Chapter XVI
 

The year following Dick's stand for Christianity, an open air theater was established in the park on West Fourth Street, near the outskirts of the city, which was advertised by its enterprising manager as a very respectable place, well looked after by the police. It is true that the shows were but cheap variety and vulgar burlesque, and of course liquor, as well as more harmless drinks, was sold freely; and equally of course, the lowest of the criminal classes were regular attendants. But, with all that, there was something terribly fascinating in the freedom of the place. And all too often, on a Sunday evening, while the pure, fragrant air of summer was polluted by the fumes of tobacco and beer, while low plays were enacted on the stage, and the sound of drunken laugh or shout went out, young men and women mingled, half frightened, in the careless throng.

Among a certain set of Boyd City's gay young society people, to spend an evening at the park was just the thing to do; and often they might be seen grouped about the tables, sipping their refreshments, while laughing at the actors on the stage, or chatting and joking among themselves.

On an evening in August, when our chapter opens, one such party was even gayer than usual, and attracted no little attention from the frequenters of the place, as well as the employes. Waiters winked at each other and made remarks, as they hurried to and fro attending to the wants of their guests, while people with less wealth looked on in envy at the glittering show. The gentlemen were in evening dress, the ladies gowned in the latest fashion, jewels and trinkets flashed, eyes sparkled, cheeks glowed, as story and jest went round, while the ladies sipped their refreshing sodas and the men drank their wine.

One of the younger girls seemed a little frightened for a moment as she caught the eye of a waiter fastened upon her in anything but a respectful glance, and gave the fellow such a look in return that he dropped a napkin in his confusion. "I tell you, Bill," he said to his companion at the bar, where he had gone to get more drinks for the company, "that's a fast lot all right, but there's one in the bunch that can't go the pace."

But the waiter was evidently mistaken, for that same girl, after a glance around which revealed to her that she and her companions were the center of all eyes, tossed her head as though getting rid of some unpleasant thoughts, and turning to her escort, with a reckless laugh, asked him why he kept the best for himself. "I don't think it fair, girls," she declared in a loud voice. "We have as good a right to that nice wine as the boys have. I move that we make them treat us as well as they treat themselves."

"Done," cried one of the men before the others could object, even had they so desired; and in a moment another bottle, with more glasses, was set before them. The girl who had proposed the thing only drank a little. Something seemed to choke her when she lifted the glass to her lips, and she set it down again almost untasted. "Ugh," she said, "I don't like it," and a laugh went around at her expense.

"Take it. Take it. You must. You started it you know."

"I can't," she protested. "Here Jim," to her companion, who had already taken more than was good for him. "You must help me out." And she handed him the glass.

"Glad to help a lady always," he declared. "Notisch please, gen'lemen, I set y' good example. Alwaysh come to the rescue of fair ones in trouble--" He drained the glass. "Anybody else in trouble?" he said, looking around the table with a half tipsy grin. But the other girls had no scruples and drank their wine without a protest.

At last the party discovered that it was time to go home, and indeed the garden was almost deserted. One of the girls proposed that they walk, it was such a beautiful night; and accordingly they set out, two and two; the men reckless with wine; the ladies flushed and excited; all singing and laughing. Not far from the park entrance, the girl who had proposed the wine, and her companion, who was by this time more than half intoxicated, dropped a little behind the others and soon turned down a side street.

"This is not the way, Jim," she said, in a tone of laughing protest.

"Oh yesh 'tis. I know where'm goin'. Come 'long." And he caught her by the arm. "Nicesh place down here where we can stop and resht," and he staggered against her.

"But I want to go home, Jim," her tone of laughing protest changed to one of earnestness. "Father will be looking for me."

"Hang father," said the other. "Old man don't know. Come on I tell you." And he tried to put his arm about her waist.

The girl was frightened now in earnest. "Stop sir," she said.

"Why? Whash ze matter m' dear?" stammered the other. "Whash ze harm--zash all--I'll take care you all right--Ol' man never know." And again he clutched her arm.

