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THE RED CROSS GIRL
When Spencer Flagg laid the foundation-stone for the new million-dollar wing he was adding to the Flagg Home for Convalescents, on the hills above Greenwich, the New York REPUBLIC sent Sam Ward to cover the story, and with him Redding to take photographs. It was a crisp, beautiful day in October, full of sunshine and the joy of living, and from the great lawn in front of the Home you could see half over Connecticut and across the waters of the Sound to Oyster Bay.
Upon Sam Ward, however, the beauties of Nature were wasted. When, the night previous, he had been given the assignment he had sulked, and he was still sulking. Only a year before he had graduated into New York from a small up-state college and a small up-state newspaper, but already he was a "star" man, and Hewitt, the city editor, humored him.
"What's the matter with the story?" asked the city editor. "With the speeches and lists of names it ought to run to two columns."
"Suppose it does!" exclaimed Ward; "anybody can collect type-written speeches and lists of names. That's a messenger boy's job. Where's there any heart-interest in a Wall Street broker like Flagg waving a silver trowel and singing, 'See what a good boy am!' and a lot of grownup men in pinafores saying, 'This stone is well and truly laid.' Where's the story in that?"
"When I was a reporter," declared the city editor, "I used to be glad to get a day in the country."
"Because you'd never lived in the country," returned Sam. "If you'd wasted twenty-six years in the backwoods, as I did, you'd know that every minute you spend outside of New York you're robbing yourself."
"Of what?" demanded the city editor. "There's nothing to New York except cement, iron girders, noise, and zinc garbage cans. You never see the sun in New York; you never see the moon unless you stand in the middle of the street and bend backward. We never see flowers in New York except on the women's hats. We never see the women except in cages in the elevators--they spend their lives shooting up and down elevator shafts in department stores, in apartment houses, in office buildings. And we never see children in New York because the janitors won't let the women who live in elevators have children! Don't talk to me! New York's a Little Nemo nightmare. It's a joke. It's an insult!"
"How curious!" said Sam. "Now I see why they took you off the street and made you a city editor. I don't agree with anything you say. Especially are you wrong about the women. They ought to be caged in elevators, but they're not. Instead, they flash past you in the street; they shine upon you from boxes in the theatre; they frown at you from the tops of buses; they smile at you from the cushions of a taxi, across restaurant tables under red candle shades, when you offer them a seat in the subway. They are the only thing in New York that gives me any trouble."
The city editor sighed. "How young you are!" he exclaimed. "However, to-morrow you will be free from your only trouble. There will be few women at the celebration, and they will be interested only in convalescents--and you do not look like a convalescent."
Sam Ward sat at the outer edge of the crowd of overdressed females and overfed men, and, with a sardonic smile, listened to Flagg telling his assembled friends and sycophants how glad he was they were there to see him give away a million dollars.
"Aren't you going to get his speech?", asked Redding, the staff photographer.
"Get HIS speech!" said Sam. "They have Pinkertons all over the grounds to see that you don't escape with less than three copies. I'm waiting to hear the ritual they always have, and then I'm going to sprint for the first train back to the centre of civilization."
"There's going to be a fine lunch," said Redding, "and reporters are expected. I asked the policeman if we were, and he said we were."
Sam rose, shook his trousers into place, stuck his stick under his armpit and smoothed his yellow gloves. He was very thoughtful of his clothes and always treated them with courtesy.
"You can have my share," he said. "I cannot forget that I am fifty-five minutes from Broadway. And even if I were starving I would rather have a club sandwich in New York than a Thanksgiving turkey dinner in New Rochelle."
He nodded and with eager, athletic strides started toward the iron gates; but he did not reach the iron gates, for on the instant trouble barred his way. Trouble came to him wearing the blue cambric uniform of a nursing sister, with a red cross on her arm, with a white collar turned down, white cuffs turned back, and a tiny black velvet bonnet. A bow of white lawn chucked her impudently under the chin. She had hair like golden-rod and eyes as blue as flax, and a complexion of such health and cleanliness and dewiness as blooms only on trained nurses.
She was so lovely that Redding swung his hooded camera at her as swiftly as a cowboy could have covered her with his gun.
Reporters become star reporters because they observe things that other people miss and because they do not let it appear that they have observed them. When the great man who is being interviewed blurts out that which is indiscreet but most important, the cub reporter says: "That's most interesting, sir. I'll make a note of that." And so warns the great man into silence. But the star reporter receives the indiscreet utterance as though it bored him; and the great man does not know he has blundered until he reads of it the next morning under screaming headlines.
Other men, on being suddenly confronted by Sister Anne, which was the official title of the nursing sister, would have fallen backward, or swooned, or gazed at her with soulful, worshipping eyes; or, were they that sort of beast, would have ogled her with impertinent approval. Now Sam, because he was a star reporter, observed that the lady before him was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen; but no one would have guessed that he observed that--least of all Sister Anne. He stood in her way and lifted his hat, and even looked into the eyes of blue as impersonally and as calmly as though she were his great-aunt--as though his heart was not beating so fast that it choked him.
"I am from the REPUBLIC," he said. "Everybody is so busy here to-day that I'm not able to get what I need about the Home. It seems a pity," he added disappointedly, "because it's so well done that people ought to know about it." He frowned at the big hospital buildings. It was apparent that the ignorance of the public concerning their excellence greatly annoyed him.
When again he looked at Sister Anne she was regarding him in alarm--obviously she was upon the point of instant flight.
"You are a reporter?" she said.
Some people like to place themselves in the hands of a reporter because they hope he will print their names in black letters; a few others--only reporters know how few--would as soon place themselves in the hands of a dentist.
"A reporter from the REPUBLIC," repeated Sam.
"But why ask ME?" demanded Sister Anne.
Sam could see no reason for her question; in extenuation and explanation he glanced at her uniform.
"I thought you were at work here," he said simply. "I beg your pardon."
He stepped aside as though he meant to leave her. In giving that impression he was distinctly dishonest.
