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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 25083

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a cry of amazement. For suddenly-so suddenly that she did not have time to think how it had happened-she found herself up and dressed, and standing alone, gazing about her, in the open air!

But there were no high buildings on any side, no people passing to and fro, no motor-cars flashing by. And the grass underfoot was not the grass of a lawn, evenly cut and flowerless; it was tall, so that it brushed the hem of her dress, and blossom-dotted.

She looked up at the sky. It was not the sky of the City, distant, and marbled with streaks of smoke. It was close and clear; starless, too; and no moon hung upon it. Yet though it was night there was light everywhere-warm, glowing, roseate.

By that radiant glow she saw that she was in the midst of trees! Some were tall and slender and clean-barked; others were low and thick of trunk, but with the wide shapely spread of the great banyan in her geography; and, towering above the others, were the giants of that forest, unevenly branched, misshapen, aslant, and rugged with wart-like burls.

"Is-is this the Park?" she said aloud, still looking around. "Or-or the woods across the River?"

But there was no sign of a paved walk, such as traced patterns through the Park; nor of a chimney, to mark the whereabouts of a house. Behind her the ground sloped gently up to a wooded rise; in front of her it sloped as gently down to the edge of a narrow, noisy mountain stream.

"Why, I'm at Johnnie Blake's!" she cried-then glanced over a shoulder cautiously. If this were indeed the place she had longed to revisit, it would be advisable to keep as quiet as possible, lest someone should hear her, and straightway come to take her home.

Still watching backward apprehensively, she pushed through the grass to the edge of the stream.

The moment she reached it she knew that it was not the trout-stream along which she had wandered while her father fished. It was, in fact, not ordinary water at all, but something lighter, more sparkling with color, swifter, and louder. It effervesced, so that a creamy mist lay along its surface-this the smoke of bursting bubbles. It was like the bottled water she drank at her nursery meals!

Hands clasped, she leaned to stare down. "Isn't it funny!" she exclaimed half under her breath.

A voice answered her-from close at hand. It was a thin, cracked voice. "This is where They get their soda-water," it said.

She turned, and saw him.

He was a queer little old thick-set, dark-skinned gentleman, with grizzled whiskers, a ragged hat and baggy trousers. His eyes were round and black under his brows, which were square and long-haired, and not unlike a certain new hand-brush that Jane wielded of a morning across Gwendolyn's small finger-tips. Over one shoulder, by a strap, hung a dark box, half-hidden by a piece of old carpet. In one hand he held a huge, curved knife.

Though she could not remember ever having seen him at Johnnie Blake's; and though the curved knife was in pattern the true type of a kidnaper's weapon, and the look out of those round, dark eyes, as he strode toward her, was not at all friendly, she did not scamper away. She waited, her heart beating hard. When he halted, she curtsied.

"I've-I've always wondered about soda-water," she faltered, trying to smile. "But when I asked-"

"Um!" he grunted; then, with a sidewise jerk of the head, "Take a drink."

She lifted eager eyes. "All I want to?" she half-whispered.

He nodded. "Sip! Lap! Tipple!"

"Oo!" Fairly beaming with delight, she knelt down. For the first time in her life she could have all the soda-water she wanted!

First, she put the tip of one finger into the rushing sparkle, slowly, to lengthen out her joy. Next, with a little laugh, she sank her whole hand. Bubbles formed upon it,-all sizes of them-standing out like dewdrops upon leaves. The bubbles cooled. And tempted her thirst. With a deep breath, she bent forward until her red mouth touched the shimmering surface. Thus, lying prone, with arms spread wide, she drank deep of the flow.

When she straightened and sat back upon her heels, she made an astonishing discovery: The trees that studded the slope were not covered with leaves, like ordinary trees! Each branched to hold lights-myriads of lights! Some of these shone steadily; others burned with a hissing sound; others were silent enough, but rose and fell, jumped and flickered. It was these countless lights that illumed the forest like a pink sun.

She rose. There was wonder in the gray eyes. "Are these Christmas trees?" she said. "Where am I?"

"You've had your soda-water," he answered shortly. "You ought to know."

"Yes, I-I ought to know. But-I don't."

He grunted.

"I s'pose," she ventured timidly, "that nobody ever answers questions here, either."

He looked uncomfortable. "Yes," he retorted, "everybody does."

"Then,"-advancing an eager step-"why don't you?"

He mopped his forehead. "Well-well-if I must, I must: This is where all the lights go when they're put out at night."

