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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 18434

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It occurred to Gwendolyn that it would be a very good idea to stop turning stones. The first one set bottom-side up had resulted in the arrival of Jane. And whereas the Policeman had appeared when the second was dislodged, here, following the accidental stub of a toe, were these two-the Piper and Thomas.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces hurried across to her, his expression dubious. "Bitter pill!" he exclaimed, with a sidewise jerk of the ragged hat. "Gall and wormwood!"

"Oh, yes!" For-sure enough!-there was an ill-flavored taste on her lips-a taste that made her regret having lost the candy.

Next, the Policeman came tick-tocking up. "The scheme was to kidnap you," he declared wrathfully.

"And keep me from finding my fath-er and moth-er," added Gwendolyn. Now she understood why Jane was so pleased with the choice of the automobile road! And she realized that all along there was never any danger of her being kidnaped by strangers, but by the two who, their past ill-feeling evidently forgotten, were at this very moment chuckling and chattering together, ugly heads touching-the eary head and the head with the double face!

Seeing the Policeman and the little old gentleman in conversation with Gwendolyn, the Piper slouched over. "Look a-here!" he began roughly, addressing all three; "you're goin' to make a great big mistake if you antagonize a man that belongs to a Labor Union." (Just so had he spoken the day he fixed the broken hot-water pipe.)

"Bosh!" cried the Policeman. "What do we care about him! Why, he'll never even get through the Gate!"

Gwendolyn was puzzled. What Gate? And why would Thomas not get through it? Then looking round to where he was conspiring with Jane, she saw what she believed was a very good explanation: He would never even get through the Gate because (a simple reason!) the nurse would not be able to get through.

For by now Jane was not only as round as a barrel, but she was fully as large-what with so much happy giggling over Thomas's arrival. Moreover, having toppled sidewise, she looked like a barrel-a barrel upholstered in black sateen, with a neat touch of white at collar and cuffs!

"He's been in trouble before," continued the Policeman, stormily. "But this time-!" And letting himself down flat upon his head, he shook both neatly shod feet in the Piper's face.

It was now that Gwendolyn chanced, for the first time, to examine the latter's bundle. And was surprised to discover that it was nothing less than a large poke-bonnet-of the fluffy, lacy, ribbony sort. And she was admiring it, for it was of black silk, and handsome, when something within it stirred!

She retreated-until the night-stick and the kidnaper knife were between her and the poke. "Hadn't we better be st-starting?" she faltered nervously.

The Piper marked her manner, and showed instant resentment of it. "This here thing was handed me once in part-payment," he explained. "And I ain't been able to get rid of it since. Every single day it's harder to lug around. Because, you see, he's growin'."

At that, the Policeman and the Man-Who-Makes-Faces exchanged a glance full of significance. And both shrugged-the Policeman with such an emphatic upside-down shrug that his shoulders brushed the ground.

Gwendolyn's curiosity emboldened her. "He?" she questioned.

"The pig."

The pig! Gwendolyn's pink mouth opened in amazement. Here was the very pig that she heard belonged in a poke!

The Piper was glowering at Jane, who was rocking gently from side to side, displaying first one face, then the other. "Well, I call that dancing," he declared. And pulling out a small, well-thumbed account-book, jotted down some figures.

Gwendolyn tried to think of something to say-while feeling mistrust toward the Piper, and abhorrence toward the poke and its contents. At last she took refuge in polite inquiry. "When did you come out from town?" she asked.

The Piper grunted rather ill-humoredly (or was it the pig?-she could not be certain), and colored up a little. "I didn't come out," he answered in his surly fashion. Whereupon he fell to fitting a coupling upon the ends of two pipes.

"No?"-inquisitively.

"I-er-got run out."

"Oh!"

Again the Policeman and the Man-Who-Makes-Faces exchanged a significant glance.

"You see," went on the Piper, "in the City everybody's in debt. Well, I have to have my money, don't I? So I dunned 'em all good. But maybe-er-a speck too much. So-"

"Oh, dear!" breathed Gwendolyn

"Of course, I've never been what you might call popular. Who would be-if everybody owed him money."

"Huh!" snorted the Policeman.

"You overcharge," asserted the little old gentleman.