"There was no other reason," persisted Sister Anne. "I mean for speaking to me?"
The reason for speaking to her was so obvious that Sam wondered whether this could be the height of innocence or the most banal coquetry. The hostile look in the eyes of the lady proved it could not be coquetry.
"I am sorry," said Sam. "I mistook you for one of the nurses here; and, as you didn't seem busy, I thought you might give me some statistics about the Home not really statistics, you know, but local color."
Sister Anne returned his look with one as steady as his own. Apparently she was weighing his statement. She seemed to disbelieve it. Inwardly he was asking himself what could be the dark secret in the past of this young woman that at the mere approach of a reporter--even of such a nice-looking reporter as himself--she should shake and shudder. "If that's what you really want to know," said Sister Anne doubtfully," I'll try and help you; but," she added, looking at him as one who issues an ultimatum, "you must not say anything about me!"
Sam knew that a woman of the self-advertising, club- organizing class will always say that to a reporter at the time she gives him her card so that he can spell her name correctly; but Sam recognized that this young woman meant it. Besides, what was there that he could write about her? Much as he might like to do so, he could not begin his story with: "The Flagg Home for Convalescents is also the home of the most beautiful of all living women." No copy editor would let that get by him. So, as there was nothing to say that he would be allowed to say, he promised to say nothing. Sister Anne smiled; and it seemed to Sam that she smiled, not because his promise had set her mind at ease, but because the promise amused her. Sam wondered why.
Sister Anne fell into step beside him and led him through the wards of the hospital. He found that it existed for and revolved entirely about one person. He found that a million dollars and some acres of buildings, containing sun-rooms and hundreds of rigid white beds, had been donated by Spencer Flagg only to provide a background for Sister Anne--only to exhibit the depth of her charity, the kindness of her heart, the unselfishness of her nature.
"Do you really scrub the floors?" he demanded--"I mean you yourself--down on your knees, with a pail and water and scrubbing brush?"
Sister Anne raised her beautiful eyebrows and laughed at him.
"We do that when we first come here," she said--"when we are probationers. Is there a newer way of scrubbing floors?"
"And these awful patients," demanded Sam--"do you wait on them? Do you have to submit to their complaints and whinings and ingratitude?" He glared at the unhappy convalescents as though by that glance he would annihilate them. "It's not fair!" exclaimed Sam. "It's ridiculous. I'd like to choke them!"
"That's not exactly the object of a home for convalescents," said Sister Anne.
"You know perfectly well what I mean," said Sam. "Here are you--if you'll allow me to say so--a magnificent, splendid, healthy young person, wearing out your young life over a lot of lame ducks, failures, and cripples."
"Nor is that quite the way we look at," said Sister Anne.
"We?" demanded Sam.
Sister Anne nodded toward a group of nurse
"I'm not the only nurse here," she said "There are over forty."
"You are the only one here," said Sam, "who is not! That's Just what I mean--I appreciate the work of a trained nurse; I understand the ministering angel part of it; but you--I'm not talking about anybody else; I'm talking about you--you are too young! Somehow you are different; you are not meant to wear yourself out fighting disease and sickness, measuring beef broth and making beds."
Sister Anne laughed with delight.
"I beg your pardon," said Sam stiffly.
"No--pardon me," said Sister Anne; "but your ideas of the duties of a nurse are so quaint."
"No matter what the duties are," declared Sam; "You should not be here!"
Sister Anne shrugged her shoulders; they were charming shoulders--as delicate as the pinions of a bird.
"One must live," said Sister Anne.
They had passed through the last cold corridor, between the last rows of rigid white cots, and had come out into the sunshine. Below them stretched Connecticut, painted in autumn colors. Sister Anne seated herself upon the marble railing of the terrace and looked down upon the flashing waters of the Sound.
"Yes; that's it," she repeated softly--"one must live."
Sam looked at her--but, finding that to do so made speech difficult, looked hurriedly away. He admitted to himself that it was one of those occasions, only too frequent with him, when his indignant sympathy was heightened by the fact that "the woman. was very fair." He conceded that. He was not going to pretend to himself that he was not prejudiced by the outrageous beauty of Sister Anne, by the assault upon his feelings made by her uniform--made by the appeal of her profession, the gentlest and most gracious of all professions. He was honestly disturbed that this young girl should devote her life to the service of selfish sick people.
"If you do it because you must live, then it can easily be arranged; for there are other ways of earning a living."
The girl looked at him quickly, but he was quite sincere--and again she smiled.
"Now what would you suggest?" she asked. "You see," she said, "I have no one to advise me--no man of my own age. I have no brothers to go to. I have a father, but it was his idea that I should come here; and so I doubt if he would approve of my changing to any other work. Your own work must make you acquainted with many women who earn their own living. Maybe you could advise me?"
Sam did not at once answer. He was calculating hastily how far his salary would go toward supporting a wife. He was trying to remember which of the men in the office were married, and whether they were those whose salaries were smaller than his own. Collins, one of the copy editors, he knew, was very ill-paid; but Sam also knew that Collins was married, because his wife used to wait for him in the office to take her to the theatre, and often Sam had thought she was extremely well dressed. Of course Sister Anne was so beautiful that what she might wear would be a matter of indifference; but then women did not always look at it that way. Sam was so long considering offering Sister Anne a life position that his silence had become significant; and to cover his real thoughts he said hurriedly:
"Take type-writing, for instance. That pays very well. The hours are not difficult."
"And manicuring?" suggested Sister Anne.
Sam exclaimed in horror.
"You!" he cried roughly. "For you! Quite impossible!"
"Why for me?" said the girl.
In the distress at the thought Sam was jabbing his stick into the gravel walk as though driving the manicuring idea into a deep grave. He did not see that the girl was smiling at him mockingly.
