A DARK DAWN

Before retiring that night Florence and Petite Jeanne sat for a long
time in their own small room, discussing the past and future.

They had spent the earlier hours of the evening in Angelo’s studio.
There, in frankness and utter sincerity, the little company had
discussed its prospects.

No one blamed Petite Jeanne for the part she had played. Being endowed
with tender and kindly souls, they one and all felt that under the same
conditions they would have acted in an identical manner.

“It is of little consequence,” Angelo had declared magnanimously. “We
should never have succeeded under that management. The opera was doomed.
And once a failure always a failure in the realm of playland.”

“What does it matter?” Dan Baker’s kindly old eyes had lighted with a
smile. “You have youth and love and beauty, all of you. How can you ask
for more?”

This speech had seemed quite wonderful at the time. But to these girls
sitting on their bed, facing facts, the future did not seem rosy. With
only two weeks’ room rent paid, with less than ten dollars between them,
with no income save Florence’s meager pay, and with bleak old winter
close at hand, they could not but dread what lay ahead.

“Jeanne,” Florence said at last, as if to change the subject, “was the
gypsy who chased you, on that morning when you fell into Merry’s cellar,
among those you saw at the Forest Preserve?”

“No,” the little French girl said thoughtfully. “No, I am sure he was
not.”

“Then,” said her companion, “we had better put his Majesty, the little
God of Fire, back to rest in his hole in the floor. You may need him
yet.”

“I am sure we shall.” The little French girl’s tone carried assurance.
“That opera is beautiful, very, very beautiful. And what is it the poet
says?

“‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’

“And still another:

“‘All that is at all
Lasts forever, past recall.’

“If these things are true, how can our beautiful opera fail to live?
Believe me, our time will yet come.

“Yes, yes, we must hide the little Fire God very carefully indeed.”

Three weeks passed. Trying weeks they were to the little French girl;
weeks in which her faith and courage were severely tested.

As proof of her faith in the beautiful thing Angelo and Swen had
created, she kept up her dancing. Sometimes in Angelo’s studio,
sometimes in her own small room, sometimes humming snatches of the
score, sometimes with Swen beating the battered piano, she danced
tirelessly on. There were times, too, when those hardy souls who went to
walk in the park on these bleak days saw a golden haired sprite dancing
in the sun. This, too, was Jeanne.

But when winter came sweeping down, when on one memorable November day
she awoke and found the window ledge piled high with snow and heard the
shriek of a wind that, whirling and eddying outside, seemed never to
pause, she despaired a little.

“This American winter,” she murmured. “It is terrible.”

And how could it seem otherwise to her? In her beloved France it snowed
a little. But the snow was soon gone. No drifts three feet high, no
blocked traffic, no terrible thermometer dropping to twenty below.
Besides, when winter came in France, the gypsies, “folding their tents
like the Arabs,” drifted away toward the south where it was always
summer.

By drawing the covers up over her head she was able to shut out from her
eyes the sight of the drifting snow and from her ears the sound of the
shrieking wind. But she could not hide from her alert mind the fact that
her money was gone, that the rent was overdue, nor that Florence’s
pitiful salary, if such it might be called, sufficed only to supply them
with the plainest of food.

In these last days she had gone less seldom to Angelo’s studio. Matters
were no better there. And, though for her sake Angelo and his companions
kept up a continuous chatter about future successes and good times just
around the corner, she knew in her heart that they, too, were
discouraged.

“There are the traveling bags,” she told herself now, as she threw back
the covers and sat up. “Those three pigskin traveling bags down there in
Angelo’s studio. I have fifteen dollars invested in them. Kay King has
always said: ‘You may have the money back any time.’

“Perhaps,” she thought soberly, “it is wrong of me to keep them. But to
sell them seems like betraying a friend. To cast all those beautiful
treasures, bestowed upon my good friend by those who loved him best,
before the eyes of curious, grasping and often stupid people, and to say
‘Come, buy these,’ certainly does seem like the betrayal of a friend.