"Oh!" And now as she glanced from tree to tree she saw that what he had said was true. For the greater part of the lights were electric bulbs; while many were gas-jets, and a few kerosene-flames.

Still marveling, her look chanced to fall upon herself. And she found that she was not wearing a despised muslin frock! Her dress was gingham!-an adorable plaid with long sleeves, and a patch-pocket low down on the right side!

"You darling!" she exclaimed happily, and thrust a hand into the pocket. "I guess They made it!"

Next she looked down at her feet-and could scarcely believe! She had on no stockings! She did not even have on slippers. She was barefoot!

Then, still fearful that there was some mistake about it all, she put a hand to her head; and found her hair-bow gone! In its place, making a small floppy double knot, was a length of black shoe-string!

"Oh, goody!" she cried.

"Um!" grunted the little old gentleman. "And you can play in the water if you'd like to."

That needed no urging! She was face about on the instant.

From the standpoint of messing the soda-stream was ideal. It brawled around flat rocks, set at convenient jumping-distances from one another. (She leaped promptly to one of these and sopped her handkerchief.) It circled into sand-bottomed pools just shallow enough for wading; and from the pools, it spread out thinly to thread the grass, thus giving her an opportunity for squashing-a diverting pastime consisting in squirting equal parts of water and soil ticklishly through the toes. She hopped from rock to pool; she splashed from pool to long, wet, muddy grass.

It was the water-play that brought the realization of all her new good-fortune-the being out of doors and plainly clad; free from the espionage of a governess; away from the tyranny of a motor-car; barefoot; and-chief blessing of all!-nurseless.

Forgetting the little old gentleman, in a sudden excess of glee she seized a stick and bestrode it; seized another and belabored the quarters of a stout dappled pony; pranced, reared, kicked up her wet feet, shied wildly-

Then, both sticks cast aside, she began to dance; at first with deliberation, holding out the gingham dress at either side, and mincing through the steps taught by Monsieur Tellegen. But gradually she forsook rhythm and measure; capering ceased; the dance became fast and furious. Hallooing, she raced hither and thither among the trees, tossing her arms, darting down at the flowers and flinging them high, swishing her yellow hair from side to side, leaping exultantly toward the lights, pivoting-

Suddenly she found that she was dancing to music!-not the laboriously strummed notes of a piano, such as were beaten out by the firm-striding Miss Brown; not the clamorous, deafening, tuneless efforts of an orchestra. This was real music-inviting, inspiring, heavenly!

It was a hand-organ!

She halted, spell-bound. He was playing, turning the crank with a swift, steady motion, his ragged hat tipped to one side.

Now she understood the box hanging from its strap. She danced up to him, and held out a hand. "Why, you're the hand-organ man!" she panted breathlessly. "And you got here as quick as I did!"

He stopped playing, "I'm the hand-organ man when I'm in town," he corrected. "Here, in the Land of the Lights, I'm the Man-Who-Makes-Faces."

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces! She looked at him with new interest. "Why, of course you are," she acknowledged. "Sometimes you make 'em in town."

"Sometimes in town I make an ugly one," he retorted. Whereupon he shouldered the hand-organ, grasped the curved knife, and started away. As he walked, he called aloud to every side, like a huckster.

"Here's where you get your ears sharpened!" he sang. "Ears sharpened! Eyes sharpened! Edges taken off of tongues!"

She trotted beside him, head up, gray eyes wide, lips parted. He was ascending a gentle rise toward a low hill not far distant. As she drew away from the stream and the glade, she heard, from somewhere far behind, a shrill voice. It called a name-a name strangely familiar. She paid no heed.

At the summit of the little hill, under some trees, he paused, and waved the kidnaper knife in circles. "Ears to sharpen!" he shrilled again. "Eyes to sharpen! Edges taken off of tongues!"

She smiled up at him engagingly, noting how his gray hair hung over the back of his collar. She felt no fear of him whatever. "I think you're nice, Mr. Man-Who-Makes-Faces," she announced presently. "I'm so glad I can look straight at you. I didn't know you, 'cause your voice is different, and 'cause I'd never seen you before 'cept when I was looking down at you."

He had been ignoring her. But now, "Wasn't my fault that we didn't meet face to face," he retorted. Though his voice was still cross, his round, bright eyes were almost kind. "If you'll remember I often came under your window."

