by John Breckenridge Ellis
CHAPTER I. A
KNOCK AT THE
CHAPTER II. A
CHAPTER III. ON
CHAPTER IV. THE
WOMAN WHO WAS
NOT MRS. GREGORY
CHAPTER V. WE
REAP WHAT WE SOW
CHAPTER VI. MRS.
CHAPTER VII. A
CHAPTER X. AN
CHAPTER XI. THE
NEW BRIDGE AT
FIGHTING FOR HER
CHAPTER XV. IN
CHAPTER XVI. A
TAMER OF LIONS
SHALL THE SECRET
CHAPTER XIX. THE
CHAPTER XX. THE
THE STREET FAIR
NEAR THE SKY
CHAPTER I. A KNOCK AT THE DOOR
Fran knocked at the front door. It was too dark for her to find the
bell; however, had she found it, she would have knocked just the same.
At first, no one answered. That was not surprising, since everybody
was supposed to be at the Union Camp-meeting that had been advertised
for the last two months. Of course it was not beyond possibility that
some one might have stayed at home to invite his soul instead of
getting it saved; but that any one in Littleburg should go visiting at
half-past eight, and especially that any one should come knocking at
the door of this particular house, was almost incredible. No doubt
that is why the young woman who finally opened the door— after Fran
had subjected it to a second and more prolonged visitation of her
small fist—looked at the stranger with surprise which was, in itself,
reproof. Standing in the dim light that reached the porch from the
hall, Fran's appearance was not above suspicion. She looked very dark,
sharp-faced, and small. Her attitude suggested one who wanted
something and had come to ask for it. The lady in the doorway believed
herself confronted by a “camper”—one of those flitting birds of outer
darkness who have no religion of their own, but who are always putting
that of others to the proof.
The voice from the doorway was cool, impersonal, as if, by its very
aloofness, it would push the wanderer away: “What do you want?”
“I want Hamilton Gregory,” Fran answered promptly, without the
slightest trace of embarrassment. “I'm told he lives here.”
“Mr. Gregory”—offering the name with its title as a
palpable rebuke—“lives here, but is not at home. What do you want,
“Where is he?” Fran asked, undaunted.
At first the young woman was tempted to close the door upon the
impudent gaze that never faltered in watching her, but those bright
unwavering eyes, gleaming out of the gloom of straw hat and
overshadowing hair, compelled recognition of some sort.
“He is at the camp-meeting,” she answered reluctantly, irritated at
opposition, and displeased with herself for being irritated. “What do
you want with him? I will attend to whatever it is. I am acquainted
with all of his affairs—I am his secretary.”
“Where is that camp-meeting? How can I find the place?” was Fran's
quick rejoinder. She could not explain the dislike rising within her.
She was too young, herself, to consider the other's youth an
advantage, but the beauty of the imperious woman in the doorway—why
did it not stir her admiration?
Mr. Gregory's secretary reflected that, despite its seeming
improbability, it might be important for him to see this queer
creature who came to strange doors at night-time.
“If you will go straight down that road”—she pointed—“and keep on
for about a mile and a half, you will come to the big tent. Mr.
Gregory will be in the tent, leading the choir.”
“All right.” And turning her back on the door, Fran swiftly gained
the front steps. Half-way down, she paused, and glanced over her thin
shoulder. Standing thus, nothing was to be seen of her but a blurred
outline, and the shining of her eyes.
“I guess,” said Fran inscrutably, “you're not Mrs. Gregory.”
“No,” came the answer, with an almost imperceptible change of
manner— a change as of gradual petrifaction, “I am not Mrs. Gregory.”
And with that the lady, who was not Mrs. Gregory, quietly but forcibly
closed the door.
It was as if, with the closing of that door, she would have shut
Fran out of her life.
CHAPTER II. A DISTURBING LAUGH
A long stretch of wooden sidewalks with here and there a leprous
breaking out of granitoid; a succession of dwellings, each in its yard
of bluegrass, maple trees, and whitewashed palings, with several
residences fine enough to excite wonder—for modest cottages set the
architectural pace in the village; a stretch of open country beyond
the corporate limits, with a footbridge to span the deep ravine—and
then, at last, a sudden glow in the darkness not caused by the moon,
with a circle of stamping and neighing horses encompassing the glow.
The sermon was ended, the exhortation was at the point of loudest
voice and most impassioned earnestness. A number of men, most of them
young, thronged the footpath leading from the stiles to the tent. A
few were smoking; all were waiting for the pretty girls to come forth
from the Christian camp. Fran pushed her way among the idlers with
admirable nonchalance, her sharp elbow ready for the first resistive
pair of ribs.
The crowd outside did not argue a scarcity of seats under the
canvas. Fran found a plank without a back, loosely disposed, and
entirely unoccupied. She seated herself, straight as an Indian, and
with the air of being very much at ease.
The scene was new to her. More than a thousand villagers, ranged
along a natural declivity, looked down upon the platform of undressed
pine. In front of the platform men and women were kneeling on the
ground. Some were bathed in tears; some were praying aloud; some were
talking to those who stood, or knelt beside them; some were clasping
convulsive hands; all were oblivious of surroundings.
Occasionally one heard above the stentorian voice of the exhorter,
above the prayers and exclamations of the “seekers", a sudden shout of
exultation—“Bless the Lord!” or a rapturous “A-a-MEN!” Then a
kneeling figure would rise, and the exhorter would break off his plea
to cry, “Our brother has found the Lord!”
From the hundred members of the choir, Fran singled out the man she
had been seeking for so many years. It was easy enough to distinguish
him from the singers who crowded the platform, not only by his baton
which proclaimed the choir-leader, but by his resemblance to the
picture she had discovered in a New York Sunday Supplement.
Hamilton Gregory was clean-shaved except for a silken reddish
mustache; his complexion was fair, his hair a shade between red and
brown, his eyes blue. His finely marked face and striking bearing were
stamped with distinction and grace.
It was strange to Fran that he did not once glance in her
direction. True, there was nothing in her appearance to excite
especial attention, but she had looked forward to meeting him ever
since she could remember. Now that her eyes were fastened on his face,
now that they were so near, sheltered by a common roof, how could he
help feeling her presence?
The choir-leader rose and lifted his baton. At his back the hundred
men and women obeyed the signal, while hymn-books fluttered open
throughout the congregation. Suddenly the leader of the choir started
into galvanic life. He led the song with his sweet voice, his swaying
body, his frantic baton, his wild arms, his imperious feet. With all
that there was of him, he conducted the melodious charge up the
ramparts of sin and indifference. If in repose, Fran had thought him
singularly handsome and attractive, she now found him inspiring. His
blue eyes burned with exaltation while his magic voice seemed to
thrill with more than human ecstasy. The strong, slim, white hand
tensely grasping the baton, was the hand of a powerful chieftain
wielded in behalf of the God of Battles.
On the left, the heavy bass was singing,
“One thing we know,
Wherever we go—
We reap what we sow,
We reap what we sow.”
While these words were being doled out at long and impressive
intervals, like the tolling of a heavy bell, more than half a hundred
soprano voices were hastily getting in their requisite number of half
“So scatter little, scatter little, scatter little, scatter
Scatter little seeds of kindness.”
In spite of the vast volume of sound produced by these voices, as
well as by the accompaniment of two pianos and a snare-drum, the voice
of Hamilton Gregory, soaring flute-like toward heaven, seemed to dart
through the interstices of “rests", to thread its slender way along
infinitesimal crevices of silence. One might have supposed that the
booming bass, the eager chattering soprano, the tenor with its thin
crust of upper layers, and the throaty fillings of the alto, could
have left no vantage points for an obligato. Yet it was Hamilton
Gregory's voice that bound all together in divine unity. As one
listened, it was the inspired truth as uttered by Hamilton Gregory
that brought the message home to conscience. As if one had never
before been told that one reaps what one sows, uneasy memory started
out of hidden places with its whisper of seed sown amiss. Tears rose
to many eyes, and smothered sobs betrayed intense emotion.
Of those who were not in the least affected, Fran was one. She saw
and heard Hamilton Gregory's impassioned earnestness, and divined his
yearning to touch many hearts; nor did she doubt that he would then
and there have given his life to press home upon the erring that they
must ultimately reap what they were sowing. Nevertheless she was
altogether unmoved. It would have been easier for her to laugh than to
Although the preacher had ceased his exhortations for the singing
of the evangelistic hymn, he was by no means at the end of his
resources. Standing at the margin of the platform, looking out on the
congregation, he slowly moved back and forth his magnetic arms in
parallel lines. Without turning his body, it was as if he were
cautiously sweeping aside the invisible curtain of doubt that swung
between the unsaved and the altar. “This way,” he seemed to say.
“Follow my hands.”
Not one word did he speak. Even between the verses, when he might
have striven against the pianos and the snare-drum, he maintained his
terrible silence. But as he fixed his ardent eyes upon space, as he
moved those impelling arms, a man would rise here, a woman start up
there—reluctantly, or eagerly, the unsaved would press their way to
the group kneeling at the front. Prayers and groans rose louder.
Jubilant shouts of religious victory were more frequent. One could,
now hardly hear the choir as it insisted—
“We reap what we sow,
We reap what we sow.”
Suddenly the evangelist smote his hands together, a signal for song
and prayer to cease.
Having obtained a silence that was breathless he leaned over the
edge of the platform, and addressed a man who knelt upon the ground:
“Brother Clinton, can't you get it?”
The man shook his head. “You've been kneeling there night after
night,” the evangelist continued; “don't you feel that the Lord loves
you? Can't you feel it? Can't you feel it now? Can't you get
it? Can't you get it now? Brother Clinton, I want you to get
through before these revival services close. They close this night. I
go away to-morrow. This may be your last opportunity. I want you to
get it now. All these waiting friends want you to get it now. All
these praying neighbors want to see you get it. Can't you get
through to- night? Just quietly here, without any excitement, without
any noise or tumult, just you and your soul alone together—Brother
Clinton, can't you get through to-night?”
Brother Clinton shook his head.
Fran laughed aloud.
The evangelist had already turned to Hamilton Gregory as a signal
for the hymn to be resumed, for sometimes singing helped them
“through", but the sound of irreverent laughter chilled his blood. To
his highly wrought emotional nature, that sound of mirth came as the
laughter of fiends over the tragedy of an immortal soul.
“Several times,” he cried, with whitened face, “these services have
been disturbed by the ungodly.” He pointed an inflexible finger at
Fran: “Yonder sits a little girl who should not have been allowed in
this tent unaccompanied by her parents. Brethren! Too much is at
stake, at moments like these, to shrink from heroic measures. Souls
are here, waiting to be saved. Let that little girl be removed. Where
are the ushers? I hope she will go without disturbance, but go she
shall! Now, Brother Gregory, sing.”
The corps of ushers had been sadly depleted by the young men's
inclination to bivouac outside, where one could see without being
obliged to hear. As the song swept over the worshipers in a wave of
pleading, such ushers as still remained, held a brief consultation.
The task assigned them did not seem included in their proper
functions. Only one could be found to volunteer as policeman, and he
only because the evangelist's determined eye and rigid arm had never
ceased to indicate the disturber of the peace.
Fran was furious; her small white face seemed cut in stone as she
stared at the evangelist. How could she have known she was going to
laugh? Her tumultuous emotions, inspired by the sight of Hamilton
Gregory, might well have found expression in some other way. That
laugh had been as a darting of tongue-flame directed against the
armored Christian soldier whose face was so spiritually beautiful,
whose voice was so eloquent.
Fran was suddenly aware of a man pausing irresolutely at the end of
the plank that held her erect. Without turning her head, she asked in
a rather spiteful voice, “Are you the sheriff?”
He spoke with conciliatory persuasiveness: “Won't you go with me,
Fran turned impatiently to glare at the usher.
He was a fine young fellow of perhaps twenty-four, tall and
straight, clean and wholesome. His eyes were sincere and earnest yet
they promised much in the way of sunny smiles—at the proper time and
place. His mouth was frank, his forehead open, his shoulders broad.
Fran rose as swiftly as if a giant hand had lifted her to her feet.
“Come on, then,” she said in a tone somewhat smothered. She climbed
over the “stringer” at the end of her plank, and marched behind the
young man as if oblivious of devouring eyes. The men at the tent-
entrance scurried out of the way, scattering the shavings and sawdust
that lined the path.
As they passed the last pole that supported a gasolene-burner, Fran
glanced up shyly from under her broad hat. The light burned red upon
the young usher's face, and there was something in the crimson glow,
or in the face, that made her feel like crying, just because—or so
she fancied—it revived the recollection of her loneliness. And as she
usually did what she felt like doing, she cried, silently, as she
followed the young man out beneath the stars.
CHAPTER III. ON THE FOOT-BRIDGE
To the young usher, the change of scene was rather bewildering. His
eyes were still full of the light from gasolene-burners, his ears
still rang with the confusion of tent-noise into which entered the
prolonged monotones of inarticulate groanings, and the explosive
suddenness of seemingly irrelevant Amens. Above all, he tingled from
the electric atmosphere of intense religious excitement; he was
charged with currents at a pressure so high that his nerves were
unresponsive to dull details of ordinary life.
Nothing just then mattered except the saving of souls. Having
faithfully attended the camp-meeting for three weeks he found other
interests blotted out. The village as a whole had given itself over to
religious ecstasy. Those who had professed their faith left no stone
unturned in leading others to the altar, as if life could not resume
its routine until the unconverted were brought to kneel at the
As Abbott Ashton reflected that, because of this young girl with
the mocking laugh, he was losing the climacteric expression of the
three- weeks' campaign, his displeasure grew. Within him was an
undefined thought vibration akin to surprise, caused by the serenity
of the hushed sky. Was it not incongruous that the heavens should be
so peaceful with their quiet star-beacons, while man was exerting
himself to the utmost of gesture and noise to glorify the Maker of
that calm canopy? From the weather-stained canvas rolled the warning,
“We reap what we sow,
We reap what we sow.”
Above the tide of melody, the voice of the evangelist rose in a
scream, appalling in its agony—“Oh, men and women, why will
you die, why will you die?”
But the stars, looking down at the silent earth, spoke not of
death, spoke only as stars, seeming to say, “Here are April days, dear
old earth, balmy springtime and summer harvest before us!—What merry
nights we shall pass together!” The earth answered with a sudden white
smile, for the moon had just risen above the distant woods.
At the stile where the footpath from the tent ended, Abbott paused.
Why should he go farther? This scoffer, the one false note in the
meeting's harmony, had been silenced. “There,” he said, showing the
road. His tone was final. It meant, “Depart.”
Fran spoke in a choking voice, “I'm afraid.” It was not until then,
that he knew she had been crying, for not once had he looked back.
That she should cry, changed everything. And no wonder she was afraid.
To the fences on either side of the country road, horses and mules
were tethered. Torch-lights cast weird shadows. Here and there lounged
dimly some fellow who preferred the society of side-kicking, shrilly
neighing horses, to the suing melody of soul-seekers.
“But I must go back to the tent,” said the usher softly, not
surprised that a little girl should be afraid to venture among these
“I am so little,” Fran said plaintively, “and the world is so
Abbott stood irresolute. To take Fran back to the tent would
destroy the Influence, but it seemed inhuman to send her away. He
temporized rather weakly, “But you came here alone.”
“But I'm not going away alone,” said Fran. Her voice was still
damp, but she had kept her resolution dry.
In the gloom, he vainly sought to discern her features. “Whose
little girl are you?” he asked, not without an accent of gentle
Fran, one foot on the first step of the stile, looked up at him;
the sudden flare of a torch revealed the sorrow in her eyes. “I am
nobody's little girl,” she answered plaintively.
Her eyes were so large, and so soft and dark, that Abbott was glad
she was only a child of fourteen—or fifteen, perhaps. Her face was so
strangely eloquent in its yearning for something quite beyond his
comprehension, that he decided, then and there, to be her friend. The
unsteady light prevented definite perception of her face. He noted
that her legs were thin, her arms long, her body slight, though there
was a faint suggestion of curving outline of hips and bosom that lent
an effect of charm.
There was, in truth, an element of charm in all he could discern.
Even the thin limbs appealed to him oddly. Possibly the big hat helped
to conceal or accentuate—at any rate, the effect was somewhat elfish.
As for those great and luminously soft black eyes, he could not for
the life of him have said what he saw in them to set his blood
tingling with feeling of protecting tenderness. Possibly it was her
trust in him, for as he gazed into the earnest eyes of Fran, it was
like looking into a clear pool to see oneself.
“Nobody's little girl?” he repeated, inexpressibly touched that it
should be so. What a treasure somebody was denied! “Are you a stranger
in the town?”
“Never been here before,” Fran answered mournfully.
“But why did you come?”
“I came to find Hamilton Gregory.”
The young man was astonished. “Didn't you see him in the tent,
leading the choir?”
“He has a house in town,” Fran said timidly. “I don't want to
bother him while he is in his religion. I want to wait for him at his
house. Oh,” she added earnestly, “if you would only show me the way.”
Just as if she did not know the way!
Abbott Ashton was now completely at her mercy. “So you know Brother
Gregory, do you?” he asked, as he led her over the stiles and down the
“Never saw him in my life,” Fran replied casually. She knew how to
say it prohibitively, but she purposely left the bars down, to find
out if the young man was what she hoped.
And he was. He did not ask a question. They sought the grass-grown
path bordering the dusty road; as they ascended the hill that shut out
a view of the village, to their ears came the sprightly, Twentieth
Century hymn. What change had come over Ashton that the song now
seemed as strangely out of keeping as had the peacefulness of the
April night, when he first left the tent? He felt the prick of remorse
because in the midst of nature, he had so soon forgotten about souls.
Fran caught the air and softly sang—“We reap what we sow—”
“Don't!” he reproved her. “Child, that means nothing to you.”
“Yes, it does, too,” she returned, rather impudently. She continued
to sing and hum until the last note was smothered in her little nose.
Then she spoke: “However—it means a different thing to me from
what it means to the choir.”
He looked at her curiously. “How different?” he smiled.
“To me, it means that we really do reap what we sow, and that if
we've done something very wrong in the past—ugh! Better look
out— trouble's coming. That's what the song means to me.”
“And will you kindly tell me what it means to the choir?”
“Yes, I'll tell you what it means to the choir. It means sitting on
benches and singing, after a sermon; and it means a tent, and a great
evangelist and a celebrated soloist—and then going home to act as if
it wasn't so.”
Abbott was not only astonished, but pained. Suddenly he had lost
“Nobody's little girl", to be confronted by an elfish spirit of
mischief. He asked with constraint, “Did this critical attitude make
you laugh out, in the tent?”
“I wouldn't tell you why I laughed,” Fran declared, “for a thousand
dollars. And I've seen more than that in my day.”
They walked on. He was silent, she impenetrable. At last she said,
in a changed voice, “My name's Fran. What's yours?”
He laughed boyishly. “Mine's Abbott.”
His manner made her laugh sympathetically. It was just the manner
she liked best—gay, frank, and a little mischievous. “Abbott?” she
repeated; “well—is that all?”
“Ashton is the balance; Abbott Ashton. And yours?”
“The rest of mine is Nonpareil—funny name, isn't it!—Fran
Nonpareil. It means Fran, the small type; or Fran who's unlike
everybody else; or—Oh, there are lots of meanings to me. Some find
one, some another, some never understand.”
It was because Abbott Ashton was touched, that he spoke lightly:
“What a very young Nonpareil to be wandering about the world, all
She was grateful for his raillery. “How young do you think?”
“Let me see.
Hum! You are only—about—” She laughed
mirthfully at his air of preposterous wisdom. “About
thirteen—fourteen, yes, you are more than fi-i-ifteen, more
than...But take off that enormous hat, little Nonpareil. There's no
use guessing in the dark when the moon's shining.”
Fran was gleeful. “All right,” she cried in one of her childish
tones, shrill, fresh, vibratory with the music of innocence.
By this time they had reached the foot-bridge that spanned the deep
ravine. Here the wagon-road made its crossing of a tiny stream, by
slipping under the foot-bridge, some fifteen feet below. Down there,
all was semi-gloom, pungent fragrance of weeds, cooling breath of the
half-dried brook, mystery of space between steep banks. But on a level
with the bridge, meadow-lands sloped away from the ravine on either
hand. On the left lay straggling Littleburg with its four or five
hundred houses, faintly twinkling, and beyond the meadows on the
right, a fringe of woods started up as if it did not belong there, but
had come to be seen, while above the woods swung, the big moon with
Fran on the foot-bridge to shine for.
Fran's hat dangled idly in her hand as she drew herself with
backward movement upon the railing. The moonlight was full upon her
face; so was the young man's gaze. One of her feet found, after
leisurely exploration, a down-slanting board upon the edge of which
she pressed her heel for support. The other foot swayed to and fro
above the flooring, while a little hand on either side of her gripped
the top rail.
“Here I am,” she said, shaking back rebellious hair.
Abbott Ashton studied her with grave deliberation—it is doubtful
if he had ever before so thoroughly enjoyed his duties as usher. He
pronounced judicially, “You are older than you look.”
“Yes,” Fran explained, “my experience accounts for that. I've had
Abbott's lingering here beneath the moon when he should have been
hurrying back to the tent, showed how unequally the good things of
life—experience, for instance—are divided. “You are sixteen,” he
hazarded, conscious of a strange exhilaration.
Fran dodged the issue behind a smile—“And I don't think
are so awfully old.”
Abbott was brought to himself with a jolt that threw him hard upon
self-consciousness. “I am superintendent of the public school.” The
very sound of the words rang as a warning, and he became
“Goodness!” cried Fran, considering his grave mouth and thoughtful
eyes, “does it hurt that bad?”
Abbott smiled. All the same, the position of superintendent must
not be bartered away for the transitory pleasures of a foot-bridge.
“We had better hurry, if you please,” he said gravely.
“I am so afraid of you,” murmured Fran. “But I know the meeting
will last a long time yet. I'd hate to have to wait long at Mr.
Gregory's with that disagreeable lady who isn't Mrs. Gregory.”
Abbott was startled. Why did she thus designate Mr. Gregory's
secretary? He looked keenly at Fran, but she only said plaintively:
“Can't we stay here?”
He was disturbed and perplexed. It was as if a flitting shadow from
some unformed cloud of thought-mist had fallen upon the every-day
world out of his subconsciousness. Why did this stranger speak of Miss
Grace Noir as the “lady who isn't Mrs. Gregory”? The young man at
times had caught himself thinking of her in just that way.
Looking intently at the other as if to divine her secret thoughts,
he forgot momentarily his uneasiness. One could not long be troubled
by thought-mists from subconsciousness, when looking at Fran, for Fran
was a fact. He sighed involuntarily. She was such a fact!
Perhaps she wasn't really pretty—but homely? by no means. Her thin
face slanted to a sharpened chin. Her hair, drawn to the corner of
either eye, left a white triangle whose apex pointed to the highest
reach of the forehead. Thus the face, in all its contour, was rising,
or falling, to a point. This sharpness of feature was in her verylaugh
itself; while in that hair-encircled oval was the light of elfish
mockery, but of no human joy.
School superintendents do not enjoy being mystified. “Really,”
Abbott declared abruptly, “I must go back to the meeting.”
Fran had heard enough about his leaving her. She decided to stop
that once and for all. “If you go back, I go, too!” she said
conclusively. She gave him a look to show that she meant it, then
became all humility.
“Please don't be cross with little Nonpareil,” she coaxed. “Please
don't want to go back to that meeting. Please don't want to leave me.
You are so learned and old and so strong—you don't care why a
little girl laughs.”
Fran tilted her head sidewise, and the glance of her eyes proved
irresistible. “But tell me about Mr. Gregory,” she pleaded, “and don't
mind my ways. Ever since mother died, I've found nothing in this world
but love that was for somebody else, and trouble that was for me.”
The pathetic cadence of the slender-throated tones moved Abbott
more than he cared to show.
“If you're in trouble,” he exclaimed, “you've sought the right
helper in Mr. Gregory. He's the richest man in the county, yet lives
so simply, so frugally—they keep few servants—and all because he
wants to do good with his money.”
“I guess his secretary is considerable help to him,” Fran observed.
“I don't know how he'd carry on his great work without her. I think
Mr. Gregory is one of the best men that ever lived.”
Fran asked with simplicity, “Great church worker?”
“He's as good as he is rich. He never misses a service. I can't
give the time to it that he does—to the church, I mean; I have the
ambition to hold, one day, a chair at Yale or Harvard—that means to
teach in a university—” he broke off, in explanation.
Fran held out her swinging foot, and examined the dusty shoe. “Oh,”
she said in a relieved tone, “I was afraid it meant to sit down all
the time. Lots of people are ambitious not to move if they can help
He looked at her a little uncertainly, then went on: “So it keeps
me studying hard, to fit myself for the future. I hope to be reelected
superintendent in Littleburg again next year,—this is my first term—
there is so much time to study, in Littleburg. After next year, I'll
try for something bigger; just keep working my way up and up—”
He had not meant to tell her about himself, but Fran's manner of
lifting her head to look at him, as he finished each phrase, had
beguiled him to the next. The applause in her eyes warmed his heart.
“You see,” said Abbott with a deprecatory smile, “I want to make
myself felt in the world.”
Fran's eyes shone with an unspoken “Hurrah!” and as he met her
gaze, he felt a thrill of pleasure from the impression that he was
what she wanted him to be.
Fran allowed his soul to bathe a while in divine eye-beams of
flattering approval, then gave him a little sting to bring him to
life. “You are pretty old, not to be married,” she remarked. “I hope
you won't find some woman to put an end to your high intentions, but
men generally do. Men fall in love, and when they finally pull
themselves out, they've lost sight of the shore they were headed for.”
A slight color stole to Abbott's face. In fact, he was rather hard
hit. This wandering child was no doubt a witch. He looked in the
direction of the tent, as if to escape the weaving of her magic. But
he only said, “That sounds—er—practical.”
“Yes,” said Fran, wondering who “the woman” was, “if you can't be
practical, there's no use to be. Well, I can see you now, at the head
of some university—you'll make it, because you're so much like me.
Why, when they first began teaching me to feed—Good gracious! What am I talking about?” She hurried on, as if to cover her confusion.
“But I haven't got as far in books as you have, so I'm not religious.”
“Books aren't religion,” he remonstrated, then added with
unnecessary gentleness, “Little Nonpareil! What an idea!”
“Yes, books are,” retorted Fran, shaking back her hair, swinging
her foot, and twisting her body impatiently. “That's the only kind of
religion I know anything about—just books, just doctrines; what you
ought to believe and how you ought to act—all nicely printed and
bound between covers. Did you ever meet any religion outside of a
book, moving up and down, going about in the open?”
He answered in perfect confidence, “Mr. Gregory lives his religion
daily—the kind that helps people, that makes the unfortunate happy.”
Fran was not hopeful. “Well, I've come all the way from New York to
see him. I hope he can make me happy. I'm certainly unfortunate
enough. I've got all the elements he needs to work on.”
“From New York!” He considered the delicate form, the youthful
face, and whistled. “Will you please tell me where your home is,
She waved her arm inclusively. “America. I wish it were
concentrated in some spot, but it's just spread out thin under the
Stars and Stripes. My country's about all I have.” She broke off with
a catch in her voice—she tried to laugh, but it was no use.
The high moon which had been obscured by gathering cloud banks,
found an opening high above the fringe of woods, and cast a shining
glow upon her face, and touched her figure as with silver braid. Out
of this light looked Fran's eyes as dark as deepest shadows, and out
of the unfathomable depths of her eyes glided two tears as pure as
their source in her heart.
Suddenly it came to Abbott Ashton that he understood the language
of moon, watching woods, meadow-lands, even the gathering rain-clouds;
all spoke of the universal brotherhood of man with nature; a
brotherhood including the most ambitious superintendent of schools and
a homeless Nonpareil; a brotherhood to be confirmed by the clasping of
sincere hands. There was danger in such a confirmation, for it carried
Abbott beyond the limits that mark a superintendent's confines.
As he stood on the bridge, holding Fran's hand in a warm and
sympathetic pressure, he was not unlike one on picket-service who
slips over the trenches to hold friendly parley with the enemy. Abbott
did not know there was any danger in this brotherly handclasp; but
that was because he could not see a fleshy and elderly lady slowly
coming down the hill. As superintendent, he should doubtless have
considered his responsibilities to the public; he did consider them
when the lady, breathless and severe, approached the bridge, while
every pound of her ample form cast its weight upon the seal of her
disapproving, low-voiced and significant, “Good evening, Professor
The lady heard, but she swept on without once glancing back. There
was in her none of that saline tendency that made of Lot a widower;
the lady desired to see no more.
Fran opened her eyes at Abbott to their widest extent, as she
demurely asked, “How cold is it? My thermometer is frozen.”
The young man did not betray uneasiness, though he was really
alarmed, for his knowledge of the fleshy lady enabled him to foresee
gathering clouds more sinister than those overhead. The obvious thing
to be done was to release the slender hand; he did so rather hastily.
“Have I got you into trouble?” Fran asked, with her elfish laugh.
“If so, we'll be neighbors, for that's where I live. Who was she?”
“Miss Sapphira Clinton,” he answered as, by a common impulse, they
began walking toward Hamilton Gregory's house. “Bob Clinton's sister,
and my landlady.” The more Abbott thought of his adventure, the darker
it grew; before they, reached their destination, it had become a deep
“Do you mean the 'Brother Clinton' that couldn't get 'through'?”
“Yes....He's the chairman of the School Board.”
“Ah!” murmured Fran comprehendingly. At Gregory's gate, she said,
“Now you run back to the tent and I'll beard the lion by myself. I
know it has sharp teeth, but I guess it won't bite me. Do try to get
back to the tent before the meeting's over. Show yourself there.
Parade up and down the aisles.”
He laughed heartily, all the sorrier for her because he found
himself in trouble.
“It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it!” Fran exclaimed, with a
“Part of it was,” he admitted. “Good-by, then, little Nonpareil.”
He held out his hand.
“No, sir!” cried Fran, clasping her hands behind her. “That's what
got you into trouble. Good-by. Run for it!”
CHAPTER IV. THE WOMAN WHO WAS NOT
Hardly had Abbott Ashton disappeared down the village vista of
moonlight and shadow-patches, before Fran's mood changed. Instead of
seeking to carry out her threat of bearding the lion in the den, she
sank down on the porch-steps, gathered her knees in her arms, and
stared straight before her.
She made a woebegone little figure with her dusty shoes, her black
stockings, her huddled body, while the big hat threw all into deepest
gloom. From hat to drawn-in feet, she was not unlike a narrow edge of
darkness splitting the moon-sheen, a somber shadow cast by goodness-
knows-what and threatening goodness-knows-whom.
Though of skilful resources, of impregnable resolution, Fran could
be despondent to the bluest degree; and though competent at the clash,
she often found herself purpling on the eve of the crisis. The moment
had come to test her fighting qualities, yet she drooped despondently.
Hamilton Gregory was coming through the gate. As he halted in
surprise, the black shadow rose slowly, wearily. He, little dreaming
that he was confronted by a shadow from the past, saw in her only the
girl who had been publicly expelled from the tent.
The choir-leader had expected his home-coming to be crowned by a
vision very different. He came up the walk slowly, not knowing what to
say. She waited, outwardly calm, inwardly gathering power. White-hot
action from Fran, when the iron was to be welded. Out of the deepening
shadows her will leaped keen as a blade.
She addressed him, “Good evening, Mr. Gregory.”
He halted. When he spoke, his tone expressed not only a general
disapproval of all girls who wander away from their homes in the
night, but an especial repugnance to one who could laugh during
religious services. “Do you want to speak to me, child?”
“Yes.” The word was almost a whisper. The sound of his voice had
“What do you want?” He stepped up on the porch. The moon had
vanished behind the rising masses of storm-clouds, not to appear
again, but the light through the glass door revealed his poetic
features. Flashes of lightning as yet faint but rapid in recurrence,
showed his beauty as that of a young man. Fran remained silent, moved
more than she could have thought possible. He stared intently, but
under that preposterous hat, she was practically invisible, save as a
black shadow. He asked again, with growing impatience, “What do you
His unfriendliness gave her the spur she needed. “I want a home,”
she said decidedly.
Hamilton Gregory was seriously disturbed. However evil-disposed,
the waif should not be left to wander aimlessly about the streets. Of
the three hotels in Littleburg, the cheapest was not overly
particular. He would take her there. “Do you mean to tell me,” he
temporized, “that you are absolutely alone?”
Fran's tone was a little hard, not because she felt bitter, but
lest she betray too great feeling, “Absolutely alone in the world.”
He was sorry for her; at the same time he was subject to the
reaction of his exhausting labors as song-leader. “Then,” he said,
with tired resignation, “if you'll follow me, I'll take you where you
can spend the night, and to-morrow, I'll try to find you work.”
“Work!” She laughed. “Oh,
thank you!” Her accent was that of
repudiation. Work, indeed!
He drew back in surprise and displeasure.
“You didn't understand me,” she resumed. “What I want is a home. I
don't want to follow you anywhere. This is where I want to
“You can not stay here,” he answered with a slight smile at the
presumptuous request, “but I'm willing to pay for a room at the
At this moment, the door was opened by the young woman who, some
hours earlier, had responded to Fran's knocking. Footsteps upon the
porch had told of Gregory's return.
The lady who was not Mrs. Gregory, was so pleased to see the
gentleman who was Mr. Gregory—they had not met since the evening
meal—that, at first, she was unaware of the black shadow; and Mr.
Gregory, in spite of his perplexity, forgot the shadow also, so
cheered was he by the glimpse of his secretary as she stood in the
brightly lighted hall. Such moments of delighted recognition are
infinitesimal when a third person, however shadowy, is present; yet
had the world been there, this exchange of glances must have taken
Fran did not understand—her very wisdom blinded her as with too
great light. She had seen so much of the world that, on finding a tree
bearing apples, she at once classified it as an apple tree. To
Gregory, Grace Noir was but a charming and conscientious sympathizer
in his life-work, the atmosphere in which he breathed freest. He had
not breathed freely for half a dozen hours—no wonder he was glad to
see her. To Grace Noir, Hamilton Gregory was but a benefactor to
mankind, a man of lofty ideals whom it was a privilege to aid, and
since she knew that her very eyes gave him strength, no wonder she was
glad to see him.
Could Fran have read their thoughts, she would not have found the
slightest consciousness of any shade of evil in their sympathetic
comradeship. As she could read only their faces, she disliked more
than ever the tall, young, and splendidly formed secretary.
“Oh!” said Grace with restraint, discovering Fran.
“Yes,” Fran said with her elfish smile, “back again.”
Just without the portal, Hamilton Gregory paused irresolutely. He
did not know what course to pursue, so he repeated vacantly, “I am
willing to pay—”
Fran interrupted flippantly: “I have all the money
Then she passed swiftly into the hall, rudely brushing past the
Gregory could only follow. He spoke to Grace in a low voice,
telling all he knew of the night wanderer. Her attitude called for
explanations, but he would have given them anyway, in that low
confidential murmur. He did not know why it was—or seek to know—
butwhenever he spoke to Grace, it was natural to use a low tone, as if
modulating his touch to sensitive strings—as if the harmony resulting
from the interplay of their souls called for the soft pedal.
“What is to be done?” Grace inquired. Her attitude of reserve
toward Gregory which Fran's presence had inspired, melted to potential
helpfulness; at the same time, her dislike for the girl solidified.
That Fran should have laughed aloud in the tent, removed her from the
secretary's understanding. But the worst indictment had been
pronounced against her by her own shameless tongue. That one so young,
without a home, without fear of the dark streets, should have all the
money she wants....
“What do you advise?” Gregory asked his secretary gently.
Grace cast a disdainful look at Fran. Then she turned to her
employer and her deliciously curved face changed most charmingly. “I
think,” she responded with a faint shake of rebuke for his leniency,
“that you should not need my advice in this matter.” She had
occasionally feared that his irresolution at moments calling for
important decisions hinted at weakness. Why should he stand apparently
helpless before this small bundle of arrogant impudence?
Gregory turned upon Fran with affected harshness. “You must go.” He
was annoyed that Grace should imagine him weak.
Fran's face hardened. It became an ax of stone, sharpened at each
end, with eyes, nose, and mouth in a narrow line of cold defiance. To
Grace, the acute wedge of white forehead, gleaming its way to the
roots of the black hair, and the sharp chin cutting its way down from
the tightly drawn mouth, spoke only of cunning. She regarded Fran as a
fox, brought to bay.
Fran spoke with calm deliberation: “I am not going away.”
“I would advise you,” said Grace, looking down at her from under
drooping lids, “to go at once, for a storm is rising. Do you want to
be caught in the rain?”
Fran looked up at Grace, undaunted. “I want to speak to Mr.
Gregory. If you are the manager of this house, he and I can go
outdoors. I don't mind getting wet. I've been in all kinds of
Grace looked at Gregory, Her silences were effective weapons.
“I have no secrets from this lady,” he said, looking into Grace's
eyes, answering her silence. “What do you want to say to me, child?”
Fran shrugged her shoulders, always looking at Grace, while neither
of the others looked at her. “Very well, then, of course it doesn't
matter to me, but I thought it might to Mr. Gregory. Since he hasn't
any secrets from you, of course he has told you that one of nearly
twenty years ago—”
It was not the rumble of distant thunder, but a strange exclamation
from the man that interrupted her; it was some such cry as human
creatures may have uttered before the crystallizing of recurring
experiences into the terms of speech.
Fran gave quick, relentless blows: “Of course he has told you all
about his Springfield life—”
“Silence!” shouted Gregory, quivering from head to foot. The word
was like an imprecation, and for a time it kept hissing between his
“And of course,” Fran continued, tilting up her chin as if to drive
in the words, “since you know all of his secrets—all of
them—you have naturally been told the most important one. And so you
know that when he was boarding with his cousin in Springfield and
attending the college there, something like twenty years ago—”
“Leave us!” Gregory cried, waving a violent arm at his secretary,
as if to sweep her beyond the possibility of overhearing another word.
her?” Grace stammered, too amazed by his
attitude to feel offended.
“Yes, yes, yes! Go at once!” He seemed the victim of some
Grace compressed her full lips till they were thinned to a white
line. “Do you mean for ever?”
“Oh, Grace—I beg your pardon—Miss Grace—I don't mean that, of
course. What could I do without you? Nothing, nothing, Grace—you are
the soul of my work. Don't look at me so cruelly.”
“Then you just mean,” Grace said steadily, “for me to go away for a
“Only half an hour; that's all. Only half an hour, and then come
back to me, and I will explain.”
“You needn't go at all, on my account,” observed Fran, with a twist
of her mouth. “It's nothing to me whether you go or stay.”
“She has learned a secret,” Gregory stammered, “that vitally
affects— affects some people—some friends of mine. I must talk to
her about— about that secret, just for a little while. Half an hour,
Miss Grace, that is all. That is really all—then come back to me. You
understand that it's on account of the secret that I ask you to leave
us. You understand that I would never send you away from me if I had
my way, don't you, Grace?”
“I understand that you want me to go
now,” Grace Noir
replied, unresponsive. She ascended the stairway, at each step seeming
to mount that much the higher into an atmosphere of righteous
No one who separated Gregory from his secretary could enjoy his
toleration, but Fran had struck far below the surface of likings and
dislikings. She had turned back the covering of conventionality to lay
bare the quivering heartstrings of life itself. There was no time to
hesitate. The stone ax which on other occasions might be a laughing
elfish face was now held ready for battle.
“Hadn't we better go in a room where we can talk privately?” Fran
asked. “I don't like this hall. That woman would just as soon listen
over the banisters as not. I've seen lots of people like her, and I
understand her kind.”
CHAPTER V. WE REAP WHAT WE SOW
If anything could have prejudiced Hamilton Gregory against Fran's
interests it would have been her slighting allusion to the one who
typified his most exalted ideals as “that woman”. But Fran was to him
nothing but an agent bringing out of the past a secret he had
preserved for almost twenty years. This stranger knew of his youthful
folly, and she must be prevented from communicating it to others. It
was from no sense of aroused conscience that he hastened to lead her
to the front room. In this crisis, something other than shuddering
recoil from haunting deeds was imperative; unlovely specters must be
made to vanish.
How much did this girl know? And how could her silence be
purchased? His conscience was seldom asleep; but coals of remorse are
endurable, however galling, if the winds of publicity do not threaten
to fan them to a blaze.
He tried desperately to cover his dread under a voice of harshness:
“What have you to say to me?”
Fran had lost the insolent composure which the secretary had
inspired. Now that she was alone with Hamilton Gregory, it seemed
impossible to speak. She clasped and unclasped her hands. She opened
her mouth, but her lips were dry. The wind had risen, and as it went
moaning past the window, it seemed to speak of the yearning of years
passing in the night, unsatisfied. At last came the words muffled,
frightened—“I know all about it.”
“All about what, child?” He had lost his harshness. His voice was
almost coaxing, as if entreating the mercy of ignorance.
Fran gasped, “I know all about it—I know—” She was terrified by
the thought that perhaps she would not be able to tell him. Her head
grew light; she seemed floating away into dark space, as if drawn by
the fleeing wind, while the man before her was magnified. She leaned
heavily upon a table with hand turned backward, whitening her
fingertips by the weight thrown on them.
“About what?” he repeated with the caution of one who fears. He
could not doubt the genuineness of her emotion; but he would not
accept her statement of its cause until he must.
“Oh,” cried Fran, catching a tempestuous breath, uneven, violent,
“you know what I mean—that!”
The dew glistened on his brow, but he doggedly stood on the
defensive. “You are indefinite,” he muttered, trying to appear bold.
She knew he did not understand because he would not, and now she
realized that he would, if possible, deny. His bearing suggested
something so foreign to her own nature, that it gave her strength. She
had been afraid to witness the emotion her knowledge might excite, but
all he revealed was a determination to avoid the issue.
Pretense and sham always hardened her. “Then,” she said slowly, “I
will be definite. I will tell you the things it would have been better
for you to tell me. Your early home was in New York, but you had a
cousin living in Springfield, where there was a very good college.
Your parents were anxious to get you away from the temptations of a
big city until you were of age. So you were sent to live with your
cousin and attend college. You were with him three or four years, and
at last the time came for graduation. Shall I go on?”
