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Title: Girl Alone
Author: Austin, Anne, 1895-
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.

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By the Same Author

THE AVENGING PARROT
THE BLACK PIGEON
MURDER BACKSTAIRS
THE PENNY PRINCESS
SAINT AND SINNER
DAUGHTERS OF MIDAS
RIVAL WIVES



GIRL ALONE

By ANNE AUSTIN

THE WHITE HOUSE, PUBLISHERS, CHICAGO



Copyright, 1930, by ANNE AUSTIN

PRINTED AND BOUND IN THE UNITED STATES
BY THE WHITE BOOK HOUSE, CHICAGO



CONTENTS


  · CHAPTER I
  · CHAPTER II
  · CHAPTER III
  · CHAPTER IV
  · CHAPTER V
  · CHAPTER VI
  · CHAPTER VII
  · CHAPTER VIII
  · CHAPTER IX
  · CHAPTER X
  · CHAPTER XI
  · CHAPTER XII
  · CHAPTER XIII
  · CHAPTER XIV
  · CHAPTER XV
  · CHAPTER XVI
  · CHAPTER XVII
  · CHAPTER XVIII
  · CHAPTER XIX



CHAPTER I


The long, bare room had never been graced by a picture or a curtain. Its
only furniture was twenty narrow iron cots. Four girls were scrubbing
the warped, wide-planked floor, three of them pitifully young for the
hard work, the baby of them being only six, the oldest nine. The fourth,
who directed their labors, rising from her knees sometimes to help one
of her small crew, was just turned sixteen, but she looked in her short,
skimpy dress of faded blue and white checked gingham, not more than
twelve or thirteen.

“Sal-lee,” the six-year-old called out in a coaxing whine, as she
sloshed a dirty rag up and down in a pail of soapy water, “play-act for
us, won’t you, Sal-lee? ’Tend like you’re a queen and I’m your little
girl. I’d be a princess, wouldn’t I, Sal-lee?”

The child sat back on her thin little haunches, one small hand plucking
at the skimpy skirt of her own faded blue and white gingham, an exact
replica, except for size, of the frocks worn by the three other
scrubbers. “I’ll ’tend like I’ve got on a white satin dress, Sal-lee—”

Sally Ford lifted a strand of fine black hair that had escaped from the
tight, thick braid that hung down her narrow back, tucked it behind a
well-shaped ear, and smiled fondly upon the tiny pleader. It was a
miracle-working smile. Before the miracle, that small, pale face had
looked like that of a serious little old woman, the brows knotted, the
mouth tight in a frown of concentration.

But when she smiled she became a pretty girl. Her blue eyes, that had
looked almost as faded as her dress, darkened and gleamed like a pair of
perfectly matched sapphires. Delicate, wing-like eyebrows, even blacker
than her hair, lost their sullenness, assumed a lovely, provocative
arch. Her white cheeks gleamed. Her little pale mouth, unpuckered of its
frown, bloomed suddenly, like a tea rose opening. Even, pointed, narrow
teeth, to fit the narrowness of her delicate, childish jaw, flashed into
that smile, completely destroying the picture of a rather sad little old
woman which she might have posed for before.

“All right, Betsy!” Sally cried, jumping to her feet. “But all of you
will have to work twice as hard after I’ve play-acted for you, or
Stone-Face will skin us alive.”

Her smile was reflected in the three oldish little faces of the children
squatting on the floor. The rags with which they had been wiping up
surplus water after Sally’s vigorous scrubbing were abandoned, and the
three of them, moving in unison like mindless sheep, clustered close to
Sally, following her with adoring eyes as she switched a sheet off one
of the cots.

“This is my ermine robe,” she declared. “Thelma, run and shut the
door.... Now, this is my royal crown,” she added, seizing her long,
thick braid of black hair. Her nimble, thin fingers searched for and
found three crimped wire hairpins which she secreted in the meshes of
the plait. In a trice her small head was crowned with its own
magnificent glory, the braid wound coronet-fashion over her ears and low
upon her broad, white forehead.

“Say, ‘A royal queen am I,’” six-year-old Betsy shrilled, clasping her
hands in ecstasy. “And don’t forget to make up a verse about me,
Sal-lee! I’m a princess! I’ve got on white satin and little red shoes,
ain’t I, Sal-lee?”

Sally was marching grandly up and down the barrack-like dormitory,
holding Betsy’s hand, the train of her “ermine robe” upheld by the two
other little girls in faded gingham, and her dramatically deepened voice
was chanting “verses” which she had composed on other such occasions and
to which she was now adding, when the door was thrown open and a booming
voice rang out:

“Sally Ford! What in the world does this mean? On a _Saturday_ morning!”

The two little “pages” dropped the “ermine robe”; the little “princess”
shrank closer against the “queen,” and all four, Sally’s voice leading
the chorus, chanted in a monotonous sing-song: “Good morning, Mrs.
Stone. We hope you are well.” It was the good morning salutation which,
at the matron’s orders, invariably greeted her as she made her morning
rounds of the state orphanage.

“Good morning, children,” Mrs. Stone, the head matron of the asylum
answered severely but automatically. She never spoke except severely,
unless it happened that a trustee or a visitor was accompanying her.

“As a punishment for playing at your work you will spend an hour of your
Saturday afternoon playtime in the weaving room. And Betsy, if I find
your weaving all snarled up like it was last Saturday I’ll lock you in
the dark room without any supper. You’re a great big girl, nearly six
and a half years old, and you have to learn to work to earn your board
and keep. As for you, Sally—well I’m surprised at you! I thought I could
depend on you better than this. Sixteen years old and still acting like
a child and getting the younger children into trouble. Aren’t you
ashamed of yourself, Sally Ford?”

“Yes, Mrs. Stone,” Sally answered meekly, her face that of a little old
woman again; but her hands trembled as she gathered up the sheet which
for a magic ten minutes had been an ermine robe.

“Now, Sally,” continued the matron, moving down the long line of iron
cots and inspecting them with a sharp eye, “don’t let this happen again.
I depend on you big girls to help me discipline the little ones. And by
the way Sally, there’s a new girl. She just came this morning, and I’m
having Miss Pond send her up to you. You have an empty bed in this
dormitory, I believe.”

“Yes, Mrs. Stone,” Sally nodded. “Christine’s bed.” There was nothing in
her voice to indicate that she had loved Christine more than any child
she had ever had charge of.

“I suppose this new child will be snapped up soon,” Mrs. Stone
continued, her severe voice striving to be pleasant and conversational,
for she was fond of Sally, in her own way. “She has yellow curls, though
I suspect her mother, who has just died and who was a stock company
actress, used peroxide on it. But still it’s yellow and it’s curly, and
we have at least a hundred applications on file for little girls with
golden curly hair.

“Thelma,” she whirled severely upon the eight-year-old child, “what’s
this in your bed?” Her broad, heavy palm, sweeping expertly down the
sheet-covered iron cot, had encountered something, a piece of broken
blue bottle.

“It—it’s mine,” Thelma quivered, her tongue licking upward to catch the
first salty tear. “I traded my broken doll for it. I look through it and
it makes everything look pretty and blue,” she explained desperately, in
the institutional whine. “Oh, please let me keep it, Mrs. Stone!”

But the matron had tossed the bit of blue glass through the nearest
window. “You’d cut yourself on it, Thelma,” she justified herself in her
stern voice. “I’ll see if I can find another doll for you in the next
box of presents that comes in. Now, don’t cry like a baby. You’re a
great big girl. It was just a piece of broken old bottle. Well, Sally,
you take charge of the new little girl. Make her feel at home. Give her
a bath with that insect soap, and make a bundle of her clothes and take
them down to Miss Pond.”

She lifted her long, starched skirt as she stepped over one of the
scrubber’s puddles of water, then moved majestically through the door.

Clara, the nine-year-old orphan, stuck out her tongue as the white skirt
swished through the door, then turned upon Sally, her little face sharp
and ugly with hatred.

“Mean old thing! Always buttin’ in! Can’t let us have no fun at all!
Some other kid’ll find Thelma’s sapphire and keep it offen her—”

“It isn’t a sapphire,” Sally said dully, her brush beginning to describe
new semi-circles on the pine floor. “It’s like she said—just a piece of
broken old bottle. And she said she’d try to find you a doll, Thelma.”

“You _said_ it was a sapphire, Sally. You said it was worth millions and
millions of dollars. It _was_ a sapphire, long as you said it was,
Sally!” Thelma sobbed, as grieved for the loss of illusion as for the
loss of her treasure.

“I reckon I’m plumb foolish to go on play-acting all the time,” Sally
Ford said dully.

The three little girls and the 16-year-old “mother” of them scrubbed in
silence for several minutes, doggedly hurrying to make up for lost time.
Then Thelma, who could never nurse grief or anger, spoke cheerfully:

“Reckon the new kid’s gettin’ her phys’cal zamination. When _I_ come
into the ’sylum you had to nearly boil me alive. ’N Mrs. Stone cut off
all my hair clean to the skin. ’N ’en nobody wouldn’t ’dopt me ’cause I
looked like sich a scarecrow. But I got lotsa hair now, ain’t I,
Sal-lee?”

“Oh, somebody’ll be adopting you first thing you know, and then I won’t
have any Thelma,” Sally smiled at her.

“Say, Sal-lee” Clara wheedled, “why didn’t nobody ever ’dopt you? _I_
think you’re awful pretty. Sometimes it makes me feel all funny and
cry-ey inside, you look so awful pretty. When you’re play-actin’,” she
amended honestly. Sally Ford moved the big brush with angry vigor, while
her pale face colored a dull red. “I ain’t—I mean, I’m not pretty at
all, Clara. But thank you just the same. I used to want to be adopted,
but now I don’t. I want to hurry up and get to be eighteen so’s I can
leave the asylum and make my own living. I want—” but she stopped
herself in time. Not to these open-mouthed, wide-eared children could
she tell her dream of dreams.

“But why _wasn’t_ you adopted, Sal-lee?” Betsy, the baby of the group,
insisted. “You been here forever and ever, ain’t you?”

“Since I was four years old,” Sally admitted from between lips held
tight to keep them from trembling. “When I was little as you, Betsy, one
of the big girls told me I was sickly and awf’ly tiny and scrawny when I
was brought in, so nobody wanted to adopt me. They don’t like sickly
babies,” she added bitterly. “They just want fat little babies with
curly hair. Seems to me like the Lord oughta made all orphans pretty,
with golden curly hair.”

“I know why Sally wasn’t ’dopted,” Thelma clamored for attention. “I
heard Miss Pond say it was a sin and a shame the way old Stone-Face has
kept Sally here, year in and year out, jist ’cause she’s so good to us
little kids. Miss Pond said Sally is better’n any trained nurse when us
kids get sick and that she does more work than any ‘big girl’ they ever
had here. That’s why you ain’t been ’dopted, Sally.”

“I know it,” Sally confessed in a low voice. “But I couldn’t be mean to
the babies, just so they’d want to get rid of me and let somebody adopt
me. Besides,” she added, “I’m scared of people—outside. I’m scared of
all grown-up people, especially of adopters,” she blurted miserably. “I
can’t sashay up and down before ’em and act cute and laugh and pretend
like I’ve got a sweet disposition and like I’m crazy about ’em. I don’t
look pretty a bit when the adopters send for me. I can’t play-act then.”

“You’re bashful, Sal-lee,” Clara told her shrewdly. “I’m not
bashful—much, except when visitors come and we have to show off our
company manners. I hate visitors! They whisper about us, call us ‘poor
little things,’ and think they’re better’n us.”

The floor of the big room had been completely scrubbed, and was giving
out a moist odor of yellow soap when Miss Pond, who worked in the office
on the first floor of the big main building, arrived leading a reluctant
little girl by the hand.

To the four orphans in faded blue and white gingham the newcomer looked
unbelievably splendid, more like the “princess” that Betsy had been
impersonating than like a mortal child. Her golden hair hung in
precisely arranged curls to her shoulders. Her dress was of pink crepe
de chine, trimmed with many yards of cream-colored lace. There were pink
silk socks and little white kid slippers. And her pretty face, though it
was streaked with tears, had been artfully coated with white powder and
tinted, on cheeks and lips, with carmine rouge.

“This is Eloise Durant, girls,” said Miss Pond, who was incurably
sentimental and kind to orphans. “She’s feeling a little homesick now
and I know you will all try to make her happy. You’ll take charge of
her, won’t you, Sally dear?”

“Yes, Miss Pond,” Sally answered automatically, but her arms were
already yearning to gather the little bundle of elegance and tears and
homesickness.

“And Sally,” Miss Pond said nervously, lowering her voice in the false
hope that the weeping child might not hear her, “Mrs. Stone says her
hair must be washed and then braided, like the other children’s. Eloise
tells us it isn’t naturally curly, that her mother did it up on kid
curlers every night. Her aunt’s been doing it for her since her
mother—died.”

“I don’t want to be an orphan,” the newcomer protested passionately, a
white-slippered foot flying out suddenly and kicking Miss Pond on the
shin.

It was then that Sally took charge. She knelt, regardless of frantic,
kicking little feet, and put her arms about Eloise Durant. She began to
whisper to the terror-stricken child, and Miss Pond scurried away, her
kind eyes brimming with tears, her kind heart swelling with impractical
plans for finding luxurious homes and incredibly kind foster parents for
all the orphans in the asylum—but especially for those with golden curly
hair and blue eyes. For Miss Pond was a born “adopter,” with all the
typical adopter’s prejudices and preferences.

When scarcely two minutes after the noon dinner bell had clanged
deafeningly, hundreds of little girls and big girls in faded blue and
white gingham came tumbling from every direction, to halt and form a
decorous procession just outside the dining hall doors, Sally and her
new little charge were among them. But only the sharp eyes of the other
orphans could have detected that the child who clung forlornly to
Sally’s hand was a newcomer. The golden curls had disappeared, and in
their place were two short yellow braids, the ends tied with bits of old
shoe-string. The small face, scrubbed clean of its powder and rouge, was
as pale as Sally’s. And instead of lace-trimmed pink crepe de chine,
silk socks and white kid slippers, Eloise was clad, like every other
orphan, in a skimpy gingham frock, coarse black stockings and heavy
black shoes.

And when the marching procession of orphans had distributed itself
before long, backless benches, drawn up to long, narrow pine tables
covered with torn, much-scrubbed white oilcloth, Eloise, coached in that
ritual as well as in many others sacred in the institution, piped up
with all the others, her voice as monotonous as theirs:

“Our heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food and for all the other
blessings Thou giveth us.”

Sally Ford, keeping a watchful, pitying eye on her new charge, who was
only nibbling at the unappetizing food, found herself looking upon the
familiar scene with the eyes of the frightened little new orphan. It was
a game that Sally Ford often played—imagining herself someone else,
seeing familiar things through eyes which had never beheld them before.

Because Eloise was a “new girl,” Sally was permitted to keep her at her
side after the noon dinner. It was Sally who showed her all the
buildings of the big orphanage, pointed out the boys’ dormitories,
separated from the girls’ quarters by the big kitchen garden; showed her
the bare schoolrooms, in which Sally herself had just completed the
third year of high school. It was Sally who pridefully showed her the
meagerly equipped gymnasium, the gift of a miraculously philanthropic
session of the state legislature; it was Sally who conducted her through
the many rooms devoted to hand crafts suited to girls—showing off a bit
as she expertly manipulated a hand loom.

Eloise’s hot little hand clung tightly to Sally’s on the long trip of
inspection of her new “home.” But her cry, hopeless and monotonous now,
even taking on a little of the institutional whine, was still the same
heartbroken protest she had uttered upon her arrival in the dormitory:
“I don’t want to be an orphan! I don’t want to be an orphan, Sal-lee!”

“It ain’t—I mean, isn’t—so bad,” Sally comforted her. “Sometimes we have
lots of fun. And Christmas is awf’ly nice. Every girl gets an orange and
a little sack of candy and a present. And we have turkey for dinner, and
ice cream.”

“My mama gave me candy every day,” Eloise whimpered. “Her men friends
brung it to her—boxes and boxes of it, and flowers, too. God was mean to
let her die, and make an orphan outa me!”

And because Sally herself had frequently been guilty of the same sinful
thought, she hurried Eloise, without rebuking her, to the front lawn
which always made visitors exclaim, “Why, how pretty! And so homelike!
Aren’t the poor things fortunate to have such a beautiful home?”

For the front lawn, upon which no orphan was allowed to set foot except
in company with a lawnmower or a clipping shears, _was_ beautiful. Now,
in early June, it lay in the sun like an immense carpet, studded with
round or star-shaped beds of bright flowers. From the front, the
building looked stately and grand, too, with its clean red bricks and
its big, fluted white pillars. They were the only two orphans in sight,
except a pair of overalled boys, their tow heads bare to the hot sun,
their lean arms, bare to the shoulders in their ragged shirts, pushing
steadily against whirring lawnmowers.

“Oh, nasturtiums!” Eloise crowed, the first happy sound she had made
since entering the orphanage.

She broke from Sally’s grasp, sped down the cement walk, then plunged
into the lush greenness of that vast velvet carpet, entirely unconscious
that she was committing one of the major crimes of the institution.
Sally, after a stunned moment, sped after her, calling out breathlessly:

“Don’t dast to touch the flowers, Eloise! We ain’t allowed to touch the
flowers! They’d skin us alive!”

But Eloise had already broken the stem of a flaming orange and red
nasturtium and was cuddling it against her cheek.

“Put it back, honey,” Sally begged, herself committing the unpardonable
sin of walking on the grass. “There isn’t any place at all you could
hide it, and if you carried it in your hand you’d get a licking sure.
But don’t you cry, Eloise. Sally’ll tell you a fairy story in play hour
this afternoon.”

The two, Sally’s heart already swelling with the sweet pain of having
found a new child to mother, Eloise’s tear-reddened eyes sparkling with
anticipation, were hurrying up the path that led around the main
building to the weaving rooms in which Sally was to work an extra hour
as punishment for her morning’s “play-acting,” when Clara Hodges came
shrieking from behind the building:

“Sal-lee! Sal-lee Ford! Mrs. Stone wants you. In the office!” she added,
her voice dropping slightly on a note of horror.

“What for?” Sally pretended grown up unconcern, but her face, which had
been pretty and glowing a moment before, was dull and institutional and
sullen again.

“They’s a man—a farmer man—talking to Stone-Face,” Clara whispered, her
eyes furtive and mean as they darted about to see if she were overheard.
“Oh, Sal-lee, don’t let ’em ’dopt you! We wouldn’t have nobody to
play-act for us and tell us stories! Please, Sal-lee! Make faces at him
when Stone-Face ain’t lookin’ so’s he won’t like you!”

“I’m too big to be adopted,” Sally reassured her. “Nobody wants to adopt
a 16-year-old girl. Here, you take Eloise to the weaving room with you.”

Her voice was that of a managing, efficient, albeit loving mother, but
when she turned toward the front steps of the main building her feet
began to drag heavily, weighted with a fear which was reflected in her
darkling blue eyes, and in the deepened pallor of her cheeks. But, oh,
maybe it wasn’t that! Why did she always have to worry about that—now
that she was sixteen? Why couldn’t she expect something perfectly
lovely—like—like a father coming to claim his long-lost daughter? Maybe
there’d be a mother, too—

The vision Sally Ford had conjured up fastened wings to her feet. She
was breathless, glowing, when she arrived at the closed door of the
dread “office.”

When Sally Ford opened the door of the office of the orphan asylum,
radiance was wiped instantly from her delicate face, as if she had been
stricken with sudden illness. For her worst fear was realized—the fear
that had kept her awake many nights on her narrow cot, since her
sixteenth birthday had passed. She cowered against the door, clinging to
the knob as if she were trying to screw up her courage to flee from the
disaster which fate, in bringing about her sixteenth birthday, had
pitilessly planned for her, instead of the boon of long-lost relatives
for which she had never entirely ceased to hope.

“Sally!” Mrs. Stone, seated at the big roll-top desk, called sharply.
“Say ‘How do you do?’ to the gentleman.... The girls are taught the
finest of manners here, Mr. Carson, but they are always a little shy
with strangers.”

“Howdy-do, Mr. Carson,” Sally gasped in a whisper.

“I believe this is the girl you asked for, Mr. Carson,” Mrs. Stone went
on briskly, in her pleasant “company voice,” which every orphan could
imitate with bitter accuracy.

The man, a tall, gaunt, middle-aged farmer, nodded, struggled to speak,
then hastily bent over a brass cuspidor and spat. That necessary act
performed, he eyed Sally with a keen, speculative gaze. His lean face
was tanned to the color and texture of brown leather, against which a
coating of talcum powder, applied after a close shave of his black
beard, showed ludicrously.

“Yes, mum, that’s the girl, all right. Seen her when I was here last
June. Wouldn’t let me have her then, mum, you may recollect.”

Mrs. Stone smiled graciously. “Yes, I remember, Mr. Carson, and I was
very sorry to disappoint you, but we have an unbreakable rule here not
to board out one of our dear little girls until she is sixteen years
old. Sally was sixteen last week, and now that school is out, I see no
reason why she shouldn’t make her home with your family for the
summer—or longer if you like. The law doesn’t compel us to send the
girls to school after they are sixteen, you know.”

“Yes’m, I’ve looked into the law,” the farmer admitted. Then he turned
his shrewd, screwed-up black eyes upon Sally again. “Strong, healthy
girl, I reckon? No sickness, no bad faults, willing to work for her
board and keep?”

He rose, lifting his great length in sections, and slouched over to the
girl who still cowered against the door. His big-knuckled brown hands
fastened on her forearms, and when she shrank from his touch he nodded
with satisfaction. “Good big muscles, even if she is a skinny little
runt. I always say these skinny, wiry little women can beat the fat ones
all hollow.”

“Sally is strong and she’s marvelous with children. We’ve never had a
better worker than Sally, and since she’s been raised in the Home, she’s
used to work, Mr. Carson, although no one could say we are not good to
our girls. I’m sure you’ll find her a willing helper on the farm. Did
your wife come into town with you this afternoon?”

“Her? In berry-picking time?” Mr. Carson was plainly amazed. “No, mum, I
come in alone. My daughter’s laid up today with a summer cold, or she’d
be in with me, nagging me for money for her finery. But you know how
girls are, mum. Now, seeing as how my wife’s near crazy with work, what
with the field hands to feed and all, and my daughter laid up with a
cold, I’d like to take this girl here along with me. You know me, mum.
Reckon I don’t have to wait to be investigated no more.”

Mrs. Stone was already reaching for a pen. “Perfectly all right, Mr.
Carson. Though it does put me in rather a tight place. Sally has been
taking care of a dormitory of nineteen of the small girls, and it is
going to upset things a bit, for tonight anyway. But I understand how it
is with you. You’re going to be in town attending to business for an
hour or so, I suppose, Mr. Carson? Sally will have to get her things
together. You could call for her about five, I suppose?”

“Yes, mum, five it is!” The farmer spat again, rubbed his hand on his
trousers, then offered it to Mrs. Stone. “And thank you, mum, I’ll take
good care of the young-un. But I guess she thinks she’s a young lady
now, eh, miss?” And he tweaked Sally’s ear, his fingers feeling like
sand-paper against her delicate skin.

“Tell Mr. Carson, Sally, that you’ll appreciate having a nice home for
the summer—a nice country home,” Mrs. Stone prompted, her eye stern and
commanding.

And Sally, taught all her life to conceal her feelings from those in
authority and to obey implicitly, gulped against the lump in her throat
so that she could utter the lie in the language which Mrs. Stone had
chosen.

The matron closed the door upon herself and the farmer, leaving Sally a
quivering, sobbing little thing, huddled against the wall, her nails
digging into the flesh of her palms. If anyone had asked her: “Sally,
why is your heart broken? Why do you cry like that?” she could not have
answered intelligently. She would have groped for words to express that
quality within her that burned a steady flame all these years,
unquenchable, even under the soul-stifling, damp blanket of charity. She
knew dimly that it was pride—a fierce, arrogant pride, that told her
that Sally Ford, by birth, was entitled to the best that life had to
offer.

And now—her body quivered with an agony which had no name and which was
the more terrible for its namelessness—she was to be thrust out into the
world, or that part of the world represented by Clem Carson and his
family. To eat the bitter bread of charity, to slave for the food she
put into her stomach, which craved delicacies she had never tasted; to
be treated as a servant, to have the shame of being an orphan, a child
nobody wanted, continuously held up before her shrinking, hunted
eyes—that was the fate which being sixteen had brought upon Sally Ford.

Every June they came—farmers like Clem Carson, seeking “hired girls”
whom they would not have to pay. Carson himself had taken three girls
from the orphanage.

Rena Cooper, who had gone to the Carson farm when Sally was thirteen,
had come back to the Home in September, a broken, dispirited thing—Rena,
who had been so gay and bright and saucy. Annie Springer had been his
choice the next year, and Annie had never come back. The story that
drifted into the orphanage by some mysterious grapevine had it that
Annie had found a “fellow” on the farm, a hired man, with whom she had
wandered away without the formality of a marriage ceremony.

The third summer, when he could not have Sally, he had taken Ruby
Presser, pretty, sweet little Ruby, who had been in love with Eddie
Cobb, one of the orphaned boys, since she was thirteen or fourteen years
old. Eddie had run away from the Home, after promising Ruby to come back
for her and marry her when he was grown-up and making enough money for
two to live on.

Ruby had gotten into mysterious trouble on the Carson farm—the
“grapevine” never supplied concrete details—and Ruby had run away from
the farm, only to be caught by the police and sent to the reformatory,
the particular hell with which every orphan was threatened if she dared
disobey even a minor rule of the Home. Delicate, sweet little Ruby in
the reformatory—that evil place where “incorrigibles” poisoned the minds
of good girls like Ruby Presser, made criminals of them, too.

Sally, remembering, as she cowered against the door of the orphanage
office, was suddenly fiercely glad that Ruby had thrown herself from a
fifth-floor window of the reformatory. Ruby, dead, was safe now from
charity and evil and from queer, warped, ugly girls who whispered
terrible things as they huddled on the cots of their cells.

“Oh, Sally, dear, what is the matter?” A soft, sighing voice broke in on
Sally’s grief and fear, a bony hand was laid comfortingly on Sally’s
dark head.

“Mr. Carson, that farmer who takes a girl every summer, is going to take
me home with him tonight,” Sally gulped.

“But that will be nice, Sally!” Miss Pond gushed. “You will have a real
home, with plenty to eat and maybe some nice little dresses to wear, and
make new friends—”

“Yes, Miss Pond,” Sally nodded, held thrall by twelve years of enforced
acquiescence. “But, oh, Miss Pond, I’d been hoping it was—my father—or
my mother, or somebody I belong to—”

“Why, Sally, you haven’t a father, dear, and your mother—But, mercy me,
I mustn’t be running on like this,” Miss Pond caught herself up hastily,
a fearful eye on the closed door.

“Miss Pond,” Sally pleaded, “won’t you please, please tell me something
about myself before I go away? I know you’re not allowed to, but oh,
Miss Pond, please! It’s so cruel not to know anything! Please, Miss
Pond! You’ve always been so sweet to me—”

The little touch of flattery did it, or maybe it was the pathos in those
wide, blue eyes.

“It’s against the rules,” Miss Pond wavered. “But—I know how you feel,
Sally dear. I was raised in the Home myself, not knowing—. I can’t get
your card out of the files now; Mrs. Stone might come and catch me. But
I’ll make some excuse to come up to the locker room when you’re getting
your things together. Oh—” she broke off. “I was just telling Sally how
nice it will be for her to have a real home, Mrs. Stone.”

Mrs. Stone closed the door firmly, her eyes stern upon Sally. “Of course
it will be nice. And Sally must be properly appreciative. I did not at
all like your manner to Mr. Carson, Sally. But run along now and pack.
You may take your Sunday dress and shoes, and one of your every-day
ginghams. Mr. Carson will provide your clothes. His daughter is about
your age, and he says her last year’s dresses will be nicer than
anything you’ve ever had.”

“Yes, Mrs. Stone,” Sally ducked her head and sidled out of the door, but
before it closed she exchanged a fleet, meaningful look with Miss Pond.

“I’m going to _know_!” Sally whispered to herself, as she ran down the
long, narrow corridor. “I’m going to know! About my mother!” And color
swept over her face, performing the miracle that changed her from a
colorless little orphan into a near-beauty.

Because she was leaving the orphanage for a temporary new home on the
Carson farm, Sally was permitted to take her regular Saturday night bath
that afternoon. In spite of her terror of the future, the girl who had
never known any home but a state orphan asylum felt a thrill of
adventure as she splashed in a painted tin tub, gloriously alone,
unhurried by clamorous girls waiting just outside.

The cold water—there was no hot water for bathing from April first to
October first—made her skin glow and tingle. As she dried herself on a
ragged wisp of grayish-white Turkish toweling, Sally surveyed her slim,
white body with shy pride. Shorn of the orphanage uniform she might have
been any pretty young girl budding into womanhood, so slim and rounded
and pinky-white she was.

“I guess I’m kinda pretty,” Sally whispered to herself, as she thrust
her face close to the small, wavery mirror that could not quite succeed
in destroying her virginal loveliness. “Sweet sixteen and—never been
kissed,” she smiled to herself, then bent forward and gravely laid her
pink, deliciously curved lips against the mirrored ones.

Then, in a panic lest she be too late to see kind Miss Pond, she jerked
on the rest of her clothing.

“Dear Sally, how sweet you look!” Miss Pond clasped her hands in
admiration as Sally slipped, breathless, into the locker-room that
contained the clothes of all the girls of her dormitory.

“Did you bring the card that tells all about me—and my mother?” Sally
brushed the compliment aside and demanded in an eager whisper.

“No, dearie, I was afraid Mrs. Stone might want it to make an entry
about Mr. Carson’s taking you for the summer, but I copied the data. You
go ahead with your packing while I tell you what I found out,” Miss Pond
answered nervously, but her pale gray eyes were sparkling with pleasure
in her mild little escapade.

Sally unlocked her own particular locker with the key that always hung
on a string about her neck, but almost immediately she whirled upon Miss
Pond, her eyes imploring. “It won’t take me a minute to pack, Miss Pond.
Please go right on and tell me!”

“Well, Sally, I’m afraid there isn’t much to tell.” Miss Pond smoothed a
folded bit of paper apologetically. “The record says you were brought
here May 9, 1912, just twelve years ago, by a woman who said you were
her daughter. She gave your birthday as June 2, 1908, and her name as
Mrs. Nora Ford, a widow, aged 28—”

“Oh, she’s young!” Sally breathed ecstatically. Then her face clouded,
as her nimble brain did a quick sum in mental arithmetic. “But she’d be
forty now, wouldn’t she? Forty seems awfully old—”

“Forty is comparatively young, Sally!” Miss Pond, who was looking
regretfully back upon forty herself, said rather tartly. “But let me
hurry on. She gave poverty and illness as her reasons for asking the
state to take care of you. She said your father was dead.”

“Oh, poor mother!” A shadow flitted across Sally’s delicate face; quick
tears for the dead father and the ill, poverty-stricken mother filmed
her blue eyes.

“The state accepted you provisionally, and shortly afterward sent an
investigator to check up on her story,” Miss Pond went on. “The
investigator found that the woman, Mrs. Ford, had left the city—it was
Stanton, thirty miles from here—and that no one knew where she had gone.
From that day to this we have had no word from the woman who brought you
here. She was a mystery in Stanton, and has remained a mystery until
now. I’m sorry, Sally, that I can’t tell you more.”

“Oh!” Sally’s sharp cry was charged with such pain and disappointment
that Miss Pond took one of the little clenched fists between her own
thin hands, not noticing that the slip of paper fluttered to the floor.
“She didn’t write to know how I was, didn’t care whether I lived or
died! I wish I hadn’t asked! I thought maybe there was somebody, someone
who loved me—”

“Remember she was sick and poor, Sally. Maybe she went to a hospital
suddenly and—and died. But there was no report in any papers of the
state of her death,” Miss Pond added conscientiously. “You mustn’t
grieve, Sally. You’re nearly grown up. You’ll be leaving us when you’re
eighteen, unless you want to stay on as an assistant matron or as a
teacher—”

“Oh, no, no!” Sally cried. “I—I’ll pack now, Miss Pond. And thank you a
million times for telling me, even if it did hurt.”

In her distress Miss Pond trotted out of the locker-room without a
thought for the bit of paper on which she had scribbled the memorandum
of Sally’s pitifully meager life history. But Sally had not forgotten
it. She snatched it from the floor and pinned it to her “body waist,” a
vague resolution forming in her troubled heart.

When five o’clock came Sally Ford was waiting in the office for Clem
Carson, her downcast eyes fixed steadily upon the small brown paper
parcel in her lap, color staining her neck and cheeks and brow, for Mrs.
Stone, stiffly, awkwardly but conscientiously, was doing her
institutional best to arm the state’s charge for her first foray into
the outside world.

“And so, Sally, I want you to remember to—to keep your body pure and
your mind clean,” Mrs. Stone summed up, her strong, heavy face almost as
red as Sally’s own. “You’re too young to go out with young men, but
you’ll be meeting the hired hands on the farm. You—you mustn’t let them
take liberties of any kind with you. We try to give you girls in the
Home a sound religious and moral training, and if—if you’re led astray
it will be due to the evils in your own nature and not to lack of proper
Christian training. You understand me, Sally?” she added severely.

“Yes, Mrs. Stone,” Sally answered in a smothered voice.

Sally’s hunted eyes glanced wildly about for a chance of escape and
lighted upon the turning knob of the door. In a moment Clem Carson was
edging in, his face slightly flushed, a tell-tale odor of whisky and
cloves on his breath.

“Little lady all ready to go?” he inquired with a suspiciously jovial
laugh, which made Sally crouch lower in her chair. “Looking pretty as a
picture, too! With two pretty girls in my house this summer, reckon I’ll
have to stand guard with a shotgun to keep the boys away.”

Word had gone round that Sally Ford was leaving the Home for the summer,
and as Clem Carson and his new unpaid hired girl walked together down
the long cement walk to where his car was parked at the curb, nearly
three hundred little girls, packed like a herd of sheep in the
wire-fenced playground adjoining the front lawn, sang out goodbys and
good wishes.

“Goodby Sal-lee! Hope you have a good time!”

“Goodby, Sal-lee! Write me a letter, Sal-lee!” “Goodby, goodby!”

Sally, waving her Sunday handkerchief, craned her neck for a last sight
of those blue-and-white-ginghamed little girls, the only playmates and
friends she had in the world. There were tears in her eyes, and,
queerly, for she thought she hated the Home, a stab of homesickness
shooting through her heart. How safe they were, there in the playground
pen! How simple and sheltered life was in the Home, after all! Suddenly
she knew, somehow, that it was the last time she would ever see it, or
the children.

Without a thought for the iron-clad “Keep off the grass” rule, Sally
turned and ran, fleetly, her little figure as graceful as a fawn’s, over
the thick velvet carpet of the lawn. When she reached the high fence
that separated her from the other orphans, she spread her arms, as if
she would take them all into her embrace.

“Don’t forget me, kids!” she panted, her voice thick with tears. “I—I
want to tell you I love you all, and I’m sorry for every mean thing I
ever did to any of you, and I hope you all get adopted by rich papas and
mamas and have ice cream every day! Goodby, kids! Goodby!”

“Kiss me goodby, Sal-lee!” a little whining voice pleaded.

Sally stooped and pressed her lips, through the fence opening, against
the babyish mouth of little Eloise Durant, the newest and most forlorn
orphan of them all.

“Me, too, Sal-lee! Me, too! We won’t have nobody to play-act for us
now!” Betsy wailed, pressing her tear-stained face against the wire.



CHAPTER II


A little later, when Sally was seated primly beside Clem Carson, jolting
rapidly down the road that led past the orphanage toward the business
district of the city, the farmer nudged her in the ribs and chuckled:

“You’re quite a kissing-bug, ain’t you, Sally? How about a little kiss
for your new boss?”

Sally had shrunk as far away from Clem Carson as the seat of the
“flivver” permitted, phrases from Mrs. Stone’s embarrassed, vague,
terrifying warnings boiling and churning in her mind: “Keep your body
pure”—“mustn’t let men take any liberties with you”—“you’re a big girl
now, things you ought to know”—“if you’re led astray, it will be due to
evils in your own nature”—

She suddenly loathed herself, her budding, curving young body that she
had taken such innocent delight in as she bathed for her journey. She
wanted to shrink and shrink and shrink, until she was a little girl
again, too young to know “the facts of life,” as Mrs. Stone, blushing
and embarrassed, had called the half-truths she had told Sally. She
wanted to climb over the door of the car, drop into the hot dust of the
road, and run like a dog-chased rabbit back into the safety of the Home.
There were no men there—no queer, different male beings who would want
to “take liberties”—

“My land! Scared of me?” Clem Carson chuckled. “You poor little chicken!
Don’t mind me, Sally. I don’t mean no harm, teasing you for a kiss. Land
alive! I got a girl of my own, ain’t I? Darned proud of her, too, and
I’d cut the heart outa any man that tried to take advantage of her.
Ain’t got no call to be scared of me, Sally.”

She smiled waveringly, shyness making her lips stiff, but she relaxed a
little, though she kept as far away from the man as ever. In spite of
her dread of the future and her bitter disappointment over Miss Pond’s
disclosures as to her mother, she was finding the trip to the farm an
adventure. In the twelve years of her life in the State Orphans’ Asylum
she had never before left the orphanage unaccompanied by droves of other
sheep-like, timid little girls, and unchaperoned by sharp-voiced,
eagle-eyed matrons.

She felt queer, detached, incomplete, like an arm or a leg dissevered
from a giant body; she even had the panicky feeling that, like such a
dismembered limb, she would wither and die away from that big body of
which she had been a part for so long. But it was pleasant to bump
swiftly along the hot, dusty white road, fringed with odorous, flowering
weeds. Houses became less and less frequent; few children ran barefoot
along the road, scurrying out of the path of the automobile.
Occasionally a woman, with a baby sprawling on her hip, appeared in the
doorway of a roadside shack and shaded her eyes with her hand as she
squinted at the car.

As the miles sped away Carson seemed to feel the need of impressing upon
her the fact that her summer was not to be one of unalloyed pleasure. He
sketched the life of the farm, her own work upon it, as if to prepare
her for the worst. “My wife’s got the reputation of being a hard woman,”
he told her confidentially. “But she’s a good woman, good clean through.
She works her fingers to the bone, and she can’t abide a lazy, trifling
girl around the place. You work hard, Sally, and speak nice and
respectful-like, and you two’ll get on, I warrant.”

“Yes, sir,” Sally stammered.

“Well, Sally,” he told her at last, “here’s your new home. This lane
leads past the orchards—I got ten acres in fruit trees, all of ’em
bearing—and the gardens, then right up to the house. Pretty fine place,
if I do say so myself. I got two hundred acres in all, quite a sizeable
farm for the middle west. Don’t them orchards look pretty?”

Sally came out of her frightened reverie, forced her eyes to focus on
the beautiful picture spread out on a giant canvas before her. Then she
gave an involuntary exclamation of pleasure. Row after row of fruit
trees, evenly spaced and trimmed to perfection, stretched before her on
the right. The child in her wanted to spring from the seat of the car,
run ecstatically from tree to tree, to snatch sun-ripened fruit.

“You have a good fruit crop,” she said primly.

“There’s the house.” The farmer pointed to the left. “Six rooms and a
garret. My daughter, Pearl, dogged the life out of me until I had
electric lights put in, and a fancy bathtub. She even made me get a
radio, but it comes in right handy in the evenings, specially in winter.
My daughter, Pearl, can think of more ways for me to spend money than I
can to earn it,” he added with a chuckle, so that Sally knew he was
proud of Pearl, proud of her urban tastes.

The car swept up to the front of the house; Clem Carson’s hand on the
horn summoned his women folks.

The house, which seemed small to Sally, accustomed to the big buildings
of the orphanage, was further dwarfed by the huge red barns that towered
at the rear. The house itself was white, not so recently painted as the
lordly barns, but it was pleasant and homelike, the sort of house which
Sally’s chums at the orphanage had pictured as an ideal home, when they
had let their imaginations run away with them.

Sally herself, born with a different picture of home in her mind, had
romanced about a house which would have made this one look like
servants’ quarters, but now that it was before her she felt a thrill of
pleasure. At least it was a home, not an institution.

A woman, big, heavy-bosomed, sternly corseted beneath her snugly
fitting, starched blue chambray house dress, appeared upon the front
porch and stood shading her eyes against the western sun, which revealed
the thinness of her iron-gray hair and the deep wrinkles in her tanned
face.

“Why didn’t you drive around to the back?” she called harshly. “This
young-up ain’t company, to be traipsin’ through my front room. Did you
bring them rubber rings for my fruit jars?”

“You betcha!” Clem Carson refused to be daunted in Sally’s presence.
“How’s Pearl, Ma? Cold any better? I brought her some salve for her
throat and some candy.”

“She’s all right,” Mrs. Carson shouted, as if the car were a hundred
yards away. “And why you want to be throwin’ your money away on patent
medicine salves is more’n I can see! I can make a better salve any day
outa kerosene and lard and turpentine. Reckon you didn’t get any
car’mels for me! Pearl’s all you think of.”

“Got you half a pound of car’mels,” Carson shouted, laughing. “I’ll
drive the new girl around back.

“Ma’s got a sharp tongue, but she don’t mean no harm,” Carson chuckled,
as he swung the car around the house.

When it shivered to a stop between the barns and the house, the farmer
lifted out a few bundles which had crowded Sally’s feet, then threw up
the cover of the hatch in the rear of the car, revealing more bundles.
Carson was loading her arms with parcels when he saw a miracle wrought
on her pale, timid face.

“Lord! You look pretty enough to eat!” Clem Carson ejaculated, but he
saw then that she was not even aware that he was speaking to her.

In one of the few books allowed for Sunday reading in the orphanage—a
beautiful, thick book with color-plate illustrations, its name, “Stories
from the Bible,” lettered in glittering gold on a back of heavenly
blue—Sally had found and secretly worshiped the portrait of her ideal
hero. It was a vividly colored picture of David, forever fixed in
strong, beautiful grace, as he was about to hurl the stone from his
slingshot to slay the giant, Goliath. She had dreamed away many hours of
her adolescence and early young girlhood, the big book open on her knee
at the portrait of the Biblical hero, and it had not seemed like
sacrilege to adopt that sun-drenched, strong-limbed but slender boy as
the personification of her hopes for romance.

And now he was striding toward her—the very David of “Stories from the
Bible.” True, the sheepskin raiment of the picture was exchanged for a
blue shirt, open at the throat, and for a pair of cheap, earth-soiled
“jeans” trousers; but the boy-man was the same, the same! As he strode
lightly, with the ease of an athlete or the light-footedness of a god,
the sun flamed in his curling, golden-brown hair. He was tall, but not
so tall as Clem Carson, and there were power and ease and youth in every
motion of his beautiful body.

“Did you get the plowshare sharpened, Mr. Carson? I’ve been waiting for
it, but in the meantime I’ve been tinkering with that little hand cider
press. We ought to do a good business with it if we set up a cider stand
on the state road, at the foot of the lane.”

Joy deepened the sapphire of Sally’s eyes, quivered along the curves of
her soft little mouth. For his voice was as she had dreamed it would
be—vibrant, clear, strong, with a thrill of music in it.

“Sure I got it sharpened, Dave,” Carson answered curtly. “You oughta get
in another good hour with the cultivator before dark. You run along in
the back door there, Sally. Mrs. Carson will be needing you to help her
with supper.”

The change in Carson’s voice startled her, made her wince. Why was he
angry with her—and with David, whose gold-flecked hazel eyes were
smiling at her, shyly, as if he were a little ashamed of Carson for not
having introduced them? But, oh, his name was David! David! It had had
to be David.

In the big kitchen, dominated by an immense coal-and-wood cook stove,
Sally found Mrs. Carson busy with supper preparations. Her daughter,
Pearl, drifted about the kitchen, coughing at intervals to remind her
mother that she was ill.

Pearl Carson, in that first moment after Sally had bumped into her at
the door, had seemed to the orphaned girl to be much older than she, for
her plump body was voluptuously developed and overdecked with finery.
The farmer’s daughter wore her light red hair deeply marcelled. The
natural color in her broad, plump cheeks was heightened by rouge,
applied lavishly over a heavy coating of white powder.

Her lavender silk crepe dress was made very full and short of skirt, so
that her thick-ankled legs were displayed almost to the knee. It was
before the day of knee dresses for women and Sally, standing there
awkwardly with her own bundle and the parcels which Carson had thrust
into her arms, blushed for the extravagant display of unlovely flesh.

But Pearl Carson, if not exactly pretty, was not homely, Sally was
forced to admit to herself. She looked more like one of her father’s
healthy, sorrel-colored heifers than anything else, except that the
heifer’s eyes would have been mild and kind and slightly melancholy,
while Pearl Carson’s china-blue eyes were wide and cold, in an insolent,
contemptuous stare.

“I suppose you’re the new girl from the Orphans’ Home,” she said at
last. “What’s your name?”

“Sa-Sally Ford,” Sally stammered, institutional shyness blotting out her
radiance, leaving her pale and meek.

“Pearl, you take Sally up to her room and show her where to put her
things. Did you bring a work dress?” Mrs. Carson turned from inspecting
a great iron kettle of cooking food on the stove.

“Yes’m,” Sally gulped. “But I only brought two dresses—my every-day
dress and this one. Mrs. Stone said you’d—you’d give me some of
P-Pearl’s.”

She flushed painfully, in humiliation at having to accept charity and in
doubt as to whether she was to address the daughter of the house by her
Christian name, without a “handle.”

Pearl, switching her short, lavender silk skirts insolently, led the way
up a steep flight of narrow stairs leading directly off the kitchen to
the garret. The roof, shaped to fit the gables of the house, was so low
that Sally’s head bumped itself twice on their passage of the dusty,
dark corridor to the room she was to be allowed to call her own.

“No, not that door!” Pearl halted her sharply. “That’s where David Nash,
one of the hired men, sleeps.”

Sally wanted to stop and lay her hand softly against the door which his
hand had touched, but she did not dare. “I—I saw him,” she faltered.

“Oh, you did, did you?” Pearl demanded sharply. “Well, let me tell you,
young lady, you let David Nash alone. He’s mine—see? He’s not just an
ordinary hired hand. He’s working his way through State A. & M. He’s a
star, on the football team and everything. But don’t you go trying any
funny business on David, or I’ll make you wish you hadn’t!”

“I—I didn’t even speak to him,” Sally hastened to reassure Pearl, then
hated herself for her humbleness.

“Here’s your room. It’s small, and it gets pretty hot in here in the
summer, but I guess it’s better’n you’re used to, at that,” Pearl
Carson, a little mollified, swung open a flimsy pine door.

Sally looked about her timidly, her eyes taking in the low, sagging cot
bed, the upturned pine box that served as washstand, the broken rocking
chair, the rusty nails intended to take the place of a clothes closet;
the faded, dirty rag rug on the warped boards of the floor; the tiny
window, whose single sash swung inward and was fastened by a hook on the
wall.

“I’ll bring you some of my old dresses,” Pearl told her. “But you’d
better hurry and change into your orphanage dress, so’s you can help
Mama with the supper. She’s been putting up raspberries all day and
she’s dead tired. I guess Papa told you you’d have to hustle this
summer. This ain’t a summer vacation—for you. It is for me. I go to
school in the city in the winter. I’m second year high, and I’m only
sixteen,” she added proudly. “What are you?”

Sally, who had been nervously untying her brown paper parcel, bent her
head lower so that she should not see the flare of hate in those pale
blue eyes which she knew would follow upon her own answer. “I’m—I’m
third year high.” She did not have the courage to explain that she had
just finished her third year, that she would graduate from the
orphanage’s high school next year.

“Third year?” Pearl was incredulous. “Oh, of course, the orphanage
school! _My_ school is at least two years higher than yours. We prepare
for college.”

Sally nodded; what use to say that the orphanage school was a regular
public school, too, that it also prepared for college? And that Sally
herself had dreamed of working her way through college, even as David
Nash was doing?

Eight o’clock was the supper hour on the farm in the summertime, when
every hour of daylight had to be spent in the orchards and fields. When
the long dining table, covered with red-and-brown-checked oilcloth, was
finally set, down to the last iron-handled knife, Sally was faint with
hunger, for supper was at six at the orphanage.

Sally had peeled a huge dishpan of potatoes, had shredded a giant head
of pale green cabbage for coleslaw, had watched the pots of cooking
string beans, turnips and carrots; had rolled in flour and then fried
great slabs of round steak—all under the critical eye of Mrs. Carson,
who had found herself free to pick over the day’s harvest of
blackberries for canning.

“I suppose we’ll have to let Sally eat at the table with us,” Pearl
grumbled to her mother, heedless of the fact that Sally overheard. “In
the city a family wouldn’t dream of sitting down to table with the
servants. I’m sick of living on a farm and treating the hired help like
members of the family.”

“I thought you liked having David Nash sit at table with us,” Mrs.
Carson reminded her.

“Well, David’s different. He’s a university student and a football
hero,” Pearl defended herself. “But the other hired men and the Orphans’
Home girl—”

Clem Carson appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Supper ready?”

“Yes, Papa. Thanks for the candy, but I do wish you’d get it in a box,
not in a paper sack,” Pearl pouted. “I’ll ring the bell. Hurry up and
wash before the others come in.”

While Clem Carson was pumping water into a tin wash basin, just inside
the kitchen door, Pearl swung the big copper dinner bell, standing on
the narrow back porch, her lavender silk skirt fluttering about her
thick legs.

Sally fled to the dining room then, ashamed to have David Nash see her
in the betraying uniform of the orphanage.

She had obediently set nine places at the long table, not knowing who
all of those nine would be, but she found out before many minutes
passed. Clem Carson sat at one end of the table, Mrs. Carson at the
other. And before David and the other hired men appeared, a tiny, bent
little old lady, with kind, vague brown eyes and trembling hands, came
shuffling in from somewhere to seat herself at her farmer son’s right
hand. Sally learned later that everyone called her Grandma, and that she
was Clem Carson’s widowed mother. Immediately behind the little old lady
came a big, hulking, loose-jointed man of middle age, with a slack,
grinning mouth, a stubble of gray beard on his receding chin, a vacant,
idiotic smile in his pale eyes.

At sight of Sally, shrinking timidly against the chair which was to be
hers, the half-wit lunged toward her like a playful, overgrown puppy.
One of his clammy hands, pale because they could not be trusted with
farm work, reached out and patted her cheek.

“Pur-ty girl, pur-ty sister,” he articulated slowly, a light of pleasure
gleaming in the pale vacancy of his eyes.

“Now, now, Benny, be good, or Ma’ll send you to bed without your
supper,” the little old lady spoke as if he were a naughty child of
three. “You mustn’t mind him, Sally. He won’t hurt you. I hope you’ll
like it here on the farm. It’s real pretty in the summertime.”

The two nondescript hired men had taken their places, slipping into
their chairs silently and apologetically. David Nash had changed his
blue work shirt and “jeans” trousers for a white shirt, dark blue
polka-dotted tie, and a well-fitting but inexpensive suit of brown
homespun. Sally, squeezed between the vague little old grandmother and
the vacant-eyed half-wit, beyond whom the two hired men sat, found
herself directly across from David Nash, beside whom Pearl Carson sat,
her chair drawn more closely than necessary.

“My, you look grand, Davie!” Pearl confided in a low, artificially sweet
voice. “My cold’s lots better. Papa’ll let us drive in to the city to
the movies if you ask him real nice.”

It was then that Sally Ford, who had experienced so many new emotions
that day, felt a pang that made every other heartache seem mild by
comparison. And two girls, one a girl alone in the world, the other
pampered and adored by her family, held their breath as they awaited
David Nash’s reply.

“Sorry, but I can’t tonight,” David Nash answered Pearl Carson’s
invitation courteously but firmly. “It would be ’way after nine when we
got to town, and we wouldn’t get back until nearly midnight—no hours for
a farm hand to be keeping. Besides, I’ve got to study, long as I can
keep awake.”

“You’re always studying when I want you to take me somewhere,” Pearl
pouted. “I don’t see why you can’t forget college during your summer
vacation. Go get some more hot biscuits, Sally,” she added sharply.

Except for Pearl’s chatter and David’s brief, courteous replies, the
meal was eaten in silence, the hungry farmer and his hired men hunching
over their food, wolfing it, disposing of such vast quantities of fried
steak, vegetables, hot biscuits, home-made pickles, preserves, pie and
coffee that Sally was kept running between kitchen and dining room to
replenish bowls and plates from the food kept warming on the stove. In
spite of her own hunger she ate little, restrained by timidity, but
after her twelve years of orphanage diet the meal seemed like a banquet
to her.

No one spoke to her, except Mrs. Carson and Pearl, to send her on trips
to the kitchen, but it did not occur to her to feel slighted. It was
less embarrassing to be ignored than to be plied with questions.
Sometimes she raised her fluttering eyelids to steal a quick glance at
David Nash, and every glance deepened her joy that he was there, that he
sat at the same table with her, ate the same food, some of which she had
cooked. His superiority to the others at that table was so strikingly
evident that he seemed god-like to her. His pride, his poise, his
golden, masculine beauty, his strength, his evident breeding, his
ambition, formed such a contrast to the qualities of the orphaned boys
she had known that it did not occur to her to hope that he would notice
her. But once when her blue eyes stole a fleeting glimpse of his face
she was startled to see that his eyes were regarding her soberly,
sympathetically.

He smiled—a brief flash of light in his eyes, an upward curl to his
well-cut lips. She was so covered with a happy confusion that she did
not hear Mrs. Carson’s harsh nasal voice commanding her to bring more
butter from the cellar until the farmer’s wife uttered her order a
second time.

In spite of the prodigious amount of food eaten, the meal was quickly
over. It was not half-past eight when Clem Carson scraped back his
chair, wiping his mouth on his shirtsleeve.

“Now, Sally, I’ll leave you to clear the table and wash up,” Mrs. Carson
said briskly. “I’ve got to measure and sugar my blackberries for
tomorrow’s jam-making. A farmer’s wife can’t take Sunday off this time
o’ year, and have fruit spoil on her hands.”

While Sally was stacking the soiled supper plates on the dining table,
the telephone rang three short and one long ring, and Pearl, who had
been almost forcibly holding David Nash in conversation, sprang to
answer it. The instrument was fastened to the dining room wall. Pearl
stood lolling against it, a delighted smile on her face, her fingers
picking at the torn wallpaper.

“Un-hunh!... Sure!... Oh, that’ll be swell, Ross! I was just wishing for
some excitement!... How many’s coming? Five?... Oh, you hush! Sure,
we’ll dance! We got a grand radio, you know—get Chicago and.... All
right, hurry up! And, oh, say, Ross, you might pick up another girl.
Sadie Pratt, or somebody. I got a sweetie of my own. Un-hunh! David
Nash, a junior from A. & M., is staying with us this summer. Didn’t you
know?... Am I? I’ll tell the world! You just wait till you see him, and
then _you’ll_ want to jump in the river!... Aw, quit your kidding!...
Well, hurry! ’Bye!”

Before the one-sided conversation was concluded, David Nash had quietly
left the room by way of the kitchen door. When Sally staggered in with
her armload of soiled dishes she found David at the big iron sink,
pouring hot water from a heavy black teakettle into a granite dishpan.

