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 The Queen of Farrandale had long passed the time for waiting patiently for anything she wished for, so it was the very next day that Millicent Duane came to the big house for a trial reading. She gave such perfect satisfaction that it was scarcely five minutes after she began that a delicate snore began to proceed from Miss Frink’s slender nose. Millicent regarded the recumbent figure in some embarrassment, and stopped reading.
Miss Frink’s eyes opened at once. “Well, well, child, what are you waiting for?” she asked testily. “Got a big word?”
Millicent, crimsoning to the tips of her ears, began again to read. She was afraid to stop, although the snoring began again almost immediately, and read on and on in the novel of the day. Although Miss Frink was a lady of the old school, she proposed to know what was going on in the world at the present time, and she always bought the book which received the best reviews, though Millicent came to wonder[104] how she made anything of it in the hashed condition in which it penetrated her consciousness.
At last, when the lady was positively fast asleep, Millicent closed the book, took her hat and wrap in her hand, and went noiselessly out into the hall and down the stairs.
Mrs. Lumbard met her at the foot, and the young girl accosted her.
“This is Mrs. Lumbard, isn’t it?” she said shyly. “I am Millicent Duane. Miss Frink didn’t tell me what to do if she went to sleep.”
“You guessed right,” returned the other. “There is nothing to do but leave her until she has her nap out. You have evidently qualified.” Mrs. Lumbard laughed; it was not a pleasant laugh Millicent thought. “I tried to read to her, but she wouldn’t have me. Won’t you sit down a minute, or are you too busy?”
Millicent hesitated, but seated herself near the other in the spacious hall with its broad fireplace. “I am not busy at all,” she said, “and it seems so strange after being a whole year in the store.”
“I suppose you mean the Ross-Graham establishment. That is the store in Farrandale, is it not?”
“Yes, indeed, and I suppose it is the finest one anywhere,” returned Millicent seriously.
Adèle gazed upon her earnest face with its youthful color and nimbus of blonde hair.
“Have you known Miss Frink long?”
“Oh, we all know her by sight, but I never spoke to her until yesterday when she came in to buy a dressing-gown, and I happened that day to have been put on the dressing-gowns. Wasn’t I lucky?—for this came of it.”
Millicent’s happy smile revealed a dimple. Mrs. Lumbard’s eyes scrutinized her.
“I’ll warrant she bought a handsome one,” she said.
“Oh, gorgeous. The handsomest one we had. I told her it was fit for Prince Charming.” The young girl gave a little laugh.
“Well, one would do that for the man who had saved one’s life,” remarked Adèle.
The guest’s lips formed a round O. “Does he still live here?” she asked, “and is he getting well?”
Mrs. Lumbard shrugged her shoulders. “I hear so, but I’ve never seen him.”
Millicent looked about her in some awe. “I suppose in such a great place as this, people might not meet for days. Grandfather and I live in a little cubby-house”—the admiring[106] eyes came back to Mrs. Lumbard’s brown, curious stare—“but it has a big yard and we love it.”
The older woman leaned back and shrugged her shoulders again. At this juncture Miss Frink appeared on the stairs.
Millicent saw her, and, springing up, met her where the brass jardinières filled with ferns grew at the foot of the wide descent.
“I didn’t know what to do about leaving, Miss Frink. I saw you were resting so well.”
The hostess, with a sharp glance at Adèle’s luxurious posture, laid a kind hand on the girl’s shoulder as she returned the sweet, eager look.
“You did quite right,” she replied. “Leave me when you see I am dead to the world, and then—you may go right home.”
“Right home,” repeated the girl, a little falteringly.
“Yes,” said Miss Frink pleasantly. “When you leave me, go right home. You read well.”
“Thank you,” said Millicent. “I hadn’t thought to ask you. Good-afternoon, Miss Frink. Good-afternoon, Mrs. Lumbard.”
Her cheeks were hot as she hurried into her hat and jacket and out the door. When she reached home, her heart was still quickening with a vague sense of having done wrong. The[107] pretty white-haired lady’s eyes and laugh were curious and cold. Miss Frink had been displeased that she had stayed and talked with her. Perhaps she ought not to have told about the dressing-gown.
Old Colonel Duane was bending his white head and smooth-shaven face over the little green sprouts in a garden plot when his granddaughter flung open the gate and rushed to him.
He raised himself slowly and looked around at her flushed cheeks. She pushed her hand through his arm and clutched it.
“Well, how did you get along, Milly? Does it beat fitting on gloves?”
“I’m so mortified, Grandpa,” was the rather breathless reply. “I had to be sent home.”
“Oh, come, now! You can stay home if that’s the case. Is Miss Frink an old pepper-pot as folks say?”
“No, no; she was kind to me, and I read her to sleep, which is what she wants; but I wasn’t sure what to do then, so when I met Mrs. Lumbard in the reception hall downstairs she asked me to sit down and I did. You remember my telling you about the white-haired lady who looks like a beauty of the French Court with big brown eyes? Well—there’s something[108] queer—I don’t like her—and you know the Prince Charming dressing-gown I told you Miss Frink bought of me? Well, I told Mrs. Lumbard about it and she hadn’t known it.” Big tears began to form and run down the girl’s cheeks. “You know how we tell each other everything and show each other everything? Well, they don’t, for she didn’t know it, and she said it was for that man who stopped the runaway, and he’s still there and she has never seen him, and—and Miss Frink suddenly came downstairs, and said hereafter I was to go right home when I left her. Oh”—Millicent raised her handkerchief to her burning cheek—“very pleasantly she said it, but what will she think when she hears that I told about the dressing-gown? ............
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