This was too much, and giving the drunken wretch a push, which sent him tumbling into the gutter, where cursing fiercely he struggled to regain his feet, the frightened girl, without pausing to see his condition, or listening to his calls and threats, fled down the street. When her companion had at last managed to stagger to the sidewalk and could look around by clinging to the fence, she was out of sight. He called two or three times, and then swearing vilely, started in pursuit, reeling from side to side. The frightened girl ran on and on, paying no heed to her course, as she turned corner after corner her only thought being to escape from her drunken and enraged companion.

Meanwhile, Dick Falkner was making his way home after a delightful evening at the parsonage, where he had talked with Cameron on the veranda until a late hour. As he was walking leisurely along through the quiet streets, past the dark houses, enjoying the coolness of the evening and thinking of the things that he and Cameron had been discussing, his ear caught a strange sound, that seemed to come from within a half finished house on North Catalpa Street, near the railroad. He paused a moment and listened. Surely he was not mistaken. There it was again. The sound of someone sobbing. Stepping closer and peering into the shadow, he saw a figure crouching behind a pile of lumber. It was a woman.

"I beg your pardon, madam, but can I be of any help to you?"

She started to her feet with a little cry. "Don't be frightened," said Dick, in a calm voice. "I am a gentleman. Come, let me help you." And stepping into the shadow, he gently led her to the light, where she stood trembling before him. "Tell me what--My God! Amy--I beg your pardon--Miss Goodrich."

"Oh Mr. Falkner," sobbed the poor girl, almost beside herself with fear. "Don't let that man come near me. I want to go home. Oh, please take me home?"

"There, there," said Dick, controlling himself and speaking in a steady, matter-of-fact tone. "Of course I'll see you home. Take my arm, please. You need have no fear. You know I'll protect you."

Calmed by his voice and manner, the girl ceased her sobbing and walked quietly down the street by his side.

Dick's mind was in a whirl. "Was he dreaming? How came she here at such an hour. Who was she afraid of? By her dress, she had been to a social party of some kind; what did it all mean? But he spoke no word as they walked on together.

"Oh look," exclaimed Amy, a few moments later, as they turned east on Sixth Street; "there he is again. Oh Mr. Falkner, what shall I do? Let me go." And she turned to run once more.

Dick laid his hand on her arm. "Miss Goodrich, don't you know that you are safe with me? Be calm and tell me what you fear." Something in his touch brought Amy to herself again and she whispered: "Don't you see that man standing there by the light?" She pointed to a figure leaning against a telephone pole.

"Well, what of it?" said Dick. "He won't hurt you."

"Oh, but you don't understand. I ran away from him. He is drunk and threatened me."

Dick's form straightened and his face grew hard and cold. "Ran away from him. Do you mean that that fellow insulted you, Miss Goodrich?"

"I--I--was with him--and--he frightened me--" gasped Amy. "Let's go the other way."

But they were too late. Amy's former escort had seen them, and with uncertain steps approached. "Oh, here you are," he said. "Thought I'd find you, my beauty."

Dick whispered to Amy in a tone she dared not disobey. "Stand right where you are. Don't move. And you might watch that star over there. Isn't it a beautiful one?" He deftly turned her so that she faced away from the drunkard. Then with three long steps, he placed himself in the way of the half-crazed man.

"Who are you?" asked the fellow, with an oath.

"None of your business," replied Dick, curtly. "I'm that girl's friend. Go to the other side of the street."

"Ho, I know you now," cried the other. "You're that bum printer of Udell's. Get out of my way. That girl's a lady and I'm a gentleman. She don't go with tramps. I'll see her home myself."

Dick spoke again. "You may be a gentleman, but you are in no condition to see anybody home. I'll tell you just once more; cross to the other side of the street."

The fellow's only answer was another string of vile oaths, which however was never finished.

In spite of herself, Amy turned just in time to see a revolver glisten in the light of the electric lamp; then the owner of the revolver rolled senseless in the gutter.