“Thought I’d help,” he said in a low voice, to keep Pearl from
overhearing. “You must be tired and bewildered, and washing up for nine
people is no joke. Give me the glasses first,” he added casually as he
reached for the wire soap shaker that hung on a nail above the sink.

“Oh, please,” Sally gasped in consternation. “I can do them. It won’t
take me any time. Why, at the Home, six of us girls would wash dishes
for three hundred. They wouldn’t like it,” she added in a terrified
whisper, her eyes fluttering first toward the dining room door, then
toward the big pantry where Mrs. Carson was picking over her
blackberries.

“I like to wash dishes,” David said firmly, and that settled it, at
least so far as he was concerned.

Sally was trotting happily between table and cupboard when Pearl came
in, stormy-eyed, sullen-mouthed.

“Well, I must say, you’re a quick worker—and I don’t mean on dishes!”
she snapped at Sally. “So this is the way you have to study, Mr. David
Nash! But I suppose she pulled a sob story on you and just roped you in.
You’d better find out right now, Miss Sally Ford, that you can’t shirk
your work on his farm. That’s not what Papa got you for—”

“I insisted on helping with the dishes, Pearl,” David interrupted the
bitter tirade in his firm, quiet way. “Want to get a dish cloth and help
dry them?” There was a twinkle in his eyes and he winked ever so
slightly at Sally.

“I’ve got to dress. Five or six of the bunch are coming over to dance to
the radio music. Did you hear what I said about you?” Pearl answered,
her shallow blue eyes coquetting with David.

“About me?” David pretended surprise. “Is that all, Sally? Well, I’ll go
on up to my room and study awhile, if I can stay awake.”

“You’re going to dance with me—with us,” Pearl wailed, her flat voice
harsh with disappointment. “I told Ross Willis to bring another partner
for himself, because I was counting on you—”

“Awfully sorry, but I’ve got to study. I thought I told you at supper
that I had to study,” David reminded her mildly, but there was the steel
of determination in his casual voice.

Pearl flung out of the room then, her face twisted with the first
grimaces of crying.

“We’d better wash out and rinse these dish cloths,” David said
imperturbably, but his gold-flecked eyes and his strong, characterful
mouth smiled at Sally. “My mother taught me that—and a good many other
things.”

A little later, under cover of the swishing of water in the granite dish
pan, David spoke in a low voice to the girl who worked so happily at his
side:

“Take it as easy as you can. They’ll work you to death if you let them.
And—if you need any help, _day or night_,” he emphasized the words
significantly, so that once again a pulse of fear throbbed in Sally’s
throat, “just call on me. Remember, I’m an orphan myself. But it’s
easier for a boy. The world can be mighty hard on a girl alone.”

“Thank you,” Sally trembled, her voice scarcely a whisper, for Mrs.
Carson was moving heavily in the pantry nearby.

Fifteen minutes later, as Sally was sweeping the big kitchen, shouts of
laughter and loud, gay words told her that the party of farm girls and
boys had arrived. With David gone to his garret room to study, Sally
suddenly felt very small and forlorn, very much what he had called her—a
girl alone.

The sounds of boisterous gayety penetrated to every corner of the small
house, but they echoed most loudly in Sally’s heart. For she was sixteen
with all the desires and dreams of any other girl of sixteen. And she
loved parties, although she had never been to a small, intimate one in a
private home in all her life.

She leaned on her broom, trembling, desire to have a good time fighting
with her institution-bred timidity. Then she looked down at her
dress—the blue-and-white-checked gingham, faded, dull, that she had worn
for months at the orphanage. If they should come into the kitchen—any of
those laughing, gay girls and boys—and find her in the uniform of state
charity they would despise her, never dream of asking her to come in, to
dance—

Her hands suddenly gripped her broom fiercely. Within a minute she had
finished her last task of the evening, had brushed the crumbs and dust
into the black tin dust pan, emptied it into the kitchen range. Then,
breathless with haste, afraid that timidity would overtake her, she ran
up the back stairs to the garret.

Her cold little hands trembled with eagerness as she jerked her work
dress over her head and arrayed her slight body in the lace-trimmed
white lawn “Sunday dress” which she had worn earlier in the day on her
trip from the orphanage. Excitedly, she slapped her pale, faintly
flushed cheeks to make them more red, then bit her lips hard in lieu of
lipstick.

When she tiptoed down the dark hall of the garret she found David Nash’s
door ajar, caught a glimpse of the university student-farmhand bent over
a pine table crowded with books.

She crept on to the head of the narrow, steep stairs, and there her
courage failed her. The dance music, coming in full and strong over the
radio, had just begun, and she could hear the shuffle of feet on the
bare floor of the living room. How had she thought for one minute that
she could brave those alien eyes, intrude, uninvited, upon Pearl’s
party? Hadn’t Pearl made it cruelly clear that she despised her,
resented her, because of David’s interest in her?

“Want to dance?”

She had been leaning over the narrow pine banister, but she straightened
then, a hand going to her heart, for it was David standing near her in
the dark, and his voice was very kind.



CHAPTER III


At 11 o’clock that Saturday night Sally Ford blew out the flame in the
small kerosene lamp—the electric light wires had not been brought to the
garret—and then knelt beside the low cot bed to pray, as she had been
taught to do in the orphanage.

After she had raced mechanically through her childish “Now-I-lay-me,”
she lifted her small face, that gleamed pearly-white in the faint
moonlight, and, clasping her thin little hands tightly, spoke in a low,
passionate voice directly to God, whom she imagined bending His majestic
head to listen:

“Oh, thank you, God, for making David like me, and for letting me dance
with him. And if dancing is a sin, please forgive me, God, for I didn’t
mean any harm. And please make Pearl not hate me so much just because
David is sweet to me. She has so many friends and a father and mother
and a grandmother and a nice home and so many pretty clothes, while I
haven’t anything. Make her feel kinder toward me, dear God, and I’ll
work so hard and be so good! And please, God, keep my heart and body
pure, like Mrs. Stone says.”

Lying in bed, covered only with the scant nightgown she had brought from
the orphanage, Sally did not feel the oppressive heat nor the hardness
and lumpiness of her cornshuck mattress. For she was reliving the hour
she had spent in the Carson living room, sponsored by a stern-faced
David who seemed determined to force Pearl and her giggling, chattering
friends to accept the timid little orphan as an equal.

She felt again the pain in her heart at their veiled insults, their
deliberate snubs, the concentrated fury that gleamed at her from Pearl’s
pale blue eyes. But again, as during that hour, the hurt was healed by
the blessed fact of David’s championship. She lay very still to
recapture the bliss of David’s arm about her waist, as he whirled her
lightly in a fox trot, the music for which came so mysteriously from a
little box with dials and a horn like a phonograph. She heard again his
precious compliment, spoken loudly enough for Pearl to hear: “You’re the
best dancer I ever danced with, Sally. I’m going to ask you to the
Junior Prom next year.”

Of course he had danced with Pearl, too, and the other girls, who had
made eyes at him and angled for compliments on their own dancing. When
he danced with Pearl, her husky young body pressed closely against his,
her fingertips audaciously brushed the golden crispness of his hair. She
had even tried to dance cheek-to-cheek with David, but he had held her
back stiffly.

The other boys—Ross Willis and Purdy Bates—had not asked Sally to dance
with them, after Pearl had whispered half-audible, fierce commands; but
their rudeness had no power to still the little song of thanksgiving
that trilled in her heart, for always David came back to her, looking
glad and relieved, and it was with her that David sat between dances,
talking steadily and entertainingly, to hide her shy silences.

She sighed in memory, a quivering sigh of pure pleasure, when she lived
again the minutes in the kitchen when she and David had washed glasses
and plates, while the others danced in the parlor. They had not
returned, but together had slipped up the back stairs to the garret,
David bidding her a cheerful good-night as he turned into his own room
to study for an hour before going to bed.

She had learned, during those talks with David, that he was twenty years
old, that he had completed two years’ work in the State Agricultural and
Mechanical College; that he was working summers on farms as much for the
practical experience as for the money earned, for his ambition was to be
a scientific farmer, so that he might make the most of the farm which he
would some day inherit from his grandfather. His grandfather’s place
adjoined the Carson farm, but it was being worked “on shares” by a large
family of brothers, who had no need for David’s labor in the summer. She
knew, too, from his modest replies to questions asked by Ross Willis and
Purdy Bates, that David was a star athlete, that he had already won his
letter in football and that he had been boxing champion of the sophomore
class.

“But he likes _me_,” Sally exulted. “He likes me better than Pearl or
Bessie Coates or Sue Mullins. I suppose,” she added honestly, “he’s
sorry for me because I’m an orphan and Pearl has it ‘in’ for me, but I
don’t care why he’s nice to me, just so he is.”

The radio music stopped at half-past eleven. Soon afterward Sally heard
the shouted good-nights of Pearl’s guests: “We had a swell time, Pearl!”
“Don’t forget, Pearl! Our house tomorrow night!” “See you at Sunday
School, Pearl, and bring David with you! Some sheik! Oh, Mama! But watch
out for that baby-faced orphan, Pearl! She’s got her cap set for him and
she’ll beat your time, if you don’t look out!”

Sally felt her face flame with shame and anger. Why did girls and boys
have to be so nasty-minded, she asked herself on a sob. Why couldn’t
they let her and David be friends without thinking things like that?
Why, David was so—so wonderful! He wouldn’t “look” at a frightened
little girl from an orphans’ home! No girl was good enough for David
Nash, she told herself fiercely.

The next morning Pearl failed to entice David into going to church and
Sunday School with her, and Sally was left alone to prepare the big
Sunday dinner—Mrs. Carson having gone to church in spite of her Saturday
determination not to. David came smiling into the kitchen, immaculate in
a white shirt and well-fitting gray flannel trousers, a book in his
hand, a pipe in his mouth.

“Mind if I study out here on the kitchen-porch?” he asked Sally, his
hazel eyes brimming with friendliness. “I like company and my garret
room’s hot as an inferno.”

“I’d love to have you,” Sally told him shyly. “I’ll try not to make any
noise with the cooking utensils.”

“Oh, I don’t mind noise,” he laughed. “Fact is, I wish you’d sing. I’ll
bet you can sing like a bird. Your voice sings even when you’re talking.
And any woman—” a delicate compliment that—“can work better when she’s
singing.”

And so Sally sang. She sang Sunday School songs, because it was Sunday.

It was sweet to be alone in the kitchen, with David so near, his crisp,
golden-brown head bent over his book, smoke spiraling lazily from his
pipe. The old grandmother, looking very tiny and old-fashioned in
rustling black taffeta, had gone to church, too, leading her middle-aged
half-wit son by the hand. Benny had strained at his mother’s hand,
trying to get loose so that he could kiss Sally and show her his bright
red necktie, at which the fingers of his free hand plucked excitedly. As
she remembered those vacant, grinning eyes, that slack, grinning mouth,
Sally’s song changed to a heart-felt paean of thanksgiving:

    “Count your blessings!
      Name them one by one.
    Count your many blessings—
      See what God hath done!”

Oh, she _was_ blessed! She had a good mind; sometimes she was pretty;
she could dance and sing; children liked her—and David, David! Poor
half-wit Benny, whose only blessings were a dim little old mother and a
new red necktie! But wasn’t a mother—even an old, old mother, whose own
eyes were vague, such a big blessing that she made up for nearly
everything else that God could give?

But she resolutely banished the ache in her heart—an ache that
contracted it sharply every time she thought of the mother she had never
known—and began to sing again:

    “I think when I read that sweet story of old,
      When Jesus was here among men,
    How He called little children as lambs to His fold—”

The opening and closing of the door startled her. David was there,
smiling at her.

“Won’t you sing ‘Always’ for me, Sally? It’s a new song, just out. It
goes something like this—” And he began to hum, breaking into words now
and then: “I’ll be loving you—always! Not for just an hour, not for just
a day, not—”

“So this is why you wouldn’t go to church with me!” a shrill voice,
passionate with anger, broke into the singing lesson.

They had not heard her, in their absorption in the song and in each
other, but Pearl had come into the house through the front door, and was
confronting them now in the doorway between dining room and kitchen.

“I thought you two were up to something!” she cried. “It’s a good thing
I came home when I did, or I reckon there wouldn’t be any Sunday dinner.
Do you know why I came home, Sally Ford?” she demanded, advancing into
the kitchen, her hands on her hips, her fingers digging spasmodically
into the flesh that bulged under the silk.

“No,” Sally gasped, retreating until she was halted by the kitchen
table. “I’m cooking dinner, Pearl. It’ll be ready on time—”

“Don’t you ‘Pearl’ me!” the infuriated girl screamed. “You mealy-mouthed
little hypocrite! I’ll tell you why I came home! I couldn’t find my
diamond bar-pin that Papa gave me for a Christmas present last year, and
I remembered when I was in Sunday School that I saw you stoop and pick
up something in the parlor last night. You little thief! Give it back to
me or I’ll phone for the sheriff!”

Sally stared at Pearl, color draining out of her cheeks and out of her
sapphire eyes, until she was a pale shadow of the girl who had been
glowing and sparkling under the sun of David’s affectionate interest.

“I haven’t seen your diamond bar-pin, Pearl,” she said at last. “Honest,
I haven’t!”

“You’re lying! I saw you stoop and pick something up in front of the
sofa last night. I was crazy not to think of my bar-pin then, but I
remembered all right this morning, when it was gone off this dress, the
same dress I was wearing last night. See, David!” she appealed shrilly
to the boy, who was looking at her with narrowed eyes. “It was pinned
right here! You can see where it was stuck in! Look!”

David said nothing, but a slow, odd smile curled his lips without
reaching those level, narrowed eyes of his.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” Pearl screamed. “I won’t
_have_ you looking at me like that! Stop it!”

Slowly, his eyes not leaving Pearl’s face for a moment, David thrust his
right hand into his pocket. When he withdrew it, something lay on his
palm—a narrow bar of filigreed white gold, set with a small, square-cut
diamond. Still without speaking, he extended his hand slowly toward
Pearl, but she drew back, her eyes popping with surprise and—yes, Sally
was sure of it—fear.

“Where did you get that?” she gasped.

“Do you really want me to tell you?” David spoke at last, his voice
queer and hard.

“No!” Pearl shuddered. “No! Does she—does _she_ know?”

“No, she was telling the truth when she said that she hadn’t seen the
pin,” David answered, flipping the pin contemptuously to the kitchen
table. “But next time I think you’d better put it away in your own room.
And Pearl, you really must try to overcome this absentmindedness of
yours. It may get you into trouble sometime.”

Pearl shivered, seemed to shrink visibly under her fussy pink georgette
dress.

“Oh!” she wailed suddenly, her face crumpling up in a spasm of weeping.
“You’ll hate me now! And you used to like me, before _she_ came! You—oh,
I hate you! Quit looking at me like that!”

“Hadn’t you better go back to church?” David suggested mildly. “Tell
your mother you found your pin just where you’d left it,” that
contemptuous smile deepening on his lips.

“You won’t tell Papa, will you?” Pearl whimpered, as she turned toward
the door. “And you won’t tell _her_?” She could not bear to utter
Sally’s name.

“No, I won’t tell,” David assured her. “But I’m sure you’ll make up to
Sally for having been mistaken about the pin.”

“She’s all you think of!” Pearl cried, then, sobbing wildly, she ran out
the kitchen door.

“Guess I’d better not bother you any longer, or they’ll be blaming me if
dinner is late,” David said casually, but he paused long enough to pat
the little hand that was clenching the table.

Sally was so puzzled by the strangeness of the scene she had witnessed,
so tormented by brief glimpses of something near the truth, so weak from
reaction, so stirred by gratitude to David, that she was making poor
headway with dinner when Clem Carson, who had not gone to church, came
in from the barns, dressed in overalls in defiance of the day.

“Got a sick yearlin’ out there,” he grumbled. “A blue-ribbon heifer calf
that Dave’s grandpa persuaded me to buy. I don’t believe in this
blue-ribbon stock. Always delicate—got to be nursed like a baby. I give
her a whopping dose of castor oil and she slobbered all over me.”

He took the big black iron teakettle from the stove and filled the
granite wash basin half full of the steaming water. As he lathered his
hands until festoons of soap bubbles hung from them, he cocked an
appraising eye at Sally, who was busily rolling pie crust on a yellow
pine board.

“Dave been hanging around the kitchen this morning, ain’t he?”

Sally’s hands tightened on the rolling pin and her eyes fluttered
guiltily as she answered, “Yes, sir.”

“Better not encourage him, if you know which side your bread’s buttered
on,” the farmer advised laconically. “I reckon you know by this time
that Pearl’s picked him out and that things is just about settled
between ’em. Fine match, too. He’ll own his granddad’s place some
day—next farm to this one, and the young folks will be mighty well
fixed. I reckon Dave’s pretty much like any other young
whippersnapper—ready to cock an eye at any pretty girl that comes along,
before he settles down, but it don’t mean anything. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Sally murmured.

“I reckon any fool could see that Pearl’s mighty near the apple of my
eye,” Carson went on, as he dried his hands vigorously on the
Sunday-fresh roller towel. “And if she took a notion that maybe some
other girl from the orphanage would suit us better, why I don’t know as
I could do anything else but take you back. And I’d hate that. You’re a
nice, pretty little thing, real handy in the kitchen, but, yes sir, I’d
have to tell the matron that you just didn’t suit.... Well, I got to get
back to that yearlin’.”

Somehow Sally managed to finish cooking the big Sunday dinner before the
family returned from church. Out of deference for the day she decided to
change from her faded gingham to her white dress before serving dinner.
Surely she had a right to look decent! Clem Carson couldn’t construe her
humble “dressing up” as a bid for David’s attention.

In her little garret room she scrubbed her face and hands, pinned the
heavy braid of soft black hair about her head, and then reached under
her low cot bed for her small bundle of clothes, in which was rolled her
only pair of fine-ribbed white lisle stockings. As she drew out the
bundle she discovered immediately that other hands than her own had
touched it; the stockings had been unrolled and then rerolled clumsily,
not at all in her own neat fashion. Then suddenly full comprehension
came to her. The pieces of the puzzle settled miraculously into shape.
It was here, in this bundle, that David had found the bar-pin. Somehow
he had seen Pearl slip into the room that morning, had guessed that her
secret visit boded no good for Sally; had spied on her, and then later
had retrieved the bar-pin from the bundle in which Pearl had hidden it.

If David had not seen—But she could not go on with the thought.
Trembling so that her teeth chattered she dressed herself as decently as
her orphanage wardrobe permitted, and then went downstairs to “dish up”
the dinner she had prepared.

Immediately after dinner David went across fields to call on his
grandfather, a grouchy, sick old man who almost hated the boy because he
would soon own the lands which he himself had loved so passionately. He
did not return for supper, and at breakfast on Monday there was not time
for more than a smile and a cheerful “Good morning,” which Sally, with
Clem Carson’s eyes upon her, hardly dared return.

Sally wondered if David had been warned, too, for as the days passed she
seldom saw him alone for as much a minute. Perhaps he was being careful
for her sake, suspecting Carson’s antagonism, or perhaps, in spite of
the shameful trick in which he had caught her, he really cared for
Pearl. Evenings he sat for a short time in the living room or on the
front porch, Pearl beside him, chattering animatedly; but he was always
in his room studying by ten o’clock, a blessed fact which made her own
isolation in her little garret room more easy to bear.

On Thursday morning at ten o’clock David appeared at the kitchen door,
an axe in his hands.

“Will you turn the grindstone for me while I sharpen this axe blade,
Sally?” he asked casually, but his eyes gave her a deep, significant
look that made her heart flutter.

Mrs. Carson, standing over her bubbling preserving kettles, grumbled an
assent, and Sally flew out of the kitchen to join him.

The grindstone, a huge, heavy stone wheel turned by a pedal arrangement,
was set up near the first of the great red barns. While Sally poured
water at intervals upon the stone, David held the blade against it, and
under cover of the whirring, grating noise he talked to her in a low
voice.

“Everything all right, Sally?”

“Fine!” she faltered. “I get awful tired, but there’s lots to eat—such
good things to eat—and Pearl’s given me some dresses that are nicer than
any I ever had before, except they’re too big for me—”

“Isn’t she fat?” David grinned at her, and she was reminded again how
young he was, although he seemed so very grown-up to her. “She wouldn’t
be so fat if she worked a tenth as hard as you do.”

“I don’t mind,” Sally protested, her eyes misting with tears at his
thoughtfulness for her. “I’ve got to earn my board and keep. Besides,
there’s such an awful lot to be done, with the preserving and the
canning and the cooking and everything. Mrs. Carson works even harder
than I do.”

David’s eyes flashed with indignation and a suspicion of contempt for
the meek little girl opposite him. “You’re earning five times as much as
your board and room and a few old clothes that Pearl doesn’t want is
worth. It makes me so mad—”

“Sal-lee! Ain’t that axe ground yet? Time to start dinner! I can’t leave
this piccalilli I’m making,” Mrs. Carson shouted from the kitchen door.

“Wait, Sally,” David commanded. “Wouldn’t you like to take a walk with
me after supper tonight? I’ll help you with the dishes. You never get
out of the house, except to the garden. You haven’t even seen the fields
yet. I’d like to show you around. The moon’s full tonight—”

“Oh, I can’t!” Sally gasped with the pain of refusal. “Pearl—Mr.
Carson—”

“I want you to come,” David said steadily, his eyes commanding her.

“All right,” Sally promised recklessly, her cheeks pink with excitement,
her eyes soft and velvety, like dark blue pansies.

Sally was eager as a child, when she joined David Nash in that part of
the lane that skirted the orchard. Although it was nearly nine o’clock
it was not yet dark; the sweet, throbbing peace of a June twilight,
disturbed only by a faint breeze that whispered through the leaves of
the fruit trees, brooded over the farm.

“I hurried—as fast—as I could!” she gasped. “Grandma Carson ripped up
this dress for me this afternoon and while you and I were washing dishes
Mrs. Carson stitched up the seams. Wasn’t that sweet of her? Do you like
it, David? It was awful dirty and I washed it in gasoline this
afternoon, while I was doing Pearl’s things.”

She backed away from him, took the full skirt of the made-over dress
between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, and made him a curtsey.

“You look like a picture in it,” David told her gravely. “When I saw
Pearl busting out of it I had no idea it was such a pretty dress.”

“I couldn’t have kept it on tonight if Pearl hadn’t already left for the
party at Willis’s. Was she terribly mad at you because you wouldn’t go?”

David shrugged his broad shoulders, but there was a twinkle in his eyes.
“Let’s talk about something pleasant. Want a peach, Sally?”

And Sally ate the peach he gave her, though she had peeled so many for
canning those last few days that she had thought she never wanted to see
another peach. But this was a special peach, for David had chosen it for
her, had touched it with his own hands.

They walked slowly down the fruit-scented lane together, Sally’s
shoulder sometimes touching David’s coatsleeve, her short legs striving
to keep step with his long ones.

She listened, or appeared to listen, drugged with content, her fatigue
and the smarting of her gasoline-reddened hands completely forgotten.

“We got a good stand of winter wheat and oats. There’s the wheat. See
how it ripples in the breeze? Look! You can see where it’s turning
yellow. Pretty soon its jade-green dress will be as yellow as gold, and
along in August I’ll cut it. That’s oats, over there”; and he pointed to
a distant field of foot-high grain.

“It’s so pretty—all of it,” Sally sighed blissfully. “You wouldn’t
think, just to look at a farm, that it makes people mean and cross and
stingy and ugly, would you? Looks like growing things for people to eat
ought to make us happy.”

“Farmers don’t see the pretty side; they’re too busy. And too worried,”
David told her gravely. “I’m different. I live in the city in the winter
and I can hardly wait to get to the farm in the summer. But it’s not my
worry if the summer is wet and the wheat rusts. I’ll be happy to own a
piece of land some day, though, even if I own all the worries, too. I’m
going to be a scientific farmer, you know.”

“I’d love to live on a farm,” Sally agreed, with entire innocence. “But
every evening at twilight I’d go out and look at my growing things and
see how pretty a picture they made, and try to forget all the
back-breaking work I’d put in to make it so pretty.”

They were walking single file now, in the soft, mealy loam of a field,
David leading the way. She loved the way his tall, compact body moved—as
gracefully and surely as a woman’s. She had the feeling that they were
two children, who had slipped away from their elders. She had never
known anyone like David, but she felt as if she had known him all her
life, as if she could say anything to him and he would understand. Oh,
it was delicious to have a friend!

“There’s the cornfield where I’ve been plowing,” David called back to
her. “A fine crop. I’ve given it its last plowing this week. It’s what
farmers call ‘laid by.’ Nothing to do now but to let nature take her
course.”

It was so dark now that the corn looked like glistening black swords,
curved by invisible hands for a phantom combat. And the breeze rustled
through them, bringing to the beauty-drunk little girl a cargo of
mingled odors of earth, ripe fruit and greenness thrusting up from the
moist embrace of the ground to the kiss of the sun.

“Let’s sit here on the ground and watch the moon come up,” David
suggested, his voice hushed with the wonder of the night and of the
beauty that lay about them. “The earth is soft, and dry from the sun. It
won’t soil your pretty dress.”

Sally obeyed, locking her slender knees with her hands and resting her
chin upon them.

“Tired, Sally? They work you too hard,” David said softly, as he seated
himself at a little distance from her. “I suppose you’ll be glad to get
back to the—Home in the fall.”

Sally’s dream-filled eyes, barely discernible in the dark, turned toward
him, and her voice, hushed but determined, spoke the words that had been
throbbing in her brain for four days:

“I’m not going back to the Home—ever. I’m going to run away.”

“Good for you!” David applauded. Then, with sudden seriousness: “But
what will you do? A girl alone, like you? And won’t they try to bring
you back? Isn’t there a law that will let them hunt you like a
criminal?”

“Oh, yes. The state’s my legal guardian until I’m eighteen, and I’m only
sixteen. In some states it’s twenty-one,” Sally answered, fright
creeping back into her voice. “But I’m going to do it anyway. I’d rather
die than go back to the orphanage for two more years. You don’t know
what it’s like,” she added with sudden vehemence, and a sob-catch in her
throat.

“Tell me, Sally,” David urged gently.

And Sally told him—in short, gasping sentences, roughened sometimes by
tears—of the life of orphaned girls.

“We have enough to eat to keep from starving and they give us four new
dresses a year,” Sally went on recklessly, her long-dammed-up emotion
released by his sympathy and understanding, though he said so little.
“And they don’t actually beat us, unless we’ve done something pretty
bad; but oh, it’s the knowing that we’re orphans and that the state
takes care of us and that nobody cares whether we live or die that makes
it so hard to bear! From the time we enter the orphanage we are made to
feel that everyone else is better than we are, and it’s not right for
children, who will be men and women some day, with their livings to
make, to feel that way!”

“Yes, an inferiority complex is a pretty bad handicap,” David
interrupted gently.

“I know about inferiority complexes,” Sally took him up eagerly. “I’ve
read a lot and studied a lot. We have a branch of the public library in
the orphanage, but we’re only allowed to take out one book a week. I’ll
graduate from high school next June—if I go back! But I won’t go back!”

“But Sally, Sally, what could you do?” David persisted. “You haven’t any
money—”

“No,” Sally acknowledged passionately. “I’ve never had more than a
nickel at one time to call my own! Think of it, David! A girl of
sixteen, who has never had more than a nickel of her own in her life!
And only a nickel given to me by some soft-hearted, sentimental visitor!
But I can work, and if I can’t find anything to do, I’d rather starve
than go back.”

David’s hand, concealed by the darkness, was upon hers before she knew
that it was coming.

“Poor Sally! Brave, high-hearted little Sally!” David said so gently
that his words were like a caress. “Charity hasn’t broken your spirit
yet, child. Just try to be patient for a while longer. Promise me you
won’t do anything without telling me first. I might be able to help
you—somehow.”

“I—I can’t promise, David,” she confessed in a strangled voice. “I might
have to go away—suddenly—from here—”

“What do you mean, Sally?” David’s hand closed in a hurting grip over
hers. “Has Pearl—Mr. Carson—? Tell me what you mean!”

“When I promised to come walking with you tonight I knew that Mr. Carson
would try to take me back to the orphanage, if he found out. But—I—I
wanted to come. And I’m not sorry.”

“Do you mean that he threatened you?” David asked slowly, amazement
dragging at his words. “Because of Pearl—and me?”

“Yes,” she whispered, hanging her head with shame. “I didn’t want you to
know, ever, that you’d been in any way responsible. He—he says it’s
practically settled between you and—and Pearl, and that—that I—oh, don’t
make me say any more!”

David groaned. She could see the muscles spring out like cords along his
jaw. “Listen, Sally,” he said at last, very gently, “I want you to
believe me when I say that I have never had the slightest intention of
marrying Pearl Carson. I have not made love to her. I’m too young to get
married. I’ve got two years of college ahead of me yet, but even if I
were older and had a farm of my own, I wouldn’t marry Pearl—”



CHAPTER IV


“Come out of that corn!” A loud, harsh voice cut across David’s
low-spoken speech, made them spring guiltily apart. “I ain’t going to
stand for no such goings-on on my farm!”

Clem Carson had prowled like an angry, frustrated animal, through the
fields until he had spied them out.

David and Sally had been sitting at the end of the corn field, in plain
sight of anyone who cared to spy upon them. When Clem Carson’s harsh
bellow startled them out of their innocent confidences David jumped to
his feet, offering a hand to Sally, who was trembling so that she could
scarcely stand.

“We’re not in the corn, Mr. Carson,” David called, his voice vibrating
with indignation. “I’ll have to ask you to apologize for what you said,
sir. There’s no harm in two young people watching the moon rise at ten
o’clock.”

Carson came striding out of the corn. David, feet planted rather far
apart, looked as if he were braced for attack, and the farmer, after an
involuntary shrinking toward the shelter of the corn, advanced again, an
apologetic smile on his brown face.

“Reckon I spoke hasty,” he conceded, “but Jim said he seen you two
young-uns sneaking off into the corn and it got my dander up. I’m
responsible to the orphanage for Sally, and I don’t aim to have her
going back in disgrace. Better get back to the house, Sally, and go to
bed, seeing as how you’ve got to be up at half-past four in the morning.
You stay back a minute, Dave. I want to have a little talk with you.”

“I’m taking Sally to the house, Mr. Carson,” David said grimly.

On the walk back to the house there was no opportunity for David to
reassure the frightened, trembling girl, for Carson plowed doggedly
along behind them as they walked single file between the rows of corn.
When they reached the kitchen, where Mrs. Carson was setting great pans
of yeast bread to rise on the back of the range, Sally ran to the
stairs, not pausing for a good-night.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, while she was sitting on the edge of her
cot-bed, she heard David’s firm step on the back stairs, and knew that
he had cut short the farmer’s “little talk” with him. Reckless of
consequences she slipped out of her door, which she had left ajar, and
crept along the dark hall to David’s door.

He did not see her at first, for she was only a faint blur in the dark,
but at her whispered “David!” he paused, his hands groping for hers.

“It’s all right, honey,” he whispered. “I told him point-blank if he
sent you back to the Home I’d leave, too. And that will hold him,
because he can’t do without me at this busy season. He couldn’t get
another hand right now for love or money, and he knows it. Go to sleep
now, and don’t worry.”

The next morning at breakfast it was plainly evident that David had said
one or two other things to Clem Carson, and that he in turn had passed
them on to Pearl. For Pearl’s eyes bore traces of tears shed during the
night, and the high color of anger burned in her plump cheeks. Carson’s
anger and chagrin at losing all his hopes of David as a son-in-law and
of acquiring, through his marriage to Pearl, the neighboring farm for
his daughter, expressed itself in heavy “joshing,” each word tipped with
venom:

“Well, well, how’s our Sally this morning? What do you know about this,
Ma?—our little ‘Orphunt Annie’ is stepping out! Yes, sir, she ain’t
letting no grass grow under her feet! Caught herself a feller, she has!”

“Eat your breakfast, Clem, and let Sally alone,” Mrs. Carson commanded
impatiently. “She’s old enough to have a feller if she wants one.”

Tears of gratitude to the woman she had thought so stern gushed into
Sally’s eyes, so that she could not see to butter the hot biscuit she
held in her shaking hands.

“She’s cut you out, Pearl, beat your time all hollow! And looking as
meek and mild as a Jersey heifer all the time! I tell you, Ma, it takes
these buttery-mouthed little angels to put over the high-jinks!”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t have looked at a hired man,” Pearl cried angrily,
tossing her head. “Sally’s welcome to him. But I can’t say I admire
_his_ taste.”

Sally’s eyes, drowned in tears, fluttered toward David.

“Don’t you think you’re going pretty far, Mr. Carson?” David asked
abruptly.

“No offense, no offense,” Carson protested hastily, with a chuckle that
he meant to sound conciliatory. “I’m a man that likes his joke, and it
does strike me as funny that a fine, upstanding college man like you,
due to come into property some day, should cotton to a scared little
rabbit of an orphan like Sally here—”

“That’ll do, Clem!” Mrs. Carson interrupted sharply. “Get ahead with
your breakfast and clear out, all of you! Sally and me have got a big
day’s work ahead of us. Pearl, I want you to drive to Capital City for
some more Mason jars for me. I’m all out.”

Later, when Sally was washing dishes, Pearl bounced into the kitchen,
dressed for her trip to the city, her arms full of soiled white shoes,
stockings and silk underwear.

“Sally,” she said, her voice like a whip-lash, “I want you to clean
these shoes for me today and wash out these stockings and underwear. See
that you do a good job, or you’ll have to do it over.”

Sally, raking the suds from the dishpan off her arms and hands, accepted
the pile of garments dumbly, but resentment gushed hotly in her throat.

“I’ve got enough work laid out for Sally to keep her busy every minute
today,” Mrs. Carson rebuked Pearl sharply. “Why can’t you do your own
cleaning, Pearl?”

“Because I’ve got a luncheon date and a matinee in town today, and I
need these things for tonight. I’m going to a party at the Mullins’
Goodby, Mom. Two dozen jars enough?”

When Sally was again bent over the dishpan she heard the little old
grandmother’s uncertain, quavering voice:

“It ain’t fair, Debbie, the way you let Pearl run over Sally. She’s a
nice, polite-spoken little girl, the best worker I ever see.”

“I know, Ma,” Mrs. Carson answered in so kind a voice that fresh tears
swam in Sally’s eyes. “Pearl’s been spoiled. But I’m too busy now to
take it out of her. I wonder, Ma, if you couldn’t rip up them other two
dresses that Pearl gave Sally? The child really ain’t got a thing to
wear. If you’ll just rip the seams, I’ll stitch ’em myself at night, if
I ain’t too tired.”

Sally whirled from the dishpan, stooped swiftly and laid her lips for an
instant upon Mrs. Carson’s hand. Then, flushing vividly, she ran back to
the kitchen sink, seized the big flour-sack dish towel and began to
polish a glass with intense energy.

Although Mrs. Carson made no comment on Sally’s shy caress, the girl
felt that from that moment the farmer’s wife was her friend, undeclared
but staunch.

Knowing that any day might prove to be her last on the farm, for Carson
never let slip an opportunity to threaten her by innuendo with the
disgrace of being sent back to the Home, Sally found a ray of comfort in
the fact that Grandma Carson, probably because she felt sorry for Sally,
constantly hectored as she was by the jealous, vicious-tongued Pearl,
was slowly but surely completing the necessary alterations upon the
other two dresses that Pearl had given her.

The vague-eyed, kindly little old woman finished the alterations on
Saturday morning, and Sally sped to her garret room with them, there to
try them on and gloat over them. Then, her eyes darting now and then to
the closed door, she hastily made a bundle of the three new dresses and
hid it under the cornshuck mattress of her bed. Maybe it would be
stealing to take the dresses if she had to run away, but she couldn’t
hope to escape in the orphanage uniform—

Early Saturday afternoon Mrs. Carson announced that she had to go into
the city to do some shopping. The farmer suggested that Pearl drive her
in, since he himself was to be busy setting up the cider mill in a shack
he had built at the foot of the lane, where it ran into the state
highway.

“And you might as well take the Dodge and let Ma and Benny go in with
you. They haven’t seen a picture show for a month,” Carson suggested.

The thought of seeing a movie overcame Sally’s timidity. “Would there be
room for me, Mrs. Carson? I could help you with your shopping, help
carry things—”

“I don’t see why not,” Mrs. Carson answered. “I got a lot of trotting
around to do and it’s mighty hot—”

“Mama, if she goes, I won’t go a step,” Pearl burst out shrilly. “I
won’t have her tagging after us all afternoon, making eyes at every man
that speaks to me!”

“Pearl, Pearl, I’m afraid you’re spoiled rotten!” Mrs. Carson shook her
head sadly. “I’ll bring you a pair of them fiber silk stockings, Sally,
to wear to church tomorrow night with your flowered taffeta,” she
offered brusquely, by way of consolation.

When the car had swept down the lane and Sally was left alone in the
house, she busied herself furiously in an effort to dissipate her
loneliness and disappointment, and a fear that grew upon her with the
realization that Carson had not accompanied his family to town. The two
hired men had left the farm for Capital City, immediately after the noon
meal, wages in their pockets, bent on an afternoon and evening of city
pleasures. On the entire farm there was no one but herself, Carson and
David. And where was David? If she needed him terribly, would he fail
her?

As the afternoon wore on, and still Carson did not appear, Sally’s
gratitude for Mrs. Carson’s inarticulate kindness sent her on a flying
trip to the orchard to gather enough hard, sour apples to make pies for
supper. Carson, she began to hope, was so busy setting up the cider mill
that he would have no time to take her back to the orphanage, even if he
wanted to. Maybe she was safe for a while; she would not run away just
yet, for if she ran away she would never see David again—

It was fun to have the whole big kitchen to herself. Humming under her
breath, she cut chilled lard into well-sifted flour, using the full
amount that Mrs. Carson’s pie crust called for. At the orphanage the pie
crust was tough and leathery, because the matron would not permit the
cook to use enough lard. What joy it was to cook on a prosperous farm,
where there was an abundance of every good thing to eat! If only she
could stay the whole summer through! She could stand the hard work....

As she piled the sliced apples thickly into the crimped pie crust, she
thought wistfully of Mrs. Carson, who was kind to her although she was a
hard taskmistress.

“Maybe,” Sally reflected sadly, dusting around nutmeg over the thickly
sugared apples, “if I could stay on here, Mrs. Carson would want to
adopt me. But of course Pearl and Mr. Carson wouldn’t let her. They hate
me because David likes me and won’t marry Pearl. And I like David better
than anybody in the world,” she confessed to herself, as the pink in her
cheeks deepened. “But I would love to have a mother, even if it was only
a ready-made mother. I wonder why some girls have everything, and others
nothing? Why should Pearl have a mother who just spoils her past all
enduring? Pearl isn’t good—she isn’t even good to her mother.”

When her three big apple pies were in the oven, she washed the bread
bowl in which she had mixed her pie crust; washed and dried vigorously
the big yellow pine board and rolling pin, and restored them to their
proper places. Then, feeling very useful and virtuous, she set the table
for supper, singing little scraps of popular songs which she had heard
over the radio during her week on the farm.

By that time her pies were baked to a deep, golden brown, with little
glazed blisters across their top crusts.

“If I do say it myself,” she said, in her little old-woman way, her head
cocked sideways as she surveyed her handiwork, “those are real pies. I
hope Mrs. Carson will be surprised and pleased.”

Then, because she was very tired and the late afternoon sun was making
an inferno of the kitchen, Sally climbed the steep back stairs to the
garret, intending to take a cooling sponge bath and a short nap before
the family returned, hungry for supper. She was about to pass David’s
door when his voice halted her:

“That you, Sally? I’ve been enjoying your singing, even if I did spend
more time listening than studying.”

She went involuntarily toward him. “I didn’t know you were up here,
David,” she told him. “I’m sorry I interrupted your studying. I wouldn’t
have sung if I’d known you were up here.”

The boy was seated at a small pine table, covered with books and papers,
but as she advanced hesitatingly into the room he rose.

“Come on in,” he invited hospitably. “Wouldn’t you like to see my books?
Some of them are fascinating—full of pictures of prize stock and model
chicken farms and champion egg-laying hens and things like that. Look,”
he commanded snatching up a book as if eager to detain her. “Here’s a
picture of a cow that my grandfather owns. She holds the state record
for butter-fat production. Her name’s Beauty Bess—look!”

Sally, without a thought as to the impropriety of being in a man’s
bedroom, slipped into the chair he was holding for her and bent her
little braid-crowning head gravely over her book.

“I’m going to stock the farm with nothing but pedigreed animals when
it’s mine,” David told her, enthusiastically. “Look, here’s the kind—”
And he bent low over her, so that his arm was about her shoulder as he
riffled the pages of the book, seeking the picture he wanted her to see.

A sudden gust of wind, presaging a summer shower, slammed the door shut,
but the two were so absorbed they did not hear the faint click of the
lock. Nor did they hear, a little later, the sound of the stealthy,
futile turning of the knob, the retreat of carefully muted footsteps.

David was bending low over Sally, his cheek almost touching hers,
excitedly expounding the merits of crop rotation, and pointing out
text-book confirmation of his theories, when sudden, evil words shocked
their attention from the fascinations of the agricultural text-book:

“Caught you at last! Thought you was mighty slick, didn’t you?—locking
the door! I’ve a good mind to whip you every step of the way back to the
orphan asylum, you lying, nasty little—” Carson’s voice, hoarse with
anger and exultation over his coming revenge upon the girl who had dared
jeopardize his daughter’s happiness, stopped with a gasp upon the evil
word he had spat out, for his shoulders, as he tried to wriggle into the
room from the small window, were stuck in the too-narrow frame.

If the wind had not been roaring about the house, banging branches of
shade trees against the sloping roof upon which David’s window looked,
they would necessarily have heard his approach, but as it was they were
totally unprepared for the sight of his head and shoulders and breast,
framed in the window, his glittering black eyes fixed upon them with
evil exultation.

Sally struggled to her feet as David leaped toward the window. She had a
fleeting glimpse of his rage-distorted young face, his lips snarled back
from his teeth.

“David! Don’t, David!” she cried, her voice a high, thin wail of
terror—terror for David, not for Carson.

“You’re not fit to live, Carson,” David’s young voice broke in its rage,
but there was no faltering in the power behind the blow which crashed
into the farmer’s face.

Sally, sinking to her knees in her terror, heard the rending sound of
flimsy timber giving way, then the more awful noise of a big body
sliding rapidly down the roof. She half fainted then, so that when David
tried to lift her to her feet she swayed dizzily against him, her eyes
dazed, her ashen lips hanging slackly.

“Can you hear me, Sally?” David’s voice, a little tremulous with awe at
that which he had done, came like a series of loud claps in her ears.

She clung to him weakly, her eyes glancing fearfully from the window to
his set, pale young face. Then she nodded slowly, like a child awakening
from a nightmare.

“I think I’ve killed him, Sally. He hasn’t made a sound since he crashed
to the ground.” David’s hazel eyes were as wide as hers, and almost as
frightened.

“You did—that—for me?” Sally whispered. “Oh, David, what are we going to
do?” She began to cry then, in little, frightened whimpers, but her blue
eyes, swimming in tears, never left his face.

The boy squared his shoulders as if to prepare them for a great burden,
and in that instant he seemed to grow older. Color came slowly back to
his bronzed cheeks, but his lips shook a little as he answered:

“We’ve got to run away, Sally, before the family comes home. I hate to
leave him—down there—if he’s only hurt. But I’ll be damned if I stay
here and get us both sent to jail just to ease a pain that that beast,
if he isn’t dead, may be having! Oh, God, I hope I didn’t kill him! I
just went crazy when he called you that name—Will you come, Sally, or do
you want to stay and face them with me? Whatever’s best for you—”

Sally Ford did not hesitate for a moment. Her blue eyes were full of
trust and adoration as she answered: “I’ll go with you, David. I knew
I’d have to run away. I’m all packed.”

“All right.” David spoke rapidly. “I’ll fix up a small bundle, too. You
get your things and leave the house as quickly as possible. Cut across
the orchard to the cornfield and wait for me where we were sitting the
other night. I’ll join you almost by the time you get there. But I want
you to leave first, just in case they come back before I can get away.
Now, run!”

Sally obeyed, somehow forcing her muscles to carry out David’s commands,
but the tears were coming so fast that she bumped unseeingly into apple
and peach trees as she ran through the orchard, the brown paper parcel
of clothes clutched tightly to her bosom. Twice she dashed the tears
from her eyes, glanced fearfully about, and listened, but she saw and
heard nothing. The sun was getting low in the west, slanting in golden,
dust-laden beams through the rows of apple trees.

When she reached the shelter of the corn stalks she went more slowly,
for her heart was pounding sickeningly. Just before she reached the end
of the field she paused, opened her bundle with shaking hands, drew out
the dark blue linen dress and put it on over the blue-and-white gingham
uniform of the orphanage. She was re-tying her bundle when she caught
the faint sound of footsteps running toward her between rows of corn.

David was hatless. His eyes were wide, unsmiling, but his lips managed
an upturning of the corners to reassure her.

“Sorry—to be—so long,” he panted. “But I telephoned a doctor that Carson
had been—hurt—and asked him to come over. I didn’t answer when he asked
who was calling. Told him Carson had slipped from the roof.”

“I’m awfully glad you did, David. It was like you. Shall we go now?”

David looked down at her in wonder, and his eyes and lips were very
tender. “What a brave kid you are, Sally! What a darn _nice_ little
thing you are! But I’ve been thinking hard, honey. We can’t run away
together—far, that is. I’ll have to take you back to the Home.”

“No, David, no, no! I can’t go back to the orphanage! I’d rather die!”
Sally gasped.

David dropped his bundle, took her hands and held them tightly. “I can’t
run away from this thing I’ve done, Sally. I’m sorry. I thought I could.
I’m going to give myself up, after I’ve seen you safely back to the
Home. I’ll explain to your Mrs. Stone, make her believe—”

“Oh!” Sally breathed in a gust of despair. Then, stooping swiftly, she
snatched up her bundle and began to run down a corn row. She ran with
the fleetness of a terror-stricken animal, and David watched her for a
long moment, his eyes dark with pity and uncertainty. Then he gave
chase, his long legs clearing the distance between them with miraculous
speed. He caught up with her just as she was at the edge of the
cornfield, recklessly about to plunge into the lane that led to the
Carson house.

“Wait, Sally!” he panted, grasping her shoulder. “You can’t run away
alone like this—Oh Lord!” he groaned suddenly. “There they come! Don’t
you hear the car turning in from the road? Come back, Sally!”

He did not wait for her to obey, but lifted her into his arms, for she
had gone limp with terror, and ran, crouching low so that the cornstalks
would hide them.

“Lie flat on the ground,” David said sternly, as he set her gently upon
her feet. “We can’t leave here now. The place will be swarming with
people. But when it’s dark we’ll slip away, across fields. Thank God,
there’ll be no moon.”

He flattened his own body upon the soft earth, close against the thick,
sturdy cornstalks. They did not talk much for they were listening,
listening for faint sounds coming from the farmhouse which would
indicate that the dreadful discovery had been made.

Long minutes passed and nothing had happened. Then the muffled roar of
another motor, turning into the lane from the state highway, told them
that the doctor to whom David had telephoned was arriving. It seemed
hours before a scream floated from the house to the cornfield.

“Pearl!” Sally whispered, shivering. “They hadn’t found him. The doctor
told them. Oh, David!”

His hand tightened so hard upon hers that she winced. A little later
they heard Mrs. Carson’s harsh voice calling, calling—“Sally! Sal-lee!
Sally Ford!”

Sally bowed her head upon David’s hand then, and wept a little,
shuddering. “She was—good to me. She—she liked me, David. Oh, I hope
she’ll know I didn’t mean her any harm, ever!”

The next hour, during which the sun set and twilight settled like a soft
gray dust upon the cornfield, passed somehow. Several cars arrived;
men’s voices shouted unintelligible words. Twice Pearl screamed—

But no one came down the corn rows looking for them. “They won’t dream
we’re still so near the house,” David assured her in his low, comforting
voice.

When it was quite dark, David spoke again: “We’ll make a break for it
now, Sally. I know this part of the country well. My grandfather’s farm
adjoins this one, with only a fence between the two hay meadows. We can
cut across his farm, giving the house and barns a wide berth. Then we’ll
strike a bit of timberland that belongs to old man Cosgrove. That will
bring us out on a little-traveled road that leads to Stanton, twenty-two
miles away. Think you can make it, Sally?”

She hugged her bundle tight to her breast and reached for his hand,
which he had withdrawn as he rose to his feet. “Of course,” she answered
simply. “I’m not afraid, David.”

“You’re a plucky kid,” David said gruffly. “I’ll lead the way. Let me
know if I set too fast a pace.”

Buoyed up by his praise, Sally trotted almost happily at his heels. She
refused to let her mind dwell on the horrors of the day, or to reach out
into the future. Indeed, her imagination was incapable of picturing a
future for a Sally Ford whose life was not regulated by orphanage
routine. She held only the present fast in her mind, passionately
grateful for the strong, swiftly striding figure before her, unwilling
for this strange night-time adventure to end.

“Thirsty, Sally?” David’s voice called out of the darkness.

Suddenly she knew that she was both thirsty and hungry, for she had not
eaten since the twelve o’clock dinner. A cool breeze was rustling the
leaves of the trees, and under that whispering rustle came the cool,
sweet murmur of a brook. She crouched beside David on the bank of the
tiny stream and thirstily drank from his cupped hands. Then he dipped
his handkerchief in the water and gently swabbed her face, his hands as
tender as Sally had fancied a mother’s must be.

The going was more dogged, less mysteriously thrilling when they had at
last reached the dirt road that was eventually to lead them to Stanton,
a town of four or five thousand inhabitants, the town in which the woman
who had brought her twelve years ago to the orphanage had lived. Days
before Sally had memorized the address before destroying the bit of
paper on which Miss Pond, out of the kindness of her heart, had copied
Sally’s record from the orphanage files.

Half a dozen times during the apparently interminable trudge toward
Stanton David abruptly called a halt, drawing Sally off the road and
over reeling, drunken-looking fences into meadows or fields for a
terribly needed rest. Once, with his head in her lap, her fingers
smoothing his crisp chestnut curls from his sweat-moistened brow, he
went to sleep, and she knew that she would not have awakened him even to
save herself from the orphanage.

Dawn was bedecking the east with tattered pink banners when the boy and
girl, staggering with weariness and faint with hunger, caught their
first glimpse of Stanton, a pretty little town snugly asleep in the hush
that belongs peculiarly to early Sunday morning. Only the dutiful
crowing of backyard roosters and the occasional baying of a hound broke
the stillness.

“We’ve got to have food,” David said abruptly, as they hesitated
forlornly on the outskirts of the little town. “And yet I suppose the
alarm has been given and the constables are on the lookout for us. We
might stop at a house that has no telephone—they wouldn’t be likely to
have heard about Carson—but I don’t like to arouse anyone this early on
Sunday morning. There’s an eating house next to the station that stays
open all night, to serve train crews and passengers, but more than
likely the station agent has been told to keep a lookout for us.”

As he spoke a train whistled shrilly. The two wayfarers stood not a
hundred yards from the railroad tracks where they crossed the dirt road.
Sally instinctively turned to flee, but David restrained her.

“We can’t hide from everyone, Sally,” he said gently. “I think our best
bet is to act as if we had had nothing to hide. Remember, we’ve done no
wrong. If Carson is dead, he brought his death upon himself. He deserved
what he got.”

Trustingly, Sally gave him her hand, stood very small and erect beside
him as the big engine thundered down the tracks toward them. Her face
was drawn with fatigue but her eyes managed a smile for David. His did
not reflect that brave smile, for they were fixed upon the oncoming
train.

“By George, Sally, it’s a carnival train! Look! ‘Bybee’s Bigger and
Better Show.’ I’d forgotten the carnival was coming. Look over there!
There’s one of their signs!”

An enormous poster, pasted upon a billboard, showed a nine-foot giant
and a 30-inch dwarf, the little man smoking a huge cigar, seated cockily
in the palm of the giant’s vast hand. Big red type below the picture
announced: “Bybee’s Bigger and Better Show—Stanton, June 9 and 10. One
hundred performers, largest menagerie in any carnival on the road
today.”

“I suppose they’re going to spend Sunday here,” David remarked. Then he
turned toward Sally, beheld the miracle of her transformed face. “Why,
child, you want to go to the carnival, don’t you? Poor little Sally!”

His voice was so tender, so whimsical, so sympathetic, that tears filmed
over the brilliance of her sapphire eyes. “I went to a circus once,” she
said with the eager breathlessness of a child. “The governor—he was
running for office again—sent tickets for all the orphans. And, oh it
was wonderful, David! We all planned to run away from the orphanage and
join the circus. We talked about it for weeks, but—we didn’t run away.
The girls didn’t, I mean, but one of the big boys at the orphanage did
and Ruby Presser, the girl he was sweet on, got a postcard from him from
New York when the circus was in winter quarters. His name was Eddie Cobb
and—oh, the train’s stopping, David! Look!”

“Yes.” David shaded his eyes and squinted down the railroad track. “This
is a spur of the main road, a siding, they call it. I suppose the
carnival cars will stay here today—”

But for once Sally was not listening to him. She was running toward the
cars, from which the engine had been uncoupled, and as she ran she
called shrilly, joyously, to a young man who had dropped catlike from
the top of a car to the ground:

“Eddie! Eddie Cobb! Eddie!”



CHAPTER V


To Sally it was all like a dream, a fantastic, lovely dream—except that
in dreams you are never permitted to eat the feast that your hunger
makes so real. And not even in a dream could she have imagined anything
so good as the thick, furry, dark-brown buckwheat cakes, plastered with
golden butter and swimming in maple syrup.

And Eddie Cobb’s voice seemed real enough, although the things he was
telling her and David in the hastily erected cook tent certainly had
dream-like qualities. And David, sighing with satisfaction over his
third plateful of hot cakes, was gloriously real. So was the long,
rough-pine counter at which they ate, and behind which the big negro
cook sang songs as he worked before a huge smoky oil stove. Tables
scattered throughout the tent and covered with worn oilcloth reminded
her of the refectory of the orphanage which now seemed so far away in
the past of her childhood. She drew her wondering eyes from their
exploration of the cook tent, focussed them on Eddie Cobb’s freckled,
good-natured face, listened to what he was telling them:

“This is a pretty good outfit. We carry our own show train, even for the
short jumps, and the star performers and the big boss and the
barkers—when they’re flush—eat in the dining car. Got a special cook for
the big bugs, waiters and everything. ’Course sometimes we can’t get
show grounds clost enough to the railroad to use the cars much, but in
this burg we’re lucky enough to get a lot pretty clost to a siding. The
performers will sleep in their berths, less’n it gets too hot and they
want their tents pitched on the lot.”

“What do you do in the carnival, Eddie?” Sally asked respectfully.

“Oh, I’m helpin’ Lucky Looey on the wheels. Gamblin’ concessions, you
know,” he enlarged grandly. “Looey’s got three kewpie dolls booths and
I’m in charge of one of ’em. Old Bybee—Winfield Bybee—owns the show and
travels with it—not like most owners. He owns the concessions and lets
concessionaires operate ’em on percentage. He owns the freaks and the
girlie show and the high-diver and all the ridin’ rackets—ferris wheels,
merry-go-rounds, whips ’n everything. He’ll be showin’ up any minute now
and I’ll give you a knockdown to him.”

