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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Poor Little Rich Girl By Eleanor Gates Characters: 23146

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


She moved her head from side to side slowly. And felt the cool touch of the pillow against either cheek. Then she tried to lift her arms; but found that one hand was still in a big grasp, the other in a clasp that was softer.

Little by little, and with effort, she opened her gray eyes. In the dimness she could see, to her left, scarcely more than an outline of a dark-clad figure, stooped and watchful; of that other slender figure opposite. After all the fatigue and worry of the night, her father and mother were with her yet! And someone was standing at the foot of her bed, leaning and looking down at her. That was the Doctor.

She lay very still. This was a novel experience, this having both father and mother in the nursery at the same time-and plainly in no haste to depart! The heaviness of deep sleep was gradually leaving her. Yet she forbore to speak; and as each moment went she dreaded the passing of it, lest her wonderful new happiness come to an end.

This Was a Novel Experience, This Having Both Father and Mother in the Nursery at the Same Time

Presently she ventured a look around-at the pink-tinted ceiling, with its cluster of full-blown plaster roses out of which branched the chandelier; at the walls of soft rose, met here and there by the deeper rose of the brocade hangings; at the plushy rug, the piano, the large table-now scattered with an unusual assortment of bottles and glasses; at the dresser, crystal-topped and strewn daintily, the deep upholstered chair, and the long cushioned seat across the front window, over which, strangely enough, no dome-topped cage was swinging.

And there was the tall toy-case. The shelves of it were unchanged. On that one below the line of prettily clad dolls were the toys she favored most-the black-and-red top, the handsome soldier in the scarlet coat, the jointed snake beside its pipe-like box, and the somersault man, poised heels over head. Beyond these, ranged in a buff row, were the six small ducks acquired at Easter. She gave each plaything a keen glance. They reminded her vividly of the long busy night just past!

Her small nose wrinkled in a quizzical smile.

At that the three waiting figures stirred.

Her look came back to them, to rest first upon her father's face, noting how long and pale and haggard it was, how sunken the temples, how bloodless the tightly pressed lips, how hollow the unshaven cheeks. When she turned to gaze at her mother, as daintily clad as ever, and as delicately perfumed-showing no evidence of dusty travel-she saw how pitifully pale was that dear beautiful face. But the eyes were no longer proud!-only anxious, tender and purple-shadowed.

Next, Gwendolyn lifted her eyes to the Doctor, and felt suddenly conscience-stricken, remembering how she had always dreaded him, had taken the mere thought of his coming as punishment; remembering, too, how helpful and kind he had been to her through the night.

He began to speak, low and earnestly, and as if continuing something already half said:

"Pardon my bluntness, but it's a bad thing when there's too much money spent on forcing the brain before the body is given a chance-or the soul. Does a child get food that is simple and nourishing, and enough of it? Is all exercise taken in the open? Too often, I find, where there's a motor at the beck and call of a nurse, the child in her charge is utterly cut off-and in the period of quickest growth-from a normal supply of plain walking. Every boy and girl has a right" (his voice deepened with feeling) "to the great world out of doors. Let the warm sun, and the fresh air, and God's good earth-"

Gwendolyn moved. "Is-is he praying?" she whispered.

There was a moment of silence. Then, "No, daughter," answered her father, while her mother leaned to lay a gentle hand on her forehead. The Doctor went aside to the larger table and busied himself with some bottles. When he came back, her father lifted her head a trifle by lifting the pillow-her mother rising quickly to assist-and the Doctor put a glass to Gwendolyn's lips. She drank dutifully, and was lowered.

At once she felt stronger. "Is the sun up?" she asked. Her voice was weak, and somewhat hoarse.

"Would you like to see the sky?" asked her father. And without waiting for her eager nod, crossed to the front window and drew aside the heavy silk hangings.

Serenely blue was the long rectangle framed by curtains and casing. Across it not a single fat sheep was straying.

"Moth-er!"

"Yes, darling?"

"Is-is always the same piece of Heaven right there through the window?"

"No. The earth is turning all the time-just as your globe in the school-room turns. And so each moment you see a new square of sky."

The Doctor nodded with satisfaction. "Um! Better, aren't we?" he inquired, smiling down.

