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   Chapter 23 JUST TOO LATE

Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways By Annie Roe Carr Characters: 10689

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Walter Mason was not only an accommodating escort; he was very much interested in the search for Inez. Even Bess, who seldom admitted the necessity for boys at any time in her scheme of life, admitted on this occasion that she was glad Walter was present.

"That woman, poor little Inez's aunt, would have slapped my face, I guess," she admitted. "Isn't it mean of her to speak so of the child? And she had beaten her! I don't see how you had the courage to face her, Walter."

"I should give him my medal," chuckled Nan. "Where now, Walter?"

"To see that officer," declared the boy.

The trio were again on the square where Inez had told Nan she almost always sold her flowers. Walter came back in a few moments from his interview with the police officer.

"Nothing doing," he reported. "The man says he hasn't seen her for several days, and she was always here."

"I suppose he knows whom we mean?" worried Bess.

"Couldn't be any mistake about that," Walter said. "He is afraid she is sick."

"I'm not," Nan said promptly. "It is just as Mrs. Beasley says. If her aunt took Inez's basket and money away, she is out of business. She's lost her capital. I only hope she is not hungry, poor thing."

"Dear, dear!" joined in Bess. "If she only knew how to come to us! She must know we'd help her."

"She knows where we are staying," Nan said. "Don't you remember I showed her Walter's card?"

"Then why hasn't she been to see us?" cried Bess.

"I guess there are several reasons for that," said sensible Nan.

"Well! I'd like to know what they are," cried her chum. "Surely, she could find her way."

"Oh, yes. Perhaps she didn't want to come. Perhaps she is too proud to beg of us-just beg money, I mean. She is an independent little thing."

"Oh, I know that," admitted Bess.

"But more than likely," Nan pursued, "her reason for not trying to see us was that she was afraid she would not be admitted to the house."

"My gracious!" exclaimed Walter. "I never thought of that."

"Just consider what would happen to a ragged and dirty little child who mounted your steps-even suppose she got that far," Nan said.

"What would happen to her?" demanded the wondering Bess, while Walter looked thoughtful.

"If she got into the street at all (there is always a policeman on fixed post at the corner) one of the men at the house, the butler or the footman, would drive her away.

"You notice that beggars never come through that street. They are a nuisance and wealthy people don't want to see people in rags about their doorsteps. Even the most charitable people are that way, I guess," added Nan.

"Your mother is so generous, Walter, that if beggars had free access to the street and the house, she could never go out of an afternoon without having to push her way through a throng of the poor and diseased to reach her carriage."

"Oh, mercy!" cried Bess.

"I guess that is so," admitted Walter. "You've got mother sized up about right."

"I know it's so," said Nan, quickly. "Do you know, I think your mother, Walter, would have made a good chatelaine of a castle in medieval times. Then charitably inclined ladies were besieged by the poor and miserable at their castle gates. The good lady gave them largess as she stepped into her chariot. Their servants threw silver pennies at a distance so that the unfortunates would scramble for the coins and leave a free passage for miladi.

"In those days," pursued Nan, quite in earnest, "great plagues used to destroy a large portion of the population-sweeping through the castles of the rich as well as the hovels of the poor. That was because the beggars hung so upon the skirts of the rich. Wealth paid for its cruelty to poverty in those days, by suffering epidemics of disease with the poor."

"Goodness, Nan! I never thought of that," said Walter. "What a girl you are."

"She reads everything," said Bess, proudly; "even statistics."

Nan laughed heartily. "I did not get that out of a book of statistics, Bess. But that is why we have so many hospitals and institutions for housing poor and ill people. Society has had to make these provisions for the poor, to protect itself."

"Now you sound like a regular socialist or anarchist or something," said

Bess, somewhat vaguely.

"You'd have heard it all before, if you'd listened to some of Dr. Beulah's lectures in the classroom," Nan said. "But we're far off the subject of Inez. I wish we could find her; but there seems no way."

"Oh, Nan! are you sure? Put on your thinking-cap," begged Bess.

"I have thought," her chum replied. "I thought of trying to trace her through the people who sell flowers to her. I asked Mrs. Beasley, and she told me that the flowers Inez sells come from the hotels and big restaurants where they have been on the tables over night. They are sorted and sold cheap to street pedlers like Inez. Hundreds of little ragamuffins buy and hawk these bouquets about the streets. The men who handle the trade would not be likely to remember one little girl.

"Besides," added Nan, smiling sadly. "Inez is a bankrupt. She is out of business altogether. The few pennies she saved back every day-rain or shine, whether she went hungry, or was fed-was her capital; and that her aunt took away. I'm dreadfully worried about the poor thing," concluded

Nan, with moist eyes.