"And I threw you money," she answered, nodding brightly. "I wanted to come down and talk to you, oh, lots of times, only-"

At that, he relented altogether. And, reaching out, shook hands cordially. "Wouldn't you like," said he, "to have a look at my establishment?" He jerked a thumb over a shoulder. "Here's where I make faces."

In the City she had seen many wonderful shops, catching glimpses of some from the little window of her car, visiting others with Miss Royle or Jane. Among the former were those fascinating ones, usually low of ceiling and dark with coal-dust, where grimy men in leather aprons tried shoes on horses; and those horrifying places past which she always drove with closed eyes-places where, scraped white and head downward, hung little pigs, pitiful husks of what they once had been, flanked on either hand by long-necked turkeys with poor glazed eyes; and once she had seen a wonderful shop in which men were sawing out flat pieces of stone, and writing words on them with chisels.

But this shop of the Man-Who-Makes-Faces was the most interesting of all.

It occupied a square of hard-packed ground-a square as broad as the nursery. And curiously enough, like the nursery, it had, marking it off all the way around its outer edge, a border of flowers!

It was shaded by one huge tree.

"Lime-tree," explained the little old gentleman. "And the lights-"

"Don't tell me!" she cried. "I know! They're lime lights."

These made the shop exceedingly bright. Full in their glare, neatly disposed, were two short-legged tables, a squat stool, and a high, broad bill-board.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces seated himself on the stool at one of the tables and began working industriously.

But Gwendolyn could only stand and stare about her, so amazed that she was dumb. For in front of the little old gentleman, and spread handily, were ears and eyes, noses and mouths, cheeks and chins and foreheads. And upon the bill-board, pendant, were toupees and side-burns and mustaches, puffs, transformations and goatees-and one coronet braid (a red one) glossy and thick and handsome!

The bill-board also held an assortment of tongues-long and scarlet. These, a score in all, were ranged in a shining row. And underneath them was a sign which bore this announcement:

Tongues In All Languages

Dead or Modern

Chic if Seven

Are Purchased at Once.

Gwendolyn clapped her hands. "Oo! how nice!" she exclaimed, finding her voice again.

"Quite so," said the little old gentleman, shoving away a tray of chins and chee

ks and reaching for a forehead. "Welcome, convenient, and satisfactory."

She saw her opportunity. "Please," she began, "I'd like to buy six." She counted on her fingers. "I'll have a French tongue, a German tongue, a Greek tongue, a Latin tongue, and-later, though, if you don't happen to have 'em on hand-a Spanish and an Italian." Then she heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm glad I saw these," she added. "They'll save me a lot of work. And they've helped me about a def'nition. I looked for 'lashing' in my big dictionary. And it said 'to whip.' But I couldn't see how anybody could whip anybody else with a tongue. Now, though-"

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces nodded. "Just wait till you see the King's English," he bragged.

"The King's English? Will I see him?"

"Likely to," he answered, selecting an eye. He had all his eyes about him in a circle, each looking as natural as life. There were blue eyes and brown eyes, hazel eyes and-

"Ah!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I remember! It was you who gave the Policeman a black eye!"

"One fine black eye," he answered, chuckling as he poked about in a pile of noses and selected a large-sized one. "Yes! Yes! And recently I made a lovely blue pair for a bad-tempered child who'd cried her own eyes out."

She assented. She had heard of just such a case. "Once I saw some eyes in a shop-window," she confided. "It was a shop where you could buy spectacles."

He wagged his beard proudly. "I made every one of 'em!" he boasted. "Oh, yes, indeed." And polished away at the tip of the large nose.

She considered for a moment. "I'm glad I know," she said gravely. "I wanted to, awful much."

After that she studied the bill-board for a time. And presently discovered that a second supply of eyes was displayed there, being set in it as jewels are set in brooches!

She pointed. "What kind are those?"

He looked surprised at the question. "The bill-board is the rear wall of my shop," said he. "And those eyes are wall-eyes."

She flushed with pleasure. "That's exactly what I thought!" she declared.

She began to walk up and down, one hand in the patch-pocket-to make sure it was really there. For this was all too good to be true. Here, in this Land so new to her, and so wonderful, were things about which she had pondered, and puzzled, and asked questions-the tongues, for instance, and the lime-lights, and the soda-water. How simply and naturally each was now explained!-explained as she herself had imagined each would be. She felt a sudden pride in herself. So far had anything been really unexpected? As she went back to pause in front of the little old gentleman, it was with a delightful sense of understanding. Oh, this was one of her pretend-games, gloriously come true!

