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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 18814

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The nursery was on the top-most floor of the great stone house-this for sunshine and air. But the sunshine was gone when Gwendolyn returned from her drive, and a half-dozen silk-shaded lights threw a soft glow over the room. To shut out the chill of the spring evening the windows were down. Across them were drawn the heavy hangings of rose brocade.

There was a lamp on the larger of the nursery tables, a tall lamp, almost flower-like with its petal-shaped ruffles of lace and chiffon. It made conspicuous two packages that flanked it-one small and square; the other large, and as round as a hat-box. Each was wrapped in white paper and tied with red string.

"Birthday presents!" cried Jane, the moment she spied them; and sprang forward. "Oh, I wonder what they are! What do you guess, Gwendolyn?"

Gwendolyn followed slowly, blinking against the light. "I can't guess," she said without enthusiasm. The glass-fronted case was full of toys, none of which she particularly cherished. (Indeed, most of them were carefully wrapped from sight.) New ones would merely form an addition.

"Well, what would you like?" queried Jane, catching up the small package and shaking it.

Gwendolyn suddenly looked very earnest.

"Most in the whole world?" she asked.

"Yes, what?" Jane dropped the small package and shook the large one.

"In the whole, whole big world?" went on Gwendolyn-to herself rather than to her nurse. She was not looking at the table, but toward a curtained window, and the gray eyes had a tender faraway expression. There was a faint conventional pattern in the brocade of the heavy hangings. It suggested trees with graceful down-growing boughs. She clasped her hands. "I want to live out in the woods," she said, "at Johnnie Blake's cottage by the stream that's got fish in it."

Jane set the big package down with a thump. "That's awful selfish of you," she declared warmly. "For you know right well that Thomas and I wouldn't like to leave the city and live away out in the country. Would we, Thomas?"-for he had just entered.

"Cer-tain-ly not," said Thomas.

"And it'd give poor Miss Royle the neuralgia," (Jane and Miss Royle might contend with each other; they made common cause against her.)

"But none of you'd have to" assured Gwendolyn. "When I was at Johnnie Blake's that once, just Potter went, and Rosa, and Cook. And Rosa buttoned my dresses and gave me my bath, and-"

"So Rosa'll do just as well as me," interrupted Jane, jealously.

"-And Potter passed the dishes at table," resumed Gwendolyn, ignoring the remark; "and he never hurried the best-tasting ones."

"Hear that will you, Thomas!" cried Jane. "Mr. Potter never hurried the best-tastin' ones!"

Thomas gave her a significant stare. "I tell you, a certain person is growin' keen," he said in a low voice.

Jane took Gwendolyn by the arm. "Put all that Johnnie Blake nonsense out of your head," she commanded. "Folks that live in the woods don't know nothin'. They're silly and pokey."

Gwendolyn shook her head with deliberation. "Johnny Blake wasn't pokey," she denied. "He had a willow fishpole, and a string tied to it. And he caught shiny fishes on the end of the string."

"Johnnie Blake!" sniffed Jane. "Oh, I know all about him. Rosa told me. He's a common, poor little boy. And"-severely-"I, for one, can't see why you was ever allowed to play with him!...

"Now, darlin',"-softening-"here we stand fussin', and you ain't even guessed what your presents are. Guess something that's real fine: something you'd like in the city, pettie." She began to unwrap the larger of the packages.

"Oh," said Gwendolyn. "What I'd like in the city. Well,"-suddenly between her brows there came a curious, strained little wrinkle-"I'd like-"

The white paper fell away. A large, round box was disclosed. To it was tied a small card.

"This is from your papa!" cried Jane. "Oh, let's see what it is!"

The wrinkle smoothed. A smile broke,-like sudden sunlight after clouds, and shadow. Then there poured forth all that had filled her heart during the past months:

"I'd like to eat at the grown-up table with my fath-er and my moth-er," she declared; "and I don't want to have a nurse any more like a baby! and I want to go to day-school."

Jane gasped, and her big hands fell from the round box. Thomas stared, and reddened even to his ears, which were large and over-prominent. To both, the project cherished so long and constantly was in the nature of a bombshell.

