E-text prepared by David Conant
POLLY OF THE HOSPITAL STAFF
EMMA C. DOWD
Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press Cambridge
To 'The Mother of Polly'
I. The Cherry-Pudding Story II. The Election of Polly III. Popover IV. David V. With the Assistance of Lone Star VI. Elsie's Birthday VII. The Little Sad Lady VIII. A Warning From Aunt Jane IX. A Night of Song X. The Ward's Anniversary XI. Polly Plays the part of Eva XII. The Kidnapping of Polly XIII. The Return XIV. Polly's "Anne Sisters" XV. A Bid for Polly XVI. A secret XVII. The Wedding
The Story of the Wonderful White Flower "Once Upon a Time," she began Forgetting all but the music she loved This Document Makes You Legally our own Daughter
From drawings by Irma Deremeaux
POLLY OF THE HOSPITAL STAFF
The Cherry-Pudding Story
The June breeze hurried up from the harbor to the big house on the hill, and fluttered playfully past the window vines into the children's convalescent ward. It was a common saying at the hospital that the tidal breeze always reached the children's ward first. Sometimes the little people were waiting for it, ready with their welcome; but to-day there were none to laugh a greeting. The room was very quiet. The occupants of the little white cots had slept unusually long, and the few that had awakened from their afternoon naps were still too drowsy to be astir. Besides, Polly was not there, and the ward was never the same without Polly.
As the young nurse in charge passed noiselessly between the rows of beds, a small hand pulled at her apron.
"Ain't it 'most time for Polly to come?"
"Yes, I think she will be back pretty soon now." Miss Lucy smiled down into the wistful little face.
"I want Polly to tell me a story," Elsie went on, with a bit of a whine: "my hip aches so bad."
"Does it feel worse to-day?" asked the nurse sympathetically.
"No; I guess not," answered the little girl, glad of a listener. "It aches all the time, 'cept when I'm asleep or Polly's tellin' stories."
"I know," and Miss Lucy's face grew grave. "We shall miss Polly."
"When's she goin' home?" The blue eyes went suddenly anxious.
"Oh, not until next week!" was the cheerful response. "There'll be time for plenty of stories before then."
"A-h-h!" wailed little French Aimee, from the opposite cot. "Pollee go?"
"Why, yes," smiled Miss Lucy, with a quick turn. "Polly is almost well, and well little girls don't stay at the hospital, you know. Pretty soon you will go home, too."
The nurse passed on, but Aimee's face remained clouded. Next week—no Pollee!
Other ears besides Aimee's had overheard the news about Polly. Maggie O'Donnell and Otto Kriloff stared at each other in dismay. Why, Polly had been there long before they came! It had never occurred to them that Polly could leave.
When Miss Lucy reached Maggie's bed, the little girl was softly crying.
"I—don't—want—Polly to go!" she sobbed.
"Dear me! Dear me!" exclaimed the nurse, "this will never do!" Then, listening, she whispered, "Hark! Who is that skipping along the hall?"
At the instant, the door opened, and a little girl, her brown eyes shining with pleasure, her cheeks pink as the poppies on the front lawn, and her yellow curls all tossed and tumbled by the wind, whirled into the ward.
"Oh, Polly!" passed, a breath of joy, from lip to lip.
"I've had a lovelicious time!" she began.
"We went 'way down to Rockmoor!—Did you ever ride in an auto, Miss Lucy?"
The nurse nodded happily. It was good to have Polly back.
"Seems's if you'd never come!" broke out Elsie Meyer. "I've been waitin' an' waitin' for a story."
"I'll have my things off in a minute," responded Polly, "and you'll say my story is worth waiting for."
"A new one?"
"Where'd you get it?"
"A lady told me—a lady Dr. Dudley took me to see. It's a 'Cherry-Pudding Story.'—Oh, you just wait till I put my coat and hat away, and change my dress!" Polly danced off, the young nurse following with a soft sigh. What should she do without this little sunshine-maker!
The ward was wide awake when Polly returned. The few that were far enough along to be up and dressed had left their cots, and were grouped around Elsie Meyer's bed, each solicitous for the closest seat to the story-teller.
"Everybody ready?" questioned Polly, settling herself comfortable in the little rocker. Then she popped up. "You need this chair, Leonora, more than I do;" and before the lame girl had time to protest the exchange had been made.
"Polly, talk loud, so I can hear!" piped up a shrill voice in the corner of the ward.
"Sure I will, Linus," was the cherry response. "You must n't miss a word of the 'Cherry-Pudding story.'"
"Once upon a time," she began, in the beautiful old way that all fanciful stories should begin; and not the breath of a rustle broke the sound of her gentle voice, while she narrated the fortunes of the young king who loved stories so much that he decided to wed only the girl that would write him a fresh one every day.
As the little people followed the outcome of the royal edict, their interest grew intense, for Polly was a real story-teller, sweeping her listeners along with the narrative until all else was forgotten.
When after long despairing days, young King Cerise found his future queen in the very last girl, one who lived her stories instead of writing them, and was as charming and good as she was clever, the small folks became radiantly glad, and the tale drew to a happy end with the king and queen living beautiful stories and cherry puddings in every home all over the land.
Nobody spoke as Polly stopped. Then little Linus, away over in the corner, piped up:—
"I wasn't some cherry pudding!"
Than made them laugh, and set the tongues going.
"Aw, ye'll have ter wait till ye git home!" returned Cornelius O'Shaughnessy.
"Why will he? Why can't we all have some, Miss Lucy?"
The rest fairly held their breath at Elsie Meyer's boldness.
The nurse laughed. "Perhaps," she began slowly,—"mind, I don't say for sure, but only perhaps,—if you'll all live a brave, patient, cheerful story, with never a bit of a whine in it, from now until to-morrow noon,—well, who knows what may happen!"
"A cherry pudding may!" cried the irrepressible Elsie. "Oh, Miss Lucy, I won't whine or cry, no matter how bad you hurt my hip when you dress it—not the teentiest bit! See if I do!"
"Will Polly make up our stories for us?" queried Leonora Hewitt.
"Why, Miss Lucy has made one for all of us," laughed Polly. "We are to be brave and patient and not make a fuss about anything, and help everybody else to be happy—is n't that what you meant, Miss Lucy?"
"Oh," replied the little lame girl, "guess that'll be a hard kind!"
"Beautiful stories are not often easy to live," smiled the young nurse; "but let's see which of us can live the best one."
"Polly will!" cried Maggie O'Donnell and Otto Kriloff together.
The Election of Polly
The convalescent ward was finishing its noonday feast when Miss Hortensia Price appeared. Miss Hortensia Price was straight and tall, with somber black eyes and thin, serious lips. Many of the children were greatly in awe of the dignified nurse; but Elsie Meyer was bold enough to announce:—
"We're livin' a cherry-pudding story!" And she beamed up from her ruby-colored plate.
"What?" scowled the visitor.
The tone was puzzled rather tan harsh, yet Elsie shrank back in sudden abashment.
"Polly told us a story yesterday," explained Miss Lucy, the pink deepening on her delicate cheeks, "and it made the children want some cherry pudding for dinner. It is not rich," she added apologetically.
The elder nurse responded only with a courteous "Oh!" and then remarked, "What I came down to say is this: I shall send you three cases from my ward at half-past two o'clock this afternoon."
"All right," was the cordial answer. "We shall be glad to welcome them to our little family."
"High Price is awful solemn to-day," whispered Maggie O'Donnell to Ethel Jones, as the door shut.
"High Price?" repeated Ethel, in a perplexed voice.
"Sh!" breathed the other. "She's 'High Price,' and Miss Lucy's 'Low Price,' 'cause she's so high and mighty and tall and everything, and Miss Lucy's kind o' short and little and so darling, and they ain't any relation either. I'm glad they ain't," she added decidedly. "I would n't have Miss Lucy related to her for anything!"
"Oh, no!" returned Ethel, comprehendingly, as she scraped her plate for a last morsel of pudding.
The three "cases," which appeared in the convalescent ward promptly at the hour named, proved to be two girls and a boy,— Brida MacCarthy, Isabel Smith, and Moses Cohn. Polly did her share in routing the evident fears of the small strangers, their wide, anxious eye showing that they dreaded what might lie ahead of them in these unknown quarters.
The wonderful giant story, which ended merrily,—as all of Polly's stories did end,—made Moses her valiant follower as long as he remained in the ward; the tender little slumber song, which Polly's mother had taught her, put the tiny Isabel to sleep; and the verses about the "Kit-Cat Luncheon" completely won the heart of Irish Brida.
"I got a kitty, too!" she confided. "Her name's Popover, 'cause when the kitties was all little, an' runnin' round, an' playin', she'd pop right over on her back, jus' as funny! She's all black concept[sic] a little spot o' white—oh, me kitty is the prettiest kitty in town!"
"How shall I ever get along without her!" sighed the young nurse, as she watched Polly flitting about like a sprite, comforting restless little patients, hushing, with her ready tact, quarrelsome tongues, and winning every heart by her gentle, loving ways. Oh, the ward would be lonely indeed without Polly May! None realized this more than Miss Lucy, unless it were Dr. Dudley, the cherry house physician, whom all the children adored.
