Cableville thrills to the lure of the Tent Show and a dainty lady learns that love's a flame not to be trifled with
QUITE possibly Julie La Farge was meant to stroll on golden sands, to be looked at by people lounging under beach umbrellas, to be commented upon by discriminating males. She had the build becoming to such a setting. Instead, she cantered gracefully over the stones and scallop shells strewn along the rough beach of Cableville, and was looked at by any man or men who happened to be hauling up buckets of fish from the boats or unsnarling lines in a trawl tub. But she did the best she could with the material at hand, which merely means that the majority of youths round about were divided into two camps, the blinded and bemused and the violently agitated.
There seemed to be several Julies. There was the dutiful, often sly, yet conscientious girl who kept her father’s house as comfortable and spotless as any cottage in the village. There was the girl of shadowy eyes, her arms thin and somehow wistful, who gazed across the sun-slashed waters of the Bay of Fundy and caused serious trouble in the heart of Gustav Anderson. Gustav wanted to marry her and spoke of his intention frequently whenever he was ashore. Then there was the third Julie who flirted frankly with Birdie, the handsome young giant who had recently come to town with the Tent Show. Five minutes from the time Julie observed Birdie fishing on the wharf she ran down there for the sole purpose of treating him to a picture of jx'ril a little matterofstumblingoversomeropes, with which she was perfectly familiar, located at the edge of a fortyfoot drop to the water. She gave a scream, and with one downward scoop Birdie pulled her back to safety.
“I suppose,” he said in the instant of holding her, “that, not bein’ used to guys like me, you got kind of a shock.” His voice flowed gently from the great wall of his chest.
Julie disengaged his arms and gave him a long, frightened look. It was deliciously sweet from under the dusk of black lashes.
“Someone oughter of told me beforehand about you.” she murmured, “and I’d have worn my new set of lightnin’ rods.”
This tickled Birdie nearly to death. Good showmanship was the first law of his life. Julie leaned against a barrel. "You part of this show?” she asked, nodding toward a cluster of tents crowded on a small field near the wharf.
Birdie resumed his fishing and squinted at a flounder flirting with the bait. “Yes, the doctor and me boss the works.”
“Doctor Rudolpho?” The girl’s admiring glance ran over the magnificent stature of Birdie. Sujx;rb shoulders, slim waist, legs supporting his body like the pillars of a temple, and all touched by the self-conscious poise of power.
“Doctor to the people, pa to me.”
Julie tingled at the simple drama of the statement. “Do you enjoy acting?” she enquired respectfully.
“Acting!” He roared with amusement at the word. “That's not the half of it, dearie. I enjoy crashing new
towns, seeing new people”—the flounder was now flapping heavily on the hook, and Birdie began to pull him up—"and loving new girls, like you.”
This was a trifle quicker time than Julie was used to, but she managed to melt into her eyes a wide innocence. “I suppose just the way I love seeing new freaks—like you,” she smiled, and ran back up the hill.
Birdie blinked, laughed, and lost the flounder after all.
A FEW evenings later, up in her warm, tiny bedroom, Julie was getting ready to go to the Tent Show. With smooth, practised strokes she brushed her hair back of her ears, letting it cloud out in thick, copper curls, much in the manner of the hyacinthine locks of Greek sculpture. The arrangement was instinctive and perfectly adapted to her small head. Julie’s throat was white and slender, and she had witch’s eyes, changeable as the sea.
Downstairs, Georges La Farge, her father, was collecting his gold watch, his blue tie, his black shoes. Georges was also going to the Tent Show, but not with Julie. He did not know it, of course, but his enlightenment could be managed when the right moment came. His daughter dawdled at her dressing because she was waiting for Gustav. From her window she could see a half-mile up the road which twisted along the rocky shore.
She pondered over a lipstick and then decided against it. Gustav had ideas. He’d been places. He said he was tired of mouths that looked like splotches of red paint. It was
ticklish business, thought Julie, trying to suit everybody. Her father—pleasant one day, “grouty” the
next. Gustav forever yapping about standards. You’d think he was a preacher in the pulpit to hear him making speeches. “A feller can't do that if he has any standards.” Sometimes she got fed up with Gustav. Birdie—rough, careless, likeable, who made her arms prickle whenever she saw him.
“Julie!” Her father’s voice roared up the dark, narrow stairs.
