POLLY AND THE PRINCESS
EMMA C. DOWD
POLLY OF THE HOSPITAL STAFF. POLLY OF LADY GAY COTTAGE. DOODLES, ETC.
I. WAFFLES AND DEWLAPS II. IN MISS MAJOR'S ROOM III. POLLY ADDRESSES THE BOARD IV. A JUNE HOLIDAY V. MISS LILY AND DOODLES VI. "BETTER THAN THE POORHOUSE" VII. ROSES—AND THORNS VIII. WAITING TO BE THANKED IX. BLANCHE PUDDICOMBE X. "GOOD-BYE, PUDDING" XI. "SO MYSTERIOUS!" XII. MRS. DICK ESCAPES XIII. ALONG A BROOK-SIDE ROAD XIV. POLLY PLANS XV. "LOTS O' JOY" XVI. THE HIKING CLUB XVII. GRANDAUNT SUSIE AND MISS SNIFFEN XVIII. VICTOR VON DALIN XIX. A MOONSHINE PARTY XX. THE PARTY ITSELF XXI. TWO OF THEM XXII. DANCING HIKERS XXIII. "HILLTOP DAYS" XXIV. "HOPE DEFERRED" XXV. ALICE TWINING, MARTYR XXVI. MR. PARCELL'S LESSON XXVII. "I LOVE YOU, DAVID!" XXVIII. A VISIT WITH MRS. TENNEY XXIX. DISAPPOINTMENT XXX. DOODLES SINGS XXXI. SHUT OUT XXXII. THE TALE IS TOLD XXXIII. THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON XXXIV. A MIDNIGHT ANNOUNCEMENT XXXV. A NEW WIRE XXXVI. POLLY DUDLEY TO CHRISTOPHER MORROW XXXVII. HOLLY AND MISTLETOE
POLLY AND THE PRINCESS
WAFFLES AND DEWLAPS
The June Holiday Home was one of those sumptuous stations where indigent gentlewomen assemble to await the coming of the last train.
Breakfast was always served precisely at seven o'clock, and certain dishes appeared as regularly as the days. This was waffle morning on the Home calendar; outside it was known as Thursday.
The eyes of the "new lady" wandered beyond the dining-room and followed a young girl, all in pink.
"Who is that coming up the walk?"
Fourteen faces turned toward the wide front window.
Miss Castlevaine was quickest. Her answer did not halt the syrup on its way to her plate.
"That's Polly Dudley."
"Oh! Dr. Dudley's daughter?"
"Yes. She's come over to see Miss Sterling. They're very intimate."
"Miss Sterling?" mused Miss Mullaly, with a sweeping glance round the table. "I don't believe I've seen her."
"Yes, you have. She was down to tea last night. She had on a light blue waist, and sat over at the end."
"Oh, I remember now! She's little and sweet-looking. Somebody told me she had nervous prostration. Too bad! She is so young and pretty!"
A tiny sneer fluttered from face to face, skipping one here and there in its course. It ended in Miss Castlevaine's "Huh!"
"I think Miss Sterling is real pretty!" Miss Crilly, from the opposite side, beamed on the "new lady."
"She has faded dreadfully," asserted Mrs. Crump. "They used to call her handsome years ago, though she never was my style o' beauty. But now—" She shook her head with hard emphasis.
"She has been through a good deal," observed Mrs. Grace mildly.
"No more'n I have!" was the retort. "If she'd stop thinking about herself and eat like other folks, she'd be better."
"Nervous prostration patients have to be careful about their diet, don't they?" ventured Miss Mullaly.
"She hasn't got it!" snapped Mrs. Crump.
"She thinks she has." Miss Castlevaine's thick lips curved in a smile of scorn.
"If she can't digest things, it won't do her much good to eat them," interposed Miss Major positively. "Nobody could digest these waffles—they're slack this morning."
Miss Castlevaine gave her plate a little push. "I wish I needn't ever see another waffle," she fretted.
"Oh!" exclaimed the "new lady," "I don't understand how anybody can get tired of waffles!"
"Nor I!" laughed Miss Mullaly's right-hand neighbor. "I shall have to tell you about the time I went to Cousin Dorothy's wedding luncheon.
"I never had eaten waffles but once; that was at my aunt's. She had gone to housekeeping directly after the wedding ceremony, and was spoken of in the family as 'the bride.' I had been her first guest, and, as she had treated me to waffles, I thought waffles and brides always went together. So when I was included in the invitation to Dorothy's wedding luncheon, my first thought was of waffles. I said something about it to my brother, and Ralph was just tease enough to lead me on. He told me that the table would be piled with waffles, great stacks of them at every plate! Like a little dunce I believed it all and went to that party anticipating a blissful supply of waffles. In vain I looked up and down the elegant table! I ate and ate, but never a waffle appeared! Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I piped out, 'Cousin Dorothy, please can I have my waffles now?' Of course, my mother was dreadfully mortified, for some of the guests were strangers, and very great people; but Dorothy took it as a mighty good joke, and even after I was married she used to laugh about my 'w'awful' disappointment. I've not gotten over my appetite for waffles either! I believe I could eat and relish them three times a day."
"You couldn't! Just wait till you've had 'em fifty-two times a year, five years running—as I have!" Mrs. Crump's lips made a straight line.
"Mrs. Crump has kept tabs on her waffles," giggled Miss Crilly. "How many does this morning make—five hundred and—?"
"Sh!" nudged Mrs. Bonnyman at Miss Crilly's elbow.
Two youngish women entered the room. They were the superintendent and the matron.
Upstairs, meanwhile, Miss Juanita Sterling; in bed, and Polly Dudley, seated on the outside, were having a familiar talk.
"I shouldn't think you'd want to die till God gave you something to die of," Polly was saying wistfully. "I think He must want you to live, or He would give you something to die of. Perhaps He has some beautiful work for you to do and is waiting for you to get well and do it."
"Polly, I cannot work! And there is no lack of things for me to die of!" Impatience crept into the sweet voice. "Being in prison is bad enough even with good health; but to be sick, wretched—the worst kind of sickness, because nobody understands!—and to grow old, too, grow old fast—oh, I wish God would let me die!" The little woman gave a sudden whirl and hid her face in the pillow.
"Don't, Miss Nita!" Polly's voice was distressed. She stroked the smooth, soft hair. "Don't cry! You're not old! You're not old a bit! And you're going to be well—father says so!"
"That won't take away the dewlap—oh!" cried Miss Sterling fiercely, "I don't want a dewlap!"
"Dewlap?" scowled Polly. "What's a dewlap?"
"Polly! You know!" came from down among the feathers.
"I don't!" Polly protested. "Is it some kind of—cancer?"
"Cancer! Polly!" Miss Sterling laughed out.
"Well, I don't know what it is." Polly laughed in sympathy.
"Look here!" The little lady raised herself on her elbow and lifted her chin. "See that!"
Polly peered at the fair, pink skin.
"What? I don't see anything."
"Why, that! It's getting wabbly." Her slim forefinger pushed the flesh back and forth.
"Oh!" Polly's face brightened. "I remember! That's what Grandaunt Susie called it! She said she used to have an awful one—it hung 'way down. And she cured it! You'd never dream she had one ever!"
"Oh, yes, you can do away with such things if you have money—if you can go to a beauty-doctor!" The tone was bitter.
"No, she didn't!" hastened the eager voice. "She did it herself!"
"Of course, if you have expensive creams and all the paraphernalia—"
"But she didn't—she said so! She just used olive oil!"
"How old was she?" Miss Sterling inquired with a now-I-'ve-got-you air.
"She was seventy when she had the dewlap; now she's seventy-three or four."
"Polly Dudley! I don't believe it!"
"Why, Miss Nita, I'm telling you the solemn truth!"
"Yes, yes, child! I didn't mean you! But this Aunt Susie—"
"Oh, she's just as honest! Why, she's mother's grandaunt, and she's lovely! She was sick and couldn't do anything, and her hair was thin and her cheeks hung down and she was all wrinkles and she had the dewlap—she said she looked dreadful. Now you ought to see her! She's perfectly well, and her hair is as thick, and it's smooth and solid all under her chin, and her face is 'most as round as mine!"
"How did she work the miracle?" Miss Sterling's eyes twinkled.
"Why, I guess by massage and exercises. She didn't take anything. She did lots of stunts; she had piles of them for her legs and arms and neck and face and feet and all over. She made up mighty funny faces. You lie over this way, and I'll show you one.
"First you must smile—just as hard as you can." Polly laughed to see the prompt grin. "Now I'll put my hands so, and you must do exactly as I tell you." Polly's little palms were pressed against the other's cheeks, and she began a rotary motion.
"Open your mouth—wide, and then shut it again—oh, keep on smiling! And keep your mouth going all the time, while I do the massaging."
"Goodness!" Miss Sterling broke into a laugh. "I should think that was a stunt! It ought to do something." She turned on the pillow in another paroxysm of mirth.
"But you made me stop too soon," objected Polly. "You ought to open and shut your mouth twenty-five times. 'Most everything Aunt Susie did twenty-five or fifty or a hundred times."
"I don't wonder she got well! She'd have to if she didn't die. I should laugh before I got through twenty-five times, I'm sure. What's it for, anyhow?"
"To make the cheeks plump up and not sag—oh, yours look so pink!" Polly danced over to the dresser and back.
The handglass showed a face of surprise. The thin, white cheeks had taken on a soft rose tint and—yes, an extra fullness!
"Queer!" Miss Sterling ejaculated. "I wouldn't have believed it!"
"Oh, let's try it again! Then you get up and go to walk with me—won't you?"
"I can't, Polly! Wish I could! But I don't feel as if I could even stand up. I suppose I shall have to go down to dinner. I don't dare not."
"Haven't you had any breakfast?"
"No. Folks that can't get up don't need to eat." She laughed sadly. "It's well I'm not hungry."
"But you ought—"
The matron opened the door while Polly was on the way.
"Mr. Randolph is at the other end of the building and will be here presently to see about the new wing."
Mrs. Nobbs was gone.
"Nelson Randolph!" cried Miss Sterling. "Hand me my blue kimono, Polly, quick! It's right there in the closet, by the door!"
She swung her feet to the floor and caught up her stockings.
"You going to get up?"
"Of course! Hurry! I believe he's coming—no, he isn't! Oh, I can get this on all right! You fix the bed! Never mind the wrinkles—plump up the pillows! Yes, hang my clothes anywhere you can find room. There! Does my hair look all right?"
"Lovely! That kimono is very becoming."
By the time Nelson Randolph, president of the June Holiday Home, appeared in the doorway, what he saw was a well-appointed bedroom, a little blue-clad lady demurely reading a small volume, and Polly hovering near. With a perfunctory good-morning to Miss Sterling, and a genial handshake for Dr. Dudley's daughter, he passed with Mrs. Nobbs to the southwest corner of the apartment. He took a glance around the ceiling, a look from the window, and some measurements with a foot-rule; then he walked briskly across the room, nodded politely, and departed.
