POLLY OF LADY GAY COTTAGE
EMMA C. DOWD
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY EMMA C. DOWD
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
TO MY CRITIC, COUNSELOR AND COMRADE
I. THE ROSEWOOD BOX 1
II. LEONORA'S WONDERFUL NEWS 12
III. A WHIFF OF SLANDER 20
IV. COUSINS 36
V. A MONOPOLIST AND A FANFARON 46
VI. "NOT FOR SALE" 66
VII. THE BLIZZARD 73
VIII. THE INTERMEDIATE BIRTHDAY PARTY 89
IX. THE EIGHTH ROSE 105
X. A VISIT FROM ERASTUS BEAN 119
XI. UNCLE MAURICE AT LADY GAY COTTAGE 125
XII. LITTLE CHRIS 138
XIII. ILGA BARRON 152
XIV. POLLY IN NEW YORK 165
XV. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST 175
XVI. ROSES AND THORNS 184
XVII. A SUMMER NIGHT MYSTERY 194
XVIII. AT MIDVALE SPRINGS 212
XIX. TWO LETTERS 237
XX. MRS. JOCELYN'S DINNER-PARTY 250
POLLY OF LADY GAY COTTAGE
THE ROSEWOOD BOX
The telephone bell cut sharp into Polly's story.
She was recounting one of the merry hours that Mrs. Jocelyn had given to her and Leonora, while Dr. Dudley and his wife were taking their wedding journey. Still dimpling with laughter, she ran across to the instrument; but as she turned back from the message her face was troubled.
"Father says I am to come right over to the hospital," she told her mother. "Mr. Bean—you know, the one that married Aunt Jane—has got hurt, and he wants to see me. I hope he isn't going to die. He was real good to me that time I was there, as good as he dared to be."
"I will go with you," Mrs. Dudley decided.
And, locking the house, they went out into the early evening darkness.
The physician was awaiting them in his office.
"Is he badly hurt?" asked Polly anxiously. "What does he want to see me for?"
"We are afraid of internal injury," was the grave answer. "He was on his way to you when the car struck him."
"To me?" Polly exclaimed.
"He was fetching a little box that belonged to your mother. Do you recollect it—a small rosewood box?"
"Oh, yes!" she cried. "I'd forgotten all about it—there's a wreath of tiny pearl flowers on the cover!"
The Doctor nodded.
"Mr. Bean seems to attach great value to the box or its contents."
"Oh, what is in it?"
"I don't know. But he kept tight hold of it even after he was knocked down, and it was the first thing he called for when he regained consciousness. I thought he had better defer seeing you until to-morrow morning; but he wouldn't hear to it. So I let him have his own way."
"Have you sent word to Aunt Jane?" inquired Polly, instinctively shrinking from contact with the woman in whose power she had lived through those dreadful years.
Dr. Dudley gave a smiling negative. "He begged me not to let her know."
"I don't blame him!" Polly burst out. "I guess he's glad to get away from her, if he did have to be hurt to do it."
"Probably he wishes first to make sure that the box is in your hands," observed the Doctor, rising. "She will have to be notified. Come, we will go upstairs. The sooner the matter is off Mr. Bean's mind, the better."
Polly was dismayed at sight of the little man's face. In their whiteness his pinched features seemed more wizen than ever. But his smile of welcome was eager.
"How do you do, my dear? My dear!" the wiry hand was extended with evident pain.
Polly squeezed it sympathetically, and told him how sorry she was for his accident.
Mr. Bean gazed at her with tender, wistful eyes.
"My little girl was 'most as big as you," he mused. "Not quite; she wasn't but six when she—went. But you look consider'ble like her—wish't I had a picture o' Susie! I wish't I had!" He drew his breath hard.
Polly patted the wrinkled hand, not knowing what to say.
"But I've got a picture here you'll like," the little man brightened. "Yer'll like it first-rate."
His hand moved gropingly underneath the bed covers, and finally brought out the little box that Polly instantly recognized.
"Oh, thank you! How pretty it is!" She received it with a radiant smile.
Mr. Bean's face grew suddenly troubled.
"Yer mustn't blame Jane too much," he began pleadingly. "I guess she kind o' dassent give it to yer, so long afterwards. It's locked,"—as Polly pulled at the cover,—"and there ain't no key," he mourned. "I do' know what Jane's done with it. Yer'll have to git another,—there wa'n't no other way." His voice was plaintive.
"That's all right," Polly reassured him.
The pleasure of once more holding the little box in her hand was enough for the moment.
"I see it in her bureau drawer the day we was first married," he went on reminiscently, "an' she opened it and showed me what was in it. Ther' 's a picture of yer mother—"
"Oh!" Polly interrupted excitedly, "of mamma?"
"Yis, so she said. Looks like you, too,—same kind o' eyes. It was goin' to be for your birthday—that's what she had it took for, Jane said."
Polly had been breathlessly following his words, and now broke out in sudden reproach:—
"Oh! why didn't Aunt Jane let me have it! How could she keep it, when I wanted a picture of mamma so!"
The reply did not come at once. A shadow of pain passed over the man's face, leaving it more drawn and pallid.
"It's too bad!" he lamented weakly. "I tol' Jane so then; but she thought 'twould kind o' upset yer, likely, and so—" His voice faltered. He began again bravely. "You mustn't blame Jane too much, my dear! Jane's got some good streaks, real good streaks."
Polly looked up from the little box. Her eyes were wet, but she smiled cheerfully into the anxious face.
"I ought not to blame her, now she's sent it," she said sweetly; "and I thank you ever so much for bringing it."
A hint of a smile puckered the thin lips.
"Guess if I'd waited f'r her to send it," he murmured, "'t 'ud been the mornin' Gabriel come! But Jane's got her good streaks," he apologized musingly.
Then he lay silent for a moment, feeling after courage to go on.
"Ther' 's a letter, too," he finally hazarded. "Jane said it was about some rich relations o' yours some'er's—I forgit where. She said likely they wouldn't care nothin' 'bout you, seein' 's they never'd known yer, and it would only put false notions into yer head, and so she didn't"—he broke off, his eyes pleading forgiveness for the woman whose "good streaks" needed constant upholding.
But Polly was quite overlooking Aunt Jane. This astonishing bit of news had thrown her mind into a tumult, and she breathlessly awaited additional items.
They were slow in coming, and she grew impatient.
"What relatives are they?" she prodded. "Papa's, or mamma's?"
Mr. Bean could not positively say. He had not read the letter, and recollected little that his wife had told him.
"Seems kind o' 's if they was Mays," he mused; "but I ain't noways sure. Anyhow they was millionaires, Jane said she guessed, and she was afraid 't 'ud spile yer to go and live with 'em,—"
At this juncture Dr. Dudley interposed, his fingers trying his patient's pulse.
"No more visiting to-night," he smiled, yet the smile was grave and of short life.
Polly went away directly, carrying the little rosewood box, after again expressing her grateful thanks to Mr. Bean.
Down in the office her tongue ran wild, until her mother was quite as excited as she. But there was a difference; Polly's wondering thoughts flew straight to her lips, Mrs. Dudley's stayed in her heart, restless and fearsome.
Next morning the injured man seemed no worse, though the physicians still had grave doubts of his recovery. Dr. Dudley, while appreciating Mr. Bean's kind intentions towards Polly, and putting out of account the serious accident, grimly wished to himself that the little man had suffered the rosewood box to remain hidden in his wife's bureau drawer. Of course, Polly was legally his own, yet these unknown relatives of hers,—with what convincing arguments might they confront him, arguments which he could not honestly refute! Yet he carried the box to the locksmith's, and he conjectured cheerfully with Polly regarding the contents of the letter.
Late in the afternoon he put both box and key into Polly's hands.
"Oh!" she squealed delightedly. "Have you opened it?"
"Most certainly not. That pleasure is left for you."
She eagerly placed the key in the lock, and carefully raised the cover.
A folded tissue paper lay on top, which she caught up, and the photograph was disclosed.
"Mamma!" she half sobbed, pressing the picture to her lips.
But Dr. Dudley scarcely noticed her emotion, for the displacement of the card had revealed only an empty box—the letter was gone! He looked across at his wife, and their eyes met in perfect understanding. The moment they had both dreaded was postponed, and they felt a sudden relief. Still, there had been a letter, the Doctor silently reasoned, and sooner or later its contents must be faced.
"See!" Polly was holding before him the portrait of a lovely, girlish woman, with dark, thoughtful eyes and beautiful, curving mouth.
"It looks just like her!" came in tremulous tones. "Isn't she sweet?" She leaned lightly against her father, drawing a long breath of joy and sorrow.
As he threw his arm about her, the Doctor could feel her efforts to be calm.
"But where's the letter?" she asked, with sudden recollection, turning from their satisfying praise of the one she loved, to gaze into the empty box. She regarded it disappointedly when she heard the truth.
"Now I shan't ever know," she lamented, "whether I have any grandfather or grandmother, or uncles or aunts,—or anybody! And I thought, may be, there'd be some cousins too! But, then," she went on cheerfully, "it isn't as if the letter was from somebody I'd ever known. I'm glad it is that that's lost, instead of this," clasping the photograph to her heart.
Mrs. Dudley glanced over to her husband. "Better not tell her!" his eyes said, and her own agreed. It seemed that Polly did not dream of what was undoubtedly the case,—that the letter was from her mother, written as a birthday accompaniment to the picture, and giving hitherto withheld information concerning her kindred.
It was far better for Polly's peace of heart that the probable truth was not even surmised, and presently she carried the photograph up to her own little room, there to feast her eyes upon the well-remembered face until time was forgotten.
LEONORA'S WONDERFUL NEWS
Dr. Dudley waited at the foot of the short staircase. He had just come in from an early morning visit to a hospital patient.
"Yes, father," floated down to him, followed by a scurry of light feet in the corridor overhead.
Directly Polly appeared at the top of the flight, one side of her hair in soft, smooth curls, the other a mass of fluffy waves.
"Leonora sent word for you to come over 'just as soon as you possibly can,'" smiled the Doctor. "She has something to tell you."