“Yes, pa. What is it?”
“You seen my cap anywheres? Or have you stowed it away in some blasted lazarette of your own contraption?”
“Which cap, pa?”
“The new plaid one with the for’ard bill onto ’er.” He meant vizor.
“It’s in the kitchen cupboard. And pa—”
“What ails ye now?”
Julie twitched open the muslin curtains at the window. The road was filled with people on their way to the show. Doors along the village street were being shut and locked. Cableville was turning out for a good time.
A young man’s quick figure swung around the curve.
"You know, pa, you promised to git me a load of kindlin’ edgin’s, and you’ve forgot again,” she called. "I do think,” she complained primly, “you might be willin’to fetch and carry when I get the meals so reg’lar.”
Julie heard the back door slam. Her plan had worked as usual. People were easy to manage if you knew' how. For ten minutes her father w’ould be busy at the u’oodshed, out of sight.
She pulled on a beret, inspected long, silk-clad legs, and ran down the stairs and out as far as the small, unpainted gate. Here she waited, and the clear light of evening rested briefly on her curls
People passed her in groups, the older ones sedate in anticipation, the children racing, their once carefullybrushed hair w'ild in the wind. “Goin’ t’ the Tent Show', Julie?” called a man known as Square Deal. He and his wife Kate were making leisurely progress toward the wharf.
The girl nodded.
“Your pa goin’, too?”
“Yes, I reckon he is. But lie’s busy right now, and I promised to get down there early.”
Over Square Deal's face passed a slow' grin. “Trot along, sister. Me an’ Kate will wait for Georges. We got plenty of time. I seen Gustav bearin' down the wind a piece back. He’ll heave alongside in a few' minutes—to meet that early date ye spoke of. His pa’s cornin’too.” Square Deal knew, as did the whole village, that neither father nor son was approved by Julie’s father. “Gus and Gustav set sour on Georges’ stomach,” was the general comment.
Julie waved her thanks and left. Soon she reached the narrow level behind the wharf where the tents w'ere pitched. This was the single place in the village large enough to accommodate the show, and even here matters were slightly crowded. The path to the big tent wound among mounds of dried pollock. The salvaged cabin of a schooner lay forlornly near a garden of hollyhocks. Garlands of hake sounds stirred in the w'ind like necklaces of grotesque design. An upturned dory afforded convenient rendezvous for gossiping neighbors before they entered the entertainment tent. And above all hung the inevitable smell of wet
seaweed, dead fish, dried fish, fish in pickle and fish still in the sea. It was a fine blend —if one liked it.
Julie lingered near a stone wall and waited for Gustav. She watched Mr. Balter—low comedian and father of five girls, all under eleven -as he shoved his family in a solid phalanx through the crowd toward the dressing rooms. Dr. Rudolpho dressed in a Prince Albert coat, stood at the far end of the field and regarded his patrons with an air of bland detachment. He was as big as Birdie and had a high, impressive forehead. Importance sat visibly upon him.
"If pa looked like him, I’d be in fits of fright every livin’ minute,” thought Julie, “but Birdie don’t mind him no more’n
a cod minds a sculpin.”
Which reminded her of something. She thrust her hand into her jumper pocket and drew out a ring. Birdie had given it to her three days ago. “Indian stuff,” he had explained. “One of their queer, heathen, gypsy trinkets. Supposed to be a charm or something.”
Julie did not particularly care for the ring. “How do you mean about a charm?" she had asked.
“Oh, almost anything,” he had replied with a steady look and a little smile. She had turned her head away \
and picked up a lustrous fragment of scallop shell.
“Hang this on to your anchor
when you’re in port,” she had said, “and maybe it will help you remember Cableville -and the flounders.”
He had accepted the token gravely. “I don’t need a reminder to think of you, Julie. But perhaps this ring—” She had let him slip it on her finger. It was heavy and clumsy and wrought with the strange pattern of a star and serpent.
Birdie’s shoulder had touched hers, and she had trembled with excitement.
“You got the darndest, swellest hair I ever see. Did you know it, girl? And you wear it the way you»d oughter, too. It suits you grand. I’ve been around some, and I’ve took notice. You’d go big in any burg.”