"What a lovable man he is!" commented Polly, as the retreating footsteps told of their safe distance.
"Don't you know him?" Polly queried.
"Not very well. Probably he doesn't remember me at all. He used to come to the house occasionally to see father. That was before he was married. I was only seventeen or eighteen."
"I like to look at him, he is so handsome." Polly's head wagged admiringly. "I guess he'd remember you all right, only he doesn't know you're here. He hasn't been president very long, just since Mr. Macy died. What are they going to build now?"
"I don't know. First I've heard of it. They have more money than they know what to do with, so they've decided to put up an L and spoil my view," laughed Miss Sterling.
"I could tell them lots of things better than an L—some new dresses for Mrs. Crump and Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly. They've been here longest and look the worst. That brown one of Mrs. Crump's is just full of darns."
"Same as mine will be when I've been here as long," added Miss Sterling.
"Strange, when they have so much money, they don't give the ladies nice things to wear," mused Polly. "Perhaps that is what makes Mrs. Crump so cross-grained. Mrs. Albright isn't. She's sweet, I think."
"She is a dear," Miss Sterling agreed. "But she's had enough trouble to crush most women. I wonder sometimes if anything could make her blue."
"Miss Crilly's cheerful," observed Polly. "I like her pretty well."
"She is kind-hearted. If only she weren't all gush and giggle! She raves over everything, cathedral or apron trimming—it's all the same to her."
Polly laughed. "She's rather pretty, I think."
"No, you can't call her fat; only her bones don't show. I wish Miss Castlevaine could thin up and show her bones just a little, and I do feel sorry for her because she can't curl her hair. She'd look a thousand per cent better with some little fluffs."
"Why don't you be sorry for me?"
"Oh, you don't need curly hair as the rest do!" answered Polly comfortably.
"Need it! I'm a scarecrow with my hair straight!"
Polly took the smooth head between her two palms. "You'll never be a scarecrow if you live to be a hundred and fifty!" she declared. "But the dear homely ones—it is hard on them. What do you suppose is the reason Miss Sniffen won't let them curl their hair just a mite?"
"Walls are said to have ears," replied Miss Sterling, with a little scornful twist to her pretty mouth. "It wouldn't be safe for me to express my opinion."
Polly smiled. "It's a shame! And it isn't fair when she has curly hair that doesn't need any putting up. I just wish hers would straighten out—straight as Miss Castlevaine's!"
"You seem to have taken a sudden liking to Miss Castlevaine."
"Oh, no! Only I feel sorry for her, she is so fat and fretty, and her hair won't fluff a mite. It must be dreadful to think as much scorn as she does."
"And talk it out," added Miss Sterling. "I wish she wouldn't, for she is really better than she sounds."
"Oh, if she'd try some of Aunt Susie's exercises, perhaps they'd make her face thin!"
"I thought they were to make it plump."
"So they are—and thin, too, in the right places. They'd cure her double chin."
"Anyway, she hasn't any dewlap yet. When it comes it will be an awful one. I can't imagine her in that exercise you tried on me."
"Are you going to do it every day?"
"I would if I had any faith in it." Miss Sterling sighed—with a wrinkled forehead.
"Oh, you mustn't pucker in wrinkles if I'm going to rub them out!" Polly smoothed the offending lines. "Now I'll run over home and get yon that book Aunt Susie gave to mother. It tells all about everything, and it will make you have faith. It did mother."
"She doesn't need it."
"No; but Aunt Susie said she'd better begin pretty soon, for it was easier to cure wrinkles before they came."
"Yes, I guess it is," Miss Sterling laughed, "and dewlaps too!"
IN MISS MAJOR'S ROOM
When Russell Holiday and his wife named their only child June, they planned to make her life one long summer holiday. For eighteen years success went hand in hand with their desire; then an unfortunate marriage plunged the joyous girl into bleak November. She grew to hate her happy name. But with the passing of the man she called husband much of the bitterness vanished, and she began to plan for others.
"I want this Home to be as beautiful as money can make it and as full of joy as a June holiday," she told her approving lawyer. "There must be no age limit. It shall welcome as freely the woman of forty as her mother or her grandmother. I will gather in the needy of any sect or race,—the oppressed, the disabled, the sorrowful, and the lonely,—and as much as can be give to them the freedom and happiness of a delightful home."
In just one week from the day the ground was broken for the big building, a drunken chauffeur drove the donor and her lawyer to their death, and the institution was continued in a totally different way from that intended by the two who could make no protest.
To be sure, it stood at last, in gray granite magnificence, on the crest of Edgewood Hill, a palace without and within; but to those for whom it was built had never come, through the years of its being, a single June holiday.
It was this that some of the residents were discussing, as they crocheted, knitted, or embroidered in Miss Major's room on a dull May morning.
"Too bad June Holiday couldn't have lived just a little longer!" Mrs. Bonnyman sighed.
"What would she say if she knew how her wishes were ignored!" Miss Castlevaine shook her head.
"Regular prison house!" snapped Mrs. Crump.
"Well, I'm glad to be here if I do have to obey rules," confessed a meek little woman with grayish, sandy hair. "It's a lovely place, and there has to be rules where there's so many."
"There don't have to be hair-crimping rules, Mrs. Prindle—huh!"
As the curly-headed maker of the hated law walked across the lawn. Miss Castlevaine sent her an annihilating glance.
"Is that Miss Sniffen?" queried Miss Mullaly, adjusting her eyeglasses.
Miss Castlevaine nodded.
The others watched the tall, straight figure, on its way to the vegetable garden.
"She has the expression of a basilisk I saw the picture of the other day." spoke up Mrs. Dick.
"What kind of an expression was that?" inquired Mrs. Winslow Teed. "I saw a stuffed basilisk in a London museum when I was abroad, but I can't seem to recollect its expression."
"Look at her!" laughed Mrs. Dick. "She has it to perfection."
Miss Crilly's giggle preceded her words.
"She's like a beanpole with its good clothes on, ain't she? But, then, I think Miss Sniffen is real nice sometimes," she amended.
"So are basilisks and beanpoles—in their proper places," retorted Miss Major; "but they don't belong in the June Holiday Home."
"Are her rules so awful?" inquired Miss Mullaly anxiously.
"I don't like them very," answered the little Swedish widow.
"Mis' Adlerfeld puts it politely." laughed Miss Crilly. "I'll tell you what they are, they are like the little girl in the rhyme—with a difference,—
'When they're bad, they're very, very bad, And when they're good, they're horrid!'"
"I heard you couldn't have any company except one afternoon a week," resumed Miss Mullaly, after the laughing had ceased,—"not anybody at all."
"Sure!" returned Miss Crilly. "Wednesday afternoon, from three to five, is the only time you can entertain your best feller."
"Why, Polly Dudley was here Thursday morning!"
"Now you've got me!" admitted Miss Crilly. "She's a privileged character. She runs over any blessed minute she wants to."
"And she brings her friends with her," added Miss Castlevaine,—"David Collins and his greataunt's daughter,—Leonora Jocelyn,—Patricia Illingworth, and Chris Morrow, and that girl they call Lilith, besides the Stickney boys up in Foxford—huh!"
"She must be pretty bold, when it's against the rule," observed Miss Mullaly.
"No," dissented Mrs. Albright, "it isn't boldness. Polly runs in as naturally as a kitten. The rest don't come so very often. I shouldn't say they'd let 'em; but they do."
"There's never any favoritism in the June Holiday Home—never!" Mrs. Crump's brown poplin bristled with sarcasm.
"Maybe it's on Miss Sterling's account," interposed Mrs. Albright. "She thinks so much of Polly, perhaps they hope it'll help to bring her out of this sooner."
"Don't you believe it!" Miss Castlevaine's head nodded out the words with emphasis. "Dr. Dudley's a good one to curry favor with."
"Is Miss Sterling a relative of his?" asked Miss Mullaly.
"No. Haven't you heard how they got acquainted? Quite a pretty little story." Mrs. Albright settled herself comfortably in the rocker and adjusted the cushion at her back.
The others, who were familiar with the facts, moved closer together and nearer the window, both to facilitate their needles and their tongues.
"It was the day after Miss Sterling came, along in September," the story-teller began, "and she was up in her room feeling pretty lonesome—you know how it is."
Miss Mullaly nodded—with a sudden droop of her lips.
"She stood there looking out of the window toward the back of the new hospital,—it was building then,—and she saw a little girl climbing an apple tree. She watched her go higher and higher, after a big, bright red apple that was away up on a top branch. Miss Sterling says she went so fast that she fairly held her breath, expecting to see her slip; but she didn't, she's so sure-footed, and it would have been all right if she hadn't ventured on a rotten branch. When she stepped out on that and reached up one hand to pick the apple, the branch broke, and down she went and lay in a little heap under the tree.
"Well, Miss Sterling said she felt as if she must fly right out of that window and go pick her up. But it didn't take her many minutes to run down the stairs and out the front door—she didn't stop to ask permission—and over across lots to Polly. She was in a dead faint, but in a minute she came to, and Miss Sterling ran up to the house and got Dr. Dudley and his wife, and they carried her in, and Miss Sterling went too. The Doctor couldn't find that Polly was hurt at all, only bruised a little—you see, the branches had broken her fall, and she was all around again in a few days. Miss Sterling was pretty well upset by it, so that the Doctor came home with her, and she had to go to bed, same as Polly did! It made quite a stir here.
"Ever since then Polly has run in and out, any time of day, just as I hear she does at the hospital. She's that kind of a girl, never makes any trouble, and so nothing is said."
"I guess I shall break lots of the rules before I know what they are."
"You'll learn 'em soon enough, don't you worry! There's a long list; but you'll get used to 'em after a while—we have to. There's nothing like getting used to things. It's a great help."
POLLY ADDRESSES THE BOARD
"It is a shame, Miss Nita!" Polly was saying. "To think of it—that you can't curl your hair even to go to a wedding! I wonder if father or mother could do anything."
"Oh, no!" cried Miss Sterling, in sudden terror. "Don't, I beg of you, let them say a word to Miss Sniffen! She'd turn me right out!"
"I should wish she would, if I were you."
"Where could I go? I'd have to sit on the sidewalk!"
"No, Miss Nita," catching one of the slim white hands and pressing it against her cheek, "you come right over to our house when Miss Sniffen turns you outdoors, and we'll take care of you!"
"It isn't anything to laugh at," sobbed the little woman.
"I know, I'm wicked to laugh; but I had a picture of you sitting on the curb in your nightgown, and I couldn't help it!"
Then Miss Sterling laughed too.
Shortly she fell to crying again. "I did want to look nice at Cousin Jennie's wedding, as nice as I could, and I do think it is downright mean!" She hammered out the last words with desperate force.
Polly stood by her side, distressed into silence.
"You don't know that she'll let you go anyway, do you?" she asked presently.
