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   Chapter 7 THE PLACE OF DARKNESS

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 10436

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Florence never tired of her work on the Enchanted Island. On this island which man by his ingenuity and tireless energy had drawn from the very bottom of the lake, children romped while their elders sought amusement to their own liking.

Florence loved small children. With their gay frocks, their tossing hair, their frank smiles, she found them entrancing. Just to watch over them as they rode on gay launches or diminutive motor buses, or laughed at the talking cow and the puppet show; to climb with them the magic mountain where all manner of strange people from fairyland awaited them; then to call all this work and to receive money for it on pay day-this to her seemed absurd.

And yet this was her manner of spending her day on the Enchanted Island. So absorbed in it did she become that she all but forgot to call Jeanne and tell her of the strange appointment she had made for eleven o'clock that night.

At four she did think of it, and at once dashed to the telephone.

"Oh, Jeanne!" she exclaimed, as a voice came to her over the wire. "Are you there? I've got exciting news. We are to meet a movie queen at the Rutledge Tavern to-night-eleven o'clock. You'll be there?"

"Of a certainty!" Jeanne's tone was eager. "But why?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why can't you tell me?"

"Because I don't know. Good-bye. See you at eleven."

She hung up, leaving the little French girl in a state of bewilderment, her mind all awhirl with questions. Who was this movie person? Was she truly a queen of the cinema? Why must she meet her?

There was some question in the end regarding Jeanne's ability to keep this engagement. This, fortunately, was outside her knowledge. So, having eaten a very good dinner at the hotel, and having bestowed a knowing look upon the check boy, custodian of her mysterious laundry bag, she made her way to the fairgrounds and for a time purposely lost herself in the vast throng that, eddying now this way and now that, poured like a river down the broad walks running for miles along the lake front.

"I wonder," she mused as, jostled here and pushed aside there, she moved forward, "how a rain drop feels when it falls into the center of the great Mississippi. Snuggles right down and makes itself feel right at home. Surely this is so. And I, wandering here with this throng from all over this broad land, feel as if I had been too long away from it all, as if in some other world I had marched on and on, on and on with a vast throng that, like the Milky Way, moves forward forever."

The ebb and flow of that great human tide at last carried her to the Golden Temple. And here, more by instinct than desire, she sought once more the cool silence of a place where worship seemed the mood of the hour.

Sinking into a chair, she sat in a dreamy mood listening to the low, melodious voice of the mandarin. "This," he was saying, "is the laughing Buddha, god of happiness. Wart on temple stands for nobility. Long ears, long life."

Glancing up, Jeanne saw the long ears of this grotesque idol, and laughed. "Long ears, long life," she whispered. "There is one Chinaman who needs to avoid Florence if his life is to be long. She'd throw him into the lagoon."

The mandarin was continuing his chant. "The three-bladed knife is not for to kill. Oh, no, he is for drive demons away. Always ring little bell, swing three-bladed knife through the air. Demon go away.

"Demon very bad. Make people sick. Make people die. Make land dry. Rice not come up. Millet not get ripe. All people starve. Oh, yes, demon very bad!"

He turned to the prayer wheel. Jeanne ceased to listen. "So that is the meaning of the three-bladed knife and the bell," she was thinking to herself. "How strange! I wonder if the demons flee if the knife is flashed through the air and no bell rings."

Once more the stream of humanity called. Again she lost herself in that great rushing river. Nor did she emerge until she stood before an immense affair that, seeming a prodigious barrel one hundred and twenty-five feet high, stood out against the night.

As she stepped inside this gigantic barrel her mind went into a tailspin. Had she passed into another world? It seemed so.

The inner walls of that great barrel were all alive. Here she looked deep into the heart of a tropical jungle where giant tractors dragged great mahogany logs through the forest, there a magnificent trans-continental limited leaped at her from the mouth of a tunnel, and here, sailing high over the white vastness of Arctic wilds, a splendid airplane came to rest on an endless expanse of snow.

That it was a trick performed by the miracle of a hundred moving picture projectors she knew right well. Yet it did not destroy for her the sense of illusion.

She stood there lost to the world about her, entranced, when with a sudden shock she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Turning quickly, she found herself looking into the mask-like face of the long-eared Chinaman.

So sudden was the shock that she thought she might fall to the floor or scream.

