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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 16091

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Gwendolyn was lying on her back in the middle of the nursery floor. The skein of her flaxen hair streamed about her shoulders in tangles. Her head being unpillowed, her face was pink-and pink, too, with wrath. Her blue-and-white frock was crumpled. She was kicking the rug with both heels.

It was noon. And Miss Royle was having her dinner. Her face, usually so pale, was dark with anger-held well in check. Her expression was that of one who had recently suffered a scare, and her faded eyes shifted here and there uneasily. Thomas, too, looked apprehensive as he moved between table and tray. Jane was just gone, showing, as she disappeared, lips nervously pursed, and a red, roving glance that betokened worry.

Gwendolyn, watching out from under the arm that rested across her forehead, realized how her last night's breach of authority had impressed each one of them. And secretly rejoicing at her triumph, she kept up a brisk tattoo.

Miss Royle ignored her. "I'll take a little more chocolate, Thomas," she said, with a fair semblance of calm. But cup and saucer rattled in her hand.

Thomas, too, feigned indifference to the rat! tat! tat! of heels. He bent above the table attentively. And to Gwendolyn was wafted down a sweet aroma.

"Thank you," said Miss Royle. "And cake, too? Splendid! How did you manage it?" A knife-edge cut against china. She helped herself generously.

Gwendolyn fell silent to listen.

"Well, I haven't Mr. Potter to thank," said Thomas, warmly; "only my own forethoughtedness, as you might say. The first time I ever set eyes on it I seen it was the kind that'd keep, so-"

From under the shielding arm Gwendolyn blinked with indignation. Her birthday cake!

"Say, Miss Royle," chuckled Thomas, replenishing the chocolate cup, "that was a' awful whack you give Miss J-last night."

At once Gwendolyn forgot the wrong put upon her in the matter of the cake-in astonishment at this new turn of affairs. Evidently Miss Royle and Thomas were leagued against Jane!

The governess nodded importantly, "She was only a cook before she came here," she declared contemptuously. "Down at the Employment Agency, where Madam got her, they said so. The common, two-faced thing!" This last was said with much vindictiveness. Following it, she proffered Thomas the cake-plate.

"Thanks," said he; "I don't mind if I do have a slice."

Now, of a sudden, wrath and resentment possessed Gwendolyn, sweeping her like a wave-at seeing her cake portioned out; at having her kicking ignored; at hearing these two openly abuse Jane.

"I want some strawberries," she stormed, pounding the rug full force. "And an egg. I won't eat dry bread!" Bang! Bang! Bang!

Miss Royle half-turned. "Did you ask to go down to the library?" she inquired. She seemed totally undisturbed; yet her eyes glittered.

"Did she ask?" snorted Thomas. "She's gettin' very forward, she is."

"No, you knew better," went on Miss Royle. "You knew I wouldn't permit you to bother your father when he didn't want you-"

"He did want me!"-choking with a sob.

"Think," resumed the governess, inflecting her tones eloquently, "of the fortune he spends on your dresses, and your pony, and your beautiful car! And he hires all of us"-she swept a gesture-"to wait on you, you naughty girl, and try to make a little lady out of you-"

"I hate ladies!" cried Gwendolyn, rapping her heels by way of emphasis.

"Tale-bearing is vulgar," asserted Miss Royle.

"Next year I'm going to day-school like Johnnie Blake!"

"Oh, hush your nonsense!" commanded Thomas, irritably.

Miss Royle glanced up at him. "That will do," she snapped.

He bridled up. "What the little imp needs is a good paddlin'," he declared.

"Well, you have nothing to do with the disciplining of the child. That is my business."

"It's what she needs, all the same. The very idear of her bawlin' all the mornin' at the top of her lungs-"

"I did not at the top of my lungs," contradicted Gwendolyn. "I cried with my mouth."

"-So's the whole house can hear," continued Thomas; "and beatin' about the floor. It's clear shameful, I say, and enough to give a sensitive person the nerves. As I remarked to Jane only--"

"You remark too many things to Jane," interposed the governess, curtly.

Now he sobered. "I hope you ain't displeased with me," he ventured.

"Ain't displeased?" repeated Miss Royle, more than ever fretful. "Oh, Thomas, do stop murdering the King's English!"

At that Gwendolyn sat up, shook back her hair, and raised a startled face to the row of toys in the glass-fronted case. Murdering the King's English! Had he dared to harm her soldier with the scarlet coat?

"I was urgin' your betterin', too, Miss Royle," reminded Thomas, gently. "I says to Jane, I says-"

The soldier was in his place, safe. Relieved, Gwendolyn straightened out once more on her back.

"-'The whole lot of us ought to be paid higher wages than we're gettin' for it's a real trial to have to be under the same roof with such a provokin'-'"

Miss Royle interrupted by vigorously bobbing her head. "Oh, that I have to make my living in this way!" she exclaimed, voice deep with mournfulness. "I'd rather wash dishes! I'd rather scrub floors! I'd rather star-r-ve!"