"Yes, she said I could, and then I asked her if I might curl my hair. She snapped out a disagreeable 'no,' and I turned and came upstairs."
Polly was doing some hard thinking.
"Queer, Jennie should marry at her age," Miss Sterling resumed after a brief pause, wiping her eyes dry. "She is forty-one, only two years younger than I."
"Are you forty-three? Nobody'd ever guess it." Polly gazed at her critically. "I wonder if I couldn't curl your hair at the last minute, and smuggle you downstairs, all wrapped up, so Miss Sniffen wouldn't know. You could wet it out the next morning."
Miss Sterling shook her head with a wee smile. "I would if I dared, but I don't. If Miss Sniffen weren't there to see, Mrs. Nobbs would be, and nothing escapes her eyes. No, 't would be too much risk."
"Maybe it would," Polly admitted, and then paused to listen. "It's three o'clock and I must go. I halfway promised David and Leonora I'd come down there this afternoon. I guess they're a little bit jealous of you. It's handy to run over here, and they're so far away. I should think you'd get tired of me, I come so much."
"Tired of you!" echoed Miss Sterling. "You are the only bit of cheerfulness I have to look forward to. Last night I couldn't sleep; I was just upset after seeing Miss Sniffen, and my head felt wretched. But I kept saying to myself, 'Polly will be here in the morning!' and that helped me through the night. You don't know—you never will know!—what a comfort you are!" She pulled Polly down and gave her a little squeeze.
"And then I didn't come this morning after all!" cried Polly in sudden contrition. "That was mean! But I had some things to do for mother, and Chris wanted me to help him with his stamps, and so I didn't get to it. I'm sorry."
"Dear child! I don't expect you to spend all your time with an old gray-haired woman who hasn't the mite of a claim on you."
"Gray-haired!" chuckled Polly. "You can't find one gray hair. I dare you to try!" She shook a threatening finger.
"Don't have to try. I know just where there are two—right in there." She bent her head.
"Oh, they're only a little pale!" laughed Polly. "They aren't really gray. But I must go, Miss Nita. Good-bye."
"If you come across the Board anywhere downstairs, you may give it my compliments."
"Does the Board meet this afternoon?" whispered Polly. "It wouldn't be compliments I'd give them!" She waved her hand, and the door shut.
Yes, the Board was in session, the Board of Managers of the June Holiday Home. A little hum of voices came to Polly's ears from a room at the left. "I wish—" She stopped midway between the staircase and the front entrance, her forehead wrinkled in thought.
A maid came from the rear of the house, duster in hand.
"Oh, Mabel!" Polly began in a low tone, "would you mind taking a message to the Board for me?"
The girl, with a shade of surprise on her face, said, "Certainly, Miss Polly, I'll take it in. Who shall I give it to?"
"Mrs. Beers—she's president. Tell her, please, that I have something very important to say to the Board, and ask her if I can come in now, or pretty soon—whenever it won't interfere with their business."
The maid knocked and disappeared. In a moment she returned.
"She says you can come now."
There was very evident curiosity mingled with the smiles of greeting.
"I happened to think," Polly began at once, "that maybe you could do something to help out matters. I've been up to see Miss Sterling, and she is feeling pretty bad because she can't curl her hair to go to her cousin's wedding, and I didn't know but you would fix things so she can."
"'Fix things'?" scowled the lady at the head of the table. "You mean, put on an electric attachment?"
"Oh, no!" Polly came near disgracing herself by a laugh. "But it's against the rule, you know, to curl your hair, and Miss Sterling asked if she couldn't, just for the evening, and Miss Sniffen said no."
The ladies gazed at one another, plain surprise on their faces. Then they looked questioningly at their presiding officer.
"The Board never interferes with the superintendent's rules—" began Mrs. Beers.
"Unless it is something we especially don't like," put in the member with a conscience.
The president sent a severe glance down the table.
"I thought, maybe, just for this once, you'd fix it so she could—she would wet it all out before breakfast." Polly was very much in earnest.
"There's altogether too much complaint among the inmates," spoke up a fat woman on Mrs. Beers's left. "They should be made to realize how fortunate they are to have such a beautiful Home to live in, instead of finding fault with every little thing and sending people to try to wheedle us into giving them something different from what they have."
"Oh, Mrs. Puddicombe!" burst out Polly, "Miss Sterling didn't send me at all! She doesn't know a thing about it! I never thought of coming in until I passed the door—then it occurred to me that maybe you would like to help her out. It's pretty hard to have to go to a wedding with your hair all flat, just as they do it at a hospital—I don't believe you'd like it yourself, Mrs. Puddicombe."
Several smiles were visible. A titter escaped the youngest member.
Mrs. Puddicombe's broad face reddened under her amazing labyrinth of screwlike curls.
"These charity people," she resumed irrelevantly, "never know when they're well off. Why, this Home is the very gate of heaven! Just look at that new rug in the library—it cost three hundred dollars! But who appreciates it?"
"Well, I should rather walk over a thirty-cent rug than every time I turned round have to have a rule to turn by!" Polly tossed out the words impetuously.
"You're a saucy girl!" returned Mrs. Puddicombe. "You'd better go home and tell your father to teach you good manners." The president rapped for order.
"I beg your pardon, if I was saucy," Polly hastened to say. "I didn't mean to be. I was only thinking—"
"That will do," interrupted Mrs. Beers. "There has been too much time given to a very trivial matter."
Polly walked away from the June Holiday Home in the company of uneasy thoughts. She feared she had made matters worse for her dear Miss Nita.
A JUNE HOLIDAY
The wedding night brought no recall of the negative answer which Miss Sniffen had given to Juanita Sterling, although the little woman hoped until the last moment for some sign of relenting.
But Polly was on hand to braid the thick, soft hair into a becoming coronet, and to assert that she knew the bride wouldn't look half so pretty.
Several days after, Polly danced in, her face full of the morning.
"You feel pretty well, don't you?" she began in her most coaxing way.
"A little better than usual," Miss Sterling laughed. "What do you want me to do?"
"You know David and Leonora and I went down to Fern Brook last week," Polly began deliberately, seating herself in the rocker which Miss Sterling did not like, "and ever since then I've been wishing it would come a lovely day for you and me to have a little picnic all by ourselves. Or we might ask one or two others, if you like. Will you, Miss Nita? You'll break my heart if you say no—I see it coming! Just say, 'I should be de-e-lighted to go!'"
"Oh, I'd love to, but—"
"No, there isn't a 'but' or an 'if' or anything! We're going! Who else do you want?"
"You crazy child! I'm afraid it will use me up. I don't dare risk it. We'll have to take the trolley—and the walk across lots—oh, I can't, Polly!"
"Yes, you're going! I've made up my mind! The trolley ride won't hurt you; you'll have nothing to do but to sit still, and the walk isn't long."
"Remember, I haven't been off the grounds, except for the wedding, in months."
"I don't forget, and it's awful. You felt better the day after the wedding."
"We're going! It's decided!" Polly jumped up. "Say quick who we'll invite, and then I'll run down and beg permission to go on a picnic—unless you'd rather."
"Mercy—no! I guess that's one reason why I haven't been away; I haven't had life enough to want to unwind red tape."
"I shall love it," laughed Polly. "Shall we ask Mrs. Albright? She's nice."
"Yes, and how would you like Mrs. Adlerfeld? I think she's pretty lonely."
"First-rate! She is sweet, and she talks the dearest way. Hurry up now, and get ready! I'll be back in no time with the passports."
"Why, I don't know," Miss Sniffen hesitated, "How far is it, do you say?"
"We take the trolley out to Grafton Street," Polly explained slowly, "and then we go 'cross lots just a little way to the dearest grove and a lovely little brook that tumbles over the stones—oh, it's beautiful! Can't you go with us, Miss Sniffen?" cried Polly in a burst of generosity, shivering the next minute for fear her invitation would be accepted!
"No, thank you," actually smiled the superintendent; "my business doesn't include picnics, and I doubt whether it would be wise for Miss Sterling to go so far away from the Home. It might cause trouble—and unnecessary expense; the others may go if they wish."
"Oh, Miss Sniffen, please let Miss Sterling go! That's one reason why I want it, because I think it will do her good," wheedled Polly, adding tactfully, "Father says it often makes the nerves better to get the muscles tired."
"Yes, I think that myself. Of course, it would do her no real harm, if you could manage to keep her from getting wrought up and having one of her tantrums."
"Oh, I promise you I'll bring her home as good as new!" declared Polly recklessly. And with profuse thanks she darted softly away.
The four walked sedately down the long stairs in repressed glee, the three ladies waiting on the piazza while Polly registered their names, destination, time of starting, and expected return, in the daybook on the secretary's desk.
"Red tape all wound up!" she finally announced in a whisper, and the quartette proceeded to the corner below, to be in readiness for the car.
Juanita Sterling appeared to have lost her weak nerves somewhere on the way, as the four left the road behind them and made a path through the clover into the distance.
"I want to sit right down and enjoy it!" she exclaimed, dropping among the blossoms. "Hear that bird! It's a bobolink—it is! Oh, me! Oh, my! I haven't heard a bobolink for—I'm not going to bother to think how long. It is glorious!"
"This isn't anything compared to the woods and the brook," asserted Polly.
She put down her lunch-basket and snipped off some clover heads.
"Those are full of honey, Miss Nita,—taste! They aren't buggy a mite."
Like bees they sipped and sipped, and laughed and said foolish things like children at a merry-making.
Suddenly Miss Sterling sprang to her feet.
"The day is going," she cried, "and we must get there quick! Come!"
The "just a little way" of Polly's lengthened on and on until the three who were not accustomed to country fields looked in dismay toward the long line of trees which seemed so very far off.
"Are you fearfully tired?" Polly would reiterate, and "Not a bit!" Miss Sterling would lie with complacency, while Mrs. Albright grew wondrously jolly in her effort to keep everybody from realizing the truth.
When, finally, they stepped into the dim, cool wood, melodious with the gurgle and splash of hurrying water and the lilting of unseen birds, nobody remembered the hot, weary way she had come.
Miss Sterling, stretched upon a bed of vines and moss, announced that she was in "heaven."
Little Mrs. Adlerfeld looked across in answering sympathy.
"It makes me so glad and happy, it hurts," she said, her hand upon her breast.
"I knew you'd love it!" exulted Polly, dropping lightly between the two and laying a hand upon each. "Let's come out here every week!"
Nobody objected. Mrs. Albright wagged an approving smile, Mrs. Adlerfeld continued her dreamy gaze into the brook, the invalid was too drowsy to speak.
"Go to sleep, all of you!" Polly commanded gayly. "I'll have a red-and-green luncheon for you when you wake up!"
She bounded off along the slippery pine-needled path and disappeared behind a curtain of foliage.
Miss Sterling awoke with a start—where was she? Then the events of the morning flashed into view, and she smiled contentedly.
Mrs. Adlerfeld, leaning back against a stone, was peacefully nodding, and a gentle snore from the other of the trio told that Polly's order had been obeyed.
