The Red Book Magazine/Volume 30/Number 6/The Side-show Girl

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4077317The Side-show Girl1918Peter Clark MacFarlane



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THE professional strong-man had legs like concrete towers, and his shoulders suggested the abutments of a bridge; but with them he had mild gray eyes and absurd Cupid's-bow lips which made his mouth almost a sweet as a woman's. This, together with a certain innocence of expression which betokened a naïve and guileless soul, was why they called him Baby-faced Joe. Just now Joe was engaged in the writing of a letter. His tongue was nearly bitten in two, and his mighty muscles ached from the strain of functioning all their strength through the mere holding of a pen. When at length the stupendous task was finished, every ounce of him was weak as—unwilling to trust the precious missive to the mails, and distrustful of a mother's prying eye—he placed it secretly in the tiny boxlike dressing-room through which Freda must pass to reach the bally-box.

This act of Joe's was consummated at the ghostly hour of eleven a.m., when the building was deserted by all its human inhabitants save only the Wild Man of Java, who kept a sleepy watch which did not extend to marking curiously the concerns of Joseph Holmquist.

There was an eye, however, which did note the strong-man's actions and brand them as suspicious. This was the innocent, amber optic of Scipio, the five-year-old orang-outang. Affectionate, curious, sedate,—not yet come to those years of viciousness which invariably overtake his kind in captivity—the baby ape-man sprawled upside down before the monkey-cage on a cast-off automobile cushion, head hanging off, meditatively picking his teeth with a straw. But his whimsically inverted eyes were roving according to their habit, and missing not one detail of all that went on about him. Suddenly the dental operation was interrupted. One ungainly leg, extended lazily in the air as if in the act of grasping a limb in its native jungle, remained forgotten, but all the rest of him was absorbed in the perception of something entirely new to his child-mind.

Never had he seen Joe Holmquist with a letter before. Swannick, the manager of the show, often had letters that he carried in his hand and dropped in the funny little iron box at the corner, and others that he got from the man with the gray clothes and a leather bag, letters which he either tore up and threw away or put carefully into his pocket; but Joe Holmquist carrying a letter importantly as if it were one of his barbells, putting it into his pocket, then taking it out again and smelling of it,—Scipio's interpretation of kissing,—all this was new and unusual and required explanation. Therefore, sixty seconds after Joe went out to lunch, the young anthropoid had gone to the full length of his chain on one side, to possess himself of the wild-man's lance; and next, proceeding to the full length of the chain upon the other, he parted the curtains of the dressing-box, speared the envelope where it stood upon the make-up shelf and retired to the straw floor of his cage to consider its contents carefully and in private. Thus did Scipio tie an awkward knot in the web of the strong-man's life. But there were other webs and other knots.

An hour and a half passed. The daily exhibition of Gallagher's Congress of Freaks was getting under way. A mechanical organ wheezed laboriously, and the hoarse voice of the ballyhoo was heard in the land. As Joe posed, flexing his mighty muscles with an absently impressive air, his mild gaze wandered across the alligator-tank and the snake-charmer's den to the open street-front and Freda—Freda of the coquettish, drooping lash, the rouge-red, saucy lip, the bare and tapering arm and the short, spangled skirt. With gold-stockinged, shapely legs and ankles cunningly clocked and daintily crossed, and with bosom heaving gently from recent exercise, the girl sat in a chair on a platform some four feet above the sidewalk along which streamed the first instalments of a Saturday afternoon throng at Coney Island.

When the strong-man's glance had found her, a look, yearning appeared in his tender gray eyes, and his absurd Cupid's-bow lips parted in a rapt and wistful sigh, a sigh which was interrupted by a slight start when he saw that while the round-shouldered bally-man harangued the crowd her act had gathered, the girl was calmly reading a letter—at first with approving interest in the dark eyes, but later with a scornful smile. Then the missive found mysterious lodgment somewhere out of sight, and Freda stared about with an air of boredom. Interpreting this, the obtuse angle of inquiry and of apprehension in Joe's blond brows became the acute one of trouble and of grief.

Illustration: While the round-shouldered bally-man harangued the crowd. the girl was reading a letter—at fist with approving interest in the dark eyes, but later with a scornful smile.

To the crowd that stared and tried to ogle, the girl was just a tawdry artificial butterfly. To Joe she was something wonderful, immature and helpless. He knew that for her to sit in gaudy attire, perfectly unconscious before the milling herd, was as natural as for a kitten to gambol in the grass. From cradle-days she had trouped it over the face of the country, but with distaste for the life growing as her small body grew.

“Why don't you get in and work with me?” Frau Goebel used to complain; but Freda could not like the snakes. She stamped her small foot and shuddered; and soft-hearted Joe, always concerned when Frau Goebel scolded, in secret dried the fledgling's tears, awkwardly solicitous.

“I'm got my moder to support, but I'm savin',” he used to assure her. “I'll send you to business college; sure I will.”

Frau Goebel meantime had registered the strong-man for matrimonial conscription. To be sure, he was only twenty-three, but she was young for her years, and Joe was old for his. Besides, what a team they would make! Joe with his muscles and she with her snakes! They would be half a side-show themselves. Nor did such connubial intent prove the widow mercenary. She had a loving heart. She loved her snakes, and she loved her daughter. The same fingers that twined the anaconda about her neck sewed and stitched that Freda might wear good clothes, and scrimped and saved that she might not come to want if the movies killed the snake-charmer's profession entirely. Was it unnatural, then, that her heart's cooling embers should be warmed and fanned into a last hot blaze by the propinquity of Joe in trunks and leopard-skin, the satiny sheen of his arms and shoulders gleaming continually before her susceptible eyes? Perhaps not; but to the strong-man, divining something of the Frau's intent, it was uncomfortable.

And while he eyed Frau Goebel warily, mysterious nature vexed him with a startling change in Freda. All in a few weeks, it seemed, Freda the child—spare, gangling and precocious—became Freda the woman, with beauty, symmetry and self-consciousness. She romped with the big bear-man no more; she shed no more rebellious tears, but was content to bask and bide, apparently serene in her awareness of an entirely new set of weapons.

