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An Old-fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Part 5 out of 6

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everything is so stupid and tiresome?"

"If ever a girl needed work, it 's you!" cried Polly. "You began to
be a young lady so early, that you are tired of everything at
twenty-two. I wish you 'd go at something, then you 'd find how
much talent and energy you really had."

"I know ever so many girls who are just like me, sick to death of
fashionable life but don't know what to take in its place. I 'd like to
travel; but papa says he can't afford it, so I can only drag about and
get on as I may."

"I pity you rich girls so much, you have so many opportunities, and
don't seem to know how to use them! I suppose I should do just the
same in your place, but it seems now as if I could be very happy
and useful with plenty of money."

"You are that without it. There, I won't croak any more. Let us go
and take a good walk, and don't you tell any one how I came and
cried like a baby."

"Never!" said Polly, putting on her bonnet.

"I ought to go and make calls," said Fanny, "but I don't feel now as
if I ever wanted to see any of the girls again. Dreadful state of
mind, is n't it?"

"Suppose you come and see some of my friends instead! They are
not fine or ceremonious, but lively, odd, and pleasant. Come, it
will amuse you."

"I will," cried Fanny, whose spirits seemed improved by the
shower. "Nice little old lady, is n't she?" added Fan, as she caught
sight of Miss Mills, on their way out, sitting at a table piled with
work, and sewing away with an energy that made the gray curls
vibrate.

"Saint Mehitable, I call her. Now, there is a rich woman who knew
how to get happiness out of her money," said Polly, as they walked
away. "She was poor till she was nearly fifty; then a comfortable
fortune was left her, and she knew just how to use it. That house
was given her, but instead of living in it all alone, she filled it with
poor gentlefolks who needed neat, respectable homes, but could n't
get anything comfortable for their little money. I 'm one of them,
and I know the worth of what she does for me. Two old widow
ladies live below me, several students overhead, poor Mrs. Kean
and her lame boy have the back parlor, and Jenny the little
bedroom next Miss Mills. Each pays what they can; that 's
independent, and makes us feel better but that dear woman does a
thousand things that money can't pay for, and we feel her influence
all through the house. I 'd rather be married, and have a home of
my own; but next to that, I should like to be an old maid like Miss
Mills."

Polly's sober face and emphatic tone made Fanny laugh, and at the
cheery sound a young girl pushing a baby-carriage looked round
and smiled.

What lovely eyes!" whispered Fanny.

Yes, that 's little Jane," returned Polly, adding, when she had
passed, with a nod and a friendly "Don't get tired, Jenny," "we help
one another at our house, and every fine morning Jenny takes
Johnny Kean out when she goes for her own walk. That gives his
mother time to rest, does both the children good, and keeps things
neighborly. Miss Mills suggested it, and Jenny is so glad to do
anything for anybody, it 's a pleasure to let her."

"I 've heard of Miss Mills before. But I should think she would get
tired to death, sitting there making hoods and petticoats day after
day," said Fanny, after thinking over Jenny's story for a few
minutes, for seeing the girl seemed to bring it nearer, and make it
more real to her.

"But she don't sit there all the time. People come to her with their
troubles, and she goes to them with all sorts of help, from soap and
soup, to shrouds for the dead and comfort for the living. I go with
her sometimes, and it is more exciting than any play, to see and
hear the lives and stories of the poor."

"How can you bear the dreadful sights and sounds, the bad air, and
the poverty that can't be cured?"

"But it is n't all dreadful. There are good and lovely things among
them, if one only has eyes to see them. It makes me grateful and
contented, shows me how rich I am, and keeps me ready to do all I
can for these poor souls."

"My good Polly!" and Fanny gave her friends arm an affectionate
squeeze, wondering if it was this alone that had worked the change
in Polly.

"You have seen two of my new friends, Miss Mills and Jenny, now
I 'll show you two more," said Polly, presently, as they reached a
door, and she led the way up several flights of public stairs.
"Rebecca Jeffrey is a regularly splendid girl, full of talent; she
won't let us call it genius; she will be famous some day, I know,
she is so modest, and yet so intent on her work. Lizzie Small is an
engraver, and designs the most delightful little pictures. Becky and
she live together, and take care of one another in true Damon and
Pythias style. This studio is their home, they work, eat, sleep, and
live here, going halves in everything. They are all alone in the
world, but as happy and independent as birds; real friends, whom
nothing will part."

"Let a lover come between them, and their friendship won't last
long," said Fanny.

"I think it will. Take a look at them, and you 'll change your mind,"
answered Polly, tapping at a door, on which two modest cards
were tacked.

"Come in!" said a voice, and obeying, Fanny found herself in a
large, queerly furnished room, lighted from above, and occupied
by two girls. One stood before a great clay figure, in a corner. This
one was tall, with a strong face, keen eyes, short, curly hair, and a
fine head. Fanny was struck at once by this face and figure, though
the one was not handsome, and the other half hidden by a great
pinafore covered with clay. At a table where the light was clearest,
sat a frail-looking girl, with a thin face, big eyes, and pale hair, a
dreamy, absorbed little person, who bent over a block, skillfully
wielding her tools.

"Becky and Bess, how do you do? This is my friend, Fanny Shaw.
We are out on a rampage; so go on with your work, and let us lazy
ones look on and admire."

As Polly spoke, both girls looked up and nodded, smilingly; Bess
gave Fan the one easy-chair; Becky took an artistic survey of the
new-comer, with eyes that seemed to see everything; then each
went on with her work, and all began to talk.

"You are just what I want, Polly. Pull up your sleeve, and give me
an arm while you sit; the muscles here are n't right, and you 've got
just what I want," said Becky, slapping the round arm of the statue,
at which Fan was gazing with awe.

"How do you get on?" asked Polly, throwing off her cloak, and
rolling up her sleeves, as if going to washing.

"Slowly. The idea is working itself clear, and I follow as fast as my
hands can. Is the face better, do you think?" said Becky, taking off
a wet cloth, and showing the head of the statue.

"How beautiful it is!" cried Fanny, staring at it with increased
respect.

"What does it mean to you?" asked Rebecca, turning to her with a
sudden shine in her keen eyes.

"I don't know whether it is meant for a saint or a muse, a goddess
or a fate; but to me it is only a beautiful woman, bigger, lovelier,
and more imposing than any woman I ever saw," answered Fanny,
slowly, trying to express the impression the statue made upon her.

Rebecca smiled brightly, and Bess looked round to nod
approvingly, but Polly clapped her hands, and said, "Well done,
Fan! I did n't think you 'd get the idea so well, but you have, and I
'm proud of your insight. Now I 'll tell you, for Becky will let me,
since you have paid her the compliment of understanding her
work. Some time ago we got into a famous talk about what women
should be, and Becky said she 'd show us her idea of the coming
woman. There she is, as you say, bigger, lovelier, and more
imposing than any we see nowadays; and at the same time, she is a
true woman. See what a fine forehead, yet the mouth is both firm
and tender, as if it could say strong, wise things, as well as teach
children and kiss babies. We could n't decide what to put in the
hands as the most appropriate symbol. What do you say?"