As the day set for Polly's going came near and nearer, the mourning of the small convalescents increased, until the ward would have been in danger of continual tears if it had not been for Polly herself. She was gayer than ever, telling the funniest stories and singing the merriest songs, and making her little friends half forget that the good times were not going to last. The children never guessed that this was almost as much to help herself over the hard place as to cheer them. In fact, they believed that her unusual high spirits came of her being glad to leave the hospital. Even Miss Lucy could n't quite understand it all. But Dr. Dudley knew; he had seen her face when she had been told that she was soon to go.
It was not strange that Polly should dread parting from the people with whom she had been so happy, for no mother or father or pleasant home was waiting for her,—only Aunt Jane, in the cramped, dingy little tenement,—Aunt Jane and her six unruly girls and boys. Poly did not permit herself to think much about going away, however, and the last evening found her cheerful still. Then Elsie Meyer began her doleful suggestions.
"I wonder how often your Aunt Jane 'll let you come and see us. P'r'aps she won't let you come at all—oh, my! If she don't, maybe we'll never see you again!"
"Nonsense, Elsie! Don't go to conjuring up any such thing!" broke in Miss Lucy's laughing voice. "Of course—why, Polly!" For the little girl had been brought suddenly face to face with an awful possibility, and her courage had given way. She was sobbing on the foot of Elsie's bed.
A low rap on the half-open door sent Miss Lucy thither, and Polly heard Dr. Dudley speak her name. A new terror took instant possession of her heart. The Doctor had come to take her home! She did not stop to reason. Dropping to the floor, she crept softly under the cot, from there to the next and the next. Her course was straight to the door through which the physician had entered, and by the time he was halfway across the room she had wriggled herself clear of the last cot, and was over the sill and in the corridor, the twilight aiding her escape. Regaining her feet, she darted noiselessly down the long hall. At the head of the stairs she paused. On the floor below was a small alcove where she might hide. Making sure that no one was in sight, she sped down, but as she reached the lower step one of the nurses opened the door opposite.
"What are you doing down here, Polly May?"
The question was pleasant, but the answer was miserably halting.
"Did Miss Price send you for anything?"
This time the child detected a ring of suspicion.
"Oh, no! I—I—"
"Well, you'd better go right back. It is too late to be running around for play. The halls must be kept quiet."
"Yes, Miss Bemont," responded Polly meekly, and turned to see Dr. Dudley at the head of the flight.
There was nothing to do but to go forward, which she did, with downcast eyes and a throbbing heart.
"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed the physician. "I've been looking for you. I thought you would like to take a ride up to Warringford. I shall be back before your bedtime, and Miss Lucy says—why, Thistledown! What is the matter?"
The revulsion had been to great, and, leaning against the Doctor's arm, Polly was softly sobbing.
The physician sat down on the stairs, and drew the fair little head to his shoulder. In a minute he knew it all,—the sudden fear that had assailed her, the creeping flight across the ward, and the baffled attempt at hiding. As he listened, his eyes grew grave and tender, for in the broken little confession he comprehended the child's unspoken abhorrence of the life she had left behind when she had come to the hospital five months before.
"I would n't worry about going back to Aunt Jane's," he said brightly. "You may be sure I shan't let her monopolize my little Polly. Now, run along and get on your hat and coat, for the air is growing cool. We'll have a nice spin up to Warringford, and you'll sleep all the better for it."
Polly skipped away smiling, but presently was down in the office, —without her wraps.
"The children feel so bad to have me go," she said soberly, "I guess I'd better stay with them—seeing it's the last night." Her lip quivered.
"Selfish little pigs!" returned the Doctor. "They are n't willing anybody else shall have a taste of you."
Polly laughed. "Well, they want me to tell them a story, so I'd better, don't you think?"
"I suppose it's kinder to them than to go for a joy ride; but it's hard on me."
Dr. Dudley assumed a scowl of disapproval.
The child hesitated. "You know I'd rather go with you," she said sweetly; "but they—"
"I understand all about it, brave little woman," throwing an arm around the slender shoulders, "and I won't make it any harder for you. Go and tell your story, and let it be a merry one. Remember, that's the Doctor's order! Good-night."
Polly threw him a kiss from the doorway, and then he heard her light footfalls on the stairs.
It was one of his few leisure hours, and he sat for a long time looking out on the quiet street, where his small motor car stood waiting. He had no inclination for a spin to Warringford now; he was thinking too deeply about the little girl who had held so large a share of his big heart since the day when he had first seen her, lying so white and still, with the life all but crushed out of her. It had not seemed possible then that she would ever again dance around like the other children; yet her she was, without even the bit of a limp—and going home to-morrow! Home! He could imagine the kind of place it was, and he shook his head gravely over the picture. Twice in the first months of Polly's stay at the hospital her aunt had been to visit her; recently she had not appeared. He recollected her well,—a tall, lean woman, with unshapely garments, and a strident voice.
At eight o'clock Dr. Dudley cranked up his machine, and started away; but he did not go in the direction of Warringford. He turned down one of the narrow streets that led to Aunt Jane's home.
Meantime, up in the ward, Polly had been following the Doctor's directions until the children had laughed themselves happy.
"I did n't let on that I saw you scoot under the bed when the Doctor came," Elsie Meyer whispered to Polly, at the first chance. "Aimee saw you, an' Brida saw you, an' Francesca saw you; but we did n't say nothin' when Miss Lucy an' the Doctor was wonderin' where you could be. What made you go that way?"
"Come, Polly, say good-night," called the nurse.
And with a soft, "I'll tell you sometime, Elsie," she obeyed.
The next morning Polly went about the little helpful tasks that she had, one after another, taken upon herself, performing each with even more than her usual care, feeling a strange ache in her heart at the thought of its being the last time.
It was shortly after ten o'clock that Dr. Dudley appeared at the door.
"Polly!" he called.
She ran to him, but her answering smile was pathetic, for her lip quivered, as she said, "I'll be ready in a minute."
"You are ready now," he returned, and taking her hand in his led her out into the hall.
"I want you for a little while," was all he said, as they went downstairs together.
Poly was a bit surprised when she found that their destination was the great room where the "Board" was in session, but she could not be afraid with Dr. Dudley; so she smiled to all the gentlemen, and answered their questions in her soft, sweet voice, and behaved quite like the little lady that the physician had pictured to them.
Presently Dr. Dudley left her, while he talked in low tones with the white-haired man at the head of the long table. When he came back, he asked:—
"Polly, how should you like to stay here at the hospital all summer, and help Miss Lucy and me to take care of your little friends?"
The light that flashed into Polly's brown eyes gave them the gleam of a sunny brook. She clasped her small hands ecstatically, crying, "O—o—h! it would be—super-bon-donjical!"
The gentlemen laughed, the tall, white-haired one until his shoulders shook. Then he rapped on the table, and said something about "Miss Polly May," to which the little girl did n't pay much attention, and there was a big chorus of ayes. After that Polly bade them all good-bye, and went upstairs with Dr. Dudley.
"Children, I have something to tell you," the physician announced.
Everybody was at once alert. A solemn hush fell on the ward.
"What do you think?" he went on;—"Polly May is a full-fledged member of the hospital staff!"
Nobody spoke. Nobody even smiled but Miss Lucy. Black eyes and brown eyes, blue eyes and gray eyes stared uncomprehendingly at the Doctor.
"You don't quite understand that, do you?" he laughed. "Well, it means that Polly is n't going home to her aunt. Polly is going to stay with you!"
Then what squeals and shouts and shrieks of joy from all over the ward!
For a week the convalescent ward laughed and sang and almost forgot that it was part of the big House of Suffering. Polly herself beamed on everybody, and all the hospital people seemed to agree that very good fortune had come to her, and to be glad in it.
Then there came a hot day which tried the patience of the small invalids. Polly flitted from cot to cot with her little fluttering fan and her cooling drinks. The afternoon breeze had not yet arrived when Brida MacCarthy begged for a story.
"It will have to be and old one," was the smiling response, for Polly's supply of cat tales—the kind which the little Irish girl invariably wanted—was limited.
"I don't care what 't is," whined Brida,—"anything 'bout a kitty. Oh, don't I wisht I had me own darlin' Popover right here in me arms!—Why don't yer begin?" urged the fretful voice, for Polly sat gazing at the polished floor.
A kindly, fascinating scheme was taking shape in the story-teller's brain.
"Oh, Brida," she cried, in suppressed eagerness, lowering her voice to a whisper that should not reach Miss Lucy at the other end of the ward, "I've thought of the loveliest thing! Your home is n't very far from here, is it?"
"A good ways—why?" and Brida's little pale, freckled face showed only mild interest.
"But where do you live—when you're home?" Polly insisted.
"'T 739 Liberty Street is right down by Union! I can find that easy enough! Say, don't you s'pose your mother 'd let me take Popover and bring her up here? You know Miss Lucy wants me to go out to walk every day now."
"Oh, Polly!" the pale face grew pink with joy. "Sure, me mother 'd let her come! Oh, Polly, if you would!"
