There was once a shepherd-boy who kept his flock at a little distance from the village. Once he thought he would play a trick on the villagers and have some fun at their expense. So he ran toward the village crying out, with all his might,-- ... Read more of THE BOY WHO CRIED "WOLF!" at Children Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Against The Bars







Part of: The Estray
From: The Branding Iron

Jasper Morena had stood for an hour in a drafty passage of that dirty
labyrinth known vaguely to the public as "behind the scenes,"
listening to the wearisome complaints of a long-nosed young actor. It
was the sixth of such conversations that he had held that day: to
begin with, there had been a difficulty between a director and the
leading man. Morena's tact was still complete; he was very gentle to
the long-nosed youth; but the latter, had he been capable of seeing
anything but himself, must have noticed that his listener's face was
pale and faintly lined.

"Yes, my boy, of course, that's reasonable enough. I'll do what I
can."

"I don't make extravagant demands, you see," the young man spread down
and out his hands, quivering with exaggerated feeling; "I ask only for
decent treatment, what my own self-respect ab-so-lute-ly demands."

Morena put a hand on his shoulder and walked beside him.

"Did you ever stop to think," he said with his charming smile, "that
the other fellow is thinking and saying just the same thing? Now, this
chap that has, as you put it, got your goat, why, he came to me
himself this morning, and, word for word, he said of you just
precisely what you have just said of him to me. Odd, isn't it?"

Again the young actor stopped for one of his gestures, hands up this
time. "But, my God, sir! Is there such a thing as honesty? He couldn't
accuse me of--"

"Well, he thought he could. However, I do get your point of view and I
think we can fix it up for you so that you'll get off with your
self-respect entirely intact. I'll talk to George to-morrow. You're
worth the bother. Good-afternoon."

The young man bowed, his air of tragic injury softened to one of
tragic self-appreciation. Worth the bother, indeed!

Morena left him at the top of the dingy stairs down which the manager
fled to an alley at one side of the theater, where his car was waiting
for him. He stood for a while with his foot on the step and his hand
on the door, looking rather blankly at the gray, cold wall and the
scurrying whirlwinds of dust and paper.

"Drop yourself at the garage, Ned," he said, "and I'll take the car."

He climbed in beside the wheel. He was very tired, but he had
remembered that Jane West, when he had last seen her, had worn a look
of profound discouragement. She never complained, but when he saw that
particular expression he was frightened and the responsibility for her
came heavily upon him. This wild thing he had brought to New York must
not be allowed to beat its head dumbly against the bars.

When he had got rid of his driver, he turned the car northward, and a
few minutes later Mathilde, the French maid chosen by Betty, opened
Jane's door to him.

While he took off his coat he looked along the hall and saw its owner
sitting, her chin propped on a latticework of fingers. She was gazing
out of the window. It was a beautiful, desperate silhouette; something
fateful in the long, still pose and the fixed look. She was still
dressed in street clothes as when she had left the theater, a blouse
and skirt of dark gray, very plain. Her figure, now that it was
trained to slight corseting, was less vigorous and more fine-drawn.
She was very thin, but she had lost her worn and haggard look; the
premature hard lines had almost disappeared; a softer climate, proper
care, rest, food, luxury had given back her young, clear skin and the
brightness of eyes and lips. Her hair, arranged very simply to frame
her face in a broken setting of black, was glossy, and here and there,
deeply waved. It was the arrangement chosen for her by Betty and
copied from a Du Maurier drawing of the Duchess of Towers. It was hard
to believe that this graceful woman was the virago Jane, harder for
any one that had seen a heavy, handsome girl stride into Mrs. Upper's
hotel and ask for work, to believe that she was here.

Morena clapped his hands in the Eastern fashion of summons, and Jane
looked toward him.

"Oh," she said, "I'm glad you came."

He strolled in and stood beside her shaking his head.

"I didn't like the look of you this afternoon, my dear."

"Well, sir," said Jane, "I don't like the look of you either." She
smiled her slow, unself-conscious smile. "You sit down and I'll make
tea for you."

He knew that thought for some one else was the best tonic for her
mood, so he dropped, with his usual limp grace, into the nearest
chair, put back his head and half-closed his eyes.

"I'm used up," he said; "I haven't a word--not one to throw at a dog."

"Please don't throw one at me, then. I surely wouldn't take it as a
compliment." She made the tea gravely, as absorbed in the work as a
little girl who makes tea for her dolls. She brought him his cup and
went back to her place and again her face settled into that look. She
had evidently forgotten him and her eyes held a vision as of
distances.

