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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 19080

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


As she trotted along, pulling with great relish at a candy-stick, she glanced down at the Policeman every now and then-and glowed with pride. On some few well-remembered occasions her chauffeur had condescended to hold a short conversation with her; had even permitted her to sound the clarion of the limousine, with its bright, piercing tones. All of which had been keenly gratifying. But here she was, actually conversing with an Officer in full uniform! And on terms of perfect equality!

She proffered him the bag of spiral sweets.

He cocked his head side wise at it. "Is that the chewing kind?" he inquired.

"Oh, I'm sorry!"

However, he did not seem in the least disappointed. For he had a mouthful of gum, and this he cracked loudly from time to time-in a way that excited her admiration and envy.

"I've watched you go by our house lots of times," she confided presently, eager to say something cordial.

"Oh?" said he. "It's a beat that does well enough in summer. But in the wintertime I'd rather be Down-Town." Puffing a little,-for though he was upside down and walking on his hands, he had so far made good progress-he halted and rested his feet against the lowest limb of a tree that stood close to the road. Now his cap touched the ground, and his hands were free. With one white-gloved finger he drew three short lines in the packed dirt.

"And you ought to be Down-Town," declared the little old gentleman, halting too. "Because you're a Policeman with a level head."

A level head? Gwendolyn stooped to look. And saw that it was indeed a fact!

"If I hadn't one," answered the Policeman with dignity, "would I be able to stand up comfortably in this remarkable manner?"

"Oh, tee! hee! hee! hee!"

It was the nurse, her sleeve lifted, her blowzy face convulsed. As she laughed, Gwendolyn saw wrinkle after wrinkle in the black sateen taken up-with truly alarming rapidity.

"My!" she exclaimed. "Jane's always been stout. But now-!"

The Policeman was deepening the three short lines in the dirt, making a capital A. "Two streets come together," he said, placing his finger on the point of the letter. "And the block that connects 'em just before they meet, that's the beat for me."

"I hope you'll get it," she said heartily.

"Get it!" he repeated bitterly. "Well, I certainly won't if I don't find that Bird!" And he started forward once more.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces, trudging alongside, craned to peer ahead, his grizzled beard sticking straight out in front of him. "Now, let me see," he mused in a puzzled way. "Which route, I wonder, had we better take?"

"That depends on where we're going," replied the Policeman, helplessly. "And with the Bird gone, of course I don't know."

"I'll tell you," said the little old gentleman promptly. "First, we must cross the Glass-"

Gwendolyn gave him a quick glance. Surely he meant cross the grass.

"Yes, the Glass; go on," encouraged the Officer.

"-And find him." Those round dark eyes darted a quick glance at Gwendolyn.

Jane, capering at his heels, now interrupted. "Find him!" she taunted. "Gwendolyn'll never find her father if she don't listen to me."

He ignored her. "Next," he went on "we'll steer straight for Robin Hood's Barn."

"Oh!" exclaimed the Policeman "Then we have to go around."

"Everybody has to go around."

Once more Jane broke in. "Gwendolyn," she called, "you'll never find your mother. This precious pair is takin' you the wrong way!"

Gwendolyn paid no heed. Ahead the road divided-to the left in a narrow bridle-path, all loose soil and hoof-prints, and sharp turns; to the right in a level thoroughfare that held a straight course. She touched the little old gentleman's elbow. "Which?" she whispered.

As the parting of the ways was reached, he pointed. And she saw a sign-a sign with an arrow directing travelers to the right. Under the arrow, plainly lettered, were the words:

To the Bear's Den.

Gwendolyn looked her concern. "Do we have to go that road?" she asked him.

He nodded.

The next moment, with a loud rumbling of the eyes, Jane came alongside. "Oh, dearie," she cried, "you couldn't hire me to go. And I wouldn't like to see you go. I think too much of you, I do indeed."

"Hold your tongue!" ordered the little old gentleman, crossly.

Jane obeyed. Up came a hand, and she seized the tongue-tip in her front mouth. But since there was a second tongue-tip in that back face, she still continued her babbling: "Don't ask me to trapse over the hard pavements on my poor tired feet, dearie, just because you take your notions.... Come, I say! Your mother's nobody, anyhow.... You don't know what you're sayin' or doin', poor thing! You're just wanderin', that's all-just wanderin'."