"I don't see what it can be," replied Polly. "Do you know, father?"
"You wouldn't wish me to rob Leonora of the first telling of her news," he objected.
"No," she admitted slowly; "but I can't imagine why she's in such a hurry. I wonder if she is to stay at the hospital longer than she expected—that isn't it, is it?"
Dr. Dudley shook his head.
"My advice is to make haste with your toilet and run over to the hospital and find out."
"Yes," Polly agreed, "I will." Yet she stood still, her forehead puckered over the possible good things that could have happened to her friend.
Dr. Dudley turned away, and then halted.
"Isn't your mother waiting for you?" he suggested.
"Oh, I forgot!" she cried, and flew back to where Mrs. Dudley sat, brush and comb in hand.
"How my hair grows!" commented Polly, after discussing the news awaiting her, and silently concluding that whatever her mother knew she did not intend to disclose. "It will be a year next week since it was cut. I shall have mermaid tresses before I know it. Isn't it nice that I was hurt? Because if I hadn't been I should never have known you and father. Did you expect to marry him when he took you to ride on Elsie's birthday?"
"Of course not!" laughed Mrs. Dudley. "You were a roguish little match-maker!"
"I never thought of that," returned Polly. "I only wanted you to have a good time."
"I had it," her mother smiled, tying a ribbon to hold the bright curls. "There!" with a final pluck at the bow; "now run along and hear Leonora's glad story! I am afraid she will be getting impatient."
As Polly skipped up to the hospital entrance, the door flew open, and Leonora, smiling rapturously, ran to meet her.
"What is it?" entreated Polly. "I can't wait another minute!"
"Seem's if I couldn't, too! I thought you'd never come! What do you think, Polly May Dudley! I'm goin' to live with Mrs. Jocelyn!—all the time!—forever! She's adopted me!"
Polly stared, and then let out her astonishment in a big "O-h!" This was, indeed, something unguessable. "Isn't that lovely!" she cried in delight. "I'm so glad!—just as glad as I can be!"
"Of course you are! Everybody is," Leonora responded blissfully. They went in doors arm in arm, stopping in Dr. Dudley's office, their tongues more than keeping pace with their steps.
"I shouldn't think your father and mother would want to give you up," observed practical Polly.
"I guess they're glad," Leonora replied. "Prob'ly I wouldn't go if they were my own; but I don't belong to them."
"Why, no. My mother died when I was three years old. I can only just remember her. In a little while father married again, and pretty soon he died—he was awful good to me! I cried when they said he wasn't goin' to get well. Then my stepmother married Mr. Dinnan. So, you see, I ain't any relation really, and they're prob'ly glad not to have me to feed any more. And I guess I'm glad—my! But I can't b'lieve it yet! Say, I'm goin' to your school, and Mrs. Jocelyn is comin' to take me out in her carriage this forenoon to buy me some new clothes!"
Polly's radiant face was enough to keep Leonora's tongue lively.
"She's goin' to fix me up a room right next to hers, all white and pink! And she's goin' to get me a beautiful doll house and some new dolls—she says I can pick 'em out myself! And—what do you think!—she said last night she guessed she'd have to get me a pair of ponies and a little carriage just big enough for you and me, and have me learn to drive 'em!"
"O-h! won't you be grand!" beamed Polly.
And then, while Leonora chattered on, came to her a picture of that afternoon—so far away it seemed!—when she had been folded in Mrs. Jocelyn's arms, to be offered these same pleasures, and which she had refused for love of Dr. Dudley, although the thought of calling him father had never then come to her. How glad she was that she had not mentioned this! She had always had an intuitive feeling that the concern was Mrs. Jocelyn's, to be kept as her secret, and she had therefore been silent. Now Leonora need never know that she was "second choice." Her friend's happy confidences recalled Polly's strolling thoughts.
"I don't b'lieve you have any idea how perfectly splendid it makes me feel to think I'm goin' to have that sweet, beautiful Mrs. Jocelyn for my own mother." The last word was little more than a whisper. Leonora's dark eyes were luminous with joy.
"Why, of course I know!" responded Polly. "You feel just as I did that day father told me he was going to marry Miss Lucy,—I mean mother,—and I was to be their little girl. Don't you remember? I'd been for a visit to Mrs. Jocelyn's and brought home those presents, and Mary Pender thought I must have had such a good time because I was so full of fun."
"I guess I couldn't ever forget!" cried Leonora. "That lovely rose-bud sash you gave me was the prettiest thing I ever had to wear in all my life! And was that really the day you first knew about it?"
"Queer!" Leonora went on. "There we both went to the hospital, you hurted so awful bad nobody s'posed you'd get well, and I so lame that even Dr. Dudley thought I'd never walk straight! And now—my! ain't it queer? We're adopted by the nicest folks, and I don't limp a mite! Just see how good I can walk!"
She skipped off gleefully, falling into a slow, regular pace across the room.
"That's beautiful!" praised Polly. "And it doesn't hurt you now, does it?"
"Not a bit! Oh, it's so splendid that Dr. Dudley cured me!—why, there's David! No, don't go!" as Polly sprang up. "It isn't school time yet."
The girls ran to the door, Leonora clutching her friend's arm, as if resolved not to let her escape.
"Your mother told me you were here," David began.
"She didn't tell you I was goin' to your school, did she?" laughed Leonora.
"Yes, honest!" they chorused mischievously.
"There's something up!" David's head wagged knowingly. "What is it?"
He looked from Leonora to Polly, and back again.
Then the delightful news could not be kept a minute longer, but bubbled forth from Leonora's lips, until the three were soon in a torrent of merry talk.
David's interest fully satisfied the girls, which is saying much for it; but the clock ticked steadily on, regardless of adoptions, new clothes, and ponies. Happily there was a chance look across the room, which hurried Polly and David away to school and sent Leonora up to the convalescent ward to make ready for her drive with Mrs. Jocelyn.
A WHIFF OF SLANDER
Within a few days the little girl, who on the occasion of the ward's anniversary had been afraid to speak to her beautiful benefactor, found herself established in the stately old house on Edgewood Avenue, and calling the same charming lady "mother."
On the morning that Mrs. Jocelyn's man drove her across the city to the private school which Polly and David attended, she was almost too joyfully excited for comfort. To think that one of her most cherished dreams was actually coming true!
Polly introduced her as, "My friend, Leonora Jocelyn," which made the little dark face pink with pleasure, and nearly caught away the remnant of her self-possession.
The girls and boys received her with polite attention or gushing cordiality, and she was beginning to calm into something like sober happiness when Ilga Barron appeared.
Ilga was short and plumpy, with pincushion legs, and feet that were trained to dancing. The skirt of her dress was as brief as compatible with fashion, and she swung it with a superior air which abashed the meeker of her schoolmates. She greeted the new pupil with a nod and a stare.
"What's your father's business?" was her abrupt inquiry.
"I haven't any father," Leonora answered gently.
"Oh! Where do you live?"
"On Edgewood Avenue."
"Up opposite Edgewood Park?"
"I thought that Mrs. Jocelyn hadn't any children," scowled Ilga.
"She has just adopted me," Leonora explained shyly.
That was all, accompanied by a little toss of the head. Then Ilga whirled away, calling on her favorite mate to follow.
Leonora's face grew distressfully red, and her soft eyes suddenly brimmed.
For an instant Polly stood dazed; but quickly she commanded her scattered wits.
"There's Lilith Brooks! I want you to know her, she is so sweet! Come, Leonora!" She threw her arm around her friend, and drew her away from the embarrassed group.
"You mustn't mind Ilga!" she whispered. "Nobody does!"
Yet all that morning the impertinence of Senator Barron's only daughter occupied more of Polly's mind than her lessons, and at recess her indignant thoughts sprang into words. She went straight to where Ilga was entertaining two of her chosen intimates with chocolate creams.
"What did you mean by treating Leonora so rudely?" demanded Polly, threatening sparks in her usually gentle eyes. "She is my friend, and I wish to tell you that you mustn't ever act like that to her again!"
Ilga's box of sweets stopped on its polite way to the new-comer.
"Huh!" sneered the owner of it, "if you think you are going to order me round, you're mistaken! I guess I shan't associate with every tramp that comes along—so there, Polly Dudley!"
"Leonora isn't any more of a tramp than you are!" Polly burst out hotly.
"No, she isn't—'than you are!'" retorted Ilga, with sarcastic emphasis and a disagreeable laugh.
Polly's eye blazed. She clinched her little fists.
"And you are too contemptible to—talk with!" she cried scornfully, and whirled away.
But Ilga's instant rejoinder seemed to retard her feet, for she was conscious of walking slowly, missing none of the words that bit into her sensitive heart.
"Oh! I am, am I? Well, you are a regular nobody! You put on airs just because Dr. Dudley adopted you; but he isn't anybody! He wouldn't stay at the hospital for that little bit of a salary if he was. He can't get a place anywhere else—he's a no—body!"
Ilga knew her victim well enough to realize that any taunt flung at the adored father would rebound upon his daughter with double force, and she winked exultingly to her companions as Polly made no attempt at retort, but went straight to her desk and bent her white, drawn little face over her speller. It would have given her an added delight if she had known that the book was upside down and its print blurred by a mist of tears.
At the close of a session Polly usually waited for David; but this noon she hurried on alone, and he overtook her only after a quick little run.
"This is great, to go off and leave a fellow!" he grumbled pleasantly.
"Oh, excuse me!" she replied. "I forgot."
"Forgot!" he began laughingly, but stopped. Her gravity did not invite humor.
He wondered what had gone wrong, but was wise enough to ask no questions. After an ineffectual attempt at talk, they fell back into silence, separating at the cottage entrance with sober good-byes.
The kitchen door was unlocked, and Polly walked slowly through the house, longing yet dreading to meet her mother. Down the stairway came the sound of voices. She stopped to listen.
"Oh, dear!—Miss Curtis!" she sighed, and turned towards the little library.
Although since the recovery of Elsie's birthday ring the nurse had been unusually kind and friendly, Polly could not help remembering that she had once believed her to be the cause of its mysterious disappearance, and just now it seemed impossible to meet her with composure. So she curled up forlornly in her father's big chair, hastily grabbing a book as an excuse for being there.
