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   Chapter 29 THE KEY TO A HARD LOCK

Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways By Annie Roe Carr Characters: 29997

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The young people had planned to spend that next forenoon at a skating rink, where the ice was known to be good; but Nan ran away right after breakfast to meet her father's train, intending to join the crowd at the rink later.

"I'll take your skates for you, Nan," Walter assured her, as she set forth for the station.

"That's so kind of you, Walter," she replied gratefully.

"Say! I'd do a whole lot more for you than that," blurted out the boy, his face reddening.

"I think you have already," said Nan, sweetly, waving him good-bye from the taxi in which Mrs. Mason had insisted she should go to the station.

She settled back in her seat and thought happily for a few minutes. She had been so busy with all sorts of things here in Chicago-especially with what Bess Harley called "other people's worries"-that Nan had scarcely been able to think of her hopes for the future, or her memories of the past. She had been living very much in the present.

"Why," she thought, with something like a feeling of remorse, "I haven't even missed Beautiful Beulah. I-I wonder if I am really growing up? Oh, dear!"

Mr. Sherwood thought her a very much composed and sophisticated little body, indeed, when he met her on the great concourse of the railway station.

"Goodness me, Nan!" he declared, when he had greeted her. "How you do grow. Your mother and I have seen so little of you since we came back from Scotland, that we haven't begun to realize that you are a big, big girl."

"Don't make me out too big, Papa Sherwood!" she cried, clinging to his arm. "I-I don't want to grow up entirely. I want for a long time to be your little girl.

"I know what we'll do," cried Nan, delightedly. "You have plenty of time before your business conference. We'll walk along together to see how Jennie Albert is-it isn't far from here-and you shall buy me a bag of peanuts, just as you used to do, and we'll eat 'em right on the street as we go along."

"Is that the height of your ambition?" laughed Mr. Sherwood. "If so, you are easily satisfied."

Nan told her father all about the search for the runaway girls, and about little Inez and Jennie Albert. She wanted to see how the latter was. The comforts she and her friends had left the sick girl the day before, and the ministrations of the physician, should have greatly improved Jennie's condition.

Nan left her father at the entrance to the alley leading back to Jennie's lodging; but in a few minutes she came flying back to Mr. Sherwood in such excitement that at first she could scarcely speak connectedly.

"Why, Nan! What is the matter?" her father demanded.

"Oh! come up and see Jennie! Do come up and see Jennie!" urged Nan.

"What is the matter with her? Is she worse?"

"Oh, no! Oh, no!" cried the excited girl. "But she has got such a wonderful thing to tell you, Papa Sherwood!"

"To tell me?" asked her father wonderingly.

"Yes! Come!" Nan seized his hand and pulled him into the alley. On the way she explained a little of the mystery.

"Dear me! it's the most wonderful thing, Papa Sherwood. You know, I told you Jennie was working for a moving picture company that was making a film at Tillbury. She had a boy's part; she looks just like a boy with a cap on, for her hair is short.

"Well! Now listen! They took those pictures the day before, and the very day that you came back from Chicago to Tillbury and that awful Mr. Bulson lost his money and watch."

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Sherwood, suddenly evincing all the interest

Nan expected him to in the tale.

As they mounted the stairs Nan retailed how the company had gone to the railroad yards early in the morning, obtaining permission from the yardmaster to film a scene outside the sleeping car standing there on a siding, including the entrance of Jennie as the burglars' helper through the narrow ventilator.

"Of course, the sleeping car doors can only be opened from the inside when it is occupied, save with a key," Nan hastened to say; "so you see she was supposed to enter through the ventilator and afterward open the door to the men."

"I see," Mr. Sherwood observed, yet still rather puzzled by his daughter's vehemence.

Jennie Albert, however, when he was introduced to her by Nan, gave a much clearer account of the matter. To take up the story where Nan had broken off, Jennie, when she wriggled through the window into the car, had seen a big negro man stooping over a man in a lower berth and removing something from under his pillow.

The man in the berth was lying on his back and snoring vociferously.

There seemed to be no other passenger remaining in the car.

Jennie did not see what the colored man took from the sleeping passenger, but she was sure he was robbing him. The negro, however, saw Jennie, and threatened to harm her if she ever spoke of the matter.

The director of the picture and other men were outside. The girl was alarmed and more than half sick then. She had the remainder of the director's instructions to carry out.