Joe, too, was changed. Something in his huge and arching chest fell down like tumblers in a safe whenever she came near; and he couldn't talk to her in old familiar way—nor in new way that his heart prompted.

But reverting again to webs and knots—and Scipio! Entirely baffled in his endeavors to make head or tail of the strong-man's hymn of passion, the man-ape buried it with other matters of monkey-interest under a pile of straw in the corner of his cage, swung out of his door and mounted to the stage on which he gave his hourly act. Before him, on the table where he would presently give an imitation of a munitions-millionaire at breakfast at his club, lay a policeman's coat and helmet and a regulation night-stick,—the wearing of the two and the swinging of the third being also part of Scipio's bit in making the world forget its troubles.

Illustration: When the strong-man's glance had found her, a look of yearning appeared in his tender gray eyes, and his absurd Cupid's-bow lips parted in a rapt and wistful sigh.

But as the anthropoid, with true thespian vanity, awaited the time for his act to begin, he suddenly stiffened in every part of him, and the red hair on his backbone ran up in a row of bristles that extended almost to his nose. Some seven feet away upon the floor, which lay less than a yard beneath the mimic stage, was a bulldog, ugly, heavy and crouching low. His tail was bobbed; one ear was cropped and the other chewed off; and the underjaw outreached the upper one and sprouted two long and spike-like teeth. The beast's general decorative scheme was irregular spots of black upon a ground immaculately white. One of these black blotches encroached upon the mangled ear, and another hung like a patch beneath an eye, imparting a yet more sinister aspect to a countenance already unpleasant enough. The brute's whole manner was one of instant aggression. It said, like Grant at Donelson: “I propose to move immediately upon your works.” And Scipio's trainer and protector Emil was nowhere in sight!

Everybody about the place seemed to grasp the situation at the same time. Frau Goebel shouted warning; the bearded lady shrieked, and the fat-woman hiccoughed and relapsed into mild hysteria, while strong-man Joseph Holmquist, abandoning his pose and his platform, came plunging to the rescue. But the bulldog, as if fearful of losing his legitimate prey, had already launched himself with a low, hissing growl, white teeth flashing cruelly.

Inspiration, however, came to Scipio, who had small stomach to become a prey. By a lightning movement he seized the policeman's club and whirling it with all the strength of fear and his own stout arm, brought it down with a satisfying thud on the head of the attacking foe as the dog came hurtling through the air. The bulldog, struck by lightning in his withered right ear, fell curling and snarling into a helpless heap on the floor; and for a few seconds, lying straight and still, with stubby tail quivering, he must have seen the lights of some other dog-world. Presently, however, one white hind-leg kicked spasmodically and then the other; then the canine's body squirmed and rolled over. There appeared to follow a moment of mental stock-taking; then his dogship got up weakly and balanced himself uncertainly and with a puzzled air, as if trying to remember.

At this juncture a young man in cream trousers, a grey coat, a mauve belt, a sport-shirt, a flowing tie of rainbow hue and a Panama hat jauntily misshapen came breezily into the purview.

“Hello, Cecil!” he exclaimed, addressing the dog with irrepressible spirits. “What do you think of the monkey?” At the same time he pointed to Scipio, now sitting warily at the door of his cage and marking the behavior of his adversary with an expression which certainly resembled amused satisfaction.

So far as Cecil was concerned, this was just now a tactless question; nevertheless he looked up to the young man as to one he recognized as master, and wagged his tail dutifully if feebly, although by his manner asking to be excused from expressing an opinion upon any subject while he got something straightened out in his mind. Meanwhile Manager Swannick, Scipio's trainer, Joe and others crowded round.

“Hello, Chauncey! That your dog? Better keep him away from here! The ape will kill him.”

“Kill him?” blustered Chauncey.

Then they told him what had happened, and this Chauncey proved himself a regular fellow by laughing heartily.

“Some surprise-party, Cecil, old boy,” he sympathized, stooping to give the first aid of a caress to the still groggy dog, who was now eying the ape with a strangely reminiscent look as if he had met him somewhere before.

Chauncey then, bidding the dog lie down in a corner of the fat-man's booth, passed on to the back of the bally-box where Freda was sitting, and lifted up a hand to put her familiarly on the arm. She permitted this; and Joe, witnessing it, allowed his brow to contract into what was as near a scowl as his bland features ever mustered. Yet to a disinterested eye the young man seemed to possess ways that were kindly and assurance that was entirely pleasing. In just such fashion three weeks before he had first blown in upon the house of freaks, without his bulldog but attired, as now, like the favorite son of Jacob. Nor did the tropic coloring of his garments exceed the engaging warmth of his personality, for within fifteen minutes he had been on terms of intimacy with half the people in the place and called the crabby skeleton-man and the haughty fat-lady by their first names. Ten minutes more, and business being quiet, he had coaxed Manager Swannick out for a little spin to the beach and back in a huge gray car.

Illustration: There appeared in the doorway a slender figure wrapped in one of Miss Henrietta' bathrobes. “You're—you're Miss Ewing?” suggested a scared voice. “I thought I was!” exclaimed Miss Ewing, with sarcasm. “What brought you here—disgraceful creature?”

Chauncey's face, considered simply as a face, did not assay very high. It was unpleasantly triangular in shape, though containing the usual list of features. Among these were some pale blue eyes, beaming with an evident desire to do the world good, and a mouth that was possibly weak but given to a wide, engaging smile in which some upper teeth were prominently represented. Yet what does plainness mar, when richly clad and carried to and fro in a huge automobile of expensive manufacture? Especially what brooks it, when joined to a generous and a modest nature?

That Chauncey, despite his general loudness, did have an unobtrusive note in his character had been perceived when he had got away without so much as leaving his card. The second day his visit had been repeated and his acquaintance extended, though this time it was Freda and her mother who had got the little dash to the beach and back in the dull middle of the afternoon. And sill Chauncey had been anonymous!