Where was Polly? Miss Sterling looked around, but she was not in sight. Even with the springing of a sudden fear she caught the sound of distant talking—a man's voice! She rose to her feet and stood irresolute, listening. Then she smiled. That was Polly's laugh' In a moment two figures rounded a clump of young pines. Juanita Sterling caught her breath—the man walking beside Polly was Mr. Randolph!
The president of the June Holiday Home found a welcoming hand as he strode up the piney path.
"Weren't you surprised. Miss Nita?" cried Polly. "He's going to have us arrested for trespassing on his land!"—with a roguish glance toward the owner.
"Then we shall have to invite him to luncheon, shan't we?" Miss Sterling's blue eyes held pleasant twinkles. "It is too pleasant to-day to go to jail!"
The gentleman chuckled.
"Oh! will you stay?" begged Polly.
"You'd better!" urged Miss Sterling. "There are Banbury turnovers and chicken sandwiches!"
"It is hard to refuse—" he began. "Oh, I knew you couldn't say no when Miss Nita asked you!" sang Polly delightedly. "Nobody can! Except Miss Sniffen!" she added conscientiously.
"Miss Sniffen" appeared to pass unnoticed. Polly suddenly remembered her handful of wintergreen sprigs and berries, and the sleepers awoke to join the merriment and the little pungent feast.
"I came up," Mr. Randolph explained, "to look over some trees that a man wants, and I rather think I ought to go directly back; but," he went on with a whimsical laugh, "I guess business won't know it if I steal this June holiday. It is a good while since I had one." His face grew instantly grave.
"You have to catch June holidays quick," smiled Mrs. Adlerfeld wistfully. "They don't stay!"
"No, they don't stay," Mr. Randolph agreed gravely. "But," he brightened, "you of June Holiday Home have them all the year round." He looked from one face to another.
Mrs. Albright smiled a wordless response, the swift color flushed Miss Sterling's face, while fun played about Polly's mouth.
"You have a pretty good time there, don't you?" he persisted.
His eyes were bent on Miss Sterling; yet Mrs. Albright kindly interposed with the safe assertion, "It is a beautiful place."
"Yes, it is beautiful," he replied, scanning the cheery, wrinkled face. "Any town should consider it a great privilege to have such an institution within its borders. Mrs. Milworth—or June Holiday, as she preferred to be called—was a wonderful woman. I am glad to be in a position to help in the carrying-out of her plans."
Miss Sterling smiled a little queerly. Polly opened her lips, then shut them tight, and finally announced quite irrelevantly that she was hungry.
One of Mrs. Dudley's prettiest tablecloths was spread on a little piney level close to the brook, and Polly set out the paper plates and cups and the boxes of food.
"Which do you like best, Mr. Randolph, coffee or chocolate?" Polly queried anxiously.
"I will answer as a little boy of my acquaintance did,—'Whichever you have the most of.'"
"Well, you see, we have only one, and I do hope you don't like coffee best."
"I don't!" he declared. "I always drink chocolate when I can get it."
"I'm glad I brought it, then!" cried Polly. "You cut the cake, please, Miss Nita. I'm afraid I couldn't do it straight."
The little feast was ready at last, appetites were found to be of the keenest sort, and everything went merrily.
"I have never had the pleasure of a meal at the Home,"—Mr. Randolph was eating a Banbury turnover with plain enjoyment. "I suppose you ladies are treated to this sort of thing every day."
"We have a pretty good cook," answered Miss Sterling discreetly; "but these pies are of Mrs. Dudley's make. Polly brought the lunch."
"Oh!" The man's eyebrows raised themselves a little. "Then I should say, Mrs. Dudley is an excellent Banbury pie-ist."
"I shall have to tell her that," laughed Polly. "It will please her very much."
"Nothing delights a woman more than to have her cooking praised," laughed Mrs. Albright.
"I learned that years ago." Mr. Randolph smiled reminiscently. "When I was first married, I think I must have been a rather notional man to cook for. My wife seldom did much in the kitchen, but one day she made a salad. As it did not exactly appeal to my appetite, after one taste I remarked that I was not very hungry. To my dismay she burst into tears. It was her favorite salad, and she had made it with unusual care, never dreaming that I would not like it as well as she did. Ever afterwards I ate the whole bill of fare straight through."
"It sometimes takes courage to do that," smiled Mrs. Albright. "I hope you had a good cook. How much people think of eating! I don't blame 'em either. Nobody enjoys anything better than—for instance, a lunch like this."
"Robert Louis Stevenson did," spoke up Mrs. Adlerfeld. "I read in my day-to-day book this morning—I can't quite 'remember—yes, this is it: 'After a good woman, and a good book, and tobacco, there is nothing so agreeable on earth as a river.' I did not think then I should be eating my dinner right on the bank of a little river!" She gazed down lovingly on the water swirling and, foaming among the stones.
"Stevenson ought to know," said Mr. Randolph with a pleased smile. "So he is one of your favorites as well as mine!"
"Yes, I like him very." Her little sunny face beamed with pleasure. "His book is more educating as many things said by a teacher."
"He is a good teacher."
"I wish he had not put in tobacco," scowled Mrs. Adlerfeld. "There are a many things better as tobacco."
"You have not tried it," he returned. "Stevenson knew because he had tried it."
The little woman shook her head decidedly. "I have been suffered a many times by tobacco." Then a smile broke mischievously. "You may smoke after dinner, Mr. Randolph."
The man laughed. "I was not pleading for myself," he protested. "This is sufficiently soothing—" His hand made a comprehensive sweep. "Tobacco would be superfluous."
Miss Sterling had risen and gone over to the lunch-box, where she was trying to open a second thermos bottle.
"Let me do that for you!" He sprang to help her.
She stepped back heedlessly, her foot slipped, and with a sharp cry she fell on the smooth slope.
Polly and Mr. Randolph reached her together.
"Are you hurt?" Polly's voice was distressed.
"Any damage done?" The man's tone was cheery, yet concerned.
She laughed bravely.
"Oh, no!" taking the proffered hands and trying to rise. Then she sank back, catching her breath hard.
"It's just my ankle—but it isn't hurt!" she declared fiercely. "Let me try it again."
She stood on her feet. "I guess I'm all here," she laughed; yet even with the words her face grew white.
Mr. Randolph caught her, and she drooped limply against him.
He laid her down gently, and at once she opened her eyes.
Mrs. Albright was rubbing her hands. "You will be all right in a minute," she said cheerily.
"I am all right now," Miss Sterling maintained. "How stupid of me to faint! I won't have a sprained ankle—so there!"
The rest laughed, though a little uncertainly.
Polly, like a true doctor's daughter, was examining the injury.
"It doesn't swell, so it can't be sprained," she decided positively.
Miss Sterling sat up and supplemented Polly's inspection. "Merely a strain. I'll be able to walk in a little while."
"You'd better not tax it," Mr. Randolph advised. "I am glad my car is so near. I drove in as far as the road was good."
"Oh!" Miss Sterling's voice was grateful. "I was wondering how I could ever walk over to the trolley."
"You would not have had to do that in any case, but my car is ready whenever you care to return."
"The ride will be a lovely ending to the day," Miss Sterling assured him, "and, if it won't hinder you, suppose we don't go any sooner on my account."
Four o'clock found the picnickers leaving the wood, the injured one assisted on either side by Polly and Nelson Randolph.
The way was not long, but time after time it took all the pluck of which Juanita Sterling was mistress not to stop in the path and cry out that she could not go a step farther.
Her escorts were solicitous.
"Lean on me more, Miss Nita," Polly would urge. "I'm awfully strong. Favor your foot all you can."
"Hadn't I better carry you the rest of the way?" asked Mr. Randolph when she could no longer hide her pain.
Her thanks were gracefully given, but she refused to proceed except upon her own feet.
"It is nothing," she insisted. "I shall be all right in a moment."
Never did hospitable inn look more inviting to a weary traveler than did the waiting car to Juanita Sterling.
"You sit in front," advised Polly, "it will be much easier for you."
"Certainly!" the man exclaimed, throwing open the other door.
But before Polly could stay her she had stepped to the running-board—and was on the back seat!
"You are naughty!" Polly pouted.
Miss Sterling laughed softly.
The man said nothing, only helped Mrs. Adlerfeld to a place beside him.
The cooling, sunlit air was delightful. It was long since Miss Sterling had been in an automobile, and the car rode as easy as a rocking-chair. She drew deep breaths, and half forgot that her ankle was still throbbing from its recent effort.
"Feel equal to a little longer ride?" suddenly inquired the driver, throwing the query toward Miss Sterling.
"Equal to anything!" was the happy reply.
"Oh, that will be nice!" cried Polly, squeezing her friend's arm, and beaming on her right-hand neighbor.
"Am I going too fast for you?" was the next question.
"Not a bit!"—"It is lovely!"—"The faster the better!" came in merry succession from the back seat.
They spun along the smooth road with greater speed, and the freshness of the country was brought to them in one steady sweep.
"This is glorious!" breathed Miss Sterling.
"I never rode in one of these cars before," confessed Mrs. Adlerfeld blithely.
"Indeed!" a pleasant light flashed in the driver's eyes. "And how do you like it?"
"Oh, I like it very!" The wrinkled face was radiant. "It makes me so glad and happy!"
"We will have another ride some day," was the unexpected response, which made the little Swedish woman fairly gasp in delight.
The gayety of the party came to a sudden end when Mr. Randolph drove into the Home grounds.
"Please, not a word to anybody about my fall," said Miss Sterling in a low voice, as she was helped from the car.
"Is that wise?" It was asked in a surprised tone.
"Extremely wise," was the smiling response. "I might wish to go picnicking again, you know." Her twinkling eyes met his puzzled face.
"As you will," he promised gravely.
There was time for no more. The others were waiting.
Polly kept beside Miss Sterling who walked without a limp and gave no sign of the torture she was undergoing.
"Go right upstairs!" whispered Polly. "I'll report for all of you when I come down."
"You needn't go up, the rail will be sufficient."
But Polly would not relinquish her charge until she saw her safe in her room.
"How came you to be riding with the president of the Home?" Miss Sniffen looked down sternly on Polly.
"Oh! did you see us come? Wasn't it lucky—nice that Mr. Randolph had his car? And wasn't he good to bring us?"
"Was the meeting by arrangement?" questioned Miss Sniffen severely.
"Oh, no! I was so surprised! We all were! He happened to go over there to see about some trees, and so stayed to luncheon. We had a lovely time! Wasn't it queer it happened to be his land?"
Miss Sniffen's thin lips drew themselves into a sarcastic line.
"'Happened!' There seems to have been a number of happenings."
"I know it," Polly agreed demurely, looking at her watch to make sure of the time. "We came in about five minutes ago, Miss Sniffen. It was twenty minutes of six just before we got here."
"What time did you leave the picnic grounds?"
"I think it was four o'clock."
