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   Chapter 6 THE IRON RING

The Crimson Thread: An Adventure Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 12318

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Cordie's description of James proved quite true. An intriguing figure was this James; a stalwart man of forty, a straight, square-shouldered six-footer, with face as brown as a coffee bean. He was unmistakably American, yet he seemed oddly out of place as, with arms piled high with bundles, he moved steadily through the crowd. There was a certain directness, and with all that a slight roll about his walk, that suggested some sort of sea craft. He was not unlike some port-to-port steamer, waiting at dock for its load, then steaming away to the port of discharge.

"A silent man, and one who has been accustomed to command, not to plod," was Lucile's mental comment. "He's not accustomed to being called James, like a chauffeur or a butler. You can see that by the twinkle in the corner of his eye when someone calls him by that name. I wonder what could have brought him to the extremity of carrying bundles for twenty dollars a week. I'm sure he doesn't drink to excess. His face would show it if he did. Oh well, that's Cordie's little mystery. Let her fathom it when the opportunity comes."

Cordie's opportunity came a little later, and in a decidedly startling manner.

In the meantime this was another busy afternoon; one of the busiest of the season.

"Only listen to them!" Lucile said to Cordie as she waited for a parcel. "Most of them are women trying to select books for boys and girls. Not one in ten really knows what she wants or what boys and girls read these days. Listen-"

Cordie listened as she worked, and this, from a score of pairs of lips, is what she heard: "Have you got the Alger books?" "Do you keep Peck's Bad Boy? That's such a splendid story. Don't you think so?" "I want a-a book for a boy fourteen years old. What can you recommend?" "Have you the Elsie books? Those are such sweet stories!" "I want a book for a boy twelve years old. I don't want anything trashy, though. Which of these fifty-cent books would you recommend?" "Is this a good book?"

"The answer," whispered Lucile with a little giggle, "the answer, if they say 'Is this a good book?' is always 'Yes.' Always yes, whether you think so or not. I'll tell you why. Nine times out of ten, when a woman customer says 'Is this a good book?' she has already made up her mind that it is a good book. If you say 'Yes' she'll smile and buy it. If you say 'No,' she'll frown and buy it anyway. So why provoke a frown, and Christmas only two weeks away?"

Only her untiring good nature and her native sense of humor, kept Lucile on her feet and going. There were times, however, when even these deserted her. One of those unfortunate moments arrived this very afternoon. A particularly unpleasant customer had said to her: "I want a book about a boy who was brought up by the monks." After suggesting everything that seemed akin to this, she happened upon "Tarzan." "Oh yes!" exclaimed the customer, "That's it. Tarzan."

A second customer wanted "Laddie." When the modern "Laddie" was produced, the customer insisted that this was not the original "Laddie," but a cheap substitute; that the first "Laddie" was written years ago by a person who's name she did not recall, but who had written another book called something else. She had insisted on Lucile's asking everyone in the section about it and, after leaving very warm and unhappy, reappeared ten minutes later with another clerk, still looking for the original "Laddie."

In the midst of all this Lucile came upon a fidgeting customer whose fingers were constantly plaiting stray locks of hair and whose lips were saying: "I must make a train. I really must. Do you think you could get them to hurry. Do you? Do you really? That would be so nice of you!"

After hurrying the sale through and getting many a sharp look for stepping in ahead of her turn, Lucile had the pleasure of seeing the customer meet a friend an aisle over and pause for a prolonged spell of gossip.

"Who could believe that they could be such children?" she murmured. "No, we haven't the Broncho Buster Boys," she turned to answer a query. "That's a fifty-cent series which we do not carry." The person who asked the question was a rather pompous lady in kid gloves.

"Have you the Broncho Buster Boys?"

She caught the words spoken behind her back. The customer, ignoring her decided negative, had deliberately turned about and asked the same question of a girl who had come on the floor that morning and knew nothing about the stock.

"I told her," Lucile said in as steady a tone as she could command, "that we do not carry them."

Instantly the customer flew into a towering rage. Her words, though quite proper on the lips of a society lady, were the sort that cut to the very soul.

A sharp retort came to Lucile's lips and she said it.

She was in the midst of it when a hand touched her shoulder and a steady voice said:

"Here! Here! What's this?"

The words, while not said in an unkindly tone, had a ring of authority to them. Wheeling about, Lucile found herself facing a beautiful lady, one of the most beautiful she had ever seen; black hair, full cheeks of wonderful color, and eyes of the deepest blue. Lucile took in all the beauty of her for the first time at a glance, and at the same moment cold terror struck to her heart. This was Miss Bruce, the head of the section, the one who could dismiss a salesgirl at a word. And she had just heard Lucile break the most rigid rule of the house! She had talked back to a customer!

White faced, staring, endeavoring to speak but uttering no sound, Lucile stood there as if frozen to the spot.

"There, there, dearie! I know how it is. Don't do it again, that's all." Lucile felt a friendly pressure on her arm, then the great lady of the section was gone.

In spite of her bravest efforts, tears rushed to Lucile's eyes. One splashed down on either cheek before she could check them. Were they tears of vexation or gratitude, or merely tired tears? Who could say?