"Give her a sceptre: she would make a fine queen," answered
Fanny.

"No, we have had enough of that; women have been called queens
a long time, but the kingdom given them is n't worth ruling,"
answered Rebecca.

"I don't think it is nowadays," said Fanny, with a tired sort of sigh.

"Put a man's hand in hers to help her along, then," said Polly,
whose happy fortune it had been to find friends and helpers in
father and brothers.

"No; my woman is to stand alone, and help herself," said Rebecca,
decidedly.

"She 's to be strong-minded, is she?" and Fanny's lip curled a little
as she uttered the misused words.

"Yes, strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and
strong-bodied; that is why I made her larger than the miserable,
pinched-up woman of our day. Strength and beauty must go
together. Don't you think these broad shoulders can bear burdens
without breaking down, these hands work well, these eyes see
clearly, and these lips do something besides simper and gossip?"

Fanny was silent; but a voice from Bess's corner said, "Put a child
in her arms, Becky."

"Not that even, for she is to be something more than a nurse."

"Give her a ballot-box," cried a new voice, and turning round, they
saw an odd-looking woman perched on a sofa behind them.

"Thank you for the suggestion, Kate. I 'll put that with the other
symbols at her feet; for I 'm going to have needle, pen, palette, and
broom somewhere, to suggest the various talents she owns, and the
ballot-box will show that she has earned the right to use them.
How goes it?" and Rebecca offered a clay-daubed hand, which the
new-comer cordially shook.

"Great news, girls! Anna is going to Italy!" cried Kate, tossing up
her bonnet like a school-boy.

"Oh, how splendid! Who takes her? Has she had a fortune left her?
Tell all about it," exclaimed the girls, gathering round the speaker.

"Yes, it is splendid; just one of the beautiful things that does
everybody heaps of good, it is so generous and so deserved. You
know Anna has been longing to go; working and hoping for a
chance, and never getting it, till all of a sudden Miss Burton is
inspired to invite the girl to go with her for several years to Italy.
Think of the luck of that dear soul, the advantages she 'll have, the
good it will do her, and, best of all, the lovely way in which it
comes to her. Miss Burton wants, her as a friend, asks nothing of
her but her company, and Anna will go through fire and water for
her, of course. Now, is n't that fine?"

It was good to see how heartily these girls sympathized in their
comrade's good fortune. Polly danced all over the room, Bess and
Becky hugged one another, and Kate laughed with her eyes full,
while even Fanny felt a glow of, pride and pleasure at the kind act.

"Who is that?" she whispered to Polly, who had subsided into a
corner.

"Why, it Is Kate King, the authoress. Bless me, how rude not to
introduce you! Here, my King, is an admirer of yours, Fanny Shaw,
and my well beloved friend," cried Polly, presenting Fan, who
regarded the shabby young woman with as much respect, as if she
had been arrayed in velvet and ermine; for Kate had written a
successful book by accident, and happened to be the fashion, just
then.

"It 's time for lunch, girls, and I brought mine along with me, it 's
so much jollier to eat in sisterhood. Let 's club together, and have a
revel," said Kate, producing a bag of oranges, and several big,
plummy buns.

"We 've got sardines, crackers, and cheese," said Bess, clearing off
a table with all speed.

"Wait a bit, and I 'll add my share," cried Polly, and catching up
her cloak, she ran off to the grocery store near by.

"You 'll be shocked at our performances, Miss Shaw, but you can
call it a picnic, and never tell what dreadful things you saw us do,"
said Rebecca, polishing a paint knife by rubbing it up and down in
a pot of ivy, while Kate spread forth the feast in several odd plates,
and a flat shell or two.

"Let us have coffee to finish off with; put on the pot, Bess, and
skim the milk," added Becky, as she produced cups, mugs, and a
queer little vase, to supply drinking vessels for the party.

"Here 's nuts, a pot of jam, and some cake. Fan likes sweet things,
and we want to be elegant when we have company," said Polly,
flying in again, and depositing her share on the table.

"Now, then, fall to, ladies, and help yourselves. Never mind if the
china don't hold out; take the sardines by their little tails, and wipe
your fingers on my brown-paper napkins," said Kate, setting the
example with such a relish, that the others followed it in a gale of
merriment.

Fanny had been to many elegant lunches, but never enjoyed one
more than that droll picnic in the studio; for there was a freedom
about it that was charming, an artistic flavor to everything, and
such a spirit of good-will and gayety, that she felt at home at once.
As they ate, the others talked and she listened, finding it as
interesting as any romance to hear these young women discuss
their plans, ambitions, successes, and defeats. It was a new world
to her, and they seemed a different race of creatures from the girls
whose lives were spent in dress, gossip, pleasure, or ennui. They
were girls still, full of spirits fun, and youth; but below the
light-heartedness each cherished a purpose, which seemed to
ennoble her womanhood, to give her a certain power, a sustaining
satisfaction, a daily stimulus, that led her on to daily effort, and in
time to some success in circumstance or character, which was
worth all the patience, hope, and labor of her life.

Fanny was just then in the mood to feel the beauty of this, for the
sincerest emotion she had ever known was beginning to make her
dissatisfied with herself, and the aimless life she led. "Men must
respect such girls as these," she thought; "yes, and love them too,
for in spite of their independence, they are womanly. I wish I had a
talent to live for, if it would do as much for me as it does for them.
It is this sort of thing that is improving Polly, that makes her
society interesting to Sydney, and herself so dear to every one.
Money can't buy these things for me, and I want them very much."

As these thoughts were passing through her mind, Fanny was
hearing all sorts of topics discussed with feminine enthusiasm and
frankness. Art, morals, politics, society, books, religion,
housekeeping, dress, and economy, for the minds and tongues
roved from subject to subject with youthful rapidity, and seemed to
get something from the dryest and the dullest.

"How does the new book come on?" asked Polly, sucking her
orange in public with a composure which would have scandalized
the good ladies of "Cranford."

"Better than it deserves. My children, beware of popularity; it is a
delusion and a snare; it puffeth up the heart of man, and especially
of woman; it blindeth the eyes to faults; it exalteth unduly the
humble powers of the victim; it is apt to be capricious, and just as
one gets to liking the taste of this intoxicating draught, it suddenly
faileth, and one is left gasping, like a fish out of water," and Kate
emphasized her speech by spearing a sardine with a penknife, and
eating it with a groan.

"It won't hurt you much, I guess; you have worked and waited so
long, a large dose will do you good," said Rebecca, giving her a
generous spoonful of jam, as if eager to add as much sweetness as
possible to a life that had not been an easy one.

"When are you and Becky going to dissolve partnership?" asked
Polly, eager for news of all.

"Never! George knows he can't have one without the other, and has
not suggested such a thing as parting us. There is always room in
my house for Becky, and she lets me do as she would if she was in
my place," answered Bess, with a look which her friend answered
by a smile.

"The lover won't separate this pair of friends, you see," whispered
Polly to Fan. "Bess is to be married in the spring, and Becky is to
live with her."

