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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 17725

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a morning abounding in unexpected good fortune. For one thing, Miss Royle was indisposed-to an extent that was fully convincing-and was lying down, brows swathed by a towel, in her own room; for another, the bursting of a hot-water pipe on the same floor as the nursery required the prompt attention of a man in a greasy cap and Johnnie Blake overalls, who, as he hammered and soldered and coupled lengths of piping with his wrench, discussed various grown-up topics in a loud voice with Jane, thus levying on her attention. Miss Royle's temporary incapacity set aside the program of study usual to each forenoon; and Jane's suddenly aroused interest in plumbing made the canceling of that day's riding-lesson seem advisable. It was Thomas who telephoned the postponement. And Gwendolyn found herself granted some little time to herself.

But she was not playing any of the games she loved-the absorbing pretend-games with which she occupied herself on just such rare occasions. Her own pleasure, her own disappointment, too,-these were entirely put aside in a concern touching weightier matters. Slippers upheld by a hassock, and slender pink-frocked figure bent across the edge of the school-room table, she had each elbow firmly planted on a page of the wide-open, dictionary.

At all times the volume was beguiling-this in spite of the fact that the square of black-board always carried along its top, in glaring chalk, the irritating reminder: Use Your Dictionary! There was diversion in turning the leaves at random (blissfully ignoring the while any white list that might be inscribed down the whole of the board) to chance upon big, strange words.

But the word she was now poring over was a small one. "B-double-e," she spelled; "Bee: a so-cial hon-ey-gath-er-ing in-sect."

She pondered the definition with wrinkled forehead and worried eye. "Social"-the word seemed vaguely linked with that other word, "Society", which she had so fortunately overheard. But what of the remainder of that visitor's never-to-be-forgotten declaration of scorn? For the definition had absolutely nothing to say about any bonnet.

She was shoving the pages forward with an impatient damp thumb in her search for Bonnet, when Thomas entered, slipping in around the edge of the hall door on soft foot-with a covert peek nursery-ward that was designed to lend significance to his coming. His countenance, which on occasion could be so rigorously sober, was fairly askew with a smile.

Gwendolyn stood up straight on the hassock to look at him. And at first glance divined that something-probably in the nature of an edible-might be expected. For the breast-pocket of his liveried coat bulged promisingly.

"Hello!" he saluted, tiptoeing genially across the room.

"Hello!" she returned noncommittally.

Near the table, he reached into the bulging pocket and drew out a small Manila bag. The bag was partly open at the top. He tipped his head to direct one black eye upon its contents.

"Say, Miss Gwendolyn," he began, "you like old Thomas, don't you?"

Gwendolyn's nostrils widened and quivered, receiving the tempting fragrance of fresh-roasted peanuts. At the same time, her eyes lit with glad surprise. Since her seventh anniversary, she had noted a vast change for the better in the attitude of Miss Royle, Thomas and Jane; where, previous to the birthday, it had seemed the main purpose of the trio (if not the duty) to circumvent her at every turn-to which end, each had a method that was unique: the first commanded; the second threatened; Thomas employed sarcasm or bribery. But now this wave of thoughtfulness, generosity and smooth speech!-marking a very era in the history of the nursery. Here was fresh evidence that it was continuing.

Yet-was it not too good to last?

"Why, ye-e-es," she answered, more than half guessing that this time bribery was in the air.

But the fragrant bag resolved itself into a friendly offering. Thomas let it drop to the table.

Casting her last doubt aside, Gwendolyn caught it up eagerly. Miss Royle never permitted her to eat peanuts, which lent to them all the charm of the forbidden. She cracked a pod; and fell to crunching merrily.

"And you wouldn't like to see me go away, would you now," went on Thomas.

Her mouth being crammed, she shook her head cordially.

"Ah! I thought so!" He tore the bag down the side so that she could more easily get at its store. Then, leaning down confidentially, and pointing a teasing finger at her, "Ha! Ha! Who was it got caught spyin' yesterday?"