The story was one she had never read, and its interest was proved in that time and troubles were soon forgotten. Thus her mother found her, and thanks to the respite from Ilga's haunting words she was able to respond to the visitor's greeting with something of her usual happy humor.
Dr. Dudley had been unexpectedly called out of town, so the three dined together most unconventionally. The ladies talked over old hospital days, and Polly, greatly to her relief, was left much to herself. But although she rarely joined in the converse, her thoughts were not allowed to revert to their unpleasant channel, with the result that when she returned to school things had regained a little of their accustomed brightness, and she was ready to smile a greeting to her friends.
But this happier mood vanished with the opening of the door into the school dressing-hall.
A group of girls were removing their wraps, among which was Ilga Barron. Two of them nodded carelessly to Polly, and then went on talking in low tones, with side glances towards the new-comer. Polly hurried off her coat and hat, but before they were on their hook Ilga broke out in a loud whisper, plainly intended to carry across the hall:—
"Dr. Dudley don't know much anyway! He's got a sister that's an idiot—a real idiot! They have to keep her shut up!"
Even Ilga herself, turning to gloat over the effect of her words, was so startled that she led the way quickly upstairs to the school room, leaving Polly standing there alone, her horrified brown eyes staring out of a colorless face.
"What in the world's the matter?" cried Glen Stewart, appearing in the outer doorway, at the head of a string of girls. "Are you sick?"
"No—yes—oh, I don't know!" she stammered, catching her breath piteously.
They clustered around her, distressed and helpless.
"Are you faint? I'll get you a drink!" And Lilith Brooks ran to fetch a glass.
Polly drank the water, grateful for the kindness, although she was aware of neither faintness nor thirst. Presently she went upstairs with her friends, and the long, dragging afternoon session began.
Several times her recitations were halting, once woefully incorrect. The teacher in charge was about to reprove her for inattention; but the wide, sorrowful eyes made an unconscious appeal, and the blunder was suffered to pass unnoticed.
Polly was glad with a dreary kind of gladness when the hour of dismission came, and she hurried away by herself, intent only on a refuge where she should be alone and could think things out. She found the kitchen door locked and the key in its accustomed hiding-place; so she let herself in, knowing that her mother was not at home. Up in her own room she sat down by the low side window, and looked out on the bare landscape of early December.
Aimlessly she let her eyes wander over the desolate garden of the next house, so recently robbed of all its greenery; then the muslin-draped windows opposite came within her vision. The caroling canary, in his little gilded prison, caught a glance, a frolicking squirrel running an endless race in his make-believe home, a lady stitching on a pink gown, and so towards the street. What she saw there made her start as if with pain.
Up the sidewalk strolled a lad, "Foolish Joe" people called him, and he was, as usual, accompanied by a little band of fun-loving, teasing boys. In a moment they were gone; but the shambling central figure with its vacant face stayed with her to accentuate her distress. She leaned her head upon her arm, but she could not shut out the picture.
Ilga's sneering phrases rang back and forth in her brain, until clear thought was impossible.
"Lucy! Polly! Are you up there?"
She had not heard any one come in, and she started at sound of her father's voice. Instead of answering she shrank back into her chair, involuntarily delaying the moment of meeting.
Dr. Dudley was mounting the stairs, two steps at a time.
"Well!" His tall figure filled the doorway. "Where is your mother?"
"I—don't know," Polly faltered. "She's gone out—the door was locked—maybe with Miss Curtis. Miss Curtis was here to dinner."
"Was she!" And then, "I am going down to Linwood, and I thought you folks would like the ride. We shall have to go alone, shan't we?"
Polly did not look up,—perhaps could not would be nearer the truth; but she rose instantly.
The Doctor took a step forward, and tilted her chin upon his finger.
In spite of her efforts to smile, her lip quivered.
"You and David been having a quarrel?" he asked whimsically.
"Oh, no, we never do!"
"Perhaps you missed a word in spelling?"
She shook her head, with a sober "No."
"Yes, I made a mistake," she admitted.
"I wouldn't worry over that."
"No, oh, no!"
"Then that isn't it? How long are you going to keep me guessing?"
She hid her face against his coat. "Don't ask me, please!" she begged.
"Is it as bad as that?" His tone would usually have sent her off in an amused chuckle; now she was miserably silent, pressing closer into the friendly folds.
"If it is an all-afternoon affair, we may as well sit down," and, wheeling about, he took the chair she had just left, drawing her to his knee.
"Now let's look at this together, Thistledown. Two heads ought to be wiser than one, you know. Just give me a chance to show my skill at helping."
"I—can't! It would make you feel bad—awfully bad!"
"Something you did at school? I promise my forgiveness."
"Oh, no! I haven't done anything—only told Ilga Barron what I thought of her. And I'm glad I did!"
"That the pudgy girl we met the other day?—the one that didn't have cloth enough for a decent dress?"
In spite of herself, Polly let go a giggle with her assent. "Why, father," she remonstrated, "she could have her skirts longer if she wanted to! She's Senator Barron's daughter!"
A quiver of laughter stirred the Doctor's face.
"All right, we'll let the Senator's daughter wear her frocks as short as she pleases. But what else has she been doing?"
"She said," began Polly, "that you—oh, I can't!" She caught her breath in a sob.
"About me, was it? I see! You've been carrying a burden intended for me on your small shoulders, when mine are broad enough to bear a whole pack of abuse! Drop the load at once, Thistledown!"
Despite his tender humor, Polly detected in his voice a note of command, and she strove to obey.
"She said—that you—that you—were a nobody!"
"Is that all?" he laughed. "Well, so I am, measured by her standard, for I am neither a man of wealth nor an influential politician. But, Thistledown, don't you think you are a bit foolish to let that trouble you?"
"There's something else," she replied plaintively.
"I am ready."
"She told some girls—she meant I should hear—that—that your sister is—an idiot!" The sentence ended in a wail.
Dr. Dudley's arms tightened around the slender little figure, and for a moment he did not speak.
When words came they were in a soft, sad voice.
"I have no sister on earth. She went to Heaven two years ago. I will tell you about it. Until Ruth was six years old she was a bright, beautiful little girl, beloved by everybody. She was eight years younger than I, and my especial pet. Then came the terrible fever, and for days we thought she could not live. Finally she rallied, only for us to discover that we had lost her—her brain was a wreck. The semblance of Ruth stayed with us twelve years longer, until she was eighteen years old; then she went Home. That is undoubtedly the foundation for Ilga's malicious little story; but, you see, Thistledown, there is no present cause for sorrow, only thankfulness that Ruth's journey is safely ended. We can remember her now for the dear child she was."
Polly was crying softly on her father's shoulder. Presently she asked:—
"May I tell Ilga?"
"I wouldn't bring up the subject. If it should ever be referred to again, you might let her know the truth, as simply as possible; but sometimes things are better left unexplained."
Polly was silent, and Dr. Dudley went on.
"I think it will be well for you to keep out of the way of Miss Barron as much as you can. Should there be an opportunity for any little kindness, do it unobtrusively and sweetly, as I know you would; otherwise give her a wide berth—she needs it."
"I'll try to," Polly agreed. "But, father, don't you really care 'cause she called you that?"
"A nobody?" he smiled. "I should be one if I allowed it to annoy me. My little girl, I wish I could make you see how trivial, how inconsequent such things are. No human being is a 'nobody' who is faithful to the best that is in him. It doesn't make much real difference what people say of us, as long as we keep an honest heart and serve God and our fellow travelers according to our highest knowledge. Life is too brief to spend much thought on taunts or slander. We have too much else to do. I suppose it is scarcely possible for a person that does anything worth doing to get through life without sometimes being talked about unpleasantly and misrepresented. Do you know what Shakespeare says about that? 'Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.'
"But there comes mother! Run, get your hat and coat, and we'll have our ride."
Contrary to the physicians' fears, Erastus Bean's condition improved day by day. Polly went often to see him, delighting the little man with her small attentions and her ready sympathy. It was on a Monday morning that he found out the letter had been missing from the rosewood box, and he was at once perturbed over the loss.
"Jane must 'a' put it some'er's else, some'er's else," he complained, over and over, although Polly begged him not to worry.
"It doesn't matter so very much if I don't know who those relations are," she assured him, "and anyway we may find the letter sometime."
"Yer don't s'pose the Doctor said anything to Jane about it?" he queried suddenly, his eyes sharp with anxiety.
"Oh, no! I guess not," Polly replied easily.
"Wal, yer won't let him, will yer?" he pleaded. "Cause I'll sure find it soon's I git home, an' Jane, she's kind o' cranky, yer know! But she's got her good streaks, Jane has! She brought me a bowl o' custard th' other day—that was proper nice o' Jane!" His wrinkled face lighted at remembrance of the unexpected kindness.
Polly smiled in response, while she wondered vaguely if Aunt Jane really loved the little man whom she ordered about with the authority of a mother.
"It's too bad 'bout that letter," Mr. Bean rambled on. "Yer'd ought to find out who them relations be—an' 'fore they have time to die. Folks go off so quick now'days, an' mebbe, if they only knew yer, they'd leave you some o' their prope'ty so's you could live like a queen—ther' ain't no tellin'."
"I don't b'lieve I'd like to live like a queen," laughed Polly. "But," she admitted, "I should love some own cousins. I wouldn't wonder if you'd find the letter when you go home. I feel just as if you would, and—oh, my! I didn't know it was so near nine o'clock!" as a distant cling-clang made itself noticed. "That's the last bell! Good-bye!" And Polly whirled off, Mr. Bean gazing the way she went long after her blue plaid had vanished from his sight.
Up the street she ran, fearful of being tardy, and slacking to a walk only when a view of the downtown clock told her that she still had time to spare.
Turning in at the side gate of the house where the school was kept, she saw a lady on the front porch. In the doorway beyond stood Miss Greenleaf, the head teacher, with a girl—a very pretty girl of about her own age. This was all she had time to observe before passing out of sight, on her way to the children's entrance. But a few words, caught just as she slipped by the house corner, stayed with her.