He fought desperately for self-preservation. “What is there in all
“You had married, in the meantime,” Fran said coldly; “married
secretly. That was about nineteen years ago. She was only about
eighteen. After graduation, you were to go to New York, break the news
to your father, come back to Springfield for your wife, and
acknowledge her. You graduated; you went to your father. Did you come
“My God!” groaned the man. So she knew everything; must he admit
it? “What is all this to you?” he burst forth. “Who and what are you,
anyway—and why do you come here with your story? If it were true—”
“True!” said Fran bitterly. “If you've forgotten, why not go to
Springfield and ask the first old citizen you meet? Or you might write
to some one you used to know, and inquire. If you prefer, I'll send
for one of your old professors, and pay his expenses. They took a good
deal of interest in the young college student who married and
neglected Josephine Derry. They haven't forgotten it, if you have.”
“You don't know,” he gasped, “that there's a penalty for coming to
people's houses to threaten them with supposed facts in their lives.
You don't know that the jails are ready to punish blackmailing, for
you are only a little girl and don't understand such things. I give
you warning. Although you are in short dresses—”
“Yes,” remarked Fran dryly, “I thought that would be an advantage
to you. It ought to make things easier.”
“How an advantage to me? Easier? What have I to do with you?”
“I thought,” Fran said coolly, “that it would be easier for you to
take me into the house as a little girl than as a grown woman. You'll
remember I told you I've come here to stay.”
“To stay!” he echoed, shrinking back. “You?”
“Yes,” she said, all the cooler for his attitude of repulsion. “I
want a home. Yes, I'm going to stay. I want to belong to somebody.”
He cried out desperately, “But what am I to do? This will ruin
me—oh, it's true, all you've said—I don't deny it. But I tell you,
girl, you will ruin me. Is all the work of my life to be overturned? I
shall go mad.”
“No, you won't,” Fran calmly assured him.
[Illustration with caption: “I want to belong to somebody"]
“You'll do what every one has to do, sooner or later—face the
situation. You're a little late getting to it, but it was coming all
the time. You can let me live here as an adopted orphan, or any way
you please. The important fact to me is that I'm going to live here.
But I don't want to make it hard for you, truly I don't.”
“Don't you?” He spoke not loudly, but with tremendous pressure of
desire. “Then, for God's sake, go back! Go back to—to wherever, you
came from. I'll pay all expenses. You shall have all you want—”
“All I want,” Fran responded, “is a home, and that's something
people can't buy. Get used to the thought of my staying here; that
will make it easy.”
“Easy!” he ejaculated. “Then it's your purpose to compel me to give
you shelter because of this secret—you mean to ruin me. I'll not be
able to account for you, and they will question—my wife will want to
know, and—and others as well.”
“Now, now,” said Fran, with sudden gentleness, “don't be so
excited, don't take it so hard. Let them question. I'll know how to
keep from exposing you. But I do want to belong to somebody, and after
I've been here a while, and you begin to like me, I'll tell you
everything. I knew the Josephine Derry that you deserted—she raised
me, and I know she loved you to the end. Didn't you ever care for her,
not even at the first, when you got her to keep your marriage secret
until you could speak to your father face to face? You must have loved
her then. And she's the best friend I ever had. Since she died I've
wandered— and—and I want a home.”
The long loneliness of years found expression in her eager voice
and pleading eyes, but he was too engrossed with his own misfortunes
to heed her emotion. “Didn't I go back to Springfield?” he cried out.
“Of course I did. I made inquiries for her; that's why I went back—to
find out what had become of her. I'd been gone only three years, yes,
only three years—but, good heavens, how I had suffered! I was so
changed that nobody knew me.” He paused, appalled at the recollection.
“I have always had a terrible capacity for suffering. I tell you, it
was my duty to go back to find her, and I went back. I would have
acknowledged her as my wife. I would have lived with her. I'd have
done right by her, though it had killed me. Can I say more than that?”
“I am glad you went back,' said Fran softly. “She never knew it. I
am so glad that you did—even that.”
“Yes, I did go back,” he said, more firmly. “But she was gone. I
tell you all this because you say she was your best friend.”
“A while ago you asked me who I am—and what—”
“It doesn't matter,” he interjected. “You were her friend; that is
all I care to know. I went back to Springfield, after three years—but
she was gone. I was told that her uncle had cast her off, and she had
disappeared. It seems that she'd made friends with a class of people
who were not—who were not—respectable.”
Fran's eyes shone brightly. “Oh, they were not,” she agreed, “they
were not at all what you would call respectable. They were not
“So I was told,” he resumed, a little uncertainly. “There was no
way for me to find her.”
“Her?” cried Fran, “you keep saying 'her'. Do you mean—?”
He hesitated. “She had chosen her part—to live with those
people—I left her to lead the life that pleased her. That's why I
never went back to Springfield again. I've taken up my life in my own
way, and left her—your friend—”
“Yes, call her that,” cried Fran, holding up her head. “I am proud
of that title. I glory in it. And in this house—”
“I have made my offer,” he interrupted decidedly. “I'll provide for
you anywhere but in this house.”
Fran regarded him with somber intensity. “I've asked for a home
with you on the grounds that your wife was my best friend in all the
world, and because I am homeless. You refuse. I suppose that's
natural. I have to guess at your feelings because I haven't been
raised among 'respectable' people. I'm sorry you don't like it, but
you're going to provide for me right here. For a girl, I'm pretty
independent; folks that don't like me are welcome to all the enjoyment
they get out of their dislike. I'm here to stay. Suppose you look on
me as a sort of summer crop. I enjoyed hearing you. sing, to-night—
“'We reap what we sow,
We reap what we sow'—
I see you remember.”
He shuddered at her mocking holy things. “Hush! What are you
saying? The past is cut off from my life. I have been pardoned, and I
will not have anybody forcing that past upon me.”
Her words came bitingly: “You can't help it. You sowed. You can't
pardon a seed from growing.”
“I can help it, and I will. The past is no more mine than hers—our
marriage was legal, but it bound me no more than it bound her. She
chose her own companions. I have been building up a respectable life,
here in Littleburg. You shall not overturn the labor of the last ten
years. You can go. My will is unalterable. Go—and do what you can!”
Instead of anger, Fran showed sorrow: “How long have you been
married to the second Mrs. Gregory—the present one?”
He turned his back upon her as if to go to the door, but he wheeled
about: “Ten years. You understand? Ten years of the best work of my
life that you want to destroy.”
“Poor lady!” murmured Fran. “The first Mrs. Gregory—my 'friend'
— has been dead only three years. You and she were never divorced.
The lady that you call Mrs. Gregory now,—she isn't your wife, is
“I thought—” he was suddenly ashen pale—“but I thought that
—I believed her dead long ago—I was sure of it—positive. What you
say is impossible—”
“But no one can sow without reaping,” Fran said, still pityingly.
“When you sang those words, it was only a song to you, but music is
just a bit of life's embroidery, while you think it life itself. You
don't sow, or reap in a choir loft. You can't sow deeds and reap
“I understand you, now,” he faltered. “You have come to disgrace
me. What good will that do you, or—or my first wife? You are no
abstraction, to represent sowing or reaping, but a flesh-and-blood
girl who can go away if she chooses—”
“She chooses to stay,” Fran assured him.
“Then you have resolved to ruin me and break my wife's heart! “The
sweet uncomplaining face of the second Mrs. Gregory rose before him.
And Grace Noir—what would she think?
“No, I'm just here to have a home.”
“Will you enjoy a home that you seize by force?”
“Don't they say that the Kingdom of God may be taken by force? But
you know more about the Kingdom than I. Let them believe me the
daughter of some old boyhood friend—that'll make it easy. As the
daughter of that friend, you'll give me a home. I'll keep out of your
way, and be pleasant—a nice little girl, of any age you please.” She
He spoke dully: “But they'll want to know all about that old
“Naturally. Well, just invent some story—I'll stand by you.”
“You do not know me,” he returned, drawing himself up. “What! do
you imagine I would lie to them?”
“I think,” Fran remarked impersonally, “that to a person in your
position—a person beginning to reap what he has sown, lying is always
the next course. But you must act as your conscience dictates. You may
be sure that if you decide to tell the truth, I'll certainly stand by
you in that.”
Helplessly driven to bay, he flashed out violently, “Unnatural
girl— or woman—or whatever you are—there is no spirit of girlhood
or womanhood in you.”
Fran returned in a low concentrated voice, “If I'm unnatural, what
were you in the Springfield days? Was it natural for you to be married
secretly when the marriage might have been public? When you went away
to break the news to your father, wasn't it rather unnatural for you
to hide three years before coming back? When you came back and heard
that your wife had gone away to be supported by people who were not
respectable, was it natural for you to be satisfied with the first
rumors you heard, and disappear for good and all?
“As for me, yes, I have neither the spirit of girlhood nor
womanhood, for I'm neither a girl, nor a woman, I'm nothing.” Her
voice trembled.” Don't rouse my anger—when I lose grip on myself, I'm
pretty hard to stop. If I let everything rush on my mind—how she—my
'friend'—my sweet darling 'friend'—how she searched for you all
the years till she died—and how even on her death-bed she thought
maybe you'd come—you—”
Fran choked back the words. “Don't!” she gasped. “Don't reproach
me, or I'll reproach you, and I mustn't do that. I want to hide my
real heart from you—from all the world. I want to smile, and be like
“For God's sake,” whispered the other frantically, “hush! I hear my
wife coming. Yes, yes, I'll do everything you say, but, oh, don't ruin
me. You shall have a home with us, you shall have everything,
“Except a welcome,” Fran faltered, frightened at the emotion she
had betrayed. “Can you show me to a room—quick—before your wife
comes? I don't want to meet her, now, I'm terribly tired. I've come
all the way from New York to find you; I reached Littleburg only at
dusk—and I've been pretty busy ever since!”
“Come, then,” he said hastily. “This way—I'll show you a room....
It's too late,” he broke off, striving desperately to regain
The door opened, and a woman entered the room hastily.
CHAPTER VI. MRS. GREGORY
The wind had suddenly increased in violence, and a few raindrops
had already fallen. Apprehensions of a storm caused hurried movements
throughout the house. Blinding flashes of lightning suggested a
gathering of the family in the reception-hall, where, according to
tradition, there was “less danger”; and as the unknown lady opened the
door of the front room, Fran heard footsteps upon the stairs, and
caught a glimpse of Grace Noir descending.
The lady closed the door behind her before she perceived Fran, so
intent was she upon securing from threatening rain some unfinished
silk-work lying on the window-sill. She paused abruptly, her honest
brown eyes opened wide.
Fran regarded her with that elfish smile which, to the secretary,
had suggested a fox. It was the coolest little smile, slyly playing
upon her twisted mouth.
The perspiration shone on Hamilton Gregory's forehead. “Just a
moment,” he uttered incoherently—“wait—I'll be back when I make sure
my library window's closed....” He left the room, his brain in an
agony of indecision. How much must be told? And how would they regard
him after the telling?
“Who are you?” asked the lady of thirty-five, mildly, but with
The answer came, with a broken laugh, “I am Fran.” It was spoken a
little defiantly, a little menacingly, as if the tired spirit was
bracing itself for battle.
The lady wore her wavy hair parted in the middle after that fashion
which perhaps was never new; and no impudent ribbon or arrogant
flounce stole one's attention from the mouth that was just sincere and
sweet. It was a face one wanted to look at because—well, Fran didn't
know why. “She's no prettier than I,” was Fran's decision, measuring
from the natural standard—the standard every woman hides in her own
breast. The nose was too slight, but it seemed cut to Fran's liking.
Fran smiled in a different way—a smile that did not
instantaneously flash, but darted out of the corner of her eye, and
slipped along the slightly parted lips, as if afraid of being caught,
and vanished, leaving a wistful face.
“And who is Fran?” asked the mild voice. The lady smiled so
tenderly, it was like a mellow light stealing from a fairy rose-garden
of thornless souls.
Fran caught her breath while her face showed hardness—but not
against the other. She felt something like holy wrath as her
presentment sounded forth protestingly—“But who are you?”
“I am Mrs. Gregory.”
“Oh, no,” cried Fran, with violence, “no!” She added rather wildly,
“It can't be—I mean—but say you are not Mrs. Gregory.”
“I am Mrs. Gregory,” the other repeated, mystified.
Fran tried to hide her emotion with a smile, but it would have been
easier for her to cry, just because she of the patient brown eyes was
At that moment Hamilton Gregory reentered the room, brought back by
the fear that Fran might tell all during his absence. How different
life would have been if he could have found her flown!—but he read in
her face no promise of departure.
His wife was not surprised at his haggard face, for he was always
working too hard, worrying over his extensive charities, planning
editorials for his philanthropic journal, devising means to better the
condition of the local church. But the presence of this stranger—
doubtless one of his countless objects of charity—demanded
He loathed the necessity that confronted him, above all the
uncertainty of his situation. Hitherto the mistakes of his life had
passed over his head without dangerous explosions; he had gone away
from them, and they had seemed, somehow, to right themselves.
“Come,” he said bruskly, addressing neither directly, “we needn't
stop here. I have some explanations to make, and they might as well be
made before everybody, once and for all...” He paused wretchedly,
seeing no outlook, no possible escape. Something must be told—not a
lie, but possibly not all the truth; that would rest with Fran. He was
as much in her power as if she, herself, had been the effect of his
He opened the door, and walked with heavy step into the hall. Mrs.
Gregory followed, wondering, looking rather at Fran than at her
husband. Fran's keen eyes searched the apartment for the actual source
of Hamilton Gregory's acutest regrets.
Yes, there stood the secretary.
CHAPTER VII. A FAMILY CONFERENCE
With the coming of the rain, the peals of thunder had grown less
violent, and the wind had fallen; but those who had sought the
reception room for safety found in Fran's presence something as
startling, and as incomprehensible, as the most vivid lightning.
Of the group, it was the secretary who first claimed Fran's
attention. In a way, Grace Noir dominated the place. Perhaps it was
because of her splendidly developed body, her beauty, her attitude of
unclaimed yet recognized authority, that she stood distinctly first.
As for Mrs. Gregory, her mild aloofness suggested that she hardly
belonged to the family. Hamilton Gregory found himself instinctively
turning to Grace, rather than to his wife. Mrs. Gregory's face did,
indeed, ask why Fran was there; but Grace, standing at the foot of the
stairs, and looking at Gregory with memory of her recent dismissal,
Mrs. Gregory's mother, confined by paralysis to a wheel-chair,
fastened upon the new-comer eyes whose brightness seventy years or
more had not dimmed. The group was completed by Mrs. Gregory's
bachelor brother, older than his sister by fifteen years. This
brother, Simon Jefferson, though stockily built and evidently well-
fed, wore an air of lassitude, as if perennially tired. As he leaned
back in a hall chair, he seemed the only one present who did not care
why Fran was there.
Gregory broke the silence by clearing his throat with evident
embarrassment. A peal of thunder offered him reprieve, and after its
reverberations had died away, he still hesitated. “This,” he said
presently, “is a—the orphan—an orphan—one who has come to me from—
She says her name is Frances.”
“Fran,” came the abrupt correction; “just Fran.”
There was a general feeling that an orphan should speak less
positively, even about her own name—should be, as it were, subdued
from the mere fact of orphanhood.
“An orphan!” Simon Jefferson ejaculated, moving restlessly in his
effort to find the easiest corner of his chair. “I hope nothing is
going to excite me. I have heart-disease, little girl, and I'm liable
to topple off at any moment. I tell you, I must not be
“I don't think,” replied Fran, with cheerful interest in his
malady, “that orphans are very exciting.”
Hamilton Gregory resumed, cautiously stepping over dangerous
ground, while the others looked at Fran, and Grace never ceased to
look at him. “She came here to-night, after the services at the Big
Tent. She came here and, or I should say, to request, to ask—Miss
Grace saw her when she came. Miss Grace knew of her being here.” He
seized upon this fact as if to lift himself over pitfalls.
Grace's eyes were gravely judicial. She would not condemn him
unheard, but at the same time she let him see that her knowledge of
Fran would not help his case. It did not surprise Mrs. Gregory that
Grace had known of the strange presence; the secretary usually knew of
events before the rest of the family.
Gregory continued, delicately picking his way: “But the child asked
to see me alone, because she had a special message—a—yes, a message
to deliver to me. So I asked Miss Grace to leave us for half an hour.
Then I heard the girl's story, while Miss Grace waited up-stairs.”
“Well,” Simon Jefferson interposed irritably, “Miss Grace is
accounted for. Go on, brother-in-law, go on, if we must have it.”
“The fact is, Lucy—” Gregory at this point turned to his wife—for
at certain odd moments he found real relief in doing so—“the fact
is— the fact is, this girl is the—er—daughter of—of a very old
friend of mine—a friend who was—was a friend years ago, long before
I moved to Littleburg, long before I saw you, Lucy. That was when my
home was in New York. I have told you all about that time of my youth,
when I lived with my father in New York. Well, before my father died,
I was acquainted with—this friend. I owed that person a great debt,
not of money—a debt of—what shall I say?”
Fran suggested, “Honor.”
Gregory mopped his brow while all looked from Fran to him. He
resumed desperately: “I owed a great debt to that friend—oh, not of
money, of course—a debt which circumstances prevented me from
paying—from meeting—which I still owe to the memory of that—er—of
that dead friend. The friend is dead, you understand, yes, dead.”
Mrs. Gregory could not understand her husband's unaccustomed
hesitancy. She inquired of Fran, “And is your mother dead, too, little
That simple question, innocently preferred, directed the course of
future events. Mr. Gregory had not intentionally spoken of his friend
in such a way as to throw doubt upon the sex. Now that he realized how
his wife's misunderstanding might save him, he had not the courage to
Fran waited for him to speak. The delay had lost him the power to
reveal the truth. Would Fran betray him? He wished that the thunder
might drown out the sound of her words, but the storm seemed holding
its breath to listen.
Fran said quietly, “My mother died three years ago.”
Mrs. Gregory asked her husband, “Did you ever tell me about this
friend? I'd remember from his name; what was it?”
It seemed impossible for him to utter the name which had sounded
from his lips so often in love. He opened his lips, but he could not
say “Josephine”. Besides, the last name would do.
“Derry,” he gasped.
“Come here, Fran Derry,” said Mrs. Gregory, reaching out her hand,
with that sweet smile that somehow made Fran feel the dew of tears.
Hamilton Gregory plucked up spirits. “I couldn't turn away the
daughter of my old friend. You wouldn't want me to do that. None of
you would. Now that I've explained everything, I hope there'll be no
objection to her staying here in the house—that is, if she wants to
stay. She has come to do it, she says—all the way from New York.”
Mrs. Gregory slipped her arm about the independent shoulders, and
drew the girl down beside her upon a divan. “Do you know,” she said
gently, “you are the very first of all his New York friends who has
come into my life? Indeed, I am willing, and indeed you shall
stay with us, just as long as you will.”
Fran asked impulsively, as she clasped her hands, “Do you think you
could like me? Could—you?”
“Dear child”—the answer was accompanied by a gentle pressure, “you
are the daughter of my husband's friend. That's enough for me. You
need a home, and you shall have one with us. I like you already,
Tears dimmed Fran's eyes. “And I just love you,” she cried. “My!
What a woman you are!”
Grace Noir was silent. She liked Fran less than ever, but her look
was that of a hired secretary, saying, “With all this, I have nothing
to do.” Doubtless, when alone with Hamilton Gregory, she would express
her sincere conviction that the girl's presence would interfere with
his work—but these others would not understand. They dwelt entirely
apart from her employer's philanthropic enterprises, they did not
sympathize with his religious activities, or even read his weekly
magazine. Nobody understood him as she did.
Fran's unconventionality had given to Mrs. Gregory's laugh a
girlish note, but almost at once her face resumed its wonted gravity.
Perhaps the slight hollows in the cheeks had been pressed by the
fingers of care, but it was rather lack of light than presence of
shadow, that told Fran something was missing from the woman-heart.
In the meantime old Mrs. Jefferson had been looking on with
absorbed attention, desperately seeking to triumph over her enemy, a
deaf demon that for years had taken possession of her. Now, with an
impatient hand, she sent her wheel-chair to her daughter's side and
proffered her ear-trumpet.
“Mother,” Mrs. Gregory called through this ebony connector of
souls, “this is Fran Derry, the daughter of Mr. Gregory's dear friend,
one he used to know in New York, many years before he came to
Littleburg. Fran is an orphan, and needs a home. We have asked her to
live with us.”
Mrs. Jefferson did not always hear aright, but she always responded
with as much spirit as if her hearing were never in doubt. “And what I'd like to know,” she cried, “is what you are asking her to give
Grace Noir came forward with quiet resolution. “Let me speak to
your mother,” she said to Mrs. Gregory.
Mrs. Gregory handed her the tube, somewhat surprised, since Grace
made it a point of conscience seldom to talk to the old lady. When
Grace Noir disapproved of any one, she did not think it right to
conceal that fact. Since Mrs. Jefferson absolutely refused to attend
religious services, alleging as excuse that she could not hear the
sermon, refusing to offer up the sacrifice of her fleshly presence as
an example to others,—Grace disapproved most heartily.
Mrs. Jefferson held her head to the trumpet shrinkingly, as if
afraid of getting her ear tickled.
Grace spoke quietly, but distinctly, as she indicated Fran—“You
know how hard it is to get a good servant in Littleburg.” Then she
returned the trumpet. That was all she had to say.
Fran looked at Mr. Gregory.
He bit his lip, hoping it might go at that.
The old lady was greatly at sea. Much as she disliked the
secretary, her news was grateful. “Be sure to stipulate,” she said
briskly, “about wheeling me around in the garden. The last one wasn't
told in the beginning, and had to be paid extra, every time I took the
air. There's nothing like an understanding at the beginning.”
“I'd like a beginning of my sleep,” Simon Jefferson announced. “The
thunder and lightning's stopped, and the sound of this rain is just
what I need, if the house will get quiet.” He rose, gnawing his
grizzled beard with impatience.
Fran walked up to Grace Noir and shook back her hair in the way
that Grace particularly disliked. She said: “Nothing like an
understanding at the beginning; yes, the old lady's right. Good thing
to know what the trouble is, so we'll know how it'll hit us. I guess
I'm the trouble for this house, but I'm going to hit it as the
daughter of an old friend, and not as a servant. I'm just about as
independent as Patrick Henry, Miss Noir. I'm not responsible for being
born, but it's my outlook to hold on to my equality.”
“Fran!” exclaimed Mrs. Gregory, in mild reproof.
Grace looked at Mr. Gregory and nothing could have exceeded the
saintliness of her expression. Insulted, she was enjoying to the full
her pious satisfaction of martyrdom.
“Dear Mrs. Gregory,” said Fran kindly, “I'm sorry to have to do
this, but it isn't as if you were adopting a penniless orphan. I'm
adopting a home. I want to belong to somebody, and I want people to
feel that they have something when they have me.”
“I reckon they'll know they've got something,” remarked Simon
Jefferson, shooting a dissatisfied glance at Fran from under bushy
Fran laughed outright. “I'm going to like
you, all right,”
she declared. “You are so human.”
It is exceedingly difficult to maintain satisfaction in silent
martyrdom. Grace was obliged to speak, lest any one think that she
acquiesced in evil. “Is it customary for little girls to roam the
streets at night, wandering about the world alone, adopting homes
according to their whims?”
“I really don't think it customary,” Fran replied politely, “but
I'm not a customary girl.” At that moment she caught the old lady's
eye. It was sparkling with eloquent satisfaction; Mrs. Jefferson
supposed terms of service were under discussion. Fran laughed, grabbed
the ear- trumpet and called, “Hello. How are you?”
When an unknown voice entered the large end of the tube, half its
meaning was usually strained away before the rest reached the yearning
ear. Mrs. Jefferson responded eagerly, “And will you wheel me around
the garden at least twice a day?”
Fran patted the thin old arm with her thin young hand, as she
shouted, “I'll wheel you twenty times a day, if you say so!”
“But I do
not see-saw,” retorted the old lady with spirit.
“This is going to agitate my heart,” interposed Simon Jefferson, as
there came a louder dash of rain against the windows. “I ought to be
getting the benefits of this soothing sound, in my bed. When is this
company going to break up?”
Gregory, finding Grace's eyes fixed on him searchingly, felt
himself pushed to the wall. “Of course,” he said coldly, “it is
understood that the daughter of—er—my friend, comes here as a—as an
equal.” As he found himself forced into definite opposition to his
secretary, his manner grew more assured. Suddenly it occurred to him
that he was, in a way, atoning for the past.
“As an equal, yes!” exclaimed his wife, again embracing Fran. “How
else could it be?”
“This is going to be a good thing for you, if you only knew it,”
Fran said, looking into her face with loving eyes.
Hamilton Gregory was almost able to persuade himself that he had
received the orphan of his own free choice, thus to make reparation.
“It is my duty,” he said; “and I always try to do my duty, as I see
“Would you like to know more about me?” Fran asked confidentially
of Mrs. Gregory.
Gregory turned pale. “I don't think it is neces—”
“Do tell me!” exclaimed his wife.
“Oh, Lord!” murmured Simon Jefferson, sinking back into the hall
“Father and mother married secretly,” Fran said, solely addressing
Mrs. Gregory, but occasionally sending a furtive glance at her
husband. “He was a college-student, boarding with his cousin, who was
one of the professors. Mother was an orphan and lived with her half-
uncle,—a mighty crusty old man, Uncle Ephraim was, who didn't have
one bit of use for people getting married in secret. Father and
mother agreed not to mention their marriage till after his graduation;
then he'd go to his father and make everything easy, and come
for mother. So he went and told him—father's father was a millionaire
on Wall Street. Mother's uncle was pretty well fixed, too, but he
didn't enjoy anything except religion. When he wasn't at church—he
went 'most all the time—he was reading about it. Mother said he was
most religious in Hebrew, but he enjoyed his Greek verbs awfully.”
Grace Noir asked remotely, “Did you say that your parents eloped?”
“They didn't run far,” Fran explained; “they were married in the
county, not far from Springfield—”
“I thought you said,” Grace interrupted, “that they were in New
“Did you?” said Fran politely. “So father graduated, and went away
to tell his father all about being married to Josephine Derry. I don't
know what happened then, as he didn't come back to tell. My mother
waited and waited—and I was born—and then Uncle Ephraim drove mother
out of his house with her tiny baby—that's me—and I grew to be—as
old as you see me now. We were always hunting father. We went all over
the United States, first and last—it looked like the son of a
millionaire ought to be easy to find. But he kept himself close, and
there was never a clue. Then mother died. Sometimes she used to tell
me that she believed him dead, that if he'd been alive he'd have come
for her, because she loved him with all her soul, and wrecked her
whole life because of him. She was happiest when she thought he was
dead, so I wouldn't say anything, but I was sure he was alive, all
right, as big and strong as you please. Oh, I know his kind.
I've had lots of experience.”
“So I'd suppose,” said Grace Noir quietly. “May I ask—if you don't
mind—if this traveling about the United States didn't take a great
deal of money?”
“Oh, we had all the money we wanted,” Fran returned easily.
“Indeed? And did you become reconciled to your mother's uncle?”
“Yes—after he was dead. He didn't leave a will, and there wasn't
anybody else, and as mother had just been taken from me, the money
just naturally came in my hands. But I didn't need it, particularly.”
“But before that,” Grace persisted; “before, when your mother was
first disinherited, how could she make her living?”
“Mother was like me. She didn't stand around folding her hands and
crossing her feet—she used 'em. Bless you, I could get along wherever
you'd drop me. Success isn't in the world, it's in me, and that's a
good thing to know—it saves hunting.”
“Do you consider yourself a 'success'?” inquired the secretary with
a chilly smile.
“I had everything I wanted except a home,” Fran responded with
charming good-humor, “and now I've got that. In a New York paper, I
found a picture of Hamilton Gregory, and it told about all his
charities. It said he had millions, and was giving away everything. I
said to myself, 'I'll go there and have him give me a home'—you see,
I'd often heard mother speak of him—and I said other things to
myself—and then, as I generally do what I tell myself to do—it keeps
up confidence in the general manager—I came.”
“Dear child,” said Mrs. Gregory, stroking her hair, “your mother
dead, your father—that kind of a man—you shall indeed find a home
with us, for life. And so your father was Mr. Gregory's friend. It
“My father,” said Fran, looking at Mr. Gregory inscrutably, “was
the best friend you ever had, wasn't he? You loved him better than
anybody else in the world, didn't you?”
“I—I—yes,” the other stammered, looking at her wildly, and
passing his agitated hand across his eyes, as if to shut out some
terrible vision, “yes, I—I was—er—fond of—him.”
“I guess you were,” Fran cried emphatically. “You'd have done
anything for him.”
“I have this to say,” remarked Simon Jefferson, “that I may not
come up to the mark in all particulars, and I reckon I have my
weaknesses; but I wouldn't own a friend that proved himself the
miserable scoundrel, the weak cur, that this child's father proved
“And I agree with you,” declared Grace, who seldom agreed with him
in anything. How Mr. Gregory, the best man she had ever known, could
be fond of Fran's father, was incomprehensible. Ever since Fran had
come knocking at the door, Grace's exalted faith in Mr. Gregory had
been perplexed by the foreboding that he was not altogether what she
Hamilton Gregory felt the change in her attitude. “That friend,” he
said quickly, “was not altogether to be censured. At least, he meant
to do right. He wanted to do right. With all the strength of his
nature, he strove to do right.”
“Then why didn't he
do right?” snapped Simon Jefferson. “Why
didn't he go back after that young woman, and take care of her? Huh?
What was holding him?”
“He did go back,” exclaimed Gregory. “Well—not at first, but
afterward. He went to tell his father, and his father showed him that
it would never do, that the girl—his wife—wasn't of their sphere,
their life, that he couldn't have made her happy—that it wouldn't—
that it just wouldn't do. For three years he stayed in the mountains
of Germany, the most miserable man in the world. But his conscience
wouldn't let him rest. It told him he should acknowledge his wife. So
he went back—but she'd disappeared—he couldn't find her—and he'd
never heard—he'd never dreamed of the birth of a—of the—of this
girl. He never knew that he had a daughter. Never!”
“Well,” said Simon Jefferson, “he's dead now, and that's one
comfort. Good thing he's not alive; I'd always be afraid I might come
up with him and then, afterward, that I might not get my sentence
commuted to life-imprisonment.”
“Who is exciting my son?” demanded the old lady from her
wheel-chair. Simon Jefferson's red face and starting eyes told plainly
that his spirit was up. There was silence out of respect for his weak
heart, but there was a general feeling of surprise that Gregory should
so determinedly defend his friend.
“After all,” said Fran cheerfully, “we are here, and needn't bother
about what's past. My mother wasn't given her chance, but she's dead
now, blessed soul—and my father had his chance, but it wasn't in him
to be a man. Let's forget him as much as we can, and let's have
nothing but sweet and peaceful thoughts about mother. That's all over,
and I'm here to take my chance with the rest of you. We're the world,
while our day lasts.”
“What a remarkable child!” murmured Grace Noir, as they prepared to
separate. “Quite a philosopher in short dresses.”
“They used to call me a prodigy,” murmured Fran, as she obeyed Mrs.
Gregory's gesture inviting her to follow up-stairs. “Now it's stopped
raining,” Simon Jefferson complained, as he wheeled his mother toward
the back hall.
“That's a good omen,” said Fran, pressing Mrs. Gregory's hand. “The
moonlight was beautiful when I was on the bridge—when I first came
“But we need rain,” said Grace Noir reprovingly. Her voice was that
of one familiar with the designs of Providence. As usual, she and
Hamilton Gregory were about to be left alone.
“Who needs it?” called the unabashed Fran, looking over the
banisters. “The frogs?”
“Life,” responded the secretary somberly.
CHAPTER VIII. WAR DECLARED
The April morning was brimming with golden sunshine when Fran
looked from the window of her second-story room. Between two black
streamers left from last night's rain-clouds, she found the sun making
its way up an aisle of intense blue. Below, the lawn stretched in
level greenness from Hamilton Gregory's residence to the street, and
the grass, fresh from the care of the lawn-mower, mixed yellow tints
of light with its emerald hue. Shadows from the tender young leaves
decorated the whiteness of the smooth village road in dainty tracery,
and splashed the ribbons of rain-drenched granitoid walks with warm
Fran, eager for the first morning's view of her new home, stared at
the half-dozen cottages across the street, standing back in picket-
fenced yards with screens of trees before their window-eyes. They
showed only as bits of weather-boarding, or gleaming fragments of
glass, peeping through the boughs. At one place, nothing was to be
seen but stone steps and a chimney; at another, there was an open door
and a flashing broom; or a curl of smoke and a face at a window. She
thought everything homelike, neighborly. These houses seemed to her
closer to the earth than those of New York, or, at any rate, closer in
the sense of brotherhood. She drew a deep breath of pungent April
essence and murmured: “What a world to live in!”
Fran had spoken in all sincerity when declaring that she wanted
nothing but a home; and when she went down to breakfast it was with
the expectation that every member of the family would pursue his
accustomed routine, undeflected by her presence. She was willing that
they should remain what they were, just as she expected to continue
without change; however, not many days passed before she found herself
seeking to modify her surroundings. If a strange mouse be imprisoned
in a cage of mice, those already inured to captivity will seek to
destroy the new-comer. Fran, suddenly thrust into the bosom of a
family already fixed in their modes of thought and action, found
adjustment exceedingly difficult.
She did not care to mingle with the people of the village—which
was fortunate, since her laughing in the tent had scandalized the
neighborhood; she would have been content never to cross the
boundaries of the homestead, had it not been for Abbott Ashton. It was
because of him that she acquiesced in the general plan to send her to
school. In the unanimous conviction of the need of change in Fran, and
because there were still two months of school, she must pass through
this two-months' wringer—she might not acquire polish, but the family
hoped some crudities might be squeezed out. It was on the fifth day of
her stay, following her startling admission that she had never been to
school a day in her life, that unanimous opinion was fused into
“You must go to school!”
Fran thought of the young superintendent, and said she was willing.
When Mr. Gregory and the secretary had retired to the library for
the day's work, Mrs. Gregory told Fran, “I really, think, dear, that
your dresses are much too short. You are small, but your face and
manners and even your voice, sometimes, seem old—quite old.”
Fran showed the gentle lady a soft docility. “Well,” she said, “my
legs are there, all the time, you know, and I'll show just as much of
them, or just as little, as you please.”
Simon Jefferson spoke up—“I like to see children wear short
dresses— ” and he looked at this particular child with approval.
That day, she was really pretty. The triangle had been broadened to an
oval brow, the chin was held slightly lowered, and there was something
in her general aspect, possibly due to the arrangement of folds or
colors— heaven knows what, for Simon Jefferson was but a poor male
observer— that made a merit of her very thinness. The weak heart of
the burly bachelor tingled with pleasure in nice proportions, while
his mind attained the aesthetic outlook of a classic age. To be sure,
the skirts did show a good deal of Fran; very good—they could not
show too much.
“I like,” Simon persisted, “to see young girls of fourteen or
fifteen, dressed, so to say, in low necks and high stockings
in—er—in the airy way such as they are by nature...” It was hard to
“Yes,” Fran said impartially, “it pleases others, and it doesn't
“Fran!” Mrs. Gregory exclaimed, gazing helplessly at the girl with
something of a child's awe inspired by venerable years. It was a
pathetic appeal to a spirit altogether beyond her comprehension.
Fran's quick eye caught the expression of baffled reaching-forth,
of uncertain striving after sympathetic understanding. “You darling
lady!” she cried, clasping her hands to keep her arms from flying
about the other's neck, “don't you be troubled about me. Bless your
heart, I can take care of myself—and you, too! Do you think I'd add a
straw to your...Now you hear me: if you want to do it, just put me in
long trains with Pullman sleepers, for I'm the little girl for you,
dear heart, and I'll do whatever you say. If you want to show people
how tame I am, just hold up your hand, and I'll crawl into my cage.”
The laughter of Mrs. Gregory sounded wholesome and
deep-throated—the child was so deliciously ridiculous. “Come, then,”
she cried, with a lightness she had not felt for months, “come, crawl
into your cage!” And she opened her arms.
With a flash of her lithe body, Fran was in her cage, and, for a
time, rested there, while the fire in her dark eyes burned tears to
all sorts of rainbow colors. It seemed to her that of all the people
in the world, Mrs. Gregory was the last to hold her in affectionate
embrace. She cried out with a sob, as if in answer to her dark
misgivings—“Oh, but I want to belong to somebody!”
“You shall belong to me!” exclaimed Mrs. Gregory, folding her
“To you?” Fran sobbed, overcome by the wonder of it. “To
dear heart?” With a desperate effort she crowded back intruding
thoughts, and grew calm. Looking over her shoulder at Simon
Jefferson—“No more short dresses, Mr. Simon,” she called, “you know
your heart mustn't be excited.”
“Fran!” gasped Mrs. Gregory in dismay, “hush!”
But Simon Jefferson beamed with pleasure at the girl's artless
ways. He knew what was bad for his heart, and Fran wasn't. Her smiles
made him feel himself a monopolist in sunshine. Simon Jefferson might
be fifty, but he still had a nose for roses.
Old Mrs. Jefferson was present, and from her wheel-chair bright
eyes read much that dull ears missed. “How gay Simon is!” smiled the
mother—he was always her spoiled boy.
Mrs. Gregory called through the trumpet, “I believe Fran has given
brother a fresh interest in life.”
Simon nodded; he didn't care who knew it. Since his sister's
marriage to the millionaire philanthropist, Simon had found life
appallingly dull; how could he have found interest in the passing
years without his heart-complaint? Hamilton Gregory's perennial
absorption in the miseries of folk beyond the horizon, and lack of
sympathy with those who sat at his table, set him apart as a model;
Simon hated models.
Old Mrs. Jefferson beamed upon Fran and added her commendation:
“She pushes me when I want to be pushed, and pulls me when I want to
Fran clapped her hands like a child, indeed. “Oh, what a gay old
world!” she cried. “There are so many people in it that like me.” She
danced before the old lady, then wheeled about with such energy that
her skirts threatened to level to the breeze.
“Don't, don't!” cried Mrs. Gregory precipitately.
“Bravo!” shouted Simon Jefferson.
Fran widened her fingers to push down the rebellious dress. “If I
don't put leads on me,” she said with contrition, “I'll be floating
away. When I feel good, I always want to do something wrong—it's
awfully dangerous for a person to feel good, I guess. Mrs. Gregory,
you say I can belong to you,—when I think about that, I want to
dance...I guess you hardly know what it means for Fran to belong to a
person. You're going to find out. Come on,” she shouted to Mrs.
Jefferson, without using the trumpet—always a subtle compliment to
those nearly stone-deaf, “I mustn't wheel myself about, so I'm going
to wheel you.”
As she passed with her charge into the garden, her mind was busy
with thoughts of Grace Noir. Belonging to Mrs. Gregory naturally
suggested getting rid of the secretary. It would be exceedingly
difficult. “But two months ought to settle her,” Fran mused.
In the meantime, Grace Noir and Gregory sat in the library,
silently turning out an immense amount of work, feeding the hungry and
consoling the weak with stroke of pen and click of typewriter. If
conversation sometimes trickled across the dry expanse of statistical
benevolence, it was never, on Grace's part, for pastime. Beneath her
words was always an underflowing current, tugging at the listener to
bear him away to her chosen haven. As an expert player of checkers
knows his moves in advance, so her conversations, however brief, were
built up with a unity of purpose which her consciousness of purest
motives saved from artificiality.
“About this case, number one hundred forty-three,” she said,
looking up from her work as copyist, “the girl whose father wouldn't
“Write to the matron to give her good clothing and good schooling.”
He spoke softly. There prevailed an atmosphere of subtle tenderness;
on this island—the library—blossomed love of mankind and devotion to
lofty ideals. These two mariners found themselves ever surrounded by a
sea of indifference; there was not a sail in sight. “It is a sadcase,”
“You think number one hundred forty-three a sad case?” she
repeated, always, when possible, building her next step out of the
material furnished by her companion. “But suppose she is an
impostor. He says she's not his daughter, this number one hundred
forty-three. Maybe she isn't. Would you call her conduct sad?”
Gregory took exquisite pleasure in arguing with Grace, because her
serene assumption of “being in the right gave to her beautiful face a
touch of the angelic. “I should call it impossible.”
“Impossible? Do you think it's impossible that Fran's deceiving
you? How can you know that she is the daughter of your friend?”
He grew pale. Oh, if he could have denied Fran—if he could have
joined Grace in declaring her an impostor! But she possessed proofs so
irrefutable that safety lay in admitting her claim, lest she prove
more than he had already admitted. “I know it, absolutely. She is the
daughter of one who was my most—my most intimate friend.”
Grace repeated with delicate reproof—“Your intimate friend!”
“I know it was wrong for him to desert his wife.”
“Wrong!” How inadequate seemed that word from her pure lips!
“But,” he faltered, “we must make allowances. My friend married
Fran's mother in secret because she was utterly worldly—frivolous—a
butterfly. Her own uncle was unable to control her—to make her go to
church. Soon after the marriage he found out his mistake—it broke his
heart, the tragedy of it. I don't excuse him for going away to
“I am glad you don't. He was no true man, but a weakling. I am glad
I have never been thrown with such a—a degenerate.”
“But, Miss Grace,” he urged pleadingly, “do you think my friend,
when he went back to find her and she was gone—do you think he should
have kept on hunting? Do you think, Grace, that he should have
remained yoked to an unbeliever, after he realized his folly?”
There was heavenly compassion in her eyes, for suddenly she had
divined his purpose in defending Fran's father. He was thinking of his
own wife, and of his wife's mother and brother—how they had ceased to
show sympathy in what he regarded as the essentials of life. Her
silence suggested that as she could not speak without casting
reflection upon Mrs. Gregory, she would say nothing, and this tact was
grateful to his grieved heart.
To the degree that Grace Noir took solemn satisfaction in attending
every service of the Walnut Street church, no matter what the weather,
she had grown to regard non-attendants as untrue soldiers, bivouacking
amidst scenes of feasting and dancing. She made nothing of Mrs.