"Oh-ho!" said Jane, recovering herself after a moment. "So me and Thomas are to be thrown out of our jobs, are we?"

Gwendolyn looked mild surprise. "But you don't like to be here," she reminded. "And you and Thomas wouldn't have to work any more; you could just play all the time." She smiled up at them encouragingly.

Thomas eyed Jane. "If we ain't careful," he warned in a low voice, "and let a certain party talk too much at headquarters-"

The other nodded, comprehending "I'll look sharp," she promised. "Royle will, too." Whereupon, with a forced change to gayety, and a toss of the white card aside, she lifted the cover of the box and peeked in.

It was a merry-go-round, canopied in gay stripes, and built to accommodate a party of twelve dolls. There were six deep seats, each lined with ruby plush, for as many lady dolls: There were six prancing Arab steeds-bay and chestnut and dappled gray-for an equal number of men. A small handle turned to wind up the merry-go-round. Whereupon the seats revolved gayly, the Arabs curvetted; and from the base of the stout canopy pole there sounded a merry tune.

"Oh, darlin', what a grand thing!" cried Jane, lifting Gwendolyn to stand on the rounding seat of a white-and-gold chair (a position at other times strictly forbidden). "And what a pile of money it must've cost! Why, it's as natural as the big one in the Park!"

The music and the horses appealed. Other considerations moved temporarily into the background as Gwendolyn watched and listened.

Thomas broke the string of the smaller package. "This is the Madam's present," he declared. "And I'll warrant it's a beauty!"

It proved a surprise. All paper shorn away, there stood revealed a green cabbage, topped by something fluffy and hairy and snow-white. This was a rabbit's head. And when Thomas had turned a key in the base of the cabbage, the rabbit gave a sudden hop, lifted a pair of long ears, munched at a bit of cabbage-leaf, turned his pink nose, now to the right, now to the left, and rolled two amber eyes.

"And look! Look!" shouted Jane "The eyes light up" For each was glowing as yellowly as the tiny electric bulbs on either side of Gwendolyn's dressing-table.

"Now what more could a little lady want!" exclaimed Thomas. "It's as wonderful, I say, as a wax figger."

The rabbit, with a sharp click of farewell, popped back into the cabbage. Gwendolyn got down from the chair.

"It is nice," she conceded. "And I'm going to ask fath-er and moth-er to come up and see it."

Neither Thomas nor Jane answered. But again he eyed the nurse, this time flashing a silent warning. After which she began to exclaim excitedly over the rabbit, while he wound up the merry-go-round. Then the ruby seats and the Arabs careened in a circle, the music played, the rabbit chewed and wriggled and rolled his luminous eyes.

An interruption came in the shape of a ring at the telephone, which stood on the small table at the head of Gwendolyn's bed. Jane answered the summons, and received the message,-a brief one. It worked, however, a noticeable change. For when Jane turned round her face was sullen.

Gwendolyn remarked the scowls. Also the fact that the moment Jane made Thomas her confidant-in an undertone-he showed plain signs of being annoyed. Gwendolyn saw the merry-go-round-cabbage and all-disappear into the large, round box without a trace of regret. So much ill-feeling on the part of nurse and man-servant undoubtedly meant that something of a decidedly pleasant nature was about to happen to herself.

It was a usual-almost a daily-occurrence for her to visit the region of the grown-ups at the dinner-hour. On such occasions she saw one, though more often both, of her parents-as well as a varying number of guests. And the privilege was one held dear.

She coveted a dearer. And her eyes roved to the larger of her two tables, where stood the tall lamp. There she ate all her meals, in the condescending company of Miss Royle. What if the telephone message meant that henceforth she was to eat downstairs?

Standing on one foot she waited developments, and concealed her eagerness by snapping her underlip against her teeth with one busy forefinger.

Her spirits fell when Thomas appeared with the supper-tray. And she ate with no appetite-for all that she was eating alone-alone, that is, except for Thomas, who preserved a complete and stony silence. Miss Royle had not returned. Jane had disappeared toward her room, grumbling about never having a single evening to call her own.

