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   Chapter 7 CORDIE’S MAD FLIGHT

The Crimson Thread: An Adventure Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 14302

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Cordie, there's something I should tell you."

Cordie looked up from the book she was reading, stared at Lucile for a moment, then with a toss of her pretty head exclaimed: "If you should, why don't you?"

They were at the end of another day. Some time had passed since the Mystery Lady had last appeared in the store. Work had increased; crowds of buyers had grown denser, more insistent in their demands. Two perpendicular lines had appeared between Lucile's eyes. Cordie, too, had felt the strain of it. Her nerves were tense. She had been upon Lucile's bed for a half hour, trying to relax. It was no use.

"Why don't you tell me?" she demanded impatiently.

"I'm afraid it may frighten you."

"Frighten me?" the girl's eyes went wide with surprise.

"Yes, but I think I should tell you. It may put you on your guard."

Cordie sat bolt upright.

"Do you remember the time I found you-when you fainted in the Art Museum?" Lucile asked in a quiet voice.

"I couldn't forget that. Wasn't it terrible?"

"More terrible than you think, or at least I believe it might have been."

"Why?" Cordie stared.

"A few seconds after you fainted, a strange young man picked you up in his arms. He said you were his sister. He started to carry you out and would have, too, if I hadn't made the guard stop him."

"Oh!" breathed Cordie, wild eyed, incredulous. "So that was what the guard meant when he asked where my brother was? Oh, how-how sort of romantic!"

"It may have been," said Lucile in a very sober tone. "He may have been romantic, but he also may have been very bad. That's why I thought you ought to know. He may be keeping a watch on you. Men who are fascinated by a face often do. You ought not to go alone upon the streets. You should not have been alone that day. No girl from the country, unacquainted with the ways of the city, is safe alone upon its streets and within its public buildings."

"Why, I'm not-" Cordie halted in the midst of the sentence and began again. "Did you think-" then drawing her lips tight as if to keep in a secret that was about to escape, she lapsed into silence.

When she broke the silence a moment later the look on her face was very serious. "I do realize the danger," she said slowly. "Truly I do. I will be careful, very, very careful. It was wonderful of you to save me from that-that man. How can I ever thank you enough?"

Hopping down from the bed, she wound her arm about Lucile and planted a kiss upon her forehead.

Just at that instant a question entered Lucile's mind. "I wonder when her appreciation will reach down as deep as her pocketbook? That's a sordid thought. I ought not to think it," she told herself, "but I just can't help it."

Lucile was having to pay an increased rent on her room because of the girl's occupying it with her. A pay day had come and gone, yet her young charge had shown no desire to bear her share of this burden.

"No! No! I mustn't let myself wonder that," Lucile corrected herself stoutly. "She'll pay when she can. She's probably saving up for her rent which is in arrears somewhere else. I do wonder, though, what she was about to tell me when she said: 'I'm not-' and 'Did you think-' I truly wish she'd tell me about herself, but I can wait her time for revealing."

Half of the following day had not passed before Lucile repented having told Cordie of her volunteer brother. "He'll probably never be seen again by any of us," she told herself, "and now look at the poor girl. She's all unnerved; grips her desk and stares in a frightened manner every time a man looks at her. And yet," she reflected, "if anything happened and I hadn't told her I'd never forgiven myself. Surely life is full of perplexing problems."

Ere that day was done something was destined to happen which would make this particular problem many times more perplexing. Since she knew nothing of this, Lucile went serenely on selling books.

"Let me tell you something," said Rennie, the veteran book-seller, who had apparently made an excuse for going to lunch with Lucile that day. "You're letting this work get on your nerves. Look at those puckers between your eyes. It's no use. You mustn't let it. You'll go to pieces and it's not worth it. You've got your life to live. You-"

"But Rennie-"

Rennie held up a finger for silence. "You're young; haven't learned the gospel of repose. You, perhaps, think of repose as the curling of one's self up in a soft-cushioned chair. That's not repose; it's stagnation. Did you ever see a tiny bird balancing himself on a twig over a rushing waterfall and singing his little heart away? That's repose. You can have poise and repose in the midst of the crowding throng. The bird, only half conscious of the rushing water beneath him, sings the more sweetly because of it. We, too, may have our service sweetened by the very rush of things if we will.