“You’re so good to us, Eddie,” Sally glowed at him. “David and I hadn’t
an idea what we should do, and we were so hungry we could have eaten
field corn off the stalks.”

“You looked all in,” Eddie grinned at her. “So you run away, too, Sally.
Couldn’t stand the racket any longer, eh? Is David here a buddy you
picked up on the road? Gosh! To think of little Sally Ford hoboing?”

“I’m afraid I’ve taken advantage of your friendship for Sally, Cobb,”
David said. “The truth is, Cobb—”

“Aw, make it Eddie. We’re all buddies, ain’t we?”

“Well, the truth is, Eddie, that I’m afraid I’m a fugitive from justice.
I wanted to take Sally back to the orphanage and give myself up for
murder—”

“Gawd!” Eddie ejaculated, paling. Then something like admiration
glittered in his little black eyes. “Put the soft pedal on, Dave. Don’t
let nobody hear you—”

“It wasn’t murder, Eddie,” Sally interrupted eagerly, her hand going out
to close on David’s reassuringly. “It was—an accident, in a way. Tell
him, David. Eddie will understand.”

The cook tent was filling up, so David lowered his voice to a murmur as
he told Eddie Cobb, briefly but accurately, the story of his probably
fatal attack upon Clem Carson.

“Jees!” Eddie breathed, when the recital was finished. “I hope you
finished for him! If the old buzzard ain’t dead—and I’ll bet he
ain’t—I’d like to take a crack at him myself. You two kids stick with
us. I’ll tip off Bybee and I’m a son-of-a-gun if he don’t give you both
jobs. The concessions are always short of help—”

“Oh, Eddie, if he only would!” Sally gasped. Then sudden doubt clouded
her bright face. “But Eddie, we’d be so conspicuous with the carnival.
The police would lay hands on us as soon as we showed our faces—”

“Not if the Big Boss took you under his wing,” Eddie reassured her. “In
the carnival the Big Boss is the law. I’ll speak to him myself.”

The carnival roustabouts—big, rough-looking, powerful negroes in
undershirts and soiled, nondescript trousers—eyed the trio curiously as
they passed from one tent to another, Eddie gesticulating like a Cook’s
Tour conductor.

“Jees, Sally, I never expected to see any of you kids again,” Eddie
interrupted his monologue, which was like Greek to his guests.

“Have you ever been sorry you ran away, Eddie?” Sally asked, wistfully
desiring reassurance, for it was still impossible for her to picture
life independent of state charity.

Eddie snorted. “I’ve been seeing life, I have. New York and Chi and San
Looey and all the big towns. But I reckon it’s easier for a boy. I never
did want to go back, but I’ve thought many a time I’d like to see some
of the kids.” He blushed crimson under his big freckles. “How—how’s
Ruby, Sally? You know—Ruby Presser? She still there? She must be
seventeen now. She was two years younger’n me. I sorta figger on
marryin’ Ruby one of these days—say, what’s the matter?” he broke off
abruptly.

“Ruby—Ruby’s dead, Eddie. Didn’t you read about it in the papers?”

“Ruby—dead? You—you ain’t kiddin’ me, Sally? Ruby—dead!”

Sally’s distressed blue eyes fluttered to David’s face as if for help.

“Ruby—fell—out of a fifth story window, Eddie—last September,” Sally
admitted in a choked voice.

“After she had spent the summer on the Carson farm, Eddie,” David broke
in quietly, significantly.

Sally closed her eyes so as not to see the conflict of rage and grief in
Eddie Cobb’s boyish face.

“I hope to God you did kill him, David!” Eddie burst out at last. “If
you didn’t, I’ll finish him!”

“What’s all this, Eddie?” a great bellow brought them all to startled
attention. “Old home week? Get to your work! Lucky’s howling for you.
Who the hell do you think’s going to set out the dolls?”

Eddie’s importance was suddenly shattered. The big man, who seemed to
Sally to be as tall as the giant whom he advertised as a star
attraction, came striding across the stubby, dusty lot. His enormous
head, topped with a wide-brimmed black felt hat in defiance of the
torrid June weather, showed a fringe of long-curling white hair which
reached almost to the shoulders of his Prince Albert coat.

“I’d like to speak to you a minute, sir,” Eddie urged.

After another frowning, considering up-and-down glance at David and
Sally, but particularly at Sally, the big man strode away with Eddie,
out of earshot.

“If the big man does take us, you won’t be sorry, will you, David?”
Sally whispered, clinging to David’s hand.

“Dear little Sally!” David drew her close against him for a moment. They
stood close to each other, Sally not caring if the interview between
Bybee and Eddie prolonged itself interminably, for David was there,
thinking—she could feel his thoughts—“Dear little Sally”—

But after only a few minutes Winfield Bybee and Eddie came across the
stubble toward them. Bybee spoke, gruffly:

“Eddie here has been telling me that you two kids have got yourselves
into a peck of trouble, and want to hide out a bit. Well, I reckon a
traveling carnival is about the best place in God’s world to hide.
Anybody that wants to bother you will have to deal with Winfield Bybee,
and I ain’t yet turned any of my family over to a village constable.
Now, Dave—that your name?—if you want to keep out of sight, reckon I’d
better let you help Buck, the cook on the privilege car.

“Sometimes Buck gets too chummy with a bootlegger and his K. P. has to
rustle the chow alone, but otherwise the boy’s all right. And you,
Sally—” His keen eyes narrowed speculatively, took in the little flushed
face, the big eyes sparkling. Then one of his big hands reached out and
lifted the heavy braid of black hair that hung to her waist, weighed it,
studied it thoughtfully.

                                  ————

“Right this way, la-dees and gen-tle-men! Step right up and see Boffo,
the ostrich man, eat glass, nails, toothpicks, lead pipe, or what have
you! He chews ’em up and swallows ’em like a kid eats candy! Boffo
digests anything and everything from horseshoes to jack-knives! Any
gentlemen present got a jack-knife for Boffo’s dinner? Come on, folks!
Don’t be bashful! Don’t let Boffo go hungry!”

The spieler’s voice went on and on, challenging, commanding, exhorting,
bullying the gaping crowd of country people who surged after him like
sheep. Admission to “The Palace of Wonders,” a tent which housed a score
of freaks and fakers, was 25 cents. It still seemed wonderful to Sally
that she was there without having paid admission, that she—she, Sally
Ford, runaway ward of the state!—was one of the many attractions which
the farmers and villagers had paid their hard-earned money to see.

Dimly through the crowd came the voice of the barker and ticket seller
in his tall, red, scarred box outside the tent: “All right, all right!
Here you are! Only a quarter—25 cents—two bits—to see the big show!
Performance just started! Step right up! All right, boys, this way!
Don’t let your girls call you a piker! Two bits pays for it all! See the
half-man half-woman! See the girl nobody can lift! Try and lift her,
boys! Little and pretty as a picture, but heavy as lead! All right, step
right in! Don’t crowd! Room for everybody! See Princess Lalla, the Harem
Crystal Gazer! Sees all, knows all! See Pitty Sing, the smallest woman
in the world—”

Incredible! On Saturday, just two days ago, she had been peeling apples
to make pies for the Carson family. Today she was a member of a carnival
troupe, under the protection of Winfield Bybee, owner of all these weird
creatures about whom the spieler was chanting. It was too unreal to be
true.

There had been twelve solid hours of sleep. Then had come a marvelously
satisfying supper in the dining car, or “privilege” car, with Bybee
himself introducing her to those astonishing people whom the spieler was
now exhibiting to the curious country people. The giant, a Hollander
named Jan something-or-other, had bent from vast heights to take her
hand; the tiny male midget, a Hawaiian billed merely as Noko, had
gravely asked her, in a tiny, piping voice, if she would sew a button on
his miniature coat for him; the bearded “lady” was a man, after all, a
man with a naturally falsetto voice and tiny hands and feet. Boffo, the
human ostrich, had disappointed her by being satisfied with a very
ordinary diet of corned beef and cabbage. The fat girl, who had confided
to Sally that she only weighed 380 pounds, though she was billed as
“tipping the scales” at 620, had patiently drunk glass after glass of
milk, until a gallon had been consumed—all in the interest of keeping
her weight up and adding to it.

Then Bybee had taken her to his wife, a thin, hatchet-faced shrew of a
woman who seemed to suspect everything in petticoats of having designs
on her husband, and who in turn, seemed to feel equally sure that every
man must envy him the possession of such a wonderful woman as his wife.
His deference toward her touched Sally even as it amused her.

Mrs. Bybee was too good a business woman, however, to let jealousy
interfere with her judgment where the show was concerned. She had
demurred a little, then had abruptly agreed to Bybee’s plans for Sally.
Hours of sharp-tongued instruction from Mrs. Bybee had resulted in
Sally’s being on the platform now, nervously awaiting her turn.

The crowd surged nearer to Sally’s platform. The spieler was introducing
the giant now, and Jan was rising slowly from his enormous chair,
unfolding his incredible length, standing erect at last, so that his
head touched and slightly raised the sloping canvas roof of the tent.

She wondered, as she gazed pityingly and a little fearfully at Jan, how
it felt to be three feet taller than even the tallest of ordinary men,
and as she wondered she gazed upward into Jan’s face and caught
something of an answer to her question. For Jan’s great, hollow eyes,
set in a skeleton of a face, were the saddest she had ever seen, but
patiently sad, as if the little-boy soul that hid somewhere in that
terribly abnormal body of his had resigned itself to eternal sorrow and
loneliness.

At the request of the spieler Jan stalked, like a seven-league-boots
creature of a fairy tale, up and down the little platform, then, still
sad-faced, patient, he folded up his amazing legs and relaxed in his
great chair with a sigh. He was silently and indifferently offering
postcard pictures of himself for sale when the barker turned toward
Sally, cajoling the crowd away from the giant:

“And here, la-dees and gen-tle-men, we have the most beautiful girl that
ever escaped from a Turkish harem—the Princess Lalla. Right here, folks!
Here’s a real treat for you! They may come bigger but they don’t come
prettier! I’ve saved the Princess Lalla for the last because she’s the
best. I know all you sheiks will agree with me—” Embarrassed snorts of
laughter interrupted him. “That’s right, boys. And if the Princess Lalla
don’t show up tonight I’ll know that some good-looking Stanton boy has
eloped with her.

“Stand up, Princess Lalla, and let these boys see what a Turkish
princess looks like! Don’t crowd now, boys!”

Sally slipped from her chair and advanced a pace or two toward the edge
of the platform, her knees trembling so she could scarcely walk.

It did not seem possible to her that the glamorous, beautiful figure to
whom the spieler had made a deep and ironic salaam was Sally Ford. She
wondered if all those people staring at her with wide, curious eyes or
with envy really believed she was the Princess Lalla, an escaped member
of the harem of the Sultan of Turkey. She made herself see herself as
they saw her—a slim, rounded, young-girl figure in fantastic purple
satin trousers, wrapped close about her legs from knee to ankle with
ropes of imitation pearls; a green satin tunic-blouse, sleeveless and
embroidered with sequins and edged with gold fringe, half-revealing and
half-concealing her delicate young curves; a provocative lace veil
dimming and making mysterious the brilliance of her wide, childish eyes.

She wondered if any of the more skeptical would mutter that the
golden-olive tint of her face, neck and bare arms had come out of a can
of burnt-sienna powder, applied thickly and evenly over a film of cold
cream. The mock-jewel-wrapped ropes of her blue-black hair, however,
were real, and she felt their beauty as they lay against her slowly
rising and falling breast.

To her gravely expressed doubts of the authenticity of her Turkish
costume Mrs. Bybee had replied curtly, contemptuously: “My Gawd! Who
knows or cares whether Turkish dames dress like this? It’s pretty, ain’t
it? Them women may wear turbans and what-nots for all I know, but that
black hair of yours ain’t going to be covered up with no towel around
your head.”

And so, circling her brow and holding the scrap of black lace nose veil
in place, was a crudely fashioned but gaudily pretty crown studded with
imitation rubies and emeralds and diamonds as big as bird’s eggs. Her
feet felt very tiny and strange in red sandals, whose pointed toes
turned sharply upward and ended roguishly in fluffy silk pompoms.

“I declare, you make a lot better Princess Lalla than Minnie Brooks
did,” Mrs. Bybee had commented after out-fitting Sally. “She took down
with appendicitis in Sioux City and we ain’t had a crystal gazer
since—one of the big hits of the show, too.”

But the spieler was going on and on, giving her a fearful and wonderful
history, endowing her with weird gifts—“... Yes, sir, folks, the
Princess Lalla sees all, knows all—sees all in this magic crystal of
hers. She sees past, present and future, and will reveal all to anyone
who cares to step up on this platform and be convinced. Just 25 cents,
folks, one lonely little quarter, and you’ll have past, present and
future revealed to you by the Turkish seeress, favorite fortune-teller
of the Sultan of Turkey. Who’ll be first, boys and girls? Step right
up.”

As he exhorted and harangued, the spieler, whom Sally had heard called
Gus, was busy arranging the little pine table, covered with black velvet
embroidered in gold thread with the signs of the Zodiac. On the table
stood a crystal ball, mounted on a tarnished gilt pedestal, and covered
over with a black square. Gus whisked off the square and revealed the
“magic crystal” to the gaping crowd. Then, with another deep salaam, he
conducted the “Princess Lalla” to her throne-like chair. She seated
herself and cupped her brown-painted hands with their gilded nails over
the large glass bowl.

A young man vaulted lightly upon the platform, followed by giggles and
slangy words of encouragement. Sally’s eyes, mercifully shielded by the
black lace veil, widened with terror. Her hands trembled so as they
hovered over the crystal that she had an almost irresistible impulse to
cover her face with them. Then she remembered that the black lace veil
and the brown powder did that.

For the first to demand an exhibition of her powers as a seeress was
Ross Willis, Pearl Carson’s “boy friend,” Ross Willis who had not asked
her to dance because she was the Carsons’ “hired girl” from the
orphanage.

While Ross Willis, awkward and embarrassed, shuffled to the canvas chair
which Gus, the spieler, whisked forward, Sally reflected that there was
no need for her to remember any of the multitudinous instructions which
Mrs. Bybee had primed her for her job of “seeress.”

She curved her small, brown painted, gilded-nailed hands over the
crystal and bent her veiled face low. In a seductive, sing-song voice
she began to chant, bringing some of the words out hesitantly, as if
English had been recently learned and came hard to her “Turkish” lips:

“I zee ze beeg fields—wheat fields, corn fields—ees it not zo?” She
raised her shaded eyes coyly to the face of the young farmer. The crowd
pressed close, breathing hard, the odors of their perspiration coming up
on hot waves of summer air to the gayly dressed little figure on the
platform. “Yes’m, I mean, sure, Princess,” Ross Willis stuttered, and
the crowd laughed, pressed closer still. Two or three women waved
quarters to attract the attention of Gus, the spieler, who stood behind
her, to aid her if necessary.

“You are—what you call it?—a farmer,” Sally went on in her seductively
deepened voice. Oh, it was fun to “play-act” and to be paid for it! “You
va-ry reach young man. Va-ry beeg farm. You have mother, father, li’l
seester.” Thank heaven, her ears had been keen that night of Pearl’s
party, even if she had been inarticulate with shyness! “You ar-re in
love. I zee a gir-rl, a beeg, pretty gir-rl with red hair an’ blue eyes.
Ees it not zo?” Her little low laugh was a gurgle, which started a shout
of laughter in the crowd.

“Yeah, I reckon so,” Ross Willis admitted, blushing more violently than
ever.

“Oh, you Pearl!” a girl’s voice shrilled from the crowd.

“You mar-ry with thees gir-rl, have three va-ry nize childs,” Sally went
on delightedly. After all, why shouldn’t Pearl marry Ross Willis, since
she could not have David? “Zo! That ees all I zee,” she concluded with
sweet gravity. “Zee creestal she go dark now.”

Ross Willis thanked “Princess Lalla” awkwardly and dropped from the
platform to the grass-stubbled ground, entirely unaware that the
marvelous seeress was little Sally Ford.

Confidence and mirth welled up in Sally. She began to believe in herself
as “Princess Lalla,” just as she had always more than half-believed that
she was the queen or the actress whom she had impersonated in the old
days so recently ended forever, when she had “play-acted” for the other
orphans.

The next seeker after knowledge of “past, present and future” was not so
easy, but not very hard either, for the applicant was a girl, a pretty,
very urban-looking girl, who wore a tiny solitaire ring on her
engagement finger and who had been clinging to the arm of an obviously
adoring young man. For the pretty girl Sally obligingly foretold a happy
marriage with a “dark, tall young man, va-ry handsome”; a long journey,
and two children. The girl sparkled with pleasure, utterly unconscious
of the fact that “Princess Lalla” had told her nothing of the past and
very little of the present.

Quarters were thrust upon her thick and fast. Because of the brisk
demand for her services, Sally gave only the briefest of “readings,” and
only a few muttered angrily that it was a swindle. To a middle-aged
farmer she gave a bumper wheat crop, a new eight-cylinder car, a
prospective son-in-law for the girl whom Sally had unerringly picked out
as his unmarried daughter, and the promise of many splendid
grandchildren. To a freckled, open-faced, engaging youngster of ten,
thrust upon the platform by his adoring mother, she grandly promised
nothing less than the presidency of the United States, as well as riches
and a beautiful wife.

Some of her prophecies, such as twin babies for the newly married
couple, brought shouts of laughter from the crowd, and some of her vague
guesses as to the past went very wide of the mark, as the applicants did
not hesitate to tell her—the old maid, for instance, who looked so
motherly that Sally lavishly endowed her with a husband and three
children; but nearly everyone who paid a quarter for what “Princess
Lalla” could see in the magic crystal went away wondering and thrilled
and satisfied.

During the first lull between performances, Sally slipped out of the
“Palace of Wonders” and daringly mingled with the crowds outside. It was
all beautiful and wonderful to Sally, who had been to a circus only once
in her life and never to a carnival before.

Before the tent which housed the big glass tank into which “bathing
beauties” dived and in which they ate bananas and drank soda-pop under
water, she encountered Winfield Bybee, enormous, majestic, benign, for
it was a good crowd and a fine day, and money was pouring into his
pockets.

“Well, well,” he grinned down at her, “I hear from Gus that you’re
knocking ’em cold. Better run along in now, and you might see how many
of the rubes you can make follow you into the Palace of Wonders. We
don’t want to give ’em too much of a free show. And remember, girlie,
for every quarter Princess Lalla earns as a fortune-teller, little Sally
Ford gets a nickel for herself. Don’t take many nickels to make a
dollar.”

“Oh, Mr. Bybee, I’m so happy I’m about to burst,” Sally confided to him
in a rush of gratitude. “But—do you think it’s very wrong of me to
pretend to be a crystal gazer when really I can’t see a thing in it to
save my life?”

Bybee bellowed with laughter, so that the crowd veered suddenly toward
them. He stooped to whisper closer to her little brown-stained ear:
“Don’t you worry, sister. As old P. T. Barnum used to say, ‘There’s a
sucker born every minute,’ and old Winfield Bybee knows that they like
to be fooled. You just kid ’em along and send ’em away happy and I
reckon the good Lord ain’t going to waste any black ink on your record
tonight. It’s worth a quarter to be told a lot of nice things about
yourself, ain’t it?”

As she tripped swiftly across the dusty lot toward the Palace of
Wonders, the crowd following her grew larger and larger. Becoming bolder
because she felt that she was really “Princess Lalla” and not timid
little Sally Ford, she deliberately flirted with the men who pressed
close upon her, even waved a little brown hand invitingly toward the big
tent.

When she reached the tent door, the barker leaned down from his booth,
behind which was set a small platform, and beckoned her to mount the
narrow steps. Smilingly she did so, and the barker introduced her:

“Here she is, boys—the Princess Lalla of Con-stan-ti-no-ple, the
prettiest girl that ever escaped from the Sultan’s harem! Princess
Lalla, favorite crystal-gazer to the Sultan of Turkey before she escaped
from his harem, will tell your fortunes, la-dees and gen-tle-men!
Princess Lalla sees all, knows all! Just one of the scores of
attractions in the Palace of Wonders! Admission 25 cents, one quarter of
a dollar, two bits!”

Sally bowed, her little brown hands spreading in an enchanting gesture;
then she skipped down the steps, the great ropes of black hair, wound
with strands of imitation pearls, flapping against the vivid green satin
tunic.

She was very tired when the supper hour came, but the thought that she
would soon see David again lent wings to her sandaled feet. She was
about to hurry out of the Palace of Wonders, released at last by the
apparently indefatigable spieler, Gus, when a tiny, treble voice called
to her:

“Princess Lalla! Princess Lalla! Would you mind carrying me to the
cars?”

Sally, startled, looked everywhere about the tent that was almost
emptied of spectators before it dawned on her that the tiny voice had
come from “Pitty Sing,” “the smallest woman in the world,” sitting in a
child’s little red rocking chair on the platform.

All of Sally’s passionate love for little things—especially small
children—surged up in her heart. She skipped down the steps of her own
particular little platform and ran, with outstretched hands, to the
midget. “Pitty Sing” was indeed a pretty thing, a very doll of a woman,
the flaxen hair on her small head marcelled meticulously, her little
plump cheeks and pouting, babyish lips tinted with rouge. In her
miniature hands she was holding a newspaper, which was so big in
comparison with her midget size that it served as a complete screen.

“Of course I’ll carry you. I’m so glad you’ll let me,” Sally glowed and
dimpled. “You little darling, you!”

“Please don’t baby me!” Pitty Sing admonished her in a severe little
voice. “I’m old enough to be your mother, even if I’m not big enough.”
And the tiny, plump hands began to fold the newspapers with great
definiteness.

Sally’s eyes, abashed, fluttered from the disapproving little face to
the paper. Odd that so tiny a thing could read—but of course she was
grown up, even if she was only 29 inches tall—

“Oh, please!” Sally gasped, going very pale under the brown powder. “May
I see your paper for just a minute?”

For her eyes had caught sight of a name which had been burned into her
memory, forever indelible—the name of Carson.

When Sally had carefully deposited the dignified little midget, “Pitty
Sing,” in the infant-sided high-chair drawn up to a corner table in the
dining car, she hurried to the box of a kitchen which took up the other
end of the car, the newspaper trembling in her hand. She found David
alone in the kitchen, slicing onions into a great pan of frying Swiss
steak. Onion-induced tears streamed down his cheeks, but at the sound of
Sally’s urgent voice, he turned.

“Oh, David, he wasn’t killed!” she cried, taking care to keep her voice
low. “It’s in the paper—look! But he says the most terrible things about
us, and the police are looking for us—”

“Hey, there, honey! Steady!” David commanded gently, as he groped for a
handkerchief to wipe his streaming eyes. “Now, let’s see the paper.
Thank God I didn’t commit murder—what the devil!” he interrupted
himself, as his eyes traveled hurriedly down the front page. “By heaven,
I almost wish I had killed him! The dirty, lying skunk!”

“FARMER ACCUSES HIRED MAN OF ASSAULT TO KILL” was the streamer head-line
across the entire page. Below, two streamer lines of heavy italic type
informed the reader: “CLEM CARSON SUFFERS BROKEN LEG FOR ATTEMPTING TO
PROTECT ORPHANED GIRL FROM UNIVERSITY STUDENT WORKING ON FARM.”

The “story,” in small type, followed: “Clem Carson, prosperous farmer,
living eighteen miles from the capital city, is suffering from a broken
leg, a broken nose and numerous cuts and bruises, sustained late
Saturday afternoon when, Carson alleges, he broke into the garret
bedroom of Miss Sally Ford, sixteen-year-old girl from the state
orphanage, who was working on the Carson farm for her board during the
summer vacation. According to Carson’s story, told to reporters Sunday
night after a warrant for the arrest of Sally Ford and David Nash had
been issued by the sheriff’s office, the farmer had been suspicious for
several days that one of his hired men, David Nash, A. & M. student
during the school year, was paying too marked attention to the young
girl, for whose safety Carson had pledged himself to the state.

“On Saturday afternoon early the members of Mr. Carson’s family,
including his wife, brother, mother and daughter, had come to town for
shopping, leaving Miss Ford alone in the house. The two other hired men
had also gone to the city, leaving Carson and young Nash at work on the
farm. Carson alleges that he saw Nash enter the house late Saturday
afternoon and that when the young man did not return to his work in the
barn within a reasonable time, Carson left his own work to investigate,
fearing for the safety of the girl under his protection.

“After unsuccessfully searching the main floor of the house, Carson
alleges, he went to the garret, heard voices coming from Miss Ford’s
room, tried the door and found it locked. He knocked, was refused
admittance, according to the story told the sheriff, then, determined to
save the girl from the man, he climbed to the roof of the porch and made
his way to the small window of the great room, from which he saw Miss
Ford and the Nash boy in a compromising position. When he tried to enter
the room through the window Carson alleges that he was brutally
assaulted by young Nash, who, by the way, was boxing champion of the
sophomore class at the A. & M. A smashing blow from young Nash’s fist
sent the farmer crashing through the window, and down the sloping roof
to the ground.

“In the fall, Carson’s left leg was broken above the knee. He was still
unconscious when Dr. John E. Salter, a physician living ten miles from
the Carson farm on the road to the capital, arrived at the deserted
farm, summoned by a mysterious male voice by telephone. The sheriff’s
theory, as well as the doctor’s, is that young Nash, fearful that he had
seriously injured the farmer, summoned medical help before leaving with
the girl.

“A warrant for the arrest of David Nash has been issued by the sheriff,
charging the young student with assault with intent to kill and with
contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The warrant for Miss Ford’s
arrest charges moral delinquency. Since she is a ward of the state until
her eighteenth birthday, she is also liable to arrest on the simple
charge of running away from the farm on which the state orphanage
authorities had placed her for the summer.”

Sally, trembling so that her teeth chattered, watched David as he read
the entire story. His young face became more and more grim as he read.
When he had finished the shameful, hideously untrue account of what had
really been a piece of superb gallantry on his part, he crumpled the
paper slowly between the fingers of his big hand as if that hand were
crushing out the life of the man who had lied so monstrously. Then,
lifting a lid of the big coal range, he thrust the crumpled mass of
paper into the flames.

“But—what are we going to do, David?” Sally whispered, her eyes
searching his grim face piteously. “They’ll send me to the reformatory
if they catch me, and you—you—oh, David! They’ll send you to prison for
years and years! I wish you’d never laid eyes on me! I’d rather die than
have you come to harm through me.”

She sagged against the narrow shelf which served as a kitchen table,
weeping forlornly.

“Don’t cry, Sally,” David pleaded gently. “It’s not your fault. I’d do
it all over again if anyone else dared insult you. Oh, the devil! These
onions are burning up! Skip along now and don’t worry. I’m cook tonight.
Buck’s on a spree. Keep a stiff upper lip, honey. In all that brown
paint and that rig, you could walk into the sheriff’s office and he’d do
nothing worse than ask you to read his palm.”

“But you, David, you!” she protested, trying to choke off her sobs.
“You’re not disguised—”

“I’ll stick to the kitchen. Nobody’ll think of looking for me here.” He
grinned at her cheerfully. “Remember, Pop Bybee’s on our side. He took
us in when he thought I’d killed a man. I don’t suppose he’ll turn on us
now, particularly since you’re such a riot as Princess Lalla. I’ve been
hearing how big you’re going over in the Palace of Wonders.”

“Honestly, David?” she brightened. “Do you like me dressed up like
this?” and she made him a little curtsey.

“You sweet, sweet kid!” he laughed at her tenderly. “Like you like that?
You’re adorable! But I like your own wild-rose complexion better. Now
scoot or I’ll be put in irons for spoiling the supper.”

Sally fled, but not before she had blown him an audacious kiss from the
tips of her gilded-nailed fingers.

Winfield Bybee had entered the dining car during her talk with David and
was seated at his own table, his thin, hatchet-faced wife opposite him.
When he saw his new “Princess Lalla” almost skipping down the aisle, her
eyes sparkling with joy at David’s unexpected praise and tenderness, he
muttered something to Mrs. Bybee, then beckoned the fantastically clad
little figure to his table.

“Would her royal highness honor me and Mrs. Bybee with her presence at
dinner this evening?” he boomed, his blue eyes twinkling.

When she had seated herself, after a little flurry of thanks, Bybee
leaned toward her and spoke in a confidential undertone: “Me and the
wife have seen that piece in the papers about you and Dave, Sally. What
about it? Who’s lying? You and the boy—or Carson?”

Sally had turned the little black lace veil back upon the jeweled-gilt
crown, so that her big eyes showed like two round, polished sapphires
set in bronze. Bybee, searching them with his keen, pale blue eyes,
could find in them no guile, no cloud of guilt.

“David and I told you the truth, Mr. Bybee,” she said steadily, but her
lips trembled childishly. “You believe us, don’t you? David is good,
good!”

“All right,” Bybee nodded his acceptance of her truthfulness. “Now what
was that you was telling me and the wife about your mother?”

Sally’s heart leaped with hope. “She—my mother—lived here in Stanton,
Mr. Bybee. I have her address, the one she gave the orphanage twelve
years ago when she put me there. But Miss Pond, who works in the office
at the Home, said they had investigated and found she had moved away
right after she put me in the orphanage. But I thought—I hoped—I could
find out something while I’m here. But I suppose it would be too
dangerous—I might get caught—and they’d send me to the reformatory—”

“Haven’t I told you I’m not going to let ’em bother you?” Bybee chided
her, beetling his brows in a terrific frown. “Now, my idea is this—”

“_My_ idea, Winfield Bybee!” his wife interrupted tartly. “Always taking
credit! That’s you all over! _My_ idea, Sally, is for _me_ to scout
around the neighborhood where your mother used to live and see if I can
pick up any information for you. Land knows a girl alone like you needs
some folks of her own to look after her. Wouldn’t do for you to go
around asking questions, but I’ll make out like I’m trying to find out
where my long-lost sister, Mrs. Ford, is. What was her first name? Got
that, too?”

“Her name was Nora,” Sally said softly. “Mrs. Nora Ford, aged
twenty-eight then—twelve years ago. Oh, Mrs. Bybee, you’re both so good
to me! Why are you so good to me?” she added ingenuously.

“Maybe,” Mrs. Bybee answered brusquely, “it’s because you’re a sweet
kid, without any dirty nonsense about you. That is,” she added severely,
her sharp grey eyes flicking from Sally’s eager face to Bybee’s, “you’d
better not let me catch you making eyes at this old Tom Cat of mine!”

“Now, Ma,” Bybee flushed and squirmed, “don’t tease the poor kid. Can’t
you see she’s clear gone on this Dave chap of her’s? She wouldn’t even
know I was a man if I didn’t wear pants. Don’t mind her, Sally. She’s
your friend, too, and she’ll try to get on your ma’s tracks tomorrow
morning before show time.”



CHAPTER VI


Hours more of “crystal-gazing,” of giving lavish promises of “long
journeys,” success, wealth, sweethearts, husbands, wives, bumper corn
and wheat crops, babies—until eleven o’clock and the merciful dwindling
of the carnival crowds permitted a weary little “Princess Lalla” to slip
out of the “Palace of Wonders” tent, Pitty Sing, the midget woman,
cradled in her arms like a baby. For Pitty Sing had promptly adopted
Sally as her human sedan chair, uncompromisingly dismissing black-eyed
Nita, the “Hula-Hula” dancer, who had previously performed that service
for her.

“I don’t like Nita a bit,” the tiny treble voice informed Sally with
great definiteness. “I do like you, and I shall compensate you
generously for your services. Nita has no proper respect for me, though
I command—and I say it without boasting, I hope—twice the salary that
that indecent muscle-dancer does. And she always joggled me.”

“Poor Pitty Sing!” Sally soothed her, as she picked her way carefully
over the grass stubble to the big dress tent which also served as
sleeping quarters for the women performers of the “Palace of Wonders.”
“Haven’t you anyone to look after you? Anyone belonging to you, I mean?”

“Why should I have?” the indignant little piping voice demanded from
Sally’s shoulder. “I’m a woman grown, as I’ve reminded you before. I’ve
been paying Nita five dollars a week to carry me to and from the show
tent for each performance. Of course there are a few other little things
she does for me, but if you’d like to have the position I think we would
get along very nicely.”

“Oh, I’m sure of it!” Sally exalted, laying her cheek for an instant
against the flaxen, marcelled little head. “Thank you, Pitty Sing, thank
you with all my heart!”

“Please don’t call me ‘Pitty Sing’,” the little voice commanded tartly.
“The name does very well for exhibition purposes, but my name is Miss
Tanner—Elizabeth Matilda Tanner.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Sally protested, hurt and abashed. “I didn’t mean—I—”

“But you may call me Betty.” The treble was suddenly sweet and sleepy
like a child’s. One of the miniature hands fluttered out inadequately to
help Sally part the flaps of the dress tent, which was deserted except
for the fat girl, already asleep and snoring stertorously.

Sally knelt to enable the midget to stand on the beaten down stubble
which served as the only carpet of Sally’s new “dormitory.”

“Thank you, Sally,” the midget piped, her eyes lifted toward Sally out
of a network of wrinkles which testified that she was indeed a “woman
grown.” “You’re a very nice little girl, and your David is one of the
handsomest men I ever saw.”

“_Your David!_” Sally’s heart repeated the words, sang them, crooned
over them, but she did not answer, except with one of her rare, sudden,
sweet smiles.

“Nita evidently thinks so, too,” the weak little treble went on, as
“Pitty Sing” trotted toward her cot, looking like an animated doll. “I
might as well warn you right now, Sally, that I don’t trust that Nita
person as far as I can throw a bull by the horns.”

She flung her dire pronouncement over a tiny, pink-silk shoulder as she
knelt before a small metal trunk and reached into her bosom for a key
suspended around her neck on a chain. Sally’s desire to laugh at the
preposterous picture of the midget throwing a bull by the horns was
throttled by a new and particularly horrid fear.

“What—do you mean, Betty?” she gasped. “Has Nita—”

“—been vamping your David?” tiny Miss Elizabeth Matilda Tanner finished
her sentence for her. “It would not be Nita if she overlooked a prospect
like your David. It is entirely obvious that he is a person of breeding
and family, even if he is helping Buck in the ‘privilege’ car kitchen.
Nita is always so broke that she has to eat her meals in the cook tent,
but she borrowed or stole the money today to eat in the privilege car,
and she found it necessary to confer with your David on a purely
fictitious dietetic problem, and then went boldly into the kitchen to
time the eggs he was boiling for her. That Nita!” the tiny voice snorted
contemptuously. “She’s as strong as a horse and has about as much need
for a special diet as an elephant has for galoshes. Oh, she’s up to her
tricks, not a doubt about that. I just thought I’d warn you in time.
Nita’s a man-eating tigress and once she’s smelled blood—”

“Thank you, Betty,” Sally interrupted gently, as she knelt beside the
midget to help her with the lid of the trunk. “But David isn’t _my_
David, you know. He’s—he’s just a friend who helped me out when I was in
terrible trouble. If Nita likes David, and—he—likes her—”

“Don’t be absurd!” the midget scolded her, seating herself on a tiny
stool to take off her baby-size shoes and stockings. “Of course you’re
in love with him, and he’s crazy about you—a blind person could see
that. Will you untie this shoe-lace, please? My nightgown is in the tray
of the trunk, and you’ll find a nightcap there, too. I wear it,” she
explained severely, on the defensive against ridicule, “to protect my
marcel. Heaven knows it’s hard enough to get a good curl in these hick
towns, with the rubes gaping at me wherever I go. Then please get my
Ibsen—a little green leather book. I’m reading ‘Hedda Gabler’ now. Have
you read it?”

“Oh, yes!” Sally cried, delightedly. “Do you like to read? Could I
borrow it to read between shows? I’ll take awfully good care of it—”

“Certainly I read!” Miss Tanner informed her severely, climbing, with
Sally’s help, into her low cot-bed. “My father, who had these little
books made especially for me, was a university professor. I have
completed the college course, under his tutelage. If he had not died I
should not be here,” and her little eyes were suddenly bitter with
loneliness and resentment against the whimsy of a Providence that
elected to make her so different from other women.

Sally found the miniature book, small enough to fit the midget’s hand,
and gave it to her, then stooped and kissed the little faded, wrinkled
cheek and set about the difficult and unaccustomed task of removing her
make-up. Beside her cot bed she found a small tin steamer trunk,
stencilled in red paint with the magic name, “Princess Lalla.” She
stared at it incredulously for a long minute, then untwisted the wire
holding duplicate keys.

When she threw back the lid she found a shiny black tin make-up box,
containing the burnt-sienna powder Mrs. Bybee had used in making her up
for the first day’s performances; a big can of theatrical cold cream;
squares of soft cheesecloth for removing make-up; two new towels;
mascara, lip rouge, white face powder, a utilitarian black comb and
brush; tooth paste and tooth brush.

“Oh, these kind people!” she whispered to herself, and bent her head
upon the make-up box and wept grateful tears. Then, smiling at herself
and humming a little tune below her breath, she lifted the tray and
found—not the tell-tale dresses which Pearl Carson had given her and
which had been minutely described by the police in the newspaper account
of the near-tragedy on the Carson farm—but two new dresses, cheap but
pretty, the little paper ticket stitched into the neck of each showing
the size to be correct—fourteen.

She was still kneeling before her trunk, blinded with tears of
gratitude, when a coarse, nasal voice slashed across the dress tent:

“Well, strike me dumb, if it ain’t the Princess Lalla in person, not a
movie! Don’t tell me you’re gonna bunk with us, your highness! I thought
you’d be sawing wood in Pop Bybee’s stateroom by this time! What’s the
matter he ain’t rocking you to sleep and giving you your nice little
bottle?”

Sally rose slowly, the new dresses slithering to the floor in stiff
folds. She batted the tears from her eyes with quick flutters of her
eyelids and then stared at the girl who stood at the tent flap, taunting
her.

She saw a thin, tall girl, naked to the waist except for breastplates
made of tarnished metal studded with imitation jewels. About her lean
hips and to her knees hung a skirt of dried grass, the regulation “hula
dancer” skirt.

“You’re—Nita, aren’t you?” Sally’s voice was small, placating. “I’m—”

“Oh, I know who _you_ are! You’re the orphan hussy the police are
lookin’ for!” the harsh voice ripped out, as Nita swung into the tent,
her grass skirts swishing like the hiss of snakes. “Furthermore, you’re
Pop Bybee’s blue-eyed baby girl! And—you’re the baby-faced little
she-devil that stole my graft with that little midget! Well, Princess
Lalla, I guess we’ve been introduced proper now, and we can skip
formalities and get down to business. Hunh?” And she bent menacingly
over Sally, evil black eyes glittering into wide, frightened blue ones,
her mouth an ugly, twisting, red loop of hatred.

Sally backed away, instinctively, from the snake-tongues of venom in
those black eyes. “I’m sorry I’ve offended you, Miss—Nita.—”

“If you’re not you will be! Want me to tip off the police? Well, then,
if you don’t, listen, because I want you to get this—and get it good,
all of it!”

Four girls, two of them thin to emaciation, one over-fat, the fourth as
beautifully shaped as a Greek statue, trailed dispiritedly into the
dress tent, their hands groping to unfasten the snaps of their soiled
silk chorus-girl costumes.

Their heavily rouged and powdered faces were drawn with fatigue; their
eyes like burned holes in once-gay blankets. Sally had watched them
dance, enviously, between her own performances, had heard the barker
ballyhooing them as: “Bybee’s Follies Girls, straight from Broadway and
on their way back to join their pals in Ziegfeld’s Follies.”

Now, weary unto death after eighteen performances, the “Follies” girls
shuffled on aching feet to their cots and seated themselves with groans
and dispirited curses, paying not the faintest attention to the tense
tableau presented by Nita, the “Hula” dancer, and the girl they knew as
“Princess Lalla.”

Sally’s frightened eyes fluttered from one to another of that
bedraggled, pathetic quartet, but she might as well have appealed to the
gaudily painted banners that fluttered over the deserted booths outside.

“What do you want, Nita?” she whispered, moistening her dry lips and
twisting her little brown-painted hands together.

“I’ll tell you fast enough!” Nita snarled, thrusting her face close to
Sally’s. “I want you to give that sheik of yours the gate—get me? Ditch
him, shake him, and I don’t mean maybe!”

For the third time that day Sally was having David Nash, the only friend
she had ever made outside the orphanage, flung into her face as a
sweetheart or worse. Winfield Bybee’s casual words to his wife—“Can’t
you see she’s clear gone on that Dave chap of hers?”—had made her heart
beat fast with a queer, suffocating kind of pleasure, a pleasure she had
never before experienced in her life. Those words had somehow initiated
her into young ladyhood, fraught with strange, lovely, privileges, among
them the right to be “clear gone” on a man—a man like David! The
midget’s “your David” and “Of course you’re in love with him, and he’s
crazy about you—a blind person could see that,” had sent her heart
soaring to heaven, like a toy balloon accidentally released from a
child’s clutch.

But Nita’s “that sheik of yours,” Nita’s venomously spat command, “give
him the gate, ditch him, shake him,” aroused in her a sudden blind fury,
a fury as intense as Nita’s.

“I’ll do no such thing! David’s mine, as long as he wants to be! You
have no right to dictate to me!”

“Is that so?” Nita straightened, hands digging into her hips, a toss of
her ragged, badly curled blond head emphasizing her sarcasm. “Is that
so? Maybe you’ll think I had some right when the cops tap you on the
shoulder tomorrow! Too bad you and your David can’t share a suite in the
county jail together!”

“You’d—you’d do that—to David, too?” Sally whispered over cold lips.

“I thought that’d get under your skin,” Nita laughed harshly. Then, as
though the interview was successfully concluded, from her standpoint,
the red-painted nails of her claw-like hands began to pick at the
fastening of her grass skirt.

Sally was turning away blindly, feeling like a small, trapped animal,
when a tiny, shrill voice came from the midget’s cot:

“I heard every word you said, Nita! I think you must have gone crazy.
The heat affects some like this, but I never saw it strike a carnival
trouper quite so bad—”

“You shut up, you little double-crossing runt!” Nita whirled toward the
midget’s bed.

“I may be a runt,” the midget’s voice shrilled, “but I’m in full
possession of my faculties. And when I tell Winfield Bybee the threats
you’ve made against this poor child, you’ll find yourself stranded in
Stanton without even a grass skirt to earn a living with. And if the
carnival grapevine is still working, you’ll find that no other show in
the country will take you on. It will be back to the hash joints for
you, Nita, and I for one think the carnival will be a neater, sweeter
place without you. Get your make-up off and get into bed, Sally. And
don’t worry. Nita wouldn’t have dared try to bluff a real trouper like
that.”

“For Gawd’s sake, are you all going to jaw all night?” a weary voice,
with a flat, southern drawl demanded indignantly. “I’ve got some
important sleeping to do, if I’m going to show tomorrow. Gawd, I’m so
tired my bones are cracking wide open.”

“Shut up yourself!” Nita snarled, slouching down upon the camp stool
beside her trunk, to remove her make-up. “You hoofers don’t know what
tired means. If you had to jelly all day like I do! Oh, Gawd! What a
life! What a life! You’re right, Midge! It sure gets you—eighteen shows
a day and this hell-fired heat.”

It was Nita’s surrender, or at least her pretended surrender, to the law
of the carnival—live and let live; ask no questions and answer none.

In the thick silence that followed Sally tremblingly seated herself
before her trunk and smeared her neck, face, arms and hands with
theatrical cold cream. She was conscious that other weary girls drifted
in—“the girl nobody can lift,” the albino girl, whose pink eyes were
shaded with big blue goggles; the two diving girls, looking as if their
diet of soda pop and bananas eaten under water did not agree with them.
But she was aware of them, rather than saw them. Stray bits of their
conversation forced through her own conflicting thoughts and emotions—

“Where’s my rabbit foot? Gawd, I’ve lost my rabbit foot! That means a
run of bad luck, sure—”

“—’n I says, ‘Blow, you crazy rube. Whaddye take me for?’”

“Good pickings! If this keeps up I’ll be able to grab my cakes in the
privilege car—sold fifty-eight postcards today—”

“Whaddye know? Gus the barker’s fell something fierce for the new kid.
’N they say Pop Bybee’s got her on percentage, as well as twelve bucks
per and cakes. Some guys has all the luck—”

“Who’s the sheik in the privilege car? Don’t look like no K. P. to me.
Boy howdy! Hear you already staked your claim, Nita. Who is he?
Millionaire’s son gettin’ an eyeful of life in raw?”

She knew that Nita did not answer, at least not in words. Gradually talk
died down; weary bodies stretched their aching length upon hard, sagging
cots. Someone turned out the sputtering gas jet that had ineffectually
illuminated the dress tent. Groans subsided into snores or whistling,
adenoidal breathing. A sudden breeze tugged at the loose sides of the
tent, slapping the canvas loudly against the wooden stakes that held it
down.

Although she was so tired that her muscles quivered and jerked
spasmodically, Sally found that she could not sleep. As if her mind were
a motion-picture screen, the events of the day marched past, in very bad
sequence, like an unassembled film. She saw her own small figure
flitting across the screen fantastically clad in purple satin trousers
and green jacket, her face and arms brown as an Indian’s, her eyes
shielded by a little black lace veil. Crowds of farmers, their wives,
their children; small-town business men, their wives and giggling
daughters and goggle-eyed sons, avid for a glimpse of the naughtiness
which the barker promised behind the tent flap of the “girlie show,”
pressed in upon her, receded, pressed again, thrust out quarters,
demanded magic visions of her—

David, his eyes streaming with onion tears, smiling at her. David
reading that dreadful newspaper story—David of yesterday, saying, “Dear
little Sally!” pressing her against him for a blessed minute—

And Nita, her eyes rabid with sudden, ugly passion—passion for
David—Nita threatening her, threatening David—

David, David! The movie stopped with a jerk, then resolved itself into
an enormous “close-up” of David Nash, his eyes smiling into hers with
infinite gentleness and tenderness.

“Does he think I’m just a little girl, too young to—to be in love or to
be loved?” she asked herself, audacious in the dark. “If—if he was at
all in love with me—but oh, he couldn’t be!—would he be so friendly and
easy with me? Wouldn’t he be embarrassed, and blush, and—and things like
that? Oh, I’m just being silly! He doesn’t think of me at all except as
a little girl who’s in trouble. A girl alone, as he calls me.”

Then a new memory banished even the “close-up” of David on the screen of
her mind—a memory called up by those words—“girl alone.” She felt that
she ought to weep with shame and contrition because she had so long
half-forgotten Mrs. Bybee’s promise to make inquiries about her
mother—the mother who had given her to the orphanage twelve years
before, leaving behind her only a meager record—“Mrs. Nora Ford, aged
twenty-eight.”

So little in those words with which to conjure up a mother! She would be
forty now, if—if she were still alive! Suddenly all her twelve years of
orphanhood, of longing for a mother, even for a mother who would desert
her child and go away without a word, rushed over Sally like an
avalanche of bruising stones. Every hurt she had sustained during all
those twelve motherless years throbbed with fresh violence; drew hard
tears that dripped upon the lumpy cotton pillow beneath her tossing
head.

When the paroxysm of weeping had somewhat subsided she crept out of her
cot and knelt beside it and prayed.

Then she crept back into bed, unconscious that the midget was still
awake and had seen her dimly in the darkness. Strangely free of her
burdens, Sally lay for a long time before sleep claimed her, trying to
remember all the instructions about crystal-gazing that Mrs. Bybee had
heaped upon her. And in her childish conscience there was no twinge or
remorse that she was to go on the next day, deceiving the public, as
“Princess Lalla, favorite crystal-gazer of the Sultan of Turkey.”

The next morning—the carnival’s second and last day in Stanton—Sally
overslept. She did not awaken until a tiny hand tugged impatiently at
her hair. Her dark blue eyes flew wide in startled surprise, then
recognition of her surroundings and of “Pitty Sing,” the midget, dawned
in them slowly.

“You looked so pretty asleep that I hated to awaken you,” the midget
told her. “But it’s getting late, and I want my breakfast. I’m dressed.”

The little woman wore a comically mature-looking dress of blue linen,
made doll-size, by a pattern which would have suited a woman of forty.
Sally impulsively took the tiny face between her hands and laid her lips
for an instant against the softly wrinkled cheek. Then she sprang out of
bed, careful not to “joggle” the midget, who had been so emphatic about
her distaste for being joggled.

“There’s a bucket of water and a tin basin,” Miss Tanner told her
brusquely, to hide the pleasure which Sally’s caress had given her. “All
the other girls have gone to the cook tent, so you can dress in peace.”

“I didn’t thank you properly last night for taking my part against
Nita,” Sally said shyly, as she hastily drew on her stockings. “But I do
thank you, Betty, with all my heart. I was so frightened—for David—”

“What I said to Nita will hold her for a while.” Betty Tanner nodded
with satisfaction. “But I don’t trust her. She’ll do something underhand
if she thinks she can get away with it. But don’t worry. Once the
carnival gets out of this state, you and your David will be pretty safe.
I don’t think the police will bother about extradition, even if Nita
should tip them off. In the meantime, I’ll break the first law of
carnival and try to learn something of Nita’s past. I’ve seen her turn
pale more than once when a detective or a policeman loomed up
unexpectedly and seemed to be giving her the once-over. Oh, dear, I’m
getting to be as slangy as any of the girls,” she mourned.

After Sally had splashed in the tin basin and had combed and braided her
hair, she hesitated for a long minute over the two new dresses that had
mysteriously found their way into the equally mysterious new tin trunk.
She caught herself up at the thought. Of course they were not
mysterious. “Pop” and Mrs. Bybee had provided them, out of the infinite
kindness of their hearts. Were they always so kind to the carnival’s new
recruits? Gratitude welled up in her impressionable young heart;
overflowed her lips in song, as she dressed herself in the little white
voile, splashed with tiny blue and yellow wild flowers.

Last night’s breeze had brought with it a light, cooling shower, and
still lingered under the hot caress of the June sun. Sally sang, at
Betty’s request, as she sped across vacant lots to the show train
resting engineless on a spur track. At the sound of her fresh, young
voice, caroling an old song of summertime and love, David Nash thrust
his head out of the little high window in the box of a kitchen at the
end of the dining car, and waved an egg-beater at her, lips and teeth
and eyes flashing gay greetings to her.

“Better tell your David how Nita’s been carrying on,” the midget piped
from Sally’s shoulder.

Song fled from Sally’s throat and heart. “No,” she shook her head. She
couldn’t be a tattle-tale. If the orphanage had taught her nothing else
it had taught her not to be a tale-bearer. Besides, to talk of Nita and
her threats would make it necessary to tell David all that Nita had
said, and at the thought Sally’s cheeks went scarlet. It might kill his
friendship for her to let him know that others—apparently all the
carnival folk—had labeled that friendship “love.” Why couldn’t they let
her and David alone? Why snatch up this beautiful thing, this precious
friendship, and maul it about, sticking labels all over it until it was
ruined?

She had placed the midget in her own little high chair at her own
particular table in the privilege car and was hurrying down the car
bound for the cook tent and her own breakfast when Winfield Bybee and
his wife entered. Mrs. Bybee was dressed as if for a journey of
importance.

Winfield Bybee boomed out a greeting to Sally, tilting his head to peer
into her smiling blue eyes.

“All dolled up and looking pretty enough to eat,” he chuckled. “Ain’t
that a new dress?”

“Oh, yes, and it fits perfectly,” Sally glowed. “Thanks so very much for
the trunk and the dresses, Mrs. Bybee,” she added, tactfully addressing
the showman’s wife. “I—I’ll pay you back out of my salary as I make it—”

“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Bybee demanded sternly, her eyes
flashing from Sally’s flushed face to her husband’s. “I never bought you
any dresses or a trunk. Now, you looka here, Winfield Bybee! I’m a woman
of few words, and of a long-suffering disposition, but even a saint
knows when she’s got a stomachful! I swallowed your mealy-mouthed
palaverin’ about this poor little orphan, but if you’re sneaking around
and buying her presents behind my back, I’ll turn her right over to the
state and not lose a wink of sleep, and let me tell you this, Winfield
Bybee—” Her words were a rushing torrent, heated to the boiling point by
jealousy and suspicion.

Sally tried to speak, to interrupt her, but she might as well have tried
to stop the Niagara. Under the force of the torrent Sally at last bowed
her head, shrinking against the wall of the car, the very picture of
detected guilt. The carnival owner gasped and waved his arms helplessly,
tried to pat his wife’s hands and had his own slapped viciously for his
pains. When at last Mrs. Bybee paused for breath, and to mop her
perspiring face with her handkerchief, Bybee managed to get in his
defense, doggedly, his bluster wilted under his wife’s tongue lashing:

“You’re crazy, Emma! I didn’t buy her any presents. I never saw that
dress before in my life. I don’t know what you or she’s talking about. I
didn’t buy her anything! I—oh, good Lord!” He tried to put his arms
about his wife, his face so strutted with blood that Sally felt a faint
wonder, through her misery, that apoplexy did not strike him down.

“What’s the matter, Sally?” David came striding out of the kitchen, a
butcher knife in one hand and a slab of breakfast bacon in the other.

“I don’t know, David,” she whispered forlornly. “I—I was just thanking
Mrs. Bybee for this dress and another one and a trunk I found in the
dress tent with my name on it—‘Princess Lalla’—” she stammered over the
name—“and Mrs. Bybee says she didn’t give them to me.”

“He thought he’d put something over on me, and me all dressed up like a
missionary to go look for her precious mother. I guess her mother wasn’t
any better than she should have been and this little soft-soap artist
takes after her,” Mrs. Bybee broke in stridingly, but her angry eyes
lost something of their conviction under David’s level gaze.

“I bought the things for Sally, Mrs. Bybee,” he said quietly. “I should
have told her, or put my card in. Unfortunately I didn’t have one with
me,” he added with a boyish grin.

“Oh!” Anger spurted out of Mrs. Bybee’s jealous heart like air let out
of a balloon. “Reckon I’m just an old fool! God knows I don’t see why I
should care what this old woman-chaser of a husband of mine does, but—I
do! If you’re ever in love, Sally, you’ll understand a foolish old woman
a little better. Now, young man, you take that murderous looking knife
and that bacon back into the kitchen and scramble a couple of eggs for
me. And I guess you can give Pop a rasher of that bacon, even if it is
against the doctor’s orders.”

And the showman, beaming again and throwing “Good mornings” right and
left, marched down the aisle, his arm triumphantly about his repentant
wife’s shoulders.

Sally watched them for a moment, a lovely light of tenderness and
understanding playing over her sensitive face. Then she turned to David,
who had not yet obeyed Mrs. Bybee’s command. They smiled into each
other’s eyes, shyly, and the flush that made Sally’s face rosy was
reflected in the boy’s tanned cheeks.

“I’m sorry, David, I didn’t dream it was—you. Thank you, David.” She
could not keep from repeating his name, dropping it like a caress at the
end of almost every sentence she addressed to him, as if her lips kissed
the two slow, sweet syllables.