For this reason, perhaps, Frau Goebel had eyed him with even more suspicion than usually attached to those who hovered round her daughter. Feeling the impulse to investigate, she had taken the number of the big gray car and learned per telephone that it belonged to the Ewings of Ewing Place, Brooklyn. With this much of a start, industrious consultings of a directory, some social registers and a friendly captain of police in the borough of Brooklyn had revealed that the Ewings of Ewing Place consisted of but two, an elderly spinster lady, Miss Henrietta Ewing, rich, proud and philanthropic, and her nephew Chauncey Ewing, an erratic young man but believed to be good in the heart and known to be heir to three fortunes—his father's, his mother's and, prospectively, his aunt's.

Illustration: Freda straightened and drew the bath-robe tighter about her. “Mightn't you be mistaken about calling calling me that name?” she inquired.

With this breath-taking knowledge secure in her possession, Frau Goebel's mind had assumed a speculative hue, and her attitude to the sportive idler's visits had changed considerably. Knowing that it is the human instinct to crab another's game, she had imparted the secret of the name to all, but the young man's position and prospects in life to none save Freda.

"You should be nice to him, Freda,” Frau Goebel had instructed. “Maybe his folks are away for the summer and he's lonesome.”

"You should need to tell me to he nice to him,” Freda rejoined pertly. “He likes me.”

For three straight weeks Chauncey had been as regular as afternoon, delighting Freda with his driving, tickling her with his unblushing flatteries and bewildering her with the number and variety of his clothes. His neckties were poems, while his shirts in stripe and check exhibited colors for which some one must have paged the solar spectrum.

Naturally this drive for the heart of Freda, going on beneath his nose, turned Joe greener than some of Chauncey's four-in-hands. Yet he couldn't blame the girl. Chauncey was a likable enough chap. Besides, it did seem that she tried to give Joe his chance, but he kept away from her. He would lower his eyes when they met. He spoke in monosyllables. He all but resisted her all but advances. Joe knew well enough that in this he was stupid and blameworthy, but—how does a great big sheep of a man help feelings that come up in his breast when, conscious of a rival's superlative advantages, he sees the object of his heart's desire slowly and surely turned away from him? The warning of his critical danger had come when Freda, after regarding him for a fortnight always with mild wonder in her eyes, had assumed an air of impatience. It was this situation which had led Joe to the writing of that letter with the delivery of which the well-intentioned Scipio had interfered so recklessly.

But now, we are again at the present. Scipio is still sitting warily in the door of his cage. Cecil, a sadder and a humbler dog, is curled up in the fat-man's booth. Chauncey is helping Freda down from the platform from which she is perfectly able to assist herself, and is asking Al if they can't have a little run. In fact, all is set for another tangle in the skeins of somebody's life.

“Sat'day afternoon!” objects Al. “What the perdition's the matter with you?” And then relenting, as so many relented before the blue eyes of Chauncey, he says: “Well, not more than twenty minutes, then,” and turns to his ticket-selling, for the spieler is leading the crowd through the door and directing them first to the snake-charmer's booth.

Freda, with a swift exchange of glances, passes her mother, whose neck at the moment is encircled by a huge but harmless reptile, and goes to the partitioned rear, where the two have housekeeping rooms and where Joe also has a stall he calls a room. The girl reappears in a moment dressed for a ride by the simple donning of a mustard-colored cape covering her dancing costume to the heels, though the rouge is still upon her lips and the liquid blue upon her lashes. She tries a glance at Joe, but he, moodily waiting for the ballyhoo to escort the crowd in his direction, has no eye for her until that petite back is turned. Then he scans the figure longingly and gazes at the door until the voice of the barker rouses him to his act. Whereupon he trundles out his ponderous bar-bell.

“Will some gentleman kindly step upon the platform and heft this for me?” he inquires in tired, professional tones. After the usual hesitancy, a man of longshoreman type steps up, hooks his knotted fingers under the bar, strains until his neck-veins seem bursting and—stirs it from the floor.

“Heavy, isn't it?” inquired joe.

“Betchalife!” sighs the longshoreman with a silly grin.

Joe smiles and swings the thing aloft as if it were a walking-stick. Heavy? To him all things are light save one. That one is his own heart, and when the group of gazers and gapers has passed on, he steps down from his platform and turns back to his stall to stretch on his back for a few minutes and ponder the poignancy in his breast. Frau Goebel has also gone back to take advantage of her breathing-spell. Joe knows this and is wary; but of what use for a giant to tiptoe when a woman listens?

“Ah, Joey,” she cajoles, “come inside and have a glass of lager with me. It's just off the ice.”

JOE started despairingly. He wished to be alone. The sound of any woman's voice, the sight of any woman's face save only one, was just now unendurable. He looked in upon her, a self-conscious flush upon his cheeks, a plea in his mild eyes; but looking, he was lost and stumbled weakly in.

Frau Goebel was in her working clothes, which meant that above a stiff and barrel-like corset, tattooed arms and thick shoulders were bare, while below a pink-silk shift that came to her knees and passed for a dress appeared stocky legs clad in peachblow hosiery and terminating in high-heeled slippers tied with bands of ribbon that interlaced over puffy ankles. Some yardage of blond hair was wrapped round her head; cheeks and lips were plentifully and cheaply rouged; and the large blue eyes had been wrought upon until they expressed the brightness of a youth that was rather more than preparing to depart.

“Ach, Joey! Poor feller. Come, let me wipe his brow.”

Joe bent his perspiring, troubled brow; Frau Goebel wiped it and thrust him down into a seat the juxtaposition of which with her own was carefully calculated.

“Ach, but my boy is handsome,” was her next advance as she tried the effect of a caressing hand on Joe's expanse of undraped shoulder. The strong man shrank from the touch. Honestly he tried not to, but—this was the hand that stroked the python; these were the lips that crooned over it, and now they were pursed for crooning over him!