His voice had been casual but his eyes were not. He had touchai the ring and grasped her wrist in a cool, steel tightness. "This here junk is supposed to guard you from the false and show up the true. Kind of save you from trouble. That ’s what the old hag told me where I bought it.
She was settin’ in front of a lean-to in one of them Indian villages, smokin’ a pipe like a chimney. She certainly looked like a last year’s accident. Stringy hair and crooked teeth. But somehow” his big voice had lowered to a rumbling intimacy “your eyes make me think of lier. They’ve got storm and candlelight in ’em.”
He had kissed her suddenly, not hard, and Julie had floated off on a giddy current. Maybe she and Birdie .
Wear this ring until I go, will you? And keep it afterward if you want to. Makes things-more interestin, round here.” She had promised. It was a moment she was never to forget. She felt surrounded, embraced, caught up on the swelling tide of Birdie’s magnetic strength.
YET she really did not believe anything the giant said.
Kisses were not new to her, only the manner of their giving Gustav had kissed her whenever she would let him. Gustav had also given her a present, a blue forget-me-not pin. which she secretly considered far prettier than the silver ring.
Instinctively she knew that Birdie w'as of different calibre from the village boys. He was uncertain. You never knew just what he would say or what he would do. This annoyed and intrigued her. Just when she expected one of those long looks with its undertow of excitement he might laugh, let go of her hand, speak of how dark the spruces looked on the other side of the Gut.
Once, with his arm about her, and the strong, steady pounding of his heart as audible as the beat of a boat engine, he had risen hastily. "Gosh! Forgot all about that gasoline light pa asked me to fix. Got to have it for the show tonight.” And he had left her without-even a look behind.
He never failed to make her hot and furious. Taut strings inside of her twanged at sight of him, and she had to screw up her self-control in order to preserve a cool exterior. “He’s just practisin’ on me, gettin’
in trainin’ for the girls in the next town.” she warned herself. Yet she thought about him constantlythe strong vigor of his walk, his loud laughter and easy good humor.
“You know I got a steady,” she had once told him. “Gus Anderson. He’s all right, too. Wants to marry me. I ain’t quite decided yet. Plenty of time.”
If she had thought to disturb the serenity of Birdie’s expression, she was disappointed.
“Sure. I know him. Talkal to him frequent. Works on a boat. Seen his old man. too.”
“Pa hates Gus Anderson and Gus,” the girl had said. “Just because they're strangers here. Come about a year ago. He’s that way. pa is, ain’t got sense. But I don’t pay attention to what he says. He’s always cussin’ at somethin'.”
This time. Julie and the giant were sitting in a sheltered cove around the rocky point. The ride ran by in swinging haste, so fast that little waves seemed to rise up and clap their hands together. A boat far out on the bay blew a salute to the lighthouse, and was answered by three ponderous blasts.
“I like this here.” Birdie had swept his arm around in a
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half circle. “Something big about it—aiwi clean. You can look and look, and never wear out your eyes. A lot nicer than dusty towns and dirty people.” He had forgotten her. He let go her hand, while his glance followed the wake of the steamer. “Ain’t that handsome, now? All foam and furrows. Gosh!” His lips w’ere parted, his eyes dreamy.
“I don’t know what Gustav will say to my wearin’ this silver ring,” Julie had said, calling the thoughts of her companion back to the present.
“Use your own judgment, girlie,” Birdie had answered carelessly. “Gee, what air! I could wash down buckets of it.”
Julie had worn the queer silver thing as often as she dared. It hung loose and heavyon her finger, and once her father had asked her about it. “What’s that contraption ye got on your hand?” he had demanded. He had been across the kitchen, and caught only a glint of metal.
“Just a piece of tinfoil twisted round my finger to remind me we need more baking powder,” she had answered glibly. Julie had learned to be deft at avoiding scenes. You never knew when Georges would blow the roof off, and then he’d be surly for three days afterward.
Julie had wrung the soapsuds from her fingers and, with her back turned, managed to slip off the ring into her pocket. “Say, pa, why do you hate Gus Anderson?” Anything would divert his attention from the ring, even a dangerous subject.
For a moment there had been silence. “I don’t hate him. I jest despise him for a liar and a dirty thief.” She could hear the hot notes creeping up in her father’s voice.
"But he ain’t never done a wrong thing here, as we’ve heard tell of.”
