speak of as "endlessly quaint."

Twelve days after they had arrived at Sea Gull Manor, Eileen wrote a
somewhat ungrammatical letter to a rich cousin in Dublin who had once
refused Rags, and in which she said:

DEAR POBBLES:

I wish you were here to pinch me. Then I would be sure whether I'm
asleep or awake. You'll know by the papers (s'pose poor old Rags _is_
worth a paragraph; anyhow Mubs is, now she's turned into a suff) how
we got carried on in the _Monarchic_ to New York. It won't be the
fault of American reporters if you've missed our news! They got at us
on the dock. Mubs loved it. Rags didn't.

Well, if you know a thing about us, since we were swept past
Queenstown by a giant wave that carried us on its back all the way to
America, you know we're staying with a family named Rolls. Rags met
Miss Rolls and her brother in London. And afterward they happened to
be on board our ship, so we chummed up, and Miss Rolls _would_ give up
her melting suite to poor half-dead Mubs and me. What a beast the sea
is! I don't know if I shall ever have the courage to go on the
disgusting old wet thing again. We came here to stay a fortnight, but
it's almost that now, and we couldn't be driven away with a stick.

We're having the time of our lives (I'm learning lots of _creamy_
American slang), and the Rollses are awfully kind. Ena is very nice,
when she doesn't try to talk as if she were English, and quite
handsome, with fine eyes, though not so good as her brother's. And
he--the brother, I mean--is the dearest thing in the shape of a man
you ever saw. Not that he's wonderfully handsome or anything, but, as
they say over here, he's just IT. I don't know what there is about
him, but--well, if I go on, I suppose you'll think I'm being _silly_.

I don't care; you were only a year older than I am now when you told
Rags kindly to go to the dickens. You said he cared only for your
money, poor Rags! That wasn't true. But now (I know you won't tell)
Ena R. is going for him for all she's worth. Mubs doesn't notice
anything about women except their being suffs or not; and I'm supposed
to be too young to twig what's going on. I need hardly mention,
however, that very little gets past yours truly. I shouldn't wonder if
Ena'd _bring it off_. Rags asks me sometimes in a sheep-faced sort of
way what I think of things here, and I would have a joyous laugh with
him if it weren't for the brother.

Goodness gracious, but they're rich, these Rollses! I could make a pun
about their name and their money, but I won't, because it would be
cheap, and nothing is cheap at Sea Gull Manor. You can get a faint
idea what the house and the view are like from the hand-painted sketch
at the top of this paper on the left of the fat gold crest. This
stationery is in all the guests' private sitting-rooms in case any one
wants to make distant friends envious of their surroundings. Mr.
Rolls, Sr., told me he kept a tame artist painting these things at a
salary of ten thousand dollars a year, dinner and luncheon _menus_
thrown in. Ena's idea. She wanted something original, and what she
wants goes! So says Mr. R.

He's a poor little, yellow shrimp of a man, with dead-black hair,
where it isn't gray or coming off, and the same kind of beard goats
have. His eyes may have been nice when he was young, but nothing like
his son Peter's. Young Peter is altogether different from old Peter,
and he has blue eyes like the quaintest and most melting mother you
ever saw.

She does nothing but crochet trimming for sheets and things, world
without end, and if you admire it she gives you some. But she was just
_born_ to be a mother, and even having her sit crocheting in a room
where you are makes you feel good. She has eyes as blue as bluebells,
and as young, an apple face with a smile that longs for something it's
never known, and any amount of smooth white hair, which she does in
just the wrong way, pinched into tight braids. The one thing she won't
do for her daughter is to have a maid of her own, and Ena keeps
apologizing for it.

Mr. Rolls is a terrible dyspeptic, and the only things he can digest
(he has told me and Rags several times) are soft-shelled crabs,
devilled, and plum pudding or cake. When he has a pain he paces floors
like a tiger, but does not roar.

I haven't met many Americans here yet because the Rollses somehow
don't seem to know the right ones, and Ena makes excuses for that,
too. I wish she wouldn't. It gets on my nerves, and Rag's nerves as
well, I fancy, though he doesn't say so, and he's thinking a lot about
whether she'll _do_. Because I haven't met many others, I don't know
whether or not the Rollses are just like all American millionaires who
don't come abroad, or unique. But I have an idea they're _unique_.

This is the most enormous house, built and named to please Ena,
though it's no more a manor than the Albert Hall is. I don't believe
she knows what "manor" means. Every bedroom I've seen (and I _think_
I've been shown all, if I haven't lost count) has its own bathroom
adjoining, and a sitting-room as well. In each bathroom there are
several different kinds of baths, and a marble one you step down into,
but it's bitterly cold on your spine--the only cold thing in the
house, which is so hot with a furnace that even the walls and floors
feel warm, although I keep my windows wide open day and night.

The pillow-cases and sheets are made of such rich, thick linen, and
are so smooth and polished that you slip down off your pillows with a
crick in your neck, and the sheets slide off you, just as if they were
made of heavy silver, like lids of dishes. Perhaps the monograms and
crests drag them down. It's awful, but it's grand. And I should think
there are at least twenty footmen with--if you'll believe me--powdered
hair!

Of course, poor Ena took a fancy to it in England. I don't think she
stayed at any houses, but she was at some hotel where they have it, so
she didn't see why not. If you ring a bell, dozens of these
helpless-looking, white-headed creatures in black and yellow simply
swarm from every direction, like great insects when you've poured hot
water into their hive--or hole.

If any really nice people happen to stop in their motor for any reason
at the house in the morning, say about eleven o'clock, they are
offered magnums of champagne, as if out of gratitude for their coming.
They hardly ever seem to do more than sip, so perhaps the black and
yellow insects get the rest. There's an English butler, and it would
make your heart bleed, or else you'd want to howl, if you saw his
agonized, apologetic look whenever you, as a British person, knowing
about other ways of running a house, happened to catch his elderly
eye.

Mr. and Mrs. Rolls get up at goodness knows what hour and have
breakfast together, so does Petro--that's the nickname for the son.
But Ena and Mubs and Rags and I can wallow as long as we like and have
gorgeous breakfasts in our rooms. Mubs thinks Mrs. R. is a fool,
because she can hardly understand what a woman wants with a vote, but
I think she's a dear. She sends cartloads of flowers to hospitals,
and if you speak of a charity she hauls handfuls of dollar bills out
of an immense gold chain bag she always carries on her arm because
Petro gave it to her for a birthday present, and it, and Ena's one, a
size smaller, has the fat air of containing all her luggage ready to
start off from Saturday to Monday at a moment's notice. I suppose it's
money that looks so plump.

Now _do_ you think Rags ought to resist the daughter of such a house
when church mice have long ago cut our acquaintance? Of course, Rags
is lucky at bridge (he gave me a lovely dress on board ship), but he
can't live on it regularly. So far it's a toss up. I'll let you know
how things go.

Mubs is writing an article for an American newspaper which has offered
her fifty pounds. This is the first fun she's ever got out of being a
countess--and now I shouldn't wonder if she'd be a dowager soon! As
for me, I'm trying to flirt with Petro. No, to be honest, that isn't
_quite_ true. I'm not exactly flirting. He's too good for that. Ena
says he's "glue," because he has no interest in life, and that it'll
cheer him up if I encourage him to talk to me about some
philanthropical schemes he has.

One is a "Start in Life Fund" for deserving and clever young people
who need only a hand up to get on. I wish I could go in for it
myself--but perhaps I'm not deserving or clever. Anyhow Ena says her
brother likes me _awfully_, better than any girl he ever saw before,
and that he thinks me pretty. Did you _ever?_ No wonder I like him! I
shouldn't mind his knowing that I do, as Ena says he thinks no girl
could care for him. That sounds pathetic. I let her know that, as he's
so despairingly modest, she might break it to him that I enjoy his
society. Since then he's been much nicer, though, perhaps still a
little absent-minded, which may come from being "blue." I should like
to know what Ena said to him! But I suppose it's all right!

Your chum and cousin,
  EILY.

P.S. They've got a shop in New York. I forgot to tell you that--a huge
shop. It's never mentioned here, but Petro told me. He's not ashamed,
but rather proud of the way the money came. Rags wants him and Ena to
take us to the place.

What Ena did say to Peter was, "Poor little Eileen is falling in love
with you." Peter didn't believe it. But it put a strange idea into his
head.



CHAPTER XIII

ONE MAN AND ANOTHER


"No. 2884 Child, W. Pay Envelope. Details under flap," Winifred read
on the neat, pale-brown packet put into her hand the night when she
had served Peter Rolls for a week--or was it five hundred weeks? "READ
THE OTHER SIDE" was printed in capital letters of white upon a black
background on the flap which must be torn open to get at the contents
and "details." The latter consisted of "Deductions, Absent, Late
Fines, Keys, Mdse., Stamps, Beneficial Ass., and Sub. Slips."

But Win had been neither absent nor late. Being an extra hand only,
and liable to be "dispensed with" at the end of the holidays, she had
not needed to subscribe her hard-earned pennies to Beneficial
Assurance, that huge fund made up of weekly coppers, whose interest
was to Peter Rolls almost what "Peter's Pence" are to the Pope. Thanks
to her good health and good behaviour, "Cash Enclosed" (as secretly
mentioned under the flap) was practically intact. But it had been a
nightmare week which seemed longer than all the past weeks of her life
added together and if she had earned a hundred dollars instead of six
she would not have felt too highly paid.

She moved wearily away from the office window, obeying the directions
to "read other side," and as she walked down the long corridor (her
sore feet causing her to limp slightly) the words "_if sick or
disabled, notify employment bureau at once_" sang through her head,
keeping time with her uneven steps.

She _was_ "reading the other side," the other side of life which
appeared to her as separate from the side she had known as the bright
was separate from the dark side of the moon; the side about which
people seldom troubled and never saw. A few weeks ago, before that
"wild spirit" of hers lured her half across the world to find
independence, she would have thought, feeling as she felt to-night,
that she was both sick and disabled. But now she knew that hundreds of
other girls under this very roof felt just as she felt, and that they
took it for granted as a normal condition of life. They hardly pitied
themselves, and she must be as stoical. If once she lost courage, she
might do the thing she had boasted to Peter Rolls, Jr., that she would
never do--cry.

She thought to find a tonic effect from the sight of money earned, and
in taking out her six dollars, she let fall a slip of white paper from
the pay envelope. It fluttered away, to alight on the floor, and Win's
heart beat as she picked it up.

Her discharge already? What could she have done to be sent off at the
end of a week--she who had tried so hard? And how strange that, tired
and disheartened as she was, she should actually _fear_ discharge! A
minute ago she had been asking herself, "How many weeks like this can
I live through?" and wishing that an end, almost any end, might come.
Yet here she was dreading to turn the slip over (she had retrieved it
blank side up) and read her doom.

"You are requested to call at the superintendent's private office
Monday, twelve forty-five," was neatly typewritten precisely in the
middle of the paper.

Win did not know whether to be relieved or alarmed.

"I'll ask Sadie what she thinks," was her quick decision. But Sadie
was not available this evening. An "old chum" had asked Miss Kirk out
to supper, and Miss Child having snubbed her faithful lion man for
reasons which had appeared good at the time, had no one to give her
the key to those dozen mystic words which might as well have been
written in cipher.

"And even Sadie can't tell for certain," she reflected. "I can't
possibly _know_ till Monday noon."

All the fatigue and nerve strain of six dreadful days and six
appalling nights seemed suddenly to culminate in a fit of overpowering
restlessness. Worn out though she was (or all the more because of
that, perhaps) she could not go "home" to Columbus Avenue, where the
"L" that Sadie said should be spelled with an "H" ran past her window.

She was sure if she sat down or went to bed she should think more
about her aching back and burning feet than if she walked. She longed
for the sweet, kind air of heaven to ripple past her hot cheeks like
cool water. She longed for stars to look up to, and for the purple
peace and silence of night after the clamour of the store and before
the babel of Columbus Avenue, into which presently she must plunge.

"I'll walk in the park," she proposed to herself. "It will do me good.
When I'm too tired, I can rest for a few minutes on one of the seats
and hear myself think."

That was one of the many disadvantages of "home." There you could
hear at the same time almost every other sound which could be produced
in the world, but you could not hear yourself think.

Earl Usher was not to be seen as she came out into the street, and Win
was glad. Once or twice to-day she had half repented the snub which,
perhaps, he had not meant to deserve, but now she thanked it for his
absence. Swiftly she walked away, though still with the just
perceptible limp that most shop girls have in their first few weeks of
"business."

She did not look up at the giant Hands with their blazing rings, as
she had looked at first, half admiring, half awed. Their gesture now
seemed greedy. They were trying to "grab the whole sky," as the lion
tamer said. Rather would one hurry to escape from under them, and go
where the Hands of Peter Rolls could not reach.

It was exquisite in the park, and she was thinking how a delicate,
floating blue curtain appeared to shut her away for a little while
from all the harshness of life, when a small and singularly silent
automobile glided by. A lamp showed her the forms of two men in the
open car, one in front, who drove, and one behind, who sat with arms
folded.

"How heavenly to have the air and lean back restfully without needing
to walk," thought tired Win.

She was envying the comfortable figure with its arms folded when the
little car turned and, to her astonishment, drew up close beside her.
Involuntarily she stopped; then, as one of the men jumped out, she
regained her presence of mind and walked on at top speed.

The man strode along after her, however, and spoke.

"Don't you remember me? That's very unkind. You might wait a minute,
anyhow, and let me remind you where we met. I recognized _you_ as I
went by, that's why I came back."

Wondering if it could be possible that they _had_ met, Win ventured a
glance at the face on a level with her own. She knew instantly that
never had she seen it before.

"You're mistaken," she said. "I don't know you. Please go."

"Logan is my name," he persisted. "Jim Logan. Now don't you remember?
But you didn't tell me your name that other time."

Win took longer steps. This active hint did not, however trouble Mr.
Logan. He was an inch or so taller than she, perhaps, and kept step
with the utmost ease.

"You and I might have been at the same dancing school," said he. "I'm
doing the newest stunt--the wango. Is that what you're doing, too? Or
is it the y-lang-y-lango? I could go on like this all night! I hope
you're not engaged to anybody else for the next dance?"

"As a matter of fact, I am," said Win sharply, though it was all she
could do not to laugh. "My partner will very much object to you."

"That's all right. It's not likely he knows jiu-jitsu as well as I
do," cheerfully replied the man, still hurrying on at the same pace.
He kept half a step in advance of the girl, as if to be prepared in
case she should begin to run; and thus, without seeming to look, Win
could see him in profile.

He was so smartly dressed that, in England, he would have been called
a "nut." What was the American equivalent for a nut, she did not know.
He had a hawk-nosed profile which might have been effective had not
his undercut jaw stuck out aggressively, suggesting extreme, hectoring
obstinacy, even cruelty.

She had time to see that his hair was an uninteresting brown, and his
skin the ordinary sallow skin of the man about town. But suddenly he
took her unawares, turning to face her with disquieting abruptness.
She caught an impression of eyes sparkling in the lamplight; small and
set close on either side of a high-bridged, narrow nose, yet bright
and boldly smiling. His voice was that of an educated person and not
disagreeable in tone, but Win was anxious to escape hearing it again.

He seemed to wait for an answer, and when it did not come, he went on:

"You ought to go in for an Olympic race. You're all for them in
England. I'm out of training, but I can stand this as long as you can,
I bet. The only thing is, I wanted to take you for a run in my auto,
it's such a nice, crisp night. I'll drive you home, if you say the
word."

"The thing wished for comes when your hands are tied," says the
Turkish proverb. Win had been yearning for a spin. She kept silence
and sped on, wondering whether she could surprise the enemy by
executing a sudden right-about-face.

"Have you been in this country long?" he inquired.

No answer.

"Oh, indeed, is that so? I _thought_ you hadn't! Are you living in New
York at present? Don't be afraid to tell me. Even if you are, that
won't drive me out of the little old burg. See here, you're mighty
restless. And you do hate to part with much of your conversation at
one time, don't you? You're a peach, all right, but a spiced peach
preserved in vinegar."

Winifred wheeled and began walking east even faster than she had been
walking west. In the distance a tall--a very tall--figure was
approaching, like a ship under full sail. Could it be--- Yes, it was!
Bless the light of the lamp that showed him! Now indeed she dared to
laugh.

"Here comes that partner of mine at last!" she exclaimed and almost
ran to met the lion tamer.

"Good Lord! Very well, I can't hope to compete against cigar signs,"
replied Mr. Logan. "I was unprepared for Goliath. Little David will
fade away till he gets his sling. You make me forget my name and
telephone number, but this is where I get off at. Please remember _me_
next time."

"I will, when next time comes!" Win was tempted to toss after him
impudently as, lifting his cap, the motorist took a hasty short cut to
the motor. Win was actually laughing when Earl Usher joined her. She
felt safe, and not even tired. The little adventure had had its uses,
after all! It had been, she thought, just as beneficial and not nearly
so expensive as a tonic or a Turkish bath.

"Was that mutt a gentleman friend of yours, kid, or was he some fresh
guy? 'Cause, if he was playing the fool, I'll break into the game and
go for his blood," remarked the rescuer.

"It was a Mr. Logan," replied Win hurriedly, making up her mind that
she must avoid any chance of trouble. "But--but I don't like him
much," she added. "I was very glad when I saw you. And I'm not going
to scold you for following me, because I know you meant well--and, as
it happened, it's _ending_ well. For a reward, I forgive you
everything. And I've just thought of a new name for you, Mr. Usher."

"Hope it's some better than Sadie Kirk's."

"What--Teddy Bear? Yes, it's better than that. Did you ever read 'Quo
Vadis?'"

"Not on your life. Sounds like a patent medicine."

"It's a novel. And in it a great, good giant of a young man devotes
himself to rescuing a maiden named _Lygia_. _His_ name was _Ursus_,
and he was so strong he could bring a bull to its knees---"

"Why, you silly little kid, that's a movie, not a novel. I've seen
_Ursus_ and his bull, all right. You're makin' me stuck on myself. I
feel as if I was it."

"Well, you are it. I christen you Ursus. And thank you very much for
taking so much trouble about me."

"I didn't take trouble," protested Ursus, half afraid that he was
being "kidded." "All I did was to beat it after you at what the swell
reporters call a respectful distance just to see you safe home if you
meant to hoof it. When you shot into the park, thinks I, 'maybe she's
made a date to chat with a gentleman friend, so I'll hang back.'
But---"

"It was quite an accident, meeting Mr. Logan, I assure you, Ursus,"
said Win, still unwilling to confide in him the details of the late
encounter, which seemed ridiculous now it was over. "I wanted a breath
of air. I've had it, and if you'll be very good and never use such a
word again as you did night before last, you may walk home with me if
you like."

"What word do you refer to? Cutie?"

"Yes. And another still more offensive."

"Sweetie?"

"Yes. Disgusting! 'Kid's' bad enough. But I thought you mightn't know
any better. I draw the line at the others."

"All right," said Ursus rather sulkily, sure that he was being made
fun of now. "But when a chap's a girl's friend what _is_ he to call
her?"

"'You' will do very well, if 'Miss Child' is beyond your vocabulary."

"I don't call that bein' friends. Say, is that your mutt's automobile
sort of following along in our wake?"

"I don't know, for I don't want to look back," said Win. (They were
out of the park by this time.) "But--I've changed my mind about
walking all the way. Let's hurry and take a Fifty-Ninth Street car!"

       *       *       *       *       *

By day, in the shop, Win could laugh when she thought of the Columbus
Avenue house where she and Sadie "hung out." But at night, in her
room, trying desperately to sleep, she could not even smile. To do so,
with all those noises fraying the edges of her brain, would be to
gibber!

In that neighbourhood front rooms were cheaper than rooms at the back.
Lodgers who could afford to do so paid extra money for a little extra
tranquillity. Neither Sadie Kirk nor Winifred Child was of these
aristocrats. Their landlady had thriftily hired two cheap flats in a
fair-sized house whose ground floor was occupied by a bakery, and
whose fire-escapes gave it the look of a big body wearing its skeleton
outside. She "rented" her rooms separately, and made money on the
transaction, though she could afford to take low prices.

In the street below the narrow windows surface cars whirred to and fro
and clanged their bells. In front of the windows, and strangely,
terribly near to the six-inch-wide balconies, furnished with withered
rubber plants, roared the "L" trains, jointed, many-eyed dragons
chasing each other so fast that there seemed to be no pause between at
any hour of the day or during most hours of the night. Private life
behind those windows was impossible unless you kept your blinds down.
If you forgot, or said wildly to yourself that you didn't care, that
you _must_ breathe and see your own complexion by daylight at any
cost, thousands of faces, one after the other, stared into yours. You
could almost touch them, and it was little or no consolation to
reflect when they had seen you brushing your hair or fastening your
blouse, that these travellers in trains would never hear your name or
know who you were.

As for a bath--but then the great, magnificent advantage of living at
Mrs. McFarrell's was the bathroom. It was dark and small and smelled
of the black beetles who lived happily around the hot-water pipes. You
were not expected to take more than one bath a week, and for that one
bath towel was provided free.

"Oh, I thought you'd _had_ your bath this week!" was the answer Win
got on her second night, when mildly asking for a towel which had
disappeared. But if you were silly enough to pay thirty cents extra
for putting water on your body every day, you could do so. And, anyhow
a bathroom was a splendid advertisement. One lodger told another:
"The use of the bathroom is thrown in."

That night, when Win had bathed and laid herself carefully down in the
narrow bed which shook and groaned as if suffering from palsy, it
seemed more impossible than ever to go to sleep. Each new train that
rumbled by was a giant, homing bee, her brain the hive for which it
aimed. Her hot head was crowded with thoughts, disturbing, fighting,
struggling thoughts, yet the giant bee pushed the throng ruthlessly
aside and darted in. Each time it seemed impossible to bear it again.
She felt as if she had caterpillars in her spine and ants on her
nerves.

Win thought about the superintendent, Mr. Meggison, and wondered again
and again whether she would be discharged or whether he had merely
"taken a fancy" to her looks and wished to see if she were
flirtatiously inclined. She knew now, from Sadie, that Meggison's
desire was to be a "gay dog," though his courage did not always march
with his ambition.

The red-haired girl, Sadie supposed, had perhaps come to the Hands
armed with an introduction from some "lady friend." This theory would
account for Meggison's mysterious murmur of, "That's different." What
should she--Win--do if Father invited her to dine with him, as it
seemed he did invite some of the girls? Sadie said that if such a
thing happened to her she would accept, because she wasn't afraid of
Father. She "could scare him more than he could scare her," and an
extra hand might "get the push" if she refused a civil invitation.

With Mr. Croft, "Saint Peter's Understudy," it was more dangerous. You
had to beware of him. If you were a "looker," like Win, the best
thing that could happen to you was never to come within eyeshot of
Henry Croft. He lived in the suburbs, was married, and the
superintendent of a Sunday school. His name was on all the charity
lists. He was so tall and thin and sprawling that he looked like a
human hatrack, and his solemn circle of a face, surrounded with
yellowish whiskers, had a sunflower effect. He had written a book,
"Week-Day Sermons by a Layman"; nevertheless, he was a terror.

There were, according to Sadie, girls in the store who were of no more
use as saleswomen than baby alligators would have been, but they "gave
the glad eye" to Mr. Croft, and accepted his flowers and invitations
for moonlight motor rides. Nearly every one knew, but nobody told.

What use? Who was there to tell? Croft was "up at the top and then
some." Only Saint Peter himself stood above. And who would dare
complain to Saint Peter about his respectable right hand? Even if
there were any chance of getting near P.R., which there wasn't. He
came mostly at night, as if it were a disgrace to show himself in a
shop, even if it was his own. If ever he did any "prowling" in
business hours, it was with the understudy glued to his side.

As for "sweating" and "grinding" there wasn't a cent's worth of
difference between Croft and Meggison, said Sadie. Nevertheless, Win
was feeling thankful, as the "L" train bees boomed through her brain,
that at worst it was Mr. Meggison who had mysteriously summoned her,
not Mr. Croft.

If only she could go to sleep and forget them both, and the trains
and the cars and the man in the park and Miss Stein, who still had
against her a "grouch." If only she could forget even big, blundering
Ursus, who wanted to treat her to oyster stews that he couldn't afford
and take her to a dance hall next Sunday! And Sadie, too, who knew
such strange and awful things about the world and life, although she
was so good.

But no. Impossible to stop thinking, impossible to forget, impossible
to sleep. All New York seemed to be about her ears. She could hear the
frantic rush of everything which true New Yorkers love, and she could
feel its sky-scrapers closing in around her like an unclimbable wall.
As she thought of the great, noisy city she saw it consisting entirely
of vastly high towers, with inhabitants who spent their time in
tearing about--people who looked at her in the street as if she were
not there, or, if she was, they would rather she were somewhere else.

She dared not picture the ship sailing for England nearly every day of
the week. If she were free to do what she liked--or almost what she
liked--she would go at least as often as every Saturday to watch a big
liner move out from the dock, just for the delicious torture of it.

And yet--did she want to go back home? Whenever she asked herself this
question--and it was often--invariably for some silly reason, she saw
the blue, wistful eyes of that hypocrite, the younger Peter Rolls.
Also there came upon her a choking sense of homelessness, a
mother-want in a lonely world. But, as Sadie Kirk agreed with her in
saying, "What _was_ the good of squeezing juice out of your eyes just
because you happened to be low in your mind?" No, she would not cry!

Then, after all, she dropped asleep in a minute's interval between
trains, and dreamed that she was lost in Fifty-Ninth Street. It was as
long as the way to England, and a ghastly street to be lost in. Its
sky line--if it knew anything about the sky--was as irregular as a
Wagner dragon's teeth--high buildings and low buildings, and shanties
where coloured families lived; little, sinister-looking houses where
people could be murdered and their bodies never found, shops where you
could buy everything you didn't want and nothing that you did.

In the dream black and white children were fighting and skating on
roller skates over the pavement. Cars were clanging bells. Everybody
and everything was making a noise of some sort. Win was trying to get
past the skaters and catch a car. She must, or she would be late for
something! But what? This was horrible. She was going somewhere, and
could not remember where or what she had to do. She was lost forever,
and had forgotten her name and the name of the street where she lived.
A roller-skating boy with the face of a black monkey threw her down,
and a surface car and Peter Rolls's automobile were about to run over
her when she waked with a jump that shook the palsied bed. Another "L"
train booming by!

Despite lack of sleep and a tiredness of body that Sunday could not
cure, Win had never looked more attractive than when, at precisely
twelve forty-five on Monday afternoon she presented herself at Mr.
Meggison's door.

This was his private den, and a visit there, even on a less alarming
errand than hers, was far more formidable than pausing for inspection
at an office window. Sadie, with the best intentions, had been able to
give little encouragement There must be scolding or else flirting in
prospect. And Winifred's eyes were bright, her cheeks pink, her head
high, as the superintendent's voice bade her "Come in."



CHAPTER XIV

FROM SCYLLA TO CHARYBDIS


She went in. Mr. Meggison sat in front of his roll-top desk. No such
world-shaking event as his rising to receive her took place. His
stenographer's chair was vacant. The cherubic aspect had for the
moment dominated Mephistopheles. Mr. Meggison was smiling. But Win did
not know whether to fear the smile or to thank her stars for it.

Little girls--and sometimes big ones--should be seen and not heard, so
Win waited in meek, flushed silence for the great man to speak.

"Shut the door, please, Miss--er--Miss Child," said he. And the
cherubic eyes gazing from under the fierce contradiction of heavy
eyebrows up to the tall girl's face conveyed to her mind that "please"
was a tribute. Also, she suddenly knew that the superintendent had
hesitated over her name on purpose. A man in a high position may wish
to be agreeable to a girl beneath him, at the same time informing her
that she is of no vast importance.

With a certain stiff young dignity Win shut the office door.

"You may as well sit down. I want to talk to you."

She sat down in the chair of Mr. Meggison's absent stenographer. By
this time the pink of her cheeks had deepened to red. She was
wondering more than ever what he was going to do, and what she would
do when he had done it. But as she sat facing him she realized that
she was no longer afraid. She felt a sense of power and resource.

"Are you surprised that I remember your name, Miss Child?" he asked.

"I don't know the custom," she replied primly. Would he expect her to
say "Sir?" Anyhow, she wouldn't! She compromised with a dainty
meekness which might be interpreted as respect for a superior. Mr.
Meggison fixed her with a sharp look which would have detected the
impudence of a lurking laugh.

"That's a funny answer," said he. "You 'don't know the custom!' Well,
my idea of you is, you don't know much about any business customs, on
our side of the water or yours either." As he spoke he watched her
face to catch any guilty flicker of an eyelid. "I want you to tell me
what was your idea in going for a job with us."

"I saw your advertisement for extra hands."

"The woods--I mean the papers--are full of advertisements. What made
you pick out ours?"

"I'd tried to get other things and failed."

"So we were a last resort, eh?"

"I thought first of being a governess or a companion or getting into a
public library or--things of that sort."

"Why not the stage? You're a good-looking girl, with a figure."

"I promised my father I wouldn't go on the stage. But, anyhow, I don't
suppose I could have got on--an amateur like me. Every place in New
York seems full up. And I have no training of any sort."

"Just a young lady, eh?"

Win smiled. "I never thought of it as a profession--or a label."

He looked slightly puzzled, and when Mr. Meggison was puzzled by an
employee, he was generally annoyed. This case seemed, however, to be
an exception. He kept his temper, and even condescended to grin.

"I don't want you should think I'm asking all these questions because
we have any fault to find with you," he said. "You've done very well.
I always know what's going on all over the place. I keep track of
everything in every department. I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't
up to that. I called you here partly to compliment you on your
smartness in that little stunt of the first day. And you've gone on
all right since, _all_ right. These things don't get lost in the wash.
But before I come to that I'm bound to tell you that the report's come
up to me you're a spy."

He threw the cap at her in a way to make her jump if it fitted. But
Win did not flinch. What she had overheard on the first day saved her
now from a shock of surprise.

"I caught that word about me from one of the girls," she admitted
frankly. "I wondered what made her think me a spy, and I'm wondering
still."

"I guess she thought you looked a sort of swell, and any one could see
you weren't used to work."

"But--there must be lots of girls like me in your big shops, just as
there are at home."

"No, that's where you're mistaken, Miss Child. There's more chances
with us for women than with you, and more places for 'em. We don't
get many of your class in the stores. They can do better for
themselves. You, being a stranger, though, had no pull. And maybe you
haven't been over here long."

"I haven't been long. But my money ran short," smiled Win, encouraged
now, since neither of Sadie's prognostications seemed likely to be
fulfilled. "Still, I don't see why it should occur to anybody that I
was a _spy_. What would a spy do in a shop?"

"That depends whether the job came from outside or in."

"I don't understand!"

"Well, there's a set of smart Alecks who've banded together and call
themselves the Anti-Sweat League, or Work People's Aid Society, or any
old name like that. They smell around to see what goes on behind the
scenes in a department store, and drop on us if they can."

"Oh, I see! And you thought they might have hired me---"

"I _didn't_ think so, as a matter of fact. I pride myself on spotting
folks for what they are the minute I lamp them. There's something
about 'em I can _feel_. I was sure you weren't one of that bunch. But
I felt bound to mention the report. Now that's finished--breakfast
cleared away! We'll go on to the next thing."

Again Win waited. And her heart missed a beat, for Mr. Meggison was
looking at her as if he had something very special to say.

"Most of the extra people we let go the week after Christmas," he went
on slowly. "Even if they're smart, we have enough regular ones without
'em. But perhaps we can keep you if you make good. And if you want to
stay. Do you?"

"Yes, thank you. As far as I can tell now, I should like to stay, if I
give satisfaction," Win answered with caution.

"Well, we'll see. It's up to you, anyhow. I told you I was going to
test your character. That's why I put you where I did. I knew what
you'd be up against. Now the idea is to test you some more."

He paused an instant. This was a catch phrase of his: "the idea is."
He often used it. And when he said: "It is my habit," or "My way is,"
he spoke with the repressed yet bursting pride of the self-made man
who has suddenly been raised to a height almost beyond his early
dreams.

