THE FALLING SAND

Gypsy camp fires were indeed dispelling dark shadows of a fading day in
the heart of a forest glade when the truck bearing Merry’s “Golden
Circle” arrived at the scene of the encampment. But no little French
girl danced about any of them.

“They’re gone, those Frenchies,” said the greasy gypsy who came out of a
tent in answer to their call. “Don’t know much about ’em. They’re not of
our tribe. We’re Americans; been here for generations.”

“Did they have a girl with them?” Weston asked.

“Yellow-haired?”

“Yes.”

“She’s with ’em, all right.”

“Bound?”

“How do you mean, bound?” The gypsy stared. “Gypsies don’t tie their
folks up.”

“But she was kidnaped,” Merry broke in.

“Listen, young lady!” The man came close. His air was defiant, almost
threatening. “Gypsies don’t kidnap girls. Why should they? Got enough of
their own.”

At that moment three dirty children crowded around him. The look on his
face softened as he patted their tousled heads.

“That girl kidnaped!” He laughed hoarsely. “She’s one of ’em. Talks
their French lingo. Talks gypsy talk, too, better’n me. Danced all day,
didn’t she, youngsters?” Again he patted the dark hair of the shy
children.

“Beautiful, so beautiful dancer!” the oldest girl murmured.

“See!” he exulted. “I tell the truth. Children don’t lie.”

“But where have they gone?” Merry’s mind was in a whirl. Petite Jeanne
staying in such a place of her own free will? Petite Jeanne, who was so
much needed elsewhere, dancing all day beside a gypsy tent? The thing
seemed impossible. Yet here were the guileless little children to
confirm the statement.

“Wait! I will show you.” The man disappeared within the tent. He was
back in half a minute. In his hand he held a soiled road map. On this,
with some skill, he traced a route that ended in a village called Pine
Grove, many miles away.

“Beyond this place,” he concluded, “is a great pine grove. Some man
planted it there many years ago. You cannot miss it. There is only one
like this in the state. This is where they will camp. There are others
of their kind camping there. They are gone three hours ago in a motor
van. See! There are the wheel tracks. You may follow, but you will not
overtake them; not in that.” He pointed at their truck with a smile.
“Gypsies have always been blacksmiths. Now many are motor mechanics.
They trade for cars, fix ’em up. Always it is for a better car. By and
by they have a very fine one. So it is with these.”

Still smiling, he bowed himself into his tent, and closed the flap.

“We may be slow,” Weston said grimly, “but we are sure. We will be in
Pine Grove before sunrise. Hop in, little lady, and we’ll step on the
gas.”

A motorist traveling that long and lonely road, mapped out by the gypsy
and taken by Merry’s “Golden Circle” that night, might, had he been
traveling in the opposite direction, have marveled at the motor
transports he met that night.

The first was high, broad and long, a gaudily painted house on wheels.
On its seat rode three men. At the back of this traveling house was a
room, much like the one room apartments of a modern city. Two broad
berths let down from the ceiling were occupied; the one on the right by
a girl, the one on the left by a woman and child.

The girl was Petite Jeanne. With her golden hair all tossed about on her
pillow, she slept the sleep of innocence.

Do you marvel at this? Had not a gypsy van been her home in France for
many a happy season? Ah yes, this was truly her home.

From time to time, as the van jolted over its rough way, she half
awakened and found herself wondering dimly what beautiful French village
they might be near when they camped for breakfast in the morning.
Happily sleep found her again ere she was sufficiently awake to realize
that she was in the bleak interior of America; that she was with strange
gypsies, and that she had no money.

The woman and child across from her were not so fortunate. The child, a
girl of two or three years, whose eyes were dark as night and whose
tangled curls were like a raven’s wing, tossed about in her bed. She was
burning hot with fever. The mother slept fitfully. Often she awakened to
sit up and stare with big, motherly eyes at the child; then with tender
fingers she tucked it securely in. The gypsy mother loves the children
God has given her.

Three hours back on this road a second truck made its lumbering way
through the night. On its seat, taking turns at nodding and dozing or
driving, sat three men. They were not well clothed. The night wind blew
all too frankly through their threadbare coats. But their hearts were
warm, so they cared little for the wind.

At the back of this truck, buried deep in a pile of ragged quilts and
blankets, was blue-eyed Merry. She slept the long night through.

With the dawn Weston swung his truck sharply to the right, drove on for
a quarter of a mile and then brought it to a sputtering halt.

“Hey, Merry!” he shouted back. “We’re here. And over there is your
friend. See! She is dancing the sun up. She is dancing around a gypsy
camp fire.”

And there, sure enough, radiant as the morn, was the little French girl,
dancing her heart away while a broad circle of gypsy folks admired and
applauded.

“Now, what,” Merry rubbed her eyes as she tumbled from the truck, “what
do you think of that?”

“These people surely did kidnap me. But, oh, for a very good reason!”
Petite Jeanne placed her palms against one another and held them up as a
child does in a good-night prayer.

Almost on the instant of their arrival, the little French girl’s keen
eyes had recognized the men of Merry’s “Golden Circle” and had come
dancing out to meet them.