"I will! And I won't say a word to Miss Lucy about it till Popover is here! It's her birthday to-day, and it'll be such a beautiful surprise! I've been wishing and wishing we had something to give her."
"Oh, not me darlin' kitty!" returned Brida, in sudden dismay.
"No, no!" laughed Polly reassuringly. "I only meant the surprise. Popover can amuse the whole ward, and won't Miss Lucy be pleased!"
"It'll be splendid!" beamed Brida. "How'd yer ever think of it?"
"I don't know; but I'm glad I did," Polly went on happily. "And perhaps we can keep her a week or so, if we'll let her have a little of our milk—just you and I. You would n't mind, would you?"
"Sure, I'll let her have all she can drink!" declared Brida.
"I guess I'd better go now," said Polly. "What is the number 7——"
"It's 739 Liberty Street," repeated Brida; "an old brown house next to the corner."
Miss Lucy thought it was rather too warm for a walk, especially as Polly was not very strong yet; but the little girl urged it with such sparkling eyes that she finally let her go, bidding her keep on the shady side of the street and not to stay out too long.
Polly reached Liberty Street where it was crossed by Union, but was taken somewhat aback when she looked at a number on the west side and found it to be only 452.
"Never mind!" was her second thought; "there are not quite three hundred numbers more, and half of those are on the other side; besides, they skip lots of them."
So she walked on contentedly, keeping track of the numbers as she passed along. They counted up fast, the houses were so thickly set. Polly thought the occupants must all be out of doors, for lounging men and women filled the doorways, and the sidewalks were scattered with children. The air grew hot and stifling and full of disagreeable odors. The little girl half wished that she had not come. Then she remembered how pleased Brida would be to see her kitten again, and that gave her new strength and courage.
She was very tired when she came to the little shop numbered 703; but with the glad thought that the "brown house" could not be far off she began to look for it.
Directly across her way was stretched a jumping rope, which, as she was about to step over, the girls at either end whirled up in front of her. To the astonishment of the mischievous tricksters, Polly skipped into time as adroitly as the most expert rope-jumper could have wished, and the giggling pair almost forgot their part. But they recovered themselves to give Polly a half-dozen skips. Then, clearing the rope with a graceful bound, she turned to one of the girls.
"Can you tell me, please, where Mrs. MacCarthy lives?—Brida MacCarthy's mother?"
With a second surprise on her freckled face, the child pointed to a fat, red-cheeked woman, who was cooling herself with a big palm-leaf fan, in a basement doorway just beyond.
"Thank you," was the polite response, and Polly descended the short flight of steps into the bricked area.
The woman looked up expectantly.
"I'm Polly May, of the hospital staff," the little girl announced modestly, "and Brida would like her kitten, please."
The smile on Mrs. MacCarthy's face expanded into a big, joyous laugh.
"Does she now? Moira! Katie! D'ye here that? Brida's sint f'r her cat! Sure an' she moost be gittin' 'long rale well! An' ye're from th' hospital! Moira! Where's yer manners? Fetch th' little lady a chair! Katie, git a mug o' wather an' wan o' thim big crackers. Don't ye know how to trate comp'ny?"
In a minute Polly was seated, a china mug of water in one hand, and a crisp soda biscuit in the other, while the MacCarthy family circled around her, eager for news from the beloved Brida. There were only encouraging accounts to give of the little girl with the broken ankle; but they led to so many questions that Polly began to wonder how she should ever escape from these friendly people, when Popover herself solved the question.
The pretty black kitten suddenly appeared at the visitor's side, and at the first caressing word from Polly jumped into her lap.
"D' ye see that?" cried the delighted mother, and in the momentary excitement Polly arose and said that she must go.
Brida's sisters and small brother accompanied her for two blocks up the street, and then, with numerous good-byes, they left her to her long, wearisome walk.
She had not gone far before she realized that the warm little animal was more of a burden than she had counted on, exhausted as she was already with her unusual exercise; but she kept up courageously, even making little spurts of speed as she would wonder if Miss Lucy were becoming anxious about her. After awhile, however, instead of hurrying, she was obliged to stop now and then on a corner, to catch the breeze coming up from the sea, for she felt strangely faint. When she finally trudged up Hospital Hill, the air grew cool all at once, and she quite forgot herself for thinking of Brida and Miss Lucy.
At the door of the ward she paused for a peep. The nurse was not in sight. A few of the children were gathered at the windows with books and pictures; several were on the floor playing quiet games. So softly did she step that nobody knew she was there until she was well in the room. The, spying both her and the kitten, there was a shout and a rush.
"No, you can't have her yet!" cried Polly, as small hands were outstretched to lift the now uneasy burden from her arms. "Brida has first right, because it's her kitten."
"Oh, Popover!" squealed the little owner delightedly, snuggling the furry creature to her cheek.
"Where's Miss Lucy?" demanded Polly, waiving the children's eager questions.
"Oh, they sent to have her come somewhere!" answered Ethel Jones. "She went in an awful hurry, and said prob'ly she'd be back pretty soon; but she has n't come yet."
"She let Leonora be monitor," put in Elsie Meyer. "I guess she'd 'a' let me, if I'd been up."
"I wish she would come," said Polly anxiously, "for I want to surprise her with Popover—it's Miss Lucy's birthday, you know."
"Somebody's coming now," and Cornelius O'Shaughnessy bent his head to listen. "'T ain't her step," he decided disappointedly, and the next moment the tall form of Miss Hortensia Price was seen in the doorway.
"Quick! Keep her out o' sight!" whispered Polly, pushing Popover's little black head down under the sheet.
The stately young woman walked the length of the room without a word, and calmly sat down at the small table where Miss Lucy was accustomed to prepare her medicines and to make such notes as were needful.
As Miss Price took up the little memorandum book and began to look it over, Polly's heart almost stood still with consternation. She had come to stay! Polly knew the signs. Such sudden shifts were common enough in the hospital, but only twice, during Polly's stay, had the occurred in the convalescent ward, and Miss Lucy had been in charge for so long now that she had ceased giving herself any worry over a possible change.
For a moment the little girl stood hesitant; then the sight of Brida, white and scared on her pillow, roused her to quick thought. If she could only smuggle Popover down into Dr Dudley's office before she was discovered! Instinct told her that "High Price" would never tolerate a kitten in the ward. She took one step forward.
"Me-ew!" sounded faintly from Brida's cot.
The nurse raised her head, listened inquiringly, and then resumed her work of examining the patients' records.
Polly stole nearer the bed.
"Me-ew!" came again, louder than before. This time there was no mistaking its locality.
Miss Price sprang from her chair, and strode straight to where Brida lay trembling. Popover's insistence for more air and a free outlook was causing the coverlet to rise and fall in a startling way.
"How came that cat here?" demanded the nurse, pulling aside the bedclothing.
"I brought her," answered Polly. "She's Brida's kitty, and we were going to give Miss Lucy a birthday surprise."
A faint smile flickered on the young woman's face. The she made a grab at the now frightened kitten; but the little creature slipped from her hand, and jumping to the floor dared towards the hall.
"Oh, me dirlin' kitty!" wailed Brida. "She'll be losted! Oh, Polly, ketch her!"
Polly, however, was already flying in pursuit of the terrified cat.
"Shut that door!" called the mistress of the ward, as the eager children rushed after. "And stay inside, all of you!"
Cornelius O'Shaughnessy reluctantly obeyed the first order, and the rest trailed back in disappointment. So exciting a race was not an everyday occurrence.
Polly, too far away to heed either command, was alarmed lest Popover might manage to escape from the building, in which case there would be small chance of catching her. On and on the little cat led her, giving no ear to the coaxing, "Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" which she was constantly calling. Around and around the big halls, up this flight of stairs and down that, into room after room whose doors stood enticingly open, raced Popover and Poly, while nurses and physicians that chanced their way stared and laughed at the astonishing sight.
Just as the kitten reached the foot of the first-floor staircase, with her pursuer close behind, the front door opened, and Popover darted towards the passage of escape.
"Oh, shut the door quick! Catch her! Catch her! Don't let her get out!"
This most unexpected command, in Polly's voice, Dr. Dudley endeavored to obey. He did succeed in slamming the door in front of pussy, though at the risk of nipping her little black nose; but when he stooped to snatch her she slipped between his feet, and dashed into his office. Polly flew after, and the door went together just as the Doctor reached it.
"Rather an unusual reception this is," he twinkled, as Polly let him in, a minute later. "Frighten me out of my wits by screaming at me to catch a wild animal, and then, when I've done my best, shut the door of my office right in my face! What do you mean by such extraordinary conduct, Miss Polly May?" The physician shook a threatening finger and the flushed and laughing little girl.
"You don't look very scared," she giggled; and then as he dropped into his lounging-chair she slipped into her favorite position, atilt on its arm, and leaned confidingly against him.
"Oh, I've had such a time with that kitten!" she sighed, smiling across at the little creature, now curled up contentedly on the Doctor's fur rug.
"I take it, by the way you are breathing, that you and the cat have been having a race."
"All over everywhere," answered Polly, "till I thought I'd never catch her. You see she was going to be a birthday surprise to Miss Lucy, and High Price went and spoiled it all."
