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Nance's prophecy regarding herself was more than fulfilled. Whatever scruples had assailed her at the start were soon overthrown by the on-rushing course of events. That first month in Mr. Clarke's office proved to be a time of delightful madness. There were daily meetings with Mac at the noon hour, stolen chats on street corners, thrilling suppers with him and Monte at queer cafes, and rides after dark in that wonderful racer that proved the most enticing of playthings.
Dan was as busy as Mac was idle; Mr. Clarke was gloomy and preoccupied; Mrs. Snawdor was in bed when Nance left home in the morning, and gone to work when she returned in the evening. The days flashed by in a glorious succession of forbidden joys, with nobody to interrupt the furious progress of affairs.
Half of her salary Nance gave to her stepmother, and the other half she spent on clothes. She bought with taste and discrimination, measuring everything by the standard set up by her old idol, Miss Stanley at Forest Home. The result was that she soon began to look very much like the well-dressed women with whom she touched elbows on the avenue.
She had indeed got the bit between her teeth, and she ran at full tilt, secure in the belief that she had full control of the situation. As long as she gave satisfaction in her work, she told herself, and "behaved right," she could go and come as she liked, and nobody would be the worse for it.
She did not realize that her scoffing disbelief in Mac's avowals, and her gay indifference were the very things that kept him at fever heat. He was not used to being thwarted, and this high-handed little working-girl, with her challenging eyes and mocking laugh, who had never heard of the proprieties, and yet denied him favors, was the first person he had ever known who refused absolutely to let him have his own way. With a boy's impetuous desire he became obsessed by the idea of her. When he was not with her, he devised schemes to remind her of him, making love to her by proxy in a dozen foolish, whimsical ways. When it was not flowers or candy, it was a string of nonsense verses laid between the pages of her type-writer paper, sometimes a clever caricature of himself or Monte, and always it was love notes in the lining of her hat, in her gloves, in her pocket-book. She was afraid to raise her umbrella for fear a rain of tender missives would descend therefrom. Once he gave her a handsome jeweled bracelet which she wore under her sleeve. But he got hard up before the week was over and borrowed it back and pawned it.
Of two things Nance succeeded in keeping him in ignorance. During all their escapades he never discovered where she lived, and he never suspected her friendship for Dan Lewis. He was not one to concern himself with troublesome details. The pleasure of the passing moment was his sole aim in life.
And Nance, who ordinarily scorned subterfuge and hated a secret, succeeded not only in keeping him in ignorance of Dan; but with even greater strategy managed to keep Dan in complete ignorance of the whole situation. Dan, to be sure, took his unconscious revenge. His kind, puzzled eyes haunted her dreams, and the thought of him proved the one disturbing element in these halcyon days. In vain she told herself that he was an old fogy, that he had Sunday-school notions, that he wouldn't be able to see anything but wrong in a harmless flirtation that would end with Mac's return to college. But would it end? That was a question Nance was beginning to ask herself with curious misgiving.
The last of the month rolled round with incredible swiftness. It brought to Nance not only an end to all her good times, but the disheartening knowledge that she would soon be out of employment again with no money saved, and under the self-imposed necessity of making a clean breast of her misdeeds to Dan Lewis.
On the Saturday before Mac's intended departure, as she sat at her desk ruefully facing the situation, he rushed into the office.
"Has a mean-looking little Jew been in here this morning?" he demanded breathlessly.
"Nobody's been here," said Nance.
"Gloree!" said Mac, collapsing into a chair. "He gave me a scare! Wonder if he 'phoned!"
"Mr. Clarke's been out all morning. These are the people who called up."
Mac ran his eye hurriedly down the list and sighed with relief. Then he got up and went to the window and stood restlessly tapping the pane.
"I've a good notion to go East to-night," he said, half to himself, "no use waiting until Monday."
Nance glanced at him quickly.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Money, as usual," said Mac in an aggrieved tone. "Just let me get ready to leave town, and fellows I never heard of turn up with bills. I could stand off the little fellows, but Meyers is making no end of a stew. He holds a note of mine for five hundred and sixty dollars. It was due yesterday, and he swore that if I didn't smoke up by noon to-day, he'd come to the governor."
"Won't he give you an extension?"
"He's given me two already. It's the money I lost last spring at the races. That's the reason I can't get it out of the governor. It looks as if it were about time for little Willie to take to the tall timbers."
Nance got up from her desk and joined him at the window. There was something she had been burning to say to him for ten days, but it was something she found it very hard to say. He might tell her it was none of her business; he might even not like her any more.
"See here, Mr. Mac," she said, bracing herself for the ordeal, "did it ever strike you that you spend a lot of money that don't belong to you?"
