MoboReader > Literature > The Poor Little Rich Girl

   Chapter 1 No.1

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 36854

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Halfway up the shining surface of the gilt-framed pier glass was a mark-a tiny ink-line that had been carefully drawn across the outer edge of the wide bevel. As Gwendolyn stared at the line, the reflection of her small face in the mirror grew suddenly all white, as if some rude hand had reached out and brushed away the pink from cheeks and lips. Arms rigid at her sides, and open palms pressed hard against the flaring skirts of her riding-coat, she shrank back from the glass.

"Oo-oo!" she breathed, aghast. The gray eyes swam.

After a moment, however, she blinked resolutely to clear her sight, stepped forward again, and, straightening her slender little figure to its utmost height, measured herself a second time against the mirror.

But-as before-the top of her yellow head did not reach above the ink-mark-not by the smallest part of an inch! So there was no longer any reason to hope! The worst was true! She had drawn the tiny line across the edge of the bevel the evening before, when she was only six years old; now it was mid-morning of another day, and she was seven-yet she was not a whit taller!

The tears began to overflow. She pressed her embroidered handkerchief to her eyes. Then, stifling a sob, she crossed the nursery, stumbling once or twice as she made toward the long cushioned seat that stretched the whole width of the front window. There, among the down-filled pillows, with her loose hair falling about her wet cheeks and screening them, she lay down.

For months she had looked forward with secret longing to this seventh anniversary. Every morning she had taken down the rose-embossed calendar that stood on the top of her gold-and-white writing-desk and tallied off another of the days that intervened before her birthday. And the previous evening she had measured herself against the pier glass without even a single misgiving.

She rose at an early hour. Her waking look was toward the pier glass. Her one thought was to gauge her new height. But the morning was the usual busy one. When Jane finished bathing and dressing her, Miss Royle summoned her to breakfast. An hour in the school-room followed-an hour of quiet study, but under the watchful eye of the governess. Next, Gwendolyn changed her dressing-gown for a riding-habit, and with Jane holding her by one small hand, and with Thomas following, stepped into the bronze cage that dropped down so noiselessly from nursery floor to wide entrance-hall. Outside, the limousine was waiting. She and Jane entered it. Thomas took his seat beside the chauffeur. And in a moment the motor was speeding away.

At the riding-school, her master gave her the customary lesson: She circled the tanbark on her fat brown pony-now to the right, at a walk; now to the left, at a trot; now back to the right again at a rattling canter, with her yellow hair whipping her shoulders, and her three-cornered hat working farther and farther back on her bobbing head, and tugging hard at the elastic under her dimpled chin. After nearly an hour of this walk, trot and canter she was very rosy, and quite out of breath. Then she was put back into the limousine and driven swiftly home. And it was not until after her arrival that she had a moment entirely to herself, and the first opportunity of comparing her height with the tiny ink-line on the edge of the mirror's bevel.

Now as she lay, face down, on the window-seat, she know how vain had been all the longing of months. The realization, so sudden and unexpected, was a blow. The slender little figure among the cushions quivered under it.

But all at once she sat up. And disappointment and grief gave place to apprehension. "I wonder what's the matter with me," she faltered aloud. "Oh, something awful, I guess."

The next moment caution succeeded fear. She sprang to her feet and ran across the room. That tell-tale mark was still on the mirror, for nurse or governess to see and question. And it was advisable that no one should learn the unhappy truth. Her handkerchief was damp with tears. She gathered the tiny square of linen into a tight ball and rubbed at the ink-line industriously.

She was not a moment too soon. Scarcely had she regained the window-seat, when the hall door opened and Thomas appeared on the sill, almost filling the opening with his tall figure. As a rule he wore his very splendid footman's livery of dark blue coat with dull-gold buttons, blue trousers, and striped buff waistcoat. Now he wore street clothes, and he had a leash in his hand.

"Is Jane about, Miss Gwendolyn?" he inquired. Then, seeing that Gwendolyn was alone, "Would you mind tellin' her when she comes that I'm out takin' the Madam's dogs for a walk?"

Gwendolyn had a new thought. "A-a walk?" she repeated. And stood up.

"But tell Jane, if you please," continued he, "that I'll be back in time to go-well, she knows where." This was said significantly. He turned.

