FROM OUT THE WRECKAGE

“Friday, the thirteenth! This is my luck-e-e day!”

Petite Jeanne half sang these words as she sat bolt upright in bed and
switched on the light.

“You’ll be entirely out of luck if you don’t lie right down and go to
sleep!” Florence Huyler, her pal, exclaimed, making a significant
gesture toward a sofa pillow which, as the little French girl had reason
to know, was both heavy and hard. And Florence had muscle. Of late she
had been developing herself. She had gone back to her old work as
physical director in one of the many gymnasiums of this great city.

“But why?” the slim girl protested. “It is morning. I am awake. Who
wants to sleep after waking up?”

“But look at the clock! Such an hour!”

Petite Jeanne looked. Then her small mouth formed a perfect circle.

“But yet I am awake!” she protested.

“You wouldn’t hurt me,” she pleaded, “you with your hundred and sixty
pounds, and poor me, just a little bit of nothing.”

No, Florence would not harm her little French friend. She adored her.

“See!” The exquisite little dancer tossed her blonde head, danced out of
bed, flipped out one light, flipped on another, and then continued, “I
shall be away in one little minute. This is my luckee day. I must go to
dance the sun up from the lake where he has been sleeping, the lazee
fellow!”

Florence turned her face to the wall.

“There’s no resisting her,” she whispered to herself.

“And yet many have been resisting her,” she thought sorrowfully.

This was true. All that is life—each joy, every sorrow—must come to an
end. The run of the gypsy drama in which Jeanne had played so important
a role had ended in June. At first they had believed it would be easy to
secure a booking for the coming season. It was not easy. Jeanne’s
talents were limited. No dramatic production of any sort was being
prepared for the coming year which had a part she could play. They had
gone from booking house to booking house, from manager to manager. All
had returned Petite Jeanne’s smile, but none had offered her a contract.

All this had not discouraged the little French girl in the least. She
believed in what she called her “luck.” Fortunate child! Who can fail if
he but believes hard enough and long enough in his luck?

So, though the booking season was all but at an end and prospects were
as dark as a December dawn, Jeanne was keeping up her training. Just
now, two hours before dawn, she was preparing to go to the park and
dance the dew off the grass while the sun came creeping up from the
waters of Lake Michigan.

As Jeanne peered into the closet a spot of flaming red smote her eye.

“My luckee dress!” she whispered. “And this is my luckee day! Why not?”

Without further ado, she robed herself in a dress of flaming red which
was as short as a circus rider’s costume and decorated with so many
ruffles that it was impossible to tell where dress ended and ruffles
began.

After tying a broad sash of darker red about her waist, she slipped on
socks that rose scarcely above her shoetops, kicked on some pumps,
switched out the light and tripped down the stairs to step out into the
dewy night.

There are those who are thrilled as they prowl about a city in the dead
of night. Others are fascinated by the white lights that gleam before
midnight. As for Petite Jeanne, she preferred the hour before dawn, when
all the world is asleep. Then, like some wood nymph, she might haunt the
dew-drenched park and dance to her heart’s content.

But now, as she left her home at the edge of the park to go skipping
down the deserted street, a strange feeling stole over her.

“It’s the dress,” she told herself.

And so it was. She had worn that dress, no, not in America at all. And
yet she had called it her lucky dress.

It had been in France. Ah yes, in France, her beloved France! That was
where it had brought her good fortune. There, as a girl in her early
teens, she had traveled with the Gypsies and danced with her pet bear.
When she danced in this flaming gown, spinning round and round until the
ruffles seemed a gay windmill wheel, how the coins had come thumping in
around her tiny feet!

“But now I am fourteen no more,” she sighed. “And yet, perhaps it is a
lucky dress for Petite Jeanne, even now. Who can tell?”

As she spoke these words half aloud, she cast a furtive glance down a
dark alley. Instantly her mood changed. On her face came a look of
horror. Her lithe limbs trembled. She seemed about to fall.

She did not fall. Instead, summoning all her courage, she went bounding
down the street.

What had happened? She had seen a face, a gypsy face. It was an evil
face, and one she had seen before. But not in America. In France.