But she did neither. With the lightning-like movement of a frightened deer, she darted forward. Seeing a door knob, she grasped it. The door

opened. Before her was a steel ladder. She was fifty feet up that ladder before she took time to think.

At that instant the door closed. She was in profound darkness. Only far above her shone pale light, a small square of night sky.

Her heart was racing furiously. Why had she indulged in such madness? That great dome of the Transportation Building was thronged with people. Any one of these would have offered her protection.

Now here she was in a narrow place of darkness. The door was closed. Had it shut itself? Had the long-eared Chinaman entered to close it behind him?

"He has the three-bladed knife!" she thought with a shudder.

"The three-bladed knife is not for to kill." The mandarin's words came back to her. Scant comfort in this. It was sharp enough to kill if the Oriental's purpose was murder.

She was at the parting of the ways. Above her, a hundred and twenty-five feet from the ground, up that narrow ladder, was the top of the dome. Beneath her, fifty feet down, the good earth and the man she feared.

All this passed through her mind in ten seconds of time. Then, without having truly willed it, she began to climb.

Never before had she climbed so high on a ladder. Now to go higher and higher, feeling her way every step in the dark, thinking of the dizzy depths below, was agony.

But what else was there to be done? All her life she had been frightened by the mysterious silence of Orientals. They moved about with padded footsteps. Their voices were low. She seldom heard them speak.

"That man may be coming," she told herself, "climbing like a cat-silently."

Up, up she went. The square of light appeared to grow, to come closer and closer until with a sigh that was half a sob, she tumbled over its brink to fall upon the cold metallic surface of the dome.

"Oh!" she breathed. "Oh!"

Then, having thought of the Chinaman, she seized a trap door, slammed it shut, and sat down upon it.

"He might be able to lift me!"

Her keen eyes sought and found a bolt that could be drawn. It would fasten down the trap door. She shot the bolt into place.

Then, experiencing an overwhelming sense of relief, she sprang to her feet and, whirling into an intoxicating rhythm, went dancing across that vast dome.

For the moment she was safe, she was free. Petite Jeanne did not bother too much about the future.

Dancing away to the very crest of the dome, which was not a dome as we think of it, but a vast inverted saucer two hundred feet in diameter, she spread her arms wide and stood there poised like some white bird ready for flight.

The scene that lay spread out far beneath her was entrancing. To her right, by the lagoon's bank, blazed the camp fire of the African village. Farther away were the tepees of the red men. Close at hand all manner of lights were blinking, racing, plunging, dancing. These were the wild thrill-producing features of the Midway. Here a vast building lifted a blue tower to the sky. Far away the rocket cars of the Sky Ride shot through space.

For a time Jeanne thought only of that which lay beneath her eye. At last her gaze wandered to the cool of Lake Michigan's vast waters by night.

And then her thoughts returned to that great circle of steel upon which she stood.

"Not a beam support, not a post nor a girder. It is suspended in air. Great steel cables hold it in place. Cut those steel cables, and-"

She shuddered at the thought. And yet, what a marvel it all was!

Then of a sudden she recalled her appointment at the Rutledge Tavern.

"Florence said I was to meet a movie queen. There was something in her tone that tells me an exciting time is to be had, and here-here I am!"

Instantly her mind sobered. She was alone on this broad dome. Should she scream for help the sound of her voice would be lost in the roar of the merry-mad throng. From the Midway came the grind of a merry-go-round. Somewhere much farther away a band was dispensing glorious music.

"I must get down. The ladder is the only way."

She shuddered. Coming up, straight up a hundred and twenty-five feet, had been nerve-wracking. What must a descent into that black hole be?

"And that terrible Chinaman!"

Well, perhaps, after all, he had not followed.

Then a thought struck her. What if some guard had seen her mount that ladder? She would surely be arrested.

"I-I've got to do it!" She set her teeth hard. "I'll find out about the long-eared one; lift the trap door quick. If he's there I'll slam it down again.

"And if he's not there, I-I've got to go down!"

Catching a quick breath and whispering: "Now!" she lifted the trap door.

She did not drop it. There was no one at the top of the ladder.

Who can say that it did not take courage to drag her feet off the top of the dome and allow them to dangle until they came into contact with a round of the ladder? Who can tell how many miles it seemed to the bottom?

Enough that she reached solid earth at last.

Then, catching her breath for the second time, she seized the knob, turned it, swung the door open, stepped out, closed it silently, glanced to the right and to the left, then dashed for the cool outer air of night-free!

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