"Did you come directly back?" Miss Sniffen's hard eyes fastened on Polly's face.
"Oh, no! We had a beautiful ride! We went way out on the Flaxton road, along by the river. Don't you think Mr. Randolph is a very lovable man?"
"I think it was entirely out of place for you to spend the day in the woods with an unmarried man. I shall look into it."
Polly's brown eyes grew big and wondering. "Why, Miss Sniffen, I don't see what harm there was! We had the loveliest time!"
The superintendent did not reply. She turned deliberately and walked down the great hall.
Polly watched her a moment, the wondering look still in her eyes. Then she sped swiftly toward home. She hoped Miss Sniffen would not find out about Miss Nita's ankle.
MISS LILY AND DOODLES
The long line of choir boys issued decorously from the side door of St. Bartholomew's. The running, pushing, scuffling, and laughter were reserved for the next street. Sly nudges and subdued chuckles were all that the most reckless indulged in under the shadows of the church.
At the foot of the steps stood a slender, whitehaired woman with stooping shoulders. She scanned each face as it emerged from the dim passageway, and her own grew a bit anxious as the boys passed. Then it suddenly brightened with recognition. Doodles had appeared.
The woman stepped forward to meet him. "Excuse me," she hesitated, "but are you the one who sang that solo, 'Take heart, ye weary'?"
The boy smiled his modest answer.
"Oh, I want to thank you for it! I've been waiting till you came, and I was so afraid I'd missed you after all, for I probably shan't have another chance. I wanted you to know how much good it has done me."
"Has it?" Doodles looked his pleasure.
"Oh, it was beautiful!" she said tremulously. "I never heard anything like it! I always enjoy your singing, and am so disappointed when you don't sing alone; but seems to me this piece was sweetest of all!"
"I guess you'll like the one for next Sunday," Doodles told her,—"'And God shall wipe away all tears.'"
"Oh!" It was mingled longing and regret. "That must be beautiful! I wish I could hear it—seems as if I must!" Her voice broke a little. "But I'm afraid I can't. I shan't be here next Sunday."
"That's too bad! I'm sorry!"
"It can't be helped. I am glad I could come to-day and hear you—it does me more good than sermons!" Tears made the blue eyes shine.
"Perhaps I shall sing it some other time when you are here," Doodles suggested hopefully.
The woman shook her head. Her reply was soft and broken. "I shan't ever be here again."
"Oh!" Doodles was instantly sympathetic. Then a gleam lighted his sorrowing face. "I'll tell you what," he began hurriedly, "I'll come to your house and sing for you this afternoon—that is, if you'd like me to," he added.
Such joy flooded the tearful eyes! "Oh, you dear boy! if you would! I don't know how to thank you!"
"That's all right! I'd love to do it. Shall I come early, right after dinner, or—"
"Oh, come early! It is so good of you!" The tears threatened to overflow their bounds.
Doodles glanced down the street. "What is your address, please? I have to take the next car."
"Why, yes! I forgot! I live at 304 North Charles Street."
"Thank you." He lifted his cap with a bright smile. "I'll be there!" he promised and was off.
The woman watched him as he hailed the passing car. He saw her from a window and waved his hand. She returned the salute, and then walked slowly away.
"I hope he won't forget the number," she said to herself, "he didn't take it down. And I never thought to give him my name!"
Doodles easily found the place the woman had designated. The house was small and dingy, and two grimy babies were playing on the doorstep.
"Miss Lily's upstairs, in back," answered the girl to whom the inquiry had been referred. "I guess it's her you want. Ther' ain't nobody else, 'cept Miss Goby, an' she's a big un."
The top of the dim flight was nearly reached when a door opened and threw a stream of light on the stairway. The boy saw his new friend waiting for him.
"Walk right in!" she said cordially. "It's awfully good of you to come!"
The room was in noticeable contrast with the rest of the house. Here everything was neat and homelike, although there was little attempt at ornament. Doodles was soon seated in a cushioned rocker and listening to the little old lady's grateful talk.
"When you spoke of that new song, 'God shall wipe away all tears,' it did seem as if I just couldn't miss hearing you sing it! But I never dreamed that you could do such a thing as to come and sing it to me here. I wish I had a better place for you to sing in, but I've had to take up with 'most anything these days."
The lad hastened to assure her that he was accustomed to sing in a small room, and that it made no difference to him where he was.
"Then you don't mind not having an organ or piano or anything?" The tone was anxious.
"Not a bit," he smiled. "I never used to have accompaniment—I can sing anywhere."
After the first note Miss Lily sat motionless, bending forward a little, her hands clasped in her lap, her eyes on the singer. Whether she saw him was doubtful, for her tears fell fast as Doodles sang the comforting words.
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;...and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,...neither shall there be any more pain:...for the former things are passed away."
With silence the listener suddenly dropped her face in her hands and began to sob.
In a moment Doodles was singing again, and soon she grew calmer. When he stopped she was ready to talk.
"I don't see what makes me cry so!" she broke out, with a great effort fighting back the tears. "I'm all upset anyway. It is so lovely having you sing—right here! You don't know! I'm afraid I shan't ever want you to stop." She laughed quiveringly.
"More now?" he asked.
"If you aren't tired," she hesitated.
He sang again.
In the doorways upstairs and down people were listening. The little house on North Charles Street had never heard such music within its walls. As the song ceased, applause came,—uncertainly at first, then louder and steady.
The two in the back room looked at each other and smiled.
"I guess they like it as well as I do," Miss Lily said.
In response Doodles sang "Only an armor-bearer," still one of his favorites, and at its close the approval of those outside was prompt and long.
Many other songs followed; apparently the audience grew.
"They'll tire you out," the little lady fretted.
The boy shook his head decidedly, beginning for the second time, "And God shall wipe away all tears."
"Oh, it is like heaven itself!" Miss Lily breathed. Then she sighed softly. "What if I had missed it!"
"I think I shall have to go now," at last Doodles said; "but I will come and sing for you again any time, if you like,—any time when you are here." He rose and picked up his cap.
"Oh, my dear boy, I'm not ever coming back! I'm"—she began to sob, and Doodles could scarcely make out the words—"I'm going—to the—poorhouse!" She broke down, and her slight shoulders shook pitifully.
The boy stood as if stunned. Then he stepped near. "Don't cry!" he said softly, "don't cry!"
"Oh—I can't help it!" she mourned. "I've kept up—I thought maybe I shouldn't have to go; but my eyes have given out, and I can't earn anything only by sewing—and I can't sew now! To think of me in the poorhouse!"
"I'll come and sing for you there!" cried the boy impulsively.
"Oh! you wouldn't—would you?" She clutched at the only straw of hope.
"Of course, I will! I'd be glad to!"
"You're awfully good!" She wiped her eyes.
"I didn't mean to entertain you with tears," she smiled. "Seems as if I might stop, but I can't." Her eyes were wet again.
A sudden light illumined the lad's face. He opened his lips, then shut them.
"How soon do you expect to go?" he asked.
"Some time the last of the week, the man thought." She swallowed hard. "He said he'd give me time to pick up my things—he was real good."
"I'll see you again before the last of the week," promised Doodles, putting out his hand.
She clasped it in both of hers.
"You are just a dear—that's what you are!" she said tremulously. "And you don't know how I thank you! I can't tell you what it has been to me!"
As the singer passed down the stairs curious eyes peered out at him; but he did not know it. His heart was full of Miss Lily's grief, although overspreading it was the beautiful thought that had come to him so suddenly a moment ago.
"BETTER THAN THE POORHOUSE"
Polly was on the veranda when Doodles came.
"Why, Doodles Stickney! I was just thinking of you! How did you know I wanted to see you this morning?"
"I didn't," he laughed; "but I wanted to see you'"
"I'm so glad—oh, I forgot! I'm due at the dentist's at ten o'clock! Maybe I can get off."
"No, no! I couldn't stay till that time anyway. I came down on business—"
"Dear me!" laughed Polly, "how grand we are this morning!"
"I don't know whether it is 'grand' or not—it depends a good deal on the president of June Holiday Home. I'll tell you all about it," dropping into a chair beside Polly.
He related the incidents of the day before, of Miss Lily's meeting him at the church door, of his singing to her in the afternoon, and finally of her distress at going to the poorhouse.
"And I happened to think if she could only come to the June Holiday Home—"
"Lovely!" cried Polly. "I don't see why she can't!"
"Nor I, but somebody may. I thought I'd see you first and maybe you'd give me a little note of introduction—you know Mr. Randolph so well, and I never spoke to him."
"Certainly I will! I'll go right and do it now! Chris will want to see you—I'll send him out."
The note that Doodles carried away with him was in Polly's best style.
Dear Mr. Randolph:— This is to introduce my friend Doodles Stickney, or to be perfectly proper, Julius Stickney. He will tell you about Miss Lily, and I do hope you will make a place for her at the Home. I have never seen her, but I know she is nice, or Doodles wouldn't like her or take so much trouble to get her in. I feel awfully sorry for her. It must be dreadful to have your eyes give out so you have to go to the poorhouse.
Miss Sniffen made a terrible fuss because you stayed at the picnic with us—or because we stayed with you. Anyway, she scolded Miss Nita like everything. I'm afraid we can't ever have a picnic again. She began on me when I went to report our arrival—she happened to be at the desk. You know you have to report as soon as you get in, and I said I'd do it for the crowd. Miss Nita couldn't because her ankle ached so. It turned black and blue—just awful! She wouldn't say a word to anybody, and father sent some liniment by me. The first smelt so strong Miss Nita didn't dare use it for fear they'd suspect, so father sent her another kind. He said it wasn't quite so good as the smelly sort, but her ankle is a whole lot better. Don't you think she is brave? I don't know what Miss Sniffen would say if she knew about that. We've all kept whist.
This is a pretty long letter, but I knew you'd want to hear about Miss Nita's ankle. You will let Miss Lily in, won't you? Yours with hope, POLLY MAY DUDLEY.
Thank you ever so much for that beautiful ride! I shall never forget it.
Doodles walked into the great office of the Fair Harbor Paper Company and asked to see Mr. Randolph.
"We hired a boy last week. We don't want any more." The clerk was turning away.
"Oh, I'm not applying for a place!" cried Doodles, his voice full of laughter. "I wish to see the president on business."
The young man scowled, irritated by his blunder, and surveyed the boy with a disagreeable sneer.
"Well, he's too busy to attend to kids. What do you want anyhow?"
Doodles hesitated. He did not wish to tell his errand to this pompous young person.
"Please say to Mr. Randolph that I would like to see him on important business about the June Holiday Home."
"Who sent you?"
"No one; but I have a letter of introduction."
"Oh, you have! Hand it out!"
Doodles made no move toward his pocket.
"I wish to give it to Mr. Randolph himself," he said gently.
"Well, you can't see him. He's busy now."
"I will wait," replied the boy, and took a chair.
The clerk went behind the railing and sat down at a desk.
