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THE BLUE CASTLE - 4

CHAPTER IV

"Got your rubbers on?" called Cousin Stickles, as Valancy left the house.

Christine Stickles had never once forgotten to ask that question when Valancy went out on a damp day.

"Yes."

"Have you got your flannel petticoat on?" asked Mrs. Frederick.

"No."

"Doss, I really do not understand you. Do you want to catch your death of cold again?" Her voice implied that Valancy had died of a cold several times already. "Go upstairs this minute and put it on!"

"Mother, I don't need a flannel petticoat. My sateen one is warm enough."

"Doss, remember you had bronchitis two years ago. Go and do as you are told!"

Valancy went, though nobody will ever know just how near she came to hurling the rubber-plant into the street before she went. She hated that grey flannel petticoat more than any other garment she owned. Olive never had to wear flannel petticoats. Olive wore ruffled silk and sheer lawn and filmy laced flounces. But Olive's father had "married money" and Olive never had bronchitis. So there you were.

"Are you sure you didn't leave the soap in the water?" demanded Mrs. Frederick. But Valancy was gone. She turned at the corner and looked back down the ugly, prim, respectable street where she lived. The Stirling house was the ugliest on it—more like a red brick box than anything else. Too high for its breadth, and made still higher by a bulbous glass cupola on top. About it was the desolate, barren peace of an old house whose life is lived.

There was a very pretty little house, with leaded casements and dubbed gables, just around the corner—a new house, one of those houses you love the minute you see them. Clayton Markley had built it for his bride. He was to be married to Jennie Lloyd in June. The little house, it was said, was furnished from attic to cellar, in complete readiness for its mistress.

"I don't envy Jennie the man," thought Valancy sincerely—Clayton Markley was not one of her many ideals—"but I do envy her the house. It's such a nice young house. Oh, if I could only have a house of my own—ever so poor, so tiny—but my own! But then," she added bitterly, "there is no use in yowling for the moon when you can't even get a tallow candle."

In dreamland nothing would do Valancy but a castle of pale sapphire. In real life she would have been fully satisfied with a little house of her own. She envied Jennie Lloyd more fiercely than ever today. Jennie was not so much better looking than she was, and not so very much younger. Yet she was to have this delightful house. And the nicest little Wedgwood teacups—Valancy had seen them; an open fireplace, and monogrammed linen; hemstitched tablecloths, and china-closets. Why did everything come to some girls and nothing to others? It wasn't fair.

Valancy was once more seething with rebellion as she walked along, a prim, dowdy little figure in her shabby raincoat and three-year-old hat, splashed occasionally by the mud of a passing motor with its insulting shrieks. Motors were still rather a novelty in Deerwood, though they were common in Port Lawrence, and most of the summer residents up at Muskoka had them. In Deerwood only some of the smart set had them; for even Deerwood was divided into sets. There was the smart set—the intellectual set—the old-family set—of which the Stirlings were members—the common run, and a few pariahs. Not one of the Stirling clan had as yet condescended to a motor, though Olive was teasing her father to have one. Valancy had never even been in a motorcar. But she did not hanker after this. In truth, she felt rather afraid of motorcars, especially at night. They seemed to be too much like big purring beasts that might turn and crush you—or make some terrible savage leap somewhere. On the steep mountain trails around her Blue Castle only gaily caparisoned steeds might proudly pace; in real life Valancy would have been quite contented to drive in a buggy behind a nice horse. She got a buggy drive only when some uncle or cousin remembered to fling her "a chance," like a bone to a dog.