Gregory's excuse that she stayed at home with her mother—the old lady
should be wheeled to the meeting-house, even if against her
inclinations. As for the services being bad for Simon Jefferson's weak
heart,—she did not think they would hurt his heart or that it would
matter if they did. Visible, flesh-and-blood presence was needful to
uphold the institution, and Grace would have given more for one body
resting upright in a pew, than for a hundred members who were there
only “in the spirit”.
“I have been thinking of something very strange,” Grace said, with
a marked effort to avoid the issue lest she commit the indiscretion of
blaming her employer's wife. “I remember having heard you say that
when you were a young man, you left your father's home to live with a
cousin in a distant town who happened to be a teacher in a college,
and that you were graduated from his college. Don't you think it
marvelous, this claim of Fran, who says that her father, when a young
man, went to live with a cousin who was a college professor, and that
he was graduated from that college? And she says that her father's
father was a rich man—just as yours was—and that the cousin is dead
—just as yours is.”
At these piercing words, Gregory bowed his head to conceal his
agitation. Could it be possible that she had guessed all and yet, in
spite of all, could use that tone of kindness? It burst upon him that
if he and she could hold this fatal secret in common, they might, in
sweetest comradeship, form an alliance against fate itself.
She persisted: “The account that Fran gives of her father is really
your own history. What does that show?”
He spoke almost in a whisper. “My friend and I were much alike.”
Then he looked up swiftly to catch a look of comprehension by
surprise, if such a look were there.
Grace smiled coolly. “But hardly identical, I presume. Don't you
see that Fran has invented her whole story, and that she didn't have
enough imagination to keep from copying after your biographical sketch
in the newspaper? I don't believe she is your friend's daughter. I
don't believe you could ever have liked the father of a girl like
Fran,—that he could have been your intimate friend.”
“Well—” faltered Gregory. But why should he defend Fran?
“Mr. Gregory,” she asked, as if what she was about to say belonged
to what had gone before, “would it greatly inconvenience you for me to
leave your employment?”
He was electrified. “Grace! Inconvenience me!—would you—could...”
“I have not decided—not yet. Speaking of being yoked with
unbelievers—I have never told you that Mr. Robert Clinton has wanted
me to marry him. As long as he was outside of the church, of course it
was impossible. But now that he is converted—”
“Grace!” groaned the pallid listener.
“He would like me to go with him to Chicago.”
“But you couldn't love Bob Clinton—he isn't worthy of you, Grace.
It's impossible. Heaven knows I've had disappointments enough—” He
started up and came toward her, his eyes glowing. “Will you make my
life a complete failure, after all?”
“Love him?” Grace repeated calmly. “This is merely a question of
doing the most good.”
“But, Grace, love must be considered—if it comes too late, it
overturns the purest purposes. Don't wait until it's too late as I—
as—I repeat, until it's too late.”
“I know nothing about love.”
“Then let me teach you, Grace, let—”
“Shall we not discuss it?” she said gently. “That is best, I think.
If I decide to marry Mr. Clinton, I will tell you even before I tell
him. I don't know what I shall choose as my best course.”
“But, Grace! What could I do—without—”
“Shall we just agree to say no more about it?” she softly
interposed. “That is wisest until my decision is made. We were talking
about Fran —do you not think this a good opportunity for Mrs. Gregory
to attend services? Fran can stay with Mrs. Jefferson.”
“I have no doubt,” he said, still agitated, “that my wife would
find it easy enough to go to church, if she really wanted to go.”
“Mr. Gregory!” she reproved him.
“Well,” he cried, somewhat defiantly, “don't you think she could
go, if she wanted to?”
“Well,” Grace answered slowly, “this girl will leave her without
any— any excuse.”
“Oh, Miss Grace, if my wife were only—like you—I mean, about
going to church!”
“I consider it,” she responded, “the most important thing in the
world.” Her emphatic tone proved her sincerity. The church on Walnut
Street stood, for her, as the ark; those who remained outside, at the
call of the bell, were in danger of engulfment.
After a long silence, Grace looked up from her typewriter. “Mr.
Gregory,” she said pausingly, “you are unhappy.”
Nothing could have been sweeter to him than her sympathy, except
happiness itself. “Yes,” he admitted, with a great sigh, “I am very
unhappy, but you understand me, and that is a little comfort. If you
should marry Bob Clinton—Grace, tell me you'll not think of it
“And you are unhappy,” said Grace, steadfastly ruling Bob Clinton
out of the discussion, “on account of Fran.”
He burst forth impulsively—“Ever since she came to town!” He
checked himself. “But I owe it to my friend to shelter her. She wants
to stay and—and she'll have to, if she demands it.”
“You are unhappy,” Grace quietly pursued, “because her character is
already formed, because she is a girl who laughs at sacred things, and
mocks the only true objects of life. You know it is too late to change
her, and you know her influence is bad for—for everybody in this
“But it can't be helped,” he insisted disconsolately. “If she wants
to stay, I can't help it. But, Grace, you are right about her
influence. Even my wife finds new strength to resist what she knows to
be her duty, because the girl likes her.”
“Do you owe more to your dead friend,” Grace asked, with passionate
solemnity, “than to the living God?”
He shrank back. “But I can't send her away,” he persisted in
nervous haste. “I can't. But heaven bless you, Grace, for your dear
thought of me.”
“You will bless me with more reason,” said Grace softly, “when Fran
decides to go away. She'll tire of this house—I promise it. She'll
go—just wait!—she'll go, as unceremoniously as she came. Leave it to
me, Mr. Gregory.” In her earnestness she started up, and then, as if
to conceal her growing resolution, she walked swiftly to the window as
if to hold her manuscript to the light. Gregory followed her.
“If she would only go!” he groaned. “Grace! Do you think you
could?— Yes, I will leave everything to you.”
“She'll go,” Grace repeated fixedly.
The window at which they stood overlooked the garden into which
Fran had wheeled old Mrs. Jefferson.
Fran, speaking through the ear-trumpet with as much caution as
deafness would tolerate, said, “Dear old lady, look up at the library
window, if you please, for the muezzin has climbed his minaret to call
Very little of this reached its destination—muezzin was in great
danger of complicating matters, but the old lady caught “library
window", and held it securely. She looked up. Hamilton Gregory and
Grace Noir were standing at the tower window, to catch the last rays
of the sun. The flag of truce between them was only a typewritten
sheet of manuscript. Grace held the paper obliquely toward the west;
Hamilton leaned nearer and, with his delicate white finger, pointed
out a word. Grace nodded her head in gentle acquiescence.
“Amen,” muttered Fran. “Now let everybody sing!”
The choir leader and his secretary vanished from sight.
“Just like the play in Hamlet,” Fran said half-aloud. “And now that
the inside play is over, I guess it's time for old Ham to be doing
Mrs. Jefferson gripped the arms of her wheel-chair and resumed her
tale, as if she had not been interrupted. It was of no interest as a
story, yet possessed a sentimental value from the fact that all the
characters save the raconteur were dead, and possibly all but her
forgotten. Fran loved to hear the old lady evoke the shades of long
ago, shades who would never again assume even the palest manifestation
to mortals, when this old lady had gone to join them.
There was “Cousin Sarah Tom", who had been present at the great
ball in Lexington. “Even Cousin Sarah Tom was there,” said Mrs.
Jefferson, thus for ever stamping this ghostly outline with greatness.
And there was “Aunt Mandy” hovering on the outskirts of the general
theme—“Aunt Mandy was there, as full of fun and mischief as ever.”
The old lady's stories bristled with such subsidiary characters
concerning whom it was sufficient to say that they were “there”.
Sometimes so many were “there” that the historian forgot her original
intention and wandered aimlessly among irrelevant acquaintances.
Usually Fran brought her back, with gentle hand, but to-day she
divined subterfuge; the tale was meant to hide Mrs. Jefferson's real
feelings. Fran ventured through the trumpet:
“I wish there was a man-secretary on this place, instead of a
Mrs. Jefferson snatched away the instrument with indignation. “What
is that you say?” she asked, glaring. “In bed with a woman? Who? What
woman? “Then she clapped the trumpet to her ear as if defying a French
romance to do its worst.
Fran called, “Your grandmother-goosey, and not so loud, if you
The other drew herself up, while her black lace cap quivered at
every ribbon-end. What was this? How dare this chit?
Fran took the tube with sudden decisiveness. “All right,” she
called, “you can take it that way, if you want to. But let me tell you one thing, dear old soldier—there's going to be a big fight put up
on these grounds. I guess you ought to stay out of it. But either I or
the secretary has got to git.”
Fran was not unmindful of grammar, even of rhetoric, on occasion.
She knew there was no such word as “git", but she was seeking to
symbolize her idea in sound. As she closed her teeth, each little
pearl meeting a pearly rival, her “git” had something of the force of
Behind large spectacle lenses, sparks flashed from Mrs. Jefferson's
eyes. She sniffed battle. But her tightly compressed lips showed that
she lacked both Fran's teeth and Fran's intrepidity. One steps
cautiously at seventy-odd.
Fran comprehended. The old lady must not let it be suspected that
she was aware of Gregory's need of cotton in straining ears, such as
had saved Ulysses from siren voices. The pretense of observing no
danger kept the fine old face uncommonly grim.
“Little girls shouldn't fight,” was her discreet rejoinder. Then
leaning over the wheel, she advanced her snow-white head to the head
of coal-black. “Better not stir up dragons.”
Fran threw back her head and laughed defiantly. “Bring on your
dragons,” she cried boastfully. “There's not one of 'em that I'm
afraid of.” She extended one leg and stretched forth her arm. “I'll
say to the Dragon, 'Stand up'—and she'll stand: I'll say 'Lie down'—
and down she'll lie. I'll say Git—and she'll—” Fran waved her
dragon to annihilation.
“Goodness,” the old lady exclaimed, getting nothing of this except
the pantomime; that, however, was eloquent. She recalled the picture
of David in her girlhood's Sunday-school book. “Are you defying the
Man of Gath?” She broke into a delicious smile which seemed to flood
the wrinkles of her face with the sunshine of many dear old easy-going
[Illustration with caption: “'Lie down'—and down she'll lie.”]
Fran smote her forehead. “I have a few pebbles here,” she called
through the trumpet.
Mrs. Jefferson grasped the other's thin arm, and said, with zestful
energy, “Let her have 'em, David, let her have 'em!”
CHAPTER IX. SKIRMISHING
Fran made no delay in planning her campaign against Grace Noir. Now
that her position in Hamilton Gregory's household was assured, she
resolved to seek support from Abbott Ashton. That is why, one
afternoon, Abbott met her in the lower hall of the public school,
after the other pupils had gone, and supposed he was meeting her by
Since their parting in the moonlight, Abbott had lost his vivid
impression of Fran. As superintendent, school hours were fully
occupied in teaching special classes, overlooking his staff of
teachers, and punishing such refractory children as were relegated to
his authority. The rest of the time was spent in pursuing higher
education; and in the sunburst of splendid ideals, the mote-beam of a
Fran had floated and danced almost unperceived.
“Good evening, Nonpareil,” he said, pleased that her name should
have come to him at once. His attentive look found her different from
the night of their meeting; she had lost her elfish smile and with it
the romance of the unknown and unexpected. Was it because, at
half-past four, one's charm is at lowest ebb? The janitor was sweeping
down the hall stairs. The very air was filled with dusty realism—Fran
was no longer pretty; he had thought—
“Then you haven't forgotten me,” murmured Fran.
“No,” he answered, proud of the fact. “You have made your home with
Mr. Gregory. You are in Miss Bull's class-room. I knew Mr. Gregory
would befriend you—he's one of the best men living. You should be
very happy there.”
“No,” said Fran, shaking her head decidedly, “not happy.”
He was rather glad the janitor was sweeping them out of the house.
“You must find it pretty hard,” he remarked, with covert reproach, “to
keep from being happy.”
“It isn't at all hard for me,” Fran assured him, as she paused on
the front steps. “Really, it's easy to be unhappy where Miss Grace
It happened that just then the name Grace Noir was a sort of
talisman opening to the young man's vision the interior of wonderful
treasure- caves; it was like crying “Sesame!” to the very rocks, for
though he was not in love with Gregory's secretary, he fancied the day
of fate was not far ahead.
He had no time to seek fair and romantic ladies. Five years ago,
Grace Noir had come from Chicago as if to spare him the trouble of a
search. Fate seemed to thrust her between his eyes and the pages of
his text- books. At church, which he attended regularly, Grace was
always present, and to gaze at her angelic face was, in itself, almost
a religious exercise. Abbott never felt so unworthy as when in her
presence; an unerring instinct seemed to have provided her with an
absolute standard of right and wrong, and she was so invariably right
that no human affection was worthy of her unless refined seven times.
Within himself, Abbott discovered dross.
“Try to be a good girl, Fran,” he counseled. “Be good, and your
association with Miss Noir will prove the happiest experience of your
“Be good,” she returned mockingly, “and you will be Miss Noir.”
Then she twisted her mouth. “She makes me feel like tearing up things.
I don't like her. I hoped you'd be on my side.”
He came down the steps gravely. “She is my friend.”
“I'm a good deal like you,” Fran declared, following. “I can like
most anything and anybody; but I can't go that far. Well, I
don't like Miss Noir and she doesn't like me—isn't that fair?”
“Examine yourself,” he advised, “and find out what it is in you
that she doesn't like; then get rid of what you find.”
“Huh!” Fran exclaimed, “I'm going to get rid of her, all right.”
He saw the old elfish smile now when he least wanted to see it, for
it threatened the secretary, mocked the grave superintendent, and
asserted the girl's right to like whom she pleased. Self-respect and
loyalty to Grace hastened Abbott's departure, leaving the spirit of
mockery to escape the janitor's broom as best it might.
Fran escaped, recognizing defeat; but on her homeward way, she was
already preparing herself for the next move. So intent was she in
estimating the forces on both sides, that she gave no heed to the
watchful faces at cottage windows, she did not recognize the
infrequent passers-by, nor observe the occasional buggies that creaked
along the rutted road. With Grace stood, of course, Hamilton Gregory;
and, judging from Bob Clinton's regular visits, and his particular
attentions to Grace, Fran classed him also as a victim of the enemy.
It now seemed that Abbott Ashton followed the flag Noir; and behind
these three leaders, massed the congregation of Walnut Street church,
and presumably the town of Littleburg.
Fran could count for her support an old bachelor with a weak heart,
and an old lady with an ear-trumpet. The odds were terribly against
Absolutely neutral stood the one most vitally concerned in the
struggle about to take place. Like the king of a chess-board, Mrs.
Gregory was resolved, it would appear, to take not even the one step
within royal prerogative. Fran wondered, her brow creasing in baffled
perplexity, if it ever occurred to Mrs. Gregory that her husband
might, say at some far, far distant day, grow too much interested in
his secretary? Did the wife perceive his present rate of interest, and
fancy, at that rate, that he might not reach a point beyond prudence?
Surely she must realize that, in the family economy, the secretary
might be spared; but if so, she made no sign.
The first light skirmish between Fran and Grace took place on
Sunday. All the Gregory household were at a late breakfast.
Sunday-school bells were ringing their first call, and there was not a
cloud in the heavens as big as a man's hand, to furnish excuse for
The secretary fired the first shot. Apropos of nothing that had
gone before, but as if it were an integral part of the conversation,
she offered—“And, Mrs. Gregory, it is so nice that you can go to
church now, since, if Fran doesn't want to go, herself—”
“Which she doesn't, herself,” Fran interjected.
“So I presumed,” Grace remarked significantly. “Mrs. Gregory, Fran
can stay with your mother—since she doesn't care for church—and you
can attend services as you did when I first came to Littleburg.”
“I am sure,” Mrs. Gregory said quietly, “that it would be much
better for Fran to go to church. She ought to go—I don't like to
think of her staying away from the services—and my duty is with
Grace said nothing, but the expression of her mouth seemed to cry
aloud. Duty, indeed! What did Mrs. Gregory know about duty, neglecting
the God who had made her, to stay with an old lady who ought to be
wheeled to church! Mrs. Gregory was willing for her husband to fight
his Christian warfare alone. But alone? No! not while Grace could go
with him. If all the rest of Walnut Street church should remain in
tents of indifference, she and Hamilton Gregory would be found on the
Gregory coldly addressed Fran: “Then, will
you go to
church?” It was as if he complained, “Since my wife won't—”
“I might laugh,” said Fran. “I don't understand religion.”
Grace felt her purest ideals insulted. She rose, a little pale, but
without rudeness. “Will you please excuse me?” she asked with
“Miss Grace!” Hamilton Gregory exclaimed, distressed. That she
should be driven from his table by an insult to their religion was
intolerable. “Miss Grace—forgive her.”
Mrs. Gregory was pale, for she, too, had felt the blow.
she exclaimed reproachfully.
Old Mrs. Jefferson stared from the girl seated at the table to the
erect secretary, and her eyes kindled with admiration. Had Fran
commanded the “dragon” to “stand”?
Simon Jefferson held his head close to his plate, as if hoping the
storm might pass over his head.
“Don't go away!” Fran cried, overcome at sight of Mrs. Gregory's
distress. “Sit down, Miss Noir. Let me be the one to leave the room,
since it isn't big enough for both of us.” She darted up, and ran to
the head of the table.
Mrs. Gregory buried her face in her hands.
“Don't you bother about me,” Fran coaxed; “to think of giving
pain, dear lady! I wouldn't hurt you for anything in the world, and
the person who would isn't worthy of being touched by my foot,” and
Fran stamped her foot. “If it'll make you a mite happier, I'll go to
church, and Sunday-school, and prayer meeting, and the young people's
society, and the Ladies' Aid, and the missionary society, and the
choir practice, and the night service and—and—”
Hamilton Gregory felt that he should take some part in this small
drama, but he did not know exactly what part: “It would make us all
happier for you to go. And what is far more important, child, it would
make you happier; you'd be learning how to do right, and be good.”
“Oh, and would it?” she flashed at him, somewhat incoherently.
“Yes, I know some folks think it makes 'em good just to sit in
meeting-houses, while somebody's talking about religion. But look at
me. Why! the people who ought to have loved me, and cared for my
mother—the people that didn't know but what we were starving—they
wouldn't have missed a service any sooner than you would; no, sir. I
want to tell you,” Fran cried, her face flaming, her voice vibrating
with emotion long pent-up, “just the reason that religion's nothing to
me. It's because the only kind I've known is going to the church,
dressed up, and sitting in the church feeling pious—and then, on the
outside, and between times, being just as grasping, and as anxious to
overreach everybody else, and trying just as hard to get even with
their enemies, as if there wasn't a church on the ground.”
“This is sacrilege!” gasped Hamilton Gregory. “You show me a
little religion,” Fran cried, carried beyond herself, “that means
doing something besides ringing bells and hiring preachers; you show
me a little religion that means making people happy—not people clear
out of sight, but those living in your own house—and maybe I'll like
it and want some of it. Got any of that kind? But if I stay here, I'll
say too much—I'll go, so you can all be good together—” She darted
from the room.
Grace looked at Gregory, seeming to ask him if, after this
outrageous behavior, he would suffer Fran to dwell under his roof. Of
course, Mrs. Gregory did not count; Grace made no attempt to
understand this woman who, while seemingly of a yielding nature, could
show such hardness, such a fixed purpose in separating herself from
her husband's spiritual adventures. It made Grace feel so sorry for
the husband that she quietly resumed her place at the table.
Grace was now more than ever resolved that she would drive Fran
away— it had become a religious duty. How could it be accomplished?
The way was already prepared; the secretary was convinced that Fran
was an impostor. It was merely needful to prove that the girl was not
the daughter of Gregory's dead friend. Grace would have to delve into
the past, possibly visit the scenes of Gregory's youth—but it would
pay. She looked at her employer with an air suggesting protection.
Gregory's face relaxed on finding himself once more near her.
Fortunately for his peace of mind, he could not read the purposehidden
behind those beautiful eyes.
“I wonder,” Simon Jefferson growled, “why somebody doesn't badger
me to go to church!” Indignant because Fran had fled the pleasing
fields of his interested vision, he paused, as if to invite
antagonism; but all avoided the anticlimax.
He announced, “This talk has excited me. If we can't live and let
live, I'll go and take my meals at Miss Sapphira Clinton's.”
No one dared to answer him, not even Grace. He marched into the
garden where Fran sat huddled upon a rustic bench. “I was just
saying,” Simon told her ingratiatingly, “that if all this to-do over
religion isn't put a stop to, I'll take my meals at the
Fran looked up at him without moving her chin from her palms, and
asked as she tried, apparently, to tie her feet into a knot, “Isn't
that where Abbott Ashton boards?”
“Do you mean Professor Ashton?” he returned, with subtle reproof.
Fran, still dejected, nodded carelessly. “We're both after the same
Simon lit the pipe which his physician had warned him was bad for
his heart. “Yes, Professor Ash-ton boards at the Clintons'.”
“Must be awfully jolly at the Clintons',” Fran said wistfully.
CHAPTER X. AN AMBUSCADE
Fran's conception of the Clinton Boarding-House, the home of
jollity, was not warranted by its real atmosphere. Since there were
not many inhabitants of Littleburg detached from housekeeping, Miss
Sapphira Clinton depended for the most part on “transients”; and, to
hold such in subjection, preventing them from indulging in that noisy
gaiety to which “transients” are naturally inclined—just because they
are transitory—the elderly spinster had developed an abnormal
This solemnity was not only beneficial to “drummers” and “court
men” acutely conscious of being away from home, but it helped her
brother Bob. Before the charms of Grace Noir had penetrated his thick
skin, the popular Littleburg merchant was as unmanageable as the
worst. Before he grew accustomed to fall into a semi-comatose
condition at the approach of Grace Noir, and, therefore, before his
famous attempt to “get religion", the bachelor merchant often
swore—not from aroused wrath, but from his peculiar sense of humor.
In those Anti-Grace and heathen days, Bob, sitting on the long veranda
of the green frame building, one leg swinging over the other knee,
would say, “Yes, damn it,” or, “No, damn it,” as the case might be. It
was then that the reproving protest of his sister's face would jelly
in the fat folds of her double chin, helping, somewhat, to cover
profanity with a prudent veil.
Miss Sapphira liked a joke—or at least she thought so—as well as
anybody; but like a too-humorous author, she found that to be as funny
as possible was bad for business. Goodness knows there was enough in
Littleburg to be solemn over, what with the funerals, and widowers
marrying again, yes, and widows, too; and there wasn't always as much
rejoicing over babies as the county paper would have you believe! The
“traveling men” were bad enough, needing to be reminded of their wives
whom they'd left at home, and, she'd be bound, had forgotten. But when
one man, whether a traveler or not—even a staid young teacher like
Abbott Ashton, for instance—a young man who was almost like a son to
her—when he secluded himself in the night-time—by himself?
with another male? oh, dear, no!—with a Fran, for example— what was
the world coming to?
“There they stood,” she told Bob, “the two of them, all alone on
the foot-bridge, and it was after nine o'clock. If I hadn't been in a
hurry to get home to see that the roomers didn't set the house afire,
not a soul would have seen the two colloguing.”
“And it don't seem to have done
you any good,” remarked her
brother, who, having heard the tale twenty times, began to look upon
the event almost as a matter of course. “You'd better not have
saw them,”—at an early age Bob had cut off his education, and it had
stopped growing at that very place. Perhaps he had been elected
president of the school-board on the principle that we best appreciate
what does not belong to us.
“My home has been Abbott Ashton's home,” said Miss Sapphira, “since
the death of his last living relation, and her a step, and it a mercy,
for nobody could get along with her, and she wouldn't let people leave
her alone. You know how fond I am of Abbott, but your position is very
responsible. You could get rid of him by lifting your finger, and
people are making lots of talk; it's going to injure you. People don't
want to send their tender young innocent girls—they're a mighty
hardened and knowing set, nowadays, though, I must say—to a
superintendent that stands on bridges of nights, holding hands, and
her a young slip of a thing. All alone, Robert, all alone; there's
going to be a complaint of the school-board, that's what there's going
to be, and you'll have to look out for your own interests. You must
talk to Abbott. Him a-standing on that bridge—”
“He ain't stood there as often as I've been worried to death
a-hearing of it,” growled the ungrateful Bob, who was immensely fond
Miss Sapphira spoke with amazingly significant double nods between
She pointed at the school-house which was almost directly across
the street, its stone steps facing the long veranda. “They were the
last to come out of that door. You may say she's a mere child. Mere
children are not in Miss Bull's classes.”
“But Abbott says the girl is far advanced.”
“Far advanced! You may well say! I'll be bound she is—and carrying
on with Abbott on the very school-house steps. Yes, I venture she is advanced. You make me ashamed to hear you.”
Bob tugged at his straw-colored mustache; he would not swear, for
whatever happened, he was resolved to lead the spiritual life. “See
here, Sapphira, I'm going to tell you something. I had quite a talk
with Abbott about that bridge-business—after you'd spread it all over
town, sis—and if you'll believe me, she waylaid him on those school-
steps. He didn't want to talk with her. Why, he left her
standing there. She made him mad, finding fault with the very folks
that have taken her up. He's disgusted. That night at the
camp-meeting, he had to take her out of the tent—he was asked to do
“He didn't have to stand, a-holding her hand.”
“—And as soon as he'd shown her the way to Brother Gregory's, he
came on back to the tent, I saw him in the aisle.”
“And she whistled at me,” cried Miss Sapphira—“the limb!”
“Now, listen, Sapphira, and quit goading. Abbott says that Miss
Bull is having lots of trouble with Fran—”
“See that, now!”
“—Because Fran won't get her lessons, being contrary—”
“I wish you could have seen her whistling at me, that night.”
“Hold on. So this very evening Miss Bull is going to send her down
to Abbott's office to be punished, or dismissed. This very evening he
wants me to be over there while he takes her in hand.”
“Abbott is going to punish that girl?” cried Miss Sapphira; “going
to take her in hand? What do you mean by 'taking her in hand'? She is
too old! Robert, you make me blush.”
“You ain't a-blushing, Sapphira,” her brother assured her, good-
naturedly, “you're suffering from the hot weather. Yes, he's to punish
her at four o'clock, and I'm to be present, to stop all this confoun—
I mean this ungodly gossip.”
“You'd better wear your spectacles, Bob, so you'll look old and
settled. I'm not always sure of you, either.”
“Sapphira, if I hadn't joined the church, I'd say—” He threw up
his hand and clenched his fist as if he had caught an oath and meant
to hold it tight. Then his honest face beamed. “See here, I've got an
idea. Suppose you make it a point to be sitting out here on the
veranda at about half-past four, or five. You'll see Fran come
sneaking out of that door like a whipped kitten. She'll look
everlastingly wilted. I don't know whether Abbott will stuff her full
of fractions and geography, or make her stand in a corner—but you'll
see her wilted.”
Miss Sapphira was highly gratified. “I wish you'd talked this
reasonable at first. It's always what people don't see that the
most harm comes of. I'll give a little tea out here on the veranda,
and the worst talkers in town will be in these chairs when you bring
Fran away from Abbott's office. And I'll explain it all to 'em, and
they'll know Abbott is all right, just as I've always known.”
“Get Miss Grace to come,” Bob said sheepishly. “She doesn't like
Fran, and she'll be glad to know Abbott is doing his duty by her.
Later, I'll drop in and have a bite with you.”
This, then, was Bob's “idea", that no stone might be left unturned
to hide the perfect innocence of the superintendent. He had known
Abbott Ashton as a bare-legged urchin running on errands for his
widowed mother. He had watched him through studious years, had
believed in his future career—and now, no bold adventuress, though
adopted into Hamilton Gregory's home, should be allowed to spoil
Abbott's chances of success.
The chairman of the school-board had talked confidentially with
Grace Noir, and found her as convinced that Fran was a degenerate as
was Bob that Grace was an angel. As he went to the appointment, he was
thinking not so much of the culprit Fran, as of Grace—what a mouth,
what a foot! If all saints were as beautiful as she, religion would
surely be the most popular thing on earth.
In his official character as chairman of the board, Robert Clinton
marched with dignity into the superintendent's office, meaning to bear
away the wilted Fran before the eyes of woman. Abbott Ashton saw him
enter with a sense of relief. The young man could not understand why
he had held Fran's hand, that night on the foot-bridge. Not only had
the sentiment of that hour passed away, but the interview Fran had
forced upon him at the close of a recent school-day, had inspired him
with actual hostility. It seemed the irony of fate that a mere child,
a stranger, should, because of senseless gossip, endanger his chances
of reappointment—a reappointment which he felt certain was the best
possible means of advancement. Why had he held Fran's little hand? He
had never dreamed of holding Grace's—ah, there was a hand, indeed!
“Has she been sent down?” Bob asked, in the hoarse undertone of a
“No.” Abbott was eager to prove his innocence. “I haven't seen a
sign of her, but I'm looking every minute—glad you're here.”
Confidences were impracticable, because of a tousled-headed, ink-
stained pupil who gloomed in a corner.
“Why, hello there, Jakey!” cried Clinton, disconcerted; he had
hoped that Fran's subjugation might take place without witnesses.
“What are you doing here, hey?”
“Waitin' to be whirped,” was the defiant rejoinder.
“Tell the professor you're sorry for what you've done, so you can
run along,” said the chairman of the board persuasively.
“Naw, I ain't sorry,” returned Jakey, hands in pockets. Then
bethinking himself—“But I ain't done nothin'.”
Abbott said regretfully, “He'll have to be whipped.”
Clinton nodded, and sat down solemnly, breathing hard. Abbott was
restlessly pacing the floor, and Bob was staring at him unwinkingly,
when the door opened and in came Fran.
Abbott frowned heavily, but the wrinkles in his brow could not mar
the attractiveness of his handsome young face. He was too fine
looking, the chairman reflected uneasily, for his duties. His figure
was too athletic, his features too suggestive of aristocratic tastes
and traditions. Clinton wished he would thrust a pen behind his ear.
As for himself, after one brief glance at Fran, he fumbled for his
Fran walked up to Abbott hesitatingly, and spoke with the
indistinctness of awed humility. “You are to punish me,” she
explained, “by making me work out this original proposition”—showing
the book—“and you are to keep me here till I get it.”
Abbott asked sternly, “Did Miss Bull send me this message?”
“She is named that,” Fran murmured, her eyes fastened on the open
From the yard came the shouts of children, breaking the bonds of
learning for a wider freedom. Abbott, gazing severely on this slip of
a girl, found her decidedly commonplace in appearance. How the
moonlight must have bewitched him! Her rebellious hair hung over her
face like a shaggy mane—what a small creature to be dressed as a
woman, and how ridiculous that the skirts should reach even to her
ankles! It had not been so, on the night of destiny. He preferred the
shorter dress, but neither she nor her attire was anything to him. He
rejoiced that Robert Clinton was there to witness his indifference.
“This is the problem,” Fran said, with exceeding primness,
pronouncing the word as if it were too large for her, and holding up
the book with a slender finger placed upon certain italicized words.
“Let me see it,” said Abbott, with professional dryness. He grasped
the book to read the proposition. His hand was against hers, but she
did not draw away, for had she done so, how could he have found the
Fran, with uplifted eyes, spoke in the plaintive accents of a five-
year-old child: “Right there, sir...it's awful hard.”
Robert Clinton cleared his throat and produced a sound bursting
with accumulated h's and r's—his warning passed
Never before had Abbott had so much of Fran. The capillaries of his
skin, as her hand quivered warmly against his, seemed drawing her in;
and as she escaped from her splendid black orbs, she entered his brain
by the avenue of his own thirsty eyes. What was the use to tell
himself that she was commonplace, that his position was in danger
because of her? Suddenly her hair no longer reminded him of the flying
mane of a Shetland pony; it fell slantwise past the corners of her
eyes, making a triangle of smooth white skin to the roots of the hair,
and it seemed good, just because it was Fran's way and not after a
machine-turned fashion; Fran was done by hand, there was no doubt of
“Sit there,” Abbott said, gravely pointing. She obeyed without a
word, leaving the geometry as hostage in the teacher's hand. When
seated at a discreet distance, she looked over at Bob Clinton. He
hastily drew on his spectacles, that he might look old.
Abbott volunteered, “This is Mr. Clinton, President of the Board.”
“I know,” said Fran, staring at her pencil and paper, “he's at the
head of the show, and watches when the wild animals are tamed.”
Clinton drew forth a newspaper, and opened it deliberately.
Fran scribbled for some time, then looked over at him again. “Did
you get it?” she asked, with mild interest.
“Did I get—what?” he returned, with puzzled frown.
“Oh, I don't know what it is,” said Fran with humility; “the name
of it's 'Religion'.”
“If I were you,” Clinton returned, flushing, “I'd be ashamed to
refer to the night you disgraced yourself by laughing in the tent.”
“Fran,” Abbott interposed severely, “attend to your work.”
Fran bent her head over the desk, but was not long silent. “I don't
like a-b-c and d-e-f,” she observed with more energy
than she had hitherto displayed. “They're equal to each other, but I
don't know why, and I don't care, because it doesn't seem to matter.
Nothing interests me unless it has something to do with living. I
don't care how far Mars is from the earth—if it was next door, I
wouldn't want to leave home. These angles and lines are nothing to me;
what I care for is this time I'm wasting, sitting in a stuffy old
room, while the good big world is enjoying itself just outside the
window.” She started up impetuously.
“Sit down!” Abbott commanded.
“Fran!” exclaimed Robert Clinton, stamping his foot,
Fran sank back upon the bench.
“I suspect,” said Abbott mildly, “that they have put you in classes
too far advanced. We must try you in another room—”
“But I don't want to be tried in rooms,” Fran explained, “I want to
be tried in acts—deeds. Until I came here, I'd never been to school a
day in my life,” she went on in a confidential tone.” I agreed to
attend because I imagined school ought to have some connection with
life—something in it mixed up with love and friendship and justice
and mercy. Wasn't I silly! I even believed—just fancy!—that you
might really teach me something about religion. But, no! it's all
books, nothing but books.”
“Fran,” Abbott reasoned, “if we put you in a room where you can
understand the things we try to teach, if we make you thorough—”
“I don't want to be thorough,” she explained, “I want to be happy.
I guess all that schools were meant to do is to teach folks what's in
books, and how to stand in a straight line. The children in Class A,
or Class B have their minds sheared and pruned to look alike; but I
don't want my brain after anybody's pattern.”
“You'll regret this, Miss,” declared Clinton, in a threatening
tone. “You sit down. Do you want the name of being expelled?”
“I don't care very much about the names of things,” said Fran
coolly; “there are lots of respectable names that hide wickedness.”
Her tone changed: “But yonder's another wild animal for you to train;
did you come to see him beaten?” She darted to the corner, and seated
herself beside Jakey.
“Say, now,” Bob remonstrated, pulling his mustache deprecatingly,
“everybody knows I wouldn't see a dog hurt if it could be helped. I'm
Jakey's friend, and I'd be yours, Fran—honestly—if I could. But
how's a school to be run without authority? You ain't reasonable. All
we want of you is to be biddable.”
“And you!” cried Fran to Abbott, beginning to give way to
high pressure, “I thought you were a school-teacher, not just,
but also—a something very nice, also a teacher. But not you.
Teacher's all you are, just rules and regulations and authority and
chalk and a-b-c and d-e-f.”
Abbott crimsoned. Was she right? Was he not something very nice
plus his vocation? He found himself desperately wishing that she might
Fran, after one long glowing look at him, turned to the lad in
disgrace, and placed her hand upon his stubborn arm. “Have you a
mother?” she asked wistfully.
“Yeh,” mumbled the lad, astonished at finding himself addressed,
not as an ink-stained husk of humanity, but as an understanding soul.
“I haven't,” said Fran softly, talking to him as if unconscious of
the presence of two listening men, “but I had one, a few years
ago—and, oh, it seems so long since she died, Jakey—three years is a
pretty long time to be without a mother. And you can't think what a
fault- blindest, spoilingest, candiest mother she was. I'm glad yours
is living, for you still have the chance to make her proud and
happy,... No matter how fine I may turn out—do you reckon I'll ever
be admired by anybody, Jakey? Huh! I guess not. But if I were, mother
wouldn't be here to enjoy it. Won't you tell Professor Ashton that you
are sorry? ”
“Fran—” Abbott began.
Fran made a mouth at him. “I don't belong to your school any more,”
she informed him. “Mr. School-Director can tell you the name of what
he can do to me; he'll find it classified under the E's.”
After this explosion, she turned again to the lad: “I saw you punch
that boy, Jakey, and I heard you say you didn't, and yet it was a good
punch. What made you deny it? Punches aren't bad ideas. If I could
strike out like you did, I'd wait till I saw a man bullying a weaker
one, and I'd stand up to him—” Fran leaped impulsively to her feet,
and doubled her arm—“and I'd let her land! Punching's a good thing,
and, oh, how it's needed....Except at school—you mustn't do anything
human here, you must be an oyster at school.”
“Aw-right,” said Jakey, with a glimmering of comprehension. He
seemed coming to life, as if sap were trickling from
Bob Clinton, too, felt the fresh breeze of early spring in his
face. He removed his spectacles.
“The first thing I knew,” Fran said, resuming her private
conversation with Jakey, “I had a mother, but no father—not that he
was dead, oh, bless you, he was alive enough—but before my birth he
deserted mother. Uncle turned us out of the house. Did we starve, that
deserted mother and her little baby? I don't look starved, do I?
Pshaw! If a woman without a cent to her name, and ten pounds in her
arms can make good, what about a big strong boy like you with a mother
to smile every time he hits the mark? And you'd better believe we got
more than a living out of life. Mother taught me geography and history
and the Revolutionary War—you know history's one thing, and the
Revolutionary War is another—and every lesson she gave me was soaked
with love till it was nearly as sweet as her own brave eyes. Maybe I
wouldn't have liked it, if I'd had to study on a hard bench in a
stuffy room with the world shut out, and a lid put on my voice—but
anything's good that's got a mother in it. And tell these gentlemen
you're sorry for punching that boy.”
“Sorr',” muttered Jakey shamefacedly.
“I am glad to hear it,” Abbott exclaimed heartily. “You can take
your cap to go, Jakey.”
“Lemme stay,” Jakey pleaded, not budging an inch. Fran lifted her
face above the tousled head to look at Abbott; she sucked in her
cheeks and made a triumphant oval of her mouth. Then she seemed to
forget the young man's presence.
“But when mother died, real trouble began. It was always hard work,
while she lived, but hard work isn't trouble, la, no, trouble's just
an empty heart! Well, sir, when I read about how good Mr. Hamilton
Gregory is, and how much he gives away—to folks he never sees—here I
came. But I don't seem to belong to anybody, Jakey, I'm outside of
everything. People wouldn't care if I blew away with the dead leaves,
and maybe I will, some fine morning—maybe they'll go up to my room
and call, 'Fran! Fran!'—and there'll be no Fran. Oh, oh, how happy
they'll be then! But you have a home and a mother, Jakey, and a
place in the world, so I say 'Hurrah!' because you belong to somebody,
and, best of all, you're not a girl, but a boy to strike out straight
from the shoulder.”
Jakey was dissolved; tears burst their confines.
One may shout oneself hoarse at the delivery of a speech which, if
served upon printed page, would never prompt the reader to cast his
hat to the ceiling. No mere print under bold head-lines did Abbott
read, but rather the changing lights and shadows in great black eyes.
It was marvelous how Fran could project past experiences upon the
screen of the listener's perception. At her, “When mother died,”
Abbott saw the girl weeping beside the death-bed. When she sighed, “I
don't belong to anybody,” the school-director felt like crying, “Then
belong to me!” But it was when she spoke of blowing away with the dead
leaves—looking so pathetic and so full of elfish witchery—that the
impression was deepest. It almost seemed possible that she might fade
and fade to an autumn leaf, and float out the window, and be lost—
Clinton had an odd impulse to hold her, lest she vanish.
Fran now completed her work. She rose from the immovable Jakey and
came over to Abbott Ashton, with meekly folded hands.
He found the magic of the moonlight-hour returning. She had
mellowed— glowed—softened—womanized—Abbott could not find the word
for it. She quivered with an exquisiteness not to be defined—a
something in hair, or flesh, or glory of eye, or softness of lips,
altogether lacking in his physical being, but eagerly desired.
“Professor Ashton,” she spoke seriously, “I have been horrid. I
might have known that school is merely a place where young people
crawl into books to worm themselves from lid to lid, swallowing all
that comes in the way. But I'd never been to school, and I imagined it
a place where a child was helped to develop itself. I thought teachers
were trying to show the pupils the best way to be what they were going
to be. I've been disappointed, but that's not your fault; you are just
a system. If a boy is to be a blacksmith after he's grown, and if a
girl in the same class is to be a music-teacher, or a milliner, both
must learn about a-b-c and d-e-f. So I'm going away for
good, because, of course, I couldn't afford to waste my time in this
house. I know the names of the bones and the distances of the planets
are awfully nice, but I'm more interested in Fran.”
“But, Fran,” Abbott exclaimed impulsively, “don't you see that you
are holding up ignorance as a virtue? Can you afford to despise
knowledge in this civilized age? You should want to know facts just
because— well, just because they are facts.”
“But I don't seem to, at all,” Fran responded mildly. “No, I'm not
making fun of education when I find fault with your school, any more
than I show irreverence to my mother's God when I question what some
people call 'religion'. I want to find the connection—looks like it's
lost—the connection between life and—everything else. It's the
connection to life that makes facts of any value to me; and it's only
in its connection to life that I'd give a pin for all the religion on
“I don't understand,” Abbott faltered.
She unfolded her hands, and held them up in a quaint little gesture
of aspiration. “No, because it isn't in a book. I feel lost—so out in
space. I only ask for a place in the universe—to belong to
“But,” said Abbott, “you already belong to somebody, since Mr.
Gregory has taken you into his home and he is one of the best men that
“Oh, let's go home,” cried Fran impatiently. “Let's all of us skip
out of this chalky old basement-smelly place, and breathe the pure air
She darted toward the door, then looked back. Sadness had vanished
from her face, to give place to a sudden glow. The late afternoon sun
shone full upon her, and she held her lashes apart, quite unblinded by
its intensity. She seemed suddenly illumined, not only from without,
but from within.
Abbott seized his hat. Robert Clinton had already snatched up his.
Jakey squeezed his cap in an agitated hand. All four hurried out into
the hall as if moved by the same spring.