She had read the look in those burning eyes. The man had seen the dress
before. He could not but know the one who wore it.

“And he is bad! Bad!” she panted.

One quick glance back, and she doubled her pace. The man was coming. He
was gaining.

What had she to fear from him? What had she not? Was he not the leader
of a gypsy clan who bore a deadly hate for every member of the Bihari
Tribe? And had she not traveled for many months with the Bihari?

She rounded a corner. Before her stood an open basement window. “Any
port in a storm.” With a sprightly spring she cleared the window sill
and disappeared.

And then—confusion! Where was she? What had happened?

When she thrust a foot through the open window, Jeanne felt some solid
object beneath her and was thankful. But scarcely had she thrown the
full weight of her body on that object and swung herself through than
the thing beneath her veered to the right, swayed for a second, and then
gave way and went down with a terrifying crash.

And Petite Jeanne, when she had regained her scattered senses, found
herself in the midst of it all. What was worse, it appeared to be a
total wreck.

“Wha—where am I? What have I done?” she moaned.

“Well, anyway, I escaped him,” she philosophized.

But was she better off? Having had a full moment to reflect there in the
darkness and silence, she began to doubt it. Here she was in a strange
place—some one’s basement, and all about her was darkness. That she had
done some damage was certain.

“This,” she sighed, “is my luckee day. And what a start!

“Have to get going.” She made an attempt to free herself from the
entangled mass into which she had fallen. She put out a hand and felt
the rough edge of splintered wood. She moved a foot, and a fragment of
glass crashed to the floor.

“The place is a wreck!” she all but sobbed. “And I did it. Or did I? How
could I do so much?” She began to doubt her senses.

Now she sat up, silent, intent. Her ears had caught the sound of
footsteps.

“Some one’s coming. Now I’m in for it!”

The footsteps seemed to fall as lightly as a fairy’s toes. Scarcely had
Petite Jeanne begun to wonder about that when there came the sound of a
door being opened. Next instant a light flashed on, revealing in the
doorway the face of a girl.

And such a girl! Jeanne pronounced her Irish without a second’s
hesitation. She had those unmistakable smiling Irish eyes. And they were
smiling.

“She’s younger than I am, and no larger, though her shoulders are
broader. She’s bony. Maybe she works too hard and eats too little.”
These thoughts, flashing through the little French girl’s keen mind for
the moment, drove all thought of her plight out of her head. For those
eyes, those smiling Irish eyes, were the sort that take hearts captive.
Petite Jeanne was a willing captive.

“Did you fall in the window?” the girl asked.

Jeanne did not answer. She began to stare in amazement at the wreckage
all about her. Metal lamps with broken shades, tables split across the
top, chairs with rounds gone—all these and many more articles of
furniture and equipment were there, and all broken.

“I wouldn’t believe, unless I saw it,” she said gravely, “that so much
damage could be done with one tumble.”

“Oh, that!” The girl laughed merrily. “That’s our junk pile. It will all
be fixed some time. That’s what my brother Tad does all the time. We buy
broken things at auction sales and such places, and he fixes them. Then
we sell them. Tad’s older than I am, and an awfully good fixer.”

“He’d have to be,” said Jeanne, looking at the wreckage. “You’d think
this was the hold of a vessel after a terrific storm.”

“It’s not so difficult to fix ’em. I help sometimes,” the girl said in a
quiet tone. “But most of the time I’m either out buying, or else in the
shop selling.”

“Buying?”

“Yes. Buying this.” The strange girl made a sweeping gesture with her
hands.

“But don’t you—don’t you—how do you say that in English? Don’t you get
stung?”

“Oh, yes, sometimes.” The girl’s fine white teeth showed in a smile.
“But not often.

“But let me help you out of there!” she exclaimed. She put out a hand.
Jeanne took it. A fine, hard, capable little hand it was.

“This,” said Jeanne, as she felt her feet once more on a solid floor,
“is my luckee day.”

“It must be,” agreed the girl. “It’s a wonder you weren’t cut by broken
glass. But how did you happen to come in here?”