“And he was so kind to me!” She closed her eyes and saw it all again. “I
was so young. The ship, the sea, all the people were so strange. And
America. It, at first, was even worse. But he, big-hearted man that he
was, treated me as his own daughter. He made everything seem so simple,
so joyous, so much like a lark. How can I? Oh, how can I?” She wrung her
slender hands in agony. “How can I permit them to be sold?

“And yet,” she thought more calmly, “it has been more than three weeks
since I wrote that letter to his hotel in New York. There has been time
for it to reach England and for the reply to come. I have heard nothing.
Perhaps he is dead.

“No reply,” she thought again. “There may have been one, and yet I may
not have known it.”

This was true. Since she did not wish to carry the heavy bags to her
room, she had left them at Angelo’s studio, and in writing the letter
had given only that address.

“I have not been to the studio for three days. A letter may await me. I
shall go to-day. If he reclaims the bags, he will repay me. Perhaps
there will be a tiny reward. Then all will be well again. Ah, yes, why
despair?”

Thus encouraged, she hopped out of bed, did ten minutes of
shadow-dancing and then, having hopped into her clothes, set about the
business of making toast and coffee over an electric plate.

“Life,” she murmured as she sipped her coffee, “is after all very, very
sweet.”

An afterthought had a tendency to dim the little French girl’s hopes.
Angelo, she remembered, had called her on the phone the day before.

He had, he assured her, nothing of importance to say. “And that,” she
told herself now, “means no letter. And yet, he may have forgotten. Ah,
well, we’ll hope. And I shall not go there until evening. That will give
the mailman one more day to do his bit.”

She called to mind the things Angelo had told her. He and his companions
were very close to the bottom. His precious treasures, rugs and all,
must soon go. They were living from hand to mouth. Dan Baker had been
earning a little, three or four dollars a day. “Doing impersonation.”
That is what the old trouper had called it, whatever that might mean.
Swen had hopes of earning something soon. How? He did not know. As for
himself, he had found nothing. He had even offered to sell books on
drama at a book store; but they would not have him.

“Sell books.” She sat staring at the wall now. “Who would buy them?”

She was thinking of blue-eyed Merry and of her last visit to the
basement shop. “It is hard,” the brave little Irish girl had said to
her. “For days and days no one has entered the shop. And we need money
so badly.

“But we have hopes,” she had added quickly. “The holiday season is
coming. Perhaps those who cannot buy costly presents will come to our
shop and buy mended ones that are cheap.”

“I am sure of it,” Jeanne had said.

“And see!” Merry had cried, pointing at the marble falcon with the
broken beak, that rested on the shelf above her desk. “See! He is still
looking toward the sky. All will be well.”

“Oh, little girl with your smiling Irish eyes,” Jeanne had cried,
throwing both arms about her, “How I love you! Some day I’ll be rich.
Then I shall give you a falcon all made of gold and he shall be looking
toward the sky.”

Now as she sat alone in her room, she thought again of the marble
falcon, and murmured, “I wonder if the falcon told the truth. I wonder
if all will be well? Truly, in such times as these it is necessary to
have great faith if one is to be brave.”

She threw herself into her dances that day with abandon. By the time she
had done the last wild whirl she had worked herself up to such heights
that she felt sure that a change for the better would come.

“It is as if I were preparing for some great event,” she told herself,
“a trial of my skill that will mean great success or terrible defeat!”

But as she went toward the studio she was given a shock that came near
to breaking her poor little heart.

She had rounded a corner when a sudden rush of wind seized her and all
but threw her against a beggar who, tin cup in hand, stood against the
wall.

The sight of the beggar caused her to halt. There was, she remembered, a
dime in her side coat pocket.

She looked again at the beggar, then thrust her hand deep for the dime.
The beggar seemed pitifully, hopelessly forlorn. His battered hat was
drooping with snow. His long gray hair was powdered with it. The hand
that held the cup was blue with cold. In a sad and forlorn world he
seemed the saddest and most forlorn being of all.