The story of the afternoon was narrated in Polly's most vivid style.
"Is n't it queer that High Price should come just then?" she sighed. "I don't like her; do you?"
"She is an excellent young woman and a good nurse," Dr. Dudley returned.
"Well, I don't want her for my nurse," Polly maintained soberly.
"Still, if you were very sick," smiled the Doctor, "I could not hope for better care than she would give you."
"Oh, if I were awfully sick, and out of my head, maybe High Price would do; but if I knew anything I should want Miss Lucy." And Polly's curls waved in emphasis.
Dr. Dudley chuckled responsively.
"I don't think you appreciate Miss Lucy," Polly continued.
The Doctor's eyebrows went up. "Don't I?" he returned meekly.
"You don't act as if you did," Polly sighed; "and I want you to, for she's so sweet and little and—cuddly, you know. You could n't call High Price cuddly; could you?"
"It is n't a term I should apply to her," agreed the Doctor, with the hint of a smile.
"Miss Lucy would have liked Popover going to get along without Miss Lucy, 'specially at bedtime."
"What does she do then?"
"Oh, we tell stories!—at least, I do, and sometimes she does, and generally we sing—real soft, you know, so it won't disturb anybody. Then she says a little prayer, and we go to bed. Dear me, how we shall miss her! Why, the other night, when Aimee's arm ached, Miss Lucy took her right in her lap, and rocked her to sleep! And when little Isabel cries for her mamma, Miss Lucy's just as nice to her, and cuddles her p so sweet! This is the way High Price will do: she'll say, 'Is-a-bel'" (and Polly's tone was in almost exact imitation of the nurse's measured accent), "'lie still and go to sleep! The ward must be kept quiet.'"
Dr. Dudley laughed. Then the said gravely:—
"Do you think that is really fair—to accuse Miss Price of what she may never do? Besides, Polly, it is n't quite respectful."
"No, I suppose it is n't," the little girl admitted. "Excuse me, please. But I wish you could know the difference between High Price and Low Price."
The Doctor's eyes twinkled; but Polly, all unseeing, went on:—
"How soon do you think Miss Lucy'll come back? Where is she now?"
"She has been assigned to one of the women's wards. It is uncertain when she will be changed again."
"Well, I s'pose we'll have to stand it," sighed Polly philosophically. "Why, Popover!" for the kitten had come up unnoticed, and now jumped to the Doctor's knee. "Is n't she cute? Brida thinks lots of her—there!" she broke out compunctiously, "I forgot all about Brida, and she does n't know what's become of her! I must run up and tell her. Will it be very much trouble to keep her here till to-morrow? Thin I'll carry her home."
"Suppose we taker her home in the auto, after tea?"
Dr. Dudley was looking at his watch.
"Is it 'most tea-time?" Polly inquired.
"They are probably all through up in the convalescent ward," he laughed. "You'd better come into the dining-room and have supper with me."
"Oh, thank you; that will be nice! I'll run up and tell Brida, and then I'll come."
Dr. Dudley had been the rounds of the convalescent ward, to see how his patients were progressing. Now he had paused at the small table by the window, where Polly was waiting to carry some medicine to Linus Hardy.
As she took the glass form Miss Price's hand, and started away, she heard the physician say, "Can I have Polly for a few minutes?"
"Certainly, Dr. Dudley," was the reply; and Polly returned wondering what was wanted of her.
"There is a boy upstairs who is getting discouraged," the Doctor began, as they went through the hall, and in hand, "and I think, perhaps, you can cheer him up a little."
"Is he a big boy or a little boy?" asked Polly anxiously.
"I should say, about six months bigger than you," the Doctor laughed. "He Is n't anybody you will be afraid of, Thistledown; but he is a very nice boy. His mother is just recovering from a sever illness, so she has n't been able to come to see him yet, and he feels pretty lonely."
"I wish he were down in our ward," returned Polly,—"that is," she amended, "if Miss Lucy were only there."
"I shall have him transferred as soon as he is well enough," the Doctor assured her. And then they were at the entrance of the children's ward.
Away to the farther end of the room Dr. Dudley went, and Polly followed. Some of the patients looked curiously at her as she passed, for the news of her recent accession to the staff had spread through the hospital, and nearly everybody was eager for a sight of her.
Polly was thinking only of the boy whom she had come to see; and when, at last, the Doctor stopped and turned towards her, she glanced shyly at the lad on the pillow.
"David," began Dr. Dudley, "this is Miss Polly May, the chief story-tell of the convalescent ward. And, Polly, allow me to present Master David Collins, who had a race a week or two ago, with a runaway horse, and who was foolish enough to let the horse beat."
The Doctor's eyes were twinkling, and Polly let go a giggle; so the boy ventured to laugh. A week little laugh it was; but it helped to start the acquaintance pleasantly, which was just what Dr. Dudley wanted.
"You can have exactly ten minutes to do all your talking in," was the physician's parting sally; "so you'd better hurry."
Polly's eyes and David's met in smiling appreciation.
"He says such funny things." praised Polly.
Polly did n't quite know how to begin to cheer the lad up. Her tender heart was stirred to unusual sympathy, as she gazed into the pitifully drawn little face, with its big doll-blue eyes. She must surely say something to make David happier—and the minutes were going fast. After all, it was David that was first to speak again.
"Do you like stories?" he asked.
"Oh, I just love them!"
"So do I. You must know a great many. The Doctor said you told them to the children. I wish there was time for you to tell me one."
"I'm afraid there is n't to-day," responded Polly; "but maybe I can stay longer when I come again."
"I hope so," returned David politely. "My mother read me a story the evening before I was hurt. It was about a king and queen that lived beautiful stories, and I was going to live such a brave, splendid one every day—and then the horse knocked me down! Such a lot of miserable stories as I've lived since I came here, not much like the ones I'd planned! But to-day's will be better, because you'll be in it," he ended brightly.
Polly's eyes had been growing rounder and rounder with surprise and delight.
"Oh! Was it a Cherry-Pudding Story?" she asked eagerly.
"Why, have you read it?" and the little white face actually grew pink. "My aunt wrote it, and sent us a paper that had it in!"
"Why—ee!" cried Polly. "is n't that funny! And we've been trying to live nice stories, too—all of us, up in the ward! Miss Lucy said we'd see which could live the best one. A lady told me the story. And your aunt really made it all up?"
"Yes; she writes lots of stories," smiled David. "Then she sends them to mamma and me and wen they're printed."
"How splendid!" beamed Polly. "When you get well enough to come down in our ward, you can tell us some, can't you?"
The boy's face saddened. "I guess I can't ever come," he said.
"Because I was hurt so badly. I don't think I'm going to get well."
"Oh, yes, you will!" asserted Polly. "Of course Dr. Dudley will cure you! Goodness! You ought to have seen how I was all smashed up! But Dr. Dudley cured me—he can cure anybody!"
"He can?" echoed David, a little doubtfully. "How 'd you get hurt? Were you run over?"
"Yes, by a building," Polly laughed. "Only it did n't run; it fell. I was 'way up on the third floor, and all of a sudden it went—just like that!" Polly's little hands dropped flat in her lap. "I heard a great noise, and felt myself going, and I remember I clutched hold of Uncle Gregory. Then I did n't know another thing till I woke up over in that corner. See that bed with the dark-haired little girl in it, the third from the end? That was my cot."
"Was your leg broken?" asked David, in a most interested tone.
"Yes, my leg was broken, and my hip was discolated (Polly sometimes twisted her long words a little), and my ankle was hurt, and two ribs, and, oh, lots of things! Doctor says now that he really did n't think I'd ever walk again—I mean, without crutches."
"And you're not lame a bit?" David returned incredulously.
"Not a mite, not the least mite!" Polly assured him.
"Then perhaps I shall get well," the boy began brightly.
"Of course you will!" broke in Dr. Dudley's happy voice.
He put his hand on the lad's wrist, and stood for a moment, noting his pulse.
"It does n't seem to hurt you to have visitors," he smiled; "but they must n't stay too long. Say good-bye, Polly."
"Will you bring her again tomorrow?" invited David timidly. "And let her stay long enough to tell me a story?"
"I should n't wonder," the Doctor promised. And they left the boy smiling as he had not smiled since he had been in the hospital.
After that, Polly went every day to see David, until, one morning, Dr. Dudley told her that he was not quite well enough to have a visitor. She had come to look forward to her quiet talks with the blue-eyed lad as the happiest portion of the whole day, for Miss Hortensia Price still stayed in the convalescent ward, and the Doctor had been too busy to take her out in his automobile. Elsie and Brida and Aimee and the rest were all good comrades, yet none of them possessed David's powers of quick comprehension. Often Polly had to explain things to them; David always kept up with her thought—there was the difference. And David, notwithstanding his present proneness to discouragement, was a most winsome boy.
So the first day that she was not allowed to maker her customary visit seemed a long day indeed, and eagerly she awaited the next morning. But several days passed before she again saw David. Then it was but for a very few minutes, and he was so wan and weak that she went away feeling sorrowful and anxious. Yet Dr. Dudley told her that she had done his patient good. That was a slight comfort.