"I am glad, Mrs. Illingworth, that you think—"
"Illingworth!" Polly repeated softly. "I never knew there were any Illingworths in town. Mamma used to say there weren't. I wonder if she could be related—oh, I wonder!"
Having reached her seat, she began to watch the door for the new scholar. She tried to attend to the opening exercises, but found her eyes constantly reverting to the spot of fascination, until she grew strangely excited. She really had not long to wait. Soon the girl was ushered quietly in and given a seat five desks away. Polly wished it had been nearer. Then she might have been asked to show the new pupil about some lesson, or to lend her a book. But she was at a convenient point for being observed, and that was a distinct advantage.
The girl was a slight little thing, who carried herself gracefully, without bashfulness. Her soft brown hair, brushed smoothly back from the tanned oval face, fell in long, thick braids over the slim shoulders, and disappeared in crisp ribbon bows of the same color. The dress was a simple affair of light blue wool, which fitted the wearer perfectly and gave her the air of being more richly clad than some of the girls whose frocks were of costlier material.
Polly came near giving too much attention to these interesting details, but finally settled down to study in the contented belief that she was "going to like" the girl with the familiar name. At recess she would speak to her, and "get acquainted." For two hours this was her fixed hope. Then, when the rest time came, before she could make good her desire, she had the dissatisfaction of seeing the new scholar walk away arm in arm with Ilga Barron, and she turned back to her desk with sober eyes and regret in her heart.
"Isn't Patricia Illingworth lovely?" whispered a voice.
Polly looked up, to see Betty Thurston.
"Do you know her?" she questioned in surprise.
"Of course not," smiled Betty. "But I'm going to—if that hateful Ilga Barron doesn't monopolize her all the tune."
"But how did you know what her name is?" persisted Polly.
"Oh!" explained Betty, "I was up at Gladys Osborne's Saturday, spending the day, and Gladys's Aunt Julia was there there—she boards at The Trowbridge, you know, and she told us all about the Illingworths. They board there, too, Patricia and her mother. They aren't stuck up a bit, though I guess they're awfully rich. They came from 'way out West—I forget the name of the place. It's where Patricia's father's got a mine. And she hasn't ever been to school much, only studied with her mother, and rode horseback, and all that. Aunt Julia said she was coming to our school, and I think she's lovely; don't you?"
"Sweet as she can be!" agreed Polly.
"I know why Ilga pounced on her so quick," confided Betty. "I'll bet she heard me telling Lilith and some of the other girls that she was rich, and that's just why. We were down in the dressing-room before school. If it hadn't been for her we could have got acquainted this morning."
"Well, there are more days coming," laughed Polly philosophically. "That's what mother always tells me, when I want to do a thing right then, and can't."
The talk passed to other matters, yet the eyes of both girls followed the new pupil as she and her companion strolled from room to room of the little suite. Here and there they would pause for a few words with some of Ilga's friends, or to look from a window, and then move on again. The Senator's daughter was assuredly doing the honors for the entire school.
Polly and Betty laid plans for "the next time," but Polly kept her secret hope close hidden in her heart, not disclosing it even to David on the way home.
Neither did she let it be known to father or mother.
"Prob'ly Patricia isn't related to me at all," she argued to herself. "It is silly to think anything about it."
Yet the subject was still present in her thoughts at the beginning of the afternoon session, and she wondered when the opportunity that she longed for would appear. It came soon, and not at all according to her conjectures.
School was dismissed in order of deportment marks, those who stood highest for the day passing out ahead. Among this small number was Polly. When she reached the street door she was dismayed to see that it was raining, and she stood hesitant on the sill, having neither raincoat, overshoes, nor umbrella. Indifferently she noticed a limousine waiting at the curb, and wondered for whom it had been sent.
"I think you go my way," spoke a clear voice behind her. "May I take you home?"
Polly turned quickly, to look into the gray eyes of Patricia Illingworth.
"Oh, thank you!" was the smiling response. "I didn't know it was raining until just this minute."
Before she had time for more, the other had caught her arm, and she was being escorted to the street under Mrs. Illingworth's green silk umbrella. Then she was seated beside Patricia, and they were gliding along the road. Even in her delighted surprise the thought that all day had been uppermost pushed itself to her lips. But it was Patricia that spoke first.
"I have been wanting to know you ever since I first spied you this morning," she beamed. "I was in the front door when you were going in at the side. I knew we'd be friends right away."
Polly looked her pleasure.
"And I've been longing to get acquainted with you," she confessed. "It was partly on account of your name. That was mamma's name too,—she was Phebe Illingworth."
"Why, isn't that fine!" exclaimed Patricia. "I'm going straight to look in papa's Genealogy, just as soon as I get home, and see if we're related! Wouldn't it be grand if we are?"
She squeezed Polly rapturously.
Then the car stopped at Dr. Dudley's door.
"My grandfather's name was Rufus Illingworth," added Polly to her thanks. "Oh, I do hope we are cousins!" she smiled. "I've been wishing and wishing for ever so long that I had a cousin, and it will be lovelicious if you should turn out to be one."
With earnest good-byes the new friends separated, and from the shelter of the piazza Polly answered the salute of the little hand at the limousine window as long as she could see it.
There was no holding back this time. The story of the day, or the portion of it occupied by Patricia Illingworth, was related in detail, both in Mrs. Dudley's room before tea and at the table afterwards, as the Doctor was kept busy at the hospital until six o'clock.
They were through with the meal, and Polly was helping her mother carry the dishes into the kitchen, when the telephone called the physician from the room. In a moment he was back.
"Your new friend is holding the wire for you," he told Polly. And she ran, her heart happy and fearful all at once.
"That you, Polly? Oh, say, we are cousins—third cousins! Isn't that great?"
"Beautiful!" responded Polly.
"We had the longest time finding the book! I was afraid we'd left it in Nevada, and mamma was too; but it was 'way down in the bottom of a trunk. Do say you're glad, and say it good and strong, so I'll know you mean it! I couldn't wait till to-morrow! I hope I haven't bothered your father."
Polly's reply seemed fully to satisfy the other end of the line, and, with a good-night and a promise to be early at school the next morning, she hung up the receiver.
A MONOPOLIST AND A FANFARON
On their way to school Polly and David were joined by Patricia; but soon afterwards the lad courteously excused himself, to run across the street to see an acquaintance.
"Nice boy, isn't he?" observed Patricia.
"He's lovely," praised Polly, but she scowled a little, her eyes following David. "I wish he hadn't gone off so quick," she added regretfully; "I wanted you to know each other."
"I like him," admired Patricia, "and I like my new cousin," she giggled, squeezing Polly's arm, "I just love her!"
So for the moment David was forgotten, and the boy, viewing them from a little distance behind, saw them enter the school yard in high glee. Laughter was far from his face as he followed. He wished that Patricia Illingworth had stayed in Nevada.
At the foot of the staircase the two girls met Ilga Barron. The Senator's daughter instantly seized upon Patricia with a playful reprimand.
"You ran away from me last night!"
"Yes, I went to carry my cousin home," retorted Patricia roguishly.
"Who, I'd like to know? Nobody in this school!"
"Yes, she's right here!" laughed the other, enjoying Ilga's puzzled stare. "Allow me to present my cousin, Polly Dudley!" She drew Polly forward.
"Huh, not much! You can't make me swallow that!"
"It's true! Isn't it, Polly? We're third cousins! I found it in the Genealogy last night! Her mother was an Illingworth!"
Ilga's face lighted.
"Oh, you're 'way off!" she broke out. "She isn't related to her mother at all. She's only an adopted child."
"But I mean her real mother!" returned Patricia indignantly. "Her own mother was Phebe Illingworth, and was second cousin to my father—as if I didn't know!"
"I don't care!" Ilga retorted. And she ran up the stairs.
Some of the girls, standing by, snickered; but Polly and Patricia gazed soberly at each other. Then they walked over to the rows of hooks, unbuttoning their coats as they went.
"I think Ilga Barron's just horrid!" whispered Patricia. "I didn't like her yesterday, and to-day I hate her!"
"Oh, you mustn't!" objected Polly.
"Because we ought to love everybody, I s'pose," Polly answered slowly.
"Do you love her?" demanded Patricia. "Do you, honest?"
Polly shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't now," she admitted; "but maybe I can some time."
Patricia laughed. "I don't b'lieve I shall—ever," she declared; "you can love her enough for us both."
A flock of girls came in from outside, and confidences were hushed, the two presently going upstairs arm in arm.
"Don't forget that you are to go home with me right after school to-night!" whispered Patricia, just before they reached the upper door.
"I couldn't," was the smiling answer. And Polly went to her seat, still thinking of the pleasure ahead.
At noon David lingered behind until the girls were gone, and hurried off in advance of them on the way back, trying to satisfy his conscience with the argument that they wouldn't want him "tagging on anyway." So the new friends were left for the greater share of the walk quite to themselves, Polly, when not too much interested in tales of the pet broncho back in Silverton, keeping a lookout for David, and wondering where he could possibly be. She even went so far as to wish, away down in her secret heart, that David were going with her on the first visit to her new cousin.
Opening from the principal schoolroom was a deep, narrow closet where the working supplies were kept. To reach the shelves at the back one must pass through the pinched little door, an easy matter for a sprite like Polly, who flitted in and out at any angle; but an occasional plump pupil was obliged to slip in sideways or be unpleasantly squeezed.
The afternoon was half through when extra paper was needed, and Miss Carpenter, an assistant teacher, asked Ilga Barron to fetch some.
"One of those large packages on the third shelf," she explained, as the girl started.
Strangely enough, Ilga had never been to the closet, and was unprepared for its cramped dimensions. A bit elated with the importance of her errand, she went heedlessly forward, bumping against the mouldings as she entered, and flushing with vexation on hearing a giggle from one of the boys. In her confusion she grabbed two packages instead of one, and attempted to make her exit; but to her dismay she found that with the bulky parcels in her arms the return passage was to be difficult if not impossible. Scarlet with mortification, yet holding blindly to her bundles, she twisted this way and that, while the children, bubbling with suppressed mirth, watched her breathlessly. To add to her discomfiture, several distinguished-looking visitors were approaching from the next room, whither the teacher had gone to meet them, and Polly, throbbing with sympathy, saw that she was on the verge of tears.