Unluckily, as they passed the hall window, Fran looked out. Her
eyes were caught by a group seated on the veranda of the Clinton
boarding- house. There were Miss Sapphira Clinton, Miss Grace Noir,
and several mothers, sipping afternoon tea. In an instant, Fran had
grasped the plot. That cloud of witnesses was banked against the green
weather- boarding, to behold her ignominy.
“Mr. Clinton,” said Fran, all sweetness, all allurement, “I am
going to ask of you a first favor. I left my hat up in Miss Bull's
“I will get it,” said Abbott promptly.
“Lem me!” Jakey pleaded, with fine admiration.
“Well, I rather guess not!” cried Bob. “Think I'll refuse Fran's
first request?” He sped upstairs, uncommonly light of foot.
“Now,” whispered Fran wickedly, “let's run off and leave him.”
“I'm with you!” Abbott whispered boyishly.
They burst from the building like a storm, Fran laughing musically,
Abbott laughing joyously, Jakey laughing loudest of all. They sallied
down the front walk under the artillery fire of hostile eyes from the
green veranda. They continued merry. Jakey even swaggered, fancying
himself a part of it; he regretted his short trousers.
When Robert Clinton overtook them, he was red and breathless, but
Fran's beribboned hat was clutched triumphantly in his hand. It was he
who first discovered the ambuscade. He suddenly remembered, looked
across the street, then fell, desperately wounded. The shots would
have passed unheeded over Abbott's head, had not Fran called his
attention to the ambuscade.
“It's a good thing,” she said innocently, “that you're not holding
my hand—” and she nodded toward the boarding-house. Abbott looked,
and turned for one despairing glance at Bob; the latter was without
sign of life.
“What shall we do?” inquired Fran, as they halted ridiculously. “If
we run for it, it'll make things worse.”
“Oh, Lord, yes!” groaned Bob;
“don't make a bolt!”
Abbott pretended not to understand. “Come on, Fran, I shall go home
with you.” His fighting blood was up. In his face was no surrender,
no, not even to Grace Noir. “Come,” he persisted, with dignity.
“How jolly!” Fran exclaimed. “Shall we go through the
grove?—that's the longest way.”
“Then let us go that way,” responded Abbott stubbornly.
“Abbott,” the school-director warned, “you'd better come on over to
my place—I'm going there this instant to—to get a cup of tea. It'll
be best for you, old fellow, you listen to me, now—you need a little
er—a—some—a little stimulant.”
“No,” Abbott returned definitely. He had done nothing wrong, and he
resented the accusing glances from across the way. “No, I'm going with
“And don't you bother about him,” Fran called after the retreating
chairman of the board, “he'll have stimulant enough.”
CHAPTER XI. THE NEW BRIDGE AT
It was almost time for summer vacation. Like all conscientious
superintendents of public schools, Abbott Ashton found the closing
week especially fatiguing. Examinations were nerve-testing, and
correction of examination-papers called for late hours over the lamp.
At such times, when most needing sleep, one sleeps least.
One strolls, at hours devoted by others to slumber. Abbott Ashton,
for instance, had fallen into the reprehensible habit of bolting from
the boarding-house, after the last paper had been graded, no matter
how late the night, and making his way rapidly from town as if to
bathe his soul in country solitude. Like all reprehensible habits this
one was presently to revenge itself by getting the “professor” into
One beautiful moonlight night, he was nearing the suburbs, when he
made a discovery. The discovery was twofold: first, that the real
cause of his nightly wanderings was not altogether a weariness of
mental toil; second, that he had, for some time, been trying to escape
from the thought of Fran. He had not known this. He had simply run,
asking no questions. It was when he suddenly discovered Fran in the
flesh, as she slipped along a crooked alley, gliding in shadows, that
the cause of much sleeplessness was made tangible.
Abbott was greatly disturbed. Why should Fran, be stealthily
darting down side-alleys at midnight? The wonder suggested its
corollary—why was he running as from some intangible enemy? He
realized that the Fran-thought had been working in the under-layers of
his mental processes all the time his upper crust had busied itself
with rehearsals of “Beyond the Alps lies Italy” and the determination
of Hamlet's madness. But now was no time for introspection, and he set
himself the task of solving the new mystery. As Fran merged from the
mouth of the alley, Abbott dived into its bowels, but when he reached
the next street, no Fran was to be seen.
Had she darted into one of the scattered cabins that composed the
fringe of Littleburg? At the mere thought, he felt a nameless
shrinking of the heart. Surely not. But could she possibly, however
fleet of foot, have rounded the next corner before his coming into the
light? Abbott sped along the street that he might know the truth,
though he realized that the less he saw of Fran the better. However,
the thought of her being alone in the outskirts of the village, most
assuredly without her guardian's knowledge, seemed to call him to
duty. Call or no call, he went.
It seemed to him a long time before he reached the corner. He
darted around it—yonder sped Fran like a thin shadow racing before
the moon. She had taken the direction of the open fields, and so
swiftly did she run, that the sound of his pursuit never reached her
ears. She ran. Abbott ran. It was like a foot-race without spectators.
At last she reached the bridge spanning a ravine in whose far
depths murmured a little stream. The bridge was new, built to replace
the footbridge upon which Abbott and Fran had stood on the night of
the tent-meeting. Was it possible that the superintendent of
instruction was about to venture a second time across this ravine with
the same girl, under the same danger of misunderstanding, revealed by
similar glory of moonlight? One may do even that, when duty calls—for
surely it was a duty to warn this imprudent child to go home.
Conscience whispered that it would not be enough simply to warn; he
should escort her to Hamilton Gregory's very door, that he might know
she had been rescued from the wide white night; and his conscience was
possibly upheld by the knowledge that a sudden advent of a Miss
Sapphira was morally impossible.
Fran's back had been toward him all the time. She was still unaware
of his presence, as she paused in the middle of the bridge, and with
critical eye sought a position mathematically the same from either
hand-rail. Standing there, she drew a package from her bosom, hastily
seated herself upon the boards, and, oblivious of surroundings, bent
over the package as it rested in her lap.
Was she reading some love-sick romance by moonlight, or—or
possibly a letter? Abbott, without pause, hurried up. His feet sounded
on the bridge.
Fran was speaking aloud, and, on that account, did not hear him, as
he came up behind her. “Grace Noir,” she was saying—“Abbott
Ashton—Bob Clinton—Hamilton Gregory—Mrs. Gregory—Simon
Jefferson—Mrs. Jefferson—Miss Sapphira—Fran—the Devil—” She
seemed to be calling the roll of her acquaintances. Was she reading a
list from the package?
Abbott trod noisily on the fresh pine floor.
Fran swiftly turned, and the moonbeams revealed a flush, yet she
did not attempt to rise. “Why didn't you answer, when you heard your
name called?” she asked with a good deal of composure.
“Fran!” Abbott exclaimed. “Here all alone at midnight—all
alone! Is it possible?”
isn't possible,” Fran returned satirically, “for I
Abbott warmly urged her to hasten back home; at the same time he
drew nearer and discovered that her lap was covered with
playing-cards. His advice to her was all it should have been; the most
careful father could have found no fault with his helpful words—all
the same, he didn't understand about those cards.
Fran, looking down, listened with profound respectfulness, and when
he had finished, she said, “It is so nice of you to care about me and
worry over what people will think, so I'll go home with you just as
soon as I tell the fortune of the cards. It won't take but a minute,
and I'm awfully glad you came, for it was pretty scary here alone, I
tell you! The moon kept making big eyes at me, and the brook
sounded like a death-call down there in the dark.”
“But you mustn't stay here,” he said imperatively. “Let us go at
“Just as soon as I tell the fortunes. Of course I wouldn't go to
all this trouble for nothing. Now look. This card is Fran—the Queen
of Hearts. This one is Simon Jefferson—and this one is Bob. And
you—but it's no use telling all of them. Now; we want to see who's
going to marry.”
Abbott spoke in his most authoritative tone: “Fran! Get up and come
with me before somebody sees you here. This is not only ridiculous,
it's wrong and dreadfully imprudent.”
Fran looked up with flashing eyes. “I won't!” she cried. “Not till
I've told the fortunes. I'm not the girl to go away until she's done
what she came to do.” Then she added mildly, “Abbott, I just had to
say it in that voice, so you'd know I meant it. Don't be cross with
She shuffled the cards.
“But why must you stay out
here to do it?” he groaned.
“Because this is a new bridge. I'd hate to be a professor, and not
know that it has to be in the middle of a new bridge, at midnight,
over running water, in the moonlight. Now you keep still and be nice;
I want to see who's going to get married. Here is Grace Noir, and here
“And where am I?” asked Abbott, in an awed voice, as he bent down.
Fran wouldn't tell him.
He bent lower. “Oh, I see, I see!” he cried.
“This is me—”
he drew a card from the pack—“the King of Hearts.” He held it up
triumphantly. “Well. And you are the Queen of Hearts, you said.”
“Maybe I am,” said Fran, rather breathlessly, “but whose hearts are
we king and queen of? That's what I want to find out.” And she showed
her teeth at him.
“We can draw and see,” he suggested, sinking upon one knee. “And
yet, since you're the queen and I'm the king, it must be each other's
He stopped abruptly at sight of her crimsoned cheeks.
“That doesn't always follow,” Fran told him hastily; “not by
means. For here are other queens. See the Queen of Spades? Maybe
you'll get her. Maybe you want her. You see, she either
goes to you, or to the next card.”
“But I don't want any Queen of Spades,” Abbott declared. He drew
the next card, and exclaimed dramatically, “Saved, saved! Here's Bob.
Give her to Bob Clinton.”
“Oh, Abbott!” Fran exclaimed, looking at him with starlike eyes and
roselike cheeks, making the most fascinating picture he had ever
beheld at midnight under a silver moon. “Do you mean that?
Remember you're on a new bridge over running water.”
Abbott paused uneasily. She looked less like a child than he had
ever seen her. Her body was very slight—but her face was...It is
marvelous how much of a woman's seriousness was to be found in this
girl. She seemed inclined to give her words about the foolish cards a
woman's significance. He rose with the consciousness that for a moment
he had rather forgotten himself.
He reminded her gravely—“We are talking about cards—just cards.”
“No,” said Fran, not stirring, “we are talking about Grace Noir.
You say you don't want her; you've already drawn yourself out. That
leaves her to poor Bob—he'll have to take her, unless the Joker gets
the lady—the Joker is named the Devil...So the game isn't interesting
any more.” She threw down all the cards, and looked up, beaming. “My!
but I'm glad you came.”
He was fascinated and could not move, though as convinced as at the
beginning that they should not linger thus. There might be fatal
consequences; but the charm of the little girl seemed to temper this
chill knowledge to the shorn lamb. He temporized: “Why don't you go on
with your fortune-telling, little girl?”
“I just wanted to find out if Grace Noir is going to get you,” she
said candidly; “it doesn't matter what becomes of her. Were you ever
on this bridge before?”
“Fran, Miss Grace is one of the best friends I have, and—and
everybody admires her. The fact that you don't like her, shows that
you are not all you ought to be.”
“What does the fact that she doesn't like me show?”
“It shows that you ought to be changed. It was a fatal mistake when
you left school, but it's worse for you to refuse persistently to go
“And she told you that, did she?”
“I want your higher nature to be developed. Take Miss Grace for
your model—I know you have noble impulses; grow up to be a noble
woman— try to be like her.”
He was sorry to strike these necessary blows, she seemed so
pitifully defenseless as he watched the motionless figure at his feet.
Fran's drooping head hid her face. Was she contrite, or mocking?
Presently she looked up, her expression that of grave cheerfulness.
“Now you've said what you thought you had to say,” she remarked. “So
that's over. Were you ever on this bridge before?”
Abbott was offended. “No.”
“Good, good!” with vivacious enthusiasm. “Both of us must cross it
at the same time and make a wish. Help me up—quick.”
She reached up both hands, and Abbott lifted her to her feet.
“Whenever you cross a new bridge,” she explained, “you must make a
wish. It'll come true. Won't you do it, Abbott?”
“Of course. What a superstitious little Nonpareil! Do you hold
“Honest hands—” She held out both of hers. “Come on then. What are
you going to wish, Abbott? But no, you mustn't tell till we're across.
Oh, I'm just dying to know! Have you made up your mind, yet?”
“Yes, Fran,” he answered indulgently, “it's something always in my
“About Grace Noir?”
“Nothing whatever about Miss Grace Noir.”
“All right. I'm glad. Say this:
“'Slow we go,
Two in a row'—
“Don't talk or anything, just wish, oh, wish with
“'With all my mind and all my heart,
While we're together and after we part'—
Abbott repeated gravely:
“'With all my mind and all my heart,
While we're together and after we part.'
“What are you going to wish, Fran?”
“Sh-h-h! Mum!” whispered Fran, opening her eyes wide. With slow
steps they walked side by side, shoulder to shoulder, four hands
clasped. Fran's great dark eyes were set fixedly upon space as they
solemnly paraded beneath the watchful moon. As Abbott watched her, the
witchery of the night stole into his blood. Beneath them, the brook
murmured drowsily in its dark bed. Beyond, stretched the meadows, and,
far away, the woods. Before them, and behind, ran the rutted road,
hard and gleaming. Over them, the moon showered its profusion of
silver beams. Within them were—wishes.
The last plank was crossed. “Now!” Fran cried breathlessly, “what
did you wish?” Her body was quivering, her face glowing.
“That I might succeed,” Abbott answered.
“Oh!” said Fran. “My! That was like a cold breath. Just wishing to
be great, and famous, and useful, and rich!”
Abbott laughed as light-heartedly as if the road were not calling
them away from solitudes, “Well, what did you wish, Fran?”
“That you might always be my friend, while we're together, and
after we part.”
“It doesn't take a new bridge to make that come true,” he declared.
She looked at him solemnly. “Do you understand the responsibilities
of being a friend? A friend has to assume obligations, just as when a
man's elected to office, he must represent his party and his
“I'll stand for you!” Abbott cried earnestly.
“Will you? Then I'm going to tell you all about myself—ready to be
surprised? Friends ought to know each other. In the first place, I am
eighteen years old, and in the second place I am a professional lion-
trainer, and in the third place my father is—but friends don't have
to know each other's fathers. Besides, maybe that's enough to start
“Yes,” said Abbott, “it is.” He paused, but she could not guess his
emotions, for his face showed nothing but a sort of blankness. “I
should like to take this up seriatim. You tell me you are eighteen
“—And have had lots of experience.”
“Your lion-training: has it been theoretical, or—”
“Mercenary,” Fran responded; “real lions, real bars, real
spectators, real pay-days.”
“But, Fran,” said Abbott helplessly, “I don't understand.”
“But you're going to, before I'm done with you. I tell you, I'm a
show-girl, a lion-tamer, a Jungler. I'm the famous Fran
Nonpareil, and my carnival company has showed in most of the towns and
cities of the United States. I guess you feel funny to have such a
celebrated person talking to you, but in ordinary life, great people
aren't different. It's when I'm in my blue silks and gold stars and
crimson sashes, kissing my hands to the audience, that I'm the real
Though she spoke lightly, she was well aware of the shock she had
imparted. For a time her face had never looked so elfish, but in the
silence that ensued, the light faded from her eyes.
Abbott was unable to analyze his real emotions, and his one
endeavor was to hide his perplexity. He had always treated her as if
she were older than the town supposed, hence the revelation of her age
did not so much matter; but lion-training was so remote from
conventions that it seemed in a way almost uncanny. It seemed to
isolate Fran, to set her coldly apart from the people of his world.
“I'm going home,” Fran said abruptly.
He followed her mechanically, too absorbed in her revelation to
think of the cards left forgotten on the bridge. From their scene of
good wishes, Fran went first, head erect, arms swinging defiantly;
Abbott followed, not knowing in the least what to say, or even what to
The moon had not been laughing at them long, before Fran looked
back over her shoulder and said, as if he had spoken, “Still, I'd like
for you to know about it.”
He quickened his step to regain her side, but was oppressed by an
odd sense of the abnormal.
“Although,” she added indistinctly, “it doesn't matter.” They
walked on in silence until, after prolonged hesitation, he told her
quietly that he would like to hear all she felt disposed to tell.
She looked at him steadily: “Can you dilute a few words with the
water of your imagination, to cover a life? I'll speak the words, if
you have the imagination.”
As he looked into her eyes, all sense of the abnormal disappeared.
“I have the imagination, Fran,” he exclaimed impulsively, “if it is
“In spite of the lions?” she asked, almost sternly.
Abbott rested a hand upon each of her shoulders, and studied her
face. The moonlight was lost in the depths of the unfaltering eyes,
and there came upon him a surging tide as from the depths of the
unknown, sweeping away such artificial barriers as the mind prepares
against all great shocks, or surprises.
“You needn't tell me a word,” Abbott said, removing his hands. “I
know all that one need know; it's written in your face, a story of
sweet innocence and brave patience.”
“But I want you to know.”
“Good!” he replied with a sudden smile. “Tell the story, then; if
you were an Odyssey, you couldn't be too long.”
“The first thing I remember is waking up to feel the car jerked, or
stopped, or started, and Seeing lights flash past the windows—
lanterns of the brakemen, or lamps of some town, dancing along the
track. The sleeping-car was home—the only home I knew. All night long
there was the groaning of the wheels, the letting off of steam, the
calls of the men. Bounder Brothers had their private train, and mother
and I lived in our Pullman car. I don't know how old I was when I
found out that everybody didn't live on wheels,—that most children
had homes that didn't move around, with neighbors and relations. After
a while I knew that folks stared at us because we were different from
others. We were show-people. Then the thing was to look like you
didn't know, or didn't care, how much people stared. After that, I
found out that I had no father; he'd deserted mother, and her uncle
had turned her out of doors for marrying against his wishes, and she'd
have starved if it hadn't been for the show-people.”
“Dear Fran!” whispered Abbott tenderly.
“Mother had gone to Chicago, hoping for a position in some
respectable office, but they didn't want a typewriter who wasn't a
stenographer. It was winter—and mother had me—I was so little and
bad!...In a cheap lodging-house, mother got to know La Gonizetti, and
she persuaded mother to wait with her for the season to open up, then
go with Bounder Brothers; they were wintering in Chicago. It was such
a kind of life as mother had never dreamed of, but it was more
convenient than starving, and she thought it would give her a chance
to find father—that traveling, all over the country. La Gonizetti was
a lion-tamer, and that's what mother learned, and those two were the
only ones who could go inside Samson's cage. The life was awfully
hard, but she got to like it, and everybody was kind to us, and money
came pouring in, and she was always hoping to run across a clue to my
father—and never did.”
She paused, but at the pressure of Abbott's sympathetic hand, she
went on with renewed courage:
“When I was big enough, I wore a tiny black skirt, and a red coat
with shiny buttons, and I beat the drum in the carnival band. You
ought to have seen me—so little....Abbott, you can't imagine how
little I was! We had about a dozen small shows in our company,
fortune-tellers, minstrels, magic wonders, and all that—and the band
had to march from one tent to the next, and stand out in front and
play, to get the crowd in a bunch, so the free exhibition could work
on their nerves. And I'd beat away, in my red coat...and there were
always the strange faces, staring, staring—but I was so
little! Sometimes they would smile at me, but mother had taught me
never to speak to any one, but to wear a glazed look like this—”
“How frightfully cold!” Abbott shivered. Then he laughed, and so
did Fran. They had entered Littleburg. He added wickedly, “And how
dreadfully near we are getting to your home.”
Fran gurgled. “Wouldn't Grace Noir just die if she could see us!”
That sobered Abbott; considering his official position, it seemed
high time for reflection.
Fran resumed abruptly. “But I never really liked it because what I
wanted was a home—to belong to somebody. Living that way in a
traveling-car, going to sleep in the rattle of pulling down tent-seats
and the roar of wild animals, and waking up with the hot sun glaring
into your eyes, and the smell of weeds coming in through your berth-
window...it made me want to be fastened to the ground, like a tree.
Then I got to hating the bold stare of people's eyes, and their
foolish gaping mouths, I hated being always on exhibition with every
gesture watched, as if I'd been one of the trained dogs. I hated the
public. I wanted to get away from the world—clear away from
everybody...like I am now...with you. Isn't it great!”
“Mammoth!” Abbott declared, watering her words with liberal
“I must talk fast, or the Gregory house will be looming up at us.
Mother didn't want me to like that life, maybe that was another
reason—she was always talking about how we'd settle down, some day,
in a place of our own where we'd know the people on the other side of
the fence—and quit being wonders. But looks like I can't manage it”
“Some people are born wonders,” remarked Abbott.
“Yes,” Fran acquiesced modestly, “I guess I was. Mother taught me
all she knew, though she hated books; she made herself think she was
only in the show life till she could make a little more—always just a
little more—she really loved it, you see. But I loved the books—
study—anything that wasn't the show. It was kind of friendly when I
began feeding Samson.”
“Poor little Nonpareil!” murmured Abbott wistfully.
“And often when the show was being unloaded, I'd be stretched out
in our sleeper, with a school-book pressed close to the cinder-specked
window, catching the first light. When the mauls were pounding away at
the tent-pins, maybe I'd hunt a seat on some cage, if it had been
drawn up under a tree, or maybe it'd be the ticket-wagon, or even the
stake-pile—there you'd see me studying away for dear life, dressed in
a plain little dress, trying to look like ordinary folks. Such a queer
little chap, I was—and always trying to pretend that I wasn't! You'd
have laughed to see me.”
“Laughed at you!” cried Abbott indignantly. “Indeed I shouldn't.”
“No?” exclaimed Fran, patting his arm impulsively.
“Dear little wonder!” he returned conclusively.
“I must tell you about one time,” she continued gaily. “We were in
New Orleans at the Mardi Gras, and I was expected to come into the
ring riding Samson—not the vicious old lion, but cub—that was long
after my days of the drum and the red coat, bless you! I was a
lion-tamer, now, nearly thirteen years old, if you'll believe me.
Well! And what was I saying—you keep looking so friendly, you make me
forget myself. Goodness, Abbott, it's so much fun talking to
you...I've never mentioned all this to one soul in this
town...Well—oh, yes; I was to have come into the ring, riding Samson.
Everybody was waiting for me. The band nearly blew itself black in the
face. And what do you think was the matter?”
“Did Samson balk?”
“No, it wasn't that. I was lying on the cage-floor, with my head on
Samson—Samson the Second made such a gorgeous and animated
pillow! —and I was learning geology. I'd just found out that the
world wasn't made in seven United States days, and it was such
surprising news that I'd forgotten all about cages and lions and
tents—if you could have seen me lying there—if you just could!”
“But I can!” Abbott declared. “Your long black hair is mingled with
his tawny mane, and your cheeks are blooming—”
“And my feet are crossed,” cried Fran.
“And your feet are crossed; and those little hands hold up the
book,” Abbott swiftly sketched in the details; “and your bosom is
rising and falling, and your lips are parted—like now—showing
“Dressed in my tights and fluffy lace and jewels,” Fran helped,
“with bare arms and stars all in my hair...But the end came to
everything when—when mother died. Her last words were about my
father—how she hoped some day I'd meet him, and tell him she had
forgiven. Mother sent me to her half-uncle. My! but that was mighty
unpleasant!” Fran shook her head vigorously. “He began telling me
about how mother had done wrong in marrying secretly, and he threw it
up to me and I just told him...But he's dead, now. I had to go back to
the show—there wasn't any other place. But a few months ago I was of
age, and I came into Uncle Ephraim's property, because I was the only
living relation he had, so he couldn't help my getting it. I'll bet
he's mad, now, that he didn't make a will! When he said that
mother—it don't matter what he said—I just walked out of his door,
that time, with my head up high like this...Oh, goodness, we're here.”
They stood before Hamilton Gregory's silent house.
“Good night,” Fran said hastily. “It's a mistake to begin a long
story on a short road. My! But wasn't that a short road,
“Sometime, you shall finish that story, Fran. I know of a road much
longer than the one we've taken—we might try it some day, if you say
“I do say so. What road is it?”
They had paused at the front gate, Fran in the yard, Abbott
outside. It was dark under the heavy sugar-maples that guarded the
gate; they could not see beyond each other's faces. Abbott felt
strange, as if he knew no more about what he might do, or say, than if
he had been another man. He had spoken of a long road without definite
purpose, yet there was a glimmering perception of the reality, as he
showed by saying tremulously:
“This is the beginning of it—”
He bent down, as if to take her in his arms.
But Fran drew back, perhaps with a blush that the darkness
concealed, certainly with a little laugh. “I'm afraid I'd get lost on
that road,” she murmured, “for I don't believe you know the way very
She sped lightly to the house, unlocked the door, and vanished.
CHAPTER XII. GRACE CAPTURES THE
The next evening there was choir practice at the Walnut Street
church. Abbott Ashton, hesitating to make his nightly plunge into the
dust- clouds of learning, paused in the vestibule to take a peep at
Grace. It always rested him to look at her; he meant to drink her in,
as it were, to cool his parched soul, then make a dash at his stack of
examination-papers. He knew she never missed a choir practice, for
though she could neither sing, nor play the organ, she thought it her
duty to set an example of regular attendance that might be the means
of bringing those who could do one or the other.
Abbott was not disappointed; but he was surprised to see Mrs.
Jefferson in her wheel-chair at the end of the pew occupied by the
secretary, while between them sat Mrs. Gregory. His surprise became
astonishment on discovering Fran and Simon Jefferson in the choir
loft, slyly whispering and nibbling candy, with the air of soldiers
off duty—for the choir was in the throes of a solo.
Abbott, as if hypnotized by what he had seen, slowly entered the
auditorium. Fran's keen eyes discovered him, and her face showed
elfish mischief. Grace, following Fran's eyes, found the cause of the
odd smile, and beckoned to Abbott. Hamilton Gregory, following Grace's
glance—for he saw no one but her at the practices, since she inspired
him with deepest fervor—felt suddenly as if he had lost something; he
had often experienced the same sensation on seeing Grace approached by
some unattached gentleman.
Grace motioned to Abbott to sit beside her, with a concentration of
attention that showed her purpose of reaching a definite goal
unsuspected by the other. On account of the solo, there were the
briefest of whispered greetings to Mrs. Gregory, and merely a wave to
old Mrs. Jefferson.
“I'm so glad Fran has taken a place in the choir,” Abbott whispered
to Grace. “And look at Simon Jefferson—who'd have thought it!”
Grace looked at Simon Jefferson; she also looked at Fran, but her
compressed lips and reproving eye expressed none of Abbott's gladness.
However, she responded with—“I am so glad you are here,
Professor Ashton, for I'm in trouble, and I can't decide which way it
is my duty to turn. Will you help me? I am going to trust you—it is a
matter relating to Mr. Gregory.”
Abbott was pleased that she should think him competent to advise
her respecting her duty; at the same time he regretted that her
confidence related to Mr. Gregory. It came vaguely to his mind that it
was always like that—which was natural, though, since he was her
“Professor Ashton,” she said softly, “does my position as hired
secretary to Mr. Gregory carry with it the obligation to warn him of
any misconduct in his household?”
The solo was dying away, and, sweet and low, it fell from heaven
like manna upon his soul, blending divinely with the secretary's
voice. Her expression “hired” sounded like a tragic note—to think of
one so beautiful, so meek, so surrounded by mellow hymn-notes, being
hired! He had lost the vision of his career in mists of an attenuated
Grace Noir. As the material skirts of the spiritual Grace Noir brushed
his leg, it was as if, for a moment, his veins ran muslin and pink
“You hesitate to advise me, before you know all,” she said, “and
you are right. In a moment the choir will be singing louder, and we
can all talk together. Mrs. Gregory should be consulted, too.”
Grace, conscious of doing all that one could in consulting Mrs.
Gregory, “too", looked toward the choir loft, and smiled into Hamilton
Gregory's eyes. How his baton, inspired by that smile, cut magic runes
in the air! An anthem rose buoyantly, covering the ensuing
conversation with its mantle of sound.
“Mrs. Gregory,” Grace said in a low voice, “I suppose Professor
Ashton is so surprised at seeing you in church—it has been more than
five months, hasn't it?...that I'm afraid he isn't thinking about what
I'm saying.” She paused as if to ask why the other was there,—as if
she were an interloper, who, having by absence forfeited her rights,
now came in her arrogance to claim them. Not only Grace's tone, but
her very attitude seemed to ask, “Why is this woman here?”
Mrs. Gregory could not help feeling in the way, because her husband
seemed to share Grace's feeling. Instinctively she turned to her
mother and laid her hand on the invalid's arm.
“They ain't bothering me, Lucy,” said the old lady, alertly. “I
can't hear their noise, and when I shut my eyes I can't see their
“I have something to tell you both,” Grace said solemnly. “Last
night, I couldn't sleep, and that made me sensitive to noises. I
thought I heard some one slipping from the house just as the clock
struck half- past eleven. It seemed incredible, for I knew if it were
any one, it was that Fran, and I didn't think even she would do that.”
It was as if Abbott had suddenly raised a window in a raw wind. His
temperature descended. The other's manner of saying “That Fran!”
obscured his glass of the future.
Mrs. Gregory said quickly, “Fran leave the house at half-past
Grace smiled unpleasantly. Believing Fran, possibly an impostor,
certainly a disturbing element, it was her duty to drive her from her
employer's house; but however pure and noble her disapproval, Grace
could not speak of the orphan without a tone or look suggesting mere
“How do you know,” Abbott asked, “that Fran left the house at such
a time of the night?” The question was unfair since it suggested
denial, but his feeling for Fran seemed to call for unfairness to
“I will tell you,” Grace responded, with the distinctness of one in
power. “At the time, I told myself that even Fran would not do that.
But, a long time afterward, I heard another sound, from the yard. I
went to my window. I looked out. The moon was bright, but there was a
very dark shadow about the front gate. I heard voices. One was that of
Fran. The other was the voice of—” her tone vibrated in its
intensity—“the voice of a man!”
“It was not Fran's voice,” Mrs. Gregory declared earnestly.
“What man was it?” Abbott inquired, rather resentfully.
“I do not know. I wish now, that I had called out,” responded
Grace, paying no heed to Mrs. Gregory. “That is where I made my
mistake. The man got away. Fran came running into the house, and
closed the door as softly as she could—after she'd unlocked it from the outside! I concluded it would be best to wait till
morning, before I said a word. So this morning, before breakfast, I
strolled in the yard, trying to decide what I had better do. I went to
the gate, and there on the grass—what do you suppose I found?”
Abbott was bewildered. What serious consequences was Grace about to
evolve from the bridge-romance?
Mrs. Gregory listened, pale with apprehension.
“It was a
card,” Grace said, with awful significance, “a
gambling card! As long as I have lived in the house, nobody ever dared
to bring a card there. Mrs. Gregory will tell you the same. But that
Fran.... She had been playing cards out there at midnight—and with a
“I can not think so,” said Mrs. Gregory firmly.
“After making up my mind what to do,” continued Grace evenly, “I
took her aside. I told her what I had seen and heard. I gave her back
her card. But how can we be sure she will not do it again? That is
what troubles me. Oughtn't I to tell Mr. Gregory, so a scandal can be
Abbott looked blankly at Fran, who was singing with all her might.
She caught his look, and closed her eyes. Abbott asked weakly, “What
did she say?”
Grace answered, “She denied it, of course—said she hadn't been
playing cards with anybody, hadn't dropped the card I found, and
wouldn't even admit that she'd been with a man. If I tell Mr. Gregory
about her playing cards with a man at that hour, I don't believe he
will think he ought to keep her longer, even if she does claim
to be his friend's daughter.”
“But you tell us,” Mrs. Gregory interposed swiftly, “that she said
she hadn't been playing cards.”
“She said!” Grace echoed unpleasantly,
“That card you found,” began Abbott guiltily, “was it the King of
Hearts?” Possibly he had dropped it from his pocket when leaning over
the gate to—But why had he leaned over the gate?
Grace coldly answered, “I do not know one card from another.”
“Let me try to describe it.”
you can not describe the card I found,” said Grace,
the presentiment that she was on the eve of discoveries giving her
eyes a starlike directness. Abbott felt himself squirming under the
heel of a higher order of being.
“I suspect I dropped that card over the fence,” he confessed, “for
I had the King of Hearts, and last night, about that time I was
standing at the gate—”
“Oh,” Grace exclaimed, disagreeably surprised. “I did not know that
you play cards, Professor Ashton. Do you also attend the dances? I
had always thought of you as one of the most faithful members of the
Walnut Street church—one who is always there, when you can come—not
like some members whose names are on the book. Surely you
haven't been dancing and playing cards very long?”
“Not for a great while,” responded Abbott, with the obstinacy of a
good conscience wrongfully accused.
The secretary no longer held him under her foot—the last
icicle-prick of her tongue had liberated him.
“Only since Fran came, I am sure,” she said, feeling him escaping.
She looked at him with something like scorn, inspired by righteous
indignation that such as he could be influenced by Fran. That look
wrought havoc with the halo he had so long blinked at, as it swung
above her head.
“Does that mean,” he inquired, with a steady look, “that you
imagine Fran has led me into bad habits?”
“I trust the habits are not fixed,” rather contemptuously. “I
hardly think you mean to desert the church, and lose your position at
school, for the sake of—of that Fran.”
“I hardly think so, either,” returned Abbott. “And now I'd better
go to my school-work.”
“Fran is imprudent,” said Mrs. Gregory, in distress, “but her heart
is pure gold. I don't know what all this means, but when I have had a
talk with her—”
“Don't go, Professor Ashton,” interposed Grace, as he started up,
“until you advise me. Shall I tell Mr. Gregory? Or shall I conceal it
on the assurances that it will never happen again?”
Abbott seated himself with sudden persuasiveness. “Conceal it, Miss
Grace, conceal it!” he urged.
“If you will frankly explain what happened—here before Mrs.
Gregory, so she can have the real truth, we will never betray the
secret. But if you can not tell everything, I shall feel it my duty—I
don't know how Mrs. Gregory feels about it—but I must tell Mr.
“I would rather wait,” said Mrs. Gregory, “and talk to Fran. She
will promise me anything. I trust you, Abbott; I know you would never
lead my little girl into wrong-doing. She is wild and untrained, and I
suspect you were trying to help her, last night. Leave it all to me. I
will have a good talk with Fran.”
“And,” said Abbott eagerly, “if we both solemnly promise—”
Grace bit her lip. His “we” condemned him.
“I don't ask you to hide the affair on my account,” he said,
holdingup his head. “I don't want Fran put in an unjust light. She
isn't to be judged like other people.”
“Oh,” murmured Grace, “then you think there is more than one
standard of right? I don't. There's one God and one Right. No, I can
not consent; what might satisfy Mrs. Gregory might not seem best to
me. No, Professor, if you feel that you can not explain what I saw,
last night, I shall feel obliged to tell Mr. Gregory as soon as the
choir practice ends.”
“Didn't Fran refuse to tell?” Abbott temporized.
“Yes,” was the skilful response; “but her reticence must have been
to save you, for the girl never seems ashamed of anything she
does. I imagine she hated to get you into trouble.”
“Miss Grace, you have heard Mrs. Gregory say that she trusts
me—and she is Fran's guardian. I ask you to do the same.”
“I must consider my conscience.”
That answer closed all argument.
“You had better tell her,” said Mrs. Gregory, “for she is
determined to know.”
“I was taking a walk to rest my mind,” Abbott said slowly,
proceeding as if he would have liked to fight his ground inch by inch,
“and it was rather late. I was strolling about Littleburg. Yesterday
was a pretty hard day, getting ready for Commencement—my mind was
“Did you get your mind rested?” Grace permitted herself the slight
relaxation of a sarcasm.
“Yes, At last I found myself at the new bridge that leads to the
camp- meeting grounds, when ahead of me, there was—I saw Fran. I was
much surprised to find her out there, alone.”
“I can understand that,” said Grace quietly, “for I should have
been surprised myself.”
Mrs. Gregory turned upon Grace. “Let him go on!” she said with a
flash that petrified the secretary.
“When I came up to the bridge, she was sitting there, with some
cards —all alone. She had some superstition about trying fortunes on
a new bridge at midnight, and that explains the lateness of the hour.
So I persuaded her to come home, and that is all.”
Mrs. Gregory breathed with relief. “What an odd little darling!”
she murmured, smiling.
“What kind of fortune was she telling?” Grace asked.
“Whatever kind the new bridge would give her.”
“Oh, then the cards stood for
people, didn't they! And the
card you dropped in the yard was your card, of course.”
“And did Fran—have a card to represent herself, perhaps?”
“I have told you the story,” said Abbott, rising.
“That means she did. Then she wanted to know if you and she
would... Mrs. Gregory, I have always felt that Fran has deceived us
about her age! She is older than she pretends to be!”
“I believe this concludes our bargain,” said Abbott, rising.
Mrs. Gregory was calm. “Miss Grace, Fran told me long ago that she
is eighteen years old; she came as a little girl, because she thought
we would take her in the more readily, if we believed her a mere
“Does Mr. Gregory know that?”
“I haven't told him; I don't know whether Fran has or not.”
“You haven't told him!” Grace was speechless. “You knew it, and
haven't told him? What ought I to do?”
“You ought to keep your promise,” Abbott retorted hotly.
“Sitting on that bridge at midnight, alone, telling people's
fortunes by cards....Professor Ashton—Mrs. Gregory!” Grace exclaimed,
with one of those flashes of inspiration peculiar to her sex, “that
Fran is a show-girl!”
Abbott started, but said nothing.
Mrs. Gregory rose, and spoke through her mother's ear-trumpet,
“Shall we go home, now?”
“That Fran,” repeated Grace, “is a show-girl! She is eighteen or
nineteen years old, and she is a show-girl!”
“Wouldn't it be best for you to ask her?”
“Ask her? Her? No, I ask you!”
“Let me push the chair,” said Abbott, stepping to Mrs. Gregory's
side. He read in the troubled face that she had known this secret,
The secretary gazed at him with a far-away look, hardly conscious
that he was beating retreat, so absorbed was she in this revelation.
Now, indeed, it was certain that Fran, the girl of eighteen or
nineteen, Fran, the show-girl, was an impostor! Her age proved that
Mr. Gregory must have known her “father” when he was attending college
in Springfield, whereas, believing her much younger, it had all the
time been taken for granted that they had been companions in New York.
It would be necessary for some one to go to Springfield to make
investigations. Grace had for ever alienated Abbott Ashton, but there
was always Robert Clinton. He would obey her every wish; Robert
Clinton should go. And when Robert had returned with a full history of
Hamilton Gregory's school-days at Springfield, and those of Gregory's
intimate friend, Fran, with the proofs of her conspiracy spread before
her, should be driven forth, never again to darken the home of the
CHAPTER XIII. ALLIANCE WITH ABBOTT
For the most part, that was a silent walk to Hamilton Gregory's.
Abbott Ashton pushed the wheel-chair, and it was only Mrs. Jefferson,
ignorant of what had taken place, who commented on the bright moon,
and the relief of rose-scented breezes after the musty auditorium of
Walnut Street church.
“They were bent and determined on Fran going to choir practice,”
the old lady told Abbott, “so Lucy and I went along to encourage her,
for they say she has a fine voice, and they want all the good singing
they can have at Uncle Tobe Fuller's funeral. Uncle Tobe, he didn't
know one tune from another, but now that he's dead, he knows 'em
all—for he was a good man. I despise big doings at funerals, but I
expect to go, and as I can't hear the solos, nor the preacher working
up feelings, all I'll have to do will be to sit and look at the
“Mother,” said Mrs. Gregory, “you are not cheerful to-night.”
“No,” the other responded, “I think it's from sitting so long by
the Whited Sepulcher.”
Mrs. Gregory spoke into the trumpet, with real distress—“Mother,
mother! Abbott won't understand you; he doesn't know you are using a
figure of speech.”
“Yes,” said the old lady, “Number Thirteen, if there's anything
unlucky in figures.”
Abbott effected diversion. “Mrs. Gregory, I'm glad Miss Noir agreed
to say nothing about her discoveries, for the only harm in them is
what people might imagine. I was pretty uneasy, at first; of course I
knew that if she felt she ought to tell it, she would. I never
knew anybody so conscientious.”
There was a pause, then Mrs. Gregory responded, “She will not
Abbott had seen them safely into the house, and had reached the
gate on his departure, when Fran came running up. In pleased surprise
he opened the gate for her, but she stopped in the outside shadow, and
he paused within the yard.
“Fran!” he exclaimed with pleasure. “Is the practice ended?”
She made no response.
“Fran, what's the matter?”
Abbott was both perplexed and hurt. “Remember what we said on the
new bridge,” he urged; “we're friends 'while we're together and after
“Somebody ought to burn that new bridge,” said Fran, in a muffled
tone; “it's no good making wishes come true.”
“Why do you say that? Aren't we the best of friends?”
Fran collected herself, and spoke with cool distinctness: “I have a
pretty hard battle to fight, Mr. Ashton, and it's necessary to know
who's on my side, and who isn't. I may not come out ahead; but I'm not
going to lose out from taking a foe for a friend.”
“Which you will kindly explain?”
“You are Grace Noir's friend—that explains it.”
“I am your friend, too, Fran.”
“My friend, too!” she echoed bitterly. “Oh, thanks—also!
Abbott came through the gate, and tried to read her face. “Does the
fact that I am her friend condemn me?”
“No—just classifies you. You couldn't be her friend if you were
not a mirror in which she sees herself; her conscience is so sure,
that she hasn't use for anything but a faithful reflector of her
opinions. She empties her friends of all personality, and leaves them
filled with their imagination of her character.”
“Her friends are mere puppets, it appears,” Abbott said, smiling.
“But that's rather to her credit, isn't it? Would you mind to explain
your imagination of her character?”
His jesting tone made her impatient. “I don't think her character
has ever had a chance to develop; she's too fixed on thinking herself
what she isn't. Her opinion of what she ought to be is so sure, that
she has never discovered what she really is. And you can't possibly
hold a secret from her, if you're her friend; she takes it from you as
one snatches a toy from a little child.”
Abbott was still amused. “Has she emptied me of all she wants?”
“Yes. You have given her strong weapons against me, and you may be
sure she'll use them to her advantage.”
“Fran, step back into the light—let me see your face; are you in
earnest? Your eyes are smoldering—Oh, Fran, those eyes! What weapons
have I given her?”