"Thomas!" Gwendolyn hastened across to him. "Wait till I put on my hat. I'm-I'm going with you." Her riding-hat lay among the dainty pink-and-white articles on her crystal-topped dressing-table. She caught it up.

"Miss Gwendolyn!" exclaimed Thomas, astonished.

"I'm seven," declared Gwendolyn, struggling with the hat-elastic. "I'm a whole year older than I was yesterday. And-and I'm grown-up."

An exasperating smile lifted Thomas's lip. "Oh, are you!" he observed.

The hat settled, she met his look squarely. (Did he suspicion anything?) "Yes. And you take the dogs out to walk. So"-she started to pass him-"I'm going to walk."

His hair was black and straight. Now it seemed fairly to bristle with amazement. "I couldn't take you if you was grown-up," he asserted firmly, blocking her advance; "-leastways not without Miss Royle or Jane'd say Yes. It'd be worth my job."

Gwendolyn lowered her eyes, stood a moment in indecision, then pulled off the hat, tossed it aside, went back to the window, and sat down.

At one end of the seat, swung high on its gilded spring, danced the dome-topped cage of her canary. Presently she raised her face to him. He was traveling tirelessly from perch to cage-floor, from floor to trapeze again. His wings were half lifted from his little body-the bright yellow of her own hair. It was as if he were ready for flight. His round black eyes were constantly turned toward the world beyond the window. He perked his head inquiringly, and cheeped. Now and then, with a wild beating of his pinions, he sprang sidewise to the shining bars of the cage, and hung there, panting.

She watched him for a time; made a slow survey of the nursery next,-and sighed.

"Poor thing!" she murmured.

She heard the rustle of silk skirts from the direction of the school-room. Hastily she shook out the embroidered handkerchief and put it against her eyes.

A door opened. "There will be no lessons this afternoon, Gwendolyn." It was Miss Royle's voice.

Gwendolyn did not speak. But she lowered the handkerchief a trifle-and noted that the governess was dressed for going out-in a glistening black silk plentifully ornamented with jet paillettes.

Miss Royle rustled her way to the pier-glass to have a last look at her bonnet. It was a poke, with a quilted ribbon circling its brim, and some lace arranged fluffily. It did not reach many inches above the spot where Gwendolyn had drawn the ink-line, for Miss Royle was small. When she had given the poke a pat here and a touch there, she leaned forward to get a better view of her face. She had a pale, thin face and thin faded hair. On either side of a high bony nose were set her pale-blue eyes. Shutting them in, and perched on the thinnest part of her nose, were silver-circled spectacles.

"I'm very glad I can give you a half-holiday, dear," she went on. But her tone was somewhat sorrowful. She detached a small leaf of paper from a tiny book in her hand-bag and rubbed it across her forehead. "For my neuralgia is much worse to-day." She coughed once or twice behind a lisle-gloved hand, snapped the clasp of her hand-bag and started toward the hall door.

It was now that for the first time she looked at Gwendolyn-and caught sight of the bowed head, the grief-flushed cheeks, the suspended handkerchief. She stopped short.

"Gwendolyn!" she exclaimed, annoyed. "I hope you're not going to be cross and troublesome, and make it impossible for me to have a couple of hours to myself this afternoon-especially when I'm suffering." Then, coaxingly, "You can amuse yourself with one of your nice pretend-games, dear."

From under long up-curling lashes Gwendolyn regarded her in silence.

"I've planned to lunch out," went on Miss Royle. "But you won't mind, will you, dear Gwendolyn?" plaintively. "For I'll be back at tea-time. And besides"-growing brighter-"you're to have-what do you think!-the birthday cake Cook has made."

"I hate cake!" burst out Gwendolyn; and covered her eyes once more.

"Gwen-do-lyn!" breathed Miss Royle.

Gwendolyn sat very still.

"How can you be so naughty! Oh, it's really wicked and ungrateful of you to be fretting and complaining-you who have so many blessings! But you don't appreciate them because you've always had them. Well,"-mournfully solicitous-"I trust they'll never be taken from you, my child. Ah, I know how bitter such a loss is! I haven't always been in my present circumstances, compelled to go out among strangers to earn a scant living. Once-"

Here she was interrupted. The door from the school-room swung wide with a bang. Gwendolyn, looking up, saw her nurse.

