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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 21574

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Why had Miss Royle, sly reptile that she was, scuttled away without so much as a good-by?

"Oh, dear!" sighed Gwendolyn; "just as soon as one trouble's finished, another one starts!"

"We must get on her track!" declared the Policeman, patroling to and fro anxiously.

"And let's hurry," urged the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. "It's coming night in the City. And all these lights'll be needed soon."

Very soon, indeed. For even as he spoke it happened-with a sharp click. Instantly the pink glow was blotted out. As suddenly thick blackness shut down.

Except straight ahead! There Gwendolyn made out an oblong patch of sky in which were a few dim stars.

"Never mind," went on the little old gentleman, soothingly. "Because we're close to the place where there's light all the time."

"All the time?" repeated Gwendolyn, surprised.

"It's where light grows."

"Grows?"

"Well, it's where candle-light grows."

"Candle-light!" she cried. "You mean-! Oh, it's where my fath-er comes!"

"Sometimes."

"Will he be there now?"

"Only the Bird can tell us that."

Then she understood Jane's last gasping admonition-"Get you-know-what out of the way! A certain person mustn't talk to it! If she does she'll find-"

It was the Doctor's hand that steadied her as she hurried forward in the darkness. It was a big hand, and she was able to grasp only two fingers of it. But that clinging hold made her feel that their friendship was established. She was not at all surprised at her complete change of attitude toward him. It seemed to her now as if he and she had always been on good terms.

The others were near. She could hear the tinkle-tankle of the Piper's pipes, the scuff of Puffy's paws, the labored breathing of the little old gentleman as he trudged, the heavy tramp, tramp of the Policeman. She made her bare feet travel as fast as she could, and kept her look steadily ahead on the dim stars.

And saw, moving from one to another of them, in quick darts-now up, now down-a small Something. She did not instantly guess what it was-flitting across that half-darkened sky. Until she heard the wild beating of tiny pinions!

"Why, it's a bird!" she exclaimed.

"A bird?" repeated the Policeman, all eagerness.

"Must be the Bird!" declared the Man-Who-Makes-Faces, triumphantly.

It was. Even in the poor light her eager eyes made out the bumps on that small feathered head. And saw that on the down-drooping tail, nicely balanced, and gleaming whitely, was a lump.

Remembering what she had heard about that bit of salt, she ran forward. At her approach, his wings half-lifted. And as she reached out to him, pointing a small finger, he sprang sidewise, alighting upon it.

"Oh, I'm glad you've come!" he panted.

He was no larger than a canary; and seemed to be brown-a sparrow-brown. Prejudiced against him she had been. He had tattled about her-worse, about her father. Yet seeing him now, so tiny and ruffled and frightened, she liked him.

She brought him to a level with her eyes. "What's the matter?" she asked soothingly.

"I'm afraid." He thrust out his head, pointing. "Look."

She looked. Ahead the tops of the grass blades were swaying this way and that in a winding path-as if from the passage of some crawling thing!

"She tried to get me out of the way!"

"Oh, tell me where is my fath-er!"

"Why, of course. They say he's-"

He did not finish; or if he did she heard no end to the sentence. Of a sudden her face had grown almost painfully hot-as a great yellow light flamed against it, a light that shimmered up dazzlingly from the surface of a broad treeless field. This field was like none that she had ever imagined. For its acres were neatly sodded with mirrors.

The little company was on the beveled edge of the field. To halt them, and conspicuously displayed, was a sign. It read-

Keep off The Glass.

"'Keep off the glass,'" read Gwendolyn. "And I don't wonder. 'Cause we'd crack it."

"We don't crack it, we cross it," reminded the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. And stepped boldly upon the gleaming plate.

"My! My!" exclaimed the Piper. "Ain't there a fine crop this year!"

A fine crop? Gwendolyn glanced down. And saw for the first time that the mirrored acres were studded, flower-like, with countless silk-shaded candles!

What curious candles they were! They did not grow horizontally, as she had imagined they must, but upright and candle-like. Above their sticks, which were of brass, silver and decorated porcelain, was a flame, ruddy of tip, sharply pointed, but fat and yellow at the base, where the soft white wax fed the fire; at the other end of the sticks, as like the top light as if it were a perfect reflection, was a second flame. These were candles that burned at both ends.

And this was the region she had traveled so far to find! Her heart beat so wildly that it stirred the plaid of the little gingham dress.

"Say! I hear a quacking!" announced Puffy, staring up into the sky.

Gwendolyn heard it, too. It seemed to come from across the Field of Double-Ended Candles. She peered that way, to where a heavy fringe of trees walled the farther side greenily.

She saw him first!-while the others (excepting the Bird) were still staring skyward. At the start, what she discerned was only a faint outline on the tree-wall-the outline of a man, broad-shouldered, tall, but a trifle stooped. It was faint for the reason that it blended with the trees. For the man was garbed in green.