She returned the smile. "Well, I am," she declared. "But-I didn't know you felt bad."

He laughed. "Tell me something," he went on. "I sent a bottle of medicine here yesterday."

"Yes. It was a little bottle."

"How much of it did Jane give you? Can you remember?"

"Well, first she poured out one teaspoonful-"

The Doctor had been leaning again on the foot of the white-and-gold bed. Now he fell back of a sudden. "A teaspoonful!" he gasped. And to Gwendolyn's father, "Why, that wretched girl didn't read the directions on the bottle!"

There was another silence. The two men stared at each other. But Gwendolyn's mother, her face paler than before, bent above the yellow head on the pillow.

"After I drank that teaspoonful," went on Gwendolyn, "Jane wouldn't believe me. And so she made me take the other."

"Another!"-it was the Doctor once more. He pressed a trembling hand to his forehead.

Her father rose angrily. "She shall be punished," he declared. And began to walk to and fro. "I won't let this pass."

Gwendolyn's look followed him tenderly. "Well, you see, she didn't know about-about nursery work," she explained. "'Cause before she came here she was just a cook."

"Oh, my baby daughter!" murmured Gwendolyn's mother, brokenly. She bent forward until her face was hidden against the silken cover of the bed. "Mother didn't know you were being neglected! She thought she was giving you the best of care, dear!"

"Two spoonfuls!" said the Doctor, grimly. "That explains everything!"

"Oh, but I didn't want to take the last one," protested Gwendolyn, hastily, "-though it tasted good. She made me. She said if I didn't-"

"So!" exclaimed the Doctor, interrupting. "She frightened the poor little helpless thing in order to get obedience!"

"Gwendolyn!" whispered her mother. "She frightened you?"

The gray eyes smiled wisely. "It doesn't matter now," she said, a hint of triumph in her voice. "I've found out that P'licemen are nice. And so are-are Doctors"-she dimpled and nodded. "And all the bears in the world that are outside of cages are just Puffy Bears grown up." Then uncertainly, "But I didn't find out about-the other."

"What other?" asked her father, pausing in his walk.

The gray eyes were diamond-bright now. "Though I don't really believe it," she hastened to add. "But-do wicked men keep watch of this house."

"Wicked men?" Her mother suddenly straightened.

"Kidnapers."

This innocent statement had an unexpected effect. Again her father began to stride up and down angrily, while her mother, head drooping once more, began to weep.

"Oh, mother didn't know!" she sobbed. "Mother didn't guess what terrible things were happening! Oh, forgive her! Forgive her!"

The Doctor came to her side. "Too much excitement for the patient," he reminded her. "Don't you think you'd better go and lie down for a while, and have a little rest?"

A startled look. And Gwendolyn put out a staying hand to her mother. Then-"Moth-er is tired," she assented. "She's tireder than I am. 'Cause it was hard work going round and round Robin Hood's Barn."

The Doctor hunted a small wrist and felt the pulse in it. "That's all right," he said to her mother in an undertone. "Everything's still pretty real to her, you see. But her pulse is normal," He laid cool fingers across her forehead. "Temperature's almost normal too."

Gwendolyn felt that she had not made herself altogether clear. She hastened to explain. "I mean," she said, "when moth-er was carrying that society bee in her bonnet."

Confusion showed in the Doctor's quick glance from parent to parent. Then, "I think I'll just drop down into the pantry," he said hastily, "and see how that young nurse from over yonder is getting along." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the side window as he went out.

Gwendolyn wondered just who the young nurse was. She opened her lips to ask; then saw how painfully her mother had colored at the mere mention of the person in question, and so kept silence.

The Doctor gone, her father came to her mother's side and patted a shoulder. "Well, we shan't ever say anything more about that bee," he declared, laughing, yet serious enough. "Shall we, Gwendolyn!"

"No." She blinked, puzzling over it a little.

"There! It's settled." He bent and kissed his wife. "You thought you were doing the best thing for our little girl-I know that, dear. You had her future in mind. And it's natural-and right-for a mother to think of making friends-the right kind, too-and a place in the social world for her daughter. And I've been short-sighted, and neglectful, and-"

"Ah!" She raised wet eyes to him. "You had your worries. You were doing more than your share. You had to meet the question of money. While I-"

He interrupted her. "We both thought we were doing our very best," he declared.