Jane was in sharp contrast to Miss Royle-taller and stocky, with broad shoulders and big arms. As she halted against the open school-room door, her hair was as ruddy as the panel that made a background for it. And she had reddish eyes, and a full round face. In the midst of her face, and all out of proportion to it, was her short turned-up nose, which was plentifully sprinkled with freckles.

"So you're goin' out?" she began angrily, addressing the governess.

Miss Royle retreated a step. "Just for a-a couple of hours," she explained.

Jane's face grew almost as red as her hair. Slamming the school-room door behind her, she advanced. "I suppose it's the neuralgia again," she suggested with quiet heat.

The color stole into Miss Royle's pale cheeks. She coughed. "It is a little worse than usual this afternoon," she admitted.

"I thought so," said Jane. "It's always worse-on bargain-days."

"How dare you!"

"You ask me that, do you?-you old snake-in-the-grass!" Now Jane grew pallid with anger.

Gwendolyn, listening, contemplated her governess thoughtfully. She had often heard her pronounced a snake-in-the-grass.

Miss Royle was also pale. "That will do!" she declared. "I shall report you to Madam."

"Report!" echoed Jane, giving a loud, harsh laugh, and shaking her hair-the huge pompadour in front, the pug behind. "Well, go ahead. And I'll report you-and your handy neuralgia."

"It's your duty to look after Gwendolyn when there are no lessons," reminded Miss Royle, but weakening noticeably.

"On week-days?" shrilled Jane. "Oh, don't try to fool me with any of your schemin'! I see. And I just laugh in my sleeve!"

Gwendolyn fixed inquiring gray eyes upon that sleeve of Jane's dress which was the nearer. It was of black sateen. It fitted the stout arm sleekly.

"This is the dear child's birthday, and I wish her to have the afternoon free."

"A-a-ah! Then why don't you take her out with you? You like the automobile nice enough,"-this sneeringly.

Miss Royle tossed her head. "I thought perhaps you'd be using the car," she answered, with fine sarcasm.

Jane began to argue, throwing out both hands: "How was I to know to-day was her birthday? You might've told me about it; instead, just all of a sudden, you shove her off on my hands."

Gwendolyn's eyes narrowed resentfully.

Miss Royle gave a quick look toward the window-seat. "You mean you've made plans?" she asked, concern supplanting anger in her voice.

To all appearances Jane was near to tears. She did not answer. She nodded dejectedly.

"Well, Jane, you shall have to-morrow afternoon," declared Miss Royle, soothingly. "Is that fair? I didn't know you'd counted on to-day. So-" Here another glance shot window-ward. Then she beckoned Jane. They went into the hall. And Gwendolyn heard them whispering together.

When Jane came back into the nursery she looked almost cheerful. "Now off with that habit," she called to Gwendolyn briskly. "And into something for your dinner."

"I want to wear a plaid dress," announced Gwendolyn, getting down from her seat slowly.

Jane was selecting a white muslin from a tall wardrobe. "Little girls ain't wearin' plaids this year," she declared shortly. "Come."

"Well, then, I want a dress that's got a pocket," went on Gwendolyn, "-a pocket 'way down on this side." She touched the right skirt of her riding-coat.

"They ain't makin' pockets in little girls' dresses this year," said Jane, "Come! Come!"

"'They,'" repeated Gwendolyn. "Who are 'They'? I'd like to know; 'cause I could telephone 'em and-"

"Hush your nonsense!" bade Jane. Then, catching at the delicate square of linen in Gwendolyn's hand, "How'd you git ink smeared over your handkerchief? What do you suppose your mamma'd say if she was to come upon it? I'd be blamed-as usual!"

"Who are They'?" persisted Gwendolyn. "'They' do so many things. And I want to tell 'em that I like pockets in all my dresses."

Jane ignored the question.

"Yesterday you said 'They' would send us soda-water," went on Gwendolyn-talking to herself now, rather than to the nurse. "And I'd like to know where 'They' find soda-water." Whereupon she fell to pondering the question. Evidently this, like many another propounded to Jane or Miss Royle; to Thomas; to her music-teacher, Miss Brown; to Mademoiselle Du Bois, her French teacher; and to her teacher of German, was one that was meant to remain a secret of the grown-ups.

