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The Blue Castle


Deerwood and the Stirlings had long since relegated Valancy to
hopeless old maidenhood. But Valancy herself had never quite
relinquished a certain pitiful, shamed, little hope that Romance
would come her way yet--never, until this wet, horrible morning,
when she wakened to the fact that she was twenty-nine and unsought
by any man.
Ay, THERE lay the sting. Valancy did not mind so much being an old
maid. After all, she thought, being an old maid couldn't possibly
be as dreadful as being married to an Uncle Wellington or an Uncle
Benjamin, or even an Uncle Herbert. What hurt her was that she had
never had a chance to be anything but an old maid. No man had ever
desired her.
The tears came into her eyes as she lay there alone in the faintly
greying darkness. She dared not let herself cry as hard as she
wanted to, for two reasons. She was afraid that crying might bring
on another attack of that pain around the heart. She had had a
spell of it after she had got into bed--rather worse than any she
had had yet. And she was afraid her mother would notice her red
eyes at breakfast and keep at her with minute, persistent,
mosquito-like questions regarding the cause thereof.
"Suppose," thought Valancy with a ghastly grin, "I answered with
the plain truth, 'I am crying because I cannot get married.' How
horrified Mother would be--though she is ashamed every day of her
life of her old maid daughter."
But of course appearances should be kept up. "It is not," Valancy
could hear her mother's prim, dictatorial voice asserting, "it is
not MAIDENLY to think about MEN."
The thought of her mother's expression made Valancy laugh--for she
had a sense of humour nobody in her clan suspected. For that
matter, there were a good many things about Valancy that nobody
suspected. But her laughter was very superficial and presently she
lay there, a huddled, futile little figure, listening to the rain
pouring down outside and watching, with a sick distaste, the chill,
merciless light creeping into her ugly, sordid room.
She knew the ugliness of that room by heart--knew it and hated it.
The yellow-painted floor, with one hideous, "hooked" rug by the
bed, with a grotesque, "hooked" dog on it, always grinning at her
when she awoke; the faded, dark-red paper; the ceiling discoloured
by old leaks and crossed by cracks; the narrow, pinched little
washstand; the brown-paper lambrequin with purple roses on it; the
spotted old looking-glass with the crack across it, propped up on
the inadequate dressing-table; the jar of ancient potpourri made by
her mother in her mythical honeymoon; the shell-covered box, with
one burst corner, which Cousin Stickles had made in her equally
mythical girlhood; the beaded pincushion with half its bead fringe
gone; the one stiff, yellow chair; the faded old motto, "Gone but
not forgotten," worked in coloured yarns about Great-grandmother
Stirling's grim old face; the old photographs of ancient relatives
long banished from the rooms below. There were only two pictures
that were not of relatives. One, an old chromo of a puppy sitting
on a rainy doorstep. That picture always made Valancy unhappy.
That forlorn little dog crouched on the doorstep in the driving
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