“You mind your own business and leave Gus Anderson alone, and that boy of his, too. I don’t aim to have my girl keep company with the son of a —”
The girl had laughed. “But, pa, you ain’t answered me nothin’.” She had never dared to go so far before, but once launched she grew reckless.
Georges had risen from his chair and come close to her. He was breathing fast and she saw' his red lips roll back in a snarl behind his black whiskers.
“You tend to your work, girl, and you’ll be better off. You hear me? Gus and his boy don’t belong here. They come here strangers and take work belongin’ to men at the wharf.”
“Oh, pipe down, pa, for heaven’s sake! No need to get riled up over a little argument. Do ye w'ant your potatoes biled or fried?”
JULIE remembered now that Gustav’s father had got the foremanship of building an abutment of timbers and stones along the shore when her father had expected to have it. Georges’ wrath still smoldered.
Julie had plenty to think about. She liked Gustav. She was a little awed by his superior ideas. She respected his opinions. She supposed she really meant to marry him some day, if things ever got straightened out. She w'as troubled over the difficult attitude of her father, and wondered why anybody must be so disagreeable.
So she played a game of canny moves. Her father must not know that she saw Gustav much of the time he was ashore. Gustav must not know about the silver ring. He’d begin to lecture in that preachy way she so much disliked. And she herself must certainly try to sort out her feelings. But she could not. It was easier to let situations occur, and then use her quick wits to avoid trouble. Julie w’as a pretty girl and a nice girl, but she had to do the best she could with the material at hand. And she liked Birdie. Thoughts of him dogged everything she did. Birdie! The absurd name tw'eaked at her heart and made it jump.
So this warm August evening she stood by the wall, waiting. The blue forget-me-
not pin conspicuously clasped a ribbon on ; her shoulder, the silver ring was on the ! finger of the hand she would keep in her ! pocket.
Gustav came leaping down the hill. “Hello, Jule,” he called, waving. “I saw j your father back-a-ways walking with! Square Deal and Kate. We can get in i ahead, easy, and be all dear of ’em before ! they get here.”
“Yes,” smiled Julie, as the boy came close , and bent to kiss her cheek.
“Don’t.” She turned away.
“Oh, right out here with everybody j lookin’.”
Birdie stood at the tent door taking ' tickets. He towered above the crowd.
Gustav clasped the girl’s arm, and they j walked together along the crowded path.
“That big warhorse thinks he’s the nuts, j don’t he?” said Gustav. There was no rancor in his voice, merely interest.
“Do you mean Birdie?”
"The same. Birdie. Of all the fool names! Sounds like a bloomin’ kindergarten song.”
“That’s why it’s so funny, you boiled ; fish! A big man with a name like that. Good advertisin' for the show.”
Gustav looked down on her copper curls. “You seem to know a confounded lot about the show business, me girl,” he grinned. “I hope your young and tender heart ain’t beatin’ out its wings against that beefy bloke.”
They were almost at the entrance now. Eager people were pushing, laughing, feeling in their pockets for money.
“You act like you never seen Birdie before tonight,” remarked Julie in a low, fierce tone. “You’ve talked to him often. I’ve watched you. And I guess he didn’t do no damage,” she hesitated, flashing him a scornful look, “to your standards.”
He glanced at her in surprise. “I supinóse show people do have different standards from us,” he agreed pleasantly. “You can’t expect so much from ’em.”
Forked lightning ran up Julie’s arms. She shook in a gust of fury. “Standards! Can’t you ever haul up another bucket of fish for a change? I’m sick to death of your grand talk. Birdie is as fine as you are, any day. Maybe better.”
Gustav became alarmed. If they quarrelled this way the whole evening would be ruined. And he wras signing aboard a freighter next week. He wanted a pleasant time ashore, to remember on stormy nights at sea. "Oh, lay off the sufferin’, Jule. I didn’t mean mithin’ against the guy.”
“You mean nothin’! Why, Birdie could beat you up with one hand, and never know he touched you. He’s the biggest and strongest man I ever see in my life. And you’d say so, too, if you wasn’t bustin’ wide open with conceit.”
“Whew!” whistled her companion. "He sure ought to be glad he’s got you to protect him, poor little feller.”
‘Well, he could, couldn’t he?”
“You know what I mean—stove you in without half trying.”
The young man jingled the change in his pockets and looked sullen.