She had the dime between her fingers and was about to draw it forth when
another look at the old man made her start. A second look was needed
before she could be convinced that her eyes had not deceived her. Then,
with a sound in her throat suspiciously like a sob, she dropped the dime
back in her pocket and hastened away on the wings of the wind, as if she
had seen a ghost.

“Impersonations,” she whispered to herself, as a chill shook her from
head to foot. “Impersonation. He called it that. He would do even this
for his friends!”

The beggar standing there in the storm was none other than Dan Baker.

“I’ll call Kay King,” she said to herself, with another shudder. “I’ll
call him to-night. I’ll tell him he may have those bags. And when he
brings me the money I shall give it to Dan Baker. And he must accept it,
every dollar.”

She found Angelo at the studio when she arrived. No one else was there.
Swen, he explained, had gone out on some sort of work. Dan Baker was
doing his “impersonations.” Again Jeanne shuddered at that word.

Angelo had greeted her with the warm affection characteristic of his
race. Now he led her to a place beside the fire.

After that neither seemed to find words for small talk. Each was busy
with thoughts that could not well be expressed. Angelo, too, hailed from
a warm and sunny clime. This wild storm, ushering in winter so early in
the year, had sobered his usually buoyant soul.

After a time she asked him about the letter.

“A letter?” he asked, seeming puzzled. “Did you expect a letter to come
here?”

“Perhaps I did not tell you.” She nodded toward the corner where the
three pigskin bags stood. “When I wrote the letter to my friend, I gave
him this address.”

“I see. Well, there has been no letter.”

“I suppose,” she said dully, “that I may as well turn the bags back to
Kay King and get the money.”

“Must you?” He looked at her sharply.

“I think I must. I’ll call him on the phone now.”

Before she could put this plan into execution, Swen came bursting into
the room. He wore no cap. His hair was filled with snow. His face was
red with the cold. But his spirits were buoyant.

“Had a whale of a time,” he shouted boisterously. “And see! I have three
whole dollars! To-night we feast.”

Petite Jeanne heaved a sigh of relief. There was money in the house. Now
she need not call Kay King, at least not until morning.

“A day of grace,” she told herself.

It was some time later that, chancing to catch a glimpse of the talented
young musician’s hand, she saw with a shock that they were covered with
blisters.

“He has been shoveling snow in the street,” she told herself. An added
ache came to her overburdened heart.

Dan Baker came in a moment later. Beating the snow from his hat, he
threw it into a corner. Having shaken the snow from his hair, he
advanced to greet Jeanne.

“He doesn’t know I saw him,” she thought, as she looked straight into
his transparent blue eyes. “I am so glad.”

At first he seemed too tired for talk. Taking a place before the fire,
he appeared to fall into a dreamy reverie.

At last, rousing himself, he drew from his pocket a coin that shone in
the dim light. It was a gold piece, one of those rare
two-dollar-and-a-half pieces. Jeanne started at the sight of it. How had
he come by it? Had some one, mistaking it for a penny, dropped it in his
cup?

Still looking at the coin, Dan Baker spoke one word: “Gold.”

His weary old eyes took on an unwonted brightness. “That reminds me.
Once I was down on my luck as an actor. That was in Colorado.” He paused
and his eyes appeared to grow misty with recollection.

“He’s off again,” Jeanne told herself. “But how wonderful!” Her eyes
grew dim with tears. “How marvelous to be able to forget all that is
sordid, cold and mean, all the heartaches of the present in one’s dreams
of an unreal but charming past.”

“As I was about to say,” Dan Baker made a fresh start, “I was no longer
an actor. No one wished me to act. So, securing pick, a pan and a
burro—or was it two burros?”

“Oh!” murmured Petite Jeanne. “Just as you were to do in our play.”

“Just as he _is_ to do,” Angelo corrected stoutly.

“Yes, yes,” Dan Baker broke in, like a child whose story has been
interrupted. “But the burros. There were two, I am sure. Well, I recall
the jingle of picks and shovels, pots and pans as we traveled up Bear
Creek Canyon in Colorado—beautiful, wonderful Colorado, where the
snow-capped mountains are reflected in tiny lakes whose waters are
blue-black.

