“Their names are Duane Mallett and Naida Mallett. We got them to run away from their nurse. Duane’s such a bully fellow.” A sob choked him.
“Come with me at once,” said Kathleen.
Behind the rhododendrons smiling peace was extending its pinions; Duane had produced a pocketful of jack-stones, and the three children were now seated on the grass, Naida manipulating the jacks with soiled but deft fingers.
Duane was saying to Geraldine:
“It’s funny that you didn’t know you were rich. Everybody says so, and all the nurses in the Park talk about it every time you and Scott walk past.”
“If I’m rich,” said Geraldine, “why don’t I have more money?”
“Don’t they let you have as much as you want?”
“No—only twenty-five cents every month.... It’s my turn, Naida! Oh, bother! I missed. Go on, Duane——”
And, glancing up, her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth as Kathleen Severn, in her mourning veil and gown, came straight up to where they sat.
“Geraldine, dear, the grass is too damp to sit on,” said Mrs. Severn quietly. She turned to the youthful guests, who had hastily risen.
“You are Naida Mallett, it seems; and you are Duane? Please come in now and wash and dress properly, because I am going to telephone to your mother and ask her if you may remain to luncheon and play in the nursery afterward.”
Dazed, the children silently followed her; one of her arms lay loosely about the shoulders of her own charges; one encircled Naida’s neck. Duane walked cautiously beside his sister.
In the house the nurses took charge; Geraldine, turning on the stairs, looked back at Kathleen Severn.
“Are you really going to let them stay?”
“Yes, I am, darling.”
“And—and may we play together all alone in the nursery?”
“I think so.... I think so, dear.”
She ran back down the stairs and impetuously flung herself into Kathleen’s arms; then danced away to join the others in the blessed regions above.
Mrs. Severn moved slowly to the telephone, and first called up and reassured Mrs. Mallett, who, however, knew nothing about the affair, as the nurse was still scouring the Park for her charges.
Then Mrs. Severn called up the Half Moon Trust Company and presently was put into communication with Colonel Mallett, the president. To him she told the entire story, and added:
“It was inevitable that the gossip of servants should enlighten the children sooner or later. The irony of it all is that this gossip filtered in here through your son, Duane. That is how the case stands, Colonel Mallett; and I have used my judgment and permitted the children this large liberty which they have long needed, believe me, long, long needed. I hope that your trust officer, Mr. Tappan, will approve.”
“Good Lord!” said Colonel Mallett over the wire. “Tappan won’t stand for it! You know that he won’t, Mrs. Severn. I suppose, if he consults us, we can call a directors’ meeting and consider this new phase of the case.”