"By the way, Polly, I 've got some tickets for you. People are
always sending me such things, and as I don't care for them, I 'm
glad to make them over to you young and giddy infants. There are
passes for the statuary exhibition, Becky shall have those, here are
the concert tickets for you, my musical girl; and that is for a course
of lectures on literature, which I 'll keep for myself."

As Kate dealt out the colored cards to the grateful girls, Fanny took
a good look at her, wondering if the time would ever come when
women could earn a little money and success, without paying such
a heavy price for them; for Kate looked sick, tired, and too early
old. Then her eye went to the unfinished statue, and she said,
impulsively, "I hope you 'll put that in marble, and show us what
we ought to be."

"I wish I could!" And an intense desire shone in Rebecca's face, as
she saw her faulty work, and felt how fair her model was.

For a minute, the five young women sat silent looking up at the
beautiful, strong figure before them, each longing to see it done,
and each unconscious that she was helping, by her individual effort
and experience, to bring the day when their noblest ideal of
womanhood should be embodied in flesh and blood, not clay.

The city bells rung one, and Polly started up.

"I must go, for I promised a neighbor of mine a lesson at two."

"I thought this was a holiday," said Fanny.

"So it is, but this is a little labor of love, and does n't spoil the day
at all. The child has talent, loves music, and needs help. I can't
give her money, but I can teach her; so I do, and she is the most
promising pupil I have. Help one another, is part of the religion of
our sisterhood, Fan."

"I must put you in a story, Polly. I want a heroine, and you will
do," said Kate.

"Me! why, there never was such a humdrum, unromantic thing as I
am," cried Polly, amazed.

"I 've booked you, nevertheless, so in you go; but you may add as
much romance as you like, it 's time you did."

"I 'm ready for it when it comes, but it can't be forced, you know,"
and Polly blushed and smiled as if some little spice of that
delightful thing had stolen into her life, for all its prosaic seeming.

Fanny was amused to see that the girls did not kiss at parting, but
shook hands in a quiet, friendly fashion, looking at one another
with eyes that said more than the most "gushing" words.

"I like your friends very much, Polly. I was afraid I should find
them mannish and rough, or sentimental and conceited. But they
are simple, sensible creatures, full of talent, and all sorts of fine
things. I admire and respect them, and want to go again, if I may."

"Oh, Fan, I am so glad! I hoped you 'd like them, I knew they 'd do
you good, and I 'll take you any time, for you stood the test better
than I expected. Becky asked me to bring you again, and she
seldom does that for fashionable young ladies, let me tell you."

"I want to be ever so much better, and I think you and they might
show me how," said Fanny, with a traitorous tremble in her voice.

"We 'll show you the sunny side of poverty and work, and that is a
useful lesson for any one, Miss Mills says," answered Polly,
hoping that Fan would learn how much the poor can teach the rich,
and what helpful friends girls may be to one another.

CHAPTER XIV NIPPED IN THE BUD

ON the evening of Fan's visit, Polly sat down before her fire with a
resolute and thoughtful aspect. She pulled her hair down, turned
her skirt back, put her feet on the fender, and took Puttel into her
lap, all of which arrangements signified that something very
important had got to be thought over and settled. Polly did not
soliloquize aloud, as heroines on the stage and in books have a
way of doing, but the conversation she held with herself was very
much like this: "I 'm afraid there is something in it. I 've tried to
think it 's nothing but vanity or imagination, yet I can't help seeing
a difference, and feeling as if I ought not to pretend that I don't. I
know it 's considered proper for girls to shut their eyes and let
things come to a crisis no matter how much mischief is done. But I
don't think it 's doing as we 'd be done by, and it seems a great deal
more honest to show a man that you don't love him before he has
entirely lost his heart. The girls laughed at me when I said so, and
they declared that it would be a very improper thing to do, but I 've
observed that they don't hesitate to snub 'ineligible parties,' as they
call poor, very young, or unpopular men. It 's all right then, but
when a nice person comes it 's part of the fun to let him go on to
the very end, whether the girls care for him or not. The more
proposals, the more credit. Fan says Trix always asks when she
comes home after the summer excursions, 'How many birds have
you bagged?' as if men were partridges. What wicked creatures we
are! some of us at least. I wonder why such a love of conquest was
put into us? Mother says a great deal of it is owing to bad
education nowadays, but some girls seem born for the express
purpose of making trouble and would manage to do it if they lived
in a howling wilderness. I 'm afraid I 've got a spice of it, and if I
had the chance, should be as bad as any of them. I 've tried it and
liked it, and maybe this is the consequence of that night's fun."

Here Polly leaned back and looked up at the little mirror over the
chimney-piece, which was hung so that it reflected the faces of
those about the fire. In it Polly saw a pair of telltale eyes looking
out from a tangle of bright brown hair, cheeks that flushed and
dimpled suddenly as the fresh mouth smiled with an expression of
conscious power, half proud, half ashamed, and as pretty to see as
the coquettish gesture with which she smoothed back her curls and
flourished a white hand. For a minute she regarded the pleasant
picture while visions of girlish romances and triumphs danced
through her head, then she shook her hair all over her face and
pushed her chair out of range of the mirror, saying, with a droll
mixture of self-reproach and self-approval in her tone; "Oh,
Puttel, Puttel, what a fool I am!"

Puss appeared to endorse the sentiment by a loud purr and a
graceful wave of her tail, and Polly returned to the subject from
which these little vanities had beguiled her.

"Just suppose it is true, that he does ask me, and I say yes! What a
stir it would make, and what fun it would be to see the faces of the
girls when it came out! They all think a great deal of him because
he is so hard to please, and almost any of them would feel
immensely flattered if he liked them, whether they chose to marry
him or not. Trix has tried for years to fascinate him, and he can't
bear her, and I 'm so glad! What a spiteful thing I am. Well, I can't
help it, she does aggravate me so!" And Polly gave the cat such a
tweak of the ear that Puttel bounced out of her lap in high
dudgeon.

"It don't do to think of her, and I won't!" said Polly to herself,
setting her lips with a grim look that was not at all becoming.
"What an easy life I should have plenty of money, quantities of
friends, all sorts of pleasures, and no work, no poverty, no cold
shoulders or patched boots. I could do so much for all at home
how I should enjoy that!" And Polly let her thoughts revel in the
luxurious future her fancy painted. It was a very bright picture, but
something seemed amiss with it, for presently she sighed and
shook her head, thinking sorrowfully, "Ah, but I don't love him,
and I 'm afraid I never can as I ought! He 's very good, and
generous, and wise, and would be kind, I know, but somehow I
can't imagine spending my life with him; I 'm so afraid I should get
tired of him, and then what should I do? Polly Sydney don't sound
well, and Mrs. Arthur Sydney don't seem to fit me a bit. Wonder
how it would seem to call him 'Arthur'?" And Polly said it under
her breath, with a look over her shoulder to be sure no one heard it.
"It 's a pretty name, but rather too fine, and I should n't dare to say
'Syd,' as his sister does. I like short, plain, home-like names, such
as Will, Ned, or Tom. No, no, I can never care for him, and it 's no
use to try!" The exclamation broke from Polly as if a sudden
trouble had seized her, and laying her head down on her knees, she
sat motionless for many minutes.