Therefore, she hurried to open the sleeping car door as her instructions called for, and the negro thief escaped without Jennie's saying a word to anybody about him.

Mr. Sherwood, as deeply interested, but calmer than Nan, asked questions to make sure of the identity of the sleeping passenger. It was Mr. Ravell Bulson, without a doubt.

"And about the negro?" he asked the girl. "Describe him."

But all Jennie could say was that he was a big, burly fellow with a long, long nose.

"An awfully long nose for a colored person," said Jennie. "He frightened me so, I don't remember much else about him-and I'm no scare-cat, either. You ask any of the directors I have worked for during the past two years. If I only had a pretty face like your Nan, here, Mr. Sherwood, they'd be giving me the lead in feature films-believe me!"

The mystery of how the negro got into the locked car was explained when Mr. Sherwood chanced to remember that the porter of the coach in which he had ridden from Chicago that night answered the description Jennie Albert gave of the person who had robbed Mr. Bulson.

"I remember that nose!" declared Mr. Sherwood, with satisfaction. "Now we'll clear this mystery up. You have given me a key, Miss Jennie, to what was a very hard lock to open."

This proved to be true. Mr. Sherwood went to his conference with the automobile people with a lighter heart. On their advice, he told the story to the police and the description of the negro porter was recognized as that of a man who already had a police record-one "Nosey" Thompson.

This negro had obtained a position with the sleeping car company under a false name and with fraudulent recommendations.

These facts Nan, at least, did not learn till later; she ran off to the skating rink, secure in the thought that her father's trouble with Mr. Ravell Bulson was over. She hoped she might never see that grouchy fat man again. But Fate had in store for her another meeting with the disagreeable Mr. Bulson, and this fell out in a most surprising way.

When Nan was almost in sight of the building where she expected to join her friends on skates, there sounded the sudden clangor of fire-truck whistles, and all other traffic halted to allow the department machines to pass. A taxi-cab crowded close in to the curb where Nan had halted, just as the huge ladder-truck, driven by its powerful motor, swung around the corner.

Pedestrians, of course, had scattered to the sidewalks; but the wheels of the ladder-truck skidded on the icy street and the taxi was caught a glancing blow by the rear wheel of the heavier vehicle.

Many of the onlookers screamed warnings in chorus; but all to no avail. Indeed, there was nothing the driver of the cab could have done to avert the catastrophe. His engine was stopped and there was no possibility of escape with the car.

Crash! the truck-wheel clashed against the frail cab, and the latter vehicle was crushed as though made of paper. The driver went out on his head. Screams of fear issued from the interior of the cab as it went over in a heap of wreckage and the ladder-truck thundered on.

Nan saw a fat face with bulging eyes set in it appear at the window of the cab. She was obliged to spring away to escape being caught in the wreck. But she ran back instantly, for there were more than the owner of the fat face in the overturned taxi.

With the sputtering of the fat man there sounded, too, a shrill, childish scream of fear, and a wild yelp of pain-the latter unmistakably from a canine throat. Amid the wreckage Nan beheld a pair of blue-stockinged legs encased in iron supports; but the dog wriggled free.

"Hey! Hey!" roared the fat man. "Help us out of this. Never mind that driver. He ought to have seen that thing coming and got out of the way. Hey! Help us out, I say."

Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the fat and angry citizen; nor would Nan have heeded him had it not been for the appeal of those two blue-stockinged legs in the iron braces.

The fat man was all tangled up in the robes and in the broken fittings of the cab. He could do nothing for himself, let alone assist in the rescue of the owner of the crippled little limbs. The dog, darting about, barked wildly.

As Nan stooped to lift the broken cab door off the apparently injured boy, the dog-he was only a puppy-ran yapping at her in a fever of apprehension. But his barking suddenly changed to yelps of joy as he leaped on Nan and licked her hands.

"Why, Buster!" gasped the girl, recognizing the little spaniel that she and Bess Harley had befriended in the snow-bound train.

She knew instantly, then, whose was the fat and apoplectic face; but she did not understand about the legs in the cruel looking iron braces until she had drawn a small and sharp-featured lad of seven or eight years of age from under the debris of the taxi-cab.

"Jingo! Look at Pop!" exclaimed the crippled boy, who seemed not to have been hurt at all in the accident.

Mr. Ravell Bulson was trying to struggle out from under the cab. And to his credit he was not thinking of himself at this time.

