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Millicent's Double by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Illustration ( "'Nonsense,' said Millicent, pointing to their reflected faces" )

When Millicent Moore and Worth Gordon met each other on the first day of the term in the entrance hall of the Kinglake High School, both girls stopped short, startled. Millicent Moore had never seen Worth Gordon before, but Worth Gordon's face she had seen every day of her life, looking at her out of her own mirror!

They were total strangers, but when two girls look enough alike to be twins, it is not necessary to stand on ceremony. After the first blank stare of amazement, both laughed outright. Millicent held out her hand.

"We ought to know each other right away," she said frankly. "My name is Millicent Moore, and yours is—?"

"Worth Gordon," responded Worth, taking the proffered hand with dancing eyes. "You actually frightened me when you came around that corner. For a moment I had an uncanny feeling that I was a disembodied spirit looking at my own outward shape. I know now what it feels like to have a twin."

"Isn't it odd that we should look so much alike?" said Millicent. "Do you suppose we can be any relation? I never heard of any relations named Gordon."

Worth shook her head. "I'm quite sure we're not," she said. "I haven't any relatives except my father's stepsister with whom I've lived ever since the death of my parents when I was a baby."

"Well, you'll really have to count me as a relative after this," laughed Millicent. "I'm sure a girl who looks as much like you as I do must be at least as much relation as a stepaunt."

From that moment they were firm friends, and their friendship was still further cemented by the fact that Worth found it necessary to change her boarding-house and became Millicent's roommate. Their odd likeness was the wonder of the school and occasioned no end of amusing mistakes, for all the students found it hard to distinguish between them. Seen apart it was impossible to tell which was which except by their clothes and style of hairdressing. Seen together there were, of course, many minor differences which served to distinguish them. Both girls were slight, with dark-brown hair, blue eyes and fair complexions. But Millicent had more colour than Worth. Even in repose, Millicent's face expressed mirth and fun; when Worth was not laughing or talking, her face was rather serious. Worth's eyes were darker, and her nose in profile slightly more aquiline. But still, the resemblance between them was very striking. In disposition they were also very similar. Both were merry, fun-loving girls, fond of larks and jokes. Millicent was the more heedless, but both were impulsive and too apt to do or say anything that came into their heads without counting the cost. One late October evening Millicent came in, her cheeks crimson after her walk in the keen autumn air, and tossed two letters on the study table. "It's a perfect evening, Worth. We had the jolliest tramp. You should have come with us instead of staying in moping over your books."

Worth smiled ruefully. "I simply had to prepare those problems for tomorrow," she said. "You see, Millie dear, there is a big difference between us in some things at least. I'm poor. I simply have to pass my exams and get a teacher's licence. So I can't afford to take any chances. You're just attending high school for the sake of education alone, so you don't really have to grind as I do."

"I'd like to do pretty well in the exams, though, for Dad's sake," answered Millicent, throwing aside her wraps. "But I don't mean to kill myself studying, just the same. Time enough for that when exams draw nigh. They're comfortably far off yet. But I'm in a bit of a predicament, Worth, and I don't know what to do. Here are two invitations for Saturday afternoon and I simply must accept them both. Now, how can I do it? You're a marvel at mathematics—so work out that problem for me.

"See, here's a note from Mrs. Kirby inviting me to tea at Beechwood. She called on me soon after the term opened and invited me to tea the next week. But I had another engagement for that afternoon, so couldn't go. Mr. Kirby is a business friend of Dad's, and they are very nice people. The other invitation is to the annual autumn picnic of the Alpha Gammas. Now, Worth Gordon, I simply must go to that. I wouldn't miss it for anything. But I don't want to offend Mrs. Kirby, and I'm afraid I shall if I plead another engagement a second time. Mother will be fearfully annoyed at me in that case. Dear me, I wish there were two of me, one to go to the Alpha Gammas and one to Beechwood—Worth Gordon!"

"What's the matter?"

"There are two of me! What's the use of a double if not for a quandary like this! Worth, you must go to tea at Beechwood Saturday afternoon in my place. They'll think you are my very self. They'll never know the difference. Go and keep my place warm for me, there's a dear."

"Impossible," cried Worth. "I'd never dare! They'd know there was something wrong."