“I suppose you think you got muscles just like him, big and bulgin’.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Gustav, kicking at a small stone.
Julie sent up a clear jet of laughter. “I suppose standards is all you need.”
“Tickets, please. Don’t push; plenty of time. Here you, let the lady in first. No, ma’am, we don’t accept cigarette coupons to make up the change.” Birdie’s voice, firm, unhurried, kept the crowd in check. Julie slanted a look at him, but if he saw it he gave no sign. Gus was paying for two tickets.
A commotion rose somewhere in the rear; angry voices and the sound of feet scuffling. People craned their necks around, trying to !
see. Birdie looked up from change making and scowled along the waiting rows.
"Shut up, down there," he roared. "This ain't no dog fight”
Somebody laughed a loud, derisive “Hawhaw!” The voices grew louder.
“You’re a liar and a cheat, Gus Anderson. Give me gangway afore I knock you down.”
"You keep your dirty mug from under me nose, Georges. I’m a law-abidin’ man, and I aim to keep goin’ like I’m headed.”
Birdie gave the tickets into the hands of another man and, with flail-like sweeps of his great arms, cleared a path in the direction of the disturbance.
The crowd simmered down to tense expectancy. Now perhaps would come public settlement of an old grudge.
Gus took a firm step forward. “You git out of me path, Georges la Farge,” sjxike the man in a firm tone. “This is publicproperty and I got as much right here as you.” The cool, darkening air was charged with suspense.
Birdie caught La Farge’s arm just as it was swung back for a blow at Gus’s jaw.
“Here, here you old fools, chuck it!" He swept the angry Georges behind him and held him there. “Go on, Mr. Anderson,” he said. “Don’t let this gentleman hinder you.”
Julie was crying, dropping tears of humiliation on the blue serge lapels of Gustav’s best suit. “Why does pa act so mean and hateful,” she sobbed, “shamin’ me before the whole village with his fierce talk?”
“There, there, buck up, Julie. ’Tain’t nothin’ new. Just a couple of old roosters a-sassin’ each other proper. J^et’s cut along and git settled before they see us. ’Twill save a heap o’ jawin’."
Gustav put a tender arm about her, and helped her to a high seat up under the canvas.
THE entertainment proved long and robust. The audience greeted every turn with uproarious gtxxl humor. Children squealed with pleasure. Dr. Rudolpho. calm and majestic, sat at the piano and “hauled out” dismal crashes suitable for the Indian scalping |»rty depicted silently on the screen.
Julie crept close to Gustav and liked the clean smell of him. Plenty of soap and fresh laundry. Gustav had standards. She found comfort in his matter-of-fact friendliness. You didn’t have to pretend anything lxffore Gustav. He just laughed at the quarrel between her father and his.
The narrow board seats bent and quivered under the abandoned excitement of the sitters. Long, windy surges of the tent rose and fell with a slight motion. The pounding of water against the wharf added muffled chords to those of the piano. The smell of fish was everywhere.
Birdie contributed largely to the bill of entertainment. He was by turns a negro, a butler, and a strong man ripping up furniture in picturesque rages.
“He’s just wonderful,” breathed Julie. The silver ring lay cool on her finger. She could feel it in her jumper pocket.
“Sure,” agreed Gustav. “He looks like he could toss a dory over his shoulder easy as a poker chip. But strength isn't everything. Nice of course, but you got to have standards to go with it.”
Julie was soothed and contented now, but she felt she must clear up one point.
"Gustav, you know you ain’t near as strong as he is, don’t you?”
“For the love of Mike, what’s the idea of rubbin’ it in? No, I ain’t as strong. Neither is any other man in the town. Now are you satisfied?”
Julie smiled. “I just wanted to hear you say so. Don’t get so grouty.”
Mr. Balter, low comedian, shoved his family of five girls on the stage. Their costumes were scant and gauzy, their feet intelligent. Between dances, their father fed them patter from behind a curtain. It was pretty thin stuff, but the joyousness of the children transformed their act into a miracle of grace and wit.
“Wind’s drawin’ stiff from the sou’east,” whispered Gustav. “Hope the tent’s bat-
tened down solid. Seems like she’s pitchin’ heavy."
“S-s-sh! Ain’t those kids the cutest—?”