As he advanced into the field, the chorus of quacks grew louder. And presently Gwendolyn caught certain familiar expressions-"Oh, don't bozzer me!" "Sit up straight, Miss! Sit up straight!" (this a rather deep quack). "My dear child, you have no sense of time!" And, "What on earth ever put such a question into your head!" She concluded that the expressions were issuing from the large bell-shaped horn which was pointed her way over one shoulder of the man in green. The talking-machine to which the horn was attached-a handsome mahogany affair-he carried on his back. It was not unlike a hand-organ. Which made Gwendolyn wonder if he was not the Man-Who-Makes-Faces' brother.

She glanced back inquiringly at the little old gentleman. Either the stranger was a relation-and not a popular one-or else the quacking expressions annoyed. For the Man-Who-Makes-Faces was scowling. And, "Cavil, criticism, correction!" he scolded, half to himself.

He in green now began to move about and gather silk-shaded candles, bending this way and that to pluck them, and paying not the slightest attention to the group of watchers in plain view. But not one of these was indifferent to his presence. And all were acting in a most incomprehensible manner. With one accord, Doctor and Piper, Bear and Policeman, Face-maker and Bird, were rubbing hard at the palm of one hand. There being no trees close by, the men used the sole of a shoe, while Puffy raked away at one paw with the claws of the others, and the Bird pecked a foot with his beak.

And yet Gwendolyn could not believe that it was really he.

The Policeman drew near. "You've heard of Hobson's choice?" he inquired in a low voice. "Perhaps this is Hobson, or Sam Hill, or Punch, or Great Scott."

The Man-Who-Makes-Faces shook his head. "You don't know him," he answered, "because recently, when the bears were bothering him a lot in his Street, I made him a long face."

The man in green was pausing where the candles clustered thickest. Gwendolyn, still doubtful, went forward to greet him.

"How do you do, sir," she began, curtseying.

His face was long, as the Man-Who-Makes-Faces had pointed out-very long, and pale, and haggard. Between his sunken temples burned his dark-rimmed eyes. His nose was thin, and over it the skin was drawn so tightly that his nostrils were pinched. His lips were pressed together, driving out the blood. His cheeks were hollow, and shadowed bluely by a day-old beard. He had on a hat. Yet she was able (curiously enough!) to note that his hair was sparse over the top of his head, and streaked with gray.

Nevertheless there was no denying that she recognized him dimly.

Something knotted in her throat-at seeing weariness, anxiety, even torture, in those deep-set eyes. "I think I've met you before somewhere," she faltered. "Your-your long face-" The Bird was perched on the fore-finger of one hand. She proffered the other.

He did not even look at her. "My hands are full," he declared. And again, "My hands are full."

She glanced at them. And saw that each was indeed full-of paper money. Moreover, the green of his coat was the green of new crisp bills. While his buff-colored trousers were made of yellowish ones, carefully creased.

He was literally made of money.

Now she felt reasonably certain of his identity. Yet she determined to make even more sure. "Would you mind just turning around for a moment?" she inquired.

"But I'm busy to-day," he protested, "I can't be bothered with little girls. I'll see you when you're eight years old." Nevertheless he faced about accommodatingly.

The moment he turned his back he displayed a detail of his dress that had not been visible before. This detail, at first glance, appeared to be a smart leather piping. On second glance it seemed a sort of shawl-strap contrivance by which the talking-machine was suspended. But in the end she knew what it was-a leather harness!-an exceedingly handsome, silver-buckled, hand-sewed harness!

She went around him and raised a smiling face-caught at a hand, too; and felt her own happy tears make cool streaks down her cheeks. "I-I don't see you often," she said, "bu-but I know you just the same. You're-you're my fath-er!"

At that, he glanced down at her-stooped-picked a candle-and held it close to her face.

"Poor little girl!" he said. "Poor little girl!"

"Poor little rich girl," she prompted, noting that he had left out the word.

She heard a sob!

The next moment, Rustle! Rustle! Rustle! And at her feet the gay-topped candles were bent this way and that-as Miss Royle, with an artful serpent-smile on her bandaged face, writhed her way swiftly between them!

"Dearie," she hissed, making an affectionate half-coil about Gwendolyn, "what do you think I'm going to say to you!"

Gwendolyn only shook her head.

"Guess, darling," encouraged the governess, coiling herself a little closer.

"Maybe you're going to say, 'Use your dictionary,'" ventured Gwendolyn.

"Oh, dearie!" chided Miss Royle, managing a very good blush for a snake.

But now Gwendolyn guessed the reason for the other's sudden display of affection. For that scaly head was rising out of the grass, inch by inch, and those glittering serpent eyes were fixed upon the

Bird!

