FLORENCE SPRINGS A SURPRISE

In the meantime a passing stranger, who had witnessed from a distance
Florence’s struggle with the two men before the theatre door, and had
arrived on the scene too late to be of any assistance, had rushed into
the theatre lobby to spread the alarm.

There he fell into the arms of Solomon. His tale was quickly told, and
at once three greatly excited persons ran into the street. They were
Solomon, Angelo and Dan Baker.

Sprinting along in the direction indicated by the stranger, Angelo
plunged boldly into the dark shadows by the bridge.

There was no one there. But by good chance he came upon Florence’s
Boston bag lying on the ground.

The exclamation of joy that escaped his lips at sight of it died
suddenly. As he lifted it from the earth he found it almost as light as
air.

“Gone!” he exclaimed. “The Fire God is gone!”

“What could you expect?” Solomon grumbled. “They were after it. Why
should they leave it?

“See!” he added after one look at the bag. “They ripped it open.”

As he turned to retrace his steps he stumbled over a hard object.

“A brick,” he mumbled after casting the light of a pocket torch upon it.
“Only a brick.”

“But how strange!” There was surprise in Angelo’s voice. “The thing is
dry. And it rained only two hours ago. And see! There are two of them.”

“Those men threw them there,” was Solomon’s pronouncement. “Probably
meant to brain some one if necessary.”

He could not have guessed how wrong he was.

Since no further trace of the missing girl and her precious burden could
be found there was nothing for them but to return. This they did. Then
they discovered that Petite Jeanne, too, was missing.

The police were notified at once. An alarm was broadcast over the police
radio network. After that there seemed nothing to do but wait.

* * * * * * * *

Florence was a girl of strength and courage. Not without reward had she
spent hours in the gymnasium. Swinging from ring to ring in mid-air,
twisting through ladder and trapeze, torturing the medicine-ball, she
had developed muscular strength far beyond her years.

There was need of grip and grit now, as she clung, with the mysterious
pursuers above her, and with water, perhaps fathoms of it, beneath her,
to the side of that abandoned scow.

Footsteps approached. Grumbles and curses sounded in her ears.
Trembling, she held her breath. Her fingers, she knew, were in the
shadows. Flattened as her body was against the dark side of the scow,
she hoped she might not be seen if anyone looked for her there.

To her great relief they did not look but went grumbling away toward
some fish shanties a block away.

“Do they live there?” she asked herself. “I wonder.”

Moments passed. Her courage and her grip weakened.

“What’s the use?” she murmured at last. “I can swim. Swimming is better
than this, even in a city dump scow.”

Relaxing her hold, she dropped with a low splash into some ten inches of
black, muddy water.

“So far, so good,” she philosophized. “But now?”

Groping about in the muddy water she retrieved her paper-wrapped package
and tucked it under her arm.

Her next task was a survey of her temporary prison. She was in no great
danger, but the water was frightfully cold.

“Must get out of here some way,” she told herself. “Besides, there’s
Petite Jeanne. She’ll fret her poor little heart.”

Had she but known!

Slowly she made her way about, feeling the walls of her strange prison.
Everywhere the walls were too high. Even by leaping she could not grasp
them.

“And if that were possible,” she told herself, “I could not climb up
without some foothold.”

It was a foothold she sought. “Only some cleats or patches, or a rusty
chain dangling down,” she all but prayed. Her prayer was not answered.

“Oh, well,” she sighed. And with that, propping herself in a corner, she
stood first on one foot, then on the other, and almost fell asleep.

But what was this? Did she catch the sound of footsteps? Yes. She was
sure of it, light footsteps as of a woman. She knew not whether to
tremble or rejoice.

The sound grew louder, then ceased.

After that, for a long time there was silence. The silence was broken at
last by a startling sound. A rusty harmonica suddenly lent its doubtful
harmonies to the night.

Curiosity and desire drew her from the shadows. Then she all but
laughed. A ragamuffin of a newsboy with three frayed papers under his
arm sat, legs adangle, on top of the dump, pouring out his soul to the
moon in glorious discord.

Instantly she knew that here was her savior. She understood boys well
enough to realize that the raggedest of them all could not be hired to
watch a lady freeze in a well of a prison.

“Hey, there!” she called in a loud whisper, as the disharmony died away.

This came near being her undoing. The boy’s eyes bulged as he scrambled
to his feet, prepared to flee. His whole being said: “I have heard a
ghost!”

“No, no!” she cried aloud. “Don’t run away! I am down here. In the scow.
I—I fell in. Help me out. I’ll buy your papers, a jitney for every one,
and a dime to boot!”

Reassured, he dropped to the top of the scow and peered down.

“Gee!” he exclaimed. “You are in it! Been in long?”

“About an hour.”

“Gee!”

“I’ll go for help,” he said, after a moment’s thought.

“No, don’t,” she begged. “Find a rope, can’t you? Tie it up here. I can
climb out.”

“I’ll try.”

He disappeared. A moment later there came a clanking sound.

“Here’s a chain,” he called back. “Gee, it’s heavy!”

He succeeded in dragging it to the top of the scow and knotting one end
about a broken bit of plank. He threw the free end over the edge. With a
mighty jangle and bump, it extended its length to the water’s edge.

“Fine!” she applauded. “Now watch this!” She threw her paper-bound
package to the dump beside him.