Jane, having unbuttoned the riding-coat, pulled at the small black boots. She was also talking to herself, for her lips moved.

The moment Gwendolyn caught sight of her unshod feet, she had a new idea-the securing of a long-denied privilege by urging the occasion. "Oh, Jane," she cried. "May I go barefoot?-just for a little while. I want to." Jane stripped off the cobwebby stockings. Gwendolyn wriggled her ten pink toes. "May I, Jane?"

"You can go barefoot to bed," said Jane.

Gwendolyn's bed stood midway of the nursery, partly hidden by a high tapestried screen. It was a beautiful bed, carved and enamelled, and panelled-head and foot-with woven cane. But to Gwendolyn it was, by day, a white instrument of torture. She gave it a glance of disfavor now, and refrained from pursuing her idea.

When the muslin dress was donned, and a pink satin hair-bow replaced the black one that bobbed on Gwendolyn's head when she rode, she returned to the window and sat down. The seat was deep, and her shiny patent-leather slippers stuck straight out in front of her. In one hand she held a fresh handkerchief. She nibbled at it thoughtfully. She was still wondering about "They."

Thomas looked cross when he came in to serve her noon dinner. He arranged the table with a jerk and a bang.

"So old Royle up and outed, did she?" he said to Jane.

"Hush!" counseled Jane, significantly, and rolled her eyes in the direction of the window-seat.

Gwendolyn stopped nibbling her handkerchief.

"And our plans is spoiled," went on Thomas. "Well, ain't that our luck! And I suppose you couldn't manage to leave a certain party-"

Gwendolyn had been watching Thomas. Now she fell to observing the silver buckles on her slippers. She might not know who "They" were. But "a certain party"-

"Leave?" repeated Jane, "Who with? Not alone, surely you don't mean. For something's gone wrong already to-day, as you'll see if you'll use your eyes. And a fuss or a howl'd mean that somebody'd hear, and tattle to the Madam, and-"

Thomas said something under his breath.

"So we can't go after all," resumed Jane; "-leastways not like we'd counted on. And it's too exasperatin'. Here I am, a person that likes my freedom once in a while, and a glimpse at the shop-windows,-exactly as much as old you-know-who does-and a bit of tea afterwards with a-a friend."

At this point, Gwendolyn glanced up-just in time to see Thomas regarding Jane with a broad grin. And Jane was smiling back at him, her face so suffused with blushes that there was not a freckle to be seen.

Now Jane sighed, and stood looking down with hands folded. "What good does it do to talk, though," she observed sadly. "Day in and day out, day in and day out, I have to dance attendance."

It was Gwendolyn's turn to color. She got down quickly and came forward.

"Sh!" warned Thomas. He busied himself with laying the silver.

Gwendolyn halted in front of Jane, and lifted a puzzled face. "But-but, Jane," she began defensively, "you don't ever dance."

"Now, whatever do you think I was talkin' about?" demanded Jane, roughly. "You dance, don't you, at Monsoor Tellegen's, of a Saturday afternoon? Well, so do I when I get a' evenin' off,-which isn't often, as you well know, Miss. And now your dinner's ready. So eat it, without any more clackin'."

Gwendolyn climbed upon the plump rounding seat of a white-and-gold chair.

Jane settled down nearby, choosing an upholstered arm-chair-spacious, comfort-giving. She lolled in it, at ease but watchful.

"You can't think how that old butler spies on me," said Thomas, addressing her. "He seen the tray when I put it on the dumb-waiter. And, 'Miss Royle is havin' her lunch out,' he says. Then would you believe it, he took more'n half my dishes away!"

Jane giggled. "Potter's a sharp one," she declared. "But, oh, you should've been behind a door just now when you-know-who and I had a little understandin'."

"Eh?" he inquired, working his black brows excitedly. "How was that?"

Gwendolyn went calmly on with her mutton-broth. She already knew each detail of the forth-coming recital.

"Well," began Jane, "she played her usual trick of startin' off without so much as a word to me, and I just up and give her a tongue-lashin'."

Gwendolyn's spoon paused half way to her expectant pink mouth. She stared at Jane. "Oh, I di

dn't see that," she exclaimed regretfully. "Jane, what is a tongue-lashing?"