"You?" protested Sam. "You in a barber's shop washing men's fingers who are not fit to wash the streets you walk on I Good Lord!" His vehemence was quite honest. The girl ceased smiling. Sam was still jabbing at the gravel walk, his profile toward her--and, unobserved, she could study his face. It was an attractive face strong, clever, almost illegally good-looking. It explained why, as , he had complained to the city editor, his chief trouble in New York was with the women. With his eyes full of concern, Sam turned to her abruptly. "How much do they give you a month?" "Forty dollars," answered Sister Anne. "This is what hurts me about it," said Sam.
It is that you should have to work and wait on other people when there are so many strong, hulking men who would count it God's blessing to work for you, to wait on you, and give their lives for you. However, probably you know that better than I do."
"No; I don't know that," said Sister Anne.
Sam recognized that it was quite absurd that it should be so, but this statement gave him a sense of great elation, a delightful thrill of relief. There was every reason why the girl should not confide in a complete stranger--even to deceive him was quite within her rights; but, though Sam appreciated this, he preferred to be deceived.
"I think you are working too hard," he said, smiling happily. "I think you ought to have a change. You ought to take a day off! Do they ever give you a day off?"
"Next Saturday," said Sister Anne. "Why?"
"Because," explained Sam, "if you won't think it too presumptuous, I was going to prescribe a day off for you--a day entirely away from iodoform and white enamelled cots. It is what you need, a day in the city and a lunch where they have music; and a matinee, where you can laugh--or cry, if you like that better--and then, maybe, some fresh air in the park in a taxi; and after that dinner and more theatre, and then I'll see you safe on the train for Greenwich. Before you answer," he added hurriedly, "I want to explain that I contemplate taking a day off myself and doing all these things with you, and that if you want to bring any of the other forty nurses along as a chaperon, I hope you will. Only, honestly, I hope you won't!"
The proposal apparently gave Sister Anne much pleasure. She did not say so, but her eyes shone and when she looked at Sam she was almost laughing with happiness.
"I think that would be quite delightful," said Sister Anne,"--quite delightful! Only it would be frightfully expensive; even if I don't bring another girl, which I certainly would not, it would cost a great deal of money. I think we might cut out the taxicab--and walk in the park and feed the squirrels."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sam in disappointment,--"then you know Central Park?"
Sister Anne's eyes grew quite expressionless.
"I once lived near there," she said.
"Not exactly in Harlem, but near it. I was quite young," said Sister Anne. "Since then I have always lived in the country or in--other places."
Sam's heart was singing with pleasure.
"It's so kind of you to consent," he cried. "Indeed, you are the kindest person in all the world. I thought so when I saw you bending over these sick people, and, now I know."
"It is you who are kind," protested Sister Anne, "to take pity on me."
"Pity on you!" laughed Sam. "You can't pity a person who can do more with a smile than old man Flagg can do with all his millions. Now," he demanded in happy anticipation," where are we to meet?"
"That's it," said Sister Anne. "Where are we to meet?"
"Let it be at the Grand Central Station. The day can't begin too soon," said Sam; "and before then telephone me what theatre and restaurants you want and I'll reserve seats and tables. Oh," exclaimed Sam joyfully, "it will be a wonderful day--a wonderful day!"
Sister Anne looked at him curiously and, so, it seemed, a little wistfully. She held out her hand.
"I must go back to my duties," she said. "Good-by."
"Not good-by," said Sam heartily, "only until Saturday--and my name's Sam Ward and my address is the city room of the REPUBLIC. What's your name?"
"Sister Anne," said the girl. "In the nursing order to which I belong we have no last names."
"So," asked Sam, "I'll call you Sister Anne?"
"No; just Sister," said the girl.
"Sister!" repeated Sam, "Sister!" He breathed the word rather than spoke it; and the way he said it and the way he looked when he said it made it carry almost the touch of a caress. It was as if he had said "Sweetheart! or "Beloved!" "I'll not forget," said Sam.
Sister Anne gave an impatient, annoyed laugh.
"Nor I," she said.
Sam returned to New York in the smoking-car, puffing feverishly at his cigar and glaring dreamily at the smoke. He was living the day over again and, in anticipation, the day off, still to come. He rehearsed their next meeting at the station; he considered whether or not he would meet her with a huge bunch of violets or would have it brought to her when they were at luncheon by the head waiter. He decided the latter way would be more of a pleasant surprise. He planned the luncheon. It was to be the most marvellous repast he could evolve; and, lest there should be the slightest error, he would have it prepared in advance--and it should cost half his week's salary.
The place where they were to dine he would leave to her, because he had observed that women had strange ideas about clothes--some of them thinking that certain clothes must go with certain restaurants. Some of them seemed to believe that, instead of their conferring distinction upon the restaurant, the restaurant conferred distinction upon them. He was sure Sister Anne would not be so foolish, but it might be that she must always wear her nurse's uniform and that she would prefer not to be conspicuous; so he decided that the choice of where they would dine he would leave to her. He calculated that the whole day ought to cost about eighty dollars, which, as star reporter, was what he was then earning each week. That was little enough to give for a day that would be the birthday of his life! No, he contradicted-- the day he had first met her must always be the birthday of his life; for never had he met one like her and he was sure there never would be one like her. She was so entirely superior to all the others, so fine, so difficult--in her manner there was something that rendered her unapproachable. Even her simple nurse's gown was worn with a difference. She might have been a princess in fancy dress. And yet, how humble she had been when he begged her to let him for one day personally conduct her over the great city! "You are so kind to take pity on me," she had said. He thought of many clever, pretty speeches he might have made. He was so annoyed he had not thought of them at the time that he kicked violently at the seat in front of him.
He wondered what her history might be; he was sure it was full of beautiful courage and self-sacrifice. It certainly was outrageous that one so glorious must work for her living, and for such a paltry living--forty dollars a month! It was worth that merely to have her sit in the flat where one could look at her; for already he had decided that, when they were married, they would live in a flat--probably in one overlooking Central Park, on Central Park West. He knew of several attractive suites there at thirty-five dollars a week--or, if she preferred the suburbs, he would forsake his beloved New York and return to the country. In his gratitude to her for being what she was, he conceded even that sacrifice.