“Man! It’s heavy!” he exclaimed as he picked it up.

“Now! Here I come!” Florence’s agility in climbing a chain surprised
even a boy. He was still more surprised when, after thrusting a shiny
half dollar in his hand, she grasped her mysterious package and hastened
away among the box cars.

Ten minutes later she emerged upon an all but deserted street. To her
great relief she succeeded in hailing a passing taxi at once and went
whirling away from the scene of her peril.

In the meantime, though lifted to the seventh heaven by the scene of
entrancing beauty that lay beneath her, Petite Jeanne was suffering
pangs of conscience.

“I must go!” she whispered to herself as, lying flat upon the iron
grating, she drank in the beauty of the opera. “I surely must. Florence
will miss me. There will be a fearful fuss. But one more look, only
one.”

So she lingered and the minutes sped away.

The scene beneath her was the first from _The Juggler of Notre Dame_,
one of matchless beauty. And, more than this, was not her friend playing
the part of the Juggler?

Marjory Bryce was dressed in the very costume she had worn beneath her
purple cape on that day when she sat beside Solomon and reviewed the
light opera.

Now as she glided with matchless grace across the stage, as her crystal
clear voice came drifting up, as she performed her act as a juggler, as
she listened later in despair to the priest as he denounced her trick as
inspired by the Devil, as at last, yielding, she consented to give up
her gay life and enter the monastery, Jeanne found her an artist rare
and inspired.

“No wonder her audience loves her!” she whispered to herself.

But now the scene was ended. Swiftly men worked, lifting stage settings
toward her and lowering others to the stage, for in this modern
playhouse all stage equipment was hung high above the stage. She
realized that her time for escape had come. She had but to let herself
down to the stage; the lift would do this for her; then she might dash
unobserved across the back of the stage, and down the corridor.

“And if that man is there still,” she told herself stoutly, “I’ll see
that three husky stage hands do for him just what needs to be done.”

There was no one in the hallway when she reached it. How the man entered
the building, how he hoped to carry Petite Jeanne from it, and how he
made his escape after his evil plans had been frustrated, will remain a
mystery.

As she entered the theatre she fell into the arms of the delighted and
all but tearful old trouper.

“And Florence?” he demanded. “Where is she?”

“Florence?” The little French girl stared. “How could I know?”

“Were you not with her?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Then she and the God of Fire have vanished.”

“Vanished?”

Dan Baker told her all he knew.

“Well,” said Angelo as he concluded, “there’s nothing left but to go to
the studio and await any news that may come. The police are on the job.”

“No news will come,” was Petite Jeanne’s sad comment. “And to think that
all this time I have been so happy!” She buried her face in her hands
and wept.

At the studio, overcome by anxiety and weariness, Jeanne slumped down in
a broad, upholstered chair before the fire and fell asleep.

As for the others, they, too, drew chairs to the fire, but did not
sleep. They spent an hour in thoughtful silence.

Then there was a rattle at the doorknob and in stepped Florence herself.
Ruddy-cheeked and apparently quite unharmed, she stood before them.

Angelo sprang forward. “Where have you been?” he gasped.

“Your feet!” he exclaimed. “They’re soaking. Must be frozen!”

“Not quite. Help me off with them, will you?” She spoke of shoes, not of
feet.

In a gallant, brotherly manner, he removed her shoes and stockings. Then
leading her to a place before the fire, he proceeded to chafe the purple
from her all but frozen toes.

“Wh—where’s the god?” he asked suddenly.

For answer she put out a hand to reclaim her water-soaked paper-bound
package. Tearing away the wrapping, she revealed its contents and then
set it at the edge of the fire to dry.

“The God of Fire, as I live!” he exclaimed.

“None other.”

“But how—how did you get it back?”

“Had it all the time.”

“But they got your bag!”

“Sure. And it contained two good bricks. No use taking a chance like
that. I had this god under my arm done up in a newspaper all the time.”
She looked at the Fire God and he appeared to leer back at her, as much
as to say: “You’re a good one! You _are_ keen!”

“They very nearly got me, for all that!” she said, after a moment. Then
she told of her flight, the pursuit, the old scow and the ragged little
musician.

“We’ll be going,” said Angelo, beckoning to his companions when she had
finished. “She’ll need a good, long sleep.” He nodded his head toward
Jeanne. “Your room, Florence, is far away. I’ll spend the night with
Swen.

“I’d like,” he added, “to see her face when she sees him!” Once more he
nodded toward Jeanne, then toward the god.

“Why not? She must be wakened.” Florence touched Jeanne’s cheek with a
cold hand. She wakened with a start.

“See!” Angelo’s tone was tense with emotion. “The god!”

Jeanne stared for a moment. Then a look of distrust overspread her face.
“No,” she cried, “it can’t be! You are deceiving me. It is made of clay!
You made it.”

She put out her hand to grasp it and dash it to pieces. Finding it both
hot and heavy, she dropped it quickly. Then there came over her face a
look like nothing so much as a spring sunrise, a look that would repay a
thousand miseries, as she whispered softly:

“It is! My own gypsy God of Fire! How perfect! Now I shall live anew!”

In a broad old spool-bed, beneath home woven covers from the hills of
Italy, and with doors double locked and bolted, the two pals, Florence
and Jeanne, fell asleep a short time later. They were wakened just as
the shop people on the streets far below were hurrying out for their
noonday luncheon.

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