MoboReader> Literature > Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways

   Chapter 14 THE FIRST CLUE

Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways By Annie Roe Carr Characters: 8367

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Nan and her chum were wildly excited. During their brief stay at Tillbury over Christmas they had been so busy, at home and abroad, that they had not thought much about Sallie Morton and Celia Snubbins, the two runaways.

In Nan's case, not having seen her mother for ten months, she did not-at the last moment-even desire to come away from her and visit her school friends in Chicago.

There really was so much to say, so much to learn about Scotland and the beautiful old Emberon Castle and the village about it, and about the queer people Mrs. Sherwood had met, too! Oh! Nan hoped that she would see the place in time-the "Cradle of the Blake Clan," as Mr. Sherwood called it.

There had been presents, of course, and in the giving and accepting of these Nan had found much pleasure and excitement-especially when she found a box of beautiful new clothes for her big doll, all made in Scotland by "Momsey," who knew just how precious Beautiful Beulah was in her daughter's eyes.

With all her work and play at Lakeview Hall, Nan Sherwood had not forgotten Beulah. The other girls of her age and in her grade were inclined to laugh at Nan for playing dolls; but at the last of the term Beautiful Beulah had held the post of honor in Room Seven, Corridor Four.

Nan's love for dolls foreshadowed her love for babies. She never could pass a baby by without trying to make friends with it. The little girls at Lakeview Hall found a staunch friend and champion in Nan Sherwood. It was a great grief to Mrs. Sherwood and Nan that there were no babies in the "little dwelling in amity." Nan could barely remember the brother that had come to stay with them such a little while, and then had gone away forever.

Nan's heart was touched by the apparent needs of this street girl who had come to the rescue of Bess and herself when they arrived in Chicago. All the time she and her chum were trying to learn something about the two girls who had come to the great city to be moving picture actresses, and listening to what the flower-seller had to say about them, Nan was thinking, too, of their unfortunate little informant.

"Is that restaurant where you took those girls to eat near here?" she suddenly asked.

"Aw, say! 'tain't no rest'rant," said the child. "It's just Mother

Beasley's hash-house."

"Goodness!" gasped Bess. "Is it a nice place?"

The girl grinned. "'Cordin' ter what you thinks is nice. I 'spect you'd like the Auditorium Annex better. But Mother Beasley's is pretty good when you ain't got much to spend."

Bess looked at Nan curiously. The latter was eager to improve this acquaintanceship so strangely begun, and for more than one reason.

"Could you show us to Mother Beasley's-if it isn't very far away?"

Nan asked.

"Aw, say! What d'ye think? I ain't nawthan' ter do but beau greenies around this burg? A swell chaunc't I'd have to git any eats meself. I gotter sell these posies, I have."

"But you can eat with us!" Nan suggested.

"Oh, Nan!" Bess whispered. "Do you s'pose we can find any clue to those girls there?"

"I hope so," returned Nan, in the same low voice.

"Goodness! I'm just as excited as I can be," her chum went on to say. "We'll be regular detectives. This beats being a movie actress, right now."

Nan smiled, but in a moment was grave again. "I'd do a great deal for that lovely Mrs. Morton," she said. "And even funny old Si Snubbins had tears in his eyes at the last when he begged us to find his Celia."

"I know it," Bess agreed sympathetically. "But I can't help being excited just the same. If we should find them at this Mother Beasley's-"

"I don't expect that; but we may hear of them there," said Nan. "Here's our new chum."

The flower-girl had darted away to sell one of her little bouquets. Now she came back and took up the discussion where she had dropped it.

"Now about those eats," she said. "I ain't in the habit of eating at all hours; it don't agree wid my constitootin, me doctor tells me. Fact is, sometimes I don't eat much, if any."

"Oh!" gasped Bess.

"That's when I don't sell out. An' I got five posies left. I b'lieve I'd better take ye up on this offer. Y

ouse pay for me feed for the pleasure of me comp'ny; hey?"