When he reached New York, from the speculators he bought front-row seats at five dollars for the two most popular plays in town. He put them away carefully in his waistcoat pocket. Possession of them made him feel that already he had obtained an option on six hours of complete happiness.
After she left Sam, Sister Anne passed hurriedly through the hospital to the matron's room and, wrapping herself in a raccoon coat, made her way to a waiting motor car and said, "Home!" to the chauffeur. He drove her to the Flagg family vault, as Flagg's envious millionaire neighbors called the pile of white marble that topped the highest hill above Greenwich, and which for years had served as a landfall to mariners on the Sound.
There were a number of people at tea when she arrived and they greeted her noisily.
"I have had a most splendid adventure!" said Sister Anne. "There were six of us, you know, dressed up as Red Cross nurses, and we gave away programmes. Well, one of the New York reporters thought I was a real nurse and interviewed me about the Home. Of course I knew enough about it to keep it up, and I kept it up so well that he was terribly sorry for me; and. . . . "
One of the tea drinkers was little Hollis Holworthy, who prided himself on knowing who's who in New York. He had met Sam Ward at first nights and prize fights. He laughed scornfully.
"Don't you believe it!" he interrupted. "That man who was talking to you was Sam Ward. He's the smartest newspaper man in New York; he was just leading you on. Do you suppose there's a reporter in America who wouldn't know you in the dark? Wait until you see the Sunday paper."
Sister Anne exclaimed indignantly.
"He did not know me!" she protested. "It quite upset him that I should be wasting my life measuring out medicines and making beds."
There was a shriek of disbelief and laughter.
"I told him," continued Sister Anne, "that I got forty dollars a month, and he said I could make more as a typewriter; and I said I preferred to be a manicurist."
"Oh, Anita!" protested the admiring chorus.
"And he was most indignant. He absolutely refused to allow me to be a manicurist. And he asked me to take a day off with him and let him show me New York. And he offered, as attractions, moving-picture shows and a drive on a Fifth Avenue bus, and feeding peanuts to the animals in the park. And if I insisted upon a chaperon I might bring one of the nurses. We're to meet at the soda-water fountain in the Grand Central Station. He said, 'The day cannot begin too soon.'"
"Oh, Anita!" shrieked the chorus.
Lord Deptford, who as the newspapers had repeatedly informed the American public, had come to the Flaggs' country-place to try to marry Anita Flagg, was amused.
"What an awfully jolly rag!" he cried. "And what are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing," said Anita Flagg. "The reporters have been making me ridiculous for the last three years; now I have got back at one of them! "And," she added, "that's all there is to that!"
That night, however, when the house party was making toward bed, Sister Anne stopped by the stairs and said to Lord Deptford: "I want to hear you call me Sister."
"Call you what?" exclaimed the young man. "I will tell you," he whispered, "what I'd like to call you!"
"You will not!" interrupted Anita. "Do as I tell you and say Sister once. Say it as though you meant it."
"But I don't mean it," protested his lordship. "I've said already what I. . . ."
"Never mind what you've said already," commanded Miss Flagg. "I've heard that from a lot of people. Say Sister just once."
His lordship frowned in embarrassment.
"Sister!" he exclaimed. It sounded like the pop of a cork.
Anita Flagg laughed unkindly and her beautiful shoulders shivered as though she were cold.
"Not a bit like it, Deptford," she said. "Good-night."
Later Helen Page, who came to her room to ask her about a horse she was to ride in the morning, found her ready for bed but standing by the open window looking out toward the great city to the south.
When she turned Miss Page saw something in her eyes that caused that young woman to shriek with amazement.
"Anita!" she exclaimed. "You crying! What in Heaven's name can make you cry?"
It was not a kind speech, nor did Miss Flagg receive it kindly. She turned upon the tactless intruder.
"Suppose," cried Anita fiercely, "a man thought you were worth forty dollars a month--honestly didn't know!--honestly believed you were poor and worked for your living, and still said your smile was worth more than all of old man Flagg's millions, not knowing they were YOUR millions. Suppose he didn't ask any money of you, but just to take care of you, to slave for you--only wanted to keep your pretty hands from working, and your pretty eyes from seeing sickness and pain. Suppose you met that man among this rotten lot, what would you do? What wouldn't you do?"
"Why, Anita!" exclaimed Miss Page.
"What would you do?" demanded Anita Flagg. "This is what you'd do: You'd go down on your knees to that man and say: 'Take me away! Take me away from them, and pity me, and be sorry for me, and love me--and love me--and love me!"
"And why don't you?" cried Helen Page.
"Because I'm as rotten as the rest of them!" cried Anita Flagg. "Because I'm a coward. And that's why I'm crying. Haven't I the right to cry?"
At the exact moment Miss Flagg was proclaiming herself a moral coward, in the local room of the REPUBLIC Collins, the copy editor, was editing Sam's story' of the laying of the corner-stone. The copy editor's cigar was tilted near his left eyebrow; his blue pencil, like a guillotine ready to fall upon the guilty word or paragraph, was suspended in mid- air; and continually, like a hawk preparing to strike, the blue pencil swooped and circled. But page after page fell softly to the desk and the blue pencil remained inactive. As he read, the voice of Collins rose in muttered ejaculations; and, as he continued to read, these explosions grew louder and more amazed. At last he could endure no more and, swinging swiftly in his revolving chair, his glance swept the office. "In the name of Mike!" he shouted. "What IS this?"
The reporters nearest him, busy with pencil and typewriters, frowned in impatient protest. Sam Ward, swinging his legs from the top of a table, was gazing at the ceiling, wrapped in dreams and tobacco smoke. Upon his clever, clean-cut features the expression was far-away and beatific. He came back to earth.
"What's what?" Sam demanded.
At that moment Elliott, the managing editor, was passing through the room his hands filled with freshly pulled proofs. He swung toward Collins quickly and snatched up Sam's copy. The story already was late--and it was important.
"What's wrong?" he demanded. Over the room there fell a sudden hush.