The music clinked to a close. The children bowed. yellow curls falling forward. They wafted kisses simultaneously at the delighted spectators. Then came a terrifying sound, prolonged and ripping. Part of the tent rose from the ground. There was a great roaring of wind rushing in beneath the flimsy seats.
A woman screamed. The central pole supporting the tent began to sway jerkily back and forth. A child fell headlong through the boards, shrieking. Dr. Rudolpho exchanged a single glance with his son, then sent the piano into shuddering discords, and for an instant the people were quieted,
“Stay where you are!” yelled Birdie. His big voice boomed at them above the wind. "We’ll get you out safe. Don’t crowd!”
Another bellow of wind banged the words out of his mouth.
Georges la Farge, still smoldering with the insult he had received at the hands of the young giant during his encounter with Gus, jumped up on a box and waved a beckoning arm. “Come on, come on!” he yelped. "Don’t let that filthy clown tell you what to do. You’ll all be killed. Follow me!” He got down and was instantly swallowed up in the throng.
Four hundred people stampeded the entrance. Georges la Farge went down under their feet, and was trampled on and left behind and forgotten until he was found later, behind the piano, cursing a broken leg.
GUSTAV AND JULIE, high up under the canvas roof, looked at one another and grew white.
"We can’t make the door,” said the boy. “I’ll drop down here and catch you. It’s the only way out. Somehow we’ll get clear of the mess. Quick. No tellin’ what’ll happen next."
The tent rolled and pitched as if it were a ship hurling itself upon some unseen reef.
Julie nodded. The crazy gasoline lantern spun madly on its pole. Long, jagged shadows followed its swift light.
Gustav gave the girl a quick smile of encouragement and dropped out of sight. “Come on, Julie.” His voice came to her from the darkness below. "It’s not far down. I’m here ready to catch you.”
She knelt down and grasped the boards with both hands. The light whirled again on her figure, and the silver ring gleamed for an instant.
“Hurry!” commanded the voice beneath her.
The girl let herself down and hung for a moment by her arms, her feet kicking wildly in the air. Yells and cries beat upon her ears. The central pole swayed in wider circles.
“That’s it; I’ve got you!” cried Gustav. But before his upstretched hands could touch her, the whole structure of the stands ripped apart and crumbled. Julie fell like a plummet, and debris covered her.
"Birdie!” Her high scream tore through the confusion. “Help!”
The lantern’s crazy flashing was worse than darkness.
“Julie! Where are you?’’ Gustav stumbled blindly among the wreckage.
“My hand! Oh, my hand! Birdie, quick!”
Gustav clambered over the up-tilted boards. He shoved and lifted and pushed. One moment his eyes saw the horrible wreckage, the next there was only black confusion. “I’m coming. Just hold on a minute longer.” He bruised his shoulder on a sharp corner. A gust of wind took his cap and tossed it away, then he jammed one foot between heavy timbers. A bent nail tore a gash in his wrist. He struggled forward.
“I’m caught, Julie. Can’t move. Keep talking so I’ll know where you are. Why doesn’t some one come? Keep talking or they won’t be able to find you.”
Julie was making little moans. “My hand; I tell you, it’s my hand! Where’s father? Why doesn’t Birdie help us?”
The noise subsided for a moment. Men were trying to hold the tent down in certain places, so it would not utterly collapse. Somebody rolled a dory over on one edge as a drag. With a screech of triumph, the wind tore it free.
“Get out Now !” Birdie’s powerful voice shouted orders. He moved, a giant in the darkness, doing more than three men. He yelled at his father, and Dr. Rudolpho made him understand that all were safe.
Another lull. The people had escaped. The wind was somewhere else making ready for another onslaught.
“Help!’’ shrieked Julie and Gustav together.
Birdie came. He had found a flashlight and fastened it to his head, thus leaving his arms free to work. Without a word, he set his great bulk against the pile of imprisoning timbers. He panted like an engine. He wrenched aside poles, supports, broken seats. He threw the wreckage about him as a plow tosses snow.
There was no other sound now but Birdie’s breathing. It poured from his lungs in a powerful exhaust.
Gustav was helpless, just beyond the hurricane path of the giant. Julie had stopped whimpering. The big man kicked aside the last obstruction and bent down over the girl. The light from his head rested full on Julie’s face.
“She’s fainted, poor kid,” he murmured. “I’ll take her to our tent. Come on, Gus, give a hand and hold back this board, while I lift her out.”