But at seven cheer returned with the realization that Jane was not getting ready the white-and-gold bed. Still in a very bad humor, and touched up smartly by a fresh cap and a dainty apron, the nurse put Gwendolyn into a rosebud-bordered mull frock and tied a white-satin bow atop her yellow hair.

"Where am I going, Jane?" asked Gwendolyn

. (She felt certain that this was one of the nights when she was invited downstairs: She hoped-with a throb in her throat that was like the beat of a heart-that the supper just past was only afternoon tea, and that there was waiting for her at the grown-up table-in view of her newly acquired year and dignity-an empty chair.)

"You'll see soon enough," answered Jane, shortly.

Next, a new thought! Her father and mother had not seen her for two whole days-not since she was six. "Wonder if I show I'm not taller," she mused under her breath.

At precisely fifteen minutes to eight Jane took her by the hand. And she went down and down in the bronze cage, past the floor where were the guest chambers, past the library floor, which was where her mother and father lived, to the second floor of the great house. Here was the music-room, spacious and splendid, and the dining-room. The doors of this latter room were double. Before them the two halted.

Not only the pause at this entrance betrayed whereto they were bound, but also Jane's manner. For the nurse was holding herself erect and proper-shoulders back, chin in, heels together. Gwendolyn had often noted that upon both Jane and Thomas her parents had a curious stiffening effect.

The thought of that empty chair now forced itself uppermost. The gray eyes darkened with sudden anxiety.

"Now, Gwendolyn" whispered Jane, leaning down, "put your best foot forward." Her face had lost some of its accustomed color.

"But, Jane," whispered Gwendolyn back, "which is my best foot?"

Jane gave the small hand she was holding an impatient shake. "Hush your rubbishy questions," she commanded "We're goin' in!" She tapped one of the doors gently.

Gwendolyn glanced down at her daintily slippered feet. With so little time for reflecting, she could not decide which one she should put forward. Both looked equally well.

The next moment the doors swung open, and Potter, white-haired, grave and bent, stepped aside for them to pass. They crossed the threshold.

The dining-room was wide and long and lofty. Its wainscot was somberly stained. Above the wainscot, the dull tapestried walls reached to a ceiling richly panelled. The center of this dark setting was a long table, glittering with china and crystal, bright with silver and roses, and lighted by clusters of silk-shaded candles that reflected themselves upon circular table mirrors. At the far end of the table sat Gwendolyn's father, pale in his black dress-clothes, and haggard-eyed; at the near end sat her mother, pink-cheeked and pretty, with jewels about her bare throat and in her fair hair. And between the two, filling the high-backed chairs on either side of the table, were strange men and women.

Gwendolyn let go of Jane's hand and went toward her mother. Thither had gone her first glance; her second had swept the whole length of the board to her father's face. And now, without heeding any of the others, her look circled swiftly from chair to chair-searching.

Not one was empty!

The gray eyes blurred. Yet she tried to smile. Close to that dear presence, so delicately perfumed (with a haunting perfume that was a very part of her mother's charm and beauty) she halted; and curtsied-precisely as Monsieur Tellegen had taught her. And when the white-satin bow bobbed above the level of the table once more, she raised her face for a kiss.

A murmur went up and down the double row of chairs.

Gwendolyn's mother smiled radiantly. Her glance over the table was proud. "This is my little daughter's seventh birthday anniversary," she proclaimed.

To Gwendolyn the announcement was unexpected. But she was quick. Very cautiously she lifted herself on her toes-just a little.

Another buzz of comment circled the board. "Too sweet!" said one; and, "Cunning!" and "Fine child, that!"

"Now, dear," encouraged her mother.

Gwendolyn would have liked to stand still and listen to the chorus of praise. But there was something else to do.

She turned a corner of the table and started slowly along it, curtseying at each chair. As she curtsied she said nothing, only bobbed the satin bow and put out a small hand. And, "How do you do, darling!" said the ladies, and "Ah, little Miss Gwendolyn!" said the men.

The last man on that side, however, said something different. (He, she had seen at the dinner-table often.) He slipped a hand into a pocket. When it came forth, it held an oblong box. "I didn't forget that this was your birthday," he half-whispered. "Here!"-as he laid the box upon Gwendolyn's pink palm-"that's for your sweet tooth!"

