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Poor, Dear Margaret Kirby and Other Stories by Kathleen Norris

Part 7 out of 7

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Scanlon wants three thousand for the business and goodwill."

"I wish he had it and you this minute!" Molly would think. But when
she opened Timmy's bureau drawers, to find little suits and coats
and socks in snowy, exquisite order; when Timmy, trim, sweet, and
freshly clad, appeared for breakfast every morning, his fat hand in
Belle's, and "Dea' Booey"--as he called her--figuring prominently in
his limited vocabulary, Molly weakened again.

"Is he mad this morning?" Belle would ask in a whisper before Jerry
appeared. "Say, listen! You just let him think I broke the
decanter!" she suggested one day in loyal protection of Molly. "Why,
I think the world and all of Mr. Tressady!" she assured Molly, when
reproved for speaking of him in this way. "Wasn't it the luckiest
thing in the world--my coming up that day?" she would demand
joyously over and over. Her adoption of and by the family of
Tressady was--to her, at least--complete.

In January Uncle George Tressady's estate was finally distributed,
and this meant great financial ease at Rising Water. Belle, Molly
said, was really getting worse and worse as she became more and more
at home; and the time had come to get a nice trained nurse--some one
who could keep a professional eye on Timmy, be a companion to Molly,
and who would be quiet and refined, and gentle in her speech.

"And not a hint to Belle, Jerry," Molly warned him, "until we see
how it is going to work. She'll see presently that we don't need

When Miss Marshall, cool, silent, drab of hair and eye, arrived at
the ranch, Belle was instantly suspicious.

"What's she here for? Who's sick?" demanded Belle, coming into Mrs.
Tressady's room and closing the door behind her, her eyes bright and

Molly explained diplomatically. Belle must be very polite to the
new-comer; it was just an experiment--"This would be a good chance
to hint that I'm not going to keep both," thought Molly, as Belle

Belle disarmed her completely, however, by coming over to her with a
suddenly bright face and asking in an awed voice:

"Is it another baby? Oh, you don't know how glad I'd be! The
darling, darling little thing!"

Molly felt the tears come into her eyes--a certain warmth creep
about her heart.

"No," she said smiling; "but I'm glad you will love it if it ever
comes!" This was, of course, exactly what she did not mean to say.

"If we got Miss Marshall because of Uncle George's money," said
Belle, huffily, departing, "I wish he hadn't died! There isn't a
thing in this world for her to do."

Miss Marshall took kindly to idleness--talking a good deal of
previous cases, playing solitaire, and talking freely to Molly of
various internes and patients who admired her. She marked herself at
once as unused to children by calling Timothy "little man," and,
except for a vague, friendly scrutiny of his tray three times a day,
did nothing at all--even leaving the care of her room to Belle.

After a week or two, Miss Marshall went away, to Belle's great
satisfaction, and Miss Clapp came. Miss Clapp was forty, and strong
and serious; she did not embroider or confide in Molly; she sat
silent at meals, chewing firmly, her eyes on her plate. "What would
you like me to do now?" she would ask Molly, gravely, at intervals.

Molly, with Timothy asleep and Belle sweeping, could only murmur:

"Why, just now,--let me see,--perhaps you'd like to write letters--
or just read--"

"And are you going to take little Timothy with you when he wakes

Molly would evade the uncompromising eyes.

"Why, I think so. The sun's out now. You must come, too."

Miss Clapp, coming, too, cast a damper on the drive; and she
persisted in talking about the places where she was really needed.

"Imagine a ward with forty little suffering children in it, Mrs.
Tressady! That's real work--that's a real privilege!"

And after a week or two Miss Clapp went joyously back to her real
work with a generous check for her children's ward in her pocket.
She kissed Timothy good-by with the first tenderness she had shown.

"Didn't she make you feel like an ant in an anthill?" asked Belle,
cheerfully watching the departing carriage. "She really didn't take
no interest in Timothy because there wasn't a hundred of him!"

There was a peaceful interval after this, while Molly diligently
advertised for "A competent nurse. One child only. Good salary.
Small family in country."

No nurse, competent or incompetent, replied. Then came the January
morning when Belle casually remarked: "Stupid! You never wound it!"
to the master of the house, who was attempting to start a stopped
clock. This was too much! Mrs. Tressady immediately wrote the letter
that engaged Miss Carter, a highly qualified and high-priced nursery
governess who had been recommended by a friend.

