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   Chapter 30 A FRESH OUTLOOK

Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways By Annie Roe Carr Characters: 17286

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Nan had already made up her mind what they must do. Despite the spread of the fire-and the heat of the flames already scorched their faces-she saw there was no escape for them by the front door of the building. And the chair-backs shut them off from the side exit.

"Get over the seat-back, Walter," Nan commanded. "Haul your sister and

Bess over. I can climb over myself and take little Inez with me."

"Don't leave us to burn up!" shrieked Linda, wildly, starting up again.

Her ears were keen enough.

"Pearl Graves has fainted," Walter said, hesitatingly.

"If we could only break down these seat-backs," cried Nan. "There are four rows between us and the side aisle."

"We can break them down," responded Walter, and immediately flung his weight against the back of the chair in which he had been sitting, glad to have some line of positive action suggested to him.

The boy's second attempt broke the back of the seat short off; it was built none too strong. He leaped over into the next row and quickly smashed his way through that.

"Come on, girls! I'll get you out," he cried, more cheerfully.

His sister and Bess climbed through the first aperture. Nan lifted Inez through and was about to follow, when Linda seized upon her jacket.

"You let me get out, Nan Sherwood!" she commanded, trying to pull Nan back.

"There is room enough-and time enough," panted Nan, resisting. "I must look after Inez."

"Let that young one go with Bess and Grace," Linda said. "Somebody's got to help me with Pearl. The silly has fainted."

Nan saw that this was so. She adjured Bess to take care of Inez.

"Hi! I don't need nobody ter take care o' me," cried that independent young lady. "I'm big enough to take care o' myself. You come on, Nan Sherwood."

"I'm coming," promised Nan, slipping back to help with Pearl.

Instantly Linda pushed by and followed the other girls, leaving Nan alone with Pearl Graves. The girl had no intention of helping her cousin.

Walter was smashing one seat-back after another, and calling to the girls to follow. Bess had grabbed up Inez and now only Nan and Pearl were left behind.

The latter was really senseless. Shaking her-patting her hands-rubbing her forehead-all did no good. It seemed impossible for Nan Sherwood to arouse her.

The smoke came down upon them, thick and stifling. The others of her party were shut out of Nan Sherwood's view. She heard them calling to each other, Walter shouting in advance. They thought Nan was coming, too.

Nan was dreadfully tempted to run. She was as frightened as she could be. She had a great terror of fire; ever since her experience with Cousin Tom in the forest fire, she had shuddered at the very thought of flames.

And here the heat of them almost overwhelmed her. The shrieks of the frantic throng at the main door of the theatre died away. She heard the shouted commands of the police and firemen-then the swish of water from the first pipe brought to play upon the flames. But they were all outside.

There was nobody near to help Nan Sherwood. She might easily have escaped by herself; but to leave this helpless girl whom Linda Riggs had abandoned-

Nan could not do that. She seized Pearl Graves by the shoulders and strove to drag her out of that row of seats and into the next. Although the main aide was now clear, she dared not try that way. Fire was raining down from the balcony into the back of the house.

Pearl was a larger and heavier girl than Nan. Strong as the latter was, and well developed from her athletic training, the older girl would have been a heavy charge for Nan at best. Now, with the smoke half smothering her, and Pearl a dead weight in her arms, Nan could scarcely drag her burden to the opening in the row of seats.

She struggled to it, however, and got the girl through the first row of chairs, tearing Pearl's dress sadly in the effort and scratching her own ungloved hands. Nan was crying, too, as she struggled on; she was both frightened and unnerved.

But she stuck to her self-imposed task. She could hear no voices near her now. Nothing but the crackling of the flames and the crash of axes as the firemen wrecked the partition back of the balcony to get at the seat of the fire.

There was nobody to help Nan with her burden. A curtain of smoke shut off the firemen and policemen in the front of the house from the auditorium itself. The smoke grew thicker back there where the young girl struggled to reach the side exit.

Walter Mason and her other friends had escaped. Nan was glad of that. She did not even question why none of them came back to help her.

Nan did not know that the moment they appeared in the side alley, leading back to the rear of the theatre, a policeman with more zeal than good sense hustled them away from the door and would not let even Walter return when he found that Nan and Pearl were not with the party.

"Ye can't go back in there, me laddy-buck," declared the officer. "Is it crazy ye are? Phat's in that the-a-tre will have to stay there, if it can't git out be itself. Orders is ter let nobody inside."

"But something's happened to Nan!" cried Walter. "She and that other girl are perhaps overcome with the smoke. They'll smother!"

"Be still, I tell yez," commanded the officer, putting the boy back with one hand. "Orders is orders. Ye can't go back."

The situation quite overpowered Walter. He could not break through to help Nan and Pearl. His own sister was crying to him and begging him to come out of danger. Bess was screaming for Nan. Linda stood by, shaking with terror and cold. She doubtless realized that she had been the cause of the catastrophe.

