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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 21362

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The crescent of the Drive, never without its pageant; the broad river thronged with craft; the high forest-fringed precipice and the houses that could be glimpsed beyond-all these played their part in Gwendolyn's pretend-games. She crowded the Drive with the soldiers of the General, rank upon rank of marching men whom he reviewed with pride, while his great bronze steed pranced tirelessly; and she, a swordless Joan of Arc in a three-cornered hat and smartly-tailored habit, pranced close beside to share all honors from the wide back of her own mettlesome war-horse.

As for the river vessels, she took long pretend-journeys upon them-every detail of which she carefully carried out. The companions selected were those smiling friends that appeared at neighboring windows; or she chose hearty, happy laundresses from the roofs; adding, by way of variety, some small, bashful acquaintances made at the dancing-school of Monsieur Tellegen.

But more often, imagining herself a Princess, and the nursery a prison-tower from the loop-holes of which she viewed the great, free world, she liked to people the boats out of stories that Potter had told her on rare, but happy, occasions. A prosaic down-traveling steamer became the wonderful ship of Ulysses, his seamen bound to smokestacks and railing, his prow pointed for the ocean whereinto the River crammed its deep flood. A smaller boat, smoking its way up-stream, changed into the fabled bark of a man by the name of Jason, and at the bow of this Argo sat Johnnie Blake, fish-pole over the side, feet dangling, line trailing, and a silvery trout spinning at the hook. A third boat, smaller still, and driven forward by oars, bore a sad, level-lying, white-clad figure-Elaine, dead through the plotting of cruel servants, and now rowed by the hoary dumb toward a peaceful mooring at the foot of some far timbered slope.

In each of the houses across the wide river, she often established a pretend-home. Her father was with her always; her mother, too,-in a silken gown, with a jeweled chaplet on her head. But her household was always blissfully free of those whose chief design it was to thwart and terrify her-Miss Royle, Jane, Thomas; her teachers [as a body]; also, Policemen, Doctors and Bears. Old Potter was, of course, the pretend-butler. And Rosa, notwithstanding the fact that she had once been, while at Johnnie Blake's, the herald of a hated bed-time went as maid.

Gwendolyn had often secretly coveted the Superintendent's residence in the Park (so that, instead of straggling along a concrete pavement at rare intervals, held captive by the hand that was in Jane's, she might always have the right to race willy-nilly across the grass-chase the tame squirrels to shelter-even climb a tree). But more earnestly did she covet a house beyond the precipice. Were there not trees there? and rocks? Without doubt there were Johnnie Blake glades as well-glades bright with flowers, and green with lacy ferns. For of these glades Gwendolyn had received proof: Following a sprinkle on a cool day, a light west wind brought a butterfly against a pane of the front window. When Gwendolyn raised the sash, the butterfly fluttered in, throwing off a jeweled drop as he came and alighted upon the dull rose and green of a flower in the border of the nursery rug. His wings were flat together and he was tipped to one side, like a skiff with tinted sails. But when the sails were dry, and parted once more, and sunlight had replaced shower, he launched forth from the pink landing-place of Gwendolyn's palm-and sped away and away, due west!

But the view from the side window!

Beyond the line of step-houses, and beyond the buildings where the maids hung their wash, were roofs. They seemed to touch, to have no streets between them anywhere. They reached as far as Gwendolyn could see. They were all heights, all shapes, all varieties as to tops-some being level, others coming to a point at one corner, a few ending in a tower. One tower, which was square, and on the outer-most edge of the roofs, had a clock in its summit. When night settled, a light sprang up behind the clock-a great, round light that was like a single shining eye.

She did not know the proper name for all those acres of roof. But Jane called them Down-Town.

At all times they were fascinating. Of a winter's day the snow whitened them into beauty. The rain washed them with its slanting down-pour till their metal sheeting glistened as brightly as the sides of the General's horse. The sea-fog, advanced by the wind, blotted out all but the nearest, wrapped these in torn shrouds, and heaped itself about the dun-breathed chimneys like the smoke of a hundred fires.

She loved the roofs far more than Drive or River or wooded expanse; more because they meant so much-and that without her having to do much pretending. For across them, in some building which no one had ever pointed out to her, in a street through which she had never driven, was her father's office!

She herself often selected the building he was in, placing him first in one great structure, then in another. Whenever a new one rose, as it often did, there she promptly moved his office. Once for a whole week he worked directly under the great glowing eye of the clock.

Just now she was standing at the side window of the nursery looking away across the roofs. The fat old gentleman at the gray-haired house was sponging off the rubber-plant, and waving the long green leaves at her in greeting. Gwendolyn feigned not to see. Her lips were firmly set. A scarlet spot of determination burned round either dimple. Her gray eyes smouldered darkly-with a purpose that was unswerving.