“I should have told you,” David confessed in a low voice, slightly
shaken with embarrassment and some other emotion which flickered behind
the smile in his gold-flecked hazel eyes. “I—I thought you’d know. You
needed the things and I knew you didn’t have any money. I’ve got to get
back into the kitchen,” he added hastily, awkwardly. She had never seen
him awkward in her presence before, and she was daughter of Eve enough
to rejoice. And in her shy joy her face blossomed with sudden rich
beauty that made Nita, the Hula dancer, who appeared in the doorway at
that moment, look old and tawdry and bedraggled, like the last ragged
sunflower withering against a kitchen fence.

But not even Nita’s flash of hatred and veiled warning could blight that
sudden sweet blooming of Sally’s beauty. She waved goodby to David,
carrying away with her as she sped to the cook tent the heart-filling
sweetness and tenderness of his answering smile. She took out the memory
of that smile and of his boyish flush and awkwardness a hundred times
during the morning, to look at in fresh wonder, as a child repeatedly
unearths a bit of buried treasure to be sure that it is still there.

When she bent her little head gravely over the crystal, after the
carnival had opened for the day, she saw in it not other people’s
“fortunes” but David’s flushed face, David’s shy, tender eyes, David’s
lips curled upward in a smile. And because she was so happy she lavished
happiness upon all those who thrust quarters upon Gus, the barker, for
“Princess Lalla’s” mystic reading of “past, present and future.”

She had almost forgotten, in her preoccupation with the miracle which
had happened to her—for she knew now that she loved David, not as a
child loves, but as a woman loves—that Mrs. Bybee was undoubtedly
keeping her promise to make inquiries about the woman who had given her
name as Mrs. Nora Ford when she had committed Sally Ford to the care of
the state twelve years before. But she was sharply reminded and filled
with remorse for her forgetfulness when Gus, the barker, leaned close
over her at the end of a performance to whisper:

“The boss’ ball-and-chain wants to see you in the boss’ private car,
kid. Better beat it over there before you put on the nose bag. Next show
at one-fifteen, if we can bally-hoo a crowd by then. You can tell her
that Gus says you’re going great!”

As Sally ran across lots to the side-tracked carnival train, she buried
her precious new memory of David under layers of anxiety and questions.
It would still be there when her question had been answered by Mrs.
Bybee, to comfort her if the showman’s wife had been unsuccessful, to
add to her joy if some trace of her mother had been found.

“Maybe—maybe I’ll have a mother and a sweetheart, too,” she marveled, as
she climbed breathless, into the coach which had been pointed out to her
as the showman’s private car.

It was not really a private car, for Bybee and his wife occupied only
one of the drawing rooms of the ancient Pullman car, long since retired
from the official service of that company. The berths were occupied on
long jumps by a number of the stars of the carnival and by some of the
most affluent of the concessionaires and barkers, a few of the latter
being part owners of such attractions as the “girlie show” and the
“diving beauties.” When the carnival showed in a town for more than a
day, however, the performers usually preferred to sleep in tents, rather
than in the stuffy, hot berths.

Since the carnival was in full swing at that hour of the day, Sally
found the sleeping car deserted except for Mrs. Bybee, who called to her
from the open door of drawing room A.

The carnival owner’s wife was seated at a card table, which was covered
with stacks of coins and bills of all denominations. Her lean fingers
pushed the stacks about, counted them, jotted the totals on a sheet of
lined paper.

“I’m treasurer and paymaster for the outfit,” she told Sally,
satisfaction glinting in her keen gray eyes. “Me and Bill,” and she
lifted a big, blue-barreled revolver from the faded green plush of the
seat and twirled it unconcernedly on her thumb.

“Is business good?” Sally asked politely, as she edged fearfully into
the small room.

“Might be worse,” Mrs. Bybee conceded grudgingly. “Sit down, child, I’m
not going to shoot you. Well, I went calling this morning,” she added
briskly, as she began to rake the stacks of coins into a large canvas
bag.

“Oh!” Sally breathed, clasping her hands tightly in her lap. “Did
you—find anything?”

Mrs. Bybee knotted a stout string around the gathered-up mouth of the
bag, rose from her seat, lifted the green plush cushion, revealing a
small safe beneath the seat. When she had stowed the bag away and
twirled the combination lock, she rearranged the cushion and took her
seat again, all without answering Sally’s anxious question.

“Reckon I’m a fool to let anyone see where I keep the coin,” she
ridiculed herself. “But after making a blamed fool of myself this
morning over them dresses your David give you, I guess I’d better try to
do something to show you I trust you. You just keep your mouth shut
about this safe, and there won’t be any harm done.”

“Of course I won’t tell,” Sally assured her earnestly. “But, please, did
you find out anything?” She felt that she could not bear the suspense a
minute longer.

“You let me tell this my own way, child,” Mrs. Bybee reproved her.
“Well, you saw that missionary rig I had on this morning? It turned the
trick all right. Lucky for you, this ain’t the fastest growing town in
the state, even if that billboard across from the station does say so. I
found the address you gave me, all right. Same number, same house.
Four-or-five-room dump, that may have been a pretty good imitation of a
California bungalow twelve years ago. All run-down now, with a swarm of
kids tumbling in and out and sticking out their tongues at me when their
ma’s back was turned. She said she’d lived there two years; moved here
from Wisconsin. Didn’t know a soul in Stanton when she moved here, and
hadn’t had time to get acquainted with a new baby every fourteen
months.”

“Poor thing!” Sally murmured, finding pity in her heart for the
bedraggled drudge Mrs. Bybee’s words pictured so vividly. But those
too-numerous babies had a mother. What she wanted to know was—did she,
Sally Ford, have a mother?

Then a memory, so long submerged that she did not realize that it
existed in her subconscious mind, pushed up, spilled out surprisingly:
“There was a big oak tree in the corner of the yard. I used to swing.
Someone pushed the swing—someone—” she fumbled for more, but the memory
failed.

“It’s still there, and there’s still a swing,” Mrs. Bybee admitted. “One
of those dirty-faced little brats was climbing up and down the ropes
like a monkey. Well, I reckon that’s where you used to live, right
enough. I asked this woman—name of Hickson—if any of her neighbors had
lived there many years, and she pointed to the house next door and said
‘Old Lady Bangs’ owned the house and had lived there for more’n twenty
years. This old Mrs. Bangs—”

“Bangs!” Sally cried. “Bangs! It was Gramma Bangs who swung me! I
remember now! Gramma Bangs. She made me a rag doll with shoe-button eyes
and I cried every night for a long time after I went to the orphanage
because mama hadn’t brought my doll. Did you see Gramma Bangs? Oh, Mrs.
Bybee, if I could go to see her again!”

Mrs. Bybee’s stern, long, hatchet-shaped face had softened marvelously,
but at Sally’s eager request she shook her head emphatically.

“Not with the police looking for you and Dave. Yes, I saw her. She’s all
crippled up with rheumatism and was tickled to death to see Nora Ford’s
sister. That’s who I said I was, you know. But it pretty near got me
into trouble. The old lady took it for granted I knew a lot of things
about you that I didn’t know, and wouldn’t have told me just what I’d
come to find out if I hadn’t used my bean in stringing her along. I had
to go mighty easy asking her about you, since it was my ‘sister’ I was
supposed to be so het up over finding, but lucky for you she’d been
reading the papers and knew that you were in trouble.”

“Oh!” Sally moaned, covering her hot face with her little brown-painted
hands. “Then Gramma Bangs thinks I’m a bad girl—oh! Did you tell her I’m
not?”

“What do you take me for—a blamed fool?” Mrs. Bybee demanded heatedly.
“I didn’t let on I’d ever seen you in my life. But it was something she
let spill when she was talking about you and this story in the papers
that give me the low-down on the whole thing.”

“Oh, what?” Sally implored, almost frantic with impatience.

“Well, she said, ‘You can’t blame Nora for putting Sally in the
orphanage when the money stopped coming, seeing as how she was sick and
needing an operation and everything. But it pret’ near broke her
heart’—that’s what the old dame said—”

“But—I don’t understand,” Sally protested, her sapphire eyes clouding
with bewilderment. “The money? Did she mean my—father?”

“I thought that at first, too.” Mrs. Bybee nodded her bobbed gray head
with satisfaction. “But lucky I didn’t say so, or I’d have give the
whole show away. I just ‘yes, indeeded’ her, and she went on. Reckon she
thought I might be taking exceptions to the way she’d been running on
about how pitiful it was for ’that dear little child’ to be put in an
orphans’ home, so she tried to show me that my ‘sister’ had done the
only thing she could do under the circumstances.

“Pretty soon it all come out. ‘Nora,’ she said, ‘told me not to breathe
a word to a soul, but seeing as how you’re her sister and probably know
all about it, I reckon it won’t do no harm after all these years.’ Then
she told me that Nora Ford had no more idea’n a jack rabbit whose baby
you was—”

“Then she wasn’t my mother!” Sally cried out in such a heartbroken voice
that Mrs. Bybee reached across the card table and patted her hands,
dirty diamonds twinkling on her withered fingers.

“No, she wasn’t your mother,” the showman’s wife conceded with brusque
sympathy. “But I can’t see as how it leaves you any worse off than you
was before. One thing ought to comfort you—you know it wasn’t your own
mother that turned you over to an orphanage and then beat it, leaving no
address. Seems like,” she went on briskly, “from what old lady Bangs
told me, that Nora Ford had been hired to take you when she was a maid
in a swell home in New York, and she had to beat it—that was part of the
agreement—so there never would be any scandal on your real mother. She
didn’t know whose kid you was—so the old lady says—and when the money
orders stopped coming suddenly she didn’t have the least idea how to
trace your people. She supposed they was dead—and I do, too. So it looks
like you’d better make up your mind to being an orphan—”

“But, oh, Mrs. Bybee!” Sally cried piteously, her eyes wide blue pools
of misery and shame. “My real mother must have been—bad, or she wouldn’t
have been ashamed of having me! Oh, I wish I hadn’t found out!” And she
laid her head down on her arms on the card table and burst into tears.

“Don’t be a little fool!” Mrs. Bybee admonished her severely. “Reckon it
ain’t up to you, Sally Ford, to set yourself up in judgment on your
mother, whoever she was.”

“But she sent me away,” Sally sobbed brokenly. “She was ashamed of me,
and then forgot all about me. Oh, I wish I’d never been born!”

“I reckon every kid’s said that a hundred times before she’s old enough
to have good sense,” Mrs. Bybee scoffed. “Now, dry up and scoot to the
dress tent to put some more make-up on your face. The show goes on. And
take it from me, child, you’re better off than a lot of girls that join
up with the carnival. You’re young and pretty and you’ve got a boy
friend that’d commit murder for you and pret’ near did it, and you’ve
got a job that gives you a bed and cakes, and enough loose change to buy
yourself some glad rags by the time we hit the Big Town—”

“The Big Town?” Sally raised her head, interest dawning unwillingly in
her grieving blue eyes. “You mean—New York?”

“Sure I mean New York. We go into winter quarters there in November, and
if you stick to the show I may be able to land you a job in the chorus.
God knows you are pretty enough—just the type to make every six-footer
want to fight any other man that looks at you.”

“Oh, you’re good to me!” Sally blinked away the last of her tears, which
had streaked her brown make-up. “I’ll stick, if the police don’t get
me—and David. And,” she paused at the door, her eyes shy and sweet,
“thank you so very much for trying to help me find my—my mother.”

As she sped down the aisle of the car in her noiseless little red
sandals she was startled to see what looked like a sheaf of yellow,
dried grass whisked through the closing door of the women’s dressing
room. Then comprehension dawned. “I wonder,” she took time from the
contemplation of her desolating disappointment to muse, “what Nita is
doing here. I wonder if she followed me—if she heard anything I wouldn’t
want Nita to know about my mother. But I’ll tell David. Will he despise
me because my mother was—bad?”



CHAPTER VII


It was a sad, listless little “Princess Lalla” who cupped tiny brown
hands about a crystal ball and pretended to read “past, present and
future” in its mysterious depths as the afternoon crowd of the
carnival’s last day in Stanton milled about the attractions in the
Palace of Wonders. There was the crack of an unsuspected whip in the
voice of Gus, the barker, as he bent over her after his oft-repeated
spiel:

“Snap into it, kid! These rubes is lousy with coin and we’ve got to get
our share. You’re crabbin’ the act somethin’ fierce’s afternoon. Step on
it!”

Sally made a valiant effort to obey, but her crystal-gazing that
afternoon was not a riotous success. She made one or two bad blunders,
the worst of which caused a near-panic.

For she was so absorbed in her own disappointment and in contemplating
the effect of her news upon David, when she should tell him that she was
an illegitimate child of a woman who had abandoned her, that her eyes
and intuition were not so keen as they had been.

Although there had been a sharp-faced shrew of a wife clinging to his
arm before he vaulted upon the platform for a “reading,” she
mechanically told a meek little middle-aged man that he was in love with
a “zo beau-ti-ful girl wiz golden hair” and that he would “marry wiz
her.”

After the poor husband had been snatched from the platform by his
furiously jealous wife and given a most undignified paddling with her
hastily removed shoe—an “added attraction” which proved vastly
entertaining to the carnival crowd but which caused a good many quarters
to find their hasty way back into handbags and trouser pockets—Sally
felt her failure so keenly that she leaned backward in an effort to be
cautious.

“For God’s sake, kid, snap out of it before the next show!” Gus pleaded,
mopping his dripping brow with a huge purple-bordered white silk
handkerchief. “I’m part owner of this tent, you know, and you’re hittin’
me where I live. Come on, ’at’s a good girl! Forget it—whatever’s eatin’
on you! This ain’t a half-bad world—not a-tall! What if that sheik of
yours is trailin’ Nita around? Reckon he’s just after her grouch bag—”

“Her—grouch bag?” Sally seized upon the unfamiliar phrase in order to
put off as long as possible full realization of the heart-stopping news
he was giving her so casually.

“That’s right. You’re still a rube, ain’t you? A grouch bag is a show
business way of sayin’ a performer’s got a wad salted down to blow with
or buy a chicken farm or, if it’s a hard-on-the-eyes dame like Nita, to
catch a man with. Nita’s got a roll big enough to choke a boa
constrictor. I seen her countin’ it one night when she thought she was
safe. She was, too. I wouldn’t warm up to that Jane if she was the last
broad in the world. Now, listen, kid, you have a good, hard cry in the
dress tent before the next show and you’ll feel like a new woman. That’s
me all over! Never tell a wren to turn off the faucet! Nothin’ like a
good cry. I ain’t been married four times for nothin’.”

Sally waited to hear no more. She rushed out of the Palace of Wonders, a
frantic, fantastic little figure in purple satin trousers and
gold-braided green jacket, her red-sandled feet spurning the
grass-stubbled turf that divided the show tent from the dress tent. And
because she was almost blinded with the tears which Gus, the barker, had
sagely recommended, she collided with another figure in the “alley.”

“Look where you’re going, you little charity brat, you ——” And Nita’s
harsh, metallic voice added a word which Sally Ford had sometimes seen
scrawled in chalk on the high board fence that divided the boys’
playground from the girls’ at the orphanage.

So Nita had listened! She had been eavesdropping when Mrs. Bybee had
told Sally the shameful things she had learned from Gramma Bangs about
Sally’s birth.

“You can’t call me that!” Sally gasped, rage flaming over her,
transforming her suddenly from a timid, brow-beaten child of charity
into a wildcat.

Before Nita, the Hula dancer, could lift a hand to defend herself, a
small purple-and-green clad fury flung itself upon her breast; gilded
nails on brown-painted fingers flashed out, were about to rip down those
painted, sallow cheeks like the claws of the wildcat she had become when
powerful hands seized her by the shoulders and dragged her back.

“What t’ell’s going on here?” Gus, the barker, panted as Sally struggled
furiously, still insane with rage at the insult Nita had flung at her.

“Better keep this she-devil out of my sight, Gus, or I’ll cut her heart
out!” Nita panted, adjusting the grass skirt, which Sally’s furious
onslaught had torn from the dancer’s hips, exposing the narrow red satin
tights which ended far above her thin, unlovely knees.

“I’m surprised at you, Sally,” Gus said severely, but his small eyes
twinkled at her. “Next time you’re having a friendly argument with this
grass-skirt artist, for Gawd’s sake settle it by pulling her hair. The
show’s gotta go on and some of these rubes like her map. Don’t ask me
why. I ain’t good at puzzles.”

Sally smiled feebly, the passing of her rage having left her feeling
rather sick and foolish. Gus’s arm was still about her shoulders, in a
paternal sort of fondness, as Nita switched away, her grass skirt
hissing angrily.

“Kinda foolish of you, Sally, to pick a fight with that dame. She
could-a ruint this pretty face of yours. She’s a bad mama, honey, and
you’d better make yourself scarce when she’s around. And say, kid—take a
tip from old Gus: no sheik ain’t worth fightin’ for. I been fought over
myself considerable in my time, and believe me, while two frails was
fightin’ for me I was lookin’ for another one.”

Sally felt shriveled with shame. “I wasn’t fighting her because of—of
David,” she muttered, digging the toe of one little red sandal into the
dusty grass of the show lot. “Nita called me a—a nasty name. You’d have
fought, too!”

“Sure! but not with a dame like Nita, if I was you! You ain’t no match
for her. Now, you trot along to the dress tent and rest or cry or say
your prayers or anything you want to—except fight!—till show time again.
And for God’s sake, don’t turn your back when Nita’s around!”

Sally did not see the Hula dancer again that afternoon, for Nita
belonged to the “girlie show,” which had a tent all its own. To
encourage her in her confidence as a crystal-gazer, or rather to bolster
up the faith of the skeptical audience, which had somehow become wise to
the fact that “Princess Lalla” had “pulled some bones,” Gus, the barker,
arranged for four or five “schillers”—employes of the carnival, both men
and women, dressed to look like members of the audience—to have their
fortunes told.

Sally, tipped off by a code signal of Gus’s, let her imagination run
riot as she read the magic crystal for the “schillers,” and to
everything she told them they nodded their heads or slapped their thighs
in high appreciation, loudly proclaiming that “Princess Lalla” was a
wow, a witch, the grandest little fortune-teller in the world. Business
picked up amazingly; quarters were thrust upon Gus with such speed that
he had to form a line of applicants for “past, present and future” upon
Sally’s platform.

She did not see David at supper, while she ate in the cook tent after
having carried “Pitty Sing,” the midget, to the privilege car. Buck, the
negro chef of the privilege car grinned at her, but David was nowhere to
be seen. Was he “trailin’ Nita,” as Gus, the barker, had called it?
Jealousy laid a hand of pain about her heart, such a sort of pain that
she wanted, childishly, to stop and examine it. It claimed instant
fellowship in her heart with that other so-new emotion—love. She wanted
all afternoon, until Gus had stopped her heart for a beat or two with
his casual reference to David and Nita, to fly to David for comfort, to
pour out her news to him. She had heard, in anticipation, his softly
spoken, tender “Dear little Sally! Don’t mind too much. We have each
other.” So far had her imagination run away with her!

It was the last evening of the carnival in Stanton, and money rolled
into the pockets of the concessionaires and the showmen.

“Last chance to see the tallest man on earth and the littlest woman!
Last chance, folks!”

It was already a little old to Sally—the spieler’s ballyhoo. She could
have repeated it herself. Glamor was fading from the carnival. The
dancing girls were not young and beautiful, as they had seemed at first;
they had never danced on Broadway in Ziegfeld’s Follies; they never
would. They were oldish-young women who sneered at the “rubes” and had
calluses on the bottoms of their aching feet from dancing on rough board
platforms.

Just before the last show Sally wandered out into the midway from the
Palace of Wonders, money in her hand which Pop Bybee had advanced to
her. But it was lonely “playing the wheels” all by herself, and although
Eddie Cobb fixed it so that she won a big Kewpie doll with pink maline
skirts and saucy, marcelled red hair, there was little thrill in its
possession. When a forlornly weeping little girl stopped her tears to
gape covetously at the treasure, Sally gave it up without a pang, and
wandered on to the salt water taffy stand, where one of her precious
nickels went for a small bag of the tooth-resisting sweet.

She no longer minded or noticed the crowd that collected and followed
her—wherever she went; she had become used to it already. The crowd did
not interest her, for it did not hold David, who was forced to hide
ignominiously in the show train, for fear the heavy hand of a local
constable would close menacingly over his shoulder. At the thought Sally
shuddered and flung away her taffy. They would be leaving Stanton
tonight, leaving danger behind them. It had not occurred to her to ask
where the show train was going. But it was going away, away. David could
come out of hiding. Bybee had said the authorities in other states
wouldn’t be interested in a couple of minors who had done nothing worse
than “bust a farmer’s leg and beat it—”

“What kinda burg is the capital?” she was startled to hear a hot-dog
concessionaire call to the ticket-seller for the ferris wheel.

“Pretty good pickin’s,” the ticket-seller answered. “We run into a spell
of bad weather there last year and it was a Jonah town, but it looks
good this season. The Kidder says he has to plank down half a grand for
the lot—the dirty bums—them city councillors.”

“We’re going to the capital next?” Sally leaned over the counter to ask
the hot-dog man.

“Sure, kid. Didn’t you know? I heard you come from that burg. Old home
week for Eddie, too. You and him going out to give the old homestead the
once-over?”

Sally did not wait to answer. Although it was almost time for the last
show the little red sandals flew toward the side-tracked show train—and
David. Her jealousy, even her just-realized love for him, were
forgotten. There was only fear—fear of iron bars and shameful uniforms,
iron bars which would cage David’s superb young body and break his
spirit; fear of the reformatory, in which she would again become a
dull-eyed unit in a hopeless army, but branded now with a shameful
scarlet letter which she did not deserve.

They couldn’t go to the capital city where they were both known; they
would have to run away again, walk all night through the dark, fugitives
from “justice.”

                                  ————

“Poor kid!” David consoled her after her first almost hysterical
outburst. “I can’t talk to you now, and you shouldn’t be here. You’ve
got to go back for your last performance. The show has to go on. They’ve
been decent to us, and we can’t throw them over without warning.”

“But David, we’ve got to run away again!” Sally whimpered, clinging to
both his arms, bare to the shoulders in anticipation of his work in
helping to load the carnival for its thirty-mile drag to the capital.
“We can’t go back to Capital City! We’ll be caught! Listen, David—”

“Go back to your show tent,” David commanded her sternly. “I’ll be
working pretty late helping to load up, but I’ll whistle a bar from
‘Always’ under your Pullman window. We all sleep on the train tonight,
and pull out for Capital City some time before morning. We pick up the
engine at three o’clock, I believe. Plenty of time then to decide what
to do.” He shook her a little to make her stop shivering and whimpering
with fear. “Buck up, honey! I’m not going to let the police get you;
neither is Pop Bybee. Dear little Sally!” and he stooped from his great
height to brush the tip of her short, brown-powdered nose with his lips.

During the last performance in the Palace of Wonders a village
constable, his star shining importantly from the lapel of his Palm Beach
suit, sauntered leisurely through the tent, eyeing the freaks with
skeptical amusement and asking all the Smart-Aleck questions which the
more timid members of the carnival crowd longed to ask and did not dare.

“Bet you wouldn’t let me put any of that glass you’re eatin’ in my
coffee,” he guffawed to the ostrich man whom Gus, the barker, was
ballyhooing at the moment. “I’m on to all you guys. Rock candy, ain’t
it?”

“Sure, officer,” Gus interrupted his spiel to answer deferentially.
“Won’t you have a little snack with the human ostrich? I particularly
recommend these nails. Boffo eats only the choicest sixpenny nails; will
accept no substitutes. And if a nail’s rusty, out with it! Sort of an
epicure, Boffo is! Have a handful of glass and nails with Boffo,
officer! Bighearted, that Boffo!”

The constable refused hastily and the crowd roared with delight. The
discomfited officer of the law ambled over to make his disparaging
inspection of Jan, the giant from Holland.

“Pull up your pants legs and let me see your stilts,” the constable
ordered authoritatively. “I ain’t the sucker you guys think I am. I’m on
to your tricks—been going to carnivals man and boy for fifty years.”

With his eyes as remote and sad and patient as if he had not heard or
understood a word of the constable’s insult, Jan obeyed, rolling his
trousers to the knees. When the Doubting Thomas representative of the
law had pinched the pale, putty-colored flesh of Jan’s pitifully thin
calves and found them to be flesh-and-blood indeed, he passed on, red of
face, furious at the snorts of laughter which filled the tent.

“What if he takes a notion to wash my face?” Sally shivered, bending
low, in an attitude of mystic concentration, over the crystal which she
was pretending to read for a farmer’s wife who had no interest in Boffo,
the human ostrich, but who did have perfect faith in the powers of
“Princess Lalla.” “What if he is just pretending to be interested in the
other freaks and is really looking for me? Has Nita dared to tip him off
that Sally Ford is here?”

But her little sing-song voice droned on, predicting prosperity and
happiness and “a journey by land and sea” for the credulous farmer’s
wife.

“What’s your real name, sister?” the constable demanded loudly,
officiously, stamping up the steps that led to the little platform.

“Please,” Sally pleaded prettily, making her eyes wide and cloudy with
mystic visions, “do not een-terr-upt! The veesion she will go away!”

“You let her alone, Sam Pelton!” the farmer’s wife commanded tartly. “Go
on, Princess Lalla. I think you’re just wonderful—knowing about my
mother being dead and even her name and all.”

And Sally continued the reading with Constable Pelton breathing audibly
upon her neck as she bent her small head gravely over the crystal. When
she could think of nothing else to tell the highly pleased woman, she
was desperate. It seemed to her that everyone in the tent was looking at
her, reading panic in her trembling fingers, in her fluttering eyelids.

“Gimme a knockdown to my past, present and future, Sister,” the
constable suggested with heavy sarcasm and jocularity. “Reckon an
officer of the law don’t have to pay. And you’d better make it a good
one, or I’ll run you in for obtaining money under false pretenses. Come
on, now! Miz Holtzman has already give you a good tip-off, and I guess
my star speaks for itself. Knowing my name and my business, you oughta
be able to fake a pretty good line for me, but if you don’t tell me my
wife’s name, how many kids I got, where I come from, and anything else
I’m a-mind to ask you, I’ll make you a present of free board and lodging
at the county’s expense.”

Unknown to Sally, whose eyes were fixed, blind with fear, upon the
crystal tightly cupped in her ice-cold palms, Gus, the barker, had drawn
near enough to hear the constable’s threats and demands.

“Sure, officer!” he boomed heartily, to Sally’s amazement, “just ask the
little lady anything you like. She sees all, knows all. Step right up,
folks, and hear Princess Lalla, favorite crystal-gazer to the Sultan of
Turkey before she escaped from his harem, tell your fellow-townsman,
Constable Sam Pelton, the truth, the whole truth and something besides
the truth—a few things that are going to happen to him that Officer Sam
don’t yet dream of! Step right up, folks! Don’t be bashful! Step up and
get an earful about your esteemed fellow-townsman and officer of the
law—”

Sally felt the ice melting slowly in her veins. Dear Gus! He was
stalling, gaining time, subtly frightening the constable, whose face had
gone redder and redder, whose eyes glanced with furtive unease from the
crystal to the grinning faces of his “fellow-townsmen,” who apparently
had no great love for Constable Sam Pelton.

Then that which Gus had arranged by means of a code signal took place.
Two “schillers,” hastily summoned by a carnival employe, suddenly broke
into loud curses and sharp, slapping blows which echoed in the instantly
quiet tent.

“Pick my pocket, would you?” the raucous voice of a “schiller” demanded
between slaps and punches. “I seen you—sneakin’ your hand in my pocket!”

Constable Pelton, glad to be able to assert his authority, glad also,
possibly, to escape a too intimate revelation of his past, bounded from
the platform, collared the fighting “schillers,” and dragged them
triumphantly away.

When the last stragglers of the carnival crowd had been ushered rather
unceremoniously from the tent, Sally rose from her chair and pattered
swiftly to where Gus, the barker, stood talking with Pop Bybee, owner
and manager of Bybee’s Bigger and Better Carnival.

“Thank you, Gus! I was scared nearly to death! It was wonderful the way
you stalled along till those two rubes—” she was already becoming
familiar with carnival lingo—“got into a fight. Wasn’t it lucky for me
they did?” she added naively.

“Hell, kid!” Gus grinned at her and tilted his derby more rakishly over
his left eye. “It was a frame-up. Them’s our boys. The guy that
pretended to have his pocket picked will swear he made a mistake, and
the worst old Sam can do is to have ’em fined for disorderly conduct.
I’ll square it with ’em, and they’ll be in Capital City by show-time
tomorrow.”

Pop Bybee chuckled richly, his bright, pale-blue eyes gleaming in the
lobster-red expanse of his old face. “Didn’t I tell you, child, that the
law couldn’t touch you long as you stuck with the carnival? Dave tells
me you’re babbling about running away again because we’re hitting the
trail for your home town tonight. You stick, Sally. Pop Bybee and Gus
and the rest of us will take care of you.”

Sally’s lips parted to tell him of Nita’s threat if she did not
relinquish her claim upon David’s love and friendship, but before the
first word tumbled out, the old inhibition against tattling, taught her
in the stern school of life in an orphanage, restrained her.

“You’re all so good to me,” she choked, then turned abruptly away to
where “Pitty Sing,” the midget, was impatiently awaiting her human
sedan-chair.

“I don’t want to influence you unduly,” the midget piped in her prim,
high little voice, “but Mr. Bybee and Gus are right. You are safer with
the carnival than anywhere else in the state, and if you ran away I
should be very sorry. I like you, Sally. I like you very much.”

The dress tent was taken down by the “white hopes” almost before the
women performers had had time to change from show clothes to nightgowns
and kimonos. By twelve o’clock the lot was as bare of tents and booths
and ferris wheels and motordromes and “whips” and merry-go-rounds as if
those mechanical symbols of joy and fun had never existed.

And Sally lay on the lumpy, smelly mattress of her upper berth in the
ancient Pullman car, waiting for her David’s whistled signal—a bar of
“Always.” She was fully dressed.

Her heart sang the words—“I’ll be loving you—always! Not for just an
hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but—always!”

She could have sent word to David by Gus or Pop Bybee that she had given
up her frantic plan to run away; that he need not meet her in the
darkness of the pulsing, hot June night. But—she had not—

It came then—clear and true, the whistled notes of the song which her
heart sang to David—“I’ll be loving you—always!”

She edged over the side of the berth, the toe of her slipper groping
until it found the edge of the lower berth in which the midget was
sleeping. When she was safe in the aisle she cast a fearful glance up
and down the car, and noted with uneasy surprise that Nita’s berth,
directly opposite the midget’s, was still unoccupied, the green curtains
spread wide so that the grayish-white blur of the sheet and pillow was
plainly discernible in the faint light from the one electric globe over
the door.

But she had no time now to worry about Nita or Nita’s threats. David was
awaiting her—with the song still humming its sweet, extravagant promise
in his heart. Or—was it? Had he chosen the song idly? Had he meant
anything by that teasing kiss on the tip of her nose, by his “Dear
little Sally!”

“Being in love hurts something terrible,” Sally shook her head at her
own turbulent emotions, unconsciously employing the homely language of
the orphanage. “But even if he doesn’t love me I’m glad I love him.
David, David!”



CHAPTER VIII


The night was eerie with voices from unseen bodies, or bodies
half-revealed in the flare of gasoline torches, as the business of
loading the carnival proceeded. Soft, rich voices from black men’s
throats blended with the velvety softness of the late-June night:

    “Oh, if Ah had wings like an angel,
        Over these prison walls Ah would fly!
      Ah would fly to the ahms of my poah dahlin’,
        An’ theah Ah’d be willin’ to die.”

A lonesome, heart-breaking plaint. Sally shivered. Except for David and
Pop Bybee and Dan, the barker, she and David might have been behind
prison bars tonight, learning the shame and misery that had created that
song.

A white roustabout said something evil to her out of the corner of his
mouth as she brushed past him on her way to join David. But she scarcely
noticed, for there was David, his shoulders looming immensely broad in
the dark coat he had donned in her honor. Her hands were out to him
before he had reached her, and when he took them both and laid them
softly against his breast, so that her leaping blood caught the rhythm
of his strongly beating heart, she could scarcely restrain herself from
raising her small body on tip-toe and lifting her face for his kiss.

They were shy at first, as they drifted away from the show train across
the vacant lot where the carnival had so recently vended trickery and
truth, freaks and fakes, color and light and noise and music. They
walked softly, slowly, Sally having the absurd feeling that if the grass
stubble were tender, tiny flowers, her joy-light feet would not have
crushed them. Her fingers were intertwined with David’s, and the
electric thrill of that contact seemed to be the motor force which
propelled her body. Without a word as to direction, they drifted,
completely in accord, toward a clump of trees which would some day, when
Stanton had become beauty-conscious, form the nucleus of a park.

Sally felt that she was in a spell woven of the beauty and
breathlessness of the night and of her inarticulate joy as, still
without speaking, David took off his coat and spread it upon the ground
that sloped gently from the sturdy trunk of an oak tree. As he was
stooping to spread the coat her hand hovered over his head, aching to
touch the dear, waving crispness of his hair, yet not daring—quite. But
when he straightened more suddenly than she had expected, his head
fitted into the cup of her hovering hand before she could snatch it
away.

He whirled upon her, sweeping her slight body to his breast with such
fierceness and suddenness that her head swam.

“Sally! Sally!” Just that hoarse cry, muted, exultant.

Her hands crept slowly up his breast, so loving every inch of the dear
body whose warmth came through the cloth of his shirt that they
abandoned it reluctantly. When her hands were on his shoulders, clinging
there, she threw her head back upon the curve of his right arm, and
smiled up into his face. Her lips parting slowly to let out a little
gasping sigh of joy.

In the silvery sheen with which the moon joyously and approvingly bathed
them their eyes, wide, dark, luminous, clung for an aeon of time,
reckoned in the history of love. Then David, knowing that his unasked
question had been gloriously answered, bent his head until his lips
touched hers.

He must have felt the slight stiffening of her body, the ardor in her
small hands as they clung more fiercely to his shoulders. For he flung
up his head, then turned it sharply away for a moment, as if ashamed for
her to see the passion in his eyes. She took a drunken, uncertain step
away from him, and his arms fell laxly from her body.

“What is it, David?” she asked in a small, quavering voice, scarcely
more than a whisper.

“I shouldn’t have done that!” David reproached himself with boyish
bitterness.

“But David,” Sally pleaded, in that small quaver, “don’t you—don’t you
love me—at all? I thought—I—” Her hands fluttered toward him, then
dropped hopelessly as he still stood sharply turned away from her.

“Yes, I love you. That’s the devil of it,” David groaned from the
shelter of his arm. “I love you so much I can’t think of anything else,
not even of our danger.”

She crept closer to him, stroked timidly the clenched fist which hung at
his side. “Then—why, David? I—I love you, too. You—must—have known. I
love you with all my heart.” She stooped swiftly and laid her lips
against his knuckles, which shone white as marble in the moonlight.

“Don’t!” he cried sharply. He lowered the arm that had sheltered his
shamed, passionate eyes and looked at her humbly, his whole body
drooping. “Don’t you see, darling—no, I mustn’t call you that!—don’t you
see, Sally, that your—caring—only makes it worse? I wish I were the only
one that has to suffer. But you’re so young—oh, God!” he cried in sudden
anguish. “You’re so pitifully young! Sixteen! I ought to be
horsewhipped!”

She laughed shakily. “I’m getting older every day, David. Is it such a
crime to be young? You’re young, too, David—darling!” The word was
dropped shyly, on a tremulous whisper.

“That’s it!” David cried wildly, fiercely under his breath. “We’re both
young! I’m just half through college, and I haven’t a cent to my name
except what I earned those two weeks on Carson’s farm. And I won’t have
any money except barely enough to live on—I work my way through
college—until I’ve finished school. And then it will be a long, hard
struggle to get a start, unless my grandfather dies by then and leaves
me his farm. He’s a miserly old man, darling. He thinks I’m a fool to
study scientific farming, won’t give me a cent. I haven’t wanted it—till
now.”

“And now, David?” she prompted softly, her fingers closing caressingly
about the clenched hand which she must not kiss.

“I want to marry you, of course!” David flung the confession at her
sternly. “I love you so much it’s torture to think of your going on to
New York with the carnival. Oh, it’s all so hopeless! We’re in such a
nasty jam, Sally, darling!” He groaned, snatched up her hands, kissed
them hungrily, passionately, then dropped them as if the soft, sweet
flesh stung his lips. “Don’t let me kiss you, Sally! For God’s sake! I
can’t stand it! And it’s not fair to you to learn what love means,
when—when we can’t go through with it.”

“But why can’t we, David?” she persisted, her love giving her amazing
boldness. “I’ll never love anyone else. I’ll wait for you, for years and
years. Until I’m eighteen and you’re twenty-three. You’re almost
twenty-one, aren’t you, David?”

“Yes,” he acknowledged. “But I’m just a kid. Why, I’m a minor yet!” he
reminded her with youth’s bitter shame. “And so are you. We couldn’t
even get married legally. And we’re both—wanted—by the police. I can’t
even figure out how I’m going to get back into A. & M. and finish my
course. I couldn’t let you marry a man wanted for attempted murder, even
if I could support you. Oh, I guess I could make a bare living for us,
but I don’t want that! Not for you! I want you to have everything lovely
in the world. You’ve had so little, so little! I want you to have silk
and velvet to make you forget blue-and-white-checked gingham. I want—”
he was going on passionately when Sally interrupted with her soft
delicious little laugh.

“I want David,” she said simply.

“All right!” he cried, flinging his arms wide in a gesture of utter
abandonment. “We’ll run away tonight. We’ll keep going until we get out
of the state. We’ll lie about our ages. We’ll find someone somewhere to
marry us, and we’ll—have each other if we have nothing else in the
world, Sally!”

His exultant young voice and his arms demanded her, but she held back
strangely, while her face went ghastly white and old in the moonlight.

“I—I forgot to tell you my news,” she said dully, tonelessly, her hands
flattened against her breast. “Mrs. Bybee found out something
about—about my mother, about me.”

Ecstasy was wiped from David’s face, leaving it hurt and bewildered. “So
you’re going to find her? Go back to her? I—I suppose I’m glad.”

“No,” she shook her head drearily. “I can’t marry you or—anyone, David.
My mother was not Mrs. Nora Ford. I don’t know who she was! I don’t even
know what my name really is—if I have a name! Whoever my mother was she
was ashamed I’d been born, she paid Mrs. Ford to take me away when I was
an infant, away from New York, so—so I wouldn’t disgrace her. I’m the
ugly name Nita called me today. I’m—I’m—”

“You’re my Sally,” David said gently, his arms gathering her in, holding
her comfortingly against his breast, in a passionless embrace of utter
tenderness. “Do you think I would let that make any difference at all?
If anything could, it would make me love you more. But I love you now
with every bit of me. And we’ll be married, Sally. What do I care about
being a scientific farmer?” But there was a note of bravado, of regret
in his voice that did not escape her love attuned ears.

“No, David,” she whispered, her hands straying over his face as if
memorizing every dear line of it. “We’ll wait. I can wait. I’ve waited
twelve years to find my mother, and I didn’t give up hope until today. I
would wait twice twelve years for you. I’ll stick with the carnival if
Pop Bybee will let me, and if the police don’t find us. Then when you’re
through college—?”

“But I’m damned if I can see how I’m to get back!” David burst out. “We
are both trapped in this second-rate carnival—and a first rate one would
be bad enough!”

“We won’t have to stay after we get to New York,” Sally interrupted
reasonably. “We can start life again. This trouble will blow over. You
might even learn some other profession in the east—”

“I don’t want to learn anything else, live anywhere else but in the
middle west. It’s my land. I love it. I want to serve it. But, oh,
Sally, let’s not torture ourselves any more. I know I mustn’t marry you
under this cloud, but let’s be happy for a few minutes before we go back
to the show train. No, don’t, darling!” as she lifted her arms. “Just
sit there on my coat and let me look at you. You’re the most beautiful
thing in the world. Lovely Sally!”

They sat side by side, hands not touching but hearts reaching toward
each other, and the minutes slipped silently away as David drank in her
moon-silvered young beauty, and she fed her love-hunger upon his
Viking-like handsomeness and strength. They were silently agreeing to go
when a sharp, metallic voice materialized suddenly out of the hush of
the darkness.

“No monkey-business now, Steve! I’m warning you! If you double-cross me
I’ll cut your heart out! Fifty-fifty and—”

The rest was lost as the couple passed on, walking swiftly, two shadows
that seemed like one. The voice was Nita’s.



CHAPTER IX


When Sally was awakened soon after dawn the next morning—Wednesday—by
the shouts and songs of the “white hopes” unloading the carnival on the
outskirts of the Capital City, the question which had insisted on
worming its way through the heavenly joy of knowing that David loved her
sprang instantly to the foreground of her mind; who was “Steve” with
whom Nita had quarreled and bargained in the dark last night?

Sally and David had met or had had pointed out to them nearly every
member of the show troupe, and there was no Steve among them. Of course
Steve might be one of the roughneck white roustabouts. But a star
performer, such as Nita considered herself, would hardly consort with
such a man. The two classes—simply did not mix, except in rare
instances. David of course was different. Everyone connected with the
carnival knew that he was a university student, working in the kitchen
with Buck only because he was hiding from the police.

Then the thought of David dismissed Nita and her threats and her Steve.
She crawled out of her berth, scurried to the women’s dressing room and
hastily applied her show make-up. Pop Bybee had summoned her to the
privilege car on her return from her momentous walk with David the night
before to caution her not to appear in Capital City, even in the dress
or cook tent, without her “Princess Lalla” complexion, which she was to
apply with exceeding care so that the disguise might be impenetrable.

Because the carnival lot selected by “the Kidder,” Pop Bybee’s advance
man and “fixer,” was in the heart of the city, and the railroad spur
allotted to the show train on the outskirts of it, the cars would be
abandoned by the carnival performers and employes, only Pop and Mrs.
Bybee continuing to occupy their drawing room in one of the Pullmans.
Sally, being told the arrangements, suspected that they stayed with the
train to guard the safe under the green plush seat, the existence of
which was known only to Sally. Mrs. Bybee took little interest in the
carnival itself, caring only for the heaviness of the canvas money bags,
which were brought to her at the end of each day’s business.

It was still not seven o’clock when Sally joined the straggling
procession of performers headed for the cook tent and dress tent, a
quarter of a mile from the show train. She knew very little of the city
itself, since the orphanage was situated on its own farm in a thinly
settled suburb.

There was no glow of pride, no sense of home-coming as she trudged
through the almost deserted streets, but every time she passed a
policeman idly swinging his “billie” on a street corner she thanked Pop
Bybee in her heart that he had cautioned her to don her disguise. For
beyond a casually interested glance at her brown face and hands and her
long swinging braids of fine, lustrous black hair, the law did not seem
to find her worthy of attention.

If only David could pass that cordon successfully! Probably he had gone
to the carnival grounds. But Pop Bybee, true to his promise to protect
the boy, had decreed that he should become private chef and waiter to
himself and Mrs. Bybee, remaining cooped up all day in the privilege car
of the show train.

Poor David! Dear David! Her heart ached passionately for his loneliness,
for his magnificent body caged in a hot box of a kitchen, when it had
been so gloriously free in fragrant, sun-kissed fields before she had
met him.

Why, he might almost as well be in jail! And he had done nothing but
protect a girl alone in the world from the cruel revenge of a man who
had promised the state to treat her as his own daughter.

But even though her heart throbbed with pain for David she could not be
wholly sad, for he loved her, wanted to marry her, would even now be
married to her if she had let him give up his ambitions for her.

By the time she had finished breakfast in the cook tent the carnival was
nearly ready for business. Even the Ferris wheel’s glittering immensity
was flung toward the sky, the basket seats hanging motionless in the
still, hot air. Banners advertising real and spurious wonders were being
tacked upon scarred booths, endowing them with glamor: “Bybee’s Follies
Girls—a dazzlingly beautiful chorus straight from Ziegfeld’s Follies in
New York—Six reasons why men leave home”; “Beautiful Babe, the Fattest
Girl in the World! 620 pounds of rosy, cuddly girl flesh”; “The Palace
of Wonders—Greatest Aggregation of Freaks in the World; also Princess
Lalla, from Constantinople, crystal-gazer, escaped member of the
Sultan’s Harem; Sees all, knows all—Past, Present and Future!”

Sally wandered along the midway, waving a small brown hand to Eddie
Cobb, who was setting up his gambling wheel and gaudily dressed Kewpie
dolls; exchanged predictions as to the day’s business with two or three
good-natured concessionaires; won a gold-toothed smile from the
henna-haired girl who sold tickets for the tin rabbit races.

But she soon discovered that she was restless and lonely. The carnival
had no glamor in these early hours. Without the crowds there was no
glamor; the crowds themselves, though they did not suspect it, furnished
the glamor with their naive credulity, their laughter, their free and
easy spending, their susceptibility as a relief from the monotony of
their lives, to the very spirit of carnival for which this draggled old
hoyden of a show was named.

“The kids would love it,” Sally remembered suddenly, seeing in a
painfully bright flash of memory the oldish, wistful little faces of
Betsy and Thelma and Clara and all the other orphans who had until so
recently—though it seemed years ago—been her only friends and playmates.

“I wonder if Eloise Durant is terribly unhappy, or if she has found some
other ‘big girl’ to pet her. I wonder if Betsy and Thelma and Clara miss
my play-acting.”

She smiled at the picture of herself draped in a sheet and crowned with
her own braids:—an ermine cloak and a crown of gold adorning a queen!
“If they could see me now! Play-acting all the time, all dressed up in
purple satin trousers and a green satin jacket all glittery with gold
braid! I wish I had lots of money, so I could send them all tickets to
come to the carnival,” her thoughts ran on, as homesickness for the
place she had hoped never to see again rose up, treacherous and
unwelcome, to dim her joy in the glorious miracle of David’s love.

“I suppose,” she confessed forlornly, “that Mrs. Stone is the only
mother I’ll ever know. I wish I’d always been good, so she wouldn’t
believe the awful things Clem Carson said about me. She thinks I’m bad
now—like my mother. I wonder,” she was startled, her face flushing hotly
under the brown powder, “if I am bad! They say it’s in the blood. I’m
crazy to have David kiss me, and—and he had to ask me not to. Maybe
David is afraid I’m bad, too.”

The thought was unbearable. She wanted to fly to David, to search his
gold-flecked hazel eyes again, to see if he had lost any of his
“respect” for her. But she wouldn’t kiss him! She’d bite her tongue out
first! She was going to be good, good, prove to herself and David and
all the world that “it” wasn’t in her blood.

But all day, as the crowds gathered and money clinked merrily as it fell
into cash boxes, she longed for David; lived over every kiss he had
given her, from the brushing of his lips against the tip of her nose to
that dizzying wedding of lips when their love had been confessed in the
moonlight.

And because she was bemused with romance, thrilling with her own
awakening to love, she made an almost riotous success of her
crystal-gazing that first day of the carnival in Capital City. Girls
laughed shyly and cuddled against their sweethearts provocatively as
they left the Palace of Wonders, determined to make “Princess Lalla’s”
enchanting prophecies come true.

And she was so seductively beautiful herself, asparkle with love as she
was, that three or four unaccompanied young men, seeking knowledge of
the present, past and future, suggested that she fulfil her own
prophecies of a “zo beautiful brunette,” until, embarrassed though
flattered, she took refuge in assuming that all gentlemen prefer
blondes.

She did not see David that night after the carnival had shut up shop,
for he could not leave the show train and only male performers, barkers
and concessionaires were permitted to hang around the train. Sally
understood from the midget, “Pitty Sing,” that a nightly poker game
attracted the men to the privilege car and that fist-fighting and even
gun-play was no uncommon break in the monotony. Pop Bybee, genial until
he heard the rattle of poker chips, was the heaviest winner as a rule,
many a performer’s salary finding its way back into the stateroom safe
within a few hours after Mrs. Bybee had reluctantly handed it over.

By Thursday afternoon Sally’s confidence in the efficacy of her disguise
had mounted perilously high. The policemen who strolled grandly through
the tents, proud of not having to pay for their fun, accorded her
admiration or good-natured skepticism but no suspicion.

The city papers had apparently lost interest in the hunt for David Nash,
university student and farm hand, wanted for assault with intent to kill
and for moral delinquency, and in Sally Ford, runaway ward of the state
and juvenile paramour of the youthful would-be murderer, as the papers
had previously described them.

At least there were no references to the case in either Wednesday’s or
Thursday’s papers, and Sally’s heart was light with gratitude to David
and Pop Bybee for having persuaded her to stick with the carnival. It
was rather fun to be on exhibition, reading the fortunes of the very
policemen who had been given her description and orders to “get”
her—much more fun than fleeing along state roads at night and hiding in
cornfields by day, hungry, exhausted, afraid of her shadow and of the
more menacing shadow of the state reformatory.

“Hel-lo! Hel-lo! Bless my soul! What have we here? A real live Turkish
harem beauty, as I live!”

Sally aroused herself from her apparently absorbing gazing into the
“magic crystal” and looked with wide, startled eyes at the man who had
addressed her in an accent which at once marked him as an easterner of
culture. She had seen pictures of men dressed like that, but had never
quite believed in their authenticity.

But her eyes did not linger long on his slim, elegant, immaculate
figure, leaning lightly on a cane. His laughing, wise, cynical eyes
challenged her and invited her to share his amusement with him. But in
their bold black depths was something else....

                                  ————

“Quite delicious, really!” the man with the cultured, eastern accent
drawled, leaning more nonchalantly on his cane and twinkling his too
wise, too bold black eyes at “Princess Lalla.”

“But really now, I wouldn’t say you’re a freak, your highness. In fact,
you’re quite the most delicious little morsel I’ve seen since I left New
York. If I were a Ziegfeld scout I assure you I’d be burbling your
praises in a ruinously verbose telegram, and the devil take the expense.
Would you mind lifting that scrap of black lace that is tantalizing me
most provokingly? I am tormented with the hope that your big eyes are
really the purple pansies they appear to be through your veil.

“No?” He shook his head with humorous resignation as Sally shook her
head in violent negation. “Well, well! One can’t have everything, and
really your arms and your adorable little hands and your Tanagra
figurine body should be quite enough—as an appetizer. You don’t happen
to ‘spell’ the Hula dancer—the ancient but still hopeful lady who has
just been exercising her hips for my benefit—do you? But I suppose that
is too much to ask of Providence. Life is full of these bitter
disappointments, these nagging, unsatisfied desires—”

“Please!” Sally gasped, forgetting her carefully acquired accent which
had been bequeathed her, by way of Mrs. Bybee, by the erstwhile
“Princess Lalla,” now in the hospital, minus her appendix, but still too
weak to jeopardize Sally’s job. “I—I’m not permitted to talk to the
audience—”

“Child, child!” the New Yorker protested, raising a beautifully kept
hand admonishingly. “Spare me! I’m always being met with signs like that
in New York—in elevators, busses, what-nots—But since I am intrigued
with the music of your voice—a very young and un-Turkish voice, if I may
be permitted to say so—I shall be delighted to cross your little brown
palm with silver, provided you will guarantee that your make-up does not
rub off. I’m deplorably finicky.”

Sally, overwhelmed by his gift for monologue, uttered in a teasing,
bantering, intimate voice of beautiful cadences, looked desperately
about her for help. But she was temporarily deserted by both audience
and barker. Gus was at the moment ballyhooing Jan, the Holland giant,
the chief attraction of the Palace of Wonders. His recital of the vast
quantities of food which the nine-foot-nine giant consumed daily never
failed to hold the crowd enthralled.

“You’ll have to wait till Gus, the barker, starts my performance,” she
told him nervously, making no effort to deceive the blase New Yorker by
a tardy resumption of her “Turkish” accent. “But—oh, please go away!
Don’t tease me! You’ll spoil the show if you make Smart-Aleck remarks on
everything I say and do.”

“Smart-Aleck?” The easterner raised his silky black brows, while his
humorous but cruel mouth, beneath a small, exact black mustache,
twitched with a rather rueful smile. “Child, that is the unkindest cut
of all! If I had been reared west of Fifth Avenue or a little farther
downtown I would undoubtedly phrase it as a nasty crack! But we’ll let
it pass.”

He walked nonchalantly up the steps leading to her platform and stood
before her, only the small, black-velvet-draped table with the crystal
between them.

When he spoke again, in his humorous drawl, with his bold black eyes
twinkling and challenging her, his words could not have been heard by
anyone ten feet away: “Will you permit me, your highness, to read the
crystal for you? I’m really rather a wizard at it—a wow, as they say on
Broadway, though I assure you, your highness, that I’m not a man to
succumb to the insidiousness of slang. You must be rather tired of
gazing, gazing, gazing into this intriguing but slightly flawed ball of
glass—” and he touched it with a long, delicate finger, with a humorous
contemptuousness that suggested an intimate bond between the
professional and the amateur—himself and herself.

“Please go away!” Sally pleaded breathlessly. “Why do you want to make
fun of me? I have to earn my living somehow—”

“Do you?” he smiled, his brows going higher, while deep laugh wrinkles
appeared suddenly in the clear olive of his lean cheeks. “Now I’m sure
you should let me read the crystal for you, for it is obvious that you
have not looked into the future at all!”

He cupped his slim, beautiful hands about the crystal, his back bending
in an arch as graceful as the arch of a cat’s back. The posture brought
his face very near to hers, so that she saw the fine grain of his skin,
caught a faint, indefinable but enchanting odor from his sleek dark
hair, almost as dark as her own.

He had dropped his hat upon the edge of the little table, and it too
fascinated and repelled her, for its dove-gray richness insolently
suggested that its owner possessed boundless money and almost wickedly
sure taste.

But every item of his dress told the same story, so she really should
not have picked on the hat particularly. But she did; she wanted to
brush it off the table, to see his flash of anger at its being soiled
with the dust from “rubes’” feet—

“Marvelous!” His voice became mockingly hushed and mysterious, as he
pretended to gaze into the very heart of the crystal. “I see your whole
past boiling away in this magic crystal—slightly flawed, though it is!”

“My past!” she shivered, forgetting that he was faking just as she did.

“You’ve run away from home, from poverty,” he went on in that mocking,
too beautiful voice, his black eyes shifting from the crystal to play
their insolent, confident fire upon her wide-eyed face. “And you’ve run
away from—a man! Of course,” he added lightly, “you’ll always be running
away from a man—men—every man that looks at you. You’re absolutely
irresistible, you know, child! But ah, at last you will find him—the man
from whom you will not run away! Now, shall I read the future for you?”

“Please, go away. Gus is coming!” Sally pleaded through childishly
quivering lips that would have showed ashen-pale if they had not been
thickly overlaid with carmine.

“Dear old Gus! I look forward to being pals with Gus, when I give him
the password. Now, the future—ah, my dear, what a future! Broadway!
Bright lights! Music! And Princess Lalla in the chorus first, the most
adorable little ‘pony’ of them all! I shall sit in the bald-headed row
and toss roses to you, child, and whisper to the eggs next me that ‘I
knew her when’—when she was a delicious little fake Turkish princess,
escaped from the Sultan’s harem. And I see a man—let me look closely—a
tall, dark man, rather handsome—” and he laughed insolently into her
eyes.

“La-dees and gen-tle-men! Right this way, please! I want you all to meet
Princess Lalla, from Con-stan-ti-no-ple—”

Gus, the barker, was approaching with long, swift strides, the crowd
milling behind him, like sheep following a bellwether.