Everyone was watching, the ladies beaming, the men intent and amused. But Gwendolyn was unaware both of the silence and the scrutiny. She glanced at the box. Then she looked up into the friendly eyes of the donor.

"But," she began; "-but which is my sweet tooth?"

There was a burst of laughter, Gwendolyn's father and mother joining in. The man who had presented the box laughed heartiest of all; then rose.

First he bowed to her mother, who acknowledged his salute graciously; next he turned to her father, whose pale face softened; last of all, he addressed her:

"Miss Gwendolyn," said he, "a toast!"

Gwendolyn looked at those bread-plates which were nearest her. There was no toast in sight, only some very nice dinner-rolls. Moreover, Potter and Thomas were not starting for the pantry, but were standing, the one behind her mother, the other behind her father, quietly listening. And what this friend of her father's had in his right hand was not anything to eat, but a delicate-stemmed glass wherein some champagne was bubbling-like amber soda-water. She was forced to conclude that he was unaccountably stupid-or only queer-or else indulging in another of those incomprehensible grown-up jokes.

He made a little speech-which she could not understand, but which elicited much laughter and polite applause; though to her it did not seem brilliant, or even interesting. Reseating himself, he patted her head.

She put the candy under her left arm, said a hasty, half-whispered Thank-you to him, went to the next high-backed chair, curtsied, bobbed the ribbon-bow and put out a hand. A pat on the head was dismissal: There was no need to wait for an answer to her question concerning her sweet tooth. Experience had taught her that whenever mirth greeted an inquiry, that inquiry was ignored.

When one whole side of the table was finished, and she turned a second corner, her father brushed her soft cheek with his lips.

"Did your dolls like the merry-go-round?" he asked kindly.

"Yes, fath-er."

"Was there something else my little girl wanted?"

Now she raised herself so far on her toes that her lips were close to his ear. For there was a lady on either side of him. And both were plainly listening.

"If-if you'd come up and make it go," she said, almost whispering.

He nodded energetically.

She went behind his chair. Thomas was in wait there still. Down here he seemed to raise a wall of aloofness between himself and her, to wear a magnificent air, all cold and haughty, that was quite foreign to the nursery. As she passed him, she dimpled up at him saucily. But it failed to slack the starchy tenseness of his visage.

She turned another corner and curtsied her way along the opposite side of the table. On this side were precisely as many high-backed chairs as on the other. And now, "You adorable child!" cried the ladies, and "Haw! Haw! Don't the rest of us get a smile?" said the men.

When all the curtseying was over, and the last corner was turned, she paused. "And what is my daughter going to say about the rabbit in the cabbage?" asked her mother.

There was a man seated on either hand. Gwendolyn gave each a quick glance. At Johnnie Blake's she had been often alone with her father and mother during that one glorious week. But in town her little confidences, for the most part, had to be made in just this way-under the eye of listening guests and servants, in a low voice.

"I like the rabbit," she answered, "but my Puffy Bear was nicer, only he got old and shabby, and so-"

At this point Jane took one quick step forward.

"But if you'd come up to the nursery soon," Gwendolyn hastened to add. "Would you, moth-er?"

"Yes, indeed, dear."

Gwendolyn went up to Jane, who was waiting, rooted and rigid, close by. The reddish eyes of the nurse-maid fairly bulged with importance. Her lips were sealed primly. Her face was so pale that every freckle she had stood forth clearly. How strangely-even direly-the great dining-room affected her-who was so at ease in the nursery! No smile, no wink, no remark, either lively or sensible, ever melted the ice of her countenance. And it was with a look almost akin to pity that Gwendolyn held out a hand.

Jane took it with a great show of affection. Then once more Potter swung wide the double doors.

Gwendolyn turned her head for a last glimpse of her father, sitting, grave and haggard, at the far end of the table; at her beautiful, jeweled mother; at the double line of high-backed chairs that showed, now a man's stern black-and-white, next the gayer colors of a woman's dress; at the clustered lights; the glitter; the roses-

Then the doors closed, making faint the din of chatter and laughter. And the bronze cage carried Gwendolyn up and up.

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