“Three days we traveled. Three nights I slept by a burned out camp fire
on the banks of a madly rushing stream.

“From time to time I caught the gleam of a golden speck in the sand at
the river’s bottom.

“But the gold,” I told myself, “is higher up. And so it was.”

He paused to poke at the fire. As his eyes reflected the gleam of the
fire the little French girl knew that he was not in the heart of a
great, sordid and selfish city, but far, far away, prodding a camp fire
in beautiful Colorado where snow-capped mountains are reflected in tiny
lakes whose waters are a deep blue-black. And she was glad.

“Gold,” he began once more. “Ah, yes. There was gold. You would be
surprised.

“I built a cabin, all of logs save the floor. That was of fragrant fir
and spruce boughs.

“One day as I panned the sand I came upon a brownish object that seemed
to be an ancient copper kettle turned upside down and half buried in the
sand.

“‘Aha!’ I cried, ‘A relic of the past. Some Forty-niner must have passed
this way and left his kettle.’

“I struck it lightly with the side of my pick. Naturally I expected it
to give off a hollow sound. No hollow sound came; only a dull thud, as
if I had struck a rock.

“Instantly my heart beat wildly. I had made a great discovery—how great
I could only guess.

“Quickly I drew my sheath knife. Using this as a chisel, and a stone as
a hammer, I cut off a chip of this yellow boulder.

“Imagine my joy when it came off gleaming like yellow fire.

“‘Gold!’ I cried. ‘A boulder of pure gold!’

“Then I fell suddenly silent. What if some one had heard me?

“I tried to pry the boulder from the sand. It would not budge. Gold is
heavy. Do you know how heavy?

“Darkness was falling. The curtain of night would hide my treasure. I
returned to my cabin, fried a supply of bacon, baked corn-cakes over hot
coals, and enjoyed a regal repast. And why not? Was I not rich as any
king?”

Once more the beloved wanderer prodded the fire. As he did so a dramatic
look of gray despair overspread his face.

“I slept well that night. Awakened sometime before dawn by the dull roar
of thunder, I looked out on a world of inky blackness.

“‘Going to rain,’ I thought. Then I crawled back between the blankets.

“Not for long. To the occasional roar of thunder was added a more
terrifying sound. An endless, ever increasing roar came echoing down the
canyon.

“Knowing its meaning, I wrenched my cabin door from its hinges, and then
awaited the worst.

“I had not long to wait. As if by magic I felt my door, my life saving
raft, lifted beneath me by a raging torrent and go spinning round and
round. We were on our way, riding the flood of a cloudburst.

“Well—” He paused to reflect. “I landed in a fellow’s cornfield. He
wanted to charge me for the corn my raft broke down. I wouldn’t stand
for that, so I went down to Denver and joined a troupe that was playing
_Ten Nights in a Bar Room_. For a man that never drank, I claim I had a
pretty good line.”

“But that gold?” put in Swen.

“Oh! The gold? Sure. Yes, the gold!” For a moment the old man seemed
bewildered. Then a bright smile lighted his wrinkled face.

“Gold, my son, is heavy. That flood moved half the mountainside. And
when it was over, where was my golden boulder? At the bottom of it all,
to be sure.”

“That story,” said Petite Jeanne, “sounds almost true.”

“True?” He beamed on her his old, gracious smile. “Of course it’s true.
At least, I did once play a part in _Ten Nights in a Bar Room_—a mighty
fine line, too, for a man who never drank a quart of whisky in his whole
life.”

After that, Dan Baker sat for a time staring at the glittering bit of
gold, the smallest coin of our realm. When he spoke again it was to the
coin alone. “You came to me by chance. What for? To buy stale bread, and
butter made from cocoanut oil, and a soup bone? Tell me. Shall it be
this, or shall it be sirloin steak, a pie and a big pot of coffee with
real cream?”

As Petite Jeanne looked and listened, she seemed to see him once again,
standing half buried in snow, a tin cup frozen to his benumbed fingers.
She was about to speak, to utter words of wise counsel, when with a
suddenness that caused them all to start, there came a loud knock at the
door.

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