The small jaws ceased grinding. She lifted her eyes. Their gray was suddenly clouded-remembering what, for a moment, her joy in the peanuts had blotted out. "But I wasn't spying," she denied earnestly.

"Then what was you doin'?-still as mice behind them curtains."

The mist cleared. Her face sunned over once more. "I was waving at the nurse in the brick house," she explained.

At that, up went Thomas's head. His mouth opened. His ears grew red. "The nurse in the brick house!" he repeated softly.

"The one with the curly hair," went on Gwendolyn, cracking more pods.

Thomas turned his face toward the side window of the school-room. Through it could be seen the chimneys of the brick house. He smacked his lips.

"You like peanuts, too," said Gwendolyn. She proffered the bag.

He ignored it. His look was dreamy. "There's a fine Pomeranian at the brick house," he remarked.

"It was the first time I'd ever seen her," said Gwendolyn, with the nurse still in mind. "Doesn't she smile nice!"

Now, Thomas waxed enthusiastic. "And she's a lot prettier close to," he declared, "than she is with a street between. Ah, you ought-"

That moment, Jane entered, fairly darting in.

"Here!" she called sharply to Gwendolyn. "What're you eatin'?"

"Peanuts, Jane,"-perfect frankness being the rule when concealment was not possible.

Jane came over. "And where'd you git 'em?" she demanded, promptly seizing the bag as contraband.

"Thomas."

Sudden suspicion flamed in Jane's red glance. "Oh, you must've did Thomas a grand turn," she observed.

Thomas shifted from foot to foot. "I was-er-um-just tellin' Miss Gwendolyn"-he winked significantly-"that she wouldn't like to lose us."

"So?" said Jane, still sceptical. Then to Gwendolyn, after a moment's reflection. "Let me close up your dictionary for you, pettie. Jane never likes to see one of your fine books lyin' open that way. It might put a strain on the back."

Emboldened by that cooing tone, Gwendolyn eyed the Manila bag covetously. "I didn't eat many," she asserted, gently argumentative.

"Oh, a peanut or two won't hurt you, lovie," answered Jane, kneeling to present the bag. Then drawing the pink-frocked figure close, "And you didn't tell him what them two ladies had to say?"

"No." It was decisive, "I told him about-"

"I didn't ask her," interrupted Thomas. "No; I talked about how she loves us. And a-course, she does.... Jane, ain't it near twelve?"

But Gwendolyn had no mind to be held as a tattler. "I told him," she continued, husking peanuts busily, "about the nurse-maid at the brick house."

Jane sat back.

"Ah?" She flashed a glance at Thomas, still shifting about uneasily mid-way between table and door. Then, "What about the nurse-maid, dearie?"

It was Gwendolyn's turn to wax enthusiastic. "Oh, she has such sweet hair!" she exclaimed. "And she smiles nice!"

Jealousy hardened the freckled visage of the kneeling Jane. "And she's taken with you, I suppose," said she.

"She threw me kisses," recounted Gwendolyn, crunching happily the while. "And, oh, Jane, some day may I go over to the brick house?"

"Some day you may-not."

Gwendolyn recognized the sudden change to belligerence; and foreseeing a possible loss of the peanuts, commenced to eat more rapidly. "Well, then," she persisted, "she could come over here."

Jane stared. "What do you mean?" she demanded crossly. "And don't you go botherin' your poor father and mother about this strange woman. Do you hear?"

"But she takes care of a rich little girl. I know-'cause there are bars on the basement windows. And Thomas says-"

"Oh, come" broke in Thomas, urging Jane hallward with a nervous jerk of the head.

"Ah!" Now complete understanding brought Jane to her feet. She fixed Thomas with blazing eyes. "And what does Thomas say, darlin'?"

Thomas waited. His ears were a dead white.

"There's a Pomeranian at the brick house," went on Gwendolyn, "and the pretty nurse takes it out to walk. And-"

"And Thomas is a-walkin' our Poms at the same time." Jane was breathing hard.