Miss Carter, a rosy, strong, pleasant girl, appeared two days later
in a driving rain and immediately "took hold." She was talkative,
assured in manner, neat in appearance, entirely competent. She drove
poor Belle to frenzy with her supervision of Timothy's trays, baths
and clothes, amusements and sleeping arrangements. Timmy liked her,
which was point one in her favor. Point two was that she liked to
have her meals alone, liked to disappear with a book, could amuse
herself for hours in her own room.

The Tressadys, in the privacy of their own room, began to say to
each other: "I like her--she'll do!"

"She's very complacent," Molly would say with a sigh.

"But it's nothing to the way Belle effervesces all over the place!"

"Oh, I suppose she is simply trying to make a good impression--
that's all." And Mrs. Tressady began to cast about in her mind for
just the words in which to tell Belle that--really--four servants
were not needed at the ranch. Belle was so sulky in these days and
so rude to the new-comer that Molly knew she would have no trouble
in finding good reason for the dismissal.

"Are we going to keep her?" Belle asked scornfully one morning--to
which her mistress answered sharply:

"Belle, kindly do not shout so when you come into my room. Do you
see that I am writing?"

"Gee whiz!" said Belle, sorrowfully, as she went out, and she
visibly drooped all day.

It was decided that as soon as the Tressadys' San Francisco visit
was over, Belle should go. They were going down to the city for a
week in early March--for some gowns for Molly, some dinners, some
opera, and one of the talks with Jerry's doctor that were becoming
so delightfully unnecessary.

They left the ranch in a steady, gloomy downpour. Molly did her
packing between discouraged trips to the window, and deluged Belle
and Miss Carter with apprehensive advice that was not at all like
her usual trusting outlook.

"Don't fail to telephone me instantly at the hotel if anything--but,
of course, nothing will," said Molly. "Anyway you know the doctor's
number, Belle, and about a hot-water bag for him if his feet are
cold, and oil the instant he shows the least sign of fever--"

"Cert'n'y!" said Belle, reassuringly.

"This is Monday," said Molly. "We'll be back Sunday night. Have
Little Hong meet us at the Junction. And if it's clear, bring

"Cert'n'y!" said Belle.

"I hate to go in all this rain!" Molly said an hour or two later
from the depths of the motor-car.

Miss Carter was holding Timmy firmly on the sheltered porch railing.
Belle stood on an upper step in the rain. Big Hong beamed from the
shadowy doorway. At the last instant Belle suddenly caught Timmy in
her arms and ran down the wet path.

"Give muddy a reel good kiss for good-by!" commanded Belle, and
Molly hungrily claimed not one, but a score.

"Good-by, my heart's heart!" she said. "Thank you, Belle." As the
carriage whirled away she sighed. "Was there ever such a good-
hearted, impossible creature!"

Back into the house went Belle and Timmy, Miss Carter and Big Hong.
Back came Little Hong with the car. Silence held the ranch; the
waning winter light fell on Timmy, busy with blocks; on Belle
darning; on Miss Carter reading a light novel. The fire blazed, sank
to quivering blue, leaped with a sucking noise about a fresh log,
and sank again. At four the lamps were lighted, the two women fussed
amicably together over Timothy's supper. Later, when he was asleep,
Miss Carter, who had no particular fancy for the shadows that lurked
in the corners of the big room and the howling wind on the roof,
said sociably: "Shall we have our dinner on two little tables right
here before the fire, Belle?" And still later, after an evening of
desultory reading and talking, she suggested that they leave their
bedroom doors open. Belle agreed. If Miss Carter was young, Belle
was younger still.

The days went by. Hong served them delicious meals. Timmy was
angelic. They unearthed halma, puzzles, fortune-telling cards. The
rain fell steadily; the eaves dripped; the paths were sheets of

"It certainly gets on your nerves--doesn't it?" said Miss Carter,
when the darkness came on Thursday night. Belle, from the hall, came
and stood beside her at the fireplace.

"Our 'phone is cut off," said she, uneasily. "The water must of cut
down a pole somewheres. Let's look at the river."

