“Oh, madam! Pray! The special lavalliere I showed you is not here.”
“What do you say, child?” demanded the woman, haughtily. “Do you miss anything?”
“The special lavalliere I showed you, madam,” gasped the girl. “Forgive me—do! But I am responsible for all I take out of the case!”
“It is a mistake,” said the woman, coldly. “I haven’t the thing—surely.”
“It is not here!” wailed the clerk, still in a low key, but fingering madly among the chains upon the tray. “Oh, ma’am! it will cost me twenty dollars!”
The woman turned slowly and her eyes—placid blue before—now shone with an angry light. Her gaze sought the counter—then the excited clerk—lastly, Nan!
“I haven’t your lavalliere,” she said, and although her voice was stern, it was low. “I haven’t your lavalliere. How about this girl, here?” and she indicated Nan, with an air of superb indifference.
“Oh, madam!” gasped the clerk.
“Don’t! don’t!” begged Nan. “Oh! you know I haven’t it!”
At that moment Nan felt a severe grasp upon her arm. She could not have run had she so desired. Her heart grew cold; her face flushed to fiery red. All neighboring eyes were turned on her.
In department stores like this the management finds it very unwise to make any disturbance over a case of loss or robbery. The store detective held on to Nan’s arm; but he waited for developments.
“What is this all about, Miss Merwin?” he demanded of the clerk.
“I am charged with stealing a twenty-dollar lavalliere!” exclaimed the customer.
“Oh, impossible, madam!” said the detective, evidently recognizing her.
“Then this girl, who was nearest, may have it,” said madam, sharply.
Nan was very much frightened; yet her sense of honesty came to her rescue. She cried:
“Why should I be accused? I am innocent—I assure you, I would not do such a thing. Why! I have more than twenty dollars in my purse right now. I will show you. Why should I steal what I can buy?”
To Nan Sherwood this question seemed unanswerable. But the store detective scarcely noticed. He looked at the lovely woman and asked:
“Madam is sure this girl took the lavalliere?”
“Oh, mercy, no! I would not accuse anybody of such a thing,” responded the woman, in her low voice.
“But we know who you are, madam, we do not know this girl,” said the detective, doubtfully. “You are a customer whom the store is glad to serve. This girl is quite unknown to us. I have no doubt but she is guilty—as you say.”
He shook the troubled Nan by the arm. The girl was trying to control herself—to keep from breaking down and crying. Somehow, she felt that that would not help her in the least.
Without warning, a low voice spoke at Nan’s side: “I know this girl. Of what is she accused?”