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Chapter 31

  • "What is the reason you are not eating anything, pet?" asked Susan at th_upper table.
  • "Were you out in the sun too long, dear?" asked Mother anxiously. "Does you_ead ache?"
  • "Ye-e-s," said Nan. But it wasn't her head that ached. Was she telling a li_o Mother? And if so, how many more would she have to tell? For Nan knew sh_ould never be able to eat again … never so long as this horrible knowledg_as hers. And she knew she could never tell Mother. Not so much because of th_romise … hadn't Susan said once that a bad promise was better broken tha_ept? … but because it would hurt Mother. Somehow, Nan knew beyond any doub_hat it would hurt Mother horribly. And Mother mustn't … shouldn't … be hurt.
  • Nor Dad.
  • And yet … there was Cassie Thomas. She _wouldn't_ call her Nan Blythe. It mad_an feel awful beyond description to think of Cassie Thomas as being Na_lythe. She felt as if it blotted _her_ out altogether. If she wasn't Na_lythe she wasn't anybody! She would _not_ be Cassie Thomas.
  • But Cassie Thomas haunted her. For a week Nan was beset by her … a wretche_eek during which Anne and Susan were really worried over the child, wh_ouldn't eat and wouldn't play and, as Susan said, "just moped around." Was i_ecause Dovie Johnson had gone home? Nan said it wasn't. Nan said it wasn'_anything._ She just felt tired. Dad looked her over and prescribed a dos_hich Nan took meekly. It was not so bad as castor-oil but even castor-oi_eant nothing now. Nothing meant anything except Cassie Thomas … and the awfu_uestion which had emerged from her confusion of mind and taken possession o_er.
  • _Shouldn't Cassie Thomas have her rights?_
  • Was it fair that she, Nan Blythe … Nan clung to her identity frantically … should have all the things Cassie Thomas was denied and which were hers b_ights? No, it wasn't fair. Nan was despairingly sure it wasn't fair.
  • Somewhere in Nan there was a very strong sense of justice and fair play. An_t became increasingly borne in upon her that it was only fair that Cassi_homas should be told.
  • After all, perhaps nobody would care very much. Mother and Dad would be _ittle upset at first, of course, but as soon as they knew that Cassie Thoma_as their own child all their love would go to Cassie and, she, Nan, would b_f no account to them. Mother would kiss Cassie Thomas and sing to her in th_ummer twilights … sing the song Nan liked best… .
  • > _"I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea,_ > _"And oh, it was all laden with pretty things for me."_
  • __
  • Nan and Di had often talked about the day their ship would come in. But no_he pretty things … her share of them anyhow … would belong to Cassie Thomas.
  • Cassie Thomas would take her part as fairy queen in the forthcoming Sunda_chool concert and wear _her_ dazzling band of tinsel. How Nan had looke_orward to that! Susan would make fruit puffs for Cassie Thomas an_ussywillow would purr for her. She would play with Nan's dolls in Nan's moss- carpeted play-house in the maple grove, and sleep in her bed. Would Di lik_hat? Would Di like Casssie Thomas for a sister?
  • There came a day when Nan knew she could bear it no longer. She must do wha_as fair. She would go down to the Harbour Mouth and tell the Thomases th_ruth. _They_ could tell Mother and Dad. Nan felt that she simply could not d_that._
  • Nan felt a little better when she had come to this decision, but very, ver_ad. She tried to eat a little supper because it would be the last meal sh_ould ever eat at Ingleside.
  • "I'll always call Mother 'Mother,'" thought Nan desperately. "And I _won't_all Six-toed Jimmy 'Father.' I'll just say 'Mr. Thomas' very respectfully.
  • Surely he won't mind _that."_
  • But something choked her. Looking up she read castor-oil in Susan's eye.
  • Little Susan thought she wouldn't be here at bedtime to take it. Cassie Thoma_ould have to swallow it. That was the one thing Nan didn't envy Cassi_homas.
  • Nan went off immediately after supper. She must go before it was dark or he_ourage would fail her. She went in her checked gingham play-dress, not darin_o change it, lest Susan or Mother ask why. Besides, all her nice dresse_eally belonged to Cassie Thomas. But she did put on the new apron Susan ha_ade for her … such a smart little scalloped apron, the scallops bound i_urkey red. Nan loved that apron. Surely Cassie Thomas wouldn't grudge he_hat much.
  • She walked down to the village, through the village, past the wharf road, an_own the harbour road, a gallant, indomitable little figure. Nan had no ide_hat she was a heroine. On the contrary she felt very much ashamed of hersel_ecause it was so hard to do what was right and fair, so hard to keep fro_ating Cassie Thomas, so hard to keep from fearing Six-toed Jimmy, so hard t_eep from turning round and running back to Ingleside.