She felt so bad about it that she could not bring herself to join the matinée party that had been arranged by Grace for that afternoon. Some of the girls were going to have a box at a musical comedy, with Miss Hagford as chaperon.

Nan did not plead a headache; indeed, she was not given to white lies. She wished to call on the lovely actress whom she had met the day of her adventure in the department store. She wanted to inquire if she had seen or heard anything of the runaways, Sallie and Celia.

"I'd dearly love to go with you," Bess observed. "Just think of your knowing such a famous woman. You have all the luck, Nan Sherwood."

"I'm not sure that it was good fortune that brought me in contact with the lady," Nan returned ruefully.

"Well! it turned out all right, at least," said Bess. "And my escapades never do. I never have any luck. If it rained soup and I was hungry, you know I wouldn't have any spoon."

Nan set forth before the other girls started for the theatre. She knew just how to find the fashionable apartment hotel in which the actress lived, for she and her friends had passed it more than once in the car.

At the desk the clerk telephoned up to the actress' apartment to see if she was in, and would receive Nan. The maid did not understand who Nan was, and was doubtful; but the moment Madam came to the telephone herself and heard Nan's name, she cried:

"Send her up-send her up! She is just the one I want to see."

This greatly excited Nan, for she thought of Sallie and Celia. When she was let out of the elevator on one of the upper floors, the apartment door was open, and Madam herself was holding out a welcoming hand to her, excitedly saying:

"You dear girl! You are as welcome as the flowers in May. Come in and let me talk to you. How surprising, really! I had no thought of seeing you, and yet I desired to-so much."

Nan was drawn gently into the large and beautiful reception room, while the actress was talking. She saw the woman's furs and hat thrown carelessly on a couch, and thought that she must have recently come in, even before Madam said:

"I have just come from an exhausting morning in the studio. Oh, dear! everybody seemed so stupid to-day. There are such days, you know-everything goes wrong, and even the patient camera-man loses his temper.

"Yes, Marie, you may bring the tea tray. I am exhausted; nothing but tea will revive this fainting pilgrim.

"And, my dear!" she added, turning to Nan again, "I have news for you-news of those runaway girls."

"Oh, Madam! Are Sallie and Celia found?" cried Nan. "I want so to make

Mrs. Morton happy."

"We-ell," said the actress, with less enthusiasm. "I believe I can give you a trace of them. But, of course, I haven't them shut up in a cage waiting for their parents to come for them," and she laughed.

"It really is an odd occurrence, my dear. At the time I was telling you the other day that those girls could not be working with my company, that is exactly what they were doing."

"Oh!" cried Nan, again.

"Yes, my dear. Just fancy! I only learned of it this very morning. Of course, I give no attention to the extra people, save when they are before the camera. My assistant hires them and usually trains the 'mob' until I want them.

"Now, fancy!" pursued the lovely woman, "there was a girl, named Jennie Albert, whom we had been using quite a good deal, and she fell ill. So she sent two new girls, and as Mr. Gray needed two extras that day, he let them stay without inquiring too closely into their personal affairs.

"Oh, I blame Mr. Gray, and I told him so. I did not see the girls in question until the big scene we put on this morning. Then the company before the camera was too large; the scene was crowded. I began weeding out the awkward ones, as I always do.

"Why, positively, my dear, there are some girls who do not know how to wear a frock, and yet they wish to appear in my films!

"These two girls of whom I speak I cut out at once. I told Mr. Gray never to put them into costume again. Why! sticks and stones have more grace of movement and naturalness than those two poor creatures-positively!" cried the moving picture director, with emphasis.

"Ah, well! I must not excite myself. This is my time for relaxation, and-a second cup of tea!"

Her light laughter jarred a bit on Nan Sherwood's troubled mind.

"To think!" the lovely actress said, continuing, "that it never occurred to my mind that those two awkward misses might be your runaways until I was standing on one side watching the scene as they passed out. One was crying. Of course I am sorry I had to order their discharge, but one must sacrifice much for art," sighed Madam.

"One was crying, and I heard the other call her 'Celia.' And then the crying girl said: 'I can't help it, Sallie. I am discouraged'-or something like that.

"Of course, you understand, my dear, my mind was engaged with far more important matters. My sub-consciousness must have filmed the words, and especially the girls' names. After the scene suited me, it suddenly came back to me that those names were the real names of the runaway girls. They had given Mr. Gray fictitious names, of course. When I sent him out to find them, he was just too late. The girls had left the premises."

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