Suddenly horror seemed to seize upon them both. They could not cross
the floor fast enough and plunge fast enough into the night. It was
dark out on the porch, and for a moment or two they could see
nothing but the swimming blackness, and hear nothing but the gurgle
and drip of the rain-water from eaves and roof. The rain had
stopped, or almost stopped. A shining fog seemed to lie flat--high
and level over the river-bed.

Suddenly, as they stared, this fog seemed to solidify before their
eyes, seemed curiously to step into the foreground and show itself
for what it was. They saw it was no longer fog, but water--a level
spread of dark, silent water. The Beaver Creek had flooded its banks
and was noiselessly, pitilessly creeping over the world.

"It's the river!" Belle whispered. "Gee whiz, isn't she high!"

"What is it?" gasped Miss Carter, from whose face every vestige of
color had fled.

"Why, it's the river!" Belle answered, slowly, uneasily. She held
out her hand. "Thank God, the rain's stopped!" she said under her
breath. Then, so suddenly that Miss Carter jumped nervously, she
shouted: "Hong!"

Big Hong came out, and Little Hong. All four stood staring at the
motionless water, which was like some great, menacing presence in
the dark--some devil-fish of a thousand arms, content to bide his

The bungalow stood on a little rise of ground in a curve of the
river. On three sides of it, at all seasons, were the sluggish
currents of Beaver Creek, and now the waters met on the fourth side.
The garden path that led to the Emville road ran steeply now into
this pool, and the road, sloping upward almost imperceptibly,
emerged from the water perhaps two hundred feet beyond.

"Him how deep?" asked Hong.

"Well, those hollyhocks at the gate are taller than I am," Belle
said, "and you can't see them at all. I'll bet it's ten feet deep
most of the way."

She had grown very white, and seemed to speak with difficulty. Miss
Carter went into the house, with the dazed look of a woman in a
dream, and knelt at the piano bench.

"Oh, my God--my God--my God!" she said in a low, hoarse tone, her
fingers pressed tightly over her eyes.

"Don't be so scared!" said Belle, hardily, though the sight of the
other woman's terror had made her feel cold and sick at her stomach.
"There's lots of things we can do--"

"There's an attic--"

"Ye-es," Belle hesitated. "But I wouldn't go up there," she said.
"It's just an unfloored place under the roof--no way out!"

"No--no--no--not there, then!" Miss Carter said heavily, paler than
before. "But what can we do?"

"Why, this water is backing up," Belle said slowly, "It's not coming
downstream, so any minute whatever's holding it back may burst and
the whole thing go at once--or if it stops raining, it won't go any

"Well, we must get away as fast as we can while there is time," said
Miss Carter, trembling, but more composed. "We could swim that
distance--I swim a little. Then, if we can't walk into Emville,
we'll have to spend the night on the hills. We could reach the
hills, I should think." Her voice broke. "Oh--this is terrible!" she
broke out frantically--and she began to walk the floor.

"Hong, could we get the baby acrost?" asked Belle.

"Oh, the child--of course!" said Miss Carter, under her breath. Hong
shook his head.

"Man come bimeby boat," he suggested. "Me no swim--Little Hong no

"You can't swim" cried Miss Carter, despairingly, and covered her
face with her hands.

Little Hong now came in to make some earnest suggestion in Chinese.
His uncle, approving it, announced that they two, unable to swim,
would, nevertheless, essay to cross the water with the aid of a
floating kitchen bench, and that they would fly for help. They
immediately carried the bench out into the night.

The two women followed; a hideous need of haste seemed to possess
them all. The rain was falling heavily again.

"It's higher," said Miss Carter, in a dead tone. Belle eyed the
water nervously.

"You couldn't push Timmy acrost on that bench?" she ventured.

It became immediately evident, however, that the men would be
extremely fortunate in getting themselves across. The two dark,
sleek heads made slow progress on the gloomy water. The bench
tipped, turned slowly, righted itself, and tipped again. Soon they
worked their slow way out of sight.

Then came silence--silence!

"She's rising!" said Belle.

Miss Carter went blindly into the house. She was ashen and seemed to
be choking. She sat down.

"They'll be back in no time," said she, in a sick voice.

"Sure!" said Belle, moistening her lips.

There was a long silence. Rain drummed on the roof.

"Do you swim, Belle?" Miss Carter asked after a restless march about
the room.

