Chapter IX. The Thessalonian Play.
 

It was the custom each year for the Thessalonians, the Boys' Literary Society of Washington High School, to give a play in the school auditorium. This year the play was to be a translation of Briand's four-act drama, "Marie Latour." After a careful consideration of the talents of their various girl friends, Gladys was asked to play the leading role and Sahwah was also given a part in the cast. It was the play where the unfortunate Marie Latour, pursued by enemies, hides her child in a hollow statue of Joan of Arc. In order to produce the piece a large statue of the Maid of Orleans was made to order. It was constructed of some inexpensive composition and painted to look like bronze. In the one scene a halo appears around the head of the Maid while she is sheltering the child. This effect was produced by a circle of tiny lights worked by a storage battery inside the statue. For the sake of convenience in installing the electric apparatus and the wiring, one half of the skirt--it was the statue representing Joan in woman's clothes, not the one in armor--was made in the form of a door, which opened on hinges. The base of the statue was of wood. It was not finished until the day before the play and was used for the first time at the dress rehearsal, when it was left standing on the stage.

Joe Lanning was in rather a dark mood these days. In the first place, he had lost his winter's allowance of pocket money by staking it on the Washington-Carnegie Mechanics game. After this he was treated coolly by a large number of his classmates, and, not knowing that the story of his treachery was being privately circulated around the school, he could not guess the reason. The keenest desire of his life was to be made a member of the Thessalonian Literary Society, and if he had kept his record unsmirched he would have been taken in at the February election. He confidently expected to be elected, and was already planning in his mind the things he would do and say at the meetings, and what girls he would take to the Thessalonian dances. He received a rude shock when the election came and went and he was not taken in. He knew from reliable sources that his name was coming up to be voted on, and it was not very flattering to realize that he had been blackballed. From an eager interest in all Thessalonian doings his feeling changed to bitter resentment against the society. Just now the Thessalonian play was the topic of the hour, and the very mention of it almost made him ill. If he had been elected he would have been an usher at the play with the other new members and worn the club colors in his buttonhole to be admired by the girls and envied by the other fellows. But now there was none of that charmed fellowship for him. He nourished his feeling of bitterness and hatred until his scheming mind began to grope for some way of spoiling the success of the play. As usual, he turned to his friend, Abraham Goldstein, who was about the only one who had not shown any coolness. Together they watched their chance. The play progressed toward perfection, the dress rehearsal had been held, the day of the "First Night" had arrived. The stage was set and the statue of the Maid of Orleans was in place. Joe, poking around the back of the stage, saw the statue and received his evil inspiration.

Just about the time the play was given there was being held in the school an exhibition of water-color paintings. A famous and very valuable collection had been loaned by a friend of the school for the benefit of the students of drawing. The paintings were on display in one of the girls' club rooms on the fourth floor of the building. Hinpoha took great pleasure in examining them and spent a long time over them every day after school was closed. On the day of the play she went up as usual to the club room for an hour before going home. Reluctantly she tore herself away when she realized that the afternoon was passing. As she returned to the cloakroom where her wraps were she was surprised to find Emily Meeks there. Emily started guiltily when Hinpoha entered and made a desperate effort to finish wrapping up something she had in her hand. But her nervousness got into her fingers and made them tremble so that the object she held fell to the floor. As it fell the wrapper came open and Hinpoha could see what it was. It was one of the water colors of the exhibition collection, one of the smallest and most exquisite ones. Hinpoha gasped with astonishment when she caught Emily in the act of stealing it. Emily Meeks was the last person in the world Hinpoha would ever have accused of stealing anything.

Emily turned white and red by turns and leaned against the wall trembling. "Yes, I stole it," she said in a kind of desperation.

Something in her voice took the scorn out of Hinpoha's face. She looked at her curiously. "Why did you try to steal, Emily?" she asked gently.

Emily burst into tears and sank to her knees. "You wouldn't understand," she sobbed.

"Maybe I would," said Hinpoha softly, "try it and see."