Doodles looked out on the street and watched the passers. Occasionally his eyes would wander back to the office and over the array of men and women bent to their work, then they would return to the wide doorway. He felt that he had small chance to speak with Mr. Randolph until he should go to luncheon, and that, he argued to himself, would not be a very good time to present his business. He wished that the unpleasant young clerk would go first—he would like to try some other.
Men and women came and went, some of them disappearing in the rear, where, undoubtedly, was the man he sought. If only he dared follow! Finally the offensive youth came out through the gate and over to where he sat.
"Here, you kid," he began in an insolent tone, "you've hung round here long enough! Now beat it!"
Into the soft brown eyes of Doodles shot an angry light.
The other saw it and smiled sneeringly. He did not count on the lad's strength.
In a moment the indignation had passed. There was none of it in the quiet voice. "Good-day, sir!"
Doodles was gone.
A plan had instantly formed in his mind. He would get himself a lunch, and then wait outside the office until Mr. Randolph appeared. That was the only way. It never occurred to him to give the matter up.
One restaurant was passed; it did not look inviting. The next was better, but flies were crawling over the bottles and jars in the window. He went on.
"It will cost more, I suppose," he muttered regretfully to himself, as he entered a neat cafe where the door was opened to him by a boy in livery.
"Bread and milk," he ordered of the trim maid, and he smiled to himself contentedly at the daintiness with which it was served.
The milk was cool and sweet, and Doodles was hungry. The whistles and clocks announced that it was noon, and soon afterward people began to stream in. Women with shopping-bags and bundles, men with newspapers, hatless working-girls; but everywhere were courtesy and low voices. Doodles was glad of his choice.
He sat eating slowly, wishing he knew at what time he would be most likely to meet Mr. Randolph, when he stared at a man coming toward him—it was the president of the Paper Company! The boy drew in a delighted breath—what great good luck!
Mr. Randolph sat down at a little table not far away. He looked tired, the lad thought, and he decided to wait until the close of the meal, if he could manage to make his own small supply of milk last long enough.
"Nothing more, thank you," Doodles told the maid who came to ask. "This milk is very nice," he added, which brought out an answering smile.
At last the president had reached his fruit.
The boy's last crumb had vanished long ago, and he thought he might venture across to the other table.
"May I speak with you a moment, sir?" he asked softly, taking the letter from his pocket.
"Certainly." The man bowed with his accustomed courtesy.
"Polly Dudley gave me this for you."
At mention of the name a pleasant light over-spread the grave face.
The lad watched him as he read. The light deepened, then the brows drew together in a scowl. Doodles wondered what Polly had written.
"This lady is a friend of yours, I take it."
The keen gray eyes looked straight at the boy.
"Yes, sir," Doodles smiled, "though a very new one. I never saw her till yesterday."
The eyes bent upon him widened a little.
The lad told his story as simply as possible, touching lightly upon his own part in it. "And so," he ended artlessly, his appealing brown eyes looking straight into the steady gray ones, "I thought, even if there were rules and patches and things she didn't like, it would be better than the poorhouse."
A little amused smile replaced the hint of surprise on the man's face.
"Where do you sing?" he asked abruptly.
"At St. Bartholomew's Church, Foxford."
"Did you come down expressly to see me about this?"
"Yes, sir," answered Doodles.
"How did you know I was here?"
"I didn't." A smile overspread the small face. "I waited at your office until"—he hesitated an instant—"I thought I would find you after I had had a lunch."
"Oh, no, sir!"
Mr. Randolph eyed him questioningly.
"The young man thought I'd waited long enough," was the gentle explanation.
"So he told you to go!"
"I guess he got tired of seeing me there," smiled Doodles.
"Did you wait long?"
"'Most two hours."
"Tall, light-haired fellow, was it?"
The boy assented.
The president mused a moment and then resumed:—
"In any case your friend will have to make an application. I think I will let her take a blank. Have her fill it out, and you can send it down to me. I will attend to the rest."
Doodles rose from his chair, feeling that it was time to go, yet he could not forbear one question.
"Do you think she can come to the Home?" His tone betrayed his solicitude.
"I will do the best I can for her, Master Stickney." Mr. Randolph had also risen, and he smiled down into the upturned face. "It will have to be referred to the Committee on Applications, but I will see that it is put through as quickly as possible."
Doodles decided to see Miss Lily before going home, so it was still early afternoon when he entered the little house on North Charles Street.
"Why, you dear boy!" The little lady had him in her arms. "How good of you to come! I was thinking this morning, what if I shouldn't ever hear you sing again—and now here you are!"
"I told you I'd come," laughed Doodles.
"Yes," smiled Miss Lily; "but people forget. I guess you aren't the forgetting kind."
"I didn't come to-day to sing," the boy began slowly. Now that the moment was at hand he felt suddenly shy at disclosing his errand. "I happened to think yesterday of the June Holiday Home down in Fair Harbor, and I wondered if you wouldn't rather go there and live than to go—anywhere else."
For an instant Miss Lily stared. "That beautiful place up on Edgewood Hill?—me?—go there?" Her mobile face showed a strange mingling of astonishment, fear, and joy.
"Certainly! Shouldn't you like to?"
"'Like to'! All the rest of my life?—Oh, I can't believe it!"
"I don't know that you can get in," Doodles hastened to explain; "but I went to Fair Harbor this morning to see Mr. Randolph—he's the president of the Home. He doesn't know yet for certain, but he has sent you a blank to make out, and then it's got to go to a committee. He said he'd do the best he could for you,—he is a very nice man!"
"And you have taken all this trouble for me?" Miss Lily's hands went up to her face. The tears trickled down and fell on her dress.
"It wasn't any trouble," asserted Doodles. "I thought maybe there was no chance, and so I wouldn't tell you till I found out." The lad took the paper from his pocket.
Miss Lily wiped her eyes. "I can't see to write," she said tremulously; "that is, not well, and the doctor said I mustn't try." She looked mournfully at the boy.
"I'll do it for you," he proposed cheerily. "Then if there's anything to sign you can do it with your eyes shut. I love to write with my eyes shut and see how near I come to it!"
"I never tried," she admitted, "but perhaps I could."
"It says first, 'Your name in full.'" Doodles looked up inquiringly.
"Faith Lily." repeated its owner mechanically. Then she started across the room. "I'll get you a pen and ink," she said.
Doodles wrote with careful hand. "That's a pretty name," he commented.
"I always liked it," she smiled. "But I'm afraid my faith has been going back on me lately. I did have a good deal. I thought the Lord wouldn't let me go to the poorhouse, then it seemed as if He was going to. Only a little while ago I thought He must have forgotten me—and now this!" Her dim eyes grew big with wonder and thankfulness. "Even if I can't go, I shall be glad you tried to get me in; it will tell me I have one friend."
"The next is, 'Time and place of birth.'"
"I was born August 3, 1847, in Cloverfield, Massachusetts."
"'Name of father,'" read Doodles.
"Jonathan Seymour Lily."
There were many questions, and the boy was a slow writer. It took no little time to place all the answers. But the end of the list was finally reached without blot or smudge. Doodles surveyed his work with gratification.
"I guess I haven't made any mistake," he said, reading it over. "Now if you can just put your name there, it will be done."
Her hand trembled and the letters were wavering, but when Doodles declared it was "splendidly written," she smiled her relief.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday went by, and Doodles heard nothing from Mr. Randolph. He began to be afraid that the committee had decided against his friend, and although his mother told him that such procedures always take considerable time, he grew more nervous with every mail-coming. When Saturday morning brought him no word, he decided to go over to Miss Lily's.
"I don't know that she could read the letter if she had one," he said in dismay. "Why didn't I think of that before!"
His first glimpse of the little woman corroborated his worst fears. Her eyes were swollen with weeping, and her face was haggard and despairing.
"Can't you go?" he ejaculated.
"I haven't heard a word!" she answered mournfully. "I didn't know but you had."
"No, I haven't. That's why I came over."
She shut the door and made him sit down.
"I guess I'll have to go to the poorhouse after all," she began in a hushed voice, as if fearful of being overheard.
"Oh, I wouldn't give up! Mr. Randolph said it would take time."
"But I can't wait! The woman thought I was going, and she's rented my room, and she won't let me stay another night! I haven't quite enough money to pay up, and she says she shall keep my trunk and furniture—oh, to think I have come to this!"
The little woman's distress was agonizing to Doodles.
"Now, don't you worry!" he pleaded. "You are coming straight home with me to stay at our house over Sunday, and next week we shall probably hear."
"No, no!—your mother—your mother won't want me!" she sobbed. "I can't go to make her all that trouble!"
"'T won't be a bit of trouble!" he insisted. "She will like to have you come! We all will! We'd better go right away, too. Is your trunk packed?"
"Pretty much; there are a few little things to put in." She found herself yielding to the stronger will of the boy. Going to the closet, she brought out some articles of clothing which she began to fold.
"Is all the furniture yours?" Doodles asked, looking around on the meager array.
She shook her head. "Only the rocking-chair and the couch and that little chair you're in and the oil heater and the pictures—" She ran her troubled eyes over the things enumerated, as if fearing to forget some of her few remaining possessions. "Oh, yes! there's my bookshelf! I mustn't leave that."
"Suppose I make a list of them," suggested Doodles. "I think maybe we'd better have them taken over to our house—Blue can come this afternoon and see about it. Blue's my brother, you know."
"But Mrs. Gugerty won't let me have them!"
"She will if you pay up."
"Yes, but I can't! I gave her the last cent I had!" Her voice quivered.
Doodles took out his purse and counted over his change.
"No, you're not going to pay it!" she cried. "I shan't let you!"
"I'm afraid I haven't enough," smiled the lad ruefully—"only sixty-seven cents."
"I owe a dollar and a quarter," she admitted.
"Blue can pay it when he comes for the things," returned the boy, dismissing with a careless "That's nothing!" the little woman's protest.
Miss Lily looked around for the last time with a cheerful smile.
"Somehow I can't feel as bad to go home with you as I know I ought to," she said, "only I hate to have you and your folks do so much for me—and I such a stranger, too!"
"No, you're a friend," Doodles corrected.
"Yes, I am—forever and ever!" She laughed tremulously. "I don't see why you're so good to me."
"You'll like my mother!" Doodles responded with some irrelevance. "She's the best mother in the whole world!"
"I know I shall love her if she's any like her boy!" She gave him a caressing pat.
True to the word of Doodles, Miss Lily was welcomed to the little bungalow with such heartfelt hospitality that her sad, starving soul was filled with joy, and when Blue returned with her small stock of goods and put Mrs. Gugerty's receipt into her hand, her eyes overflowed with happy tears. With cheery Mrs. Stickney and merry Doodles and Blue for companions, she had little time to worry over the possible outcome of her application to the June Holiday Home, and Sunday was passed in an utterly different way from that she had imagined a week before.
It was not until the next Wednesday that any news came from Mr. Randolph. Then the letter-carrier brought a long, thin envelope addressed to "Miss Faith Lily," and the recipient turned so white when Doodles handed it to her that he feared she was going to faint.