Jane sat up. "A tongue-lashin'," said she, "is what you need, young lady. Look at the way you've spilled your soup! Take it, Thomas, and serve the rest of the dinner, I ain't goin' to allow you to be at the table all day, Miss.... There, Thomas! That'll be all the minced chicken she can have."

"But I took just one little spoonful," protested Gwendolyn, earnestly. "I wanted more, but Thomas held it 'way up, and-"

"Do you want to be sick?" demanded Jane. "And have a doctor come?"

Gwendolyn raised frightened eyes. A doctor had been called once in the dim past, when she was a baby, racked by colic and budding teeth. She did not remember him. But since the era of short clothes she had been mercifully spared his visits. "N-n-no!" she faltered.

"Well, you look out or I'll git one on the 'phone. And you'll be sorry the rest of your life.... Take the chicken away, Thomas. 'Out of sight is'-you know the sayin'. (It's a pity there ain't some way to keep it hot.)"

"A bit of cold fowl don't go so bad," said Thomas, reassuringly. And to Gwendolyn, "Here's more of the potatoes souffles, Miss Gwendolyn,-very tasty and fillin'."

Gwendolyn put up a hand and pushed the proffered dish aside.

"Now, no temper," warned Jane, rising. "Too much meat ain't good for children. Your mamma herself would say that. Come! See that nice potatoes and cream gravy on your plate. And there you set cryin'!"

Thomas had an idea. "Shall I fetch the cake?" he asked in a loud whisper.

Jane nodded.

He disappeared-to reappear at once with a round frosted cake that had a border of pink icing upon its glazed white top. And set within the circle of the border were seven pink candles, all alight.

"Oh, look! Look!" cried Jane, excitedly, pulling Gwendolyn's hand away from her eyes. "Isn't it a beautiful cake! You shall have a bi-i-ig piece."

Those seven small candles dispelled the gloom. With tears on her cheeks, but all eager and smiling once more, Gwendolyn blew the candles out. And as she bent forward to puff at each tiny one, Jane held her bright hair back, for fear that a strand might get too near a flame.

"Oh, Jane," cried Gwendolyn, "when I blow like that, where do all the little lights go?"

"Did you ever hear such a question?" exclaimed Jane, appealing to Thomas.

He was cutting away at the cake. "Of course, Miss, you'd like me to have a bite of this," he said. "You know it was me that reminded Cook about bakin'-"

"Perhaps all the little lights go up under the big lamp-shade," went on Gwendolyn, too absorbed to listen to Thomas. "And make a big light." She started to get down from her chair to investigate.

"Now look here," said Jane irritably, "you'll just finish your dinner before you leave the table. Here's your cake. Eat it!"

Gwendolyn ate her slice daintily, using a fork.

Jane also ate a slice-holding it in her fingers. "There's ways of managin' a fairly jolly afternoon," she said from the depths of the arm-chair.

"You're speakin' of-er-?" asked Thomas, picking up cake crumbs with a damp finger-tip.


"A certain party would have to go along," he reminded.

"Of course. But a ride's better'n nothin'."

"Shall I telephone for-?" Thomas brought a finger-bowl.

Gwendolyn stood up. A ride meant the limousine, with its screening top and little windows. The limousine meant a long, tiresome run at good speed through streets that she longed to travel afoot, slowly, with a stop here and a stop there, and a poke into things in general.

Her crimson cheeks spoke rebellion. "I want a walk this afternoon," she declared emphatically.

"Use your finger-bowl," said Jane. "Can't you never remember your manners?"

"I'm seven today," Gwendolyn went on, the tips of her fingers in the small basin of silver while her face was turned to Jane. "I'm seven and-and I'm grown-up."

"And you're splashin' water on the table-cloth. Look at you!"

"So," went on Gwendolyn, "I'm going to walk. I haven't walked for a whole, whole week."

"You can lean back in the car," began Jane enthusiastically, "and pretend you're a grand little Queen!"

"I don't want to be a Queen. I want to walk.

"Rich little girls don't hike along the streets like common poor little girls," informed Jane.

"I don't want to be a rich little girl,"-voice shrill with determination.

Jane went to shake her frilled apron into the gilded waste-basket beside Gwendolyn's writing-desk. "You can telephone any time now, Thomas," she said calmly.