"And he says she's lots prettier close to-"

A bell rang sharply. Thomas sprang away. With a gurgle, Jane flounced after.

The next moment Gwendolyn, from the hassock-upon which she had

settled in comfort-heard a wrangle of voices: First, Jane's shrill accusing, "It was you put it into her head!-to come-and take my place from under me-and the food out of my very mouth-and break my hear-r-r-rt!" Next, Thomas's sonorous, "Stuff and fiddle-sticks!" then sounds of lamentation, and the slamming of a door.

The last peanut was eaten. As Gwendolyn searched out some few remaining bits from the crevices of the bag, she shook her yellow hair hopelessly. Truly there was no fathoming grown-ups!

The morning which had begun so propitiously ended in gloom. At the noon dinner, Thomas looked harassed. He had set the table for one. That single plate, as well as the empty arm-chair so popular with Jane, emphasized the infestivity. As for the heavy curtains at the side window, which-as near as Gwendolyn could puzzle it out-were the cause of the late unpleasantness, these were closely drawn.

Having already eaten heartily, Gwendolyn had little appetite. Furthermore, again she was turning over and over the direful statements made concerning her parents. She employed the dinner-hour in formulating a plan that was simple but daring-one that would bring quick enlightenment concerning the things that worried. Miss Royle was still indisposed. Jane was locked in her own room, from which issued an occasional low bellow. When Thomas, too, was out of the way-gone pantry-ward with tray held aloft-she would carry it out. It called for no great amount of time: no searching of the dictionary. She would close all doors softly; then fly to the telephone-and call up her father.

There were times when Thomas-as well as the two others-seemed to possess the power of divination. And during the whole of the dinner his manner showed distinct apprehension. The meal concluded, even to the use of the finger-bowl, and all dishes disposed upon the tray, he hung about, puttering with the table, picking up crumbs and pins, dusting this article and that with a napkin,-all the while working his lips with silent speech, and drawing down and lifting his black eye-brows menacingly.

Meanwhile, Gwendolyn fretted. But found some small diversion in standing before the pier glass, at which, between the shining rows of her teeth, she thrust out a tip of scarlet. She was thinking about the discussion anent tongues held by her mother and the two visitors.

"Seven," she murmured, and viewed the greater part of her own tongue thoughtfully; "seven."

The afternoon was a French-and-music afternoon. Directly after dinner might be expected the Gallic teacher-undesired at any hour. Thomas puttered and frowned until a light tap announced her arrival. Then quickly handed Gwendolyn over to her company.

Mademoiselle Du Bois was short and spare. And these defects she emphasized by means of a wide hat and a long feather boa. She led Gwendolyn to the school-room. There she settled down in a low chair, opened a black reticule, took out a thick, closely written letter, and fell to reading.

Gwendolyn amused herself by experimenting with the boa, which she festooned, now over one shoulder, now over the other. "Mademoiselle," she began, "what kind of a bird owned these feathers?"

"Dear me, Mees Gwendolyn," chided Mademoiselle, irritably (she spoke with much precision and only a slight accent), "how you talk!"

Talk-the word was a cue! Why not make certain inquiries of Mademoiselle?

"But do little birds ever talk?" returned Gwendolyn, undaunted. The boa was thin at one point. She tied a knot in it. "And which little bird is it that tells things to-to people?" Then, more to herself than to Mademoiselle, who was still deep in her letter, "I shouldn't wonder if it wasn't the little bird that's in the cuckoo clock, though-"

"Ma foil!" exclaimed Mademoiselle. She seized an end of the boa and drew Gwendolyn to her knee. "You make ze head buzz. Come!" She reached for a book on the school-room table. "Attendez!"

"Mademoiselle," persisted Gwendolyn, twining and untwining, "if I do my French fast will you tell me something? What does nouveaux riches mean?"

"Nouveaux riches," said Mademoiselle, "is not on ziss page. Attendez-vous!"

Miss Brown followed Mademoiselle Du Bois, the one coming upon the heels of the other; so that a loud crescendo from the nursery, announcing the arrival of the music-teacher, drowned the last paragraph of French.