The next day, and the next, the lad was again too ill for company, and a few sentences which Polly overheard filled her with foreboding. She was putting fresh sheets on one of the cots—a task which she had learned to do well—when she caught David's name.
"His heart is very weak," one of the stairs nurses was saying to Miss Price. "He can't stand many more such sinking spells. Dr. Dudley has given orders to be called at once, day or night, if he should have another."
Here the voice dropped, and Polly could not catch the words; but she had heard enough. The sheet went on crookedly. Polly did not know it, her eyes were so blurred with tears. She kept the sorry news to herself, and all day long the children wondered what made Polly so sober.
If she could have seen Dr. Dudley she would have asked him about David; but for several days she caught only passing glimpses of him, when he was too busy to be questioned. The little girl grew more and more anxious, but kept hoping that because she heard nothing David must be better.
It was during the short absence of Miss Price, one afternoon, that Elsie Meyer complained of the disagreeable liniment on her hip.
"It's just horrid! I can't stand it a minute longer!" she fretted. "Say, Polly, I wish you'd spray some of that nice-smellin' stuff around—what do you call it?"
"The resodarizer, I guess you mean," responded Polly, with more glibness than accuracy.
"Yes, that's it," Elsie returned. "Hurry up and use it, before High Price gets back!"
"Perhaps I'd better wait and ask her," she hesitated.
"No, don't! Miss Lucy always lets you take it," Elsie urged.
"Yes, I know," doubtfully. Then she went to the shelf in the dressing-room, where the atomizer box stood.
"There is n't a drop in it," she said, holding the bottle to the light. "Miss Lucy must have forgotten to fill it after I used it last time." Then, spying a small phial on the shelf, close to where the box had been, "Oh I guess she left it for me to fill!" And, unscrewing the chunky little bottle from the spraying apparatus, she soon had it half full.
Elsie smiled in blissful anticipation of the refreshing perfume, but as the spray fell near her she greeted it with a torrent of cries.
"Ugh, ugh! O-o-h! take it away!"
Then Polly, too, puckered her face in disgust. "Why, I must have put—"
"What are you doing with that atomizer?" interrupted Miss Price's voice. "How came kerosene oil in here? Have you been spraying it around?"
"I did n't know it was kerosene," answered Polly meekly. "I s'posed it was the resodarizer—"
"Oh, yes, I get it twisted! It's that kind that smells so nice."
Miss Price gave a little laugh. "Well, this does n't smell nice."
"I'm sorry," mourned Polly. "I don't see how a kerosene bottle came up there—oh, I know! Miss Lucy was putting some on her watch, the other day, and she was called off—I remember! She must have left it there."
"But the bottle is labeled," Miss Price replied, fetching it from the table where Polly had set it down. "Can't you read?"
"If course I can!" she answered, a little indignant at the question. "I guess I was thinking of—something else," she ended.
"David" had been on her tongue, but she kept the name back.
"Don't you know that you should always have your mind on what you do? It is a mercy that you did not get hold of anything worse."
"I could n't," Polly protested. "The poisons and all such things are up in the medicine closet, and that's always locked."
"You have been allowed too much liberty," Miss Price went on. "hereafter remember that you are not to touch a bottle of any description. But, then," she added, half to herself, but which came plainly to Polly's ear, "there is no need of such an order while I am in charge. I shall see that none are left within reach."
The child's eyes flashed. This clear implication of the one she adored set loose her temper, and she burst out passionately:—
"Miss Lucy always does everything just right, and I think it's mean of you to hint that she does n't!"
Miss Price looked steadily at Polly, the color wavering on her cheeks; then she said, with more than her usual gentleness:—
"Polly, I am sorry, but I think I shall have to punish you. You may go and sit in that wooden chair over there, with your back to the window. Do not stir or speak until I give you permission."
Polly walked straight to the seat designated, but there was no meekness in her obedience. She carried her head defiantly, and her face was hot with anger. To think that "High Price" should dare to find fault with Miss Lucy! That rankled in her loyal little heart.
With the Assistance of Lone Star
A strain of music floated up from the street, and the children that were able to be on their feet rushed for the windows.
"It's a band wagon!" cried Ethel.
"Two!" amended Moses. "Say, Miss Price, can't Polly just come and look at 'em?"
"No," was the quiet answer, while Cornelius O'Shaughnessy made faces at the young woman's back.
But Polly was not missing as much as the children feared. At first her mind was in too great a tumult for her to care for band wagons. Then, as the music soothed her excited nerves and drew her thoughts into pleasanter paths, she pictured the great wagons, and ther performers in scarlet and gold, as she had seen them scores of times, and she seemed to watch their progress under the arch of elms as perfectly as if she were not in the idle of the room with her eyes shut.
Them music grew faint and fainter, and was finally lost in the noise of the street. The children returned to their various occupations, giving Polly furtive tokens of sympathy on their way back. Leonora squeezed her hand; Cornelius patted her shoulder; Moses gently pulled a curl—one of his friendly amusements; and Brida, who was now about on crutches, stooped to kiss her cheek.
"Brida, do not talk to Polly!"
The sudden command startled the child almost into tripping.
"I was n't talkin'!" she protested. "I was only kissin' her."
"Well, come away from her—clear away," for the little girl was not making very quick time.
"I'm comin' s' fas' 's I can!" she pouted. "I can't run on these old crutches—so there!"
Polly almost giggled aloud at Brida's daring, but promptly subsided into a safe look of gravity. It was pleasant to feel sure of her friends. She was still thinking in this vein when a rap on the half-closed door was at once followed by the frightened face of one of the upstairs young nurses.
"Oh, Polly!" she cried, at sight of her, "run quick, and catch Dr. Dudley for David! He's out there cranking up, and I can't—"
But Polly had shot past her, and was already on the stairs.
The physician was starting his car, as she gained the front entrance.
"Doctor! Doctor! OH, Doctor!" she screamed, dashing down steps and walk at a reckless speed; but he did not look round and her voice was lost in the noise of the machine.
Her feet never slackened. Straight on she flew, like a real thistledown, her fair curls streaming on the wind, her eyes big with a vague terror. As the Doctor sped farther and farther away from her, she ceased calling realizing that she must reach him in some other way.
The second house below the hospital was Colonel Gresham's. The Colonel himself was stepping into his light buggy, to give Lone Star, his favorite trotter, a little exercise, when Polly rushed up.
"Oh, please, sir!" she panted, "will you catch Dr. Dudley?— They want him at the hospital—and I could n't make him hear! He's right ahead—in his auto—the dark green one! David will die if he don't come!"
For answer, Polly was whirled into the carriage, and before she could recover her breath Lone Star was making as good time as he had ever made in his short but famous life.
"Whew! The Colonel is going some!"—"Who's that pretty little kid with him?"—"Don't he leg it, though!" These and kindred observations were elicited all the way down the street, men stopping to see the well-known horse go by, and children scurrying across his track.
But the Doctor seemed bent on leading his pursuers a lengthy chase, for no sooner had they gained on him sufficiently to set Polly's heart dancing with hope than he suddenly increased his speed, at once putting a greater distance between them. Then, slowing for an instant, he vanished round a distant corner.
"Zounds!" muttered the Colonel.
"He turned right opposite that white birch!" cried Polly.
"Yes; I was keeping watch."
So was the Colonel; but he had not noticed the tree.
Polly's assurance held enough decision to satisfy the driver, and he took the turn she had indicated, where the glint of the weeping white birch on the opposite side of the street had caught her observant eye. But on the cross-road no dark green auto was in sight.
As they came to the first street on the right, however, a solitary car met their eager eyes.
Polly looked her delight, as the swept round the corner and along the hard, clear stretch. The flicker of a smile was on the Colonel's rugged face.
"Doc-tor! Doctor Dud-ley!" called Polly.
The physician turned his head.
"Oh, don't stop!" she entreated, for he was slowing up, as they came alongside.
"Please go right back—quick! David's worse!"
One astonished glance, and he comprehended, and obeyed. Colonel Gresham gave him room for the turn. Then, with a graceful gesture of farewell, and, "I thank you!" he whizzed past them and out of sight.
"Oh, I hope he'll get there in time!" sighed Polly.
"I think he will," the Colonel nodded. "He looks it."
"I don't want David to die; he's such a nice boy."
Lone Star was taking the road easily, after his spurt of speed. The lines lay loosely on the Colonel's knee.
"Is this David some relative of yours?" he asked.
"OH, no, sir! I've only known him a few weeks, since he was knocked down by a runaway horse, and hurt so badly. He's David Collins, and I'm Polly May. Dr. Dudley took me up to see him, because he needed cheering up; but now he has bad turns with his heart, and I can't go. He's a lovely boy. It was so good of you to take me to catch the Doctor—I don't know what I should have done if you had n't! And did n't your horse go fast! I never saw a horse go so fast before. I think he's beautiful; don't you?"
"I like him." The Colonel smiled down into Polly's eyes quite as if they were old friends. "Suppose I take you for a little longer drive—would your friends mind?"