"Some--I couldn't swim with the baby--"

Miss Carter was not listening. She leaned her head against the
mantelpiece. Suddenly she began to walk again, her eyes wild, her
breath uneven.

"Well, there must be something we can do, Belle!"

"I've been trying to think," said Belle, slowly. "A bread board
wouldn't float, you know, even if the baby would sit on it. We've
not got a barrel--and a box--"

"There must be boxes!" cried the other woman.

"Yes; but the least bit of a tip would half fill a box with water.
No--" Belle shook her head. "I'm not a good enough swimmer."

Another short silence.

"Belle, does this river rise every winter?"

"Why, yes, I suppose it does. I know one year Emville was flooded
and the shops moved upstairs. There was a family named Wescott
living up near here then--" Belle did not pursue the history of the
Westcott family, and Miss Carter knew why.

"Oh, I think it is criminal for people to build in a place like
this!" Miss Carter burst out passionately. "They're safe enough--oh,
certainly!" she went on with bitter emphasis. "But they leave us--"

"It shows how little you know us, thinking we'd run any risk with
Timmy--" Belle said stiffly; but she interrupted herself to say
sharply: "Here's the water!"

She went to the door and opened it. The still waters of Beaver Creek
were lapping the porch steps.

Miss Carter made an inarticulate exclamation and went into her room.
Belle, following her to her door, saw her tear off her shoes and
stockings, and change her gown for some brief, dark garment.

"It's every one for himself now!" said Miss Carter, feverishly.
"This is no time for sentiment. If they don't care enough for their
child to--This is my gym suit--I'm thankful I brought it. Don't be
utterly mad, Belle! If the water isn't coming, Timmy'll be all
right. If it is, I don't see why we should be so utterly crazy as
not to try to save ourselves. We can easily swim it, and then we can
get help--You've got a bathing suit--go put it on. My God, Belle,
it's not as if we could do anything by staying. If we could, I'd--"

Belle turned away. When Miss Carter followed her, she found her in
Mrs. Tressady's bedroom, looking down at the sleeping Timmy. Timmy
had taken to bed with him a box of talcum powder wrapped in a towel,
as a "doddy." One fat, firm little hand still held the meaningless
toy. He was breathing heavily, evenly--his little forehead moist,
his hair clinging in tendrils about his face.

"No--of course we can't leave him!" said Miss Carter, heavily, as
the women went back to the living-room. She went frantically from
window to window. "It's stopped raining!" she announced.

"We'll laugh at this to-morrow," said Belle. They went to the door.
A shallow sheet of water, entering, crept in a great circle about
their very feet.

"Oh, no--it's not to be expected; it's too much!" Miss Carter cried.
Without an instant's hesitation she crossed the porch and splashed
down the invisible steps.

"I take as great a chance in going as you do in staying," she said,
with chattering teeth. "If--if it comes any higher, you'll swim for
it--won't you, Belle?"

"Oh, I'd try it with him as a last chance," Belle answered sturdily.
She held a lamp so that its light fell across the water. "That's
right. Keep headed that way!" she said.

"I'm all right!" Miss Carter's small head was bravely cleaving the
smooth dark water. "I'll run all the way and bring back help in no
time," she called back.

When the lamp no longer illumined her, Belle went into the house.
The door would not shut, but the water was not visibly higher. She
went in to Timmy's crib, knelt down beside him, and put her arms
about his warm little body.

Meanwhile Timmy's father and mother, at the hotel, were far from
happy. They stopped for a paper on their way to the opera on
Thursday night; and on their return, finding no later edition
procurable, telephoned one of the newspapers to ask whether there
was anything in the reports that the rivers were rising up round
Emville. On Friday morning Jerry, awakening, perceived his wife
half-hidden in the great, rose-colored window draperies, barefoot,
still in her nightgown, and reading a paper.

"Jerry," said she, very quietly, "can we go home today? I'm worried.
Some of the Napa track has been washed away and they say the water's
being pushed back. Can we get the nine o'clock train?"

"But, darling, it must be eight now."

"I know it."

"Why not telephone to Belle, dear, and have them all come into
Emville if you like."

"Oh, Jerry--of course! I never thought of it." She flew to the
telephone on the wall. "The operator says she can't get them--
they're so stupid!" she presently announced.