When she looked up, her face wore an expression which no one
had ever seen on it before; a look of mingled pain and patience, as
if some loss had come to her, and left the bitterness of regret
behind.

"I won't think of myself, or try to mend one mistake by making
another," she said with a heavy sigh. "I 'll do what I can for Fan,
and not stand between her and a chance of happiness. Let me see,
how can I begin? I won't walk with him any more; I 'll dodge and
go roundabout ways, so that we can't meet. I never had much faith
in the remarkable coincidence of his always happening home to
dinner just as I go to give the Roths their lesson. The fact is, I like
to meet him, I am glad to be seen with him, and put on airs, I dare
say, like a vain goose as I am. Well, I won't do it any more, and
that will spare Fan one affliction. Poor dear, how I must have
worried her all this time, and never guessed it. She has n't been
quite as kind as ever; but when she got sharp, I fancied it was
dyspepsia. Oh, me! I wish the other trouble could be cured as
easily as this."

Here puss showed an amiable desire to forgive and forget, and
Polly took her up, saying aloud: "Puttel, when missis abuses you,
play it 's dyspepsia, and don't bear malice, because it 's a very
trying disease, my dear."

Then, going back to her thoughts, she rambled on again; "If he
does n't take that hint, I will give him a stronger one, for I will not
have matters come to a crisis, though I can't deny that my wicked
vanity strongly tempts me to try and 'bag a bird' just for the
excitement and credit of the thing. Polly, I 'm ashamed of you!
What would your blessed mother say to hear such expressions
from you? I 'd write and tell her all the worry, only it would n't do
any good, and would only trouble her. I 've no right to tell Fan's
secrets, and I 'm ashamed to tell mine. No, I 'll leave mother in
peace, and fight it out alone. I do think Fan would suit him
excellently by and by. He has known her all her life, and has a
good influence over her. Love would do so much toward making
her what she might be; it 's a shame to have the chance lost just
because he happens to see me. I should think she 'd hate me; but I
'll show her that she need n't, and do all I can to help her; for she
has been so good to me nothing shall ever make me forget that. It
is a delicate and dangerous task, but I guess I can manage it; at any
rate I 'll try, and have nothing to reproach myself with if things do
go 'contrary.' "

What Polly thought of, as she lay back in her chair, with her eyes
shut, and a hopeless look on her face, is none of our business,
though we might feel a wish to know what caused a tear to gather
slowly from time to time under her lashes, and roll down on
Puttel's Quaker-colored coat. Was it regret for the conquest she
relinquished, was it sympathy for her friend, or was it an
uncontrollable overflow of feeling as she read some sad or tender
passage of the little romance which she kept hidden away in her
own heart?

On Monday, Polly began the "delicate and dangerous task." Instead
of going to her pupils by way of the park and the pleasant streets
adjoining, she took a roundabout route through back streets, and
thus escaped Mr. Sydney, who, as usual, came home to dinner very
early that day and looked disappointed because he nowhere saw
the bright face in the modest bonnet. Polly kept this up for a week,
and by carefully avoiding the Shaws' house during calling hours,
she saw nothing of Mr. Sydney, who, of course, did n't visit her at
Miss Mills'. Minnie happened to be poorly that week and took no
lesson, so Uncle Syd was deprived of his last hope, and looked as
if his allowance of sunshine had been suddenly cut off.

Now, as Polly was by no means a perfect creature, I am free to
confess that the old temptation assailed her more than once that
week, for, when the first excitement of the dodging reform had
subsided, she missed the pleasant little interviews that used to put
a certain flavor of romance into her dull, hard-working days. She
liked Mr. Sydney very much, for he had always been kind and
friendly since the early times when he had treated the little girl
with a courtesy which the young woman gratefully remembered. I
don't think it was his wealth, accomplishments, or position that
most attracted Polly, though these doubtless possessed a greater
influence than she suspected. It was that indescribable something
which women are quick to see and feel in men who have been
blessed with wise and good mothers. This had an especial charm to
Polly, for she soon found that this side of his character was not
shown to every one. With most girls, he was very like the other
young men of his set, except perhaps in a certain grace of manner
which was as natural to him as his respect for all womankind. But
with Fanny and Polly he showed the domestic traits and virtues
which are more engaging to womanly women than any amount of
cool intellect or worldly wisdom.

Polly had seen a good deal of him during her visits at the Shaws',
where he was intimate, owing to the friendship between Madam
and his mother; but she had never thought of him as a possible
lover for either Fanny or herself because he was six or eight years
older than they, and still sometimes assumed the part of a
venerable mentor, as in the early days. Lately this had changed,
especially towards Polly, and it flattered her more than she would
confess even to herself. She knew he admired her one talent,
respected her independence, and enjoyed her society; but when
something warmer and more flattering than admiration, respect, or
pleasure crept into his manner, she could not help seeing that one
of the good gifts of this life was daily coming more and more
within her reach, and began to ask herself if she could honestly
receive the gift, and reward the giver.

At first she tried to think she could, but unfortunately hearts are so
"contrary" that they won't be obedient to reason, will, or even
gratitude. Polly felt a very cordial friendship for Mr. Sydney, but
not one particle of the love which is the only coin in which love
can be truly paid. Then she took a fancy into her head that she
ought to accept this piece of good fortune for the sake of the
family, and forget herself. But this false idea of self-sacrifice did
not satisfy, for she was not a fashionable girl trained to believe that
her first duty was to make "a good match" and never mind the
consequences, though they rendered her miserable for life. Polly's
creed was very simple: "If I don't love him, I ought not to marry
him, especially when I do love somebody else, though everything
is against me." If she had read as many French novels as some
young ladies, she might have considered it interesting to marry
under the circumstances and suffer a secret anguish to make her a
romantic victim. But Polly's education had been neglected, and
after a good deal of natural indecision she did what most women
do in such cases, thought she would "wait and see."

The discovery of Fanny's secret seemed to show her something to
do, for if the "wait and see" decision was making her friend
unhappy, it must be changed as soon as possible. This finished
Polly's indecision, and after that night she never allowed herself to
dwell upon the pleasant temptation which came in a guise
particularly attractive to a young girl with a spice of the old Eve in
her composition. So day after day she trudged through the dull
back streets, longing for the sunny park, the face that always
brightened when it saw her coming, and most of all the chance of
meeting well, it was n't Trix.

When Saturday came, Polly started as usual for a visit to Becky
and Bess, but could n't resist stopping at the Shaws' to leave a little
parcel for Fan, though it was calling time. As she stepped in,
meaning to run up for a word if Fanny should chance to be alone,
two hats on the hall table arrested her.

"Who is here, Katy?"

"Only Mr. Sydney and Master Tom. Won't you stop a bit, Miss
Polly?"

"Not this morning, I 'm rather in a hurry." And away went Polly as
if a dozen eager pupils were clamoring for her presence. But as the
door shut behind her she felt so left out in the cold, that her eyes
filled, and when Nep, Tom's great Newfoundland, came
blundering after her, she stopped and hugged his shaggy head,
saying softly, as she looked into the brown, benevolent eyes, full of
almost human sympathy: "Now, go back, old dear, you must n't
follow me. Oh, Nep, it 's so hard to put love away when you want
it very much and it is n't right to take it." A foolish little speech to
make to a dog, but you see Polly was only a tender-hearted girl,
trying to do her duty.