"Shall I open it?" he asked.
She bowed her head. Words were far away.
He drew out the paper and gave it one hurried glance. Then he swung it over his head with a glad whoop.
"You're going! You're going! You're going!" he shouted.
"Doodles!" remonstrated his mother, for Miss Lily was weeping.
In a moment, however, tears had given way to joy, and Doodles must read to her every word of Mr. Randolph's friendly note as well as the wonderful document that was to admit her to the palatial June Holiday Home.
Polly was in Miss Sterling's room when the box was brought up.
"Flowers!" she squealed as soon as the door had shut upon the matron's stout figure.
"Bosh!" retorted Miss Sterling. "More likely Cousin Sibyl has sent me some of her children's stockings to darn. She does that occasionally. I suppose she thinks—"
"0-o-h!" breathed Polly, for the speaker had disclosed a mass of pink—exquisite roses with long stems and big, cool green leaves.
"Now what do you think?" Polly exulted.
Miss Sterling stood regarding the roses, her face all pink and white, the color fluttering here and there like a shy bird.
"It's a mistake!" she said at last. "They can't be for me."
"Of course they're for you!" Polly pointed to the address on the cover. "Isn't there any card?" searching gently among the flowers. "I guess Mr. Randolph forgot to put in his card!" Polly's eyes twinkled mischievously.
"Polly Dudley, don't be silly'" The tone was almost impatient.
"It would be lovely for him to send them anyway!" defended Polly. "And I almost know he did!" she insisted.
"You don't know any such thing!" Miss Sterling was taking the roses out. She brought them to her face and drew in their fragrance. Then she held them at arm's length, gazing at them admiringly.
"Aren't they beautiful!" she said softly. "I wish I knew whom to thank."
"It looks like a man's handwriting," observed Polly.
"It might be Mrs. Lake," mused Miss Sterling, quite ignoring Polly's remark. "Mrs. Lake has always been nice to me. Only she would never omit her card. No, it must be somebody else."
Polly tried the roses on the small table, on the desk, on the dresser—where their reflection added to their magnificence. Finally they were left on the broad window-sill, while the two discussed possible givers. It was Miss Sterling, however, who suggested names. Polly clung to her first thought.
"I told him you had had an awful time with your ankle, and how Miss Sniffen scolded you,"—Polly lowered her voice,—"and I suppose he felt sorry—"
"How Miss Sniffen scolded me? Not about his being there?" The tone was dismayed. "Why, yes! What harm was there?" "Polly! Polly! You didn't say—what did you say?"
"I can't remember exactly," was the plaintive answer. "I don't see why you care, anyway. I think I said it was because he stayed with us and took us to ride."
"Well, it can't be helped," laughed Miss Sterling, "but—how could you, Polly?"
"I should think you'd be glad to have him know how Miss Sniffen acts."
"Sh! Somebody's coming!"
"I must go," Polly whispered.
She let in Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly.
"Oh, what dandy roses!" Miss Crilly dashed over to the window. "Your best feller must sure 'a' sent 'em! Ain't they sweet? But why don't you have 'em over on that little table? They'd show off fine there! May I?" She carried them across the room.
"Polly tried them in various places," responded Miss Sterling.
"Well, 't don't make a whole lot o' difference where you put such roses! My, but they're immense!" She stood off, the better to admire them. "Wouldn't I rave if they belonged to yours truly! How can you folks take them so coolly?"
Juanita Sterling laughed. "I had my time when they first came!"
"You say it all, so we don't need to," laughed Mrs. Albright. "They are beauties, that's a fact!"
Miss Crilly sat down, her eyes still on the flowers. "I don't see a card anywhere," she nodded. "Ain't that proof positive?" winking toward Mrs. Albright.
"There was none," smiled Miss Sterling.
"You don't mean you don't know who sent 'em?" Miss Crilly queried.
"Just that. Either the sender forgot to put in her card or she didn't wish me to know."
"I bet 't isn't a 'her'!" giggled Miss Crilly. "Don't you, Mis' Albright?"
That lady twinkled her answer. "I shouldn't wonder."
A soft knock sent Miss Sterling to the door, and Miss Castlevaine came in.
Miss Crilly showed off the roses with all the pride of a possessor.
"I guess I saw them down in the lower hall," smiled Miss Castlevaine knowingly. "There was a long box on the desk."
"You did? And ain't it funny?" Miss Crilly ran on,—"she don't know who sent 'em!"
"Perhaps Miss Sniffen could tell you."
Miss Sterling looked up quickly.
"What do you mean?" asked Miss Crilly.
Miss Castlevaine moved her chair nearer, listened intently, and then began in a low voice: "I was coming up with a pitcher of hot water, and you know there's a little place where you can see down on the desk. Well, Miss S. was there fussing over a box, and I said to myself, 'I guess somebody's got some flowers.' Then I saw her lift the cover and slip out something white. I didn't see it distinctly, for just as she took hold of it she looked up, and I dodged out of sight. When I peeked down again she was dropping something into a little drawer, and I came on as still as I could. I thought then that whoever had those flowers wouldn't find out who sent 'em!"
"It isn't right!" Mrs. Albright's comfortable face took on stern, troubled lines.
"I'd go to the florist and find out," declared Miss Crilly.
"There's no name on the box." Miss Sterling drew a deep breath, and indignation flushed her pale cheeks.
"I did suppose we could have what belonged to us, even here! Things grow worse every day. Boiled tripe for dinner—ugh!" Miss Castlevaine's face wrinkled with repugnance.
"And only potatoes to go with it," sighed Mrs. Albright. "It's too bad we can't have green vegetables and fruit—now, in the season."
"I heard something yesterday," resumed Miss Castlevaine, "that I guess you won't like—I don't know what we're coming to! Miss Major got it in a roundabout way through one of the managers, and it may not be true; but they say they're going to cut out our Wednesday pudding and our Sunday pie!" Her little blue eyes glared at her listeners.
Juanita Sterling dropped back in her chair. "What next!" she ejaculated.
"They'll be keeping us on mackerel and corned beef yet!" snapped Miss Castlevaine. "As if we didn't pay enough when we came here to insure us first-class board for the rest of our lives' I gave them three thousand dollars—I was a fool to do it!—and I have been here only two years! If they keep that woman much longer—!" The flashing eyes and set lips finished the sentence.
"Well, ain't that great!" cried Miss Crilly. "I didn't bring any such pile as you did, Miss Castlevaine, but that isn't to the point! They've got more money 'n they know what to do with! What they saving their old barrelful for, anyway? Not a scrap o' dessert from one week's end to another—goodness gracious me!"
WAITING TO BE THANKED
Juanita Stirling sat alone with her roses, trying to think it all out. The other ladies were down in the parlor, where Mrs. Nobbs was reading aloud; but to-night Egyptian archaeology had no charm for the possessor of the pink roses. How could she wander through prehistoric scenes while somebody was waiting to be thanked! Somebody—but who? The roses knew! Yet they would not tell! Little quivers of light fluttered in and out of their alluring hearts, almost as if they said, "We are telling! We are telling! Only you will not understand!" The woman gazed wistfully at them—and sighed. The secret of the roses held her through the long, still hours of the evening. What possible reason could the superintendent have had for withholding the name, unless—! She shook her head and sternly chided her cheeks for rivaling the roses. If only Polly hadn't—but was it Polly? Had not that name appeared before Polly spoke? She clinched her teeth in scorn for herself. "'There's no fool like an old fool,'" she muttered contemptuously. No doubt it was Georgiana Lake. To-morrow she would write Mrs. Lake a note of thanks. There would be no risk in that. Yes, she would do it! She would be a fool no longer! And if the roses chuckled over her decision she never knew it.
The note went by the morning's mail. Its answer came in two days.
My dear Nita You are a witch fit for the hanging! How did you know—how could you guess!—I was going to send you some of our Pink Ramblers? Only they are not quite blossomed out enough yet. When they are you shall have more than you can hold in your two small hands! But to thank me for them ahead of time! It is just like you! You always were a witch! Why don't you come to see me? I should have been up last visiting day only that the house was full of workmen, and Isabel had engagements, and somebody must stay—I was the somebody!—A visitor! Too bad! Love— GEORGIANA.
Before the pink roses had lost a petal another box was brought to Miss Sterling's door. Her fingers quivered with hope as she untied the ribbon. The address was in the same firm, open hand. A shimmer of gold met her first glance, but the scrap of white she had longed for was missing. Without doubt the pilferer had thwarted her again. She put the yellow beauties into water with half-hearted pleasure. Why couldn't Miss Sniffen let her have her own! She pounded the air with her little impotent fists. She did not go down to tea. Unhappiness and worry are not appetizers.
The next morning it was whispered from room to room that the second card had been filched from Miss Sterling's box of roses. Miss Castlevaine loved so well the transmitting of newsy tidbits, that they were not apt to remain long in one quarter.
"I'd do something about it!" she declared to Miss Major. "It has come to a pretty pass if our belongings have to be tampered with before we even are allowed to see them! I think somebody ought to tell the president."
The incident, however, passed with talk, nobody being willing to risk her residence in behalf of Juanita Sterling.
When Polly Dudley heard of it she waxed wrathful.
"I never liked Miss Sniffen," she declared, "and now I just hate her!"
"Polly!" remonstrated Miss Sterling.
"I don't care, I do! I wish mother was on the Board, then I 'd try to make her say something! What business has Miss Sniffen to open your boxes, anyhow? I almost know they came from Mr. Randolph, and that's why she's mad about it!"
"Polly, I hope you won't say that to anybody else. You've no more reason to think he sent them than you have to think King George sent them."
"You haven't—intimated such a thing, have you?—to anybody else, I mean?" The question held an anxious tone.
"Why, no, I guess not," was the slow answer, "except mother. I think I said to mother that probably he was the one."
Miss Sterling shook her head with a tiny scowl. "Your mother must think me an intensely silly woman," she sighed.
"Oh, I didn't say you thought so!" Polly hastened to explain. "I only said I did."
"Please don't even suggest it again," she laughed. "I wish the mystery could be cleared up."
The sender's name was discovered earlier than they had thought possible.
Two days afterwards, Polly rushed in, her face alight, her eyes shining. "Oh, Miss Nita!" she began, and then stopped, suddenly realizing that Mrs. Winslow Teed and Miss Crilly were in the room.
"I didn't know—I thought maybe—you'd go with me to call on Miss Lily—Doodles said—Doodles is in a hurry for me to go," she ended lamely.
Juanita Sterling, amused at the sudden transition, had caught a flash of triumph in Polly's eye and wondered with a fluttering heart what she had come to announce.
"Why can't we go, too?" cried Miss Crilly.
"Miss Lily looks like a refined, cultured person," remarked Mrs. Winslow Teed.
"Oh, Doodles says she is lovely!" Polly had recovered her equilibrium.