And then, suddenly, little Inez broke away from Bess's restraining hand, and darted toward the exit, out of which the smoke was now pouring. Walter sprang forward again, too. The police officer caught the boy with a strong hand and hurled him back with an emphatic word; but Inez ran right between the officer's legs!

"Now, drat that young'un!" ejaculated the policeman, as Inez completely escaped him and disappeared under the pall of smoke.

"Oh, Inez! Come back! You'll be smothered!" shrieked Grace.

If the child heard this cry she paid no attention. Fearless and wild, she was too used to having her own way to obey now. And, besides, in her own queer, half-tamed way, she loved Nan Sherwood.

Being so tiny, Inez was less affected by the smoke than those who were taller. The blundering policeman who essayed to follow her into the doorway, came staggering back, choking and blinded. Walter himself, springing forward when he thought the way was clear, was met by the rolling volume of pungent smoke, which filled his lungs and stifled him.

"Come back! Come back, Walter!" wailed his sister.

With smarting throat and tearful eyes the boy obeyed-not because he wanted to. The heat and smoke overpowered him. The policeman was still choking and gasping.

Then, of a sudden, Bess Harley emitted an excited cheer. "Here they are!

Hooray!" she shrieked.

Out of the doorway plunged little Inez, one arm over her eyes to defend them from the stinging smoke; one hand pulling at Nan's jacket, to guide her; for Nan came stumbling backward from the burning theatre, dragging Pearl Graves with her.

Both girls fell on the flagging as they reached the alley. The policeman and Walter raised Nan quickly. She did not lose consciousness; but she was scorched and breathless. Pearl, however, had not recovered her senses at all from the moment the shock had made her faint.

"She's-she's safe!" gasped Nan. "I covered her face so she should not breathe the smoke."

"And you're safe-you dear!" cried Bess, hugging her.

"And what a little trump that kid is," cried Walter, taking Inez by the shoulders and lifting her suddenly into his arms. He implanted a kiss on the child's smooched face, and put Inez down, laughing, when she struggled and cried out.

"Say, you're too fresh, you are," declared Inez. "Who told you you could kiss me? I don't like boys-much-anyway."

This made the other girls laugh. Walter aided Nan out of the alley. The policeman carried Pearl out into the back street and to the nearest drug store. There she was revived, and Linda telephoned for a taxi-cab to take them both home.

The rich girl had little to say to the Masons, or Nan and Bess. And certainly the four friends said nothing to her. They were convinced that there would have been no panic in the theatre had it not been for Linda Riggs; and her treatment of her own cousin had disgusted them all.

When Pearl had revi

ved, being still very sick, the druggist gave her some medicine and then Linda took her home in the cab. Pearl knew, however, who had saved her from the fire. Bess Harley saw to it that there was no mistake about that.

"And we both owe our escape, I verily believe, to little Inez," Nan said, laughing, and stroking the head of the waif fondly. "The dear little thing came right inside and found us in the smoke. I was almost out of breath."

Pearl was quietly grateful to Nan, however, and she kissed Inez. When she went away in the cab Nan's hand was the last she touched, and Nan knew that she had made a friend for life of Pearl Graves. Nan refused to allow the Masons or Bess to talk of the matter. They all walked home, and by the time they reached the Mason house were all more quiet and able to appear before Mrs. Mason as though nothing extraordinary had happened.

It was not until the next morning at breakfast time, indeed, that Walter's and Grace's parents learned of the fire in the new theatre. Not much damage had been done the house; but several people had been hurt; and the escape of Walter and his party had been really miraculous.

"Goodness me!" sighed Mrs. Mason. "I shall be afraid to have you young folk out of my sight for the remainder of this vacation. What scrapes you manage to get into!"

These busy winter holidays were drawing to a close, however. Grace and Walter Mason and their two visitors, as well as all of their neighborhood friends, who had occupied themselves most enjoyably and in a dozen different ways, were now scattering for the latter half of the school year.

Nan did not see Linda Riggs again while she remained in Chicago. Immediately following the fire in the picture theatre, the railroad president's daughter went home. How she really felt toward Nan, the latter did not know; nor did this uncertainty bother her much.

Now that her father's trouble with Mr. Ravell Bulson was cleared up, Nan did not worry over anything but the seemingly total disappearance of the runaways, Sallie and Celia or, as they preferred to be known, Lola Montague and Marie Fortesque.

Mr. Sherwood was still in town to settle matters with the automobile company, and would return to Tillbury with Nan and Bess and Inez. Walter and Grace tried to crowd into the last forty-eight hours of the chums' stay all the good times possible, and the second night before Nan and Bess were to go home, a masquerade party was arranged at the Mason home. Of course, Mrs. Mason was the chief "patroness" of the affair and superintended the arrangements herself. So it was bound to be a success.

Nan needed some ribbons and a new pair of gloves at the last minute, and she ran out to get them herself. Trying shop after shop, just as the street lights were beginning to glimmer, she wandered some blocks away from the Mason house.