"Since he is safe with Fanny, I may venture to walk where I like. It
's such a lovely day, all the babies will be out, and it always does
me good to see them," thought Polly, turning into the wide, sunny
street, where West End-dom promenaded at that hour.

The babies were out in full force, looking as gay and delicate and
sweet as the snow-drops, hyacinths, and daffodils on the banks
whence the snow had melted. But somehow the babies did n't do
Polly the good she expected, though they smiled at her from their
carriages, and kissed their chubby hands as she passed them, for
Polly had the sort of face that babies love. One tiny creature in
blue plush was casting despairing glances after a very small lord of
creation who was walking away with a toddling belle in white,
while a second young gentleman in gorgeous purple gaiters was
endeavoring to console the deserted damsel.

"Take hold of Master Charley's hand, Miss Mamie, and walk
pretty, like Willy and Flossy," said the maid.

"No, no, I want to do wid Willy, and he won't let me. Do 'way,
Tarley, I don't lite you," cried little Blue-bonnet, casting down her
ermine muff and sobbing in a microscopic handkerchief, the
thread-lace edging on which could n't mitigate her woe, as it might
have done that of an older sufferer.

"Willy likes Flossy best, so stop crying and come right along, you
naughty child."

As poor little Dido was jerked away by the unsympathetic maid,
and Purple-gaiters essayed in vain to plead his cause, Polly said to
herself, with a smile and a sigh; "How early the old story begins!"

It seemed as if the spring weather had brought out all manner of
tender things beside fresh grass and the first dandelions, for as she
went down the street Polly kept seeing different phases of the
sweet old story which she was trying to forget.

At a street corner, a black-eyed school-boy was parting from a
rosy-faced school-girl, whose music roll he was reluctantly
surrendering.

"Don't you forget, now," said the boy, looking bashfully into the
bright eyes that danced with pleasure as the girl blushed and
smiled, and answered reproachfully; "Why, of course I shan't!"

"That little romance runs smoothly so far; I hope it may to the
end," said Polly heartily as she watched the lad tramp away,
whistling as blithely as if his pleasurable emotions must find a
vent, or endanger the buttons on the round jacket; while the girl
pranced on her own doorstep, as if practising for the joyful dance
which she had promised not to forget.

A little farther on Polly passed a newly engaged couple whom she
knew, walking arm in arm for the first time, both wearing that
proud yet conscious look which is so delightful to behold upon the
countenances of these temporarily glorified beings.

"How happy they seem; oh, dear!" said Polly, and trudged on,
wondering if her turn would ever come and fearing that it was
impossible.

A glimpse of a motherly-looking lady entering a door, received by
a flock of pretty children, who cast themselves upon mamma and
her parcels with cries of rapture, did Polly good; and when, a
minute after she passed a gray old couple walking placidly
together in the sunshine, she felt better still, and was glad to see
such a happy ending to the romance she had read all down the
street.

As if the mischievous little god wished to take Polly at a
disadvantage, or perhaps to give her another chance, just at that
instant Mr. Sydney appeared at her side. How he got there was
never very clear to Polly, but there he was, flushed, and a little out
of breath, but looking so glad to see her that she had n't the heart to
be stiff and cool, as she had fully intended to be when they met.

"Very warm, is n't it?" he said when he had shaken hands and
fallen into step, just in the old way.

"You seem to find it so." And Polly laughed, with a sudden sparkle
in her eyes. She really could n't help it, it was so pleasant to see
him again, just when she was feeling so lonely.

"Have you given up teaching the Roths?" asked Sydney, changing
the subject.

"No."

"Do you go as usual?"

"Yes."

"Well, it 's a mystery to me how you get there."

"As much as it is to me how you got here so suddenly."

"I saw you from the Shaws' window and took the liberty of running
after you by the back street," he said, laughing.

"That is the way I get to the Roths," answered Polly. She did not
mean to tell, but his frankness was so agreeable she forgot herself.

"It 's not nearly so pleasant or so short for you as the park."

"I know it, but people sometimes get tired of old ways and like to
try new ones."

Polly did n't say that quite naturally, and Sydney gave her a quick
look, as he asked; "Do you get tired of old friends, too, Miss
Polly?"

"Not often; but " And there she stuck, for the fear of being
ungrateful or unkind made her almost hope that he would n't take
the hint which she had been carefully preparing for him.

There was a dreadful little pause, which Polly broke by saying
abruptly; "How is Fan?"

"Dashing, as ever. Do you know I 'm rather disappointed in Fanny,
for she don't seem to improve with her years," said Sydney, as if he
accepted the diversion and was glad of it.

"Ah, you never see her at her best. She puts on that dashing air
before people to hide her real self. But I know her better; and I
assure you that she does improve; she tries to mend her faults,
though she won't own it, and will surprise you some day, by the
amount of heart and sense and goodness she has got."

Polly spoke heartily now, and Sydney looked at her as if Fanny's
defender pleased him more than Fanny's defence.

"I 'm very glad to hear it, and willingly take your word for it.
Everybody shows you their good side, I think, and that is why you
find the world such a pleasant place."

"Oh, but I don't! It often seems like a very hard and dismal place,
and I croak over my trials like an ungrateful raven."

"Can't we make the trials lighter for you?"

The voice that put the question was so very kind, that Polly dared
not look up, because she knew what the eyes were silently saying.

"Thank you, no. I don't get more tribulation than is good for me, I
fancy, and we are apt to make mistakes when we try to dodge
troubles."

"Or people," added Sydney in a tone that made Polly color up to
her forehead.

"How lovely the park looks," she said, in great confusion.

"Yes, it 's the pleasantest walk we have; don't you think so?" asked
the artful young man, laying a trap, into which Polly immediately
fell.

"Yes, indeed! It 's always so refreshing to me to see a little bit of
the country, as it were, especially at this season."

Oh, Polly, Polly, what a stupid speech to make, when you had just
given him to understand that you were tired of the park! Not being
a fool or a cox-comb, Sydney put this and that together, and taking
various trifles into the account, he had by this time come to the
conclusion that Polly had heard the same bits of gossip that he had,
which linked their names together, that she did n't like it, and tried
to show she did n't in this way. He was quicker to take a hint than
she had expected, and being both proud and generous, resolved to
settle the matter at once, for Polly's sake as well as his own. So,
when she made her last brilliant remark, he said quietly, watching
her face keenly all the while; "I thought so; well, I 'm going out of
town on business for several weeks, so you can enjoy your 'little bit
of country' without being annoyed by me."

"Annoyed? Oh, no!" cried Polly earnestly; then stopped short, not
knowing what to say for herself. She thought she had a good deal
of the coquette in her, and I 've no doubt that with time and
training she would have become a very dangerous little person, but
now she was far too transparent and straightforward by nature even
to tell a white lie cleverly. Sydney knew this, and liked her for it,
but he took advantage of it, nevertheless by asking suddenly;
"Honestly, now, would n't you go the old way and enjoy it as much
as ever, if I was n't anywhere about to set the busybodies
gossiping?"