Unable to move, he watched her, plumage on end, round eyes fairly starting.

"Cheep! Cheep!"

At his cry of terror, the Doctor interposed. "I think we'd better take the Bird out of here," he said. "The less noise the better." And with that, he lifted the small frightened thing from Gwendolyn's finger.

Miss Royle, quite thrown off her poise, sank hissing to the ground. "My neuralgia's worse than ever this evening," she complained, affecting not to notice his interference.

"Huh!" he grunted. "Keep away from bargain counters."

The Piper came jangling up. "That snake belongs in her case," he declared, addressing the Doctor.

More than once Gwendolyn had wondered why the Piper had burdened himself-to all appearances uselessly and foolishly-with the various pieces of lead pipe. But now what wily forethought she granted him. For with a few quick flourishes of the wrench, she saw him join them, end to end, to form one length. This he threw to the ground, after which he gave a short, sharp whistle.

In answer to it, the Bird fluttered down, and entered one end of the pipe, giving, as he disappeared from sight, one faint cheep.

Miss Royle heard. Her scaly head glittered up once more. Her beady eyes shone. Her tongue darted hate. Then little by little, that long black body began to move-toward the pipe!

A moment, and she entered it; another, and the last foot of rustling serpent had disappeared. Then out of the farther end of the pipe bounced the Bird. Whereat the Piper sprang to the Bird's side, produced a nut, and screwed it on the pipe-end.

"How's that!" he cried triumphantly.

The pipe rolled partly over. A muffled voice came from it, railing at him: "Be careful what you do, young man! I saw you had that bonnet of mine!"

"Oh, can a snake crawl backwards?" demanded Gwendolyn, excitedly.

The Piper answered with a harsh laugh. And scrambling the length of the lead pipe, fell to hammering in a plug.

Miss Royle was a prisoner!

The Bird bounced very high. "That's a feather in your cap," he declared joyously, advancing to the Piper. And suiting the action to the word, pulled a tiny plume from his own wing, fluttered up, and thrust it under the band of the other's greasy head-gear.

"Think how that governess has treated me," growled Puffy. "When I was in your nursery, and was old and a little worn out, how I would've appreciated care-and repair!"

"The Employment Agency for her," said the Piper.

"I'll attend to that," added the Policeman.

Gwendolyn's father had been gathering candles, and had seemed not to see what was transpiring. Now as if he was satisfied with his load, he suddenly started away in the direction he had come. His firm stride jolted the talking-machine not a little. The quacking cries recommenced-

"Please to pay me.... Let me sell you...! Let me borrow...! Won't you hire...! Quack! Quack! Quack!"

After him hurried the others in an excited group. The Piper led it, his plumbing-tools jangling, his pig-poke a-swing. And Gwendolyn saw him grin back over a shoulder craftily-then lay hold of her father and tighten a strap.

She trudged in the rear. She had found her father-and he could see only the candles he sought, and the money in his grasp! She was out in the open with him once more, where she was free to gambol and shout-yet he was bound by his harness and heavily laden.

"I might just as well be home," she said to Puffy, disheartened.

"Wish your father'd let me sharpen his ears," whispered the Man-Who-Makes-Faces. He shifted the hand-organ to the other shoulder.

The Doctor had a basket on his arm. He peered into it. "I haven't a thing about me," he declared, "but a bread-pill."

"How would a glass of soda-water do?" suggested the Policeman, in an undertone.

"Why, of course!"

It had happened before that the mere mention of a thing brought that dying swiftly. Now it happened again. For immediately Gwendolyn heard the rush and bubble and brawl of a narrow mountain-stream. Next, looking down from the summit of a gentle rise, she saw the smoky windings of the unbottled soda!

The Doctor was a man of action. Though the Policeman had made his suggestion only a second before, here was the former already leaning down to the stream; and, having dipped, was walking in the midst of the little company, glass in hand.

Gwendolyn ran forward. "Fath-er!" she called; "please have a drink!"

Her father shook his head. "I'm not thirsty," he declared, utterly ignoring the proffered glass.

"I-I was 'fraid he wouldn't," sighed Gwendolyn, head down again, and scuffing bare feet in the cool damp grass of the stream-side-yet not enjoying it! The lights had changed: The double-ended candles had disappeared. Filling the Land once more with a golden glow were countless tapers-electric, gas, and kerosene. She was back where she had started, threading the trees among which she had danced with joy.

But she was far from dancing now!

"Let's not give up hope," said a voice-the Doctor's. He was holding up the glass before his face to watch the bubbles creaming upon its surface. "There may be a sudden turn for the better."

Before she could draw another breath-here was the turn! a sharp one. And she, felt a keen wind in her eyes,-blown in gusts, as if by the wings of giant butterflies. The cloud that held the wind lay just ahead-a pinky mass that stretched from sky to earth.

