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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter13,part1)

2006-08-28 23:39

    CHAPTER 13

    "Must it be? Must we then Render back to God again This, His broken work, this thing For His man that once did sing?" ——Josephine Prestor Peabody.

    "And listen! I declare to you that if all is as you say——and I do not doubt it——you have never ceased to be virtuous in the sight of God!" -Victor Hugo.

    THE REBEL PROVES THAT HE IS LOST TO GOOD FORM AND RESPECTABILITY BY STEPPING BETWEEN A SINNER AND THE WAGES OF SIN, THUS EVIDENCING TO THE PILLARS OF SOCIETY HIS COMPLETE DEGENERATION

    PART 1

    Sam Miller came into Jeff's office one night as he was looking over the editorials. Farnum nodded abstractedly to him.

    "Take a chair, Sam. Be through in a minute."

    Presently Jeff pushed the galley proof to one side and looked at his friend. "Well, Sam?" Almost at once he added: "What's the matter?"

    There were queer white patches on Miller's fat face. He looked like a man in hell. A lump rose in his throat. Two or three times he swallowed hard.

    "It's——it's Nellie."

    "Nellie Anderson?"

    He nodded.

    Jeff felt as if his heart had been drenched in icy water. "What about her?"

    "She's——gone."

    "Gone where?"

    "We don't know. She left Friday. There was a note for her mother. It said to forget her, because she was a disgrace to her name."

    "You mean——" Jeff did not finish his question. He knew what the answer was, and in his soul lay a reflection of the mortal sickness he saw

    in his friend's face.

    Miller nodded, unable to speak. Presently his words came brokenly. "She's been acting strangely for a long time. Her mother noticed it. . . . So did I. Like as if she wasn't happy. We've been worried. I . . .I . . ." He buried his face in his arm on the table. "My God, I love her, Jeff. I have for years. If I'd only known . . . if she'd only told me."

    Jeff was white as the galley proof that lay before him with the unprinted side up. "Tell me all about it, Sam."

    Miller looked up. "That's all. We don't know where she's gone. She had no money to speak of."

    "And the man?" Jeff almost whispered.

    "We don't know who he is. Might be any one of the clerks at the Verden Dry Goods Company.

    Maybe it's none of them. If I knew I'd cut his heart out."

    The clock on the wall ticked ten times before Jeff spoke. "Did she go alone?"

    "We don't know. None of the clerks are missing from the store where she worked. I checked up with the manager yesterday."

    Another long silence. "They may have rooms in town here."

    "Not likely." Presently Miller added miserably: "She's——going to be a mother soon. We found the doctor she went to see."

    "You're sure she hasn't been married? Of course you've looked over the marriage licenses for the past year."

    "Yes. Her name isn't on the list."

    "Did she have money?"

    "About fifteen dollars, we figure."

    "That wouldn't take her far——unless the man gave her some. Have you been to a detective agency?"

    "Yes."

    "We'll put blind ads in all the papers telling her to come home. We'll rake the city and the state with a fine tooth comb. We're bound to hear of her."

    "She's desperate, Jeff. If she's alone she'll think she has no friends. We've got to find her in time or——"

    Jeff guessed the alternative. She might take the easy way out, the one which offered an escape from all her earthly troubles. Girls of her type often did. Nellie was made for laughter and for happiness. He had known her innocent as a sunbeam and as glad. Now that she was in the pit, facing disgrace and disillusionment and despair, the horror and the dread of existence to her would be a millstone round her neck.

    The damnable unfairness of it took. Jeff by the throat. Was it her fault that she had inherited a temperament where passions lurked unsuspected like a banked fire? Was she to blame because her mother had brought her up without warning, because she had believed in the love and the honor of a villain? Her very faith and trust had betrayed her. Every honest instinct in him cried out against the world's verdict, that she must pay with salt tears to the end of her life while the scoundrel who had led her into trouble walked gaily to fresh conquests.

    Cogged dice! She had gone forth smiling to play the game of life with them, never dreaming that the cubes were loaded. He remembered how once her every motion sang softly to him like music, with what dear abandon she had given herself to his kisses. Her fondness had been a thing to cherish, her innocence had called for protection. And her chivalrous lover had struck the lightness forever from her soul.

    For long he never thought of her without an icy sinking of the heart.

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