"How's Junior?" he gasped. "Are you hurt, Junior?"

"No, Pop, I ain't hurt," said the boy with the braces. "But, Jingo! you do look funny."

"I don't feel so funny," snarled his parent, finally extricating himself unaided from the tangle. "Sure you're not hurt, Junior?"

"No, I'm not hurt," repeated the boy. "Nor Buster ain't hurt. And see this girl, Pop. Buster knows her."

Mr. Ravell Bulson just then obtained a clear view of Nan Sherwood, against whom the little dog was crazily leaping. The man scowled and in his usual harsh manner exclaimed:

"Call the dog away, Junior. If you're not hurt we'll get another cab and go on."

"Why, Pop!" cried the lame boy, quite excitedly. "That pup likes her a whole lot. See him? Say, girl, did you used to own that puppy?"

"No, indeed, dear," said Nan, laughing. "But he remembers me."

"From where?" demanded the curious Ravell Bulson, Jr.

"Why, since the time we were snow-bound in a train together."

"Oh! when was that?" burst out the boy. "Tell me about it snow-bound in a steam-car train? That must have been jolly."

"Come away, Junior!" exclaimed his father. "You don't care anything about that, I'm sure."

"Oh, yes I do, Pop. I want to hear about it. Fancy being snow-bound in a steam-car train!"

"Come away, I tell you," said the fat man, again scowling crossly at Nan. "You don't want to hear anything that girl can tell you. Come away, now," he added, for a crowd was gathering.

"Do wait a minute, Pop," said Junior. The lame boy evidently was used to being indulged, and he saw no reason for leaving Nan abruptly. "See the dog. See Buster, will you? Why, he's just in love with this girl."

"I tell you to come on!" complained Mr. Bulson, Senior. He was really a slave to the crippled boy's whims; but he disliked being near Nan Sherwood, or seeing Junior so friendly with her. "You can't know that girl, if the dog does," he snarled.

"Why, yes I can, Pop," said the lame boy, with cheerful insistence. "And

I want to hear about her being snowed up in a train with Buster."

"Your father can tell you all about it," Nan said, kindly, not wishing to make Mr. Bulson any angrier. "He was there in the snowed-up train, too. That's how I came to be acquainted with your little dog. He was with your father on the train."

"Why, Pop!" cried the eager boy. "You never told me a word about it. And you must know this girl."

Mr. Ravell Bulson only grunted and scowled.

"What's your name, girl?" cried the boy, curiously.

"I am Nan Sherwood," the girl said, kissing him and then giving him a gentle push toward his father's outstretched and impatient hand. "If I don't see you again I shall often think of you. Be good to Buster."

"You must tell me about being snowed up, Pop," urged little Junior, as

Nan turned away. "And I like that girl."

"That isn't much to tell-and I don't like her-nor any of her name," snapped Mr. Bulson.

"But you'll tell me about the snowed-up train?"

"Yes, yes!" cried his father, impatiently, anxious to get his lame son away from Nan's vicinity. "I'll tell you all about it."

Nan was quite sure that the fat man would be ashamed to give his little son the full particulars of his own experience on the stalled train. The little chap, despite his affliction, was an attractive child and seemed to have inherited none of his father's unhappy disposition.

"Good bye, Nan Sherwood!" he cried after the girl. "Come, Buster! Come,

Buster! My, Pop! Buster likes that girl!"

"Well, I don't," declared the fat man, still scowling at Nan.

"Don't you?" cried Junior. "That's funny. I like her, and Buster likes her, and you don't, Pop. I hope I'll see you again, Nan Sherwood."

His father almost dragged him away, the spaniel, on a leash, cavorting about the lame boy. Nan was amazed by the difference in the behavior of Mr. Bulson and his afflicted son.

"And won't he be surprised when he learns that it wasn't Papa Sherwood, after all, but that wicked negro porter, who stole his wallet and watch?" Nan mused. "I hope they find the man and punish him. But-it really does seem as though Mr. Bulson ought to be punished, too, for making my father so much trouble."

Later "Nosey" Thompson was captured; but he had spent all Mr. Bulson's money in a drunken spree, and while intoxicated had been robbed of the watch. So, in the end, the quarrelsome fat man, who had so maligned Mr. Sherwood and caused him so much trouble, recovered nothing-not even his lost temper.

"Which must be a good thing," was Bess Harley's comment. "For if I had a temper like his, I'd want to lose it-and for good and all!"