The Bird turned his dark eyes upon Gwendolyn from where he sat, high and safe, on the Doctor's shoulder. "I think her little journey's almost done," he said. There was a rich canary note in his voice.

"Oo! goody!" she cried.

"You mean you have a solution?" asked the little old gentleman.

"A solution?" called back the Piper. "Well-?"

A moment's perfect stillness. Then, "It's simple," said the Bird. (Now his voice was strangely like the Doctor's.) "I suppose you might call it a salt solution."

His last three words began to run through Gwendolyn's mind-"A salt solution! A salt solution! A salt solution!"-as regularly as the pulse that throbbed in her throat.

"Yes,"-the Doctor's voice now, breathless, low, tremulous with anxiety. "If we want to save her-"

"Am I her?" interrupted Gwendolyn. (And again somebody sobbed!)

"-It must be done!"

"There isn't anything to cry about," declared Gwendolyn, stoutly. She felt hopeful, even buoyant.

It was all novel and interesting. The Doctor began by making grabs at the lump of salt on the Bird's tail. The lump loosened suddenly. He caught it between his palms, after which he began to roll it-precisely as he had rolled the dough at the Pillery. And as the salt worked into a more perfect ball, it slowly browned!

Gwendolyn clapped her hands. "My father won't know the difference," she cried.

"You get my idea exactly," answered the Bird.

The Doctor uncovered the pill-basket, selected a fine, round, toasted example of his own baking, and presented it to the Man-Who-Makes-Faces; presented a second to Gwendolyn; thence went from one to another of the little company, whereat everyone fell to eating.

At once Gwendolyn's father looked round the circle of picknickers-as if annoyed by the crunching; but when the Doctor held out the brown salt, he took it, examined it critically, turning it over and over, then lifted it-and bit.

"Pretty slim lunch this," he observed.

He ate heartily, until the last salt crumb was gone. Then, "I'm thirsty," he declared "Where's-?"

Instantly the Doctor proffered the glass. And the other drank-in one great gasping mouthful.

"Ah!" breathed Gwendolyn. And felt a grateful coolness on her lips, as if she had slaked her own thirst.

The next moment her father turned. And she saw that the change had already come. First of all, he looked down at his hands, caught sight of the crumpled bills, and attempted to stuff them hurriedly into his pocket. But his pockets were already wedged tight with silk-shaded candles. He reached round and fed the bills into the mahogany case of the talking-machine. Next, he emptied his pockets of the double-ended candles, frowned at them, and threw them to one side to wilt. Last of all, he spied a bit of leather strap, and pulled at it impatiently. Whereupon, with a clear ring of its silver mountings, his harness fell about his feet.

He smiled, and stepped out of it, as out of a cast-off garment. This quick movement shook up the talking-machine, and at once voices issued from the great horn shrilly protesting into his ear-"Quack! Quack! Kommt, Fraulein!" "Une fille stupider!" "Gid-dap!" "Honk! Honk! Honk!"-and then, rippling upward, to the accompaniment of dancing feet, a scale on a piano.

He peered into the horn. "When did I come by this?" he demanded. "Well, I shan't carry it another step!" And moving his shoulders as if they ached, let the talking-machine slip sidewise to the glass.

There was a crank attached to one side of the machine. This he grasped. And while he continued to stuff bills into the mahogany box with one hand, he turned the crank with the other. Gwendolyn had often marveled at the way bands of music, voices of men and women, chimes of clocks, and bugle-calls could come out of the self-same place. Now this was made clear to her. For as her father whirled the crank, out of the horn, in a little procession, waddled the creatures who had quacked so persistently.

There were six of them in all. One wore patent leather pumps; one had a riding-whip; the third was in motor-livery-buff and blue; another waddled with an air unmistakably French (feathers formed a boa about her neck); the next advanced firmly, a metronome swinging on a slender pince-nez chain; the last one of all carried a German dictionary.

Her father observed them gloomily. "That's the kind of ducks and drakes I've been making out of my money," he declared.

The procession quacked loudly, as if glad to get out. And waddled toward the stream.

"Why!" cried Gwendolyn; "there's Monsieur Tellegen, and my riding-master, and the chauffeur, and my French teacher, and my music-teacher, and my Ger-!"

His eyes rested upon her then. And she saw that he knew her!

"Oh, daddy!"-the tender name she loved to call him.

"Little daughter! Little daughter!"

She felt his arms about her, pressing her to him. His pale face was close. "When my precious baby is strong enough-," he began.

"I'm strong now." She gripped his fingers.

"We'll take a little jaunt together."

"We must have moth-er with us, daddy. Oh, dear daddy!"

"We'll see mother soon," he said; "-very soon."

She brushed his cheek with searching fingers. "I think we'd better start right away," she declared. "'Cause-isn't this a rain-drop on your face?"

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