Fran set her back against the fence, and looked at him darkly. Now
and then some one passed, with a curious look, and constrained
greeting— for in Littleburg every one was known. “The secret of my
age, and the secret of my past.”
“I told her neither.”
“As soon as you and Mrs. Gregory wheeled away Mrs. Jefferson,” said
Fran, “I went right down from the choir loft, and straight over to
her. I looked her in the eye, and I asked what you had been telling
about me. Why, you told her everything, even that I was trying to find
out whether you and I would ever—would ever get married! I might
aswell say it, it came pat enough from her—and you told! Nobody
else knew. And you dropped your King of Hearts over the fence—you
told her that! And when we were standing there at the gate, you even
tried—but no, I'll leave you and Miss Grace to discuss such subjects.
Here we are at the same gate, but I guess there's not much danger,
“Fran!” cried Abbott, with burning cheeks, “I didn't tell her, upon
my honor I didn't. I had to admit dropping the card, to keep
her from thinking you out here at midnight with a stranger. She saw us
in the shadow, and guessed—that other. I didn't tell her anything
about your age. I didn't mention the carnival company.”
Fran's concentrated tones grew milder: “But Mrs. Gregory has known
about the show all this time. She would die before she'd tell
“I never told, Fran. I'm not going to say that again; but you shall
“Of course, Abbott. But it just proves what I said, about her
emptying her friends, about taking their secrets from them even
without their knowing she's doing it. I said to her, sharp and quick,
'What have you been saying about me, Miss Noir?' She said—'I
understand from Professor Ashton that you are not a young girl at all,
but a masquerader of at least eighteen years.' I answered—'Being a
masquerader of at least thirty-five, you should have found that out,
yourself.' I hardly think she's thirty-five; it wasn't a fair blow,
but you have to fight Indians in the brush. Then your friend said,
'Professor Ashton informs me that you are a circus-girl. Don't you
think you've strayed too far from the tent?' she asked. I said—'Oh, I
brought the show with me; Professor Ashton is my advance advertising
agent.' Then she said that if I'd leave, Mr. Gregory need never know
that I'm an impostor. But I told her no tickets are going to be
returned. I said—'This show absolutely takes place, rain or shine.'”
“Fran,” said Abbott in distress, “I want to talk this over—come
here in the yard where you're not so conspicuous.”
“Show-girls ought to be conspicuous. No, sir, I stay right here in
the glaring moonlight. It doesn't call for darkness to tell me
anything that is on your mind, Professor.”
“Fran, you can't hold me responsible for what Miss Grace guessed. I
tell you, she guessed everything. I was trying to defend you—
suddenly she saw through it all. I don't know how it was—maybe Mrs.
Gregory can explain, as she's a woman. You shall not deem me capable
of adding an atom to your difficulties. You shall feel that I'm your
friend 'while we're together and after we part.' You must believe me
when I tell you that I need your smile.” His voice trembled with
sudden tenderness. “You must accept what I say as the greatest fact in
my life—that I can't be happy, if you are angry with me.”
She looked at him searchingly, then her face relaxed to the eve of
revolution. “Who have you been trying to get a glimpse of, all the
times you parade the street in front of our house?”
Abbott declared, “You!” In mute appeal he held out his hand.
“You're a weak brother, but here—” And she slipped her hand into
his. “If she'd been in conversation with me, I wouldn't have let her
have any presentiments. It takes talent to keep from telling what you
know, but genius to keep the other fellow from guessing. What I hate
about it is, that the very next time you fall into her hands, you'll
be at her mercy. If I told you a scheme I've been devising, she'd take
it from you in broad daylight. She can always prove she's right,
because she has the verse for it,—and to deny her is to deny
Inspiration. And if she had her way,—she thinks I'm a sort of
dissipation—there'd be a national prohibition of Fran.”
“If there were a national prohibition of Fran, I'd be the first to
smuggle you in somehow, little Nonpareil. I do believe that Miss Grace
is the most conscientious person I ever knew, except Mr. Gregory. Just
the same, I'm your friend. Isn't it something for me to have taken you
on trust as I have, from the very beginning?”
His brown eyes were so earnest that Fran stepped into the shadow.
“It's more than something, Abbott. Your trust is about all I have.
It's just like me to be wanting more than I have. I'm going to confide
in you my scheme. Let's talk it over in whispers.” They put their
heads together. “Tomorrow, Grace Noir is going to the city with Bob
Clinton to select music for the choir—he doesn't know any more about
music than poor Uncle Tobe Fuller, but you see, he's still alive. It
will be the first day she's been off the place since I came. While
she's away, I mean to make my grand effort.”
“At what, Little Wonder?”
“At driving her away for good. I'm going to offer myself as
secretary, and with her out of sight, I'm hoping to win the day.”
“But she's been his secretary for five years—is it reasonable he'd
give her up? And would it be honorable for you to work against her in
that way? Besides, Fran, she is really necessary to Mr. Gregory's
great charity enterprises—”
“The more reason for getting rid of her.”
“I don't understand how you mean that. I know Mr. Gregory's work
would be seriously crippled. And it would be a great blow to Walnut
Street church—she's always there.”
“Still, you see she can't stay.”
“No, I don't see. You and Miss Grace must be reconciled.”
“Oh, Abbott, can't you understand, or is it that you just won't?
It isn't on my account that Miss Noir must leave this house.
She's going to bring trouble—she's already done it. I've had lots of
experience, and when I see people hurrying down hill, I expect to find
them at the bottom, not because it's in the people, but because it's
in the direction. I don't care how no-account folks are, if they keep
doggedly climbing up out of the valley, just give 'em time, and
they'll reach the mountain-top. I believe some mighty good-intentioned
men are stumbling down hill, carrying their religion right into hell.”
“Hush, little friend! You don't understand what religion is.”
“If I can't find out from its fruits, I don't want to know.”
“Of course. But consider how Miss Grace's labors are blessing the
“Abbott, unless the fruits of religion are flavored by love,
they're no more account than apples taken with bitter-rot—not worth
fifty cents a barrel. The trouble with a good deal of the church-fruit
to- day is bitter-rot.”
Abbott asked slyly, “What about your fruit, out there in the
“Oh,” Fran confessed, with a gleam, “we're not in the
orchard-business at all, out here.”
Abbott laid his hand earnestly upon her arm. “Fran! Come in and
help us spray.”
“You dear old prosy, preachy professor!” she exclaimed
affectionately, “I have been thinking of it. I've half a mind to try,
really. Wouldn't Grace Noir just die?...O Lord, there she comes, now!”
Fran left the disconsolate young man in wild precipitation, and
flew into the house. He wondered if she had been seen standing there,
and he realized that, if so, the purest motives could not outweigh
appearances. He turned off in another direction, and Gregory and Grace
came slowly toward the house, having, without much difficulty,
eliminated Simon Jefferson from their company.
In truth, Simon, rather than be improved by their conversation, had
dived down a back alley, and found entrance through the side door.
When Hamilton Gregory and his secretary came into the reception hall,
the old bachelor lay upon a divan thinking of his weak heart—Fran's
flight from the choir loft had reminded him of it—and Mrs. Jefferson
was fanning him, as if he were never to be a grown man. Mrs. Gregory
sat near the group, silently embroidering in white silk. Fran had
hastily thrown herself upon the stairway, and, with half-closed eyes,
looked as if she had been there a long time.
“Fran,” said Mr. Gregory coldly, “you left the choir practice
before we were two-thirds done. Of course I could hardly expect you—”
he looked at his wife—“to stay, although your presence would
certainly have kept Fran there; and it does look as if we should be
willing to resort to any expedient to keep her there!”
“How would a lock and chain do?” Fran inquired meekly.
“I don't think she came straight home, either,” remarked Grace Noir
significantly. “Did you, Fran?”
“Miss Noir,” said Fran, smiling at her through the banister-slats,
“you are so satisfactory; you always say just about what I expect.
Yes, I came straight home. I'm glad it's your business, so you could
Hamilton Gregory turned to his wife again, with restraint more
marked. “Next Sunday is roll-call day, Mrs. Gregory. The board has
decided to revise the lists. We've been carrying so many names that
it's a burden to the church. The world reproaches us, saying, 'Isn't
So-and-so a member? He never attends, does he?' I do hope you will go
next Sunday!” Mrs. Gregory looked down at her work thoughtfully, then
said, “Mother would be left—”
“It's just this way,” her husband interposed abruptly: “If no
excuses, such as sickness, are sent, and if the people haven't been
coming for months, and don't intend coming, we are simply
determined to drop the names—strike 'em out. We believe church
members should show where they stand. And—and if you—”
Mrs. Gregory looked up quietly. Her voice seemed woven of the silk
threads she was stitching in the white pattern. “If I am not a member
of the church, sitting an hour in the building couldn't make me one.”
Simon Jefferson cried out, “Is that my sister Lucy? Blessed if I
thought she had so much spirit!”
“Do you call that spirit?” returned Gregory, with
“Well!” snorted Simon, “what do you call it, then?”
“Perhaps,” responded Gregory, with marked disapprobation, “perhaps
it was spirit.”
Grace, still attired for the street, looked down upon Mrs. Gregory
as if turned to stone. Her beautiful face expressed something like
horror at the other's irreverence.
Fran shook back her hair, and watched with gleaming eyes from
behind the slats, not unlike a small wild creature peering from its
“Oh,” cried Fran, “Miss Noir feels so bad!”
Grace swept from the hall, her rounded figure instinct with the
sufferings of a martyr.
Fran murmured, “That killed her!”
“And you!” cried Gregory, turning suddenly in blind anger
upon the other—“you don't care whose heart you break.”
“I haven't any power over hearts,” retorted Fran, gripping
her fingers till her hands were little white balls. “Oh, if I only
had! I'd get at 'em, if I could—like this...”
She leaped to her feet.
“Am I always to be defied by you?” he exclaimed; “is there to be
no end to it? But suppose I put an end to it, myself—tell you that
this is no place for you—”
“You shall never say that!” Mrs. Gregory spoke up, distinctly, but
not in his loud tones. She dropped her work in some agitation, and
drew Fran to her heart. “I have a friend here, Hamilton—one friend
—and she must stay.”
“Don't you be uneasy, dear one,” Fran looked up lovingly into the
frightened face. “He won't tell me to go. He won't put an end to it.
He won't tell me anything!”
“Listen to me, Lucy,” said Gregory, his tone altering, “yes, she
must stay—that's settled—she must stay. Of course. But you—why will
you refuse what I ask, when for years you were one of the most
faithful attendants at the Walnut Street church? I am asking you to go
next Sunday because—well, you know how people judge by appearances.
I'm not asking it for my sake—of course I know your real
character—but go for Miss Grace's sake—go to show her where
you stand. Lucy, I told her on the way from choir practice—I promised
her that you should be there.”
“How is it about church attendance, anyway?” asked Fran, with the
air of one who seeks after knowledge. “I thought you went to church
for the Lord's sake, and not for Miss Noir's.”
“I have given you my answer, Mr. Gregory,” said his wife faintly,
“but I am sorry that it should make me seem obstinate—”
He uttered a groan, and left the hall in despair. His gesture said
that he must give it up.
Mrs. Gregory folded her work, her face pale and drawn, her lips
tremulous. She looked at Fran, and tried to smile. “We must go to
rest, now,” she said—“if we can.”
CHAPTER XIV. FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE
The next day found Fran the bluest of the blue. No laughing now, as
she sat alone, half-way up the ladder leading to Gregory's barn-loft.
She meant to be just as miserable as she pleased, since there was no
observer to be deceived by sowing cheat-seed of merriment.
“The battle's on now, to a finish,” muttered Fran despondently,
“yet here I sit, and here I scrooch.” With her skirts gathered up in a
listless arm till they were unbecomingly abridged, with every muscle
and fiber seeming to sag like an ill-supported fence, Fran's thoughts
were at the abysmal stage of discouragement. For a time, there seemed
in her heart not the tiniest taper alight, and in this blackness, both
hope and failure were alike indistinguishable.
“But we'll see,” she cried, at last coming down the ladder, “we'll
see!” and she clenched her fists, flung open the barn-door and marched
upon the house with battle in her eyes. Girding up her loins—that is,
smoothing her hair—and sharpening her weapons for instant use, she
opened the library door.
She knew Grace Noir had gone to the city with Robert Clinton, and
yet her feeling on seeing Hamilton Gregory alone, was akin to
surprise. How queerly lonesome he looked, without his secretary! There
was something ghostly about Grace Noir's typewriter—it seemed to have
fallen into Fran's power like an enemy's trophy too easily captured.
The pens and pencils were at her mercy, so readily surrendered that
they suggested treachery. Did an ambuscade await her? But impossible—
no train returned from the city until nine in the evening, and it was
now only three in the afternoon—six hours of clear field.
She found the philanthropist immersed in day-dreams. So deep was he
below the surface of every-day thoughts, that he might be likened to a
man walking on the floor of the sea. The thought of the good his money
and influence were accomplishing thrilled his soul, while through the
refined ether of this pious joy appeared the loveliness of Grace Noir,
lending something like spiritual sensuousness to his vision of duty.
He did not want the applause of the general public any more than he
wanted his past unearthed. It was enough if his philanthropy was known
to God and Grace Noir. She stood, to his mind, as a symbol of
religion—there can be no harm in reverencing symbols.
Fran's eyes drew him abruptly from the bottom of the sea. He
emerged, chilled and trembling. “Fran,” he said, as if she had
appeared in answer to a summons, “I am unhappy about you. Your
determination to have nothing to do with the church not only
distresses but embarrasses me. You have insisted on coming into my
life. Then why do you disgrace it? You pretend that you want to be
liked by us, yet you play cards with strangers at night—it's
outrageous. You even threw a card in my yard where a card was never
“Do you think cards so very wicked?” asked Fran, looking at him
“You know what I think. I look on gambling as immoral. But it ought
to be enough for me simply to forbid it. Cards, and dancing, and the
theater—these things are what destroy the influence of the church.”
“And not going to the meeting-house,” remarked Fran, with quiet
irony,—“that's perfectly dreadful.”
She closed the door, and placed her back against it. A shake of her
head seemed to throw aside what they had been saying as of no more
importance than the waving tresses of black hair. She looked him in
the eyes, and said abruptly—
“I want to be your secretary.”
Hamilton gripped his chair. He found the air hard to breathe after
his submarine inaction—doubtless he had stayed under too long. “I
have a secretary,” he retorted, looking at her resentfully. He
checked words he would have liked to utter, on reflecting that his
secret was in Fran's keeping. She need but declare it, and his picture
would blossom forth in all the papers of the big cities. How Grace
would shrink from him, if she knew the truth—how that magnificent
figure would turn its back upon him—and those scornful, imperious,
never- faltering eyes...
Fran drew nearer. She seated herself upon the arm of a chair, one
foot on the floor, and spoke with restrained intensity: “I'm well
enough educated. I can take dictation and make good copy.”
He allowed his tone to sound defiance—“I already have a
Fran continued with an effort, “Mother didn't like studying, very
well, but she was determined to get me out of the condition I was born
in; she taught me all she knew. When I caught up, she'd go digging
ahead on her own account to pull me a little higher. Wasn't she
splendid! So patient—” Fran paused, and stared straight before her,
straight into the memory of her mother's eyes.
Gregory reflected—“If this child had not come, had not intruded
herself upon my life! Haven't I suffered enough for my follies?”
“When mother died,” Fran resumed, “she thought maybe Uncle Ephraim
had mellowed, so I went to him, because I thought I couldn't get along
without love.” She shook her head, with a pathetic little smile. “But
I could! Uncle Ephraim didn't mellow, he dried up. He blamed me for
being born—I think, myself, it was a mistake. He turned me out, but I
was so tough I just couldn't be winter-killed. After that I went back
to the show and stocked up in experience. I mention it to point out
that a mild little job like being your private secretary wouldn't
strain a muscle. I expect I could even be a foreign secretary. It's as
easy to walk a rope that's rigged high, as one near the ground. All
the trouble is in the imagination.”
Gregory's voice cut across hers, showing no comprehension of her
last words: “My secretary must be in sympathy with my work. To
exercise such talents as I have, is my religion, and I need a helper
whose eyes are fixed upon the higher life. This is final, and the
subject must never be reopened. I find it very painful.”
Fran's discovery that he had not heard her plea, crimsoned her
face. She jumped from the armchair, breathing rapidly. “Then,” she
cried, “if you won't have me, get another. The one you have must go.”
“She shall do nothing of the sort,” he coldly responded.
“Yes,” Fran retorted violently, “I tell you she must go!” He
struck the table with his palm. “Never!”
“Shall I use my last resource?” Fran's eyes gleamed ominously.
The hand upon the table became a fist. That was his only reply.
“I would entreat you,” said Fran, faltering, “and with tears—but
what good would it do? None. There's no use for one woman to weep if
another woman is smiling. Dismiss your secretary.”
He leaned toward her from over the table, and spoke in a low level
tone: “I am going to appeal to your better nature. Think of the girls
of the street who need rescue, and the women of the cities who are
dying from neglect and vice. If you hinder my work, let the souls of
these outcasts be upon your soul! You can ruin me, but not without
ruining my good works. I don't ask you to keep silent on my account—
what am I but an instrument in the hands of Providence?—but for the
sake of the homeless thousands. I have atoned for my past, but the
world, always ready to crucify the divine, would rejoice to point the
finger of scorn at me, as if I were still the fool of twenty years
“But your secretary—”
“She is a vital factor in my work. Remove her, and the work
“How important!” cried Fran, throwing back her head. “What will God
dowhen she dies?”
“Perhaps I have gone too far. Still, it would be impossible to
Fran made a step toward him—“My mother was replaced.”
He started up. “You shall not speak of that. She lived her life,
and I demand the right to live mine. I tell you, the past is ended.”
“But I am here,” returned Fran. “I have not ended. Can't you look
into my face and see my mother living? She paid for her secret
marriage, wandering over the face of the earth with her baby, trying
to find you. I don't deny that you've paid for all—yes, even for your
desertion and your living a hidden life in this town. Maybe you've
suffered enough. But that isn't the question. Look at me. I am here. I
have come as truly out of your past as out of the past of my darling,
uncomplaining—what did you call her?—'friend'. And being
here, I ask, 'What will you do with me?' All I want is—just a little
The long loneliness of her life found expression in the eager
voice, in the yearning eyes. As he stared at her, half-stupefied, he
imagined she was holding out her arms to him in pleading. But it was
not this erect form, slight and tense, that reached forth as if to
clasp him to her heart; it was a memory of his youth, a memory that in
some oddmanner blurred his perception of the living presence. From the
fragile body of Fran, something leaped toward him, enveloping,
It was partly Fran, and partly somebody else—how well he knew that
other somebody, that dead woman who had found reincarnation in the
soul of this wanderer.
She thought his covered face a token of weakening. “You must have
loved my mother once. Is it all so dead and forgotten that there is
none left for your child?”
But she was seeking to play upon strings that had long since ceased
to vibrate. He could not bring back, even in retrospect, the emotions
inspired by Josephine Derry. Those strings had been tuned to other
love-harmonies. To remember Fran's mother was to bring back not the
rapture of a first passion, but the garrish days of disillusionment.
He even felt something like resentment because she had remained
faithful—her search and unending love for him made so much more of
his desertion than ever he had made.
He could not tell Fran that he had never loved her mother. The dead
must not be reproached; the living could not be denied—so he was
His silence inspired Fran with hope. “I am so lonely, so lonely!”
she murmured plaintively, “so very lonely! There seems a reason for
everybody but me—I can't be explained. That's why I am disliked. If
there could be one heart for me to claim—whose heart should it be?
Does no sort of feeling tell you whose heart it should be?”
“Of course you are lonely, child, but that is your fault. You are
in this house on a footing of equality, and all seem to like you,
except Miss Grace—and I must say, her disapproval disturbs you very
little. But you won't adopt our ways. You get yourself virtually
expelled from school—do you blame me for that? You won't go to
church—can you expect church people to like you? You make everybody
talk by your indiscreet behavior—then wonder that the town shuns your
society, and complain because you feel lonesome!”
Fran's eyes filled with tears. “If you believe in me—if you try to
like me—that's all I ask. The whole town can talk, if I have you. I
don't care for the world and its street corners—there are no street
corners in my world.”
“You never call me Fran if you can help it,” she interposed
passionately.” Even the dogs have names. Call me by mine; it's Fran.
Say it, say it. Call me—oh, father, father. I want your love.”
“Hush!” he gasped, ashen pale. “You will be overheard.”
She extended her arms wildly: “What do you know about God, except
that He's Father. That's all—Father—and you worship Him as
His son. Yet you want me to care for your religion. Then why don't you
show me the way to God? Can you love Him and deny your own child? Am I
to pray to Him as my Father in Heaven, but not dare acknowledge my
father on earth? No! I don't know how others feel, but I'll have to
reach heavenly things through human things. And I tell you that you
are standing between me and God, just as the lives of so many
Christians hide God from the world.”
“Hush, hush!” cried Gregory. “Child! this is sacrilege!”
“No, it is not. I tell you, I can't see God, because you're in the
way. You pray 'Our Father who art in Heaven...give us this day our
daily bread.' And I pray to you, and I say, My father here on earth,
give me—give me—your love. That's what I want—nothing else—I want
it so bad...I'm dying for it, father, can't you understand? Look—I'm
praying for it—” She threw herself wildly at his feet.
Deeply moved, he tried to lift her from the ground.
“No,” cried Fran, scarcely knowing what she said, “I will not get
up till you grant my prayer. I'm not asking for the full rich love a
child has the right to expect—but give me a crust, to keep me alive—
father, give me my daily bread. You needn't think God is going to
answer your prayers, if you refuse mine.”
Hamilton Gregory took her in his arms and held her to his breast.
“Fran,” he said brokenly, “my unfortunate child...my daughter—oh,
why were you born?”
“Yes,” sobbed Fran, resting her head upon his bosom, “yes, why was
“You break my heart,” he sobbed with her.
“Fran, say the word, and I will tell everything; I will acknowledge
you as my daughter, and if my wife—”
Fran shook her head. “You owe no more to my mother than to her,”
she said, catching her breath. “No, the secret must be kept—always.
Nothing belongs to us but the future, since even the present belongs
to the past. Father—I must never call you that except when we are
alone—I must always whisper it, like a prayer—father, let me be your
It was strange that this request should surround Fran with the
chill atmosphere of a tomb. His embrace relaxed insensibly. His moment
of self-abnegation had passed, and life appeared suddenly at the
level. He looked at his daughter in frightened bewilderment, as if
afraid she had drawn him too far from his security for further hiding.
During the silence, she awaited his decision.
It was because of her tumultuous emotions that she failed to hear
“Some one is coming,” he exclaimed, with ill-concealed relief. “We
mustn't be seen thus—we would be misunderstood.” He strode to the
window, and pretended to look out. His face cleared momentarily.
The door opened, and Grace Noir started in, then paused
significantly. “Am I interrupting?” she asked, in quietest accent.
“Certainly not,” Gregory breathed freedom. His surprise was so
joyful that he was carried beyond himself. “Grace! It's Grace! Then
you didn't go to the city with Bob. There wasn't any train—”
“I am here—” began Grace easily—
“Yes, of course, that's the main thing,” his delight could not be
held in check. “You are here, indeed! And you are looking—I mean you
look well—I mean you are not ill—your return is so unexpected.”
“I am here,” she steadily persisted, “because I learned something
that affects my interests. I went part of the way with Mr. Clinton,
but after thinking over what had been told me, I decided to leave the
train at the next station. I have been driven back in a carriage. I
may as well tell you, Mr. Gregory, that I am urged to accept a
responsible position in Chicago.”
He understood that she referred to marriage with Robert Clinton.
“But—” he began, very pale.
She repeated, “A responsible position in Chicago. And I was told,
this morning, that while I was away, Fran meant to apply for the
secretaryship, thus taking advantage of my absence.”
Fran's face looked oddly white and old, in its oval of black hair.
“Who told you this truth?” she demanded, with a menacing gleam of
“Who knew of your intentions?” the other gracefully said. “But that
is no matter. The point is that I have this Chicago opportunity. So if
Mr. Gregory wants to employ you, I must know it at once, to make my
“Can you imagine,” Hamilton cried reproachfully, “that without any
warning, I would make a change? Certainly not. I have no intention of
employing Fran. The idea is impossible. More than that, it is—er—it
is absolutely preposterous. Would I calmly tear down what you and I
have been building up so carefully?”
“Then you had already refused Fran before I came?”
“I had—hadn't I, Fran?”
Fran gave her father a look such as had never before come into her
dark eyes—a look of reproach, a look that said, “I can not fight back
because of the agony in my heart.” She went away silent and with
CHAPTER XV. IN SURE-ENOUGH COUNTRY
One morning, more than a month after the closing days of school,
Abbott Ashton chanced to look from his bedroom window as Hamilton
Gregory's buggy, with Fran in it, passed.
There were no more examination-papers for Abbott to struggle with;
but, like bees who spend the pleasantest weather in hardest work, he
was laying up mathematical sweetness and psychological succulence
against the day when he might become a professor at Yale or Harvard.
Unthrifty Fran, on the contrary, was bent upon no mission of self-
improvement. Long fishing-poles projecting from the back of the buggy,
protested against the commercialism of the age; their yellow hue
streaked the somber background of a money-getting world, while the
very joints of the poles mocked at continuity of purpose.
By Fran's side, Abbott discovered a man. True, it was “only” Simon
Jefferson; still, for all his fifty years and his weak heart, it was
not as if it were some pleasant respectable woman—say Simon's mother.
However, old ladies do not sit upon creek-banks.
The thought of sitting upon the bank of a stream suggested to
Abbott that it would be agreeable to pursue his studies in the open
air. The June morning had not yet had its dewy sweetness burned away
by a droughty old sun. Abbott snatched up some books and went below.
In almost every front yard there were roses. Up and down the street,
they bloomed in all colors, with delicate, penetrating, intoxicating
fragrance. They were not hidden away in miserly back-gardens, these
roses; they smiled for the meanest beggar, for the most self-
sufficient tramp, for the knowledge-burdened scholar, for the
whistling driver of the grocer's wagon. They had often smiled in vain
for Abbott Ashton, but that was before he had made the bewildering
discovery that they were like Fran.
On the green veranda he paused to inhale their fragrance.
“I'm glad you've left your room,” said Miss Sapphira, all
innocence, all kindness. “You'll study yourself to death. It won't
make any more of life to take it hard—there's just so much for every
Abbott smiled abstractedly. He heard nothing but the voices of the
Huge and serious, Miss Sapphira sat in the shadow of the
bay-window. Against the wall were arranged sturdy round-backed wooden
chairs, each of which could have received the landlady's person
without a quiver of a spindle. Everything about Abbott seemed too
carefully ordered—he pined for the woods—some mossy bank sloping to
a purling stream.
Suddenly Miss Sapphira grew ponderously significant. Her massive
head trembled from a weight of meaning not to be lifted lightly in
mere words, her double chins consolidated, and her mouth became as the
granite door of a cave sealed against the too-curious.
Abbott paused uneasily before his meditated flight—“Have you heard
She answered almost tragically, “Board meeting, to-night.”
Ordinarily, teachers for the next year were selected before the
close of the spring term; only those “on the inside” knew that the
fateful board meeting had been delayed week after week because of
disagreement over the superintendency. There was so much
dissatisfaction over Abbott Ashton—because of “so much talk”—that
even Robert Clinton had thought it best to wait, that the young man
might virtually be put upon good behavior.
“To-night,” the young man repeated with a thrill. He realized how
important this meeting would prove in shaping his future. Miss
Sapphira was too appallingly significant to mean otherwise. If anybody
was on the “inside” it was the chairman's sister.
“Yes,” she said warningly. “And Bob is determined to do his duty.
He never went very far in his own education because he didn't expect
to be a school-teacher—but ever since he's been chairman of the
school- board, he's aimed to have the best teachers, so the children
can be taught right; most of 'em are poor and may want to teach, too,
when they're grown. I think all the board'll be for you to-night,
Abbott, and I've been glad to notice that for the last month, there's
been less talk. And by the way,” she added, “that Fran-girl went by
with Simon Jefferson just now, the two of them in Brother Gregory's
buggy. They're going to Blubb's Riffle—he with his weak heart, and
her with that sly smile of hers, and it's a full three mile!”
Abbott did not volunteer that he had seen them pass, but his face
showed the ostensible integrity of a jam-thief, who for once finds
himself innocent when missing jam is mentioned.
She was not convinced by his look of guilelessness. “You seem to be
carrying away your books.”
“I want to breathe in this June morning without taking it strained
through window-screens,” he explained.
Miss Sapphira gave something like a choked cough, and compressed
her lips. “Abbott,” she said, looking at him sidewise, “please step to
the telephone, and call up Bob—he's at the store. Tell him to leave
the clerk in charge and hitch up and take me for a little drive. I
want some of this June morning myself.”
Abbott obeyed with alacrity. On his return, Miss Sapphira said,
“Bob's going to fight for you at the board meeting, Abbott. We'll do
what we can, and I hope you'll help yourself. I don't wish any harm to
that Fran-girl. Bob says I'm always expecting the worst of people and
I guess I am; but I must say I don't expect half as bad as they turn
As Abbott went down the fragrant street with its cool
hose-refreshed pavements, its languorous shadows athwart rose-bush and
picket fence, its hopeful weeds already peering through crevices where
plank sidewalks maintained their worm-eaten right of way, he was in no
dewy- morning mood. He understood what those wise nods had meant, and
he was in no frame of mind for such wisdom. He meant to go far, far
away from the boarding-house, from the environment of schools and
school-boards, from Littleburg with its atmosphere of ridiculous
Of course he could have gone just as far, if he had not chosen the
direction of Blubb's Riffle—but he had to take some direction. He
halted before he came in sight of the stream; if Fran had a mind to
fish with Simon Jefferson, he would not spoil her sport.
He found a comfortable log where he might study under the gracious
sky. Across the road, a bill-board flaunted a many-colored
advertisement, but it did not distract his attention—it had lost its
novelty from over-production. There was to be a Street Carnival
beginning July first. There would be a Fortune Teller, a Lion Show, a
Snake Den, etc. The Fourth of July would be the Big Day; a Day of
Confetti, of Fireworks, of Riotous Mirth and patriotism—the last word
was the only one on the bill not capitalized.
Abbott studied hard. He did not learn much—there seemed a bird in
When he closed his books, scarcely knowing why, and decided to
ramble, it was with no intention of seeking Fran. Miss Sapphira might
have guessed what would happen, but in perfect innocence, the young
man strolled, seeking a grassy by-road, seldom used, redolent of bush,
tree, vine, dust-laden weed. It was a road where the sun seemed almost
a stranger; a road gone to sleep and dreaming of the feet of stealthy
Indians, of noisy settlers, and skilful trappers. All such fretful
bits of life had the old road drained into oblivion, and now it seemed
to call on Abbott to share their fate, the fate of the forgotten.
But the road lost its mystic meaning when Abbott discovered Fran.
Suddenly it became only a road—nay, it became nothing. It seemed that
the sight of Fran always made wreckage of the world about her.
She was sitting in the Gregory buggy, but, most surprising of all,
there was no horse between the shafts—no horse was to be seen,
anywhere. Best of all, no Simon Jefferson was visible. Fran in the
buggy—that was all. Slow traveling, indeed, even for this sleepy old
“Not in a hurry, are you?”
“I've arrived,” Fran said, in unfriendly tone.
Smaller than ever, she appeared, shrinking back in a corner of the
seat, as if the vital qualities of her being were compressed to bring
all within the scope of one eyeflash. Abbott loved the laced shadows
of the trees upon the bared head, he adored the green lap-robe
protecting her feet. The buggy-top was down and the trees from either
side strove each to be first, to darken Fran's black hair with shadow
“Are you tired of fishing, Fran?”
“Yes, and of being fished.”
She had closed the door in his face, but he said—as through the
keyhole—“Does that mean for me to go away?”
“You are a pretty good friend, Mr. Ashton,” she said with a curl of
her lip, “I mean—when we are alone.”
“'While we're together, and after we part',” he quoted. “Fran,
surely you don't feel toward me the way you are looking.”
“Exactly as I'm looking at you, that's the way I feel. Stand there
as long as you please—”
“I don't want to stand a moment longer. I want to sit with you in
the buggy. Please don't be so—so old!”
Fran laughed out musically, but immediately declared: “I laughed
because you are unexpected; it doesn't mean I like you any better. I
hate friendship that shows itself only in private. Mr. Chameleon, I
like people to show their true colors.”
“I am not Mr. Chameleon, and I want to sit in your buggy.”
“Well, then get in the very farthest corner. Now look me in the
“And oh, Fran, you have such eyes! They are so marvelously—er—
“I'm glad you ended up that way. Now look me in the eyes. Suppose
you should see the school-board sailing down the road, Miss Sapphira
thrown in. What would you do?”
“What should I do?”
“Hide, I suppose,” said Fran, suddenly rippling.
“Then you look me in the eyes and listen to me,” he said
impressively. “Weigh my words—have you scales strong enough?”
“Put 'em on slow and careful.”
“I am not Mr. Chameleon for I show my true color. And I am
a real friend, no matter what kind of tree I am—” He paused, groping
for a word.
“Up?” she suggested, with a sudden chuckle. “All right—let the
school-board come. But you don't seem surprised to see me here in the
buggy without Mr. Simon.”
“When Mr. Simon comes, he'll find me right here,” Abbott declared.
“Fran, please don't be always showing your worst side to the town;
when you laugh at people's standards, they think you queer—and you
can't imagine just how much you are to me.”
“Huh!” Fran sniffed. “I'd hate to be anybody's friend and have my
friendship as little use as yours has been to me.”
He was deeply wounded. “I've tried to give good advice—”
“I don't need advice, I want help in carrying out what I already
know.” Her voice vibrated. “You're afraid of losing your position if
you have anything to do with me. Of course I'm queer. Can I help it,
when I have no real home, and nobody cares whether I go or stay?”
“You know I care, Fran.”
Fran caught her lip between her teeth as if to hold herself steady.
“Oh, let's drive,” she said recklessly, striking at the dashboard with
the whip, and shaking her hair about her face till she looked the
elfish child he had first known.
“Fran, you know I care—you know it.”
“We'll drive into Sure-Enough Country,” she said with a half-smile
showing on the side of her face next him. “Whoa! Here we are. All who
live in Sure-Enough Country are sure-enough people—whatever they say
is true. Goodness!” She opened her eyes very wide—“It's awful
dangerous to talk in Sure-Enough Country.” She put up the whip, and
folded her hands.
“I'm glad we're here, Fran, for you have your friendly look.”
“That's because I really do like you. Let's talk about
yourself—how you expect to be what you'll be—you're nothing yet, you
know, Abbott; but how did you come to determine to be something?”
Into Abbott's smile stole something tender and sacred. “It was all
my mother,” he explained simply. “She died before I received my state
certificate, but she thought I'd be a great man—so I am trying for
“And she'll never know,” Fran lamented.
She slipped her hand into his. “Didn't I have a mother? Oh,
these mothers! And who can make mother-wishes come true? Well! And you
just studied with all your might; and you'll keep on and on, till
you're... out of my reach, of course. Which would have suited your
mother, too.” She withdrew her hand.
“My mother would have loved you,” he declared, for he did not
understand, so well as Fran, about mothers' liking for strange young
ladies who train lions.
“Mine would you,” Fran asserted, with more reason.
Abbott, conscious of a dreadful emptiness, took Fran's hand again.
“I'll never be out of your reach, Fran.”
She did not seek to draw away, but said, with dark meaning,
“Remember the bridge at midnight.”
“I remember how you looked, with the moonlight silvering your
face— you were just beautiful that night, little Nonpareil!”
“But not quite so in daylight,” murmured Fran wickedly, “as this
“Anyway,” he answered desperately, “you look as I'd have you
look—can you ask more than that, since I can't?”
“My chin is so sharp,” she murmured.
“Yes,” he said, softly feeling the warm little fingers, one by one,
as if to make sure all were there. “That's the way I like it—sharp.”
“And I'm so ridiculously thin—”
“You're nothing like so thin as when you first came to Littleburg,”
he declared. “I've noticed how you are—have been—I mean...”
“Filling out?” cried Fran gleefully. “Oh, yes, and I'm so glad you
know, because since I've been wearing long dresses, I've been afraid
you'd never find it out, and would always be thinking of me as you saw
me at the beginning. But I am—yes—filling out.”
“And your little feet, Fran—”
“Yes, I always had a small foot. But let's get off of this
“Not until I say something about your smile—oh, Fran, that smile!”
“The subject, now,” remarked Fran, “naturally returns to Grace
“Yes—and I am going to say something to offend you; but honestly,
Abbott, it's for your good. If you'll keep holding my hand, I'll know
you can stand unpleasant truths. When you hold my hand, it seems to
make everything so—so close.”
“Everything is!” Abbott declared.
“I'll tell you why you hurt my feelings, Abbott. You've
disappointed me twice. Oh, if I were a man, I'd show any meek-faced
little hypocrite if she could prize secrets out of me. Just because it
wears dresses and long hair, you think it an angel.”
“Meaning Miss Grace, I presume?” remarked Abbott dryly. “But what
is the secret, this time?”
“Didn't I trust you with the secret that I meant to apply for the
position of secretary as soon as Grace Noir was out of the way? And I
was just about to win the fight when here she came—hadn't been to the
city at all, because you told her what I meant to do—handed her the
secret, like a child giving up something it doesn't want.”
“You are very unjust. I did not tell her your plan. I don't know
how she found it out.”
“From you; nobody else knew it.”
“She did not learn it from me.”
“—And that's what gets me!—you tell her everything, and don't
even know that you tell. Just hypnotized! Answer my questions: the
morning after I told you what I meant to do—standing there at the
fence by the gate—confiding in you, telling you everything—I say,
the next morning, didn't you tell Grace Noir all about it?”
“You had a conversation with her, didn't you?”
Abbott tried to remember, then said casually, “I believe we did
meet on the street that morning.”
“Yes,” said Fran ironically, “I believe you did meet somewhere.
Of course she engaged you in her peculiar style of inquisitorial
“We went down the street together.”
“Now, prisoner at the bar, relate all that was said while going
down the street together.”
“Most charming, but unjust judge, not a word that I can remember,
so it couldn't have been of any interest. I did tell her that since
she— yes, I remember now—since she was to be out of town all day, I
would wait until to-morrow to bring her a book she wanted to borrow.”
“Oh! And then she wanted to know who told you she would be out of
town all day, didn't she?”
Abbott reflected deeply, then said with triumph, “Yes, she did. I
remember that, too. She asked me how I knew she was going to the city
with Bob Clinton. And I avoided telling her—it was rather neat. I
merely said that it was the understanding they were to select the
church music. Not another word was said on the subject.”
“That was enough. Mighty neat. As soon as she saw you were trying
to avoid a direct answer, she knew I'd told you. That gave her a clue
to my leaving the choir practice before the rest of them. She guessed
something important was up. She might not have guessed all the
details, but she didn't dare leave me an open field. Well, Abbott, you
are certainly an infant in her hands, but I guess you can't help it.”
Self-pride was touched, and he retaliated:
“Fran, I hate to think of your being willing to take her position
behind her back.”
“You'd know how I feel about it,” he went on, “if you understood
her better. I know her duty drives her to act in opposition to you,
and I'm sorry for it. But her religious ideals—”
“Abbott, be honest and answer—is there anything in it—this talk
of doing God's will? Can people love God and hate one another? Oh,
isn't it all just words?” Her eyes burned fiercely. “I wouldn't
have the love that some folks give God, I'd feel myself insulted!
I want something better than He gets. I want a love that holds out. I
just hate shams,” she went on, becoming more excited. “I don't care
what fine names you give them—whether it's marriage, or education, or
culture, or religion, if there's no heart in it, it's a sham, and I
hate it. I hate a lie. But a thousand times more, do I hate a life
that is a lie.”
“Fran! You don't know what you are saying.”
“Yes I do know what I'm saying. Is religion going to church? That's
all I can see in it. I want to believe there's something else, I've
honestly searched, for I wanted to be comforted, I tell you, I need
it. But I can't find any comfort in mortar and stained-windows. If
lightning ever strikes a church-member between services, is his
face toward God? No, people just name something religion,—and then
it's wrong to find fault with it. I want something that makes a man
true to his wife, and makes a family live together in blessed harmony,
something that's good on the streets and in the stores, something that
makes people even treat a show-girl well. If there's anything in it,
why doesn't a father—”
She snatched away her hand that she might cover her face, for she
had burst into passionate weeping. “Why doesn't a father who's always
talking about religion, and singing about it, and praying about it—
why doesn't that father draw his daughter to his breast...close,
close to his heart—that's the only home she asks for—that's the home
she has a right to, yes a right, I don't care how far she's wandered—
“Fran!” cried Abbott, in great distress. “Don't cry, little one!”
He had no intelligent word, but his arm was full of meaning as it
slipped about her. “Who has been unkind to you, Nonpareil?” She let
her head sink upon his shoulder, as she sobbed without restraint.
“What shams have pierced your pure heart? Am I the cause of any of
these tears? Am I?”
“Yes,” Fran answered, between her sobs, “you're the cause of all my
happy tears.” She nestled there with a movement of perfect trust; he
drew her closer, and stroked her hair tenderly, trusting himself.
Presently she pulled herself to rights, lifted his arm from about
her, and rested it on the back of the seat—a friendly compromise.
Then she shook back her hair and raised her eyes and a faint smile
came into the rosy face. “I'm so funny,” she declared. “Sometimes I
seem so strange that I need an introduction to myself.” She looked
into Abbott's eyes fleetingly, and drew in the corners of her mouth.
“I guess, after all, there's something in religion!”
Abbott was so warmed by returning sunshine that his eyes shone.
“Dear Fran!” he said—it was very hard to keep his arm where she had
put it. She tried to look at him steadily, but somehow the light hurt
her eyes. She could feel its warmth burning her cheeks.
“Oh, Fran,” cried Abbott impulsively, “the bridge in the moonlight
was nothing to the way you look now—so beautiful—and so much more
than just beautiful...”
“This won't do,” Fran exclaimed, hiding her face. “We must get back
to Grace Noir immediately.”
“Oh, Fran, oh, no, please!”