“My boy looks tired to-day.”

“Yes, Mother, I'm tired.” Anything to be agreeable.

“Mother? Don't call me Mother. I told you that before already. Call me Hilda.”

“Yes, Hilda,” said Joe dutifully.

“What makes my boy tired? Them cannon-balls is too heavy. You should get bigger ones and hollow. Stuff em with feathers.”

“Ah, I got something heavier yet than that,” groaned Joe, melted by the tones of her honest sympathy. “It's here—in my heart. It's my love, Hilda, my love—”

“Ach! You confess it at last, mein Liebling!”

Frau Goebel dexterously and impulsively deposited herself in his arms. Joe wriggled and desired to escape.


“I told you, don't call me Mother,” chided the Frau with a flush of red that was not rouge. “Call me sweetheart!”

“But Hilda, you got me wrong. I didn't say nothing about you.”

“Ah, Joey!” Frau Goebel laid a fond, rebuking finger across his lips—the finger with which she handled the snakes. “Joey, you don't have to said it. Your looks, your sighs; oh, Joey, you are so bashful, but at last we got it out between us, didn't we?”

Sitting in his lap, she almost strangled Joseph with a hug; but he, a shorn Samson, let his arms sag.

“It's not you I love; it's Freda,” he blurted.

“Freda!” Frau Goebel sprang up, whimpering: “The child of my bosom—she rifles my heart of its dearest. Deceiver! You grind my heart to powder. You sit by me already and sigh and moon. You pretend—and now you tell me it is Freda. No! You are mistaken, you foolish boy! How should you know your own heart? It is me you lofe—me!” And Frau Goebel, having convinced herself of this fact, seated herself once more.

“Do you not lofe me? Is it not true?” The Frau, in reproachful tears, seized the strong man's shoulders.

“Why, of course I love you,” insisted Joe wretched and he was going to add, “but not in the way you mean. As Freda's mother I am bound to love you.”

The crafty widow, however, waited for no undesirable qualifying phrases.

“Kiss me, then,” she demanded, “—the first kiss of my love!”

Joe's lips writhed, but the lady's shaped themselves and took off the first must of the grape from the lips of the professional strong-man. At this moment a faint scream echoed from the doorway. Freda, back from her ride stood there.

“Joe!” she murmured, white to the lips. “Joe!”

“Don't be upset, dearie,” said her mother in sugary tones. “Joe has just told me that he loves me.”

Freda became suddenly cold and hard.

“You better get out to your act, or Swannick will dock you again,” she remarked acridly. “You too, Joe!”

Frau Goebel rushed out, but Joe turned at the door and extended a pleading hand.

“She done it, Freda—all herself—honest to God! My heart is sick for love of you—like I told you in the letter.”

“Letter!” Freda scoffed, having seen no letter. Yet she did not doubt that, so far as his love was concerned Joe spoke the truth; and to a loyal soul this made his conduct with her mother seem the more outrageous. With a heart too full for upbraidings, she sent him from the room by a gesture and dropped upon her face on the bed, fluffy ruffles crumpling recklessly and gold-stockinged legs and patent-leather heels kicking angrily.

BUT tropic storms in the breast of youth must soon be over. Sitting up and drying some tears, Freda plunged a hand into her bosom and drew out a rumpled letter—the letter she had been reading on the bally-box an how ago. It was from Chauncey and outlined a certain project. She had scorned the idea then, and she scorned it now, but in the light of what had just occurred, it contained the germ of a possibility. Almost as if in obedience to her wish, the writer of the letter, who had been anxiously waiting her reappearance, at this instant came boldly out and knocked upon her door. Entering in response to an invitation in one syllable, he was surprised at confronting a woe-begone and tearful countenance.

“Something has happened,” Freda explained solemnly.

“Well, I should say!” breathed Chauncey, blue eyes wide and sympathetic.

“I've had a fight with Mother, and I'm going away.”

“Where?” There was a glint in the blue eyes.

“I don't know.”

“When?” The glint had become a gleam.

“This minute.”

“Now, I can take you to my aunt,” proposed Chauncey eagerly.

“Could you?” asked Freda, pretending to doubt.

“Easy as running over a chicken. Come, fly with me.” One of the fine things about Chauncey was his extreme readiness.

“But—but wouldn't you have to talk to your aunt first?”

Chauncey did seem to pause and consider for a moment, but decided with a gulp:

“Not necessary! Your looks'll do the talking.”

“I'd have to take some things—to take my clothes,” reflected Freda, looking about her and beginning to canvass the possibilities of immediate action.

“Pack up!” directed Chauncey.

Freda extracted a grass suit-case from under the bed and began to dust it. “Run away now, and come back in an hour,” she ordered.

“Oh, but can't I help?” presumed Chauncey.

“No, you can't,” blushed Freda; and then she inquired with fresh anxiety: “But how are we going to get out of here? Mamma has eyes like a hawk.”

“Easiest thing!” declared the gilded idler. “Get the suit-case packed, and then when the crowd's so thick neither your mother nor Joe could possibly notice, I'll take it out and plant it in the tonneau. Then you get into your street-clothes and walk out—that's all there is to it.”

But getting into Freda's street-clothes did not prove so easy. The famous beach-resort was full of people. It was a reaping time with Gallagher's. Swannick kept the girl getting on and off the bally-box all the afternoon and evening. Chauncey did get the suit-case out, but that was as far as the plan seemed to work till desperation had seized the girl and she decided to fly to Miss Henrietta Ewing in what department-stores call “as is”—that is to say, in her present apparel; and her present apparel was dancing clothes.

It was then after eleven o'clock at night, and Swannick had put Freda on for a final combing of the crowds coming out of the steeplechase and Luna. Chauncey stood casually in front with the mustard-colored cloak upon his arm. The ballyhoo finished his last burst of husky oratory and turned down from the box; Freda stepped to the front of it, leaped lightly down into the arms of her Lochinvar, was wrapped in the long coat, and tripped across the pavement to the waiting car. Swannick and the ticket-taker saw her go, but this was a replica of so many of her other departures with Chauncey that to neither of them did it carry any hint of the true purpose of two earnest young souls.