"I'm wandering in the right direction, anyhow," retorted Gwendolyn, stoutly. And to the little old gentleman, "I'm sorry we're going this way, though. I'm 'fraid of Bears,"-for the sign was past now; the four were on the level thoroughfare.

The Policeman seemed not to have remarked her anxiety. "And after the Den, what do we pass?" he questioned.

"The Big Rock," answered the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

"Do we have to turn it?" The other spoke with some annoyance. "What's likely to come out? I suppose it won't be hiding that Bird."

"There's a hollow under the Rock," said the little old gentleman. "We'll find something." His face grew grave.

"And-and after we go by the Big Rock?" ventured Gwendolyn.

The little old gentleman smiled. "Ah, then!" he said, "-then we come to the Pillery!"

"Oh!" She considered the reply. Pillery-it was a word she had never chanced upon in the large Dictionary. Yet she felt she could hardly ask any questions about it. She had asked so many already. "It's kind of you to answer and answer and answer," she said aloud. "Nobody else ever did that."

"Ask anything you want to know," he returned cordially. "I'll always give you prompt attention. Though of course, there are some things-" He hesitated.

"Yes?"-eagerly.

"That only fathers and mothers can answer."

"Oh!"

"Didn't you know that?" demanded the Policeman, surprised.

"Tee! hee! hee! hee!" snickered Jane. Though she was some few steps in the rear, her difficult breathing could be plainly heard. She had laughed so much into her sleeve, and had grown so stout, that by now not a single wrinkle remained in the black sateen; worse-she was beginning to try every square inch of the cloth sorely. And having danced every foot of the way, she was tiring.

"Oh, fath-er-and-moth-er questions," said Gwendolyn.

"Precisely," answered the little old gentleman; "-about my friends, Santa Claus and the Sand-Man, for instance-"

"They're not friends of Potter's, I guess. 'Cause he-"

"-And the fairies, and the gnomes, and the giants; and Mother Goose and her crowd. Of course a nurse or a governess or a teacher of some sort might try to explain. Wouldn't do any good, though. You wouldn't understand."

The Policeman swung his head back and forth, nodding. "That's the worst," said he, "of being a Poor-" Here he fell suddenly silent, and spatted the dust with his palms in an embarrassed way.

She understood. "A Poor Little Rich Girl," she said, "who doesn't see her fath-er and moth-er."

"But you will," he declared determinedly, and forged ahead faster than ever, white hand following white hand.

It was then that Gwendolyn heard the nurse muttering and chortling to herself. "Well, I never!" exclaimed the tongue-tip that was not being held. "If this ain't a' automobile road! Why, it's a fine automobile road! Ha! ha! ha! That makes a difference!"

Gwendolyn was startled. What did Jane mean? What difference? Why so much satisfaction all at once? She wished the others would listen; would take note of the triumphant air. But both were busy, the little old gentleman chattering and pointing ahead, the Policeman straining to keep pace and look where his companion directed.

To lessen her uneasiness, Gwendolyn hunted a second stick of candy. Then sidled in between her two friends. "Oh, please," she began appealingly, with a glance up and a glance down, "I'm 'fraid Jane's going to make us trouble. Can't we think of some way to get rid of her?"

The Policeman twisted his neck around until he could wink at her with his black eye. "In town," said he meaningly, "we Policemen have a way."

"Oh, tell us!" she begged. For the Man-Who-Makes-Faces looked keenly interested.

"Well," resumed the Officer-and now he halted just long enough to raise a gloved finger to one side of his head with a significant gesture-"when we want to get rid of a person, we put a flea in his ear."

Gwendolyn blushed rosy. A flea! It was an insect that Miss Royle had never permitted her to mention. Still-

"But-but where could we-er-find-a-a-?"

She had stammered that far when she saw the little old gentleman turn his wrinkled face over a shoulder. Next, he jerked an excited thumb. And looking, she saw that Jane was failing to keep up.

By now the nurse had swelled to astonishing proportions. Her body was as round as a barrel. Her face was round too, and more red than ever. Her cheeks were so puffed, the skin of her forehead was so tight and shiny, that she looked precisely like a monster copy of a sanitary rubber doll!