"Read the opening paragraph," protested Collins. "It's like that for a column! It's all about a girl--about a Red Cross nurse. Not a word about Flagg or Lord Deptford. No speeches! No news! It's not a news story at all. It's an editorial, and an essay, and a spring poem. I don't know what it is. And, what's worse," wailed the copy editor defiantly and to the amazement of all, "it's so darned good that you can't touch it. You've got to let it go or kill it."
The eyes of the managing editor, masked by his green paper shade, were racing over Sam's written words. He thrust the first page back at Collins.
"Is it all like that?"
"There's a column like that!"
"Run it just as it is," commanded the managing editor. " Use it for your introduction and get your story from the flimsy. And, in your head, cut out Flagg entirely. Call it 'The Red Cross Girl.' And play it up strong with pictures." He turned on Sam and eyed him curiously.
"What's the idea, Ward?" he said. "This is a newspaper--not a magazine!"
The click of the typewriters was silent, the hectic rush of the pencils had ceased, and the staff, expectant, smiled cynically upon the star reporter. Sam shoved his hands into his trousers pockets and also smiled, but unhappily.
"I know it's not news, Sir," he said; but that's the way I saw the story--outside on the lawn, the band playing, and the governor and the governor's staff and the clergy burning incense to Flagg; and inside, this girl right on the job-- taking care of the sick and wounded. It seemed to me that a million from a man that won't miss a million didn't stack up against what this girl was doing for these sick folks! What I wanted to say," continued Sam stoutly "was that the moving spirit of the hospital was not in the man who signed the checks, but in these women who do the work--the nurses, like the one I wrote about; the one you called 'The Red Cross Girl.'"
Collins, strong through many years of faithful service, backed by the traditions of the profession, snorted scornfully.
"But it's not news!"
"It's not news," said Elliott doubtfully; "but it's the kind of story that made Frank O'Malley famous. It's the kind of story that drives men out of this business into the arms of what Kipling calls 'the illegitimate sister.'"
It seldom is granted to a man on the same day to give his whole heart to a girl and to be patted on the back by his managing editor; and it was this combination, and not the drinks he dispensed to the staff in return for its congratulations, that sent Sam home walking on air. He loved his business, he was proud of his business; but never before had it served him so well. It had enabled him to tell the woman he loved, and incidentally a million other people, how deeply he honored her; how clearly he appreciated her power for good. No one would know he meant Sister Anne, save two people--Sister Anne and himself; but for her and for him that was as many as should know. In his story he had used real incidents of the day; he had described her as she passed through the wards of the hospital, cheering and sympathetic; he had told of the little acts of consideration that endeared her to the sick people.
The next morning she would know that it was she of whom he had written; and between the lines she would read that the man who wrote them loved her. So he fell asleep, impatient for the morning. In the hotel at which he lived the REPUBLIC was always placed promptly outside his door; and, after many excursions into the hall, he at last found it. On the front page was his story, "The Red Cross Girl." It had the place of honor--right-hand column; but more conspicuous than the headlines of his own story was one of Redding's, photographs. It was the one he had taken of Sister Anne when first she had approached them, in her uniform of mercy, advancing across the lawn, walking straight into the focus of the, camera. There was no mistaking her for any other living woman; but beneath the picture, in bold, staring, uncompromising type, was a strange and grotesque legend.
"Daughter of Millionaire Flagg," it read, "in a New Role, Miss Anita Flagg as The Red Cross Girl."
For a long time Sam looked at the picture, and then, folding the paper so that the picture was hidden, he walked to the open window. From below, Broadway sent up a tumultuous greeting--cable cars jangled, taxis hooted; and, on the sidewalks, on their way to work, processions of shop-girls stepped out briskly. It was the street and the city and the life he had found fascinating, but now it jarred and affronted him. A girl he knew had died, had passed out of his life forever--worse than that had never existed; and yet the city went or just as though that made no difference, or just as little difference as it would have made had Sister Anne really lived and really died.
At the same early hour, an hour far too early for the rest of the house party, Anita Flagg and Helen Page, booted and riding-habited, sat alone at the breakfast table, their tea before them; and in the hands of Anita Flagg was the DAILY REPUBLIC. Miss Page had brought the paper to the table and, with affected indignation at the impertinence of the press, had pointed at the front-page photograph; but Miss Flagg was not looking at the photograph, or drinking her tea, or showing in her immediate surroundings any interest whatsoever. Instead, her lovely eyes were fastened with fascination upon the column under the heading "The Red Cross Girl"; and, as she read, the lovely eyes lost all trace of recent slumber, her lovely lips parted breathlessly, and on her lovely cheeks the color flowed and faded and glowed and bloomed. When she had read as far as a paragraph beginning, "When Sister Anne walked between them those who suffered raised their eyes to hers as flowers lift their faces to the rain," she dropped the paper and started for telephone.
"Any man," cried she, to the mutual discomfort of Helen Page and the servants, "who thinks I'm like that mustn't get away! I'm not like that and I know it; but if he thinks so that's all I want. And maybe I might be like that--if any man would help."
She gave her attention to the telephone and "Information." She demanded to be instantly put into communication with the DAILY REPUBLIC and Mr. Sam Ward. She turned again upon Helen Page.
"I'm tired of being called a good sport," she protested, "by men who aren't half so good sports as I am. I'm tired of being talked to about money--as though I were a stock-broker. This man's got a head on his shoulders, and he's got the shoulders too; and he's got a darned good-looking head; and he thinks I'm a ministering angel and a saint; and he put me up on a pedestal and made me dizzy--and I like being made dizzy; and I'm for him! And I'm going after him!"
"Be still!" implored Helen Page. "Any one might think you meant it!" She nodded violently at the discreet backs of the men-servants.
"Ye gods, Parker!" cried Anita Flagg. "Does it take three of you to pour a cup of tea? Get out of here, and tell everybody that you all three caught me in the act of proposing to an American gentleman over the telephone and that the betting is even that I'll make him marry me!"