"Yes," said Polly, before she could stop herself, and then could
have bitten her tongue out for being so rude. Another awful pause
seemed impending, but just at that moment a horseman clattered
by with a smile and a salute, which caused Polly to exclaim, "Oh,
there 's Tom!" with a tone and a look that silenced the words
hovering on Sydney's lips, and caused him to hold out his hand
with a look which made Polly's heart flutter then and ache with
pity for a good while afterward, though he only said, "Good by,
Polly."

He was gone before she could do anything but look up at him with
a remorseful face, and she walked on, feeling that the first and
perhaps the only lover she would ever have, had read his answer
and accepted it in silence. She did not know what else he had read,
and comforted herself with the thought that he did not care for her
very much, since he took the first rebuff so quickly.

Polly did not return to her favorite walk till she learned from
Minnie that "Uncle" had really left town, and then she found that
his friendly company and conversation was what had made the
way so pleasant after all. She sighed over the perversity of things
in general, and croaked a little over her trials in particular, but on
the whole got over her loss better than she expected, for soon she
had other sorrows beside her own to comfort, and such work does
a body more good than floods of regretful tears, or hours of
sentimental lamentation.

She shunned Fanny for a day or two, but gained nothing by it, for
that young lady, hearing of Sydney's sudden departure, could not
rest till she discovered the cause of it, and walked in upon Polly
one afternoon just when the dusk made it a propitious hour for
tender confidences.

"What have you been doing with yourself lately?" asked Fanny,
composing herself, with her back toward the rapidly waning light.

"Wagging to and fro as usual. What's the news with you?"
answered Polly, feeling that something was coming and rather glad
to have it over and done with.

"Nothing particular. Trix treats Tom shamefully, and he bears it
like a lamb. I tell him to break his engagement, and not be worried
so; but he won't, because she has been jilted once and he thinks it
's such a mean thing to do."

"Perhaps she 'll jilt him."

"I 've no doubt she will, if anything better comes along. But Trix is
getting pass,e, and I should n't wonder if she kept him to his word,
just out of perversity, if nothing else."

"Poor Tom, what a fate!" said Polly with what was meant to be a
comical groan; but it sounded so tragical that she saw it would n't
pass, and hastened to hide the failure by saying, with a laugh, "If
you call Trix pass,e at twenty-three, what shall we all be at
twenty-five?" "Utterly done with, and laid upon the shelf. I feel so
already, for I don't get half the attention I used to have, and the
other night I heard Maud and Grace wondering why those old girls
'did n't stay at home, and give them a chance.' "

"How is Maudie?"

"Pretty well, but she worries me by her queer tastes and notions.
She loves to go into the kitchen and mess, she hates to study, and
said right before the Vincents that she should think it would be
great fun to be a beggar-girl, to go round with a basket, it must be
so interesting to see what you 'd get."

"Minnie said the other day she wished she was a pigeon so she
could paddle in the puddles and not fuss about rubbers."

"By the way, when is her uncle coming back?" asked Fanny, who
could n't wait any longer and joyfully seized the opening Polly
made for her.

"I 'm sure I don't know."

"Nor care, I suppose, you hard-hearted thing."

"Why, Fan, what do you mean?"

"I 'm not blind, my dear, neither is Tom, and when a young
gentleman cuts a call abruptly short, and races after a young lady,
and is seen holding her hand at the quietest corner of the park, and
then goes travelling all of a sudden, we know what it means if you
don't."

"Who got up that nice idea, I should like to know?" demanded
Polly, as Fanny stopped for breath.

"Now don't be affected, Polly, but just tell me, like a dear, has n't
he proposed?"

"No, he has n't."

"Don't you think he means to?"

"I don't think he 'll ever say a word to me."

"Well, I am surprised!" And Fanny drew a long breath, as if a load
was off her mind. Then she added in a changed tone: "But don't
you love him, Polly?"

"No."

"Truly?"

"Truly, Fan."

Neither spoke for a minute, but the heart of one of them beat
joyfully and the dusk hid a very happy face.

"Don't you think he cared for you, dear?" asked Fanny, presently. "I
don't mean to be prying, but I really thought he did."

"That 's not for me to say, but if it is so, it 's only a passing fancy
and he 'll soon get over it."

"Do tell me all about it; I 'm so interested, and I know something
has happened, I hear it in your voice, for I can't see your face."

"Do you remember the talk we once had after reading one of Miss
Edgeworth's stories about not letting one's lovers come to a
declaration if one did n't love them?"

"Yes."

"And you girls said it was n't proper, and I said it was honest,
anyway. Well, I always meant to try it if I got a chance, and I have.
Mind you, I don't say Mr. Sydney loved me, for he never said so,
and never will, now, but I did fancy he rather liked me and might
do more if I did n't show him that it was of no use."

"And you did?" cried Fanny, much excited.

"I just gave him a hint and he took it. He meant to go away before
that, so don't think his heart is broken, or mind what silly tattlers
say. I did n't like his meeting me so much and told him so by going
another way. He understood, and being a gentleman, made no fuss.
I dare say he thought I was a vain goose, and laughed at me for my
pains, like Churchill in 'Helen.' "

"No, he would n't; He 'd like it and respect you for doing it. But,
Polly, it would have been a grand thing for you."

"I can't sell myself for an establishment."

"Mercy! What an idea!"

"Well, that 's the plain English of half your fashionable matches. I
'm 'odd,' you know, and prefer to be an independent spinster and
teach music all my days."

"Ah, but you won't. You were made for a nice, happy home of your
own, and I hope you 'll get it, Polly, dear," said Fanny warmly,
feeling so grateful to Polly, that she found it hard not to pour out
all her secret at once.

"I hope I may; but I doubt it," answered Polly in a tone that made
Fanny wonder if she, too, knew what heartache meant.

"Something troubles you, Polly, what is it? Confide in me, as I do
in you," said Fanny tenderly, for all the coldness she had tried to
hide from Polly, had melted in the sudden sunshine that had come
to her.

"Do you always?" asked her friend, leaning forward with an
irresistible desire to win back the old-time love and confidence,
too precious to be exchanged for a little brief excitement or the
barren honor of "bagging a bird," to use Trix's elegant expression.
Fanny understood it then, and threw herself into Polly's arms,
crying, with a shower of grateful tears; "Oh, my dear! my dear!
did you do it for my sake?"

And Polly held her close, saying in that tender voice of hers, "I did
n't mean to let a lover part this pair of friends if I could help it."

CHAPTER XV BREAKERS AHEAD

GOING into the Shaws' one evening, Polly found Maud sitting on
the stairs, with a troubled face.

"Oh, Polly, I 'm so glad you 've come!" cried the little girl, running
to hug her.

"What's the matter, deary?"

"I don't know; something dreadful must have happened, for
mamma and Fan are crying together upstairs, papa is shut up in the
library, and Tom is raging round like a bear, in the dining-room."