TO Freda this swift, silent midnight ride was like a dash into another world—the existence of that other world being confirmed when the automobile, after threading some miles of a city's streets, turned in at the side of a great square-shouldered mansion and drew up at the garage door.

“This time of night it's better to go in the-back way,” said Chauncey, looking up at the lightless windows. “Wait here, and I'll slip in and tell a maid to get your room ready.”

“Certainly,” assented Freda, who with resolution held firmly to the point of action, was on her most ladylike behavior.

“My aunt isn't home,” announced Chauncey, a trifle breathless and appearing suddenly on the ground at her side. “Gone back to the St. Lawrence. What's more, there isn't a servant round—not even Parkyns, the butler. Whole crew of 'em cleaned out for the night. They'll be on deck to get breakfast for me though,” he added reassuringly.

Putting all these coincidences together, this was either very strange or a remarkable convergence of the untoward. Perhaps for one alarming moment Freda doubted, and perhaps Chauncey, seeing her hand clutch tightly at the side of the car, sensed this doubt.

“Tell you,” he proposed hopefully: “I'll put you in my aunt's room for to-night, and to-morrow we'll decide what to do next. I'll sleep in the garage myself.”

This reassured Freda and touched her, but she was not a coward and did not like to seem a prude. The idea of Chauncey Ewing, with all those rooms in his house, sleeping in his garage on her account!

“Isn't that being rather—rather particular?” she inquired, blushing in the darkness, because of anxiety not to say the wrong thing.

“Can a young lady be too particular?” rejoined Chauncey in a self-effacing sort of way.

“No, I suppose not,” admitted Freda, and to emphasize her intention to accept the hospitality of the aunt's bedchamber so generously extended by proxy, she got out of the automobile.

TAKING the suit-case, Chauncey led the way across a concrete court to a door which he had left standing open, and up a rather narrow stairway, flashing lights on as he went. Freda followed into a large hall containing strange, high-backed, thronelike chairs, and pieces of statuary, and on through a dining-room with a great oval table that was larger than any of which Freda's appetite, often considerable, had ever conceived. She was awed, too, by the glitter of silver on the table and of crystal on the sideboard. Beyond this was a small room in an alcove, also equipped with a table.

“The breakfast-room!” Chauncey announced, dropping the suit-case as if it were an unaccustomed weight. “Are you hungry?”

“I could eat my gloves,” confessed Freda.

“Sit down,” the young man said, placing a chair.

Freda started to throw off her cape, but realizing suddenly what garb she wore, wrapped the cape around her from the waist and draped it carefully to her heels before sitting down, at the same time looking at Chauncey with a little smile, half apologetic and half appealing. Chauncey reciprocated understandingly.

“Wait here while I skirmish,” he directed.

It was the wrong military term, but it produced a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread and a plate of sliced boiled ham.

“Can you cut bread?” Chauncey inquired.

“Yes,” assured Freda.

“I can open the milk-bottle,” he boasted.

And so they ate, at one o'clock in the morning, ravenously—each a little breathless, each a little awed by the responsibilities of the situation.

Again taking the suit-case, Chauncey once more led the way, this time past a marble horse prancing on a pedestal to a wide staircase that went up and turned and went up again to another hall with all kinds of rooms opening off it, parlors or drawing-rooms or picture-galleries—Freda's ideas were vague, but the one into which she was conducted, though large, was obviously a sleeping-chamber. On one side of the long room was bed, a thing of spider legs and snowy linen that managed to suggest both daintiness and dignity. There were tables and chairs also with spider legs, and two upholstered chairs and a couch, each beautiful after its kind, as if designed to comfort the eye as well as the body. Moreover the whole room and all within it was done in soft blue-gray and silver tones that made each detail seem to belong to and be a part of every other detail, just as if it had grown there.

The little girl from the freak-show stood for a moment enraptured yet subdued, her cheap prettiness paling somewhat in the setting. She sensed, too, that this harmony was all made to become some particular type of woman as a frock might become her—that it was the expression of a personality, and this provoked a fresh curiosity about Chauncey.

“And is your room like this?” she asked, turning upon him so suddenly that he was startled by the question and its naïve manner.

“No!” he stammered. “No. Oh, no! Mine is a man's room.”

“That is what I meant,” she said “Will you let me see it?”

CHAUNCEY hesitated for a moment and then led Freda out and down the hall to a door at the back, pushed it open and flashed on the lights. Again she saw a huge room, but it was like looking into the store of a dealer in theatrical properties. There was a bed,—a slight brass affair, as if sleeping were of the least importance to the owner of this room—and there were chairs, heavy leather things mostly, and thick rugs upon the floor; but they all seemed crowded out of place by the other things with which the room was stuffed. Suits of armor hung or posed about, long bell-mouthed muskets, scimitars, spears like the wild-man's, canoe paddles, bits of fish-nets, stuffed heads of animals—in short, trophies of sport and art from many fields. Far on one side the door of a bathroom opened, and a set of gymnasium apparatus was in evidence.

Again the girl was awed. Obviously the man who had gathered these things about him, who enjoyed and understood them, was a man of some attainments. Freda, as she gazed at the various interests the room represented, felt herself grow smaller and turned to Chauncey shyly with a new respect for him, for his simplicities and his modesties. Somehow, up to now she had thought of Chauncey as a sort of superficial young person, principally admirable for his good intentions and amiable nature. Now she had a different feeling and regarded him wonderingly as they moved back along the hall to the room that was to be hers to-night.

“If anything alarms you, touch that button there,” directed Chauncey. “It will ring a bell in the garage, and I will come double-quicking. Good night and pleasant dreams.”