Gwendolyn turned upon Thomas. "But I don't want to be shut up in the car this afternoon," she cried. "And I won't! I won't! I WON'T!"

Jane gave a gasp of smothered rage. The reddish eyes blazed. "Do you want me to send for a great black bear?" she demanded.

At that Gwendolyn quailed. "No-o-o!"

Jane shot a glance toward Thomas. It invited suggestion.

"Let her take something along," he said under his breath, nodding toward a glass-fronted case of shelves that stood opposite Gwendolyn's bed.

Each shelf of the case was covered with toys. Along one sat a line of daintily clad dolls-black-haired dolls; golden-haired dolls; dolls from China, with slanted eyes and a queue; dolls from Japan, in gayly figured kimonos; Dutch dolls-a boy and a girl; a French doll in an exquisite frock; a Russian; an Indian; a Spaniard. A second shelf held a shiny red-and-black peg-top, a black wooden snake beside its lead-colored pipe-like case; a tin soldier in an English uniform-red coat, and pill-box cap held on by a chin-strap; a second uniformed tin man who turned somersaults, but in repose stood upon his head; a black dog on wheels, with great floppy ears; and a half-dozen downy ducklings acquired at Easter.

"Much good takin' anything'll do!" grumbled Jane. Then, plucking crossly at a muslin sleeve, "Well, what do you want? Your French doll? Speak up!"

"I don't want anything," asserted Gwendolyn, "-long as I can't have my Puffy Bear any more." There was a wide vacant place beside the dog with the large ears.

"The little beast got shabby," explained Thomas, "and I was compelled to throw him away along with the old linen-hamper. Like as not some poor little child has him now."

She considered the statement, gray eyes wistful. Then, "I liked him," she said huskily. "He was old and squashy, and it wouldn't hurt him to walk up the Drive, right in the path where the horses go. The dirt is loose there, like it was in the road at Johnnie Blake's in the country. I could scuff it with my shoes."

"You could scuff it and I could wear myself out cleanin', I suppose," retorted Jane. "And like as not run the risk of gittin' some bad germs on my hands, and dyin' of 'em. From what Rosa says, it was downright shameful the way you muddied your clothes, and tore 'em, and messed in the water after nasty tad-poles that week you was up country. I won't allow you to treat your beautiful dresses like that, or climb about, or let the hot sun git at you."

"I'm going to walk."

Silence; but silence palpitant with thought. Then Jane threw up her head-as if seized with an inspiration. "You're going to walk?" said she. "All right! All right! Walk if you want to." She made as if to set out. "Go ahead! But, my dear," (she dropped her voice in fear) "you'll no more'n git to the next corner when somebody'll steal you!"

Gwendolyn was silent for a long moment. She glanced from Jane to Thomas, from Thomas to Jane, and crooked her fingers in and out of her twisted handkerchief.

"But, Jane," she said finally, "the dogs go out walking-and-and nobody steals the dogs."

"Hear the silly child!" cried Jane. "Nobody steals the dogs! Why, if anybody was to steal the dogs what good would it do 'em? They're only Pomeranians anyhow, and Madam could go straight out and buy more. Besides, like as not Pomeranians won't be stylish next year, and so Madam wouldn't care two snaps. She'd go buy the latest thing in poodles, or else a fine collie, or a spaniel or a Spitz."

"But other little girls walk all the time," insisted Gwendolyn, "and nobody steals them."

Jane crossed her knees, pursed her mouth and folded her arms. "Well, Thomas," she said, shaking her head, "I guess after all that I'll have to tell her."

"Ah, yes, I suppose so," agreed Thomas. His tone was funereal.

Gwendolyn looked from one to the other.

"I haven't wanted to," continued Jane, dolefully. "You know that. But now she forces me to do it. Though I'm as sorry as sorry can be."

Thomas had just taken his portion of cake in one great mouthful. "Fo'm my," he chimed in.

Gwendolyn looked concerned. "But I'm seven," she reiterated.

"Seven?" said Jane. "What has that got to do with it? Age don't matter."

Gwendolyn did not flinch.

"You said nobody steals other little girls," went on Jane. "It ain't true. Poor little girls and boys, nobody steals. You can see 'em runnin' around loose everywheres. But it's different when a little girl's papa is made of money."