When Merry tumbled out at the back of the van, Jeanne had seized her by
the hand and, without a word of explanation, dragged her to a place
beside the gypsy camp fire. After a moment in which to regain her breath
and overcome her astonishment at the arrival of these friends, she had
seized a huge pot of English tea and a plate of cakes and then had
dragged Merry away to the shadows of a huge black pine tree, leaving the
three men to have breakfast with the gypsies.

“And to think!” she cried, “that you should have come all this way to
find me, you and your ‘Golden Circle!’”

“We—we thought you must be in great distress,” Merry murmured.

“Of course you would. And that only goes to prove that I, who have been
a gypsy, have no right to try living as those do who have not been
gypsies.

“But truly I must tell you!” Jeanne set down her cup of tea. “You see,
these gypsies are French. They knew I, too, was French, that I had been
a gypsy, and that I had the God of Fire. How?” She threw up her hands.
“How do they know many things? Because they are gypsies.

“These people,” she went on, “believe very much in the power of the Fire
God. He is able to heal the sick. They believe that.

“They believe more than this. They think that when one is sick he is
only sad. If they can cheer him up, then he will be well again. So: sing
to him; play the violin and guitar; dance for him. Bring the Fire God
and dance before him. That is best of all.

“Did you see that beautiful child?” she asked suddenly. She nodded her
head toward the camp. “The one among the blankets before the fire?”

Merry nodded.

“That child has been very, very sick. Now we have sung for her. We have
danced for her. The Fire God is here. He has smiled for her. Perhaps she
will get well.

“And that,” she concluded, as if all had been explained, “that is why
they kidnaped me. They knew I could dance very well. They wished me to
dance before the Fire God that the child might be well again.

“And I—” Her voice took on an appealing quality. “I might have escaped.
After they had taken me from the theatre, they did not compel me to
stay. But how could I come away? There was the child. And is not one
child, even a gypsy child, more than friends or plays or money or food,
or any of these?”

“Yes,” said Merry thoughtfully, “she is more than all these. But why did
they not ask you to come? Why did they carry you away?”

“Ah! They are simple people. They did not believe I would come
willingly.

“They were at the theatre three times. Twice they really meant to ask
me, but did not dare. The child grew worse. Then they took me.”

“And the falcon—”

“It escaped that night. They told me.”

“And it was the falcon that led us to you,” said Merry. It was her turn
to take up the story.

That day a doctor was called. He pronounced the gypsy child out of
danger.

“Doctor,” said Merry, looking earnestly into his eyes, “did she truly
help?” She threw a glance at Petite Jeanne.

“Without a shadow of doubt.” Here was an understanding doctor. “She
helped the mother and father to be cheerful and hopeful. This spirit was
imparted to the child. Nothing could have helped her more.”

“Then,” said Merry, “I am glad.”

That afternoon the three men, who had slept the morning through in the
back of Weston’s truck, drove Jeanne and Merry to the nearby village
where they caught a train to the city.

It was a very sober Jeanne who approached the door of the theatre that
evening just as the shadows of skyscrapers were growing long.

To her surprise she found Florence, Angelo, Dan Baker and Swen, gathered
there. At their backs were several large trunks.

“Why! What—” She stared from one to the other.

“Been thrown out,” Angelo stated briefly.

“The—the opera? Our beautiful opera?”

“There will be no opera. We have been thrown out.” Angelo seemed tired.
“A road company opens here a week from next Sunday.”

Florence saw the little French girl sway, and caught her. As she did so,
she heard her murmur:

“The hand of Fate! It has turned the hour glass. The sand is falling on
my head.”

She was not ill, as Florence feared; only a little faint from lack of
rest and sleep. She had once more caught a vision of that giant hour
glass. A cup of coffee from a nearby shop revived her spirits.

She started to tell her story, but Angelo stopped her. “All in good
time!” he exclaimed. “You are too tired now. And we must look to our
trunks.”

“But I must explain. I—” The little French girl was almost in tears.

“Dear child,” said Angelo, in the gentlest of tones, “we are your
friends. We love you. Never explain. Your friends do not require it;
your enemies do not deserve it; you—”

“Ah! A very happy little party, I see.” A voice that none of them
recognized broke in. The short, stout, rather ugly man with a large nose
and a broad smile who had thus spoken was a stranger.

“Thrown out,” said Angelo, jerking a hand toward the trunks.

“So! That’s bad. Winter, too.” The man looked them over calmly.

“That little girl can dance,” he said, nodding at Jeanne, “like an
angel. Where’ve I seen her? Can’t recall.

“And you, my friend.” He patted Dan Baker on the shoulder. “Where did I
see you?”

“Topeka, Kansas.” The old trouper smiled. “Or was it Joplin, Missouri?”

“Probably Joplin,” said the stranger.

“Mind giving me your card?” He turned to Angelo.

“Haven’t any.”

“Well, then, write it here.” He proffered a blank page of a much-thumbed
note book.

Angelo wrote. The stranger departed without another word. He had said
nothing of real importance; had not so much as told them who he was, nor
how he made his living; yet his pause there among them had inspired them
with fresh hope. Such is the buoyancy of youth. And the old trouper was
in spirit the youngest of them all.

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