“Can’t. Foot’s jammed. Do you think I’d be such a hound as not to help her if I could?”
Birdie managed alone. Holding Julie with one arm, he somehow loosened the heavy planks which had caught the boy’s ankle in a trap. Gustav grunted his thanks and followed, limping toward a small tent in the lee of the hill.
THEY had to pick out small pieces of silver ring from Julie’s smashed finger. It was not an agreeable business for anybody. Birdie held her while Dr. Rudolpho, with an expressionless face above steady hands, performed the operation. Gustav stood by, handing things as they were called for. He was fascinated by the doctor’s swift dexterity.
Julie regained consciousness and writhed helplessly under the painful ordeal. Birdie held her more tightly. “What has to be done, has to be done,” he smiled down into her twisted face. “We get plenty of accidents in the show, and pop and I are a swell team. Be all over in a minute, girl.”
Gustav grew ashen under the agonizing strain. He hadn’t a quarter of the nerve of these two quiet men. Dr. Rudolpho worked on with delicate accuracy. “Not exactly my line,” he muttered. “I’m a horse doctor by rights, but better get it over with nowbefore possible poisoning.”
"Oh, oh!” gasped Julie.
Gustav suffered a sudden sharpness in his nostrils. The wind sounded thick and far away. The interior of the small tent rocked, and a greyness came down like a veil. “I hope I’m not goin’ to cave in, too,” he prayed. “Not afore Birdie.”
What ailed him, anyhow? He’d seen something of cuts and gashes aboard the freighter. It was Julie bein’ tortured, and looking so scared and white, that turned a knife in his heart. He thought about the silver ring. Where had she got it, anyhow? He’d never seen it before. When the last piece had been removed, Birdie and his father disinfected the wound and bound it up in clean surgical gauze.
“Her hand won’t be—it ain’t a-goin’ to—? Gustav stumbled over the words, his frightened thought seeing Julie’s pretty fingers smashed beyond repair. And Birdie, glancing up into the sailor’s hurt, beseeching eyes, understood something of his desperate anxiety.
“She’ll be stirring up cake with it in a day or so, won’t she, doc?” he said cheerfully. "Don’t worry, boy. Reckon I’ll just carry her home now, easylike. Poor kid. she’s had a tough break.” Then as an
afterthought; “Want us to take a look at your ankle?”
“No.” replied Gustav shortly. “Let’s git
They walked out of the tent and up the steep path. Julie lay lightly in the big man’s arms. He made no more of his burden than if he’d been carrying a bunch of jonquils. But Gustav was forced to lag behind. His foot ached horribly.
At last they came to the La Farge house. They took Julie in and summoned a neighboring woman to look after her. Outside at the gate again, Gustav said good night to Birdie.
“You’ve been fine,” he said in a low voice, “just fine. No other livin’ man I know could have done w'hat you did this night.” Thus the boy manfully paid tribute.
“Oh, go chase yourself,” grinned the giant. “Maybe you ain’t such a poor slob yourself.”
They looked at one another, two young men engaged by the charms of the same girl, and a curious flame of friendship was kindled between them.
"Well,” yawned Birdie to ease off the moment, “guess I’ll toddle down now and help clean up after the big spill. Some cute little zephyr we had.”
The giant went down the path to the shore.
“Good night,” called Gustav, staring after him. Then he turned toward home, thinking for the first time of his father. “Gee, I hope he’s all right. Gosh, I kinder forgot!”
No one was seriously hurt in the accident except Georges la Farge. His broken leg kept him in bed six weeks, and his daughter nursed him patiently but with unhappy eyes. Nothing seemed the same after the tent collapse. Her gay assurance left her. Birdie came several times to help move the sick man, but these were the only moments in which the girl had time to see the giant. There was no leisure now to run down to the wharf for a chat, and she felt suddenly lonely and cheated. “Guess the gypsy ring was right, after all,” she thought bitterly. “It showed Birdie up as a false friend, and Gustav as a true one.”
She perversely ignored the herculean effort put into her rescue, and the competent treatment of her hand afterward. Birdie was gentle and polite when he came to help her, but that was all. He gave her no special word or look. And in three days the show was leaving town. “I’m glad he’s goin’,” she stormed inwardly. “The false and the true.” He’d said it, all right. She’d never see Birdie again, and she was glad. But her pride squirmed and suffered. She had wanted to keep Birdie’s admiration, and Gustav’s love.
