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The Birthday Girl

This story is in memory of Nell Mellis,
my grandma’s first cousin. She really did
dress up sunflowers and have a party.

And for Ethel Hindley,
my beloved friend, after whom
I named Nell’s Aunt Ethel.
—J.L.

Chapter One
“Where are you, Lady Jane?”

Nell Mellis finished saying her prayers and hopped into bed. Tomorrow she would be eight. She was so excited that she was sure she would not sleep a wink. She snuggled down and looked for her cat who always slept curled up beside her.

But Lady Jane was nowhere to be seen.

“Good night, honey,” her mother said, stooping to kiss her.

“Wait! Where’s Lady Jane?” Nell said.

Nell’s mother was not fond of cats, but she understood how much her little girl loved her pet. She glanced around the room. The gray and white tabby was not there.

“She’ll be along later,” Mother said, pulling Nell’s covers up. “You must get to sleep or you’ll be too tired to celebrate tomorrow.”

“I can’t sleep without Lady Jane,” Nell declared with a catch in her voice.

“Nonsense,” Mother said briskly, as she picked up the lamp and turned to leave. “Remember that the faster you sleep, the sooner your birthday will begin.”

“And I will be eight at last,” Nell said softly, closing her eyes.

But the moment the door shut, Nell’s eyes popped open. How could she sleep with her birthday coming so soon and Lady Jane lost? Mother should know she couldn’t.

She lay and thought about the day she had found Lady Jane abandoned in the ditch. Lady Jane was a tiny bedraggled kitten, soaking wet and nothing but bones. She was so young that she fitted easily in Nell’s cupped hands. Nell had caught her up and run for the house.

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The kitten had been so frail that even Nell’s mother saw at once that she could not be left to become a barn cat. They had dripped warm milk into her mouth, but it was hard to get her to swallow.

“We may not be able to save her,” Mother had warned. “I can’t spend time fussing over her. You’ll have to tend her.”

“I will save her,” five-year-old Nell had declared fiercely. “Wait and see.”

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