"I'm just going down there!" she said aloud.

Rustle! Rustle! Rustle!

It was Miss Royle, entering. Though Saturday was yet two days away, the governess was preparing to go out for the afternoon, and was busily engaged in drawing on her gloves, her glance alternating between her task and the time-piece on the school-room mantel.

"Gwendolyn dear," said she, "you can have such a lovely long pretend-game between now and supper, can't you?"

Gwendolyn moved her head up and down in slow assent. Doing so, she rubbed the tip of her nose against the smooth glass. The glass was cool. She liked the feel of it.

"You can travel!" enthused Miss Royle. "And where do you think you'll go?"

The gray eyes were searching the tiers of windows in a distant granite pile. "Oh, Asia, I guess," answered Gwendolyn, indifferently. (She had lately reviewed the latter part of her geography.)

"Asia? Fine! And how will you travel, darling? In your sweet car?"

A pause. Miss Royle was habitually honeyed in speech and full of suggestions when she was setting out thus. She deceived no one. Yet-it was just as well to humor her.

"Oh, I'll ride a musk-ox. Or"-picking at random from the fauna of the world-"or a llama, or a'-a' el'phunt." She rubbed her nose so hard against the glass that it gave out a squeaking sound.

"Then off you go!" and, Rustle! Rustle! Rustle!

Gwendolyn whirled. This was the moment, if ever, to make her wish known-to assert her will. With a running patter of slippers, she cut off Miss Royle's progress.

"That tall building 'way, 'way down on the sky," she panted.

"Yes, dear?"-with a simper.

"Is that where my father is?"

The smirk went. Miss Royle stared down. "Er-why?" she asked.

"'Cause"-the other's look was met squarely-"'cause I'm going down there to see him."

"Ah!" breathed the governess.

"I'm going to-day," went on Gwendolyn, passionately. "I want to!" Her lips trembled. "There's something-"

"Something you want to tell him, dear?"-purringly.

Confusion followed boldness. Gwendolyn dropped her chin, and made reply with an inarticulate murmur.

"Hm!" coughed Miss Royle. (Her hms invariably prepared the way for important pronouncements.)

Gwendolyn waited-for all the familiar arguments: I can't let you go until you're sent for, dear; Your papa doesn't want to be bothered; and, This is probably his busy day.

Instead, "Has anyone ever told you about that street, Gwennie?"

"No,"-still with lowered glance.

"Well, I wouldn't go down into it if I were you." The tone was full of hidden meaning.

There was a moment's pause. Then, "Why not?" asked Gwendolyn, back against the door. The question was put as a challenge. She did not expect an answer.

An answer came, however. "Well, I'll tell you: The street is full of-bears."

Gwendolyn caught her hands together in a nervous grasp. All her life she had heard about bears-and never any good of them. According to Miss Royle and Jane, these dread animals-who existed in all colors, and in nearly all climes-made it their special office to eat up little girls who disobeyed. She knew where several of the beasts were harbored-in cages at the Zoo, from where they sallied at the summons of outraged nurses and governesses.

But as to their being Down-Town-!

She lifted a face tense with earnestness "Is it true?" she asked hoarsely.

"My dear," said Miss Royle, gently reproving, "ask anybody."

Gwendolyn reflected. Thomas was freely given to exaggeration. Jane, at times, resorted to bald falsehood. But Gwendolyn had never found reason to doubt Miss Royle.

She moved aside.

The governess turned to the school-room mirror to take a peep at her poke, and slung the chain of her hand-bag across her arm. Then, "I'll be home early," she said pleasantly. And went out by the door leading into the nursery.

Bears!

Gwendolyn stood bewildered. Oh, why were the Zoo bears in her father's street? Did it mean that he was in danger?

The thought sent her toward the nursery door. As she went she glanced back over a shoulder uneasily.

Close to the door she paused. Miss Royle was not yet gone, for there was a faint rustling in the next room. And Gwendolyn could hear the quick shoo-ish, shoo-ish, shoo-ish of her whispering, like the low purl of Johnnie Blake's trout-stream.

Presently, silence.

Gwendolyn went in.

She found Jane standing in the center of the room, mouth puckered soberly, reddish eyes winking with disquiet, apprehension in the very set of her heavy shoulders.

The sight halted Gwendolyn, and filled her with misgivings. Had Jane just heard?

When it came time to prepare for the afternoon motor-ride, Gwendolyn tested the matter-yet without repeating Miss Royle's dire statement.

"Let's go past where my fath-er's office is to-day," she proposed. And tried to smile.