"Oh, thank you!" Polly began, "I'd love it!" Then she stopped, with sudden recollection. "I guess I can't, though—I'd forgotten all about it!—I must go back, and finish being punished."
Colonel Gresham laughed outright, so Polly laughed too.
"I made an awful mistake," she explained; "I sprayed some kerosene all around, instead of de-sodarizer."
The Colonel was grave for a polite moment. Then, "And you did n't smell it?" he laughed.
"Not till Elsie yelled at me to stop. I don't see shy I did n't."
"But it seems hardly fair to punish one for a mistake."
"Well," confessed Polly, "that was n't all. I got mad, and I guess I was pretty saucy to High Price. She said something about Miss Lucy that I did n't like, and I told her what I thought—I just had to! So she sent me to sit in a chair till she said to get up. Then when the nurse came for me to catch Dr. Dudley, I was so scared about David that I ran right off, without even asking permission—I don't know what she will do to me now! But you can't stop for anything when folks are 'most dying, can you?"
"I should say not," the Colonel replied. "I reckon she won't treat you very badly."
"I don't care what she does, if David only gets well. But, oh, how can David's mother stand it, if he does n't! She's sick, you know, so she could n't come to see him—he's all she's got, and such a dear boy! He works to earn money for her when he's well, sells papers, and everything. I guess they're rather poor; but perhaps I ought n't to talk about that. Please don't tell anybody I said it, 'cause I don't really know."
"I shall not speak of it," promised Colonel Gresham gravely. "But how happens it that you're at the hospital? You're not sick, are you?"
"Not a bit now. I was hurt, but Dr. Dudley cured me. I'm on the staff—that's why I stay," Polly explained soberly.
"Oh! You're that little girl, are you?"
"I heard something about it at the time. Well, Lone Star and I will be glad to take you for a drive some other day, when you have n't any punishment on hand." He drew up the horse at the hospital entrance.
"Oh! Is that his name?" exclaimed Polly. "What a loveluscious one! Would he mind if I stroked his nose?" she asked, as the Colonel lifted her down.
"He would like it very much." And they went round to the horse's head together.
"Now I must go in," Polly sighed, giving the affectionate animal a last, loving pat. "I thank you ever and ever so much, Colonel Gresham, and I should be happy to go to ride with you again some day. I hope I have n't hindered you. Good-bye."
She skipped up the long walk to the house, the Colonel watching her until she disappeared at a side door.
Polly could not resist peeping into the Doctor's office before going upstairs. The room was empty, and she went slowly on, thinking of David.
Miss Price was standing near the door of the convalescent ward. She turned as Polly entered.
"Where have you been staying?" she asked. "Dr Dudley came long ago."
"Yes, I know; but I was with Colonel Gresham, and I could n't get here till he did."
"Colonel Gresham! Pray, how came you with him?" Miss Price was plainly astonished.
"Why, he took me to catch the Doctor. And Lone Star got there! Oh, did n't he go! Is n't it a love—luscious name?" Polly's eyes shone.
"Child!" sighed the nurse, "what have I told you about using that word?"
"I forgot," Polly answered meekly.
"You should n't forget. I hope you did n't talk that way to Colonel Gresham."
"He would n't care," replied Polly comfortably.
"He would think you had not had proper training. Now, remember, there is no such word as loveluscious. In this case you should have said that it was a good name or a pleasing name—though it is rather too fanciful," she added.
"I love it!" cried Polly; "but it would n't sound as if I did, just to say it was good."
Then Polly's thoughts suddenly went back to Lone Star's errand.
"Oh, Miss Price!" she asked, "how is David?"
"I have not heard," was the quiet reply.
"Well, I'll go and finish up being punished now," Polly said, with a tiny sigh, and she walked over to the chair which stood where she had left it.
Miss price did not appear to notice; but the children exchanged surprised glances. Voluntarily to continue a punishment was something with which they were unacquainted. They tried to attract Polly's attention, but her eyes were feverishly watching the half-open hall door. Dr. Dudley might stop when he came down —unless—! Her heart grew sick with the possibility.
At last she caught his step. Yes, he was coming there! Smilingly he pushed the door wide. Polly smiled in response—at least, David had not died!
"Want to come downstairs?" he invited, crossing over to her.
Still smiling, she shook her head, putting her finger to her lips.
With a puzzled look, the Doctor turned to Miss Price.
"What's happened?" he queried. "Has Polly suddenly become dumb? Or is it a game?"
"She is being punished," was the grave answer.
"Oh!" he replied. "Well, when she has been punished enough, please send her down to me."
He strode away, without one word of David, to Polly's overwhelming disappointment.
In half an hour Miss Price said, "Polly, you may go now."
She bounded off, with not even a backward glance, and the children felt lonelier than before. But Polly's mind was too full of David for her to think of the rest.
To her surprise the Doctor was not in his office; but upon a book of bright color she spied a tiny note with her name on it. Catching it up eagerly, she read:—
Sorry to be called away, when I have invited Company; but wait and take tea with me. I shall Be back soon. I've been looking over this book, And I think you will like it.
David is better.
"Oh, I'm so glad, glad, glad!" breathed Polly, clasping the note in her small hands.
Then she read it once more, and afterwards established herself in the Doctor's easiest chair, to begin the book he had suggested. If she like the story she would tell it to David.
Polly was so far away in thought that she did not notice Dr. Dudley's entrance, until he was inside the office. Then she flew to him.
He caught her in his arms, surveying her with a whimsical smile.
"All punished, are you?" he asked.
She laughed, responding with a gay affirmative.
"It does n't seem to have weighed you down much," he observed, drawing her to a seat beside him.
"It was only sitting still and not talking," she explained, "and I took two turns at it, so 't was n't bad. I told Colonel Gresham about the kerosene, and it made him laugh. Is n't Lone Star beautiful?"
"Decidedly; but how came you with the Colonel?" queried the Doctor.
"Why, he was right out there, if front of his house, and I asked him to catch you—there was n't any other way. I could n't make you hear. Oh, I do wish you could have seen Lone Star go!"
"I'll venture he never did a more valuable service," said the Doctor fervently. "Perhaps I might add, or you either. If it had not been for your ready wits things might have gone worse. I tried some new medicine for David, and it worked well, exceedingly well."
"Is he a good deal better?"
"Very comfortable. He was sleeping when I left him. Don't worry, Thistledown!" for tears stood in Polly's eyes. "I think he is going to pull through all right, and we'll have him down in the other ward before you know it."
Tea was served directly, and there were big, juicy blackberries, with which Dr. Dudley piled Polly's dish high.
When they returned to the office the story of the afternoon was finished, Polly holding back nothing, even repeating her saucy speech to the nurse.
The Doctor received it with a queer little smile.
"It was dreadfully impolite things when I get mad."
"Most people do," he responded. "One of the worst features of anger is that it robs us of self-control, and that is a terrible loss, if only for a moment."
Polly did not speak and after a bit of a pause the Doctor went on.
"Miss Price is going through a pretty hard place just now. Word came yesterday that her only sister, who is a missionary in Turkey, is very sick and not expected to live."
"Oh, I wish I had n't said that!" Polly broke out penitently. "I might go up and tell her I'm sorry," she hesitated.
"It would n't be a bad plan," Dr. Dudley replied.
So Polly said good-night rather soberly, although carrying away with her the gay-colored book and the happy belief that David was going to get well.
Her feet lagged, as they drew near the ward. What would Miss Price say? Would she make it easy or hard for her to apologize? Then the thought of the sick sister far away in Turkey, and half forgot herself.
The nurse was writing at her little table, when she looked up to see Polly by her side.
"I'm sorry I was so saucy this afternoon," came in a soft voice. "I did n't know about your sister then. I hope she'll get well."
For a moment Miss Price did not speak, and Polly fancied she saw tears in the black eyes.
"Thank you, my dear," she replied then. "Perhaps I was too severe. But we will be friends now, won't we?"
Polly gave a serious assent, in doubt whether she should proffer a kiss or not; but finally went away without giving the token. She had a vague feeling that Miss Hortensia Price would not care for kisses.
For a week Elsie Meyers had been talking about her coming birthday, and half wishing that she could be discharged early enough to allow its celebration at home.
"Mamma always makes a cake for our birthdays," she told the children, plaintively. "Last year mine was choc'late, and year before that, jelly. Mamma said next time she'd have it orange, same's she did Ida's. Now I can't have no cake or nothin', 'count o' this old hip!" and she pouted discontentedly.
"But your arm is 'most well," suggested Polly. "That's one good thing!"
"Yes," admitted Elsie.
"And it's nice that you can be all around, instead of having to lie abed," Polly went on, hunting for happy birthday accompaniments.
"Bet you 't is!" smiled Elsie. "Ying' a-bed ain't much fun, 'specially when you ache anywhere."
"If Miss Lucy was here, maybe she'd have a cake for you," put in Leonora.
"But she ain't," responded Cornelius unnecessarily.
"She ain't," echoed Otto Kriloff, his face reflecting his thought.
"When do you s'pose she'll come back?" queried Maggie O'Donnell.
NOby could answer.
"Maybe she never will," said Elsie gloomily,—"anyway till we all get gone."