Through the tears Lucile dimly saw a face. It was an electrifying vision, and dashing away the tears, she became at once her own, keen, better self.

"Yes, yes,

it is! It's the Mystery Lady," she assured herself. "She's-she's talking to Cordie. I must--"

As she started toward the wrapping stand where stood the Mystery Lady, a voice at her elbow said:

"Will you sell me this? Could you have them hurry a little? I must make a train. I really must." It was the harried and hurried lady of a half hour previous. She had found another book and was making another train.

With great reluctance and much pent-up anger, Lucile waited upon her; and in the meantime, as was her wont, the Mystery Lady, the lady of the crimson thread, had vanished.

"Who-who was the tall lady you were speaking to a moment ago?" she breathlessly asked Cordie a moment later.

"How should I know? She asked me for a string to tie a package. Lots of them ask for string, or a piece of corrugated paper, or a card to write a greeting on."

"Was that all?"

"That was about all."

"Look!" exclaimed Lucile. "Who put that there?"

She was pointing to a loose end of wrapping paper through which had been drawn and neatly tied a bit of crimson thread with a single purple strand.

"Search me," smiled Cordie. "How should I know?"

While Lucile was disengaging the thread and thrusting it in her pocket, Cordie was searching the top of her desk.

"That's funny," she said at last. "It was here a moment ago. Now it's gone."

"What?"

"My iron ring."

"The one you cut cord with?"

"I'm supposed to use it for that," Cordie tossed her head. "The thing cuts my finger. All the same, I ought to have it. You're supposed to turn such things in when they lay you off. But if it's gone, it's gone." Shrugging her shoulders, she promptly forgot it. So did Lucile, but the time came when she was reminded of the loss in a most forceful manner.

"I wonder," she whispered as she moved away, "I do wonder what she does that for. This is the third time. It's the strangest thing I ever heard of." She fingered the crimson thread.

The melting away of great stocks of the year's most popular book for young people, "Blue Flames," was most amazing. A fresh truck load, three or four hundred copies, had come down that very morning. By mid-afternoon they were two-thirds gone.

For a time, as she watched, Lucile's astonishment grew; then it began to ebb. She was learning the secret of it. Laurie Seymour hovered over the pile constantly. Hardly a customer left him without purchasing one or more copies. Apparently well informed regarding the contents of the book, he told still more regarding the personality of the author and how he had gone about the task of gathering the material. All of the local color of the book was penned with minute exactness; the characters were true to life; their actions, while not pedantic, were such as would lead girls and boys to higher thinking and unselfish living. More than that, the story contained precisely the elements which young people of to-day demand. Action, adventure, suspense, mystery-all were here in proper and generous proportions. Thus he would describe the book.

"Yes," he would assure the prospective purchaser, "it's this year's publication; not six weeks off the press and it sells for a dollar. How is that possible? That it might have a large sale the author cut his royalty to one-third, and the publishers cut their profits accordingly. The book compares favorably with many a book selling for nearly twice the price."

What customer could refuse such a book? Few did. Even more important than this was the fact that the other salespeople, especially those who were new and had little knowledge of the stock but who were zealous for quick sales, listened to his lucid story of the book, and having learned it by heart, joined in selling it. There were times when clerks fluttered as thickly about that pile of books as sparrows around a crust of bread.

"Who is Laurie Seymour; why is he so greatly interested in that particular book, and how does he come to know so much about it?" Having put these questions to herself, Lucile went about the task of asking others about him. She asked Rennie and Donnie, the inseparable two who had worked in that corner so long. She searched out Tommie, the young man of twenty who knew all about boys' books. She asked Morrison, of the fine bindings section, and even Emmy, the veteran inspector. All shook their heads. They had come down one morning, and there he was selling books. That had been two weeks previous. Someone had pulled some wires and here he was. By-and-by the rush would be over, then out he would go. That was the way things were done at Christmas time. It wasn't worth while to care too much!

But Lucile did care. Her curiosity had been aroused. She wanted to know more about Laurie Seymour.

Her curiosity was given a trace of satisfaction that very evening. At least she found out who knew about Laurie. Yes, she found out, but then--

She had come hurrying round a pillar when she all but ran into Laurie. He had been talking in low tones and laughing in notes quite as low. To her great surprise she saw that the person he was talking to was none other than the perfectly beautiful Miss Bruce, the head of the section.

"And to think," Lucile said to herself, "he actually appeared to be joking her about something! And he a sales-person! Ah well, our chief is a star-would have been a star on any stage, and a star has a right to be friendly with any member of the cast."

"Well," she smiled to herself, "I know now who could tell me all about Laurie Seymour; but I'd never dare ask. Never! I'll have to find out some other way."

One impression coming from this incident bore down heavily upon her. Laurie Seymour was a young man with a past broader than the four walls of the juvenile book section. Just what that past might have been, she could not guess.

"Perhaps," she told herself, "he is some artist getting pictures from life; or an actor gathering local color for a play, or-"

"Is your table in order?" It was Rennie who broke in upon her meditations.

It wasn't, so she hurried away to forget, for the time being, Laurie Seymour and her perplexing problems.

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