"Miss Goodrich, I told you to watch that star. Don't you find it beautiful?" Dick's voice was calm, with just a suggestion of mild reproach.

"Oh Mr. Falkner, have you killed him?"

"Killed nothing. Come." And he led her quickly past the place where the self-styled gentleman lay. "Just a moment," he said; and turning back, he examined the fallen man. "Only stunned," he reported cheerfully. "He'll have a sore head for a few days; that's all. I'll send a cab to pick him up when we get down town."

"Mr. Falkner," said Amy, when they had walked some distance in silence. "I don't know what you think of finding me here at this hour, but I don't want you to think me worse than I am." And then she told him the whole story; how she had gone to the park with her friends to spend the evening; and how they had a few refreshments. Dick ground his teeth; he knew what those refreshments were. Then she told how her companion had frightened her and she had run until she was exhausted and had stopped to hide in the unfinished house. "Oh, what must you think of me?" she said, at the point of breaking down again.

"I think just as I always have," said Dick simply. "Please calm yourself, you're safe now." Then to occupy her mind, he told her of the work the Young People's Society was doing, and how they missed her there and at the Mission.

"But don't you find such things rather tiresome, you know?" she asked. "There's not much life in those meetings seems to me; I wonder now how I ever stood them."

"You are very busy then?" asked Dick, hiding the pain her words caused him.

"Oh yes; with our whist club, box parties, dances and dinners, I'm so tired out when Sunday comes I just want to sleep all day. But one must look after one's social duties, you know, or be a nobody; and our set is such a jolly crowd that there's always something going."

"And you have forgotten your class at the Mission altogether?" Dick asked.

"Oh no, I saw one of the little beggars on the street this summer. It was down near the Mission building, and don't you know, we were out driving, a whole party of us, and the little rascal shouted: 'Howdy, Miss Goodrich.' I thought I would faint. Just fancy. And the folks did guy me good. The gentlemen wanted to know if he was one of my flames, and the girls all begged to be introduced; and don't you know, I got out of it by telling them that it was the child of a woman who scrubs for us."

Dick said nothing. "Could it be possible?" he asked himself, "that this was the girl who had been such a worker in the church." And then he thought of the change in his own life in the same period of time; a change fully as great, though in another direction. "It don't take long to go either way if one only has help enough," he said, half aloud.

"What are you saying, Mr. Falkner?" asked Amy.

"It's not far home now," answered Dick, and they fell into silence again.

As they neared the Goodrich mansion, Amy clasped Dick's arm with both her little hands: "Mr. Falkner, promise me that you will never speak to a living soul about this evening."

Dick looked her straight in the eyes. "I am a gentleman, Miss Goodrich," was all he said.

Then as they reached the steps of the house, she held out her hand. "I thank you for your kindness--and please don't think of me too harshly. I know I am not just the girl I was a year ago, but I--do you remember our talk at the printing office?"

"Every word," said Dick.

"Well, has my prophecy come true?"

"About my preaching? No; not yet."

"Oh, I don't mean that," with a shrug of her shoulders. "I mean about the other. Do you still value my friendship?"

Dick hesitated. "The truth, please," she said. "I want to know."

"Miss Goodrich, I cannot make you understand; you know my whole life has changed the last year."

"Yes."

"But my feelings toward you can never change. I do value your friendship, for I know that your present life does not satisfy you, and that you are untrue to your best self in living it."

The girl drew herself up haughtily. "Indeed, you are fast becoming a very proficient preacher," she said, coldly.

"Wait a moment, please," interrupted Dick. "You urged me to tell the truth. I desire your friendship, because I know the beautiful life you could live, and because you--you--could help me to live it," his voice broke.

Amy held out her hand again. "Forgive me please," she said. "You are a true friend, and I shall never, never, forget you. Oh, Mr. Falkner, if you are a Christian pray for me before it is too late. Good-night." And she was gone; just as her brother Frank came up the walk.

Young Goodrich stopped short when he saw Dick, and then sprang up the steps and into the house, just in time to see his sister going up the stairway to her room.