"I may change you into another department next week," he went on,
"where you'll have a better time and less work. What do you say to
_Gloves_?"

Win felt very stupid. "What ought I to say to Gloves?" she inquired
helplessly.

Then the great Mr. Meggison actually laughed. "Gee! You _are_ an
amateur, Miss Child. Why, the girls all think the Gloves are the pick
of the basket. What your London Gaiety is to actresses, that the glove
department is to our salesladies. It's called the marriage market.
Ladies' _and_ gents' gloves, you understand. Now do you see the
point?"

"I suppose I do," Win rather reluctantly confessed, faintly blushing.

"Some of the best lookers in our Gloves have married Fifth Avenue
swells. It's pretty busy there just now. The young fellows buy gloves
by the dozen for their best girls at Christmas time when they want to
ring a change on flowers. Maybe I'll put you into Gloves, if you'll
agree to make yourself useful."

"I'll try to do my best wherever you put me, Mr. Meggison" said Win,
sounding to herself like a heroine of a Sunday serial, and feeling not
unlike one in a difficult situation at the end of an instalment. At
home, in her father's house, she had occasionally been driven to read
Sunday serials on Sunday. They were the only fiction permitted on that
day.

"That's all right. But now I mean something in particular" explained
Meggison. "I told you what they were saying about you in your
department to see how you'd take it. Well, you didn't seem desperately
shocked at the idea of being engaged by a so-called charitable society
to watch out for any breaks we might make. Not that we do make any, so
your trouble would have been wasted. We give our girls seats and every
living thing the law asks for, and our men make no complaints that we
hear. But, of course, we ain't omnipotent. Things are said, things
happen we don't get onto, little tricks that cost us money. Folks
shirking, and even stealing; we have to keep a sharp lookout. We can't
turn the spotlights on to everybody at once. So when we come across a
pair of lamps that are bright, a long way above the average we
sometimes make it worth their while---"

"Oh, Mr. Meggison, please don't go on!" Win cut the great man short.
"I'd rather you didn't say it, because--I don't wish to hear. I--I
don't want to know what you mean."

It was his turn to flush. But the change of colour was only just
perceptible. He had himself under almost perfect control. His eyes
sent out a flash, then became dull and expressionless as blue-gray
marbles. He was silent and watchful. Win, after her outburst, was
breathlessly speechless.

"Good!" said he at last. "Very good. That's the second test. And it's
all right, like the first. _Now_ do you understand?"

"I--I'm not sure. I---"

"You just said you didn't want to know what I meant. But _I_ want you
to know. I was testing your character again. I'm sure now you're
straight. You're a good girl, as well as a smart one, Miss Child."

Suddenly, just as she had begun to feel so relieved that tears were on
the way to her eyes, Meggison bent forward with an abrupt movement and
laid his hot, plump hand heavily on hers. Up jumped the girl and down
fell the hand. She seemed to hear herself excusing herself and
explaining her rashness to Sadie: "I couldn't stand it. I wouldn't! I
didn't care what happened."

"What's the matter?" he asked, blustering, his face now very red. He
kept his seat and looked up at her with a bullish stare.

"Nothing is the matter, Mr. Meggison," she said. "Only I think I've
troubled you long enough. You--will be wanting me to go."

As she spoke she gazed straight and steadily down into his eyes, as if
he were an animal that could be mastered if your look never let his
go. She remembered how Sadie had said that Meggison wanted to be a
"dog," but his bark might be stopped if you showed him in time that
you were not afraid. Winifred _was_ afraid, but she acted as if she
were not, which was the great thing. And the "stunt," as Sadie would
have called it, seemed to work--if only for the moment.

When his face had cooled, he said: "Yes, you can go, Miss Child. I've
nothing more to say to you--at present. Except this: it won't be the
Gloves."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tingling, burning, whirling with the excitement of her
interview--fully felt only after it was over--Win started to hurry
back to work. It was not a crowded time of the day in the shopping
world. Many ladies were lunching not buying, and employees, if on
business, were permitted to use the elevators, white light going up,
red light down. Only the boy in smart shop livery, who rushed the lift
from roof to basement, was in the mirrored vehicle when Win got in at
the superintendent's floor.

"Hats, Children's Wardrobes, Games, Toys, Books, Stationery!" shouted
the strident young voice mechanically as the doors whizzed back in
their groove at the story below.

In streamed some jaded mothers and children, for whom Win backed
humbly into a corner, and then, just as the doors were about to snap
shut once more for a downward plunge, a young man and woman hurried
laughing in. Winifred Child shrank farther into her corner, plastering
herself against the wall of the elevator, and turning her face away,
for the newcomers were Lord Raygan and Ena Rolls.

As the wall consisted entirely of mirrors, however, turning away gave
little protection. The mothers, refusing to retire with their young
before the latest arrivals, "swell" though they might be, Miss Rolls
and her companion were forced to push past the forms which kept the
door, and by the time the elevator had shot down a story or two
farther the pair were close to Win. Still she kept her face twisted as
far over her shoulder as it would go, at risk of getting a cramp in
the neck, and her heart was beating with such loud thuds under the
respectable black blouse that she feared lest they should hear it.

"Why, hello--it's the Lady in the Moon!" exclaimed Lord Raygan gayly,
just when Win had begun to hope she might reach the ground-floor level
without being discovered.

Involuntarily Ena turned with a slight start, recognized Win,
pretended not to, and presented the back instead of the side of a
wonderful hat. An aigret jabbed viciously at the tall shop-girl's eye,
and Miss Rolls said hastily: "What Lady in the Moon? I don't know whom
you're talking about, Lord Raygan. But oh, here's our floor! This is
where I want to get out."

"Never mind, let's stop in and come up again," commanded Raygan in the
masterful way which Ena loved for its British male brutality--when it
didn't interfere with her wishes. "It's Miss--oh, _you_ know, from the
_Monarchic_. Don't you remember her in the moon dress? How do you do,
Miss--er--er? Who would have thought of meeting you here?"

They were crowded almost as closely together in the lift as sardines
in a box, and it was impossible not to answer.

"How do you do?" responded Win desperately, and Miss Rolls, making
the best of a bad dilemma, found it obligatory to recognize Miss
Child. If she had not done so Lord Raygan would have thought her
snobbish, though it was not entirely from snobbishness that she had
wished to escape the girl of the _Monarchic_.

Her heart was beating almost as hard as Win's. Her brother Peter and
Lady Eileen were somewhere in the shop. This was the day chosen for
the sightseeing expedition insisted upon by Raygan. Ena had hated the
idea of it, hated having to be associated in Raygan's eyes with the
Hands. She had felt a presentiment that something horrid would happen,
but she hadn't supposed it would be quite so horrid and upsetting as
this.

A dozen times Petro had asked if she'd ever heard from Miss Child.
Only day before yesterday--the silly fellow _never_ seemed to forget!
And any moment now he and Eileen might come. They had made a
rendezvous at the jewellery department, not far from this row of
elevators, on the ground floor. Hang the girl! How little delicacy she
had shown in taking a place in Peter Rolls's father's store after that
conversation on the ship! And how was she to be got rid of in a
desperate hurry without making Lord Raygan cross?



CHAPTER XV

THE LADY IN THE MOON


It was a difficult situation for Miss Rolls. Dimly it had dawned upon
her more than once that Rags regarded certain speeches and ways of
hers as "snobbish"--speeches and ways which to her had seemed
aristocratic. Neither Rags nor Eileen nor Lady Raygan had ever so much
as mentioned the word "snob" in connection with any member of the
Rolls family or their friends. But they had lightly let it drop in
connection with others, and Ena's extreme sensitiveness on the subject
her extreme desire to be everything that Raygan liked, made her quick
to put two and two together.

She began to see that many of her favourite tricks at home and
abroad--with servants, with her parents, with acquaintances, and the
public in general--were not proofs, in Raygan's eyes, that she was to
the manor born, rather the contrary, and that hurt. She was straining
to understand and observe the finest _nuances_. Never had it been more
difficult than to-day, during this visit she detested to the great
department store of Peter Rolls. If she had declined to come, that
would have been snobbish. If, having come, she refused the "glad hand"
to one of her father's shop girls whom Raygan chose to greet as an
equal--that, too, would be snobbish. And to be snobbish was, in
Raygan's language, to be "beastly vulgar."

If she were not snobbish--if she treated Miss Child with warm
cordiality, asked her a dozen questions, and listened kindly to the
answers, Petro would come with Eileen and find his long-lost friend.
Would Lord Raygan go so far in his dislike of snobbishness as to
welcome an assistant culled from his bride's father's shop as a
sister-in-law? Ena thought not. Besides, she was not sure yet that she
would ever be his bride, and any risk she took might turn the scale
against her, so uncertain seemed the balance. Just at present the
danger was that she might fall in the slippery space between two high
stools.

"Why, yes, of course, Lord Raygan," she said, able in the midst of
alarums to enjoy the repetition of his title, which made people stare.
"We'll stay in the elevator and talk to Miss Child, and go up again
when she has gone. Are you really working here in the store, Miss
Child, as--as--a---"

"Yes, I'm in the blouse department," Win replied, quite as anxious to
escape as Miss Rolls was anxious to blot her out. "I've been up to see
the superintendent on business, and now I'm hurrying back to work."

"You never wrote me," said Ena, thinking it was better to chatter than
let Lord Raygan talk, perhaps indiscreetly. And there were still more
floors at which the elevator must stop before reaching the ground
level. "I--I do trust you _would_ have written if you'd wanted
anything done that I could do." Her tone tried not to be too
patronizing, lest patronage should be considered to verge on
snobbishness.

"Thank you. I never did want anything that you could do. Though it
was kind of you to offer," Win returned, and was aware that every one
was listening.

Oh, why had she believed Mr. Löwenfeld when he vowed that the one
secure sanctuary against the Rolls family was in Peter Rolls's store?
If only she had not come here; by this time surely she would have
found something else and all would have been well.

"Well, it's very nice to see you again, Lady in the Moon," said
Raygan. "Do you like this place better than Nadine's?"

"There's more variety," replied Win.

"Not homesick yet for our side of the water--what?"

"I haven't time to think about it," she fibbed. "Now I must say
good-bye. We're coming to the ground floor."

"Let's go along with her, Miss Rolls, and see her home," suggested
Rags. "I want to know whether the blouse department beats that
_Monarchic_ room with all the mirrors--what?"

Ena's face showed distress. Her eyes actually appealed to the cause of
it to save her, and Win was only too ready to respond.

"Please don't come," she protested earnestly. "It wouldn't do. It's
against the rules to talk to--to any one you know, except on business.
I'm new here still, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to get me into
trouble. I'd much rather go alone, though it's very nice of you to
offer. Good-bye!"

The lift had at last reached the ground floor, and all Win had to do
was to let herself be borne out on a warm tide of females. Ena pressed
her body against the wall, and Lord Raygan must, perforce, stand by
her.

"Good-bye!" she cried. "We have to go up again, you know."

"We'll sail by, anyhow, and see where you hang out later," Raygan
called after the disappearing form in black. "And we'll bring Rolls
and my sister."

By this time the elevator had emptied itself, save for those bound for
the basement and Ena and Rags. It was impossible for Win to forbid the
party to "sail by," or to make any answer at all, over the decorated
heads of many women. But she felt as if she would rather die than have
Peter Rolls see her working in his father's store. He might easily
think that she had taken a place there because of knowing him, and
that, regretting the snub delivered at parting, she had hoped he might
some day find her in the Hands.

"I just can't bear it," she said to herself. "I'll have to pretend to
be ill, and get permission from Mr. Thorpe to leave the floor
again--to go to the hospital room--anything to get away."

But--wouldn't that be like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand?
Evidently Lord Raygan and Lady Eileen were being shown things. If they
hadn't been there already they would be sure to take a peep into the
hospital as well as the rest room. Not the restaurant perhaps! If Mr.
Rolls junior and his sister had any idea what that was like, they
would avoid it with their distinguished guests. Still, even there one
would not be safe. The only sure escape would be to go home, and she
would have to look very ill indeed before she could obtain leave of
absence for the rest of the day.

Wondering what on earth was to be done, Win suddenly recalled the
look in Ena Rolls's eyes, which had said as plainly as spoken words:
"For heaven's sake get me out of this scrape, and do or say something
to put Lord Raygan off dragging me with him to your horrid old blouse
department."

"She won't let them come!" Win told herself. "Somehow she'll prevent
it. I'll stick to my guns."

So she went back to her place as if nothing had happened and returned
to Mr. Thorpe the permit he, as aisle manager, had given her to leave
her duties and go off the floor on which they were carried out. It was
a small paper slip signed by him, and Thorpe would have been
responsible had she outstayed the time asked for. But she was safely
within it, and she had herself well enough in hand, after her
adventure, to answer his kind, sad smile with gratitude.

"What will Miss Rolls do to stop Lord Raygan from wanting to come--and
from saying anything about me to the others?" she wondered. She could
not guess. Yet she grew more and more confident of Ena's finesse as
the long afternoon wore on.

What Miss Rolls did was very simple, if you had the clue. But the clue
was what Win lacked.

"I thought we were due to meet Eily and Rolls about this time, and
look at those wonderful pearls your father says he gets straight from
the fisheries," Rags reminded Ena when the elevator dropped to the
basement and began to bound up again.

"So we are," she admitted, "but there's something I _must_ tell you
before we see Petro. That's why I made the excuse about getting
out--only, of course, you didn't understand. You couldn't! Any floor
will do, really--but we'll think of the one likely to be the least
crowded. I can't explain if creatures are pushing us about. Oh,
'Upholstery and Furniture!' They'll do."

The two wormed their way out of the lift, which was becoming more
congested at each stopping place, the legitimate hour for luncheon now
being over. The floor chosen by Ena had a series of "Ideal Rooms,"
furnished according to periods, and she led Raygan into a Dutch
dining-room with a high-backed settle which, if they sat down upon it,
would screen them from passers-by outside the open, welcoming door.
Besides, the old oak made a becoming background for a blue velvet
dress and silvery ermine stole.

"It's about that girl I want to speak," she said, when she had enticed
Lord Raygan into this secluded retreat.

"Who, the Lady in the Moon?" He was staring at delft plates on
panelled walls.

"Yes. I wished for a minute she'd been the Lady in Jericho. Perhaps
you noticed that I didn't seem overwhelmed with joy at sight of her?"

"Well, it did occur to me that you might have been more enthusiastic
if she'd been a Miss Vanderbilt."

"It wasn't that at _all_," Ena assured him eagerly, almost piteously.
"I didn't mind having to speak to her because she's a shop girl, but
because I was afraid if we stopped and talked, my brother might come
along. I wouldn't have had that happen for anything."

"Why on earth not?"

"I can't tell you, Lord Raygan. Please don't ask me. You'll embarrass
me very much if you do. But will you just trust me that it would be a
very bad thing if they were to meet, and not insist on our going to
look her up at the waist counter or wherever she is?"

"Certainly I won't insist," said Rags. "I don't care, you know,
whether we look her up or not. Only she was Rolls's chum on the
_Monarchic_, and I thought if he---"

"Dear Lord Raygan, please don't think about it any more. And if you
want to be very kind, and make me real happy and comfortable, don't
tell Petro we met the girl--or even mention her. You _will_ promise
not, won't you?"

"Of course, if you ask me, that's enough," said Rags, looking rather
sulky. He was curious to know what she actually meant, but, of course,
could not ask, and somehow the whole affair--Ena's deep solemnity and
secrecy, her hints which mustn't be questioned, began to seem silly
and even rather repulsive. He had never liked her less.

Vaguely conscious that she was not "making a hit," and more than ever
angry with the hateful necessity for this excursion, which was to
blame for everything, Ena rambled on, "hoping he wouldn't
misunderstand," and floundering into half explanations which made the
situation less comfortable every minute. At last, when the subject was
torn to tatters, and Raygan had begun to betray impatience, she got up
to go.

"Petro and Lady Eileen will be waiting for us in the jewellery
department now, I expect," Ena said drearily. "Let's hurry and meet
them, and then we can get away. I'm bored to death with the stuffy old
place, and you must be, too. I can't bear anything commercial. If
there's a lovely concert or a tango tea somewhere to finish up the
afternoon, it will be nice. Or almost anything!"

There was a tango tea, and it was nice. Rags, however was far from
nice. He did not seem at all himself.

"I'm afraid the poor old store wasn't as much fun as you thought it
would be," said Petro, half apologetically, when he began to realize
that Rags had a "grouch." Petro had liked the plan to visit the Hands,
and had liked the visit, too. The place had seemed a beehive of
industry and the bees--selling bees and buying bees--had all looked
happy and prosperous enough. On the surface, dad's methods appeared to
be the right methods. But Peter wondered if it would be a betrayal of
his promise if he wandered through the store alone sometimes, when it
was less crowded and things more normal. He had surrendered his
conviction that he "ought to help," and as Peter senior had stipulated
for no interference if Peter junior truly trusted him, one must be
careful about interpretations.

Petro's ideas for a "Start in Life Fund" were occupying a great deal
of his attention and were crystallizing into concrete form. He hoped
that he might soon cease to be a drone, and end by being of some real
use in the world. But as Peter junior passed out of the shop, his
promise to keep "hands off the Hands" seemed one of the things to
regret, whether selfishly or otherwise. He would have liked to know
more of the place, so passionately interesting to him, apart from its
business side; and he was unable to understand how Raygan, the one
whose curiosity had drawn all four to the Hands that day, could have
managed to be bored.

"Blouses" pulsed with excitement. Miss Ena Rolls and her brother were
said to be "showing their father's shop to an English lord." How the
thrilling tale began to go the rounds nobody in "Blouses" could tell.
But whenever any famous personage--a millionaire's daughter or an
actress, a society beauty or the heroine of a fashionable
scandal--enters a big department store, the news of her advent runs
from counter to counter like wildfire. In some shops the appearance of
an Astor, a Vanderbilt, or a Princess Patricia would send up the
mercury of excitement forty degrees higher than that of a Miss or Mr.
Rolls. But at the Hands, Peter the Great's son and daughter would have
drawn all eyes from the reigning Czar and Czarina of Russia.

It was rumoured that they had lunched early in the Pompeian
restaurant. The waitress who had served them had not known until too
late. She would regret this all her life. Mr. Michaels, of
"Jewellery," who had been honoured by showing them pearls, was envied
by all his fellows, and the same with Miss Dick, of "Candy," and Miss
Wallace, in "Perfume." Girls in all departments grew quite jumpy in
expectation that the party might appear, and under the intense nervous
strain of trying to recognize them in time.

"Rubberneck!" one hissed to another, and giggled if she made her
start.

Even Miss Stein, now somewhat resigned to fate and looking more kindly
at Fred Thorpe, became condescending and communicative in the general
flurry.

"Keep your eyes peeled for a good-looking, short guyl in blue velvet,
with an ermine muff and stole that's a beaut from Beautville," she
said to Win. "Thorpe saw her. He's had her pointed out to him at the
theayter, so he knows. Her brother's dark and thin, but blue eyed. I
saw in the Sunday supplement he's goin' to marry the sister of that
lord."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a dinner at Sea Gull Manor that night in honour of the
Rolls's guests, and just as Eileen had finished dressing, her brother
Raygan knocked at her door.

"Want me to say your tie's all right?" she chirped.

"No, my child, I do not," said Rags. "I wouldn't trust your taste
round the corner with a tie. You're looking rather pleased with
yourself--what?"

"I'm pleased with myself and everybody else," replied Eileen. "This is
one of my happy nights."

"I wonder why? There's sure to be a dull crowd at dinner. I've found
out now the Rollses know all the wrong lot."

"I found that out _long_ ago. But I don't care. And I'm going to sit
by Petro. So I shall be all right."

"You've jolly well been with him the whole blessed day. Aren't you
sick of his society yet?"

"No. And I shouldn't be till doomsday. He talks to me of such
interesting things."

"Has he ever by chance said anything to you about the Lady in the
Moon?"

"Good gracious! no, nor the man either. Nor the green cheese it's made
of. Is that the sort of conversation Ena's been treating you to? If it
is, no wonder you look bored stiff. You never could stand romance from
any one but darling Pobbles."

"Don't speak of Kathleen in this house. It makes me want to bolt for
home. Not that she'd look at me if I did. But the contrast between
her and Ena Rolls--good Lord, it doesn't bear thinking of! Nothing
doing about the Lady in the Moon so far as I'm concerned. It's Rolls
who got moonstruck--according to his sister. Now can you guess whom I
mean?"

Eileen's pleasant, plain little face flushed up.

"Oh, the Nadine girl on the ship! The one who looked so nice in the
Moon dress. Petro bought it--for Ena. And she gave it to that
fascinating girl. She--Ena, I mean--told me all about it."

"And about the girl, too?"

"What was there to tell?"

"Blamed if I know. But Ena was hinting dark things this afternoon.
That's why I was wondering whether he'd opened out to you. You're such
pals."

Eileen shook her head. She was not looking quite so bright as when
Rags had first come into the overheated, overlighted, overdecorated
room. But perhaps this was only because he had set her to thinking
intently. "No, he's never spoken of the Lady in the Moon. Let me
think--what was her name?"

"Miss Child."

"_You_ seem to remember very well--you, who mix up all the wrong names
with the right faces."

"But I saw her to-day. I forgot--I haven't told you of that yet, have
I?"

"No. Where was it?"

"Wait a minute. Strictly speaking, I oughtn't to tell you, I suppose.
All the same I will--for a reason--if you'll promise first not to
mention it to Rolls. Never mind why not, but promise, if you want to
know."

"Of course I want to know. You make me fearfully curious. I'll
promise not to breathe a word to Petro."

"Where the girl is or anything about her?"

"'Where the girl is, or anything about her.' Honour bright. Is that
enough? Well, then--go on!"

"She's in the shop--employed there, it seems. We met her in the lift,
Ena and I. It was a surprise all round. Ena wasn't overjoyed. No more
was the Lady in the Moon. They got rid of each other quickly and
skilfully. Afterward, Ena buttonholed me and sat me down on a hard
settee in a beastly furnished room like a rathskeller, with price tags
on everything, and made me solemnly swear not to split to Rolls."

"About your meeting Miss Child?"

"_Ra-ther!_ And all the rest of it."

"What rest?"

"A lot of rubbish. I don't know what she was driving at, I'm hanged if
I do. But if I didn't like Rolls, I'd suspect."

"But you do like him. And so do I."

"I've noticed that. So would Mubs, if she ever noticed anything that
didn't wave suffragette colours."

"And I shall go on liking him--'right straight on,' as he'd say
himself. Nothing that Ena or anybody else could tell me would make me
believe a word against him. And the girl's nice, too. I'm sure she is.
But how too endlessly quaint she should be in the shop."

"She intimated politely, when we asked her questions, that it was a
last resort."

"I should think so, indeed! She was--well, not a beauty exactly, but
too weirdly fascinating."

"She hasn't changed. Only she looked scared at the sight of us. And
she's thinner in the face. Her eyes seemed to have grown too big for
it. Ena said Petro mustn't find out where she is. Rather rum--what?"

"Is this the thing that's made you so grumpy ever since?"

"I don't know that I've been grumpy. Only a bit reflective. The fact
is---"

"What?"

"Never mind. It wouldn't sound very nice."

"Who cares how it sounds? You might tell me, now we've got so far."

"Well, then, sometimes I wonder whether--the game's worth the candle.
Whatever the rotten old proverb means!"

Eileen had no difficulty in understanding the allusion.

"She's got heaps of good things about her," the girl reminded him,
being as loyal as was humanly possible to her hostess.

"Heaps. They're simply piled up in the corners of her nature. But I
seemed to have wandered into an empty place to-day. By Jove, Eily, I
thought I'd made up my mind. I'm fond of the old place at home, and
I'd like, to see it done up properly. It isn't as if I'd ever care
tuppence again about any girl on earth after--Kathleen. So what does
anything of that sort matter? At least that's what I've been asking
myself."

"I'm afraid Ena thinks you'll soon be asking _her_."

"Heavens! I suppose she does. Not that I've said a confounded word.
I'm hanged if I know what to do! I tell you what. I'll wait and see
how things go to-night. And then--maybe I'll toss up a penny."

"We ought to go down now, anyhow," said Eileen, still very
thoughtful.

"Come along, then, and face the music."

"You go. I'll follow in a minute. I want to put this wonderful pink
orchid in just the right place in my dress, and I shall be nervous if
you watch me."

"What a ripper! Where did you get it?" Rags pretended that he cared to
know the history of a wonderful, live-looking flower that lay on his
sister's dressing-table.

"Petro. He bought it for me in the florist department of his father's
shop. He said it was the latest addition--the department, not the
orchid."

"Don't you get thinking too much about Rolls," grumbled Lord Raygan.
"There _may_ be something in that affair, after all. One can never be
sure. Anyhow, I thought I'd tell you."

On that he closed the door, shutting himself out.

"Petro--and the Lady in the Moon," Eileen whispered, just above her
breath, as she found the right place for the orchid.



CHAPTER XVI

THE SEED ENA PLANTED


Ena was glad when she saw Eileen wearing the orchid that Petro had
bought for her in the gorgeous new department at the Hands. Rags had
at the same time purchased some gardenias for Miss Rolls, she having
mentioned that the gardenia was her favourite flower. Both girls
tucked these trophies into the front of their coats, and wore them
home. Also, they wore them again for dinner, a far more conspicuous
compliment to the givers. Ena meant it to be taken as such, and
faintly hoped, in spite of the afternoon's failure, that the thing she
prayed for might happen that night. Perhaps Lord Raygan needed a
little more encouragement, for, after all, she was rich and he was
poor, and men did hesitate about proposing to heiresses--in novels.

Nothing did happen; but there was still time, for the guests were
staying on for a cotillon, and there was a meeting at which Lady
Raygan had faithfully promised to speak. It was a shame, however, that
the effect of the orchid as well as the gardenias should be wasted,
and the morning after their visit to the Hands, Ena made an
opportunity of speaking to Petro alone.

He was in his own "den," one of the smallest rooms in the house, meant
for a dressing-room, and opening off his bedroom. He had fitted it up
as a nondescript lair, and indulged in ribald mirth if Ena tried to
dignify it with the name of "study." All the pictures of the big
animals he hadn't killed were there--beautiful wild things he felt he
had the right to know socially, as he had never harmed them or their
most distant relatives. In an old glass-fronted, secretary bookcase of
mahogany, the first piece of "parlour furniture" his parents had ever
bought, were the dear books of Petro's boyhood and early youth, and
above, on the gray-papered wall, hung a portrait of mother, which her
son had had painted by an unfashionable artist as a "birthday present
from his affectionate self" at the age of sixteen. An ancient easy
chair and a queer old sofa still had the original, slippery, black
horsehair off which Petro and Ena had slid as children. Petro had
named the sofa "the whale," and the squat chair "the seal." Both
shiny, slippery, black things really did resemble sea monsters, and
had never lost for Petro their mysterious personality.

There were some cushions and a fire screen, the bead-and-wool flowers
of which mother had worked in early married life, and on the floor, in
front of the friendly wood fire which Petro loved, lay a rug which was
also her handiwork It was made of dresses her children had worn when
they were very, very little, and some of her own which Petro could
even now remember. Nobody save he, at Sea Gull Manor, cared for a
grate fire; or if mother would have liked one, instead of a
handwrought bronze radiator half hidden in the wall, she dared not say
so. But she came and sat in Petro's den sometimes, crocheting in the
old easy chair, when he was self indulgent enough to have a fire of
ships' logs. The rose and gold and violet flames of the driftwood lit
up for him the secret way to Dreamland and the country of Romance.
What it did for mother, she did not say; but as her fingers moved,
regularly as the ticking of a clock, her eyes would wander over the
old furniture she had loved and back to the fire, as if she were
trying to call up her own past and her son's future.

This morning Petro was not in a good mood, for he had been reading in
the newspaper an interview with him which he hadn't given. It was all
about the "Start in Life Fund," and sounded as if he were boasting,
not only of the idea, but of the way in which he meant to carry it
out. Nobody likes to be made to appear a conceited bounder when his
intentions are as modest as those of a hermit crab, and a hundred
times more benevolent.

Therefore, when Ena came, using as an excuse a dire need of notepaper,
and stopped to dawdle, lighting one of his cigarettes, Petro felt an
urgent desire to be cross. She had on some perfume which he hated, and
a split skirt, and was altogether so inconvenient and uncongenial that
disagreeable things to say sat on the end of his tongue. He bit them
back, however, for he knew he should be sorry afterward if he were a
beast.

"You look as if you'd like to snap my head off," said Ena, fumbling
among his cigarettes.

"So I would. But I won't," said he. "It isn't you I mind. It's only
something that Raygan would call bally rot in the paper."

"Something about us?" Ena was alert in a moment.

"Only about me."

"Is _that_ all! You're so silly about having things in the paper!
Almost anything's better than nothing, I feel, as long as they don't
go raking up father's and mother's past. Oh, I know you think their
past's the best thing about them. Let's not argue. Does it say again
that you're engaged to Eileen?"

"No, thank heaven. I don't want to punch heads in her defence."

His sister laughed, and tried to make herself comfortable by putting
her feet up on the slippery whale. The split green cloth skirt fell
apart and showed a pink ankle clad in a tight-fitting film of green
silk stocking. Ena gazed at it appreciatively and liked the look of
her foot in a high-heeled green suède shoe with a gold buckle.

"My private opinion is that dear little Eileen was tickled to death by
the mistake. The only thing she didn't like about it was--its _being_
a mistake."

"If you talk like that, I'll wish the whale was Jonah's," said Petro.

"She does love you!" Ena got out hurriedly, fearing to be stopped, or
caught up in the surprisingly strong arms of Petro, and gently set
down on the wrong side of the door. "She does! She does! I've thought
so a long time. Now I know it. I mustn't tell you how."

"You oughtn't to tell me how. It isn't true and it isn't kind--to
either of us. I hate hearing such darned nonsense about a girl who
likes me as a friend. And she'd be mad as the dickens if she could
hear."

"Perhaps she'd be mad," Ena admitted, "because it _is_ true. If it
weren't she'd only laugh. You're a simple Simon not to see. Everybody
else with eyes does see. And they'll all be sorry for her if you don't
speak."

"Any one would think I was a dog and she was a bone," growled Petro.
"Speak, indeed! I wish you'd mind your own business, Ena."

"I am minding it as hard as I can," said his sister, "and you ought to
thank me for taking an interest in yours, too. Don't you _like_ poor
little Lady Eileen?"

"Very much; same way she likes me. We're good chums."

"If you don't believe what I say, Petro, there's a splendid way of
finding out. Ask her."

"See here, my dear girl, haven't you got anything better to do this
morning than to loll all over my sofa and talk drivel when I want to
write a letter blowing up somebody? I felt a fool when you came in.
Now you've made me feel a double-dyed idiot. Kindly go away and dig a
hole in the ground with yourself."

Ena went. But she felt that, despite discouragement, she had already
dug a tiny, tiny hole in very hard ground, not for herself, but for a
little seed which might perhaps send out its shoots later.

It did not precisely do that; but as the ground raked over was Petro's
heart, the seed his sister had left made him uncomfortable. It burned
and stung and felt alive, and something had to be done about it.

Of course Ena was wrong. He was the last fellow in the world a girl
could care for. He had learned that to his sorrow. A girl couldn't
even like him. There was something about him that bored her nearly to
death as soon as she began to know him fairly well, and made her want
to bolt. He was as sure, he told himself, of the exact nature of nice
little Lady Eileen's feeling for him as of his for her. Nevertheless,
that night at a dance, when he and she (for the best of reasons, they
didn't know how) were sitting out the tango, he found himself becoming
confidential.

This was strange, for Petro had one of his father's characteristics if
no other--he did not confide things in people. Peter senior kept his
own secrets because it was wise to keep them. Peter junior kept his
partly because he thought they would bore every one save himself. So
even where the two were alike, they were miles apart. For some vague
reason, however--which, if he had stopped to define it, would have
convinced him that he was disgustingly conceited--Petro was moved that
night, in a new-fashioned conservatory resembling a jungle, to tell
Lady Eileen one or two things about himself.

How it started he was not quite sure, but with some awkwardness he had
tried to lead up to the subject, and suddenly Eileen had begun to help
him out.