Now she felt a very flood of questions surge to her lips. She pointed to a deep yellow bowl set on the table beside him. "Would you mind telling me what that is?" she asked.

"That? That's a sauce-box." And he smiled.

"Oh!-What's it full of, please?"

"Full of mouths,"-cheerily.

It was her turn to smile. She smiled into the sauce-box. At its center was a queer object, very like a short length of dried apple-peeling.

"I s'pose that's part of a mouth?" she ventured.

He picked up the object and balanced it across his thumb. "You've guessed it!" he declared. "And it's a fine thing to carry around with one. You see, it's a stiff upper lip." He tossed it back.

"My!" She took a deep breath. "Once I asked and asked about a stiff upper lip."

He went on with his polishing. "Should think you'd be more interested in these," he observed, giving a nod of the ragged hat toward a shallow dish at his elbow. "Little girls generally are."

She looked, and saw that the dish was heaped high with what seemed to be white peanuts-peanuts that tapered to a point at one end. She puckered her brows over them.

"Can't guess?" said he. "Then you didn't drink enough of that soda-water. Well, ever hear of a sweet tooth?"

At that she clapped her hands and jumped up and down. "Why, I've got one!" she cried.

"Oh?" said the little old gentleman. "Thought so. I always keep a supply on hand. Carve 'em myself, out of cube sugar."

"Oh, aren't they funny!" She leaned above the shallow dish.

"Funny?" repeated the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. "Not when they get into the wrong mouth!-a wry mouth, for instance, or an ugly mouth. A sweet tooth should go, you understand, only with a sweet face."

"Is it a sweet tooth that makes a face sweet?" she inquired.

"Quite so." He held up the nose to examine it critically.

She watched him in silence for a while. Then, "You don't mind telling me who's going to have that?" she ventured, pointing a finger at the nose.

"This? Oh, this is for a certain little boy's father."

She blinked thoughtfully. "Is his name," she began-and stopped.

"His father-the unfortunate man-has been keeping his own nose to the grindstone pretty steadily of late, and so-"

"I can't just remember the name I'm thinking about," said Gwendolyn, troubled.

He glanced up. And the round, bright eyes were grave as he searched her face. "I wonder," he said in a low voice, "if you know who you are."

She smiled. "Well, I've been acquainted with myself for seven years," she declared.

"But do you know who you are?" (The round eyes were full of tears!)

She felt uncertain. "I did just a little while ago. Now, though-"

He reached to take her hand. "Shall I tell you?"

"Yes,"-in a whisper.

"You're the Poor Little Rich Girl." He patted her hand. "The Poor Little Rich Girl!"

She nodded bravely, and stood looking up at him. He was old and unkempt. Out at elbows, too. And the bottoms of his baggy trousers hung in dusty shreds. But his lined and bearded face was kind! "I-I haven't been so very happy," she said falteringly.

He shook his head. "Not happy! And no step-relations, either!"

"Well,-er," (she felt uncertain) "there are some step-houses just across the street."

"Not the same thing," he declared shortly. "But, hm! hm!"-as he coughed, he waved an arm cheerily. "Things will improve. Oh, yes. All you've got to do is follow my advice."

The gray eyes were wistful, and questioning.

"You've got a lot to do," he went on. "Oh, a great deal. For instance"-here he paused, running his fingers through his long hair-"there's Miss Royle, and Thomas, and Jane."

She was silent for a long moment. Miss Royle! Thomas! Jane! In the joy of being out of doors, of having real dirt to scuff in, and high grass through which to brush; of having a plaid gingham with a pocket, and all the fizzing drink she wished; of being able to dabble and wade; and of having good, squashy soda-mud for pies-in the joy at all this she had utterly forgotten them!

She looked up at the tapered trees, and down at the flower-bordered ground; then at the bill-board, and the loaded tables of that marvelous establishment. There was still so much to see! And, oh, how many scores of questions to ask!

He bent until his beard swept the sauce-box. "You'll just have to keep out of their clutches," he declared.

Again she nodded, twisting and untwisting her fingers. "I thought maybe they didn't come here."

"Come?" he grunted. "Won't they be hunting you? Well, keep out of their clutches, I say. That's absolutely necessary. You'll see why-if you let 'em get you! For-how'll you ever find your father?"

"Oh!" A sudden flush swept her face. She looked at the ground. She had forgotten Miss Royle and Thomas and Jane. Worse! Until that moment she had forgotten her father and mother!