"But there must be some good in that fat man," Nan said, reflectively.

"Humph! Now find some excuse for him, Nan Sherwood!" said her c

hum.

"No. Not an excuse. He maligned Papa Sherwood and I can't forgive him. But his little boy thinks the world of him, I can see; and Mr. Bulson is very fond of the little boy-'Junior,' as he calls him."

"Well," quoth Bess, "so does a tiger-cat love its kittens. He's a gouty, grumpy old fellow, with an in-growing grouch. I couldn't see a mite of good in him with a spyglass."

Her chum laughed heartily at that statement. "Well, let us hope he will keep so far away from us after this that we will have to use a spyglass to see him at all."

"And there's another person who can stay away from us," said Bess, suddenly.

"Who's that?" queried Nan, looking up at the change in Bess' voice.

"Linda Riggs. She's coming this way," Bess said, tartly.

This conversation occurred in the skating rink, and while Nan was having her skates strapped on by an attendant, for Walter Mason was not at the moment in sight.

The haughty daughter of the railroad president evidently proposed speaking with the chums from Tillbury. They had not seen her since the runaway and more than once Nan had wondered just what attitude Linda would take when they again met.

For Nan's part, she would rather not have met the rich girl at all. She had no particular ill-feeling toward her now; although time was when Linda had done all in her power to hurt Nan's reputation-and that not so very long past. But having actually helped to save the girl's life, Nan Sherwood could not hold any grudge against Linda. Bess, on the other hand, bristled like an angry dog when she saw Linda approach.

Linda came skating along warily, and arrived at the chums' bench by a series of graceful curves. She was rather a good skater, but more showy than firm on her skates.

"Oh, girls! I'm awful glad to see you," Linda cried, boisterously-and that boisterousness doubtless was assumed to cover her natural embarrassment at meeting again the girl whom she had so injured. "I didn't have time," pursued Linda, hurriedly, "the other day, to thank you properly-or Walter-for helping me out of that sleigh. I was scared."

"I should think you would have been," Bess said, rather grimly. "I'm sure

I thought you would never get out of it alive."

"Well," repeated Linda, more doubtfully, for Nan had remained silent, "I wanted to thank you for what you did for me."

"You needn't thank me," said Bess, sharply. "For I didn't do a thing."

"Well, Nan Sherwood did, I s'pose," Linda observed, her color rising.

"You are heartily welcome if you think you need to thank me, Linda," Nan said, quietly. "But Walter really did it all."

"Of course!" said Linda, tossing her head, for Bess' manner had rasped the rich girl, "I know it took Walter to do it. But I presumed you girls expected to be thanked, too," and she turned sharply away.

"Oh, Bess! we ought not to have spoken as we did," murmured Nan, contritely.

"Pooh! Let her go. Mean old thing!" exclaimed Bess. "And you didn't say anything to get her mad. Crocodile tears! what did I tell you? Linda Riggs is a regular cat-"

"Both cat and crocodile?" giggled Nan. "Your natural history, Bess, honey, must be slightly twisted."

"I've about got that girl's number, just the same," said Bess, slangily. "You wait, Nan. She'll be just as mean when we get to Lakeview Hall as ever she was. Mark my word."

"All right, Worthy Prophetess," said Nan, seriously. "I mark thee well. But I am afraid we are in the wrong this time. We should have encouraged her attempt to be grateful."

She had no idea-nor had Nan Sherwood herself-that it lay within Linda's power, if it did in her wish, to injure Nan further. But Fate weaves strange webs of ordinary circumstances and that very evening Nan Sherwood came in close contact with Linda Riggs again, and the incident savored of a new peril, as keen as it was unexpected.

Walter was a minute late at the dinner table that night and as he slid into his seat beside Nan, after excusing himself to his mother and receiving her absolution in a smile, he whispered to Nan:

"What's 'on' for after dinner?"

"I really do not know of anything, Walter," she replied, smiling. "Don't you suppose we girls ever want to keep quiet? This visit to your house has been one continual round of pleasure-"

"Yes. You get your pleasure out of rescuing kids from the street, chasing runaway horses, hunting for runaway girls, and playing Sister of Charity to sick people. Say! your idea of pleasure, Nan Sherwood, is simply funny. Now, I've got something on for this evening, if you, and Bess, and Grace-and the kid, of course-want to go. But no crowd. My exchequer will not stand it.