"I guess it is n't anything very bad. Perhaps mamma is sicker than
usual, or papa worried about business, or Tom in some new scrape.
Don't look so frightened, Maudie, but come into the parlor and see
what I 've got for you," said Polly, feeling that there was trouble of
some sort in the air, but trying to cheer the child, for her little face
was full of a sorrowful anxiety, that went to Polly's heart.

"I don't think I can like anything till I know what the matter is,"
answered Maud. "It 's something horrid, I 'm sure, for when papa
came home, he went up to mamma's room, and talked ever so
long, and mamma cried very loud, and when I tried to go in, Fan
would n't let me, and she looked scared and strange. I wanted to go
to papa when he came down, but the door was locked, and he said,
'Not now, my little girl,' and then I sat here waiting to see what
would happen, and Tom came home. But when I ran to tell him, he
said, 'Go away, and don't bother,' and just took me by the shoulders
and put me out. Oh, dear! everything is so queer and horrid, I don't
know what to do."

Maud began to cry, and Polly sat down on the stairs beside her,
trying to comfort her, while her own thoughts were full of a vague
fear. All at once the dining-room door opened, and Tom's head
appeared. A single glance showed Polly that something was the
matter, for the care and elegance which usually marked his
appearance were entirely wanting. His tie was under one ear, his
hair in a toss, the cherished moustache had a neglected air, and his
face an expression both excited, ashamed, and distressed; even his
voice betrayed disturbance, for instead of the affable greeting he
usually bestowed upon the young lady, he seemed to have fallen
back into the bluff tone of his boyish days, and all he said was,
"Hullo, Polly."

"How do you do?" answered Polly.

"I 'm in a devil of a mess, thank you; send that chicken up stairs,
and come in and hear about it." he said, as if he had been longing
to tell some one, and welcomed prudent Polly as a special
providence.

"Go up, deary, and amuse yourself with this book, and these ginger
snaps that I made for you, there 's a good child," whispered Polly,
as Maud rubbed away her tears, and stared at Tom with round,
inquisitive eyes.

"You 'll tell me all about it, by and by, won't you?" she whispered,
preparing to obey.

"If I may," answered Polly.

Maud departed with unexpected docility, and Polly went into the
dining-room, where Tom was wandering about in a restless way. If
he had been "raging like a bear," Polly would n't have cared, she
was so pleased that he wanted her, and so glad to be a confidante,
as she used to be in the happy old days, that she would joyfully
have faced a much more formidable person than reckless Tom.

"Now, then, what is it?" she said, coming straight to the point.

"Guess."

"You 've killed your horse racing."

"Worse than that."

"You are suspended again."

"Worse than that."

"Trix has run away with somebody," cried Polly, with a gasp.

"Worse still."

"Oh, Tom, you have n't horse whipped or shot any one?"

"Came pretty near blowing my own brains out but you see I did
n't."

"I can't guess; tell me, quick."

"Well, I 'm expelled."

Tom paused on the rug as he gave the answer, and looked at Polly
to see how she took it. To his surprise she seemed almost relieved,
and after a minute silence, said, soberly, "That 's bad, very bad;
but it might have been worse."

"It is worse;" and Tom walked away again with a despairing sort of
groan.

"Don't knock the chairs about, but come and sit down, and tell me
quietly."

"Can't do it."

"Well, go on, then. Are you truly expelled? Can't it be made up?
What did you do?"

"It 's a true bill this time. I just had a row with the Chapel
watchman, and knocked him down. If it was a first offence, I
might have got off; but you see I 've had no end of narrow escapes,
and this was my last chance; I 've lost it, and now there 'll be the
dickens to pay. I knew it was all up with me, so I did n't wait to be
turned out, but just took myself off."

"What will your father say?"

"It will come hard on the governor, but the worst of it is " there
Tom stopped, and stood a minute in the middle of the room with
his head down, as if he did n't find it easy to tell even kind little
Polly. Then out came the truth all in a breath, just as he used to
bolt out his boyish misdemeanors, and then back up against the
wall ready to take the consequences.

"I owe an awful lot of money that the governor don't know about."

"Oh, Tom, how could you?"

"I 've been an extravagant rascal, I know it, and I 'm thundering
sorry, but that don't help a fellow, I 've got to tell the dear old
buffer, and there 's where it cuts."

At another time Polly would have laughed at the contrast between
Tom's face and his language, but there was a sincere remorse,
which made even the dreadful word "buffer" rather touching than
otherwise.

"He will be very angry, I dare say; but he 'll help you, won't he? He
always does, Fan says."

"That 's the worst of it, you see. He 's paid up so often, that the last
time he said his patience could n't stand it, nor his pocket either,
and if I got into any more scrapes of that sort, I must get out as I
could. I meant to be as steady as Bunker Hill Monument; but here I
am again, worse than ever, for last quarter I did n't say anything to
father, he was so bothered by the loss of those ships just then, so
things have mounted up confoundedly."

"What have you done with all your money?"

"Hanged if I know."

"Can't you pay it anyway?"

"Don't see how, as I have n't a cent of my own, and no way of
getting it, unless I try gambling."

"Oh, mercy, no! Sell your horse," cried Polly, after a minute of
deep meditation.

"I have; but he did n't bring half I gave for him. I lamed him last
winter, and the beggar won't get over it."

"And that did n't pay up the debts?"

"Only about a half of 'em."

"Why, Tom, how much do you owe?"

"I have dodged figuring it up till yesterday; then things were so
desperate, I thought I might as well face the truth, so I overhauled
my accounts, and there 's the result."

Tom threw a blotted, crumpled paper into Polly's lap, and tramped
up and down again, faster than ever. Polly took one look at the
total and clasped her hands, for to her inexperienced eyes it looked
appalling.

"Tidy little sum, is n't it?" asked Tom, who could n't bear the
silence, or the startled, grieved look in Polly's eyes.

"It 's awful! I don't wonder you dread telling your father."

"I 'd rather be shot. I say, Polly, suppose we break it to him easy!"
added Tom, after another turn.

"How do you mean?"

"Why, suppose Fan, or, better still, you go and sort of pave the
way. I can't bear to come down on him with the whole truth at
once."

"So you 'd like to have me go and tell him for you?" Polly's lip
curled a little as she said that, and she gave Tom a look that would
have shown him how blue eyes can flash, if he had seen it. But he
was at the window, and did n't turn, as he said slowly, "Well, you
see, he 's so fond of you; we all confide in you; and you are so like
one of the family, that it seems quite natural. Just tell him I 'm
expelled, you know, and as much more as you like; then I 'll come
in, and we 'll have it out."

Polly rose and went to the door without a word. In doing so, Tom
caught a glimpse of her face, and said, hastily, "Don't you think it
would be a good plan?"

"No, I don't."

"Why not? Don't you think he 'd rather have it told him nicely by
you, than blurted out as I always do blurt things?"

"I know he 'd rather have his son go to him and tell the truth, like a
man, instead of sending a girl to do what he is afraid to do
himself."

If Polly had suddenly boxed his ears, Tom could n't have looked
more taken aback than by that burst. He looked at her excited face,
seemed to understand the meaning of it, and remembered all at
once that he was trying to hide behind a girl. He turned scarlet,
said shortly, "Come back, Polly," and walked straight out of the
room, looking as if going to instant execution, for poor Tom had
been taught to fear his father, and had not entirely outgrown the
dread.