"I used to think a man would have to know a lot about a girl," he
said, "before he could be sure she was the sort he could fall in love
with. I thought love at first sight wouldn't be love at all, but only
infatuation. Now I see that I didn't know what I was talking about. It
isn't a question of whether you _could_ love her. You've just got to.
You can't do anything else. It's like seven devils or seven angels
entering into and possessing you. There they are before you know
what's happened. Afterward, when you find out what's struck you, maybe
it's too late. Or maybe there'd never have been any hope, anyhow."

"'While there's life, there's hope,'" quoted Eileen.

"But what if life's parted you from her?"

"I wouldn't let it, if I were a man. I wouldn't allow the girl to go
out of my life. It doesn't sound a _strong_ thing to do."

"It might be, though, in some circumstances. For instance, if a girl
showed you very plainly she couldn't be bothered with you, it would be
weak to run after her, wouldn't it?"

"I wonder," said Eileen, "if a man's a good judge of why a girl does
things that she does? Of course, I don't _know_ much. But I feel he
mightn't be. It's so difficult for girls and men to understand each
other, really. Now there's my brother Rags and our cousin Pobbles--I
mean, Portia. Pobbles is her nickname. You know we're great on the
most endlessly quaint nicknames in our family. She's quite a distant
cousin of ours, otherwise she wouldn't have such lots of money as she
has. _We're_ church mice. We'd be church worms if there were any! But
Rags was in love with Pobbles for years, and she wouldn't believe it.
She thought, because she's not exactly pretty, it must be her money he
wanted. They never understood each other a bit. You mustn't say
anything about this, and I won't say anything about what you tell
_me_. You _will_ tell me about the girl, won't you? Maybe I can help.
You see, though I don't know so very much about men yet--except
Rags--I know a whole lot about girls."

"There isn't much to tell," said Petro. "I met a girl in rather a
queer way--sort of romantic, it seemed to me. And the minute I saw her
she stood out quite different from any one else I'd ever seen, like a
red rose in a garden of pale-pink ones. I couldn't get her face out of
my mind, or her voice out of my ears. She was like my idea of a dryad.
It seemed she might turn into a tree if a man looked at her too long.
But I didn't know I was in love. I thought she just appealed to me,
fascinated me somehow or other. And I wanted to do things for her all
the time. I was always thinking of some excuse to be where she was. I
was looking forward to doing a lot more things--I suppose it was only
selfishness, because I wanted to make her like me, but I didn't
realize that till after she was gone."

"Gone?" Eileen encouraged him.

"Yes. She didn't want me to do those things I'd been planning for her.
She wouldn't have what I could do, or me, at any price."

"Did you--had you--told her you _cared_?"

"Great Scott! no. I hadn't got nearly so far as that. I told her I
hoped to see her again, that if there was something I could do to
help, I--but she wasn't taking any. She seemed friendly and kind
before that, which made it worse when she turned me down so hard. I
suppose she hadn't minded much at first, but the more she saw of me
the more she couldn't stand for the shape of my nose or the way I
talked, maybe. She just got to feel that the sight of me hanging
around would poison New York for her, and she intimated that her
health would be better if I kept at the other end of the city. You
wouldn't have had me continue to butt in, would you?"

"I don't know. What happened then?"

"Oh, she went away."

"You let her go?"

"What else could I do?"

"You could have found out where she went in case she changed her mind.
But perhaps you did find out?"

"No. For she didn't seem like the kind of girl who would change her
mind about a kind of fellow like me. Besides, I was sort of stunned by
the difference in her manner just at the moment. When I came to
myself--I mean, about wondering if I could have done anything better,
and realizing what a terrible lot I cared, she was gone. Then I hoped
Ena would hear from her. I think she promised to write. But it appears
that she never did so."

"Is she in New York still?"

"I wish to heaven I knew!"

"Couldn't you find out?"

"I might, if I wanted to be a cad."

"Why--what do you mean?"

"I dare say a private detective would undertake the job. Sometimes
I've been tempted--yet no, I don't believe I ever did come near to
playing the game as low down as that."

"But it might be for her good---"

"That's the way I argued with myself. I almost got myself convinced
sometimes. But I knew in my heart it was only sophistry. You see, it
isn't as if she would let me do anything for her, even if she wanted
anything done, which I've no particular reason to suppose she does.
She's English, and a stranger over here, but she told me--when we were
friends--that she had letters of introduction to good people and that
she'd plenty of money till they found her a job. I can't bear to think
of her needing a 'job' when I--but I'm helpless! No doubt she's all
right, and getting along like a house on fire. She was the sort of
girl who would. Or maybe she's engaged by this time to some chap worth
ten of me. But I can't forget. I think of her by day, and I dream of
her by night."

"What do you see her doing in your dreams?" Eileen asked in a new
tone of voice. Not more interested, for she had shown deep interest
before, but with a quaver of excited eagerness.

"Dreams go by contraries, luckily," said Peter, "otherwise I should
worry. I always see her in some kind of trouble. If it isn't one
darned thing it's another. And I look for her by day when I'm up in
town. I think, what if I should see her face framed in some car
window? This afternoon I even looked for her in our store--though
feeling to me the way she did, it would be the _last_ place where
she'd go to spend a cent, if she associated the name of Rolls with
mine. I bet she'd rather go without a cloak on a cold day than buy it
there!"

"Our dance, Lady Eileen," said another man, who had tracked a missing
partner through the tropical jungle.

Eileen rose reluctantly, but graciously, throwing Petro a good-bye
look. There was a sympathetic, understanding smile on her pleasant,
freckled face which seemed to say: "Don't give up. You may find her
yet. And girls _do_ change their minds about men. Anyhow, I'm glad
we've had this talk."

She was glad, though she was sad, too--just a little sad. It would
pass, she knew, for she had not let herself go far. In spite of all
that Ena had said, it had never felt true that Peter cared for her.
She could have loved him, and been happy with him, and have made him
happy, she thought, but since he didn't want her, she must set herself
to work hard not to want him. She must take her mind off the little
deep-down, bruised hurt in her heart by thinking of a way in which she
could make him happy--a way in which, by and by, he might recognize
her handiwork and send her his thanks across the sea.

"I should like him to know I did it," she said to herself. "And then
through all his life he would have to remember me because of his
happiness, which, without me, he might have missed."

Of course, Petro had mentioned no name, and Eileen had asked no
questions. If it had not been for Raygan's revelation she might not
have guessed; but now she did guess, and was almost sure. It seemed to
her that a girl who could have Petro's friendship and then drop it
like a hot chestnut didn't deserve him for a friend, much less a
lover. But there must have been some reason. It wouldn't have been
human nature, to put things on their lowest level, for a girl in Miss
Child's position to "turn down" a young man in Peter Rolls's for a
mere whim.

Could Ena have done something to put them apart? Eileen wondered. It
would--she had to admit--be like Ena. And if Ena had been treacherous
or hateful, then it would be a sort of poetical justice if she lost
Raygan through making her brother lose his dryad. Even now Eileen did
not know what Rags would do; and since their day at the Hands, he had
seemed somehow "off" the affair with Ena. But whatever happened in the
end--which, one way or the other, must come soon--between Ena and
Raygan, Peter mustn't lose the Lady in the Moon because of a stupid
promise exacted and made to get his sister out of some scrape.

Eileen wouldn't break the promise, because a promise was one of the
few things she and her brother Rags had never broken. Raygan wouldn't
release her, even if she begged him to do so, but there might be
another way--a way which might lead Petro straight to the Lady in the
Moon, if he were really in earnest about finding her. That was the
clever part of the inspiration which suddenly came to Eileen that same
night after starting up from a dream which was "endlessly quaint."

"I'll do it when I say good-bye to Mrs. Rolls," she told herself. And
the idea seemed to her so original, so filled with possibilities of
romance, that it was as soothing to the bruise in her heart as an
application of Peter Rolls's Balm of Gilead.

She guessed that he had put aside his reserve and told her about the
"dryad girl" because Ena had put him up to think that she--Eileen--had
"begun to care." The mortifying part was that it had been--almost
true. But Eileen wasn't going to mind. She was going to say to
herself, if ever the pain came back: "If I can do this for him,
surely, when he knows, he'll be glad he told me, and glad that I cared
enough to help."

It was only next morning, when the world showed its practical side,
that she realized how seldom in real life romances can be worked out
to a happy ending--or, at all events, the kind of happy ending the
people concerned are striving after.

"I'll do my best, though," she reiterated, "for Petro's sake and for
mine."

For her the lost dryad was but a shadowy figure in the background,
necessary to the picture, perhaps, yet not of poignant, personal
interest. It was only of Petro she thought.



CHAPTER XVII

TOYLAND


From her own point of view, the lost dryad was a prominent figure in
the middle of the foreground; for life was strenuous for those in the
grasp of the Hands, and it was only at night, when her body could lie
quiet while her brain was still terribly active, that other figures
assumed their due importance for Win in the great, bright picture of
New York.

It was something to be thankful for that she had escaped Peter the day
of that visit of inspection to the store. Not that she was afraid of
him or anything he could do if they should meet. That would have been
too silly and Victorian! Girls were not like that nowadays, if they
had any sense, no matter how "dangerous" men might be. But she had
liked him so much, and had been so bitterly disappointed to learn from
his own loving sister that he was not the "Mr. Balm of Gilead" created
by her imagination that it would be unbearable to meet him again, to
see him "giving himself away," and thus proving his sister right.

To be sure, after seeing Miss Rolls in the lift, certain kind
protestations of friendship had been contradicted by a frozen smile, a
cold, embarrassed eye. If Peter's sister were insincere in one way,
why not untrustworthy in others? This was one of the questions that
darted into Win's brain at night through one of the holes made there
by the giant bees of the "L" road. But the answer was obvious. Miss
Rolls might be superficial, insincere, and snobbish enough to dislike
claiming acquaintance with a girl of the "working classes," but there
was no motive strong enough to make her traduce her brother's
character. Even untrustworthy people told the truth sometimes.

It was rather fortunate, perhaps, that Win had another exciting
thought to engross her attention at this time, though it was no more
agreeable than the thought of Peter Rolls. After her conversation with
Mr. Meggison, she confidently expected to find her dismissal in the
next pay envelope. It was not there; but, suddenly and without
warning, she was dragged out of Blouses and Neckwear and dumped into
Toys.

This was as great a surprise to Sadie Kirk and Earl Usher as to Win
herself. She dropped upon them as if she had fallen out of the sky--or
at least from the top floor. And nobody knew why: whether it was a
punishment or a reward. For Toys gave harder work for the hands
without a capital H than Blouses and Neckwear, even when Miss Stein
was badly "peeved." Also, Mr. Tobias, the floorwalker concerned with
the toy department was "a spalpeen and a pie-faced mutt from 'way
back," whereas Fred Thorpe was a well-known angel. Yet, on the other
hand, not only were more than half the toy assistants men, but many of
the customers also were men. This made the department more lively to
be in than Blouses, and some girls considered Toys next best to
Gloves.

It was almost like coming into a strange shop when Win arrived with
Sadie before eight o'clock in the morning for her first day in
Toyland, as Earl Usher facetiously named it. The December morning
hardly knew yet that it had been born, and though already there was
life in the Hands--fierce, active life--those pulsing white globes
which made artificial sunshine whatever the weather, had not yet begun
to glow like illuminated snowballs. Shadowy men were lifting pale
shrouds off the counters. Voices chattering in the gloom were like
voices of monkeys in a dusky jungle--a jungle quite unlike that fairy
place where Peter Rolls had talked of Win to Lady Eileen. Out of the
gloom wondrous things emerged to people, a weird world--the Hands'
world of toys.

As Win strained her eyes to see through the dusk, forth from its
depths loomed uncouth, motionless shapes. Almost life-size lions and
Teddy bears, and huge, grinning baboons as big as five-year-old boys,
posed in silent, expressive groups, dangerously near to unprotected
dolls' houses with open fronts--splendid dolls' houses, large enough
for children to enter, and less important dolls' houses, only big
enough for fairies. Dolls' eyes and dolls' dresses and dolls' golden
curls caught what little light there was and drew attention to
themselves.

Some of them stood, three rows deep (the little ones in front, like
children watching a show), on shelves. Others were being fetched out
by the chattering shadows, as if they were favourite chorus girls, to
display their graces on the counters. They were placed in chairs, or
motor cars of doll land, or seated carefully in baby carriages. There
were walking dolls and talking dolls and dolls who could suck real
milk out of real bottles into tin-lined stomachs. Some exquisitely
gowned porcelain Parisiennes, with eyelashes and long hair cut from
the heads of penniless children, were almost as big and as
aristocratic as their potential millionaire mistresses. Humbler
sisters of middle class combined prettiness with cheapness, and had
the satisfaction of showing their own price marks.

These delicate creatures, lovely in pale-tinted robes or forlorn in
chemises, were the bright spots in the vast, dark department, shining
out through the dusk as stars shine through thin clouds. As Win became
one of the band of shadows, under Sadie's direction, gradually she
grew accustomed to the gloom, and her gaze called many of the strange
objects forth into life.

She found long-haired Shetland ponies big enough to ride, glorified
hobby horses clad in real skins, and unglorified ones with nostrils
like those of her landlady in Columbus Avenue. Biscuit-coloured Jersey
cows, which could be milked, gazed mildly into space with expensive
glass eyes. Noah's arks, big enough to be lived in if the animals
would move up, seemed to have been painted with Bakst colours.
Fearsome faces glared from behind the bars of menagerie cages. Donkeys
and Chinese mandarins nodded good-morning and forgot to stop. Dragon
broods of miniature motor cars nested in realistic garages.

Dramatic scenes from real plays were being enacted in dumb show on the
stages of theatres apparently decorated by Rothenstein. The Russian
ballet had stopped in the midst of "Le Spectre de la Rose." Suits of
armour, which Ursus called "pewter raincoats," glimmered in dark
spaces behind piled drums and under limply hanging flags or
aeroplanes ready to take flight. Almost everything was
mechanical--each article warranted to do what it pretended to do in
order to have its appeal for the modern child.

Win was a child of yesterday; yet the big girl has always the little
girl of the past asleep in her heart, ready to wake up on the
slightest encouragement, and she felt the thrill of Toyland. If when
she was small she could ever have dreamed of spending her days in a
place like this, she would have bartered her chance of heaven for
it--heaven as described in her father's sermons. It was another of
life's little ironies that her lot should be cast in a world of toys
when she was too old to prefer it to Paradise.

Sadie and Ursus had used up the little time they had in warning her
what she would have to expect in Toys.

"There are some punk fellers who'll try it on with you--pinch or
tickle you as you pass by, and say things not fit for a dandy guyl
like you to hear," the lion tamer had hurriedly explained. "But don't
you stand for it. You don't have to! Just hand 'em along to me, and
I'll make 'em sorry their fathers ever seen their mothers."

Sadie's story of girl life in Toyland was on the same lines, but with
a different moral.

"Don't you tell tales out o' school, no matter what any of the chaps
_do_," was her advice. "I kin hold my own, and I bet you can. You may
be a looker, but you ain't anybody's baby doll. If a feller calls you
'childie' or 'sweet lamb' or tells you you're the peacherino in the
peach basket, don't you answer back, but just smile and wend your
ways. If he goes so far as to put his arm around your waist or take a
nip with his nails out of your arm or hip, why, then you can land him
one on the napper if nobody's lookin'. But all the same, the chaps
mostly ain't so black at heart. They just try to decorate their gray
lives a bit, and if those sort of things didn't happen to me once or
twicet a day, why I'd be discouraged and think I'd lost my fatal
beauty."

For some subtle reason, however, "chaps" did not pinch or tickle Win
or slip arms around her waist. One confided to another that he guessed
there was nothing "didding" in that direction, and he'd as soon make
love to the Statue of Liberty as an English Maypole; which was as
well, for from the first moment of her entrance on the scene, the lion
tamer kept his eyes open. There were all sorts and conditions of men
in Toys, but he was among them as a giant among pygmies; and even if
the ex-ship's steward, the ex-trolley driver, the conjurer out of a
job, and the smart young men who had been "clerking since they were in
long pants," had wished to try their luck with Win, Earl Usher would
have shown them the wisdom of turning their eyes elsewhere.

The news soon ran round Toyland that "Winsome Winnie" was Usher's
girl. The male "assistants" did no worse than call her by her
Christian name (they must have caught it from Sadie), and that was no
cause of offence to girl from man in a department store. Every girl in
a department shared by men was "Kitty" or "Winny," "Sadie" or
"Sweetie," while the men expected to be addressed as Mr. Jones or Mr.
Brown, except by their own particular "petsies." Sadie was popular
with all, even the "permanences," who considered themselves above the
"holiday extras." The ex-steward, a good-looking young German, had
offered to get her a dandy place as stewardess when he felt ready to
sniff salt water again, and though she wasn't "taking any," and often
boxed his ears, she made "dates" with him for dance halls after
business hours, especially one called Dreamland, which was too lovely
for "wuyds." There were movies, and you could dance till 'most
morning. Real swell gentlemen, who wore red badges to show "they was
all right," came up and asked if they could "interdooce" other gents
to you, in case you'd come in alone and didn't have friends. But Sadie
always did have friends.

The red-haired girl, who had from the first been a haunting mystery
for Win, was in the toy department. Her name was Lily Leavitt, and--as
Sadie had already told Win--she was "chucking herself" at Earl Usher's
head. At first Miss Leavitt "lamped" Miss Child "something awful." But
on the English girl's third Toy day a thing happened which converted
the enemy into a friend--an all too devoted friend.

It was now so near Christmas that in the department devoted to toys
and games you could not have placed a sheet of foreign notepaper
between mothers (with a sprinkling of aunts and grandmas) unless you
wanted it torn to pieces before you could count "One!" Children were
massed together in a thick, low-growing underbrush, and of their
species only babies were able to rise, like cream, to the top. The
air, or rather the atmosphere (since all the air had been breathed
long ago), was to the nerves what tow is to fire. Nobody could be in
it for ten minutes without wanting to hit somebody else or push
somebody else's child, little brute! out of the way.

What with heat, the rage for buying, impatience to get in and
impatience to get out, the fragrance of pine and holly decorations,
the smell of hot varnish and hot people and cheap furs, the babble of
excited voices and shrieks of exhausted children, it was the true
Christmas spirit. Peter Rolls's store in general, and the toy
department in particular, were having what would be alluded to later
in advertisements as an "unprecedented success."

Before Win came the folding chairs for "assistants" had all been
broken or out of order. But (no doubt, said Sadie) because of some
lingering suspicion that she might, after all, be an anti-sweat spy,
the springs or hinges were mysteriously repaired throughout the
department. By law any girl could sit down. By unwritten law she
mustn't, yet there were the chairs as good as gold and fresh as paint.
They were even pointed out to Win, but in the whirl of things the
moment after she forgot their very existence and never had time to
remember it again.

That third day in Toys was the most appalling she had known of all the
long, wild days at Peter Rolls's since coming in as an extra holiday
hand. Dozens of customers clamoured for her at once. Each female
creature seemed to have as many hands as Briareus, all reaching for
things they wanted, or gesticulating and brandishing money, or
snatching for change. If each distracted girl had had half a dozen
highly trained astral bodies with which to serve these terrible
ladies, it would not have been enough. More ladies would have come.

Yet (Win noticed with wondering admiration) some of the girls, those
most experienced and less easily rattled, did find opportunities to
polish their nails and pat their hair. They would turn as if to find
something "in stock," stoop quickly, taking advantage of the crowd
behind the counters, snatch out of their stockings tiny mirrors and
bags of powder or rouge, and "fix themselves," while their anxious
customers supposed they were diving for a toy. These were the girls
who kept their own perfumed soap and scent bottles in their lockers
and could afford becoming hats, whether or no they had money to buy
new underclothes and stockings when the old ones gave out.

Win, however, had neither experience enough nor desire to find time
for personal matters. She gave her whole soul to her work and wore
that pleasant Christmas smile which floorwalkers wish to see on
salesladies' faces. But her smile was only skin deep. She had never
liked her sister women less--cross, silly, snapping, inconsiderate
things, strutting and pushing about in skins and plumes of animals far
more agreeable and beautiful than themselves! Dangling all over with
poor little heads of dead creatures, just as if they were moving
butcher shops, and apparently without a sense of humour to tell them
what idiots they looked.

Yes, idiots! That was the word. And if they had enough humour to put
on a thumb nail, _could_ they wear the stick-out and stick-up
ornaments on their hats they did wear, to prod each other's eyes? No,
they couldn't! And what with feathers standing straight out behind,
and long corsets down to their knees, they could never lean back
against anything, no matter how tired they were. So, what with tight
dresses and high heels and thin silk stockings and low shoes and
blouses on winter days, no wonder men wouldn't let them have the vote!

Win turned from an incipient suffragette into a temporarily venomous
woman hater when a customer made her show nine dozen dolls, and then
minced away saying that Peter Rolls never did have anything worth
buying. Another patronizingly bestowed five cents upon Win for her
"trouble" after making her change three toys bought yesterday and
taking half an hour over it. Altogether, when Winifred Child happened
to think of Mrs. Belmont's building with the great figure of a woman
falling down the front of it, she would have liked the statue to drop
to earth with a crash.

Once in a while, contriving to pass near, Ursus tried to whisper a
word of encouragement:

"You're a Wonderchild, you are! Say, it don't spoil your looks bein'
tired. You're the picture postal, you are! Never you mind these dames.
Say the word and we'll make up with a large time to-night. I'll blow
you through all the best movies and stake you to an ice-cream, soda.
Do you get yes?"

Despite his well-meant solicitude, however, Win's vitality was at an
exceedingly low ebb toward five o'clock in the afternoon of the third
day. There had been no time to go out for an alleged luncheon and a
breath of fresh air. She had eaten nothing since her breakfast of hot
chocolate at a soda fountain, save a poached egg in the employees'
restaurant, and, as Sadie said, it wasn't safe to accept an egg from
the Hands unless you'd met the hen socially and knew her past. Since
four o'clock the exile had been thinking passionately of England, with
its millions of women sitting down--actually sitting down!--to tea.
And then, suddenly, a man pushed aside a female thing who was being
cross because she couldn't find a doll that said "Papa" and "Mama" in
German.

"As you can't get what you want, madam, I'm sure you won't mind my
taking your place," apologized a cheerful voice. "Madam" was so
dumfounded that she gave way. And Win, thankful for a change of sex in
her customer, had put on her polite saleslady air before she realized
that she was face to face with Jim Logan, her motoring acquaintance of
the park.

"Howdy do?" he inquired, and hastily added: "I want a doll. I don't
care whether she can talk German or not. Though I do want a little
conversation--with somebody."

Money could not be lost to the house of Rolls because one of its
female servants wished to snub an admirer. Mr. Logan was even better
dressed than when Win had seen him before. He looked rich enough to
buy Peter Rolls's star doll, price five hundred dollars, with
trousseau. Nevertheless Miss Child determined to outwit him.

"What kind of a doll?" she asked in a business-like tone, showing no
sign of recognition. "For a small girl or a large girl? And about what
price do you wish to pay?"

"Doll for a middle-sized girl," replied the customer, his twinkling
eyes on the young woman serving him. "I like large girls best, girls
exactly your size and age, twenty at most, and warranted to look
seventeen if given a day's rest and a pretty hat and a supper at
Sherry's--with the right man. I don't mind how much trouble I take
looking for a doll any more than I mind the trouble of looking for a
girl. This is a little sister of mine who has to have a doll. I like
other men's sisters better, but---"

"I think I know just what you want," said Win briskly. "If you'll be
good enough to wait here half a minute; I'll see that you get it."

Like a flash she was off, looking for Sadie. But Sadie was too far
away. Win didn't want the redoubtable Tobias to scold her for
neglecting customers, as she had heard him scold Lily Leavitt the day
before, when Lily was trying to flirt with Earl Usher. Close by was
Miss Lily Leavitt herself, looking bored to the verge of extinction by
an old lady who wished advice in choosing five presents for five
grandchildren. "Miss Leavitt," Win whispered, "would it be possible
for you to take my man, who wants a doll for a middle-aged sister--I
mean, middle-sized--and let me attend to your customer?"

Miss Leavitt threw a green-eyed glance at the man indicated, and said:
"Ginks! Ye-h!" as quickly as she could draw breath.

The immediate and brilliant success of the stratagem was as reviving
to tired Win as the encounter in the park had been. Her splendid
vitality came bubbling to the surface again, and she showed such an
interest in selecting the five grandchildren's presents that the old
lady thanked Providence for the exchange. No time, no trouble, was too
much, and grandma joyously wallowed in layers of toys produced for her
inspection.

Now and then, when the old lady was choosing between an aeroplane and
a train of cars, or a schoolroom and a Noah's ark, Win took an
eyelash-veiled look at Miss Leavitt and her customer. He had
apparently bought one doll, veiled like a harem woman, and was
hesitating over another. The grandmother of five was not the only
person needing advice, it seemed. The brother of one middle-sized
sister was evidently demanding it from Miss Leavitt.

In any case, their heads were close together over a Tango Tea doll who
tried to look as if she had been dressed by Poiret. It stood to reason
that a man might want a woman to tell him whether that was the sort of
thing a middle-sized child would like, but though their heads were
bent over the doll, their eyes turned occasionally toward Miss Child.

"Keep the change and buy yourself and your friends some little thing
for Christmas," Win heard Logan say at last when, discouraged by the
interminable length of grandma's visit, he had resigned himself to go
away.

The girl glanced involuntarily at Miss Leavitt's hand, which was
clenched into a fist. In it was a crisp-looking new greenback on which
at one end she thought she saw the word "Ten."

Ten dollars! The man had made Lily Leavitt a present of ten dollars,
and she had accepted it! Would he have tried to do the same with
_her,_ or would he have attempted to be even more generous if she had
not been chaperoned by the grandmother of five? Also, was it just the
Christmas spirit, or had Lily done something special to earn the
money?



CHAPTER XVIII

THE BIG BLUFF


Lily Leavitt's gratitude was immense. She was a changed girl from that
moment. Not that she ceased to like Earl Usher, who awkwardly resented
her overtures and was boyishly ashamed of them, but her jealousy
seemed, after the handing over of Mr. Logan, to lose its bitterness.

She no longer glared and talked "at" Miss Child, asking if she "wore
her hair that way for a bet," and "why some people wanted to take up
all the room clerking in stores when they could get better money doing
giantess stunts in a Bowery show?" Instead she did her best to make
friends with Win and her smart little watchdog, Sadie Kirk.

She brought them presents of hothouse fruit and chocolates, which Win
refused and Sadie nonchalantly accepted, wondering "where the Leavitt
creature picked 'em up. They didn't grow on blackberry bushes, no
fear. And _she_ wasn't going to let 'em spoil!"

As the desperate days before Christmas raged furiously on, Win was
still unable to guess Mr. Meggison's real motive for putting her into
the toy department. Her duties were more exhausting than they had been
downstairs That suggested penance. On the other hand, they had more
variety and amusement, for there were five hundred different kinds of
toys to sell to five hundred different types of people. That suggested
benignity.

Perhaps, thought Sadie, Meggison wanted to see how much the new girl
could stand. Perhaps he wished to "sweat out of her" all the work of
which she was capable, the full wage worth she could give to Peter
Rolls before casting her aside forever.

Or--it was just possible that, instead of exciting resentment she had
won his respect by "cheeking" him. That had been known to happen in
the most unexpected, though now historic cases. And girls who had
awaited their discharge had been promoted, mounting slowly higher and
higher over the bodies of those who fell by the wayside, until they
had become head buyers, receiving ten thousand dollars a year and a
trip to Paris every summer.

In any case, Win liked Toys better than Blouses, though Mr. Tobias
(whose hair "left off where it began," and who wore his eyes in bags)
was a very "different proposition" from Fred Thorpe, the kind and
handsome floorwalker who loved Dora Stein, yet was fair to her rivals.
If Tobias saw a young woman stop to breathe he came up and reminded
her that this wasn't a matinée--they weren't having a party that day
nor serving five-o'clock tea.

The girls, too, were often rough in their ways and pushed each other
rudely about. They were surlily suspicious sometimes and seemed
temperamentally unable to trust one another, but they were
good-natured at heart. "Snap and let snap" was the unwritten law in
Toyland, and though they all squabbled among themselves, if a girl
were ill or had bad news her companions were ready in an instant to
help or console.

They mimicked Win and gave her the same nickname she had gained
downstairs, "Miss Thank-you," "Beg-your-pardon," and "If-you-please."
But soon she found herself popular, and saw the girls, and even the
men, adopting the gentler ways she brought among them. They seemed
half unconsciously to fall into the soft manner they made fun of,
which was a score for Win. Besides, there was Cupid, and he alone, she
thought, would have been worth the move from Blouses into Toys.

Cupid was an errand boy, employed to run with messages from one
department to another; but, though in Toyland there were some dolls
larger, there were none more beautiful than he. His real name happened
to be Billy Slate, but he rejoiced in several others more appropriate
such as "Bud," "Christmas Card," and "Valentine" That of "Cupid" was
added to the list by Miss Child, who had more scientific, mythological
knowledge of the youth in question than any one else at the Hands
perhaps, though most of the others could boast a more intimate
personal acquaintance with him in modern life.

Billy, _alias_ "Bud," _et cetera_, was a permanent fixture at Peter
Rolls's, having been in his present position for some time and
possessing no ambition to better it, though he had reached the mature
age of "twelve, going on thirteen." He had resisted the blandishments
of all the prettiest girls in the store, but for some reason fell a
victim to Miss Child at first sight; perhaps because she was English
(his parents came from Manchester), or perhaps because she treated
him, not like a little boy, but like a man and an equal. He adored
her promptly and passionately, and she responded, out of which arose a
situation.

Cupid sometimes received presents of violets or Malmaison pinks from
admiring customers, gifts which he spurned with the weary scorn of a
matinée idol for love letters, but had been willing to barter for sums
varying from one cent to five, according to the freshness of the
flowers. When Win drifted into his life, however, all tribute which
Cupid received was laid upon her altar. He would take no money--her
smiling thanks were worth more to him than the brightest copper coins
from others--and an offer of candy was politely but firmly refused.

"Pooh! Miss Child, I can get all of that stuff I want, on my face, off
the girls in the candy dep," he explained with a blasé air. "You keep
it for you and your friends, and I'll get you more. I'm tired of sweet
things myself."

And from that time on Win's attenuated meals were eked out by Cupid's
presentation chocolates and marshmallows. Of the latter--a novelty to
her--she and Sadie were very fond. They seemed nourishing, too, or, at
all events, "filling," and came in handy when you had allotted
yourself only five cents for luncheon. As soon as Cupid learned his
loved one's penchant for marshmallows he contrived to produce a few
each day, even if he had to "nick" them when the "candy girls" weren't
looking.

The morning of Christmas Eve (the day which, Win knew, would decide
her fate at the Hands) Cupid appeared with a whole box of her
favourites instead of the five or six crushed white shapes he
generally offered in a torn bit of clean paper.

"Why, Cupid, how did you come by this gorgeousness?" asked Win, who
had half a minute to spare in the luncheon lull.

"Don't you worry and get a wrinkle, kid," replied the youth, who had
permission to apply any pet name he pleased. "The stuff's mine, all
right. And now it's yours. Unless you think I sneaked it. Then you can
chuck it away, box and all. See?"

"Of course I don't think you sneaked it. You wouldn't do such a thing.
But--ought I to take it? That's the question."

"'It's foolish question 786245,'" quoted Cupid with his weariest
sneer. "I'm the guy what put the nut in cokernut! I guess there'll be
more where this come from in the sweet by and by."

Win eyed him anxiously. Now where had she heard that quotation about
the "foolish question?" Why, it was a slang phrase of Mr. Logan's. He
had used it only that morning, about half an hour earlier, in gay,
bantering conversation with Miss Leavitt. He "blew in," as he called
it, nearly every day now to buy something more for his "little
sister's Christmas tree," something that he had forgotten yesterday,
or to inquire earnestly after the sale of a mechanical frog, which he
claimed as his own invention and patent. He had never succeeded in
getting Win to serve him, but he was as free to look at her as a cat
is free to look at a king.