Freda, again under the spell of this beautiful room. and absorbed by her thoughts, hardly realized that he was going, but roused in time to kiss a playful hand to him as he went out of the door, and listened for his footsteps until she lost them when a door slammed somewhere below. She did not unpack much—only the blue-ribbonest nightgown and a purple-and-cerise kimono of Chinese silk, cheap and gorgeous—her one boudoir garment, to confess the truth. Then she undressed and with experimental slowness extended herself between the sheets and gave her tired young body up to the luxury of a bed that was neither soft nor hard but received her gently and lulled her speedily to sleep.

When Freda woke, with a stretch and a yawn, daylight was streaming beneath the curtains and recognition of the surroundings brought her upright with a little gasp. Then she stretched again, in sheer nervous excitement, and one slim foot stole outward to the rug. It was her understanding that fine ladies, on arising, rang for their maid, that the maid drew the bath, perfumed it and announced:

"Madam, the bath is ready.”

There was.a silver bell on a tiny onyx table beside the bed. Freda rang it and then, skipping out from her nest in the linen, answered it herself.

“Oui, madame?”

“My bath, Marie!” she directed in languid tones, then ventured into luxury-room with all its glittering nickel and shiny tiling and turned on the water-stream.

MISS HENRIETTA EWING, having arranged to turn over her Thousand Islands home to Canadian convalescents from the hospitals of France, and being crowded out of door suddenly by the unexpectedly early arrival of a contingent in wheel-chairs and on crutches, left her housekeeper and maids to assist in making the new arrivals comfortable while she, her butler and her personal maid took the night express for New York. The train was delayed somewhere by the north of Albany, and as a chauffeur failed to meet her at the Grand Central Station, she arrived at her home in a taxi and in an ill-humor.

Parkyns assisted my lady to alight, and with armfuls of suit-cases staggered up the front steps. With arms full of a Pomeranian on a cushion the maid followed. Parkyns produced a key and opened the front door. Tall, prim and and tailored in gray, my lady stepped in and sniffed.

“Dead air!” she announced with added with added displeasure. “Chauncey has not had the house open in a week.”

Parktns picked up from under the door the yellow slip which announced an undelivered telegram offered the night before. Miss Henrietta looked at the offensive yellow slip irritatedly and then, with a general glance about, piloted her steps toward the peaceful haven of her room. She entered to be outraged, not to say appalled, by the sight of a cheap corset hanging over the back of one of her Chippendale chairs. Upon another appeared a nested flock of ruffles somewhat beyond her comprehension, while the couch boasted extra decorations in the way of a short and spangied skirt. A pair of black patent-leather pumps, some gold stockings and other odds and ends of garments which Miss Henrietta began now to think she recognized as items of chorus-girl apparel, lay strung about. The bed gave evidence of having been slept in.

“Well, did I ever?” inquired Miss Ewing with a gasp, turning a bewildered face toward her maid.

At this moment a sound of luxurious paddling arose in the bathroom, and Miss Henrietta took a hasty step in that direction, confirmed her fears and screamed—not loudly but as a perfectly well-bred expression of dismay and indignation too great for the coherence of words. Immediately the paddling ceased, to be followed by sounds of dripping water, and presently there appeared in the doorway a slender figure wrapped in one of Miss Henrietta's own linen-crash bathrobes.

“You're—you're Miss Ewing?” suggested a scared voice.

“I thought I was!” exclaimed Miss Ewing, with sarcasm. “What brought you here—disgraceful creature?”

Freda straightened and drew the bathrobe tighter about her.

“Mightn't you be mistaken about calling me that name?” she inquired with a slight toss of her round little chin, while the dark eyes stared unflinchingly.

This question and the mild but sure reproof in it steadied Miss Henrietta somewhat and unmasked the nobler side of her nature.

“I might—yes,” she admitted. “But explain yourself, young woman. How do you come here?”

“Chauncey brought me.”

“Chauncey? That boy?” There were distress-notes in the lady's voice. “What would his mother say! Whatever has that boy come to!”

“Well, if this is the worst he's come to, it can't be so very bad,” suggested Freda loyally, at the same time managing a smile that was faint but appealing.

“But to—to bring you here—of all places!”

“Where should he bring me but to his home?”

THIS question carried with it an implication that was staggering, but Miss Henrietta could not bring herself to seek its confirmation now. While she hesitated, Freda asked:

“May I put something on? I'll be uncomfortable pretty soon if I don't.”

Miss Ewing was a reasonable person, and no matter how preposterous the situation, this was a reasonable request.

“Jane,” she directed stiffly, “give this young woman her clothes and help her to get something on.”

“Not those!” gasped Freda as the maid bore down with gingerly air upon the fluffy ruffles and the spangled skirt. “The suit-case, if you please.”

Miss Ewing turned her back, reflecting irritably upon the eccentricities of that Chauncey whom she loved so dotingly, with reservations concerning duty to her own dignity and to this—this child.

“Well!” she exclaimed in some surprise when Freda again intruded upon her clothed modestly in a simple two-piece serge. The girl's appearance was reassuring, and Miss Henrietta felt a softening in her heart.

“What is your name?” she asked, and the tone was not unkindly, Freda, simple and straightforward ever, and pitifully anxious to make an impression that would redeem this horrible situation, felt that she was to have a chance as she replied.

“Have you a mother?”

“Frau Goebel, the snake-charmer of Gallagher's in Coney.”

Miss Ewing, unconsciously perhaps, withdrew abruptly from the vicinity of the suit-case, now open on the coach.

“And you?” she inquired apprehensively, as prepared to hear the worst concerning one who had slept in her bed. “You are a snake-charmer also?”

“No,” smiled Freda. “I do a dance in the bally.”

“In the ballet, you mean,” corrected Miss Ewing with careful consideration.

“No—on it,” insisted Freda,

What use to argue with one ignorant? Miss Ewing returned to the main point.

“Where did you meet Chauncey?”

“There! He was always hanging round.”