  • It was a lowering evening. Out to sea hung a heavy black cloud, like a grea_ark bat. Fitful lightning played over the harbour and the wooded hill_eyond. The cluster of fishermen's houses at the Harbour Mouth lay flooded i_ red light that escaped from under the cloud. Pools of water here and ther_lowed like great rubies. A ship, silent, white-sailed, was drifting past th_im, misty dunes to the mysterious calling ocean; the gulls were cryin_trangely.
  • Nan did not like the smell of the fishing houses or the groups of dirt_hildren who were playing and fighting and yelling on the sands. They looke_uriously at Nan when she stopped to ask them which was Six-toed Jimmy'_ouse.
  • "That one over there," said a boy, pointing. "What's your business with him?"
  • "Thank you," said Nan, turning away.
  • "Have ye got no more manners than that?" yelled a girl. "Too stuck-up t_nswer a civil question!"
  • The boy got in front of her.
  • "See that house back of Thomases?" he said. "It's got a sea-serpent in it an_'ll lock you up in it if you don't tell me what you want with Six-toe_immy."
  • "Come now, Miss Proudy," taunted a big girl. "You're from the Glen and th_lenners all think they're the cheese. Answer Bill's question!"
  • "If you don't look out," said another boy, "I'm going to drown some kitten_nd I'll quite likely pop you in, too."
  • "If you've got a dime about you I'll sell you a tooth," said a black-browe_irl, grinning. "I had one pulled yesterday."
  • "I haven't got a dime and your tooth wouldn't be of any use to me," said Nan, plucking up a little spirit. "You let me alone."
  • "None of your lip!" said the black-browed.
  • Nan started to run. The sea-serpent boy stuck out a foot and tripped her up.
  • She fell her length on the tide-rippled sand. The others screamed wit_aughter.
  • "You won't hold your head so high now, I reckon," said the black-browed.
  • "Strutting about here with your red scallops!"
  • Then someone exclaimed, "There's Blue Jack's boat coming in!" and away the_ll ran. The black cloud had dropped lower and every ruby pool was grey.
  • Nan picked herself up. Her dress was plastered with sand and her stocking_ere soiled. But she was free from her tormentors. Would these be he_laymates in the future?
  • She must not cry … she must not! She climbed the rickety board steps that le_p to Six-toed Jimmy's door. Like all the Harbour Mouth houses Six-toe_immy's was raised on blocks of wood to be out of the reach of any unusuall_igh tide, and the space underneath it was filled with a medley of broke_ishes, empty cans, old lobster traps, and all kinds of rubbish. The door wa_pen and Nan looked into a kitchen the like of which she had never seen in he_ife. The bare floor was dirty, the ceiling was stained and smoked, the sin_as full of dirty dishes. The remains of a meal were on the rickety old woode_able and horrid big black flies were swarming over it. A woman with an untid_op of grayish hair was sitting on a rocker nursing a fat lump of a baby … _aby gray with dirt.
  • _"My sister,"_ thought Nan.
  • There was no sign of Cassie or Six-toed Jimmy, for which latter fact Nan fel_rateful.
  • "Who are you and what do you want?" said the woman rather ungraciously.
  • She did not ask Nan in but Nan walked in. It was beginning to rain outside an_ peal of thunder made the house shake. Nan knew she must say what she ha_ome to say before her courage failed her, or she would turn and run from tha_readful house and that dreadful baby and those dreadful flies.
  • "I want to see Cassie, please," she said. "I have _something important_ t_ell her."
  • "Indeed, now!" said the woman. "It must be important, from the size of you.
  • Well, Cass isn't home. Her dad took her to the Upper Glen for a ride and wit_his storm coming up there's no telling when they'll be back. Sit down."
  • Nan sat down on a broken chair. She had known the Harbour Mouth folks wer_oor but she had not known any of them were like this. Mrs. Tom Fitch in th_len was poor but Mrs. Tom Fitch's house was as neat and tidy as Ingleside. O_ourse, everyone knew that Six-toed Jimmy drank up everything he made. An_his was to be her home henceforth!
  • "Anyhow, I'll try to clean it up," thought Nan forlornly. But her heart wa_ike lead. The flame of high self-sacrifice which had lured her on had gon_ut.
  • "What are you wanting to see Cass for?" asked Mrs. Six-toed curiously, as sh_iped the baby's dirty face with a still dirtier apron. "If it's about tha_unday School concert she can't go and that's flat. She hasn't a decent rag.
  • How can I get her any? I ask you."
  • "No, it's not about the concert," said Nan drearily. She might as well tel_rs. Thomas the whole story. She would have to know it anyhow. "I came to tel_er … to tell her that … that she is me and I'm her!"
  • Perhaps Mrs. Six-toed might be forgiven for not thinking this very lucid.
  • "You must be cracked," she said. "Whatever on earth do you mean?"
  • Nan lifted her head. The worst was now over.
  • "I mean that Cassie and I were born the same night and … and … the nurs_hanged us because she had a spite at Mother, and … and … Cassie ought to b_iving at Ingleside … and having advantages."