"And it is service! You believe that, don't you?"

There was a new light in the veteran saleslady's eyes. Lucile, as she looked at her frail body, thought to herself: "She's more spirit than body. She's given half herself away in service."

"Why yes," she replied slowly, "I suppose selling juvenile books is a service in a way."

"You suppose!" Rennie gripped her arm until it hurt. "Don't you know it is? It may be made a great, a wonderful service. There are books and books. You have read many of them. You know them. You are young. You have read. Some you have loved, some despised. Which do you sell? Which?"

"Why, the ones I love, of course."

"That's just it. Being endowed by nature with taste, good taste, and having had that taste improved by education, you are able to choose the best.

"Books are like water. Some are like foam, the white caps of the sea; pure enough but effervescent. They pass in a moment and are lost forever. Others are like scum from a stagnant pool; they are poison. Then there are those blessed others which are like the cool, pure, refreshing water that comes bubbling up from a mountain spring. Reading has an untold and lasting influence on a child. Do you believe that? When you have put one of those better books into the hand of a boy or girl, you have conferred a lasting blessing upon someone. Do you believe that?"

"Ye-yes."

"Of course you do. Now, when you go back to your work this afternoon, do it with the consciousness that you are really being a benefactor to your generation. Say to yourself: 'See all those people. Some of these are to go away from here this afternoon richer because I have been here to serve them, to advise them, to select for them the thing they really need.' Then watch the little annoyances, the petty troubles that tempt you to fret, 'Fold their tents like the Arabs and silently steal away.'

"Sales-people?" Rennie continued. "Why, we are far more than that. We may, if we will, take our place beside teachers, nurses, librarians, and all those whose names will be written high on the tablet of the future where will appear all those who have truly benefited their race.

"Pardon me," she smiled again, "I didn't mean to preach, but really

I hope it may do you good."

"I-I'm sure it will." There was a mist in the girl's eyes as she said this. She had caught a vision of what real life work meant to this frail woman. Once more she was tempted to give up her education in favor of a career as a vendor of juvenile books.

At ten minutes before closing time Lucile, having promised to meet Cordie at the northeast door, hurried down the stairs to the first floor. Then things began to happen with lightning-like rapidity.

She had just started on her little journey across the store to the northeast entrance when, all in a flash, she caught sight of a hand, such a hand as she had seen but once and would never forget. The long, slim, muscular fingers and the ring of the dragon's head were there. She could not be mistaken. Somewhere in that jostling throng was the Mystery Lady. And-yes, Lucile was sure of it, there she was off there to the right. She could not mistake that face. With a bound she was after her.

"Not so fast there! Not so fast!" exclaimed a floor man. "There isn't any fire. What made you think there was?"

Wedged in between a tall lady from the city and a very broad-shouldered, bear-skin coated man from the country, Lucile could but heed the floorman's admonition.

"She's making for the door," she whispered breathlessly. "I'll follow her out. Can't fail to catch her in the street. I'll get her before she has gone a block. And then-"

Ah yes, and then-well, she'd decide what was to be done when the time came. She'd trust to inspiration.

She did not catch up with her in the first block, nor the second or third, either. The sidewalks were rivers of people; the cross streets filled with automobiles. Considering the fact that this was an obstacle race of an exceedingly unusual type, the Mystery Lady made wonderful progress. As for Lucile, she was not to be outdone; indeed, she gained a little here, and a little there. She dodged through an open space on the sidewalk and sprinted down a stretch of street where no autos were parked or traveling.

"I-I'll get her in the next block," she panted. "Suppose there'll be a scene, but who cares? Here goes!"

A policeman's whistle, releasing the flood of autos on the cross street, had just blown. With a leap she sprang away before them. Grazed by the wheel of a gray sedan, drawing an angry hoot from a huge touring car, she crossed the channel and was about to dash on when a hand seized her firmly by the arm and gave her such a turn as fairly set her whirling.