“He hasn't missed a day in three weeks,” declared Freda,

“Oh, the schemer!” Miss Henrietta's voice rose to something near a whistle and her eyes sought the maid's as if to bear witness to some important discovery. “And so that's why he wouldn't come to the Islands but insisted that business kept him in town all summer! And are you—” Miss Ewing cleared her throat and braced herself: “Are you married to Chauncey?”

“Married? No!” Freda's answer was emphatic. “He was just a friend who wanted to help me. Besides I—I love a man at Coney, but my mother loves him, too. She's more unscrupulous than I am. She made him propose to her, and they're engaged.”

The big pained eyes showed that the girl had sustained a real hurt, and philanthropic Miss Henrietta was considerably moved. No sooner had her own anxiety been relieved than she saw the curtains of farce parting on tragedy. Besides, Miss Ewing was feeling a bit of respect for the girl. While evidently the innocent victim of one of Chauncey's absurd impulses, her situation had been most awkward; yet the simple little thing had borne herself admirably.

“Well, that is a pretty how-do-you-do, isn't it?” commented Miss Henrietta in tones that managed dexterously to convey sympathy for the girl and condemnation for the mother. “And who is the one you love?”

“Joe Holmquist, the strong-man in the show.”

“Strong-man! H'mph! And he let your mother outgeneral him?”

“Oh, but Mother can outgeneneral anybody,” explained Freda dolefully. “She used to be a leopard-tamer till she lost her nerve. Since that it's the snakes and—and me. She handles us both alike—pets us and keeps us caged. Now she's trying to cage Joe.”

Miss Ewing controlled an impulse to laughter.

“My nephew was going to help you?”

“Yes—to go to business college and study stenography.”

“Stenography?” Miss Ewing was dazed.

“You can't imagine, Miss—Miss Ewing,” said Freda with appeal in her voice, “what the atmosphere of a freak-show is like. Everyone has got something the matter with them. They're not normal; they're monstrosities of some kind so terrible that people will pay money to come and stare at them, and while you'd think they'd get hardened, they never do. They're sensitive, and they brood and crab. There's a little man in our show fifty-two years old and thirty-two inches high. I have never seen him smile. He just stands or sits and broods all day on his little platform. The tones of his voice are the saddest I've ever heard.”

“The poor young man!” ejaculated Miss Ewing.

“Mother's not a freak, of course,” went on Freda, “but she don't mind the associations and wants me to stay with her till I get a chance to marry well. She thought I might marry Chauncey, but I couldn't.”

“He wanted you to?” inquired Miss Ewing, grim again.

"You might ask him,” blushed Freda.

“I'm grateful to you for not doing so,” declared Miss Henrietta, casting about in her mind to know what she might do for the young lady.

“And I did so want to be a stenographer in a bank,” bemoaned Freda. “I told Chauncey about it, of course, and he wrote me a letter to-day,—no, yesterday it was—telling me his scheme for me to come here in the fall and live here as one of your maids and go to school. But I couldn't do that—an artist like me doing housemaid's duties! You see how impossible that would be?”

“Naturally,” assented Miss Ewing tactfully.

“And then this afternoon—no, yesterday afternoon,” Freda went on, gulping, “I found out about Mamma and Joe, and I had to come away quick. I just had to, Miss Ewing; and Chauncey brought me here. It was late at night, and I didn't think he knew quite what to do. I suppose it was awful of him to put me in your room, but he was trying to make me feel right about everything, and I hope you wont mind. I don't think I've hurt anything. And he was such a gentleman! He slept in the garage last night, and he was so surprised when you weren't home.”

“Surprised?” sniffed Miss Henrietta. “He'll be more surprised when he learns I am home.”

WITH that appositeness which happens sometimes in real life, though admittedly less often than in fiction, a penetrating voice just now echoed in the hall, and Miss Henrietta's eye got a peculiarly satisfied gleam in it. Waiting while she timed the progress of footsteps outside, she lifted her voice and called:

“Chauncey, come here!”

A swart-faced young man with bright black eyes, a knobby chin, a bald forehead and a blasé air, entered the room.

“Why, hello, Aunt Etta!” he exclaimed, advancing and kissing her affectionately on her forehead.

Freda had turned toward the door with an expectant smile but now stood nonplused.

“Why, that isn't Chauncey!” she gasped; and then, a little beside herself with shock, bravely confronted the counterfeiter. “You've got on Chauncey's shirt and socks, but you're not Chauncey.”

That self-contained young man and his aunt exchanged polite but mystified glances.

“This is my nephew Chauncey Ewing,” assured Miss Henrietta, feeling a fresh wave of sympathy for the girl.

“Oh!” Freda murmured, and she sank weakly into a chair.

“Somebody's been masquerading as you, Chauncey,” explained Miss Henrietta, “coming to see the girl every day at Coney Island.”

“The rotten beggar!” adjudged Chauncey with cultured indignation. “To tell the truth, Aunt, I just this hour got in from France.”

“From France?” Miss Ewing's voice all but failed her for a moment. “Is there anything else preposterous that I am to be asked to believe this morning?” she demanded, when the nervous stricture of her throat had passed.

“It was only that I wanted to spare you worry, Aunt Etta,” soothed the young man. “I've been driving ambulance over there. I knew you'd be frightened to death, so all summer long I've been spoofing you, leaving Milton to keep the house open, take care of Cecil and reinclose my letters to you, which were written to read as if 'made in Brooklyn.' Last week they packed me off home because of a little touch of fever. Don't feel hard against me, will you? It was only a—a benevolent deception.”

While Chauncey was extricating himself from his own mild predicament, Freda had a gleam of inspiration concerning her own. She touched a button she had noticed, marked “Garage.”

THE fact was, however, that at this moment there was no one in the garage to hear the bell. True enough, a certain blond young man whose identity was now a matter of doubt had lain down to sleep in one of the chauffeur's beds in the garage at some time about two o'clock in the morning, and he had slept soundly and long. Arising at about the hour of noon, he had been engaged in the knotting about his throat of something that looked like a streamer torn from the aurora borealis, when a noise outside attracted his attention.