“I won't please. While we're in Sure-Enough Country, I mean to tell
you the whole truth about Grace Noir.” The name seemed to settle the
atmosphere—she could look at him, now.
“I want you to understand that something is going to happen—must
happen, just from the nature of things, and the nature of wives and
husbands—and the other woman. Oh, you needn't frown at me, I've seen
you look that other way at me, so I know you, Abbott Ashton.”
“Fran! Then you know that I—”
“No, you must listen. You've nothing important to tell me
that I don't know. I've found out the whole Gregory history from old
Mrs. Jefferson, without her knowing that she was telling
anything—she's a sort of 'Professor Ashton' in my hands—and I mean
to tell you that history. You know that, for about three years, Mrs.
Gregory hasn't gone to church—”
“You must admit that it doesn't appear well.”
“Admit it? Yes, of course I must. And the world cares for
appearances, and not for the truth. That's why it condemns Mrs.
Gregory—and me— and that's why I'm afraid the school-board will
condemn you: just on account of appearances. For these past three
years, the church has meant to Mrs. Gregory a building plus Grace
Noir. You'll remember I'm rather mathematical—wasn't that a day,
though, when you kept me in! I think it was the first time you learned
the color of my eyes, wasn't it?”
“Your eyes,” he said, “are the color of friendship.” “Abbott, you
say the dearest things—but let's get back to our equation. I don't
mean that Mrs. Gregory got jealous of Grace Noir—I don't know how to
explain—you can't handle cobwebs without marring them.” She paused.
The gossamer shades of sensibility which she would have defined,
threatened to become coarsened by the mere specific gravity of
words—such words as have been knocked about the world so long that a
sort of material odor clings to them.
“Jealous of—Miss Grace!” exclaimed Abbott reprovingly.
“Let's go back, and take a running jump right into the thick of it.
When Mr. Gregory came to Littleburg, a complete stranger—and when he
married, she was a devoted church-member—always went, and took
great interest in all his schemes to help folks—folks at a distance,
you understand...She just devoured that religious magazine he edits—
yes, I'll admit, his religion shows up beautifully in print; the
pictures of it are good, too. Old Mrs. Jefferson took pride in
beingwheeled to church where she could see her son-in-law leading the
music, and where she'd watch every gesture of the minister and catch
the sound of his voice at the high places, where he cried and,
or nevertheless. Sometimes Mrs. Jefferson could get a dozen
ands and buts out of one discourse. Then comes your Grace
Abbott listened with absorbed attention. It was impossible not to
be influenced by the voice that had grown to mean so much to him.
“Grace Noir is a person that's superhumanly good, but she's not
happy in her own goodness; it hurts her, all the time, because other
folks are not so good as she. You can't live in the house with her
without wishing she'd make a mistake to show herself human, but she
never does, she's always right. When it's time to go to church, that
woman goes, I don't care if there's a blizzard. She's so fixed on
being a martyr, that if nobody crosses her, she just makes herself a
martyr out of the shortcomings of others.”
“As for instance—?”
“As for instance, she suffered martyrdom every time Mrs. Gregory
nestled in an arm-chair beside the cozy hearth, when a Ladies' Aid, or
a Rally was beating its way through snow-drifts to the Walnut Street
church. Mr. Gregory was like everybody else about Grace—he took her
at her own value, and that gave the equation: to him, religion meant
Walnut Street church plus Grace Noir. For a while, Mrs. Gregory clung
to church-going with grim determination, but it wasn't any use. The
Sunday-school would have button contests, or the Ladies' Aid would
give chicken pie dinners down-town, and Mrs. Gregory would be a red
button or a blue button, and she would have her pie; but she was
always third—in her home, or at church, she was the third. It was her
husband and his secretary that understood the Lord. Somehow she seemed
to disturb conditions, merely by being present.”
“Fran, you do not realize that your words—they intimate—”
“She disturbed conditions, Abbott. She was like a turned-up light
at a seance. A successful manifestation calls for semi-gloom, and when
those two were alone, they could get the current. Mr. Gregory was
appalled because his wife quit attending church. Grace sympathized in
his sorrow. It made him feel toward Grace Noir—but I'm up against a
stone wall, Abbott, I haven't the word to describe his feeling, maybe
there isn't any. Sad, you know, so sad, but awful sweet—the perfume
of locust blossoms, or lilacs in the dew, because Grace has a straight
nose and big splendid eyes, and such a form—she's the opposite of me
in everything, except that she isn't a man—more's the pity!”
“Fran Nonpareil! Such wisdom terrifies me...such suspicions!” In
this moment of hesitancy between conviction and rejection, Abbott felt
oddly out of harmony with his little friend. She realized the effect
she must necessarily be producing, yet she must continue; she had
counted the cost and the danger. If she did not convince him, his
thought of her could never be the same.
“Abbott, you may think I am talking from jealousy, and that I tried
to get rid of Grace Noir so I could better my condition at her
expense. I don't know how to make you see that my story is true. It
tells itself. Oughtn't that to prove it? Mrs. Gregory has the dove's
nature; she'd let the enemy have the spoils rather than come to blows.
She lets him take his choice—here is she, yonder's the secretary. He
isn't worthy of her if he chooses Grace—but his hesitation has proved
him unworthy, anyhow. He'll never be to Mrs. Gregory what he was—but
if she spoke out, there'd be the publicity—the lawyers, the
newspapers, the staring in the streets...The old lady—her mother—is
a fighter; she'd have driven out the secretary long ago. But Mrs.
Gregory's idea seems to be—'If he can want her, after I've
given him myself, I'll not make a movement to interfere.'”
Abbott played delicately with the mere husk of this astounding
revelation: “Have you talked with old Mrs. Jefferson about—about it?”
“She's too proud—wouldn't admit it. But I've slyly
hinted...however, it's not the sort of story you could pour through
the funnel of an ear-trumpet without getting wheat mixed with chaff.
She'd misunderstand—the neighbors would get it first—anyway she
wouldn't make a move because her daughter won't. It's you and I,
Abbott, against Grace and Mr. Gregory.”
He murmured, looking away, “You take me for granted, Fran.”
“Yes.” Fran's reply was almost a whisper. A sudden terror of what
he might think of her, smote her heart. But she repeated bravely,
He turned, and she saw in his eyes a confiding trust that seemed to
hedge her soul about. “And you can always take me for granted, Fran;
and always is a long time.”
“Not too long for you and me,” said Fran, looking at him
“I may have felt,” he said, “for some time, in a vague way, what
you have told me. Of course it is evident that he prefers Miss Noir's
society. But I have always thought—or hoped—or wanted to feel, that
it was only the common tie of religion—”
“It was not the truth that you clung to, Abbott, but appearances.
As for me, let truth kill rather than live as a sham. If Grace Noir
stays, the worst is going to happen. She may not know how far she's
going. He may not suspect he's doing wrong. People can make anything
they want seem right in their own eyes. But I've found out that
wickedness isn't stationary, it's got a sort of perpetual motion. If
we don't drive Grace away, the crash will come.”
“Fran—how you must love Mrs. Gregory!”
“She breaks my heart.”
“Dear faithful Fran! What can we do?—I say We, Fran,
“Oh, you Abbott Ashton...just what I thought you! No, no, you
mustn't interrupt. I'll manage Grace Noir, if you'll manage Bob
“Where does Bob Clinton come in?”
“Grace is trying to open a door so he can come in. I mean a secret
in Mr. Gregory's past. She suspects that there's a secret in his past,
and she intends to send Bob to Springfield where Mr. Gregory left that
secret. Bob will bring it to Littleburg. He'll hand it over to Grace,
and then she'll have Mr. Gregory in her power—there'll be no getting
her hands off him, after that.”
“Surely you don't mean that Mr. Gregory did wrong when he was
young, and that Miss Noir suspects it?”
“Bob will bring home the secret—and it will kill Mrs. Gregory,
Abbott—and Grace will go off with him—I know how it'll end.”
“What is this secret?”
“You are never to know, Abbott.”
“Very well—so be it. But I don't believe Mr. Gregory ever did very
wrong—he is too good a man.”
“Isn't he daily breaking his wife's heart?” retorted Fran with a
curl of the lip. “I call that murder.”
“But still!—But I can't think he realizes it.”
“Then,” said Fran satirically, “we'll just call it manslaughter.
When I think of his wife's meek patient face—don't you recall that
look in her eyes of the wounded deer—and the thousands of times
you've seen those two together, at church, on the street, in the
library— everywhere...seeing only each other, leaning closer, smiling
deeper— as if doing good meant getting close—Oh, Abbott, you know
what I mean—don't you, don't you?”
“Yes!” cried Abbott sharply. “Fran, you are right. I have been—all
of us have been—clinging to appearances. Yes, I know what you mean.”
“You'll keep Bob Clinton from telling that secret, won't you? He's
to go to-night, on the long journey—to-night, after the board
meeting. It'll take him three or four days. Then he'll come back...”
“But he'll never tell the secret,” Abbott declared. His mouth
closed as by a spring.
Fran snatched up the whip, and leaned over as if to lash the empty
shafts. She had suddenly become the child again. “We must drive out of
Sure-Enough Country, now. Time to get back to the Make-Believe World.
You know it isn't best to stay long in high altitudes. I've been
pretty high—I feel like I've been breathing pretty close to—heaven.”
She stood up, and the lap-robe fell about her like green waves from
which springs a laughing nymph.
Abbott still felt stunned. The crash of an ideal arouses the
echo—“Is there no truth in the world?” But yes—Fran was here, Fran
“Fran,” he pleaded, “don't drive out of Sure-Enough Country.
Wait long enough for me to tell you what you are to me.”
“I know what I am to you,” Fran retorted—“Git ap!”
“But what am I to you? Don't drive so fast—the trees are racing
past like mad. I won't leave Sure-Enough Country until I've told you
“You shall! No, I'll not let you take this whip—”
“I will take it—let go—Fran! Blessed darling Fran—”
She gripped the whip tightly. He could not loosen her hold, but he
could keep her hand in his, which was just as well. Still, a semblance
of struggling was called for, and that is why the sound of approaching
wheels was drowned in laughter.
“Here we are!” Fran cried wickedly—“Make-Believe World of
Every-Day, and some of its inhabitants...”
A surrey had come down the seldom-used road—had Miss Sapphira
followed Abbott in order to discover him with Fran? The suspicion was
not just, but his conscience seemed to turn color—or was it his face?
In fact, Fran and Abbott were both rather red—caused, possibly, by
their struggle over the whip.
On the front seat of the surrey were Miss Sapphira and Bob Clinton.
On the back seat was Simon Jefferson whose hairy hand gripped a halter
fastened to a riderless horse: the very horse which should have been
between the shafts of the Gregory buggy.
Miss Sapphira stared at Abbott, speechless. So this is what
he had meant by wanting the air unstrained by window-screens.
Studying, indeed! Abbott, in his turn, stared speechlessly at the led
Bob Clinton drew rein, and grasped his hay-colored mustache,
inadequate to the situation. He glanced reproachfully at Abbott; the
young fellow must know that his fate was to be decided this very
Abbott could not take his fill of the sight of Simon Jefferson whom
he had fancied not far away, eyes glued on cork, hands in pockets to
escape mosquitoes, sun on back, serenely fishing. He had supposed the
horse grazing near by, enjoying semi-freedom with his grass. Now it
seemed far otherwise. Miss Sapphira had even had him telephone to Bob
to bring her hither. With his own hands he had dug his pitfall.
Fran, suddenly aware of her ridiculous attitude, sat down and began
Bob Clinton inquired, “Taking a drive, Abb?”
Miss Sapphira set her heavy foot upon her brother's unseemly
jocularity. “Unfortunately,” said Miss Sapphira, speaking with cold
civility, “Mr. Jefferson had to come clear to town before he could
recapture the horse. We were giving him a lift, and had no idea—no
idea that we should find—should come upon—We are sorry to
intrude.” Had her life depended on it, Miss Sapphira could not have
withheld a final touch—“Possibly you were not looking for Mr.
Jefferson to come back so soon.”
“Why,” answered Abbott, stepping to the ground, “hardly so soon.”
At any rate, he felt that nothing was to be gained by staying in the
buggy. “Is that the horse that belongs to this buggy? Let me hitch it
up, Mr. Simon.”
“This has been a terrible experience for me,” growled Simon. All
the same, he let Abbott do the work, but not as if he meant to repay
him with gratitude.
“What was the matter with your horse, anyway?” Abbott cheerfully
Simon looked at him sourly. “Didn't Fran tell you that the horse
got scared at her throwing rocks at my cork, and broke from the tree
where I'd fastened it, and bolted for town?”
“Mr. Simon,” said Fran innocently, “I don't believe the horse was
mentioned once, while you were gone.”
“It would be interesting to know what was,” remarked Robert with
humor so dry that apparently it choked him; he fell to coughing
Miss Sapphira gave him a look while he was struggling in his second
paroxysm. It healed him by suggestion.
“Turn,” said Miss Sapphira with becoming gravity. Robert, still
under the influence of her thought-wave, solemnly drove her from the
When the last buckle was clasped—“I came out here for a quiet
peaceable fishing,” said Simon.
“I've spent my time hunting horses, and being afraid something
might happen to Fran.”
“Mr. Ashton took care of me,” Fran said reassuringly.
Simon cried explosively, “And who took care of him?” He
climbed in beside Fran and begrudgingly offered Abbott the imaginary
space of a third occupant; but Abbott declared his preference for
“This has been a hard day for my heart,” Simon grumbled, as he
snatched up the whip vindictively.
The buggy rolled away.
“Mine, too,” Abbott called after them emphatically.
Fran looked back at him, from over the lowered top. He saw her hand
go to her bosom, then something fluttered in the air and fell in the
grassy road. He darted after it as if it were a clue, showing the way
to the princess' castle.
Perhaps it was. He pounced upon it—it was the Queen of Hearts.
CHAPTER XVI. A TAMER OF LIONS
The life of a household progresses, usually by insensible
gradations, toward some great event, some climax, for the building of
which each day has furnished its grain of sand. To-day, Hamilton
Gregory and Grace Noir were in the library, with nothing to indicate
the approach of the great moment in their lives. It was Grace's
impatience to drive Fran away even before Robert Clinton should bring
the secret from Springfield, that precipitated matters.
Grace might have been prompted in part by personal antipathy, but
she believed herself acting from a pure sense of duty. Those who
absented themselves from the house of worship were goats; those who
came were sheep. In vain might you delude yourself that you were a
camel, horse, or bird of plumage; to Grace's thinking, there were no
such animals in the religious world—her clear eye made nothing of
hump, flowing mane, or gaudy feathers; that eye looked dispassionately
for the wool upon your back—or the beard under your chin.
“May I speak to you, Mr. Gregory?” She rose from the typewriter,
slightly pale from sudden resolution. He noted the pallor, and it
seemed to him that in that spiritual face his faith became visible.
One hand rested upon the keys of the typewriter as if to show how
little she needed substantial support.
Gregory never missed a movement of his secretary, but now he lifted
his head ostensibly, to make his observation official.
“It's about Mr. Clinton,” said Grace in a low voice, feeling her
way to “that Fran”.
He laid down his pen with a frown. Suddenly his missions in New
York and Chicago became dead weights. Why Grace's “Mr. Clinton”
instead of her customary “Brother Clinton”? It seemed to equip the
school- director with formidable powers. Gregory hastened to put him
where he belonged.
“Oh! Something about Bob?” he asked casually.
Her look was steady, her voice humble: “Yes.”
Her humility touched him profoundly. Knowing how unshakable were
her resolutions, he made a desperate attempt to divert her mind: “That
is settled, Miss Grace, and it's too late now to alter the decision,
for the school-board has already voted us a new superintendent—he has
been sent his notification. Abbott Ashton is out of it, and it's all
his fault Bob was the only one to stand up for him, but he wasn't
strong enough to hold his friend above the wave of popular opinion.
Don't ask me to interview Bob for Abbott Ashton.”
Grace calmly waited for this futility to pass; then with an air
suggesting, “Now, shall we talk sensibly?” she resumed: “I approve the
action of the school-board. It did well in dismissing Professor
Ashton. May I speak about Mr. Clinton? He urges me to marry him at
“Nonsense!” he exclaimed.
“It is not nonsense,” Grace calmly responded. “He thinks I could
make him a better man. We would work among the very poor in the
Chicago settlements; maybe in one of your own missions, I often wonder
if I couldn't do more good by personal contact with evil, than I can
here, with a person like Fran always clogging my efforts.”
He started up. “Grace! You go away?—And—and leave me and
“Let Fran fill my position. You think she's the daughter of your
boyhood friend—it would give her position and independence.”
“No one can ever fill your place,” Gregory exclaimed, with
violence. His cheeks burned, lambent flames gleamed in his brown eyes.
The effect was startlingly beautiful. At such exalted moments,
thinking no evil because ceasing to think, grown all feeling, and it
but an infinite longing, the glow of passion refined his face, always
delicately sensitive. The vision of Grace, in giving herself to
another, like a devouring fire consumed those temporary supports that
held him above the shifting sands of his inner nature.
“Grace! But Grace! You wouldn't marry him!”
Because she found his beauty appealing to her as never before, her
voice was the colder: “Any one's place can be filled.”
“You don't care!” he cried out desperately.
“For Mr. Clinton? Yes, I admire his persistence in seeking God, and
his wish to work for mankind. God comes easier to some than to others,
and I believe I could help—”
Gregory, aghast at her measured tone, interrupted: “But I mean that
you don't care—don't care for me.”
“For—” she began abruptly, then added in an odd whisper, “for
“Yes, for me...don't care how much I suffer, or whether I suffer at
all—I mean my work, if it suffers. If I lose you, Grace—”
“Oh, you will always have Fran.”
“Fran!” he ejaculated. “So you don't care, Grace...It seems
incredible because I care so much. Grace!” His accent was that of
utter despair. “How can I lose you since you are everything? What
would be left to live for? Nobody else sympathizes with my aims. Who
but you understands? Oh, nobody will ever sympathize—ever care—”
“But, Mr. Gregory!” she began, confused. Her face had grown white.
“Grace!” he caught her hand, expecting it to be snatched away—the
hand he had hourly admired at its work; he could feel its warmth,
caress its shapeliness—and it did not resist. It trembled. He was
afraid to press it at first, lest it be wrenched free; and then, the
next moment, he was clasping it convulsively. For the first time in
her life, Grace did not meet his eyes.
“Grace!” he panted, not knowing what he was saying, “you care, I
see you care for me—don't you?”
“No,” she whispered. Her lips were dry, her eyes wide, her bosom
heaving. Boundaries hitherto unchangeable, were suddenly submerged.
Desperately, as if for her life, she sought to cling to such floating
landmarks as Duty, Conscience, Virtue—but they were drifting madly
“But you can't love him, can you?” Gregory asked brokenly.
Grace, with closed eyes, shook her head—what harm could there be
in that confession? After his voice ceased, she still heard the
roaring as of a shell, as if she might be half-drowned in mere sound.
“You won't go away, will you, Grace?” he pleaded, drawing her
She shook her head, lips still parted, eyes still closed.
“Speak to me, Grace. Tell me you will never leave me.”
Her lips trembled, then he heard a faint “Never!” Instantly neck
and brow were crimsoned; her face, always superb, became enchanting.
The dignity of the queen was lost in the woman's greater charm.
“Because you love me!” cried Gregory wildly. “I know you do, now, I
know you do!” His arm was about her. “You will never leave me because
you love me. Look at me, Grace!”
It seemed that her eyelids were held down by tyrannous thumbs. She
tried to lift them, and tried again. Her face was irradiated by the
sunrise glow of a master passion. Swiftly he kissed her lips, and as
she remained motionless, he kissed her again and again.
Suddenly she exclaimed blindly, “Oh, my God!” Then she threw her
arms about him, as he drew her to his bosom.
It was at that moment, as if Fate herself had timed the
interruption, that Fran entered.
There was a violent movement of mutual repulsion on the part of
Hamilton Gregory and his secretary. Fran stood very still, the
sharpness of her profile defined, with the keenness of eyes and a
slight grayness about the lips that made her look oddly small and old.
Fran was a dash of water upon raging fire. The effect was not
extinguishment, but choking vapors. Bewildered, lost to old self-
consciousness, it was necessary for Grace to readjust herself not only
to these two, but to herself as well.
Fran turned upon her father, and pointed toward his desk. “Stand
there!” she said, scarcely above a whisper.
Gregory burst forth in blind wrath: “How dare you enter the room in
this manner? You shall leave this house at once, and for ever....I
should have driven you out long ago. Do you hear me? Go!”
Fran's arm was still extended. “Stand there!” she repeated.
Quivering in helpless fury, he stumbled to his desk, and leaned
upon it. His face burned; that of Grace Noir was ghastly white.
“Now, you” said Fran, her voice vibrating as she faced the
secretary, “go to your typewriter!”
Grace did not move.
Fran's eyes resembled cold stones with jagged points as her steady
arm pointed: “Go! Stand where I tell you to stand. Oh, I have tamed
lions before to-day. You needn't look at me so—I'm not afraid of your
Grace's fear was not inspired by dread of exposure, but by the
realization that she had done what she could not have forgiven in
another. But for the supreme moment she might never have realized the
real nature of her feeling for her employer. She stood appalled and
humiliated, yet her spirit rose in hot revolt because it was Fran who
had found her in Gregory's arms. She glared at her defiantly. “Yes,”
said Fran somberly, “that's my profession, lion-taming. I'm the
'World-Famous Fran Nonpareil'. Go to your typewriter, Grace Noir, I
Grace could not speak without filling every word with concentrated
hate: “You wicked little spy, your evil nature won't let you see
anything but evil in the fruits of your eavesdropping. You misjudge
simply because it would be impossible for you to understand.”
“I see by your face that you understand—pity you hadn't
waked up long ago.” Fran looked from one to the other with a dark
face. Whether justly or not, they reminded her of two lions in a cage;
she stood between, to keep them apart, lest, combining their forces,
they spring upon her.
“I understand nothing of what you imagine you know,” Grace said
stammeringly. “I haven't committed a crime. Stop looking at me as if I
had—do you hear?” Her tone was passionate: “I am what I have always
been-” Did she say that to reassure herself? “What do you mean, Fran?
I command you to put your suspicions in words.”
“I have had them roar at me before to-day,” cried Fran. “What I
mean is that you're to leave the house this day.”
“I shall not leave this house, unless Mr. Gregory orders it. It
would be admitting that I've done wrong, and I am what I have always
been. What you saw...I will say this much, that it shall never happen
again. But nothing has happened that you think, little impostor, with
your evil mind...I am what I have always been. And I'm going to prove
that you are an impostor in a very short time.”
Fran turned to Hamilton Gregory. “Tell her to go,” she said
threateningly. “Tell her she must. Order it. You know what I mean when
I say she must go, and she needn't show her claws at me. I don't go
into the cage without my whip. Tell her to go.”
He turned upon Fran, pushed to utter desperation. “No—you
shall go!” he said between clenched teeth.
“Yes!” exclaimed Grace. It was a hiss of triumphant hate.
Fran lost control over herself. “Do you think, knowing what I know,
that I'll stand quietly by and see you disgrace your wife as you
disgraced...Do you think I'll let you have this Grace Noir for
your...to be the third—Do you think I've come out of your past life
to fold my hands? I tell you plainly that I'll ruin you with that
secret before I'll let you have this woman.”
Gregory beheld the awful secret quivering upon her lips. The danger
drove him mad. “You devil!” he shouted, rushing upon her.
Fran stood immovable, her eyes fastened on his. “Don't strike me,”
she said tensely, “don't strike me, I warn you, unless you kill at the
[Illustration: “Don't strike me; I warn you.”]
He staggered back as if her words possessed physical impact. He
shrunk in a heap in the library chair and dropped his head upon his
arms. To prevent Grace from learning the truth, he could have done
almost anything in that first moment of insane terror; but he could
not strike Fran.
In the meantime, Mrs. Gregory had been ascending the stairs. They
could hear her now, as she softly moved along the hall. No one in the
library wished, at that moment, to confront the wife, and absolute
silence reigned in the apartment. They heard her pause, when opposite
the door, doubtless to assure herself that the typewriter was at work.
If she did not hear the clicking of the keys, she might conclude that
Grace was absent, and enter.
Gregory raised his haggard head with an air suggesting meditated
flight. Even Grace cowered back instinctively. Swift as a shadow, Fran
darted on tiptoe to the typewriter, and began pounding upon it
Mrs. Gregory passed on her way, and when she reached the farther
end of the hall, an old hymn which she had been humming, broke into
audible words. Fran snatched the sheet from the typewriter, and bent
her head to listen. The words were soft, full of a thrilling faith, a
“Still all my song shall be
Nearer my God to Thee,
A door closed. She was gone. Gregory dropped his head with a groan.
It seemed to Fran that the voice of this wife who was not a wife,
lingered in the room. The hymn, no longer audible, had left behind it
a fragrance, as sometimes lingers the sweet savor of a prayer, after
its “amen” has, as it were, dropped back into the heart whence it
issued. Fran instinctively held out both arms toward the direction of
the door just closed, as if she could see Mrs. Gregory kneeling behind
“Almost,” she said, in a solemn undertone, “thou persuadest me to
be a Christian.”
Had any one but Mrs. Gregory been singing that hymn, had any one
but Fran been the one to intrude upon the library scene, Grace must
have been overwhelmed. As it was, she stood quite untouched, resolving
to stay in order to prove herself, and to show Gregory that they must
sacrifice their love for conscience' sake.
Gregory, however, was deeply touched by Fran's yearning arms. He
rose and stood before her.
“Fran, child, we promise that what you saw shall never happen
again. But you mustn't tell about it. I know you won't tell. I can't
send Grace away, because I need her. She will not go because she knows
herself to be strong. We are going to hide our souls. And you can't
tell what you've seen, on account of her—” He pointed in the
direction of his wife.
Fran knew very well what he meant. If she told the secret, it would
disgrace Mrs. Gregory. The revelation might drive Grace away, though
Fran did not think so, but certainly whether Grace went, or stayed, it
would break the heart of the one she loved best in that home. Gregory
was right; Fran could never betray him.
She turned blindly upon Grace: “Then have you no conscience?—you
are always talking about one. Does no sense of danger warn you away?
Can't you feel any shame?”
Grace did not smile contemptuously. She weighed these words at
their real value, and soberly interrogated herself. “No,” she declared
with deliberation, “I feel no sense of danger because I mean to guard
myself after this. And my conscience bids me stay, to show that I have
not really done anything—” But she could not deny the feeling of
shame, for the burning of her cheeks proved the recollection of hot
“But suppose I tell what I have seen.”
“Well,” said Grace, flashing out defiantly, “and suppose you do!”
Gregory muttered, “Who would believe you?”
Fran looked at him. “Then” she said, “the coward spoke.” She
added, “I guess the only way is for you to make her leave. There's
nothing in her for me to appeal to.”
“I will never tell her to go,” he assured her defiantly.
“While, on the contrary,” said Grace, “I fancy you will be put to
flight in three or four days.”
Fran threw back her head and laughed silently while they stared at
her in blank perplexity.
Fran regained composure to say coolly, “I was just laughing.” Then
she stepped to her father's chair and handed him the sheet she had
drawn from the typewriter. The upper part was an unfinished letter to
the Chicago mission, just as Grace had left it in her haste to get rid
of Fran. At odd variance with its philanthropic message were the words
Fran had pounded out for the deception of Mrs. Gregory.
Hamilton Gregory glared at them at first uncomprehendingly, then in
growing amazement. They read—
“Ask her why she sent Bob Clinton to Springfield.”
He started up. “What is this?” he exclaimed wildly, extending the
paper toward Grace.
She read it, and smiled coldly. “Yes,” she said, “the little spy
has even ferreted that out, has she! Very well, she won't be so cool
when Mr. Clinton returns from Springfield.”
“From Springfield!” echoed Gregory, aghast. “From Springfield. Mr.
Gregory, I have made the discovery that this Fran, whom you imagine
only about sixteen years old, and the daughter of an old friend, is
really of age. She's nothing but a circus-girl. You thought her joking
when she called herself a lion-tamer; that's the way she meant for us
to take it—but she can't deceive me. She's nothing but a show-girl
pretending to come from Springfield. But I know better. So I've sent
Mr. Clinton there to find out all about the family of your friend, and
in particular about the girl that this Fran is impersonating.”
“You sent Bob Clinton to Springfield!” gasped Gregory, as if his
mind could get no further than that. Then he turned savagely upon
Fran— “And did you tell her about Springfield?”
Fran smiled her crooked smile.
Grace interposed: “You may be sure she didn't! Do you think she
wanted her history cleared up? Mr. Gregory, you have been blind all
the time; this girl never saw Springfield. She's a complete fraud.
Since you are so blinded by what she says that you won't investigate
her claims, I decided to do this for your sake. When Mr. Clinton comes
back, it's good-by to this circus-girl!”
Fran looked at her father inscrutably. “I believe, after this,” she
said, “it will be safe to leave you two together.”
CHAPTER XVII. SHALL THE SECRET BE
Fran had expected Robert Clinton's return in four or five days, as
had Grace Noir, but secrets that have been buried for many years are
not picked up in a day. However, had the chairman of the school-board
returned the day after his departure, Abbott Ashton would have met him
at the station. Twice, in the opinion of Fran, the young man had
failed her by allowing Grace's mind to flash to important discoveries
along the path of his insulated remarks about the weather. This third
test was more equal, since he was to deal with no Grace Noir—merely
with a man.
As Littleburg had only one railroad, and it a “branch", it was not
difficult to meet every train; moreover, Miss Sapphira's hasty notes
from her brother kept Abbott advised. At first, Miss Sapphira said,
“It will be a week;” later—“Ten days more—and the business left like
this!” Then came the final bulletin: “I may come to-morrow. Look for
me when you see me.”
What the secret was that Abbott must prevent Clinton from
divulging, he did not care to guess; doubtless the picture of
Gregory's past, with its face to the wall, might be inscribed, “Some
other woman.” For surely Grace Noir was some other woman. Having
admitted the truth to himself, he wondered that all the world did not
see—or was it that all the world needed a Fran to open eyes willfully
With these thoughts, Abbott met the evening train, to see Robert
Clinton hastily emerge from the solitude he had endured in the midst
Robert was in no pacific mood, and when he found himself almost in
the arms of Abbott, his greeting was boisterous because impatient at
being stopped. Abbott, knowing that Robert was not ordinarily
effusive, thought, “He has the secret!”
Robert shook hands without delaying progress toward the waiting
hack, bearing Abbott along on waves of greeting.
“But surely you are not going to ride!” Abbott expostulated.
“Business—very pressing—see you later.”
“But I have business with you, Mr. Clinton, that can't wait. Come,
walk with me to town and I'll explain; it'll delay you only a few
Like a restive horse on finding himself restrained, Robert Clinton
lifted a leg without advancing. “Oh, very well,” he agreed. “In fact,
I've something important for you, old fellow, and I'll explain
before I—before the—yes, before,” he ended, turning his back
upon the hack with a smothered growl.
They penetrated the silent by-streets of the outskirts of
Littleburg, Robert going as fast as he could drag his companion, and
Abbott walking as slowly as he could hold back the other.
“Lucky I was at the station,” Abbott exclaimed, “since you've
something to tell me, Bob. What is it?” In thus addressing his old
friend as “Bob” the young man was officially declaring that their
relationship as teacher and school-director was for ever at an end,
and they stood as man to man.
Clinton spoke rapidly, with his wonted bruskness: “Guess you know
I've been knocking about the country for the last three or four
weeks—saw a good many old friends—a fellow can't go anywhere without
meeting somebody he knows—curious, isn't it? Well, I've got an
opening for you. You know how sorry I am because we had to plump
another teacher on to your job, but don't you worry if Fran did
hold your hand—just you keep your hands in your pockets after this,
when there's danger— Say! I've got something lots better for you than
Littleburg. School out in Oklahoma—rich—private man behind it—he
owns the whole plant, and he's determined to run it to suit the new
ideas. This rich man— chum of mine—went West, bought land, sat on
it, got up with his jeans full of money. Wants you to come at
Abbott was elated. “What kind of new ideas, Bob?” he asked
“Oh, that impractical nonsense of teaching life instead of books—I
guess it's as much an advance over the common thing, as teaching words
instead of a, b, c's. You know what I mean, but I don't think I
do. Don't worry about it now—something terrible's on my mind—just
awful! I can't think of anything else. What you want to do is to scoot
out to Tahlelah, Oklahoma, to this address—here's his card—tell 'em
Bob sent you—” He looked at Abbott feverishly, as if almost hoping
Abbott would bolt for Tahlelah then and there. His broad red face was
“This news is splendid!” Abbott declared enthusiastically. “I had
already applied for a country school; I was afraid I had lost out a
whole year, on account of—everything. I must thank—”
“Abbott, I don't want to be thanked, I haven't got time to be
thanked. Yonder's Hamilton Gregory's house and that's where I'm
“But, Bob, I haven't told you my business—”
“I'll hear it later, old fellow—dear old fellow—I think a heap of
you, old Abb. But I must go now—”
“No, you mustn't. Before you go into that house, we must have a
little talk. We can't talk here—people are coming and going—”
“I don't want to talk here, bless you! I want to go in that
house. My business is private and pressing.” The gate was but a few
yards away; he looked at it fixedly, but Abbott held his hand upon the
“Bob, what I have to tell you can't wait, and that's all about it.
I won't keep you long, just turn down this alley with me, for it's a
matter of life and death.”
“Confound your life and death! My business is life and
At that moment, a light was turned on in Gregory's library, and
Grace Noir was seen to pass the window.
Abbott's hand tightened on the other's arm, as he urged, “Down that
alley, a nice dark place for talking—”
“'Nice dark', be hanged!” growled Robert. “What business can you
have with me that wouldn't wait till morning? Look here, I'm
“So am I,” retorted Abbott. “Bob, you've been to Springfield.”
Robert Clinton snatched open the yard-gate, muttering, “That's my
“Miss Noir sent you to unearth a secret.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Robert, in an altered tone, stopping in the
gateway, “did she tell you about it?”
“No—but you've brought back that secret, and you must not tell it
to Miss Noir.”
“Not tell her? That's funny!” Robert produced a sound which he
expected to pass as laughter. “So that's what you wanted to tell me,
is it? Do you know what the secret is?”
“I do not. But you mustn't tell it.”
“However, that's what I'm going to do, as soon as I reach that
door— take your hand off, man, my blood's up, by George! Can't you
see my blood's up? It's a-boiling, that's what it's doing! So all you
want is to ask me not to tell that secret?”
“Not exactly all.”
“Well, well—quick! What else?”
“To see that you don't tell it.”
“How do you mean to 'see' that I don't tell it?”
“You will listen to reason, Bob,” said Abbott persuasively.
“No, I won't!” cried Robert. “Not me! No, sir! I'm going to
tell this minute.”
“You shall not!” said Abbott, in a lower and more compelling tone.
His manner was so absolute, that Robert Clinton, who had forced his
way almost to the porch-steps, was slightly moved.
“See here, Abbott—say! Fran knows all about it, and you pretend to
think a good deal of her. Well, it's to her interests for the whole
affair to be laid open to the world.”
“I think so much of Fran,” was the low and earnest rejoinder, “that
if I were better fixed, I'd ask her to marry me without a moment's
delay. And I think enough of her, not to ask her to marry me, until I
have a good position. Now it was Fran who asked me to see that you
didn't betray the secret. And I think so much of her, that I'm going
to see that you don't!”
For a moment Clinton was silent; then he said in desperation:
“Where is your nice dark alley? Come on, then, let's get in it!”
When they were safe from interruption, Clinton resumed: “You tell
me that Fran wants that secret kept? I'd think she'd want it told
everywhere. This secret is nothing at all but the wrong that was done
Fran and her mother. And since you are so frank about how you like
Fran, I'll follow suit and say that I have asked Grace Noir to marry
me, and I know I'll stand a better show by getting her out of the
hypnotic spell of that miserable scoundrel who poses as a bleating
Abbott interrupted: “The wrong done Fran? How do you mean?”
“Why, man, that—that hypocrite in wool, that weed that infests the
“In short, Mr. Gregory? But what about the wrong done Fran?”
“Ain't I telling you? That worm-eaten pillar of the church that's
made me lose so much faith in religion that I ain't got enough left
worth the postage stamp to mail it back to the revival meeting where
it come from—”
“For heaven's sake, Bob, tell me what wrong Mr. Gregory did Fran!”
“Didn't he marry Fran's mother when he was a college chap in
Springfield, and then desert her? Didn't he marry again, although his
first wife—Fran's mother—was living, and hadn't been divorced? Don't
he refuse to acknowledge Fran as his daughter, making her pass herself
off as the daughter of some old college chum? That's what he did, your
choir-leader! I'd like to see that baton of his laid over his back;
I'd like to lay it, myself.”
It was impossible for Abbott to receive all this as a whole; he
took up the revelations one at a time. “Is it possible that Fran is
Mr. Gregory's daughter?”
“Oh, she's his, all right, only child of his only legal
wife—that's why she came, thinking her father would do the right
thing, him that's always praying to be guided aright, and balking
whenever the halter's pulled straight.”
“Then,” Abbott stammered, “Mrs. Gregory is...”
“Yap; is with a question mark. But there's one thing she
isn't; she isn't the legal wife of this pirate what's always a-preying
upon the consciences of folks that thinks they're worse than him.”
“As for Mr. Gregory,” Abbott began sternly—
Robert pursued the name with a vigorous expletive, and growled,
“One thing Mr. Gregory has done for me, he's opened the
flood-gates that have been so long dammed—yes, I say dammed—I say—”
“Bob,” Abbott exclaimed, “don't you understand Fran's object in
keeping the secret? It's on account of Mrs. Gregory. If she
finds it out—that she's not legally married—don't you see? Of
course it would be to Fran's interests—bless her heart! What a—what
“'Tain't natural,” returned Clinton, “for any girl to consult the
interests of the woman that's supplanted her mother. No, Fran's afraid
to have it told for fear she'd be injured by your cut-glass paragon,
your religion-stuffed pillow that calls itself a man.”
“Fran afraid? That's a joke! I tell you, she's thinking only of
“I'm sorry for Mrs. Gregory,” Robert allowed, “but Grace Noir is
more to me than any other woman on earth. You don't see the point.
When I think of a girl like Grace Noir living under the same roof with
“Mr. Gregory,” Abbott supplied.
“—And she so pure, so high, so much above us....It makes me crazy.
And all the time she's been breathing the same air, she's thought him
a Moses in the Wilderness, and us nothing but the sticks. Think of her
believing in that jelly pulp, that steel engraving in a Family Bible!
No, I mean to open her eyes, and get her out of his spider's web.”
“I see your point of view.”
“You do if you have eyes. Think of that perfect angel—but just say
Grace Noir and you've called all the virtues. And her in his
“You still believe in angels?” inquired Abbott gravely.
“Yap; and devils with long sort-of-curly hair, and pretty womanish
faces, and voices like molasses.”
“But Fran wants Mrs. Gregory spared—”
“Abbott, when I think of Grace Noir spending one more night under
the roof of that burrowing mole, that crocodile with tears in his eyes
and the rest of him nothing but bone and gristle—”
“Bob, if I assure you that Miss Noir will never spend another day
under his roof, will you agree to keep this discovery to yourself?”
“You can't make no such assurance. If she ain't put wise to what
branch of the animal kingdom he twigs to, she'll not leave his roof.”
“Bob, if she leaves that house in the morning, for ever, won't you
agree to silence, for Mrs. Gregory's sake—and because Fran asks it?”
“Fran's another angel, bless her heart! But you can't work it.”
“Leave it to me, Bob. I'll be guided by the spur of the moment.”
“I need a bookkeeper at my store,” Robert said, ruminating.
“I promise you that Miss Noir will soon be open to offers.”
“See here, Abbott, I can't afford to lose any chances on this
thing. I'm going into that house before this night passes, and I'm
going to see the feathers fly. No—I don't want Mrs. Gregory to learn
about it, any more than you or Fran; but I'll limit the thing to
“She'd tell Mrs. Gregory.”
“Don't you say anything against Grace Noir, Abbott, for though you
are my friend—”
“I say nothing against her; I say only that she's a woman.”
“Well,” Clinton reluctantly agreed, “I reckon she is. I'll tell you
what I'll do. I'll go with you into that wolf's den, and I'll let you
do all the talking; and if you can manage things in half an hour—just
thirty minutes by my watch—so that Grace leaves there to-morrow, I'll
leave you to steer things, and it's mum for keeps. But I'm going to be
present, though I don't want to say one word to that—that—But if he
don't crawl out of his wool far enough to suit the purpose, in short,
if he don't cave, and in half an hour—”
“Half an hour will do the business,” said Abbott stoutly. “Come!”
“Be sure to call for Mr. Gregory by himself,” said Robert, as they
walked swiftly back to the Gregory residence. “If Grace comes into the
room while we're talking, or Mrs. Gregory—”
“If they do,” Abbott said quickly, “you are not to utter one word,
not one, about Springfield—you understand? It's the bargain, and
I shall hold you to your word of honor.”
“For half an hour I won't say a word,” Clinton declared, “unless
it's some word just drawn out of my bosom by the sight of that
CHAPTER XVIII. JUST THIRTY MINUTES
During the weeks spent by Robert Clinton in search of Fran's life-
secret, a consciousness of absence and its cause was like a hot iron
branding Gregory's brain. What a mocking fatality, that it should have
been Grace to send Robert on his terrible errand,—an errand which
must result in ruin! Whenever Gregory tried to anticipate results, he
stood appalled; hour by hour his mind was ever darting forward into
the future, trying to build it of related parts of probabilities.
Mrs. Gregory would be pitied when it became known how she had been
deceived; Fran would be pitied because she was a disowned daughter;
Grace would be pitied for trusting in the integrity of her employer,—
but Gregory, who of all men needed pity most, would be utterly
despised. He did not think of himself alone, but of his works of
charity—they, too, would fall, in his disgrace, and Walnut Street
church—even religion itself—would be discredited because of an
exposure that could avail nothing.
Gregory had been too long proclaiming the living God not to feel
Him as a Presence, and in this Presence he felt a shuddering fear that
could suggest no relief but propitiation. He as well as Abbott Ashton
had kept himself informed of Robert's movements as far as they were
known to Miss Sapphira, hence the day of Robert's return found his
thought of atonement at its most frenzied stage.