“A gypsy chased me.”

“A gypsy! How I hate them!” The girl’s face darkened.

“You shouldn’t. Not all of them. Some are good, some bad. I used to be a
gypsy.”

“Not really!” The big blue eyes were open wide, staring.

“Well, anyway, in France I traveled with them for a long, long time. And
they were very, very kind to me, Bihari and his band.

“But that man!” She threw an apprehensive glance toward the open window.
“Ugh! He is a very terrible man. I have not seen him in America before.
I wish he would go away forever.”

“It’s good he didn’t follow you.” The girl glanced once more at the
window. “I shouldn’t have been much protection. And Tad, he—” she
hesitated. “Well, he isn’t much of a fighter.” Jeanne saw a wistful look
steal over the girl’s face.

“But come!” said the impromptu hostess, “Let’s get out of here. That
gypsy might find us yet.”

They left the room and entered a narrow hallway. Through a door to the
right Jeanne caught the yellow gleam of a fire.

“Tad keeps the furnace,” the girl said simply. “We get our flat for
that.”

There was a suggestion of pride in her tone as she said “our flat.”

“I’m going to like her more and more,” thought Jeanne. “What’s your
name?” she asked.

“Merry Murphy.” The other girl spelled the first name out. “I have to do
it,” she explained. “People think it’s M-a-r-y.”

“It should be M-e-r-r-y,” laughed Jeanne.

“Here’s our dining room and workshop.” The girl led the way into a room
lighted by a score of lamps.

“How odd!” The words escaped Jeanne’s lips unbidden.

“They’re all fixed. Tad fixed them,” said Merry proudly. “We’ll sell
them, but until we do we’ll use them. See, the lights are very tiny. It
costs little to use them. And it makes us forget this is a basement. And
it is, you know.”

“No!” Jeanne’s tone was sincere. “I truly had forgotten.”

Jeanne’s eyes swept the room and came to rest on the bent shoulders of a
person working over a small bench in the corner.

“Tad!” Merry called. “See what I found in our storeroom. And see! She
isn’t broken one bit.” She put an arm about Jeanne’s waist and laughed
merrily.

“Oh, yes I am!” Jeanne exclaimed. “Broke flat as a flounder! Is that not
how you say it here in America, when you have not a penny left?

“But this,” she added quickly, “this is my luckee day. To-day I shall
make a beginning at piling up a fortune. See! I will go out to dance the
sun up out of the lake where he has been sleeping!”

She sprang across the room in a wild fantastic whirl which set all the
lamps jingling and twinkling.

Tad threw down his tools and sprang to his feet. Then the little French
girl’s dance came to a sudden end, for she was seized with a mood that
unfitted her for the dance. When Tad stood up he was no taller than when
he sat down; and yet he was a man in years.

“That’s all right.” He laughed a strange, hoarse laugh. “I’ve always
been this way; just a little tad of a man. You’ll get used to it. I
have. So has Merry, here.” He laid an affectionate hand on Merry’s arm.

Merry beamed down at him. “It’s not how tall you are, but what you’ve
got in your head,” she laughed. “Tad’s head is all full of bright ideas.

“We’re going to have coffee very soon. Won’t you stay and have some with
us?”

“And then who will dance the sun up from the lake?” Jeanne went dancing
away again. “Oh, no I must not.

“But I must come back. Truly I must. You will take me to a sale, a very
strange sale. Will you not?”

“This morning if you like.”

“This very morning! How wonderful! And this is my luckee day!”

“This is the door, if you must go.”

“Truly I must.”

Merry led the way.

“But tell me,” said Jeanne as she stood at the foot of the stairway
leading to the street. “If I go to this sale shall I buy something, a
very small package all sealed up, very mysterious?”

“Y-yes, I think you may.” The Irish girl laughed a merry Irish laugh.
“At this sale all packages are sealed. You don’t know what you buy. You
really do not.”

The next moment Jeanne found herself tripping lightly over the dewy
grass, bound for the spot beneath the willows where on many a morning
before the world was awake, she had gone through her fairy-like dances
undisturbed.

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