Jerry took the instrument away from her and the little lady
contentedly began her dressing. When she came out of the dressing-
room a few moments later, her husband was flinging things into his

"Get Belle, Jerry?"

"Nope." He spoke cheerfully, but did not meet her eyes. "Nope. They
can't get 'em. Lines seem to be down. I guess we'll take the nine."

"Jerry,"--Molly Tressady came over to him quietly,--"what did they
tell you?"

"Now, nothing at all--" Jerry began. At his tone terror sprang to
Molly's heart and sank its cruel claws there. There was no special
news from Rising Water he explained soothingly; but, seeing that she
was nervous, and the nine was a through train, and so on--and on--

"Timmy--Timmy--Timmy!" screamed Molly's heart. She could not see;
she could not think or hear, or taste her breakfast. Her little boy-
-her little, helpless, sturdy, confident baby, who had never been
frightened, never alone--never anything but warm and safe and
doubly, trebly guarded--

They were crossing a sickening confusion that was the hotel lobby.
They were moving in a taxicab through bright, hideous streets. The
next thing she knew, Jerry was seating her in a parlor car.

"Yes, I know, dear--Of course--Surely!" she said pleasantly and
mechanically when he seemed to expect an answer.--She thought of how
he would have come to meet her; of how the little voice always rang
out: "Dere's my muddy!"

"Raining again!" said Jerry. "It stopped this morning at two. Oh,
yes, really it did. We're almost there now. Hello! Here's the boy
with the morning papers. See, dear, here's the head-line: Rain Stops
at One-fifty--"

But Molly had seen another headline--a big headline that read: "Loss
of Life at Rising Water! Governess of Jerome Tressady's Family Swims
One Mile to Safety!"--and she had fainted away.

She was very brave, very reasonable, when consciousness came back,
but there could be no more pretence. She sat in the demoralized
little parlor of the Emville Hotel--waiting for news--very white,
very composed, a terrible look in her eyes. Jerry came and went
constantly; other people constantly came and went. The flood was
falling fast now and barges were being towed down the treacherous
waters of Beaver Creek; refugees--and women and children whom the
mere sight of safety and dry land made hysterical again--were being
gathered up. Emville matrons, just over their own hours of terror,
were murmuring about gowns, about beds, about food: "Lots of room--
well, thank God for that--you're all safe, anyway!" "Yes, indeed;
that's the only thing that counts!" "Well, bless his heart, we'll
tell him some day that when he was a baby--" Molly caught scraps of
their talk, their shaken laughter, their tears; but there was no
news of Belle--of Timmy--

"Belle is a splendid, strong country girl, you know, dear," Jerry
said. "Belle would be equal to any emergency!"

"Of course," Molly heard herself say.

Jerry presently came in from one of his trips to draw a chair close
to his wife's and tell her that he had seen Miss Carter.

"Or, at least, I've seen her mother," said Jerry, laying a
restraining hand upon Molly, who sat bolt upright, her breast
heaving painfully--"for she herself is feverish and hysterical,
dear. It seems that she left--Now, my darling, you must be quiet."

"I'm all right, Jerry. Go on! Go on!"

"She says that Hong and Little Hong managed to get away early in the
evening for help. She didn't leave until about midnight, and Belle
and the boy were all right then--"

"Oh, my God!" cried poor Molly.

"Molly, dear, you make it harder."

"Yes, I know." Her penitent hot hand touched his own. "I know, dear-
-I'm sorry."

"That's all, dear. The water wasn't very high then. Belle wouldn't
leave Timmy-" Jerry Tressady jumped suddenly to his feet and went to
stare out the window with unseeing eyes. "Miss Carter didn't get
into town here until after daylight," he resumed, "and the mother,
poor soul, is wild with fright over her; but she's all right. Now,
Molly, there's a barge going up as far as Rising Water at four. They
say the bungalow is still cut off, probably, but they'll take us as
near as they can. I'm going, and this Rogers--Belle's friend--will
go, too."

"What do you think, Jerry?" she besought him, agonized.

"My darling, I don't know what to think."

"Were--were many lives lost, Jerry?"

"A few, dear."

"Jerry,"--Molly's burning eyes searched his,--"I'm sane now. I'm not
going to faint again; but--but--after little Jerry--I couldn't bear
it and live!"

"God sent us strength for that, Molly."

"Yes, I know!" she said, and burst into bitter tears.