Suddenly, with no thought save of Ilga herself, Polly sprang to her feet, and running lightly over to the prisoner put out her hands for the parcels. But Ilga, misinterpreting the motive, drew back in anger, muttering something about wishing "folks would mind their own business." Polly, however, loyal to her aim, followed into the closet, and in an earnest whisper urged the other to give up the paper, that she might pass out in freedom. Finally, just as Miss Carpenter appeared, to learn the cause of the commotion, Ilga emerged, red-faced and sullen.
"What is all this fuss about? Polly, how came you here without permission?"
"To help Ilga," she faltered.
"I have never known a girl to need assistance in getting a ream of paper," the teacher replied severely, "especially so big a girl as Ilga."
A titter ran through the room, and an uncontrollable smile flickered on Polly's lips.
Nettled by this show of levity, for which she discerned no cause, Miss Carpenter's sentence upon the supposed culprit was instant and merciless.
"Go to your seat, and stay there until six o'clock!"
Hands waved frantically, David's and Patricia's wildly beat the air; but the young teacher either was too much occupied with her visitors or did not choose to notice, and the would-be defenders were soon called to recitation.
Polly sat still in her chair, dazed by the suddenness and injustice of it. She had meant only to spare Ilga further mortification—and had lost her expected treat. She took up her history with a long sigh.
It was a weary afternoon, and not alone to Polly. The children were distraught and restless, and things went wrong. The bell for dismissal struck a note of relief.
Polly had a faint, a very faint hope that Ilga would explain the matter, and she watched her furtively as she passed out; but the Senator's daughter walked straight by the teacher's desk without turning her head, and as Polly saw her plump figure disappear in the stairway she went back to her examples, philosophically thinking that, at any rate, she could get her lessons for the next day, and so have the evening free to enjoy with mother. If there were a best to any situation, Polly was sure to find it.
But to-night clouds gathered early about the sun, and presently the schoolroom grew dusky. Soon it was too dark to read, and with regret Polly shut her book. She looked at her little watch which she usually wore, the "wedding" gift of Colonel Gresham, and was surprised to find it to be after five. She did not put it directly back in its pocket, but held it in her hand, fingering it lovingly, thinking of David's uncle, and then of the "stormy midnight" and the "sunshiny morning" which the little timepiece commemorated.
So absorbed was she that the opening of the door caused her to start; but she smiled when she recognized through the dimness Miss Cordelia, the younger of the two Townsend sisters who kept the school.
"My dear," exclaimed Miss Cordelia's soft voice, "I am so sorry this has happened. David Collins has been telling me how it was."
"David?" repeated Polly in a glad tone. "But, Miss Cordelia, I went without permission."
"Yes, dear; but a kind action is its own excuse. You were doubtless thinking only of Ilga."
"That's every single thing I thought of," Polly assured her. "It seemed funny she didn't put the paper out first and then come herself; but I s'pose she was flustered and didn't think. I felt so sorry for her, and the next thing I knew I was racing over there. I didn't mean to break the rule, truly I didn't, Miss Cordelia!"
"I can easily believe you, dear, and I am sure Miss Carpenter was not intentionally unjust. She could not have understood. Somebody said she was not feeling well, and that she went home directly after school. She must have forgotten what she told you; her memory is treacherous at times. Please say to your father and mother, dear, that my sister and I are very much grieved over the occurrence, and that we shall endeavor to let nothing of the kind ever happen again. We will have that closet door widened; it has made too much trouble already. Run down to David now; he is waiting for you." And with a kiss from the stately little lady Polly was dismissed.
David was found on the walk leading from the pupils' entrance executing a double shuffle, to keep his feet warm, for the air was growing keen.
"Well! you've got here at last!" he cried.
"It's awfully good of you to wait for me," she crooned, skipping into step.
"Pretty queer if I hadn't waited! I'd have got you off sooner, only the maid said they had company, and I didn't want to butt in. So I just ran home and to your house, to tell them how it was—while I was waiting for those folks to go. I guess that maid thought I was in a mighty hurry to see Miss Townsend, for I kept running round to the kitchen to know if the coast was clear."
"What a lot of trouble I've made you!" Polly lamented.
"Trouble nothing!" he scouted. "But whatever did you do it for? That girl!—with all the mean things she's said! And away she stalked after school, as disdainful as ever!"
"I know," Polly admitted mournfully. "But I was so sorry for her—it must have been dreadful!"
"Sorry!" David chuckled. "It was too funny!"
Polly laughed, too, reminded of the ridiculous sight. Then she sighed. "I was awfully disappointed," she went on. "For a minute, when Miss Carpenter told me to stay, I thought I just couldn't stand it. I didn't dare look at Patricia, for fear I'd cry."
"Don't see what she had to do with it!" growled David.
"Why, I was going home with Patricia right after school. Mrs. Illingworth had invited me to tea."
"M-m!" responded David
"I want you to know Patricia," Polly continued; "she's such a dear girl."
"Must be!" he retorted sarcastically. "So kind to go off and leave invited company as she did! She never waited a minute!"
"Well, but, David, what good would it have done? They board, you know, and couldn't wait tea for me."
"M-m," remarked David.
"I don't see why you feel so about Patricia," Polly began.
"I haven't any use for a girl broncho-buster!" he broke out.
"Well," he replied, in a half-ashamed tone, "she rides bronchos, doesn't she? I heard her telling you about being on a broncho that stood right up on his hind feet, and cut up like sixty!"
"Oh, yes, that was a horse she didn't know about till she got on him! But he couldn't throw her! She kept her seat! Wasn't that splendid!"
"Splendid!" he scorned. "It's just as I said—she's a—"
"She is not!" Polly burst out indignantly. "It just happened that once. She's got a lovely little horse that she rides, and he's as gentle as can be. She isn't—that! I shouldn't think you'd say such things about my cousin." Polly's voice was tearful.
"I d'n' know's cousins are any better 'n other folks," he growled.
"Oh, David!" she protested. Then her face suddenly lighted. "You're not afraid I'll think more of her than I do of you, are you? David, is that it?" as he did not answer. "Why, David Collins," she went on, the words tumbling out tempestuously, "how foolish you are! I couldn't! You ought to know! There we were at the hospital together for so long, till it seemed just like one family, and Colonel Gresham your uncle, and all! Why, David, I don't see what makes you feel so! You never did about Leonora."
"That's different," he mumbled. "You didn't run off with her, and leave me to tag!"
"Why, I don't! I want you to come, too! Patricia thinks you're so nice—she said so."
"She doesn't know me."
"Enough to like you. I thought we could be friends all together." The tone was plaintive.
"Well," he conceded.
"You know I like you, David, and always shall, no matter how many other friends I have. It was lovely of you to wait for me to-night and to go and tell Miss Cordelia about it—I never shall forget that!"
They had reached the home cottage, and were passing up the walk.
"I guess I wanted to be a monopolist," confessed David.
"A what?" cried Polly. David's long words often puzzled her.
He laughed. "Oh, I wanted you all to myself!" he explained. "I'm a pig anyway!"
"No, you're not!" declared Polly.
He turned quickly. "Good-night! I'll be on hand to-morrow morning."
And Polly knew that David had been won over.
True to his promise, he called early for his old chum, and accompanied her and Patricia to school, showing only the merry, winsome side of his nature, and making Polly proud to own him for a friend.
In the hallway the boys laid hold of him, and carried him off upstairs, where a group of lads, with heads together, whispering and snickering, surrounded one of the desks.
"What are they up to?" queried Patricia, watching them furtively. "Vance Alden is reading something from a piece of paper—hear them laugh!"
"Poetry, probably," guessed Polly. "He's the greatest boy for writing poetry. He wrote his composition, one week, all in rhyme."
At recess the secret was soon made known. A long row of boys, arm in arm, marched across the recitation room, singing this bit of doggerel:—
"Ilga Barron, The great fanfaron, Went into the closet one day; But she was so stout She couldn't get out, And there she had to sta-ay! And there she had to stay!"
Ilga and several other girls, who were drawing on the blackboard, had stopped when the boys formed in line, to see what they were going to do, and as the singing went on they stood as if dazed; but at the last, fairly realizing the indignity, Ilga sprang forward, crimson with anger.
"I didn't! I didn't!" she cried. "You mean, mean things!"
Instantly the line rounded into a circle, with the girl inside, and the boys, bowing low, began:—
"Behold your escort home this noon! And on the way we'll sing this tune,—
Ilga Barron, The great fanfaron,—"
They got no further, for the prisoner, with a dash and a scream, burst her bars, and fled to the next room, followed by a laughing chorus from her tormentors.
Polly was distressed.
"I should think you'd be ashamed," she declared, "to treat a girl in that way!"
The boys grinned.
"She deserves it!" spoke up Floyd Bascom.
"Yes, look at her last night!" cried Prescott Saunders. "Never said a word, and let you bear all the blame!"
"An' see the way she's been actin' to you all along!" put in Peter Anderson.
"I know," returned Polly sadly; "but it isn't fair to sing that to her."
"Why not? Why do you care?" It was Vance Alden that questioned. The rest were still, awaiting Polly's answer.
"I'm sorry for her. I know how things hurt."
But the boys only laughed, and began again the taunting song. They were resolved to have their fun.
"It is kind of mean, isn't it?" commented Patricia, as she and Polly and Leonora walked back into the schoolroom.
"I wish they wouldn't," scowled Polly, glancing across to Ilga's desk, where she was in excited conversation with three or four girls.
"What does fanfaron mean?" questioned Leonora.
"I don't know," answered Polly. "Let's find out!"
Patricia was first at the dictionary, and turned quickly to the word.
"It means, 'A bully; a hector; a swaggerer; an empty boaster,'" reading from the page.
Polly looked over.