Jane was tucking a small hand through a coat-sleeve. "Well, dearie," she answered, with a sigh and a shak

e of her red head, "you couldn't hire me to go into that street. And I wouldn't like to see you go."

Gwendolyn paled. "Bears?" she asked. "Truly?"

Jane made big eyes. Then turning the slender little figure carefully about, "Gwendolyn, lovie, Jane thinks you'd better give the idear up."

So it was true! Jane-who was happiest when standing in opposition to others; who was certain to differ if a difference was possible-Jane had borne it out!

Moreover, she was frightened! For Gwendolyn was leaning against the nurse. And she could feel her shaking!

Oh, how one terrible thing followed another!

Gwendolyn felt utterly cast down. And the ride in the swift-flying car only increased her dejection. For she did not even have the entertainment afforded by Thomas's enlivening company. He stayed beside the chauffeur-as he had, indeed, ever since the memorable feast of peanuts-and avoided turning his haughty black head. Jane was morose. Now and then, for no apparent reason, she sniffled.

Gwendolyn's mind was occupied by a terrifying series of pictures that Miss Royle's declaration called up. The central figure of each picture was her father, his safety threatened. Arrived home, she resolved upon still another course of action. She was forced to give up visiting her father at his office. But she would steal down to the grown-up part of the house-at a time other than the dinner-hour-that very night!

Evening fell, and she was not asked to appear in the great dining-room. That strengthened her determination. However, to give a hint of it would be folly. So, while Miss Royle picked at a chop and tittered over copious draughts of tea, and Thomas chattered unrebuked, she ate her supper in silence.

Ordinarily she rebelled at being undressed. She was not sleepy. Or she wanted to watch the Drive. Or she did not believe it was seven-there was something wrong with the clock. But supper over, and seven o'clock on the strike, she went willingly to bed.

When Gwendolyn was under the covers, and all the shades were down, Jane stepped into the school-room, leaving the door slightly ajar. She snapped on the lights above the school-room table. Then Gwendolyn heard the crackling of a news-paper.

She lay thinking. Why had she not been asked to the great dining-room? At seven her father-if all were well-should be sitting down to his dinner. But was he ill to-night? or hurt?

A half-hour dragged past. Jane left her paper and tiptoed into the nursery. Gwendolyn did not speak or move. When the nurse approached the bed and looked down, Gwendolyn shut her eyes.

Jane tiptoed out, closing the door behind her. A moment later Gwendolyn heard another door open and shut, then the rumble of a man's deep voice, and the shriller tones of a woman.

The chorus of indistinct voices made Gwendolyn sleepy. She found her eyelids drooping in spite of herself. That would never do! To keep herself awake, she got up cautiously, put on her slippers and dressing-gown, stole to the front window, climbed upon the long seat, and drew aside the shade-softly.

The night was moonless. Clouds hid the stars. The street lamps disclosed the crescent of the Drive only dimly. Beyond the Drive the river stretched like a smooth wide ribbon of black satin. It undulated gently. Upon the dark water of the farther edge a procession of lights laid a fringe of gold.

There were other lights-where, beyond the precipice, stood the forest houses; where moored boats rocked at a landing-place up-stream; and on boats that were plying past. A few lights made star-spots on the cliff-side.

But most brilliant of all were those forming the monster letters of words. These words Gwendolyn did not pronounce. For Miss Royle, whenever she chanced to look out and see them, said "Shameful!" or "What a disgrace!" or "Abominable!" And Gwendolyn guessed that the words were wicked.

As she knelt, peering out, sounds from city and river came up to her. There was the distant roll of street-cars, the warning; honk! honk! of an automobile, the scream of a tug; and lesser sounds-feet upon the sidewalk under the window, low laughter from the dim, tree-shaded walk.

She wondered about her father.

Suddenly there rose to her window a long-drawn cry. She recognized it-the high-keyed, monotonous cry of a man who often hurried past with a bundle of newspapers under his arm. Now it startled her. It filled her with foreboding.

"Uxtra! Uxtra! A-a-all about the lubble-lubble-lubble in ump Street!"

Street! What street? Gwendolyn strained her ears to catch the words. What if it were the street where her fath-

"Uxtra! Uxtra!" cried the voice again. It was nearer, yet the words were no clearer. "A-a-all about the lubble-lubble-lubble in ump Street!"

He passed. His cry died in the distance. Gwendolyn let the window-shade go back into place very gently. To prepare properly for her trip downstairs meant running the risk of discovery. She tiptoed noiselessly to the school-room door. There she listened. Thomas's deep voice was still rumbling on. Punctuating it regularly was a sniffle. And the key-hole showed a spot of glinting red-Jane's hair.

Gwendolyn left the school-room door for the one opening on the hall.