"She can't last much longer! Her strength's giving out." It was the Policeman. And his voice ended in a sob. (Yet the sob meant nothing, for he was showing all his white teeth in a delighted

smile.)

"She must have help!"-this the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. His voice broke, too. But his round, dark eyes were brimming with laughter.

"Who'll help her?" demanded Gwendolyn. "Nobody. So one of that three is gone for good!"

She halted now-on the summit of a rise. Up this, but at a considerable distance, Jane was toiling, with feeble hops to the right, and staggering steps to the left, and faint, fat gasps.

"Oh, Gwendolyn darlin'!" she called weepingly. "Oh, don't leave your Jane! Oh! Oh!"

"I've made up my mind," announced Gwendolyn, "to have the nurse-maid in the brick house. So, good-by-good-by."

She began to descend rapidly, with the little old gentleman in a shuffling run, and the Policeman springing from hand to hand as if he feared pursuit, and swaying his legs from side to side with a tick-tock, tick-tock. The going was easy. Soon the bottom of the slope was reached. Then all stopped to look back.

Jane had just gained the top. But was come to a standstill. Over the brow of the hill could be seen only her full face-like a big red moon.

At the sight, Gwendolyn felt a thrill of joy-the joy of freedom found again. "Why, she's not coming up," she called out delightedly. "She's going down!" And she punctuated her words with a gay skip.

That skip proved unfortunate. For as ill-luck would have it, she stumbled. And stumbling stubbed her toe. The toe struck two small stones that lay partly embedded in the road-dislodged them-turned them end for end-and sent them skimming along the ground.

"Two!" cried the Policeman. "Now who?"

"If only the right kind come!" added the little old gentleman, each of his round eyes rimmed with sudden white.

"I'll blow my whistle." Up swung the shining bit of metal on the end of its chain.

"Blow it at the top of your lungs!"

The Policeman had balanced himself on his head, thrown away his gum, and put the whistle against his lips. Now he raised it and placed it against his chest, just above his collar-button. Then he blew. And through the forest the blast rang and echoed and boomed-until all the tapers rose and fell, and all the footlights flickered.

Instantly that red moon sank below the crest of the hill. Puffs of smoke rose in its place. Then there was borne to the waiting trio a sound of chugging. And the next instant, with a purr of its engine, and a whirr of its wheels, here into full sight shot forward the limousine!

Gwendolyn paled. The half-devoured stick of candy slipped from her fingers. "Oh, I don't want to be shut up in the car!" she cried out. "And I won't! I won't! I WON'T!" She scurried behind the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

The automobile came on. Its polished sides reflected the varied lights of the forest. Its hated windows glistened. One door swung wide, as if yawning for a victim!

The little old gentleman, as he watched it, seemed interested rather than apprehensive. After a moment, "Recollect my speaking of the Piper?" he asked.

"Y-y-yes."

At the mention of the Piper, the Policeman stared up. "The Pip-Piper!" he protested, stammering, and beginning to back away.

At that, Gwendolyn felt renewed anxiety. "The Piper!" she faltered. "Oh, I'll have to settle with him." And thrust a searching hand into the patch-pocket.

The Policeman kept on retreating. "I don't want to see him," he declared. "He made me pay too dear for my whistle." And he bumped his head against his night-stick.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces hastened to him, and halted him by grasping him about his fast-swaying legs. "You can't run away from the Piper," he reminded. "So-"

Gwendolyn was no longer frightened. In her search for money she had found the gold-mounted leather case. This she now clutched, receiving courage from the stiff upper-lip.

But the Policeman was far from sanguine. Now perspiration and not tears glistened on his forehead. He grasped his club with one shaking hand.

As for the little old gentleman, he held the curved knife out in front of him, all his thin fingers wound tightly around its hilt. "What's the Piper got beside him?" he asked in a tone full of wonder. "Is it a rubber-plant?"

Gwendolyn looked. The Piper was leaning over the steering-wheel of the car. He was so near by now that she could make him out clearly-a lanky, lean-jawed young man in a greasy cap and Johnnie Blake overalls. Over his right shoulder, on a strap, was suspended a bundle. A tobacco-pipe hung from a corner of his mouth. But it was evidently not this pipe that had given him his title; but pipes of a different kind-all of lead, in varying lengths. These were arranged about his waist, somewhat like a long, uneven fringe. And among them was a pipe-wrench, a coupling or two, and a cutter.