Apart, however, from telling glances which Miss Child never seemed to
see, Mr. Logan appeared quite satisfied with the attentions of Miss
Leavitt or Sadie Kirk, who had waited upon him once or twice when Lily
was not available.

Suddenly an idea flashed into Winifred's head.

"Did a man give you this box for me?" she inquired.

"Ain't I man enough?" Cupid tried bluff to hide a flush that mounted
to his yellow curls.

"Answer me. You _must_."

"Ain't you some chicken to go on askin' silly questions about a good
thing? You just take it, kid, and be thankful"

"I can't, Cupid. I thought you liked me."

"You bet I do, sweetie."

"Then you wouldn't want to cheat me about such a thing, would you? I'm
fond of you, Cupid, and we're friends, so I can accept presents from
_you_. But I don't take them from strange men, and I should hate to
feel you cared little enough for me to play such a joke. It would get
me misunderstood."

Flattered by this appeal to and acceptance of his manhood, Cupid
confessed.

"Well, don't have the nasty old stuff, then," said he. "I thought I
was doin' you a good turn. Thought gells liked strange men makin' 'em
presents. The feller said 'twould be good business for you as well as
me. And he tipped me fifty cents to pass you on the box. Suppose I
must hand it back to him now."

"Do, Cupid dear," urged Win. "But you shan't lose by that. I know you
meant no harm, and I'll give you fifty cents myself when I get my
pay."

"What kind of a jay do you take me for?" snorted Cupid. "Men don't
accept no lucre from ladies where _I_ live. I'll go chuck the guy back
his marshmallers and his dirty money, since you put it that way, my
baby doll."

"Where is he? Waiting for you somewhere to hear the news?"

Cupid tossed his curls in the direction of the moving staircase, which
in Toyland was known as the "Oscillator." A bored-looking youth was
stationed officially at the top in order to catch any ascending lady
who might threaten to fall; but as only the oldest and frailest ever
did so, his bored expression had become chronic.

"Chap's down at the foot o' that," confessed the boy. "But say, won't
you just look and see if there's a note under the cover? Maybe he's
slipped in a Christmas gift of a hundred-dollar bill or a diamond
tiarey."

"I've no curiosity," said Win. "You may tell your friend that,
and---"

"Oh, _I_ know! Tell him he'd darned better not try the same snap
again."

"Yes," laughed Win. "Exactly."

Cupid darted away with the box, striding down the "osculator" as it
came rolling up, a feat forbidden. But the boy was a law unto himself
and was seldom scolded. When he had gone Win wished that she had
thought to ask how the man had found out her liking for marshmallows
But perhaps he had invited a suggestion from Cupid. Or the
marshmallows might be a coincidence.

She did not for an instant doubt that the would-be giver was Mr.
Logan, and she half hoped there was a note inside the box, in order
that he might feel the mortification of getting it back unopened. She
hoped, also, that the disappointment might be a lesson which Mr. Logan
would take to heart, and--unless he were prepared to transfer his
attentions to Miss Leavitt or some one else equally ready to receive
them--that he would not again invade the busy land of toys.

An hour later, however, he returned and loitered about, ostentatiously
waiting until Miss Leavitt should be free to serve him. Win was
showing dolls to a fussy woman who could not be satisfied with the
most beguiling porcelain or waxen smile. At last, having looked at
several dozens, she flounced away, announcing that she would go to
Bimgel's. This threat, being uttered in a voice intentionally shrill,
was overheard by the hovering floorwalker, Mr. Tobias.

He had never yet had occasion to scold No. 2884; and, as a matter of
fact, had noted her as a "lively proposition." He had seen that if
2884 had a few minutes to spare, she usually occupied them, not in
polishing her nails or talking about last night's dance, as not a few
of the girls did, but in "looking over stock," peeping into boxes, and
peering into the background of shelves in order to see for herself
what was available without having to question salespeople who had been
longer in the department than she.

This was the sure sign of a "winner"; and besides, 2884 had the right
way with customers. She kept her temper, even with the most irritating
"lemons." Her charming enthusiasm about the toys and her knowledge of
their mechanism (when they had any) often hypnotized customers into
buying expensive things they had not intended to take. With remarkable
quickness she had picked up slang danger signals by which one
"assistant" can warn another of impending trouble.

She understood the warning cry of "ishra ankra" for a "crank," and
could give the pencil taps telegraphing from counter to counter that a
notorious "pill" or an "I'll-come-back-again" was bearing down on the
department. She seemed to know by instinct when she could offer to
send a toy C.O.D. for a stranger without fear of "cold pig"--having
the thing returned unpaid--and she could give enough of her own
vitality to a tired woman to make her want to buy.

All these virtues Mr. Tobias had discerned in 2884, and with such
heart as he had, he admired her. He intended, if she went on as she
had begun, to "set the good word going" which would reach those "at
the top." But now, at a moment when he happened through acute
indigestion to be in a particularly fretful mood, he believed that he
had found out the "bright girl" in a grave fault.

It was too late to inveigle the lost client back, but while Win was
hastily replacing dolls in boxes before taking another customer, Mr.
Tobias pounced. "Why did you let that lady go without showing her any
of our best dolls?" he inquired, angling for guilt in her soul's
depths with a fishhook glare.

"I showed her everything of the price she wanted, and even some a
little higher," 2884 excused herself.

"What about the doll you all call 'Little Sister?'" Tobias threw out
the question as if it were a lasso. "I hear you've said that you won't
part with that one if you can help it."

Win grew pink, though she firmly gave him back look for look. Little
Sister was her favourite doll, and it was an open secret that Miss
Child didn't wish to sell it unless she could be sure of finding it a
suitable and happy home. In fact, she hated the thought of a sale.
Many Teddy bears and other interesting personalities she had learned
to like, and to miss when they went the way of all good Teddy animals;
but Little Sister she loved, and to barter that adorable sunny head,
those laughing brown eyes and dimples, for money seemed almost as bad
as the auctioning of a child in the slave market. If she had had
twenty dollars to play with she would have bought the doll for
herself. As it was, she had to plead guilty to Mr. Tobias's charge.

She changed her look of self-defence to one more deprecating yet half
mischievous; not the look of a scolded girl to an accusing
floorwalker, but that of charming young womanhood to man.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't forget; but I felt sure that lady
wouldn't spend twenty dollars for a doll. And I _know_ I can find a
better--I mean, I know I can get some one to buy it."

"I'll buy it," said Mr. Logan, stepping up.

This time he had safely caught his tantalizing rainbow trout, which
had not a chance even to wriggle. There was 2884 without an excuse in
the shape of another customer, and there was Tobias, with whom, on the
strength of the alleged "invention," Mr. Jim Logan had already scraped
acquaintance.

The eyes of the girl and the man met. Logan saw that Miss Child had
already guessed what he meant to do, or that she thought she had. But
he believed that he had a card up his sleeve whose presence even her
sharp wit had not detected. He looked forward joyously to the scene
about to begin.

"Get the doll I spoke of and show it to this gentleman," commanded
Mr. Tobias, lingering to see that he was obeyed, for there was that in
the flushed face of 2884 which told him she was capable of a trick.

Little Sister lived in a large, open-fronted box lined with blue silk
and fluffy lace, in a desirable but not too conspicuous (Win had seen
to that!) corner of a shelf devoted entirely to dollhood. There she
stood now, the sweet, smiling child, the image of the ideal
two-year-old baby which every girl would like to have for her own
"when I'm married."

In reaching up her hands to take down the box Win hesitated. Next but
one was another doll, not unlike Little Sister to the casual eye,
especially the casual eye of a mere man. Its dress was also white; its
hair was of much the same gold, though not quite so radiant; its eyes
were as brown, if more beady; and it was larger, more elaborately
gowned, therefore more expensive. If Mr. Tobias recognized the
difference, would he not praise rather than blame the saleswoman,
since instructions were to force high-priced articles on customers
whenever possible?

Win darted a cornerwise glance at Tobias to see if he were
suspiciously watching her. He was, with the expression of a cloud
about to emit a flash of forked lightning. Little Sister must be
sacrificed!

Just then, as Win reluctantly placed the box on the counter for
Logan's twinkling inspection, Cupid went by on one of the endless
errands which, as he said, "kept him jerking up and down all day like
a churn." He knew Little Sister, for had not his beloved "Kid" ruffled
his feelings by remarking on a likeness between her pet doll and
himself? _Infra dig_ as was the comparison, he had forgiven it when
the Kid explained her affection for the type. Now that Fresh Guy who
had nearly "got him disliked" for fifty cents was going to buy the
doll!

Cupid "spotted" the trick at once and saw its cleverness. The boy
"made big eyes" at Win as he stumped past, and wondered whether she
"was fly enough to catch on" to what he wanted them to say.

She was not. At that moment, when she found herself outwitted by
Logan, Cupid's big hazel eyes and yellow head seemed irrelevant.

"The price is twenty dollars," she announced mechanically. These were
the first words she had uttered to Logan since passing him on to Miss
Leavitt the day of his first appearance in Toyland.

"That's all right," said her smiling customer. "Rather cheap for such
a handsome doll, isn't it? I think the young person I intend to give
it to will be pleased, don't you?"

"I can't say, I'm sure," returned Miss Child with aggravating
primness, her eyes cast down.

"Why, you might give me your advice!"

The glare of Mr. Tobias was turned upon her again, like a two-dollar
electric torch.

"It's quite one of our prettiest dolls," she admitted under the
searchlight.

"Good! I'm glad you think so. Well, here's the money, all in small
bills, I'm afraid. Would you mind just counting it over? I've got on
my gloves."

She had to take the money from him, which gave him a chance to touch
her hand, and he made the most of it. If Mr. Tobias saw what was
going on, he ignored it tactfully, for the great thing was to keep a
good customer at any price. If the price were a flirtation, why all
the better for the girl, provided the man were chump enough to give
her a good restaurant dinner now and then. Peter Rolls had to think of
his dividends, since he and his manager were not in business for their
health, and to make them satisfactory salesfolk had to be got cheap.
It was "up to" the girls to take care of themselves. What they did out
of business hours, Peter Rolls and Mr. Tobias did not care and didn't
want to know.

No. 2884 required the address, which Mr. Logan seemed eager to give.

"Write clearly, please," he gayly commanded. "Miss--Winifred--Child.
And now the number of the house. I know it as well as my own."

"I can't accept this," she said, not taken by surprise, because she
had been sure all along of what he meant. Only it came as a slight
shock that he should have found out her whole name and the street and
house where she lived.

"But see here," argued Logan, still in the low tone to which both
voices had fallen, "I bought the doll for you when I heard you liked
it. Why not? No harm in taking a doll from a friend."

"You're not a friend," she broke in.

"I want to be. What will that floorwalker chap say if Little Sister is
thrown back on Peter Rolls's hands? It might get you into trouble."

"I can't help that," Win was beginning desperately, when Earl Usher
came hurrying up from the other end of the department, where he had
been selling automatic toy pistols.

"Excuse me, Miss Child," said he briskly, "but that doll is sold. I
ought to have marked it, but forgot. My fault. While you was away to
lunch it happened. The purchaser is going to look in to-night, between
six and six-thirty, to pay and take the parcel away."

Mr. Tobias, hearing this announcement, came bustling into closer
earshot again.

"Very remiss--very remiss not to have marked the doll as sold," he
sputtered. "I don't think we can let the deal stand. _This_ gentleman
has offered to purchase in good faith, and here's his money. Your
customer may as like as not go back on the bargain."

"He won't," said Ursus firmly. "It's a man. He's often here doing
business. He'll be awful mad, and we'll lose him certain sure if we
throw him down like that. I'll be responsible."

"You!" sneered Tobias, impressed nevertheless. "Why, you ain't more
than a ten-dollar man, if you're that. This doll costs _twenty_
dollars."

"I know, and I don't pretend to have saved up a million. But this
mix-up is my fault, and the man was my customer, so I ought to stand
the racket. Look here," and he proudly drew forth from some inner
pocket on his enormous chest a handsome gold watch destitute of a
chain. "Presentation," he announced. "You can see my name _and_ the
date. I've hocked this more'n once and got forty. Will you keep it
till my customer turns up?"

"No," returned Tobias magnanimously. "If you're so sure of your man, I
guess it's all right, and the sale'll have to stand. I'm sorry, Mr.
Logan. But you see how it is. Can't one of our young ladies show you
something else?"

"No, thank you, not to-day," said Logan, his long, sallow face red and
the twinkle gone out of his eyes. "It was Little Sister or nothing for
me."

But though he gathered up his mass of greenbacks and stalked away with
his smart hat on the back of his incredibly sleek head, Tobias was not
greatly worried. The young swell was sweet on Child, and wasn't above
a flirtation with red-haired Leavitt at the same time he was trying to
spoon the English girl. He would come back, and soon--no fear!--to see
how his invention was going.

"Lordy! but that was a big bluff I put up!" sighed Earl Usher to
Cupid, as he slid his watch into the little boy's hand. "If Tobias had
taken me, I'd 'a' bin up a tree! Sure you can get off, sonny?"

"Dead sure, for they'll be sendin' me out. They always do. I'll manage
the biz for you."

"Good Bud! You get a quarter for yourself, see?--for puttin' me on to
the job in time."

Mr. Tobias happened to be at a distance when Usher's customer
came in and paid. But when the floorwalker inquired, at
six-thirty--characteristically remembering a small detail in the
terrible Christmas rush--the transaction had been completed and Little
Sister was gone. Even Win had not seen the purchaser. Ursus had come
in a hurry, his client's twenty dollars in hand, and had taken away
the box that contained the doll. There had not even been time to ask
if the man who had bought it looked kind and rich; but Win was too
thankful to have been saved from her "scrape" with Logan to care
passionately, after all, for Little Sister's fate.

That night, a few minutes before ten o'clock, the employees of the
various sections were lined up (men in one aisle, girls in another) to
receive their pay envelopes and, in most cases where the "holiday
extras" were concerned, their dismissals. Just in front of Winifred
Child was Sadie Kirk, and Win knew that for her friend it was a
question almost as important as that of life and death whether she
were to stay or go.

After holiday time it was dreadfully difficult to get work, she not
being the stuff of which stewardesses are made, and Sadie had more
pluck than physical strength. Never had she entirely recovered "tone"
after that attack of grippe which had lost her a good position, and
the strenuous work during these weeks at Peter Rolls's had pulled her
down. If she were to be "out of a job" things would be very bad for
her; yet, as she moved up slowly, step by step, to the desk of
destiny, she was reading a novel, calmly straining her eyes in the
trying light. Over her shoulder Win could see the name of the book,
"Leslie Norwood's Wife." Page after page Sadie turned, not with a
nervous flutter, but with the regularity which meant concentration.
She was bent on finding out what happened to _Leslie Norwood's_ wife
before the moment came to find out what was about to happen to Sadie
Kirk.

She was near the end now. But was she near enough? Win began, in her
nervous fatigue and anxiety on her own account, to wager with herself
as to whether Sadie would finish that book before her turn came to
take the fateful envelope. Would she? Would she not? "I bet she
_will_!" Win thought. "If she does, it'll mean luck for us both!"

And she did. Just as the girl ahead of Sadie clasped her pay envelope
with a slightly trembling hand, Sadie read the last word on the last
page, shut the volume, and tucked it under her arm. Then she took her
envelope and gave place to Win.

They were among the few lucky ones out of the extra two thousand. Most
of the others received with their pay little printed slips signed
"Peter Rolls," announcing that it was "necessary to readjust our force
down to the normal at this time." Those dismissed were politely
informed that their record was on file. Should vacancies occur where
they might be placed in future, they would be "notified to that
effect." Meanwhile they were thanked for loyal service. And--that was
the end of them as far as Peter Rolls was concerned.

He still had use, however, for Winifred Child, Sadie Kirk, Earl Usher,
and two or three other "live" workers in Toyland. They compared notes
joyously; but despite her sense of relief, Win's heart was heavy for
those left out in the cold. The girls who were disappointed hurried
away in silence, but many of the men whom No. 2884 had not thought of
as friends, scarcely as acquaintances, came up to say good-bye. They
held out their hands and remarked that they were "glad to have known
her."

Some of her ways and some of her sayings were pretty good, they
guessed, and they wouldn't forget her, although they didn't suppose
that they'd ever meet again. Suddenly Win realized that they had been
kind and pleasant, so far as it had lain in their power, and she,
staying on, would miss the faces that were gone. She choked a little
over these men's appreciation of the difference between her "ways" and
those of some other girls, and was half ashamed that it should
surprise her.

"I expect I'll have to take to the sea again," sighed the ex-steward.
"I wanted a little more time on land, but it ain't to be. Don't
forget, you and your friend Sadie, that I can get you jobs on one of
the big greyhounds."

"What a Christmas Eve!" Win said to herself aloud, as she almost fell
into her room at eleven-thirty. "In half an hour more it will be
Christmas, and I don't suppose there's one soul with a thought for me
in all Europe or America!"

But on the ugly red cover (warranted not to betray dirt) of the
rickety bed were two parcels--a big box and a little one. Somebody
must have been thinking of her, after all!

Revived, she cut the strings on both boxes and opened the little one
first, on the childlike principle of "saving the best thing for the
last."

"Lilies of the valley! Why, how lovely! Who could have sent them?"
There was no name, and a question asked itself in Win's mind that
spoiled all her pleasure--but only for a moment. She unwrapped the big
box, and on the cover (which looked curiously familiar) she read,
evidently scrawled in furious haste, with pencil: "From Ursus to
Lygia, with respectful regards and wishes for a merry Christmas. Also
please accept lilies."

(Miss Leavitt had testified her admiration for the blond giant by
sending him a box of her name flowers, bought with some of the
"change" Mr. Logan had told her to keep. The admired one had promptly
"passed them on." But Win did not know this, and he didn't see why she
ever should. Anyhow, flowers were flowers!)

The girl was so pleased to know that the lilies came from Ursus, not
another, that she could almost have kissed them--but not quite. Then,
in her relief, she lifted the cover of the large box and gave a cry
which was not unlike a sob. There, in silk and lace, with eyes closed
and smiling lips, lay Little Sister.

"Oh, his watch--his presentation watch!" she gurgled. And sitting on
the bed, with the great doll in her arms, she let fall on the
unresponsive head a few tears of grief and gratitude. She understood
everything now, even the "big bluff."

What had been or had not been in Miss Leavitt's pay envelope Win did
not know until the morning after Christmas, that strangest Christmas
of her life, which she spent resting quietly in bed. Returning next
day to Toyland, where everything looked half asleep in the early
gloom, she saw the glitter of red hair.

"Hello!" said Miss Leavitt. "Here we are again! Did you have a
merry---"

She stopped short, her eyes fastened on a tiny spray of pearly bells
half hidden in the folds of the other's black silk blouse. For an
instant she forgot what she had meant to say, gasped slightly, closed
her lips, opened them as if to speak, shut her teeth together with a
snap, swallowed heavily, and went on where she had broken
off--"Christmas?"

Win thanked her, said "Yes," and asked politely how Miss Leavitt had
spent her holiday. This gave the girl with red hair time to control
the temper which accompanied it. But if, in that brief interval of
uncertainty, she had burst out with the fierce insult which burned her
tongue, never again could she have ventured to claim friendship with
Winifred Child. And if she had lost her right to claim it, all the
future might have been different for one of them.



CHAPTER XIX

"YES" TO ANYTHING


At last it was July, and New York felt like a vast hermetically sealed
Turkish bath into which all were free to enter, but once in, must
remain, as there were no exits and no closing hours. Most of the
people you read about in the Sunday supplements (except those who
commit murders and such things) had escaped to the sea or mountains
before the Turkish bath opened for the summer. But there is never
anything in Sunday supplements about the assistants in department
stores, for they are fashionable only in restricted districts, and
they do not commit murders and such things, though they might
occasionally enjoy doing so.

It had been, said the newspapers, an exceptionally gay winter and
spring. Seldom had there been so many beautiful and important
débutantes. Lovely girls and admiring men had decorated each page of
the calendar, like rose petals. There had been cup races for
automobiles, and football and baseball matches for men and girls, and
other matches less noisy but almost as emotional. There had been
dinners and balls, first nights at the opera, Washington's Birthday
week-end house parties in the Adirondacks, and Easter church parades
for those who had not gone abroad or to Florida. Among those who chose
Florida (there had been a great deal about this in the Sunday
supplements) were Miss Rolls and her brother. Ena had collapsed under
an alleged attack of grippe after Lord Raygan went away and his
engagement with Portia (_alias_ "Pobbles") Gregory--the rich Miss
Gregory--was announced. Some people were mean enough to say that it
was not grippe but grief which laid Ena low in the height of the
season; and if there was anything in this gossip, the grief would have
been greater had Miss Rolls known that she herself was (indirectly)
responsible for the happy ending of Raygan's romance.

A letter written by Lady Eileen while at Sea Gull Manor to her cousin
Pobbles had (so Pobbles confessed later) suddenly opened the lady's
eyes to her own true feelings. She began to wonder if Rags had loved
her "for herself," after all. And, anyhow, she didn't want a girl like
Ena Rolls to get him. So she met the ship on which Lady Raygan, Rags,
and Eileen returned to Ireland, in order to "make a dead set" at the
man she had once discarded. An engagement was the consequence, and in
the first letter Rags wrote to thank his kind host and hostess on Long
Island, he asked for congratulations.

It was the same day that Ena began to sneeze so dismally that the only
place for her was bed. And when she could leave its seclusion the next
only place was Palm Beach. She said she would die unless she could go
to Palm Beach, so mother took her, and Peter took them both, not to
speak of Ena's maid.

He did not wish to play courier. To turn his back on New York
interfered seriously with his plans and half plans and hopes and half
hopes. But father would not go, and mother and Ena could not without
a man. Peter was the only one available at the moment, and it was
April when Ena felt well enough to face the North again. By this time
the news of her engagement to the Marchese di Rivoli had been copied
from all the principal papers into the little papers, and even the
most confirmed cats must be acknowledging far and near that to lose an
earl and gain a marquis is a step up in life.

It was, of course, not ideal that the Marchese di Rivoli had no
remaining family estates of which his _fiancée_ could talk, and there
were creatures ready to swear not only that he had come to Palm Beach
to pick up an heiress, but that the penniless princess who introduced
him to Miss Rolls had received a commission. Still there are always
family estates in the market, and where a coronet is there is gossip
also. Only the cat tribe start or believe it, and even cats purr to a
_marchesa_, lest they may want to visit Italy next year.

In the Turkish bath which was New York that July, Peter Rolls's
department store was one of the hot rooms. Miss Rolls did not come
over from Long Island to choose her trousseau there, as a badly
informed newspaper announced that she would do. She went to London and
Paris instead, because it was cooler as well as smarter to put the
Atlantic between her and "New York with the lid off." She ran over
with the divorced Italian princess who had made her acquainted with
the Marchese di Rivoli, and mother and Peter were released.

No doubt other big stores were as hot or hotter than Peter Rolls's
that July; but it seemed to Winifred Child that the Tropic of Cancer
might have breezes which the Hands missed. Those of the salespeople
who did not look as if at any moment their eyes might come out and all
their veins burst, were living advertisements for Somebody's
Anti-Anemia Mixture before the mixture was taken. Win was of the
latter type. She had become so pale and thin that Sadie Kirk compared
her to a celery stalk. Sadie herself had, according to her own
criticism, "shrunk and faded in the wash," but the two girls had now
few chances of "passing remarks" on each other's appearance, for,
though Sadie was still in Toys, Win had been put into Mantles.

This in itself was a solution of the Meggison mystery. The girl's
"cheek" had frightened the would-be "dog" and reminded him that a
model superintendent must never lose a born saleswoman. But he had not
sent for Win again, and Gloves were not for such as she.

Sadie, having "sauced" her landlady, found it wise to change her
quarters. She had taken a room in an apartment house two blocks
removed from her former home, and Win, not being able to afford a
"flit," remained at the old address. At first, when her pay was
increased by two dollars a week, she had intended to save and follow
Sadie. One had, however, to live mostly on ice-cream soda in the hot
weather, which cost money. Besides, even had she possessed the
dollars, she lacked energy of late. It was easier to keep on doing
what one had done than do anything new. And, in any case, nothing that
one did seemed to matter.

As for the lion tamer, Peter Rolls's shop saw him no more. He had "got
his nerve back" and had returned to lion taming, not because the old
life drew him irresistibly, but because there was far more money in
dominating real lions than in selling Teddy ones.

In the birth of Earl Usher's adoring love for Win the demise of the
animal who had "died on him" was forgotten. "Nerve" and courage and
love and the desire to conquer were one in his heart. When a "good
summer job at Coney" came his way, through an old friend in the "show
business," he took it.

Reluctant as he was to leave Peter Rolls, which meant leaving "his
girl," a change of position offered the only hope of obtaining her in
the end. And despite every discouragement from his Lygia, Ursus did
secretly cherish this hope. As she no longer lived in Toyland when he
went, the wrench of parting was not what it would have been to leave
her at the mercy of any man who could afford to buy a doll. There was
no excuse for men to "butt into" Mantles, unless accompanied by female
belongings, and thus accompanied, their sting was gone.

At Coney Island Ursus was earning thirty dollars a week instead of
ten, and was encouraged by crowds of admiring girls (who watched his
performance and bought his photographs) to consider himself
exceedingly eligible on that income. Many indeed made it plain to him
that he would have been worth taking for his face, his muscles, and
his spangled tights alone.

Sometimes on Sundays Sadie Kirk persuaded Win to "go to Coney for a
blow." The crowd on the boats was alarming and on the beach when you
got there, but the air was splendid, and poor Ursus beamed over his
lions' heads with pride and pleasure. These few excursions, however,
had been Winifred's only outings, except a play or two seen from a
gallery, since she came to make her fortune in America; and as each
day the heat pressed more heavily upon her with its leaden weight, she
felt that she would collapse and "do something stupid" if she could
not have a change. Anything--anything at all that was different and
would break the monotony!

Lily Leavitt, who was in the Mantles, too, had never ceased to be
friendly, and had often invited Win to go out with her in the long
summer evenings, but always in vain, month after month, until one day
in mid-July, when the heat wave had surged to its record height. It
just chanced--if there be such a thing as chance--to happen on the day
when the girl's craving for a change had become an obsession, almost
an illness.

It was a little past noon, and the seniors in Mantles had gone out to
lunch. They were rather by way of being aristocrats, these seniors,
for the mantle department, Jewellery, and some others worked "on
commission." Salaries were no larger than elsewhere, but a handsome
percentage was paid on sales; and those tigers and tigresses who were
strong and ferocious enough to grab meat from under their weaker
comrades' noses did extremely well. The Mantles girls who had gone out
were champion tigresses. They could afford to eat at something like
real restaurants, and as there was nothing worth rushing back for,
they would not return until the last moment.

Lily Leavitt, who was qualifying as a tigress, had just snatched a
sale which ought to have been Win's, but that did not count in their
private relations. It was business, and Win was "welcome to play the
same game"--if she could. Only, there was no danger that she would.
Win was not of the stuff from which tigresses are made, and was
incapable of seizing for herself anything--be it a seat in the subway
or the chance to sell a mantle--which some other human creature was
striving to get.

Win bore Lily no grudge for having "bagged" her customer and gained in
three minutes three dollars which should rightfully have found their
way to her purse. She listened without resentment to the description
of a hat which Lily intended to buy with the money--a "sticker" it had
proved in Hats, and was now marked down to half price. Lily had had an
eye on it for some time, and would, of course, get it "ten per." off.

"I bought me a sweet party dress last week--a bargain," Miss Leavitt
went on, seeing that Win had no intention of "slanging" her for what
she had just done. "It came outta commission on that green chiffon
evening cloak and that white yachtin' I snapped off Kit Vance when she
was daydreamin' and let me catch onto her customer like you done just
now. Things is down to no price this hot weather. It's an ill wind
blows no one good, and now is us guyls' time to get a bit of our own.
P.R. always manages to make his hay, rain or shine. And even with our
ten per. off, it's forty per. profit for him. When you think there's
two thousand folks forced to buy on the premises, you savvy what he
squeezes outta us! If we do pick up a bargain, it's a rare chance. I
wonder you don't hustle more'n you do and make enough com to buy
yourself sumpin' nice. Your sheryt waists are the wuyst in the dep, if
you don't mind my sayin' so, and the guyls speak of it. Now if you had
a party dress to doll up in, I could give you the time of your life
to-night."

"Could you?" echoed Win, more in the desire to turn Miss Leavitt's
attention from her "shirt waist" to something else than because she
wished to hear about the great opportunity.

Miss Leavitt had offered her numerous opportunities of alleged
entertainment, none of which, though glowingly described, had ever
tempted her to acceptance. At first she had been afraid of Lily's
fruit and chocolates and theatre tickets, which, like the
marshmallows, might have come from Mr. Logan. But for the last three
or four months, since the two girls migrated together into Mantles,
Logan had been conspicuously absent. Apparently he had not invented a
cloak as well as a toy! Win no longer connected Lily Leavitt's
occasional invitations with him. Her refusals were prompted merely by
a disinclination for Lily's society out of business hours and the
conviction that her friends would be no more congenial than herself.
Winifred now, however, particularly wished to show her companion that
she bore no animosity for the filched commission, therefore she became
loquacious.

"I don't need to spend my hard-earned dollars on a party dress, as it
happens," she said. "I can save all my pennies for the hire of my
typewriter, which is going to lead me from the Hands some day along
the road to fortune. I've got the most gorgeous gown you can possibly
imagine. I don't believe _Cinderella's_ godmother could give her
anything better. There's only one trouble. I shall never be invited to
a party good enough for it."

"I've invited you to as swell a party as there could be in little old
New York," boasted Miss Leavitt. "I ain't foolin'. That's straight.
Honour bright, cross my heart."

"Oh, but you didn't invite me. You said you would if I had a dress.
You've got only my word for that," Win reminded her.

"I meant to invite you all the same, dress or no dress," Lily
confessed, "I'd o' lent you one. Have you really got something swell?
If you have, now's your chance to show it off. It's an artist gives
this party. I sit to artists sometimes, Sundays, for my hair. I guess
you offen seen it on covers o' magazines. This artist friend o' mine's
the best o' the whole bunch."

"Man or woman?" Win wanted to know.

She expected the answer to be "man," but Lily did not seem to hear.
Her face looked dreamy.

"It's the loveliest house where the party'll be," she said. "'Tain't
the artist's own. It's some relation's that's lent it for the summer
while they're away at the seashore. I bin there. It's in the Fifties,
just off Fift' Av'noo. Tonight it'll be cool as snow, and
everything'll be iced for supper. Iced consummay, chicken salad cold
as the refrigerator, iced champagne cup flowin' like water; ice-cream
and strawb'ries, the big, sweet, red ones from up north, where they
keep on growin' all summer, and lilies and roses from the country to
give away to us when we go home."

Win forgot the question that had not been answered. She seemed to see
those strawberries and to smell the sweetness of roses and lilies in a
house "as cool as snow."

"Heavenly!" she sighed. "I didn't remember there were such things in
the world!"

"Well, come with me to-night and remind yourself," coaxed Miss
Leavitt. "You needn't be afraid, because I said it was artists, to
butt into some rowdy crowd. They'll be as quiet and refined as mice.
They're more your kind than mine, I guess."

"But who invites me?" Win made another bid for information.

"My artist friend said I could bring any one I wanted to bring, and I
want to bring you. I don't just know who all'll be there, but I guess
not many, and it's a real swell house to see. You always refuse
everything I ask you to, but I do think you might say yes this one
time and show you're not proud and stuck up. It'd do you good!"

"I believe it would, and I'll go!" cried Win. She was in the mood to
say "yes" to anything.

"Hully gee! That's the best thing's happened to me since the measles!"
exclaimed Miss Leavitt jovially. "I'll call for you at your place
half-past nine this evening, so you can have a good rest before you
begin fixin' yourself up."

"It's an engagement," said Win, with a kind of self-defiance.

She had wished for a change, "anything for a change," and presto! her
wish had been suddenly granted by fate. Rather spitefully granted, it
would seem, because to go to a "party" with Lily Leavitt was the very
last thing she would have chosen. And spitefully, also, as if to
punish her own foolishness in wishing, she accepted such goods as the
gods had mischievously provided.