In the hall were shaded lights. Light streamed up the bronze shaft. Gwendolyn put her face against the scrolls and peered down. The cage was far below. And all was still.

The stairs wound their carpeted length before her. She slipped from one step to another warily, one hand on the polished banisters to steady herself, the other carrying her slippers. At the next floor she stopped before crossing the hall-to peer back over a shoulder, to peer ahead down the second flight.

Outside the high carved door of the library she stopped and put on the slippers. And she could not forbear wishing that she knew which was really her best foot, so that she might put it forward. But there was no time for conjectures. She bore down with both hands on the huge knob, and pressed her light weight against the panels. The heavy door swung open. She stole in.

The library had three windows that looked upon the side street. These windows were all set together, the middle one being built out farther than the other two, so as to form an embrasure. Over against these windows, in the shallow bow they formed, was a desk, of dark wood, and glass-topped. It was scattered with papers and books. Before it sat her father.

The moment her eyes fell upon him she realized that she had not come any too soon. For his shoulders were bent as from a great weight. His head was bowed. His face was covered by his hands.

She went forward swiftly. When she was between the desk and the windows she stopped, but did not speak. She kept her gray eyes on those shielding hands.

Presently he sighed, straightened on his chair, and looked at her.

For one instant Gwendolyn did not move-though her heart beat so wildly that it stirred the lace ruffles of her dressing-gown. Then, remembering dancing instructions, she curtsied.

A smile softened the stern lines of her father's mouth. It traveled up his cheeks in little ripples, and half shut his tired eyes. He put out a hand.

"Why, hello, daughter," he said wearily, but fondly.

She felt an almost uncontrollable desire to throw out her arms to him, to clasp his neck, to cry, "Oh, daddy! daddy! I don't want them to hurt you!" But she conquered it, her underlip in her teeth, and put a small hand in his outstretched one gravely.

"I-I heard the man calling," she began timidly. "And I-I thought maybe the bears down in your street-"

"Ah, the bears!" He gave a bitter laugh.

So Miss Royle had told the truth! The hand in his tightened its hold. "Have the bears ever frightened you?" she asked, her voice trembling.

He did not answer at once, but put his head on one side and looked at her-for a full half-minute. Then he nodded. "Yes," he said; "yes, dear,-once or twice."

She had planned to spy out at least a strap of the harness he wore; to examine closely what sort of candles, if any, he burned in the seclusion of the library. Now she forgot to do either; could not have seen if she had tried. For her eyes were swimming, blinding her.

She swayed nearer him. "If-if you'd take Thomas along on your car," she suggested chokingly. "He hunted el'phunts once, and-and I don't need him."

Her father rose. He was not looking at her-but away, beyond the bowed windows, though the shades of these were drawn, the hangings were in place. And, "No!" he said hoarsely; "not yet! I'm not through fighting them yet!"

"Daddy!" Fear for him wrung the cry from her.

His eyes fell to her upturned face. And as if he saw the terror there, he knelt, suddenly all concern. "Who told you about the bears, Gwendolyn?"-with a note of displeasure.

"Miss Royle."

"That was wrong-she shouldn't have done it. There are things a little girl can't understand." His eyes were on a level with her brimming ones.

The next moment-"Gwendolyn! Gwendolyn! Oh, where's that child!" The voice was Jane's. She was pounding her way down the stairs.

Before Gwendolyn could put a finger to his lips to plead for silence, "Here, Jane," he called, and stood up once more.

Jane came in, puffing with her haste. "Oh, thank you, sir," she cried. "It give me such a turn, her stealin' off like that! Madam doesn't like her to be up late, as she well knows. And I'll be blamed for this, sir, though I take pains to follow out Madam's orders exact," She seized Gwendolyn.

Gwendolyn, eyes dry now, and defiant, pulled back with all the strength of her slender arm. "Oh, fath-er!" she plead. "Oh, please, I don't want to go!"

"Why! Why! Why!" It was reproval; but tender reproval, mixed with mild amazement.

"Oh, I want to tell you something," cried Gwendolyn. "Let me stay just a minute."

"That's just the way she acts, sir, whenever it's bed-time," mourned Jane.

He leaned to lift Gwendolyn's chin gently. "Father thinks she'd better go now," he said quietly. "And she's not to worry her blessed baby head any more." Then he kissed her.

The kiss, the knowledge that strife was futile, the sadness of parting-these brought the great sobs. She went without resisting, but stumbling a little; the back of one hand was laid against her streaming eyes.

Half a flight up the stairs, Jane turned her right about at a bend. Then she dropped the hand to look over the banisters. And through a blur of tears saw her father watching after her, his shoulders against the library door.

He threw a kiss.

Then another bend of the staircase hid his upturned face.

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