Gwendolyn hastened to forestall any heated reply from the Piper. "You don't think your pig had anything to do with it?" she suggested considerately. "'Cause do-do nice people like pigs?"

"The pig was never in sight," asserted the Piper. "Guess that's one reason why I can't sell him. What people don't see they don't want to buy-even when it's covered up stylish." (Here he regarded the poke with an expression of entire satisfaction.)

The little company was well on its way by now-though Gwendolyn could not recall the moment of starting. The Piper had not waited to be invited, but strolled along with the others, his birch-stemmed tobacco-pipe in a corner of his mouth, his hands in his pockets, and the pig-poke a-swing at his elbow.

Thomas, left to get Jane along as best he could, had managed most ingeniously. The nurse was cylindrical. All he had to do, therefore, was to give her momentum over the smooth windings of the road by an occasional smart shove with both hands.

Which made it clear that the likelihood of losing Jane, of leaving her behind, was lessening with each moment! For now the more the nurse laughed the easier it would be to get her along.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Gwendolyn, with a sad shake of her yellow head as Jane came trundling up, both fat arms folded to keep them out of the way.

"If she stopped dancin' where would I come in?" demanded the Piper, resentfully. The pig moved in the poke. He trounced the poor thing irritably.

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces now began to speak-in a curious, chanting fashion. "The mode of locomotion adapted by this woman," said he, "rather adds to, then detracts from, her value as a nurse. Think what facilities she has for amusing a child!-on, say, an extensive slope of lawn. And her ability to, see two ways-practically at once-gives her further value. Would she ever let a young charge fall over a cliff?"

The barrel was whopping over and over-noiselessly, except for the faint chatter of Jane's tortoise-shell teeth. Behind it was Thomas, limp-eared by now, and perspiring, but faithful to his task.

"The best thing," whispered Gwendolyn, reaching to touch a ragged sleeve, "would be to get rid of Thomas. Then she-"

The Policeman heard. "Get rid of Thomas?" he repeated. "Easy enough. Look on the ground."

She looked.

"See the h's?"

Sure enough, the road was fairly strewn with the sixth consonant!-both in small letters and capitals.

"Been dropped," went on the Officer.

She had heard the expression "dropping his h's." Now she understood it. "Oh, but how'll these help?"

"Show 'em to Thomas!"

She approached the barrel-and pointed down.

Thomas followed her pointing. Instantly his expression became furious. And one by one his ears stood up alertly. "It's him!" he shouted. "Oh, wait till I get my hands on him!" Then heaving hard at the barrel, he raced off along the alphabetical trail.

Gwendolyn was compelled to run to keep up with him. "What's the trouble?" she asked the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

"A Dictionarial difference," he answered, his dark-skinned face very grave.

"Oh!" (She resolved to hunt Dictionarial up the moment she was back in the school-room.)

Thomas was shouting once more from where he labored in the lead. "I'll murder him!" he threatened. "This time I'll mur-r-der him!"

Murder? That made matters clear! There was only one person against whom Thomas bore such hot ill-will. "It's the King's English," she panted.

"It's the King's English," agreed the Policeman, tick-tocking in rapid tempo.

She reached again to tug gently at a ragged sleeve. "Do you know him?" she asked.

The round black eyes of the little old gentleman shone proudly down at her. "All nice people are well acquainted with the King's English," he declared-which statement she had often heard in the nursery. Now, however, it embarrassed her, for she was compelled to admit to herself that she was not acquainted with the King's English-and he a personage of such consequence!

The Piper hurried alongside, all his pipes rattling. "Just where are we goin', anyhow?" he asked petulantly.

"We're going to the Bear's Den," informed the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

"And here's the Zoo now," announced the Policeman.

It was unmistakably the Zoo. Gwendolyn recognized the main entrance. For above it, in monster letters formed by electric lights, was a sign, bulbous and blinding-

Villa Sites Borax Starch Shirts.

"So this is the Gate you meant!" she called to the Policeman.

The Gate was flung invitingly wide Thomas rushed toward it, his fourteen ears flopping horribly.

"And here he is!" cried the Policeman. "On guard."

The next moment-"'Alt!" ordered a harsh voice-a voice with an English accent.