"So much money," added Thomas, "that it fairly makes me palm itch." Whereat he fell to rubbing one open hand against a corner of the piano.

Gwendolyn reflected a moment. Then, "But my fath-er isn't made of money,"-she lingered a little, tenderly, over the word father, pronouncing it as if it were two words. "I know he isn't. When I was at Johnnie Blake's cottage, we went fishing, and fath-er rolled up his sleeves. And his arms were strong; and red, like Jane's."

Thomas sniggered.

But Jane gestured impatiently. Then, making scared eyes, "What has that got to do," she demanded, "with the wicked men that keep watch of this house?"

Gwendolyn swallowed. "What wicked men?" she questioned apprehensively.

"Ah-ha!" triumphed Jane. "I thought that'd catch you! Now just let me ask you another question: Why are there bars on the basement windows?"

Gwendolyn's lips parted to reply. But no words came.

"You don't know," said Jane. "But I'll tell you something: There ain't no bars on the windows where poor little girls live. For the simple reason that nobody wants to steal them."

Gwendolyn considered the statement, her fingers still busy knotting and unknotting.

"I tell you," Jane launched forth again, "that if you run about on the street, like poor children do, you'll be grabbed up by a band of kidnapers."

"Are-are kidnapers worse than doctors?" asked Gwendolyn.

"Worse than doctors!" scoffed Thomas, "Heaps worse."

"Worse than-than bears?" (The last trace of that rebellious red was gone.)

Up and down went Jane's head solemnly. "Kidnapers carry knives-big curved knives."

Now Gwendolyn recalled a certain terror-inspiring man with a long belted coat and a cap with a shiny visor. It was not his height that made her fear him, for her father was fully as tall; and it was not his brass-buttoned coat, or the dark, piercing eyes under the visor. She feared him because Jane had often threatened her with his coming; and, secondly, because he wore, hanging from his belt, a cudgel-long and heavy and thick. How that cudgel glistened in the sunlight as it swung to and fro by a thong!

"Worse than a-a p'liceman?" she faltered.

"Policeman? Yes!"

"Than the p'liceman that's-that's always hanging around here?"

Now Jane giggled, and blushed as red as her hair. "Hush!" she chided.

Thomas poked a teasing finger at her. "Haw! Haw!" he laughed. "There's other people that's noticed a policeman hangin' round. He's a dandy, he is!-not. He let that old hand organ man give him a black eye."

"Pooh!" retorted Jane. "You know how much I care about that policeman! It's only that I like to have him handy for just such times as this."

But Gwendolyn was dwelling on the newly discovered scourge of moneyed children. "What would the kidnapers do?" she inquired.

"The kidnapers," promptly answered Jane, "would take you and shut you up in a nasty cellar, where there was rats and mice and things and-"

Gwendolyn's mouth began to quiver.

Hastily Jane put out a hand. "But we'll look sharp that nothin' of the kind happens," she declared stoutly; "for who can git you when you're in the car-especially when Thomas is along to watch out. So"-with a great show of enthusiasm-"we'll go out, oh! for a grand ride." She rose. "And maybe when we git into the country a ways, we'll invite Thomas to take the inside seat opposite," (another wink) "and he'll tell you about soldierin' in India, and camps, and marches, and shootin' elephants."

"Aren't there kidnapers in the country, too?" asked Gwendolyn. "I-I guess I'd rather stay home."

"You won't see 'em in the country this time of day," explained Jane. "They're all in town, huntin' rich little children. So on with the sweet new hat and a pretty coat!" She opened the door of the wardrobe.

Gwendolyn did not move. But as she watched Jane the gray eyes filled with tears, which overflowed and trickled slowly down her cheeks. "If-if Thomas walked along with us," she began, "could-could anybody steal me then?"

Jane was taking out coat, hat and gloves. "What would kidnapers care about Thomas?" she demanded contemptuously. "Sure, they'd steal you, and then they'd say to your father, 'Give! me a million dollars in cash if you want Miss Gwendolyn back.' And if your father didn't give the money on the spot, you'd be sold to gipsies, or-or Chinamen."

But Gwendolyn persisted. "Thomas has killed el'phunts," she reminded. "Are-are kidnapers worse than el'phunts?" She drew on her gloves.