“I’ll finish your future in our next seance.” The New Yorker
straightened, smiled into her eyes unhurriedly, bowed mockingly, lifted
his hat, placed it on his sleek head, retrieved his cane which had been
leaning against the crystal stand, and vaulted lightly to the ground.

Gus eyed him menacingly, suspiciously, but beamed when the easterner
pressed a bill into his hands and withdrew to the outskirts of the
crowd, where he evidently intended to listen to the spieler’s
introduction of Princess Lalla.

Sally got through her performance somehow, burningly conscious of bold
black eyes regarding her admiringly. When she pattered down the steps
and along the flattened stubble of the earth floor of the tent on her
way to the dress tent to rest between shows, a slim, immaculate figure
detached itself from the crowd that was wandering reluctantly toward the
exit.

“Cook tent fare must grow rather monotonous,” his low, drawling voice
stopped her. “I suggest relief—supper with me after the last performance
tonight. I am stopping at the governor’s mansion, and have the use of
one of the official limousines. Credentials enough?” He raised his
eyebrows whimsically but his detaining grasp of her arm was not nearly
so gentle as his voice.

“No, no!” Sally cried. “I—I’m not that kind of girl! Please let me go—”

“Oh, spirit of H. L. Mencken, hear me!” the New Yorker prayed. “Do girls
in the middle west really say that still? I wouldn’t have believed it!
‘I’m not that kind of girl!’” he repeated, laughing delightedly. “Of
course you aren’t, darling! No girl ever is! And heaven forbid that I
should be the sort of man—fellow, you say out here?—that you evidently
believe I am! Now that we understand each other, I again suggest supper,
a long, cooling drive in the governor’s choicest limousine—the old boy
does himself rather well in cars, at the expense of the state—and a
continuation of my extremely accurate reading of your future.”

“No!” Sally flared, her timidity submerged in anger. “Let me go this
minute! I don’t like you! I hate you! If you don’t turn loose my arm,
I’ll—I’ll scream ‘Hey rube’—”

“What a dire threat!” the New Yorker laughed with genuine amusement. “Am
I the rube? Is that your idea of a taunt so crushing that—”

“It means,” Sally said with cold fury, “that every man connected with
the carnival will rush into this tent and—and simply tear you to pieces!
It’s the S O S signal of the circus and carnival, and it always works!
Now—will you let me go? I swear I’ll scream ‘Hey, rube!’ if you don’t—”

“And I had planned such a delicious supper,” the New Yorker mourned
mockingly as he slowly released her arm, as if reluctant to forego the
pleasure that rounded slimness and smoothness gave his highly educated
fingers.

Sally cried a little in the dress tent, but she was too angry to give
way utterly to tears. The thought which stung her pride most hurtingly
was that the New Yorker had seen something bad in her eyes, something of
the mother of whose shame she was a living witness.

“But—I guess I showed him!” she told herself fiercely as she dabbed
fresh brown powder on her tear-streaked face. “He won’t dare bother me
again.”

But he did dare. He was a nonchalant, smiling, insolent figure, leaning
on his cane, as she went through the next performance. She pretended not
to see him, but never for a moment, as she well knew, did his cold black
eyes waver from their ironic but admiring contemplation of her
enchanting little figure in purple satin trousers and green jacket.

And at the late afternoon performance—four o’clock—he was there again,
his fine, cruel, humorous mouth smiling at his own folly. She thought of
appealing to Gus, the barker, to forbid him admission to the tent, but
she knew Gus was too good a business man to heed such a wasteful
request. Besides, the barker seemed to like him, or at least to like
immensely the bill which invariably passed hands when the showman and
the glorified “rube” met.

Then suddenly, at ten minutes after four, the New Yorker ceased to have
any significance at all to her, at least for the moment. He was wiped
out completely in the flood of terror and joy that swept over her brain,
making her so dizzy that she leaned against the crystal stand for
support.

For tumbling into the tent of the Palace of Wonders came a horde of
children, boys and girls, the girls dressed exactly alike in skimpy
little white lawn dresses trimmed with five-cent lace, the boys in ugly
suits of stiff “jeans.”

Her playmates from the orphanage had come to see “Princess Lalla,”
lately Sally Ford, ward of the state and now fugitive from “justice.”



CHAPTER X


Sally’s first impulse, when she saw the children of the orphanage come
tumbling into the Palace of Wonders tent, was to flee. She was so
conscious of being Sally Ford, whose rightful place was with those
staring, shy little girls in white lawn “Sunday” dresses, that she
completely forgot for one moment of pure terror that to them she would
merely be “Princess Lalla,” favorite crystal-gazer to the Sultan of
Turkey before she escaped from his harem.

Cowering low in her high-backed gilded chair, in an effort to make
herself as small and inconspicuous as possible—a useless effort really,
since she was by far the prettiest and most romantic figure in the tent,
dressed as she was in Oriental trappings—she watched the children, whom
she knew so well, with a pang of homesickness.

Not that she would want to be back with them! But they were her people,
the only chums she had ever known. How well she knew how they felt,
liberated for one blessed afternoon from the bleak corridors of the
orphanage, catapulted by someone’s generosity into fairyland. For to
them the carnival was fairyland. These romance-and-beauty-starved
orphans saw only glamor and wonder, believed with all their hearts every
extravagant word that Gus, the barker, uttered in his stentorian bawl.

Suddenly love and compassion filled her heart to over-flowing. She
wanted to run down the steps that led to her little platform and gather
Clara and Thelma and Betsy to her breast. She felt so much older and
wiser than she had been two weeks ago, when she had “play-acted” for
them as they scrubbed the floor of the dormitory. How awed and admiring
they would be if, when their thin little bodies were pressed tight in
her arms, she should whisper, “It’s me—Sally—play-acting! It’s me,
kids!” But of course she couldn’t do it; she would be betraying not only
herself but David, and she would rather die than that David should be
caught and punished for defending her against Clem Carson.

As the children milled excitedly in the tent, huddling together in
groups like sheep, holding each other’s hands, giggling and whispering
together as their awed eyes roamed from one “freak” to another, Sally
searched their faces hungrily, jealously.

Thelma had cut a deep gash in her cheek; it would leave a scar.
Six-year-old Betsy had a summer cold and no handkerchief; her cheeks
were painted poppy-red with fever, or perhaps it was only excitement.

There was a new little girl whom Sally had never seen before, such a
homely little runt of a girl, with enormous, hunted eyes and big
freckles on her putty-colored cheeks. Her snuff-colored hair had been
clipped close to her scalp, so that her poor little round head looked
like the jaw of a man who has not shaved for three days.

Clara and Thelma were mothering her, importantly, each holding one of
her little claw-hands, and shrilling explanations and information at
her.

But where was Mrs. Stone—“old Stone-Face”—herself? Sally knew very well
that the children had not come alone.

While Gus was discoursing grandiloquently upon the talents of Boffo, the
human ostrich, Sally sat very prim and apparently composed, her watchful
eyes veiled by the scrap of black lace that reached to the tip of her
adorable little nose. Undoubtedly the philanthropist was a man—it was
nearly aways a politician courting favor who won it cheaply and
impressively by “treating” the orphans to a day at the circus or
carnival or to a movie. But if he were present, as the philanthropic
politician invariably was, Sally could not find him. That was odd, too,
for he was usually the most prominent person at such an affair, taking
great pains that no reporters who might happen to be present should
overlook him and his great kindness of heart.

Then little old-maidish Miss Pond, sentimental little Miss Pond, who had
befriended Sally by telling her all she knew of the child’s parentage,
came hurrying nervously into the tent. She had undoubtedly been detained
at the ticket booth and was sure, judging from her anxious, nervous
manner, that the children had gotten into mischief during her brief
absence.

Three or four of the little girls ran to cling to her hands, abjectly
courting notice as Sally had known they would. But with a few
absent-minded pats she shooed them away and bustled anxiously toward a
woman whom Sally had not noticed before, so complete had been her
absorption in the children.

The woman stood aloof near the platform of “the girl nobody can lift,”
listening to Gus, the barker, with a slight, charming smile of amusement
on her beautiful mouth. When Miss Pond joined her timidly,
deferentially, the “lady,” as Sally instinctively thought of her from
the first moment that she become aware of her, turned slightly, so that
“Princess Lalla,” whose platform was quite near, got a complete and
breath-taking view of her beauty.

“Oh!” Sally breathed ecstatically, her little brown-painted hands
clasping each other tightly in her lap. “Oh, you’re beautiful! You are
like a real princess, or a queen.” But she did not say the words aloud.
Behind the little black lace veil her sapphire eyes widened and glowed;
her breath came quickly over her parted, carmined lips.

The woman, who seemed scarcely older than a girl but who, by her poise
and a certain maturity in her face, gave Sally the impression that she
was a queen rather than a princess, had taken her hat off, as if the
heat oppressed her. It was a smart, trim little thing of silvery-green
felt, that had cupped her small head like the green cup that holds a
flower. And her face was the flower, a flower bursting into bloom with
the removal of the hat.

Sally had never in all her life seen hair like that—shimmering waves of
pure gold, slightly rumpled by the removal of the hat, so that single
threads of it caught the light from the gas jet that burned day and
night in the rather dark tent. Her skin, pale with the heat of the day,
was creamy-white, lineless, smooth and rich, so that Sally’s fingers
longed to touch it reverently. Surely it could not feel like other
flesh; it was made of something finer and rarer than cells and blood,
dermis and epidermis.

Her small lovely mouth, soft and full-lipped as a child’s, was tender
and amused and proud, the mouth of a woman who has always been adored
for her beauty but whom adoration has not cheated of very human
emotions. Sally wished that she could see the eyes more closely, for
even while they were wide and laughing, sending out little sparkles of
color and light, she thought there was a hint of sadness in them, of
restlessness, as if only a part of her attention was given to the
carnival and to the children.

She was very small and slight, shorter even than little Miss Pond, who
had to look down as she talked to her. But for all her adorable
smallness she carried herself with a certain arrogance. Every movement
she made as she and Miss Pond talked together and then joined the
children was proud and graceful.

She was wearing a summer sports suit of silvery-green knitted silk,
which showed to the best advantage the miniature, Venus proportions of
her body. As she swung toward the children, nodding acquiescence to Miss
Pond’s eager suggestions, little Eloise Durant, the child who had been
the “new girl” of Sally’s last day in the orphanage, catapulted herself
from the huddling mass of children and impulsively seized her hand. The
swift, cordial smile with which she greeted the child and released her
hand as quickly as possible kept Sally from resenting the action. But
Eloise, still hypersensitive, knew that she had been delicately snubbed
and hung back as Gus, the barker, herded the orphans toward Jan the
giant’s platform.

Sally saw the tell-tale tremble of Eloise’s babyish mouth, and her heart
ached with desire to comfort the child. Outwardly Eloise had become
exactly like all the other little girls—shy, bleating when the other
little sheep bleated, obediently excited when they were excited, silent
when they were silent—but underneath she was still bewildered and
unreconciled to the death of her mother, the cheap little stock-company
actress who had evidently adored her child and been adored in return.

But someone else had seen Eloise’s hurt, so unconsciously inflicted by
the lovely and arrogant lady. Betsy, the six-year-old, ran from the herd
to take Eloise’s hand, with an absurd and touching little gesture of
motherliness.

“Come on, Eloise,” Sally heard Betsy cry in her shrill little voice.
“Let’s just you and me look at the funny people. We can see the giant
when the crowd moves on. I want to see ‘Princess Lalla’ more’n anything.
I want my fortune told. I want to ask her where Sally is—you
remember—Sally Ford. That man says she ‘sees all, knows all,’ so he
ought to know where Sally is.”

“The big girls say she run away,” Eloise answered, her eyes round with
awe. “They say she did something awful bad and run away with a man—”

“Sally didn’t do nothing bad,” Betsy retorted indignantly. “She
couldn’t. She was the best ‘big girl’ in the Home. She play-acted for us
little kids and—oh!” She stopped with a gasp, her eyes popping as she
took in the fantastic splendor of “Princess Lalla.” “Listen, Princess
Lalla,” she mustered up courage to whisper coaxingly, “does it cost a
lot to get your fortune told? I’ve only got a nickel that the New York
lady gave me—she give every one of us a dime, but I spent a nickel for
some salt water taffy—”

Sally could hardly restrain herself from crying out: “Oh, Betsy, it’s
me! Sally Ford! You don’t have to spend your poor little nickel to find
me! I’m here!” But she knotted her little brown hands more tightly and
managed to smile with a princess-like indifference and weariness as she
cooed in her “Turkish” accent:

“Eeet costs noth-ing to get ze fortune told. Womens and mens must pay 25
cents to learn past, pres-ent and future, but for you—noth-ing! Come up
here by my side. I weel read the crystal.”

Betsy’s eyes grew rounder and rounder; her little mouth fell open in
astonishment. Then with a wild shout of joy she stumbled up the stairs
and flung her arms about Sally crying and laughing:

“You’re not Princess Lalla! You’re Sally Ford, play-acting! Oh, Sally,
I’m so glad I found you! Hey, kids! Kids! It’s Sally Ford, play-acting!”

For a terrible moment, long enough for Gus, the barker, to jump from
Jan’s platform and come toward her on a run, Sally sat frozen with
terror. She felt that Betsy’s keen eyes had stripped her of her brown
make-up, of her fantastic clothes, of the protecting black veil, so that
anyone who looked at her could see that she was indeed “just Sally Ford,
play-acting.”

She wanted to rise from her gilded chair and run for her life—and
David’s—but she had lost all control of her muscles. Betsy was still
clinging to her, her babyish hands shaking the slender shoulders under
the green satin jacket, when Gus bounded upon the platform and took the
almost hysterical child into his arms.

“Hello, Tiddlywinks!” he sang out jovially. “Having a good time at the
carnival? Listen, kiddie! I’m going to give you a real treat! Yessir!
You know what you’re going to do? Just guess!”

Sally felt the blood begin to thaw in her frozen veins. Gus was standing
by. Dear Gus! But Gus was too wise to give the child in his arms a
chance to reply. He hurried on, his voice loud and cajoling:

“I’m going to let you stand right up on the platform with the little
lady midget—her name’s ‘Pitty Sing’—and show all the other kids how much
bigger you are than a grown-up lady. Yessir, she’s a grown-up lady and
she’s not nearly as big as you. Now what do you think of that?”

Betsy was torn between her love for Sally, whom she was convinced she
had found, and her pride in being chosen to stand beside the midget. She
looked doubtfully from Sally, whose eyes beneath the black lace veil
were lowered to her tightly locked hands, to the platform opposite,
where “Pitty Sing,” the midget, was stretching out a tiny hand
invitingly. The midget won, for the moment at least.

“I’m six, going on seven, and I’m a big girl,” she confided to the
barker on whose shoulder she was riding in delightful conspicuousness.

The children, true to the herd instinct which had been so highly
developed in the orphanage, trooped after Gus and Betsy, even more
easily diverted than she from their pop-eyed inspection of “Princess
Lalla.”

Sally heard Thelma answer another child derisively: “Aw, Betsy’s off her
nut! Sure that ain’t Sally! That’s a Turkish princess from
Con-stan-ti-no-ple. The man said so. ‘Sides, Sally’s white, and the
princess is brown—”

“All right, children, right this way!” Gus was ballyhooing loudly.
“Permit me to introduce ‘Pitty Sing,’ the smallest and prettiest little
woman in the world. Just 29 inches tall, 29 years old and 29 pounds
heavy. Did I say ‘heavy’? Excuse me, Pitty Sing! I meant 29 pounds
light! Look at her, little ladies and gents! Ain’t she cute? Her parents
were just as big as your papas and mamas—”

He remembered just too late that he was talking to orphans, and his
jolly face went dark red. But he recovered quickly, glanced about his
audience, saw that Miss Pond was straying nervously toward Sally’s
platform, as if halfway convinced that Betsy’s childish intuition had
been correct.

“Oh, Miss Pond!” he sang out ingratiatingly. “I wonder if you’d do me
the favor to step up on the platform. I believe Betsy is scared. Yessir,
I believe she’s scared half out of her skin!” He laughed, stooped to
chuck Betsy under the chin, then, with a courtly gesture, offered Miss
Pond his hand.

Sally looked on, her throat tight with fear and with tears of gratitude
toward Gus, as the barker, with a rapid fire of talk and joking, kept
his audience completely hypnotized. He jollied shy little Betsy into
taking the midget into her arms, like a baby or a big doll, and only
Sally, of all those who looked on, could guess how keenly the
artificially smiling little atom of humanity was resenting this insult
to her dignity.

He coaxed and flattered and flustered Miss Pond into standing beside
“Pitty Sing,” so that the children could see what a vast difference
there was in their height. And somehow he had attracted the attention of
a carnival employe, for before he had exhausted the possibilities of the
midget as a diversion, Winfield Bybee himself came striding into the
Palace of Wonders, mounted the midget’s platform and, after a moment’s
whispered conference with Gus, made an announcement:

“Children, I’m old Pop Bybee; Winfield Bybee is the way it’s wrote down
in the Bible. I own this carnival and I want to tell you children that
I’m proud to have you as my guests. I love children, always did! Now,
boys and girls, the Ferris wheel and the whip and the merry-go-rounds
are waiting for you.”

He was interrupted by a whoop of joy from the boys, in which the girls
joined more timidly. “It won’t cost you a cent. If your chaperon—” and
he turned to Miss Pond with a courtly bow—“will do me the honor to
accept these tickets, you’ll all have a ride on the Ferris wheel, the
whip and the merry-go-round absolutely free. Don’t crowd now, children,
but gather at the door of the tent. I thank you.”

When he sprang, rather stiffly, from the platform, he offered Miss Pond
his hand, then, with her arm pressed to his side, he escorted her with
pompous courtesy to the door of the tent, where the children were
already milling about, wild with excitement.

In her terror Sally had forgotten the golden-haired woman in the green
silk sports suit. Now that the danger was passing, miraculously averted
by Gus and Pop Bybee, she started to draw a deep, trembling sigh of
relief, but it was choked in her throat by the discovery that she was
being regarded intently by the beautiful woman, who was standing beside
the midget’s platform.

“Oh!” Sally thought in a new flutter of terror. “She heard Betsy call me
Sally Ford. She’s going to question me. I wonder who she is. Maybe she’s
a trustee’s wife—oh, she’s coming! She’s going to talk to me—”

She rose from her high-backed, gilded chair, trying to do so without
haste. Since the performance was ended she had every right to leave the
tent, and she would do so, but she mustn’t run. She mustn’t give herself
away—

“Hel-lo, Enid! I couldn’t believe my eyes! What in the world are you
doing so far from Park Avenue?”

Sally, forcing herself to walk with sedate leisureliness down the little
wooden steps of the platform, saw the New Yorker who had been paying her
half-mocking, half admiring attention all afternoon, stride swiftly and
gracefully across the tent toward the golden-haired woman. So he too had
witnessed Betsy’s hysterical identification! She had forgotten that he
was in the tent, watching her, smiling mockingly, biding his chance to
ask her again to go to supper with him after the last show that night.

The golden-haired woman halted, and Sally, out of the corner of her
veil-protected eyes, saw an expression of startled surprise and then of
annoyance sweep over the beautiful little face. Odd that these two who
had so strangely crossed her path in one hectic day should know each
other, should meet a thousand miles away from home, in the freak show
tent of a third-rate carnival!

“Oh, hello, Van! I might ask what you’re doing so far from Park Avenue,
but I suppose you’re visiting your cousin, the governor. Court’s here on
business and I’m amusing myself taking the orphans to the carnival. A
new role for me, isn’t it—Lady Bountiful! Poor little devils! If only
they didn’t want to paw me!”

Now that she was safe from being questioned Sally wanted to make her
passage to the “alley” door of the tent take as long as possible, so
that not a note of the music of that extraordinary voice should be lost
to her. She had expected the golden-haired lady’s voice to be a sweet,
tinkling soprano, to match her in size, but the voice which thrilled her
with its perfection of modulation was a rich, throaty contralto, a
little arrogant, even as the speaker was, but so effortless and so
golden that Sally would have been content to listen to it, no matter
what words it might have said.

Sally paused at the door of the tent, and cast a swift glance backward
over her green-satin shoulder. “Van” was holding one of “Enid’s” hands
in both of his, laughing down at her, mockingly but fondly, as if they
were the best of friends.

“Well,” she said to herself, as she ran toward the dress tent, “now that
he’s found _her_, he won’t bother me. I wonder who ‘Court’ is. Her
husband? I hate rich women who play ‘Lady Bountiful,’” she thought with
fierce resentment. “But—I can’t hate _her_. She’s too beautiful. Like a
little gold-and-green bird—a singing bird—a bird that sings contralto.”

She was resting between shows, lying on her cot in the dress tent, when
Pop Bybee came striding in.

“It’s all right, honey. Don’t be scared to go on with the show. That
Pond dame came cackling to me, all het up, half believing what this
Betsy baby said about you being Sally Ford, but I give her a grand song
and dance about you being the same Princess Lalla who joined the show in
New York in April. She wanted to talk to you, but I steered her off,
told her you couldn’t hardly speak English and she’d just upset you.
Just stick to your lingo, child, and don’t act scared. Ain’t a chance in
the world the Pond dame will make another squawk.”

He must have spoken to Gus, also, for the barker cut her late afternoon
and evening performances as short as possible, although by doing so he
lost many a quarter. She smiled upon him gratefully, was pleased to the
point of tears by his whispered: “Good kid! You’ve sure got sand!” after
the ten o’clock show when she had apparently regained her confidence and
her intuition to know “past, present and future.”

As the evening wore on the heat grew more and more oppressive. The
wilted audience passed languidly from freak to freak, mopping their red
faces and tugging at tight collars. Children cried fretfully,
monotonously; women reproved them with high, heat-maddened voices; Jan,
the giant, fainted while Gus was ballyhooing him, and it took six “white
hopes” to carry him to his tent. At eleven o’clock, when Gus had just
started his last “spiel” of the evening, a terrified black man, with
eyes rolling and sweat pouring down his face, staggered into the tent,
bawling:

“Awful storm’s blowin’ up, folks! Look lak a cyclone! Run for yo’ lives!
Tents ain’t safe! Oh, mah Gawd!”

The storm broke with such sudden and devastating fury that the
performers in the Palace of Wonders tent had little time to obey the
“white hope’s” frantic bellow of warning.

The terrified audience milled like stampeded cattle, choking up both
exits of the tent, that leading out into the midway, and the flap at the
back of the tent through which performers passed in and out between
shows. At each exit the fear-crazed carnival visitors were assaulted by
a dazing impact of wind and hail and rain, driven back into the tent.

Sally was fighting her way toward the “alley” exit, her frail, small
body hurling itself futilely against men who had lost all thought of
chivalry, knew only that death threatened.

The region was notorious for its cyclones, and the horror of such a
calamity was stamped on every pallid face. Children screamed; women
shrilled for help, called frantically for their offspring separated from
them in that mad rush for the exits.

Sally had almost won to the alley exit when she remembered “Pitty Sing,”
the midget, tiny, helpless Miss Tanner, who was paying her to carry her
to and from the tent, who must even now be cowering in her baby-chair,
unable even to reach the ground without assistance.

It was not quite so hard to push her way back into the center of the
tent; crazed men and women offered little resistance to anyone who was
so foolish as to tempt death under a collapsed tent.

She had almost reached the midget’s platform when she suddenly felt
herself lifted into a pair of strong arms, swung high above the heads of
the last of the crowd that was battling its way to the exits. Her cry
was instinctive, unreasoning, direct from her heart: “David! Oh, David!”

A mocking laugh answered her and she squirmed in the man’s arms so that
she could see his face. It was not David at all, but the man whom “Enid”
had called “Van.” His face was laughing, gay, mocking, untouched by the
shameful pallor of fear; exultant, rather, in the excitement of the
storm. His dark eyes were wide, shining even through the fitful darkness
made by the flickering of the crazily swinging gas jets.

“Isn’t it glorious?” he challenged her, above the uproar of wind, rain,
hail and the frightened animal sounds of human beings in fear of death.

“I’ve got to find the midget—Pitty Sing!” she shouted, struggling
frantically to release herself.

“The charming barker has rescued her,” Van shouted. “I was afraid some
officious ass had cheated me of the pleasure of rescuing you. I’ve
waited all day—”

But his sentence was broken in two by the long-threatened collapse of
the tent. A center-pole struck him a glancing blow, knocking him flat,
and Sally with him.

For what seemed like hours of nightmare she struggled to release herself
from the steel-like clasp of his arms and the smothering embrace of the
rain-sodden canvas. To add to the horror, rain fell heavily upon the
canvas that held them pinned helplessly to the earth; hail pelted her
flesh bitingly even through the dubious protection of the canvas; and
every moment they were in mortal danger of being trampled to death by
the feet of fleeing carnival visitors, who had been clear of the tent
when it had collapsed.

“Don’t—struggle,” came that mocking voice, panting a little with the
effort of speaking under the smothering caul of canvas. “Lie—still. I’ll
hold up—the canvas—so you—can breathe. Shield your face—with your—arms.
Sorry—I muffed—the role—of rescuer—of damsels—in distress.”

“Oh, hush!” Sally cried angrily, but doing her best to obey him. She
crooked an arm over her face, so that the hail no longer punished it.
And she relaxed as much as possible, her head on Van’s shoulder, her
feet pushing futilely at the sodden mass of canvas that weighted them
down.

“Better?” he asked casually, no fear at all in his voice, and only a
mocking sort of anxiety. “We’ll be safe enough here until the tent is
raised, unless someone steps on us. And by this time your charming
employer, the redoubtable Pop Bybee, has of course assembled his
roustabouts to raise the tent in the expectation of finding buried
treasure—ostrich men, midgets, and Turkish harem girls who read
crystals.”

“Aren’t you ever serious? Aren’t you frightened?” Sally gasped.

“Serious? Well, hardly ever!” the man chuckled. “Frightened? Frequently!
But I am so appreciative of this opportunity to be alone with you that I
could hardly quibble with fate to the extent of being frightened at the
means which accomplished it.”

“Oh, I wonder what’s happened to—to everybody!” Sally began to shiver
with sobs.

“To—David?” Van’s mocking voice came strangely out of the darkness.
“Lucky David, wherever he is now, that your first thought should go to
him. David and Sally! How do you like ‘play-acting,’ Sally Ford?”



CHAPTER XI


The terror which the menace of violent death had held for her now seemed
a pallid, weak thing, beside the heart-stopping emotion which the New
Yorker’s mocking, amused voice uttering her real name called into being.
Her head jerked instinctively from the comfort of his arm. Squirming
away from him, under the sodden blanket of canvas, she curled into a
tight little ball of agony, her face cupped in her hands. “So that’s why
you bothered me so!” she cried, her voice muffled by her fingers.
“You’re a detective! You knew all the time! You were going to take me to
jail! Oh, you—Oh! David, David!”

“Listen, you little idiot!” Van’s voice came sharply, bereft of its
mocking note for once. “I’m not a detective! Good heavens! Do I look
like one? I’ve always understood that they have enormous feet and wear
derbies and talk out of the corner of their mouths.” Mockery was
creeping back. “Did you think that a poor little tyke like you was worth
sending to New York for a detective to bay at your heels like a
bloodhound? I merely overheard the little Betsy’s keen penetration of
your disguise. And I took the trouble to inquire casually of the
governor this evening just who—if anybody—Sally Ford might be—”

“Then you gave me away—David and me!” she accused him, shuddering with
sobs.

“Not at all. How it does pain me for you to persist in misunderstanding
me! I gave nothing away—absolutely nothing! I merely found out that
David Nash and Sally Ford are fugitives from justice, wanted on rather
serious charges. After making the acquaintance of ‘Princess Lalla,’ I
might add that I don’t believe a word of the silly story. Besides, I
have your own word for it—” and he laughed—“that you are ‘not that kind
of a girl.’ As a matter-of-fact—oh! We’re about to be rescued, Sally
Ford! I hear the ‘heave-ho’ of stalwart black boys. And the storm is
over except for a gentle, lady-like rain.”

It was not till he mentioned the blessed fact that Sally realized that
the storm was indeed over. The only sound, besides the shouts of the
“white hopes” engaging in raising the collapsed tent, was the patter of
rain upon the canvas which still weighted down her small cold body, as
wet as if she had been swimming.

Struggling to a sitting position under the already moving mass of
canvas, the New Yorker cupped his hands about his mouth and shouted:
“Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!” In an aside to Sally he chuckled: “What does one
shout under the circumstances—or rather, under the canvas of a collapsed
tent?”

Sally managed a weak little laugh. “One shouts, ‘Hey, rube!’” she told
him.

And his stentorian “Hey, rube!” struggled up through layers of dripping
canvas, bringing speedy relief for the submerged “rube” and performer.
When at last the tent was raised, Sally walked out, Van’s arm still
about her shivering, soaked body, to find apparently the entire carnival
force huddled in the rain to welcome her, drawn by that fateful cry of
“Hey, rube!”

Jan, the giant, was there, sad-eyed but smiling, “Pitty Sing” perched on
one of his shoulders, Noko, the male midget, on the other. “The girl
nobody can lift” was there, too, her right arm in splints; a deep gash
down her pale cheek; Eddie Cobb, who, they told her as they chorused
their welcome, had been crying like a baby as he searched for her
through the wreck of the carnival, was clasping a drenched Kewpie doll
to his breast, apparently the sole survivor of his gambling wheel stock.

Pop and Mrs. Bybee were there, Mrs. Bybee clad only in a black sateen
petticoat and a red sweater. And in spite of his heavy loss from the
fury of the storm Pop was smiling, his bright blue eyes twinkling a
welcome. But—but—Sally’s eyes roved from face to face, confidently at
first, grateful for their friendliness, then widening with alarm. For
David was not there.

“Where’s David?” she cried, then, her voice growing shrill and frantic,
she screamed at them: “Where’s David? Tell me! He’s hurt—dead? Tell me!”
She broke away from Van, ran to Pop Bybee and tugged with her little
blue-white hands washed free of their brown make-up, at his wet coat.

“Reckon he’s safe and sound in the privilege car,” Bybee reassured her,
but his blue eyes avoided hers, pityingly, she thought.

“Was anyone killed in the storm? Tell me!” she insisted, her bluish lips
twisting into a piteous loop of pain.

“We can’t find Nita nowhere,” Babe, the fat girl, blurted out, her eyes
wide with childish love of excitement. “We thought she was buried under
a tent but they’ve got all the tents up now and she ain’t nowhere.”

Nita—and David. Nita—David—missing. For she did not believe for an
instant that Pop Bybee was telling her the truth.

“It seems to me,” Van interrupted nonchalantly, “that dry clothes are
indicated for Princess Lalla. May I escort you to your tent?” and he
bowed with mocking ceremony before her.

“He saved my life,” Sally acknowledged suddenly, half-angrily, for she
resented with childish unreasonableness the fact that it had been this
mocking, insolent stranger, this “rube” from New York, not David, who
had saved her.

An hour later when she was uneasily asleep in her berth in the show
train, whose sleeping cars had been pressed into service in lieu of the
soaked cots in the dress tent, a sudden uproar—hoarse voices shouting
and cursing—shocked her into consciousness. Broken sentences flung out
by angry men, Pop Bybee’s voice easily distinguished among them, told
her what had happened:

“Every damn cent gone!—Pay roll gone!—Safe cracked!—Told you you was a
fool to take in them two hoboes that was already wanted by the police.
That Dave guy’s beat it—made a clean-up—”

“Everybody tumble out! Pop Bybee wants us all in the privilege car,” a
carnival employe shouted, running down the sleeping car and pausing only
to thrust a hand into each berth, like a Pullman porter awakening its
passengers.

But Sally was already dressing, getting her dress on backward and
sobbing with futile rage at the time lost in reversing it. When she was
scrambling out of her upper berth, a tiny hand reached out of the lower
and tugged at her foot.

“Don’t forget me, Sally,” the midget commanded sharply. “And for
heaven’s sake, don’t take on so! You’ll make yourself sick, crying like
that. Of course your David didn’t rob the safe. I’m all dressed.”

Sally parted the green curtains and stretched out her arms for the
midget, who was so short that she could stand upright upon her bed
without her head touching the rounded support of the upper berth. Little
Miss Tanner ran into Sally’s arms and clambered to her shoulder.

“It’s that Nita.” She nodded her miniature head emphatically. “I always
did have my suspicions about her. Always turning white as a sheet when a
policeman hove into sight.”

“But David’s missing, too,” Sally sobbed, as she hurried down the aisle
which was becoming choked with frowsy-headed women in all stages of
dress and undress. “Of course he didn’t do it—”

“Hurry up, everybody! Don’t take time to primp, girls!” a man bawled at
them from the door.

They found most of the men employes and performers of the carnival
already assembled with the Bybees in the privilege car. Pop Bybee’s
usually lobster-colored face was as white as putty, but his arm was
gallantly about his wife’s shoulder. Mrs. Bybee still wore the black
sateen petticoat and red sweater in which she had hurried from the show
train to the carnival immediately after the storm. Her reddened eyes
showed that she had been crying bitterly, but as the carnival family
crowded into the privilege car she searched each face with fury and
suspicion.

“Come here to me, Sally Ford!” she shrilled, when Sally entered the car
with “Pitty Sing” riding on her shoulder.

“Now, honey, go easy!” Pop Bybee cautioned her futilely. “Better let me
do the talking—”

“You shut up!” his wife commanded angrily. “Sally, you knew where I kept
the money! You saw the safe! Oh, I was a fool, all right, but I wanted
to show that I trusted you! Huh! Thought I’d wronged you by accusing you
of taking presents from my husband! Tell him you saw the safe! Tell
him!” And she seized Sally’s wrist and shook her so that the midget had
to cling tightly to the girl’s neck to keep from being catapulted to the
floor.

“Yes, Mrs. Bybee,” Sally answered, her voice almost dying in her throat
with fright. “I saw the safe. But I didn’t tell anybody—”

“You’re a liar!” Mrs. Bybee screamed. “You told that David boy that very
night! Sneaked off and went walking with him and cooked up this robbery
so you two could make your get-away. Thought it was a grand way to get
out of the state so the cops couldn’t pinch you, didn’t you?” she
repeated, beside herself with anger, her fingers clamped like a vise on
Sally’s wrist.

“Oh, please!” Sally moaned, writhing with a pain of which she was
scarcely conscious, so great was her fear and bewilderment at this
unexpected charge.

“Sally certainly didn’t go with him,” Pop Bybee interposed reasonably.

“Sure she didn’t!” his wife shrilled with angry triumph. “She couldn’t!
She couldn’t! She was buried under the tent! If it hadn’t been for the
storm she wouldn’t be here now, working on your sympathies with them
dying-calf eyes of hers—”

“Better let me handle this, honey,” Pop Bybee interrupted again, this
time more firmly. “Turn the child loose. Ain’t a bit of use breaking her
arm. Now, folks, I might as well tell you all just what happened, and
then try to get to the bottom of this matter. When the worst of the
storm was over Mrs. Bybee left the show train to look for me, to see if
I was hurt or if she could do anything for anyone who was. She hadn’t
been out of the stateroom all evening till then—not since she’d put some
money into the safe right after supper. She found the boy Dave starting
out to look for Sally, and she ordered him to stay on the train to keep
an eye on it, in case tramps or crooks tried to board it. There wasn’t
anybody else on the train. That right, Mother?”

He turned to Mrs. Bybee, who nodded angrily.

“She told him she’d look after Sally, but he’d have to stand guard on
the train. She didn’t say anything to him about the safe—just told him
to patrol the train while she was gone. The safe is under a seat in our
stateroom, and far as we knew, nobody knew where it was, except Sally
here, who happened to come into the stateroom when my wife was counting
a day’s receipts.”

“Please, Mr. Bybee,” Sally interrupted, memory struggling with the panic
in her brain. “Someone else did know! Nita knew! When I left the
stateroom that last day in Stanton I saw Nita disappearing into the
women’s dressing room, and I thought she’d been listening. She—”

“Hold on a minute!” Bybee cut in sternly. “How do you know she’d been
listening? Any proof?”

“Yes, sir!” Sally cried eagerly. “Mrs. Bybee had been telling me that
she’d found out that Ford isn’t my real name, that the woman I always
thought was my mother wasn’t really my mother at all. She said she
guessed I—that my mother was ashamed I’d ever been born. And that same
day Nita called me a—a bad name that means—” She could not go on. Sobs
began to shake her small body again and her face was scarlet with shame.

“That’s right!” Gus, the barker, edged toward Bybee through the crowd.
“I found Sally lighting into Nita for calling her that name. And Nita
didn’t deny she’d done it. Reckon that proves she was eavesdropping, all
right. And if she was listening in, too, she was probably peeping in,
too, or heard Mrs. Bybee talking about the safe. Was the door open,
ma’am?”

“I don’t know,” Mrs. Bybee snapped. “Yes, it may have been. It was awful
hot. And I didn’t know anybody was on the train.”

“It was open a little way,” Sally cried. “I remember distinctly. Because
I worried about whether Nita had overheard what Mrs. Bybee had been
telling me. And there’s something else—something that happened that
night, when David and I were walking.” Memory of that blessed hour in
the moonlight brought tears to her eyes, but she dashed them away with
the wrist which bore the marks of Mrs. Bybee’s rage.

“What was it, Sally?” Pop Bybee asked gently. “All we want is to get at
the truth of this thing. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”

“I hate being a tattle-tale,” Sally whimpered. “I never told on anyone
in all my life! But David and I were sitting under a tree, not talking,
when we suddenly heard Nita’s voice. She couldn’t see us for the tree,
but we peeped around the trunk of it and we saw Nita and a man walking
awfully close together, and Nita was talking. We just heard a few words.
She said: ‘No monkey business now, Steve. If you double-cross me I’ll
cut your heart out! Fifty-fifty or nothing—’”

Unconsciously her voice had mimicked Nita’s, so that to the startled
carnival family it seemed that Nita, the Hula dancer, had appeared
suddenly in the car.

“Sounds like Nita, all right.” Gus, the barker, nodded with
satisfaction. “‘Steve,’ huh? Who the devil is this Steve?”

“What did he look like, Sally?” Bybee asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered, her big blue eyes imploring him to believe
her. “We couldn’t see their faces. We just recognized Nita’s voice and
her yellow hair that looked almost white in the moonlight. He wasn’t
tall, not any taller than Nita, and I guess he wasn’t very big either,
because they were so close together that they looked almost like one
person. We didn’t hear the man say a word. Nita was doing all the
talking—”

“Nita would!” a voice from the crowd growled. “Reckon I can tell you
something about this, Pop. I was just ready to ballyhoo the last
performance of the ‘girlie’ show when Nita come slouching up to me,
pulling a long face and a song-and-dance about being knocked out with
the heat. Bessie had fainted at the last show and I thought Nita might
really be all in, so I told her she could cut the last performance and
go to the dress tent. I never seen hair nor hide of her again, and—” he
paused significantly, “I don’t reckon I ever will.”

“No, I reckon you won’t, not unless the cops nab her,” Mrs. Bybee cut in
bitterly. “I always said she was a snake in the grass! And that David,
too! Them goody-goody kind ain’t ever worth the powder and lead it’d
take to blow out their brains! I told you, Winfield Bybee, that there
was something phony about that hussy and Dave! ’Tain’t like a star
performer like Nita thought she was to trail around after a cook’s
helper, like she done with Dave. They didn’t pull the wool over my eyes,
even if they did double-cross the kid here—if they _did_ double-cross
her! Mind you, Bybee, I ain’t saying I believe a word she’s been saying!
She knew where the safe was, and she tipped off the boy.

“I ain’t forgot they was both wanted by the police when they joined up
with us! As I said before, if it hadn’t been that she was buried under
the freak tent, she’d have skipped with Nita and Dave. You roped Nita in
on your little scheme, didn’t you, because she’d had more experience
cracking safes than you or the boy? That’s right, ain’t it?” the old
lady demanded fiercely of Sally.

Sally shrank from her in horror, but the midget, still perched on her
shoulder, patted her cheeks reassuringly. “No, no! I didn’t even tell
David where the safe was! I didn’t! David didn’t do it! He couldn’t!
David’s good! He’s the best man in the world!”

“Then where is he?” Mrs. Bybee screamed. “Why did he blow? I left him to
guard the train, didn’t I? And he ain’t here, is he? He wasn’t here when
we got back from the carnival lot after the tents was raised. If he’s so
damned good, why did he blow with Nita and this Steve you’ve made up out
of your head?”

“Now, now, Mother,” Pop Bybee soothed her, but his eyes were troubled
and suspicious. “Reckon we’d better notify the police, folks. I hate to
call in the law. I’ve always said I was the law of this outfit, but I
suppose if I’ve been harboring thieves I’ll have to get the help of the
law to track ’em down. Ben, you and Chuck beat it down the tracks to the
police station and give ’em a description of Nita and Dave and this
Steve person, as much as Sally’s been able to tell us anyway—”

“Please, Mr. Bybee!” Sally ran to the showman and seized both his hands
in hers. “Please don’t set the police on David! I know he’s innocent!
There’s some reason why he isn’t here—a good reason! But he didn’t have
anything to do with the robbery. I know that! But if you tell the police
he’s been with the carnival they’ll find him somehow and put him in jail
on those other charges—and me, too! It doesn’t matter about me, but I
couldn’t live if David was put in jail on my account! Oh, please! You’ve
been so good to us!” And she went suddenly on her knees to him, her face
upraised in an agony of appeal.

Pop Bybee looked down upon Sally’s agonized face with troubled
indecision in his bright blue eyes. He tried to lift her to her feet,
but her arms were locked about his knees. The midget had scrambled from
Sally’s shoulder to the floor of the car and as Bybee hesitated, her
tiny fists beat upon his right leg for attention.

“You’re not going to break your promise to Sally, are you, Mr. Bybee?”
the tiny voice piped shrilly. “You told her and the boy you’d protect
them. She’s told you the truth. Don’t you know truth when you hear it? I
always knew Nita was a crook. She never saw a policeman or a constable
or a sheriff without turning white as a ghost. She joined up with the
carnival just to learn the lay of the land and tip off her
accomplice—this Steve person—where to find the money. That’s why she was
spying on Mrs. Bybee that day in Stanton. Listen to me!”

“I’m listening, Miss Tanner,” Pop Bybee acknowledged wearily. “And I
swear I don’t know what to say or do. If they get clear away with that
money the show’ll be stranded. Every cent I had in the world was in that
safe. Reckon I was a fool to carry it with me, but I never trusted a
bank, and it was more convenient, having it right with me. Tomorrow’s
payday, too, and all of you are in the same boat with me.”

“Listen, boss, let’s take a vote on it.” Gus, the barker, spoke up
suddenly and loudly. “Now me—I believe the kid here is telling the
truth. No college boy could crack a safe like that. It was a
professional job, or I’m a liar! Of course Nita may have tolled the boy
off with her and this Steve, since she was so crazy about him, but we
ain’t got no proof she did, and as Sally says, if you sick the cops on
the boy, the jig will be up with her as well as the boy. Another thing,
Dave may be laying in the bushes somewhere with a bullet—”

“Oh!” Sally screamed, as the full significance of Gus’ words burst upon
her. She fainted then, her little body slumping into a heap at Bybee’s
feet, her head striking one of his big shoes and resting there.

When she regained consciousness she was lying in the lower berth which
had belonged to Nita, and the midget was kneeling on the pillow beside
her head, dabbing her face with a handkerchief soaked in aromatic
spirits of ammonia. Mazie and Sue, two of the dancers in the “girlie”
show, sat on the edge of the berth, their cold-creamed faces almost
beautiful with anxiety and sympathy.

“What’s the matter? Is it time to get up?” Sally asked dazedly. “What
are you doing, Betty?”

The midget answered in her tiny, brisk voice: “I’m bathing your face
with ammonia which Mrs. Bybee sent. It should be cologne, and this
ammonia will probably dry your skin something dreadful, but it was the
only thing we could get. You fainted, you know.”

“Oh, I remember!” Sally moaned, her head beginning to thresh from side
to side on the pillow. “Have they found David? I know he’s been hurt!”

“They’re looking for him,” the midget assured her briskly. “Mr. Bybee
took a vote on whether he was to notify the police about David’s being
gone, as well as Nita, and the vote was ‘No!’ That ought to make you
feel happier!”

“Oh, it does!” Sally began to cry softly. “You have all been so kind, so
kind! You said Mrs. Bybee sent the ammonia?” she asked wistfully.

“She certainly did, and she’s in the kitchen of the privilege car right
now, making you some hot tea. She won’t say she’s sorry, probably, but
she’ll try to make it up to you. She’s like that—always flying off the
handle and suspicious of everybody, but she’s got a heart as big as
Babe, the fat girl.”

“And so have you!” Sally told her brokenly, taking both of the tiny
hands into one of hers and laying them softly against her lips.

“Ain’t love grand?” Mazie sighed deeply. “If it had been my sweetie, I’d
a-fell for that line of Ma Bybee’s about him running off with Nita, but
you sure stuck by him! I was in love like that once, when I was a kid. I
married him, too, and he run off with the albino girl and took my grouch
bag with him. Every damn cent I had! But it sure was sweet before we was
married and he was nuts about me.”

“Aw, let the kid alone!” Sue slipped from the edge of the berth and
yawned widely. “Gawd, I’m sleepy! If the cops don’t catch that Hula
hussy I’m going out looking for her myself, and when I get through with
her she’ll never shake another grass skirt! C’mon, Mazie. It’s three
o’clock in the morning, and we’ve got eighteen shows ahead of us.”

“Maybe!” Mazie yawned. “If Pop wasn’t stringing us, we’ll be stranded in
this burg. G’night, Sally. G’night, Midge. And say, Sally, even if this
Dave boy has blowed and left you flat, you won’t have no trouble copping
off another sweetie. Gus was telling us about that New York rube that’s
trailing you. Hook up with him and you’ll wear diamonds. Believe me,
kid, they ain’t none of ’em worth losing sleep over when you’ve got
eighteen shows a day ahead of you. G’night.”

When they had gone the midget yanked the green curtains together with
comical fierceness, then crawled under the top of the sheet that covered
Sally.

“I’m going to sleep here with you, Sally,” she said. “I don’t take up
much room.”

And the woman who was old enough to be Sally’s mother curled her 29-inch
body in the curve of Sally’s right arm and laid her tiny cheek, as soft
and wrinkled as a worn kid glove, in the hollow of Sally’s firm young
neck.

But long after the midget was asleep, Sally lay wide-eyed and tense in
the dark, her mind a welter of fears and love and doubt. She had pleaded
passionately with Pop Bybee for David, fiercely shoving to the dark
depths of her mind even the memory of the jealousy which Nita had
fiendishly aroused in her heart. But now that she had saved him
temporarily by convincing Bybee that the boy could not have taken part
in the robbery, doubt began to insinuate its ugly body upward from those
dark depths where she had buried it.

Did he really love her—a pathetic, immature girl from an orphanage, a
girl who had been nothing but a responsibility and a source of dire
trouble to him since he had first met and championed her on the Carson
farm?

Her old feeling of inferiority rose like nausea in her throat. Life in
an orphanage is not calculated to give a girl faith in her own beauty
and charm. No one, until David’s teasing eyes had rested on her, had
thought her beautiful.

Had he been only sorry for her, glad of an opportunity to “blow,” to get
out of the state where he was wanted on two serious charges? Was he
dismayed, too, by the fact that moonlight had tricked him into telling
her that he loved her, thus adding the responsibility of her future to
the burden of protecting her in this hectic present?

Then a sweeter, saner memory clamored for attention. She heard again his
fond, husky voice caressing her, his “Dear little Sally!” And
involuntarily her mouth pursed in memory of his kiss, that kiss that had
left her giddy with delight.

How unfailingly kind and sweet he had been since that first day, when he
had strode into her life, with the sun on his chestnut hair and the
glory of the sun in his eyes. He had not failed her once, but she was
failing him now, by doubting him, by picturing him as a fugitive in the
dark, fleeing with a pair of criminals who had robbed the man whose
kindness had protected him from the law.

Why, she must be crazy to think for a moment that David could do a thing
like that! No one in the world was as good and kind and honorable as
David.

But where was he? Mrs. Bybee had left him to guard the train. Not for a
moment could she believe that he had failed in his trust. Painfully,
Sally tried to visualize the dreadful thing that had happened. David
alone, patrolling the train, his eyes sharp for intruders. Then—the
sudden appearance of Nita and the man, Steve, weighted down with the
contents of the safe they had robbed. For Sally knew that the robbery
must have taken place before David caught his first glimpse of the
crooks. Otherwise the safe would be intact now, even if David’s dead
body had been found as silent witness that he had fulfilled his trust.

Her mind shuddered away from that imagined picture, went back to the
painful reconstruction of what must have taken place. David had seen
them, had given chase. Of course! Otherwise he would be here now. Was he
still pursuing them, or was he lying somewhere near the road, wounded,
his splendid young body ignominiously flung into a cornfield?

She could bear no more, could no longer lie safe in her berth while
David needed her somewhere. Very carefully, for all her haste, she
lifted the tiny body that nestled against her side and laid it tenderly
upon the pillow, which was big enough to serve as a mattress for the
midget. Then, sobbing soundlessly, she groped for her shoes in the
little green hammock swung across the windows; found them, put them on,
slipped to the edge of the berth. She was profoundly thankful that the
girls had not undressed her after she had fainted.

When she reached the car in which Mr. and Mrs. Bybee occupied a
stateroom she saw the showman and his wife through the open door,
talking to two strangers whom she guessed to be plainclothes policemen
from police headquarters of Capital City. The two men were evidently
about to leave, nodding impatiently that they understood, when Sally
appeared, like a frightened, pale little ghost in green-and-white
striped gingham.

She forgot that she was without make-up, that the police were looking
for her as well as for the criminals who had robbed the safe. But Pop
Bybee had not forgotten. Still talking with the plainclothes detectives,
he motioned to her violently behind his back. She turned and forced
herself to walk slowly and sedately toward the other end of the car as
the detectives made their farewells and their brusque promises of “quick
action.”

When the men had left the car Bybee’s voice summoned her in a husky
stage whisper, calling her “Lalla,” so that the detectives, if they were
listening, should not identify her with the girl who had run away from
the orphanage in the company of a man wanted on a charge of assault with
the intent to kill.

“Are you crazy?” Bybee demanded hoarsely when she had come running to
the stateroom. “Them was dicks! Policemen, understand? They mighta
nabbed you. What are you doing up? Get back to bed and try to sleep.”

“Have you found David?” she quavered, brushing aside his anxiety for
her.

“Not a sign of him.” Bybee shook his head. “But I didn’t spill the beans
to the dicks. I’d given you my word, and Winfield Bybee’s word is as
good as his bond.”

“I’m going to look for David,” she announced simply, but her blazing
eyes dared him to try to prevent her. “He’s hurt somewhere—or killed.
I’m going to find him.”

And before the astonished man or his wife could stretch out a hand to
detain her she was gone. When she dropped from the platform of the car
she heard the retreating roar of the police car. Instinct turned her in
the opposite direction, away from the city, down the railroad tracks
leading into the open country.

She did not know and would not have cared that Mr. and Mrs. Bybee were
following her, Mrs. Bybee muttering disgustedly but refusing to let
Sally search alone for the boy in whom she had such implicit faith.

Dawn was breaking, pale and wan, in a sky that was shamelessly cloudless
and serene after the violence of last night’s storm, when, over a slight
hill, a man’s figure loomed suddenly, then seemed to drag with
unbearable weariness as it plodded toward the show train.

“David!” Sally shrieked. “David!”

She began to run, her ankles turning against clots of cinders, but her
arms outstretched, a glory greater than that of the dawn in her face.

Before she reached him Sally almost fainted with horror, for in the pale
light of the dawn she saw that David’s shirt about his left shoulder was
soaked with blood. But his uninjured right arm was stretched out in
urgent invitation, and his voice was hailing her gaily, in spite of his
terrible weakness and fatigue.

“Dear little Sally!” he cried huskily, as his right arm swept her
against his breast. “Why aren’t you in bed, darling? But I’m glad you’re
not! I’ve been able to keep plodding on in the hope of seeing you. Did
you think I’d run away and left you? Poor little Sally!” he crooned over
her, for she was crying, her frantic hands playing over his face, her
eyes devouring him through her tears.

“But you’re hurt, David!” she moaned. “I knew you were hurt! I told them
so! I was looking for you. I knew you hadn’t run away.”

“And she made us believe you hadn’t, too,” Pop Bybee panted, having
reached them on a run, dragging his wife behind him. “What happened,
Dave boy? Had a mix-up with the dirty crooks, did you?”

“Winfield Bybee, you _are_ a fool!” Mrs. Bybee gasped, breathless from
running. “Let the poor boy get his breath first. Here! Put your arm
about him and let him lean on you. Sally, you run back to the train and
get help. This boy’s all done up and he’s going to have that shoulder
dressed before he’s pestered to death with questions.”

“I can walk,” David panted, his breath whistling across his ashen lips.
“I don’t want Sally out of my sight. I—would—give up—then. Nothing
much—the matter. Just a—bullet—in my shoulder. Be all right—in a—day or
two.”

“Please don’t try to talk, darling,” Sally begged, rubbing her cheek
against his right hand and wetting it with tears.

“Lean on me and take it easy,” Pop Bybee urged, his voice husky with
unashamed emotion. “And don’t talk any more till we get you into a
berth. God! But I’m glad to see you, Dave boy! I’d made up my mind I’d
never trust another man if you’d thrown me down. But Sally didn’t doubt
you a minute. Kept me from telling the police that you had disappeared
with the crooks.”

“Thanks,” David gasped, leaning heavily on the showman. “I was scared
sick—the police—had found—Sally. Knew there was—bound to be—an awful
row.”

He fainted then, his splendid young body crumpling suddenly to the
cinders of the railroad track. Somehow the three of them managed to get
him to the show train and into the Bybees’ stateroom, where Gus, the
barker, who had graduated from a medical school before the germ of
wanderlust had infected him, dressed the wounded shoulder.

“The bullet went clear through the fleshy part of the arm at the
shoulder,” Gus told them, as he washed his hands in the stateroom’s
basin. “No bones touched at all. Just a flesh wound. Of course he’s lost
a lot of blood and he’ll be pretty shaky for a few days, but no real
harm done. You can turn off the faucet, Sally. Save them tears for a big
tragedy—like ground glass in your cold cream, or something like that.
Want a real doctor to give that shoulder the once-over, Pop?” he asked,
turning to Bybee, who had not left David’s side.

It was David, opening his eyes dazedly just then, who answered: “No
other doctor, please. I’m a fugitive from justice, remember. If I could
have some coffee now I think I could tell you what happened, Mr. Bybee.”

A dozen eager voices outside the stateroom door offered to get the
coffee from the privilege car, and within a few minutes Sally was
kneeling before David, holding a cup of steaming black coffee to his
lips.

As many of the carnival family as could crowd into the small space of
the car aisle pressed against the open door of the stateroom to hear his
story. Jan the Holland giant, who was too tall to stand upright in the
car, was invited into the stateroom, where he sat between Pop Bybee and
Mrs. Bybee, “Pitty Sing” in the crook of one of his arms, Noko, the
Hawaiian midget, in the other. Sally still knelt beside David, holding
his right hand tightly in both of hers and laying her lips upon it when
his story moved her unbearably.