"Here you!" exclaimed a gruff voice. "What you tryin' to do? Tryin' to commit suicide? Autos has their right as well as them that walks. Give 'em their turn, can't you?"

What was there to do? She could not tell this policeman of her cause for speed. She could but stand there panting until he chose to release her. And as she stood there, with time to think, a startling question came to her mind: "Cordie! What of Cordie? I promised to meet her at the northeast entrance! Closing time has now passed."

For a moment her head whirled, but as the grip on her arm relaxed she murmured:

"Well, whatever is to happen has happened back there. I'll get madamoiselle of mysteries yet!"

At that she crept slowly away until she was lost from sight of the officer; then again raced on at breakneck speed.

* * * * * * * *

She was right. Something indeed had happened by the door of the northeast entrance. Cordie had been prompt in keeping her appointment; especially so since her nerves, disturbed by Lucile's revelation of the night before, were on edge.

Surprised at not finding Lucile waiting for her, she had moved back into a secluded alcove to watch the passing throng crowd through the doors.

Crowds always amused her. Some of the people were short and some tall; some young, some old; but all were interesting. Each had his story to tell if only he could be induced to tell it. This is why the flow of a river of people is so interesting.

Just when it was that her attention was drawn from the moving throng to a single stationary individual, the girl could not tell. The instant she saw the man she felt he had been watching her; felt too that she had recognized in him her volunteer brother of the Art Museum.

"Yes," she whispered as cold dread gripped her heart, "there is the hawk-like eye, the marble face. It is he. Oh! How shall I escape?"

Losing her power to reason, she dashed away from the door and into the crowd that was now thronging toward the exits.

* * * * * * * *

Lucile found it rather difficult to again locate the Mystery Lady. When at last she succeeded it was to get a good square look at her, the first she had been afforded.

"How strangely she is dressed!" she murmured. "Like some countrywoman come to the city for shopping."

For a second she was inclined to doubt her judgment. It could not be the lady-yet, yes, there was her profile. There could be no mistake; so, again she dashed along after her.

Although she maintained a pace that appeared to be a leisurely one, the Mystery Lady was hard enough to overtake. Turning to the right, she crossed two streets to at last come out upon the Boulevard. Swinging to the left, she joined the home-going throng.

Lucile, gaining moment by moment, was all but upon her when she turned quickly to enter a broad, open door.

"Now I have you!" Lucile murmured.

She passed through the broad door just in time to see the mysterious one push back a heavy curtain and disappear.

Lucile was about to follow, when a guard, touching her on the shoulder, demanded:

"Got a pass?"

"Why-why no," Lucile stood there nonplussed.

"This is Opera Hall. You can't go back of that curtain without a pass."

"But-but that lady gave you no pass."

The guard made no reply. He merely shrugged and smiled.

Dropping back a step or two, Lucile stood staring at the curtain. Her head was whirling. What a strangely privileged woman this one must be. She entered and left a great department store at two hours before midnight, and no one said to her "No." She steps into a vestibule of a great musical hall and passes behind the curtain without a pass. What would she do next?

Suspended from one brass post to another, a heavy silk rope hung before the curtain. There were gaps in the curtain. Through one of these gaps, as Lucile stood staring at it, a hand was thrust. It was the hand of the mysterious lady. And upon it, beside the dragon's head ring, was another. And this ring one more unusual and startling than the other. It was the iron ring of a bundle wrapper!

"Cordie's ring," Lucile whispered, "and, as I live, a diamond has been set in it. A magnificent diamond, worth hundreds of dollars! How strange! How weird! A diamond set in iron!"

Even as she thought this, the hand disappeared. Instantly the heavy purple curtain began to sway. Expecting anything, the girl stood there breathless. A needle flashed twice through the cloth of the curtain, then in its place there appeared a tiny spot of crimson.

"The crimson thread!" Lucile whispered. "And I may not pass beyond the curtain!"

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