"Oh, Elsie!" protested Polly.
"Well," was the outing retort, "if High Price stays here much longer—"
"She!" hushed Cornelius, "she's comin'!" For light steps sounded along the corridor.
The children cast furtive, half-frightened glances towards the hall door; but it was not Miss Hortensia Price that smilingly opened it.
"Miss Lucy! Miss Lucy!" they shouted; and with a rush they were upon her, embracing, pulling, squeezing, until she dropped into a chair, laughing and breathless.
"Have yer come to stay?" queried Maggie anxiously.
"For the present," she nodded.
A big, squealing, "O-o-h!" of joy rang through the ward, while Polly silently clung to one hand, as if she would never let it go.
"What's all this rumpus about?" came growlingly from the entrance; and the children turned to see Dr. Dudley surveying them, his eyes a-twinkle with fun.
Polly giggled. The rest looked a bit disconcerted.
"Accept my congratulations," he said, extending his hand to the nurse.
Polly reluctantly relinquished her hold of Muss Lucy, that the physician's greeting might be properly responded to, while the young lady blushed with pleasure.
"I'm jealous," the Doctor went on, looking around on the little group. "You never make such a fuss over me when I come."
"Do you want us to?" ventured Cornelius.
The Doctor laughed. "Well," he responded, "I'll excuse you from giving me such an ovation every day. How is that back of yours, Cornelius?" And he proceeded on his accustomed rounds.
One by one the children sidled back to Miss Lucy.
"It's my birthday to-day," announced Elsie, proceeding with her usual information regarding the home birthday cakes.
The nurse received the news with all the interest that any little girl could desire, even going so far as to "wonder" if a tea party would n't make a pleasant ending for the afternoon. That set Elsie into a flutter of blissful anticipations, so that when she overheard the Doctor telling Polly the auto got to wish she, to, could have a drive.
"Did you ever go to ride with Dr. Dudley?" queried Polly, as Miss Lucy buttoned her into a fresh frock.
"Did n't he ever invite you?" she persisted.
"Of course not! Now, turn round, and let me see if you are all right."
"Well, he ought to! It is n't fair for me to have all the rides. He's lovely to go with!"
Miss Lucy did not answer, but her cheeks were almost as pink as Polly's dress, while she pulled out the neck ruffle and retied the ribbon that caught up the bright curls.
Polly was starting off without a word.
"Good-bye, dear! I hope you will have just as good a time as you always do." And Miss Lucy detained her long enough to leave a kiss on the red lips.
A gay little laugh was the only reply. Then Polly ran out of the dressing-room and across the ward. The children heard her tripping down the stairs, and hurried over to the windows to see her go. But nobody appeared outside, and presently Polly returned.
"Put on your hat quick, Miss Lucy!" she cried gleefully. "You're going, 'stead o' me! Dr. Dudley says he shall feel very much honored to have your company! May I get your hat?"
"Polly May!" the young woman exclaimed, in a flutter of astonishment, "what have you been telling him?"
"OH, nothing much!" laughed Polly. "He wants you—so go right along!"
"Yes, do!" the children chimed in.
"Do!" echoed Elsie. "'Cause it's my birthday!"
Of course Miss Lucy insisted that she could not, would not, go. She pleaded lack of time and unsuitable dress. She summoned to her aid every excuse at command. But in the end she did exactly as the children wished, and they had the delight of seeing her drive away with the Doctor, while they chorused merry good-byes to the frantic waving of handkerchiefs.
When the automobile was out of sight, Polly thoughtfully began to paint the picture for those who had been shut off from a peep of it.
"They looked just lovely together, Miss Lucy in her pretty gray suit, with the pink rose on her hat! She waved her hand, and Dr. Dudley waved his!"
"Wonder how long they'll be gone," put in Elsie.
"I don't know—oh, say, let's clean up the dressing-room, and dust everywhere, so Miss Lucy won't have it to do when she gets back!" And Poly, assured of followers, skipped away for the dust-cloths.
Of course Polly did most of the little tasks; that was to be expected, since she had no lame back or twisted leg or crutches in the way. But everybody that was on his feet had some share in the general service, and was therefore free to appropriate a part of the praise with which Miss Lucy showered them.
Yes, she had had a charming ride, she told them, and they felt it must be so, since they had never seen her in a gayer mood.
"Run up to my room if you can slip away," she whispered to Polly. "I shall be there changing my gown."
After Miss Lucy had gone, the attention of the rest was attracted by a horseback party on the street, and Polly darted away as she had been bidden.
"Dear child!" said Miss Lucy, taking the little face in both her hands. "You have given me a great pleasure."
"It was n't I," laughed Polly. "It was Dr. Dudley. Are n't you glad now that you went?"
"Yes," she smiled. "Because if I had n't, Elsie might not have had this birthday present. Come, see what Doctor and I bought for her."
She opened a small package, disclosing a tiny box. In the box was a little gold signet ring with and Old English "E" engraved upon it.
"Oh," admired Polly, "is n't that lovelicious! I'm so glad for Elsie!"
"Yes," Miss Lucy went on, "I think she will like it. We wanted to give her something that she would keep to remember the day by, and we could n't think of anything better. She has a poor little home, though her mother works hard and does all she can to make the children happy. But Elsie can't have had many bright things in her life, so we're going to try to make her birthday as pleasant as possible."
"I should think this would please anybody, it is so beautiful!" and Polly laid it gently back in its little case.
Presently she was downstairs again, happy in the knowledge of sharing a secret with Miss Lucy and Dr. Dudley.
After dinner she read to the children from her new book of fairy tales, and the Miss Lucy taught them some new games that they could all play—even those who were still in bed.
They were just finishing one of these, when the strains of an old song suddenly sounded near by.
"Oh, a hand-organ!" somebody shouted, and they flocked to the windows.
"And he's got a monkey!" squealed Brida.
"Oh, that's 'count o' my birthday!" cried the happy Elsie. "I do wish he'd come up here!"
Her words floated down to the organ grinder, and at once he allowed the monkey more length of cord. The little animal began to climb the wisteria vine, and presently was doffing his tiny red cap to the children, who shrieked with delight.
"Here's a penny for him, Elsie," said Dr. Dudley, who had come up behind them unnoticed.
The little birthday girl joyfully took the bright coin, and dropped it into the monkey's outstretched paw, receiving from him a characteristic "thank you," which caused more glee.
Again and again the little gay-coated messenger made trips up and down the wisteria, transferring the pennies from the children's hands to his master's pocket, until the yellow coins finally gave out, and the Doctor was obliged to say, "No more!"
Even then the man smilingly played on, and when at last he and the monkey bade their patrons good-bye, Elsie thought that no little girl ever had so "splendid" a birthday as she was having.
The party tea was served precisely at half-past five o'clock, and such a tea! Little biscuits scarcely bigger than silver dollars, small tarts filled with fig marmalade, great berries that the children agreed were super-bondonjical, tiny nut cookies, a frosted cake decorated with nine pink candles, chocolate in pretty cups, and—to top off the feast—ice cream in the shape of chickens!
Miss Lucy and Polly and Dr. Dudley served those little people who could not be at the table, and nobody—not even the birthday girl herself—enjoyed it all better than did Polly May.
Polly was eagerly anticipating the time when Elsie should be presented with the signet ring, and followed Miss Lucy's movements with watchful eyes. At last the nurse left the ward, and disappeared in the direction of her own room. The moment must be close at hand!
Dr. Dudley told funny stories, and Polly laughed with the rest; but her eyes were on the doorway, and her heart in a flutter of excitement. The moments piled up, and Miss Lucy did not come back. Polly grew anxious. Even Dr. Dudley looked at his watch, and glanced towards the door.
When, after a good quarter of an hour, the nurse returned, Polly knew that something was wrong. Dr. Dudley knew it, too; and soon he and Miss Lucy were talking together in low tones beyond the reach of Polly's ears. Had something befallen the ring? What could be the matter? The children gleefully discussing the Doctor's last story; but Polly's thoughts were at the other end of the room. When Miss Lucy and Dr. Dudley came back to them, however, both faces were so bright, Polly decided that she must have been mistaken, and looked for the ring to appear. But it was not so much as mentioned. The Doctor bade Elsie and the others good-bye, and Miss Lucy accompanied him into the hall.
After a while the suspense became unbearable, and Polly started for Miss Lucy's room. It was around the corner, on another corridor, and as Polly reached the turn she heard voices. Involuntarily she halted.
"It's the strangest thing," Miss Lucy was saying. "I remember laying it on the dresser after showing it to you, and then I was called away, and I can't recollect putting it in the box. I know I locked the door when I went out—I don't understand it!"
"And you say nobody but Polly has been in the room since?"
The voice belonged to Miss Curtis, one of Miss Lucy's closest friends.
"Unless it was entered with a skeleton key."
"Well, there's only one solution to the musterd, it seems to me," Miss Curtis replied.
"I won't, I won't believe it!" Miss Lucy burst out. "Polly is honesty itself. She would n't do such a thing any more than— you or I would. If it were some children—but Polly!"