“I suppose Mrs. Bybee has told you that I was leaving the show train to
go to the carnival grounds to see if anything had happened to Sally. I’d
have gone sooner, but the storm was so violent that I knew I’d not have
a chance to get there. Mrs. Bybee said she was going to the lot and
would look after Sally for me, but she wanted me to stay on the train,
or near it, to patrol it. She didn’t tell me there was a lot of money in
her stateroom, or I’d have stationed myself in there.”

“You see,” Sally interrupted eagerly. “I told you I hadn’t said a word
to him about the safe.”

“Safe?” David glanced down at her, puzzled. “So this Steve crook cracked
a safe to get the money, did he? I didn’t know—didn’t have time to find
out.”

“And I told you it was a man named Steve!” Sally reminded them joyously,
raising David’s cold hand to her lips. “They thought I was making it all
up, Dave, but they believed me after a while.”

“I suppose Sally has told you that we saw Nita and some man walking in
the moonlight that last night we were in Stanton,” David addressed Pop
Bybee. “We heard her call him Steve, and say something about what she’d
do to him if he double-crossed her. I should have told you then, Mr.
Bybee, but I didn’t have an idea Nita was planning to rob the outfit,
and anyway—” he blushed, his eyes twinkling fondly at Sally—“by morning
I’d forgotten all about it. I couldn’t think of anything but—but Sally.
You see we’d just told each other that night that—that—well, sir, that
we loved each other and—”

“Anybody else in the whole outfit could have told you that,” Bybee
chuckled. “It’s all right, Dave. Carnival folks usually mind their own
business and spend damn little time toting tales.”

“I’m glad you’re not blaming me,” David said gratefully. “Well, sir, I
was walking up and down the tracks, just wild to get away and see if
anything had happened to Sally, when suddenly I heard a soft thud, like
somebody jumping to the ground on the other side of the train. I crossed
over as quick as I could, but by that time they were running down the
side of the train pretty far ahead of me. It was Nita and a man. They
must have been hidden on the train, waiting their chance, when the storm
broke—were there when Mrs. Bybee left.

“I suppose they hadn’t counted on any such luck; had probably intended
to overpower her before you got back, sir, and the storm saved them the
trouble.”

“I’d have give them a run for the money,” Mrs. Bybee retorted grimly,
her skinny old hand knotting into a menacing fist.

“That’s just what I did,” David grinned rather whitely at her. “I yelled
at them to stop, because I had an idea they’d been up to something,
since they’d jumped off this car, and I knew Nita had no business on the
train, since all you people were sleeping on the lot.

“They were carrying a couple of suitcases that looked suspiciously heavy
to me. It flashed over me that Mrs. Bybee, being treasurer of the
outfit, must have left a lot of money in her stateroom, and that Nita
and this Steve chap had been planning to rob her when Sally and I heard
them talking the other night. I started after them, still yelling for
them to stop, and Steve turned and fired at me. He missed me, lucky for
me, and I kept right on.

“About a hundred yards beyond the end of the train they climbed into a
car that was parked on the road that runs alongside the tracks and after
telling me goodby with another bullet that missed me, too, Steve had the
car started. I was about to give up and start toward Capital City to
notify the police when I noticed there was a handcar on the tracks, just
where this spur joins the main line.

“I threw the switch and in a minute I had the handcar on the main line
and was pumping along after them. The state road parallels the railroad
track for about five or six miles, you know, and I could make nearly as
good time in my handcar as they could in their flivver, for it’s a down
grade nearly all the way.” He paused, his eyes closing wearily as if
every muscle in his body ached with the memory of that terrible ride in
the dead of night.

“Better rest awhile, Dave,” Pop Bybee suggested gently, bending over the
boy to wipe the cold drops of sweat from his forehead.

“No, I’ll get it over with,” David protested weakly. “There’s not much
more to tell. They couldn’t see me—had no idea I was trailing them in
the handcar. But I could keep them in sight because of their headlights.
I guess they’d have got away, though, if a freight train hadn’t come
along just then and blocked the road. They were just reaching the grade
crossing where the state road cuts the railroad tracks when this freight
came charging down on us—”

“But you, David!” Sally shuddered, bowing her head on his hand, the
fingers of which curled upward weakly to cup her face. “You were on the
track. Did the train hit you? Oh!”

“Of course not!” David grinned at her. “I’m here, and I wouldn’t have
been if the engine had hit the handcar when I was on it. But I’m afraid
the railroad company is minus one handcar this morning. The cowcatcher
of the freight engine scooped it up and tossed it aside as if it had
been a baby’s go-cart, but I’d already jumped and was tumbling down the
bank into a nice bed of wildflowers.

“Pretty wet after the storm, so I didn’t go to sleep. I’d jumped to the
other side of the tracks and was hidden from Steve’s car while the
freight train rolled on. They didn’t stop to hold a post-mortem over the
handcar. Probably figured a tramp had been bumming a free ride on it and
had got his, and good enough for him.

“When the train had passed I was waiting by the road for Steve’s car. I
guess he was pretty badly surprised when I hopped upon the running board
and grabbed the steering wheel and swerved the car into a ditch, nearly
turning it over. I don’t remember much of what happened then, what with
Nita screeching and Steve swearing and popping his gun at me. But
somehow I managed to get his revolver—didn’t know I’d been shot at
first—and dragged him out of the car.

“It must have been a pretty good fight, for Nita decided to beat it
before it was finished. She started off with one of the suitcases but it
was too heavy and she dropped it in the road and lit out. If Nita could
dance as well as she can run,” David interrupted himself to grin at
Bybee, “she’d be a real loss to the outfit.”

“Well, Dave, even if Steve did get away with the money, my hat’s off to
you, boy,” and he reached for the hand which Sally was still cuddling
jealously.

“Who’s telling this?” David demanded, with just a touch of boyish
bravado, which made Sally love him better than ever. “He didn’t get
away. I’m afraid he won’t be good for much for a long time. Nita should
have stayed to look.”

“The money, Dave!” Mrs. Bybee screamed. “You didn’t save the money, did
you, Dave? Where are you, Winfield Bybee? I’m giving you fair warning!
If he saved that money, I’m going to faint dead away!”

“Then I reckon I’d better not tell you that I did save the money,” David
grinned at her. “I surely hate to see you faint, ma’am. It isn’t so
pleasant.”

“Dave, you answer me this minute!” the old lady commanded, shaking a
skinny finger in his face. “Do you know the outfit’ll be stranded if
those two crooks did get away with the money? Every cent we had in the
world was in that safe! You oughta be ashamed of yourself, teasing an
old woman!”

“I did save the money, if that’s what they had in the suitcases, Mrs.
Bybee,” David answered more seriously.

“Then where is it? What have you done with it? Left it lying in the
road?” the showman’s wife screeched, her eyes wild in her gray, wrinkled
face.

“Now, now, Mother,” Bybee soothed her. “If he did, he shan’t be blamed.
How could you expect him to walk six or seven miles with two heavy
suitcases and his shoulder shot through?”

Sally lifted her face from David’s caressing hand and glared at Mrs.
Bybee. “Of course he didn’t leave it lying in the road! After risking
his life to save it for you? David is the cleverest and bravest man in
the world! Don’t you know that yet?”

Her eyes dropped then to David’s face, softened and glowed with such a
divine light of love that the boy’s head jerked impulsively upward from
the pillow. “Where did you hide it, David darling?”

“Dear little Sally!” he murmured, as he fell back, overcome with
dizziness. “She guessed it, sir,” he said drowsily, turning his head
with an effort to face Bybee. “I knew I couldn’t carry it far, so I hid
it. The Steve chap was knocked out cold—I suppose they’ll have another
charge of ‘assault with intent to kill’ against me now—so I knew he
couldn’t see what I was doing.

“I took the two suitcases across the road, holding them in one hand,
because by that time my shoulder was bleeding so I was afraid to strain
it. There’s a farm right at the end of the road. I struck a match and
read the name on the mail box nailed to a post on the road. The name’s
Randall—C. J. Randall, R. F. D. 2. You oughtn’t to have any trouble
finding the place.

“There wasn’t any moon, but the stars were so bright after the storm
that I could just make out a barn about a hundred yards from the road. I
cut across the cornfield and managed to reach the barn. There wasn’t a
sound, not even a dog barking, lucky for me, for if I’d been caught with
the suitcases I’d have had a fine time explaining how I happened to get
them and what I was doing with them. But I had to take that chance.”

“Even if the police had caught you with them, I’d never have believed
that you robbed Pop Bybee,” Sally assured him, tears slurring her voice,
but her eyes shining with pride.

“If you’d seen me robbing the safe, you wouldn’t have believed it,”
David said softly, his free arm drawing her down to the berth so that he
could kiss her.

There was a rustle of whispering, a giggle or two from the audience
crammed into the corridor outside the door. But David and Sally did not
mind. The kiss was none the shorter or sweeter because it was witnessed
by the carnival family.

“Well, sir,” David went on after that unashamed kiss, which had left
Sally trembling and radiant, “I got the suitcases into the barn and up a
ladder to the hayloft. You’ll find them buried under the hay, unless the
Randall horses have made a meal off them by this time.”

“Glory be to the Lord!” Mrs. Bybee screamed, pounding her husband on the
back. “The show’ll go on, Winfield! And what are you standing there for?
Hustle right out after them suitcases or I’ll go myself! You’ve got to
go yourself, or that farmer Randall will take a pot shot at anybody that
goes meddling around his barn.”

“All right, Mother, all right!” Bybee protested. “I’ll handle it. Don’t
worry. But I want to thank Dave here for what he’s done for the outfit.
Dave—” he began, lifting his voice as if he intended to make an oration.

“Oh, that’s all right, Mr. Bybee,” David blushed vividly. “We’ll just
call it square. You didn’t turn me over to the police last night, and
you’ve taken Sally and me in and given us work and protected us—”

“I’m going to do more than that, by golly!” Bybee shouted. “I’m going to
the district attorney of this burg and tell him the whole yarn! I’ll get
them charges against you and Sally quashed in less time than it takes to
say it! You’re a hero, boy, and by golly, I feel like charging admission
for the rubes to look at you! The biggest and bravest hero in captivity!
Yes, sir! How’s that for a spiel, Gus?” he shouted to the barker.

“Dave don’t seem to think it’s so grand!” Gus chuckled. “Look at him! A
body’d thing he’d been socked in the eye instead of slapped on the
back!”

It was true. David was looking so white and sick and his eyes were so
filled with embarrassment and distress that Sally was in tears again.

“What’s the matter, Dave?” Bybee asked in bewilderment. “I thought you
and the kid would be tickled to death to get a clean bill of health from
the cops. What’s wrong?”

David struggled upon the elbow of his right arm, his white face
twitching with a spasm of pain. “I’d be glad to be free of those
charges, Mr. Bybee, but I guess we’d better let them stand for a while.
I might get off all right, but—it’s Sally. You see, sir, she’s not of
age, and the state would make her go back to the orphanage. The law in
this state makes her answerable to the orphanage till she’s eighteen,
and it would kill her to go back. I couldn’t bear it, either, Mr. Bybee.
Sally and I belong together, and we’re going to be married when this
trouble blows over.” Although he was blushing furiously, his voice was
strong and clear, his eyes unwavering as they met the bright, frowning
blue eyes of Pop Bybee.

“But man alive,” Pop protested, and it was noticeable to both Sally and
David that he did not call him “boy” after David’s declaration of his
intentions toward Sally. “We can’t simply hush this whole thing up! You
did follow the crooks and take the money away from them! I’ve got to
notify the police that the swag has been recovered.”

“Can’t you tell them it was all a mistake and call off the case?” David
pleaded earnestly.

“And let that Hula-hussy get off Scot-free?” Bybee hooted. “No, siree!
She ain’t a member of this family no more, and she’ll have to pay for
double-crossing me! I was good to that girl! Staked her to cakes and
clothes when she joined up, whining she didn’t have a cent to her name!
Stringing me all along! Just joined up to learn the lay of the land!

“Besides, we’ve already put the case in the hands of the police and
they’ve seen the safe for themselves. The sergeant said it was a
professional job, all right, as neat a safe-cracking trick as he’d ever
seen turned. I couldn’t hush it up if I wanted to.”

“I’ll do what I can for Sally, lie like a gentleman for her, say she
never joined up with us, we don’t know where she is—anything you like,
but I’m afraid you’re bound to be the hero of Capital City before you’re
twenty-four hours older. Too bad, son, but I don’t see how it can be
helped,” he twinkled.

“I don’t care a rap about being a hero,” David snapped. “The only thing
in God’s world I care about is Sally Ford. Listen, Mr. Bybee, tell the
police that one of the other boys chased the crooks and took the money
away from them. Let Eddie Cobb be the hero! Eddie’d like that, wouldn’t
you, Eddie?” he sang out to the freckle-faced youngster who was looking
on, goggle-eyed, among the crowd that jammed the door of the stateroom.

“Aw, Dave!” Eddie protested, flushing brightly under his freckles.

“Sure you would like it!” David laughed feebly, sinking back to his
pillows. “Listen, Mr. Bybee: this is Eddie Cobb’s home town. He was
raised in the orphanage, like Sally. He’d get a great kick out of being
a hero to the kids at the Home. He can go with you to get the suitcases,
after you’ve sent for the police to go along with you.

“I’ll lie low, Eddie can tell the story I’ve told you, and the cops will
never be the wiser. I can give him a pretty good description of Steve. I
had plenty of chances to study his face after I’d knocked him out. I
imagine he’s beat it in his car by this time, if he was able to drive;
otherwise you’ll find him in the road just as I told you. Of course he’d
know it wasn’t Eddie that fought with him, but the police wouldn’t have
any reason to doubt Eddie’s word.”

“But Nita may have told him about you and me!” Sally cried. “Oh, David,
don’t bother about me! Take your chance while you have it to be cleared
of those terrible charges! I—I’ll go back to the Home and—and wait for
you. I could stand it—somehow—if I knew you were back in college, a—a
hero, and working for both of us. Please, David! Think of yourself, not
me!”

“No.” David shook his head stubbornly. “This little thing I’ve done
wouldn’t get you out of trouble. They might clap you into the
reformatory, as a juvenile delinquent. We can’t take a chance on that!
Besides, you’ve had enough of the orphanage. We stick together, darling,
and that’s that! May I have another cup of coffee, if it isn’t too much
trouble?”

“You’re both a pair of fools, so crazy in love with each other that you
can’t see straight!” Mrs. Bybee scolded, as she blew her nose violently.
“But I’d like to see Winfield Bybee try to do anything you don’t want
him to! Far as I’m concerned, you can have anything I’ve got and welcome
to it!”

Of course there was nothing then for Pop Bybee to do but to adopt
David’s plan. The boy was transferred to a lower berth, where he was
safely hidden until after the detectives had arrived and departed with
Pop Bybee, Eddie and Gus, the barker.

Eddie, in his zeal for playing his part well, had torn his shirt,
bruised his knuckles, scraped dirt on his arms, rolled in mud, and done
everything else to make up for the part.

For the rest of the day Eddie strutted about in the limelight of
publicity. Newspaper photographers and reporters arrived within a few
minutes after the detectives had phoned headquarters that the suitcases
filled with silver and bills had been found in the hayloft; and when
Eddie returned with the showman and the barker, he was prevailed upon to
pose bashfully for his pictures.

The newspaper reporters commented admirably on the “boy hero’s”
admirable modesty and diffidence in the big front-page stories that they
wrote about the carnival robbery, and Eddie’s freckled face, grinning
bashfully from the center of the pages, confirmed every word written
about him.

His kewpie doll booth at the carnival that afternoon and evening was
mobbed by his admirers, and before the day was ended Eddie almost
believed that he _had_ routed two famous criminals and saved a small
fortune for his employer.

Sally was permitted to stay with David during the afternoon, but Bybee
apologetically asked her to go on for the evening performances, since a
record-breaking crowd had turned out, drawn partly by the fine weather
that followed the storm, but largely by the front page publicity which
the robbery had won for the show.



CHAPTER XII


It was just before the ten o’clock show that Sally, slipping into the
throne-like chair before the crystal, heard a familiar, mocking voice:

“It’s not fair! You look as fresh as a daisy! And I’ve been frantic with
anxiety all day, expecting to hear that Princess Lalla had sickened with
pneumonia. I’ve come to collect thanks, your highness, for saving your
life!”

                                  ————

Sally’s sapphire eyes blazed at the man she knew only as “Van,” but
since they were veiled with a new scrap of black lace to replace the one
lost in the storm, the nonchalant New Yorker did not appear to be at all
devastated by their fire.

“Thank you for saving my life,” she said stiffly, but the man’s mocking,
admiring attention was fixed upon the deliciously young, sweet curves of
her mouth, rather than upon the tone of her voice.

“I wonder if you know,” he began confidentially, leaning lightly upon
his inevitable cane, “that you have the most adorable mouth I have ever
seen? Of course there are other adorable details in the picture of
complete loveliness that you present, but really, your lips, like three
rose petals—”

“Oh, stop!” Sally cried with childish anger, her small, red-sandaled
foot stamping the platform. “Why are you always mocking me, making fun
of me? I’ve begged you to let me alone—”

“Such ingratitude!” the man sighed, but his narrowed eyes smiled at her
delightedly. “If you weren’t even more delicious when you’re angry, I
should not be able to forgive you. But really, Sally Ford—” his voice
dropped caressingly on the name, as if to remind her that he shared her
secret with her—“the way you persist in misunderstanding me is very
distressing.

“I’m not mocking _you_, my dear child! I’m mocking myself—if anyone. It
recurs to me continually that this is an amazing adventure that Arthur
Van Horne, of New York, Long Island and Newport is so sedulously engaged
upon! To paraphrase your own delightful defense, I’m really ‘not that
kind of man.’ I assure you I’m not in the habit of making love to show
girls, no matter how adorable their mouths may be!” And he smiled at her
out of his narrowed eyes and with his quirked, quizzical mouth, as if he
expected her to share his amusement and amazement at himself.

“Then why don’t you let me alone?” Sally cried, striking her little
brown-painted hands together in futile rage.

“I wonder!” he mused. “I make up my mind that I’m a blighter and an ass
and that I shan’t come near the carnival. I accept invitations enough to
take up every minute of my last days in Capital City, and then—without
in the least intending to do so—I find myself back in the Palace of
Wonders, humbling myself before a pair of little red-sandaled feet that
would like nothing better than to kick me for my impudence. Do you
suppose, Sally Ford, that I’m falling in love with you? There’s
something about you, you know—”

“Please go away,” Sally implored him. “It’s almost time for my
performance. Gus is ballyhooing Jan now and I come next.”

“As I was saying, when you interrupted me,” Van Horne reproved her
mockingly, “there’s something about you, you know. Last night when I had
the honor of saving your life and seeing your adorable little face
washed clean of the brown paint, I was surprised at myself. I really
was, I give you my word!

“Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to swing you up into my arms,
you amazingly tiny thing, and run away with you. If you hadn’t looked so
young and—pure, I believe the favorite word is—I’d have yielded to the
impulse. I suppress so few of my unholy desires that I suppose this
discipline is good for my soul—Now, what the devil are you looking at,
instead of listening to the confessions of a young man?” he broke off
with a genuine note of irritation in his charming voice.

“Who is that beautiful woman?” Sally asked in a low voice, her eyes
still fixed upon the golden-haired woman whom Van Horne had called
“Enid,” and who had just entered the tent alone, her small body, clad in
the green knitted silk sports suit, moving through the crowd with proud
disdain.

“Again I am forced to forgive you,” Van Horne sighed humorously. “I seem
always to be forgiving you, Sally Ford! You are merely asking a question
which is inevitably asked when Enid Barr first bursts upon a startled
public.

“She is probably the most beautiful blond in New York society. Those
industrious cold cream advertisers would pay her a fortune for the use
of her picture and endorsement, but it happens that she has two or three
large fortunes of her own, as well as a disgustingly rich husband. Yes,
unfortunately for her adorers, she is married, Courtney Barr—even out
here you must have heard of Courtney Barr—being the lucky man.”

“I wonder what she’s doing here,” Sally whispered, fright widening her
eyes behind the black lace.

“Oh, I think Courtney’s here on political business. The Barrs have
always rather fancied themselves as leaders among the Wall Street makers
of presidents. He’s hobnobbing with my cousin, the governor, and Enid is
probably amusing herself by collecting Americana.”

“She must be awfully good,” Sally whispered, adoration making her voice
lovely and wistful. “She brought all the orphanage children to the
carnival yesterday, you know.”

“Yes,” Van Horne shrugged, arching his brows quizzically. “I confess I
was rather stunned, for Enid doesn’t go in for personal charity. Huge
checks and all that sort of thing—she’s endowed some sort of institution
for ‘fallen girls,’ by the way—but it has never seemed to amuse her to
play Lady Bountiful in person. Of course she may be nursing a secret
passion for children, and took this means to gratify it where her crowd
could not rag her about it.”

“Hasn’t she any children of her own?” Sally asked. “But I suppose she’s
too young—”

“Not at all,” Van Horne laughed. “She’s past thirty, certainly, though
she would never forgive me for saying so. She’s never had any children;
been married about thirteen years, I think.”

“Oh, that’s too bad!” Sally’s voice was tender and wistful. “She’d make
such a lovely mother—”

Van Horne interrupted with his throaty, musical laugh, and was in turn
interrupted by Gus the barker’s stentorian roar:

“Right this way, la-dees and gen-tle-men! I want to introduce you to
Princess Lalla, who sees all, knows all! Princess Lalla, world famous
crystal-gazer, favorite—”

Sally straightened in her throne-like chair, her little brown hands
cupping obediently about the “magic crystal” on the velvet-draped stand
before her. Van Horne, with a last ironic chuckle, melted into the
crowd, which had surged toward Sally’s platform.

When Gus’s spiel was finished, the rush began. At least a dozen hands
shot upward, waving quarters and demanding the first opportunity to
learn “past, present and future” from “Princess Lalla.”

She worked hard, conscientiously and cautiously, for she was vividly
conscious that both Van Horne and Enid Barr were somewhere in the tent,
listening perhaps, whispering about her.

Most of her fear of Enid Barr, which had resulted from the connection of
the golden-haired woman with the orphanage children the day before, had
evaporated. It was absurd to think that a woman of such wealth and
beauty, whose philanthropy had undoubtedly been a gesture of boredom,
was seriously interested in one lone little girl who had run away from
charity.

It did not even seem odd to Sally that Enid Barr should have paid a
second visit to the carnival. Probably Capital City afforded scant
amusement for a woman of her sophistication, and the carnival, crude and
tawdry though it was, was better than nothing.

Since “Princess Lalla” was not a side-show all by herself, but only one
of many attractions in the Palace of Wonders, Gus never made any attempt
to cajole reluctant “rubes” into surrendering their quarters for a
glimpse of “past, present and future,” but always hustled his crowd on
to the next platform—“Pitty Sing’s”—as soon as the first flurry of
interest had died down and the crowd had become restive.

By this method, those who were faintly or belligerently dissatisfied
with Sally’s crystal-gazing, at which she was becoming more adept with
each performance, were quickly placated by the sight of new wonders, for
which no extra charge was made.

Sally was straightening the black velvet drapery which covered the
crystal stand, preparatory to returning to the dress tent for a rest
between shows when a lovely, lilting voice, with a ripple of amusement
in it, made her gasp with surprise and consternation.

“Am I too late to have my fortune told?” Enid Barr, gazing up at Sally
with her golden head tilted provocatively to one side, was immediately
below the startled crystal-gazer, one of her exquisite small hands
swinging the silvery-green felt hat which Sally had so much admired the
day before.

“Oh, no!” Sally fluttered, both delighted and frightened at this
opportunity to talk with the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.
Just in time she remembered her accent: “Weel you do me ze honor to
ascend the steps?”

Laughing at herself, and looking over her shoulder to see that she was
not observed by anyone who knew her, Enid Barr ran lightly up the steps
and slipped into the little camp chair opposite Sally. Her small white
hands, with their exquisite nails glistening in the light from the
center gas jet, hovered over the crystal, touching it tentatively.

Sally leaned forward, her own hands cupped about the crystal, her eyes
brooding upon it behind the little black lace veil, her mouth pursed
with sweet seriousness.

“You are—what you call it?—psychic,” Sally chanted in the quaint,
mincing voice with which she had been taught to make her revelations.
“Ze creeystal, she is va-ry clear for you. I see so-o-o much!” She
hesitated, wondering just how much of Van Horne’s confidences about this
beautiful woman she dared appropriate. Would Van Horne give her away?
Then, as if drawn by a powerful magnet, she raised her eyes suddenly and
met those of Van Horne, who was leaning nonchalantly against the
center-pole of the tent. He nodded, smiled his curious, quizzical smile
and slowly winked his right eye. She had his permission—

“Please hurry!” Enid Barr commanded arrogantly. “I’m just dying to know
what you see about me in that crystal!”

“I see a beeg, beeg city,” Sally intoned dreamily, her eyes again fixed
upon the crystal. “I see you there, in beeg, beeg house. Much moneys.
And behind you I see a man—your husband, no?”

“Yes, I am married,” Enid Barr laughed. “Since you see so much, suppose
you tell me my name.”

“I see—” Sally frowned, but her heart was pounding at her audacity, “ze
letter E and ze letter R—no, B! I see a beeg place—not your house—with
ma-ny girls holding out zeir arms to you. You help zem. You are va-ry,
va-ry good.”

“Rot!” Enid Barr laughed, but a bright flush of pleasure spread over her
fair face. “One has to do something with ‘much moneys,’ doesn’t one?
Listen, Princess Lalla, if that is really your name: prove to me you are
a real crystal-gazer! Tell me something I’d give almost anything to
know—” She leaned forward tensely, her violet-blue eyes darkening with
excitement and appeal until they were almost the color of Sally’s.

“And what’s that, Enid?” a mocking, amused voice inquired. “Do you want
to know whether I really love you? How can you ask! Of course I do!”

Enid Barr sprang to her feet so hastily that the camp stool on which she
had been sitting overturned, anger and something like fear blazing in
her eyes.

Enid Barr and Arthur Van Horne moved away from “Princess Lalla’s”
platform together, Enid’s golden head held high, her lovely voice
staccato with anger; but Sally, although she was guilty of trying to do
so, could not distinguish a word that was being said.

Near the front exit of the tent Van Horne was greeted boisterously by a
party of Capital City society men and women, laden with trophies from
the gambling concessions on the midway. He was swept into the party,
which Enid Barr refused to join, shaking her little golden head
stubbornly and pretending a great interest in the midget, “Pitty Sing,”
whose platform was nearest the exit.

Although Sally was at liberty to leave the tent until the final
performance at eleven o’clock, she sat on in her throne-like chair,
hoping and yet fearing that the beautiful woman would return and ask her
the question which Van Horne’s unwelcome interruption had left unspoken.

Enid spoke to “Pitty Sing” in her proud, offhand manner, paid a dollar
for one of the midget’s cheap little postcard pictures of herself,
refused to take the change and was turning toward Sally’s platform again
when Winfield Bybee entered the tent with Gus, the barker.

Sally, watching Enid, saw the woman’s involuntary start of recognition
as Bybee crossed her path, saw her hesitate, then turn toward him,
determination stamped on her lovely, sensitive face.

When Bybee had bared his head deferentially and was bending over the
small woman to hear her low spoken words, Sally was seized with fright.
She knew instinctively that Enid Barr’s questions concerned her, but
whether they concerned Sally Ford, runaway from the state orphanage, or
“Princess Lalla,” fake crystal-gazer, she had no way of knowing. All she
knew for certain was that Enid had overheard Betsy’s shriek: “That’s not
Princess Lalla! That’s Sally Ford—play-acting!” And she fled, feeling
Enid’s eyes upon her but not daring to look back.

There was less than half an hour before the next and final show was to
start. She spent the time in the dress tent, wishing with all her heart
that she was through work for the day and that she could go to David.
Poor David! lying wounded in a stuffy, hot berth, tormented with worries
as to the future and possibly with regrets for the past, while Eddie
Cobb strutted on the midway as the hero of the safe robbery.

It would be better for David, infinitely better, if she could screw up
her courage to the point of going back to the orphanage and taking her
punishment. It would be so simple! She had only to seek out Enid Barr
and say to her: “I _am_ Sally Ford! Send for Mrs. Stone.” And perhaps
Enid would intercede for her, for she seemed so very kind.

“Wake up, Sally,” Bess, one of the dancers of the “girlie show,” called
to her, as she came shuffling into the tent on tortured feet. “Gus is
ballyhooing your show.”

Yes, her mind was made up. She would tell Enid Barr, beg her to
intercede with the orphanage for her, and with the police for David. But
there was no Enid Barr among the audience at the last show of the
evening, and even Van Horne was absent. In spite of her good resolutions
Sally felt an immense relief. Reprieve! She certainly could not give
herself up if there was no one to give up to!

“Going to the show train to see David?” Gus whispered, when the last
show was finished and the audience was straggling toward the exits.

“Of course!” Sally cried. “Is he worse? Don’t hide anything from me,
Gus—”

“Worse!” Gus laughed. “Bybee says he’s yelling for food and threatens to
get up and cook it himself if they don’t give him something besides mush
and milk. Come along! I’ll walk you over to the show train. You’re too
pretty to be allowed to go alone. Some village dude would be trying to
kidnap you.”

They found David sitting up in his berth, working crossword puzzles,
Mrs. Bybee sitting on the edge of his bed to jot down the words as he
gave them to her.

“Reckon you won’t need the old lady now that the young ’un’s come to
hold your hand and make a fuss over you,” Mrs. Bybee grumbled jealously.

“What’s that? What’s that?” Winfield Bybee, who had come over from the
carnival grounds in a service car, demanded from the doorway. “Been
flirting with my wife, young man? Reckon I’ll have to put the gloves on
with you when that crippled wing of yours is O. K. Well, Sally, old Pop
has done you another good turn.”

Sally paled and reached instinctively for David’s left hand. “Oh! You
mean—Mrs. Barr, the lady who was talking to you?”

“Nothing else but!” Bybee nodded, smiling at her. “She tried to make me
admit you was Sally Ford and I acted innocent as a new-born lamb. Told
her you’d been with us since we left New York.”

“Why is she so interested in Sally, Mr. Bybee?” David asked quietly.

“She ’lowed a carnival wasn’t no place for a pure young girl,” Bybee
chuckled. “She said they was anxious over at the orphanage to get Sally
back, away from her life of sin, and that pers’n’ly she took a powerful
interest in unfortunate girls and was determined to see Sally safe back
in the Home if ‘Princess Lalla’ _was_ Sally Ford. I lied like a
gentleman for you, child. Told her she was a nice little dame and all
that, but clear off her base in this instance. Reckon I put it across
all right, for she shut up and beat it pretty soon.”

“I think she’s wonderful,” Sally surprised them all by speaking up
almost sharply. “She’s just trying to be kind. She doesn’t know how
awful an orphans’ home can be.”

“Come along, Mother. Let’s give these two kids a chance. But you mustn’t
stay long, Sally. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and you oughta be enough of a
trouper by now to know what that means. We head South Saturday night,
riding all day Sunday.”

“Out of the state?” Sally and David cried in unison.

“Yep. Out of the state. You kids’ll be safe then. The police ain’t going
to bother about extradition for a couple of juvenile delinquents. So
long, Dave boy. Don’t let this little Jane keep you awake too late.”

“I’ll leave in fifteen minutes,” Sally promised joyfully.

And she kept her promise. Her lips were smiling tenderly, secretly, at
the memory of David’s good-night kiss, when she left the car and began
to look about for someone to walk back to the carnival grounds with her,
for she was to sleep in the dress tent that night, the storm-soaked
mattresses having dried in the sun all day.

Gus had told her he would be waiting for her, but she could not find
him. She went the length of the train to the privilege car, pushing open
the door sufficiently to peep within. At least a score of men of the
carnival family were seated at three or four tables, their heads almost
unrecognizable through the thick layers of cigar and cigaret smoke.
There was little conversation except an occasional oath, but the steady
clacking of poker chips upon the bare tables came to her distinctly.

She closed the door noiselessly and jumped from the platform of the
coach to the ground. It would be mean to disturb Gus, she reflected, for
he loved poker better than anything except ballyhoo, and there was no
real reason why she should not walk to the carnival grounds alone.

Of course she would be conspicuous on the streets in her “Princess
Lalla” costume and make-up, but if she paid no attention to anyone who
tried to accost her, there was certainly not much danger. She began to
run, leaving the train swiftly behind her, but she slowed to a sedate
walk when she reached the business streets through which she had to pass
to reach the carnival grounds.

She was crossing Capital Avenue, at the end of which sat the great white
stone structure which gave the street its name, when a limousine skidded
to a sudden stop and an all-too-familiar voice sang out:

“Princess Lalla! What in the world are you doing out alone at this time
of night?”

Sally contemplated flight, but the limousine blocked her path. Before
she could turn back the way she had come Van Horne stepped out of the
tonneau of the car.

“Let me drive you to the carnival grounds, Sally,” he urged in a low
voice, completely devoid of mockery for once. “It’s really not safe for
you to be out alone dressed like that. Come along! Don’t be prudish,
child! I’m not going to harm you. Remember, ‘I’m not that kind of a
man!’” And he laughed as he almost lifted her into the car.

She sank back upon the cushions, feeling their depth and softness with a
childish awe. The chauffeur started the car, and Van Horne dropped a
hand lightly over hers as he leaned back and regarded her quizzically.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” he told her. “I suppose you’ve been told that
Enid—Mrs. Barr—is hot on your trail?”

“Yes,” Sally nodded, her lips too stiff with sudden fright to form the
word.

“She’s almost convinced that you’re really Sally Ford,” he told her
lightly. “And if she makes up her mind, there’s nothing in heaven or
hell that can stop Enid Barr. A damnably persistent little wretch! I’ve
never been able to understand Enid’s passion for succoring ‘fallen
girls.’ She appears to be such a normal little pagan otherwise.”

Sally said nothing because she could not. But her sapphire eyes were
enormous and her mouth was twitching piteously.

“Listen, Sally,” Van Horne leaned toward her suddenly, crushing her
little brown-painted hands between his own immaculate white ones. “Let
me get you out of this mess! I’ve been thinking a lot about you—too
damned much for my peace of mind! And this is what I want to do—”

“Please!” Sally gasped, shrinking far into the corner of the seat, but
unable to tear her hands from his.

“Wait till you’ve heard what I have to say, before you begin acting like
a pure and innocent maid in the clutches of a movie villain!” Van Horne
commanded her scornfully.

“I want to send you to New York, give you a year in a dancing academy
that trains girls for the stage and a year in dramatic school—both at
the same time, if possible. You’ve got the figure and the looks and the
personality for a musical comedy star, or Arthur Van Horne is the ‘rube’
that you carnival people call him. What do you say, Sally? Think of it.
A year or two with nothing to worry about except your studies and your
dancing and then—Broadway! I’ll put you over if I have to buy a show for
you! Come, Sally! Say ‘Thank you, Van. I’ll be ready to leave
tomorrow.’”

As long as she lived, Sally Ford would remember with shame that for one
moment she was tempted by Arthur Van Horne’s offer to prepare her for a
stage career in New York. She had “play-acted” all her life; her heart’s
desire before she had met David had been to become an actress, and in
that one moment when she knew that realization of her ambition lay
within her grasp she wanted to stretch out her hands and seize
opportunity.

Her eyes glistened; she gasped involuntarily with delight. If Van Horne
had not been hasty, if he had not snatched her to him with a strangled
cry of triumph as his black eyes—mocking no longer, but wide and
brilliant with desire—read the effect of his words, she might have
committed herself, have promised him anything. But he did touch her, and
her flesh instinctively recoiled, for every nerve in her body was still
athrill with David’s good-night kiss.

“No, No! Don’t touch me!” she shuddered. “I won’t go! You know I love
David!” she wailed, covering her face with her hands. “Why won’t you let
me alone?”

Van laughed, settled back in his seat and crossed his arms upon his
breast. “I can wait until you have your little tummy full of carnival
life and of hiding from the police,” he told her in his old, nonchalant
way. “Incidentally I have always bemoaned the fact that conquest is so
damnably easy. It is a new experience to me—this being refused, and I
suspect that I’m enjoying it. Now—shall I say good-night, since we’ve
reached the carnival lot? It’s not goodby, you know, Sally. I assure you
I’m admirably persistent. And remember, if Enid tries to make a nuisance
of herself, you can always fly to Van. Good night, Sally, you adorable,
ungrateful little wretch! No kiss? Perhaps it is better so. I’m afraid I
should not care for the brand of lipstick that Princess Lalla uses.”

Sally did not tell David of Van Horne’s offer, for on Saturday, the last
day of the carnival in Capital City, the boy developed a temperature
which caused Gus, who had acted as volunteer surgeon, to exclude all
visitors, even Sally.

Apparently Enid Barr had been convinced of Bybee’s gallant lies that
little orphaned Betsy had been mistaken and that “Princess Lalla” was
not “Sally Ford, play-acting,” but it was not until the show train was
rolling out of the state in the small hours of Sunday morning that the
girl dared breathe easily.



CHAPTER XIII


Sunday, on the show train, was a happy day, the happiest that Sally had
ever known in her life. Freaks and dancers, barkers and concessionaires,
all the members of that weirdly assorted family, the carnival, mingled
in a joyous freedom from work and worry, singing together, reminiscing,
gambling, gossiping.

The last week, except for the storm, had been an excellent one; money
was free, spirits high. Even Mrs. Bybee, hovering like a mother hen over
David, was good-natured, inclined to reminisce and give advice. Sally,
whose talent for exquisite darning had been discovered by the women and
girls, sat on the edge of David’s berth, her lap full of flesh and beige
and gun metal silk stockings, her needle flying busily, her lips curved
with a smile of pure delight, as she listened to the surge of laughter
and song and talk. The midget, “Pitty Sing,” perched on the window ledge
of David’s berth, a comical pair of spectacles across her infinitesimal
nose, was reading aloud to David from one of her own tiny books, and
David was listening, but his eyes were fixed worshipfully upon Sally,
and now and again his left hand reached out and patted her busy fingers
or twirled the hanging braid of her hair.

Oh, it was a happy day, and Sally was sorry to have it end. But the show
had to go on. The train wheels could not click forever over the rails.
Monday, with its bustle and confusion and ballyhoo and inevitable
performances, lay ahead. But they were far out of the state which held
Clem Carson, the orphanage, Enid Barr, Arthur Van Horne and all other
menaces to freedom when the train did stop at last, on the outskirts of
a town of 10,000 inhabitants.

Carnival routine had already become an old story to Sally; she no longer
minded the curious stares of villagers, the crude advances of dressed-up
young male “rubes.” The glamor had worn off, but in its place had come a
deep contentment and a sympathetic understanding, born on that happy
Sunday when the relaxed carnival family had shown her its heart and
hopes. She was glad to be one of them, to be earning her living by
giving entertainment and happiness—fake though her crystal-gazing was—to
thousands of people whose lives were blighted with monotony.

During their first week in the new territory business was even better
than the Bybees had dared hope. Positively the only calamity that befell
the carnival was the discovery that Babe, the fat girl, had lost five
pounds, due to her loudly confessed but unrequited passion for the
carnival’s hero, David Nash.

On Wednesday, David was permitted to get up, and that afternoon for the
first time he witnessed Sally’s performance as “Princess Lalla.” She had
become so proficient in her intuitions regarding those who sought
knowledge of “past, present and future” that his smiling, amused
attentiveness to her “readings” did not embarrass her.

When the show was over, she joined him proudly, her little brown-painted
hands clinging to his arm, her face uplifted adoringly to his, as she
pattered at his side on a tour of the midway. It was then that her
dreams came true. At last she was “doing the carnival” with a “boy
friend,” like other girls. And David played up magnificently, buying her
hot dogs, salt water taffy, red lemonade—the two of them drinking out of
twin straws from the same glass.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning before show time the two
wandered about the village to which the carnival had journeyed the night
before. It was heavenly to be able to walk the streets unafraid. David
walked with head high, shoulders squared, unafraid to look any man in
the face, and Sally could have cried with joy that he was free again,
for Bybee had assured them that there was not the slightest chance of
extradition on the charges which still stood against the two in their
native state.

Some day, somehow, the cloud against them would be lifted, and David
could walk the streets of Capital City as proudly as he walked these
village streets.

With money in their pockets, they could afford to buy all the
necessities and little luxuries which their enforced flight from the
Carson farm had deprived them of. Sally, her little face enchantingly
grave and wise, chose ties and socks and shirts for David, and almost
forgot to bother about her own needs. And David, in another part of the
village “general store,” bought, blushingly but undauntingly, little
pink silk brassieres and silk jersey knickers and silk stockings for the
girl he loved. When she saw them she burst into tears, hugging them to
her breast as if they were living, feeling things.

“Why, David, darling!” she sobbed and laughed, “I’ve never before in all
my life had any silk underwear or a pair of silk stockings! I—I’m afraid
to wear them for fear I’ll spoil them when I have to wash them. Oh, the
dear things! The lovely, precious things!”

“And here’s something else,” David said to her that Saturday morning.

They were in the still-deserted Palace of Wonders, their purchases
spread out on Sally’s platform.

“Give me your hand and shut your eyes,” David commanded gently, with a
throb of excitement in his voice.

She obeyed, but when she felt a ring being slipped upon the third finger
of her left hand her eyes flew open and found a sapphire to match them.
For the ring that David had bought for her was a plain loop of white
gold, with a deep-blue sapphire in an old-fashioned Tiffany mounting,
such as tradition has made sacred to engagement rings.

“Oh, David!” She laid her hand against her cheek, pressing the stone so
hard that it left its many-faceted imprint upon her flesh. Then she had
to kiss it and David had to kiss it—and her.

“I wish it could have been a diamond,” David deprecated. “I suppose all
girls prefer diamond engagement rings. But—”

“Oh, David, is it an engagement ring?” she breathed, then flung herself
upon his breast, her hands clinging to his shoulders.

“Of course it is, precious idiot!” he laughed. Very gently but
insistently he forced her face upward, so that their eyes met and clung.
His were boyishly ardent but solemn, hers were misted over with tears,
but brighter and bluer than the stone upon her finger. “I don’t know
when we can be married, Sally, but—I wanted you to have a ring and to
know that I’ll always be thinking and planning and—oh, I can’t talk! You
want to be engaged, don’t you, Sally? You love me—enough?”

“I adore you. I love you so that I feel I am not even half a person when
you’re not with me. I couldn’t live without you, David,” she said
solemnly.

They were still sitting there, talking, planning, making love shyly but
ardently, when Gus, the barker, mounted the box outside the tent and
began to ballyhoo for the first show of the morning.

“Eleven o’clock and I’m not in make-up yet, and you’ve got to run the
wheel for Eddie today,” Sally cried in dismay, jumping to her feet and
gathering up her scattered purchases and presents.

As the day wore on, with show after show drawing record crowds for a
village of its size, “Princess Lalla” gazed more often into the shining
blue depths of a small sapphire than into the magic depths of her
crystal. But perhaps the sapphire had a magic of its own, for never had
her audiences been better pleased, never had quarters been thrust so
thick and fast upon her.

At half-past nine that night, Gus, the barker, had not quite finished
his “spiel” about the Princess Lalla when the girl, whose eyes had been
fixed trance-like upon her ring, saw a woman suddenly begin to ascend
the steps to the platform. Before her startled eyes had traveled upward
to the woman’s face Sally knew who it was. For twelve years that big,
stiffly corseted, severely dressed body had been as familiar to her as
her own. Instinctively, though her blood had turned instantly to ice
water in her veins, Sally’s right hand closed over her left, to conceal
the sapphire. Thelma had not been permitted to keep even a bit of blue
glass—

Sally felt as if her flesh were shriveling upon her bones. An actual
numbness spread from her shoulders to her fingertips, in anticipation of
the shock of feeling the Orphans’ Home matron’s grip upon them. How
many, many times in her twelve years in the orphanage had she been
roughly jerked to her feet by those broad, heavy hands, when she had
been caught in some minor infringement of Mrs. Stone’s stern rules!

Her hands, instinctively clasped so that her precious engagement ring
might be hidden from those gimlet-like gray eyes, were so rigid that
Sally wondered irrelevantly if they would ever come to life again, to
curve their fingers about the magic crystal. But of course she would
never “read” the crystal again. She was caught, caught!

“Are you deaf?” Mrs. Stone’s harsh voice pierced her numbed hearing as
if from a great distance. “I want my fortune told. I’ve paid my quarter
and I don’t intend to dilly-dally around here all day.”

The relief was so terrific that the girl’s body began to tremble all
over, but the rigidity of terror had mercifully relaxed, so that she
could lift her shaking hands.

Gus, the barker, who always remained upon the platform during her
“readings,” had long ago arranged a code signal of distress, and now she
gave it. Her hands went up to the ridiculous crown of fake jewels that
banded her long black hair and adjusted it, tipping it first to the
right and then to the left, as if to ease the pressure of its weight
upon her forehead.

That very natural gesture told Gus more plainly than words that
“Princess Lalla” was in danger and asked him to use his ingenuity to
rescue her. There was no need for her to lift her eyes to him. Jerkily
her hands came down, hovered over the crystal, and before Mrs. Stone
could voice another harsh complaint, the sing-song voice which “Princess
Lalla” used was requesting “ze ladee” to sit down in the chair opposite.

But what should she tell Mrs. Stone, with whose personality and history
she had been familiar for twelve years? If she dared to read “past,
present and future” with any degree of accuracy, the matron would be
startled into observing the “seeress” with those gimlet eyes of hers. If
she went too wide of the mark in generalities, Mrs. Stone was entirely
capable of raising a disturbance which would ruin business for the rest
of the day.

“Well, what do you see—if anything?” Mrs. Stone demanded angrily.

That gave Sally her cue. Bending low over the crystal, so that her face
was within a few inches of that of the woman who sat opposite her, with
only the crystal stand between them, she pretended to peer into the
depths of the glass ball. Then slowly she began to shake her head
regretfully.

“Princess Lalla is so-o-o sor-ree”—the small, sing-song voice was raised
a bit, so that Gus, who had strolled leisurely across the platform to
take his stand behind Sally’s chair, might hear perfectly—“but ze
creeystal she ees dark. She tell me nossing about ze nice-tall la-dee.
Sometimes it ees so. Ze gen-tle-man weel give ze money back.”

The thin little shoulders under the green satin jacket shrugged
eloquently, the little brown hands spread themselves with a gesture of
helplessness and regret.

“Glad to refund your money, lady!” Gus sang out loudly. “Here you are!
Better luck next time! Princess Lalla is the gen-u-ine article! If she
don’t see nothing in the crystal for you, she don’t string you
along—right here, lady! Here’s your money back—”

Sally leaned back in her chair, weak with relief, her eyes closed, as
Gus tried to urge her nemesis from the platform. In a moment the danger
would be over—

Then, so quickly was it done that Sally had not the slightest chance to
shield her eyes, a hand had snatched the little black lace veil from her
face. Terror-widened sapphire eyes stared, with betraying recognition,
into narrowed, angry gray ones. Mrs. Stone nodded with grim
satisfaction.

“So Betsy was right! If that idiotic Amelia Pond had told me while the
carnival was still in Capital City, I’d have been saved this trip. Get
up from there, Sal—”

A shriek from the throat of a woman in the audience, which was packed
densely about the platform, interrupted the matron, successfully
diverting the attention of the curious from the puzzling drama upon the
platform.

“I’ve been robbed! Help! Police!” Again the siren of a woman’s scream
made the air hideous. “It was her! She was standing right by me! Police!
Police!”

Even Mrs. Stone was diverted for the moment. Gus, the barker, sprang to
the edge of the platform as a red-faced, disheveled woman fought her way
through the crowd to the platform.

“What seems to be the trouble, madam?” Gus demanded loudly. “Who took
your purse?” He reached a helping hand to the woman who was struggling
to get to the steps leading to the platform.

“It was _her_!” The “country woman,” whom Sally had recognized instantly
as a “schiller,” an employe of the circus, extremely useful in just such
emergencies, shook an angry forefinger in Mrs. Stone’s astounded face.
“She’s got it right there in her hands! The gall of her! Standing right
by me, she was, before she come up here to get her fortune told. Stole
my purse, she did, right outa my hands—”

“This is _my_ purse!” Mrs. Stone shrilled, her face suddenly strutted
with blood. “I never heard of anything so brazen in my life! It’s my
purse and I can prove it is.” She turned menacingly toward Gus, who was
looking from one angry woman to another as if greatly embarrassed and
perplexed.

“Reckon I’d better call the constable and let him settle this thing,” he
said apologetically.

“I’m a deppity sheriff,” a man called loudly from the audience. “Make
way for the law!”

The awe-stricken and happily thrilled crowd parted obediently to let a
fat man with a silver star on his coat lapel pass majestically toward
the platform. Sally knew him, too, as a “schiller” whose principal job
with the carnival was to impersonate an officer of the law when trouble
rose between the “rubes” and any member of the carnival’s big family.

“Come along quiet, ladies!” the fat man admonished the two women
briskly. “We’ll settle this little spat outside, all nice and peaceable,
I _hope_.” The last word was spoken to Mrs. Stone with significant
emphasis.

“This is an outrage!” the orphanage matron raged, but the “deppity
sheriff” gave her no opportunity to say more, either in her own defense
or to Sally.

Gus, the barker, bent over the trembling girl while the crowd was still
enthralled over the spectacle of two apparently respectable middle-aged
women being dragged out of the tent under arrest.

“Better beat it, kid. The dame’s hep to you. Reckon she’s the Orphans’
Home matron, you been telling us about. Here, take this—” and he thrust
a few crumpled bills into her hand—“and don’t ever let on to Pop Bybee
that I helped you get away. Goodby, honey. Good luck. You’re a great
kid.... All right, folks! Excitement’s all over! It gives me great
pleasure to introduce to you the smallest and prettiest little lady in
the world. We call her ‘Pitty Sing,’ and I don’t reckon I have to tell
you why—”

Five minutes later Sally was cowering against the rear wall of Eddie
Cobb’s gambling-wheel concession, pouring out her story to David, to
whom she had fled as soon as Gus had tolled the crowd away from her
platform.

“And she recognized me, David!” the girl sobbed, the palms of her
trembling hands pressed against her face. “I was so startled when she
tore my veil off that I couldn’t pretend any longer. As soon as she gets
away from the ‘schillers’ she’ll set the real constable on my trail. Gus
told me to beat it—oh, David! What’s going to become of me—and you? Oh!”
And she choked on the sobs that were tearing at her throat.

“Why, darling child, we’re going to ‘beat it,’ as Gus advises. Of
course! We’ve ‘beat it’ together before. Listen, honey! Stop crying and
listen. Go to the dress tent, get your make-up off, change your clothes
and make a small bundle of things you’ll need, and I’ll join you there,
just outside the door flaps, in not more than ten minutes. I’ve got to
get my money from Pop Bybee—”

“He’ll stop you!” Sally wailed despairingly. “He’ll make us both stay—”

“Nothing can stop me,” he promised her grimly. “And he’ll give me my
money, too, if I have to take it away from him. But it’ll be all right.
Now run, and for heaven’s sake, darling, don’t let these ‘rubes’ see you
crying. Smile for David,” he coaxed, tilting her chin with a forefinger.
When her lips wavered uncertainly, he bent swiftly and kissed her. “Poor
little sweetheart! There’s nothing to be afraid of. Gus will see that
the ‘schillers’ give us plenty of time, even if he has to call in a real
cop and have Mrs. Stone arrested on a fake charge. Now, walk to the
dress tent, and I’ll be there before you’re ready.”

When Sally reached the dress tent she found “Pitty Sing” perched on her
bed, her tiny fingers busy counting a sheaf of bills that was almost as
large as her miniature head.

“Gus brought me,” she piped in her matter-of-fact, precise little voice.
“Get to your packing, Sally, while I’m talking. But you might kiss me
first, if you don’t mind. I don’t usually like for people to kiss me.
No, wait until you get your make-up off,” she changed her mind as she
saw tears well in Sally’s hunted blue eyes. “This money is for you and
David. He’s going with you, of course?”

“Yes,” Sally acknowledged proudly, as her fingers dug deep into a can of
theatrical cold cream. “But we won’t need the money, Betty. Please—”

“Don’t be silly!” little Miss Tanner admonished her severely. “Gus sent
the word around the tent and everybody chipped in. Jan cleaned the boys
at poker last night and he contributed $20. I think there’s nearly a
hundred altogether. Gus gave $20, and Boffo—”

“Oh, I can’t take it!” Sally protested. “It’s sweet of you all, but I’d
feel awful—”

“Shut up and get busy!” “Pitty Sing” commanded tersely. “I’d wear that
dark-blue taffeta if I were you, and the blue felt you bought in
Williamstown. It won’t show up at all in the dark. Lucky for you it’s
night, isn’t it? It will be nice to be married in, too—”

“Married?” Sally whirled from her open trunk, her cold, cream-cleansed
face blank with astonishment.

From outside the tent came a whistled bar of music—“I’ll be loving you
always!”

“That’s David!” Sally gasped, a blush running swiftly from her throat to
the roots of her soft black hair. “I’ll have to hurry. I—I think I
_will_ wear the blue taffeta!”

“Pitty Sing” chuckled softly, but there were tears in the old, wise
little blue eyes set so incongruously in a tiny, wizened face no bigger
than a baby’s.

“Oh, let’s say goodby to the carnival!” Sally cried, homesickness for
the dearest “family” she had ever known already tightening her throat
with tears.

And so they paused, hand in hand, on the crest of the little hill which
rose at the end of Main Street, on which Winfield Bybee’s Bigger and
Better Carnival was selling temporary joy and excitement to villagers
and farmers weary of the insular monotony of their lives.

There it all lay just below them—big tents and little tents with gay,
lying banners; the merry-go-round with its music-box grinding out “Sweet
Rosie O’Grady”; the ferris wheel a gigantic loop of lights. The
composite voice of the carnival came up to these two children of
carnival who were deserting it, and the roar, muted slightly by
distance, was like the music of a heavenly choir in their ears.



CHAPTER XIV


“Listen!” Sally whispered, her fingers closing tensely over David’s arm.
“Gus, ballyhooing The Palace of Wonders. I wonder if he’ll remember not
to spiel about ‘Princess Lalla.’”

They could see him, a small figure from that distance, looking like a
Jack-in-the-box as he waved his arms and thundered the dear, familiar
phrases which Sally would never forget if she lived to be a hundred.

She was about to run back down the hill, but David strode after her and
put his arms about her comfortingly. “Sally, honey, we haven’t time!
Throw them a kiss from here, and then we’ve got to hurry away.”

She broke from his embrace and flung her arms out in a passionate
gesture of love and farewell. “Goodby, Carnival. Thank you for
sheltering David and me! Goodby, Pop Bybee and Mrs. Bybee! Goodby, Gus!
Goodby, Jan. Goodby, Noko! Goodby, Boffo! And Babe! Goodby, dancing
girls! I hope you all land on Broadway with Ziegfeld! Oh, goodby, Pitty
Sing, dear little Betty! Goodby, goodby!” Then she flung herself upon
David’s breast and held him tight with all the strength in her thin
young arms. “I’ve only got you now, David! Oh, David, what is going to
become of us? Do you really love me, darling?”