"We almost did our worst! Oh, what would it all have amounted to-what would anything have mattered-if we'd lost our little girl!"

The pink came rushing to Gwendolyn's cheeks. "Why, I wasn't lost at all!" she declared happily. "And, oh, it was so good to have my questions all answered, and understand so many things I didn't once-and to be where all the put-out lights go, and-and where soda-water comes from. And I was so glad to get rid of Thomas and Jane and Miss Royle, and-"

The hall-door opened. She checked herself to look that way. Someone was entering with a tray. It was a maid-a maid wearing a sugar-bowl cap.

Gwendolyn knew her instantly-that pretty face, as full and rosy as the face of the French doll, and framed by saucy wisps and curls as fair as Gwendolyn's own-and freckleless!

"Oh!" It was a low cry of delight.

The nurse smiled. She had a tray in one hand. On the tray was a blue bowl of something steaming hot. She set the tray down and came to the bed-side.

Gwendolyn's eyes were wide with wonder. "How-how-?" she began.

Her mother answered. "Jane called down to the Policeman, and he ran to the house on the corner."

Now the dimples sprang into place, "Goody!" exclaimed Gwendolyn, and gave a little chuckle.

Her mother went on: "We never can feel grateful enough to her, because she was such a help. And we're so glad you're friends already."

Gwendolyn nodded. "She's one of my window-friends," she explained.

"I'm going to stay with you," said the nurse. She smoothed Gwendolyn's hair fondly. "Will you like that?"

"It's fine! I-I wanted you!"

The Doctor re-entered. "Well, how does our sharp little patient feel now?" he inquired.

"I feel hungry."

"I have some broth for you," announced the pretty nurse, and brought forward the tray.

Gwendolyn looked down at the bowl. "M-m-m!" she breathed. "

It smells good! Now"-to the Doctor-"if I had one of your nice bread-pills-"

At that, curiously enough, everyone laughed, the Doctor heartiest of all. And "Hush!" chided her mother gently while the Doctor shook a teasing finger.

"Just for that," said he, "we'll have eating-and no conversation-for five whole minutes." Whereupon he began to scribble on a pad, laughing to himself every now and then as he wrote.

"That must be a cheerful prescription," observed Gwendolyn's father. He himself looking happier than he had.

"The country," answered the Doctor, "is always cheerful."

Gwendolyn's spoon slipped from her fingers. She lifted eager, shining eyes. "Moth-er," she half-whispered, "does the Doctor mean Johnnie Blake's?"

The Doctor assented energetically. "I prescribe Johnnie Blake's," he declared.

"A-a-ah!" It was a deep breath of happiness. "I promised Johnnie that I'd come back!"

"But if my little daughter isn't strong-" Her father gave a sidewise glance at the steaming bowl on the tray.

Thus prompted, Gwendolyn fell to eating once more, turning her attention to the croutons bobbing about on the broth Each was square and crunchy, but not so brown as a bread-pill.

"I shall now read my Johnnie Blake prescription," announced the Doctor, and held up a leaf from the pad. "Hm! Hm!" Then, in a business-like tone; "Take two pairs of sandals, a dozen cheap gingham dresses with plenty of pockets and extra pieces for patches, and a bottle of something good for wild black-berry scratches." He bowed. "Mix all together with one strong medium-sized garden-hoe-"

"Oh, fath-er," cried Gwendolyn, her hoarse voice wistful with pleading, "you won't mind if I play with Johnnie, will you?"

"Play all the time," answered her father. "Play hard-and then play some more."

"He isn't a common little boy." Whereupon, satisfied, she returned to the blue bowl.

"And now," went on the Doctor, "as to directions." He held up other leaves from the pad. "First week (you'll have to go easy the first week), use the prescription each day as follows; When driving; also when lying on back watching birds in trees (and have a nap out of doors if you feel like it); also when lighting the fire at sundown. Nurse, here, will watch out for fingers."

At that, another pleased little chuckle.