"There's that harness of his," went on the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. He thought a moment, pursing his lips and twiddling his thumbs. "We'll have to consider how we can get rid of it."

She glanced up. "Where does he come?" she asked huskily; "my fath-er?"

"Um! Yes, where?" He seemed uneasy; scratched his jaw; and rearranged a row of chins. "Well, the fact is, he comes here to-er-buy candles that burn at both ends."

"Of course. Is it far?"

"Out in a new fashionable addition-yes, addition, subtraction, multiplication."

"You won't mind showing me the way?" Now her face grew pale with earnestness.

He smiled sadly. "I? Your father thinks poorly of me. He's driven me off the block once or twice, you know. Though"-he looked away thoughtfully-"when you come to think of it there isn't such a lot of difference between your father and me. He makes money: I make faces."

It was one of those unpleasant moments when there seemed very little to be said. She stood on the other foot.

He began polishing once more. "Then there's that bee," he resumed-

"Moth-er."

He went on as quickly as possible. "Of course there are lots of things worse than one of those so-cial hon-ey-gath-er-ing in-sects-"

"She sees nothing else! She hears nothing else!"

"Um! We'll help her get rid of it!-if!"

"If?"

"You've got a lot to overcome. Recollect the Policeman?"

She retreated a step.

"Just suppose we meet him! And the Bear that-"

"My!"

"Yes. And a certain Doctor."

"Oh, dear!"

"Bad! Pretty bad!"

"Where does my moth-er come?"-timidly.

The question embarrassed. "Er-the place is full of carriage-lamps," he began; "and-and side-lights, and search-lights, and-er-lanterns."

She looked concerned. "I can't guess."

"Just ordinary lanterns," he added. "You see, the Madam comes to-to Robin Hood's Barn."

"Robin Hood's Barn!"

"Exactly. Nice day, isn't it?"

By the expression on his face, Gwendolyn judged that Robin Hood's Barn-of which she had often heard-was a most undesirable spot. "Is it far?" she asked, swallowing.

"No. Only-we'll have to go around it."

Somehow, all at once, he seemed the one friend she had. She put out a hand to him. "You will go with me?" she begged. "Oh, I want to find my fath-er, and my moth-er!"

"You want to tell 'em the real truth about those three servants they're hiring. Unless I'm much mistaken, your parents have never taken one good square look at those three."

"Oh, let's start." Now, of a sudden, all the hopes and plans of the past months came crowding back into her mind. "I want to sit at the grown-up table," she declared. "And I want to live in the country, and go to day-school."

He hung the hand-organ over a shoulder. "You can do every one of them," he said, "if we find your father and mother."

"We'll find them," she cried determinedly.

"We'll find 'em," he said, "if, as we go along, we don't leave one-single-stone-unturned."

"Oh!" she glanced about her, searching the ground.

"Not one," he repeated. "And now-we'll start." He picked up two or three small articles-an ear, a handful of hair, a plump cheek.

"But there's a stone right here," said Gwendolyn. It was a small one, and lay at her feet, close to the table-leg.

He peered over. "All right! Turn it!"

She stooped-turned the rock-straightened.

The next moment a chill swept her; the next, she felt a heavy hand upon her shoulder, and clumsy fingers busy with the buttons on the gingham dress.

"Tee! hee! hee! hee!"

It was the voice that had called from a distance. Hearing it now she felt a sudden, sickish, sinking feeling. She whirled.

A strange creature was kneeling behind her-a creature dressed in black sateen, and like no human being that she had ever met before. For it was two-faced!

One face (the front) was blowzy and freckled, with a small pug nose and a quarrelsome mouth. The other (the face on what, with ordinary persons, was the back of the head) was dark and forbidding, its nose a large brick-colored pug, the mouth underneath shaped most extraordinarily-not unlike a barrette, for it was wide and long, and square at the corners, and full of shining tortoise-shell teeth! But the creature had only one tongue. This was loose at both ends, so that there was one tip for her front face, and one for the back. But she had only one pair of eyes. These were reddish. They watched Gwendolyn boldly from the front; then rolled quickly to the rear to stare at the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

At sight of the two-faced creature, Gwendolyn shrank away, frightened.

"Oh!-oh, my!" she faltered.

Both horrid mouths now bellowed hilariously. And the creature reached out a big hand.

"Look here, Gwendolyn!" it ordered. "You ain't goin'!"

Gwendolyn lifted terrified eyes for a second look at the brick-colored hair, the blowzy countenance. No possibility of doubt remained!

It was Jane!

* * *

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