Haltingly Emily told her tale. In a moment's folly she had promised to buy a set of books from an agent and had signed a paper pledging herself to pay for it within three months. The price was five dollars. At the time she thought she could save enough out of her meager wages to pay it, but found that she could not. The time was up several months ago and the agent was threatening her with a lawsuit if she did not pay up this month. Fearing that the people with whom she lived would be angry if they heard of the affair and would turn her out of her home into the streets--for to her a lawsuit was something vague and terrible and she thought she would have to go to jail when it was found she could not pay--she grew desperate, and being alone in the room with the paintings for an instant she had seized the opportunity and carried one out under her middy blouse. She intended to sell it and pay for the books.

Hinpoha's eyes filled with tears at Emily's distress. She was very tender hearted and was easily touched by other people's troubles. "If I lent you five dollars to pay for the books, would you take it?" she asked.

Emily started up like a condemned prisoner who is pardoned on the way to execution. "I'll pay it back," she cried, "if I have to go out scrubbing to earn the money. And you won't say anything about the picture," she said, clasping her hands beseechingly, "if I put it back where I got it?"

"No," said Hinpoha, with all the conviction of her loyal young nature, "I give you my word of honor that I will never say anything about it."

"Oh, you're an angel straight from heaven," exclaimed Emily.

"First time I've heard of a red-headed angel," laughed Hinpoha.

Emily stooped to pick up the painting and restore it to its place, when she caught her breath in dismay. She had dropped a tear on the picture and made a light spot on the dark brown trunk of a tree. It was conspicuously noticeable, and would be sure to call forth the strictest inquiry. Emily covered her face with her hands. "It's my punishment," she groaned, "for trying to steal. Now I've ruined the honor of the school. We promised to send those pictures back unharmed if Mr. White would let us have them." Her dismay was intense.

Hinpoha examined the spot carefully. "Do you know," she said, "I believe I could fill in that place with dark color so it would never be noticed? The bark of the tree has a rough appearance and the slight unevenness around the edges of the spot will never be noticed. Don't worry, all will yet be well." If Hinpoha would have let her, Emily would have gone down on her knees to her. "Come, we must make haste," said Hinpoha. "You go right home and I will take the picture into our club room and fix it up and then slip upstairs with it and nobody will ever be any the wiser. It's a good thing there's nobody up there now."

Emily took her departure, vowing undying gratitude to Hinpoha, and Hinpoha took her paints from her desk and went into her own club room, which was on the third floor, and with infinite pains matched the shade of the tree trunk and repaired the damage. Her efforts were crowned with better success even than she had hoped for, and with thankfulness in her heart at the talent which could thus be turned to account to help a friend out of trouble, she surveyed the little painting, looking just as it did when loaned to the school. She carried it carefully upstairs, but at the door of the exhibition room she paused in dismay. A whole group of teachers and their friends were looking at the paintings and it was impossible to put the one back without being noticed. Irresolutely she turned away and retraced her steps to the third floor, intending to wait in her club room until the coast was clear. But alas! In coming out Hinpoha had left the door open. The club rooms were generally kept locked. While she was going upstairs a number of students coming out from late practice in the gymnasium spied the open door and went in to look around. It was impossible for Hinpoha to go in there with that picture in her hand. The only thing to do if she did not wish to get into trouble, was to get rid of it immediately. Delay was getting dangerous. She was standing near the back entrance of the stage when she was looking for a place to hide the picture. Beside the stage entrance there was a little room containing all the lighting switches for the stage, various battery boxes and other electrical equipment, together with a motley collection of stage properties. Quick as a flash Hinpoha opened the door of this room, darted in and hid the picture in a roll of cheesecloth. When she came out one of the teachers was standing directly before the door, pointing out to a friend the construction of the stage.