To Gwendolyn an interruption at any time was welcome. This day it was doubly so. She had learned nothing from Mademoiselle. But Miss Brown-She made toward the nursery, doing her newest dance step.

Miss Brown was stocky, with a firm tread and an eye of decision. As Gwendolyn appeared, she was seated at the piano, her face raised (as if she were seeking out some spot on the ceiling), and her solid frame swaying from side to side in the ecstasy of performance. Up and down the key-board of the instrument her plump hands galloped.

Gwendolyn paused beside the piano-seat. The air was vibrant with melody. The lifted face, the rocking, the ardent touch-all these inspired hope. The gray eyes were wide with eagerness. Each corner of the rosy mouth was upturned.

The resounding notes of a march ended with a bang. Miss Brown straightened-got to her feet-smiled down.

That smile gave Gwendolyn renewed encouragement. They were alone. She stood on tiptoe. "Miss Brown," she began, "did you ever hear of a-a bee that some ladies carry in a-"

Miss Brown's smile of greeting went. "Now, Gwendolyn," she interrupted severely, "are you going to begin your usual silly, silly questions?"

Gwendolyn fell back a step. "But I didn't ask you a silly question day before yesterday," she plead. "I just wanted to know how anybody could call my German teacher Miss French."

"Take your place, if you please," bade Miss Brown curtly, "and don't waste my time." She pointed a stubby finger at the piano-seat.

Gwendolyn climbed up, her cheeks scarlet with wounded dignity, her breast heaving with a rancor she dared not express. "Do I have to play that old piece?" she asked.

"You must,"-with rising inflection.

"Up at Johnnie Blake's it sounded nice. 'Cause my moth-er-"

"Ready!" Miss Brown set the metronome to tick-tocking. Then she consulted a watch.

Gwendolyn raised one hand to her face, and gulped.

"Come! Come! Put your fingers on the keys."

"But my cheek itches."

"Get your position, I say."

Gwendolyn struck a spiritless chord.

Miss Brown gone, Gwendolyn sought the long window-seat and curled up among its cushions-at the side which commanded the best view of the General. Straight before that martial figure, on the bridle-path, a man with a dump-cart and a shaggy-footed horse was picking up leaves. He used a shovel. And each time he raised it to shoulder-height and emptied it into his cart, a few of the leaves went whirling away out of reach-like frightened butterflies. But she had no time to pretend anything of the kind. A new and a better plan!-this was what she must prepare. For-heart beating, hands trembling from haste-she had tried the telephone-and found it dead to every Hello!

But she was not discouraged. She was only balked.

The talking bird, the bee her mother kept in a bonnet, her father's harness, and the candles that burned at both ends-if she had only known about them that evening of her seventh anniversary! Ignoring Miss Royle's oft-repeated lesson that "Nice little girls do not ask questions," or "worry father and mother," how easy it would have been to say, "Fath-er, what little bird tells things about you?" and, "Moth-er, have you really got a bee in your bonnet?"

But-the questions could still be asked. She was balked only temporarily.

She got down and crossed the room to the white-and-gold writing-desk. Two photographs in silver frames stood upon it, flanking the rose-embossed calendar at either side. She took them down, one at a time, and looked at them earnestly.

The first was of her mother, taken long, long ago, before Gwendolyn was born. The oval face was delicately lovely and girlish. The mouth curved in a smile that was tender and sweet.

The second photograph showed a clean-shaven, boyish young man in a rough business-suit-this was her father, when he first came to the city. His lips were set together firmly, almost determinedly. But his face was unlined, his dark eyes were full of laughter.

Despite all the well-remembered commands Miss Royle had issued; despite Jane's oft-repeated threats and Thomas's warnings, [and putting aside, too, any thought of what punishment might follow her daring] Gwendolyn now made a firm resolution: To see at least one of her parents immediately and alone.

As she set the photographs back in their places, she lifted each to kiss it. She kissed the smiling lips of the one, the laughing eyes of the other.

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