"Fan"—she began, "why, they haven't got it right! It isn't fanfaron at all, the accent is right on the first syllable, and fanfaron doesn't rhyme a bit! Oh, just you wait!" and she walked quietly away.
Patricia and Leonora followed at a little distance.
Polly went straight to the author of the ditty. There was no distress in her face now. Her eyes were twinkling.
"If I could write as good poetry as you do," she dimpled, "and I wanted to use uncommon words, I think I'd make sure that the accent was right, and that they rhymed."
"Wha' do you mean?" he frowned.
Polly laughed, and ran away.
"There's only one uncommon word in it," mused Vance. "I supposed that was—"
"Those girls have been looking in the dictionary," suggested Amos Rand. "I saw them there a minute ago."
"I'll find out!" cried Vance.
Two or three sprang to accompany him.
"You stay here!" he commanded, waving them back.
He returned talking with Polly.
"Have you told Ilga?" he asked.
"Of course not," she answered.
"Will you promise not to?" he entreated.
She smiled into his anxious face.
"I'll never hear the last of that blunder if she gets hold of it," he fretted. "Say, Polly, don't tell—her or anybody!"
Polly was still silent.
"I thought you didn't b'lieve in hurting folks," he pouted.
"I don't," she replied. "But you only laughed when I begged you not to sing that any more."
"And you're going to pay me off," he responded gloomily.
"Yes," Polly smiled, "that's just exactly what I'm going to do!"
The lad's face darkened.
"I shall pay you off," she went on slowly, "by not telling a single person, and I'll get Patricia and Leonora not to tell either."
"Polly Dudley, you're a dandy girl!" His eyes sparkled.
Polly ran off laughing.
"It's all right!" she reported gleefully to Leonora and Patricia. "Nobody'll ever hear that song again! I was sure of it when I saw the word in the dictionary, for Vance Alden is so sensitive about a mistake. It is funny! Ilga—why, she'd never know whether it was good rhyme or metre or anything! But Vance didn't think of that. Now promise, both of you, that you won't ever tell!"
"NOT FOR SALE"
"Will your father be at home this evening?" Patricia inquired of Polly, as they left school together. The tone was eager.
"Not all the time. He is due at the hospital at seven o'clock, and we never know when he'll be back. Why?"
Patricia wagged her head mysteriously. "Mamma and I were coming over. Mamma wants to see him."
"Oh! is she sick?"
"Not a bit!" laughed Patricia. "She isn't coming for that."
"Well, sometimes he gets back by eight, if there are no new cases; if there are, he has to stay. But you can come and see mother and me, can't you? We'd love to have you!"
"I don't know. Perhaps. Only mamma wants to see your father on some very special business." Patricia giggled.
"You act as if it were funny," observed Polly.
"It will be if it comes to pass—lovely, too! Oh, don't I wish it would!"
"Is it a secret?" asked Polly, her curiosity aroused.
"Yes, a great secret! I promised mamma, fair and square, that I wouldn't tell you; but I want to awfully!"
"I guess we'd better not talk about it, then, because you might let it out."
"Oh, you darling!" cried Patricia, squeezing Polly's arm. "I do wish I could tell you right now! Aren't you aching to know?"
"Why, you make me want to," laughed Polly; "but if it is your mother's private business, of course—"
"It isn't!" broke in Patricia, a-giggle. "It's about you—oh, I mustn't!" She clapped her hand over her mouth.
"Me?" Polly's eyes grew round with wonder. "But, oh, do stop talking about it! I'm afraid you'll tell more than your mother will like. Let's think of something else—repeat the multiplication table, or—anything!"
Patricia laughed. "I guess you wouldn't care much about the multiplication table, if you knew!"
"Don't!" begged Polly, and stopped her ears, beginning to tell of a happening in the Latin class. By the time the little cottage was reached they were chatting gayly about school matters.
Mrs. Illingworth and Patricia spent the hour from eight to nine with Polly and her mother; but Dr. Dudley did not return from the hospital, and the mysterious "business" was not mentioned. Polly went to sleep that night wondering what it could be.
The next afternoon when she came from school she found her father and mother in the living-room. There was a note of tenseness in the atmosphere. Polly felt it vaguely as she threw off hat and coat. She went over to her mother with a caress, and Mrs. Dudley drew her down into her lap.
"I had a call from Mrs. Illingworth this afternoon," began the Doctor.
Polly was instantly eager.
"About the business?" she asked.
She gazed at him wistfully, her heart in her eyes.
"Your mother will tell you about it," he said, rising from his chair.
"No, no, Robert!" protested his wife. "Stay and tell her yourself!"
Polly looked from one to the other. Was it something dreadful, this mysterious "business"? They smiled, to be sure, but not at all as if they felt merry.
Dr. Dudley sat down again, and leaned forward, his arms upon his knees.
"Patricia wants you for her sister," he announced.
"That's queer!" Polly puckered her forehead. "I don't see why it isn't enough for me to be a cousin."
"But they would like you to come and live with them, and—"
"Well, I shan't!" she burst out. "The idea! They might know I wouldn't. Did you s'pose I'd want to?" she queried. "Did you, mother?"
Mrs. Dudley shook her head.
"Let me tell you what Mrs. Illingworth says," the Doctor went on. "She thinks she can give you greater advantages than I can—of education, society, and travel."
"Travel!" Polly cried scornfully; "I don't want to travel anywhere! Why isn't Miss Townsend's school as good for me as it is for Patricia and David? And I guess society at The Trowbridge isn't any better than it is here!"
The Doctor and his wife laughed. Mrs. Dudley's arms tightened their clasp.
"You haven't heard all," the Doctor resumed. "Mrs. Illingworth offers you a thousand dollars, to use exactly as you choose, if you will come."
The indignant blood rushed to Polly's fair face.
"Do I look as if I were for sale?" she demanded. "Do I?"
Mrs. Dudley drew her down for a kiss and a "Polly, darling!"
"I haven't noticed any price tag," her father responded, twinkling.
"Well," between a sob and a chuckle, "I think I'll tie a card round my neck, and print on it, 'Not for sale.' As if money'd make up for you and mother!" She hid her face on the snug shoulder. Then she popped up.
"How would the minister like it, if you should go to him and say, 'Here, I want your wife' (I heard you tell mother, the other day, that you thought she was beautiful), 'and I'll give you a thousand dollars if you'll let me have her!' How do you think he'd like that?"
"Not a bit!" laughed the Doctor. "He might knock me down."
"He ought to!" asserted Polly. "And I don't like it any better than he would. Mrs. Jocelyn didn't offer me money, but 'twas just the same. I don't want to be bought!" She turned suddenly. "You don't think I ought to go, do you, mother?"
"No, indeed!" The tone was emphatic enough to satisfy Polly. "If you went I think I should have to go, too!"
"When I go, we'll all go!" declared Polly, "and you can tell Mrs. Illingworth that." Which sent the Doctor off smiling.
Polly cuddled down contentedly in her mother's arms.
"I'm sorry for Patricia," she sighed.
Mrs. Dudley knew Polly, and waited.
"I suppose Mrs. Illingworth is very nice," she went on, a moment after; "but she isn't cuddly, like you. I asked Patricia once if she didn't sit in her mother's lap, and she said no, she was too big a girl. She is hardly any taller than I am. She didn't say it a bit as if she thought so herself. I guess her mother doesn't want her beautiful dresses mussed up—that's it! I love Patricia, but, oh, I'm glad I am not going to live with them!"
Mrs. Dudley bent her head, and whispered soft words of caress, grateful that to Polly it was given to weigh the things of life in a true balance.
Patricia mourned with many words over Dr. Dudley's refusal of her mother's offer; but the friendship of the new cousins was not lessened, and they were often at each other's homes.
On a gray morning in early February Dr. Dudley started for New York.
"I shall probably be back on the nine o'clock train," he told his wife; "but the paper says there is a big snowstorm on the way, and for fear I may be delayed I have left word for Joe to come and fill up the heater." Joe was a boy that did odd jobs about the house, and was familiar with the heater. "He will probably be here early in the evening," the Doctor went on; "but I can see to it again when I get home."
Polly went to school with the snowflakes flying around her. Patricia overtook her on the way.
"Where's David?" she asked.
"He has a cold, and isn't coming," Polly replied. "He telephoned over just now."
"Oh, that's too bad!" lamented Patricia. "I had set my heart on having you and him this afternoon. Cousin Lester and Aunt Florence are coming from Nevada. Mamma heard last night. He is your cousin, too, same as I am. You'll like him; Lester's all right! He is just David's age—it is a shame David can't come! Won't your mother let you stay home from school? I'm going to."
"I don't know," said Polly. "Wouldn't after do?"
"Not enough time," Patricia declared. "I want you and Lester to get well acquainted; he is the nicest boy you ever saw!"
Patricia laughed. "I guess you won't except anybody when you've seen Lester. Well, make your mother let school go for once!"
"I'll ask her," Polly promised.
"Tease!" urged Patricia. "Tease like everything!"
Polly said nothing; but there were twinkles in her brown eyes.
When school was dismissed, the storm was increasing, and Polly rode home beside her cousin in the limousine.
She found the back door unlocked, but the kitchen was empty, and there were seemingly no preparations for dinner. She hastened from room to room, and finally went upstairs.
"What is the matter?" she asked in dismayed tone, for her mother was lying on her bed, white with suffering.
"It came on suddenly—this pain." She put her hand to her forehead, moaning.
Polly stood quite still, distress in her face. She waited until the spasm had passed, and then said gently, "Can't I get you something?"
"No. It is that neuralgia over my eye. I have had it before, but never like this. The medicine doesn't seem to take hold. If it isn't better soon, I'll have to try something else."
"I wish father were home. Shan't I call Dr. Rodman?"
"Oh, no! It is growing easier. Run down and eat your dinner; I left it in the oven."
"Have you had yours?"
"All I want."
Polly lingered, irresolute, her anxious eyes on her mother's face.
Mrs. Dudley smiled faintly. "Go, dear. There is nothing you can do for me."
Polly ate a scant meal, and washed the few dishes. Then she thought of Patricia. Softly shutting the door of the living-room, she went to the telephone.