"Have we a new electrician?" he inquired genially, as he saw her coming out of the electric room. Hinpoha laughed at his pleasantry, but she was flushed and uncomfortable from the excitement of the last moment. Hinpoha was a poor dissembler. She went upstairs until the art room was empty of visitors and then returned swiftly to the electric room for the picture. She slipped it under her middy blouse, where it was safe from detection, and sped upstairs with it. As she crossed the hall to the stairs she met the same teacher the second time. "Well, you must be an electrician," he said; "that's twice you've rushed out of there in such a businesslike manner," Hinpoha laughed, but flushed painfully. It seemed to her that his eyes could look right through her middy and see the picture underneath. This time the coast was clear in the room where the pictures were and she deposited the adventurous water color safely. She heaved a great sigh of relief when she realized that the danger was over and she had nothing more to conceal. She trudged home through the snow light-heartedly, with a warm feeling that she had been the means of saving a friend from disgrace.

Sahwah, who was in the play and had a right to go up on the stage, which was all ready set for the first scene, ran in to see how things looked late in the afternoon. The school was practically empty. All the rest of the cast had gone home to get some sleep to fit them for the ordeal of the coming performance, and the teachers who had been looking at the paintings had also left. The rest of the building was in darkness, as twilight had already fallen. One set of lights was burning on the stage. Sahwah had no special business on the stage, she was simply curious to see what it looked like. Sahwah never stopped to analyze her motives for doing things. She paused to admire the statue of Joan of Arc, standing in all the majesty of its nine-foot height. This was the first chance she had had to examine it leisurely. In the rehearsal the night before she had merely seen it in a general way as she whisked off and on the stage in her part.

The construction of the thing fascinated her, and she opened the door in the skirt to satisfy her curiosity about the inner workings of the miraculous halo. She saw how the thing was done and then became interested in the inside of the statue itself. There was plenty of room in it to conceal a person. Just for the fun of the thing Sahwah got inside and drew the door shut after her, trying to imagine herself a fugitive hiding in there. There were no openings in the skirt part, but up above the waist line there were various holes to admit air. "It's no fun hiding in a statue if you can't see what's going on outside," thought Sahwah, and so she stood up straight, as in this position her eyes would come on a level with one of the holes. She could see out without being seen herself, just as if she were looking through the face piece of a suit of armor. The fun she got out of this sport, however, soon changed to dismay when she tried to get down again. It had taken some squeezing to get her head into the upper space, and now she found that she was wedged securely in. She could not move her head one particle. What was worse, a quantity of cotton wool, which had been put inside the upper part of the body for some reason or other, was dislodged by her squeezing in and pressed against her mouth, forming an effective silencer. Thus, while she could see out over the stage, she could not call out for help. Her hands were pinioned down at her sides, and by standing up she had brought her knees into a narrow place so that they were wedged together and she could not attract attention by kicking. Here was a pretty state of affairs. The benign Maid of Orleans had Sahwah in as merciless a grip as that with which the famous Iron Maiden of medieval times crushed out the lives of its victims.

Sahwah knew that her failure to come from school would call out a search, but who would ever look for her in the statue on the stage? Her only hope was to wait until the play was in progress and the door was opened to conceal the child. Then another thought startled her into a perspiration. She was in the opening scene of the play. If she was not there, the play could not commence. They would spend the evening searching for her and the statue would not be opened. What would they do about the play? The house was sold out and the people would come to see the performance and there would be none. All on account of her stupidity in wedging herself inside of the statue. Sahwah called herself severe names as she languished in her prison. Fortunately there were enough holes in the thing to supply plenty of ventilation, otherwise it might have gone hard with her. The cramped position became exceedingly tiresome. She tried, by forcing her weight against the one side or the other, to throw the statue over, thinking that it would attract attention in this way and some one would be likely to open it, but the heavy wooden base to which it was fastened held it secure. Sahwah was caught like a rat in a trap. The minutes passed like hours. Sounds died away in the building, as the last of the lingerers on the downstairs floor took themselves off through the front entrance. She could hear the slam of the heavy door and then a shout as one boy hailed another in greeting. Then silence over everything.