"They wouldn't—they couldn't. None of the Kirbys have ever seen me except Mrs. Kirby, and she only for a few minutes one evening at dusk. They don't know I have a double and they can't possibly suspect. Do go, Worth. Why, it'll be a regular lark, the best little joke ever! And you'll oblige me immensely besides. Worthie, please."

Worth did not consent all at once; but the idea rather appealed to her for its daring and excitement. It would be a lark—just at that time Worth did not see it in any other light. Besides, she wanted to oblige Millicent, who coaxed vehemently. Finally, Worth yielded and promised Millicent that she would go to Beechwood in her place.

"You darling!" said Millicent emphatically, flying to her table to write acceptances of both invitations.

Saturday afternoon Worth got ready to keep Millicent's engagement. "Suppose I am found out and expelled from Beechwood in disgrace," she suggested laughingly, as she arranged her lace bertha before the glass.

"Nonsense," said Millicent, pointing to their reflected faces. "The Kirbys can never suspect. Why, if it weren't for the hair and the dresses, I'd hardly know myself which of those reflections belonged to which."

"What if they begin asking me about the welfare of the various members of your family?"

"They won't ask any but the most superficial questions. We're not intimate enough for anything else. I've coached you pretty thoroughly, and I think you'll get on all right."

Worth's courage carried her successfully through the ordeal of arriving at Beechwood and meeting Mrs. Kirby. She was unsuspectingly accepted as Millicent Moore, and found her impersonation of that young lady not at all difficult. No dangerous subject of conversation was introduced and nothing personal was said until Mr. Kirby came in. He looked so scrutinizingly at Worth as he shook hands with her that the latter felt her heart beating very fast. Did he suspect?

"Upon my word, Miss Moore," he said genially, "you gave me quite a start at first. You are very like what a half-sister of mine used to be when a girl long ago. Of course the resemblance must be quite accidental."

"Of course," said Worth, without any very clear sense of what she was saying. Her face was uncomfortably flushed and she was glad when tea was announced.

As nothing more of an embarrassing nature was said, Worth soon recovered her self-possession and was able to enter into the conversation. She liked the Kirbys; still, under her enjoyment, she was conscious of a strange, disagreeable feeling that deepened as the evening wore on. It was not fear—she was not at all afraid of betraying herself now. It had even been easier than she had expected. Then what was it? Suddenly Worth flushed again. She knew now—it was shame. She was a guest in that house as an impostor! What she had done seemed no longer a mere joke. What would her host and hostess say if they knew? That they would never know made no difference. She herself could not forget it, and her realization of the baseness of the deception grew stronger under Mrs. Kirby's cordial kindness.

Worth never forgot that evening. She compelled herself to chat as brightly as possible, but under it all was that miserable consciousness of falsehood, deepening every instant. She was thankful when the time came to leave. "You must come up often, Miss Moore," said Mrs. Kirby kindly. "Look upon Beechwood as a second home while you are in Kinglake. We have no daughter of our own, so we make a hobby of cultivating other people's."

When Millicent returned home from the Alpha Gamma outing, she found Worth in their room, looking soberly at the mirror. Something in her chum's expression alarmed her. "Worth, what is it? Did they suspect?"

"No," said Worth slowly. "They never suspected. They think I am what I pretended to be—Millicent Moore. But, but, I wish I'd never gone to Beechwood, Millie. It wasn't right. It was mean and wrong. It was acting a lie. I can't tell you how ashamed I felt when I realized that."

"Nonsense," said Millicent, looking rather sober, nevertheless. "No harm was done. It's only a good joke, Worth."

"Yes, harm has been done. I've done harm to myself, for one thing. I've lost my self-respect. I don't blame you, Millie. It's all my own fault. I've done a dishonourable thing, dishonourable."

Millicent sighed. "The Alpha Gamma picnic was horribly slow," she said. "I didn't enjoy myself a bit. I wish I had gone to Beechwood. I didn't think about it's being a practical falsehood before. I suppose it was. And I've always prided myself on my strict truthfulness! It wasn't your fault, Worth! It was mine. But it can't be undone now."

"No, it can't be undone," said Worth slowly, "but it might be confessed. We might tell Mrs. Kirby the truth and ask her to forgive us."

"I couldn't do such a thing," cried Millicent. "It isn't to be thought of!"