The faithful and sorely tried domestics fled toward the door. "And what's more," Anita hurled after them, "get your bets down quick, for after I meet him the odds will be a hundred to one!"
Had the REPUBLIC been an afternoon paper, Sam might have been at the office and might have gone to the telephone, and things might have happened differently; but, as the REPUBLIC was a morning paper, the only person in the office was the lady who scrubbed the floors and she refused to go near the telephone. So Anita Flagg said, "I'll call him up later," and went happily on her ride, with her heart warm with love for all the beautiful world; but later it was too late.
To keep himself fit, Sam Ward always walked to the office. On this particular morning Hollis Holworthy was walking uptown and they met opposite the cathedral.
"You're the very man I want," said Hollworthy joyously-- "you've got to decide a bet."
He turned and fell into step with Sam.
"It's one I made last night with Anita Flagg. She thinks you didn't know who she was yesterday, and I said that was ridiculous. Of course you knew. I bet her a theatre party."
To Sam it seemed hardly fair that so soon, before his fresh wound had even been dressed, it should be torn open by impertinent fingers; but he had no right to take offense. How could the man, or any one else, know what Sister Anne had meant to him?
"I'm afraid you lose," he said. He halted to give Holworthy the hint to leave him, but Holworthy had no such intention.
"You don't say so!" exclaimed that young man. "Fancy one of you chaps being taken in like that. "I thought you were taking her in--getting up a story for the Sunday supplement."
Sam shook his head, nodded, and again moved on; but he was not yet to escape. "And, instead of your fooling her," exclaimed Holworthy incredulously, "she was having fun, with you!"
With difficulty Sam smiled.
"So it would seem," he said.
"She certainly made an awfully funny story of it!" exclaimed Holworthy admiringly. "I thought she was making it up--she must have made some of it up. She said you asked her to take a day off in New York. That isn't so is it?"
"Yes, that's so."
"By Jove!" cried Holworthy--and that you invited her to see the moving-picture shows?"
Sam, conscious of the dearly bought front row seats in his pocket, smiled pleasantly.
"Did she say I said that--or you?" he asked
"Well, then, I must have said it."
Holworthy roared with amusement.
"And that you invited her to feed peanuts to the monkeys at the Zoo?"
Sam avoided the little man's prying eyes.
"Yes; I said that too."
"And I thought she was making it up!" exclaimed Holworthy. "We did laugh. You must see the fun of it yourself."
Lest Sam should fail to do so he proceeded to elaborate.
"You must see the fun in a man trying to make a date with Anita Flagg--just as if she were nobody!"
"I don't think," said Sam, "that was my idea." He waved his stick at a passing taxi. "I'm late," he said. He abandoned Hollis on the sidewalk, chuckling and grinning with delight, and unconscious of the mischief he had made.
An hour later at the office, when Sam was waiting for an assignment, the telephone boy hurried to him, his eyes lit with excitement.
"You're wanted on the 'phone," he commanded. His voice dropped to an awed whisper. "Miss Anita Flagg wants to speak to you!"
The blood ran leaping to Sam's heart and face. Then he remembered that this was not Sister Anne who wanted to speak to him, but a woman he had never met.
"Say you can't find me," he directed. The boy gasped, fled, and returned precipitately.
"The lady says she wants your telephone number--says she must have it."
"Tell her you don't know it; tell her it's against the rules--and hang up."
Ten minutes later the telephone boy, in the strictest confidence, had informed every member of the local staff that Anita Flagg--the rich, the beautiful, the daring, the original of the Red Cross story of that morning--had twice called up Sam Ward and by that young man had been thrown down--and thrown hard!
That night Elliott, the managing editor, sent for Sam; and when Sam entered his office he found also there Walsh, the foreign editor, with whom he was acquainted only by sight.
Elliott introduced them and told Sam to be seated.
"Ward," he began abruptly, "I'm sorry to lose you, but you've got to go. It's on account of that story of this morning."
Sam made no sign, but he was deeply hurt. From a paper he had served so loyally this seemed scurvy treatment. It struck him also that, considering the spirit in which the story had been written, it was causing him more kinds of trouble than was quite fair. The loss of position did not disturb him. In the last month too many managing editors had tried to steal him from the REPUBLIC for him to feel anxious as to the future. So he accepted his dismissal calmly, and could say without resentment:
"Last night I thought you liked the story, sir?
"I did," returned Elliott; "I liked it so much that I'm sending you to a bigger place, where you can get bigger stories. We want you to act as our special correspondent in London. Mr. Walsh will explain the work; and if you'll go you'll sail next Wednesday."
After his talk with the foreign editor Sam again walked home on air. He could not believe it was real--that it was actually to him it had happened; for hereafter he was to witness the march of great events, to come in contact with men of international interests. Instead of reporting what was of concern only from the Battery to Forty-seventh Street, he would now tell New York what was of interest in Europe and the British Empire, and so to the whole world. There was one drawback only to his happiness--there was no one with whom he might divide it. He wanted to celebrate his good fortune; he wanted to share it with some one who would understand how much it meant to him, who would really care. Had Sister Anne lived, she would have understood; and he would have laid himself and his new position at her feet and begged her to accept them--begged her to run away with him to this tremendous and terrifying capital of the world, and start the new life together.
Among all the women he knew, there was none to take her place. Certainly Anita Flagg could not take her place. Not because she was rich, not because she had jeered at him and made him a laughing-stock, not because his admiration--and he blushed when he remembered how openly, how ingenuously he had shown it to her--meant nothing; but because the girl he thought she was, the girl he had made dreams about and wanted to marry without a moment's notice, would have seen that what he offered, ridiculous as it was when offered to Anita Flagg, was not ridiculous when offered sincerely to a tired, nerve- worn, overworked nurse in a hospital. It was because Anita Flagg had not seen that that she could not now make up to him for the girl he had lost, even though she herself had inspired that girl and for a day given her existence.