"You've said yes, and now you must stick to it," she told herself in
preparation for a wave of regret, but to her surprise the day wore on
and the expected tide of repentance did not set in.

The girl realized that she was looking forward, actually looking
forward to the evening. It would be like walking wide awake into the
Hall of Dreams to put on a dress beautiful enough for a princess, and
eat ice-cream and big red strawberries in a house "cool as snow"
instead of sitting in her hot bedroom practising on the hired
typewriter or panting on her bed, dead to everything in the world
except a palm-leaf fan.

When she had been a little girl, invited to children's parties, it had
not been of the slightest importance whether she liked the child or
not. The party was the thing. Now history was repeating itself in her
nature. The blank monotony of life and work had given back that
childish eagerness for fun, no matter whence it came. She did not care
whose ice-cream and strawberries she was going to eat, provided she
got them and they were good. Besides, it would be like finding an old
lost friend to look into her mirror (it was cracked and turned one's
complexion pale green, with iridescent spots; but that was a detail)
and see a bare-necked, white-armed girl in evening dress.

There was a new way of doing the hair which Win had noticed on a
smiling wax beauty in Peter Rolls's Window-World and had dimly wished
to try for herself. Only dimly, because if her hair were glossy and
trim it suited those plain, ninety-eight-cent shirt waists better than
the elaborate fashions affected by Lily Leavitt and one or two of the
more successful tigresses who cheaply copied expensive customers. Now
there was an incentive for the experiment and Win laughed at the
eagerness with which she looked forward to the moment of making it,
laughed patronizingly, as she might have laughed at a child's longing
for Christmas.

"Anyhow, it's something that I _can_ laugh," she thought, recalling,
as she often did, her boast to Peter Rolls, Jr. "And I haven't cried
yet!"

She had not guessed how vividly the sight of the Moon dress and
putting it on would bring Mr. Balm of Gilead to her mind. But as she
stood gazing into the greenish glass, with her hair very successfully
done in the new way and the Moon gown shimmering night-blue and
silver, it was as if Peter Rolls came and looked over her shoulder,
their eyes meeting in the mirror.

Yes, she saw him for an instant as clearly as that. He was there. He
was her friend, the nicest, most altogether delightful man she had
ever seen; the one she knew best and needed most, though their actual
acquaintanceship was but a few days old. The kind blue eyes were true
and brave, and said: "I dare you not to believe in me, as I believe in
you!"

Then the vision (it had almost amounted to that) was gone like a
broken bubble. Win felt physically sick, as if the one thing worth
having in the world had been shown her for a second, then suddenly
snatched away forever.

The silvery sheen and the faint, lingering perfume of that Nadine
model gown had woven a magic carpet of moonbeams and transported her
back to the mirrored room on the _Monarchic_ for an instant. But it
was only for an instant. Then the Columbus Avenue bedroom, with its
window open to the roar and rush of the "L," had her again, and made
the Moon dress and the Moon-dress dreams seem ridiculously unsuited to
life.

Win touched a switch which shut off light from the one unshaded
electric bulb hanging like a lambent pear over her head. Then,
palm-leaf fan in hand, she sat down in the blue summer darkness to
await the coming of Miss Leavitt.

For the first time she repented her promise to go out. Monotony was
preferable to the party as she pictured it--a silly, giggling crowd of
crude young people among whom she, the stranger, would be like a muted
note on a cheap piano. Should she stay at home, after all, and tell
Lily that the heat had made her too limp to stir? It would be quite
true. But no. If she stayed she would not have the courage to undress
for a long, long time. She would just sit there in the dark by the
window in the Moon gown, its perfume surrounding her with the past,
shutting her up, as it were, in the mirror room with Mr. Balm of
Gilead who had never really existed.

Yet, had he not? What had the eyes in the cracked glass said just now?
Why shouldn't she believe them instead of Ena Rolls's dreadful hints?
Why might not a sister, even with the best intentions, be mistaken
about a brother?

These were exactly the sort of questions that were upsetting and
altogether useless to ask one's self, and Win jumped up to turn on the
electric light again. She _would_ go with Lily Leavitt!

Five minutes later a taxicab--a real, live, magnificent, unthinkably
expensive taxicab--stopped and chortled in front of the apartment
house in which Mrs. McFarrell's flat was one of many. Heads flew out
of windows, for the thing was unbelievable, and among other heads was
Win's.

Instinct cried that the chortling was for her. The balcony where the
rubber plants had died and mummied themselves, being scarcely more
than a foot wide, she was able to see a face, crowned with red hair
and white as a _Pierrette's_ in the lights of the street, looking
anxiously up from the cab window. Its expression implored the guest to
hurry down, because each heart-throb meant not a drop of red blood,
but several red cents. Win caught the message, and seizing the ancient
though still respectable evening cloak which had spent months in a
trunk with the "New Moon," she flew downstairs.

"What an extravagant creature!" she gasped, breathless when after a
wasted sixty seconds at most the taxi was _en route_.

"I had a present from a gentleman friend," said Lily in a
self-satisfied voice, adding hastily, in deference to Miss Child's
"stuck-up primness," "a filopena present, to choose myself anything I
liked with. I thought us bein' in party dress, and you sort o' tired
out, a taxi'd be just about the best thing goin'."

This reduced Win to the necessity for gratitude, and after months of
the "L," the subway, and the crosstown car, the girl could not help
revelling in a taxi. She refused to be depressed by the gloomy
spectacle of lower-class New York in the throes of a heat wave--pallid
people hanging out of windows or standing at corners to be eased of
their torture by the merciful spray from fire hydrants; barefooted
half-naked children staring thirstily at soda fountains in bright, hot
drug stores they could never hope to enter--every one limp, lethargic,
glistening unhealthily with horrid moisture, all loathing themselves
and indifferent to each other. Sometimes Win felt that these were her
true brothers and sisters, the only ones who could understand, because
they were the only ones who really suffered; but to-night she dared
not think of them. If she did, because of what they endured she could
not enjoy the ice-cream and strawberries in the snow coolness of the
artist's borrowed house.

New York not being her own city, its different divisions lacked for
her the meaning and importance they had for those at home; therefore
she was disappointingly calm when Lily made the taxi stop in front of
a house only three or four doors off Fifth Avenue. Miss Leavitt had
the fare ready, with a small tip for the driver, and the two were out
of the cab, standing in the street, before Win noticed a thing that
struck her sharply and quickly as being very strange.

"Why!" she exclaimed, "we must have come to the wrong place. All these
houses are shut. Their doors and windows are boarded up!"



CHAPTER XX

THE CLOSED HOUSE


"It's all right," said Lily. "Don't you remember I told you the house
was lent to my artist friend by the folks who own it and who've gone
away for the summer to the seashore? The front door and windows were
boarded up, I guess, like they always are, before the house was lent.
My friend lives in the back part, and the caretaker looks after
everything, but it's awful nice. You needn't be afraid you're goin' to
waste your grand dress. Say, it's some swell street, ain't it?"

Lily talked fast and slid an arm through Win's in the thin silk kimono
cloak, encouraging her to mount the steps. But Win objected to being
hustled. She paused to look up at the house front which--like all its
neighbours except a big, lighted building at the corner, that had the
air of being a club--had apparently been put to sleep for the summer
months.

The dark-brown façades were expressionless as the faces of mummies.
Smooth boards had been neatly fitted into the window frames and made
to cover front doors. There seemed at first glance to be no way in,
but as Winifred slowly ascended the steps of the fourth house from the
corner, she made out the lines of a little door cut in the boards
which protected the big one. There was no handle to break the smooth,
unpainted surface of wood--old, well-seasoned wood which had evidently
served the same purpose year after year--but there was a small,
inconspicuous keyhole, and into this Miss Leavitt deftly fixed a key
which she took from her hand bag.

"My friend sent me this," she explained, "to save us waiting, 'cause
there's only one servant, and he might be busy. Say, this is real fun,
ain't it?"

"It's--it's quite like a sort of adventure," Win answered "I had no
idea the house would be shut up, or---"

"It'll make it all the cooler," said Lily. She had got the little door
open, and the space between it and the house door it protected could
be seen in the street lights, like a miniature vestibule. "Squeeze in
and feel around till you find the electric bell," she went on. "Some
one'll open the real door, and I can lock up behind us."

"Why lock up?" argued Win, hesitating. "Aren't there others coming?"

"My, yes, unless they're all here. But it wouldn't do to leave a
cover-up door like this standing open. If the police happened along
and saw, they'd think there was something wrong and make my friend a
whole lot of bother."

Win saw the force of this explanation, and stooping to pass through
the low aperture, found herself close to a pretentiously carved
portal. The electric bell revealed itself to groping fingers, and to
her surprise a few seconds after she had touched it, without hearing a
sound, the door opened.

In the dimness of a hall or large vestibule the figure of a man
loomed black against dark gray. Win could see of him only that he was
tall and straight and prim, like a well-trained servant, and his voice
was a servant's voice as he said: "Please be a little careful, miss,
not to trip. We have to keep it rather dark here, but there's plenty
of light inside Let me show you through the hall."

Win thanked him, but turned inside the door to ask: "Aren't you
coming, Miss Leavitt?" (They had never been upon Christian name
terms.)

"Yes, I'm just turning the key," replied Lily. "Go along. I'll
follow."

Win went on through the dusk, dimly seeing panelled walls. She heard
the door shut sharply behind her and supposed that Lily had come in,
but at the same instant another door opened ahead and a soft wave of
rosy light flowed out.

"Walk in, if you please, miss," requested the tall servant standing
attentive, and mechanically Win obeyed.

Lily Leavitt had not exaggerated--this was a "swell house," and "cool
as snow." The room into which she had been ushered was a dining-room,
and at first glance was all one rosy glow--walls, drawn curtains,
thick, mossy carpet, brocade-upholstered furniture, lamps and candle
shades. The table was a shining bunch of lilies in a garden of
deep-red roses seen at sunset, and the glitter of silver and gleam of
glass was a bright sprinkle of dewdrops catching the red western
light.

It was so long since Win had been in a pretty room or had seen a
charmingly decorated table that for a few seconds she lost herself in
the sheer joy of beauty. The sunset-garden simile flashed into her
mind and pleased her. She was glad that she had come. The guests might
be uninteresting, of the Lily Leavitt sort, and the artists might be
so called only by themselves. The room might be over-gorgeous by
daylight, but it was beautiful thus lighted, with a rosy radiance from
above, bringing out the whiteness of damask, the snow purity of
camellias crowding a crystal bowl, and the ruby splendour of
strawberries piled on their own leaves.

What a wonderful sight after months of the Hands restaurant and free
lunches with five-cent chocolate in busy drug stores! Oh, yes, she was
glad she had come, and she must look, look, look at this beautiful
picture, so that she might remember its details and hold it before her
eyes, like a delicately painted transparency, in front of future
realities.

But it was in carrying out this intention, in taking in the details,
that Win's heart suddenly bounded and then missed a beat. The table
had two chairs drawn up to it. It was small and round, and on it only
two places were laid.

Win turned her head and looked for Lily Leavitt. Lily was not there,
neither was the tall, respectable servant. But a smiling man in
evening dress was just coming into the room with the ingratiating air
of one who is a little late for an appointment.

"How do you do, Miss Child?" Jim Logan cordially inquired, holding out
his hand. "This is mighty good of you!"

A thousand thoughts whirled after each other through the girl's head,
like the mechanical horses on a circular toy race course, such as she
had often sold at Peter Rolls's. Round and round they wildly turned
for an instant, then began to slow down.

This house was closed for the summer. The front was boarded up, and
perhaps the back windows also. No lights could be seen, and probably
no sounds heard. Two places only were laid for supper. Lily, then, had
gone--had always meant to go and leave her here, had been bribed to
bring her and go. Oh, but it must have been a big bribe this time, for
surely Lily Leavitt would never dare look her in the face again! One
of them would have to disappear from the mantle department of the
Hands. Was Logan giving Lily enough money to make up for a sacrifice
of all those commissions, or did Lily think that after to-night
she--Winifred Child--would never come back to Peter Rolls's?

As that question asked itself loud bells jangled in Win's head. She
felt as if she were losing her senses. But no, she must not--must not
do that. Never in her life had she so much need to keep them all as
now, in this locked house, where she had no help to hope for save what
her own wits might give, and no one could hear or see what happened to
her except this smiling man and his well-trained servant. For all
outside this was an empty house.

She steadied herself, the more readily because something in the narrow
eyes twinkling into hers said that Jim Logan had expected her to
scream and make a scene. Never until now had she imagined it possible
to be afraid of him. In the park, when he had stopped his car to
follow and speak to her, she had been a little startled, a good deal
annoyed. Then, when Ursus had opportunely arrived to frighten him
away as easily as the _Spider_ frightened _Miss Muffet_, she had been
impishly amused.

In Toys at Peter Rolls's she had been vexed, irritated, but never
hotly angry. The young man's persistence had not seemed serious enough
to call "persecution." She had rather enjoyed "shunting" him off upon
Lily Leavitt, and thwarting him through Cupid and Earl Usher. It had
never occurred to her that behind the unfailing smile and the
twinkling gray eyes the brutal ferocity of the animal might lurk.

She had thought that he had forgotten her long ago and turned his
attentions elsewhere. What girl, unless silly and Victorian, would be
afraid of a dude who lived for the sleekness of his hair and the
spick-and-spanness of his clothes? Yet now Win was afraid, and she did
not think it was because she had suddenly become silly or Victorian.
This aquiline-faced young man with the prominent jaw was looking at
her as the primitive brute looks at the prey under his paws, and if he
smiled and twinkled, it was but as the primitive brute might purr.

Winifred thought of this, and she thought, too, that when the prey had
presence of mind to feign sleep or death the brute was said not to
kill, after all.

She did not put her hand into the hand that Logan held out, but
neither did she turn to run from him. "This is quite a surprise," she
remarked quietly.

"A pleasant surprise, I hope," he suggested.

"A sort of practical joke, I suppose," the girl said.

"Well, yes, that's just what it is," Logan smiled, evidently wondering
at her calmness and not sure whether to take it as a good or bad omen.
"It seemed to be the only way I could get you to accept any
invitation of mine."

"Rather a high-handed way!" said Win, shrugging her shoulders.
"Still--here I am. This seems to be a nice house. Is it yours?"

"It's my father's. We're all supposed to be somewhere else for the
summer. But I run in sometimes. My servant looks after me. He's as
devoted as the servants in books. I pay him to be. There's nothing I
want done that he wouldn't do."

"He appears to have made you a very nice supper." Win's eyes rested on
the table.

"Nothing could be too good for you. If I've got you here--well, sort
of under false pretences--there'll be no false pretences about
anything else now I _have_ got you. There's a little surprise in those
flowers by your plate. I hope you'll like it."

"A peace offering?" suggested Win lightly.

"Yes. And a love token. You know I've been in love with you, you
bewitching thing, just madly in love, since that night in the park. I
never rested till I saw you again at Peter Rolls's. And then I knew I
couldn't rest until---"

"Wait!" exclaimed Win, putting out both hands to hold him off as he
came close. "Wait--_please!_" She still spoke lightly. "I'm your
guest. I quite understand that 'might makes right!' But there's
another law--the law of hospitality, isn't there? This is--a great
adventure. Let me get into the spirit of it before you say or do any
more. Give me time--to breathe. Where may I put my cloak? Perhaps
you've a long mirror somewhere? I want to see if I'm beautiful enough
for my background."

Logan yielded to the hands which pushed him away. It charmed him that
this tall, spirited creature was taking things in a debonair way. He
thought it splendid that she should talk of an adventure and of
entering into the spirit of it. If she had made a fuss and tried to
escape and refused to eat supper with him, there would have been some
pleasure in conquering, but not the same pleasure there would be in a
jolly little supper with a pretty girl who gayly acknowledged that the
"joke was on her," and then making love to her afterward.

Not that he quite trusted the strange creature yet. She might be like
a kitten that submits to be petted while lying in wait for its chance
to spring. But this kitten might lie in wait as long as it liked. The
chance to spring wouldn't come. By and by the kitten would discover
that fact if the hope were in its mind, for he meant business this
time.

"There's a room next door my mother and sister use for their boudoir,"
he said graciously. "It's full of long mirrors, and you can have all
the electric light you want, but the furniture's covered up. The
dining-room and my den are the only places that are shipshape, I'm
afraid."

Logan walked out into the hall and threw open one of the doors that
opened into it. "Here you are!" he announced, switching on a blaze of
electric light that showed a small room shrouded in white covers. "The
first thing you see is a life-size picture of yourself. I guess that's
what you want."

"You have guessed right. You deserve a prize," Win answered.

In the lighted boudoir a mirror faced the door.

"Will you give me a few minutes to myself?" she asked. "I may just as
well confess that this surprise of yours has--gone to my head a
little, as your champagne probably will--when I drink it. The hot
weather has been taking it out of me horribly, and I'm not very
strong. If I may sit still for five minutes and shut my eyes and
think, why--I'm sure I shall be a more amusing guest at supper."

Logan, who had touched the electric-light switch inside the door,
stood on the threshold, barring the way. Win did not try to push past
him, nor did she show any impatience, nor even eagerness. He stared
her in the eyes as if to ask: "What trick do you hope to play, I
wonder? Do you think I'm such a blamed idiot as to leave a way out
open after all the trouble and expense I've put myself to on your
account?"

But being perfectly sure that there was no way out, no trick in her
power seemed worth worrying about--unless she had some melodramatic
little bottle of poison concealed about her which she would drain and
die, like the heroine of an old-fashioned play. He was certain that
the brave, vital young creature who had seized his fancy would do
nothing of the kind, however, and he felt that it was safe to humour
her.

"You can even go to sleep on the sofa, if you like, provided you'll
promise to dream of me," he said, "and if you'll let me come and wake
you up. Oh, I've caught you looking at the keyhole! There's no key in
it, you see, for me to lock you in--or for you to lock me out."

"Neither of us would be so medieval, would we?" she laughed. "That
would be a silly way to begin the evening. Now that I am here I am
going to make the very, very best of it, I promise you!"

"That's right! You're the girl of my heart!" said Logan, and, stepping
away from the door, let her walk into the lighted boudoir.

Gently and slowly, almost coquettishly, she shut him out, smiling into
his face until the oak panels had closed between him and her.



CHAPTER XXI

THE TELEPHONE


The boudoir was stuffy and smelled of moth powder With its ivory-white
walls and masses of sheeting it looked crudely bright in the glare of
electricity switched on by Logan. A glance at the closed bay window
showed that outside the glass was a screen of unpainted wood. There
was no door save that through which Win had just entered.

All the furniture was pushed against the walls, except a writing-desk
with gilded legs, which stood in the embrasure of the big window, and
to this the girl ran softly, on tiptoe, across the bare parquet floor.
It was covered with sheeting, which she turned carefully back that
nothing might be disturbed and, in falling, make a noise. Almost she
had reached the limit of her strength and had no breath even to
whisper the "Thank heaven!" she felt, seeing what she had prayed to
find--a telephone and directory.

It was the hope of this that had upheld her through the scene which
already seemed dreamlike. But though telephone and book were here, she
was far enough yet from being out of danger. She had not seen the
house number, as the boards which covered the front door covered it
also. Knowing the street and the name of the man who owned the house
(if Logan had told the truth), she could find the telephone number in
the book, but it meant a waste of time.

And then, Logan might have lied. This might not be his father's house.
Or, if it were, the telephone might have been cut off for the summer
in the family's absence. She could not be sure of that till the last
moment, for the instant Logan heard her talk he would try to tear her
away from the telephone. If only there were a key or a bolt--the
frailest, slightest bolt, just strong enough to keep the man out for
five minutes! But it was useless to wish for what could not be. She
must do her best with the ammunition at hand, and be quick about it,
for here was her fort of refuge, and she must hold it while she fired
her one shot.

On the desk lay a large tortoise-shell paper knife. That, thrust under
the door as a wedge, would be almost as good as a lock. At least she
might count on it to protect her for those so necessary five minutes.
But if she pushed it through to the other side Jim Logan would see the
flat, brown blade stick out like a defiant tongue over the door sill,
if he were in the hall keeping watch. Knowing that she could not
escape, perhaps he had returned to the dining-room, perhaps he was
giving instructions to his servant--perhaps any one of a dozen things,
yet she could not count on any of them!

She took the paper knife, and holding it firmly by its carved handle,
she put the blade under the sole of her foot and thus snapped it off
short.

The thick end, still attached to the handle, was just not too thick to
push part way under the door. Win could only hope that it might hold
when need came.

Now for the book! As she began turning over the pages she found that
her hands were trembling. She had to repeat the alphabet from the
beginning before she could remember where the letter "L" came in.

Yes, there was the name--Logan. There were many Logans, but only one
in this particular street. With a blunt pencil attached to a small
writing-pad she scribbled down the telephone and house number to have
them before her eyes, lest in her frantic excitement she might confuse
the two in her mind.

These preparations made, the girl's heart quickened as the fateful
moment came. The prompt response from Central was heavenly music. The
Logan family had not studied economy and cut off their telephone.
"Give me the nearest police station quick!" she added to the number,
and at the sound of an hysterical note in her voice Logan's hand was
on the door knob.

If the wedge failed she was lost. But bending over the desk, the
receiver at her ear, she dared not turn to see what was happening.

"You young devil! Let me in, or you'll be sorry all your life!" Logan
shouted through the door, giving the heavy oak panels a kick.

"Is that the police?" Win spoke loudly that Logan might hear. She gave
the number of the house, then hurried on: "For God's sake send at
once. The house is shut up, but by a trick a girl has been brought in
by young Mr. Logan. She's in great danger. It's she who is
calling--begging for help--quick--quick--he's here!"

_Crash!_ The door flew wide and banged against the wall, Logan almost
falling into the room as the wedge shook loose. Slipping on the
smooth parquet, he lost his balance for an instant, and before he
could reach the girl to snatch the receiver from her hand, she had
dashed through the door and into the hall. There she would have been
stopped by the servant if she had not dodged under his arm and darted
into the dining-room. Once in, she slammed the door shut in the face
of Logan's man, and fumbled wildly to turn the key her trembling
fingers found.

Something was wrong--or else it was the fault of those shaking
fingers. The key would not turn. Win set her shoulder to the door and
pushed against the panels with the whole strength of her slim body.
But it was not enough. The door gave and pushed her back. Then,
realizing that she could not hold it against superior force, she
suddenly let go and ran to stand at bay behind the table.

When Jim Logan, all the latent brutality in him wide awake, came
bounding over the threshold she faced him across his silver and
flowers and glittering glass.

"Come here!" he said in a voice curiously unlike the jovial tones she
had known as his.

"No!" she panted. "I'll stay where I am till the police arrest you as
a kidnapper."

"You'll not stay!" he flung at her. "If you won't come out of that,
I'll fetch you."

The girl stood behind one of the two chairs drawn up to the table and
both hands convulsively clutched the high, carved back. But seeing him
spring toward her, she lost her nerve for the first time. Trying to
make a screen of the chair, she felt the floating gauze of her dress
catch on some unseen nail or splinter of broken woods struggled to
tear it free, and found herself in Logan's arms. The shrill sound of
ripping stitches and tearing gauze mingled with the sharp blow of the
girl's palm on the man's ear, and his oath breathed hot on her cheek.

"You fool, do you think I wish to keep you after what you've done?" he
blurted out. "All I ask is to be rid of you before those fellows get
here. I thought I'd have one kiss--but I wouldn't take it now if you
gave it to me. Sims, run down into the basement and let her out that
way. Now, you young devil, after him, if you don't want to be choked
and buried in the cellar."

Hardly knowing what she did, Win obeyed. Tripping in the rags of her
torn gown, she followed the man, who opened a door that led to a
narrow stairway. Next came a vague vision of a basement corridor and a
disordered kitchen. A minute later she was pushed into a dark area, a
door was shut behind her, she was stumbling up some stone steps; then,
hurrying along the street as fast as she could go, conscious only that
danger was behind her, that she must fly from it and put a long
distance between her and that closed house.

If Win had known that the door had shut upon Jim Logan also, and that
he had walked out of the house almost on her heels, she would have
hurried even faster. But she did not know. And luckily he took the
opposite direction, making straight for the New Cosmopolitan Club at
the corner, which she had noticed when passing in the taxi.

Hardly five minutes after he had interrupted his guest in her call to
the police, Jim Logan was inquiring of the hall porter whether Mr.
Fred Fortescue had come in that evening.

"He came, sir, but has gone out again," replied the man, thinking that
the immaculate Mr. Logan--one of the best-dressed, best-groomed
members of the New Cosmopolitan--appeared to be feeling the heat
severely.

"Jove, I'm sorry to hear that," and Logan's expression confirmed his
words. "I wanted to see him badly. Let me think. Who else is here?
What about Mr. Pindar?"

"Hasn't been in, sir, for weeks," was the reply.

"Gee!" muttered Logan. He seemed worried, and in the brilliant light
of the fine hall--white-panelled, and hung with clever caricatures of
well-known men--his face was pale and even drawn. He looked, it
occurred to the hall porter (a man of imagination), rather like a
caricature of himself, not so well coloured as those on the walls.
Evidently conning the names of friends who might be useful in an
emergency, Logan's eyes were fixed on the stairway, as if thence
inspiration or salvation might come. He had the air of having sent his
astral body hastily upstairs to reconnoitre the reading and smoking
room, but at that minute Peter Rolls, Jr., appeared on the landing,
and Logan and his astral body joined forces again.

"Hello, Rolls!" he called out. "You're just the man I want. Will you
do me a great favour in a big hurry?"

Petro, whose inmost self had also been absent on some errand, came to
earth again with a slight start. "Hello!" he echoed, hastening his
steps.

He did not care much for Logan, who had been a classmate of his at
college, and whose acquaintance he had not cultivated since. Still he
had nothing against the fellow except that he was a "dude" and
something of an ass, whose outlook on life was so different from
Petro's that friendship was impossible. They met occasionally at the
New Cosmopolitan Club, of which they had both been members for some
years, and at houses where their different "sets" touched distantly.
If they talked at all, they talked of old times, but each bored the
other. Petro, however, could never bear to refuse any one a favour,
even if granting it were an uncongenial task. This peculiarity was
constitutional and too well known for his comfort.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked in a tone polite, but void of
personal interest.

"To come home with me quick and get me out of a horrid scrape. No
trouble for you--but a lot for me without a pal to see me through. I
won't keep you more than a few minutes, if you're engaged anywhere."

"I'm not engaged. But--" Petro began, only to be cut short.

"Come along, then, for the Lord's sake. Tell you everything when we're
there." And taking Rolls affectionately by the arm, the other rushed
him out of the club.

"House shut up, you know. But I stay there. My man'll let us in the
basement way, if you don't mind," Logan explained disjointedly as they
hurried along the street to the dwelling four doors away.

Sims, obedient to instructions flung at him over his master's shoulder
when the girl had been let out, now awaited Logan's return at the
tradesmen's entrance. The two young men were admitted and the door
locked behind them. A minute more and they were in the rosily glowing
dining-room, where the white table still offered attractive
refreshment.

"Sit down," said Logan, and as he said it a great knocking began
somewhere.

Listening in surprise, Petro forgot to accept the invitation--which
might have been more tempting if he had not, about half an hour ago,
finished dinner. Logan repeated the words, however, and even pulled
out a chair for Petro, who took it. Logan seized the other, and Petro,
following his host's example, drew up to the table. Still the pounding
went on, more loudly than before, if possible. It began to seem rather
like something in a play when you had missed the first scene and
didn't quite understand what it was all about.

"I think, sir, it's some one at the door," calmly announced Sims,
raising his voice decorously, to be heard over the noise. "Shall I see
who it is, or shall I let them knock and go away?"

"See who it is, and if it's the police, make no objection to their
coming in. Be surprised, but not frightened, and say Mr. Logan has a
friend supping with him. Savvy?"

"Yes, sir," responded Sims, and vanished.

"No time to let you into this stunt on the ground floor," went on
Logan. "But I will as soon as the turn's over. For all sakes, keep mum
while I talk."

Before Petro could answer, if he had an answer ready, there were deep
voices in the hall. Then the door was opened by Sims, and two
plain-clothes policemen stepped briskly in.

"Hello! What's up? House on fire?" exclaimed Logan, pausing in the
act of handing a dish of iced caviar to his guest.

"We're not from the fire department," said the elder and smarter
looking of the pair, civilly, yet with a certain grimness. "I guess
you know that well enough. We've been sent here on a hurry call on
your 'phone to the police--a girl supposed to be detained in the house
against her will." And keen eyes took in the details of the room.

Logan broke into a jovial guffaw. "Girl? Well, of all--the
freak--stunts!" he chortled. "Say, Rolls, are you the great female
impersonator? Ha, ha!"

"Sorry to interrupt you and your friend," remarked the detective,
still grimly, though he had caught and been slightly impressed by the
name of Rolls, as the speaker had, perhaps, intended. Logan as a name
also carried some weight in New York. One was not rude to a Logan
until sure how far and fast duty compelled one to proceed. "But I
gotta ask you straight whether there's a girl in this house, and you'd
better answer the same way."

Logan stopped laughing. "Really, I thought at first you were some of
the fellows from the club got up in disguise for a joke," he said. "Of
course I'll answer you straight. There's no girl in this house so far
as I know, and hasn't been since my sister went away with the rest of
the folks, 2d of June. I can't think how such a--but gee! yes, I can!
The silly old sucker! I bet it's a put-up job."

"What d'ye mean?" the plain-clothes man wanted to know.

"Why, does the name of Frederick Doland Fortescue mean anything to
you?"

"We know who he is."

"Well, then, I guess you know he's the champion practical joker of
this burg. He was here a while ago--hasn't been gone a quarter of an
hour. Went just before Mr. Rolls came in. Asked if he could use the
telephone. I said yes, and my servant showed him into my mother's
boudoir next to this room. I heard him ring up some one, but didn't
get what he said. I noticed when he was through he came out chuckling,
and then he was off like a shot--told me he had a date uptown
somewhere. That's all I know, but it would be like him to play just
such a fool trick on you and me."

"Seems 'twas a woman's voice at the 'phone."

"Gee! I did sort of get onto it, he was mimicking a girl! Sounded kind
of shrill, but I didn't pay attention. He's always up to some lark.
You're welcome to go over the house, though, if you don't believe me."

"It ain't a question of believing or not," said the detective. "But
we'll have to look around."

"All right!" returned Logan, still with that perfect good nature which
was having its effect on the two intruders. "Would you rather do the
job by your lones, or shall my man show you the way? I suppose you
don't mind us going on with our supper if I spare you Sims and we help
ourselves to food?"

"You can stay where you are," was the answer.

"Thanks. But when you're satisfied that a mosquito or so's the only
live stock on the premises, I should like you both to crack a bottle
of champagne with us."

"It wouldn't be quite in order---"

"Hang order! The police and I are pals. Now you'll do me proud if
you'll look in on your way out. Bring the girl, if you find her!" And
Logan laughed at his own joke.

"Don't think I've let you in for anything!" he turned to Rolls as the
door shut. "They'll find no one, for the good reason that there's no
one to find. All the same, I should have been in a mess if you hadn't
come right along like a brick and helped me out."

"I don't quite see yet how I have helped you," rather dryly remarked
Petro.

"But I guess you're guessing."

"If I've guessed right, I'm not enjoying the joke."

"Then maybe you _haven't_ guessed right! Give me the benefit of the
doubt till those good men and true are the other side of the front
door, will you? I'm as rattled as they make 'em now! Say, this is a
raid, ain't it? Wonder if they've got the Black Maria outside? Can't
you eat any caviar? Wish you would. Well, shall we skip along to the
consommé?"

"I've just got down my dinner," said Rolls, who was guessing too hard
to taste anything with salt in it, in his old classmate's house.

"Well, a little of this champagne cup, anyhow? It's girls' drink, but
not bad this weather, and old Sims is a nailer at mixing---"

"No, thanks, nothing at all."