Something in the vehemence, or in the cadence, of Miss Royle's declaration again gave Gwendolyn that sense of triumph. With a sudden curling up of her small nose, she giggled.

Miss Royle whirled with a rustle of silk skirts. "Gwendolyn," she said threateningly, "if you're going to act like that, I shall know there's something the matter with you, and I shall certainly call a doctor."

Gwendolyn lay very still. As Thomas glanced down at her, smirking exultantly, her smile went, and the pink of wrath once more surged into her face.

"And the doctor'll give nasty medicine," declared Thomas, "or maybe he'll cut out your appendix!"

"Potter won't let him."

"Potter! Huh!-He'll cut out your appendix, and charge your papa a thousand dollars. Oh, you bet, them that's naughty always pays the piper."

Gwendolyn got to her feet. "I won't pay the piper," she retorted. "I'm going to give all my money to the hand-organ man-all of it. I like him," tauntingly. "But I hate-you."

"We hate a sneak," observed Miss Royle, blandly.

The little figure went rigid. "And I hate you," she cried shrilly. Then buried her face in her hands.

"Gwen-do-lyn'!" It was a solemn and horrified warning.

Gwendolyn turned and walked slowly toward the window-seat. Her breast was heaving.

"Come back and sit in this chair," bade the governess.

Gwendolyn paused, but did not turn.

"Shall I fetch you?"

"Can't I even look out of the window?" burst forth Gwendolyn. "Oh, you-you-you-" (she yearned to say Snake-in-the-grass!-yet dared not) "you mean! mean!" Her voice rose to a scream.

Miss Royle stood up. "I see that you want to go to bed," she declared.

The torrent of Gwendolyn's anger and resentment surged and broke bounds. She pivoted, arms tossing, face aflame. There were those wicked words across the river that each night burned themselves upon the dark. She had never pronounced them aloud before; but-

"Starch!" she shrilled, stamping a foot, "Villa sites! Borax! Shirts!"

Miss Royle gave Thomas a worried stare. He, in turn, fixed her with a look of alarm. So much Gwendolyn saw before she flung herself down again, sobbing aloud, but tearlessly, her cheek upon the rug.

She heard Miss Royle rustle toward the school-room; heard Thomas close the door leading into the hall. There were times-the nursery had seen a few-when the trio found it well to let her severely alone.

Now only a hoarse lamenting broke the quiet.

It was an hour later when some one tapped on the school-room door-Miss French, doubtless, since it was her allotted time. The lamentations swelled then-and grew fainter only when the last foot-fall died away on the stairs. Then Gwendolyn slept.

Awakening, she lay and watched out through the upper panes

of the front window. Across the square of serene blue framed by curtains and casing, small clouds were drifting-clouds dazzlingly white. She pretended the clouds were fat, snowy sheep that were passing one by one.

Thus had snowy flocks crossed above the trout-stream. Oh? where was that stream? the glade through which it flowed? the shingled cottage among the trees?

With all her heart Gwendolyn wished she were a butterfly.

Suddenly she sat up. She had found her way alone to the library. Why not put on hat and coat and go to Johnnie Blake's?

She was at the door of the wardrobe before she remembered the kidnapers, and realized that she dared not walk out alone. But Potter liked the country. Besides, he knew the way. She decided to ask him to go with her-old and stooped though he was. Perhaps she would also take the pretty nurse-maid at the corner. And those who were left behind-Miss Royle and Thomas and Jane-would all be sorry when she was gone.

But let them fret! Let them weep, and wish her back! She-

That moment she caught sight of the photographs on the writing-desk. She stood still to look at them. As she looked, both pictured faces gradually dimmed. For tears had come at last-at the thought of leaving father and mother-quiet tears that flowed in erratic little S's between gray eyes and trembling mouth.

How could she forsake them?

"Gwendolyn," she half-whispered, "s'pose we just pu-play the Johnnie Blake Pretend ... Oh, very well,"-this last with all of Miss Royle's precise intonation.

The heavy brocade hangings were the forest trees. The piano was the mountain, richly inlaid. The table was the cottage, and she rolled it nearer the dull rose timber at the side window. The rug was the grassy, flowery glade; its border, the stream that threaded the glade. Beyond the stream twisted an unpaved and carefully polished road.

The first part of this particular Pretend was the drive to the village-carved and enameled, and paneled with woven cane. A hassock did duty for a runabout that had no top to shut out the sun-light, no windows to bar the fragrant air. In front of the hassock, a pillow did duty as a stout dappled pony.

Her father drove. And she sat beside him, holding on to the iron bar of the runabout seat with one hand, to a corner of his coat with the other; for not only were the turns sharp but the country road was uneven. The sun was just rising above the forest, and it warmed her little back. The fresh breeze caressed her cheeks into crimson, and swirled her hair about the down-sloping rim of her wreath-encircled hat. That breeze brought with it the perfume of opening flowers, the fragrance exhaled by the trees along the way, the essence of the damp ground stirred by hoof and wheel. Gwendolyn breathed through nostrils swelled to their widest.