"I'm running low in funds and father won't let me overdraw my allowance, although he lets Grace do it almost every month. He says a girl hasn't any head for figures, anyway, and she's to be excused."

"Oh, my!" gasped Nan. "That maligns the sex. I ought not to allow that,

Walter Mason."

"Huh!" returned the boy, grinning. "Grace doesn't mind how much the sex is maligned, I warrant, as long as father hands her out an extra five whenever she runs short."

"But you haven't told me what the scheme is for this evening," Nan reminded him.

"Movies," Walter said. "There's a dandy new theatre opened on Halliburton Street. It isn't far, and mother approves of the class of pictures they run. There are going to be some funny ones shown to-night, too. I'll stand treat for you girls-but no more."

"Dear me, Walter," cried Nan. "You spend all your money on us girls."

"It couldn't go in a better cause," retorted the generous boy, stoutly.

Permission for the evening's outing was easily obtained, and the quintette of pleasure-seeking young folk hurried away immediately after dinner, so as to see the first show and get home early. Little Inez was as eager and excited as she could be over the prospect of seeing a real movie show.

"I seen some pictures once in a dance hall where a man let me sell me flowers," she explained. "But, I never dared spend a nickel for no show. Me aunt would have scalped me-sure she would!"

Mr. Sherwood had seen Inez's aunt that afternoon, at his little daughter's request, and found that the woman dared make no objection as to their disposal of the child. In fact, she seemed a good deal relieved that kind friends had been raised for Inez.

The party arrived at the new picture palace to find a goodly crowd already assembled at the entrance. On this opening night there was a good deal of local interest shown, and the first picture was being finished when Nan Sherwood and her friends crowded into their seats.

"That's a good picture, I warrant," Walter said. "We want to stay and see that run over again. Ah-ha! here comes a Keynote Comedy. That will be a funny one, sure."

"I like to laugh," announced Inez, with her most serious air. "But I ain't never had much time for it."

"You poor little mite," said Bess. "I should say you hadn't. But you'll laugh all right when you get home with us to Tillbury. Won't she, Nan?"

"Of course she will," agreed Nan, squeezing the little one close to her.

They did not, however, laugh much at the picture which followed. The reels did not seem to run very evenly. Either the operator was not an experienced one or there was something the matter with the machine. The flash-card, "Wait a minute, please," appeared so frequently on the screen that the audience began to murmur, and some got up and went out.

There were others ready to take their places, and this continual changing of positions in the half-darkness of the house made a confusion that was hard to bear.

Nan and her friends moved over against the wall and another party came rustling in to take the seats in that row nearest to the aisle. Not until this crowd was seated did the party from the Mason house realize that it was anybody whom they knew.

Then Pearl Graves' rather loud voice broke in upon Nan and Walter's whispered conversation:

"Why! see who's here?" she cried. "Hullo, Walter Mason. Who's that you've got with you? Nan Sherwood, I'll be bound. And Grace, and Bess Harley. Hullo, girls! Is the show any good?"

"For goodness' sake!" interposed the sharp voice of the girl on the other side of Pearl. "Can't we go anywhere without running up against that Nan Sherwood and her crowd?"

"Oh, you be still, Linda!" laughed good-natured Pearl. "You ought to be pleased as Punch to see Nan and Walter. Between them they just about saved your life when Granny Graves' horses ran away with you the other day."

Little Inez was on Nan's other side and immediately Nan gave her attention to the child, leaving Walter free to talk with the new-comers if he chose.

"Did you like that picture, dear?" asked Nan of the little one.

"Hi! I liked it where the fat man slipped up on the soap at the top of the stairs and slid to the bottom where the scrub-woman left her tub of water. Do you 'spect that was real water, Nan Sherwood? He'd ha' been drowned, wouldn't he?"

"I guess it was real water," laughed Nan. "But they wouldn't let him be drowned in a picture."

"I forget it's a picture," sighed little Inez, exhibiting thereby true dramatic feeling for the art of acting. To her small mind the pantomime seemed real.

Another reel was started. The projection of it flickered on the screen until it dazzled one's eyes to try to watch it.

"Goodness!" gasped Pearl Graves. "I hope that won't keep up."

The excited little Hebrew who owned the theatre ran, sputtering, up the aisle, and climbed into the gallery to expostulate with the operator. There was an explosion of angry voices from the operator's box when the proprietor reached it.

