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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 12802

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Bobbing and swaying foolishly, the nurse-maid shuffled to her feet. And Gwendolyn, though she wanted to turn and flee beyond the reach of those big, clutching hands, found herself rooted to the ground, and could only stand and stare helplessly.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces stepped to her side hastily. His look was perturbed. "My! My!" he exclaimed under his breath. "She's worse than I thought!-much worse."

With a little gasp of relief at having him so near, Gwendolyn slipped her trembling fingers into his. "She's worse than I thought," she managed to whisper back.

Neither was given a chance to say more. For seeing them thus, hand in hand, Jane suddenly started forward-with a great boisterous hop and skip. Her front face was distorted with a jealous scowl. She gave Gwendolyn a rough sidewise shove.

"Git away from that old beggar!" she commanded harshly. "Why, he'll kidnap you! Look at his knife!"

Nimbly the little old gentleman thrust himself in front of her, barring her way, and shielding Gwendolyn. "Who told you where she was?" he asked angrily.

"Who?" mocked Jane, impudently. "Well, who is it that tells people things?"

"You mean the Bird?"

Jane's front face broke into a pleased grin. "I mean the Bird," she bragged And balanced from foot to foot.

Gwendolyn, peeking round at her, of a sudden felt a fresh concern. The Bird!-the same Bird that had repeated tales against her father! And now he was tattling on her! She saw all her hopes of finding her parents, all her happy plans, in danger of being blighted.

"Oh, my goodness!" she said mournfully.

She was holding tight to the little old gentleman's coat-tails. Now he leaned down. "We must get rid of her," he declared. "You know what I said. She'll make us trouble!"

"Here! None of that!" It was Jane once more, the grin replaced by a dark look. "I'll have you know this child is in my charge." Again she tried to seize Gwendolyn.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces stood his ground resolutely-and swung the curved knife up to check any advance.

"She doesn't need you," he declared "She's seven, and she's grown-up." And to Gwendolyn, "Tell her so! Don't be afraid! Tell her!"

Gwendolyn promptly opened her mouth. But try as she would, she could not speak. Her lips seemed dry. Her tongue refused to move. She could only swallow!

As if he understood her plight, the little old gentleman suddenly sprang aside to where was the sauce-box, snatched something out of it, ran to the other table and picked up an oblong leather case (a case exactly like the gold-mounted one in which Miss Royle kept her spectacles), put the something out of the sauce-box into the case, closed the case with a snap, and put it, with a swift motion, into Gwendolyn's hand.

"There!" he cried triumphantly. "There's that stiff upper lip! Now you can answer."

It was true! No sooner did she feel the leather case against her palm, than her fear, and her hesitation and lack of words, were gone!

She assumed a determined attitude, and went up to Jane. "I don't need you," she said firmly. "'Cause I'm seven years old now, and I'm grown up. And-what are you here for anyhow?"

At the very boldness of it, Jane's manner completely changed. That front countenance took on a silly simper. And she put her two-faced head, now on one side, now on the other, ingratiatingly.

"What am I here for!" she repeated in an injured tone. "And you ask me that, Miss? Why, what should I be doin' for you, lovie, but dancin' attendance."

At that, she began to act most curiously, stepping to the right and pointing a toe, stepping to the left and pointing a toe; setting down one heel, setting down the other; then taking a waltzing turn.

"Oh!" said Gwendolyn, understanding. (For dancing attendance was precisely what Jane was doing!) After observing the other's antics for a moment, she tossed her head. "Well, if that's all you want to do," she said unconcernedly, "why, dance."

"Yes, dance," broke in the Man-Who-Makes-Faces, snapping his fingers. "Frolic and frisk and flounce!"

Jane obeyed. And waltzed up to the bill-board. "Say! what's the price of that big braid?" she called-between her tortoise-shell teeth. She had spied the red coronet, and was admiring its plaited beauty.

From under those long, square brows, the little old gentleman frowned across the table at her. "I'll quote you no prices," he answered. "You haven't paid me yet for your extra face."

Jane's reply was an impudent double-laugh. She was examining the different things on the bill-board, and hopping sillily from foot to foot.

Gwendolyn tugged gently at a coat-tail. "Can't we run now?" she asked; "and hide?"

Boom-er-oom-er-oom!

"Sh!" warned the Man-Who-Makes-Faces, not stirring. "What was that!"

"I don't know."

Both held their breath. And Gwendolyn took a more firm hold of the lip-case.

After a moment the little old gentleman began to speak very low: "We shan't be able to steal away. She's watching us out of the back of her head!"

"Yes. I can see 'em shine!"

"I believe that when she rolled her eyes from one face to the other it made that rumbley sound."

"Scares me," whispered Gwendolyn.

"Ump!" he grunted. "Ought to cheer you up. For it's my opinion that her eyes rumble because her head's empty."

"If it was hollow I think I'd know," she answered doubtfully. "You see she's been my nurse a long time. But-would it help?"

"Find out," he advised. "And if it's a fact, your mother ought to know."

Boom-er-oom-er-oom!

Gwendolyn, watching, saw two shining spots in Jane's back face grow suddenly small-to the size of glinting pin-points; then disappear. The nurse turned, and came dancing back.

"You'd better let me have that braid, old man," she cried rudely.

"I'll smooth down your saucy tongue," he threatened.

"Tee! hee! hee! hee!" she tittered. "Ha! ha! ha!"

Gwendolyn had heard her laugh before. But it was the first time she had seen her laugh. The Man-Who-Makes-Faces, too. Now, at the same moment, both witnessed an extraordinary thing: As Jane chuckled, she lifted one stout arm so that a black sateen cuff was close to the mouth of the front face. And holding it there, actually laughed in her sleeve!

