But when he reached the central square the illusion ceased. It was what men had made it—sordid, cheap. He stopped Mary Pick under a pepper tree and surveyed the scene.
Jane and her basket were the center of an excited group. She had almost reached the end of her supplies, and some one had suggested auctioning off the remainder. Jane had protested, but her protests had not availed. She had turned to Tommy for help, to Henry, to Atwood. They had done their best. But the man who led the crowd had an object in his leadership. It was Tillotson of the little hotel—red-faced, whisky-soaked.
“Sandwich Jane, Sandwich Jane!” he shouted. “That’s the name for her, boys.”
And they took it up and shouted “Sandwich Jane!”
It was at this moment that O-liver stopped under the pepper tree. The bright light fell directly on Jane’s distressed face. He saw the swept-back brightness of her hair, her clear-cut profile, her white skin, her white teeth. But he saw more than this. “By Jove,” he said, “she’s a lady!”
If he had been talking to the men he would have said “Gosh!” It was only when he was alone that he permitted himself the indulgence of more formal language.
That Jane was harried he could see. And suddenly he rode forward on Mary Pick.
The crowd made way for him expectantly. There were always interesting developments when O-liver was on the scene.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “let the lady speak for herself. I am not sure what you are trying to do, but it is evidently something she doesn’t want done.”
Jane flashed a grateful glance up at him. He was the unknown knight throwing down the gauntlet in her defense. He was different from the others—his voice was different.
“They want to auction off my sandwiches,” she explained, “and they won’t listen.”
“I’m sure they will listen.” O-liver on Mary Pick, with his hat off and his mane tossed back, might have been Henry of the white plumes. “Of course they’ll listen.”
And they did!
Jane stood on her box and addressed them.
“I don’t want to get any more for my sandwiches than they are worth,” she said earnestly. “I make good ones, and I sell them for twenty cents because they are the best of their kind. I am glad you like them. I want to earn my living and my mother’s. She is sick, and I have to stay at home with her. And I don’t mind being called ‘Sandwich Jane.’ It’s a good name and I shall use it in my business. But I don’t like being treated as you have treated me to-night. If it happens again I shall have to stop selling sandwiches; and I’d be sorry to have that happen, and I hope you’d be sorry too.”
Her little speech was over. She stepped down composedly from the box, folded her cloth and picked up her basket. She said “Thank you” to O-liver, “Come on” to Tommy, and walked from among them with her light step and free carriage; and they stared after her.