Beside him on the seat, in the foot man's place, was a queer object. It was tall, and dark-blue in color. (Or was it green?) On one side of it were what seemed to be seven long leaves. On the other side were seven similar leaves. And as the car rolled swiftly up, these fourteen long leaf-like projections waved gently.

She had no chance to examine the object further. Something else claimed her attention. The windowed door of the limousine suddenly swung wide, and through it, toward her, was extended a long black beckoning arm. Next, a freckled face filled the whole of the opening, spying this way and that. It was Jane!

"Come, dearie," she cooed. (She had let go the front tongue-tip.) "I wouldn't stay with them two any more. Here's your beautiful car, love. This is what'll take you fast to your papa and mamma."

"No!" cried Gwendolyn. And to the Man-Who-Makes-Faces, "She was 'fraid of the Piper just a little while ago. Now, she's riding around with him. I think he's-"

"Ssh!" warned the little old gentleman, speaking low. "We have to have him. And he has his good points."

The Piper was staring at Gwendolyn impertinently. Now he climbed down from his seat, all his pipes tinkling and tankling as he moved, and gave her a mocking salute, quite as if he knew her-yet without removing the tobacco-pipe from between his lips, or the greasy cap from his hair.

"Well, if here ain't the P.L.R.G.," he exclaimed rudely.

As she got a better view of him she remembered that she had met him before-in her nursery, that fortunate morning the hot-water pipe burst. He was the very Piper that had been called in to make plumbing repairs!

"Good-evening," said Gwendolyn, nodding courteously-but staying close to the little old gentleman. For Jane had summoned strength enough to topple out of the limousine and teeter forward. Now she was kneeling in the road, crooking a coaxing finger, and gurgling invitingly.

The Piper scowled at the nurse. "Say! What do you think you're doin'?" he demanded. "Singin' a duet with yourself?" Then turning upon the Policeman, "Off your beat, ain't you?" he inquired impudently; when, without waiting for an answer, he swung round upon the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. "Old gent," he began tauntingly, "I can't collect real money for that dozen ears." And threw out an arm toward the object on the driver's seat.

Gwendolyn looked a second time. And saw a horrid and unnatural sight. For the object was a man, straight enough, broad-shouldered enough, with arms and legs, feet and hands, and a small head; but a man shockingly disfigured. For down either side of him, projecting from head and shoulders and arms, were ears-long, hairy, mulish ears, that wriggled horribly, one moment unfolding themselves to catch every sound, the next flopping about ridiculously.

"Why, he's all ears!" she gasped.

The little old gentleman started forward. "It's that dozen I boxed!" he announced. "Hey! Come out of there!"

Gwendolyn's heart sank. Now she knew. From the first her fear had been that one of the dreaded three would come and fetch her out of the Land before she could find her parents. And here, at the very moment when she hoped to leave the worst of the trio behind, here was another!-to hamper and tattle and thwart.

For the rubber plant was Thomas!

And now all at once there was the greatest excitement. The Man-Who-Makes-Faces seized Thomas by an ear and dragged him to the ground, all the while upbraiding him loudly. And while these two were occupied, the Piper swaggered toward the Policeman, his pipes and implements striking and jangling together.

"I want my money," he bellowed.

"I don't owe you anything!" retorted the Policeman.

All this gave Jane the opportunity she wished. She advanced upon Gwendolyn. "Come, sweetie," she wheedled. "Rich little girls don't hike along the streets like common poor little girls. So jump in, and pretend you're a Queen, and have a grand ride-"

Now all of a sudden a terrible inclination to obey seized Gwendolyn. There yawned that door-here burned those reddish eyes, compelling her forward into a dreaded grasp-

She screamed, covering her face.

In that moment of danger it was the Policeman who came to her rescue. Eluding the Piper, he ran, hand over hand, to the side of the car, balanced himself on his level head, and waved his club.

"Move on!" he ordered in a deep voice (precisely as Gwendolyn had heard officers order at crowded crossings); "move on, there!"

The limousine obeyed! With no one touching the steering-gear, the engine began to chug, the wheels to whirr. And purring again, like some great good-natured live thing, it gained momentum, took the road in a cloud of pink dust, and, rounding a distant turn, disappeared from sight.

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