A quarter, or maybe a half, hour dragged by on leaden feet. Suddenly, without noise or warning, two figures appeared on the stage, coming on through the back entrance. Sahwah's heart beat joyfully. Here was some one to look over the scenery again and if she could only attract their attention they would liberate her. She made a desperate effort and wrenched her mouth open to call, only to get it full of fuzzy cotton wool that nearly choked her. There was no hope then, but that they would open the door of the statue and find her accidentally. She could hear the sound of talking in low voices. The boys were on the other side of the statue, where she could not see them.

"Let it down easy," she heard one of them say.

"Better get around on the other side," said a second voice.

The boy thus spoken to moved around until he was directly before the opening in front of Sahwah's eyes. With a start she recognized Joe Lanning. What business had Joe Lanning on the stage at this time? He was not in the play and he did not belong to the Thessalonian Society. There was only one explanation--Joe was up to some mischief again. She had not the slightest doubt that the other voice belonged to Abraham Goldstein, and thus indeed it proved, for a moment later he moved around so as to come into range of her vision. The two withdrew a few paces and looked at the statue, holding a hasty colloquy in inaudible tones, and then Joe, mounting a chair, laid hold of the Maid just above the waist line, while Abraham seized the wooden base. Sahwah felt her head going down and her feet going up. The boys were carrying the statue off the stage and out through the back entrance, over the little bridge at the back of the stage and into the hall. It was the queerest ride Sahwah had ever taken.

The boys paused before the elevator, which seemed to be standing ready with the door open. "Will she go in?" asked Abraham.

"I'm afraid not," answered Joe. "Well have to carry her downstairs." Sahwah shuddered. Would she go down head first or feet first? They carried her head first and she was dizzy with the rush of blood to her head before the two long flights were accomplished. At the foot of the last flight they laid the statue down. The hall was in total darkness.

"What are you doing?" asked the voice of Joe. Abraham was apparently producing something from somewhere. In a minute Joe was laughing. "Good stunt," he said approvingly. "Where did you get them?"

"Swiped them out of Room 22, where all the stuff for the play is." Joe flashed a small pocket electric light and by its glimmer Sahwah could see him adjusting a false beard--the one that was to be worn by the villain in the play. Abraham was apparently disguising himself in a similar fashion. This accomplished they picked up the statue again and carried it down the half flight of stairs to the back entrance of the school. For some mysterious reason this door was open. Just outside stood an automobile truck. At the back of the school lay the wide athletic field, extending for several acres. The nearest street was all of four blocks away. In the darkness it was impossible to see across this stretch of space and distinguish the actions of the two conspirators in the event people should be passing along this street. Even if the truck itself were seen that would cause no comment, for deliveries were constantly being made at the rear entrance of the school.

The statue was lifted into the truck, covered with a piece of canvas, and Joe and Abraham sprang to the driver's seat and started the machine. Sahwah very nearly suffocated under that canvas. Fortunately the ride was a short one. In about seven or eight minutes she felt the bump as they turned into a driveway, and then the truck came to a stop. The boys jumped down from the seat, opened a door which slid back with a scraping noise like a barn door and then lifted the statue from the truck and carried it into a building. From the light of their pocket flashes Sahwah could make out that she was in a barn, which was evidently unused. It was entirely empty. Setting the statue in a corner, the boys went out, closing the door after them. Sahwah was left in total darkness, and in a ten times worse position than she had been in before. On the stage at school there was some hope of the statue's being opened eventually, but here she could remain for weeks before being discovered. Sahwah began to wonder just how long she could hold out before she starved. She was hungry already.