"You must let me half fill your glass, or those chaps will get onto it
that you're playing dummy!" As he spoke Logan poured champagne cup
into Peter's tall tumbler and his own. The latter he filled with the
ice-cold, sparkling liquid which, as he said, was "girls' drink," and
then, seizing the glass, emptied it in one long draft.

It was he who did most of the talking that whiled away time till the
policemen returned from their tour of the house; and when they opened
the door of the dining-room once more he was eating chicken salad
while Peter crumbled toast.

"I don't see the lady!" Logan exclaimed facetiously, with his mouth
full.

"Neither did we," said the man who had taken the lead.

"Hope you did the thing thoroughly while you were about it! Garret to
cellar and all the rest?"

"You bet we did," returned the policeman, allowing himself the relief
of a grin now. "I guess you was right about the practical joke. But
you must excuse us if we look behind these curtains."

"Under the table, too!" laughed Logan, jumping to his feet. "Stand and
deliver, Rolls!"

Petro obeyed rather reluctantly, feeling that he had been made a fool
of, at best, in his stupid wish to be good-natured. It might be a
joke, as Logan insisted, but something told him it was not. The look
on the fellow's face as he gulped down the champagne cup had not been
funny. It was in Petro's mind that he had been brought in to cover up
with his presence an unpleasant incident and ignorantly to trick the
police.

Of course, if there were a girl in the house, the police would have
found her. But--there was something queer. He meant to have it all out
with Logan when the police were gone. Meantime, however, he behaved
loyally and stood up to leave the table clear while one of the
detectives did actually bend down to peer under it. As the policeman
stooped Peter mechanically pulled the chair back, and doing so he
caught sight of a thin blue streak lying, like solidified cigarette
smoke, across the red brocade cushion. In this smoke-blue streak there
were little things that glistened--little silver things shaped like
crescent moons set at regular intervals from each other. Peter had
been unconsciously sitting on the smoke wreath, and as the policeman
rose he deliberately sat down on it again. He felt suddenly sick, and
his heart was large and cold in his breast, where it did not beat, but
floundered like a caught fish.



CHAPTER XXII

THE FRAGRANCE OF FRESIAS


Winifred Child had been in this house, or else she had sold or given
the Moon dress to another girl who had been here.

Thoughts were flashing through Peter's brain with the sharp quickness
of motion pictures following one another to a far conclusion. Of the
girl he could not be sure. The lost dryad, needing money more than she
needed a smart evening gown, might well have disposed of Ena's gift.
And yet Petro had--strangely enough it had seemed to him then--thought
of Winifred and the mysterious "dryad door" on the _Monarchic_ the
moment he came into this place.

The perfume of the mirror room was here--the perfume which made all
Nadine's model dresses delicately fragrant of spring flowers; fresias,
the youngest dryad had said they were; and since then Peter had asked
for fresias at the florist's, requested the Scottish head gardener to
plant fresias in the garden, and had kept fresias in his room to call
back old dreams. If the dryad had sold her dress, would the fresia
fragrance haunt it still? Petro thought not. The other woman would
have given it her own special perfume. Only in the possession of a
dryad would it have retained this scent.

Winifred Child had been here, then--in Logan's dining-room, near
Logan's table laid so alluringly for a supper _en tête-à-tête!_

This idea, passing through several phases, had shaped itself clearly
in Peter Rolls's mind by the time the policeman's round black head had
come up from under the table. And it was because of the idea that he
sat down deliberately on the film of chiffon. He did not want
questions to be asked, or Winifred Child's name to be mentioned in
this business, at all events, until he had made up his mind what to
do.

There was still time to make it up, and speak, if necessary while the
detectives were on the spot, for Logan had offered them champagne and
they had accepted now they were sure that all parties had been
victimized by a practical joker. "Girls' drink" was not for the
guardians of New York, and Sims was opening two frosty-looking bottles
of the "real thing" just produced from some household iceberg The men
would not go for several moments yet.

Winifred Child had listened to Ena Rolls's warnings and had taken them
deeply to heart. It had seemed to her impossible that a sister could,
for any motive whatever, calumniate a brother whom she loved. And
then, Win had reminded herself that her own ignorance of men was
profound They were said to be "all alike" in some dreadful ways, even
those who seemed the noblest, the most chivalrous--or more especially
those. So she had believed Ena's words, against her own instinct, and
had not told herself that she lacked her favourite virtue--loyalty.

But with Peter it was exactly the opposite. He trusted his instinct
before everything, and though he thought that his lost dryad had been
in this shut-up house with Jim Logan, he knew that she had come
innocently.

Somehow Logan had met her, admired her (that went without saying), and
tricked her into the place. When she had understood the trick she had,
of course, tried to get away. (Why, if proof were needed, was not the
torn wisp of chiffon enough?) Her quick intelligence had suggested the
telephone, and somehow she had contrived to call the police before she
could be stopped by Logan.

Yes, that was like her! Then Logan had been scared and let her go,
lest she should be found and he should get into disgrace. This was the
natural thing for such a man to do in the circumstances, and equally
natural that he should dash out to find a supper companion--some
accommodating fellow whose presence would account for the table with
its two places.

But that he--he, of all men in New York, should be the accommodating
fellow found to screen the beast from punishment! This was the
astounding thing--the terrible thing--and yet, the providential thing.
Through Logan and the coincidence which had brought them together at a
certain moment in the hall of the New Cosmopolitan Club, Petro told
himself that he would by and by reach Winifred Child. It was a hateful
combination of circumstances; but finding her thus would be no worse
than discovering a rare jewel in a toad's head.

While the two detectives tossed off their champagne Peter Rolls sat
still, his thoughts flashing on behind a face deprived of all
expression, as a screen of motionless dark trees can hide the white
rush and sparkle of a cataract. His vague contempt for Jim Logan had
turned in the last few minutes to active loathing, even to hatred. He
wanted the fellow punished, as he would have wanted a rattlesnake to
have its poison fangs drawn. He wished to speak out and tell the now
laughing policemen the brief story of Logan's hurried visit to the
club.

Down would go the half-full champagne glasses on the table. The
cheerful grins would be wiped from the two strong faces as by an
artist who, with a stroke, changes the expression of a portrait. Peter
Rolls's word was at least as good as Jim Logan's. Questions would be
asked. Jottings would be made in notebooks. Perhaps they would both
have to go to the police station. The girl's name would be demanded;
Logan might be forced to tell it. That would be one way of finding
Winifred--but it would be a way intolerable.

If only Peter were certain--as certain as he was of her
innocence--that she wasn't hidden in the house, he would let the
detectives go quietly and get the truth out of Logan himself
afterward. But--could he be certain? Had he a right to take such
chances when the girl's safety might depend on police knowledge of her
whereabouts?

It was reasonable to suppose that Logan had put her into the street
after the giving of the alarm and before he ran to the club. Yet he
might not have done so. She might be fainting, or even dead. The most
terrible, melodramatic things happened every day in New York. One saw
them in the papers and felt they could never come into one's own life.
Supposing there were some hiding-place?

The fishlike flopping of Peter's heart slowed down as if the fish were
losing strength. The thought was too hideous to finish. Yet he would
not dismiss it until he had played his hand in the game.

So far he had hardly spoken since the sight of the blue smoke wreath
on the chair had set his brain whirling. But when Logan suddenly
challenged him to drink a health to the New York police, he took the
glass of champagne Sims offered.

"Here's to you!" he said. "I never had such a good chance to
appreciate the thoroughness of your methods! By Jove! think of looking
even under the table! Now that would never have occurred to me."

"I guess it would," one of the men encouraged him, "if you had our
experience. It gets to be second nature to be thorough. We never, so
to speak, leave a stone unturned"

"Well, it's mighty smart of you, that's all I can say!" young Mr.
Rolls went on. "What do you call being thorough--not 'leaving a stone
unturned?' Here, for instance how can you be sure you've looked in
every hole and cranny where Mr. Logan might have stowed a young woman
in a dead faint, if he wanted to fool you?"

Both men laughed. "You ought to bin with us when we went on our trip
around the house!"

"I wish I had! It would have been a sort of experience," said Peter.
"I sometimes read detective stories and wonder if they're like the
real thing. When you were out of the room I was thinking if we'd had a
girl hidden in here--behind the curtains, for instance--we might have
sneaked her away when you were upstairs or down in the basement."

They laughed again, patronizing the amateur. "You must take us for
Uncle Ezras from Wayback!" genially sneered he who claimed leadership.
"We didn't 'both' go upstairs--or in the basement. While I waited in
the hall my mate slipped down and locked the door that lets into the
area and brought away the key on him. What's more, he did something to
the keyhole--a little secret we know--that would have told us if any
one had used another key while we were gone. But no one did. Good
guard was kept, and if a mouse had tried to slip by we'd 'a' caught
it."

"But what if a mouse had tried to hide?" suggested Peter Rolls.

"We'd 'a' found it. There ain't a closet or a pair o' curtains or a
shower bath or bookcase or a screen or bureau or table or bed that's
had a chance to keep a secret from us---"

"Did you ever hear the song of 'The Mistletoe Bough?'" inquired the
doubter.

"You bet we did. You don't have to show us! We snooped all around the
trunk room and rummaged in every box big enough to hold a dwarf. None
of 'em was locked, but if they had been--why, we go around prepared."

"You don't look as if you'd done much prowling in the coal cellar,
anyhow!" laughed Peter.

"That's because there ain't enough coal in it to dirty a dove,"
explained the policeman. "Why, we even had a squint into the wine bins
and the kitchen pantries and under the sink and into a laundry basket.
There ain't a fly on the wall in this house but we wouldn't know its
face if we met it again!"

They all laughed once more, and none more loudly than Logan, though
he had given Peter Rolls a puzzled glance for each new and apparently
aimless question.

"If I wrote those detective stories, I'd use this for a plot," Petro
went on; "but it wouldn't be much good to the magazines the way it's
turned out. I think I'd have a girl hidden behind a sliding panel, or
a picture that came out of its frame, or something, and the hero find
her."

"Then you mustn't lay your plot in this house," retorted the officer.
"There ain't any pictures a full-sized cat could crawl through, and as
for Mr. Logan's panels, they look real nice, but I guess they're the
kind you buy by the yard. And there ain't a room with a wall that
could open to hide anything thicker than a paper doll."

He earned a laugh again on that climax. Peter said that he would have
to go to some old country on the other side to write the kind of story
he meant. The men finished their champagne and had more. Then they
finished that with a gay health (proposed by their host) to Freddy
Fortescue. And at last there was no doubt that the time had come to
go.

Logan shook hands with both and pressed gifts of cigars and cigarettes
upon them. If Peter intended to give Logan away, now was the latest,
the very latest moment. But he said not a word. Satisfied that the
girl could not possibly be concealed in the house, her name must not
be risked. While Logan accompanied the guardians of the law to the
front door, opened by Sims for their benefit, Peter annexed the blue
smoke wreath. A splinter of wood (the furniture was only imitation
Jacobean) had impaled the rag of chiffon, and almost tenderly
releasing it, Rolls folded the trophy away in a breast pocket.

His imagination had not tricked him. The stuff did smell of
fresias--which he proved by holding it to his lips for an instant--the
very scent that had come out to him whenever the dryad door opened, in
reality and memory, the scent he had grown intimate with while the
Moon dress hung in his wardrobe during those days when he had awaited
a chance to present his offering to Ena!

When Logan came back he turned to tell Sims at the door that he would
not be needed again, at any rate, for the present. Then he shut
himself and Peter into the rosy glow of the dining-room.

"At last!" he exclaimed, sinking contentedly into the chair opposite
Rolls. "I feel as if I'd earned a whole bottle of drink. But all's
well that ends well."

"It hasn't quite ended yet, has it?" remarked Peter. "No, thank you,
no champagne!"

"Not ended?" repeated Logan, bottle in hand. "Oh, I see what you're
at!" and he began filling his own glass, already emptied half a dozen
times during the visit of the detectives. "You mean you want an
explanation of this hanky panky. Well, I promised it to you, didn't I?
I said you must give me the benefit of the doubt till those chaps were
out of the house. I hope you have. But I thought once or twice you
looked a bit thick, as if you weren't sure what I'd let you in for.
But I'm not the kind of chap to get a pal in a fix to save my own
face. I'm going to explain, all right. Only first I want to thank you
again for---"

"You needn't," said Peter.

"Sure you won't change your mind and take a little fizz? We've been
through some hot work for this weather."

"_You_ have. No--not any!"

"One go at mine, then, and I'm yours. A-ah! that was pretty good.
Well--there _was_ a girl, of course. But she came because she wanted
to come. Then the trouble began. There was a little misunderstanding
about a pearl dog collar she admired in a jeweller's window. She
seemed disappointed to find that this wasn't to be the occasion of a
presentation. Said I'd promised. I hadn't! I never do promise
beforehand to give girls things. Girls would love to have the same
effect on your money the sun has on ice. Not that this one's like all
the others. She's worth a little expenditure. A real stunner! Any
fellow'd be wild over her. An English girl, tall and slim, but
gorgeous figure: long legs and throat, and dark eyes as big as
saucers. You'd turn and look after her anywhere! A lady, and thinks
herself the queen, though she works in a New York department store.
I've been running after her since one night we made acquaintance in
the park--great chums--called each other Jim and Winnie and held hands
from the first.

"But to-night, just because I said I'd never promised a dog collar or
anything like one, she went mad as a tiger cat and took revenge by
ringing up the police with a beast of a story that I'd kidnapped her.
She got it out before I could make her stop, and for just a minute I
was in a blue funk. New York's rampagin' so just now on the subject of
kidnappers. But I had wit enough to chuck her into the street and run
to the club for help. I thought of Freddy Fortescue (by the way, I
must get him to stand by me with a story in case he's questioned. I
can count on him every time!), but he wasn't in. I tried another man
or two, same result, and just then I saw you coming downstairs--ram
caught in the bushes."

"For the sacrifice," Peter finished.

"Well, not too much of a sacrifice, I hope," Logan temporized "You
don't regret standing by?"

"No, I don't regret it."

"Yet your tone sounds sort of odd, as if you were keeping something
back. I don't see why, either. I've kept my promise. I've
explained--put the whole story in a nutshell, not to bore you too much
with my love affairs gone bad. And what I've told you is the Gospel's
own truth, old man, whether you believe it or not."

"I don't believe it," said Peter. "I know it to be the devil's own
lie."

As he spoke he rose, and Logan jumped up, hot and red in the face.

"By Jove!" he sputtered. "I don't know what you mean."

"You know very well," Rolls insisted. "I mean--that you're a liar. A
damn liar! The girl didn't come here because she wanted to come. And
she wouldn't take a pearl collar or a _paper_ collar from you if you
went on your knees."

"You must be crazy!" Logan stared at him, paler now. "If you weren't
my guest, in my house, I--I'd knock you down."

"Try it," Peter invited him. "This is your father's house, I believe,
not yours. And I don't call myself your guest. Neither need you. I'm a
sort of out-of-season April Fool. At least, I was. I'm not now."

"I tell you--you're bughouse!" stammered Logan.

"You stand up for a girl you don't know a damn thing about---"

"I'd stand up for any girl against you," he was cut short again. "But
I do know this girl. I won't say how. I know you're the dirt under her
feet, and if I hadn't made sure every way that she was out of the
house, I'd have set the police onto you as--as I _wouldn't_ set
terriers onto a rat."

"You--you can't tell me her name--or anything about her--I'll bet!"

"You won't bet with me. And neither of us is going to speak her name
here. Shut your mouth on it if you don't want it stuffed down your
throat and your teeth after it. You've been a villain. That's the one
thing that stands out in this business. God! do you think you could
make me believe anything wrong about that girl--_you_? Why, if an
angel looped the loop down from heaven to do it I wouldn't. Tell me
what store she's working in. That's what I want to hear about her from
you, and nothing else."

Logan was not red in the face now. He had grown very pale. In truth,
he was frightened. But he was angry enough to hide his fear for the
present. He determined that Rolls should not get a word out of him.

"That's _all_ you want to hear, is it?" he mimicked. "If you know so
much about her, you can jolly well find out the rest for yourself or
keep off the grass. I don't intend---"

The sentence ended in an absurd gurgle, for the hand of Peter Rolls
was twisting his high collar. It was horribly uncomfortable and made
him feel ridiculous, because he was taller and bigger and older than
Rolls. He tried to hit Peter in the face with his fist, but suddenly
all strength went out of him. The hated face vanished behind a shower
of sparks.

"You're murdering--me!" he gasped. "I've--got--a weak heart."

Peter let go and flung him across the room. He tottered toward the
door. And his servant, who had been breathlessly listening outside,
opened it opportunely on the instant. Logan saw his chance, as Sims
meant him to do, half fell, half staggered out, and the door slammed
in Peter's face.

It took the latter no more than thirty seconds to wrench it open again
and drag Sims, who was holding desperately to the knob, into the
dining-room. "Don't hurt me, sir!" the man pleaded. "I only did my
duty."

"Hurt you!" repeated Rolls with a laugh. "Don't be afraid. Where's the
other coward?"

"If you are referring to Mr. Logan, sir," Sims replied politely, "he
is gone. If you look for him, I think you will find he has _quite_
gone. I had the front door open, all ready, in case it should be
needed."

Peter reflected for an instant, and then shrugged his shoulders.

"Let him go!" he said. "I'd as soon step twice on a toad that was
hopping away as touch him again. _Br-r!_ This place is sickening. I'll
go, too--but not after him."

"Yes, sir, certainly," returned Sims with alacrity, slinking along the
hall to the vestibule. "I'll open the front door for you. This," he
added with a certain emphasis "will be the fourth time I've done so
to-night. Once to let Mr. Logan in, once when the young ladies came,
and---"

"Ah, there were two of them!" Rolls caught him up.

"Yes, sir. And though I did my duty just now helping Mr. Logan--if I
may say it, sir, without offence--helping him out of _danger_, I am
ready to assist you, sir, by answering any questions you may wish to
ask. I do not consider my doing so disloyal to my employer. My
statements won't hurt him, I assure you. And if you would--er---"

"Would 'make it worth your while,' I suppose you're trying to get
out," Peter disgustedly prompted him.

"I have a wife to support, sir, and a child. I keep them in the
country, and it comes expensive."

"Give me ten dollars' worth of talk," ordered Peter, "and I'll believe
as much as I choose."

He was half ashamed of himself for stooping to bribe the fellow who
perhaps, after all, was only trying to delay him. Yet he might have
something worth hearing. He could not afford to lose a chance.

"Two young ladies came as far as the door, sir," said Sims, pocketing
the greenback, "but only one came into the house--a tall, handsome
young lady, different looking from most, with a thin yellowish silk
cloak over a blue dress. She walked right in, but when she found her
friend was gone she seemed surprised, and the next thing she was in
the boudoir telephoning. Mr. Logan went in and she came out. They had
a little dispute, I think, and though he'd been expecting her to
supper, he told me to get her out of the house as quick as I could. I
showed her through the basement, and she walked, rather briskly I
should say, sir, down the street, while Mr. Logan went in the other
direction--toward the corner, where the club is. As for the young
ladies themselves, I can give you no information, except that the one
who didn't come in to-night has been here before on several occasions.
The one who came in and--er--used the telephone, I have never
previously seen. That's all I know which you don't know yourself. But
I hope I've been of some assistance to make up for doing my
disagreeable duty, sir?"

"I've had ten dollars' worth, thank you," said Peter. "And now for the
fourth time of opening that door."

He went out, satisfied that he was carrying with him the only trace of
Winifred Child from the shut-up house. To-morrow he would begin with
the opening of the shops and look through every department store until
he found her.



CHAPTER XXIII

MOTHER


Peter Rolls, as it oddly happened, had run up to New York that hot
night in order to see a girl do a "turn" at a vaudeville theatre--an
English girl about whom he had read a newspaper paragraph, and who
might, he thought, be Winifred Child. The girl's stage name was
Winifred Cheylesmore. The newspaper described her as "tall, dark, and
taking, with a voice like Devonshire cream."

She was a new girl, of whom nobody had heard, and Peter had been
thrilled and impatient. Her "singing stunt" was to be heard at ten
o'clock, and Peter had dined at his club, meaning to be early in his
seat at the theatre. But a man he knew, sitting at a table near, was a
budding journalist, an earnest amateur photographer. He began passing
samples of his skill to Peter Rolls, calling out rather loudly the
names of ladies snapshotted. Among them was Winifred Cheylesmore, whom
he had interviewed. She was no more like Winifred Child than Marie
Tempest is like Ethel Barrymore. Consequently Peter gave his ticket
away and sat longer over his dinner than he had meant.

If he had started out even five minutes earlier he would have missed
Jim Logan and the adventure in the shut-up house. He would not have
known that there was hope--indeed, almost a certainty--of finding the
lost dryad in one of New York's great department stores.

He was excited, and would have liked to spend half the night walking
off his superfluous energy in the streets or the park where that lying
beast said he had made Miss Child's acquaintance. Peter would have
felt that he was marching to meet the dawn and that the day he longed
for would come to him sooner if he walked toward the horizon. But
father was in town that night--presumedly at his club, and Peter did
not like to leave mother alone. She had exacted no promise--she never
did exact promises, for that was not her way. Peter had said, however,
that he would motor home after the theatre, and though mother mustn't
sit up, she would know that he was in the house.

He determined to keep to this plan, which, of course, would not
prevent his returning to New York early enough next day for the first
opening of the first shop. He wished there were not so many shops.
Unless luck were with him on his search, he might not reach the dryad
for days.

In spite of all that had happened, midnight was not long past when
Peter tiptoed softly through the quiet house at home and opened the
door of his own den. He had expected to find the room in darkness, but
to his surprise the green-shaded reading lamp on the book-scattered
mahogany table was alight, and there in the horsehair-covered
rocking-chair sat mother with her inevitable work. Close by the window
was wide open, and the night breeze from over the Sound was
rhythmically waving the white dimity curtains.

The sweetness of home-coming swept over Peter with the perfume of
wallflowers which blew in on the wind--a sweetness almost as poignant
as that of fresias. Half unconsciously he had been wishing to see his
mother--perhaps not even to speak, but just to see her placid face in
its kind womanliness. It was almost as if his wish had been whispered
to her telepathically and she had answered it. She made a charming
picture, too, he thought, in the shadowy room where the pale, moving
curtains in the dimness were like spirits bringing peace, and all the
light focussed upon the white-haired, white-gowned woman in the high,
black chair seemed to radiate from her whiteness.

Mother looked up, pleased but not surprised, as the opening door
framed her son.

"Howdy do, deary!" She smiled at him. "I thought you'd be coming along
about this time."

Peter threw his hat and coat at the whale, whose large, shining
surface hospitably received them. Mrs. Rolls's small, plump feet in
cheap Japanese slippers rested upon a "hassock" on whose covering
reposed (in worsted) a black spaniel with blue high lights. This
animal she had herself created before the birth of Peter or Ena, but
it was as bright a beast as if it had been finished yesterday. No one
at Sea Gull Manor except Peter would have given Fido house room. But
he liked the dog, and now sat down on it, lifting his mother's little
feet to place them on his knee.

"You oughtn't to have waited up," he remarked, having kissed her
snow-white hair and both apple-pink cheeks and settled himself more or
less comfortably on Fido.

"I thought I would," she returned placidly. "I like being here. And I
had just this to finish." She held up a wide strip of crocheted lace.
"It's 'most done now. It's go'n' to be a bedspread for Ena. But I
don't know if she---"

Mrs. Rolls did not finish the sentence, but it was a long, long ago
established custom of hers not to finish sentences. Except when alone
with Petro, she seldom made any attempt to bring one to an end. It was
life at Peter senior's side which had got her out of the habit of
trying to complete what she began to say. As he generally interrupted
her when she spoke, even in their early years together, she had almost
unconsciously taken it for granted that he would do so, and stopped
like a rundown mechanical doll at about the place where her
quick-minded husband was due to break in.

Peter junior, who never interrupted (though he, too, had a quick
mind), knew as well as if she had gone on that his mother meant: "I
don't know if Ena will think a homemade coverlet of crocheted lace
smart enough for a real, live _marchesa_, but I feel I should like to
make my daughter some bridal present with my own hands."

"Oh, yes, she's certain to. It'll be beautiful, if it's anything like
the one you did for me," Petro assured her when the long pause had
told him that mother had no more to add. "Just think of Ena getting
married!"

"Yes, indeed," sighed Mrs. Rolls. "And it seems only a little while
since you were both---"

Peter knew that the missing word was "children." "Anyhow, she's happy,
I think," he reflected aloud, a far-away look in his eyes.

"I guess so," mother agreed. "She'll like real well being a--- I
wish---"

"_Marchesa"_ was easy for Peter to supply mentally, and would have
been much easier for him to pronounce than it was for Mrs. Rolls, who
had had small education in the management even of her native tongue.

She made dear little, cozy, common mistakes in grammar and other
things. Peter adored her mistakes, and Ena was ashamed of them. But in
those good manners which are taught by the heart and not by the head,
no queen could have given Mrs. Rolls lessons.

As for the next sentence, beginning with "I wish---" and ending in the
air, that was more difficult. Even mother, so placid, seemingly so
contented, must have many wishes. And so Petro ventured on a "What?"

"I wisht I could be just as sure _you_---"

"As sure that I'm happy?"

"Yes, dear."

Peter had been looking at his mother's feet in those blue Japanese
slippers, whose cheapness was rather pathetic. (With all their money,
she never enjoyed wearing expensive things herself. It was as if she
felt lost and un-at-home in them.) But suddenly he glanced up. The
pink-and-white face was as calm as usual, yet her tone had meant
something in particular. A chord seemed to vibrate in his soul, as if
she had softly, yet purposely, touched it with her finger.

"Don't you believe I am happy?" he asked.

"Not--just like you used to be," she said. Their eyes met as she
lifted hers from her work and began rolling it up, finished. She
blushed beautifully, like a girl.

Peter pressed both the little feet between his hands, pressed them
almost convulsively. He did not stop to think how strong his fingers
were, though Logan had had cause to realize their strength two hours
ago. The pressure hurt the small toes so lightly covered. And the
mother of this strong, though slight, young man gloried in the hurt.
She was proud of it, proud of Peter, the one thing in the world she
felt was really hers.

"Mother!" he said in a low, tense voice. "_What_ told you?"

"Why--just bein' your mother, I guess. I was wonderin'---"

"Wondering what?"

"Whether some day you'd say something."

"I wanted to. I wanted to talk to you about--about it all. But I was
afraid it might make you sad. I like to think of you always happy,
dearest. And I couldn't bear to be the one to chase away your smile I
love so much."

"It's thinking of you helps me to smile, Petie," said his mother,
reverting to the pet name of his childhood as she stroked his smooth,
black hair. "If 'twasn't for knowing I've got you--and your loving
me--I do believe I could never smile."

"You're not unhappy?" Peter cried out, startled. It would be a
dreadful pain to know that the placid reserve of this sweet, loved
woman meant unhappiness.

"Not while I have _you_. But---"

"You must go on, dear. Tell me what you feel. We're here together, all
alone in the night, talking out our hearts. It seems as if it was
meant to be--my finding you waiting here."

"I guess maybe it _was_, Petie. Something kind of said to me, 'You
wait up for him. He wants you.' And I--why, I always want you, boy."

"Darling! We've got each other fast."

"Thanks be, dear! My! You don't know the times I've sneaked in and set
in this room when you was away. And even now, if you're go'n' to be
out pretty late, I bring in my work 'most always when your pa's out. I
generally slip back to my room before you come in, because I know you
think I oughtn't to be sittin' up. You mightn't just understand that
'twas because this is my only real home."

"Your only real home? Why, Mother!"

"The rest of the house is so big--and so _awful_ new-fashioned and
grand. Not like me a bit," she apologized meekly--but not with the
flurried meekness of her apologies to Peter senior. "Here you've saved
all my dear old things I had in the days before everything was big. I
never _can_ get used to it, and I never will now. It's the bigness, I
guess, that's seemed--somehow--to take your pa and Ena away from
me--long ago. But I've got you. And you let me come here. So I am
happy. I'm a real happy woman, Petie. And I want you to be happy the
way you used to be--or some better way, not all restless like you are
now. I guess if there was some one you loved different from me you
wouldn't make a new life for yourself without a little place in it for
mother, would you--just a weenty little place I could come and live in
sometimes for a while?"

"I'd want you in it always," said Peter. He leaned up and wound his
arms around the plump, formless waist in the neat dressing-gown. "So
would _she_--if there were a she. I hate the 'bigness,' too--the kind
of false, smart bigness that you mean. We'll have a little house--she
and you and I. For your room will be there, and you'll be in it
whenever father'll spare you. But I'm running away in what I used to
call my 'dreamobile!' I haven't found her yet. That is, I found her
once and lost her again. I'm looking for her now. Mother, do you know
what a _'leitmotif'_ is?"

"No, dear, indeed I don't. I'm afraid I don't know many of the things
I---"

"There's no reason why you should know this. In Wagner's operas, which
I don't understand, perhaps, but which I love with thrills in my
spine--and that's a _kind_ of understanding--whenever a character
comes on the stage he or she always is followed by a certain strain of
music--music that expresses character, and seems even to describe a
person. Well, wallflower perfume might be your _leitmotif_. Can't you
_hear_ perfume? I can. Just as you can seem to see music--wonderful,
changing colours. The wallflower scent's all around us now. It's you.
But through it I imagine another perfume. It's here, too. It's been
with me for months. Because I've got to feel it's her spirit, her
_leitmotif_. The perfume of fresias. Do you know it?"

"I thought maybe she liked it," mother said calmly.

"What put that idea in your darling head?"

"Why, because you've been havin' fresias planted in the garden--and in
your room--as long as they lasted through the spring. You'd never
thought of 'em before as I know of."

"You witch! You notice everything. Who'd believe it, you're so quiet?"

"Of course I notice things about you. I wouldn't be fit to be your
mother if I didn't. Now, do you feel like tellin' me things about
her?"

"I'm longing to," said Peter.

They forgot it was late at night. He told her everything, beginning at
the moment when he had plunged through the dryad door and going on to
the moment when he had lost, not only the girl, but her friendship,
though he said nothing of the Moon dress or the shut-up house. Even
then he did not stop.

"I must have done something inadvertently," he went on, "to make her
stop liking me all of a sudden. For she did like me at first. There
was no flirting or anything silly about it. I felt there was a reason
for her changing, and ever since, every day and every night, I've been
trying to make out what it could have been. I've thought the idea
might come to me. But it never has. That's partly why I'm so anxious
to find her--to make her explain. I was too taken aback, too--sort of
stunned--to go about it the right way when she changed to me at the
last minute there on the dock. Once I could understand, why, I might
start with her again at the beginning and work up. It would give me a
chance--the chance I once thought I had, you know--to try to make her
care. Maybe it would be no use. Maybe I'm not the kind she could ever
like that way, even if things hadn't gone wrong. But--but, Mother,
it's been just agony to think that all this time she's hated me
through some beastly misunderstanding which might easily have been
cleared up."

"My poor boy!" the kind voice soothed him. "I guess that's the worst
pain of all. I knew there was something hurting you, but I didn't
know 'twas as hard a hurt as this. But 'twill come right. I feel it
will--if she's really the right girl."

"She's the only girl!" exclaimed Peter. "You'd love her, and she'd
adore you."

"Tell me just what she looks like," commanded mother, shutting her
eyes to see the picture better.

Peter excelled himself in his description of Winifred Child. "Nobody
ever even dreamed of another girl who looked or talked or acted a bit
like her," he raved. "She's so original!"

"Why, but that's just what somebody _did_!" mother cried, throwing off
the cloak of her placidity. "Lady Eileen."

"Lady Eileen did what?"

"Dreamed about such a girl. It must have been a real interesting
dream, because she couldn't get it out of her head and told me all
about it. She saw a tall, dark girl, with wonderful eyes and a
fascinating mouth and graceful sort of ways like you've been telling
me about. Hearing Lady Eileen talk was almost like seeing a
photograph. In the dream you were in love with the girl--English she
was, too, like the real one--and ransacking New York for her, while
all the time she---"

"Yes--yes, dear! All the time she---"

"Lady Eileen said particularly I was to tell you about her dream and
let you know she wanted you to hear it, because it seemed kind of
dramatic and made her almost superstitious, it was so real every way.
But she made me promise I wouldn't say a _word_ unless you spoke first
about such a girl as she dreamed of--and told me you loved her and
wanted to find her again. If _I_ began, it would spoil the romance,
and there wouldn't be anything in it. That was how Lady Eileen felt."