It had been arranged that Molly should wait at the hotel for the
return of the barge; but Jerry was not very much surprised, upon
going on board, to find her sitting, a shadowy ghost of herself, in
the shelter of the boxed supplies that might be needed. He did not
protest, but sat beside her; and Belle's friend, a serious, muscular
young man, took his place at her other side.

The puffing little George Dickey started on her merciful journey
only after some agonizing delays; but Molly did not comment upon
them once, nor did any one of the trio speak throughout the terrible
journey. The storm was gone now, and pale, uncertain sunlight was
falling over the altered landscape--over the yellow, sullen current
of the river; over the drowned hills and partly submerged farms. A
broom drifted by; a child's perambulator; a porch chair. Now and
then there was frantic signalling from some little, sober group of
refugees, huddled together on a water-stained porch or travelling
slowly down the heavy roads in a spattered surrey.

"This is as near as we can go," Jerry said presently. The three were
rowed across shallow water and found themselves slowly following on
foot the partly obliterated road they knew so well. A turn of the
road brought the bungalow into view.

There the little house stood, again high above the flood, though the
garden was a drenched waste, and a shallow sheet of water still lay
across the pathway. The sinking sun struck dazzling lights from all
the windows; no living thing was in sight. A terrible stillness held
the place!

To the gate they went and across the pool. Then Jerry laid a
restraining hand on his wife's arm.

"Yes'm. You'd 'a' better wait here," said young Rogers, speaking for
the first time. "Belle wouldn't 'a' stayed, you may be sure. We'll
just take a look."

They were not ten feet from the house, now--hesitating, sick with
dread. Suddenly on the still air there was borne a sound that
stopped them where they stood. It was a voice--Belle's voice--tired
and somewhat low, but unmistakably Belle's:

"Then i'll go home, my crown to wear;
for there's a crown for me--"

"Belle!" screamed Molly. Somehow she had mounted the steps, crossed
the porch, and was at the kitchen door.

Belle and Timothy were in the kitchen--Timothy's little bib tied
about his neck, Timothy's little person securely strapped in his
high chair, and Timothy's blue bowl, full of some miraculously
preserved cereal, before him. Belle was seated--her arms resting
heavily and wearily upon his tray, her dress stained to the armpits,
her face colorless and marked by dark lines. She turned and sprang
up at the sound of voices and feet, and had only time for a weak
smile before she fell quite senseless to the floor. Timmy waved a
welcoming spoon, and shouted lustily: "Dere's my muddy!"

Presently Belle was resting her head upon Joe's big shoulder, and
laughing and crying over the horrors of the night. Timothy was in
his mother's arms, but Molly had a hand free for Belle's hand and
did not let it go through all the hour that followed. Her arms might
tighten about the delicious little form, her lips brush the tumbled
little head--but her eyes were all for Belle.

"It wasn't so fierce," said Belle. "The water went highest at one;
and we went to the porch and thought we'd have to swim for it--
didn't we, Timmy? But it stayed still a long time, and it wasn't
raining, and I came in and set Timmy on the mantel--my arms were so
tired. It's real lucky we have a mantel, isn't it?"

"You stood, and held Tim on the mantel: that was it?" asked Jerry.

"Sure--while we was waiting," said Belle. "I wouldn't have minded
anything, but the waiting was fierce. Timmy was an angel! He set
there and I held him--I don't know--a long time. Then I seen that
the water was going down again; I could tell by the book-case, and I
begun to cry. Timmy kept kissing me--didn't you, lover?" She
laughed, with trembling lips and tearful eyes. "We'll have a fine
time cleaning this house," she broke off, trying to steady her
voice; "it's simply awful--everything's ruined!"

"We'll clean it up for your marriage, Belle," said Jerry,
cheerfully, clearing his throat. "Mrs. Tressady and I are going to
start Mr. Rogers here in business--"

"If you'd loan it to me at interest, sir-" Belle's young man began
hoarsely. Belle laid her hand over Molly's, her voice tender and
comforting--for Molly was weeping again.

"Don't cry, Mis' Tress'dy! It's all over now, and here we are safe
and sound. We've nothing to cry over. Instead," said Belle,
solemnly, "we'd ought to be thanking God that there was a member of
the family here to look out for Timmy, instead of just that hired
governess and the Chinee boys!"

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