He put a hand up to break her fixed gaze. "What is it, Jane? What do
you see?"

To his astonishment she hid her face in her hands. "It's awful to live
like this," she moaned; and it frightened him to see her move her head
from side to side like an imprisoned beast, shifting before bars.

He looked about the pretty room and repeated, "Like this?"
half-reproachfully.

"I hate it!" She spoke through her teeth. "I hate it! And, oh, the
sounds, the noises, grinding into your ears."

Here the hands came to her ears and framed a white, desperate face in
which the lids had fallen over sick eyes.

Jasper sat listening to the hum and roar and clatter of the street. To
him it was a pleasant sound, and here it was subdued and remote
enough. Her face was like that of some one maddened by noise.

"You don't smell anything fresh"--her chest lifted--"you don't get
air. I can't breathe. Everything presses in." She opened her eyes,
bright and desperate. "What am I doing here, Mr. Morena?"

He had put down his cup quietly, for he was really half-afraid of her.
"Why did you come, Jane?"

"Because I was afraid of some one. I was running away, Mr. Morena.
There's some one that mustn't ever find me now, and to run away from
him--that was the business of my life. And it kept my heart full of
him and the dread of his coming. You see, that was my happiness. I
hoped he was taking after me so's I could run away." She laughed
apologetically. "Does that sound crazy to you?"

"No. I think I understand. And here?"

"He'll never come here. He'll never find me. It's been four years. And
I'm so changed. This"--she gave herself a downward look--"this isn't
the 'gel' he wants.... Probably by now he's given me up. Maybe he's
found another. Everything that's bad and hateful can find me out here.
Bad things can find you out and try to clutch after you anywheres. But
when something wild and clean comes hunting for you, something out of
the big lonely places--why, it would be scared to follow into this
city."

"You're lonely, Jane. I've told you a hundred times that you ought to
make friends for yourself."

"Oh, I don't care for that. I don't want friends, not many friends.
These acting people, they're not real folks. I don't savvy their ways
and they don't savvy mine. They always end by disliking me because I'm
queer and different from them. You have been my friend, and your
wife--that is, she used to be." Suddenly Jane became more her usual
self and spoke with childlike wistfulness. "She doesn't come to see me
any more, Mr. Morena. And I could love her. She's so like a little
girl with those round eyes--" Jane held up two circles made by
forefingers and thumbs to represent Betty's round eyes. "Oh, dear!"
she said; "isn't she awfully winning? Seems as if you must be taking
care of her. She's so small and fine."

Jasper laughed with some bitterness.

"She doesn't like me now," sighed Jane, but the feelings Betty had
hurt were connected with a later development so that they turned her
mood and brought her to a more normal dejection. She was no longer a
caged beast, she had temporarily forgotten her bars.

"I think you're wrong," said Jasper doubtfully. "Betty does like you.
She's merely busy and preoccupied. I've been neglected myself."

Jane gave him a far too expressive look. It was as though she had
said, "You don't fancy that she cares for you?"

Jasper flushed and blinked his long, Oriental eyes.

"It's a pity you haven't a lover, Jane," he said.

She had walked over to the window, and his speech, purposely a trifle
cruel and insulting, did not make her turn.

"You're angry," she said. "You'd better go home. I'm not in good humor
myself."

At which he laughed his murmuring, musical laugh and prepared to leave
her.

"I have a great deal of courage," he said, getting into his coat, "to
bring a wild-cat here, chain her up, and tease her--eh?"

"You think you have me chained?" Her tone was enraged and scornful. "I
can snap your flimsy little tether and go."

She wheeled upon him. She looked tall and fierce and free.

"No, no," he cried with deprecating voice and gesture. "You are making
Mr. Luck's fortune and mine, not to mention your own. You mustn't
break your chains. Get used to them. We all have to, you know. It's
much the best method."

"I shall never get used to this life, never. It just--somehow--isn't
mine."

"Perhaps when you meet Mr. Luck, he'll be able to reconcile you."

Her expressive face darkened. "When shall I meet Mr. Luck?"

"Soon, I hope. Mr. Melton knows just when to announce the authorship."

"I hate Mr. Luck more than any one in the world," she said in a low,
quiet voice.

Jasper stared. "Hate him! Why, in the name of savagery, should you
hate him?"

"Oh, I can't explain. But you'd better keep us apart. How came he to
write 'The Leopardess'?"

"I shall leave him to tell you that. Good-night."





Next: Gray Envelopes

Previous: Aftermath



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