ON THE night of the disaster Gustav limped home with a heavy heart. “You ain’t hurt, pa?” He saw his father having tea at the kitchen table.
“No, boy. We was near the entrance and got clear. Some one said they saw you safe, so I come and didn’t worry. But you look kinda beat and wore.”
Gustav sank on the tipsy sofa and let his father peel the shoe and stocking from his bruised foot. The older man got a pan of hot water and helped him to bathe it, and the two stayed a long while in the kitchen. They seldom had much to say to one another, but tonight Gustav needed comfort.
“That big guy in the tent show is all right. He can certainly wade in and make things fly.”
“Sure,” agreed his father. “Nice kind of a feller, I guess.”
“Julie’s sort of took up with him,” added the boy as casually as he could.
“So? Well, I reckon he’d be upsetting to most women folks,” soothed the older man.
“I suppose if Julie likes him and his muscles better’n me—” The boy’s voice sounded gloomy and discouraged.
His father lifted the stove cover to drop in a stick of wood. “If the girl likes him better’n you—really likes him, that is— you’d best let things be as they be. That’s my advice. Flarin’ and snortin’ don’t change
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nobody. I learned that lesson solid a number of years ago. You take Georges, for instance, Julie’s pa.”
“Yes, the old son of a seadog!” growled Gustav.
“Well,” continued his father, “he hates me, Georges does. But let him hate if he enjoys it. ’Tain’t nothing to me. I’m all square and reg’lar. Just happen to come a stranger here and got away from him a job he was expectin’ to have himself. All there is to it. But that fool chews and chews on it, and gets all riled up every time I come afoul of him. Hates you too, I guess. But that don’t alter nuthin’. If Julie cares for ye, well and good. Hang hard to it. If she don’t, let her have her giant boy. I reckon he’s got plenty of good points, same as us.” Gustav nodded, thinking over his father’s words. “You got to have standards, ain’t ye, pop?” he asked.
“What? Oh, them things.” The man laughed a little. “Call ’em standards or call ’em guts, whichever it suits ye, but ye ain’t worth a snarled trawl line if ye can’t swallow yer medicine and shut up.”
The afternoon before the evening when the tent show was to leave town, Birdie hailed Gustav on the wharf. “How you livin’, boy?" he smiled. “Goin’ to see Julie tonight?”
“Yes, guess so.”
“Say, what’s the idea?”
“Never you mind. What time? I’m asking you.”
“Oh, ’long about seven,” answered the boy, wondering what was up. Maybe Birdie was planning a showdown between them. But the man’s next words disarmed him.
“Good-by,” grinned the giant, extending a huge paw. “Perhaps I won’t be seeing you
again. Pleased to have met you—and good luck !”
Again that kindling flame of friendliness flickered for an instant between them.
At seven that evening Gustav sat with Julie on the narrow porch of her house. A warm wind lifted her copper curls. She looked tired and thin. Her father lay on a cot in the kitchen out of earshot, but they talked in whispers.
“See here, Julie,” said Gustav. “Who gave you that silver ring?”
“Birdie,” she answered listlessly.
“I thought so, but I didn’t like to ask. Well, what about him and me? I want to know. He’s leaving tonight. I’m goin’ j tomorrow. Ye got to decide.”
Julie shrugged her shoulders.
“What about it?” He swallowed and ¡ wrung out a statement he’d been practising ¡ to say ever since the accident. “That guy’s | all right. He’s the strongest feller I ever ) see in my life. No wonder you like him best, I Julie.”
She turned upon him an astonished gaze. “Why, Gustav,” she began.
Down the hill came two figures—a man, huge, unmistakable; a girl tossing her hair at him, laughing. She clung to his arm and words floated to the La Farge porch. “Sure, I'd like awful well to come and see a new town. I’ll take the mail stage. Y'ou meet me at the show.”
Julie stiffened. Gustav stared. The giant and the girl turned off and went down the path to the wharf.
“Just the kind of a bum faker I thought he was” whispered Julie. “Why, it’s you, Gustav. Of course. How could I think different?” She laughed and put her hand on his shoulder. “Birdie’s just a loud noise. He ain’t got no—standards!”