The latest comer at the June Holiday Home received her visitors with shy courtesy. Miss Crilly and Polly soon relieved her of any embarrassment she may have felt, and talk went on blithely.
Several smiling glances thrown across the room by Polly put Miss Sterling's mind in confusion. They might signify much or nothing, yet she found herself missing what was being said around her in wild conjecture as to their meaning. She wanted to carry Polly upstairs with her. Finally she rose to go, and Polly said good-bye, too, in accordance with Miss Sterling's hope.
They went along the corridor together. Polly squeezing her companion's arm with little chuckles of delight.
"You can't guess what I've got to tell you!" she broke out, as soon as they were at a safe distance from Miss Lily's room.
"Sh!" cautioned the other. Talk above a whisper was forbidden in the halls.
"Oh, I'm always forgetting!" breathed Polly.
Once inside the third-floor room the little woman was seized by a pair of eager arms and whirled round and round.
"He did send them! He did! He did! Now what do you think!"
Miss Sterling went suddenly limp and dropped into a chair.
"You don't know—for certain?" she cried. "I do! Mr. Randolph sent you those roses—both boxes!"
The woman felt the flame in her face and turned quickly on pretense of searching for something in her sewing-basket. She was so long about it that Polly began to complain.
"You don't care very much, seems to me! I thought you'd be just as glad as I am!"
"Why, I am glad to find out who sent them, dear, as glad as can be! But I may as well be sewing on these buttons while you are talking. Now, tell me how you found out—I'm dying to know!" she laughed.
"Well, it's so funny!" Polly resumed. "You see, our Sunday-School is going to send a boy in India to college, and last Sunday we had to tell how we'd earned what we brought. A boy in Chris's class, Herbert Ogden, said Mr. Randolph paid him fifteen cents apiece for carrying two boxes of roses to the June Holiday Home. So after Sunday-School Chris went along with him and asked him if he remembered who the boxes were for. He said, 'Oh, yes, because it was such a queer name! They were both directed to Miss Ju-an-i-ta Sterling!' Chris said it was all he could do to keep his face straight. And the boy went on to say he remembered the last name because it made him think of sterling silver! Wasn't that the greatest?"
The exclamations and laughter satisfied even Polly.
"You'll thank him right away, shan't you?" she queried.
"I suppose I ought." sighed the possessor of the roses.
"Don't you want to?" Polly's tone showed her surprise.
"Such notes are hard to write," was the discreet answer. She bent closer over her work than there was any need. Her cheeks were pinking up again.
"I do believe you're growing near-sighted!" declared Polly irrelevantly.
"No, I guess not," she replied calmly. "This button bothered me—it's all right now," as Polly scrutinized the waist.
"I shouldn't think you'd hate to write to Mr. Randolph. I think he's lovely!"
"I presume he is," Miss Sterling said quietly. "I'm not well acquainted with him, you know."
"I'll write it for you," proposed Polly, "if you'd like me to."
The little woman bending over the blouse caught her breath—to think of missing the writing of that thank-you to Nelson Randolph!
"Oh, no, dear! I won't shirk my duty. It wouldn't look quite the thing for you to do it."
"Perhaps it wouldn't," Polly agreed, "though I'd just as lief."
"You're a great deal better, aren't you, Miss Nita?" Polly was saying.
Miss Sterling gave a smiling nod across the bed. She and Polly were putting on the covers.
"I think you've been growing stronger since the picnic. Maybe it was the outdoors. Father says there's nothing like it for nerves. I wish we could have another, now your ankle is all well; but it is too late for to-day. Why can't we go to walk, you and Mrs. Adlerfeld and Mrs. Albright and I? I know a lovely road out Brookside Avenue way."
"Well," agreed Miss Sterling, "if it isn't too far. I feel equal to a good deal this morning."
"Oh, that's jolly! We needn't go any farther than we choose, you know. I'll bring a lunch, so it will seem like a little picnic—things taste so much better out of doors. Isn't it lovely that you are stronger! Did you tell Mr. Randolph that you're better?"
"Why, no, dear, of course not! It was just a note of thanks."
"What if it was! You could have said that! He'll want to know!"
"I think he'll be able to survive the omission." Miss Sterling patted the pillow into shape and smiled over it.
"Oh, I saw him yesterday!" Polly broke out. "I forgot to tell you!"
The other waited, an expectant smile fluttering about her pretty lips.
"Blanche Puddicombe was riding with him. He had his roadster. I don't see what he takes her around so much for. She isn't a bit pretty."
"Probably she is agreeable." Miss Sterling laid down the blanket she had folded and crossed the room.
"I don't see how she can be with such a mother," Polly went on. "She fusses herself up a good deal the same way. She hasn't a mite of taste. I saw her downtown shopping the other day with a sport skirt, very wide scarlet stripes, and a dress hat trimmed with a single pink rose—the most delicate pink—and a light blue feather! Oh, yes, and a crepe-de-chine waist of pale green!"
An amused chuckle sounded from the window, where Miss Sterling was straightening the curtains.
"You ought to have seen her! Her hair is black as—my shoe, and she wears it waved right down over her ears—you wouldn't know she had any ears! Queer, Mr. Randolph should want her riding round with him so much! You'd think he would have more sense, wouldn't you?"
"She has money—and youth!" was the emphasized reply, in a cold, hard tone. "Money and youth make everything harmonize—even sport skirts and dress hats!"
"She doesn't begin to look as young as you do. She looks more than thirty, and you don't!"
"Father says so, anyway!"
"I thank your father for the nattering compliment; but I think he must be needing glasses."
"No, he doesn't need glasses!" retorted Polly. "His eyes are first-rate. Dear me! Is it eleven o'clock? I must go home! Let's start early—by two, can you?"
"Oh, I don't believe I'll go this afternoon!" The voice sounded weary.
"Why, Miss Nita! you said you would!"
"I know, but I wasn't tired then. I guess I'll have to put it off a day or two."
"You haven't done anything to tire you! You'll never get well if you don't go more!" cried Polly plaintively. "And we won't go a step farther than you like. We needn't ask anybody else, if you'd rather not—we can go all by ourselves." Polly waited anxiously.
Miss Sterling shook her head with a little sigh. "You go with the others to-day. I don't feel as if I could."
Polly finally went off, her face downcast. Coaxings had availed nothing.
Juanita Sterling scowled a perfunctory thank-you to Mrs. Nobbs, who handed her a long box. She had come to hate those long boxes.
"I wish he'd keep his old flowers in his greenhouse!" she muttered disdainfully after the door was well shut. She gazed on the box with a sigh. Nevertheless, she untied it with hurrying fingers.
Great ruby roses sent their pent-up fragrance straight to her nostrils, and she drew it in with a breath of delight. Then she flung the box on the bed and finished putting her dresser in order, a task with which she had been occupied.
Little jerky bits of scorn were now and then directed toward the flowers, as if they were responsible for their intrusion. When their innocence suddenly suggested itself, she smiled.
"Poor things, they can't help it! How should I feel if I were carried where I was not wanted and then should be blamed for being there!"
Contritely she took the roses from their box and put them in her prettiest vase, quite as if she would make amends. She sat down by them and looked the matter in the face.
"I can't have these where they will remind me all day long of being a silly old woman!" She considered the blossoms with a dismal face. "What shall I do with them? I'd put them in a bundle under the bed, only I'd feel so sorry for them—no, I can't do that! I suppose I could give them away—oh, there's Mrs. Crump! The very thing! Maybe they'll help her to forget her pain. I'll take them in now!" She caught up the vase and bore it triumphantly along the hall.
Mrs. Crump was on the couch.
"All for me? Why, Miss Sterling! How good you are! You can't have kept many for yourself."
"I don't want any," laughed the donor. "I'll be glad enough if you can enjoy them."
Miss Crilly and Miss Major came in.
"Mis' Crump! if you're not tryin' to beat Miss Sterling! Seems like a hospital 'stead of a Home, so many roses round!—You don't say she's given you all hers? My, ain't you the limit o' generosity. Miss Sterling! You look lots better. Mis' Crump! Maybe it's the reflection o' the roses! Lovely color, ain't it! He must be a goner, sure! How many times a week d' they come? 'Nother card swooped, I s'pose? It beats me!"
Miss Major opened the door for Miss Castlevaine.
"I couldn't help hearing what you said about another card—who's lost one now?"
She shook her head while Miss Crilly explained. "We shall have to lock up our jewelry pretty soon—huh! How do you feel this morning, Mrs. Crump? Had the doctor?"
The invalid winced and caught her breath, as a sudden twinge shot through her arm. "I don't know as I'm any worse," she said. "I haven't slept a wink since two o'clock! No, the doctor didn't stop here! I thought maybe he would, he was in Mrs. Post's room, right next door; but Mrs. Nobbs said yesterday it wasn't necessary—it's 'only pain,' you know!"
"Only pain!" laughed Miss Crilly. "Isn't that enough? Then, when I'm sick it'll be with something besides pain—I'll remember that! And I'll have the doctor when I need him—don't you forget it!"
"What's the matter with Mrs. Post?" queried Miss Castlevaine.
"Something about her knee—she told me the doctor was going to bandage it up. It was Mrs. Post, you know!" Mrs. Crump emphasized the sentence with lowered voice and lifted eyebrows.
Miss Castlevaine nodded. "No favorites in the June Holiday Home! How did you like the dinner yesterday noon?" She smiled knowingly.
"It's good-bye, pudding, forevermore!" laughed Miss Crilly. "Didn't it seem queer not to have a bit of dessert?"
"Same as other days," returned Miss Major. "I suppose the Sunday pie will go next."
"So I heard!" Miss Castlevaine's lips thinned themselves together. "But that isn't the worst thing! Do you know about Mrs. Dick?"
"No—what?" Miss Crilly stopped smelling of the roses.
"Why, Tuesday she met an old schoolmate on the street who inquired if she had been ill. Mrs. Dick said no. 'Why didn't you come to the wedding, then?' the lady asked. 'Wedding?' exclaimed Mrs. Dick; 'what wedding?' 'Why, Anita's!' (Anita is her daughter.) 'I didn't know she was going to be married, and it isn't likely I should have gone without an invitation,' she laughed. 'I invited you,' the lady said. 'It was a very informal affair, no cards, and not many guests; but I telephoned to the Home, for you to come over and spend the day. I wanted you to see Anita's pretty clothes and her beautiful presents. They said they'd give you the message right off.' 'First I've heard of it!' said Mrs. Dick, and I tell you she was mad! Isn't that awful? If anything happens to us, I don't know as our friends will hear of it till after the funeral—huh!"
"Is she going to make a fuss about it?" asked Miss Major.
"Of course not! She'd probably be turned out if she did."
"What are we coming to!" For a minute Miss Crilly actually looked doleful. "I'm going to tell all my folks that if they want me to know anything in a hurry they'd better telegraph or send me a special delivery letter—that'll fix 'em. My! To think of bein' invited to a weddin' and not knowin' it!"