"Second week:" (the Doctor coughed, importantly) "When riding your own fat pony, or chasing butterflies-assisted by one good-natured, common, ordinary, long-haired dog; or when fishing (stream or bath-tub, it doesn't matter!) or carrying kindling in to Cook-whether you're tired or not!"

"I love it!"

"Third week: When baking mudpies, or gathering ferns (but put 'em in water when you get home); when jaunting in old wagon to hay-field, orchard or vegetable-patch-this includes tomboy yelling. And go barefoot."

Gwendolyn's spoon, crouton-laden, wabbled in mid-air. "Go barefoot?" she repeated, small face flushing to a pleased pink. "Right away? Before I'm eight?"

"Um!" assented the Doctor. "And shin up trees (but don't disturb eggs if you find 'em). Also do barefoot gardening,-where there isn't a plant to hurt! And wade the creek."

Again the dimples came rushing to their places. "I like squashing," she declared, smiling round.

"Then isn't there a hill to climb?" continued the Doctor, "with your hat down your back on a string? And stones to roll-?"

The small face grew suddenly serious. "No, thank you," she said, with a slow shake of the head, "I'd rather not turn any stones."

"Very well-hm! hm!"

"Oh, and there'll be jolly times of an evening after supper," broke in her father, enthusiastically. The stern lines of his face were relaxed, and a score of tiny ripples were carrying a smile from his mouth to his tired eyes. "We'll light all the candles-"

"Daddy!" She relinquished the bowl, and turned to him swiftly. "Not-not candles that burn at both ends-"

"No." He stopped smiling.

"You're a wise little body!" pronounced the Doctor, taking her hand.

"How's the pulse now?" asked her mother. "Somehow"-with a nervous little laugh-"she makes me anxious."

"Normal," answered the Doctor promptly. "Only thing that isn't normal about her is that busy brain, which is abnormally bright." Thereupon he shook the small hand he was holding, strode to the table, and picked up a leather-covered case. It was black, and held a number of bottles. In no way did it resemble the pill-basket. "And if a certain person is to leave for the country soon-"

Gwendolyn's smile was knowing. "You mean 'a certain party.'" He was trying to tease her with that old nursery name!

"-She'd better rest. Good-by." And with that mild advice, he beckoned the nurse to follow him, whispered with her a moment at the door, and was gone.

Gwendolyn's father resumed his place beside the bed. "She can rest," he declared, "-the blessed baby! Not a governess or a teacher is to show as much as a hat-feather."

She nodded. "We don't want 'em quacking around."

Someone tapped at the door then, and entered-Rosa, bearing a card-tray upon which were two square bits of pasteboard. "To see Madam," she said, presenting the tray. After which she showed her white teeth in greeting to Gwendolyn, then stooped, and touched an open palm with her lips.

Gwendolyn's mother read the cards, and shook her head. "Tell the ladies-explain that I can't leave my little daughter even for a moment to-day-"

"Oh, yes, Madam."

"And that we're leaving for the country very soon."

Rosa bobbed her dark head as she backed away.

"And, Rosa-"

"Yes, Madam?"

"You know what I need in the country-where we were before."

A bow.

"Pack, Rosa. And you will go, of course."

"And Potter, Madam?"

"Potter, too. You'll have to pack a few things up here also." A white hand indicated the wardrobe door.

"Very well, Madam."

As the door closed, the telephone rang. Gwendolyn's father rose to answer it. "I think it's the office, dear," he explained; and into the transmitter-"Yes?... Hello?... Yes. Good-morning!... Oh, thanks! She's better.... And by the way, just close out that line of stocks. Yes.... I shan't be back in the office for some time. I'm leaving for the country as soon as Gwendolyn can stand the trip. To-morrow, maybe, or the next day.... No; don't go into the market until I come back. I intend to reconstruct my policy a good deal. Yes.... Oh, yes.... Good-by."

He went to the front window. And as he stood in the light, Gwendolyn lay and looked at him. He had worn green the night before. But now there was not a vestige of paper money showing anywhere in his dress. In fact, he was wearing the suit-a dark blue-he had worn that night she penetrated to the library.

"Fath-er."

"Well, little daughter?"

"I was wondering has anybody scribbled on the General's horse?-with chalk?"