Peter listened, but his spirit had rushed on past these explanations.
Lady Eileen had chosen this method of leaving a message for him. It
was a strange method, and he did not understand why she had not
herself told him of the dream. But she was a kind and clever girl, a
true friend. There must have been a good motive for the delay. Loyal
himself, he believed in her loyalty and was grateful. But he could not
stop to think of her now.

"Where did Lady Eileen see my dryad girl--in the dream?" he asked.

"At father's place," said mother simply. "At the Hands."



CHAPTER XXIV

THINGS EXPLODING


Lily Leavitt did not come back to Mantles next morning. She sent no
word, asked no leave for illness--and the rule at the Hands was
discharge for such an omission. If she appeared again her place would
be filled--unless she had a strong enough "pull" to keep it open.

Win, who arrived promptly, as usual (just as if last night's adventure
had been a black dream) heard the other girls talking about Lily. She
listened and said nothing; had no opinion when asked what she thought.
But not a soul pitied Miss Leavitt. The general idea seemed to be that
she was one "who knew which side her bread was buttered." She would
not be stopping away without notice unless she had done better for
herself. Probably she had secretly married one of those swell beaus
she was always boasting about!

Win, pale and absent-minded (but that might be the heat), was giving
the finishing touches to a cloaked group of figurines when a letter
was brought to her by a messenger boy. It was not yet time for Peter
Rolls's doors to open to the world, but the girl had to finish her
task before reading the note. A glance at the envelope showed Sadie's
handwriting, and as Sadie ought at that moment to have been making
the toilets of dolls upstairs, Win realized that something unexpected
must have happened.

Perhaps Sadie was ill and wanted her to explain to the management. She
must make short shrift with the figurines and be ready to help Sadie
before strenuous life began.

Five minutes later five headless ladies in perfectly draped wraps were
showing off their finery to the best advantage, and their tiring maid
was standing as still as they, an open letter in her hand.

"What's the matter?" asked a pretty, snub-nosed girl who laughed
oftener than Win in these days. "You look as if you'd lost your last
friend."

"I'm afraid--I have," Winifred replied in a strange, withdrawn voice
which made Daisy Thompson's eyes widen.

"Say! I'm real sorry! I hope it ain't your beau."

Win did not answer, because she did not hear. Sadie! Sadie! The dear
little old sardine!

"Good-bye, deerie," she read again. "I coodn't of said this to yure
fase. I only noo for shure yesterdy. Its cunsumsion and they won't
have me back for fere of my giving it to others. I gess thats right
tho its hard luck on me. It aint that I care much about living. I
dont, becawse theres sum one I love who loves another girl. Shes a lot
better than me and werthy of him so thats all right too but it herts
and Id be kind of glad to go out. Dont you be afrade of me doing
anything silly in the tabloyde line tho. I wont. Im no coward. But I
got to leeve this house for the same reeson as the Hands. I mite give
my truble to sum one else. Its a good thing we found out in time. Ive
hurd of a noo plase where they take consumps for nuthing, and Ive got
to steer for it. Its in the country but I wont tell you where deerie
or you mite try to see me and I dont think I cood stand it the way I
feel now. But I love you just as much. Good-by. Yure affecshunate
Sadie."

Win was overwhelmed. Lately she had seen little of her friend. Neither
girl had much time, and the weather had drunk all their energy. She
ought to have guessed from Sadie's thinness that she was ill. She
ought--oh, she ought to have done a dozen things that she had not
done! Now it was too late.

But no, it mustn't be too late! She would find out where Sadie was. It
ought to be easy, for the verdict which had sent the girl away from
the Hands must have been that of a young doctor who attended the
employees. There were certain hours when he came to the hospital room
which Win had seen on her first day at Peter Rolls's. One of these
hours was just before the opening of the shop. Perhaps he hadn't yet
got away.

The floorwalker who controlled Mantles was one of the smartest men in
any department, somewhat of a martinet, but inclined to be reasonable
with those who had any "gumption." Miss Child had gumption, and though
it was nearly time for the public to rush in (there was a bargain sale
that day) he gave her a permit of absence.

"Nothing worse than a headache, I hope, takes you to the H.R.?" he
questioned, scrawling his powerful name. "We need everybody to get
busy to-day."

"I'm going to beg for some _sal volatile_," answered Win, and
determined to do so, as even white fibs were horrid little things,
almost as horrid as cowardly, scuttling black beetles.

Poor Sadie had giggled the other night: "You stick even to the _truth_
this hot weather!"

The doctor had not gone, but he did not know of the new place Sadie
referred to, and, not knowing, didn't believe in its existence. He had
told Sadie Kirk yesterday that her lungs were infected and that she
had become "contagious." Of course she had had to be discharged. These
things were sad, but they were a part of the day's work. It was a pity
that Miss Kirk hadn't been longer with the Hands. Her insurance money
wouldn't amount to much.

"Do you mean to say that they've sent her away to die and haven't
given her anything?" Win gasped.

"Not to die, I hope," said young Dr. Marlow. "She's curable. But she
wouldn't get more than a week's salary with her discharge, I'm afraid.
Old Saint Peter isn't in this business for his health."

"Or for any one else's," the girl retorted.

Marlow shrugged his shoulders, bowed slightly to the pretty but
unreasonable young woman, and went away.

Winifred also should have gone. She had got her _sal volatile_ and her
information. But life was lying in ruins around her--Sadie's life, if
not her own--and she did not know how to set about reconstructing it.

"What man does she love who loves another girl?" she asked herself.

Then, suddenly, she knew. It was Earl Usher, and he loved her,
Winifred, who could never be more to him than a friend.

Win had heard of a "vicious circle." It seemed that she and Sadie and
Ursus were travelling in one, going round and round, and could never
get out.

"But I must go down," the mechanical part of herself kept repeating.

She had involuntarily paused near the door to think things out in
peace. There were no patients for the two narrow white beds, and the
nurse--a small, nervous woman with sentimental eyes--was heating water
over a spirit lamp. She suffered from headache and had prescribed
herself some tea. The water had begun to boil, and despite the
throbbing in her temples she hummed monotonously: "You Made Me Love
You."

Winifred heard the tune through her thoughts of Sadie and Earl Usher,
and it seemed to make everything sadder and more hopeless. But
suddenly the singing broke off--the thin voice rose to a shriek, and
was lost in a loud explosion.

In the act of going out Win turned, bewildered and expecting horror.
Head down, her hands covering her burned face, the nurse came
staggering toward the door. Hair and cap were on fire. All over the
white dress and apron were dotted little blue tongues of flame that
had spouted out from the bursting lamp.

Often such an accident had been lightly prophesied by this very woman.
The spirit sent up for the hospital was of the cheapest. Peter Rolls
was "not in business for his health!"

Dazed by the deafening noise, and shocked to the very heart by the
woman's shriek of pain, Win was not conscious of thought. She did not
tell herself to spring to the nearest bed, tear off the covering,
stop the nurse before she could rush wildly into the corridor, and
wrap her in the blanket. All she knew for a moment was that she had
done and was doing these things, that she was using her strength to
hold the maddened creature, and all the while calling out for help.

The doctor had not yet reached the end of the long corridor, and the
explosion and cries brought him and others running. Vaguely Win was
conscious that there were women there, maids who cleaned floors and
windows, and that there were two or three men besides Dr. Marlow. She
thought that he ordered some of them out and gave directions to
others, but the scene sharpened into detail only when she heard
herself told to stay and give assistance.

She aiding the doctor, the nurse's burns were dressed. The little
quivering creature, hastily undressed, was put to bed, face, head,
arms, and hands covered with oil and bandaged. It was not until
another nurse--telephoned for from somewhere to somewhere--had
arrived, and the invalid had been given an opiate, that Win realized
the tingling pain in her own fingers.

"Why, yes, so I _am_ burned a little!" she exclaimed when the doctor
asked to see her hands. "But it's nothing to matter. I can go back to
work now. Nurse is all right."

"No, it's nothing to matter, and you can go back to work, all right,"
briskly echoed Marlow, who was no coddler of any hands at Peter
Rolls's; "that is, you can when I've patched you up a bit. And nurse
isn't going to be bad, either. She won't be disfigured, I can
guarantee that--thanks to you."

"Thanks to me?" Win echoed.

"Yes, just that. Perhaps you don't realize that you probably saved her
life."

"No. I--I don't think I've realized anything yet." She found herself
suddenly wanting to cry, but remembered a day on the _Monarchic_ (as
she always did remember if tears felt near) and swallowed the rising
lump in her throat.

"Well, don't bother about it. You can get conceited later. Here, drink
this to quiet your nerves in case you feel jumpy, and now run along.
It'll be all right for you downstairs. The news will have got to your
dep by this time and they'll know why you're late."

Win "ran along" and found the doctor's prophecy correct The news had
bounded ahead of her.

"I hear you've been distinguishing yourself," said Mr. Wellby, the
floorwalker. "Let's see your hands. Oh, I guess they won't put you out
of business, a brave girl like you."

"I'm as well as ever, thank you," said Win.

Stupid of her, wanting to cry again just because people were paying
her compliments! But perhaps she hadn't quite got over last night and
not sleeping at all. And then Sadie's letter. Things had piled on top
of each other, but she mustn't let herself go to pieces. She must keep
her wits and think--think--think how to get at Sadie and what to do
for her.

Dr. Marlow had covered Win's fingers with something he called
"newskin," since it would not do for a "saleslady" to disgust
customers by serving them with bandaged hands. It was like a
transparent varnish and made her nails shine as brightly as those of
the vainest girls who spent all their spare time in polishing. But the
redness showed through, as if her hands were horribly chapped. She saw
a lady who had asked her to try on a white lace evening coat staring
at them.

"What's the matter with your hands?" The question came sharply.

"I scalded them a little this morning," Win explained.

"Oh! I'm glad it isn't a _disease."_

The girl blushed faintly, ashamed, glanced down at the offending pink
fingers, and turning slowly round to display the cloak, suddenly
looked up into the eyes of Peter Rolls.

She could not help starting and drawing in her breath. For half a
second her brain whirled and she thought that she imagined him, that
it was just such another vision as those of last night when she had
put on the Moon dress.

His eyes were looking at her as they had looked then, and they were
the good blue eyes of Mr. Balm of Gilead. It could not be that he was
really here gazing at her. It must be some other man like him. But no!
He had taken off his hat. He was saying something in the well
remembered--too well remembered!--voice.

"How do you do, Miss Child? When you've finished with this lady, I
shall be so much obliged if you can speak to me for a minute."

She bowed her head--quite a polite, ordinary sort of bow, just like
that of any well-trained saleslady to a prospective customer intending
to wait till she was free. But really it did not mean politeness at
all. It meant that she had to hide her face, and that it was taking
every square inch of nerve force she had to behave in the least like
a saleslady.

It was seeing Peter Rolls suddenly--Peter Rolls in flesh and bone and
muscle and magnetism of eyes, which told her in a devastating flash a
thing about herself she had feared for months--ever since the day she
turned her back upon Mr. Balm of Gilead and the _Monarchic_.

She was in love with him. Hideously, desperately, overwhelmingly in
love with him, just as ridiculous girls always were with men they
oughtn't to think of. Probably he had tried to make her so at first
with his friendly, chivalrous ways that hid blacknesses underneath.

She had escaped, thanks to his sister. And it looked as if those
horrid hints had indeed been true, otherwise he would not have
troubled to persist after his snubbing. For he had persisted. Some
glint of blue light in the steady eyes told her that. This was not a
coincidence. Mr. Rolls had the air of having found her at last. She
must make him sorry for it. Because, after her experience of the other
man who had persisted--though she thought herself forgotten--why
should she hope against hope that this man was different?

At last the customer, who did not hurry in the least--rather the
contrary--wore all excuses for lingering to shreds, she waddled fatly
away, carrying the lace cloak with her; and Win, not shirking the
ordeal as she had done when Jim Logan haunted Toyland, turned to Peter
Rolls.



CHAPTER XXV

A PIECE OF HER MIND


"Miss Child, I've been looking for you for months!" were Peter's first
words when he had her to himself.

Instantly she knew what her pose ought to be. Not prim stiffness, not
suspicious maidenly dignity, but just smiling civility, a recognition
of past slight acquaintance. This would do for the beginning. This
must surely show him that the tactics Ena credited him with were
useless here.

"Have you? How nice of you to say so," she braced herself to reply
with gayest indifference. "Well, I've been in this store for--a long
time, migrating from one department to another and learning the
business. I'm quite a fair saleswoman now, I assure you. Are you going
to buy a cloak? Because, if not--this is a busy morning."

"Yes, I'll buy one as a present for my mother," said Peter. "I should
like you to choose her something. I described her to you once, but I
suppose you've forgotten. She's little, and rather plump, and has
beautiful white hair and a rosy complexion. But, Miss Child, I want to
talk to you, not about cloaks, about yourself. I've asked permission,
and they know who I am, and it's all right. I said you and my sister
were friends. That's true, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes!"

"I believed _we_ were friends once. And we were, too. The more I've
thought of it, the surer I've been. Something happened to make you
change your mind about me. I was struck all of a heap at first. I
didn't have the sense to know what to say or do, to try and put myself
back where I had been. I let you go. And I lost you. But I'm not going
to lose you again. You can see how much in earnest I am when I tell
you that I haven't stopped looking for you for one single day after I
realized you wouldn't keep your promise about writing my sister."

"It wasn't a promise," breathed Win. "I--never meant to write to her."

"I thought so!"

"Why should I? It was very kind of Miss Rolls to suggest it, if I
should ever want help. But I didn't want help. All I wanted was to get
on by myself."

"I know you mean me to understand from that, Miss Child, that you
don't think I've any right to force myself on you after you showed me
so plainly you thought me a bounder," said Peter, not mincing his
words or stumbling over them. "But I'm not a bounder. There must be
some way of proving to you that I'm not. That's why I'm here for one
thing, though there's another---"

"What?" Winifred threw in, frightened, and thinking it better to cut
him short in time.

"I want you to meet my mother and let her help you to get some kind of
a position more--more worthy of your talents than this."

Win laughed aloud. "You run down your father's shop?"

"It's not good enough for you."

She flushed, and all her pent-up anger against the House of the Hands
tingled in that flush.

"You say so because I once had the great honour of being an
acquaintance of yours--and your sister's," she hurried breathlessly
on. "For all the rest of the people here, the people you don't know
and don't want to know, you think it good enough--too good,
perhaps--even splendid! It does look so, doesn't it? Magnificent! And
every one of your father's employees so happy--so fortunate to be
earning his wages. They're worms--that doesn't matter to rich men like
you, Mr. Rolls. Unless, perhaps, a girl happens to be pretty--or you
knew her once and remember that she was an individual. Oh, you must
feel I'm very ungrateful for your interest. Maybe you mean to be
kind--about your mother. But give your interest to those who need it.
I don't. I've seen your name in the papers--interviews--things you try
to do for the 'poor.' It's a sort of fad, isn't it--in your set? But
charity begins at home. You could do more by looking into things and
righting wrongs in your father's own shop than anywhere else in the
world."

She stopped, panting a little, her colour coming and going She had not
meant this at first. It was far removed from smiling civility,
this--tirade! But, as Sadie Kirk would say, "He had asked for it."

He was looking at her with his straight, level gaze. He was
astonished, maybe, but not angry. And she did not know whether to be
glad or sorry that she had not been able to rouse him to rage. His
look into her eyes was no longer that of a young man for a young
woman who means much to him. That light had died while the stream of
her words poured out.

For a moment, when she had ceased, they stared at each other in
silence, his face very grave, hers flushed and suggesting a
superficial repentance.

"Forgive me," she plumped two words into the pause, as if pumping air
into a vacuum. "I oughtn't to have said all that. It was rude."

"But true? You think it's true?"

"Yes."

"You have been working here in my father's store for months, and you
say I could do more good by righting the wrongs here than anywhere
else in the world. That sounds pretty serious."

"It is serious. Whether I ought to have spoken or not."

_"I_ tell you, you ought to have spoken. It was--brave of you. That's
the way I always think of you, Miss Child, being brave--whatever
happens. And laughing."

"I don't laugh now."

"Not at other people's troubles--I know. But you would at your own."

"I'm not thinking of my own. To-day of all days!"

He wondered what she meant. His mind flashed swiftly back to last
night and all that had happened. He could have kissed the hem of her
black dress to see her here, safe and vital enough to fling reproaches
at him for his sins--of omission. Yet he must stand coldly discussing
grievances. No, "coldly" was not the word. No word could have been
less appropriate to the boiling emotions under Peter Rolls's grave,
composed manner.

He let the baffling sentence go--a sentence which framed thoughts of
Sadie Kirk.

"I should like to hear from you the specific wrongs you want righted,"
he said. "I know a girl of your sort wouldn't speak vaguely. You _do_
mean something specific."

"Yes--I do."

"Then tell me--now."

"You came to buy a cloak for your mother."

"I didn't come for that, and you know it. I came for you. But you put
a shield between us to keep me off. When you have emptied your heart
of some of these grievances that are making it hot--against me, maybe
you won't have to put me at the same distance. Maybe you'll let me be
your friend again, if I can deserve it."

"I don't want to talk or think of ourselves at all!" she broke out.

"I don't ask you to. All that--and my mother's cloak, too--you needn't
be getting down that box!--can wait. If you won't be my friend, anyhow
show me how to help your friends."

"Oh, if you would do that!" Win cried.

"I will. Give me the chance."

Despite his injunction, she had taken from its neat oak shelf a box of
summer wraps and placed it on the counter behind which she stood. Now,
not knowing what she did, she lifted the cardboard cover and seemed to
peep in at the folds of chiffon and silk.

Peter looked not at the box, but at her pitiful, reddened hands on the
lid. The blood mounted slowly to his temples and he bit his lip. He,
too, was standing, though any one of several green velvet-covered
stools was at his service. He turned away, leaning so much weight on
the bamboo stick he held that it bent and rather surprised him.

Suddenly the scene struck him as very strange, almost unreal--Winifred
Child, his lost dryad, found in his father's store, separated from him
by a dignified barrier of oak and many other things invisible! This
talk going on between them--after last night! The hum of women's
voices in the distance (they kept their distance in this vast
department because he was Peter Rolls, Jr., as all the employees by
this time knew) and the heavy heat and the smell of oak seemed to add
to the unreality of what was going on. Fresias would have helped. But
there was nothing here that suggested help--unless you wanted advice
about a cloak.

Win had been marshalling her ideas like an army hastily assembled to
fight in the dark.

"That is a favour I couldn't refuse to take from you, even if I
would," she said in a low voice, "to help my friends."

"It is no favour. You'll be doing me that."

She went on as if he had not spoken.

"I don't know about any shops in New York except this one--only things
I've heard. Some of the girls I've met here have worked in other
department stores. They say--this is one of the worst. I have to tell
you that--now I've begun. There's no use keeping it back--or you won't
understand how I feel. There are real abuses. The Hands don't break
the laws--that's all. About hours--we close at the right time, but the
salespeople are kept late, often very late, looking over stock. Not
every night for the same people, but several times a week. We have
seats, but we mustn't use them. It would look as if we were lazy--or
business were bad. We 'lend' the management half the time we're
allowed for meals on busy days--and never have it given back. The
meals themselves served in the restaurant--the dreadful
restaurant--seem cheap, but they ought to be cheaper, for they're
almost uneatable. Those of us who can't go out get ptomain poisoning
and appendicitis. I know of cases. Hardly any of us can afford enough
to eat on our salaries. I should think our blood must be almost white!

"But nobody here cares how we live out of business hours, so long as
we're 'smart' and look nice. When we _aren't_ smart--because we're
ill, perhaps--and can't any longer look nice--because we're getting
older or are too tired to care--why, then we have to go; poor,
worn-out machines--fit for the junk shop, not for a department store!
Even here, in Mantles, where we get a commission, the weak ones go to
the wall. We must be like wolves to make anything we can save for a
rainy day. But any girl or man who'll consent to act the spy on
others--_there's_ a way to earn money, lots of it. A few are tempted.
They must degenerate more and more, I think! And there are other
things that drive some of us--the women, I mean--to desperation. But I
can't tell you about them. You must find out for yourself--if you
care."

"If I care!" echoed Peter.

"If you do, why haven't you found out all these things, and more, long
ago?" she almost taunted him, carried away once again by the thought
of those she championed--the "friends" she had not come to in her
story yet.

"Because--my father made it a point that I should keep my hands off
the Hands. That was the way he put it. I must justify myself far
enough to tell you that."

"But--if one's in earnest, need one take no for an answer?"

"I suppose I wasn't in earnest enough. I thought I was. But I couldn't
have been. You're making me see that now."

"I haven't told you half!"

"Then--go on."

"You really wish it?"

"Yes."

"The floorwalkers and others above them have power that gives them the
chance to be horribly unjust and tyrannical if they like. There are
lots of fine ones. But there are cruel and bad ones, too. And then--I
can't tell you what life is like for the under dog! And cheating goes
on that we all see and have to share in--sales of worthless things
advertised to attract women. We get a premium for working off 'dead
stock.' Each department must be made to pay, separately and on its own
account, you see, whatever happens! And that's why each one is its own
sweatshop---"

"I swear to you this isn't my father's fault," involuntarily Peter
broke in. "He's not young any more, you see, and he worked so hard in
his early years that he's not strong enough to keep at it now. Not
since I can remember has he been able to take a personal interest in
the store, except from a distance. He leaves it to others, men he
believes that he can trust. Not coming here himself, he---"

"Why, he comes nearly every day!" Win cried out, then stopped
suddenly at sight of Peter's face.

"I--am sure you're mistaken about that one thing, Miss Child," he
said. "You must have been misinformed. They must have told you some
one else was he---"

The girl was silent, but Peter's eyes held hers, and the look she gave
him told that she was not convinced. "You don't believe me?" he asked.

"I believe you don't know. He does come. It's always been toward the
closing hour when I've seen him. The first time he was pointed out to
me was by a floorwalker on Christmas Eve. I was in the toy department
then. He was with Mr. Croft. How strange you didn't know!"

"If it was father--perhaps I can guess why he didn't want us to find
out. But even now I--well, I shall go home and ask him if he realizes
what is happening here. Somehow I shall help your friends, Miss
Child."

"I haven't told you about them yet," Win said. "It was really one
friend who was in my mind. There may be ever so many others just as
sad as she. But I love her. I can't bear to have her die just because
she's poor and unimportant--except to God. Dr. Marlow thinks she's
curable. Only--the things she needs she can't afford to get, and I
haven't any money left to buy them for her; just my salary, and no
more. There's one thing I can do, though! I'll learn to be a wolf,
like some of the others, and snatch commissions."

"Don't do that!" Peter smiled at her sadly. "I shouldn't like to think
of you turning into a wolf. Your friend is sick---"

"She was told by the doctor yesterday that it was a case of
consumption. I had a letter from her this morning--bidding me
good-bye. You see, she was discharged on the spot, with only a week's
wages."

"Beastly!" exclaimed Peter. "There ought to be some kind of a
convalescent home in connection with this store--or two, rather, one
for contagious sort of things and the other not. I---"

"She wrote in her letter that she'd heard of a place where
consumptives were taken in and treated free," Win went on when he
paused. "But she wouldn't tell me where it was. And Dr. Marlow says
there is nothing of the sort---"

"Oh, he can't have read the newspapers these last few days. It's been
open a week."

"Then _you_ know about it?"

"Yes. You see--it's a sort of--friend of mine who's started the
scheme. The house is not very big yet. But he'll enlarge it if it
makes a success."

"Quite free?"

"Yes. Anybody can come and be examined by the doctor. No case will be
refused while there's room. I--my friend lost his dearest friend years
ago--a boy of his own age then--from consumption. It almost broke his
heart. And he made up his mind that when he grew up and had a little
money of his own, he'd start one of those open-air places in the
country free."

"I believe you're speaking of yourself!" exclaimed Win, her face
lighting. Then Ena Rolls's brother couldn't be all bad!

"Well, I'm in the business, too. This must be the place the girl is
going to. She shall be cured, I promise you. And when she's well she
shall have work in the country to keep her strong and make her happy.
Will that please you?"

"Yes," Win answered. "But--it doesn't please me to feel you're doing
it for that reason."

"I'm not. Only partly, at least. I'm thankful for the chance to help.
And this shan't be all. There'll be other ways. Please don't think too
badly of me, Miss Child. I trusted my father, as he wished. And he
trusts Mr. Croft--too completely, I fear."

Again Win was silent. She had heard things about Peter Rolls, Sr.,
which made her fancy that he was not a man to trust any one but
himself. And she did not yet dare to trust his son. The look was
coming back into his eyes which made her remember that he was a man
like other men. Yet it was hard not to trust him! And because it was
so hard she grew afraid.

"Give me the address of that convalescent home," she broke her own
silence by saying. "I want to write to my friend, Sadie Kirk--and go
to see her--if she's really there. Mr. Rolls, I shall bless you if she
is cured."

Petro had taken out his cardcase and was writing.

"Then, sooner or later, I shall have my blessing," he said quietly.
"Couldn't you give me just a small first instalment of it now?
Couldn't you tell me what changed you toward me on the ship? Had it
anything to do with my family--any gossip you heard?"

"In a way, yes. But I can't possibly tell you. Please don't ask me."

"I won't. But give me some hope that I can live it down. You see, I
can't spare you out of my life. I had you in it only a few days. Yet
those days have made all the difference."

Win stiffened.

"I can't let you talk to me like that," she said almost sharply, if
her creamy voice could be sharp. "I hate it. You'll make me wish--for
my own sake--if it weren't for my friend, I mean--that you hadn't
found me here. I thought--I don't see why I shouldn't say it!--when I
asked for work in your father's store that none of the family would
ever come near the place. I was told they never did. But it wasn't
true. You all come!"

"You mean my father and I?"

"And Miss Rolls, too---"

"She came?"

"Yes, with Lord Raygan, and--and I think you and Lady Eileen were
here, too."

"We were," Peter said. "And so--you were in the store even then?
Nobody told me."

"I hoped they wouldn't."

It was his turn to be silent, understanding Eileen's dream. Raygan
must have talked to her about the girl. But there would have been
nothing to say, if Ena had not said it first. Ena had "explained
things" to Raygan, perhaps--and then---

An old impression came back to Peter. He remembered Ena's protest
against his friendship for a "dressmaker," and her kindness later. He
remembered asking himself on the dock if Ena could have made mischief.
He had put the thought away as treacherous, not once, but many times.
Now he did not put it away. He faced it, and wondered if he could
ever forgive his sister. It seemed at that moment that he never could.

"Will you choose the cloak for Mrs. Rolls?" Win was asking in the
professional tone of the obliging young saleswoman.

"I--er--yes, I suppose so. Which one do you suggest?"

"Any of these would be charming for--the lady you've described. She'd
like it better, I'm sure, if you chose it yourself."

"No, I want you to choose, please. I've already told her about you. If
it hadn't been for her I shouldn't have found you so soon. She advised
me to try the Hands. No matter what you may think of me, there's only
one opinion to have of mother. And you can't object to meeting her.
You choose the cloak and I'll bring her to see you--in it."

Win kept her eyes on the assortment of silk motoring and dust coats
which she had arranged on the broad counter for Mr. Rolls's
inspection. Suddenly a great weight was lifted from her head, as if
kind hands had gently removed a tight helmet.

Would such a man as Ena Rolls had sketched in her shadow portrait of a
brother bring his mother to meet a shop girl whom he fancied? It
seemed not. Yet men of that type were the cleverest, as she already
knew. Maybe he didn't really mean to bring Mrs. Rolls. It would be
easy, from time to time, to postpone her visit. And Win was very
proud. She thought of Ena's annoyance at happening upon her in the
elevator, and how reluctantly Miss Rolls had taken up the cue of
cordiality from Lord Raygan. Oh, it was best--in any case--it was the
only way to keep personalities out of her intercourse with the man who
had once been Mr. Balm of Gilead.

"This silver gray is one of the prettiest of the new wraps," she
glibly advertised her wares.

"Very well, if you like it, I'll marry--I mean, I'll take it. Tell me
how you hurt your hands."

"There's nothing to tell," she put him off again, visibly freezing--an
intellectual feat in such weather. "And--really, as I said before, I
don't care to talk about myself."

Her look, even more than her words, shut Peter up. The cloak saved the
situation during a few frigid seconds. But as a situation it had
become strained. The only hope for the future was to go now. And Peter
went. He went straight back to Sea Gull Manor and to his father.



CHAPTER XXVI

WHEN THE SECRET CAME OUT


Father was in the library when Peter got home. One did not open the
door and walk straight into this sacred room. One knocked, and if
father happened to be engaged in any pursuit which he did not wish the
family eye to see, he had time to smuggle it away and take up a
newspaper, or even a book, before calling out "Come in."

To-day, not being well, he was allowing himself the luxury of a
jig-saw puzzle, but as he considered the amusement frivolous for a man
of his position, at the sound of his son's voice he hustled the board
containing the half-finished picture into a drawer of his roll-top
desk. In order to be doing something, he caught up a paper. It was
_Town Tales_, and his eye, searching instinctively for the name of
Rolls, saw that of the Marchese di Rivoli coupled with it and a
slighting allusion. A wave of physical weakness surged over the
withered man as he asked himself if he had done wrong in sanctioning
his daughter's engagement to the Italian.

"What do you want?" he greeted Petro testily.

He was invariably testy when indigestion had him in its claw, and his
tone gave warning that this was a bad moment Still Petro was bursting
with his subject. He could not bear to postpone the fight. Instead of
putting it off, he resolved to be exceedingly careful in his tactics.

"I want to talk with you, Father, if you don't mind," he began
pleasantly. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything important?"

"I am supposed to be left to myself in the mornings," said Peter
senior, martyrized. "Though I don't go to the store, I must read
Croft's reports and keep in touch with things."

"It's about the store I'd like to talk." Peter was thankful for this
opening. He perched hesitatingly on the arm of an adipose easy chair,
not having been specifically invited to sit.

"Why, what have you got to say about the Hands?" Defiance underlay
tone and look.

"It was in this very room I promised you I'd keep my hands off the
Hands," Peter quoted. "But I want you to let me take the promise
back."

"I'll do nothing of the sort!" shrilled Peter senior. "What do you
mean?"

"I need to work. I've tried other things, but my thoughts always come
back to the Hands. I'm proud of your success you know. I want to--to
batten on it. And I want to carry it on. I have ideas of my own."

"I bet you have, and damned poor ideas, too," snapped the old man.
"I'm not going to have them tried in my place while I'm alive."

"Let me tell you what some of them are, won't you, before you condemn
them?" his son pleaded, refusing to be ruffled.

"No. I won't have my time wasted on any such childishness," growled
Peter senior. "You ought to know better than to trouble me with every
silly, trifling idea you get into your head."

"To me this is not trifling," Peter argued. "It's so serious that if
you refuse to take me into your business--I don't care how humble a
position you start me--I shall begin to make my own way in the world.
I can't go on as I am, living on you, with an allowance that comes out
of the Hands, unless you give me some hope that I can soon work up to
having a voice in the management."

"I suppose what you are really hinting at is a bigger allowance under
a different name," sneered old Peter. "Now you're turning
socialist--oh, you don't suppose I'm blind when I come to your name
and your quixotic schemes in the newspapers! You don't like the
red-hot chaps raving about 'unearned increment,' or whatever they call
it."

"No, it isn't that," Peter said simply. "I don't much care what people
say, so long as I can help things along a bit; though, of course, I'd
rather it would be with my money than yours, no matter how generous
you are about giving and asking no questions. I don't ask for more, or
want it. But I do want to feel that--forgive me, Father!--I do want to
feel that on the money I handle there's no sweat wrung out of men's
bodies or tears from women's eyes."

Peter senior had sat only half turned from his desk, as if suggesting
to Peter junior that the sooner he was allowed to get back to work,
the better. But at these last words, unexpected as a blow, he swung
violently round in his revolving chair to glare at the young man.