She closed her eyes with weariness from her strained position, and it is possible that she dozed off for a few moments. In fact, that was what she did do. She dreamed that she was at the circus and all the wild animals had broken loose and were running about the audience. She could hear the roar of the lions and the screeching of the tigers. She woke up with a start and thought for a moment that her dream was true. The barn was full of wild animals which were roaring and chasing each other around. Then her senses cleared and she recognized the heavy bark of a large dog and the startled mi-ou of a cat. The dog was chasing the cat around the barn. She felt the slight thud as the cat leaped up and found refuge on top of the statue. She could hear it spitting at the dog and knew that its back was arched in an attitude of defiance. The dog barked furiously down below. Then, overcome by rage, he made a wild jump for the cat and lunged his heavy body against the side of the statue. It toppled over against the corner. For an instant Sahwah thought she was going to be killed. But the corner of the barn saved the statue from falling over altogether. It simply leaned back at a slight angle. But there was something different in her position now. At first she did not know what it was. Before this her feet were standing squarely on the wooden base of the statue, but now they were slipping around and seemed to be dangling. Then she realized what had happened. The shock of the dog's onslaught had knocked the statue clear off the base, and had also contrived to loosen her knees a little. To her joy she found that she could move her feet--could walk. For all the statue was immense, it was light, and wedged into it as she was she balanced the upper part of it perfectly. She moved out from the corner.

The dog was still barking furiously and circling around the barn after the cat. Then the cat found a paneless window by which she had entered and disappeared into the night. The dog, who had also entered by that window when chasing the cat, had been helped on the outside by a box which stood under the sill, but there was no such aid on the inside and he did not attempt to make the jump from the floor, but stood barking until the place shook. Just then a voice was heard on the outside. "Lion, Lion," it called, "where are you?" Lion barked in answer. "Come out of that barn," commanded the voice of a small boy. Lion answered again in the only way he knew how. "Wait a minute, Lion, I'm coming," said the small boy. Sahwah heard some one fumbling at the door and then it was drawn open. The light from a street lamp streamed in. It fell directly on the statue as Sahwah took another step forward. The boy saw the apparition and fled in terror, followed by the dog, leaving the door wide open. Sahwah hastened to the door. Here she encountered a difficulty. The statue was nine feet high and the door was only about eight. Naturally the statue could not bend. It had been carried in in a horizontal position. Sahwah reflected a moment. Her powers of observation were remarkably good and she could sense things that went on around her without having to see them. She had noticed that when the boys carried the statue into the barn they had had to climb up into the doorway. The inclined entrance approach had undoubtedly rotted away. She figured that this step up had been a foot at least. Her ingenious mind told her that by standing close to the edge of the doorway and jumping down she would come clear of the doorway. She put this theory to trial immediately. The scheme worked. She landed on her feet on the snow-covered ground, with the top of the statue free in the air.

As fast as she could she made her way up the driveway. Her hands were still pinioned at her sides. As she passed the house in front of the barn she could see by the street light that it was empty. A grand scheme it would have been indeed, if it had worked, hiding the statue in the unused barn where it would not have been discovered for weeks, or possibly months. Of course, Sahwah readily admitted, Joe did not know that she was in the statue; his object had merely been to spoil the play. And a very effective method he had taken, too, for the play without the statue of Joan of Arc would have been nothing.

Sahwah stood still on the street and tried to get her bearings. She was in an unfamiliar neighborhood. She walked up the street. Coming toward her was a man. Sahwah breathed a sigh of relief. Without a doubt he would see the trouble she was in and free her. Now Sahwah did not know it, but in the scramble with the dog the button had been pushed which worked the halo. The neighborhood she was in was largely inhabited by foreigners, and the man coming toward her was a Hungarian who had not been long in this country. Taking his way homeward with never a thought in his mind but his dinner, he suddenly looked up to see the gigantic figure of a woman bearing down on him, brandishing a gleaming sword and with a dim halo playing around her head. For an instant he stood rooted to the spot, and then with a wild yell he ran across the street, darted between two houses and disappeared over the back fence. Then began a series of encounters which threw Sahwah into hysterics twenty years later when she happened to remember them. Intent only on her own liberation she was at the time unconscious of the terrifying figure she presented, and hastened along at the top of her speed. Everywhere the people fled before her in the extremity of terror. On all sides she could hear shrieks of "War!" "War!" "It is a sign of war!"