"That's the answer," said Nan, spiritedly. "We're going to be good friends, I can see."

"We are if youse is goin' to pay for me eats," agreed the girl.

"What is your name?" asked Nan, as their young pilot guided the chums across to the opening of a side-street. "Mine is Nan, and my friend's is Bess."

"Well, they calls me some mighty mean names sometimes; but my real, honest-to-goodness name is Inez. Me mudder was a Gypsy Queen and me fadder was boss of a section gang on de railroad somewhere. He went off and me mudder died, and I been livin' with me aunt. She's good enough when she ain't got a bottle by her, and me and her kids have good times. But I gotter rustle for me own grub. We all haster."

Nan and Bess listened to this, and watched the independent little thing in much amazement. Such a creature neither of the chums from Tillbury had ever before heard of or imagined.

"Do you suppose she is telling the truth?" whispered Bess to Nan.

"I don't see why she should tell a wrong story gratuitously," Nan returned.

"Come on, girls," said Inez, turning into another street-narrower and more shabby than the first. "Lift your feet! I ain't got no time to waste."

Nan laughed and hastened her steps; but Bess looked doubtful.

"Hi!" exclaimed the street girl, "are you sure you two ain't wantin' to break into the movies, too?"

"Not yet," proclaimed Nan. "But we would like to find a couple of girls who, I think, came to Chicago for that purpose."

"Hi! them two I was tellin' you about?"

"Perhaps."

"Their folks want 'em back?" asked the street child, abruptly.

"I should say they did!" cried Bess.

"Ain't they the sillies!" exclaimed Inez. "Catch me leavin' a place where they didn't beat me too much and where the eats came reg'lar."

"Oh!" again ejaculated Bess.

Just then a little boy, more ragged even than their guide, approached. At once Inez proceeded to shove him off the sidewalk, and when he objected, she slapped him soundly.

"Why, goodness me, child!" cried the astonished Nan, "what did you do that for? Did he do anything to you?"

"Nope. Never seen him before," admitted Inez. "But I pitch into all the boys I see that I'm sure I can whip. Then they let me alone. They think I'm tough. These boys wouldn't let a girl sell a flower, nor a newspaper, nor nothin', if they could help it. We girls got ter fight 'em."

"The beginning of suffragism," groaned Nan.

"I never heard of such a thing!" Bess cried. "Fighting the boys-how disgraceful!"

Inez stared at her. "Hi!" she finally exclaimed, "you wouldn't make much if you didn't fight, I can tell ye. When I see a boy with a basket of posies, I pull it away from him and tear 'em up. Boys ain't got no business selling posies around here. That's a girl's job, and I'm goin' to show 'em, I am!"

Nan and Bess listened to this with mingled emotions. It was laughable, yet pitiful. Little boys and girls fighting like savages for a bare existence. The chums were silent the rest of the way to the old brick house-just a "slice" out of a three-story-and-basement row of such houses, which Inez announced to be "Mother Beasley's."

"Sometimes she's got her beds all full and you hafter wait for lodgin's.

Mebbe she'll let you camp in her room, or in one of the halls up-stairs."

"Oh, but, my dear, we don't wish to stay!" Nan said. "Only to eat here and inquire about those other girls."

"Where' ye goin' to stop?" asked Inez, curiously.

"We have friends out by Washington Park," Bess said. "They'd have met us, only there was some mistake in the arrival of our train."

"Hi! Washington Park?" exclaimed the flower-seller. "Say, you must be big-bugs."

Nan laughed. "I guess they are," she said.

"Youse won't be suited with Mother Beasley's grub," said the girl, hesitating at the basement steps.

"I believe she's right," Bess said faintly, as the odor of cooking suddenly burst forth with the opening of the door under the long flight leading to the front door of the house.

"I've eaten in a lumber camp," said Nan, stoutly. "I'm sure this can't be as hard."

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