Her father looked down at the Drive. "The General's there!" he announced, glancing back at her over a shoulder. "And his horse seems in fine fettle this morning, prancing, and arching his neck. And nobody's scribbled on him, which seems to please the General very much, for he's got his hat off-"

Gwendolyn sat up, her eyes rounding. "To hundreds and hundreds of soldiers!" she told her mother. "Only everybody can't see the soldiers."

Her father came back to her. "I can," he declared proudly. "Do you want to see 'em, too?-just a glimpse, mother! Come! We'll play the game together!" And the next moment, silk coverlet and all, Gwendolyn was swung up in his arms and borne to the window-seat.

"And, oh, there's the P'liceman!" she cried out.

"His name is Flynn," informed her father. "And twice this morning he's asked after you."

"Oh!" she stood up among the cushions to get a better view. "He takes lost little boys and girls to their fath-ers and moth-ers, daddy, and he takes care of the trees, and the flowers, and the fountains, and-- and the ob'lisk. But he only likes it up here in summer. In winter he likes to be Down-Town. And he ought to be Down-Town, 'cause he's got a really level head-"

"Wave to him now," said her father. "There! He's swinging his cap!-When we're out walking one of these times we'll stop and shake hands with him!"

"With the hand-organ man, too, fath-er? Oh, you like him, don't you? And you won't send him away!"

"Father won't."

He laid her back among the pillows then. And she turned her face to her mother.

"Can't you sleep, darling?-And don't dream!"

"Well, I'm pretty tired."

"We know what a hard long night it was."

"Oh, I'm so glad we're going back to Johnnie Blake's, moth-er. 'Cause, oh, I'm tired of pretending!"

"Of pretending," said her father. "Ah, yes."

Her mother nodded at him. "I'm tired of pretending, too," she said in a low voice.

Gwendolyn looked pleased. "I didn't know you ever pretended," she said. "Well, of course, you know that real things are so much nicer-"

"Ah, yes, my little girl!" It was her father. His voice trembled.

"Real grass,"-she smiled up at him-"and real trees, and real people." After that, for a while, she gave herself over to thinking. How wonderful that one single night could bring about the changes for which she had so longed!-the living in the country; the eating at the grown-up table, and having no governess.

One full busy night had done all that! And yet-

She glanced down at herself. Under her pink chin was the lace and ribbon of a night-dress. She could not remember being put to bed-could not even recall coming up in the bronze cage. And was the plaid gingham with the patch-pocket now hanging in the wardrobe? Brows knit, she slipped one small foot sidewise until it was close to the edge of the bed-covers, then of a sudden thrust it out from beneath them. The foot was as white as if it had only just been bathed! Not a sign did it show of having waded any stream, pattered through mud, or trudged a forest road!

Presently, "Moth-er,"-sleepily.

"Yes, darling?"

"Who are Law and Order?"

A moment's silence. Then, "Well-er-"

"Isn't it a fath-er-and-moth-er question?"

"Why, yes, my baby. But I-"

"Father will tell you, dear." He was seated beside her once more. "You see it's this way:"

"Can you tell it like a story, fath-er?"

"Yes."

"A once-upon-a-time story?"

"I'll try. But first you must understand that law and order are not two people. Oh, no. And they aren't anything a little girl could see-as she can see the mirror, for instance, or a chair-"

Gwendolyn looked at the mirror and the chair-thence around the room. These were the same things that had been there all the time. Now how different each appeared! There was the bed, for instance. She had never liked the bed, beautiful though it was. Yet to-day, even with the sun shining on the great panes of the wide front window, it seemed good to be lying in it. And the nursery, once a hated place-a very prison!-the nursery had never looked lovelier!

Her father went on with his explaining, low and cheerily, and as confidentially as if to a grown-up. Across from him, listening, was her mother, one soft cheek lowered to rest close to the small face half-hidden in the pillow.

When her father finished speaking, Gwendolyn gave a deep breath-of happiness and content. Then, "Moth-er!"

"Yes?"-with a kiss as light as the touch of a butterfly.

Her eyelids, all at once, seemed curiously heavy. She let them flutter down. But a drowsy smile curved the pink mouth. "Moth-er," she whispered; "moth-er, the Dearest Pretend has come true!"

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