Nevertheless, Millicent did think of it several times that night and all through the following Sunday. She couldn't help thinking of it. A dishonourable trick! That thought stung Millicent. Monday evening Millicent flung down the book from which she was vainly trying to study.

"Worthie, it's no use. You were right. There's nothing to do but go and 'fess up to Mrs. Kirby. I can't respect Millicent Moore again until I do. I'm going right up now."

"I'll go with you," said Worth quietly. "I was equally to blame and I must take my share of the humiliation."

When the girls reached Beechwood, they were shown into the library where the family were sitting. Mrs. Kirby came smilingly forward to greet Millicent when her eyes fell upon Worth. "Why! why!" she said. "I didn't know you had a twin sister, Miss Moore."

"Neither I have," said Millicent, laughing nervously. "This is my chum, Worth Gordon, but she is no relation whatever."

At the mention of Worth's name, Mr. Kirby started slightly, but nobody noticed it. Millicent went on in a trembling voice. "We've come up to confess something, Mrs. Kirby. I'm sure you'll think it dreadful, but we didn't mean any harm. We just didn't realize, until afterwards."

Then Millicent, with burning cheeks, told the whole story and asked to be forgiven. "I, too, must apologize," said Worth, when Millicent had finished. "Can you pardon me, Mrs. Kirby?"

Mrs. Kirby had listened in amazed silence, but now she laughed. "Certainly," she said kindly. "I don't suppose it was altogether right for you girls to play such a trick on anybody. But I can make allowances for schoolgirl pranks. I was a school girl once myself, and far from a model one. You have atoned for your mistake by coming so frankly and confessing, and now we'll forget all about it. I think you have learned your lesson. Both of you must just sit down and spend the evening with us. Dear me, but you are bewilderingly alike!"

"I've something I want to say," interposed Mr. Kirby suddenly. "You say your name is Worth Gordon," he added, turning to Worth. "May I ask what your mother's name was?"

"Worth Mowbray," answered Worth wonderingly.

"I was sure of it," said Mr. Kirby triumphantly, "when I heard Miss Moore mention your name. Your mother was my half-sister, and you are my niece."

Everybody exclaimed and for a few moments they all talked and questioned together. Then Mr. Kirby explained fully. "I was born on a farm up-country. My mother was a widow when she married my father, and she had one daughter, Worth Mowbray, five years older than myself. When I was three years old, my mother died. Worth went to live with our mother's only living relative, an aunt. My father and I removed to another section of the country. He, too, died soon after, and I was brought up with an uncle's family. My sister came to see me once when she was a girl of seventeen and, as I remember her, very like you are now. I never saw her again and eventually lost trace of her. Many years later I endeavoured to find out her whereabouts. Our aunt was dead, and the people in the village where she had lived informed me that my sister was also dead. She had married a man named Gordon and had gone away, both she and her husband had died, and I was informed that they left no children, so I made no further inquiries. There is no doubt that you are her daughter. Well, well, this is a pleasant surprise, to find a little niece in this fashion!"

It was a pleasant surprise to Worth, too, who had thought herself all alone in the world and had felt her loneliness keenly. They had a wonderful evening, talking and questioning and explaining. Mr. Kirby declared that Worth must come and live with them. "We have no daughter," he said. "You must come to us in the place of one, Worth."

Mrs. Kirby seconded this with a cordiality that won Worth's affection at once. The girl felt almost bewildered by her happiness.

"I feel as if I were in a dream," she said to Millicent as they walked to their boarding-house. "It's really all too wonderful to grasp at once. You don't know, Millie, how lonely I've felt often under all my nonsense and fun. Aunt Delia was kind to me, but she was really no relation, she had a large family of her own, and I have always felt that she looked upon me as a rather inconvenient duty. But now I'm so happy!"

"I'm so glad for you, Worth," said Millicent warmly, "although your gain will certainly be my loss, for I shall miss my roommate terribly when she goes to live at Beechwood. Hasn't it all turned out strangely? If you had never gone to Beechwood in my place, this would never have happened."

"Say rather that if we hadn't gone to confess our fault, it would never have happened," said Worth gently. "I'm very, very glad that I have found Uncle George and such a loving welcome to his home. But I'm gladder still that I've got my self-respect back. I feel that I can look Worth Gordon in the face again."

"I've learned a wholesome lesson, too," admitted Millicent.

 
 
 

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