  • This last phrase was one she had heard her Sunday School teacher use but Na_hought it made a dignified ending to a very lame speech.
  • Mrs. Six-toed stared at her.
  • "Am I crazy or are you? What you've been saying doesn't make any sense.
  • Whoever told you such a rigmarole?"
  • "Dovie Johnson."
  • Mrs. Six-toed threw back her tousled head and laughed. She might be dirty an_raggled but she had an attractive laugh. "I might have knowed it. I've bee_ashing for her aunt all summer and that kid is a pill! My, doesn't she thin_t smart to fool people! Well, little Miss What's-your-name, you'd better no_e believing all Dovie's yarns or she'll lead you a merry dance."
  • "Do you mean it isn't true?" gasped Nan.
  • "Not very likely. Good glory, you must be pretty green to fall for anythin_ike that. Cass must be a good year older than you. Who on earth are you, anyhow?"
  • "I'm Nan Blythe." Oh, beautiful thought! She _was_ Nan Blythe!
  • "Nan Blythe! One of the Ingleside twins! Why, I remember the night you wer_orn. I happened to call at Ingleside on an errand. I wasn't married to Six- toed then … more's the pity I ever was … and Cass's mother was living an_ealthy, with Cass beginning to walk. You look like your dad's mother … sh_as there that night, too, proud as Punch over her twin granddaughters. And t_hink you'd no more sense than to believe a crazy yarn like that."
  • "I'm in the habit of believing people," said Nan, rising with a sligh_tateliness of manner, but too deliriously happy to want to snub Mrs. Six-toe_ery sharply.
  • "Well, it's a habit you'd better get out of in this kind of a world," sai_rs. Six-toed cynically. "And quit running round with kids who like to foo_eople. Sit down, child. You can't go home till this shower's over. It'_ouring rain and dark as a stack of black cats. Why, she's gone … the child'_one!"
  • Nan was already blotted out in the downpour. Nothing but the wild exultatio_orn of Mrs. Six-toed's assurances could have carried her home through tha_torm. The wind buffeted her, the rain streamed upon her, the appallin_hunderclaps made her think the world had burst open. Only the incessant icy- blue glare of the lightning showed her the road. Again and again she slippe_nd fell. But at last she reeled, dripping, into the hall at Ingleside.
  • Mother ran and caught her in her arms.
  • "Darling, what a fright you have given us! Oh, where have you been?"
  • "I only hope Jem and Walter won't catch their deaths out in that rai_earching for you," said Susan, the sharpness of strain in her voice.
  • Nan had almost had the breath battered out of her. She could only gasp, as sh_elt Mother's arms enfolding her:
  • "Oh, Mother, I'm me … really me. I'm not Cassie Thomas and I'll never b_nybody but me again."
  • "The poor pet is delirious," said Susan. "She must have et something tha_isagreed with her."
  • Anne bathed Nan and put her to bed before she would let her talk. Then sh_eard the whole story.
  • "Oh, Mummy, am I really your child?"
  • "Of course, darling. How could you think anything else?"
  • "I didn't ever think Dovie would tell me a story … not _Dovie._ Mummy, can yo_elieve _anybody?_ Jen Penny told Di awful stories … "
  • "They are only two girls out of all the little girls you know, dear. None o_our other playmates has ever told you what wasn't true. There _are_ people i_he world like that, grown-ups as well as children. When you are a littl_lder you will be better able to 'tell the gold from the tinsel.'"
  • "Mummy, I wish Walter and Jem and Di needn't know what a silly I was."
  • "They needn't. Di went to Lowbridge with Daddy, and the boys need only kno_ou went too far down the Harbour Road and were caught in the storm. You wer_oolish to believe Dovie but you were a very fine brave little girl to go an_ffer what you thought her rightful place to poor little Cassie Thomas. Mothe_s proud of you."
  • The storm was over. The moon was looking down on a cool happy world.
  • "Oh, I'm so glad I'm _me!"_ was Nan's last thought as she fell on sleep.
  • Gilbert and Anne came in later to look on the little sleeping faces that wer_o sweetly close to each other. Diana slept with the corners of her fir_ittle mouth tucked in but Nan had gone to sleep smiling. Gilbert had hear_he story and was so angry that it was well for Dovie Johnson that she was _ood thirty miles away from him. But Anne was feeling conscience-stricken.
  • "I should have found out what was troubling her. But I've been too much take_p with other things this week … things that really mattered nothing compare_o a child's unhappiness. Think of what the poor darling has suffered."
  • She stooped repentantly, gloatingly over them. They were still hers … wholl_ers, to mother and love and protect. They still came to her with every lov_nd grief of their little hearts. For a few years longer they would be hers … and then? Anne shivered. Motherhood was very sweet … but very terrible.
  • "I wonder what life holds for them," she whispered.
  • "At least, let's hope and trust they'll each get as good a husband as thei_other got," said Gilbert teasingly.