She reached a corner where there was a brilliantly lighted bakery beside a narrow and dark alley. Nan was looking for a shop where gloves were sold, not for a bakery; but some people coming out of the shop jostled her. She did not give the little group a second glance as they set off on their several ways from the bakeshop door.

Suddenly, she heard a voice say: "Oh, Sallie! they smell so good. I am as hungry as I can be."

Nan fairly jumped. She wheeled quickly to see two girls-one quite tall and pretty, after a fashion-standing with a bag of cakes between them. The tall girl opened it while the shorter peered in hungrily.

"Goodness! Can it be-?"

Nan's unspoken question was not completed, for out of the alley darted a street urchin of about Inez's age, who snatched the bag of cakes out of the girl's hand and ran, shrieking, back into the dark alley.

"Oh! the rascal!" gasped the taller of the two girls.

The other burst into tears-and they were very real tears, too! She leaned against the bakery wall, with her arm across her eyes, and sobbed.

"Oh, Marie, don't!" begged the other, with real concern. "Suppose somebody sees you!"

"I don't care if they do. And I hate that name,-Marie!" choked the crying girl, desperately. "I won't answer to it an-any more-so now! I want my own na-name."

"Oh, dear, Celia! don't be a baby."

"I-I don't care if I am a baby. I'm hun-hun-hungry."

"Well, we'll buy some more cakes."

"You can't-you shouldn't," sobbed the other, weakly. "I haven't any more money at all, and you have less than a dollar."

Nan had heard enough. She did not care what these girls thought of her; they should not escape. She planted herself right before the two startled strangers and cried:

"You foolish, foolish things! You are starving for greasy baker's cakes, when your fathers and mothers at home are just sitting down to lovely sliced ham and brown bread and biscuit and homemade preserves and cake-and plenty of it all! Sallie Morton and Celia Snubbins, I think you are two of the most foolish girls I ever heard of!"

The crying girl stopped in surprise. The other tried to assume a very scornful air.

"Haven't you made a mistake, Miss?" she said. "My name is Lola Montague and my friend is Miss Marie Fortesque."

"Sure they are," said the excited Nan. "I know they are your names, for you chose them yourselves. But I was at your house, Sallie Morton, the day of the big blizzard-the very day after you and Celia ran away. And if you'd seen how your mother cried, and how badly your father felt-

"And your mother is worried to death about you, Celia Snubbins; and your father, Si, who is a dear old man, said he'd give everything he owned to get you back-"

"Oh, oh!" gasped Celia, and burst into tears again.

"Listen to this, Sallie Morton!" added Nan, rummaging in her shopping bag and bringing forth Mrs. Morton's letter. She read some of the letter aloud to the girls.

"Now, Sallie, how dare you stay away from a mother like that? You've both just got to come with me. I should think you'd have found out by this time that neither of you will ever be famous as motion picture actresses."

"We have!" gulped Celia, plucking up a little courage. "You know we have, Sallie. That Mr. Gray told us to go back and milk the cows-you know he did!"

Sallie, determined as she was, was softened by her mother's letter. She said: "Well-if they'll have us back, I s'pose we might as well go. But everybody will laugh at us, Celia."

"Let 'em laugh!" cried her friend. "They won't laugh any harder than those folk in that studio did when we tried to act for the movies."

Their experience searching for work at the film studios all over Chicago had taught the two country girls something, at least. They had seen how poor people have to live in the city, and were going back to their country homes with an appreciation of how much better off they were there.

First, however, Nan forgot to buy her gloves; and instead took Sallie and Celia back to the Mason house with her. When she explained the situation to Walter and sent him out to telegraph to Mr. Morton, the boy laughingly nick-named the big Mason home, "The Wayfarers' Inn."

"If you stayed here a month longer, Nan Sherwood, you'd have the house filled with waifs and strays," he declared.

Sallie and Celia that evening divided interest with the masquerade party. The next day at noon, however, the fathers of the two girls arrived and took them home.

The farmers were grateful-loquaciously so on Mr. Si Snubbins' part-to Mr. and Mrs. Mason for housing the runaways over night; but neither could properly express the feeling he had for Nan Sherwood.

Mrs. Morton did that later in a letter, and Nan keeps that much-read letter to this very day in the secret box in which she locks her medal for bravery. She thinks a great deal more of the letter from the grateful farmer's wife than she does of the Society's medal.

Before Nan Sherwood returned to Tillbury she saw Jennie Albert again, and finally made a special call upon Madam, the famous film actress, to beg that kind, if rather thoughtless, woman, to take the girl under her own special and powerful protection.

Inez went to Tillbury and Mrs. Sherwood welcomed the waif just as Nan knew she would. While Nan was absent at school, her mother would have somebody to run errands and who would be cheerful company for her in "the little dwelling in amity."

So we leave Nan Sherwood, looking toward her second term at Lakeview Hall, and about to renew her association with the girls and instructors there-looking forward, likewise, to hard study, jolly times, and a broadening opportunity for kindly deeds and pleasant adventures in her school life.

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