"You might question her anyway; ask her if she noticed the ring when she came in after those napkins."
"I—can't! She'd see through it at once. Polly is bright. It would break her heart to know we had such a thought. I believe it got knocked off the dresser some way and will be found sooner or later; but I wanted to give it to Elsie to-day. I'm all upset about it!"
"Well, I can't help thinking—"
Polly, weak and wretched, shrank away, and went softly back through the long corridor. At the door of the ward she met Dr. Dudley.
"I was looking for you," he said. "Don't you want to take that ride you missed this morning? I have a call to go down to Linwood, and it is just cool enough now to be pleasant. Better put on your coat; your dress is thin."
"Could n't you—take Elsie?" faltered Polly faintly.
"Elsie? Well, Thistledown, I feel hurt! Twice in one day! Have you sworn off from auto riding?"
Usually this would have brought out a happy laugh, but now Polly merely answered, "No," very soberly.
"I should n't dare to risk a ride for Elsie until her hip is better," the Doctor resumed. "I'll try to taker her some day, when she is a little further along. Now, run and get you hat. I'll wait for you."
Polly never quite forgot that ride. The fresh, twilight air, fragrant with dewy blossoms; the exhilarating motion; the Doctor's merry speeches;—these would have been sufficient at any other time to fill her with joy. Now she was but half conscious of them all; the dreadful ache in her heart over-powered everything else. She wondered if Dr. Dudley felt as Miss Lucy did. Or did he, with Miss Curtis, suspect her to be—a thief! She longed to cry out, "Oh, I did n't! I did n't! I did n'!" But, instead, she silently stared out on the dusky road, and wished herself at home, in her own little bed where she could let the tears come, and not have to push them back.
She was glad, in a vague kind of way, when the auto slowed up at the hospital entrance, and the Doctor lifted her out. They walked up the flagging, hand in hand, the physician as silent as she. She would have gone directly upstairs, but he drew her into his office.
"Now, what is it, Thistledown?" he asked gently, taking her in his arms.
She hid her face on his shoulder, and began to sob.
He let the tears have their way for a time, resting his cheek lightly on her curls. Finally he spoke again.
"Is it about the ring, dear?"
"What have they been saying to you?" he questioned savagely.
"N-nothing to me," she replied. "I—heard—Miss Curtis— and Miss Lucy—talking. Miss Curtis—she thinks I—oh, dear!—she thinks I—took it! You don't think—I—took—"
"No!" thundered the Doctor in so tremendous a voice that it Polly had n't been in such depths of misery she would have laughed outright.
As it was, she caught his hand to her lips, and kissed it, saying, "You scared me!"
"Well, I'm sorry," he smiled; "but you must n't ask me such questions about my Thistledown, if you don't want to hear me roar."
A wee giggle delighted his ears.
"Now that's something like it!" he said. "Don't let's bother any more about that ring. Probably we'll find it to-morrow. If we don't, I'll buy Elsie another."
A faint, uncertain rapping made the physician set Polly gently on her feet, while he opened the door. Nobody was in sight, and he kept on to the main entrance.
A man stood outside, who deferentially removed his hat.
"You b'long-a?" he asked.
"Yes, I belong here. I am Dr. Dudley. Whom do you wish to see?"
"I play out-a here—af'-a-noon-a," with a sweep of his hand towards the left. "Monkee—him ba-ad-a monkee! Him take-a— yours?" and he held out the missing ring.
"Oh, yes, that is ours!" the Doctor exclaimed. "We have been trying to find it.—Polly! Polly! Come here!"
Polly obeyed, though slowly, because of her tears; but when she recognized the organ grinder curiosity hastened her steps.
Dr. Dudley put the ring in her hand.
"Why—ee!" she cried joyously. "Elsie's ring! Oh, I'm so glad!"
"Him ba'ad-a monkee!" grinned the man. "Him go up-a, up-a— window op'n—him go in-a. I see nobodee—I pull-a so! Him no come. I pull-a so!" and the man tugged hard on the imaginary cord. "Him come. Him got-a ring-a in leetle han'—I no see! I take-a pennees—so," and he went over a handful of invisible coins,—"I see!" pointing to the ring. "Where get-a?" He stared wildly around, to show how great had been his amazement. "Ah-h!—him ba-ad-a monkee!—him get-a up-a beeg house— beeg seeck-house—yours!" He ended with a delighted grin, which signified his pleasure in having his surmises come true.
"We thank you very much indeed," responded Dr. Dudley earnestly, putting his hand in his pocket. "Accept this for your trouble." And he held out a quarter.
"Ah-h, no! Him ba-ad-a monkee!" He waved his hands gracefully.
He went away, however, carrying the coin, and grinning his "Good-bye."
"Was n't he funny?" laughed Polly, when the door was shut. "He called this a sick-house!"
"Why not a sick-house as well as a sick-bed?" the Doctor smiled.
But Polly only laughed, gazing down happily on the little ring.
"I'm so glad," she breathed. "Now Miss Curtis will know!"
"Miss Lucy and I knew before," was the instant reply. "Better run upstairs and let Elsie have it while it is still her birthday."
"Will you come, too?"
"No; I'll let you and Miss Lucy do the honors. There are some people I must see, and it is getting along towards sleep time. Good-night, Thistledown!" He stooped for a kiss, and she clung to him for a moment.
"It is so nice that you did n't think I did!" she whispered.
She tripled lightly upstairs, and across the ward to Miss Lucy's side. She slipped the ring into her hand.
The nurse stared her amazement.
"The monkey went in at your window, and took it!" beamed Polly. "The man's just brought it back! He never knew it till he counted his money! OH, he told it so funny!"
"Well!" ejaculated the nurse. Then the echoed Polly's own words, "I'm so glad!"
The children were pressing near, eager to know what was exciting Miss Lucy and Polly.
"Let's see if it fits your finger, Elsie!" taking the hand of the astonished child. "Perfectly! It is a birthday present from Dr. Dudley and me. We were going to give it to you directly after tea; but when I looked for it, it was gone. Polly will tell you the rest."
And Polly did, imitating the organ grinder's words and gestures, till her listeners were shaking with laughter.
Elsie was too overpowered with joy to want to go to bed at all.
"When the lights are out I can't see my ring!" she cried in sudden dismay.
"But you can feel it," returned Polly.
"Oh! May I keep it on my finger all night long?" she asked incredulously.
"Certainly, dear," the nurse replied.
That was enough. Without another word she allowed herself to be undressed.
The ward had been dark and quiet for at least two minutes when a voice piped out, "Miss Lucy! OH, Miss Lucy!"
"What is it, Elsie?" came the quick answer.
"I just happened to think—you and Dr. Dudley and Polly and the organ man and the monkey and everybody have been living such a splendid story for my birthday! I did n't thank you half enough!"
"You have done just right, dear. All the thanks we wanted were in your happy face. Now pleasant dreams!"
With a glad good-night, Elsie settled back contentedly on her pillow, the ring finger pressed against her cheek. And, at last, the hush of sleep brooded over the convalescent ward.
The Little Sad Lady
David grew strong steadily, but not so fast that Polly was allowed to see him as soon as they both wished. When, at last, she went up for a brief ten minutes, she was brimful of pleasure.
"I want to know about the day you ran after Dr. Dudley for me," began David, almost at once; "the time I was so sick. The Doctor said you had a race, and enjoyed it. I don't see how you could enjoy running your legs off for me; but it was awfully good of you."
"Why," cried Polly, "it was n't I that ran—at least, not much; it was Lone Star."
"Lone Star?" gasped David. "Polly! Do tell me quick!"
"I am telling you," she laughed. "Lone Star, Colonel Gresham's beautiful horse, did the running—the trotting, I mean—why, David! What's the matter?"
The boy's eyes had grown big with excitement, and his cheeks were bright.
"Go on!" he breathed.
"That's about all. I saw I was n't going to make the Doctor hear, and Colonel Gresham was right out there, and I told him how —sick you were, and asked him to catch the Doctor. I never thought of his taking me; but before I knew it I was in the buggy, and we were flying down the street like mad! Oh, I do wish you could have seen Lone Star go!"
"Did he know it was I?" whispered David excitedly.
"Lone Star—know?" and Polly's forehead puckered. "Oh," she brightened, "you mean the Colonel! Why, yes, of course, he did! That is, I told him—no, I did n't tell him much, though, till we were coming home. But what difference does it make?"
"Lots!" murmured David disappointedly. "I hoped he knew—oh, I hoped he knew! Polly!"—and the doll-blue eyes grew mournful —"He's my Uncle David!"
"Colonel Gresham—your uncle?" Now Polly's eyes widened, too.
"My mother's uncle."
"Oh, is n't that splendid!" beamed Polly. "I should think he'd have told me!"
David lay quite still for a moment. When he spoke again it was on an entirely different matter, and soon the ten minutes were up.
"Did you know that David is related to Colonel Gresham?" Polly asked, as she went downstairs with Dr. Dudley.
Polly told, adding what she had learned of the family history.
The Doctor shook his head sadly.
"I would n't say anything about it to the children," he cautioned her. "Such things are better left untalked of. David is an unusual boy."