As evening wore on, he made up his mind to the fatal step.
Before Robert could expose him, Gregory would confess. It had
seemed inevitable since learning of the school-director's mission; but
he could not shorten, by one hour, the sweet comradeship in the
library. Now that the last hour had come, he sought his wife, reeling
like a sick man as he descended the hall stairs.
Mrs. Gregory was softly playing an old hymn, when he discovered her
presence in the brilliantly lighted parlor. Grace was expecting a
visit from Clinton and had made the room cheerful for his coming, and
Mrs. Gregory, looking in and finding no one present, had sunk upon the
stool before the piano. She did not see her husband, for her face was
bent low as she feelingly played, I Need Thee Every Hour.
Gregory, well-nigh overwhelmed with the realization of what he
meant to do, grasped the door for support. Presently he spoke,
brokenly, “Lucy, how true that is—we do, indeed, need Him every
She did not start at his voice, though his presence had been
unsuspected. She raised her serious eyes, and observed his haggard
face. “Mr. Gregory, you are ill.”
“No—the light hurts my eyes.” He turned off the lights and drew a
chair near her. The room was partly revealed by an electric arc that
swung at the street corner—its mellowed beams entered the open
window. “Lucy, I have something very important to say to you.”
Her fingers continued to wander among the keys, making the hymn
barely audible, then letting it die away, only to be revived. She
supposed it was the old matter of her going to church—but since her
name had been taken “off the book", what was left to be said?
“Lucy, I have never spoken of this before, but it has seemed to me
for a long time that we have wandered rather far apart—yes, very far
apart. We sit close together, alone, our hands could touch, but our
souls live in different worlds. Do you ever feel that way?”
She ceased playing abruptly, and answered almost in a whisper,
“Perhaps it is my fault,” said Gregory, “although I know that if
you had taken more interest in what interests me, if you had been true
to the Faith as I have tried to be—”
“I have been true to you,” said Mrs. Gregory.
“Of course—of course—there is no question of our being true to
each other. But it's because you have alienated yourself from what I
look upon as the only duty in life, that we have drifted—and you
could have prevented that. I feel that I am not wholly to blame, Lucy,
it has been my fault and it has been your fault—that is how I look at
There was silence, then she said, “There seems nothing to be done.”
“How do you mean? You speak as if our love were dead and buried—”
She rose abruptly, saying, “And its grave unmarked.”
“Sit down, Lucy—I haven't told you what I came to tell—you must
listen and try to see it as I see it. Let us be reasonable and discuss
the future in a—in a sensible and matter-of-fact way. If you will
“I will not agree to it,” she answered firmly. “Let me go, Mr.
Gregory, there is no need ever to bring up that subject.”
He had risen, and now in blank amazement, he stared at her,
repeating, “You will not agree to it? To what? You are unreasonable.
What subject have I brought up?”
“It is very true that we have drifted too far apart to be as we
were in the beginning. But there is still something left to me, and
this something I shall cling to as long as I can. I mean to avoid the
publicity, the open exposure, the shame of—of—a neglected wife.”
“My God!” whispered Gregory, falling back, “then somebody has told
you about Springfield—it was Fran!”
“I don't know what you mean,” she returned, apparently without
emotion. “What I mean is, that I shall never consent to a
“A divorce? Good heavens, Lucy, are you mad? Do you think I want a
separation because you disown the church? What have I ever done to
make you imagine such an absurdity?”
She answered gently, “Yes, it seems I misunderstood. But you said
you wanted me to discuss the future in a matter-of-fact way, and I
couldn't think of the future as having any other matter-of-fact
Gregory was hotly indignant. “Lucy, if that is meant as an
Mrs. Gregory raised her hand compellingly. “Do not speak any name,”
she said, looking at him steadily. “I can endure much,” she went on,
in a milder tone, finding him silent; “I often wonder if many women
could endure as silently—but there must never be a name mentioned
Her manner was so unwontedly final, that he stood looking at her,
not knowing how to resume the pressing subject of his past. They were
in that same silent attitude when Grace Noir came in from the hall.
Grace turned up the lights, and then—“Oh!” It was impossible to
prevent an unpleasant compression of the mouth at discovering Gregory
so near his wife. “Am I in the way? I am looking for company, and I
heard the door-bell—please excuse me!” she added, biting off the
“Of course you are not in the way,” Gregory returned desperately.
“Company, you say? And you heard the door-bell—is Bob Clinton—” He
grew white. “My eyes are bad, for some reason,” he muttered, and
switched off the lights again.
“How very dark you have it in here!” said Grace reprovingly. “Of
course Mr. Clinton has been shown in the back-parlor, where it is
light. I will go to him there, and leave you two—” she paused
irresolutely, but neither spoke.
Grace had no sooner gone than Gregory with an effort found his
voice. “Lucy, my conscience has tormented me until it will not let me
rest— about you. It's your right to know something more about my life
than I have ever told—”
“Right in there,” said the maid's voice, from the hall, and Abbott
Ashton and Robert Clinton entered the half-light.
While Robert was greeting Mrs. Gregory with exaggerated pleasure,
in order to escape facing her husband, Abbott spoke to the other with
an odd sense of meanness, as if he partook, by mere nearness, of the
other's cowardice. “I wish to speak to you for a few minutes, Mr.
Gregory, like an animal brought to bay, said, “I suppose you've
some excuse about playing cards with Fran.”
“More important than playing cards,” Abbott returned. He could not
meet the eyes of this man he had once highly venerated—it was like
beholding an ideal divested of imagined beauty, shivering in the shame
of its nakedness.
Gregory fought off the inevitable: “If you refer to losing your
position at the public school—”
“No. Clinton has come home from Springfield, and we have a
“It's pressing business,” spoke up Robert, who all this time had
been asking Mrs. Gregory if her mother was well, if Simon Jefferson
was no worse, if Fran was hearty, if Grace Noir was at home—“and
Abbott looked warningly at his friend to remind him of his promise
not to utter a word. Robert, remembering, tightly compressed his lips,
and marched over to the piano. He leaned upon it heavily.
“I have no business,” Mr. Gregory exclaimed, in fear, “that my wife
need not know.”
“This is—” cried Robert. Then remembering, he struck the keys a
Mrs. Gregory was about to leave the room.
“No, no!” exclaimed Mr. Gregory, starting to the door to intercept
her, “I want you to stay. I'll have no secrets from you, Lucy. I want
you to hear what these gentlemen have to say.” He glared at Abbott as
if daring him to speak the words that must destroy his wife's last
feeble hold on her position.
“I hope Mrs. Gregory will excuse us,” said Abbott, smiling at her
as cheerfully as he could, “but she knows that there are matters of
business that women don't understand, or care to learn. This is
something that relates merely to you, Mr. Gregory, and ourselves.”
“Of course I understand you, Abbott,” said Mrs. Gregory gently,
“and Mr. Gregory is wrong to insist on my interrupting—women are
always in the way—” She smiled, and, slipping around Gregory, had
reached the door, when she came face to face with Grace Noir,
entering. At sight of her—for Grace did not pause, but went over to
the piano—Mrs. Gregory apparently reconsidered, and stepped to her
“So you did come,” Grace said, smiling at Robert. “Shall we go into
the other room?”
Robert reveled in her beauty, and to that extent his anger against
Gregory flamed higher. “Pretty soon,” he said, “pretty soon, Miss
Grace—in just twenty minutes—” he looked at his watch, then at
“I must tell you, Mr. Gregory,” Abbott began rapidly, “that I had
just thirty minutes to consummate the matter with you,—just half an
hour, when we came here, and ten minutes are already gone. Only twenty
minutes are left.”
“What do you mean by your twenty minutes being left?” Gregory
Abbott spoke carefully, at the same time drawing a little farther
away from the man he despised: “Bob has been to Springfield about that
matter, you understand.”
“No, I don't,” cried Gregory. “Or if I do—tell it out—all of it.”
“He has been to Springfield,” Abbott went on, “and he got on the
inside of the business, and the interests are determined that—that
they will retaliate on you for your successes in the past, and at the
same time be a help to Bob.”
“I don't understand,” Gregory gasped blankly.
“Me neither,” muttered Robert.
“It's very simple,” Abbott maintained. “The Springfield interests
want to give you a blow, and give Bob a helping hand. Therefore, you
are to transfer your secretary to his store, where a bookkeeper is
“Oh, indeed,” interposed Grace Noir icily. “I am a mere pawn, I
presume, to be sent where I am wanted. But I would like to ask Mr.
Clinton if he found out anything about Fran, while he was in
“Fran is all she claims to be,” Robert declared bluntly.
“All? You can prove she's no fraud?”
“My pockets are full of proofs,” Robert exclaimed, looking
significantly at Gregory.
“Dear Fran!” murmured Mrs. Gregory with a sweet smile of
“Abbott,” Mr. Gregory gasped, as he began to realize the compromise
that was offered, “you have always been my friend—and you have been
interested in my charities—you know how important my secretary is to
my work. It is true that I did wrong, years ago—very wrong—it is
true that I bitterly—what shall I say?—antagonized the interests at
Springfield. But that was so long ago. Am I to be punished now—”
“Mr. Gregory,” said Abbott, clearly and forcibly, “I have nothing
to do with any punishment, I have nothing to do with demanding the
release of your secretary. I am a mere agent of the interests, sent to
you to demand that your secretary be dismissed in the morning; and if
you can not see your way to promise me now that you will dismiss her,
my office is ended. If you can promise to send her away, I give you my
word the transactions shall be for ever hushed up, so far as we are
concerned. If you can not promise, all will be revealed at once.”
“In just ten minutes,” said Robert Clinton, consulting his watch.
Grace stood looking at Gregory as if turned to stone. She had
listened intently to every word as it fell from Abbott's lips, but not
once had she turned her head to look at him.
“You are cruel,” Gregory flared out, “you are heartless. If I send
away the only one who is in perfect knowledge and sympathy with my
“Then you refuse?”
“Of course I refuse. I'll not permit the work of years to perish
because of an unreasonable and preposterous demand. You wouldn't
exchange your position here for Bob's grocery, would you, Miss Grace?”
he ended appealingly.
“Yes—if you dismiss me,” Grace answered, her eyes smoldering.
“Lucy”—Gregory was almost beside himself—“tell her she must
stay— tell these men we can not go on with our work, without her.”
Not for worlds would Mrs. Gregory have betrayed eagerness for Grace
to go, but for no consideration would she have asked her to stay. “Mr.
Gregory,” she responded, “I can not conceive of your being in the
power of business interests to such an extent as to drive you to do
anything that seems like taking your heart's blood.”
“I refuse!” cried Gregory, again. “Of course I refuse.”
“Very well,” said Abbott, turning.
“But what are you going to do?” Gregory asked shrinkingly.
“I shall go now; my endeavor to straighten out things—or rather to
keep everything peaceful and forgotten—comes to nothing, it seems.
Good evening, Mrs. Gregory.”
“But wait! Wait! Let us discuss this alone—”
“It is useless now, for the time has expired.”
“That's right,” Clinton confirmed; clicking to his watch.
“And all of it is going to be told? Everything?”
“Unless you will dismiss your secretary.”
“But you insult Miss Grace to speak in that way. Good heavens,
Abbott, what are you doing? How can you insult that—the best woman in
There was a moment's silence. Then Mrs. Gregory turned to her
husband and said quietly, “If Miss Noir is the best woman in the
world, you should be the last man in the world to say so.”
He covered his face with his hands. “Everybody has turned against
me,” he complained. “I am the most miserable man on earth because for
mere caprice, for mere spite, for no earthly good, it is the
determination of people who have lost positions and the like, to drive
Robert Clinton thumped the keys of the piano with one hand.
“Why, hello, Mr. Bob!” cried Fran, dancing into forgotten—comes to
nothing, it seems. Good evening, Mrs. Gregory.”
“But wait! Wait! Let us discuss this alone—” “It is useless now,
for the time has expired.”
“That's right,” Clinton confirmed; clicking to his watch.
“And all of it is going to be told? Everything?”
“Unless you will dismiss your secretary.”
“But you insult Miss Grace to speak in that way. Good heavens,
Abbott, what are you doing? How can you insult that—the best woman in
There was a moment's silence. Then Mrs. Gregory turned to her
husband and said quietly, “If Miss Noir is the best woman in the
world, you should be the last man in the world to say so.”
He covered his face with his hands. “Everybody has turned against
me,” he complained. “I am the most miserable man on earth because for
mere caprice, for mere spite, for no earthly good, it is the
determination of people who have lost positions and the like, to drive
Robert Clinton thumped the keys of the piano with one hand.
“Why, hello, Mr. Bob!” cried Fran, dancing into the room. “So
you're back, are you?” She shook hands breezily.
“Come back, Abbott, come back!” called Gregory, discovering that
the young man was indeed going, “You know what I must do, if
you drive me to the wall. I am obliged to do what you say. State the
condition again if you have the courage to say it aloud.”
“The past will be forgotten,” said Abbott solemnly, “if you give
your word that your secretary shall go in the morning.”
“And you'll take me in her place,” spoke up Fran decidedly.
“The time is up,” said Clinton harshly, “It's too late now, for I
“I promise, I promise!” Gregory cried out, in an agony of fear. “I
promise. Yes, I'll dismiss her. Yes, she shall go! Yes, let Fran
have the place.”
“Do I understand you to dismiss me, Mr. Gregory?” asked Grace, in a
low concentrated tone, leaning slightly forward.
Fran turned on the lights to their fullest extent, and looked about
with an elfish smile.
Hamilton Gregory was mute.
“I have your promise,” said Abbott, bowing gravely. “That is
“Yes,” groaned Gregory, “but it is infamous.”
Fran looked at Abbott inscrutably. “Third time's the charm,” she
said, in a whisper. “I'm proud of you this time, Abbott.”
Grace turned with cold dignity, and moved slowly toward the hall
Fran slipped between Clinton and the piano, and began to play
softly, carelessly with one hand, while she watched the retreating
In a very short time, Gregory found himself alone in the parlor.
Abbott and Clinton had withdrawn rather awkwardly, Mrs. Gregory had
melted away unobtrusively, and Fran, last of all, had given the piano
a final bang, and darted out of the house.
Gregory stood pale and miserable. It seemed as if all the world had
deserted him. The future without Grace would be as dreary as now
seemed his past with Fran's mother. He suffered horribly. Was
suffering all that life had left for him? Perhaps he was reaping—but
is there no end to the harvest? One sows in so brief a time; is the
A bell rang, but he was not curious. Voices sounded at the front
door, footsteps passed, then silence once more—silence and despair.
Gregory went to the open window, and leaned heavily on the sill,
taking great breaths, staring dully.
Footsteps were heard again! They were near by. They stopped at the
door—they were hers. Gregory started up with a low cry of
reanimated hope. Whatever happened—he was about to see Grace Noir
CHAPTER XIX. THE FIRST VICTORY
When Grace reentered the parlor, to find Hamilton Gregory alone,
her eyes were full of reproach without tenderness. He dropped his head
before her accusing face, but, all the same, he felt a buoyant relief
because she was there.
As she came straight toward him, an open letter in her hand, his
body grew erect, and his brown eyes, losing their glazed light, burned
from the depths.
“Read it,” Grace said, in a thin brittle voice.
In taking the letter, Gregory touched her hand. With recaptured
alertness, he held the missive to the light, and read:
“MY DEAR MISS NOIR:—
“This is to officially offer you the position of bookkeeper at
my grocery store, now that Hamilton Gregory has decided to make Fran
his secretary. Come over early in the morning and everything will be
arranged to your satisfaction.
Gregory looked up, and marked the fixedness of her gaze. It seemed
to call upon him to avenge an insult. He could only bluster, “Who
brought this thing here?” He flung the note upon the table.
“A messenger.” Grace's look did not waver.
“The impudence!” he exclaimed. “The affront!”
“However,” said Grace, “I presume it is final that I am dismissed?”
“But his unseemly haste in sending this note—it's infamous, that's
what I call it, infamous!”
“And you mean to take Fran in my place, do you not?”
“You see,” Gregory explained, “Bob Clinton came back to town this
evening from Springfield, you understand, and Abbott came with him—
er—and Mrs. Gregory was in the room so they could not speak exactly
openly, and Abbott made the condition—I can hardly explain so
delicate an affair of—of business—but you see, Bob is evidently very
much in love with you, and he has it in his power to demand—”
Grace calmly waited for the other to lapse into uncertain silence,
then said, “This note tells me definitely that I am offered another
position, but you tell me nothing. It was I who sent Mr. Clinton to
Springfield to look into the private record of that Fran.”
“You see,” Gregory explained, “he was afraid I might think it
presumptuous of him to do that, it was like doubting my word, so he
came to me—however, he is back and there is nothing to reveal,
absolutely nothing to reveal.”
“Is he sure that the girl is no impostor?”
“He knows she isn't. His pockets are full of proofs. I know you
sent Bob on my account, Grace, but alas! Fran is a reality—she can't
“It seems I can be. But of course I am nothing.”
“Grace! You are everything.”
She laughed. “Everything! At the word of an Abbott Ashton, a
disgraced school-teacher, you make me less than nothing!”
He cried out impetuously, “Shall I tell you why we must part?”
Grace returned with a somber look, “So Fran is to have my place!”
Gregory interposed passionately, “It is because I love you.”
“So Fran is to be your secretary!” she persisted.
“Grace, you have read my heart, I have read yours; we thought we
could associate in safety, after that—but I am weak. You never come
into the room that I am not thrilled with rapture. Life hasn't any
brightness for me except your presence. What can I do but protect
“Mr. Gregory, Fran hasn't any interest in your work.”
“I love you, Grace—I adore you. Beautiful darling—don't you see
you must go away because you are so inexpressibly precious to me?
That's why I mustn't have you under my roof.” He sank upon his knees
and caught her hand. “See me at your feet—should this thing be?”
Grace coldly withdrew her hand. “In spite of all you say, you have
engaged Fran in my place.”
“No one can take your place, dear.”
Grace's voice suddenly vibrated: “You tell me you love me, yet you
agree to hire that woman, in my place—the woman I hate, I tell you;
yes, the spy, the enemy of this home.”
“Yes, Grace, I do tell you that I love you—would I be kneeling
here worshiping you, otherwise? And what is more, you know that you
love me—you know it. That's why I must send you away.”
“Then send Fran away, when you send me away.”
“Oh, my God, if I could!” he exclaimed, starting up wildly. “But
you see, it's impossible. I can't do that, and I can't keep you.”
“Why is it impossible? Must you treat better the daughter of an old
college friend, than the woman you say you love? What are those
mysterious Springfield interests?”
“—And you are the woman who loves me!” Gregory interrupted
quickly. “Say it, Grace! Tell me you love me before you go away—just
those three words before I sink back into my lonely despair. We will
never be alone together in this life—tell me, then, that you love
me—let me hear those words from your beautiful lips—”
“It makes me laugh!” Grace cried out in wrath that could not be
controlled, “to hear you speak of love in one breath and of Fran in
the next. Maybe some day you'll speak both in the same breath! Yes, I
will go and you can hire your Fran.”
“But won't you tell me good-by?” he pleaded. “As soon as I have
become complete master of my love for you, Fran shall be sent
unceremoniously about her business. I fancy Abbott Ashton wants to
marry her—let him take her away. Then she will be gone. Then
my—er—duty—to friendship will be fulfilled. And if you will come
back again then, we might be happy together, after all.”
She stamped her foot violently. “This need not be, and you know it.
You speak of being master of yourself. What do you mean? I already
know you love me. What is there to hide?”
“But others would see. Others would suspect. Others would betray.
Good heavens, Grace, all my life has been made horribly miserable
because I've always had to be considering what others would think and
“Betray? What is there to betray? Nothing. You are what you have
always been, and so am I. We didn't commit a crime in speaking the
truth for once—you are sending me away for ever, and yet you try to
temporize on this eternity. Well—keep your Fran! It's fortunate for
me that I have one friend.” She snatched up the open letter,
and hurried toward the door.
“Grace!” Gregory followed her imploringly, “not Bob Clinton! Hear
me, Grace. If you ever marry that man, I shall kill myself.”
She laughed scornfully as she snatched open the door.
“Grace, I tell you that Fran—”
“Yes!” exclaimed the other, her voice trembling with concentrated
anger, “let that be the last word between us, for it is that, and that
only which separates us. Yes—that Fran!”
CHAPTER XX. THE ENEMY TRIUMPHS
Sometimes the history of any household progresses rapidly in
closely related scenes of action; but, for the most part, months pass
by during which life has apparently ceased to act. Everything that had
seemed tending toward catastrophe stopped, as it were, with the
departure of Grace Noir. Possibly the climax was still ahead; if so,
the waters were at present heaped high on this side of ultimate
disaster, and on the other side, leaving, between past and future, a
Old Mrs. Jefferson would long ago have struck a blow against Grace
Noir had she not recognized the fact that when one like Grace wears
the helmet of beauty and breastplate of youth, the darts of the very
angles of justice, who are neither beautiful nor young, are turned
aside. Helplessly Mrs. Jefferson had watched and waited and now,
behold! there was no more Dragon. Fran had said she would do it—
nothing could have exceeded the confidence of the old lady in the new
Mrs. Gregory's sense of relief was not so profound as her mother's,
because she could not think of Grace's absence except as a reprieve.
Surely she would return—but the present was to be placidly enjoyed.
To observers, Mrs. Gregory appeared ever placid, not because of
indifference, but, as it was supposed, from blindness. Under the calm
exterior of the wronged wife, there seemed no smoldering fire awaiting
a favorable wind. In truth, she was always fearing that people would
discover her husband's sentimental bearing toward his secretary—and
always hoping that if they did, they would conclude the wife
understood best and felt no alarm.
In the meantime, Grace was gone. Mrs. Gregory's smile once more
reminded Fran of the other's half-forgotten youth. When a board has
laid too long on the ground, one finds, on its removal, that the grass
is withered; all the same, the grass feels the sunshine.
Fran thanked herself that Grace was no longer silhouetted against
the horizon, and Gregory, remarking this attitude of
self-congratulation, was thrown more than ever out of sympathy with
his daughter. Fran was indefatigable in her duties as secretary, but
her father felt that it was not the same. She could turn out an
immense amount of work because she was strong and playing for high
stakes—but she did not have Grace's methodical ways—one never knew
how Fran would do anything, only that she would do it. Grace was all
method, but more than that she was, as Gregory phrased it to
himself—she was all Grace.
Gregory missed her every minute of the day, and the harder Fran
tried to fill her place, the more he resented it. He divined that Fran
hated the routine, the monotonous forms of charity, the duplicated
copies of kind acts, the rows of figures representing so many
unfortunates. Instead of acknowledging to himself that his daughter
did the work from a yearning for his love, from a resolution to save
him from the Grace-infatuation by absent treatment, he perversely
rebelled at her secretly rejoicing over a conquered foe. Fran was
separated from his sympathies by the chasm in his own soul.
The time came when Gregory felt that he must see Grace again and be
alone with her. At first, he had thought they must not meet apart from
the world; but by the end of the week, he was wondering what excuse he
could offer to induce her to meet him—not at Miss Sapphira's, where
she now boarded, not at the grocery where Bob was always hovering
about—but somewhere remote, somewhere safe, where they might talk
about—but he had no idea of the conversation that might ensue; there
was nothing definite in anything save his fixed thought of being with
her. As to any harm, there could be none. He had so long regarded
Grace as the best woman in the world, that even after the day of
kisses, his mind continued in its inertia of faith,—even the
gravitation of material facts were unable to check its sublime course.
It was at the close of a July day that Hamilton Gregory left his
house resolved, at any cost—save that of exposure—to experience once
more the only pleasure life held in reserve for him: nearness to Grace
Noir. She might be at the store, since all shops were to remain open
late, in hopes of reaping sordid advantages from the gaiety of
mankind. In a word, Littleburg was in the grip of its first street
Before going down-town, Gregory strolled casually within sight of
the Clinton boarding-house.
Only Miss Sapphira was on the green veranda. She had watched the
ceaseless streams of humanity pouring along either sidewalk, destined
for the heart of the small town,—countless hordes, reenforced from
rural districts by excursion trains. From the very ground they seemed
to spring, these autochthones of confetti and side-shows. On they
flowed, stormy with horn and whistle and hideous balloons whose horrid
pipes squealed the music of modern Pan; they overwhelmed the native
population with elusive tickler and rubber-stringed ball; here were to
be seen weary mothers reaching forth for greater weariness; joy-
scourged fathers driven to the money-changers; frenzied children at
last in Fairyland.
Miss Sapphira, recognizing Gregory, waved a solemn greeting, and he
felt reassured—for he was always afraid Robert—would “tell”. He
pushed his way nearer. Miss Sapphira sat in the huge chair not as if
unable to rise, but as a tangible rebuke to carnal amusements. She
spoke to Gregory on the subject of which she was full to the brim—
and Miss Sapphira was of generous capacity—
“No wonder so few go to church!”
“Is Miss Noir here?” Gregory asked in a strained voice; the
confusion hid the odd catch his voice had suffered in getting over the
“No. She's down-town—but not at any show, you may be sure. She's
left late at the store because—I guess you've heard Abbott Ashton has
been away a long time.”
“I have heard nothing of the young man,” Gregory replied stiffly.
“Well, he's been off two or three weeks somewhere, nobody knows
unless it's Bob, and Bob won't tell anything any more. Abbott wrote
he'd be home to-night, and Bob drove over to Simmtown to meet him in
the surrey, so Miss Grace is alone down there—” She nodded
“Alone!” he exclaimed involuntarily.
“Yes—I look for Bob and Abbott now just any minute.” She added,
eying the crowd—“I saw Fran on the street, long and merry ago!” Her
accent was that of condemnation. Like a rock she sat, letting the
fickle populace drift by to minstrel show and snake den. The severity
of her double chin said they might all go thither—she would
not; let them be swallowed up by that gigantic serpent whose tail, too
long for bill-board illustration, must needs be left to coil in the
imagination —but the world should see that Miss Sapphira was safe
from deglutition, either of frivolity or anaconda.
That was also Gregory's point of view; and even in his joy at
finding the coast clear, he paused to say, “I am sorry that Fran seems
to have lost all reason over this carnival company. If she would show
half as much interest in her soul's welfare—”
He left the sentence unfinished. The thought of Grace had grown
supreme—it seemed to illuminate some wide and splendid road into a
The bookkeeper's desk was in a gallery near the ceiling of the
Clinton grocery store; one looked thence, through a picket-fence, down
upon the only floor. Doubtless Grace, thus looking, saw him coming.
When he reached her side, he was breathless, partly from his struggle
through the masses, principally from excitement of fancied security.
She was posting up the ledger, and made no sign of recognition
until he called her name.
“Mr. Clinton is not here,” she said remotely. “Can I do anything
He admired her calm courtesy. If at the same time she could have
been reserved and yielding he would have found the impossible
combination perfect. Because it was impossible, he was determined to
preserve her angelic purity in imagination, and to restore her womanly
charm to actual being.
“How can you receive me so coldly,” he said impulsively, “when I've
not seen you for weeks?”
“You see me at church,” she answered impersonally.
“But I have been dying to be near you, to talk to you—”
“Stop!” she held up her hand. “You should know that Mr. Clinton and
“Grace!” he groaned.
She whispered, her face suddenly growing pale, “Are engaged.” The
tete-a-tete was beyond her supposed strength. His melodious voice,
associated in her mind with divine worship; the burning of those
beautiful eyes in which she seemed to see her own love; the attitude
of his arms as if, not knowing it, he were reaching out for her—all
this was hard for her to resist.
“Engaged!” he echoed, as if she had pronounced one of the world's
great tragedies. “Then you will give yourself to that man—yourself,
Grace, that beautiful self—and without love? It's a crime! Don't
commit the horrible blunder that's ruined my life. See what
wretchedness has come to me—”
“Then you think,” very slowly, “that I ought to let Fran ruin my
whole life because your wife has ruined yours? Then you think that
after I have been driven out of the house to make room for Fran, that
I ought to stay single because you married unwisely?”
“Grace, don't say you are driven out.”
“What do you call it? A resignation?”
“Grace!—we have only a few moments to be alone. For pity's sake,
look at me kindly and use another tone—a tone like the dear days when
you were by my side....We may never be together again.”
She looked at him with the same repellent expression, and spoke in
the same bitter tone: “Well, suppose we're not? You and that Fran will
In his realization that it was Fran, and Fran alone, who separated
them, Gregory passed into a state of anger, to which his love added
recklessness. “Grace, hate me if you must, but you shall not
She laughed. “Please don't ask me to understand you, Mr. Gregory,
while you hide the only secret to your understanding. Don't come to me
with pretended liking when what you call 'mysterious business
interests at Springfield' drive me from your door, and keep Fran at my
He interposed in a low passionate voice. “I am resolved that you
should know everything. Fran—is my own daughter.”
She gave no sign save a sudden compression of the mouth;
nevertheless, her surprise was extreme. Her mind flashed along the
wires of the past and returned illuminated to the present
He thought her merely stunned, and burst forth: “I tell you, Fran
is my child. Now you know why I'm compelled to do what she wants.
That's the secret Bob brought from Springfield. That's the secret
Abbott Ashton hung over my head—the traitor! after I'd befriended
him! All of my ungrateful friends have conspired to ruin me, to force
you from me by this secret. But you know it now, and I've escaped its
danger. You know it!”
“And does your wife know?”
“Would I tell her, and not tell you? It's you I've tried to shield.
I married Josephine Derry, and Fran is our child. You know Fran. Well,
her mother was just like her—frivolous, caring only for things of the
world—irreligious. And I was just a boy—a mere college youth. When I
realized the awful mistake I'd made, I thought it best just to go away
and let her live her own life. Years after, I put all that behind me,
and came to Littleburg. I married Mrs. Gregory and I wanted to put all
my past life away—clear away—and live a good open life. Then you
came. Then I found out I'd never known what love meant. It means a
fellowship of souls, love does; it has nothing to do with the physical
man. It means just your soul and mine...and it's too late!”
Grace, with hands locked upon her open ledger, stared straight
before her, as if turned to stone. The little fenced-in box, hanging
high above eager shoppers, was as a peaceful haven in a storm of
raging noises. From without, gusts of merriment shrieked and whistled,
while above them boomed the raucous cries of showmen, drowned in their
turn by the indefatigable brass-band. The atmosphere of the
bookkeeper's loft was a wedge of silence, splitting a solidarity of
Gregory covered his face with his hands. “Do you despise me, you
pure angel of beauty? Oh, say you don't utterly despise me. I've not
breathed this secret to any living soul but you, you whom I love with
the madness of despair. My heart is broken. Tell me what I can do.”
At last Grace spoke in a thin tone: “Where is that woman?”
She did not reply; he ought to know whom she meant.
“She died a few years ago—but I thought her dead when I married
Mrs. Gregory. I didn't mean any wrong to my wife, I wanted everything
legal, and supposed it was. I thought everything was all right until
that awful night—when Fran came. There'd been no divorce, so Fran
kept the secret—not on my account, oh, no, no, not on her father's
account! She gave me no consideration. It was on account of
“Which Mrs. Gregory?”
“You know—Mrs. Gregory.”
“Can you believe that?” Grace asked, with a chilled smile. “You
believe Fran really cares for your wife? You think any daughter could
care for the woman who has stolen her mother's rightful place?”
“But Fran won't have the truth declared; if it weren't for her, Bob
would have told you long ago.”
“Suppose I were in Fran's place—would I have kept the secret to
spare man or woman? No! Fran doesn't care a penny for your wife. She
couldn't. It would be monstrous—unnatural. But she's always hated me.
That's why she acts as she does—to triumph over me. I see it all.
That is the reason she won't have the truth declared—she doesn't
want me to know that you are—are free.”
Grace started up from the desk, her face deathly white. She was
tottering, but when Gregory would have leaped to her side, she
whispered, “They would see us.” Suddenly her face became crimson. He
caught his breath, speechless before her imperial loveliness.
“Mr. Gregory!” her eyes were burning into his, “have you told me
all the secret?”
“Then Mr. Clinton deceived me!”
“He agreed to hide everything, if I'd send you away.”
“Oh, I see! So even he is one of Fran's allies. Never
mind—did you say that when you married the second time, your first
wife was living, and had never been divorced?”
“But Grace—dear Grace! I thought it all right I believed—”
She did not seem to hear him. “Then she is not your wife,”
she said in a low whisper.
“She believes!” Her voice rose scornfully. “And so that is
the fact Fran wanted hidden; you are not really bound to Mrs.
“In what way, then?”
“Why, in no regular way—I mean—but don't you see, there could be
no marriage now to make it binding, without telling her—”
“You are not bound at all,” Grace interrupted. “You are free—as
free as air—as free as I am. Are you determined not to understand me?
Since you are free, there is no obstacle, in Heaven or on earth, to
His passage from despair to sudden hope was so violent that he
grasped the desk for support. “What?—Then?—You—you—Grace, would
“You are free,” said Grace, “and since Mr. Clinton's treachery, I
do not consider myself bound.”
“Grace!” he cried wildly, “Grace—star of my soul—go with me, go
with me, fly with me in a week—darling. Let us arrange it for
“No. I will not go with you, unless you take me now.”
“Now? Immediately?” he gasped, bewildered.
“Without once turning back,” she returned. “There's a train in
something like an hour.”
“For ever?” He was delirious. “And you are to be mine—Grace, you
are to be mine—my very own!”
“Yes. But you are never to see Fran again.”
“Do I want to see her again? But Grace, if we stay here until
train- time, Bob will come and—er—and find us—I don't want to meet
“Then let us go. There are such crowds on the streets that we can
easily lose ourselves.”
“Bob will hunt for you, Grace, if he gets back with Abbott before
ourtrain leaves. Miss Sapphira said she was looking for him any
minute, and that was a good while ago.”
“If you can't keep him from finding me,” Grace said, “let him find.
I do not consider that I am acting in the wrong. When people are not
bound, they are free; and if they are free, they have the right to be
happy, if at the same time, while being happy together, they can be
“Still,” said Gregory, looking over the railing, “you know it would
look—it would look bad, darling.”
“This is the beginning of our lives,” she said, with sudden joy.
“And if Bob sees me with you, Grace, after what he knows, you can
guess that something very unpleasant would—”
Grace drew back, to look searchingly into his face. “Mr. Gregory,”
she said slowly, “you make difficulties.”
He met her eyes, and his blood danced. “I make difficulties? No!
Grace, you have made me the happiest man in the world. Yes, our lives
begin with this night—our real lives. Grace, you're the best woman
that ever lived!”
CHAPTER XXI. FLIGHT
To reach the station, they must either penetrate the heart of the
town, or follow the dark streets of the outskirts. In the latter case,
their association would arouse surprise and comment, but in the
throng, reasonable safety might be expected. Once in the station, they
might hope to pass the hour of waiting in obscurity, since that was
the last place that a search would be made.
After the first intense moment of exaltation, both began to fear a
possible search. Grace apparently dreaded discovery as shrinkingly as
if her conscience were not clear, and Gregory, in the midst of his own
perturbation, found it incongruous that she who was always right,
wanted to hide. As they breasted the billows of jollity which in its
vocal stress became almost materialized, there grew up within him a
feeling uneasily akin to the shame of his past. Old days seemed rising
from their graves to chill him with their ghastly show of skeletons of
But Grace's hand was upon his arm, and the crowd pressed them close
together—and she was always beautiful and divinely formed. The
prospect of complete possession filled him with ecstasy, while Grace
herself yielded to the love that had outgrown all other principles of
Grace could deceive herself about this love, could reassure her
conscience with specious logic, but she never lost her coolness of
judgment concerning Hamilton Gregory. His lapses from conventionality
did not come from deliberate choice, and she realized the danger of
letting his feverish impulse grow cold. Even the prospect of waiting
one hour at the station frightened her. She must save him from that
Fran who, it appeared, was his daughter—and from the worldly woman
who was not his wife—and he must be saved at once, or the happiness
of their lives would suffer shipwreck.
They gained the street before the court-house which by courtesy
passed under the name of “the city square”. Grace's hand grew tense on
Her whisper was lost in the wind, but Gregory, following her
frightened glance, saw Robert Clinton elbowing his way through the
crowd, forcing his progress bluntly, or jovially, according to the
nature of obstruction. He did not see them and, by dodging, they
The nearness of danger had paled Grace's cheeks. Gregory accepted
his own trembling as natural, but Grace's evident fear acted upon his
nebulous state of mind in a way to condense jumbled emotions and
deceptive longings into something like real thought. If they were in
the right, why did they feel such expansive relief when the crowd
swept them from the sidewalk to bear them far away from Robert
The merry-go-round, its very music traveling in a circle, clashed
its steam-whistlings and organ-wailings against a drum-and-trombone
band, while these distinct strata of sound were cut across by an
outcropping of graphophones and megaphones. Upon an open-air platform,
a minstrel troupe, by dint of falsetto inarticulateness, futile
banjoes, and convulsive dancing, demonstrated how little of art one
might obtain for a dime. Always out of sympathy with such displays,
but now more than ever repelled by them, Grace and Gregory hurried
away to find themselves penned in a court, surrounded on all sides by
strident cries of “barkers", cracking reports from target-practice,
fusillades at the “doll-babies", clanging jars from strength-testers
and the like; while from this horrid field of misguided energy, there
was no outlet save the narrow entrance they had unwittingly used.
“Horrible!” exclaimed Grace, half-stumbling over the tent-ropes
that entangled the ground. “We must get out of this.”
It was not easy to turn about, so dense was the crowd.
Scarcely had they accomplished the manoeuver when Grace exclaimed
below her breath, “There he is!”
Sure enough, Robert Clinton stood at the narrowest point of their
way. He was clinging to an upright, and while thus lifted above the
heads of the multitude, sought to scan every face.
“I don't think he has seen us,” muttered Hamilton Gregory,
instinctively lowering his head.
“We can't get out, now,” Grace lamented. “No, he hasn't seen
us—yet. But that's the only place of—of escape—and he keeps looking
so curiously—he must have been to the store. He knows I'm away. He
may have gone to the house.”
It was because every side-show of the carnival company had insisted
on occupying space around the court-house, and because this space was
meager, that the country folk and excursionists and townsmen showed in
such compressed numbers at every turn. In reality, however, they were
by no means countless; and if Robert's eagle glance continued to
travel from face to face, with that maddening thoroughness—
“We'd better separate,” Gregory hoarsely whispered. “We'll meet at
“No. If he sees us, what would be the use? Anyway, he'll have to
know to-morrow...everybody will know—to-morrow! No,” said
Grace, overcoming a slight indecision, “the important thing is not to
be stopped, whoever sees. Come this way.”
“But there's no chance out, that way,” Gregory returned, with the
obstinacy of the weak. “And if he does see us, it won't do to be
seeming to try to hide.”
“But we are hiding,” Grace said definitely.
“Possibly we can keep moving about, and he will go away.”
“Why should we hide, anyhow?” demanded Gregory, with sudden show of
To that, she made no reply. If he didn't know, what was the use to
Gregory moved on, but glanced back over his shoulder. “Now, he's
getting down,” he said in agitation. “He's making his way right toward
us....All right, let him come!”
“In here—quick!” cried Grace, dragging him to one side. “Quick!”
A voice stopped them with, “Your tickets, please.”
“Oh, no,” wailed Gregory, “not into a show, Grace. We can't
go into a show. It's—it's impossible.”
She spoke rapidly: “We must. We'll be safe in there, because no
one would ever suppose we'd go into such a place.”
“But Grace,” said Gregory firmly, “I can not—I will not go into a
The voice addressed them again: “It's first-class in every
particular, lady. There is nothing here to bring the blush of shame to
the cheek of the most fastidious. See those fierce man-eating lions
that have been captured in the remotest jungles of Africa—”
Gregory looked back.
Robert Clinton was drawing nearer. As yet he had not discovered
them but his eyes, grown fiercer and more impatient, were never at
With a groan, Gregory thrust some money into the showman's hand,
and he and Grace mingled with the noisy sight-seers flocking under the
CHAPTER XXII. THE STREET FAIR
Littleburg was trembling under the fearful din of a carnival too
big for it, when Abbott Ashton, after his weeks of absence returned to
find himself at Hamilton Gregory's door. He discovered old Mrs.
Jefferson in the front room—this July night—because old age is on no
friendly terms with falling dew; but every window was open.
“Come in,” she cried, delighted at sight of his handsome smiling
face —he had been smiling most of the time during his drive from
Simmtown with Robert Clinton. “Here I sit by the window, where
sometimes I imagine I hear a faint far-away sound. I judge it's from
some carnival band. Take this chair and listen attentively; your ears
are younger— now!”
Abbott did not get all of this because of the Gargantuan roar that
swept through the window, but he gravely tilted his head, then took
the proffered ear-trumpet: “You are right,” he said, “I hear
“It's the street fair,” she announced triumphantly. “But sometimes
it's louder. How fine you look, Abbott—just as if your conscience
doesn't hurt you for disappearing without leaving a clue to the
mystery. You needn't be looking around, sir,—Fran isn't here.”
“I wonder where she is?” Abbott smiled, “I'm dreadfully impatient
to tell her the good news. Mrs. Jefferson, I'm to teach in a college—
it's a much bigger thing than the position I lost here. And I have a
chance to work out some ideas that I know Fran will like. I used to
think that everything ought to be left precisely as it is, because
it's been that way so long—I mean the church; and schools; and—and
society. But I've made up my mind that nothing is right, unless it
Mrs. Jefferson listened in desperate eagerness. “A watch?” she
“Exactly,” he responded hastily. “If a watch doesn't run, what's
the use of its being pretty? And if churches develop a gift of tongue
instead of character, what's the value of their prayers and songs? And
I've concluded that if schools don't teach us how to live, they have
the wrong kind of springs and wheels. Where is Fran, Mrs. Jefferson?”
“Still,” she temporized, “we can't get along without watches,
“No, nor schools, nor churches. But they must have good works. Is
Fran down at the fair, do you think?”
The other bent toward him stealthily. “Ask where Mrs. Gregory is,”
she said, wonderfully significant.
“Abbott, listen: she's gone a-visiting!”
“Visiting!” Abbott was surprised.