"Well, I'm damned!" he ejaculated.

Peter sincerely hoped not, but felt that silence was safer than
putting his hopes into words.

"This comes of turning socialist! You insult your father who supports
you in luxury---"

"I don't mean to insult you, Father, and I don't want to be supported
in luxury. I want to work for every cent I have. I want to work hard."

"I never thought," Peter senior reflected aloud, abruptly changing his
tone, "to hear a son of mine spout this sort of cheap folderol, and I
never thought that any one of my blood would be weak enough to come
crawling and begging to break a solemn promise."

"It means strength, not weakness, to break some promises--the kind
that never ought to have been made," Peter junior defended himself.
"I'd break it without crawling or begging if I thought you'd prefer,
except that it would be no use. Unless I had your permission, I
couldn't get taken into the Hands."

"Well, you don't get it. See?" retorted the head of the Hands as
rudely as he could ever have spoken in old days to his humblest
subordinate.

"Then, Father, if that's your last word on the subject," said Petro,
rising, "this means for you and me, where business is concerned, the
parting of the ways."

The old man's sallow face was slowly, darkly suffused with red.
"You're trying to bully me," he grunted. "But I'm not taking any
bluff."

"You misjudge me." Petro still kept his temper. "I'd be a disgusting
cad to try on such a game with you, and I don't think I am that. I'm
more thankful than I can tell you for all you've done for me. You've
had a hard life yourself, and you've secured me an easy one. You never
had time to see the world, but you let me see it because I longed
to--when I saw you had no use for me in the business. You let me give
money away and, thanks to your generosity, one or two schemes I had at
heart are in working order already. There's enough saved out of my
allowance for the last few years to see them through, if I never take
another cent from you. And I never will, from this day on, Father,
while you run the Hands on present lines."

"You're a blank idiot!" snarled the old man; but a strained, almost
frightened look was stretched in queer lines on his yellow face. He
was thinking of Ena and of the newspapers. He could hear the dogs
yapping round his feet.

"Young Peter Rolls breaks away from home. Earns his living with his
own hands, not father's Hands. What he says about his principles"--or
some such rot as that would certainly appear in big, black headlines
just when Ena and her magnificent _marchese_ were searching the
columns for gush over the forthcoming marriage. It would spoil the
girl's pleasure in her wedding.

Old Peter was furious with young Peter, but began angrily to realize
that the matter was indeed serious. He desired to be violent, but fear
of Ena dashed cold water on the fire of his rage. Against his will and
against his nature he began to temporize, meaning later to revenge his
present humiliation upon his son.

"Who the devil has been upsetting you with lies about the Hands?" he
spluttered.

"I'm afraid we must take for granted that what has 'upset' me isn't
lies." Peter let his sadness show in face and voice. "I don't wonder
you're surprised and perhaps angry at my coming to you and suddenly
throwing out some sort of accusations, when year after year I've been
receiving money from the Hands as meek as a lamb without a word or
question. I don't defend myself for lack of interest in the past or
for too much now. Maybe I'm to blame both ways. But please remember,
Father, you said that unless I distrusted you, I was to stand aside.
After that I was so anxious to prove I trusted you all right, that I
hurried to promise before I'd stopped to think. Since then I've been
made to think--furiously to think--and---"

"I was brought up to believe there was _no_ excuse for breaking a
promise," Peter senior cut him short severely. There was Petro's
chance to score, and--right or wrong--he took it.

"Then things have changed since the days when you were being brought
up," he said, with one of those straight, clear looks old Peter had
always disliked as between son and father. "Because, you know you
promised Ena you would give up going to the store except for important
business meetings once or twice a year. And you haven't given it up.
You go there nearly every night."

Peter senior physically quailed. His great secret was found out! No
use to bluster. Somehow young Peter had got hold of the long-hidden
truth. He was, in a way, at the fellow's mercy. If Petro chose to tell
Ena this thing she would fancy that every one except the family knew
how old Peter's grubbing habits had never been shaken off; that with
him once a shopkeeper, always a shopkeeper, and that behind her back
people must be laughing at the difference between her aristocratic
airs and her father's commonness.

The old man's stricken face shocked Peter. He was as much ashamed of
himself as if he had kicked his father.

"I oughtn't to have told you, I know," he stammered. "Anyhow, not like
this. I'm sorry."

Peter senior gathered himself together and feebly bluffed.

"You needn't be sorry," he blustered in a thin voice at the top of his
throat. "What do I care whether _you_ know or not? There's no disgrace
in looking after my own business, I guess! To please Ena, I've made a
sort of secret of it, that's all. I never 'promised.' I only let her
and other folks it didn't concern suppose I lived in idleness, like
the lords they admire so much. No harm in that! As for you, you're
welcome to know what I do with my time when I go to New York. But it's
none of your business, all the same, and you'd better keep still about
it, or you'll regret your meddling. Who told you? That's what I want
to get at. Who stuffed you up to the neck with all that damned
nonsense about 'sweat and tears?' I bet it's the same man who tried to
blackmail me with my own son about my going to the Hands nights."

"It wasn't a man who told me," said Peter, "it was a woman--or,
rather, a girl. It was _me_ she was blaming, not you. She thought I
was responsible for the wrongs she and other employees suffer from.
She didn't know it was a secret, your visiting the place. She simply
mentioned it as a fact---"

"And you, a son of mine, stood quietly listening to abuse of your
father and the house that's made his fortune--his fortune and
yours--from a pert young clerk in his store!"

At last Peter senior could speak with the voice of injured virtue. He
could reach Peter junior with the well-deserved lash of reproach. But
no! The lash striking out, touched air.

"Father, I listened because I love the girl," Peter answered "Wait,
please! Let me explain. I fell in love with her on the _Monarchic_.
Then something happened and I lost sight of her. Yesterday I found her
at the Hands. I wanted to talk to her about love, but she made me
listen to her instead. She said sharp things about the store that cut
like knives. Don't think I'm accusing you if the Hands _is_ a
sweatshop. You trust Croft, and he's abused his trust. That must be
it. For God's sake, give me a chance to help you put things straight."

For a moment--a long moment--Peter senior did not speak, and Peter
junior would have given much to know where his thoughts had gone. They
were away somewhere--with the Hands or with the girl who had made
Petro listen.

"Will you do it, Father? Will you give me a chance?" his son repeated.

Old Peter started. "Old Peter" seemed the only name that fitted him
just then.

"One of my children is going to marry a marquis and the other wants to
marry a clerk behind my counters," he almost whimpered.

Then Petro knew, without telling, which direction his father's
thoughts had taken.

"Don't be afraid that she isn't a lady," the young man humoured the
old man's prejudices. "She's English and beautiful and clever and
brave. She saved a woman from being burned to death to-day at the
Hands. She didn't tell me that story, but I heard it. God made her to
be a princess. Misfortune put her behind a counter in our store. Oh,
no! _not_ misfortune. Though she's had a hard time at the Hands, and
shows it in her face, I believe she'd say herself that she's glad of
the experience. And if through her those that have suffered wrong from
us can be--"

"Don't talk to me any more about all this just now, my son," Peter
senior suddenly implored rather than commanded "You've given me a
shock--several shocks. I--I'm not fit for 'em to-day, I guess. I told
you I wasn't well. I'm feeling bad. I'm feeling mighty bad."

His looks confirmed his words. In the last few moments since the angry
flush had passed, the old man's face had faded to a sicklier yellow
than Petro had ever seen upon it--except one day, long ago, when Peter
Rolls, Sr., had tried to be a yachtsman in order to please Ena--and
the weather had been unkind. The young man was stabbed by remorse.
Reason told him that now was the moment to press his point home. But
compassion bade him withdraw it from the wound. It was true that his
father was not well and had warned him of the fact at the beginning of
their conversation. Petro had gone too far.

"I'm sorry, Father," he apologized. "I meant to stir you up, but I
didn't mean to give you a shock. Shall I ring? Is there anything you
want?"

"Only to be alone," replied the other. "I'll lie down here on the
sofa. By and by, if I don't feel better, I'll go to my room maybe and
make it dark and sleep this headache off. I don't remember when I've
been so bad. But don't say anything to your mother."

"You mean about your going to the Hands? She knows about the girl."

"No, I mean about my head. I don't care whether or no your mother
hears that I go to the Hands. It's Ena and outside folks I care for,
and them only for Ena's sake. She's so proud! And when she gets home
from France--"

"Not a word to her, I promise. Nor to any one outside. But do you
know, I believe mother would be glad to hear that you sometimes go to
the store? She'd think it was like old times. And she loves the old
times."

"Tell your mother anything you like. She's got a still tongue in her
head." Peter senior gasped out his words with the desperate air of a
man at the end of his tether. "Only go now--go, and let my head rest.
You and I can discuss all these things later. That'll be best for us
both."

Peter junior was silenced, though he thought he knew his father too
well to draw great encouragement from an offer of future discussion.
The old man assuredly did feel ill, and it would have been brutal to
force him into further argument. The only thing was to go now and
attack him again before the sensitive surface of his feelings had had
time thoroughly to harden.

Young Peter and his mother lunched alone together at the stately
English hour of two which Ena had decreed for the household. Old Peter
had ordered a cup of hot milk and had sent word that, his indigestion
being rather worse than usual, he intended to spend the afternoon
lying down. This had often happened before, and mother, though
distressed, was not alarmed.

She would not have admitted it in words to herself, but she was happy
in her _tête-à-tête_ with Petro. He had his place moved near hers.
They dared to dismiss the dignified servants and help themselves to
what they wanted. Or, rather, Petro jumped up and helped her, whether
she wanted things or not. They talked about Miss Child, and Petro
related his adventure at the Hands, which he had not, until the
luncheon hour, been able to describe in detail.

He told his mother again, several times over, how wonderful Win was,
and mother was not bored. She listened with a rapt smile, especially
to the part about the fire in the hospital room and the girl's quick
presence of mind, Win having refused to confess how she had hurt her
hands, Petro had used the influence of his name to find out tactfully
from another source, all that had happened. And he made quite a good
story out of it for his mother. The latter promised gladly to go and
see Miss Child and to wear the pearl-gray wrap, which she thought very
pretty, reflecting marvellous credit on the taste of the chooser.

Petro did not touch upon Miss Child's indictment of the Hands. It
seemed unnecessary to distress mother just when she was interested and
even delighted (not at all shocked or startled) at having father's
secret broken to her.

"It's more natural," she said, "that he should take an interest in the
Hands. More like he used to be. I often wondered---"

Another sentence which she did not need to finish!

For a while Petro's whole soul was so steeped in the joy of mother's
sympathy, and in plans for the future, that he forgot the faint
uneasiness which had stirred within him at father's message about the
milk. Something had seemed to whisper: "It's only an excuse." And his
asking not to be disturbed all the afternoon, "can it mean that he's
got a special reason for wanting to be let alone hour after hour?"

But Petro and mother had been deep in conversation before the whisper
came. In the very midst of it she had asked a beautifully
understanding question about Win, and in answering Petro forgot
everything else for a time.

They talked intimately in the big, unfriendly, imitation Elizabethan
dining-room which for once they had to themselves And then they
continued their talk still more intimately in the "den." It was only
the grandfather clock striking four that reminded Petro of his
uneasiness and of the whisper.

Why it did remind him he could hardly have explained, except that the
clock had a very curious individuality for him. It had belonged to his
great grandmother and had come down through her to his mother. Even as
a little boy he had felt that it was _more_ than a clock: it was an
old friend who had ticked through the years, keeping time with the
heart-beats of those for whom it told the passing moments of life and
death. Often he had imagined that with its ticking it gave good
advice, if only one could understand. Now, when it struck four, it
seemed to Petro that it did so in a dry, peremptory manner intended to
be arresting, to remind him of something important that he was in
danger of forgetting.

This pause in his thoughts left room for the whisper to come again.
It came, adding to its first suggestion: "Don't you know that while
you and mother were lingering so happily over your lunch, father stole
away and went off to make mischief between you and the girl?"

Petro sprang up. He was ashamed to harbour such a thought of
treachery, but it was there. He could easily learn whether father had
gone to New York by inquiring if one of the motors had been taken out.
But it was hardly worth while to ask questions. Peter _knew_ that his
father had gone, and why.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE BATTLE


All the morning Win was in a state of strange, almost hysterical,
exaltation. Again and again she warned her spirit down from the
heights, but it would not hear, and stood there in the sunshine
singing a wild song of love and joy.

Wonderful, incredible pictures painted themselves before her eyes. She
saw Peter, impressed with her words--as indeed he had seemed to
be--and remembering them nobly for the benefit of the two thousand
hands within the Hands. She saw herself as his wife (oh, bold,
forbidden thought, which dared her to push it from her heart!) helping
him reach the ideal standard of what a great department store should
be, planning new and highly improved systems of insurance, thinking
out ways for employees to share profits, and of giving them pensions.

She, who knew what the hands suffered and what they needed, could do
for them what no outsider could ever do. With Peter's money and power
and the will to aid, there would be nothing they two could not
accomplish. Their love would teach them how to love the world. She saw
the grand Christmas parties and the summer picnics the Hands would
give the hands, and Peter's idea for a convalescent home should be
splendidly carried out. She saw the very furniture and its chintz
covers--then the picture would vanish like a rainbow--or break into
disjointed bits, like the jig-saw puzzle Peter senior had hidden
shamefacedly in a drawer.

For some moments Winifred's mind would be a blank save for a jumble of
Paris mantles and warm customers, then another picture would form: she
would see Peter and herself sending Sadie Kirk to the mountains, where
the girl would be even happier and healthier than at the new place
which was "free for consumers." Sadie would be Win's own special
charge, her Mend, for whom she had the right and privilege to provide.
No more work in shops for Sadie! No more work at all till she was
cured. Perhaps a winter in the Adirondacks, then such radiant health
as the "sardine" had hardly ever known.

Meanwhile the thoughts of Ursus must be turned from the girl who could
never love him to the girl who already did. He and Sadie had been good
chums since the day when all three marched in procession toward Mr.
Meggison's window--how long ago it seemed! The big heart of the lion
tamer was easily moved to pity, and pity was akin to love. When
she--Win--gently broke it to him that she was going to marry Peter
Rolls, whom she had loved before she ever saw her poor Ursus (of
course she had loved Peter always! that was why it had hurt her so
cruelly to believe Ena) the dear big fellow, pitying Sadie's weakness,
would turn to his "little old chum" for comfort.

Oh, yes, everything would come right! warbled the disobedient spirit
singing on the heights. Then the common sense and pride in Win would
pluck the spirit's robe, and presto! another picture would dissolve
into gray cloud.

Going out to luncheon (ice-cream soda and a sponge cake) somehow
broke the radiant charm. Common sense put the singing spirit
relentlessly into its proper place, where, discouraged, it sang no
more. Ugly memories of last night's danger and humiliation crowded
back into the brain no longer irradiated by Peter's presence. Win felt
dully that none of the glorious fancies of the morning could ever come
true, though she still hoped that her words might have some living
influence upon the future of the Hands.

Even if Peter really and truly wanted to marry her (which seemed
incredible), and his sister misjudged him (also well-nigh incredible),
Ena Rolls and Ena Rolls's father would bar the way to any such
happiness as the magic pictures had shown. It would be hateful to
force herself upon a snobbish family who despised her and let her see
that she was unwelcome.

The girl was suddenly surprised because she hadn't seen, the moment
Peter's back was turned (even if not before), that the one
self-respecting thing was to give up her place at the Hands. It would
be decent and rather noble to disappear as she had disappeared before,
so that Peter, when he came again (as he surely would), should find
her gone.

This thought made so gloomy a picture in contrast with the forbidden
bright ones, that Win was nearer tears than she had been in the
hospital room.

"Laugh--laugh--if you laugh like a hyena!" she was saying to herself
between half-past four and five, when other girls were thinking of the
nice things they would do when they got home.

Win envied them. She wished the things that satisfied them could
satisfy her. Yet, no, she did not wish that. Divine dissatisfaction
was better. She must keep that conviction before her through years
which might otherwise be gray. For now she was quite sure that nothing
beautiful, nothing glorious, nothing even exciting, could ever happen
to her. And it was at this very moment that she received a peremptory
summons to Mr. Croft's office.

"It'll be about the fire, maybe," the nicest girl in the department
encouraged her. "I shouldn't wonder if they're going to give you a
reward. If there was anything wrong, the word would come through
Meggison sure."

Win smiled thanks as she went to her fate; the girl was kind, not of
the tigress breed. But she couldn't guess how little any paltry act of
injustice from the Hands would matter now.

Miss Child had never before been called to the office of the great Mr.
Croft, but she knew where it was, and walked to the door persuading
herself that she was not in the least afraid. Why should she be afraid
when she intended--really _quite_ intended--to leave the Hands of her
own accord?

There was an outer office guarding the inner shrine, and here a girl
typist and a waxy-faced young man were getting ready to go home. It
was now very near the closing hour. The waxy-faced youth, a secretary
of Mr. Croft's, minced to the shrine door, opened it, spoke, returned,
and announced that Miss Child was to go in. He even held the door for
her, which might be a sign of respect, or of compassion for one about
to be executed. Then, as the girl stepped in, the door closed behind
her, and she stood in an expensively hideous room, looking at a
little, dried-up dark man who sat in Mr. Croft's chair at Mr. Croft's
desk. But he was not Mr. Croft. He was Peter Rolls, Sr.

Win recognized him instantly and knew not what to think. Luckily he
did not keep her long in suspense.

"You Miss Child?" he shortly inquired, holding her with a steady
stare, which from a younger man would have been offensive.

"I am, sir," she said in the low, sweet voice that Peter junior loved.
Even Peter senior was impressed with it in spite of himself, impressed
with the whole personality of the young woman whom Petro had said was
"made to be a princess." She looked a more difficult proposition than
he had expected to tackle.

"Know who I am?" he continued his catechism.

"You are Mr. Rolls."

"What makes you so sure of that, eh?"

"You were pointed out to me one evening last winter, when you were
inspecting the shop with Mr. Croft."

"Nobody had any business pointing me out. Who did?"

"I'm afraid I've forgotten," said the girl, more calmly than she felt.
"It was so long ago."

"You seem to have been dead certain he was right."

"I took it for granted."

"That's dangerous, taking things for granted. I advise you not to do
it, Miss Child."

Still he stared as she received his advice in silence. Not a feature
of the piquant, yet proud, arresting face, not a curve of the slim
figure, did his old eyes miss.

"I guess you haven't forgotten who pointed me out," he persisted,
after a pause. "Now think again. _Have_ you? It might pay to
remember."

"I do not remember, sir." She threw up her head in the characteristic
way which the other Peter knew.

"Sure nothing could make you remember?"

"I'm sure nothing could."

"Very well, then, we must let that go for the present. Now to another
subject. I hear you showed a good deal of pluck this morning in
putting out a fire."

"Oh, after all, it may be only that!" Win thought.

She ought to have been relieved. But she was not certain whether
relief was her most prominent emotion. The girl did not quite know
what to make of herself, and the man was not giving her much time for
reflection.

"The little I did was done on the spur of the moment," she said. "I
don't deserve any credit."

"Well, I may be inclined to think different when it comes to settling
up. That depends on several things. We'll come to 'em by and by.
You're English, ain't you?"

"Yes."

"H-m! You look as if you ought to have titles running in your family.
Have you got any?"

Win fancied that this must be her employer's idea of a joke, but his
face was grave, and even curiously eager. "Not one," she answered,
smiling.

"No connections with titles?"

"Why, yes, we have some cousins afflicted in that way," she lightly
admitted, beginning to be faintly amused as well as puzzled. "Almost
every one has, in our country, I suppose."

"What sort of title is it?"

"Oh, my father's second cousin happens to be an earl."

"An earl, is he? That stands pretty high, I guess, on your side. Any
chance of your father inheriting?"

This time Win allowed herself the luxury of a laugh. What a strange
old man! And this was Mr. Balm of Gilead's father!

She was still in the dark as to why he had sent for her. But it must
be on account of the fire. His curiosity was very funny. In any one
except Peter's father she would have considered it ridiculous. Maybe
he wanted to work up a good "story" in the newspapers. Very likely it
could be turned into an "ad" for the Hands if the cousin of an English
earl had saved a fellow employee from burning up, and it would be
still more thrilling if the heroine might some day turn into a haughty
Lady Winifred Something. She shook her head, looking charming. Even
old Peter, staring so intently, must have admitted that.

"There's not the remotest chance," she replied. "Our cousin, Lord
Glenellen, has six sons. Four are married and having more sons every
year. I don't know how many there are. And I'm sure that they've
forgotten our existence."

"Well, there ain't much show for you in that connection!"

Mr. Rolls reluctantly abandoned the earldom. "What's your father,
anyhow?"

"A clergyman," said Win. "A poor clergyman, or I should never have
seen America."

"I suppose you'd have married some fellow over there. What did you do
for a living on your side?"

"I hadn't begun to do anything till I engaged with Nadine--the
dressmaker, you know--to be one of her models on board the _Monarchic_
so as to get my passage free. I thought I should be sure to make a
fortune in New York."

"Yes, I guess that was your point of view. You're frank about it,
ain't you?"

"One may be about a lost illusion."

"There's more than one way for a girl to make a fortune. Maybe you and
I can do business. So you were one of those models when you first met
my son?"

Win would not have been flesh and blood if that shot had not told,
especially after the old man's funny catechizing had lured her
amusingly away from suspicion. She quivered, and a bright colour
stained her cheeks. Nevertheless those peering eyes found no guilt in
her look.

"Yes," she answered bravely. "He bought a dress from us for his
sister."

"One excuse is as good as another for a young fellow. What else did he
do?"

"Gave us patent medicine. We were all dreadfully seasick."

"You don't mean to tell me he fell in love with you when you were
seasick?"

"I don't mean to tell you that he fell in love with me at all, Mr.
Rolls."

"I guess you didn't mean to. But, you see, I made you own up."

"There was nothing to tell."

"Well, the murder's out, anyhow. And that brings us back to a point I
want to make. Now that affair of this morning. You say you're
entitled to no credit. But I've been thinking I'd like to make it up
to you by giving a reward."

"I couldn't think of taking it!" cried Win.

Strange that he should break off suddenly from the subject of his son
(which, apparently, he had intended pursuing to some end), and jump
back to that of the fire! He must have a motive--he looked a man to
have motives for everything. She felt that he was laying a trap for
her, if she could only find it.

"Wait a minute. Give me time to make myself clear," he went on. "I'm
not talking about medals or lockets or silver cups for good girls. I
mean a thumping sum, a big enough stone to kill two birds. Folks not
in the know would think that it was for saving life. Those _in_ the
know (meaning me and you, and nobody else) would understand that it
was for saving my son. No disrespect to _you_. I want to put it
delicately, miss. Saving him from a _mistake_."

Win had always thought "How dare you?" a very silly expression, no
matter what the provocation. Yet now she was tempted to use it. Only
her subconscious sense of humour, which warned her it would be
ridiculous from Peter Rolls's "saleslady" to Peter Rolls himself, made
her bite back the words that rushed to the end of her tongue.

"You have a strange idea of putting things delicately!" she cried.
"You offer me a reward if I--if I--oh, I can't say it!"

"I can," volunteered the old man coolly. "And I'll tell you just how
much I offer. Maybe that'll help your talking apparatus. I'll give you
ten thousand dollars. Wouldn't that be something like making your
fortune in New York?"

"If it were ten millions it would make no difference," the girl flung
at him. "I---"

"Say, you set a high value on my son Peter. But if he marries you, my
girl, he won't be worth any millions, or even thousands, I tell you
straight. He won't be worth a red cent. You'd better pick up my offer
while it's going, and drop Peter. Maybe with ten thousand dollars of
your own, one of your young cousins, the earls, might find you worth
while."

Never had Win even dreamed that it was possible for a human soul so to
boil with anger as hers had now begun to boil. She wanted to scald
this hateful old man with burning spray from the geyser. At last she
understood the rage which could kill. Yet it was in a low, restrained
voice that she heard herself speaking.

"Please don't go on," she warned him. "I suppose you don't quite
realize how hideously you're insulting me. A man who could say such
things wouldn't. And only such a man _could_ misunderstand--could
think that instead of refusing his money I was bidding for more. I
wanted to say that you could save your son and your pocket, too.
Neither are in danger from me."

"That ain't the way the boy feels about it," Peter senior slipped the
words in slyly. "If he did, I wouldn't have sent for you."

This was the last drop in the cup.

"What?" cried the girl, towering over the shrunken figure in the
revolving chair. "_Your son asked you to send for me_? Then he's as
bad, as cruel, as you are."

A red wave of rage swept over her. She no longer knew what she was
saying. Her one wish--her one object in life, it seemed just then--was
to hurt both Peters.

"I hate him!" she exclaimed. "Everything I've heard about him is true,
after all. He's a false friend and a false lover--a dangerous, cruel
man to women, just as I was warned he was."

"Stop right there," broke in Peter's father. "That's damn nonsense,
and you know it. Nobody ever warned you that my boy was anything of
the kind."

"I was warned," she beat him down, "that it was a habit of your son to
win a girl's confidence with his kind ways and then deceive her."

"Then it was a damned lie, and no one but a damned fool would believe
it," shouted Peter Rolls, Sr. "My boy a deceiver of women? Why, he's a
Gala-what-you-may-call-it! He'd die any death sooner than harm a
woman. I'm his father, and I know what I'm talking about. Who the
devil warned you? Some beast, or some idiot?"

"It was neither."

"Who was it, then? Come, out with it. I dare you to. I'll have him
sued for slander. I'll---"

"It wasn't a he. It was a woman who ought to know at least as much
about him as you do."

"There's no such woman, except his mother, and she worships the ground
he walks on. Thinks he's a kind of up-to-date Saint George, and I'm
hanged if she's far wrong. Why, since Peter was a boy he's never cared
that"--and a yellow thumb and finger snapped for emphasis under Win's
eyes--"for any woman till he got silly over you."

The girl laughed a fierce little laugh. "You tell me this? You defend
him to me? Is that policy?"

Peter senior suddenly looked foolish. He had straightened himself to
glare at the upstart. Now he collapsed again.

"No, it _ain't_ policy," he confessed, "but I guess it's human nature.
My blood ain't quite dried up yet, and I can't sit quiet while anybody
blackguards my own flesh and bone. You tell me who said these things
about him!"

"I will not tell you."

"Don't you know I'm liable to have you discharged for impudence?"

"You can't discharge me, for I've already discharged myself. I'd
rather starve than serve one more day at your horrid old Hands."

"Horrid old Hands, eh? I can keep you from getting a job in any other
store."

"I don't want one. I've had enough of stores. I am not afraid of
anything you can do, Mr. Rolls. Though they do call you 'Saint Peter'
behind your back--meaning just the opposite--you haven't the keys of
heaven."

"You're an impudent young hussy."

"Perhaps. But you deserve impudence. You deserve worse, sir. A moment
ago I hated you. I--think I could have killed you. But--but now I
can't help admiring something big in you, that makes you defend your
son in spite of yourself, when it was policy to let me loathe him."

"'Loathe' is no word to use for my boy," the old man caught her up
again. "I don't want you to marry him, no! But, whatever happens, I
can't have you or any one else doing him black injustice."

"Then, 'whatever happens,' I'll admit to you that never in the bottom
of my heart did I believe those things. I didn't believe them to-day,
but I--you were so horrible--I had to be horrible, too. There! The
same motive that made you defend him against your own interest has
made me confess that to you now. But you needn't be afraid. I don't
think in any case I could have married him knowing how his--his family
would feel. Still I might, if he'd tried to persuade me; I can't be
sure. I might have been weak. As it is, though--after you've insulted
me in this cruel way, I believe nothing would induce me to say yes if
he asked me. And he never _has_ asked me."

"Never has asked you?" echoed Peter senior, dumbfounded.

Some one had begun to knock at the door, but he did not hear. Neither
did Winifred. Each was absorbed in the other. Insensibly their tones
in addressing each other were changed. Some other ingredient had
mysteriously mingled with their rage; or, poured upon its stormy
surface, had calmed the waves. They were enemies still, but the girl
had found the man human; the man, because he was man, found himself
yielding to her woman's domination.

Petro said God had made her a princess. She was only a shop girl, and
the vain old man wanted her out of his way--intended to put her out of
his way, by hook or by crook; but all the same in look and manner she
was his ideal of a girl queen, and he could understand Petro being a
fool over her.

"He never has asked you? But I thought---"

(_Tap, tap,_ for the second and third time.)

"I know what you thought. You wouldn't listen when I tried to
explain."

(_Tap, tap, tap_! No answer. And so the door opened.)

"It isn't only that your son hasn't asked me to marry him, he hasn't
even told me he cared."

"But he does both now," said Peter Rolls, Jr., on the threshold.

As he spoke he came into the room with a few long, quick steps that
took him straight to Win, as if he wanted to protect her against his
father if need be. And timidly, yet firmly, he was followed by Mrs.
Rolls, wearing the new gray wrap.

"I'd have told you long ago if I'd had the chance," he went on. "I
told father this morning that I'd loved you ever since the first
minute I saw you, and that you were the only girl who ever was or ever
would be. I don't know what he's been saying to you, but I felt he
meant to--to--see what you were like. So I came. And nothing matters
if you can care a little and have faith enough in me to---"

"That's just what she doesn't do and hasn't got!" interpolated Peter
senior. "The girl's been calling you every name she could turn her
tongue to. Said she was warned against you by some woman--she wouldn't
tell me who it was---"

"I know who it was," put in his son.

"You do? We'll send her a writ, then---"

"We can't. She isn't in the country just now."

"I did say the most hateful things," Win admitted, "because your
father made me so angry. And--_he defended you_ against me! He said
nobody but a fool could ever for a minute have believed such things
were true. And he was perfectly right. Can you forgive me?"

"Why, I love you, you know," said Peter. "And whether you ever
believed anything wrong of me or not, I--I almost think you love me a
little now to make up. You couldn't look at me like that if you
didn't, could you? It wouldn't be fair."

"I mustn't look at you at all, then," Win answered, pushing him gently
away as he tried to take her hands. "Please let me go. I can't---"

"_I_ wouldn't let you go, if he did, my dear," said a gentle voice
that had not spoken yet. "I guess a girl that saves people from
themselves when they're on fire, burning up, and don't know in the
least what they're doing, would be just the kind of new daughter we
would like to have now when we have to let our own leave us. Why, you
would be worth your weight in gold at our house. Isn't that so,
Father?"

For once mother had finished four consecutive sentences in her
husband's presence. But this was an unusual occasion It seemed to her
that its like could never come again, and that here was her chance of
a lifetime to stand by Petro.

"H-m!" grunted Peter senior. "The girl ain't a coward, anyhow. She
stood up to me like a wildcat. Said she hated me. Said she wouldn't
take Peter if I paid her to--or words to that effect. Well, I didn't
exactly offer to pay her for doing that, rather the other way around.
But when she had the gorgeous cheek to up and say, after all, that she
_liked_ me for defending you, why, I--well, I don't know how it was,
but all of a sudden I weakened to her. She _got_ me same way as she
got you, Peter, I suppose. Maybe it was with one of her laughs!
Anyhow--look here, miss. If you'll take back _your_ words, I'll take
back _mine._ Cut 'em right out."

"Which words?" Win cautiously wanted to know.

"The whole lot, while we're about it. I guess a sister-in-law who's
got earls for cousins ought to be good enough for a _marchesa._ You've
_got_ me, I tell you! And you can have Peter, too, if you want him. Do
you?"

"I do," answered Win--and laughed again, the happiest, most surprised,
and excited laugh in the world.

"Then we've got each other--forever!" cried Petro. "And, Father, you
and I will have each other, too, after this, as we never had before.
You shall bless this day as I do, and as mother will."

"All right," said old Peter. "We'll see about that. Anyhow, shake
hands."

Petro shook.

"And you, too, girl."

Winifred hesitated slightly, then held out her burned fingers.

Peter senior gave them deliberately to his son.

"There you are!" he exclaimed. "Now we're all three in the business."

"And this is the way we're going to run it in future," said Petro.
"With love."


THE END





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