Following the drive to the village came the trip up the stream to trout-pools. Gwendolyn's father led the way with basket and reel. She trotted at his heels. And beside Gwendolyn trotted Johnnie Blake.

The piano-seat was Johnnie. His eyes were blue, and full of laughter. His small nose was as freckled as Jane's. His brown hair disposed itself in several rough heaps, as if it had been winnowed by a tiny whirlwind.

"Good-morning," said Gwendolyn, curtseying.

"Hello!" returned Johnnie-while Gwendolyn smiled at herself in the pier-glass. Johnnie carried a long willow fishing-pole cut from the stream-side. Reel he had none, nor basket; and he did not own a belted outing-suit of hunter's-green, and high buckled boots. He wore a plaid gingham waist, starched so stiff that its round collar stood up and tickled his ears. His hat was of straw, and somewhat ragged. His brown jeans overalls, riveted and suspendered, reached to bare ankles fully as brown. The overalls were provided with three pockets. Bulging one was his round tin drinking-cup which was full of worms.

"Are there p'liceman in these woods?" inquired Gwendolyn.

"Nope," said Johnnie.

"Are there bears?"

"Nope."

"Are there doctors?"

"Nope. But there's snakes-some."

"Oh, I'm not afraid of snakes. I've got one at home. It's long and black, and it's got a wooden tongue."

"'Fraid to go barefoot?"

"Oh, I wish I could!"

Here she glanced over a shoulder toward the school-room; then toward the hall. Did she dare?

"Well, you're little yet," explained Johnnie. "But just you wait till you grow up."

"Are-are you grown-up?"-a trifle doubtfully.

"Of course, I'm grown up! Why, I'm seven." Whereat she strode up and down, hands on hips, in feeble imitation of Johnnie.

But here the inclination for further make-believe died utterly-at a point where, usually, Johnnie threw back his head with a triumphant laugh, gave a squirrel-like leap into the air (from the top of the nursery table), caught the lower branch of a tall, slim tree (the chandelier), and swung himself to and fro with joyous abandon. For Gwendolyn suddenly remembered the cruel truth borne out by the ink-line on the pier-glass. And instead of climbing upon the table, she went to stand in front of her writing-desk.

"I was seven my last birthday," she murmured, looking up at the rose-embossed calendar.

Seven, and grown-up-and yet everything was just the same!

She went to the front window and knelt on the cushioned seat. Across the river red smoke was pouring up from those chimneys on the water's edge that were assuredly a mile high. Red smoke meant that evening was approaching. Jane would enter soon. With two in the nursery, the advantage was for her who did not have to make the overtures of peace. She turned her back to the room.

Jane came. She drew the heavy curtains at the side window and busied herself in the vicinity of the bed, moving about quietly, saying not a word. Presently she went out.

Gwendolyn faced round. The bed was arranged for the night. At its head, on the small table, was a glass of milk, a sandwich, a cup of broth, a plate of cooked fruit.

The western sky faded-to gray, to deep blue, to jade. The river flowed jade beneath. Along it the lights sprang up. Then came the stars.

Gwendolyn worked at the buttons of her slippers. The tears were falling again; but not tears of anger or resentment-only of loneliness, of yearning.

The little white-and-blue frock fastened down the front. She undid it, weeping softly the while, found her night-dress, put it on and climbed into bed.

The food was close at hand. She did not touch it. She was not hungry, only worn with her day-long combat. She lay back among the pillows. And as she looked up at the stars, each sent out gay little flashes of light to every side.

"Oh, moth-er!" she mourned. "Everybody hates me! Everybody hates me!"

Then came a comforting thought: She would play the Dearest Pretend!

It was easy to make believe that a girlish figure was seated in the dark beside the bed; that a tender face was bending down, a gentle hand touching the troubled forehead, stroking the tangled hair.

"Oh, I want you all the time, moth-er!... And I want you, my precious baby.... How much do you love me, moth-er?... Love you?-oh, big as the sky!... Dear moth-er, may I eat at the grown-up table?... All the time, sweetheart.... Goody! And we'll just let Miss Royle eat with Jane and-"

She caught a stealthy rustle! rustle! rustle! from the direction of the hall. She spoke more low then, but continued to chatter, her pretend-conversation, loving, confidential, and consoling.

Finally, "Moth-er," she plead, "will you please sing?"

She sang. Her voice was husky from crying. More than once it quavered and broke. But the song was one she had heard in the long, raftered living-room at Johnnie Blake's. And it soothed.

"Oh, it is not while beauty and youth are thine o-o-own,

And thy cheek is unstained by a tear,

That the fervor and faith of a soul can be kno-o-own-"

It grew faint. It ended-in a long sigh. Then one small hand in the gentle make-believe grasp of another, she slept.

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