There was a flash of scarlet before Gwendolyn's face-of scarlet so vivid that it blinded. She flung up a hand. But she was not frightened. She knew what it was. And rubbed at her eyes hastily to clear them.

He stood in full view.

As far as outward appearance was concerned, he was exactly the looking person she had pictured in her own mind-young and tall and lusty, with a florid countenance and hair as blonde as her own. And he wore the uniform of an English soldier-short coat of scarlet, all gold braid and brass buttons; dark trousers with stripes; and a little round cap with a chin strap.

But he carried no cane. Instead, as he stepped forward, nose up, chin up, eyes very bold, he swung a most amazing weapon. It was as scarlet as his own coat, as long as he was tall, and polished to a high degree. But it was not unbending, like a sword: It was limber to whippiness, so that as he twirled it about his blonde head it snapped and whistled. And Gwendolyn remembered having seen others exactly like it hanging on the bill-board at the Face-Shop. For it was a tongue!

"Aw! Mah word!" exclaimed the King's English, surveying the halted group.

Gwendolyn could not imagine what word he had in mind, but she thought him very fine. With his air of proud self-assurance, and his fine brilliant uniform, he was strikingly like her own red-coated toy! Anxious to make a favorable impression upon him, she smoothed the gingham dress hastily, brushed back straying wisps of yellow, straightened her shoulders, and assumed a cordial expression of countenance.

"How do you do," she said, curtseying.

He saluted. But blocked the way.

"May we go into the Zoo, please?"

His hand jerked down to his side. "One at a time," he answered; "-all but Thomas."

Thomas had come short with the others. Now as Gwendolyn looked at him she saw that he, also, was armed with a tongue-a warped and twisted affair, rough, but thin along its edges.

"If you try to keep me out," he cried, "I certainly will murder you!"

At this juncture the Policeman pit-patted forward and took his station at the left of the Gate. Next, the King's English stepped back until he stood at the right. Between them, hand in hand once more, passed Gwendolyn and the Man-Who-Makes-Faces.

The Piper came next. "Call that a' English tongue?" he asked, with an impudent grin at the soldier's shining weapon.

"Yes, sir."

"Pah!"

Now Thomas gave Jane a quick shove forward-but a shove which sent her only as far as the Gate.

The King's English stared down at her. "How are you?" he said coldly.

"I'm awful uncomfortable," was the mournful answer.

"Then take off your stays," he advised. Whereat the polished tongue glanced through the light, caught Jane fairly around the waist, and with a swift recoil brought her to her feet!

And now Gwendolyn, astonished, saw that too much laughter had again remolded that sateen bulk. The nurse had grown woefully heavy about the shoulders-which put a fearful strain on the stitches of her bodice! and gave her the appearance of a gigantic humming-top! As she swayed a moment on her wide-toed shoes-shoes now utterly lacking buttons-the King's English again struck out, caught her, this time, around the neck, and sent her spinning through the Gate!

"Zing-g-g-g!" she laughed dizzily-that laugh the high, persistent note of a top!

Thomas attempted to follow. "I just will come in," he cried, wielding his warped weapon with a flourish.

"You shall not!" To bar the way, the King's English thrust out his polished tongue.

"I will!" Crack! Crack!

"You won't!" Crack! Crack!

The fight was on! For the combatants, tongue's-length from each other, were prowling to and fro menacingly.

"Oh, there's going to be a tongue-lashing," cried Gwendolyn, frightened.

"I'm the King's Hinglish!"-it was the soldier's slogan.

"This is me!" sang Thomas, saucily flicking at a brass button. His face was all cunning.

Then how the tongues popped!

"This is I!" corrected the King's English promptly. But his face got a trifle more florid.

"Steady!" counseled the little old gentleman.

"I'm hall right," the other cried back.

"Oh, Piper!" said Gwendolyn; "which side are you on?"

The Piper shifted his tobacco pipe from one corner of his mouth to the other. "I'm for the man that's got the cash," he declared.

There was no doubt about Jane's choice. Seeing Thomas's momentary advantage, she came spinning close to the Gate. "Use h-words, Thomas!" she hummed. "Use h-words!"

Thomas acted upon her advice. "Hack and hit and hammer!" he charged. "Haggle and halve and hamper! Halt and hang and harass!"