"It'll all be mine some day," said Mac reassuringly. "If the governor would listen to mother, we'd never have these financial rackets. She knows that it takes a lot for a fellow to live right."
"It takes a lot more for him to live wrong," said Nance, stoutly. "You get a whacking big allowance; when you get to the end of it, why don't you do like some of the rest of us--go without the things you can't pay for?"
"I am going to," said Mac as if the idea was a new one. "Once I get squared up, you bet I'll stay so. But that doesn't help me out of this mess. The money has got to come from somewhere, and I tell you I haven't got a sou!"
Nance had never seen him so perturbed. He usually approached these conflicts with his father with a passing grimace, exhibited sufficient repentance to get what he wanted, and emerged more debonair than ever. It was disturbing to see him so serious and preoccupied.
"I bet your father'd help you if he thought you'd make a new start," she said.
Mac shook his head.
"He would have a month ago. But he's got it in for me now. He believes an idiotic story that was cocked up about me, and he's just waiting for my next slip to spring a mine on me. I got to keep him from finding out until I'm gone; that's all there is to it!"
He fumbled in his pocket for a match and instead drew out a bank-note.
"By George! here's a lonesome five-spot I didn't know I had! I believe I'll play it on the races and see what it'll do for me. Maybe it's a mascot."
His momentary depression was gone, and he was eager to be off. But Nance stood between him and the door, and there was a dangerous light in her eyes.
"Do you know," she said, "I've a good mind to tell you what I think of you?"
He caught her hand. "Do, Nance! And make it nice. It's going to be no end of a grind to leave you. Say something pretty that I can live on 'til Christmas. Tell me I'm the sweetest fellow that ever lived. Go on. Make love to me, Nance!"
"I think you are a short-sport!" she burst forth. "Any fellow that'll go on making debts when he can't pay his old ones, that'll get things in a muddle and run off and let somebody else face the racket is a coward--I think--"
"Help! Help!" cried Mac, throwing up an arm in pretended defense, and laughing at her flashing eyes and blazing cheeks. "By jinks, I don't know whether you look prettiest when you are mad or when you are glad. If you don't stop this minute I'll have to kiss you!"
The anger in Nance's face faded into exasperation. She felt suddenly hot and uncomfortable and a little ashamed of her violence. She had neither offended him nor humiliated him; she had simply amused him. Tears of chagrin sprang to her eyes, and she turned away abruptly.
"Nance!" Mac demanded, with quick concern, "you surely aren't crying? Why the very idea! It makes me perfectly miserable to see girls cry. You mustn't, you know. Look at me, Nance! Smile at me this minute!"
But Nance's head was down on her desk, and she was past smiling.
"I'll do anything you say!" cried Mac, dropping on his knees beside her. "I'll 'fess up to the governor. I'll go on the water-wagon. I'll cut out the races. I'll be a regular little tin god if you'll only promise to be good to me."
"Good to you nothing!" said Nance, savagely, lifting a tear-stained, earnest face. "What right have I got to be anything to you? Haven't I been letting you spend the money on me that wasn't yours? I've been as bad as you have, every bit."
"Oh, rot!" said Mac, hotly. "You've been an angel. There isn't another girl in the world that's as much fun as you are and yet on the square every minute."
"It isn't on the square!" contradicted Nance, twisting her wet handkerchief into a ball. "Sneaking around corners and doing things on the sly. I am ashamed to tell you where I live, or who my people are, and you are ashamed to have your family know you are going with me. Whenever I look at your father and see him worrying about you, or think of your mother--"
"Yes, you think of everybody but me. You hold me at arm's length and knock on me and say things to me that nobody else would dare to say! And the worse you treat me, the more I want to take you in my arms and run away with you. Can't you love me a little, Nance? Please!"
He was close to her, with his ardent face on a level with hers. He was never more irresistible than when he wanted something, especially a forbidden something, and in the course of his twenty-one years he had never wanted anything so much as he wanted Nance Molloy.
She caught her breath and looked away. It was very hard to say what she intended, with him so close to her. His eloquent eyes, his tremulous lips were very disconcerting.
"Mr. Mac," she whispered intently, "why don't you tell your father everything, and promise him some of the things you been promising me? Why don't you make a clean start and behave yourself and stop giving 'em all this trouble?"
"And if I do, Nance? Suppose I do it for you, what then?"
For a long moment their eyes held each other. These two young, undisciplined creatures who had started life at opposite ends of the social ladder, one climbing up and the other climbing down, had met midway, and the fate of each trembled in the balance.
"And if I do?" Mac persisted, hardly above his breath.
Nance's eyelids fluttered ever so slightly, and the next instant, Mac had crushed her to him and smothered her protests in a passion of kisses.
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