Had he known it, the Anita Flagg of his imagining was just as unlike and as unfair to the real girl as it was possible for two people to be. His Anita Flagg he had created out of the things he had read of her in impertinent Sunday supplements and from the impression he had been given of her by the little ass, Holworthy. She was not at all like that. Ever since she had come of age she had been beset by sycophants and flatterers, both old and young, both men and girls, and by men who wanted her money and by men who wanted her. And it was because she got the motives of the latter two confused that she was so often hurt and said sharp, bitter things that made her appear hard and heartless.
As a matter of fact, in approaching her in the belief that he was addressing an entirely different person, Sam had got nearer to the real Anita Flagg than had any other man. And so--when on arriving at the office the next morning, which was a Friday, he received a telegram reading, "Arriving to- morrow nine-thirty from Greenwich; the day cannot begin too soon; don't forget you promised to meet me. Anita Flagg "--he was able to reply: " Extremely sorry; but promise made to a different person, who unfortunately has since died!"'
When Anita Flagg read this telegram there leaped to her lovely eyes tears that sprang from self-pity and wounded feelings. She turned miserably, appealingly to Helen Page.
"But why does he do it to me?" Her tone was that of the bewildered child who has struck her head against the table, and from the naughty table, without cause or provocation, has received the devil of a bump.
Before Miss Page could venture upon an explanation, Anita Flagg had changed into a very angry young woman.
"And what's more," she announced, "he can't do it to me!"
She sent her telegram back again as it was, word for word, but this time it was signed, Sister Anne."
In an hour the answer came: "Sister Anne is the person to whom I refer. She is dead."
Sam was not altogether at ease at the outcome of his adventure. It was not in his nature to be rude--certainly not to a woman, especially not to the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. For, whether her name was Anita or Anne, about her beauty there could be no argument; but he assured himself that he had acted within his rights. A girl who could see in a well-meant offer to be kind only a subject for ridicule was of no interest to him. Nor did her telegrams insisting upon continuing their acquaintance flatter him. As he read them, they showed only that she looked upon him as one entirely out of her world--as one with whom she could do an unconventional thing and make a good story about it later, knowing that it would be accepted as one of her amusing caprices.
He was determined he would not lend himself to any such performance. And, besides, he no longer was a foot-loose, happy-go-lucky reporter. He no longer need seek for experiences and material to turn into copy. He was now a man with a responsible position--one who soon would be conferring with cabinet ministers and putting ambassadors At their ease. He wondered if a beautiful heiress, whose hand was sought in marriage by the nobility of England, would understand the importance of a London correspondent. He hoped someone would tell her. He liked to think of her as being considerably impressed and a little unhappy.
Saturday night he went to the theatre for which he had purchased tickets. And he went alone, for the place that Sister Anne was to have occupied could not be filled by any other person. It would have been sacrilege. At least, so it pleased him to pretend. And all through dinner, which he ate alone at the same restaurant to which he had intended taking her, he continued, to pretend she was with him. And at the theatre, where there was going forward the most popular of all musical comedies, the seat next to him, which to the audience, appeared wastefully empty, was to him filled with her gracious presence. That Sister Anne was not there--that the pretty romance he had woven about her had ended in disaster--filled, him with real regret. He was glad he was,, leaving New York. He was glad he was going, where nothing would remind him of her. And then he glanced up--and looked straight into her eyes!
He was seated in the front row, directly on the aisle. The seat Sister Anne was supposed to be occupying was on his right, and a few seats farther to his right rose the stage box and in the stage box, and in the stage box, almost upon the stage, and with the glow of the foot-lights full in her face, was Anita Flagg, smiling delightedly down on him. There were others with her. He had a confused impression of bulging shirt-fronts, and shining silks, and diamonds, and drooping plumes upon enormous hats. He thought he recognized Lord Deptford and Holworthy; but the only person he distinguished clearly was Anita Flagg. The girl was all in black velvet, which was drawn to her figure like a wet bathing suit; round her throat was a single string of pearls, and on her hair of golden-rod was a great hat of black velvet, shaped like a bell, with the curving lips of a lily. And from beneath its brim Anita Flagg, sitting rigidly erect with her white-gloved hands resting lightly on her knee, was gazing down at him, smiling with pleasure, with surprise, with excitement.
When she saw that, in spite of her altered appearance, he recognized her, she bowed so violently and bent her head so eagerly that above her the ostrich plumes dipped and courtesied like wheat in a storm. But Sam neither bowed nor courtesied. Instead, he turned his head slowly over his left shoulder, as though he thought she was speaking not to him but some one beyond him, across the aisle. And then his eyes returned to the stage and did not again look toward her. It was not the cut direct, but it was a cut that hurt; and in their turn the eyes of Miss Flagg quickly sought the stage. At the moment, the people in the audience happened to be laughing; and she forced a smile and then laughed with them.
Out of the corner of his eye Sam could not help seeing her profile exposed pitilessly in the glow of the foot-lights; saw her lips tremble like those of a child about to cry; and then saw the forced, hard smile--and heard her laugh lightly and mechanically.
"That's all she cares." he told himself.
It seemed to him that in all he heard of her, in everything she did, she kept robbing him still further of all that was dear to him in Sister Anne.
For five minutes, conscious of the foot-lights, Miss Flagg maintained upon her lovely face a fixed and intent expression, and then slowly and unobtrusively drew back to a seat in the rear of the box. In the' darkest recesses she found Holworthy, shut off from a view of the stage by a barrier of women's hats.
"Your friend Mr. Ward," she began abruptly, in a whisper, "is the rudest, most ill-bred person I ever met. When I talked to him the" other day I thought he was nice. He was nice, But he has behaved abominably--like a boor--like a sulky child. Has he no sense of humor? Because I played a joke on him, is that any reason why he should hurt me?"
"Hurt you?" exclaimed little Holworthy in amazement. "Don't be ridiculous! How could he hurt you? Why should you care how rude he is? Ward's a clever fellow, but he fancies himself. He's conceited. He's too good-looking; and a lot of silly women have made such a fuss over him. So when one of them laughs at him he can't understand it. That's the trouble. I could see that when I was telling him."