Patricia herself answered.
"I'm awfully sorry," Polly told her, "but I can't come."
"Oh, Polly Dudley!" Patricia broke in, "you said you would!"
"Mother is sick," Polly explained, "and I mustn't leave her."
"Can't she stay alone? I shouldn't think she'd mind. You ask her. Oh, you must come! Mamma'll send for you, and you can stay all night. Your father'll be home then. Say, run and see if your mother won't let you come! I'll hold the wire."
"I can't, Patricia. You don't know how sick mother is. I wouldn't leave her for anything."
"Oh, botheree! You've just gone and spoiled all my good time!"
Polly heard the receiver slammed on its hook. She sat for a minute wondering if she could say anything to amend matters, but finally turned away. Patricia's vexation was never lasting.
She listened at the foot of the stairs, and then tiptoed up. Her mother lay as if asleep, and she crept noiselessly into her own room.
Outside the prospect was cheerless. Few people and fewer teams were abroad. Wind and snow were in command, beating the window panes, thrashing the bare trees, whirling round house corners with a shriek and a roar. Polly turned from the cold tumult feeling strangely desolate. She read and wandered about by turns, wondering if ever there were any other afternoon so long. At last a sound from her mother's room sent her thither. Mrs. Dudley was sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Is it worse?" Polly faltered.
A murmured affirmative was the only answer.
"I wish you would go to the medicine closet," her mother said feebly, when the pain had lessened, "and get a little round bottle at the right-hand end of the second shelf."
Polly was off like a sprite, barely waiting for directions.
"Yes, this is the one." Mrs. Dudley drew the cork hesitatingly.
"I thought I could do without it," she sighed, "but the pain is growing worse—I must have something."
She bade Polly crush one of the tablets, and two small pills from another bottle, making a powder of the three.
"Your father would have given me this before now if he had been here," she smiled.
"Why don't you want to take it?" queried Polly.
"I always put off anodynes as long as possible. But I will not take a large dose."
"Will it hurt you?" Polly's face was anxious.
"Oh, no! it will stop the pain. But how is it that you are home from school so early? It is not three o'clock, is it?"
"It is after four. But I didn't go this afternoon. I wouldn't leave you all alone; besides, it is snowing hard."
"Oh, is it snowing! Well, I'm glad you stayed at home. Poor little girl! you are having a dreary time." She clasped Polly's hand with gentle pressure.
"I don't mind, if you could only be well." Polly's voice almost broke.
"Don't worry! I'm easier now. Perhaps I can go to sleep."
Cautiously she laid her head on the pillow that Polly had made plump and smooth, and was soon so quiet that the small nurse could not be sure whether she were sleeping or not. The rooms were fast growing shadowy, and Polly felt that the lights would be company, so she lit the gas upstairs and down, turning it low in her mother's room. Then fetching her doll, she took a low rocker, and blue-eyed Phebe and brown-eyed Polly sat down to watch.
There was a stir on the bed. Phebe's eyes were wide open, but she made no sign when the sick woman rose totteringly to her feet. Polly's eyes were shut tight, and her breathing soft and slow. She was dreaming of Colonel Gresham and his beautiful Lone Star, when she awoke with a start to find the bed empty and uncertain footsteps in the hall. Leaping to her feet, and dropping Phebe with no ceremony, she bounded to the head of the stairs, where her mother wavered on the top step. Catching her gently, in a voice not quite steady, she asked:—
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, I thought I'd go down—and help you wash the dishes!" Mrs. Dudley replied. "Poor child! you've had all the work to do."
"The dishes are all washed," Polly assured her, "and I am not tired. Hadn't you better lie down again before the pain comes on?"
The sick woman suffered herself to be led back to the bed, where she sat for a moment in silence.
"I'll wipe the dishes for you," she murmured, and began fumbling in her lap. "Where are they?" she asked bewilderedly. "They are not here."
"I put them up in the china closet," Polly answered. "Please lie down! I will call you if I need your help."
At last she was on her pillow, and for a time lay quiet.
Polly lingered near, affright in her heart, Oh, if her father were only there! For a long time she dared not move, but stood and watched the quiet face. Then, suddenly, the lips began to mutter unintelligible things, and Polly's eyes dilated in terror. That September night, when Colonel Gresham was so near to death, came vividly back to her.
"I'm afraid"—she whispered, but did not go on. With one, long, anxious look she stole softly away and downstairs to the telephone. She wished she had called Dr. Rodman sooner.
Her heart was beating painfully as she took the receiver in her hand. No word came to her ear, nothing save a low sputtering of the wire. She waited, and then gently pressed the hook. Still no answer. Again and again, she made the attempt, until, at last, she realized the truth—the wires were useless.
She sat for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Finally with determination on her face she ran over to the stairs, and listened. There was no sound. Still not quite satisfied, she crept up to her mother's room. She found little change, except that the mutterings were fainter, and at times the lips were at rest.
"I must go! I must!" Polly whispered to herself. "She acts just as Colonel Gresham did—oh, dear!"
She dreaded to leave the house, fearing that her mother might rouse—and who knew what she would do! Yet at the hospital was Dr. Rodman and help. It would take but a few minutes to go. Thus reassuring herself, she made ready to battle with the storm. It was not long before she opened the front door, but, unprepared for the fury of the wind, she gave a cry as the knob was swept from her grasp. Still she had no thought of turning back, and snapping the night lock, so that she could return without a key, she succeeded in shutting the door behind her.
Outside was tumult. A procession of blasts came roaring down the street. It was biting cold. The snow stung. The muffled lights shone wanly through the night, and laid bare the desolate scene. Polly breathed hard as she staggered across the piazza. The steps were a drifty slope of white, making descent dangerous; but she plunged on, gained a scant foothold, missed the next, clutched at nothing, and went down, a helpless little heap in the whirling snow.
Starting to scramble up, she dropped back with a cry. Pluckily she tried it again, this time coming to a sitting posture with a gasp of pain. Her ankle had twisted when she fell, and was now throbbing distressfully.
"Oh, I can't go!" she half sobbed. "Dear, dear mother!"
She looked up and down the street, in hope of help; but none was there. The pain in her foot increased, and she realized that she must act quickly. With a prayer in her heart, she crawled back, little by little, up the steps and over to the door, finally, after much effort, reaching the knob and letting herself in. Once assured that the door was fast, she sank into the hall corner, spent with her struggle.
After what seemed a long while Polly crept upstairs. Her mother was still quiet, as if asleep. There were now no mutterings. Polly shivered in her damp clothing and went over to the radiator. The warmth was grateful, and she dropped to the floor, cuddling beside her iron friend. Soon there were two sleepers in the lonely room.
When she awoke Polly found herself hugging a cold pillow, and she suddenly remembered that Joe was to have come to fill up the heater. Could the fire have gone out? The question brought dismay. If she could only get down cellar!
Her foot and ankle ached unbearably, and she tried to take off her shoe; but it held fast. She pulled and pushed and twisted, gasping with pain; the boot would not stir.
"Colonel Gresham would let Oscar come over and 'tend to the heater, if he only knew," she muttered sadly—and then a hope popped up. She would ring the dinner bell from a side window—perhaps some of them would hear!
It was a painful journey downstairs, but Polly did not flinch. Again and again the little bell sent its loudest appeal out into the stormy night; but the merciless wind stifled its voice before it could reach a kindly ear. There were snow wreaths in the ringer's hair, and tears in her eyes, when she shut the window.
"I thought they must hear," she said sobbingly. Then, like a careful little housewife, she shook the snow from her dress, and brushed up the slush from the floor.
"I guess I'll go," she whispered. "Mother will freeze if I don't. P'rhaps I can—I've got to anyway!" She caught her breath in pain.
Hobbling over to the kitchen shelf where the runabout lamp was kept, she lighted it, and, supplying herself with matches and a small shovel, she started for the cellar. In baby-fashion she went down, sitting on the top stair and slipping from step to step. The light threw shadows all about, grotesque and startling; but the little figure kept steadily on.
The fire was very low. Polly gazed anxiously at the dull red coals. The damper in the lower door had a bad habit of opening when it was jarred. It was open now.
"Father was in a hurry this morning when he shut this door," she explained to herself, "and I guess he didn't stop to look. That's why it's burned out."
Slowly and painfully she fetched wood and threw it in the heater, opening the draughts wide, and watching to see if it caught. Soon it began to crackle and blaze cheerily, and, despite her loneliness and her suffering, hope leaped in her heart.
"It will be nice and warm when mother wakes up—oh, I'm so glad I came down!"
Yet it was dreary waiting for the moment when it seemed best to put on the coal, and then she lingered still longer before she dared shut off the draught. But at last her labor was complete. The pipes were growing warm, and the heater could safely be left to care for itself.
Going upstairs was difficult and distressing; but the two flights were finally accomplished, and Polly was free to rest. She lay down quietly beside her mother, though not to sleep. Pain that made her almost cry out for relief kept her awake hour after hour. Mrs. Dudley lay very still. But for her soft breathing the little watcher at her side would have thought her dead. Many times Polly lifted herself upon her elbow, leaned over to listen, and dropped back again satisfied, but with a stifled groan. Every movement now was torture.
The night seemed to have no end. Polly felt as if she had lain there a hundred hours, and yet no sign of day. She wondered if God had forgotten to wake up the world—and then she slept.
It was so that Dr. Dudley found them at eight o'clock in the morning. When Polly came to herself her father and mother were talking of the great storm, the delay of his train, and of her sudden illness. But Polly's story of the night sent the Doctor in haste to the aid of the injured ankle.
One glance at the swollen foot, and he whipped a pair of scissors from his pocket, inserting a blade underneath the leather.
"Oh, father," cried Polly in alarm, "these are my second-best boots!"
But the scissors were doing their merciful though destructive work, and the little sufferer closed her eyes with a sob of relief.
For several days Polly's seat at school was vacant; but Patricia did not allow her to get lonely.
"If you had come to see Lester, as I wanted you to," she insisted, "you wouldn't have sprained your ankle and had to stay home. Honestly, don't you wish you had?"
