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Gwendolyn lowered her eyes, stood a moment in indecision, then pulled
off the hat, tossed it aside, went back to the window, and sat down.
At one end of the seat, swung high on its gilded spring, danced the
dome-topped cage of her canary. Presently she raised her face to him. He
was traveling tirelessly from perch to cage-floor, from floor to trapeze
again. His wings were half lifted from his little body--the bright
yellow of her own hair. It was as if he were ready for flight. His round
black eyes were constantly turned toward the world beyond the window. He
perked his head inquiringly, and cheeped. Now and then, with a wild
beating of his pinions, he sprang sidewise to the shining bars of the
cage, and hung there, panting.
She watched him for a time; made a slow survey of the nursery next,--and
"Poor thing!" she murmured.
She heard the rustle of silk skirts from the direction of the
school-room. Hastily she shook out the embroidered handkerchief and put
it against her eyes.
A door opened. "There will be no lessons this afternoon, Gwendolyn." It
was Miss Royle's voice.
Gwendolyn did not speak. But she lowered the handkerchief a trifle--and
noted that the governess was dressed for going out--in a glistening
black silk plentifully ornamented with jet _paillettes_.
Miss Royle rustled her way to the pier-glass to have a last look at her
bonnet. It was a poke, with a quilted ribbon circling its brim, and some
lace arranged fluffily. It did not reach many inches above the spot
where Gwendolyn had drawn the ink-line, for Miss Royle was small. When
she had given the poke a pat here and a touch there, she leaned forward
to get a better view of her face. She had a pale, thin face and thin
faded hair. On either side of a high bony nose were set her pale-blue
eyes. Shutting them in, and perched on the thinnest part of her nose,
were silver-circled spectacles.
"I'm very glad I can give you a half-holiday, dear," she went on. But
her tone was somewhat sorrowful. She detached a small leaf of paper from
a tiny book in her hand-bag and rubbed it across her forehead. "For my
neuralgia is _much_ worse to-day." She coughed once or twice behind a
lisle-gloved hand, snapped the clasp of her hand-bag and started toward
the hall door.
It was now that for the first time she looked at Gwendolyn--and caught
sight of the bowed head, the grief-flushed cheeks, the suspended
handkerchief. She stopped short.
"Gwendolyn!" she exclaimed, annoyed. "I _hope_ you're not going to be
cross and troublesome, and make it impossible for me to have a couple of
hours to myself this afternoon--especially when I'm suffering." Then,
coaxingly, "You can amuse yourself with one of your nice pretend-games,
From under long up-curling lashes Gwendolyn regarded her in silence.
"I've planned to lunch out," went on Miss Royle. "But you won't mind,
_will_ you, dear Gwendolyn?" plaintively. "For I'll be back at tea-time.
And besides"--growing brighter--"you're to have--what do you think!--the
birthday cake Cook has made."
"I _hate_ cake!" burst out Gwendolyn; and covered her eyes once more.
"_Gwen-do-lyn!_" breathed Miss Royle.
Gwendolyn sat very still.
"How _can_ you be so naughty! Oh, it's really wicked and ungrateful of
you to be fretting and complaining--you who have _so_ many blessings!
But you don't appreciate them because you've always had them.
Well,"--mournfully solicitous--"I trust they'll never be taken from you,
my child. Ah, _I_ know how bitter such a loss is! I haven't _always_
been in my present circumstances, compelled to go out among strangers to
earn a scant living. Once--"
Here she was interrupted. The door from the school-room swung wide with
a bang. Gwendolyn, looking up, saw her nurse.
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