"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.
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?"
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.