Polly glanced across to her mother with a mysterious smile.
"I am sorry," she answered, "not to have seen your cousin—"
"And yours!" put in Patricia.
"Yes, 'and mine,'" Polly laughed. "But father says that blizzard lessons are sometimes better than Latin and geography; so I'm glad I didn't miss them."
Patricia looked puzzled.
THE INTERMEDIATE BIRTHDAY PARTY
"There are Leonora and David and Patricia, to start with," began Polly, "and Elsie Meyer and Brida McCarthy and Cornelius O'Shaughnessy."
Mrs. Dudley, writing down the names, smiled her sanction.
"I want to invite as many of the girls at school as I can," Polly went on thoughtfully, "Lilith Brooks and Betty Thurston anyway—oh, and Hilda Breese! I must have Hilda. She is a new scholar, but such a dear! How many does that make?"
"Eight girls, with you, and two boys."
"Only three more girls!" mused Polly anxiously. "I can't leave out Aimee Gentil, and I meant to ask Mabel Camp and Mary Pender." She paused.
"That just makes it." Her mother's pencil was waiting.
"But I don't know what to do," Polly sighed. "There's Gladys Osborne, I ought to invite her. She's Betty's intimate friend, and I'm afraid she'll feel hurt to be skipped. And Ilga!" She drew another sigh.
Polly nodded, her forehead wrinkled over the problem. "She has been good to me lately, and she'll expect an invitation. Still Mabel and Mary don't have half the fun that Ilga has, and I want them. Oh, dear, having parties is hard work!"
Mrs. Dudley smiled sympathetically, but offered no direct assistance.
"Suppose we leave the girls, and take up the boys. Then we can come back, and things may look clearer."
"All right." Polly welcomed a respite from the struggle between loyalty to her old hospital friends and duty to her new acquaintances.
The second list was soon complete, with former patients of the convalescent ward outnumbering the others.
"I want Otto Kriloff and Moses Cohn and those boys to have a good time for once," Polly unnecessarily explained, and then turned to the matter which had been dropped.
"I think I'll have Aimee and Gladys and Ilga," she at length decided. And so the names went down.
"I will write the invitations this evening," promised Mrs. Dudley; but in less than an hour came Mrs. Jocelyn with a proposal which precluded all previous arrangements and more pleasantly solved Polly's difficult problem.
"Leonora and I are in a quandary," began the little lady who was used to having her own way, "and we hope you will help us out. With Polly's birthday coming on the eighteenth and Leonora's on the twentieth, and we planning for separate parties, it is strange I didn't think of it sooner. Probably it wouldn't have occurred to me now, only that the invitation list has been giving us no end of bother."
Mrs. Dudley and Polly smiled appreciatively to each other.
"We reached the end of it," Mrs. Jocelyn continued, "long before Leonora was through choosing, and she was distressed at thought of leaving out so many. It is all nonsense, this restricting the number of guests to the years; but if it must be so I think we had better combine. Then we can double the list, and nobody will have to be invited twice. Polly and Leonora ought to be satisfied with forty-four friends—no, forty-two besides themselves," she amended, with a twinkle in her gray eyes.
The girls eagerly awaited Mrs. Dudley's reply.
"That would be very pleasant," she began; "but—"
"There isn't a single but to it," laughed the little lady comfortably. "We will have the party at my house, two parties in one, on the nineteenth."
"Oh! that will be a between birthday party, won't it?" piped Polly delightedly.
"We will call it just that," agreed Mrs. Jocelyn.
Plans were making progress when the Doctor came in, and Polly watched his face anxiously as he listened. She knew the signs.
"I don't quite like this arrangement," he objected frankly. "We have intended to make Polly's party a very simple little affair, without fuss or ceremony. You, of course, will wish things different."
"Now, see here, Dr. Robert Dudley," broke in Mrs. Jocelyn, laughingly, "I'm not going to allow any such insinuations. It shall be bread and butter and cookies for tea, if you wish; but you are not going to spoil our good time. Just look at those children! They are worrying their hearts out for fear you won't let them play hostess together."
At that, the disturbed faces broadened into smiles, and presently the Doctor asked Polly if she had shown Leonora the new paper dolls that Burton Leonard's mother had sent her. Which delicate hint told her that the elder people preferred to discuss the matter alone.
It was finally settled according to Mrs. Jocelyn's mind, as Leonora had felt sure it would be.
"Mother always makes things go her way," she declared, "and it is a beautiful way, too!"
When it came to deciding on the guests, all was harmonious, even when Polly submitted the name of Ilga Barron, to whom Leonora had felt a strong dislike since her first day at school.
"But you can have her if you want her," she conceded. "I only hope she won't spoil the party."
Polly had the same secret hope, mingled with not a little fear; but she kept silent regarding it, only saying:—
"She has been pleasant lately, and I don't want to snub her just as she's growing good."
On the afternoon of Polly's birthday, the school furnace needed immediate repair, and the session came to an early close. It had been arranged for Polly to ride home with Leonora; but as the carriage was not there they took a trolley car, Leonora not being yet quite strong enough for so long a walk.
Polly was the first to spy it, the fairy-like automobile, all white and gold, in front of Mrs. Jocelyn's house. The girls, excited with wonder, walked slowly past the beautiful little car.
"It must belong to somebody's fairy godmother," laughed Leonora.
"Or to Titania," added Polly. "It is pretty enough to be hers."
"Whose do you really s'pose it is?" queried Leonora, loitering at the side entrance for another look.
But Polly had not even a suggestion beyond the fairy queen.
"Let's hurry up and find out!" she cried. And they raced round to the back door.
Barbara, one of the maids, showed plain dismay when she saw them.
"Stay here, here in this room!" she commanded excitedly.
"I want to see mother," objected Leonora.
"No, no!" replied Barbara, with unheard-of severity. "She got vis'tors."
"Did they come in that lovely car? Oh, do tell us that!" Leonora wheedled.
Barbara hesitated, looking from one to the other.
"Please!" coaxed Polly.
"Yes," she finally admitted, "they come in it. But I not tell more." She shut her lips tightly.
Tilly, the cook, slipped outside, and after a while returned with the word that the girls could go where they chose. They were quick to use the permission; but, as Polly surmised, the little car was gone.
Mrs. Jocelyn only smiled unsatisfactory answers to their eager questions, and they wondered much what it all could mean.
Soon after tea Polly was sent home in the coach, with a box of eleven long-stemmed superb pink roses, a birthday present from Leonora. She ran into the living-room to show them to her father and mother, but stopped just inside the threshold, staring at the corner where a low bookcase had stood. There, shining with newness, she saw a handsome upright piano.
"Why, father," she cried, "what made you do it? You said you couldn't afford one just yet, and I could have waited as well as not!"
Dr. Dudley smiled down into her eager face.
"I didn't," he answered. "We were as much surprised as you are. Read that!" pointing to a card tilted against the music rack.
She snatched the bit of white.
To Polly, with all the love and happy birthday wishes that can be packed into a piano.
From her friend, JULIET P. JOCELYN.
Polly drew a long breath of joy.
"Isn't it lovely!" she beamed.
The next minute her fingers were racing over the keys in a musical little waltz.
Early the next morning came David with a "Little Colonel" book for Polly.
"I didn't know whether to bring it over yesterday or not," he laughed; "but I finally thought I'd better wait for the intermediate day."
"It wouldn't make any difference," returned Polly, fingering the book admiringly. "Thank you ever and ever so much! I've wanted to know more about the 'Little Colonel.' But what kind of a day did you call it?"
"Intermediate," he replied. "Isn't that right?"
"Of course," she assured him promptly, always secretly marveling at David's ability to use words with which she was unfamiliar. "It sounds beautiful."
"It means halfway between, I think," he explained; "so I thought it was an appropriate word."
"It is," declared Polly, "a great deal better than just between. It makes it seem more important."
David laughed, and then, spying the piano, admired Polly's new instrument to her full satisfaction, and ended by sitting down and singing a little song which she called "another birthday present."
Shortly before two o'clock the birthday guests began to arrive at Mrs. Jocelyn's beautiful home. The two mothers, one in white and the other in gray, and the two girls, dressed exactly alike in soft white wool, with pink sashes and ribbons, received informally in the east drawing-room, and when the girls and boys were all there Mrs. Dudley started a game.
They were in the midst of the fun, when Polly, glancing at Ilga Barron, was troubled to see an ugly scowl. The children were in a circle, alternate girls and boys, secretly passing a ring from hand to hand, and it chanced that Ilga had a place between Otto Kriloff and Cornelius O'Shaughnessy.
"Oh, if she makes a fuss!" thought Polly, and straightway the charm of the game vanished.
Ilga's face grew black and ominous. Suddenly, with a scornful "I guess I won't play any more!" she dropped the hands she held, and, with head high, walked mincingly over to the window, and stood with her back to the others.
"What's the matter?" broke from several mouths and showed in every face—every face but Polly's. Polly knew, or thought she knew.
"We'll keep right on," she said in a soft, tense voice; and the play proceeded, yet not as before.
Wondering glances were continually cast towards the window, where the yellow-clad figure stood dark against the light. The Senator's daughter received more attention than the ring.
Meantime Ilga grew tired of waiting for the game to end, and, with a furtive look in the direction of the players, she sauntered off towards the hallway.
At once Polly excused herself, and followed.
Ilga turned quickly.
"I'm going home," she said.
"Oh, please don't!" cried Polly, adding faintly, "Are you ill?"
"No; but I guess I'd better go. There's such a rabble here."
"Why, Ilga!" gasped Polly.
"Well, 'tis!" she retorted. "If mamma'd known it, she wouldn't have let me come; she's very particular who I play with."
"They're just as nice as they can be," protested Polly in a soft, grieved voice.
"Perhaps they seem so to you. I s'pose that's the kind they have at hospitals. The little Pole over there, he squeezed my fingers so they 'most ache yet, and that tall Irish kid with the red hair is the worst of the bunch!"
"Oh, Ilga, he's a splendid boy, and so brave! I'm sure Otto didn't mean to hurt you; he is kind as can be."