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It seemed an eternity to Dan, speeding hatless, coatless, breathless through the storm, before he spied the red lights on the lowered gates at the crossing. Dashing to the signal tower, he took the steps two at a time. The small room was almost dark, but he could see Nance kneeling on the floor beside the big gatekeeper.
"Dan! Is it you?" she cried. "He ain't dead yet. I can feel him breathing. If the doctor would only come!"
"Who'd you call?"
"The first one in the book, Dr. Adair."
"But he's the big doctor up at the hospital; he won't come."
"He will too! I told him he had to. And the gates, I got 'em down. Don't stop to feel his heart, Dan. Call the doctor again!"
"The first thing to do is to get a light," said Dan. "Ain't there a lantern or something?"
"Strike matches, like I did. They are on the window-sill--only hurry--Dan, hurry!"
Dan went about his task in his own way, taking time to find an oil lamp on the shelf behind the door and deliberately lighting it before he took his seat at the telephone. As he waited for the connection, his puzzled, troubled eyes dwelt not on Uncle Jed, but on the crimson boots and fantastic cap of Uncle Jed's companion.
"Dr. Adair is on the way," he said quietly, when he hung up the receiver, "and a man is coming from the yards to look after the gates. Is he still breathing?"
"Only when I make him!" said Nance, pressing the lungs of the injured man. "There, Uncle Jed," she coaxed, "take another deep breath, just one time. Go on! Do it for Nance. One time more! That's right! Once more!"
But Uncle Jed was evidently very tired of trying to accommodate. The gasps came at irregular intervals.
"How long have you been doing this?" asked Dan, kneeling beside her.
"I don't know. Ever since I came."
"How did you happen to come?"
"I saw the lightning strike the bell. Oh, Dan! It was awful, the noise and the flash! Seemed like I 'd never get up the steps. And at first I thought he was dead and--"
"But who was with you? Where were you going?" interrupted Dan in bewilderment.
"I was passing--I was going home--I--" Her excited voice broke in a sob, and she impatiently jerked the sleeve of her rain-coat across her eyes.
In a moment Dan was all tenderness. For the first time he put his arm around her and awkwardly patted her shoulder.
"There," he said reassuringly, "don't try to tell me now. See! He's breathing more regular! I expect the doctor'll pull him through."
Nance's hands, relieved of the immediate necessity for action, were clasping and unclasping nervously.
"Dan," she burst out, "I got to tell you something! Birdie Smelts has got me a place in the 'Follies.' I been on a couple of nights. I'm going away with 'em in the morning."
Dan looked at her as if he thought the events of the wild night had deprived her of reason.
"You!" he said, "going on the stage?" Then as he took it in, he drew away from her suddenly as if he had received a lash across the face. "And you were going off without talking it over or telling me or anything?"
"I was going to write you, Dan. It was all so sudden."
His eyes swept her bedraggled figure with stern disapproval.
"Were you coming from the theater at this time in the morning?"
Uncle Jed moaned slightly, and they both bent over him in instant solicitude. But there was nothing to do, but wait until the doctor should come.
"Where had you been in those crazy clothes?" persisted Dan.
"I'd been to the carnival ball with Birdie Smelts," Nance blurted out. "I didn't know it was going to be like that, but I might 'a' gone anyway. I don't know. Oh, Dan, I was sick to death of being stuck away in that dark hole, waiting for something to turn up. I told you how it was, but you couldn't see it. I was bound to have a good time if I died for it!"
She dropped her head on her knees and sobbed unrestrainedly, while the wind shrieked around the shanty, and the rain dashed against the gradually lightening window-pane. After a while she flung back her head defiantly.
"Stop looking at me like that, Dan. Lots of girls go on the stage and stay good."
"I wasn't thinking about the stage," said Dan. "I was thinking about to-night. Who took you girls to that place?"
Nance dried her tears.
"I can't tell you that," she said uneasily.
"It wouldn't be fair."