Glancing from the window, he had been surprised and shocked to see old Parkyns bustling about cutting some late roses, evidently for the luncheon-table. Holy mackerel! The return of Miss Henrietta must be imminent. The young man had dashed wildly down the stairs, shot like a streak across the back court and raced upward noiselessly but two steps at a time, chiding himself with every jump for that excess of hospitality which had led him to domicile Miss Goebel of Coney Island in Miss Henrietta's own room, and planning to abduct her hastily to another chamber while he lay in wait for Miss Ewing and offered his explanation.

But he had found that lady's door ajar and through it voices floating, one of which indicated that he came too late for either purpose. Another of those voices gave the agitated young man particular pause. It also gave him weakness in the knees as he reflected what garments were upon his back. Yet a lady was in distress—an entirely innocent lady; and, eavesdropping only long enough to gather the direction and speed of the wind of conversation, he knocked and stepped in, his entry timing closely with Freda touching of the bell.

CHAUNCEY!” was the girl's first involuntary exclamation—whereat the young man flushed to the roots of his blond hair as his eyes sought not Freda, but Miss Ewing.

“This is Milton Wallace, Chauncey's socially gifted chauffeur,” explained that lady; and there was an amused crackle of sarcasm in her tones. But along with the words went a kindly glance for Freda, and one of accusation for the chauffeur.

“Oh, you—you—” began Freda. But there were the innocent blue eyes of the pseudo-Chauncey, turning toward her with an expression of mild benevolence in them. Instead of reproaching him, she could only stammer and give the real Chauncey an opportunity to demand sternly:

“Milton! Have you been wearing my shirts and socks?” At the same time his inquiring eye wandered reminiscently over the details of that young man's confessedly brilliant sartorial array.

But Milton, in his way, was rather sportsmanlike.

“I'm caught with the goods on me, Ewing,” he admitted with an embarrassed smile, and then he brightened to argue. “But there's some excuse for me, really. A lot of freaks down at Coney Island wished your name on me one day when I was wearing some clothes you had got me, and after that—well, noblesse oblige.” Milton relieved himself of a very Gallic gesture. “After that I had to dress the part.”

“Why, it's the very truth!” gasped Freda, astonished to recall the exact facts, and glad of anything that would enable her to acquit the pseudo-princeling of misconduct. “We deceived ourselves, and he only let us have our way about it. I remember now that when I called him Chauncey the first time he only said: 'Somebody's been guessing.'”

The real Chauncey had turned a significantly inquiring glance at Milton when the girl was speaking.

“Oh, I fell for her, all right,” admitted Milton, relapsing for a phrase or two to the very language of chauffeurs, “but she wouldn't fall for me, even when she thought I was heir to a million. I wanted to get her out of that environment though, so I seized the first occasion and brought her here. I thought it was a case you'd like to help, Miss Ewing. I hope you'll see what can be done—no matter what happens to me.”

There was an appealing drop of the voice on these last words, and Freda took them up like a cue.

“Of course it was wrong of him, Mr. Ewing, to wear your clothes,” she said, turning on that young man the full candle-power of some very earnest eyes, “but, oh, I did admire those wonderful neckties so!”

A relaxing smile crossed the dignified features of Mr. Chauncey Ewing, late of the American Ambulance Corps. He tapped the end of a cigarette meditatively on the side of his silver case.

“But was only a—a benevolent deception, sir,” urged Milton in his own behalf. “But I suppose I'm discharged, sir?”

“Discharged? No!” decided young Mr. Ewing, but with tantalizing deliberation. “You're too good a driver. But you're reprimanded—seriously reprimanded, Milton. Understand? And say! Go to my room, take everything of mine you've ever had your hands on—or anything you covet irresistibly—and carry it out to the garage and keep it there. Now, young lady, does that relieve your distress of mind any?”

“Oh, yes sir; you are very kind,” murmured Freda.

“Perhaps in time you might even come to think the real Chauncey almost as nice as the fake one,” he further unbent to suggest, a little bit as if his pride was touched that a young lady should still have eyes for his chauffeur after once having contemplated him.

“Perhaps,” admitted Freda, so doubtfully that Miss Henrietta laughed heartily, while Chauncey's lips parted in a disappointed grin.

“This child is so honest.” said Miss Henrietta, “I feel we must do something for her. Would you really like a home while you go to business college?”

“Not—charity,” objected Freda with a shake of the head. “Thank you very much, but—”

THE apologetic person of Parkyns appeared in the doorway.

“A lady downstairs, ma'am, haccompamied by a gentleman, who insists her daughter is here in the house.”

“A—a large gentleman?” inquired Freda, with great interest.

“He's got shoulders on him like the abutments to a bridge,” elaborated Parkyns.

“Mother!” gasped Freda, mixing her sequences.

“Show them up,” directed Miss Ewing.

“Freda! Freda!” sobbed the stout woman, rushing upon the girl, her broad face expressing contrition, reproach and forgiveness. “For why you went away? I lofe you. You can have Joey. Look here at this letter what he wrote you.”

Frau Goebel, with tears streaming, produced a letter soiled by the litter of the monkey-cage and worn by the inquisitive fingering of Scipio. “Joey wrote it to you yesterday morning already,” explained her mother, tearfully yet hopefully, “but the ape got it.”

Freda snatched the missive and read it eagerly from the beginning to the end—Joe's laborious, painful and convincing declaration of love. And when she had finished, the girl kissed it impulsively and looked up to find Joe standing before her, head slightly on one side, the tender gray eyes beaming, the Cupid's-bow lips parted in a hopeful smile; and though in the presence of strangers, his shyness was much abated.

“Freda!” he exclaimed with a great gulp in his voice as he opened his arms. “I've quit the show. It's the civilized life for us now.”

“Joe! Oh, Joe!” she breathed softly and confidingly; then she nestled against his chest as the strong arms gathered her in.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1924, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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