"'Ack and 'it and 'ammer!" struck back the King's English, beginning to breath hard. "Aggie and 'alve and 'amper! 'Alt and 'ang and 'arass!"

As the tongues met, Gwendolyn saw small bright splinters fly this way and that-a shower of them! These splinters darted downward, falling upon the road. And each, as it lit, was an h!

The Policeman was frightened. "Which is your best foot?" he called.

The King's English indicated his right. "This!"

"Then put it forward!"

"My goodness!" exclaimed Gwendolyn. "Am I seeing this, or is it just Pretend?"

Thomas now warmed to the fray. "Harm!" he scourged, "Harness! Hash! Hew! Hoodwink! Hurt and hurk!"

"'Eavens!" breathed the King's English.

"Turn your cold shoulder," advised the little old gentleman.

The King's English thrust out the right. And it helped! "Oh, hayches don't matter," he panted. "I'm hall right has long has 'is grammar doesn't get too bad." And off came one of Thomas's ears-a large one-and blew along the ground like a great leaf.

That was an unfortunate boast. For Thomas, enraged by the loss of an ear, fought with renewed zeal. "If you see he, just tell I!" he shouted.

The King's English went pallid. "If you see 'im, just tell me," he gasped, meeting Thomas gallantly-with the loss of only one splinter.

"Oh, I want you to win!" called Gwendolyn to him.

But the contest was unequal. That was now plain. The King's English had polish and finish. Thomas had more: his tongue, newly sharpened, cut deep at each blow.

Unequal as was the contest, Jane's interference a second time made it more so. For as the fighters trampled to and fro, seeking the better of each other, she twirled near again. "Try your verbs, Thomas!" she counseled. "Try your verbs!"

Eagerly Thomas grasped this second hint. "By which I could was!" he cried, with a curling stroke of the warped tongue; "or shall am!"

At that, the King's English showed distressing weakness. He seemed scarcely to have enough strength for another snap. "By w'ich I could be!" he whipped back feebly; "or shall 'ave been!" And staggered sidewise.

Now the warped and twisted tongue began to chant past-participially: "I done! I done!! I done!!!"

"'Elp!" implored the King's English, fairly wan. "Friends, this-this fellow 'as treated me houtrageously for-for yaaws!"

"Oh, worser and worser and worser," pursued Thomas, changing suddenly to adverbs.

"Rawly now-!" The King's English tottered to his knees.

"I did," prompted Gwendolyn, eager to help him.

"I did," repeated the King's English-but the polished tongue slipped from his grasp!

"I seen!" followed up Thomas. "I sung!" Crack! Crack!

It was the last fatal onslaught.

The scarlet-coated figure fell forward. Yet bravely he strove again to give tongue-lash for tongue-lash-by reaching out one palsied hand toward his weapon.

"I-I-s-a-w!" he muttered; "I s-s-s-ing!"-And expired, with his last breath gasping good grammar.

Instantly Thomas leaped the prostrate figure and strode to the Gate. He was breathing hard, but looking about him boldly. "Now I come through," he boasted.

"O-o-o!" It was Gwendolyn's cry. "Officer, don't let him! Don't!"

In answer to her appeal, the Policeman seized Thomas by a lower ear and shoved him against a gate-post. "You've committed murder!" he cried. "And I arrest you!"

"Tongue-tie him!" shouted the little old gentleman, springing to jerk Thomas's weapon out of his hand, and to snatch up the nicked and splintered weapon of the vanquished soldier.

Under the great blazing sign of the Zoo entrance the capture was accomplished. And in a moment, from his feet to his very ears, Thomas was wrapped, arms tight against sides, in the scarlet toils of the tongues.

"So!" exclaimed the little old gentleman as he tied a last knot. "Thomas'll never bother my little girl again." And taking Gwendolyn by the hand, he led her away.

It was not until she had gone some distance that she turned to take a last look back. And saw, there beside the wide Gate, a rubber-plant, its long leaves waving gently. It was Thomas, bound securely, and abandoned.

Yet she did not pity him. He had murdered the King's English, and he deserved his punishment. Furthermore, he looked so green, so cool, so ornamental!

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