Jane sat down and held out the coat. It was of velvet. "Now be still!" she commanded roughly. "You'll go in the machine if you go at all. Do you hear that?"-giving Gwendolyn a half-turn-about that nearly upset her. "Do you think I'm goin' to trapse over the hard pavements on my poor, tired feet just because you take your notions?"

Gwendolyn began to cry-softly. "Oh, I-I thought I wouldn't ever have to ride again wh-when I was seven," she faltered, putting one white-gloved hand to her eyes.

"Stop that!" commanded Jane, again, "Dirtyin' your gloves, you wasteful little thing!"

Now the big sobs came. Down went the yellow head.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said Thomas. "Little ladies never cry."

"Walk! walk! walk!" scolded Jane, kneeling, and preparing to adjust the new hat.

The hat had wide ribbons that tied under the chin-new, stiff ribbons.

"Johnnie Bu-Blake didn't fasten his hat on like this," wept Gwendolyn. She moved her chin from side to side. "He just had a-a sh-shoe-string."

Jane had finished. "Johnnie Blake! Johnnie Blake! Johnnie Blake!" she mocked. She gave Gwendolyn a little push toward the front window. "Now, no more of your nonsense. Go and be quiet for a few minutes. And keep a' eye out, will you, to see that there's nobody layin' in wait for us out in front?"

Gwendolyn went forward to the window-seat and climbed up among its cushions. From there she looked down upon the Drive with its sloping, evenly-cut grass, its smooth, tawny road and soft brown bridle-path, and its curving walk, stone-walled on the outer side. Beyond park and road and walk were tree-tops, bush-high above the wall. And beyond these was the broad, slow-flowing river, with boats going to and fro upon its shimmering surface. The farther side of the river was walled like the walk, only the wall was a cliff, sheer and dark and timber-edged. And through this timber could be seen the roofs and chimneys of distant houses.

But Gwendolyn saw nothing of the beauty of the view. She did not even glance down to where, on its pedestal, stood the great bronze war-horse, its mane and tail flying, its neck arched, its lips curved to neigh. Astride the horse was her friend, the General, soldierly, valorous, his hat doffed-as if in silent greeting to the double procession of vehicles and pedestrians that was passing before him. Brave he might be, but what help was the General now?

When Jane was ready for the drive, Gwendolyn took a firm hold of one thick thumb. And, with Thomas following, they were soon in the entrance hall. There, waiting as usual, was Potter, the butler. He smiled at Gwendolyn.

But Gwendolyn did not smile in return. As the cage had sunk swiftly down the long shaft, her heart had sunk, too. And now she thought how old Potter was; how thin and stooped. With kidnapers about, was he a fit guardian for the front door? As Potter swung wide the heavy grille of wrought iron, with its silk-hung back of plate-glass, Gwendolyn pulled hard at Jane's hand, and went down the granite steps and across the sidewalk as quickly as possible, with a timid glance to right and left. For, even as she entered the car, might not that band of knife-men suddenly catch sight of her, and, rushing over walk and bridle-path and roadway, seize her and carry her off?

She sank, trembling, upon the seat of the limousine.

Jane followed her. Then Thomas closed the windowed door of the motor and took his place beside the chauffeur.

Gwendolyn leaned forward for a swift glance at the lower windows, barred against intruders. The great house was of stone. On side and rear it stood flat against other houses. But it was built on a corner; and along its front and outer side, the tops of the basement windows were set a foot or more above the level of the sidewalk. To Gwendolyn those windows were huge eyes, peering out at her from under heavy lashes of iron.

The automobile started. Jane arranged her skirts and leaned back luxuriously, her big hands folded on her lap.

"My! but ain't this grand!" she exclaimed. Then to Gwendolyn: "You don't mind, do you, dearie, if Jane has a taste of gum as we go along?"

Gwendolyn did not reply. She had not heard. She was leaning toward the little window on her side of the limousine. In front of Jane was the chauffeur, wide-backed and skillful, and crouched vigilantly over his wheel. But in front of her was Thomas, sitting in the proudly erect, stiff position peculiar to him whenever he fared abroad. He looked neither to right nor left. He seemed indifferent that danger lurked for her along the Drive.

But she-! As the limousine joined others, all speeding forward merrily, her pale little face was pressed against the shield-shaped pane of glass, her frightened eyes roved continually, searching the moving crowds.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top