Dan felt the hot blood surge to his head, and the muscles of his hands tighten involuntarily. He forgot Uncle Jed; he forgot to listen for the doctor, or to worry about traffic that would soon be held up in the street below. The only man in the world for him at that moment was the scoundrel who had dared to take his little Nance into that infamous dance hall.
Nance caught his arm and, with a quick gesture, dropped her head on it.
"Dan," she pleaded, "don't be mad at me. I promise you I won't go to any more places like that. I knew it wasn't right all along. But I got to go on with the 'Follies,' It's the chance I been waiting for all these months. Maybe it's the only one that'll ever come to me! You ain't going to stand in my way, are you, Dan?"
"Tell me who was with you to-night!"
"No!" she whispered. "I can't. You mustn't ask me. I promise you I won't do it again. I don't want to go away leaving you thinking bad of me."
His clenched hands suddenly began to tremble so violently that he had to clasp them tight to keep her from noticing.
"I better get used to--to not thinking 'bout you at all," he said, looking at her with the stern eyes of a young ascetic.
For a time they knelt there side by side, and neither spoke. For over a year Dan had been like one standing still on the banks of a muddy stream, his eyes blinded to all but the shining goal opposite, while Nance was like one who plunges headlong into the current, often losing sight of the goal altogether, but now and again catching glimpses of it that sent her stumbling, fighting, falling forward.
At the sound of voices below they both scrambled to their feet. Dr. Adair and the man from the yards came hurriedly up the steps together, the former drawing off his gloves as he came. He was a compact, elderly man whose keen observant eyes swept the room and its occupants at a glance. He listened to Nance's broken recital of what had happened, cut her short when he had obtained the main facts, and proceeded to examine the patient.
"The worst injury is evidently to the right arm and shoulder; you'll have to help me get his shirt off. No--not that way!"
Dan's hands, so eager to serve, so awkward in the service, fumbled over their task, eliciting a groan from the unconscious man.
"Let me do it!" cried Nance, springing forward. "You hold him up, Dan, I can get it off."
"It's a nasty job," warned the doctor, with a mistrustful glance at the youthful, tear-stained face. "It may make you sick."
"What if it does?" demanded Nance, impatiently.
It was a long and distressing proceeding, and Dan tried not to look at her as she bent in absorbed detachment over her work. But her steady finger-touch, and her anticipation of the doctor's needs amazed him. It recalled the day at the factory, when she, little more than a child herself, had dressed the wounds of the carrying-in boy. Once she grew suddenly white and had to hurry to the door and let the wind blow in her face. He started up to follow her, but changed his mind. Instead he protested with unnecessary vehemence against her resuming the work, but she would not heed him.
"That's right!" said the doctor, approvingly. "Stick it out this time and next time it will not make you sick. Our next move is to get him home. Where does he live?"
"In Calvary Alley," said Dan, "back of the cathedral."
"Very good," said the doctor, "I'll run him around there in my machine as soon as that last hypodermic takes effect. Any family?"
Dan shook his head.
"He has, too!" cried Nance. "We're his family!"
The doctor shot an amused glance at her over his glasses; then he laid a kindly hand on her shoulder.
"I congratulate him on this part of it. You make a first class little nurse."
"Is he going to get well?" Nance demanded.
"It is too early to say, my dear. We will hope for the best. I will have one of the doctors come out from the hospital every day to see him, but everything will depend on the nursing."
Nance cast a despairing look at the bandaged figure on the floor; then she shot a look of entreaty at Dan. One showed as little response to her appeal as the other. For a moment she stood irresolute; then she slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her.
For a moment Dan did not miss her. When he did, he left Dr. Adair in the middle of a sentence and went plunging down the steps in hot pursuit.
"Nance!" he called, splashing through the mud. "Aren't you going to say good-by?"
She wheeled on him furiously, a wild, dishevelled, little figure, strung to the breaking point:
"No!" she cried, "I am not going to say good-by! Do you suppose I could go away with you acting like that? And who is there to nurse Uncle Jed, I'd like to know, but me? But I want to tell you right now, Dan Lewis, if ever another chance comes to get out of that alley, I'm going to take it, and there can't anybody in the world stop me!"
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