In one street through which she passed lived a simple Slovak priest. He was sorely torn over the sad conflict raging in Europe and was undecided whether he should preach a sermon advocating peace at all costs or preparation for fighting. He debated the question back and forth in his mind, and, unable to come to any decision in the narrow confines of his little house, walked up and down on the cold porch seeking for light in the matter. "Oh, for a sign from heaven," he sighed, "such as came to the saints of old to solve their troublesome questions!" Scarcely had the wish passed through his mind when a vision appeared. Down the dark street came rushing the heroic image of Joan of Arc, with sword uplifted, her head shining with the refulgence of the halo. At his gate she paused and stood a long time looking at him. Sahwah thought that he would come down and help her out. Instead he fell on his knees on the porch and bowed his head, crying out something in a foreign tongue. Seeing that expectation of help from that quarter was useless, Sahwah ran on and turned a nearby corner. When the priest lifted his head again the vision was gone. "It is to be war, then," he muttered. "I have a divine command to bid my people take up arms in battle." This was the origin of the military demonstration which took place in the Slovak settlement the following Sunday, which ended in such serious rioting.

Sahwah, running onward, suddenly found herself in the very middle of the road where two carlines crossed each other. This was a very congested corner and a policeman was stationed there to direct the traffic. This policeman, however, on this cold February day, found Mike McCarty's saloon on the corner a much pleasanter place than the middle of the road, and paid one visit after another, while the traffic directed itself. This last time he had stayed inside much longer than he had intended to, having become involved in an argument with the proprietor of the place, and coming to himself with a guilty start he hurried out to resume his duties. On the sidewalk he stood as if paralyzed. In the middle of the road, in his place, stood an enormously tall woman, directing the traffic with a gleaming sword. "Mother av Hiven," he muttered superstitiously, "it's one of the saints come down to look after the job I jumped, and waiting to strike me dead when I come back." He turned on his heel and fled up the street without once looking over his shoulder.

And thus Sahwah went from place to place, vainly looking for some one who would pull her out of the statue, and leaving everywhere she went a trail of superstitious terror, such as had never been known in the annals of the city. For a week the papers were full of the mysterious appearance of the armed woman, which was taken as a presumptive augury of war. Many affirmed that she had stopped them on the street and commanded them in tones of thunder to take up arms to save the country from destruction, and promising to lead them to victory when the time for battle came. Many of the foreigners believed to their dying day that they had seen a vision from heaven. Sahwah at last got her bearings and found that she was not a great distance from the school, so she took her way thither where she might encounter some one who was connected with the play and knew of the existence of the statue, a secret which was being closely guarded from the public, that the effect might be greater.

She nearly wept with joy when she saw Dick Albright just about to enter the building. Although he was startled almost out of a year's growth at the sight of the statue, which he supposed to be standing on the stage in the building, running up the front steps after him, he did not disappear into space as had all of the others she had met. After the first fright he suspected some practical joke and stood still to see what would happen next. Sahwah knew that the only thing visible of her was her feet and that she could not explain matters with her voice, so, coming close to Dick, she stretched out her foot as far as possible. Now Sahwah, with her riotous love of color, had bright red buttons on her black shoes, the only set like them in the school. Dick recognized the buttons and knew that it was Sahwah in the statue. He still thought she was playing a joke, and laughed uproariously. Sahwah grew desperate. She must make him understand that she wanted him to pull her out. The broad stone terrace before the door was covered with a light fall of snow. With the point of her toe she traced in the snow the words

"PULL ME OUT."

Dick now took in the situation. He opened the door of the statue and with some difficulty succeeded in extricating Sahwah from her precarious position. Together they carried the much-traveled Maid into the building and up the stairs and set her in place on the stage. She had just been missed by the arriving players and the place was in an uproar. Sahwah told what had happened that afternoon and the adventures she had had in getting back to the school, while her listeners exclaimed incredulously. There was no longer time to go home for supper so Sahwah ran off to the green room to begin making up for her part in the play.