"Telling him!" repeated Miss Flagg--"Telling him what?"
"About what a funny story you made of it," explained Holworthy. "About his having the nerve to ask you to feed the monkeys and to lunch with him."
Miss Flagg interrupted with a gasping intake of her breath.
"Oh!" she said softly. "So-so you told him that, did you? And--what else did you tell him?" ,
"Only what you told us--that he said 'the day could not begin too soon'; that he said he wouldn't let you be a manicure and wash the hands of men who weren't fit to wash the streets you walked on."
There was a pause.
"Did I tell you he said that?" breathed Anita Flagg.
"You know you did," said Holworthy.
There was another pause.
"I must have been mad!" said the girl.
There was a longer pause and Holworthy shifted uneasily.
"I'm afraid you are angry," he ventured.
"Angry!" exclaimed Miss Flagg. "I should say I was angry, but not with you. I'm very much pleased with you. At the end of the act I'm going to let you take me out into the lobby."
With his arms tightly folded, Sam sat staring unhappily at the stage and seeing nothing. He was sorry for himself because Anita Flagg had destroyed his ideal of a sweet and noble woman--and he was sorry for Miss Flagg because a man had been rude to her. That he happened to be that man did not make his sorrow and indignation the less intense; and, indeed, so miserable was he and so miserable were his looks, that his friends on the stage considered sending him a note, offering, if he would take himself out of the front row, to give him back his money at the box office. Sam certainly wished to take himself away; but he did not want to admit that he was miserable, that he had behaved ill, that the presence of Anita Flagg could spoil his evening--could, in the slightest degree affect him. So he sat, completely wretched, feeling that he was in a false position; that if he were it was his own fault; that he had acted like an ass and a brute. It was not a cheerful feeling.
When the curtain fell he still remained seated. He knew before the second act there was an interminable wait; but he did not want to chance running into Holworthy in the lobby and he told himself it would be rude to abandon Sister Anne. But he now was not so conscious of the imaginary Sister Anne as of the actual box party on his near right, who were laughing and chattering volubly. He wondered whether they laughed at him--whether Miss Flagg were again entertaining them at his expense; again making his advances appear ridiculous. He was so sure of it that he flushed indignantly. He was glad he had been rude.
And then, at his elbow, there was the rustle of silk; and a beautiful figure, all in black velvet, towered above him, then crowded past him, and sank into the empty seat at his side. He was too startled to speak--and Miss Anita Flagg seemed to understand that and to wish to give him time; for, without regarding him in the least, and as though to establish the fact that she had come to stay, she began calmly and deliberately to remove the bell-like hat. This accomplished, she bent toward him, her eyes looking straight into his, her smile reproaching him. In the familiar tone of an old and dear friend she said to him gently:
"This is the day you planned for me. Don't you think you've wasted quite enough of it?"
Sam looked back into the eyes, and saw in them no trace of laughter or of mockery, but, instead, gentle reproof and appeal--and something else that, in turn, begged of him to be gentle.
For a moment, too disturbed to speak, he looked at her, miserably, remorsefully.
"It's not Anita Flagg at all," he said. "It's Sister Anne come back to life again!" The girl shook her head.
"No; it's Anita Flagg. I'm not a bit like the girl you thought you met and I did say all the, things Holworthy told you I said; but that was before I understood--before I read what you wrote about Sister Anne--about the kind of me you thought you'd met. When I read that I knew what sort of a man you were. I knew you had been really kind and gentle, and I knew you had dug out something that I did not know was there--that no one else had found. And I remembered how you called me Sister. I mean the way you said it. And I wanted to hear it again. I wanted you to say it."
She lifted her face to his. She was very near him--so near that her shoulder brushed against his arm. In the box above them her friends, scandalized and amused, were watching her with the greatest interest. Half of the people in the now half-empty house were watching them with the greatest interest. To them, between reading advertisements on the programme and watching Anita Flagg making desperate love to a lucky youth in the front row, there was no question of which to choose.
The young people in the front row did not know they were observed. They were alone--as much alone as though they were seated in a biplane, sweeping above the clouds.
"Say it again," prompted Anita Flagg "Sister."
"I will not!" returned the young man firmly. "But I'll say this," he whispered: "I'll say you're the most wonderful, the most beautiful, and the finest woman who has ever lived!"
Anita Flagg's eyes left his quickly; and, with her head bent, she stared at the bass drum in the orchestra.
"I don't know," she said, "but that sounds just as good."
When the curtain was about to rise she told him to take her back to her box, so that he could meet her friends and go on with them to supper; but when they reached the rear of the house she halted.
"We can see this act," she said, "or--my car's in front of the theatre--we might go to the park and take a turn or two or three. Which would you prefer?"
"Don't make me laugh!" said Sam.
As they sat all together at supper with those of the box party, but paying no attention to them whatsoever, Anita Flagg sighed contentedly.
"There's only one thing," she said to Sam, "that is making me unhappy; and because it is such sad news I haven't told you.
It is this: I am leaving America. I am going to spend the winter in London. I sail next Wednesday."
"My business is to gather news," said Sam, but in all my life I never gathered such good news as that."
"Good news!" exclaimed Anita.
"Because," explained Sam, "I am leaving, America--am spending the winter in England. I am sailing on Wednesday. No; I also am unhappy; but that is not what makes me unhappy."
"Tell me," begged Anita.
"Some day," said Sam.
The day he chose to tell her was the first day they were at sea--as they leaned upon the rail, watching Fire Island disappear.
"This is my unhappiness," said Sam--and he pointed to a name on the passenger list. It was: "The Earl of Deptford, and valet." "And because he is on board!"
Anita Flagg gazed with interest at a pursuing sea-gull.
"He is not on board," she said. "He changed to another boat."
Sam felt that by a word from her a great weight might be lifted from his soul. He looked at her appealingly--hungrily.
"Why did he change?" he begged.
Anita Flagg shook her head in wonder. She smiled at him with amused despair.
"Is that all that is worrying you?" she said.
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