Laughed in her sleeve-and a great deal more! For with each chuckle, from the top of her red head to her very feet, she grew a trifle more plump!

The little old gentleman warned her with one long finger. "You look out, young lady!" said he. "One of these days you'll laugh on the other side of your face." (Which made Gwendolyn wish that it was not impolite to correct those older than herself; for it was plain that he meant "you'll laugh on your other face.")

Jane put out a tongue-tip at him insolently. Then dancing near, "Come!" she bade Gwendolyn. "Come away with Nurse."

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces made no effort to interpose. But he wagged his head significantly. "It's evident, Miss Jane," said he, "that you've forgotten all about-the Piper."

She came short. And showed herself upset by what he had said, for she did a hop-schottische.

He was not slow to take advantage. "We're sure to see him shortly," he went on. "And when we do-! Because your account with him is adding up terrifically. You're dancing a good deal, you know."

"How can I help that?" demanded Jane. "Ain't I dancin' atten-"

Gwendolyn forgot to listen to the remainder of the sentence. All at once she was a little apprehensive on her own account-remembering how she had danced beside the soda-water, not half an hour before!

"Mr. Man-Who-Makes-Faces," she began timidly, "do you mean the Piper that everybody has to pay?"

"Exactly," replied the little old gentleman. "He's out collecting some pay for me now-from a dishonest fellow who didn't settle for two dozen ears that I boxed and sent him."

At that, Jane began tittering harder than ever (hysterically, this time), holding up her arm as before-and filling out two or three wrinkles in the black sateen! And Gwendolyn, watching closely, saw that while the front face of her nurse was all a-grin, the face on the back of her head wore a nervous expression. (Evidently that front face was not always to be depended upon!)

The little old gentleman also remarked the nervous expression. And followed up the advantage already won. "Now," said he, "perhaps you'll be willing to come along quietly. We're just starting, you understand." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

Gwendolyn glanced in the direction he pointed. And saw-for the first time-that a wide, smooth road led away from the Face-Shop, a road as wide and smooth and curving as the Drive. Like the Drive it was well-lighted on either side (but lighted low-down) by a row of tiny electric bulbs with frosted shades, each resembling an incandescent toadstool. (She remembered having once caught a glimpse of something similar in a store-window.) These tiny lamps were set close together on short stems, precisely as white stones of a selected size edged all the paths at Johnnie Blake's. And each gave out a soft light. She did not have to ask about them. She guessed promptly what they were-lights to make plain the way for people's feet: in short, nothing more nor less than footlights!

A few times in her life-so few that she could tell them off on her pink fingers-she had been taken to the theater, Jane accompanying her by right of nurse-maid, Miss Royle by her superior right as judge of all matters that partook of entertainment; Thomas coming also, though apparently for no reason whatever, to grace a rear seat along with the chauffeur. Seated in a box, close to the curved edge of the stage, she had seen the soft glow of the footlights. But for some reason which she could not fathom, the footlights had always been carefully concealed from everyone but the people on the stage. Trying to imagine them without any suggestions from Miss Royle or Jane, she had patterned them after a certain stuffed slipper-cushion that stood on Jane's dressing-table. How different was the reality, and how much more satisfactory!

Jane looked up the road, between the lines of footlights. "You're just startin'," she repeated. "Where?"

"To find her father and mother," answered the Man-Who-Makes-Faces, stoutly.

At that Jane shook her huge pompadour. "Father and mother!" she cried. "Indeed, you won't! Not while I'm a-takin' care of her." And reaching out, caught Gwendolyn-by a slender wrist.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces seized the other. And the next moment Gwendolyn was unpleasantly reminded of times in the nursery, times when, Miss Royle and Jane disagreeing about her, each pulled at an arm and quarreled. For here was the nurse, tugging one direction to drag her away, and the little old gentleman tugging the other with all his might.

"Slap her hands! Slap her hands!" he shouted excitedly. "It'll start circulation."

Both slapped-so hard that her hands stung. And with the result he sought. For instantly all three began going in circles, around and around, faster and faster and faster.

It was Jane who first let go. She was puffing hard, and the perspiration was standing out upon her forehead. "I'm going to call the Policeman," she threatened shrilly.

"Oh! Oh! Please don't!" Gwendolyn's cry was as shrill. "I don't want him to get me!"

"Call the Policeman then," retorted the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. And to Gwendolyn, soothingly, "Hush! Hush, child!"

Jane danced away-sidewise, as if to keep watch as she went. "Help! Help!" she shouted. "Police! Police!! Poli-i-i-ice!!!"

Gwendolyn was terribly frightened. But she could not run. One wrist was still in the grasp of the little old gentleman. With wildly throbbing heart she watched the road.

"Is he coming?" called the little old gentleman. He, too, was looking up the curving road.

A whistle sounded. It was long-drawn, piercing.

And now Gwendolyn heard movements all about her in the forest-the soft pad, pad of running paws, the hushing sound of wings-as if small live things were fleeing before the sharp call.

Jane hastened back, galloping a polka. "Turn a stone! Turn a stone!" she cried, rumbling her eyes.

Gwendolyn clung to the little old gentleman. "Oh, don't let her!" she plead. "What if-"

"We must."

"Will a pebble-size do?" yelled Jane, excitedly.

"Yes! Yes!" answered the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. "You've seen stones in rings, haven't you? Aren't they pebble-size?"

The nurse stooped, picked up a small stone, and sent it spinning from the end of a thumb.

Faint with fear, Gwendolyn thrust a trembling hand into the patch-pocket and took hold of the lip-case. Then leaning against the little old gentleman, her yellow head half-concealed by the dusty flap of his torn coat, she waited.

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