“Yes, visiting, she that hasn't been off this place to visit a soul
for ages. I tell you, boy, times have changed, here. Maybe you think
nobody'd be left at home to visit; but Fran has found that there is a
woman in town that she used to know, and the woman has a mighty sick
child, and Lucy has gone to sit by it, so the mother can rest. Think
of that, Abbott, think of Lucy going anywhere. My! Have you
heard that we've lost a secretary at this place? I mean the future
Mrs. Bob. Yes, she's gone. I'd as soon have thought of the court-house
being picked up and set in the parlor.”
Mrs. Jefferson drew back and said succinctly, “Fran did it!”
Her cap quivered as she leaned forward again. “Get her to tell you
all about it. We darsen't speak about it much because of the
neighbors. We conspired, Fran and I. Yes, she's down at the carnival,
Abbott hastily departed. Later he found himself in a cloud-burst of
confetti, on the “city square” and when he had cleared his eyes of the
red and white snow, he saw Fran disappearing like a bit of crimson
glass at the bottom of a human kaleidoscope. Fran had thrown the
confetti, then fled—how much brighter she was than all the other
shifting units of humanity.
He fought his way toward her determinedly, finding she was about to
be submerged. Was she actually trying to elude him?
“Fran!” he cried reproachfully as he reached her side. “How have
you the heart to run away from me after I've been lost for weeks?
Nobody knew I'd ever be found.”
Fran gave up flight, and stopped to look at him. A smile slipped
from the corner of one eye, to get caught at the corner of her demure
mouth. “When you disappeared, you left me yourself. A friend always
does. I've had you all the time.”
Abbott glowed. “Still, it isn't exactly the same as if I had been
able to touch your hand. Suppose we shake hands, little friend; what
do you say?”
“I don't say anything,” Fran retorted; “I just shake.”
Her handclasp was so hearty that he was slightly disconcerted. Was
her friendship so great that it left no room in her heart for
something greater? Fran's emotions must not be compressed under a
friendship- monopoly, but just now he hardly saw his way toward
fighting such a trust.
“I want to talk to you, Fran, talk and talk, oh, just about all the
long night through! Come, let me take you back home—”
“Home? Me? Ridiculous! But I'll tell you the best place that ever
was, for the kind of talking you and I want to do to each other.
Abbott, it won't matter to you—will it?—at what place I say to meet
me, at about half-past nine?”
“Why, Fran! It's not eight o'clock,” Abbott remonstrated, glancing
toward the court-house clock to find it stopped, and then consulting
his watch. “Do you think I am going to wait till—”
“Till half-past nine,” said Fran, nonchalantly. “Very well, then.”
“But what will we do in the meantime, if we're not to talk till—”
“We?” she mocked him. “Listen, Abbott, don't look so cross.
I've a friend in town with a sick daughter, and she's a real friend so
I must go to help her, a while.”
He was both mystified and disappointed. “I didn't know you had any
such friends in Littleburg,” he remonstrated, remembering how unkind
tongues had set the village against her.
Fran threw back her head, and her gesture was full of pride and
confidence. “Oh!” she cried, “the town is full of my friends.”
He could only stare at her in dumb amazement.
“All right, then,” she said with the greatest cheerfulness, “at
half- past nine. You understand the date—nine-thirty. Of course you
wouldn't have me desert a friend in trouble. Where shall we meet,
Abbott—at nine-thirty? Shall we say, at the Snake-Eater's?”
“No. We shall not say at the Snake-Eater's. Fran, I want you right
now. I know nothing of this sick friend, but I need you more than
anybody else in the world could possibly need you.”
Fran said nothing, but her eyes looked at him unfaltering. She
flashed up out of the black continuity of the throng like a ray of
light glancing along the surface of the sea. It needed no sun in the
sky to make Fran-beams.
“Go, Fran,” he exclaimed, “I'll wait for you as long as I must,
even if it's the eternity of nine-thirty; and I'd go anywhere in the
world to meet you, even to the den of the Snake-Eater.”
“That's the way for a friend to talk!” she declared, suddenly
radiant —a full Fran-sun, now, instead of the slender penetrating
Seeing a leg-lined lane opening before her, she darted forward.
Abbott called—“But I can't promise to talk to you as a friend,
when we meet—I mean, just as a friend.”
Fran looked back at him, still dazzling. “I only ask you to treat
me as well,” she said with assumed humility, “as we are told we ought
to treat our—enemies.”
CHAPTER XXIII. THE CONQUEROR
After the extinguishment of the Fran-beam, Abbott wanted to be
alone, to meditate on stellar and solar brightness, but in this
vociferous wilderness, reflection was impossible. One could not even
escape recognition, one could not even detach oneself from a Simon
“Got back to town again, hey?” said Simon. That was enough about
Abbott; Simon passed at once to a more interesting theme: “Taken in
the Lion Show, yet?”
“I'm just waiting for nine-thirty....I have an engagement.” Futile
words, indeed, since it was now only about eight o'clock.
“You come with me, then, I know all the ropes. Hey? Oh, yes, I know
mother thinks me in bed—for goodness' sake don't tell on me, she'd be
scared to death. But actually, old man, this carnival is good for my
heart. 'Tisn't like going to church, one bit. Preaching makes me feel
oppressed, and that's what scares me—feeling oppressed.” He rubbed
his grizzled hair nervously. “Just for fear somebody'd go tell, I've
had to sneak into all these shows like I'd been a thief in the night.”
Simon urged Abbott along in the direction taken, but a few minutes
before, by Hamilton Gregory and Grace Noir. “You see,” Simon panted,
“when the girl fell off the trapeze—heard about that, hey? Mother was
overjoyed, thinking I'd missed the sickening sight. But bless your
soul!—I was right at the front, hanging on to the railing, and I saw
it all. Why, she pretty near fell on me. Her foot slipped just so—”
Simon extended his leg with some agility.
“Was she killed?” Abbott asked, concealing his astonishment over
Simon's evident acquaintance with the black tent before which they had
“Well,” Simon reluctantly conceded, “n-n-no, she wasn't to say
killed —but dreadfully bruised up, Abbott, very painful. I saw it
all; this carnival has put new life into me—here! Get your ticket in
a jiffy, or all the seats'll be taken. You can't stand there like
that—give me your quarter, I know how to jump in and get first place.
That ticket- agent knows me; I've been in five times.”
From a high platform before the black tent, a voice came through a
megaphone: “The Big Show. The BIG Show. See those enormous lions
riding in baby carriages while La Gonizetti makes other lions dance
the fandango to her violin. See those—”
“Here, Abbott, follow!” called the breathless Simon Jefferson. “Of
course we'll see what's there—no use listening to him, like an
introduction in a novel of Scott's, telling it all first. Oh, you've
got to squeeze your way in,” he continued, clenching his teeth
and hurling himself forward, “just mash 'em endwise if they stand
gawking in your way. You follow me.”
Abbott laughed aloud at Simon's ability as they pushed their way
under the tent.
“Uh-huh, now see that!” groaned Simon reproachfully, as he looked
about. “Every seat taken. I tell you, you've got to lift up your feet
to get into this show. Well, hang on to the rope—don't let anybody
gouge you out of standing-room.”
At least two-thirds of the space under the tent was taken up by
tiers of seats formed of thin, and apparently fragile, blue planks,
springy to the foot and deafening to the ear. From hardened ground to
fringed tent-ceiling, these overlapping rows of narrow boards were
brimming with men, women and children who, tenacious of their
holdings, seemed each to contain in his pockets the feet of him who
sat immediately behind. At any rate, no feet were visible; all was one
dense mass of faces, shoulders, women's hats, and babies held up for
The seats faced an immense cage which rose almost to the roof. As
yet, it was empty, but smaller adjoining cages promised an animated
arena when the signal should be given.
Gregory and Grace Noir had sought refuge on the highest seat, where
they might overlook the crowd; here, with heads bent forward as if to
avoid the canvas, they hoped to escape observation. Thanks to the
influx of country folk, Littleburg citizens were rarely to be seen at
such shows until a later and more fashionable hour. Gregory was
relieved to find his topmost plank filled with strangers.
“All goes well,” he said, pressing Grace's hand. “Nobody will find
out that we have been in here.”
“Watch for Mr. Clinton,” Grace counseled cautiously. “If he comes
in, stoop lower.”
“They're all strangers, Grace. Providence is with us—there's Simon
Jefferson!” He was too amazed to think of concealment.
“Hush! Yes—and Abbott Ashton.”
Gregory pulled his hat over his eyes.
Into the tent streamed a fresh body of sightseers. Simon, swinging
to the rope that was stretched in front of the big cage, grumbled at
being elbowed by weary mothers and broad-chested farmers. He told
Abbott, “The lions are the only ones that have plenty of room. I wish
there was a cage for me. But it's worth being jammed to see La
Gonizetti—she's pretty as they're made and she's pretty all over, and
she don't care who knows it. Now the first half is about to begin, but
it's just bears and clowns; don't get fooled, though, La Gonizetti
will come later, O. K.”
The band entered and squatted upon blue boxes in one corner. Showy
red coats were removed in deference to sweltering heat, and melody
presided in undress. Three bears, two clowns and a bicycle sharpened
interest in what was to come, whetting the mind upon jokes blunter
than the intelligence of the audience. Even the band ceased playing
though that had not seemed possible; its depressing andantinos had not
only subdued the bears, rendering them as harmless as kittens, but had
mournfully depressed the audience.
Into this atmosphere of tamed inertness, suddenly flashed a little
figure whose quivering vitality communicated electric thrills. Even
the clowns moved less like treadmill horses, as they took their
stations at the smaller cages, waiting to lift the gates that would
admit the restless lions into the central cage.
The form that had appeared—one knew not whence—was that of a
slight woman, dressed in a short silk skirt of blue, and bodice of
white satin. The trimmings which ran in all directions, were rich in
pendents of gold and rubies. Above all, there was the alluring mystery
of a crimson mask which effectually hid the woman's face.
Simon whispered into Abbott's always unready ear, “That isn't La
Gonizetti. Wonder what this means? La Gonizetti is much more of a
woman than this one, and she doesn't wear a mask, or much of anything
else. La Gonizetti doesn't care who sees her. Why, this is
nothing but a mere—I tell you now, if she ain't on to her job, I mean
to have my money back.” Simon glowered.
Abbott stared in great perplexity. “Then who is she?” he exclaimed.
“Simon—doesn't she remind you of—of some one we know?”
“Naw. She's got on La Gonizetti's dress, and her voice has the
show- girl's clangy-tin-panny-whangdoodle, but that's all I
Abbott wondered that Simon failed to notice the similarity between
the show-girl's movements and those of Fran. This woman had Fran's
form. To be sure the voice was entirely different, but the rapidity
and decisiveness of action, and the air of authority, were Fran's very
own. However, the show-girl's hands were as dark as an Italian's,
while Fran's were—well, not so dark, at any rate,
Abbott's brow did not relax. He stood motionless, staring at
everything before him with painful intentness.
Up near the roof, Gregory and Grace scarcely observed the entrance
of the lion-tamer. Secured from espial, absorbed in each other, they
were able, thanks to the surrounding clamor of voices, to discuss
their future plans with some degree of confidence.
Simon told Abbott—“Anyway, no amateur would rub up against those
beasts, so I guess it's all right. They ain't but two lions; bill says
ten; man that wrote the bill was the other eight, I reckon.” The
show-girl was fastened in the central cage. The clowns raised the
inner doors, and the lions shot from their cramped quarters swift as
tawny arrows. They were almost against the slight figure, without
seeming to observe her. For the fourth time since noon they stood
erect, sniffing the air, their bodies unconfined by galling timbers
and chilling iron. For the fourth time this day, they were to be put
through their tricks by force of fear. They hated these tricks, as
they hated the small cages in which they could not lash their tails.
They hated the “baby carriage” in which one was presently to sit,
while the other pushed him over the floor, his sullen majesty sport
for the rabble. They hated the board upon which they must see-saw,
while the woman stood in the middle, preserving equilibrium.
But greater than the lion's hatred, was their fear of the woman;
and greater than their fear of her was their terror of that long
serpent which, no matter how far it might dart through space, remained
always in the woman's hand. They well knew its venomous bite, and as
they slunk from side to side, their eyes were upon its coiling black
“I met Fran on the street,” murmured Abbott, as he watched,
unblinkingly.” She said she was going to visit a sick friend. When did
you see Fran last, Simon?”
“Don't know,” Simon said, discouragingly. “Now they're going to
see- saw. The black-maned one is the hardest to manage. I reckon, one
day, he'll just naturally jump afoul of her, and tear her to pieces.
Look at him! I don't believe this girl is going to make him get up on
top of that board. My! how he is showing his teeth at her. Say! This
is a pretty good show, hey? Glad you came, uh? Say! Look at his
In truth, the black-maned lion opened his mouth to a frightful
extent, making, however, not the slightest sound. He refused to budge.
“Samson!” cried the woman, impellingly. The other lion was
patiently standing on his end of the board, waiting. He seemed fast
asleep. Samson, however, was wide awake and every cruel tooth was
exposed as he stretched his mouth. In his amber eyes was the glow of
Suddenly Samson wheeled about, and made a rush for his end of the
see- saw. He stepped upon it. He was conquered. His haste to obey,
evidently the result of fear and hatred, produced a ripple of
laughter. The other lion, feeling the sudden tremor of Samson's
weight, opened his eyes suddenly and twitched his tail. He was not
asleep, after all.
Simon whispered hoarsely, “It's interesting all the way through. A
fellow never knows what's going to happen. 'Tain't as if you was
watching clowns, knowing what the joke's to be before they say it. To
my mind, lions are more like men than clowns are.”
Abbott found himself intensely nervous. He longed to have it all
over, anxious, above all, to prove his fears groundless. Yet how were
so many coincidences to be explained away? Fran had been a show-girl,
a trainer of lions, and Abbott distinctly remembered that she had
spoken of a “Samson”. Fran had just these movements and this height.
He missed Fran's mellow voice, but voices may be disguised; and the
hands now raised toward the audience may have been stained dark. Who
was that “sick friend” that Fran had possibly mentioned only as an
excuse for escaping? Was that a subterfuge? And why this red mask
which, according to Simon Jefferson, was an innovation?
At every trick, the black-maned lion balked. He seemed resolved not
to leap upon the wall-bracket; and, after attaining that precarious
elevation, he pretended not to understand that he must descend. His
insubordination disquieted the enormous animal acting the
corresponding part. Even he began to pace softly to and fro at such
times as he should have remained motionless.
When the time came for the clown to hand the woman her violin he
was afraid, and withdrew his arm with marvelous rapidity. His
grotesque disguise could not hide his genuine uneasiness. The members
of the band, too, played their notes with unusual care, lest the
slightest deviation from routine work bring catastrophe. Nothing had
gone right but the see-sawing act; but of all this, the crowd was
After the violin playing—“Now,” Simon Jefferson announced,
gleefully, “there's only one more act, but it's a corker, let me tell
you—that's why she's resting a minute. La Gonizetti gets astride of
Samson—the one that's mad—and grabs his mane, and pretends to ride
like a cow- boy. Calls herself a Rough-Rider. Makes Samson get on top
of that table, then she gets on top of him.”
“But this isn't La Gonizetti,” Abbott protested, shuddering again.
“Now you've said something. That's right. But it looks like she's
game—she'll try it—we'd better stand a little farther back.”
A hand was laid upon Abbott's arm. “Abbott,” said the voice of
Robert Clinton, harsh from smothered excitement, “You went to
Gregory's house—did you see him?”
Abbott did not hear. The refractory lion, knowing that his time had
come to be ridden, was asserting his independence. He would not leap
upon the table. The other lion stood watching sleepily to see if he
“That you, Clinton?” Simon's greeting was tense with enjoyment.
“Got here for the best of it, didn't you! Seems to me I saw Gregory
somewhere not long ago, but I wasn't thinking about him.”
“Hercules!” the masked woman addressed the gentler of the lions.
“Go to your place. Hercules—go to your place!”
Hercules turned to his blue box, and seated himself upon it,
leaving his tail to take care of itself.
“Say, Simon,” muttered Robert Clinton, “you didn't see Miss Grace
Noir, did you?”
“Shut up!” said Simon desperately.
The show-girl was fiercely addressing the black-maned lion. “Now!
Now! To the table! To the table!”
Samson did not budge. Facing the woman of the mask, he opened his
mouth, revealing the red cave of his throat—past the ivory sentinels
that not only stood guard, but threatened, one could look down and
down. This was no yawn of weariness, but a sign of rebellion—a sort
of noiseless roar.
The trainer retreated to the farther side of the cage, then made a
forward rush, waving her whip, and shouting dangerously, “Up, Samson,
up Samson, UP!” She did not pause in her course till close to his
Again he opened his mouth, baring every tooth, voiceless, but
Hercules, finding that affairs had come to a halt, slowly descended
from his box, keeping his half-opened eyes upon the woman. Restlessly
he began to pace before the outer door.
The slight figure withdrew several steps, then smote the rebellious
lion a sharp blow across the mouth. He snapped viciously at the lash.
It slipped away from between his teeth. Having rescued her whip, she
shouted to the other lion, “Back to your place, Hercules. Hercules—
back to your place!”
She stood pointing sternly toward the box, but Hercules stretched
himself across the place of exit and lay watching her covertly.
The faces of the band boys had become of a yellowish paleness. They
continued to pound and blow, but the music was not the same; a
terrible foreboding brought a sense of faintness even to the boldest.
From behind the mask came the voice so loud that it sounded as a
scream—“Up, Samson, up, Samson—UP!”
Then it was that Samson found his voice. A mighty roar shook the
loosely-set bars of the central cage—they vibrated visibly. The roar
did not come as one short sharp note of defiance; it rose and fell,
then rose anew, varying in the inflections of the voice of a slave who
dares to threaten, fears even while he threatens, and gathers passion
from his fear.
At that fearful reverberation, the audience started up, panic-
stricken. Hitherto, the last act had been regarded as a badly-played
comedy; now tragedy was in the air.
Gregory and Grace Noir at that instant, became alive to their
surroundings. Hitherto, despising the show, rebellious at the destiny
which had forced them to attend it, they had been wholly absorbed in
their efforts to escape observation. The roaring of the lion startled
them to a perception of the general alarm.
Grace clung to Gregory. “Oh, save me!” she panted hysterically.
The voice of the woman behind the bars rang throughout the
tent—“Sit down!” The voice was not loud, now, but singularly
“Sit down, all of you, and remain absolutely motionless, or I am
She dared not remove her gaze from Samson's eyes; but on hearing no
rattling of planks, she knew her appeal had been obeyed. There came to
her, however, the smothered cries of terrified women, mingled, here
and there, with unrestrained ejaculations of dismay.
Abbott Ashton, but a few yards distant, grasped the rope with
bloodless hands; he appeared as a white statue, seeming not even to
breathe. In that moment, Robert Clinton forgot the jealous suspicion
that had tortured his heart since missing Grace Noir from her desk.
Grace Noir, her eyes closed, her cheeks pallid, leaned her head
upon Gregory's shoulder, quivering convulsively.
“There, there,” Gregory whispered in her ear, soothingly,
“everything will be all right.”
The masked woman for the second time addressed the terrified
audience, still not venturing to turn her head in their direction:
“Whoever moves, or speaks, or cries aloud, will be my murderer. I have
only one hope left, and I'm going to try it now. I ask you people out
there to give me just this one chance for my life. Keep absolutely
Again Samson uttered his terrible roar. It alone was audible. Tier
above tier, faces rose to the tent-roof, white and set. The audience
was like one huge block of stone in which only faces have been carved.
The penetrating voice addressed the band boys: “Don't play. He can
tell you're frightened.”
The agitated music ceased.
Then the woman walked to the farthest side of the inclosure. In
doing so she was obliged to pass the crouching form of Hercules, but
she pretended not to know he was there; she moved slowly backward,
always facing Samson.
At last the vertical bars prevented farther retreat Then she lifted
her hand slowly, steadily, and drew off her crimson mask. It dropped
at her feet Despite the muffled street-noises that never ceased to
rumble from afar, the whispering sound of the silken mask, as it
struck the plank floor of the cage, was distinctly audible.
“Grace!” Gregory whispered in horror,—“it's Fran!”
Grace started from his embrace at the name and glared down upon the
stage. She sat erect, unsupported, petrified.
Gregory's brow was moistened with a chilled dew. “It's Fran,” he
mumbled, “it's Fran! Grace—pray for her!”
Fran looked Samson steadily in the eyes, and Samson glared back
fixedly. For a few moments, this quiver between life and death
remained at the breaking-point. Had a stranger at that moment looked
under the tent-entrance, he might have thought everybody asleep. There
was neither sound nor movement.
Grace whispered—“It is the hand of God!”
Her tone was almost inaudible, but Gregory shrank as from a mortal
blow; its sinister meaning was unmistakable. Swiftly he turned to
stare at her.
In Grace's eyes was a wild and ominous glare akin to that of the
threatening lion. It was a savage conviction that Fran was at last
confronted by the justice of Heaven.
Suddenly Fran crouched forward till her head was almost on a level
with her waist, in so much that it was a physical exertion to hold her
face uplifted. In this sinuous position she was the embodiment
ofpower. If she felt misgivings concerning this last resource, there
was no look to betray it. Straight toward Samson she rushed, her body
lithe and serpentine, her direction unerring.
To the beast, Fran had become one of those mysterious flying
serpents which bite from afar. He felt the sting of her terrible eyes
and his gaze grew shifty. It wandered away, and, on returning, found
her teeth bared, as if feeling for his heart.
Rushing up to his very face—“Samson!” she cried,
Again he seemed to feel the lash upon his tawny skin.
“Samson. Up, Samson, up, Samson—UP!”
Suddenly Samson wheeled about, and leaped upon the table.
Fran stamped her foot at the other lion. “Go to your place,
Hercules!” she cried, with something like contempt.
Hercules slowly rose, stretched himself, then marched to his box.
He looked from Fran to the immovable Samson waiting upon the table,
then mounted to his place, and seemed to fall asleep.
And now, at last, Fran looked at the spectators. Stepping lightly
to the bars, she threw kisses this way and that, smiling radiantly.
“Oh!” she cried, with vibrating earnestness, “you people out
there—you can't think how I love you! You've saved my life. You are
perfect heroes. Now make all the noise you please.”
“May we move?” called a cautious voice from a few feet away. It was
Abbott Ashton, with eyes like stars.
Fran looked at him, wondering at his thoughts. She answered by an
upward movement of her hand.
As though by a carefully rehearsed arrangement, the audience rose
to its feet, band boys and all. Such a shout! Such waving of hats and
handkerchiefs! Such unabashed sobs! Such inarticulateness—such
graspings of neighboring hands! The spectators had gone mad with
Fran leaped upon the table, and mounted Samson.
“Now, I'm a Rough-Rider!” she shouted, burying her hands in the
mane, and lying along the lion's back in true cow-boy fashion. She
plunged, she shouted loudly, but Samson only closed his eyes and
seemed to sleep.
After that, making the lions return to their cramped side-cages was
a mere detail. The show was ended.
Fran, remaining in the empty cage, stood at the front, projecting
her hand through the bars to receive the greetings of the crowd.
Almost every one wanted to shake hands with her. They couldn't tell of
their surprise over her identity, of their admiration for her courage,
of their joy at her safety. They could do nothing but look into her
eyes, press her hand, then go into a humdrum world in which are no
lions— and not many Frans.
“Look, look!” Simon Jefferson suddenly grasped Robert Clinton's
hand, and pointed toward the tent-roof. “There they are!”
Something very strange had happened up there, but it was lost to
Clinton's keen jealous gaze—one of those happenings in the soul,
which, however momentous, passes unobserved in the midst of the
“Not so fast!” Grace cautioned Gregory. “We must wait up here till
the very last—don't you see Mr. Clinton? And Simon Jefferson is now
pointing us out. We can't go down that way—”
“We!” Gregory harshly echoed. “We! I have nothing to do with
you, Grace Noir. Go to him, if you will.”
Grace turned ashen pale. “What do you mean?” she stammered. “You
tell me to go to Mr. Clinton?”
“I tell you to go where you please. That girl yonder is my
daughter, do you understand? Don't hold me back! I shall go to her and
proclaim her as my child to the world. Do you hear me? That's my
Grace shrank back in the suspicion that Hamilton Gregory had gone
mad like the rest of the crowd. “Do you mean that you never want to
see me again? Do you mean that you want me to marry Mr. Clinton?”
“I do not care what you do,” he said, still more roughly.
“You do not care?” she stammered, bewildered. “What has
happened? You do not care—for me?”
She looked deep into his eyes, but found no incense burning there.
The shrine was cold.
“Mr. Gregory! And after all that has passed between us? After I
have given you my—myself—”
Gregory seized her arm, as if to hold her off. His eyes were
burning dangerously: “I saw murder in your heart while you were
watching Fran,” he whispered fiercely. “That's my daughter, do you
understand? I know you now, I know you now....” He stumbled down the
steps, pushing out of his way those who opposed his progress.
Grace stared after him with bloodless cheeks and smoldering eyes.
Clearly, she decided, the sight of Fran's fearful danger had
unbalanced his mind. But how could he care so much about that Fran?
And how could he leave her, knowing that Robert Clinton was beginning
to climb upward with eyes fastened upon her face?
But it was not the sight of Fran's danger that had for ever
alienated Gregory from Grace Noir. In an instant, she had stood
revealed to him as an unlovely monster. His sensitive nature, always
abnormally alive to outward impressions, had thrilled responsively to
the exultation of the audience. He had endured the agony of suspense,
he had shared the universal enthusiasm. If, in a sense, he was a
series of moods, each the result of blind impulse, it so happened that
Grace's hiss—“It's the hand of God,” turned his love to aversion; she
was appealing as a justification of personal hatred, to the God they
were both betraying.
Grace began to tremble as she watched Robert Clinton coming up, and
Hamilton Gregory descending. She had trusted foolishly to a broken
reed, but it was not too late to preserve the good name she had been
about to besmirch. The furnace-heat in which rash resolves are forged,
was cooled. Gregory had deserted Fran's mother; he was false to Mrs.
Gregory; he would perhaps have betrayed Grace in the end; but Clinton
was at hand, and his adoration would endure.
In the meantime, the voice of Fran was to be heard above that of
the happy crowd: “I love you all. You helped me do it. I should
certainly have been mangled but for you perfect heroes. Yes, thank
you.... Yes, I feel fine....And, oh, men and women, I could just
feel your spirits holding mine up till I was so high—I was in the
clouds. That's what subdued Samson. He knew I wasn't afraid. He knew
it! And I wanted to win out for your sakes as well as my own—yes I
did! Thank you men....Thank you, women....Well, if here aren't the
children; too—bless your brave hearts!...And is that your baby? My
goodness, and what a baby it is!...No, I'm not a bit tired—”
She stopped suddenly, on feeling a crushing grip. She looked down,
a frown forming on her brow, but the sun shone clear when she saw
Abbott Ashton. She gave him a swift look, as if to penetrate his
He met her eyes unfalteringly. “It's already nine o'clock,” he said
with singular composure. “Don't forget nine-thirty.”
Then he disappeared in the crowd.
Fran saw the ranks thinning before her. She was glad, for suddenly
she found herself very tired. What would Abbott think? Would he,
henceforth, see nothing but the show-girl of tinsel and trainer's
whip, for ever showing through the clear glass of her real self? At
nine-thirty, what would Abbott say to her? and how should she reply?
The thought of him obscured her vision of admiring faces. Her manner
lost its spontaneity.
Then, to her amazement, she beheld Hamilton Gregory stumbling
toward her, looking neither to right nor left, seeing none but
her—Hamilton Gregory at a show! Hamilton Gregory here, of all
places, his eyes wide, his head thrown back as if to bare his face to
her startled gaze.
“Fran!” cried Gregory, thrusting forth his arms to take her hands.
“Fran! Even now, the bars divide us. But oh, I am so glad, so glad—
and God answered my prayer and saved you, Fran—my daughter!”
CHAPTER XXIV. NEAR THE SKY
It was half-past nine when Abbott met Fran, according to
appointment, before the Snake Den. From her hands she had removed the
color of Italy, and from her body, the glittering raiment of La
Fran came up to the young man from out the crowded street, all
quivering excitement. In contrast with the pulsing life that
ceaselessly changed her face, as from reflections of dancing light-
points, his composure showed almost grotesque.
“Here I am,” she panted, shooting a quizzical glance at his face,
“are you ready for me? Come on, then, and I'll show you the very place
Abbott inquired serenely, “Down there in the Den?”
Fran scrutinized him anew, always wondering how he had taken the
lions. What she saw did not alarm her.
“No,” she returned, “not in the Den. You're no Daniel, if I am
a Charmer. No dens for us.”
“Nor lion-cages?” inquired Abbott, still inscrutable; “never
“Never again,” came her response; it was a promise.
As they made their way through the noisy “city square” she kept on
wondering. Since his face revealed nothing, his disapproval, at any
rate, was not so great as to be beyond control. Did that signify that
he did not feel enough for her really to care? Better for him to be
angry about the show, than not to care.
Fran stopped before the Ferris Wheel.
“Let's take a ride,” she said, a little tremulously. “Won't need
tickets. Bill, stop the wheel; I want to go right up. This is a
friendof mine—Mr. Ashton. And Abbott, this is an older friend than
you—Mr. Bill Smookins.”
Mr. Bill Smookins was an exceedingly hard-featured man, of no
recognizable age. Externally, he was blue overalls and greasy tar.
Abbott grasped Bill's hand, and inquired about business.
“Awful pore, sense Fran lef' the show,” was the answer, accompanied
by a grin that threatened to cut the weather-beaten face wide open.
Fran beamed. “Mr. Smookins knew my mother—didn't you, Bill? He was
awful good to me when I was a kid. Mr. Smookins was a Human Nymph in
those days, and he smoked and talked, he did, right down under the
water—remember, Bill? That was sure-enough water—oh, he's a sure-
enough Bill, let me tell you!”
Bill intimated, as he slowed down the engine, that the rheumatism
he had acquired under the water, was sure-enough rheumatism—hence his
change of occupation. “I was strong enough to be a Human Nymph,” he
explained, “but not endurable. Nobody can't last many years as a Human
Abbott indicated his companion—“Here's one that'll last my time.”
The wheel stopped. He and Fran were barred into a seat.
“And now,” Fran exclaimed, “it's all ups and downs, just like a
moving-picture of life. Why don't you say something, Mr. Ashton? But
no, you can keep still—I'm excited to death, and wouldn't hear you
anyway. I want to do all the talking—I always do, after I've been in
the cage. My brain is filled with air—so this is the time to be
soaring up into the sky, isn't it! What is your brained filled with?—
but never mind. We'll be just two balloons—my! aren't you glad we
haven't any strings on us—suppose some people had hold!—I, for one,
would be willing never to go down again. Where are the clouds?—Wish
we could meet a few. Down there on the solid earth—oh, down there
the first things you meet are reasons for things, and people's
opinions of how things look, and reports of what folks say. And up
here, there's nothing but the moon—isn't it bright! See how I'm
trembling—always do, after the lions. Now, Abbott, I'll leave a small
opening for just one word—”
“I'll steady you,” said Abbott, briefly, and he took her hand. She
did not appear conscious of his protecting clasp.
“I never see the moon so big,” she went on, breathlessly, “without
thinking of that night when it rolled along the pasture as if it
wanted to knock us off the foot-bridge for being where we oughtn't. I
never could understand why you would stay on that bridge with a
perfect stranger, when your duty was to be usher at the camp-meeting!
You weren't ushering me, you know, you were holding my hand—I mean, I
was holding your hand, as Miss Sapphira says I shouldn't. What a poor
helpless man—as I'm holding you now, I presume! But I laughed in
meeting. People ought to go outdoors to smile, and keep their religion
in a house, I guess. I'm going to tell you why I laughed, for you've
never guessed, and you've always been afraid to ask—”
“Afraid of you, Fran?”
“Awfully, I'm going to show you—let go, so I can show you. No, I'm
in earnest—you can have me, afterwards....Remember that evangelist?
There he stood, waving his hands—as I'm doing now—moving his arms
with his eyes fastened upon the congregation—this way—look, Abbott.”
“Fran! As if I were not already looking.”
“Look—just so; not saying a word—only waving this way and that...
And it made me think of our Hypnotizer—the man that waves people
into our biggest tent—he seems to pick 'em up bodily and carry them
in his arms. Well! And if the people are to be waved into a church, it
won't take much of a breeze to blow them out. I don't believe in soul-
waving. But that doesn't mean that I don't believe in the church—does
it?—do you think?”
“You believe in convictions, Fran. And since you've come into the
church, you don't have to say that you believe in it.”
“Yes—there's nothing on the outside, and oh, sometimes there's so
little, so little under the roof—what do you think of me, Abbott?”
“Fran, I think you are the most—”
“But do you!” she interposed, still unsteadily. “In the
superlative? I don't see how you can, after that exhibition behind the
bars. Anyway, I want you to talk about yourself. What made you go away
from town? But that's not the worst: what made you stay away? And what
were you doing off there wherever it was, while poor little girls were
wondering themselves sick about you? But wait!—the wheel's going
down—down—down....Good thing I have you to hold to—poor Miss
Sapphira, she can't come, now! Listen at all the street-criers,
getting closer, and the whistle-sounds—I wish we had whistles; the
squawky kind. See my element, Abbott, the air I've breathed all my
life—the carnival. Here we are, just above the clouds of
confetti....Now we're riding through....pretty damp, these clouds are,
don't you think! Those ribbons of electric lights have been the real
world for me. Abbott—they were home....No, Bill, we don't want to get
out. We intend to ride until you take this wheel to pieces. And oh, by
the way, Bill—just stop this wheel, every once in a while, will
you?—when we're up at the very tiptop. All right—good-by.”
And Abbott called gaily, “Good-by, Mr. Smookins!”
“I'm glad you did that, Abbott. You think you're somebody, when
somebody else thinks so, too. Now we're rising in the world.” Fran was
so excited that she could not keep her body from quivering. In spite
of this, she fastened her eyes upon Abbott to ask, suddenly, “'Most'—
“Most adorable,” Abbott answered, as if he had been waiting for the
prompting. “Most precious. Most bewitchingly sweet. Most unanswerably
“And you—” she whispered.
“And I,” he told her, “am nothing but most wanting-to-be-loved.”
“It's so queer,” Fran said, plaintively. “You know, Abbott, how
long you've fought against me. You know it, and I don't blame you, not
in the least. There's nothing about me to make people....But even
now, how can you think you understand me, when I don't understand
“I don't,” he said, promptly. “I've given up trying to understand
you. Since then, I've just loved. That's easy.”
“What will people think of a superintendent of public schools
caring for a show-girl, even if she is Fran Nonpareil. How
would it affect your career?”
“But you have promised never again to engage in a show, so you are
not a show-girl.”
“What about my mother who lived and died as a lion-tamer? What will
you do about my life-history? I'd never speak to a man who could feel
ashamed of my mother. What about my father who has never publicly
acknowledged me? I'd not want to have anything to do with a man who—
who could be proud of him.”
“As to the past, Fran, I have only this to say: whatever hardships
it contained, whatever wrongs or wretchedness—it evolved you, you
, the Fran of to-day—the Fran of this living hour. And it's the Fran
of this living hour that I want to marry.”
Fran covered her face with her hands. For a while there was
silence, then she said:
“Father was there, to-night.”
“At the lion-show? Impossible! Mr. Gregory go to a—a—to—a—”
“Yes, it is possible for him even to go to a show. But to do him
justice, he was forced under the tent, he had no intention of doing
anything so wicked as that, he only meant to do some little thing like
running away—But no, I can't speak of him with bitterness, now.
Abbott, he seems all changed.”
Abbott murmured, as if stupefied, “Mr. Gregory at a show!”
“Yes, and a lion-show. When it was over he came to me—he was so
“So was I,” spoke up the other—“rather!”
“You didn't show it. I thought maybe you wouldn't care if I had
been eaten up....No, no, listen. He wanted to claim me—he called me
'daughter' right there before the people, but they thought it was
just a sort of—of church name. But he was wonderfully moved. I left
the tent with him, and we had a long talk—I came from him to you. I
never saw anybody so changed.”
“You see, he thought I was going to be killed right there before
his eyes, and seeing it with his very own eyes made him feel
responsible. He told me, afterwards, that when he found out who it was
in the cage, he thought of mother in a different way,—he saw how his
desertion had driven her to earning her living with showmen, so I
could be supported. All in all, he is a changed man.”
“Then will he acknowledge you?—but no, no,...”
“You see? He can't, on account of Mrs. Gregory. There's no future
for him, or for her, except to go on living as man and wife—without
the secretary. He imagines it would be a sort of reparation to present
me to the world as his daughter, he thinks it would give him
happiness— but it can't be. Grace Noir has found it all out—”
“Then she will tell!” Abbott exclaimed, in dismay.
“She would have told but for one thing. She doesn't dare, and it's
on her own account—of course. She has been terribly—well,
indiscreet. You can't think to what lengths she was willing to go—not
from coldly making up her mind, but because she lost grip on herself,
from always thinking she couldn't. So she went away with Bob
Clinton—she'll marry him, and they'll go to Chicago, out of
Littleburg history—poor Bob! Remember the night he was trying to get
religion? I'm afraid he'll conclude that religion isn't what he
thought it was, living so close to it from now on.”
“All this interests me greatly, dear, because it interests you.
Still, it doesn't bear upon the main question.”
“Abbott, you don't know why I went to that show to act. You thought
I was caring for a sick friend. What do you think of such deceptions?”
“I think I understand. Simon Jefferson told me of a girl falling
from a trapeze; it was possibly La Gonizetti's daughter. Mrs.
Jefferson told me that Mrs. Gregory is nursing some one. The same one,
I imagine. And La Gonizetti was a friend of yours, and you took her
place, so the mother could stay with the injured daughter.”
“You're a wonder, yourself!” Fran declared, dropping her hands to
stare at him. “Yes, that's it. All these show-people are friends of
mine. When the mayor was trying to decide what carnival company they'd
have for the street fair, I told him about this show, and that's why
it's here. Poor La Gonizetti needs the money dreadfully—for they
spend it as fast as it's paid in. The little darling will have to go
to a hospital, and there's nothing laid by. The boys all threw in, but
they didn't have much, themselves. Nobody has. Everybody's poor in
this old world—except you and me. I've taken La Gonizetti's place in
the cage all day to keep her from losing out; and if this wasn't the
last day, I don't know whether I'd have promised you or not....
Samson was pretty good, but that mask annoyed him. So you see—but
honestly, Abbott, doesn't all this make you feel just a wee bit
different about me?”
“It makes me want to kiss you, Fran.”
“It makes you”—she gasped—“want to do—that? Why, Abbott!
Nothing can save you.”
“I'm afraid not,” he agreed.
The car was swinging at the highest reach of the wheel. The engine
She opened her eyes very wide. “I'd think you'd be afraid of such a
world-famous lion-trainer,” she declared, drawing back.” Some have
been, I assure you.”
“I'm not afraid,” Abbott declared, drawing her toward him. He would
have kissed her, but she covered her face with her hands and bent her
“Up!” cried Abbott. “Up, Samson, up!”
Fran laughed hilariously, and lifted her head. She looked at him
through her fingers. Her face was a garden of blush-roses. She
pretended to roar but the result was not terrifying; then she
obediently held up her mouth.
“After all,” said Fran, speaking somewhat indistinctly, “you
haven't told why you ran away to leave poor Fran guessing where you'd
gone. Do you know how I love you, Abbott?”
“I think I know.”
“I'm glad—for I could never tell you. Real love is like real
religion—you can't talk about it. Makes you want to joke, even if you
can't think of anything funny to say—makes you chatter about anything
else, or just keep still. Seems to be something down here—this is my
heart, isn't it?—hope I have the right place, I left school so
early—seems even when I refer to it I ought to—well, as I said,
make a sort of joke....”
“But this is no joke,” said Abbott, kissing her again.
“Yes,” said Fran, happily, “we can talk about it in that
way. Isn't Bill Smookins a dear to keep us up here so long?”
It was a good while later that Abbott said, “As to why I left
Littleburg: Bob knew of a private school that has just been
incorporated as a college. A teacher's needed, one with ideas of the
new education—the education that teaches us how to make books useful
to life, and not life to books—the education that teaches happiness
as well as words and figures; just the kind that you didn't find at my
school, little rebel! Bob was an old chum of the man who owns the
property so he recommended me, and I went. It's a great chance, a
magnificent opening. The man was so pleased with the way I talked—
he's new to the business, so that must be his excuse—that I am to be
Fran's voice came rather faintly—“Hurrah! But you are to be far,
far above my reach, just as I prophesied. Don't you remember what I
said to you during our drive through Sure-Enough Country?”
“And that isn't all,” said Abbott, looking straight before him, and
pretending that he had not heard. “In that town—Tahlelah, Oklahoma—I
discovered, out in the suburbs, a cottage—the dearest little thing—
as dear as...as Mr. Smookins; just big enough for a girl like Fran. I
rented it at once—of course, it oughtn't to be standing there
idle—there's such a fragrant flower-garden—I spent some time
arranging the grounds as I think you'll like them. I didn't furnish
the cottage, though. Women always like to select their own carpets and
Fran's face was a dimpled sea of pink and crimson waves, with
starry lights in her black eyes for signal-lights. “Oh, you king of
hearts!” she exclaimed. “And shall we have a church wedding, and just
Abbott laughed boyishly. “No—you must remember that your
connection with show-life is at an end.”
“But—and then—and so,” cried Fran rapturously, “I'm to have a
home after all, with flower-gardens and carpets and things—a
sure-enough home—Abbott, a home with you! Don't you know, it's
been the dream of my life to—to—”
Abbott was inexpressibly touched. “Yes, I was just thinking of what
I heard you say, once—to belong to somebody.”
Fran slipped her arms about his neck. “And what a somebody! To
belong to you. And to know that my home is our home....”
Abbott, with a sober sense of his unworthiness, embraced her
From far below came a sudden sound, making its way through the
continuity of the street-uproar. It was the chugging of the engine.
The wheel began to revolve.
Down they came—down—down—
Fran looked up at the moon. “Good-by,” she called, gaily. “The
world is good enough for me!”