The reel was halted again-this time without the projection of the usual "Wait a minute, please," card. The next instant there was another explosion; but not of voices.

A glare of greenish flame was projected from the box in the gallery where the machine was located-then followed a series of crackling, snapping explosions!

It was indeed startling, and there were a general craning of necks and excited whispering in the audience; but it might have gone no further had it not been for Linda Riggs.

It could not have been with malice-for the result swept Linda herself into the vortex of excitement and peril that followed; but the railroad president's daughter shrieked at the loudest pitch of her voice:

"Fire! fire! We'll all be burned to death! Fire!"

"Be still!" "Sit down!" were commands that instantly sounded from all parts of the house.

But the mischief was done, and Linda continued to shriek in apparently an abandonment of terror:

"Fire! Fire!"

Other nervous people took up the cry. Nearly half a thousand spectators were seated in the picture theatre and the smell of smoke was in their nostrils and the glare of fire above them.

For something, surely, was burning in the operator's box. The danger of the inflammable film was in the minds of all. A surge of the crowd toward the main exit signaled the first panic.

The outgoing rush was met by those who (not understanding the commotion) had been waiting at the back for seats. These people would not give way easily as the frightened audience pushed up the main aisle.

Those at the sides escaped more easily, for there was an exit on either side of the audience room. In the case of Nan Sherwood and her party, however, they were in the worst possible position as far as quick escape went. By some oversight of the fire inspectors the seats on several front rows had been built close against the sidewalls, with no passage at that end of the rows for entrance or egress.

Bess was next to the wall, and she jumped up, crying: "Oh, come on, girls! let's get out. Walter! I say, Walter! I'm frightened. Let us go."

Grace was crying.

Nan hugged Inez close to her and looked to Walter, too, to extricate them from their situation. But Linda had reached across her cousin, Pearl Graves, and clawed at Walter in abject terror. "Oh, save me! save me, Walter!" she moaned. "I am so afraid of fire-and in a place like this! Oh! oh!"

"Shut that girl's mouth!" exclaimed one man from the front. "Stop that screaming! There is no danger! The fire is confined to the box, and that is made of sheet iron. We're all right. Don't crowd!"

The panic had, however, spread too far.

The mob struggled and fought at the main doors. The police had been summoned; but they could not get into the building through the main entrance, and the side exits were toward the rear. Several people were knocked down and trampled on. A pungent odor of burning filled the theatre; the crackling of the flames grew louder and louder.

Walter had his hands full with Linda and Pearl, who had become likewise panic-stricken. Nan pushed Grace and Bess back toward the wall.

"Stand right where you are. We mustn't get in that crowd. We'll be killed," advised she, holding little Inez close to her.

"Save me! save me, Walter!" wailed Linda.

"I wish somebody would take this girl out of the way!" growled Walter

Mason in much disgust, and far from gallant.

"Don't leave me!" shrieked Linda.

People began madly to climb over the seats-and over one another-to reach the side exits.

"How ever will we get out, Nan?" demanded Bess Harley, with keen faith in her chum.

"Keep still. Let us wait," urged Nan.

But at that instant red and yellow flames burst from the box where the picture projecting machine was housed. These flames began to lick up the furnishings of the balcony like so much tinder. Sparks and dense smoke were thrown off and both settled upon the struggling people below.

"Oh, Walter! Walter! We shall be burned," cried his sister.

The boy had never yet neglected his timid sister's cry. He somewhat rudely pushed Linda away and reached across Nan and Inez to seize Grace's hand.

"Pluck up your courage, Sis!" he cried, his voice rising cheerfully above the turmoil. "We'll get out all right."

"But how?" demanded Bess, in great anxiety. "Oh! see those sparks fly!"

"I see," said Nan, trying to speak calmly.

"They're falling right on those poor people-do, do look!" gasped Bess.

There was an open space between the young folks from the Mason house and the crowd that was wedged into the exit at the head of the main aisle. Upon this mob was pouring smoke and sparks. The flames ate up the bunting with which the balcony rail and pillars were decorated. The burning cloth floated down upon the heads of the excited people and threatened to set the dresses of some afire.

Pearl Graves had actually fainted in her seat. Linda lay across her cousin, sobbing and groaning. The rest of their party, whoever they were, had deserted the two girls.

"What under the sun shall we do, Nan?" whispered Walter, and Nan read the words on his lips rather than heard them; for the burning theatre was by this time a scene of pandemonium.

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