She strained away from him, to search his beloved face as well as the
darkness of the night would permit. Faintly she could see the tremble of
his tender, deeply carved lips, so dearly boyish. His eyes looked big
and black in the night, but there was a gleam of such divine light in
them that her fingers crept up his face tremblingly and closed his
eyelids, for she suddenly felt abashed, unworthy of his love.

“I love you with every cell in my body, every thought in my mind and
every beat of my heart,” David answered huskily. “And now let’s travel,
honey. I don’t know where we’re going, but we’ve got to put as much
distance as possible between us and this town before morning.”

But before they set off again he kissed her, not one of the long ardent
kisses that made her dizzy and frightened even as they exalted her, but
a shy, sweet touching of his lips to her forehead. It was as if he were
telling her, wordlessly, that she would be utterly safe with him through
the long, dark hours ahead of them.

They did not talk much as they walked steadily along the dirt roads,
choosing them in preference to the frequented paved highway, for David
cautioned her to save her breath for the all-important task of covering
many miles before daybreak. Neither of them had any idea of the
geography of this state to which the carnival had brought them, but they
felt that it mattered little. David, country-bred, had an instinct for
direction. He had chosen to turn toward the east, and Sally trotted
along by his side, supremely confident that he would lead her out of
danger.

“One o’clock, darling,” he announced at last, when Sally was so tired
that she could hardly put one foot before the other. “We’ll rest awhile
and then plod along. There’s a farmhouse near. See the cows lined up by
the fence? We’ll find a well and have a drink.”

A three-quarters moon rode high in the sky but its light was
intermittently obscured by ragged, scuddling clouds. When they had had
their drink of ice-cold cistern water David made a pillow of his coat
which he had been carrying over his arm, and forced Sally to lie down
for awhile in the soft loam of a recently ploughed field.

He sat at a little distance from her, not touching her, his knees drawn
up and clasped by his strong, tanned hands, but his head was thrown back
and his eyes brooded upon the cloud-disturbed beauty of the night sky.

“Does your shoulder hurt, darling?” Sally asked anxiously.

“No,” he answered, without looking at her. “It’s all healed. Just a
flesh wound, you know.”

The tone of his voice silenced her. She knew he was brooding over their
future, puzzling his young head as to what he was to do with her, and
she lay very still, humble before his masculinity.

“I’ve been thinking, Sally,” he said at last, gently. “First, we’ll get
married in the morning, or as soon as we find a county seat, and then—”

“But David.” Sally sat up, her heart pounding with joy but her mind
unexpectedly clear and logical, “we mustn’t, darling. You’ve got to
finish college, somehow, somewhere—I can’t bear to be a burden upon you!
You’re so young, so young!”

“I’m going to take care of you,” David answered steadily. “We love each
other and I think we always will. My father married when he was
nineteen, and I’m nearly twenty-one—and big for my age,” he added,
grinning at her. “We can’t go on like this, honey. Mrs. Stone would have
a right to think the worst of us—of you—if we were not married when she
catches up with us. She would be justified in thinking that Clem Carson
told the truth to the police when he charged us with—with immorality.
Don’t you see, darling, that we just _must_ be married now?”

“Then I’ll run away by myself!” Sally flashed at him, springing to her
feet. “I’m not going to have you forced into marriage when you’re not
old enough and not really ready for it. You’d hate me for being a drag
on you—”

“Sally!” David was on his feet now and his stern voice checked her
before she had run a dozen steps away from him. “Come here!”

She crept into his arms, and laid her head against his chest, so that
his heart beat strongly and steadily just beneath her ear.

“Listen, Sally, beloved,” he urged softly. “I want to marry you more
than anything in the world. It might have been better if we had met and
fallen in love when we were both older, but fate took care of that for
us, and I’m only proud and happy to be able to ask you now to marry me.
I’ll not make much money at first, maybe, but neither of us has been
used to a great deal, and I promise you now that I’ll not fail you in
love and loyalty. I’ve never cared for any other girl and I never will.
Let’s not try to look too far ahead. We’re young and strong and in love.
Isn’t that enough, sweet?”

“Yes,” she agreed, nodding her head against his breast.

“Then let’s travel,” he laughed jubilantly. “This is our wedding day,
Sally! Think of it, sweet! Our wedding day!”

As they plodded hand in hand through the long hours before dawn Sally
thought of nothing else. She was glad that walking made talking a waste
of energy, for she wanted to think and feel and search her heart and
soul for treasure to lavish upon the boy-man she was to marry.

Marriage! The word made her feel shivery and solemn and more than a
little frightened, but when a shudder of fear made her hand twitch in
David’s, the firm, warm pressure of his fingers reassured her. She
resolutely forced her mind away from the mysteries that lay ahead of
her, mysteries at which Mrs. Stone had hinted in that last, embarrassing
lecture she had delivered to a cowering, shamefaced Sally the day Clem
Carson had taken her to the farm. Whatever lay before her, David would
be with her, gentle, sweet, infinitely tender—

“I’ll be Mrs. David Nash,” she told herself childishly. “I’ll be David’s
wife. I’ll have David for my family, and maybe—some day—there’ll be a
baby David, with hair like gold in the sun—”

“You’ll have to tell a fib about your age, honey,” David interrupted her
thoughts, his voice grave and, it seemed to her, a little embarrassed.
Maybe David, too, was frightened a bit, just as she was! That made it
easier. She was suddenly jubilantly glad that he was not wise and
sophisticated and very much older than she, like Arthur Van Horne, for
instance.

“I’ll have to say I’m eighteen, won’t I?” she laughed. “Do I look
eighteen, David? Now that most girls have bobbed hair, my long hair,
ought to make me look very old and dignified. I _do_ look eighteen,
don’t I, David?”

“Oh, Sally!” David stopped abruptly and held her close to him,
pityingly. “You look the adorable baby that you are! I pray to God that
marrying me won’t make you old before your time! Why, honey-child, you
haven’t had any girlhood at all, or childhood either! You should have
dozens of sweethearts before you marry—go to theaters and parties and
dances for years and years yet, before you settle down.”

“Then I shan’t settle down,” Sally laughed shakily. “I’ll be a giddy
flapper, if you’d rather! Ah, no, David! I want to be a good wife to
you! But we won’t get old and serious. We’ll work together and play
together and study together and hobo all over the country together when
we feel like it. I think we make good hoboes, don’t you?”

“Not at this rate,” David laughed, relieved. “I’m not going to kiss you
a single other time before dawn, or we’ll never get anywhere. And don’t
you try to vamp me, you little witch!”

He did not quite keep his promise, for when Sally became so tired about
four o’clock in the morning that she could walk no further, he picked
her up in his big-muscled young arms, and strode proudly into the dawn
with her, and of course the best antidote for fatigue and sleepiness was
an occasional kiss on her drooping eyelids or upon her babyishly lax,
pink little mouth.

When the sun came up they were a little shy with each other, inclined to
talk rapidly about trivial things.

“Canfield—two miles,” David read from a sign post at a cross-roads. “I’m
going to ask that truck driver the name of the nearest county seat, and
how to get there.”

Sally watched him proudly as he ran swiftly, apparently not at all
fatigued after seven hours of hiking, to hail a dairy truck approaching
along the state highway. The sun was in his tousled chestnut hair,
turning it into gold, and the bigness and splendid beauty of his body
thrilled her to sudden tears of joy that he was hers—hers. Her heart
offered up a prayer: “Please God, don’t let anything happen so that we
can’t be married today! Please!”

“Canfield is a county seat,” David shouted exultantly before his long
strides had brought him back to Sally. “The driver of the milk truck
guessed why I wanted to know,” he added in a lower voice, as he came
abreast of her and took her hands to swing them triumphantly. “He says
we crossed the state line about ten miles back and that the marriage
laws are very easy on elopers here. In some states you have to establish
a legal residence before you can be married, but there’ll be no trouble
like that here. Elopers from two or three bordering states come here to
get married, he says. We’re in luck, sweetheart.”

“You didn’t tell him our names?” Sally asked anxiously. “Mrs. Stone will
have sent out a warning—”

“I’m not quite such an idiot,” David laughed, “even if I am crazy in
love. Now the next problem is breakfast. I suppose a farmhouse will be
the best bet. It wouldn’t be safe for us to hang around Canfield for
three or four hours, waiting for the marriage license bureau to open.
We’re going to be married, darling, before the law has a chance to lay
its hands on us.”

They trudged along the state highway, miraculously revived by hope that
all their troubles would soon be over, their eyes searching eagerly for
a farmhouse. And just over the rise of a low hill they found it—a tenant
farmer’s unpainted shack, from whose chimney rose a straight column of
blue smoke.

They found the family at breakfast—the wife a slim, pretty,
discontented-looking girl only a few years older than Sally; the
husband, thick, short, dark and dour, at least a dozen years older than
his wife; and a tow-headed baby boy of three.

The kitchen was an unpainted and unpapered lean-to of rough,
weather-darkened pine. But Sally and David had eyes only for the tall
stack of buckwheat cakes, the platter of roughly cut, badly fried “side
meat,” the huge graniteware coffee pot set on a chipped plate in the
center of the table. “Breakfast?” the dour tenant-farmer grunted, in
answer to David’s question. “Reckon so, if you can eat what we got.
It’ll cost you 50 cents a piece. I don’t work from sun-up to sun-down to
feed tramps.”

“Oh, Jim!” the wife protested, flushing. “Cakes and coffee ain’t worth
50 cents. I might run down to the big house and get some eggs and
cream—” she added uncertainly, her distressed brown eyes flickering from
Sally and David in the doorway to her scowling husband.

“We’ll be delighted with the buckwheat cakes and bacon and coffee, and
not think a dollar too much for our breakfast,” David cut in, smiling
placatingly upon the farmer. “We’re farmers ourselves, and we’re used to
farm ways. How are crops around here, sir?”

“My name’s Buckner,” the dour farmer answered grudgingly. “I’ll bring in
a couple of chairs. Millie, you’d better fill up this here syrup pitcher
and you might open a jar of them damson preserves.”

“And I’ll beat up some more hot cake batter,” Millie Buckner fluttered
happily. “It won’t take me a minute.”

Sally and David washed their hands and faces at the pump outside the
kitchen door, drying them on a fresh roller towel that Jim Buckner
brought them.

“Run away to get married, have you?” the farmer asked in an almost
pleasant voice, as he led the way to the newly set table.

“Yes,” David answered simply. “We walked all night and we’re rather
tired, but we thought there was no use in going in to Canfield until
pretty near nine o’clock.”

“I guess Millie can fix up a bed so the little lady can snatch a nap
’tween now and then,” Buckner offered. “Pitch in, folks! it ain’t much,
but you’re welcome. Farmer, eh?” and his narrow eyes measured David’s
splendid young body thoughtfully. “Aim to locate around here? Old man
Webster, the man I rent this patch of ground from, is needing hands bad.
He’s got a shack over the hill that he’d likely fix up for you if you
ain’t got anything better in mind. Not quite as nice as this house—we
got three rooms, counting this lean-to, and the shack I’m referrin’ to
is only one room and a lean-to, but the little lady could fix it up real
pretty if she’s got a knack that way, like Millie here has.”

Sally almost choked on her mouthful of buckwheat cake. Were all her
dreams of a home to come to this—or worse than this? One room and a
lean-to! She felt suddenly ill and was swaying in her chair when David’s
firm, big hand closed over hers that lay laxly on the table.

“Thanks, Mr. Buckner,” she heard David’s voice faintly as from a great
distance. “That’s mighty nice of you, but Sally and I have other plans.”

Other plans? Sally smiled at him tremulously, adoringly, knowing full
well that he had no plans at all beyond the all-important marriage
ceremony. But after breakfast she lay down on the bed that Millie
Buckner hastily “straightened” and drifted off to sleep, as happy as if
her future were blue-printed and insured against poverty. For no matter
what might be in store for her, there would always be David—

They left the tenant farmer’s shack at half past eight o’clock, Millie
and Jim Buckner and the baby waving them goodby. Buckner, ashamed of his
ungraciousness, had refused to take the dollar, but David had wrapped
the baby’s small sticky fingers about the folded bill.

“Shall we go up the hill and see ‘Old Man’ Webster?” David asked gravely
when they were in the lane leading to the highway.

“Let’s” agreed Sally valiantly.

“You’d really be willing to live—like that?” David marveled, his head
jerking toward the dreary little shack they were leaving behind them.

“If—if you were with me, it wouldn’t matter,” Sally answered seriously.

“You’ll never have to!” David exulted, sweeping her to his breast and
kissing her regardless of the fact that the Buckners were still watching
them. “I promise you it will never be as bad as that, honey. But maybe
Jim Buckner promised Millie the same thing,” he added in a troubled,
uncertain voice.

“I’ll never be sorry,” Sally promised huskily.

They reached Canfield a few minutes after nine and had no difficulty in
finding the county court house, for its grounds formed the “square”
which was the hub of the small town. An old man pottering about the
tobacco-stained halls with a mop and pail directed them to the marriage
license bureau, without waiting for David to frame his embarrassed
question.

The clerk, a pale, very thin young man, whose weak eyes were enlarged by
thick-lensed glasses, thrust a printed form through the wicket of his
cage, and went on with his work upon a big ledger, having apparently not
the slightest interest in foolish young couples who wanted to commit
matrimony.

“Answer all the questions,” the clerk mumbled, without looking up.
“Table in the corner over there. Pen and ink.”

Sally and David were laughing helplessly by the time they had taken
seats at the pine table in the corner. “Proving you’re never as
important as you think you are,” David chuckled. “Let’s see. ‘Place of
residence?’ I suppose we’ll have to put Capital City. But that chap
certainly doesn’t give a continental who we are or where we’re from.
We’re all in the day’s work with him, thank heaven. Don’t forget to put
your age at eighteen, darling.”

When they presented their filled-in and signed application for a
marriage license, the clerk accepted it with supreme indifference,
glancing at it and drew a stack of marriage license blanks toward him.
As he began to write in the names, however, he frowned thoughtfully,
then peered through the bars of his cage at the blushing, frightened
couple.

“Your names sound awfully familiar to me,” he puzzled. “Where you from?
Capital City? Say, you’re the kids that got into a row with a farmer and
busted his leg, ain’t you?”

Sally pressed close to David, her hands locking tightly over his arm,
but David, as if he did not understand her signal, answered the clerk in
a steady voice: “Yes, we are.”

“I read all about you in the papers,” the clerk went on in a strangely
friendly voice. “I reckon your story made a deep impression on me
because I was raised in an orphans’ home myself and ran away when I was
fourteen. I hoped at the time that you kids would make a clean get-away.
I see the young lady’s had a couple of birthdays in the last month,” he
grinned and winked. “Eighteen now, eh?”

“Yes,” Sally quavered and then laughed, the lid of her right eye
fluttering slowly down until the two fringes of black lashes met and
entangled.

The clerk’s pen scratched busily. “All right, youngsters. Here you are.
Justice of the peace wedding?”

“We’d rather be married by a minister,” David answered as he laid a $20
bill under the wicket and reached for the marriage license.

“That’s easy,” the clerk assured him heartily. “Like every county seat,
Canfield’s got her ‘marrying parson.’ Name of Greer. He’s building a new
church out of the fees that the eloping couples pay him. Lives on
Chestnut street. White church and parsonage. Five blocks up Main street
and turn to your right, then walk a block and a half. You can’t miss it.
And good luck, kids. You’ll need lots of it.”

David thrust a hand beneath the wicket and the two young men shook
hands, David flushed and embarrassed but smiling, the clerk grinning
good-naturedly.

“Hey, don’t forget your change,” their new friend called as David and
Sally were turning away. “Marriage licenses in this state cost only
$1.50. If you’ve got any spare change, give it to Parson Greer.”

“Oh, he was sweet!” Sally cried, between laughter and tears, as they
walked out of the courthouse. “I thought I would faint when he asked us
that awful question. But everything’s all right now.”

“We’re as good as married,” David assured her triumphantly, slapping his
breast pocket and cocking his head to listen to the crackling of the
marriage license. “Five blocks up Main street. Up must mean north—”

Within five minutes they were awaiting an answer to their ring at the
door of the little white parsonage half hidden behind the rather shabby
white frame building of the church.

A stout, rosy-cheeked, white-haired old lady opened the door and beamed
upon them. “You’re looking for the ‘marrying parson,’ aren’t you?” she
chuckled. “Well, now, it’s a shame, children, but you’ll have to wait
quite a spell for him. He’s conducting a funeral at the home of one of
our parishioners, and won’t be back until about half past eleven. I’m
Mrs. Greer. Won’t you come in and wait?”

Sally and David consulted each other with troubled, disappointed eyes.
Sally wanted to cry out to David that she was afraid to wait two hours,
afraid to wait even half an hour, but with Mrs. Greer beaming
expectantly upon them she did not dare.

“Thank you, Mrs. Greer,” David answered, his hand tightening warningly
upon Sally’s. “We’ll wait.”

As they followed Mrs. Greer into the stuffy, over-furnished little
parlor, he managed to whisper reassuringly in Sally’s ear: “Just two
hours, darling. Nothing can happen.”

But Sally was shaking with fright—



CHAPTER XV


During the two hours that they waited for the Reverend Mr. Greer, “the
marrying parson,” David and Sally sat stiffly side by side on a
horsehair sofa, only their fingers touching shyly, listening to
countless romances of eloping couples with which old Mrs. Greer regaled
them in a kindly effort to help them pass the tedious time of waiting.
Her daughter-in-law, widowed by the death of the only son of the family,
trailed weakly in and out of the living room, her big, mournful black
eyes devouring David’s magnificent youth and vigor.

“You remind her of Sonny Bob,” Mrs. Greer leaned forward in her arm
chair to whisper to David. “Killed in the war he was, and Cora just
can’t become reconciled. Seems like the only pleasure she gets out of
life now is acting as witness for weddings. And I must say she cries as
beautiful and sweet as any bride’s mother could. Some of the eloping
brides appreciate it and some don’t, but Cora means well. Once, I
recollect, she spoiled a wedding. It seems that the girl’s mother was
dead set against this boy, and when Cora started to cry, just like a
mother—”

The story went on and on, but Sally heard little of it, for her heart
was suddenly desolate with need of her own mother. Lucky girls who had
mothers to cry for them at their weddings! Her cold fingers gripped
David’s comforting, warm hand spasmodically. Somewhere in the world
there was a woman who was her mother, a woman who had not waited for the
marriage ceremony before succumbing to just such love as that woman’s
unwanted daughter now felt for David.

Understanding and pity for that harassed, shame-stricken girl that her
mother must have been just sixteen years ago gushed suddenly into
Sally’s heart. If David had not been so fine, so tender, so good—she
shivered and clung more tightly to his hand. In a few minutes she would
be his wife and safe, safe from Mrs. Stone, the orphans’ home, the
reformatory.

“I hear Mr. Greer coming in,” Mrs. Greer beamed upon them and bustled
from the room. She returned immediately, a plump hand resting
affectionately on the shoulder of a tall, thin, stooped old man, whose
sweet, bloodless, wrinkled face glowed with a faint radiance of
kindliness and benediction.

“This is little Miss Sally Ford and David Nash, Papa,” Mrs. Greer told
him. “They’ve been waiting patiently for two hours to get married. I’ve
been entertaining them the best I could with some of our very own
romances. I often tell Papa we ought to write stories for the
magazines—”

“Well, well!” The “marrying parson” rubbed his beautiful, thin hands
together and smiled upon Sally and David. “You’re pretty young, aren’t
you? But Mama and I believe in youthful marriages. I was nineteen and
she was seventeen when we took the big step, and we’ve never regretted
it. You have your license, I presume?”

David’s hand shook noticeably as he drew the precious document from his
breast pocket and offered it to the minister. Through old fashioned
gold-rimmed spectacles the minister studied the paper briefly, his lips
twitching slightly with a smile.

“Well, well, Mama,” he glanced over his spectacles at his beaming wife,
“everything seems to be in order. Where is Cora? She’s going to enjoy
this wedding enormously. The more she enjoys it, the more she weeps,” he
explained twinkling at Sally and David. When Mrs. Greer had left the
room, the old minister bent his eyes gravely upon David. “Do you know of
any real reason why you two children should not be married, my boy?”

David flushed but his eyes and voice were steady as he answered: “No
reason at all, sir. We are both orphans, and we love each other.”

Mrs. Greer and her daughter-in-law entered before the old preacher could
ask any further questions, but he seemed to be quite satisfied. Taking a
much-worn, limp leather black book from his pocket, he summoned the pair
to stand before him. Sally tremblingly adjusted the little dark blue
felt hat that fitted closely over the masses of her fine black hair, and
smoothed the crisp folds of her new blue taffeta dress.

“Join right hands,” the minister directed.

As Sally placed her icy, trembling little hand in David’s the first of
the younger Mrs. Greer’s promised sobs startled her so that she swayed
against David, almost fainting. The boy’s left arm went about her
shoulders, held her close, as the opening words of the marriage ceremony
fell slowly and impressively from the marrying parson’s lips:

“Dearly beloved—”

Peace fell suddenly upon the girl’s heart and nerves. All fear left her;
there was nothing in the world but beautiful words which were like a
magic incantation, endowing an orphaned girl with respectability,
happiness, family, an honored place in society as the wife of David
Nash—

A bell shrilled loudly, shattering the beauty and the solemnity of the
greatest moment in Sally’s life. Behind her, on the sofa, she heard the
faint rustle of Mrs. Greer’s stiff silk skirt, whispers as the two
witnesses conferred. The preacher’s voice, which had faltered, went on,
more hurried, flustered:

“Do you, David, take this woman—”

Again the bell clamored, a long, shrill, angry demand. The preacher’s
voice faltered again, the momentous question left half asked. He looked
at his wife over the tap of his spectacles and nodded slightly. Mrs.
Greer’s skirts rustled apologetically as she hurried out of the room.
Sally forced her eyes to travel upward to David’s stern, set young face;
their eyes locked for a moment, Sally’s piteous with fright, then David
answered that half-asked question loudly, emphatically, as if with the
words he would defeat fate:

“I do!”

A clamor of voices suddenly filled the little entrance hall beyond the
parsonage parlor. Sally, recognizing both of the voices, was galvanized
to swift, un-Sallylike initiative. Stepping swiftly out of the circle of
David’s arm, but still clinging to his hand, she sprang toward the
preacher, her eyes blazing, her face pinched with fear and drained of
all color.

“Please go on!” she gasped. “Please, Mr. Greer. Don’t let them stop us
now! Ask me—‘Do you take this man—? Please, I do, I do!”

“Sally, darling—” David was trying to restrain her, his voice heavy with
pity.

“I’m sorry, children,” the old preacher shook his head. “I shall have to
investigate this disturbance, but I promise you to continue with the
ceremony if there is no legal impediment to your marriage. Just stand
where you are—”

The door was flung open and Mrs. Stone, matron of the orphanage, strode
into the room, panting, her heavy face red with anger and exertion. She
was followed by a flustered, weeping Mrs. Greer and by a small, smartly
dressed little figure that halted in the doorway. Even in that first
dreadful moment when Sally knew that she was trapped, that the
half-performed wedding ceremony would not be completed, she was
conscious of that shock of amazement and delight which had always
tingled along her nerves whenever she had seen Enid Barr. But why had
Enid Barr joined in the cruel pursuit of a luckless orphan whose worst
sin had been running away from charity? If David’s arms had not been so
tightly about her, she would have tried to run away again—

“Are we too late?” Mrs. Stone demanded in the loud, harsh voice that had
been a whip-lash upon Sally Ford’s sensitive nerves for twelve years.
“Are they married?”

“I was reading the service when you interrupted, madam,” the Reverend
Mr. Greer said with surprising severity. “And I shall continue it if you
cannot show just cause why these two young people should not be married.
May I ask who you are, madam?”

“Certainly! I am Mrs. Miranda Stone, matron of the State Orphans’ Asylum
of Capital City, and Sally Ford is one of my charges, a minor, a ward of
the state until her eighteenth birthday. She is only sixteen years old
and cannot be married without the permission of her guardians, the
trustees of the orphanage. Is it clear that you cannot go on with the
ceremony?” she concluded in her hard, brisk voice.

“Is this true, Sally?” the old man asked Sally gently.

“Yes,” she nodded, then laid her head wearily and hopelessly upon
David’s shoulder.

“Mrs. Stone,” David began to plead with passionate intensity, one of his
hands trembling upon Sally’s bowed head, “for God’s sake let us go on
with this marriage! I love Sally and she loves me. I have never harmed
her and I never will. It’s not right for you to drag her back to the
asylum, to spend two more years of dependence upon charity. I can
support her, I’m strong, I love her—”

“Will all of you kindly leave the room and let me talk with Sally?” Mrs.
Stone cut across his appeal ruthlessly. “I may as well tell you, Mr.
Greer, that my friend here, Mrs. Barr, a very rich woman, intends to
adopt this girl and provide her with all the advantages that wealth
makes possible.

“She has been hunting for Sally for weeks, and it is only through her
persistence and the power which her wealth commands that we have been
able to prevent this ridiculous marriage today.”

“We shall be glad to let you talk privately with the young couple,” the
old minister answered with punctilious politeness. “Come, Mama, Cora!”

“Will you please leave the room also, Mr. Nash?” Mrs. Stone went on
ruthlessly, without taking time to acknowledge the old man’s courtesy.

Sally’s arms clung more tightly to David. “He’s going to stay, Mrs.
Stone,” she gasped, amazed at her own temerity. “If you don’t let me
marry David now, I shall marry him when I am eighteen. I don’t want to
be adopted. I only want David—”

“I think the boy had better stay,” Enid Barr’s lovely voice, strangely
not at all arrogant now, called from the doorway.

When the minister and his wife and daughter-in-law had left the room,
Enid Barr softly closed the door against which she had been leaning, as
if she had little interest in the drama taking place, and walked slowly
toward David and Sally, who were still in each other’s arms. Gone from
her small, exquisite face was the look of aloof indifference, and in its
place were embarrassment, wistful appeal, tenderness and to Sally’s
bewilderment, the most profound humility.

“Oh, Sally, Sally!” The beautiful contralto voice was husky with tears.
“Can’t you guess why I want you, why I’ve hunted you down like this? I’m
your mother, Sally.”

“My mother?” Sally echoed blankly. Then incredulous joy floated her pale
little face with a rosy glow. “My mother? David—Mrs. Stone—oh, I can’t
think!”

David’s arms had dropped slowly from about her shoulders and she stood
swaying slightly. “But—you can’t be my mother!” she gasped, shaking her
head in childish negation. “You’re not old enough. I’m sixteen—”

“And I’m thirty-three,” Enid Barr said gently. “There’s no mistake,
Sally, my darling. I’m really your mother, and I’d like, more than
anything in the world, for you to let me kiss you now and to hear you
call me ‘Mother’.” She had advanced the few steps that separated them
and was holding out her delicate, useless-looking little hands with such
humility and timidity as no one who knew Enid Barr would have believed
her capable of.

Sally’s hands went out involuntarily, but before their fingers could
intertwine, Enid flung her arms about the girl and held her smotheringly
close for a moment. Then she raised her small, slight body on tiptoes
and pressed her quivering lips softly against Sally’s cheek. At the
caress, twelve years of loneliness and mother-need rushed across the
girl’s mind like a frantically unwinding spool of film.

“Oh, I’ve wanted a mother so terribly! Twelve years in the orphanage—Oh,
why did you put me there?” she cried brokenly. “It’s awful—not having
anyone of your own—no family—and now, when I have David to be my family,
and I don’t need you—so much—you come—Why didn’t you come before? Why?
Why did you put me there?”

Her words were incoherent, and at the bitter reproach in them Enid tried
to hold her more closely, but Sally, scarcely knowing what she did,
struck the small, clinging arms from her shoulders and whirled upon
David, her mouth twisting, tears running down her cheeks. “I don’t want
anyone but you now, David. Don’t let them separate us, David. We’re half
married already! Make the preacher come back and finish marrying us,
David—”

Enid Barr, looked wonderingly upon her arms, as if expecting to see upon
them the marks of her daughter’s blows. A gust of anger swept over her,
leaving her beautiful face quite white and darkening her eyes until they
were almost as deep a blue as Sally’s.

“You cannot marry the boy, Sally! I’m sorry that almost my first words
to you should be a reminder of my authority over you as your mother.
Come here, Sally!” But almost in the moment of its returning the
arrogance for which she was noted dropped from her, and humility and
grief took its place. “Please forgive me, Sally. It’s just that I’m
jealous of your love for this boy and grieved that you want to leave me
for him. But—oh, why _should_ you love me? God knows I’ve done nothing
yet to make you love me! I can’t blame you for hating and reproaching
me—”

“Oh!” Sally turned from the shelter of David’s arms and took an
uncertain step toward her mother, pity fighting with rebellion and
bitterness in her overcharged heart. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Barr—Mother—”

“I think you’d better tell her your story as you told it to me, Mrs.
Barr.” Mrs. Stone could keep silent no longer. “Now, Sally, I want you
to listen to every word your mother says and bear in mind that she is
your mother and that she has been hunting for you for weeks, her heart
full of love for you because you were her child.”

For twelve years Sally had obeyed every command uttered in that harsh,
emphatic voice and she obeyed now, allowing herself to be led by Mrs.
Stone to the sofa. Enid Barr took her seat on one side of the girl and
David without asking permission of either of the two older women who
watched him with hostile, jealous eyes, took his place on the other
side, his hand closing tightly over Sally’s.

Jealously, Enid Barr reached for the girl’s other hand and held it
against her cheek for a moment before she began her story, her contralto
voice low and controlled at first. Mrs. Stone sat rigidly erect in an
old-fashioned morris chair, her lips folded with an expression of grim
patience, as if she regretted the necessity of once more hearing a story
which affronted her Puritanical principles.

“I was just your age, Sally,” Enid began quietly, “just sixteen, when I
met the man who became your father. I was Enid Halsted then. He was
fifteen years older than I. I thought I—loved him—very much. He was—very
handsome.”

Her eyes flickered toward the soft tendrils of black hair that showed
under the brim of Sally’s little blue felt hat. “My father, a proud man
as well as a very rich one, forbade me to see the man, discharged him,
but—it was too late.”

She interrupted herself suddenly, leaning across Sally to challenge
David with eyes which were again arrogant. “I’m permitting you to hear
all this, Mr. Nash, because I know that Sally would not listen if I sent
you from the room. But I must ask your promise never to tell anyone what
you hear today—”

“It concerns Sally, Mrs. Barr, and anything that concerns her, either
her past, present or future—” his eyes flicked a tiny smile at Sally as
he repeated the familiar phrase from Gus, the barker’s ballyhoo—“is
sacred to me.”

“Thank you,” Enid said coldly, and was immediately punished by Sally’s
attempt to withdraw her hand. “I am sure I can trust you, David,” Enid
added, swallowing her pride, so that Sally’s fingers would twine about
her own again. “My mother was dead, had been dead for more than five
years. I had to tell my father. There’s no use in my going into all that
happened then,” she shivered, her free hand covering her eyes for a
moment. “He—saw me through it, because he loved me more than I deserved.
No one knew, for he arranged for me to go to a private sanitarium, where
no one but the doctor knew my real name. After my baby was born my
father told me it had been born dead, and I—I was glad at first. But
afterwards I could hardly bear to look at a baby—I mustn’t try to make
you sorry for me,” she cried brokenly, flicking her handkerchief at a
tear that was sliding down her cheek.

Enid Barr drew a deep, quivering breath and cuddled Sally’s hand against
her cheek. “Father took me to Europe for a year and when we returned, I
made my debut, as if nothing had happened. I was eighteen then, and
thought I never wanted to be married, but when I met Courtney Barr my
second season I changed my mind; when I was twenty I married him. I’ve
been married thirteen years and—there’s never been another baby. There
couldn’t be—because of the first one—you, Sally—though I didn’t know,
didn’t dream you were alive.”

“Poor Mother!” Sally whispered, tears slipping unnoticed down her own
cheeks. It was all right—all right! Her mother hadn’t meant to abandon
her, even if she had been ashamed of bearing her—

“My father died when I was twenty-one, just four years after you were
born, Sally. He died suddenly, and the lawyers couldn’t find a will.
He’d hidden it too well. Everything came to me, of course, all that he
had meant you to have as well as my own share—”

“He—my grandfather—sent Mrs. Ford money.” Sally cried suddenly. “Gramma
Bangs told me she used to get money orders and that when the money
stopped coming, Mrs. Ford had to put me in the orphanage, because she
was sick—I understand now!”

“Yes, he sent her a liberal allowance for you, on condition that she
never tell who you were and that she should never bring you to New York.
She did not herself know who you were, who the man was who sent the
money, who your mother was,” Enid Barr went on, her voice more
controlled now that she had passed over the telling of her own shame.

“It was not until May of this year that I found out all these things. A
connoisseur of antiques was looking at my father’s desk and accidentally
discovered a secret drawer, containing his will and a painstaking record
of the whole affair. I told no one but Court—my husband—and he agreed
with me that I must try to find you at once. He was—wonderful—about it
all. Of course I had told him, or rather, my father had told him the
truth about me before I married him, but Court thought, as I did, that
the baby had died. It was a great shock to him, but he’s been
wonderful.”

Her voice had the same quality in it as she spoke of Courtney Barr that
enriched Sally’s voice whenever she spoke David’s name, and the girl
could not help wondering why her mother, who had suffered and loved,
could not understand the depth of her love for David. Maybe she would—in
time—

“I found Mrs. Nora Ford’s address among the papers, of course, and I
went to Stanton immediately, but as I had feared, I found that she had
left there years before, and that no one in the neighborhood had the
least idea where she had gone. One old lady—Mrs. Bangs—said that Nora
had had a daughter, Sally, and I knew that she meant my daughter. I
spent weeks and a great deal of money searching for some trace of Nora
Ford and Sally Ford, but it was useless. I had almost lost hope of
finding either of you when I read that terrible story in the papers
about Sally Ford and David Nash—”

“Carson lied,” David interrupted quietly. “His story was false from
beginning to end. There was absolutely nothing between Sally and me but
friendship. I knocked him through the window because he called her vile
names and was threatening to send her back to the orphanage in disgrace,
when she had done nothing wrong except work herself almost to death on
his farm.”

“Thank you, David. I’m glad to hear the truth. I was sure of it the
first time I looked into my daughter’s eyes. But if it had not been for
that story in the paper I would not be here today, so I’m almost
grateful to Carson for his vileness. I went to the orphanage,
interviewed Mrs. Stone and after I had satisfied myself that Sally was
really my daughter, I told her all that I’m telling you now and asked
her to help me find her. That afternoon I took the children to the
carnival, because it was the only way I could do anything for you, my
darling.”

“And Betsy recognized me!” Sally cried. “If Gus hadn’t been trying so
hard to protect David and me from the police—”

“Exactly!” Enid smiled at her through tears. “You’ve been running away
from your mother ever since, not from the police! And what a chase
you’ve led us, darling! That enormous old man, Winfield Bybee, had
convinced us that we were on the wrong track, that Betsy had been
mistaken, and the carnival had left town when Mrs. Stone got a letter
from a woman who said she’d been with the carnival—”

“Nita!” Sally and David exclaimed together. So she had kept her promise
to avenge herself, Sally reflected. A queer revenge—restoring an
orphaned girl to her mother who was a rich woman. Sally smiled.
But—wasn’t she avenged after all? Wouldn’t Nita congratulate herself on
having separated David and Sally, no matter what good luck she had
inadvertently brought upon Sally by doing so?

At the sudden realization of what this story meant to herself and David,
Sally withdrew her arm from about her mother’s shoulders and flung
herself upon David’s breast.

                                  ————

Very gently David unclasped Sally’s hands, that locked convulsively
about his neck. His eyes were dark with pain as Sally, hurt and
resentful, shrank from him.

“You’re glad to get out of it!” she accused him. “You were only marrying
me because you were sorry for me. You won’t fight for me now, because
you’re glad to be free—”

“Sally! You don’t know what you’re saying! You know I love you, that
I’ve thought of nothing but you since we met on Carson’s farm. Of course
I want to marry you, and will be proud and happy to do so, if your
mother will consent.”

Sally’s face bloomed again. She seized her mother’s hands and held them
hard against her breast as she pleaded: “You see, Mother? Oh, please let
us go on with our marriage! David and I will love you always, be so
grateful to you—Listen, Mother! You’ll have a son as well as a
daughter—”

“Don’t be absurd, Sally!” Enid commanded brusquely. “When you were
indeed a girl alone, with no family, no prospects, nothing, a marriage
with David would undoubtedly have been the best thing for you. But
now—it’s ridiculous! This boy has nothing. You would be a burden upon
him, a yoke about his young neck that should not be bowed down by
responsibility for several years. You’re both under a cloud. I
understand that he cannot return to college or go back to his
grandfather until this trouble is cleared up. What did you two children
expect to do, once you were married?”

“I expected to work at anything I could get to do,” David answered with
hurt young dignity. “I have brains, two years of college education, a
strong body, and I love Sally.”

Enid Barr leaned across Sally and touched David’s clenched fist with the
caressing tips of her fingers. “You’re a good boy, David and Sally, the
orphan, the girl alone, would have been lucky to marry you. But you
understand, don’t you? She’s my daughter, will be the legally adopted
daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Courtney Barr. Anyone in New York could tell
you what that means. She will have every advantage that money can offer
her—finishing school or college, if she wants to go to college; travel,
exquisite clothes, a place in society, a mother and father who will
adore her, a girlhood rich with all the pleasures that every normal girl
craves. Help me to give her these things, David, things you would give
her if you could!”

“This is all nonsense!” Mrs. Stone spoke up sharply. “You know perfectly
well, Mrs. Barr, that these two foolish children can’t get married
without your consent. I, for one think you’re wasting your time. Simply
put your foot down and take your daughter home with you.”

Sally flushed angrily and struggled to rise, but David held her back.
“You’ll have to go with her, darling. Remember how you’ve always wanted
a mother? You have one now, and she wants you with her, wants to make up
to you for all you’ve missed.”

As only mute rebellion answered him, he wisely changed his tactics: “Do
you think you could ever be really happy, darling, knowing that you had
hurt your mother, cheated her of the child for whom she has grieved all
these years? She’ll never have another child, Sally, and she needs you
as much as you need her.”

When Sally’s mouth began to quiver with new tears, Enid Barr took the
girl in her arms. At last Sally raised her head and searched her
mother’s face with piteous intensity. “Do you really need me?” she
cried. “You’ll love me—be a real mother to me? You don’t just want me
because it’s your duty?”

Tears clouded the clear blue of Enid’s eyes as she answered softly:
“I’ll be a mother to you, Sally, not because it’s my duty, but because I
already love you and will love you more and more. If I had searched the
whole world over for the girl I would have liked to have as my daughter,
I could not have found one who is as sweet and pretty and dear as you
are. I’m proud of my daughter, and I shall hope to make her proud of
me.”

“Then—I’ll go with you,” Sally capitulated, but she added quickly, “If
David will promise not to love any other girl until I’m old enough to
marry him.”

Over Sally’s head, cradled against her mother’s breast, Enid Barr and
David Nash exchanged a long look, as if measuring each other’s strength.
David knew then, and Enid meant him to know, that Sally’s mother had far
different plans for her daughter than any that could possibly include
David Nash.

“I’ll always love you, Sally,” David said gravely, as he rose from the
sofa.

Sally struggled out of her mother’s clasp and sprang to the boy’s side
just as he was reaching to the little center table for his hat. “Where
are you going, David? Don’t leave me yet! Oh, David, I can’t bear to let
you go! How can I write you—where? Tell me, David! Oh, I love you so I
feel like I’ll die if you leave me!”

Defiant of the tight-lipped disapproval of Mrs. Stone and of the anxious
signal which Enid’s blue eyes were flashing him, David put his arms
about Sally and held her close, while he bent his head to kiss her.

“You can write me here, general delivery. I’ll stay here for a while, I
think, until I can make plans—”

“My husband is in Capital City now, David,” Enid interrupted eagerly. “I
am going to have him intercede with the authorities for you. You can
return to Capital City as soon as you like. There’ll be no trouble, I
promise you. It is the only thing we can do to repay you for your great
kindness toward—our daughter.”

“Then you can go back to college, David,” Sally rejoiced, her eyes
shining through tears. “And when you’ve graduated and—and gotten your
start, we can be married, can’t we?”

“If you still want me, Sally darling,” David answered gravely. “Thank
you, Mrs. Barr. You’ll—you’ll try to make Sally happy, won’t you?”

“I promise you she’ll be happy, David,” Enid answered, giving him her
hand. “May I speak with you alone a moment?” she added impulsively, and
linking her arm in his drew him toward the door that opened into the
little foyer hall.

“David! You’re not going? Without telling me goodby?” Sally cried,
stumbling blindly after them.

“Goodby, my darling.” He put his arm about her shoulders and laid his
cheek against her hair as he murmured in a low, shaken voice: “I’ll be
loving you—always!”

When the door had closed upon her mother and her almost-husband, Sally
did a surprising thing: she went stumbling toward Mrs. Stone, and
dropped upon her knees before that majestic, rigid figure which she had
feared for twelve years.

When Enid Barr returned a few minutes later, two round spots of color
burning in her cheeks, she found her daughter in the orphanage matron’s
lap, cuddled there like a small child, trustfully sobbing out her grief.



CHAPTER XVI


Enid Barr left with her daughter for Kansas City that night, after
wiring her husband, Courtney Barr, who was still awaiting word from her
in Capital City. For two days Sally and Enid shopped for a suitable
wardrobe for Sally, went to shows together, explored the city, and spent
many hours talking. Whenever the question of Sally’s future arose, Enid
spoke only in generalities, evading all direct questions, but about
Sally’s childhood and young girlhood in the orphanage and on the Carson
farm, and about her experiences with the carnival, Enid was insatiably
curious and invariably sympathetic. Sally sensed that her mother was
anxiously awaiting Courtney Barr’s arrival before making any definite
plans, and gradually the girl grew to dread the ordeal of meeting her
mother’s husband, the man who would become her father by adoption.

And when at last he came she knew that her troubled intuition had been
correct. However “wonderful” he had been to Enid when she had discovered
that her child had not been born dead but was alive somewhere in the
world, Sally felt instantly that his kindness and generosity toward Enid
would not extend to herself.

Courtney Barr was a meticulously groomed, meticulously courteous man who
had, in slipping into middle-age, lost all traces of the boy and youth
he must have been. To Sally’s terrified eyes, this rather heavy,
ponderous man, on whom dignity rested like a royal cloak, looked as if
he had been born old and wise and cold. She wondered how her exquisite,
arrogant little mother could love him so devotedly.

Almost immediately after the awkward introduction—“This is our Sally,
Court!”—the three of them had had dinner together, a silent meal, so far
as Sally was concerned. She had felt that the Enid with whom she had
talked and laughed and wept these two days had slipped away, leaving
this sophisticated, strange woman in her place, a woman who was in
nowise related to her, a woman who was merely Mrs. Courtney Barr.

They left her alone for an hour after dinner, an hour which she spent in
her own room in writing a long, frightened, appealing letter to David.
At nine o’clock Enid knocked on her door and invited her to join them in
the parlor of the luxurious suite which had been such a delight to
orphanage-bred Sally.

She found Courtney Barr seated in a large arm chair, her mother perched
on the arm of it, one tiny foot in a silver slipper swinging with
nervous rapidity. The man smiled bleakly, a smile that did not reach his
cold gray eyes, as Sally took the nearby chair that he indicated.

“Mrs. Barr and I have been discussing your immediate future, Sally,” he
began ponderously, in tones that he evidently thought were kind.

Institutional timidity closed down upon Sally; under those cold eyes she
lost that ephemeral beauty of hers which depended so largely upon her
emotions. It was her institutional voice—meekness hiding fear and
rebellion—which answered: “Yes, sir.”

“Oh, let me talk to her, Court!” Enid begged. “You’re scaring my baby to
death. He fancies himself as an old ogre, Sally darling, but he’s really
a dear inside. You see, Sally, I was so eager to find my baby that I
made no plans at all.”

Courtney Barr said, “I think I’d better do the talking after all, my
dear. Your sentimentality—natural, of course, under the
circumstances—would make it impossible for you to state the case clearly
and convincingly.”

Sally’s cold hands clasped each other tightly in her lap as she stared
with wide, frightened eyes at the man who was about to arrange her whole
future for her.

“I have made Mrs. Barr understand how impossible it will be for us to
take you into our home at once, as our adopted daughter,” Courtney Barr
went on in his heavy, judicial voice.

Sally sprang to her feet, her eyes blazing in her white face. “I didn’t
ask to be found, to be adopted!” she cried. “If you don’t want me, say
so, and let me go back to David!”

It was the loving distress on Enid Barr’s quivering face that quickly
brought Sally to bewildered, humiliated submission, rather than the cold
anger and ill-concealed hatred in Courtney Barr’s pale gray eyes. Enid
had left the arm of her husband’s chair and had drawn Sally to a little
rose-up-holstered settee, and it was with her mother’s hand cuddling
hers compassionately that Sally listened as the man’s heavy, judicial
voice went on and on:

“I am sure, Sally, that when you have had time for reflection you will
see my viewpoint. Naturally, your mother’s happiness means more to me
than does yours, and I believe I know my wife well enough to state
positively that a newspaper scandal or even gossip among our own circle
would cause her the most acute distress. It shall be our task, Sally, to
see that she is spared such distress.

“I’m sorry to appear brutal,” Barr said stiffly. “But it is better for
us to face the facts, for if our friends ever know them they will not
mince words. If you should come into our home now, as you are, gossips
would immediately set themselves to dig up the facts. Too many people
already know that Sally Ford has been sought by the police as
a—delinquent. My wife and I could not possibly hope to explain our
extraordinary interest in a runaway orphan. Do you agree with me,
Sally?” He tried to make his voice kind, but his eyes were as cold and
hard as steel.

“Yes, sir,” Sally agreed in her meek, institutional voice. But she felt
so sick with shame and anger that her only desire then was to run and
run and run until she found a haven in David’s arms. At the thought,
some of the spiritedness which her few weeks of independence had
fostered in her asserted itself. “But, Mr. Barr, if I would disgrace my
mother, why don’t you let me go? I can marry David and no one will ever
know that I have a mother—”

“That is very sensible, Sally,” Courtney Barr nodded, a gleam of
kindliness in his cold eyes, “and I have tried to make your mother
believe that your happiness would be best assured by your sticking to
your own class—”

“It isn’t her class, if you mean that she’s suited only to poverty and
hard work!” Enid Barr interrupted passionately. “Look at her, Court!
She’s a born lady! She’s fine and delicate clear through—”

“And so is David!” Sally cried indignantly. “He may be middle-class, but
he’s the finest, most honorable man in the world!”

“We shall not quarrel about class,” Courtney Barr cut in with heavy
dignity. “The important thing is that your mother is determined to have
you, to fit you for the station to which she belongs. I believe she is
making a mistake, both from your standpoint and from hers, but I am
willing to agree to a sensible arrangement. Our plan now, Sally, is to
put you into a conservative, rather obscure girls’ finishing school in
the South. I have several relatives—‘poor relations,’ I suppose you
would call them—in the South, and it is my suggestion that you enter
school as my ward—mine, you understand, not your mother’s, so that any
suspicion as to your real parentage will rest upon me, rather than upon
her.” He arched his eyebrows at Sally, looking rather consciously noble,
and she nodded miserably. “During the two years that you will be in
school—”

“Two years!” Sally echoed blankly. Two years more of loneliness, of not
belonging, of being an orphan!

“Two years will pass very quickly,” Courtney Barr assured her. “Enid,
please control yourself! I am infinitely sorry to distress you in this
manner, but it is the only sensible thing to do.”

“Yes, Court,” Enid choked and buried her exquisite face in her small,
useless-looking white hands.

Sally put her arms about her mother, and leaned her glossy black head
against the golden one. “I’ll try to be contented and happy, Mr. Barr.
Of course I want to protect Mother—”

“That is another thing, Sally,” Courtney Barr interrupted in an almost
gentle voice. “You must try to remember not to refer to Mrs. Barr as
your mother in the hearing of anyone—anyone! If we are going to protect
her, we must begin now.”

“Yes, sir,” Sally bowed her head lower so he might not see her tears.

“Both Mrs. Barr and I will drop casual remarks about my pretty young
ward in school down South, until our friends have become accustomed to
the idea. You will be registered as Sally Barr, a distant relative of my
own, and my ward. It is even probable that it would not be unwise to
have you with us for a short time next summer. We have an estate on Long
Island, you know.

“As my ward and as my distant relative, you would not be particularly
conspicuous, but our friends would meet you casually and be the less
surprised when it became known that Mrs. Barr and I had decided to adopt
you as our daughter. All our friends and acquaintances know that it has
been a great grief to us that we have no children, and I believe our
action in this matter would occasion no great surprise. The adoption
itself will take place before your eighteenth birthday, while you are
still in school. If there is any newspaper publicity, it will be of an
innocuous kind, I hope.

“Naturally I shall take care that any newspaper investigation will not
be able to go back of the story I shall prepare very carefully, and if
there is any hint of scandal at all, it will inevitably reflect on me
and not on your mother, as I have already pointed out. After your
adoption and your graduation from the finishing school, you will, of
course, take your place in our home as our daughter, will make your
debut in society that fall, and, I hope, be very happy with us and in
your new life.”

Sally sat very still, her eyes wide and blank, while her bewildered,
unhappy mind tried to picture the future which Courtney Barr was
outlining for her. At last she shook her head, as if to clear away the
mists of doubt and bewilderment. Her mother had taken Sally’s little
lax, cold hands and was cuddling them against her cheeks, bringing a
fingertip to her lips occasionally.

“Poor baby! And—poor mother!” Enid whispered brokenly, and the spell was
broken. The hard lump of unhappiness and resentment that had been aching
in Sally’s throat since Courtney Barr had begun to speak melted in
tears. They wept in each other’s arms, while Enid’s husband walked
impatiently up and down the room.

When the storm had spent itself, Sally remembered David again, and pain
and fear contracted her heart sharply.

“Did you see David, Mr. Barr?” She sat up and dabbed at her wet cheeks
with one of the exquisite sheer linen handkerchiefs which Enid had given
her.

“Oh, yes, yes!” Barr answered quickly. “I managed his affairs very
neatly. Rand, the district attorney, personally attended to the quashing
of the charges against him, and it cost only a thousand dollars to get
Carson to issue a statement to the press that he had really seen nothing
compromising between young Nash and yourself. He also admitted that the
boy’s anger had been in a measure justified, that the assault had been
provoked by his own mistaken charges against you and Nash. The boy’s
reputation is cleared now and he can go back to college this fall. I
also saw his grandfather and persuaded him that the boy had been a hero
rather than a blackguard. Young Nash is at home on his grandfather’s
farm again, so that incident is successfully closed.”

Gratitude brought Sally to her feet. “Thank you, Mr. Barr! You’ve been
wonderful! It won’t be so hard for me to be away at school if I know
that David is in school, too. I wrote him tonight, but I’ll tear it up
and write a new letter, telling him all about everything and how happy I
am that he’s free of those awful charges—”

“No, Sally,” Barr interrupted, frowning. “Your mother and I are agreed
that you must not write to young Nash, that there must be no thought of
an engagement—”

“Not write to David?” Sally, echoed blankly. “I love David, Mr. Barr,
and I always will. It’s not fair to ask me to promise not to write to
him.”

“I already have his promise not to write to you,” Barr told her
implacably. “He understands the situation, agrees with your mother and
me that your past must be forgotten as quickly as possible. You are
entering upon a new life tomorrow when you leave for Virginia with me, a
life that will be totally different from David Nash’s. You will—though
you don’t seem to realize it—be an heiress to great wealth some day—”

“You told him that!” Sally accused him hotly. “You told him he’d be a
fortune-hunter if he tried to marry me when I’m of age! Oh, you’re not
fair! You have no right to turn David against me, when I love him as I
do—”

“You’re only sixteen, Sally!” Barr cut in sternly, “You don’t know the
meaning of the word love—”

“Please, Court,” Enid begged, her own face white and drawn with pity for
Sally. “Please let me handle this myself. Sally is overwrought now,
nervously exhausted. Come along to bed now, darling,” she coaxed, her
little hands upon Sally’s shoulders. “Let Mother tuck you up and sing
you a lullaby. I’m not going to be cheated of that experience even if my
baby is bigger than I am.”

Fresh tears gushed into Sally’s eyes, and she allowed herself to be led
away. At the door she paused:

“Good night, Mr. Barr. I—I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate
what you’ve done for me—and David—and what you’re going to do for me. I
do think you’re good and that you want to be kind to me, but I know
you’re making a mistake about David and me. I am young, but I know I
love David and that I’ll never want to marry anyone else.”

Courtney Barr flushed and looked embarrassed. “Thank you, Sally. I’m
sure we’ll be friends. I want to be. I expect to take my duty as your
father very seriously, to try to make you happy. As for David, time has
a way of settling things if we only give it a chance. By the way, my
dear,” he added hastily as Sally was about to pass on into her bedroom
with her mother, “I think it will be wiser if your mother does not
accompany us to Virginia. I will arrange for you to board with my
relatives in Virginia until school opens this fall. They will be glad,
for a consideration, to do and say anything I wish them to in regard to
you, and we must begin immediately to take every precaution to protect
your mother.”

“Yes, sir,” Sally answered faintly, her eyes appealing to Enid for
consolation.

When Sally was in bed, having been flutteringly and lovingly assisted in
her preparation by her mother, Enid bent over her to whisper:

“Darling, darling, don’t look so forlorn! Two years will pass so swiftly
and if you’re very good, we’ll let you ask David to your coming-out
party.”



CHAPTER XVII


It was a desolately unhappy Sally who began what she considered the
unbearable task of living those two years which Courtney Barr had
decreed should separate the orphan, Sally Ford, from the society
debutante, Sally Barr. A dozen times, at least, during those first few
weeks she would have run away, straight to David Nash, if she had not
given her word of honor both to her mother and to her mother’s husband.

But, almost insensibly, she began to enjoy life again. It was a
soul-satisfying experience to have an apparently unlimited supply of
spending money and the most beautiful wardrobe of any girl in the little
Virginia city to which Courtney Barr had taken her. For many days almost
every mail brought her a package from New York, addressed in Enid Barr’s
surprisingly big handwriting. She and her mother wrote each other twice
a week, and Enid early formed the habit of sending her a weekly budget
of clippings from the papers about the social set in which the Barrs
moved so brilliantly—“so you will become acquainted with the names of
those who will be your friends,” as Enid wrote her daughter.

Gradually the unreality of her new position and of her future
expectations wore off and Sally came to regard herself as really the
daughter of the Courtney Barrs.

She lived for the rest of the summer with Courtney Barr’s third cousins,
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Barr, who were glad of both the money and the
companionship which Sally brought them. To their friends the Charles
Barrs explained that Sally was an orphaned cousin, and the story
apparently was never questioned. She was accepted cordially by the
carefree young people of the small city’s best social set, and was
sometimes ashamed of the pleasure she had in being a popular,
well-dressed, pretty young girl.

She reproached herself for not mourning constantly for David, but she
knew that not for an instant were her loyalty and love for him
threatened by her strange new experiences. And, although she had given
her promise not to write to David, she composed long, intimate letters
to him every week, putting them away in her trunk in the confident
belief that he would some day read them and love them, because she had
written them.

She told him everything in these letters she could not send—told him of
the two or three nice boys who declared their puppy love for her;
confessed, with tears that blistered the pages, that she had let one of
them kiss her, because he seemed so hurt at her first refusal; described
her new clothes with child-like enthusiasm; tucked snapshots of herself
in the enchanting new dresses between the folded pages; in fact, poured
out her heart to him far more unaffectedly than would have been possible
if she had been mailing the letters.

Not feeling at all that she was breaking her promise, she subscribed to
The Capital City Press and to the college newspaper, avidly searching
them for any news of David and jealously hoarding the clippings with
which her diligence was rewarded.

In this way she learned that he was elected president of the junior
class; that he “made” the football eleven as halfback; that—and she
almost fainted with terror—that he was slightly injured during the
Thanksgiving game, when A. & M. beat the State University team in a
bitterly fought contest.

By that time she was in the finishing school which Courtney Barr had
chosen for her, and was herself becoming prominent in school activities
through her talent for dramatics. When David’s college paper printed a
two-column picture of her sweetheart she cut it out and framed it. The
greatest joy she had that first year of her new life was to hear the
other girls rave about his good looks and his athletic record, of which
she bragged swaggeringly.

During the spring term she was chosen by the dramatic director to take
the lead in the school’s last play of the year, “The Clinging Vine.”
Sally Ford, or Sally Barr, as she was known at the school, was again
happy “play-acting.” Enid and Courtney Barr came down from New York for
the play and for commencement exercises, though Sally would not graduate
for another year. It was the first time she had seen her mother since
they had parted in the little mid-western town where Enid had found
Sally being married to David Nash.

“But how adorably pretty you are!” Enid exclaimed wonderingly, when she
had the girl safe in the privacy of her own suite in a nearby hotel. “I
wanted to nudge every fond mama sitting near me and exult, ‘That’s my
daughter! Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she a wonderful little actress?’
Are you happy, darling?”

Sally, her cheeks poppy-red with excitement and pleasure in her success
in the school play, twirled lightly on the toe of her silver slipper, so
that her pink chiffon skirt belled out like a ballet dancer’s.

“Happy? I’m thrilled and excited right now, and happy that you’re here,
but sometimes I’m lonely, in spite of my new friends—Oh, Mother,” she
cried, catching Enid’s hands impulsively, “won’t you let me go back with
you and Mr. Barr now? I want to be with someone I belong to! I don’t fit
in here, really. I—I guess I’m still Orphan Sally Ford inside. I’m
always expecting them to snub me, or to taunt me.”

Enid’s eyes filmed over with tears, but she shook her head. “We must try
to be patient, darling. I want you to be at home with girls like
these—girls who have always had money and social position and—and
culture. It’s a loathsome word, but I don’t know any better one for what
I mean. Don’t you see, sweetheart? Mother wants you to be ready for New
York when you come, so that you will be happy, but not timid and
ill-at-ease. Court was really very wise. I’ve come to see that now.
Please try to be patient, darling.”

“And this summer?” Sally quivered. “He said I could be with you at your
Long Island home—”

But Enid was shaking her head again, her eyes infinitely fond and
pitying. “I’m going abroad, dear. I haven’t been very well this
winter—just tired from too much gayety, I think. The doctors advise a
rest cure in southern France. I want you to go to a girls’ camp in New
Hampshire. It’s really a part of your education, social and physical. I
want you to ride and swim and hike all summer, with the sort of girls
whom you’ll be meeting when you do join us in New York.

“You’re to learn to play golf, perfect your game of tennis. By the way,
I want you to go to as many house parties on your holidays as you can.
Learn to flirt with the college youngsters you’ll meet; be gay, don’t
be—”

“Institutional,” Sally interrupted in a low voice as she turned sharply
away from her mother.

It was almost a relief to the girl when Enid was gone. Her mother’s
exquisite, fragile beauty, her unconscious arrogance, her
sophistication, her sometimes caustic wit, formed a barrier between
them, in spite of the almost worshipful love that Sally felt for her.

Enid, when she was with her, somehow made the 17-year-old-girl feel
gawky, underdone, awkward, shy. Those cornflower blue eyes, when they
were not misted with tears of affection for this daughter whom she had
so recently discovered, seemed to Sally to be a powerful microscope
trained upon all her deficiencies, enlarging them to frightening
proportions. She knew that in these moments of critical survey her
mother was looking upon her, not as a beloved daughter miraculously
restored to her, but as a future debutante, bearer of the proud name of
Barr, and as a pawn in the marriage game as it is played in the most
exclusive circles in New York Society.

And Sally squirmed miserably, pitifully afraid that she would never
measure up to the standard which her mother and Courtney Barr had set
for her, knowing, too, deep in her heart, that she did not want to. For
her heart had been given to a golden young god of a man, whose kingdom
was the soil, and whose wife needed none of the qualities which Enid
Barr was bent upon cultivating in her daughter.

But twelve years of implicit obedience to the authorities at the
orphanage had left their indelible mark upon Sally Ford, who was now
Sally Barr. She would do her best to become the radiant, cultured,
charming, beautiful young creature whom Enid Barr wanted as a daughter.
And since she had Enid’s letters to help her, the task was not so
impossible as it had seemed to her. For in the letters Enid was more
real as a mother than she could yet be in actual contact. The fat weekly
envelopes were crammed with love, maternal advice, encouragement,
tenderness.

Sally sometimes had the feeling that through these letters of her
mother’s she knew Enid Barr better than anyone had ever known her. And
she loved her with a passionate devotion, which sometimes frightened her
with its intensity. Gazing at David’s picture, clipped from the college
newspaper, she wondered, with a cruel pain banding her heart, if this
almost idolatrous love for her mother would ultimately force her to give
up David. If it should ever come to a choice between those two
well-beloved, what should she do?

Sometimes she agonized over the fear that David might have ceased to
love her, might have found another girl, might even be married.
Sometimes her hands shook so as they spread out the flat-folded sheets
of the college newspaper and of the Capital City _Press_ that she had to
clasp them tightly until the spasm of fear subsided. And each time the
relief was so great that she sang and laughed and danced like a
joy-crazy person.

The other girls jeered at her good-naturedly because she was always
singing, “I’ll be loving you—always!” But she did not care. It was her
song—and David’s.

She followed, with that obedience so deeply implanted in her, every
phase of the program which Enid and Courtney Barr had mapped out for
her. She went to the girls’ camp in New Hampshire and returned to school
in Virginia that fall strong and tanned and boyish-looking, and was able
to report to Enid that she could swim beautifully if not swiftly, could
ride gracefully, could hold her own decently in a hard game of tennis,
could play golf well enough not to be conspicuous on the links.

During her last term at the finishing school she obediently paid a great
deal of attention to her dancing, to drawing room deportment, and to her
own beautiful young body, learning to groom it expertly. And during the
Christmas and Easter vacations she netted three proposals of marriage,
from brothers of classmates in whose homes she visited. She learned,
somehow, to say “no” so tactfully that her suitors were almost as
flattered by her refusals as they would have been if she had accepted
them.

Enid and Courtney Barr came down from New York to see her graduate, and
with them they brought the news of her legal adoption.

“A surprise, too!” Enid chanted, swinging her daughter’s hands
excitedly. “Court and I are going to take you to Europe with us this
summer, and keep you away from New York until almost time for you to
make your debut.”

“Europe!” Sally was dazed. Her first thought was that Europe was so far
away from Capital City and David. He was getting his diploma now, just
as she was getting hers—“Oh, Mother, you haven’t forgotten your promise,
have you?”

Enid frowned slightly, abashed by Sally’s lack of enthusiasm. “Promise,
darling?”

“That I could invite David to my coming-out party? Mother, I’ve lived
for two years on that promise!” she cried desperately, as the frown of
annoyance and anger deepened on her mother’s exquisite, proud little
face.

Periodically, during the four months that the Barrs spent in wandering
over Europe, Enid’s evasive reply to Sally’s urgent question thrust
itself frighteningly through the new joys she was experiencing.

Enid had shrugged and said: “Remind me when we’re making up the
invitation list this fall, Sally.” She knew now that her mother had
counted on her forgetting David, that Enid had told herself until she
believed it, because she wanted to believe, that the transformed Sally,
the Sally whom she had remade into the kind of girl who could take her
place in society as the daughter of Enid and Courtney Barr, would be a
little ashamed of her 16-year-old infatuation for a penniless young
farmer.

But Sally’s heart had not changed, no matter how radically Enid’s money,
the finishing school and Europe had altered her, mentally and
physically.

One morning in November Sally knocked at the door of the small, pleasant
room known to the Barr household as “Miss Rice’s office.” Linda Rice
held the difficult, exacting but always exciting position of Enid Barr’s
social secretary. Sally liked Linda, envied her her independence, her
tactful, firm handling of her sometimes unreasonable employer. As she
knocked now, fear of her mother fluttered in the heart that was so full
of love and admiration for her. For she knew that Enid and Linda were
making up the invitation list for the long-discussed coming-out party.

“Come in,” Enid’s contralto voice called impatiently. “Oh, it’s you,
darling. How cunning you look! Turn around so I can see how that new bob
looks from the back. Oh, charming! Max is a robber, but he does know the
art of cutting hair. Isn’t she precious, Linda?”

Sally, dressed in a deceptively simple little frock of dark blue French
crepe which half revealed her slender knees, whirled obediently. The
heavy, silken masses of her black hair had long since been ruthlessly
sacrificed to the shears, and now with the new Parisian cut, later to be
the rage in America and known as the “wind-blown bob,” she looked like
an impudent little gamin, amazingly pretty and pert.

Her clear white skin contradicted the effect of the impish hair-cut,
however, and persisted in making her look appealingly feminine.

“To think she can eat anything she wants and still keep that figure!”
Enid exclaimed with humorous envy. “I’d give my soul to be able to eat
bread and candy again.” But she looked at her own tiny body, no bigger
than an ethereal 12-year-old girl’s and smiled with satisfaction. “What
did you want, darling? Linda and I are awfully busy.—Oh, by the way, you
mustn’t forget Claire’s tea this afternoon. You’re going to Bobby
Proctor’s luncheon at the Ritz, too, aren’t you? Like the social whirl,
sweet?”

“It still frightens me a little,” Sally confessed with a slight shiver.
“Mother,” she began with a desperate attempt at casualness, “you’re
sending David an invitation, aren’t you? You promised, you know—”

Enid frowned and pretended to consult the copy of the long list which
she had been checking when Sally interrupted. “Is David Nash’s name on
the list, Linda? Never mind. I’ll look for it. And Linda, will you
please run down and tell Randall that Mrs. Barrington will be here for
luncheon today? He’ll have to have gluten bread for her. Thank you,
dear. I don’t know what I should do without you, Linda, you priceless
thing!”

When the secretary had left the room, Enid turned to Sally, who was
standing beside the desk, twisting her hands nervously. “Darling, I’ve
counted so on your not holding me to that foolish promise I made two
years ago. You _must_ realize that David—dear and sweet and good as he
undoubtedly is—belongs to your past, a past which I want you to forget
as completely as if it had never existed.”

Sally opened her lips to speak, but the futility of the retort she was
about to make overwhelmed her. How could she forget those twelve lonely,
miserable years in a state orphanage? And how could her mother possibly
expect her to forget David, who had been her only friend, her “perfect
knight” when such dreadful trouble as Enid, in her sheltered life, could
hardly imagine, had made her a hunted, terror-stricken fugitive from
“justice”? David to whom she was “half married,” David whom she would
always love, even if she never saw him again? But she _would_ see him!

“Please don’t get that sulky, stubborn look on your face, Sally!” Enid
spoke almost sharply. “I am thinking of David, too. Do you really think
it would be fair to him to ask him to come to New York merely for a
party, to see the girl he cannot hope to marry make her debut in a
society to which he could never belong? Don’t be utterly selfish,
darling! Think of me a little, too! David knows—the truth. You must know
it would be painful for me to see him, after the story I told you in his
presence. I want to forget, Sally, and just be happy, now that I have my
daughter with me—” The lovely voice trembled with threatened tears, and
the cornflower-blue eyes pleaded almost humbly with implacable sapphire
ones.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Sally answered steadily. “But—you promised. I’ve
done everything you asked me to do for more than two years. I kept _my_
promise not to write to David, because all the time I was counting on
you to keep yours.”

Enid Barr flushed and tapped angrily with her pen against the edge of
the desk. “Of course, if you put it that way, I have no choice! How
shall Linda address the invitation?”

“Thank you, Mother,” Sally cried, stooping swiftly to lay her lips
against her mother’s golden hair. “You’ve made me awfully happy.” Her
voice shook a little with awed delight as she gave her mother the only
address she knew—David’s grandfather’s name and the R. F. D. route on
which his farm lay.

“I suppose I’m having all this bother for nothing,” Enid brightened.
“The boy would be an idiot to spend the money on the trip—even if he has
it to spend!”

A beautiful light glowed in Sally’s wide, dreaming eyes. “David will
come,” she said softly. “He will come if he has to walk.”

“A hiking costume would be so appropriate at a society girl’s debut,”
Enid pointed out, a little maliciously, but she smiled then, a little
secret, satisfied smile, as if she hoped he would look a rube among the
sleek young men who would be asked to view her daughter when she was
officially put “on the market.”

But Sally was too happy to notice. “May I write him, too, Mother? It
would look so queer, just sending him an invitation, without a word—”

“Absolutely not!” Enid was stern. “The invitation is more than
sufficient. Now run along, darling, and dress for Bobby’s luncheon. It
seems to me there were never so many sub-deb parties as there are this
year, but you simply must go to all of them, if your first season is to
be a success. The list is going to be miles long,” she worried. “Perhaps
it would have been wiser to have your party at the Ritz, as Mrs. Proctor
and most of the others are doing, but there seems to be little reason to
keep up an enormous establishment like this if you can’t entertain in
it.”

“‘Coming out’ seems so silly,” Sally protested with sudden, unusual
spirit. “Of course with me it’s different. The crowd doesn’t know me
very well yet, but nearly all of the debs have been really ‘out’ for two
or three years. They’ve been prom-trotting and going to the opera and
the theater alone with me, even to night clubs—I can’t see what real
difference it will make to most of them—”

“Of course you can’t,” Enid said with unintentional cruelty. “You
haven’t been reared to this sort of thing. But you’ll learn. Run along
now, and look your prettiest. And by the way, if you have a minute,
won’t you stop by the photographers to choose the poses to be released
for publication? The society editors are calling up frantically. All
they’ve had are snapshots of you, and I want them to print a picture
that will do you justice. You’re really the loveliest thing on the deb
list this year, you know. But do run along! I shan’t get a blessed thing
done if you stay here gossiping with me.”

Sally laughed, kissed her mother and ran from the room, bumping into
Linda Rice, who was discreetly waiting outside the office until the
interview between mother and daughter should be finished.

“Linda,” she whispered, her face rosy with sweet embarrassment, “I gave
Mother the name of a very special friend of mine, to put on the
invitation list. You’ll be a darling and mail it out today, won’t you?
You see, he lives in the Middle West and I want him to have plenty of
time to plan to come. David Nash is the name.” Her voice caressed the
three beloved syllables more tenderly than she realized, and Linda Rice
nodded her a knowing smile.

“Of course, Sally. And I hope he comes. I’ll mail it this very
afternoon.”

Sally ran up the broad, circular staircase to the third floor, scorning
to use the “lift” which Courtney Barr had had installed in the Fifth
Avenue mansion a few years before.

She never entered her own suite of rooms—sitting room, bedroom, dressing
room and bath—without first an uneasy feeling that she was trespassing
and then a shock of delight that it was hers indeed. Now she passed
slowly through the rooms, trying to see them with David’s eyes, or even
with the eyes of the forlorn little Sally Ford who had slaved sixteen
hours a day on the Carson farm for her “board and keep.”

Suddenly a picture flashed across her mind—the two-rooms-and-lean-to
shack in which she and David had eaten what was to have been their
wedding breakfast. A great nostalgia swept over her—not only for David,
but for plain people working together to make a home and to support
their children.

All her life in the orphanage she had dreamed of delicate foods,
skin-caressing, lovely fabrics, spacious, gracious rooms. And now she
had them—and she was frightened to nausea, because they were a barrier
between her and David and all the realities of life and love which she
had so nearly grasped when she was slaving on the farm, working as
“Princess Lalla” in the carnival, fleeing from the pursuit of the law
with only David to protect her.

She dressed listlessly for the sub-deb luncheon at the Ritz, chatted and
laughed and pretended to be as frivolous and “wild” as any of her new
friends; went to Claire Bainbridge’s tea that afternoon; went to the
theater with her mother and adopted father that night, went, went, went
during the next few days, but her heart was concerned with only one
question: would David come? She had been so sure, so arrogantly, proudly
sure that he would come even if he had to walk—

On the fifth day after the invitation was despatched his telegram came.

Color—all colors swirling together in a mad kaleidoscope of incredible
beauty; the muted, insistent throbbing of a violin played by an unseen
artist; the rosy glow of light which apparently had no source; the
rustling whisper of silks; the polite, subdued buzz of middle-aged
conversation; the shrill but musical clamor of very young voices; the
subtle, faint odor of French perfumes; the stronger, more sickening odor
of too many hothouse flowers—

Sally Barr, who had been Sally Ford, was “play-acting” again. She was
playing the role of a society debutante. She was “playing-acting” and
enjoying it, with a sort of surface enjoyment that made her look the
perfect picture of the popular and beautiful debutante.

She knew that her cheeks were like tea roses, her sapphire eyes as
brilliant as the jewel whose color they had imitated so perfectly. She
knew that her wind-blown bob of gleaming, silky-soft black hair was
ravishing, that her “period costume” of sea-shell pink taffeta and
silver lace, made sinfully expensive by its intricate embroidery of seed
pearls, was the most beautiful dress worn by any debutante of the season
so far.

She knew all these things because the enviously ecstatic compliments of
the other girls had told her so, because Enid Barr, her mother, who all
these people thought was only her adopted mother, was luminous with
pride and joy in her, because even Courtney Barr, with whom she still
felt ill-at-ease, looked like a pouter-pigeon in his possessive
satisfaction.

But Sally Barr was play-acting and the Sally Ford she had been looked
on, in a skimpy little white lawn dress edged with five-cent lace, and
watched the performance with critical eyes, or, rather, watched as often
as those hungry, desperate eyes turned away from the door, unable to
bear the sight of newcomers because none of them was David.

The Sally Ford in the skimpy little white lawn dress which the orphanage
provide for Sundays and for rare dress-up occasions wondered how these
strange, glamorous people could not see her beneath the sea-shell pink
taffeta with its silver lace and precious seed-pearl embroidery. And
this Sally Ford whom they could not see kept telling herself over and
over that her dreams had come true: she had a mother who was rich and
beautiful and tender and wise—nearly always wise, except about David;
she was living in a mansion more magnificent than the orphaned
“play-actress” had ever been able to conjure; she was beautiful and
popular; these strange people who were “in society” were here because
Sally Ford—no, Sally Barr!—was making her debut, was being accepted as
one of them.

She told herself these things and her eyes again darted to the door,
hungry for the sign of a penniless, 23-year-old farmer boy who would be
as much out of place in this ballroom among these strange, glamorous
people as Sally Ford in her skimpy little white lawn dress.

Three words hammered their staccato message ceaselessly on her
listening, watching nerves: “Coming. Thanks. David.” Three words which
had broken the silence of two and a half years.
Coming—thanks—David—Coming—thanks—David—

“Darling, this is Mrs. Allenby, a very old and dear friend of mine—”

Sally Barr smiled her shy, sweet, little-girl smile and Sally Ford noted
the success of it critically as the frumpy, dyed-haired little old lady
passed on down the receiving line. Coming—thanks—David—But, oh, was he
coming?

She stole a glance at the tiny watch set in the circle of diamonds that
banded her bare arm just below the elbow. Half past eleven. Dancing
would begin at twelve. She had been smiling and twittering and looking
sweet and demure or provocative and gay since eight o’clock, when the
dinner for the debutantes had begun.

How much longer could she keep it up? It was really absurd for them to
suppose that she could go on like this until three or four o’clock in
the morning, when her heart was broken—



CHAPTER XVIII


“Mr. David Nash!”

Nothing, no one could have held her. The words had scarcely lift the
butler’s lips when Sally reached David’s side, her full skirt,
lengthened to the tips of her slippers by the frosty silver lace,
billowing like sails at the mooring of the snug little bodice.

She seized his gloved hands, her joy-widened eyes blazing over his face,
his adored, so well-remembered face.

“Oh, David! David! I thought you weren’t coming! I’d have died if you
hadn’t come!” She stepped back a pace, her small hands swinging his as
if she were a joyous child and there were no one else in the ballroom at
all. “You look older, David! You haven’t been sick? You worked too hard
to finish college? Oh, David—”

His eyes laughed at her through a barrier of embarrassment, and his
startlingly grim young face softened. It was true that he looked much
older; boyishness had left him, and Sally could have screamed out her
pain that this was so. He was thinner, or appeared to be, in his
perfectly fitting evening clothes. Odd to see him dressed like that, she
thought, near to tears.

She had seen him in overalls and cheap “jeans” and in decent but
inexpensive tweeds. She had seen his big-muscled arms bare, the summer
sun gilding the fine hairs upon them; she had seen him sweating over the
cook stove in the privilege car of Bybee’s Bigger and Better Carnival
Shows, stripped to a thin cotton undershirt.

But she had never before seen him like this—immaculate, correct, of a
pattern, apparently, with all other well-dressed young college men. And
she was illogically hurt, felt as if the correctly stiff bosom of his
shirt was a veritable wall between the old David and the old Sally—

“They’ve cut off your beautiful hair,” were his first words.

She stood still, her hands slowly releasing his, feeling his eyes rove
over her, as hers had swept over him, and she did not need to look into
his eyes to find that he was withdrawing from her, alienated,
bewildered, saddened.

She wanted to cry out to him, to beat his breast with her hands: “It’s
Sally, David! Sally Ford underneath, Sally who loves you better than
anything in the world.” But she did not say it, for Enid Barr was at her
elbow, and it was her mother’s coldest most polite voice that was
welcoming David.

“We’re so glad you could come, Mr. Nash. Did you have a pleasant
journey? I’m glad. Sally, you _must_ come back into the receiving line,
darling. I’ll introduce Mr. Nash.”

The next hour was an almost unbearable eternity to Sally. But she
“play-acted” through it—gave the tips of her fingers to late comers,
smiled, murmured appropriate phrases which Enid had painstakingly taught
her; opened the ball; danced, in rapid succession with the most
importunate of her male guests, for Enid, reluctantly acceding to the
new informality, had not insisted upon dance cards.

But all the time her eyes were darting about on their quest for David.
She spotted him at last, near the door of the ballroom, moodily
listening to whatever it was that Courtney Barr was saying in his most
unctuous, weighty manner.

“Please—I’ll be back soon!” Sally gasped to her amazed partner, and
broke from his grasp.

She did not in the least care that curious glances and uplifted brows
followed her fleet progress across the crowded ballroom floor. Her whole
attention was given to David, David who looked ill-at-ease and wretched—

“Aren’t you going to dance with me?” she cried as soon as she reached
him and her adopted father. “You mustn’t let Father monopolize you.
Come, before the music stops.”

Unsmiling, David took her into his arms, gingerly, as if he were afraid
of crushing the precious dress.

“Do you remember the other time we danced together, David?” she
whispered, her voice tender with memories. “In the Carsons’ parlor. No
one else would dance with me and Pearl could have slain me because you
did. Remember?”

David nodded, held her just a trifle closer, but his face was as grim
and unhappy as ever. She tucked her head against his broad breast and
closed her eyes so that he could not see her tears. When the music
stopped abruptly, she seized his hand, drew him urgently.

“We’ve got to go somewhere to talk, David. I can’t stand—this.”

He let her lead him down three flights of the magnificent circular
marble staircase, and because he was so silent she thought miserably
that it might be hurting him that she was so much at home in this vast,
splendid house.

“Miss Rice’s office!” she cried, after he had darted about in an
unsuccessful effort to find a secluded nook not already occupied by
truant couples.

When the door had closed upon them, she faced him, her breath catching
on a little gasp of anticipation. But his arms stayed rigidly at his
side.

“It was in this very room, David,” she began eagerly, “that I fought the
battle with Mother and won. I made her keep her promise to me to invite
you to my coming-out ball. She promised me two and a half years ago,
promised so I would promise her not to write to you. But I wrote you
every week, sometimes oftener, and I’m still writing every week, though
I can’t mail the letters. Now I can! Now I can! Do you realize I’m of
age, David? I’m eighteen and a half, and I’m ‘out.’ Isn’t that funny?
I’m officially ‘out’ now, and I can do as I please.”

Her voice dragged a little at the end, for he was looking at her as if
she were a stranger, or as if he were trying to make her feel like a
stranger to him. With a moan, she lifted her arms and crept so close to
him that she could lay her head against his breast. “Aren’t you—going to
kiss me, David? I’ve waited so long, so long—”

She felt him stiffen, then his hands came up slowly and fastened upon
hers. But it was only to remove her hands from his shoulders—

“You must forget me, Sally, or remember me only when you remember Sally
Ford and Pitty Sing and Jan and Pop Bybee. We all belong together in
your memory, and none of us belongs in Sally Barr’s life.” His voice was
level, heavy, not the young, tender, musical voice that had made love to
her during the carnival days.

She took a backward step, a little drunkenly, and the face she lifted
bravely for whatever blow he was going to deal her was pinched and
white, the eyes blue-black with pain. “Don’t you love me any more,
David?”

“I’m a poor man and I’m not a fortune-hunter,” David answered grimly.
“I—don’t know Sally Barr.”

She shrank from him then, backward, step by step, so stricken, so
white-faced, that the boy clenched his hands in agony.

They were still staring at each other when the door opened, and an
almost forgotten but now shockingly familiar voice sang out
nonchalantly:

“Bobby Proctor told me I’d find you here, Sally.”

It was Arthur Van Horne, whom she had not seen since the last day of the
carnival in Capital City.

“Please don’t go, David!” Sally implored, but he mistook her distress,
occasioned by Arthur Van Home’s entirely unexpected appearance, for a
plea for a longer interview which he knew would only cause them both
pain.

He shook his head dumbly and strode to the door. He paused there a
moment to bow jerkily first toward Sally, then toward Van Horne, who was
watching the scene with amused, cynical eyes.

Pride mercifully came to Sally’s aid then; she closed her lips firmly
over the question she had been about to fling at David with desperate
urgency. She even managed to wave her hand with what she hoped was airy
indifference as David opened the door.

“So!” Van Horne chuckled when the door had closed softly. “It’s still
Sally and David, isn’t it? I’m glad I was vouchsafed a glimpse of this
paragon. Astonishingly good-looking in a Norse Viking sort of way, but
rather a bull in a China shop here, isn’t he? But I presume that is why
Enid fondly hoped when she allowed him to come. I gather that she did
invite him? A very clever woman, Enid. I’ve always said so.”

Sally’s teeth closed hurtingly over her lower lip, but she said nothing.
The pain and horror of David’s uncompromising rebuff were still too
great to permit room in her heart for fear of Van Horne. Of course he
had recognized her at once, had undoubtedly recognized her from her
pictures in the papers, but what did it matter now? David was
gone—gone—He had not even kissed her—

“Still afraid of me, Sally?” Van Horne laughed, as her eyes remained
fixed on his face in a blind, unseeing stare.

“Afraid of you?” Sally echoed, her voice struggling strangely through
pain. “Oh, you mean—?” She tried to collect her wits, to push aside the
incredible fact of David’s desertion, so that she could concentrate on
Van Horne and the frightening significance of his presence here coupled
with his knowledge of her past.

“Dear little Sally!” Van Horne said tenderly, and Sally clenched her
fist to strike him for using the words which had been heavenly sweet
when David had uttered them so long ago. “I told you the last time I saw
you that you had not seen the last of Arthur Van Horne. I meant it, but
I give you my word I hardly expected to find you _here_! I spent the
deuce of a lot of time and money trying to trace you after you left the
carnival. Old Bybee finally told me that you’d run away and had probably
married your David. So I took my broken heart to China, Japan, Egypt and
God knows where. And now like the chap who sought for the Holy Grail, I
find you at home waiting for me.”

“I wasn’t waiting for you,” Sally contradicted him indignantly. “I was
waiting for David and he’s just told me that he doesn’t want me. I hoped
I’d never see you again!”

“Why, Sally, Sally!” Van Horne chided her, his black eyes full of
mocking humor. “Don’t you realize that I’m the oldest friend you have in
this new life of yours? I really haven’t got used to the idea yet of
your being Enid Barr’s daughter. Of course I knew there was something
mysterious about her overweening interest in ‘Princess Lalla,’ but this
thick old bean of mine wasn’t functioning very well in those days. My
heart was too full of that same lovely little crystal-gazer. But when I
read the rather masterly bit of fiction in the papers, the story which
good old asinine Courtney Barr gave out as to your parentage and his
wardship which he had supplanted by a legal adoption, the old bean began
to click again, and I can assure you I got a great deal of quiet
enjoyment out of the thing. Fancy the impeccable Enid Barr’s having—”

“Oh, stop” Sally commanded him, flaming with anger. “Don’t dare say a
word against my mother—I mean, against Enid—”

“Against your mother,” Van Horne corrected her serenely. “Of course I
haven’t told anyone, Sally, and I don’t really see why I should,
if—Listen, child: don’t you think we ought to have a long, comfortable
talk about—old times? We’re likely to be interrupted here any minute by
a chaperon—or by your mother or by a couple of young idiots seeking a
quiet place to ‘neck’ in. Slip out of the house when the show’s over—the
servants’ entrance will be better—and we’ll go for a drive through the
park.”

“I shall do no such thing,” Sally repudiated the suggestion hotly. “I’m
going back to the ballroom now. Please don’t come with me.”

When she arrived, breathless, at the door of the ballroom, she bumped
into Enid, whose face was white and anxious and suddenly almost old.

“Darling, _where_ have you been?” her mother whispered fiercely. “I’ve
had Courtney and Randall and two of the footmen looking for you. This is
_your_ party, you know. You have other guests besides David Nash. I knew
it was a mistake to ask him—”

“Where is he, Mother?” Sally interrupted rudely. “I’ve been with someone
else most of the time.” She could not bring herself yet to mention Van
Horne’s name to her mother, for fear Enid would notice that something
was sadly amiss.

“I haven’t seen him,” Enid protested. “But run along now and dance. It’s
the last dance before supper. Remember that Grant Proctor is taking you
down. Do be sweet to him, Sally.”

“She would like for me to marry Grant Proctor,” Sally reflected dully,
as she obediently let herself be drawn into the dance by an ardent-eyed
young man whose name she could not remember. “She wants me to marry
Grant Proctor, when I’m already half-married to David. But David doesn’t
want me! Oh, David!”

Just before supper was announced she slipped away to her own rooms, to
cry the hot tears that were pressing against her eyeballs. And on her
dressing table she found a note, undoubtedly placed there by her own
maid. Her cold, shaking fingers had difficulty in opening it, for she
knew at once that it was from David.

“Dear little Sally,” she read, and the tears gushed then. “Forgive me
for bolting like this, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. You know I
love you, that ‘I’ll be loving you always,’ but you must also know that
Sally Barr cannot marry David Nash, and that anything less would be too
terrible for both of us. You must be wondering why I came. I wanted to
see for myself that you are happy, that your mother is good to you. And,
of course, I wanted to see you again, wanted to see if there was
anything of my Sally in this beautiful Sally Barr that the papers are
making so much of.

“I think it has made it harder for me to find that underneath the new
surface you are still Sally Ford. But they’ll change the core of you
almost as rapidly as they have remade the surface of you into a society
beauty. And after you’re changed all through you’ll be glad I went away.
I’ll carry my own Sally in my heart always, and the new Sally Barr will
fall in love with the splendid young son of some old family, marry him
and make her mother very happy. She would never forgive us, Sally, if I
took you away and made you live on what I can earn as a farmer, and she
would be right not to forgive. I would not forgive myself, and after
awhile you’d be unhappy, too, remembering all that you had lost,
including a mother who adores you. Goodby, Sally. David.”

She was so quiet, so white at supper that Grant Proctor, who was already
in love with her, begged her to let him give her a drink from his pocket
flask, but she refused, scarcely knowing what he had said to her. Once
she caught her mother’s eyes, and shivered at the anxiety and reproach
in them.

Suddenly a fierce resentment against Enid Barr rose and beat sickeningly
in her blood. If she had not interfered, she and David would have been
married long ago. They would have been happy in poverty, would have
struggled side by side to banish poverty, might even have had a tiny
David and Sally of their own by this time. And now David was irrevocably
gone, so that Enid Barr might keep her daughter. Sally wanted to nurse
her anger against her mother, but it was impossible to do so, for she
loved her.

When the jazz orchestra was hilariously summoning the debutantes to the
dance floor again Arthur Van Horne claimed Sally over the protests of
the half dozen younger men who were good-naturedly wrangling for the
honor.

“You’re going to meet me after this foolish, delightful show is over,
aren’t you? Of course you are!” he smiled down upon her as he led her
out upon the floor.

Sally looked up at him wearily and saw that there was more than
amusement and gallantry in his narrowed, smiling black eyes. There was
menace, which he did not try to conceal, wanted her to see—

“You do love your mother, don’t you?” he smiled significantly. “Maybe
you’ll learn to love Van a little, too. It would be—very wise.”

It was half past four o’clock when the tireless debutantes were willing
to call it a night. Sally braved the thing out, but her face was wan as
she listened to the last compliments on the success of the party which
had officially launched her into the circles of society to which her
mother belonged by the divine right of inheritance and immense wealth.

“We’ll talk it all over tomorrow, sweetheart,” Enid said pityingly. “You
run along to bed now. I’ve got to give a few instructions to Randall.
And you’d better stay in bed all day, or until tea time anyway. You were
marvelous tonight, darling. So beautiful, so sweet. These wild young
flappers—but run along, daughter beloved. You look as if you might faint
with fatigue. Have Ernestine bring you some hot milk.”

It was ridiculously easy for Sally to slip out of the house, using the
servants’ entrance, as Van Horne had suggested. She found him waiting
for her and submitted wearily to being led to where his car was parked,
a block away.

“What do you want, Van?” she asked abruptly, when the car turned into
Central Park from Fifth Avenue at Eighty-fourth street, the wheels
crunching the glazed crust of new snow.

“To talk with you and hold your hand and possibly kiss you—oh, very
possibly!” Van Horne laughed at her, reaching for her hand.

“What did you mean when you said it would be ‘very wise’ for me to love
you a little?” she persisted, too tired to be diplomatic. But of course
she knew. He held her mother’s security and happiness in the hollow of
his hand. That he could destroy her own social career if he wished did
not occur to her, for she had not yet learned to care about it, to prize
it. But Enid must be protected at all costs.

“I think you know,” Van Horne shrugged. “But why put it into words? Some
things are much nicer unsaid, if they are distinctly understood.
Now—will you kiss me, Sally? I’ve waited a long time, sweet child, and
I’m naturally not a patient man.”

“Not tonight,” Sally said in a low, flat voice, shrinking into her own
corner of the seat. “Please turn at One Hundred and Tenth street and
take me back home, Van. I’m utterly tired.”

Van obeyed cheerfully, exultant over her indirect promise. Sally was
creeping exhaustedly up the stairs to her room, her mother, still
dressed in her formal ball gown, came hurrying frantically down to meet
her.

“Darling, where have you been? I’ve been crazy with worry! How _could_
you go out and meet that Nash boy so brazenly? Tonight of all nights!”

“It wasn’t David, Mother,” Sally said in a dead-tired voice. “It was
Arthur Van Horne. He—knows—all about me. He’s known all along.”

Five weeks later—it was in early January, just before the annual
scurrying of self-coddling society folk from the rigors of a New York
winter to the sunshine of Palm Beach and Nassau—Sally Barr, “one of the
season’s most beautiful debutantes,” as the society editors called her,
sat at a table for six in one of New York’s most exclusive night clubs.

She was thankful for the fact that an inhumanly flexible male dancer was
doing his most incredible tricks for the amusement of the club’s
patrons, for watching him gave her an opportunity to think, an excuse
for not chattering brightly as debutantes were expected to do.

Grant Proctor, whom Enid had hoped she would marry, sat opposite her,
Arthur Van Horne on her right. Beside Grant, twittering and giggling,
was Claire Bainbridge, whose engagement to the heir of the Proctor
millions would be announced from Palm Beach.

And yet Sally was conscious that Grant’s nice, leaf-brown eyes followed
her with a frustrated, doglike devotion whenever she was near him. He
had told her that he loved her, and Sally, terribly anxious to please
her mother and to secure Enid Barr’s safety from scandal, had been ready
to listen to his proposal of marriage. Since David was lost to her, it
did not much matter whom she married.

“But if he asks me to marry him, Mother, I’ll have to tell him the truth
about my birth,” Sally had told Enid.

Now, with her wistful eyes apparently watching the agile dancer, she
remembered Enid’s horrified protest. “You can’t tell him, Sally! He
wouldn’t marry you if he knew. His parents wouldn’t let him. Promise me
you won’t tell, darling!”

And so Sally had not told him, but when he did ask her to marry him she
refused him. His as yet unannounced engagement to Claire Bainbridge had
followed swiftly, but his eyes were still pathetically true to Sally.

She shifted her position a trifle, so that she could observe Arthur Van
Horne out of the corner of her eye. Not that she wanted to see him! She
had been forced to see so much of him since the night of her debut party
that the very sound of his mocking, drawling voice was obnoxious to her.
She would never forget her mother’s terror, her abject pleading and
tears.

“Don’t antagonize him, darling!” Enid had begged. “He can ruin us, ruin
us! Be nice to him, Sally! If—if he was in love with you during those
awful carnival days, maybe—” She had hesitated, ashamed to put her hope
into words. “Van is really a rather wonderful man, you know, darling.
One of the most eligible bachelors in New York society. Old family, no
mother or father to dictate to him, a tremendous fortune. Of course,
he’s cynical and blase, and rather more experienced than I’d like,
but—just be nice to him, darling. Maybe—”

That shamefaced “maybe” of Enid’s had kept thrusting itself upon Sally’s
rebellious attention ever since. Enid, more frightened of Van’s power
over her than she would admit, even to Sally, threw the two together on
every possible occasion. After Grant Proctor had retreated from the
field, smarting under his refusal by Sally, Enid had almost feverishly
concentrated on Van Horne. Sally had stubbornly insisted to her mother
that she would not marry any man whom she could not tell the truth about
her illegitimacy, and Enid had just as stubbornly refused to consider
the possibility of Sally’s telling.

“If Van really knows,” she had told Sally in desperation, “that is one
too many. You could not possibly harm any man by marrying him without
telling. You’re _our_ daughter now—the legally adopted daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. Courtney Barr. That is all that matters.”

“What matters to me,” Sally had insisted wearily, “is that no man that
you would like for me to marry would have me if he knew. I can’t cheat.
Of course I don’t have to marry.”

“Of course not,” Enid had agreed with assumed gayety. “But since Van
does know—Of course, since he already knows, if you married him it would
be as much to his interest to forget it and protect me—us—as it is ours.
But I want you to be happy, darling.”

Sally, her little round chin supported on her laced fingers, her eyes
brooding upon the dancer whom she did not see, reflected with an
unchildlike bitterness that there was no question now of her being
happy. Happiness lay behind her; she had almost grasped it, had been
“half-married” to a man she loved. David! His name flashed through her
heart like the thrust of a red-hot lancet.

“Dance, Sally? Or do you prefer to go on dreaming?” Van Horne’s low,
teasing voice interrupted her bitter reverie.

She made a sudden resolution, rose with sprightly vivacity from her
chair, flung a sparkling glance to her mother whose beautiful face was a
little pinched with the strain under which she had lived these last few
weeks. “Dance, of course. Van!” she cried, wrinkling her nose at him
with a provocative moue. “I was dreaming about you! Aren’t you
flattered?”

She saw her mother’s pinched face flush and bloom with hope, caught an
austere but approving smile from Courtney Barr, with whom she had not
yet reached the intimacy that should exist between a father and a
daughter, even an adopted daughter. If she could make them so happy by
marrying Arthur Van Horne, why let her own feelings prevent? If she
couldn’t have David, what difference did it make whom she married? And
if she married Van Horne the only menace to her mother’s reputation
would be removed.

“You adorable little thing!” Van Horne whispered, as he swept her out
upon the crowded dance floor. “So you were dreaming about me? Pleasant
dreams, little Princess Lalla?” His ardent, dark face was bending close,
his black eyes free of mockery but lit by a fire that repelled her.

“Did you really fall in love with ‘Princess Lalla’?” Sally forced
herself to ask coquettishly, fluttering her long lashes in the demure
fashion which had proved so effective during her short career as a
debutante.

“Absurd question!” Van Horne jeered softly. “Didn’t I convince you at
the time? Listen, Sally, I almost never see you alone. Enid seems to
have an antiquated leaning toward chaperonage.”

“Chaperons are ‘coming in’ again,” Sally laughed at him, hiding her
distaste. “Mother adores being a leader of fashion, you know.”

“You’re so adorable tonight that I want to run away with you,” Van told
her boldly. “But I’ll try to be content if you’ll promise me to come to
my apartment alone for tea tomorrow. Do, Sally! I’ve something to tell
you. Can you guess?”

She stiffened, every nerve on the defensive against him. But she
remembered her resolution, and nodded slowly, her head tucked on one
side, her eyes granting him a swift, shy upward glance.

“If you look at me like that again, I’ll kiss you right here on the
dance floor!” Van threatened exultantly, as his arms tightened about
her.

Enid’s pathetic gratitude to her for being “nice” to Van Horne
strengthened the girl’s resolution to carry it through. She dressed with
especial care for her tea date with Van the next afternoon, pinning the
corsage of Parma violets which he had sent her on the full shawl collar
of her Russian squirrel coat.

But before she left her room she took the ring David had given her from
the box in which she had hidden it because the sight of it hurt her so
intolerably, and kissed the shallow, flawed little sapphire with
passionate grief.

“Goodby, David,” she whispered to the ring, but inconsistently she
thrust it into her dark-blue and gray leather handbag. No matter what
sort of ring Van gave her, it could never be so precious to her as this
cheap little ring that David had given her to mark their betrothal.

She had visited Van Horne’s apartment once before with Enid, but as she
gave the floor number to the elevator operator—it was one of the most
exclusive and expensive of the new Park Avenue apartment houses—she
thought she saw a gleam of amusement in the man’s eyes.

Almost as soon as her finger had pressed the bell the door was opened by
Van himself, Van in a black and maroon silk dressing gown over
impeccable trousers and shirt. She was drawing back instinctively when
he laughed his low, mocking laugh and, seizing her hands, pulled her
resisting body into the room.

“I think one reason I am so mad about you, Sally my darling, is that you
are always fluttering out of my reach like a frightened bird. You are
superb in a Lillian Gish role, but even Lillian Gish is captured and
tamed before the end of the film. Like this!” And he laughed exultingly
as his arms encircled her quivering, fluttering little body, held it
crushingly against his breast.

Only her head was free to weave from side to side as his flushed,
laughing face came closer and closer. “The best kissing technique
advocates the closing of the eyes, darling,” he gibed with tender
mockery. “And there is a point at which maidenly coyness ceases to be
charming. Now!”

She submitted to his kiss then, but her lips were lax, unresponsive.
When he released her, an angry glint in his eyes, she backed away,
touching her lips involuntarily with her handkerchief. “Please
don’t—kiss me again—like that, Van,” she quavered. “Not yet. I’ll marry
you, but you’ll have to give me time to get used to—you.”

The blank amazement in his eyes made her voice falter lamely. Then he
laughed, a short bark that was utterly unlike the tenderly mocking
laughter which she had always inspired in him.

“You’ll _marry_ me?” His voice was staccato with contempt. “By heaven,
your naivete is magnificent! You should be enshrined in a museum! Thanks
for your kind offer, Miss Barr, but I must confess, if your innocence
will stand the strain, that my intentions in regard to you did not
include marriage. They were strictly dishonorable. When a Van Horne
allows himself to be led to the altar, the successful huntress is a
woman who is at least socially worthy to be the mother of future Van
Hornes. There is as yet no bar sinister on our coat of arms....

“No, walk, not run, to the nearest exit.” He barked his new, ugly laugh
at her as Sally was backing hurriedly toward the door, her body hunched
as if his words had been actual blows, her face ghastly white. “You are
entirely free to go, with my blessing! I am rather a connoisseur at
kissing and I have just suffered a grievous disappointment. At the risk
of appearing ungallant, I am forced to admit that you would have bored
me intolerably if you had consented to ‘trust me and give me all’ in
exchange for my silence in regard to your birth. Goodby, Sally—and good
luck.”



CHAPTER XIX


Somehow she made her way home, crept painfully, like a mortally wounded
animal, up the circular staircase to her room. Bracing her shaking hands
on her dressing table, she stared at her reflection in the mirror as if
she had never seen that white-faced, enormous-eyed, stricken girl
before.

Then horror and loathing of herself swept over her with such force that
her knees buckled, and she sank to the floor. As she fell her hand
knocked from the dressing table a copy of The Capital City Press, for
which she was still subscribing, over her mother’s protest, to glean
sparse news of David.

She shuddered as the roll bounced from her knees but in another moment
her sick eyes flamed with new life, for half-revealed by the folding of
the sheets was an unmistakable picture of the boy she still loved.

Her trembling fingers gouged at the wrapper. Why was _his_ picture on
the front page? Was he in trouble? Hurt? Or—married?

Sally, crouching on the floor of her room, spread the crackling sheets
of The Capital City Press, her eyes devouring the two-column picture of
David Nash. Two lines of type above the photograph leaped out at her:

“Honor graduate of A. & M. inherits grandfather’s farm.”

He hadn’t been injured or killed in an accident, he wasn’t married! In a
frenzy of relief and gratitude to the God she had just been accusing of
deserting her, Sally Barr, who had been Sally Ford, bent her head until
her lips rested on the lips of the photograph. And it was rather a pity
that Arthur Van Horne, “connoisseur of kissing,” was not there to see
the passionate fervor of the kisses which the girl whom he had dismissed
contemptuously was raining upon an unresponsive newspaper picture.

When at last she was calmer she read the short item through. It was the
last paragraph that brought her to her feet, her slight body electric
with sudden determination:

“Young Nash is living alone in the fine old farmhouse, and apparently is
as capable in the kitchen as on the seat of a cultivator. He says his
whole heart is in scientific farming, and that his only sweetheart is
‘Sally,’ a blue-ribbon heifer which he is grooming to break the world’s
butter-fat production record.”

“David! Darling David!” she was laughing and crying at the same time.
“He hasn’t changed! He hasn’t forgotten that we’re half-married!”

Jerking open a drawer of her dressing table she caught sight of her face
in the mirror, and her eyes widened with delighted surprise. Gone was
the pinched, white, shame-stricken face, and in its place was beauty
such as she had never dreamed she possessed. She turned away from the
mirror, tremulous and abashed, for what she had to do would not be easy.
Her eyes tried to avoid the exquisite photograph of her mother that
stood in its blue leather frame on the dressing table, but at last she
snatched it up and carried it against her breast as she ran to her desk.

She felt that she was talking to Enid as she wrote, pleading for
understanding and forgiveness from those dreaming, misty,
cornflower-blue eyes:

“Mother, darling: I’m running away, to go to David. Please don’t try to
stop me or bring me back, for I’ll have to run away again if you do. I’m
going to marry David because I love him with all my heart and because he
is the only man I could ever marry without causing you shame. He already
knows the truth, and it made no difference in his love for me. You know
how it was with Grant Proctor. You said yourself that if I told him, he
would not want to marry me. And I could never marry a man without first
telling him the truth. Arthur Van Horne knew and wanted me to be his
mistress. He told me today. He did not think I was good enough to be his
wife. It would always be the same. And so I am going to David, who knows
and loves me anyway.

“Oh, Mother, forgive me for hurting you like this! But don’t you see
that I would hurt you more by staying? After a while you would be
ashamed of me because I could not marry. I would humiliate you in the
eyes of your friends. And I could not be happy ever, away from David. I
wanted to die after Arthur Van Horne told me today what he really wanted
of me, but now I know I want to live—with David. Please, Mother, don’t
think my love for you—”

She could write no more just then. Laying her hot cheek against the cold
glass of the framed photograph of her mother she sobbed so loudly, so
heart-brokenly that she did not hear a knock upon the door, did not know
her grief was being witnessed until she felt a hand upon her shoulder.

“Sally, darling! What in the world is the matter?” It was Enid Barr’s
tender, throaty contralto.

Sally sprang to her feet, her eyes wild with fear, her mother’s picture
still tightly clutched in her hands. “I—I was writing you a letter!” she
gasped. “I—I—”

“Perhaps I’d better read it now,” Enid said in an odd voice, and reached
for the scattered sheets of pale gray notepaper on the desk.

Sally wavered to a chair and slumped into it, too dazed with despair to
think coherently. She could not bear to look at her mother, for she knew
now how cowardly she had been, how abysmally selfish.

Her flaming face was hidden by her hands when, after what seemed many
long minutes, she heard her mother’s voice again:

“Poor Sally! You couldn’t trust me? You’d have run away—like that?
Without giving me a chance to prove my love for you?”

Sally dropped her hands and stared stupidly at her mother. Enid was
coming toward her, the newspaper with David’s picture in it rustling
against the crisp taffeta of her bouffant skirt. And on Enid’s face was
an expression of such sorrowful but loving reproach that Sally burst
into wild weeping.

“Poor little darling!” Enid dropped to her knees beside Sally’s chair
and took the girl’s cold, shaking hands in hers. “We all make mistakes,
Sally. I’ve made more than my share. Maybe I’m getting old enough now to
have a little wisdom. And I want to keep you from making a mistake that
would cause both of us—and Court—untold sorrow.”

“But I love David and I shan’t love anyone else,” Sally sobbed, though
she knew her resistance was broken.

“I’m forced to believe that now, darling,” Enid said gently. “And I
shall not stand in the way of your happiness with him. That is not the
mistake I meant.”

“You mean that you’ll let me marry him?” Sally cried incredulously. “Oh,
Mother! I love you so!”

“And I love you, Sally.” Enid’s voice broke and she cuddled Sally’s cold
hands against the velvety warmth of her own throat. “Your mistake would
have been to run away to marry David. You have a mother and father now,
Sally. You’re no longer a girl alone, as David called you. You have a
place in society as our daughter, whether you want it or not. If David
wants to marry you, he must come here to do so, must marry you with our
consent and blessing.”

“But—” Sally’s joy suddenly turned to despair again. “He wouldn’t marry
a girl with a fortune. He told me so when he was here.”

“That was when he was penniless himself,” Enid pointed out. “I’ve just
read this newspaper story about his inheriting his grandfather’s farm.
It’s a small fortune in itself, and since there’s no immediate danger of
your inheriting either my money or Court’s, I don’t believe he will let
your prospective wealth stand in the way—if he loves you.”

“Oh, he does!” Sally laughed through her tears. “Look!” She snatched the
newspaper from the floor and pointed to the last paragraph of the story
about David. “He named his prize heifer after me! It says here his only
sweetheart is ‘Sally’! Oh, Mother, I didn’t know anyone could live
through such misery and such happiness as I felt today! I wanted to kill
myself after Van—Oh!”

“Tell me just exactly what he said to you!” Enid commanded, her lovely
voice sharpened with anger and fear.

When Sally had repeated the contemptuous, sneering speech as accurately
as possible, her mother’s face, which had been almost ugly with anger,
cleared miraculously.

“The man is an unspeakable cad, darling, but I am almost glad it
happened, since you escaped unscathed. He won’t bother us again. I’m
sure of it! He is not quite low enough to gossip about me to my friends.
It is evident that he planned all along to use his knowledge as a club
to force you to submit to his desires. And now that he doesn’t want you
any more, he will lose interest in the whole subject. I’ve known Van
nearly all my life and I’ve never known him to act the cad before. He’s
probably despising himself, now that his fever has cooled. If you marry
David with our consent, he’ll probably turn up at your wedding and offer
sincere congratulations with a whispered reassurance as to his ability
to keep our secret.”

“_When_ I marry David, not if!” Sally cried exultantly, flinging her
arms about her mother’s neck. “Oh, I’m so glad I have a mother!”

“Don’t strangle me!” Enid laughed. “Leave me strength to write a
proposal of marriage to this cocksure young farmer who brags that he is
as capable in the kitchen as on the seat of a cultivator!”

“He can’t cook half as well as I can!” Sally scoffed. “You ought to
taste one of my apple pies! He can play nurse to his blue-ribbon stock
all he wants to, but he’s got to let me do the cooking! And, Mother,
you’ll tell him how much I love him, won’t you? And—and you might remind
him that we only need half a marriage ceremony—the last half. Wouldn’t
it be fun if we could go back to Canfield and let ‘the marrying parson’
finish the job?”

“Don’t be too confident!” Enid warned her. “He may refuse you!” But at
sight of Sally’s dismay she relented. “I know he loves you, darling.
Don’t worry. If I were you I’d get busy immediately on a trousseau.”

“One dozen kitchen aprons will top the list,” Sally laughed.

Four days later the second telegram that Sally had received from David
arrived. “Catching next train East, darling. Happiest man in the world.
Can we be married day I arrive? Am wiring your blessed mother also. I’ll
be loving you always. David.”

“Of course you can’t be married the day he arrives!” Enid exclaimed
indignantly when Sally showed her the telegram. “I’m going to give you a
real wedding.”

“I think the children are right, Enid.” Courtney Barr unexpectedly
championed Sally in her protest. “A quiet impromptu wedding, by all
means. Our announcement to the papers will indicate that we approve, and
since the boy is unknown in New York and Sally has only just been
introduced, I think the less fuss the better.”

Sally kissed him impulsively, aware, though the knowledge did not hurt
her, that he liked her better now that she was to leave his home, than
he had ever liked her. David arrived on Monday, and was guest of honor
that night at a small party of Enid’s and Sally’s most intimate friends,
at which time announcement of the forthcoming marriage was made. They
remembered having seen him briefly at Sally’s coming-out party and so
handsome he was, so much at ease, now that he was to be married to the
girl he loved, that it occurred to none of Enid’s guests to question his
eligibility. Sally, sitting proudly beside him, looked happily from her
mother to David, knew that in gaining a husband she was not losing a
mother, as she would have done if Enid had not interrupted the writing
of that terrible letter.

On Tuesday Sally and David, accompanied by Enid and Courtney Barr, went
to the municipal building for the marriage license, and the afternoon
papers carried the news on the front pages, under such headlines as:
“Popular Deb to Marry Rich Farmer.” But in all the stories there was no
hint of scandal, no reportorial prying into the “past” of the adopted
daughter of the rich and prominent Courtney Barrs.

The wedding took place on Wednesday, in the drawing-room of the Barrs’
Fifth Avenue mansion, and the next morning, in his account of the “very
quiet” wedding, a society editor commented: “The ceremony was read by
the Reverend Horace Greer, of Canfield, ——, the choice of celebrant
being dictated by unexplained sentiment.”

What the society editor did not know was that “the marrying parson” of
Canfield spoke only the last half of the marriage service, beginning
where he had been interrupted nearly three years before.

Sally and David were no longer “half married.”

THE END

                                  ————

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