Polly sat down, looking both satisfied and troubled. "I hope I did
right," she said to herself, "I could n't bear to have him shirk and
seem cowardly. He is n't, only he did n't think how it seemed to
me, and I don't wonder he was a little afraid, Mr. Shaw is so severe
with the poor fellow. Oh, dear, what should we do if Will got into
such scrapes. Thank goodness, he 's poor, and can't; I 'm so glad of
that!"

Then she sat silent beside the half-open door, hearing the murmur
of Tom's voice across the hall, and hoping, with all her heart, that
he would n't have a very hard time. He seemed to tell his story
rapidly and steadily, without interruption, to the end; then Polly
heard Mr. Shaw's deeper voice say a few words, at which Tom
uttered a loud exclamation, as if taken by surprise. Polly could n't
distinguish a word, so she kept her seat, wondering anxiously what
was going on between the two men. A sudden pause seemed to
follow Tom's ejaculation, then Mr. Shaw talked a long time in a
low, earnest tone, so different from the angry one Polly had
expected to hear, that it made her nervous, for Mr. Shaw usually
"blew Tom up first, and forgave him afterward," as Maud said.
Presently Tom's voice was heard, apparently asking eager
questions, to which brief replies were given. Then a dead silence
fell upon the room, and nothing was heard but the spring rain
softly falling out of doors. All of a sudden she heard a movement,
and Tom's voice say audibly, "Let me bring Polly;" and he
appeared, looking so pale and miserable that Polly was frightened.

"Go and say something to him; I can't; poor old father, if I 'd only
known," and to Polly's utter dismay, Tom threw himself into a
chair, and laid his head down on the table, as if he had got a blow
that was too much for him.

"Oh, Tom, what is it?" cried Polly, hurrying to him, full of fears
she dared not speak.

Without looking up, Tom answered, in a smothered voice, "Failed;
all gone to smash; and to-morrow every one will know it."

Polly held on to the back of Tom's chair, for a minute, for the news
took her breath away, and she felt as if the world was coming to an
end, "failed" was such a vaguely dreadful word to her.

"Is it very bad?" she asked, softly, feeling as if anything was better
than to stand still and see Tom so wretched.

"Yes; he means to give up everything. He 's done his best; but it
can't be staved off any longer, and it 's all up with him."

"Oh, I wish I had a million to give him!" cried Polly, clasping her
hands, with the tears running down her cheeks. "How does he bear
it, Tom?"

"Like a man, Polly; and I 'm proud of him," said Tom, looking up,
all red and excited with the emotions he was trying to keep under.
"Everything has been against him, and he has fought all alone to
stand the pressure, but it 's too much for him, and he 's given in. It
's an honorable failure, mind you, and no one can say a word
against him. I 'd like to see 'em try it!" and Tom clenched his
hands, as if it would be an immense relief to him to thrash half a
dozen aspersers of his father's honest name.

"Of course they can't! This is what poor Maud troubled about. He
had told your mother and Fan before you came, and that is why
they are so unhappy, I suppose."

"They are safe enough. Father has n't touched mother's money; he
'could n't rob his girls,' he said, and that 's all safe for 'em. Is n't he
a trump, Polly?" And Tom's face shone with pride, even while his
lips would twitch with a tenderer feeling.

"If I could only do anything to help," cried Polly, oppressed with
her own powerlessness.

"You can. Go and be good to him; you know how; he needs it
enough, all alone there. I can't do it, for I 'm only a curse instead of
a comfort to him."

"How did he take your news?" asked Polly, who, for a time, had
forgotten the lesser trouble in the greater.

"Like a lamb; for when I 'd done, he only said, 'My poor lad, we
must bear with one another.' and then told his story."

"I 'm glad he was kind," began Polly, in a soothing tone; but Tom
cried out, remorsefully, "That 's what knocks me over! Just when I
ought to be a pride and a prop to him, I bring him my debts and
disgrace, and he never says a word of blame. It 's no use, I can't
stand it!" and Tom's head went down again with something very
like a sob, that would come in spite of manful efforts to keep it
back, for the poor fellow had the warmest heart that ever was, and
all the fine waistcoats outside could n't spoil it.

That sound gave Polly more pain than the news of a dozen failures
and expulsions, and it was as impossible for her to resist putting
her hand tenderly on the bent head, as it was for her to help
noticing with pleasure how brown the little curls were growing,
and how soft they were. In spite of her sorrow, she enjoyed that
minute very much, for she was a born consoler, and, it is hardly
necessary for me to add, loved this reprehensible Tom with all her
heart. It was a very foolish thing for her to do, she quite agreed to
that; she could n't understand it, explain it, or help it; she only felt
that she did care for him very much, in spite of his faults, his
indifference, and his engagement. You see, she learned to love him
one summer, when he made them a visit. That was before Trix
caught him; and when she heard that piece of news, Polly could n't
unlove him all at once, though she tried very hard, as was her duty.
That engagement was such a farce, that she never had much faith
in it, so she put her love away in a corner of her heart, and tried to
forget it, hoping it would either die, or have a right to live. It did
n't make her very miserable, because patience, work, and
common-sense lent her a hand, and hope would keep popping up
its bright face from the bottom of her Pandora-box of troubles.
Now and then, when any one said Trix would n't jilt Tom, or that
Tom did care for Trix more than he should, Polly had a pang, and
thought she could n't possibly bear it. But she always found she
could, and so came to the conclusion that it was a merciful
provision of nature that girls' hearts could stand so much, and their
appetites continue good, when unrequited love was starving.

Now, she could not help yearning over this faulty, well-beloved
scapegrace Tom, or help thinking, with a little thrill of hope, "If
Trix only cared for his money, she may cast him off now he 's lost
it; but I 'll love him all the better because he 's poor." With this
feeling warm at her heart, I don't wonder that Polly's hand had a
soothing effect, and that after a heave or two, Tom's shoulders
were quiet, and certain smothered sniffs suggested that he would
be all right again, if he could only wipe his eyes without any one's
seeing him do it.

Polly seemed to divine his wish, and tucking a little, clean
handkerchief into one of his half-open hands, she said, "I 'm going
to your father, now," and with a farewell smooth, so comforting
that Tom wished she 'd do it again, she went away.

As she paused a minute in the hall to steady herself, Maud called
her from above, and thinking that the women might need her more
than the men, she ran up to find Fanny waiting for her in her own
room.

"Mamma's asleep, quite worn out, poor dear, so we can talk in here
without troubling her," said Fanny, receiving her friend so quietly,
that Polly was amazed.

"Let me come, too, I won't make any fuss; it 's so dreadful to be
shut out everywhere, and have people crying and talking, and
locked up, and I not know what it means," said Maud,
beseechingly.

"You do know, now; I 've told her, Polly," said Fan, as they sat
down together, and Maud perched herself on the bed, so that she
might retire among the pillows if her feelings were too much for
her.

"I 'm glad you take it so well, dear; I was afraid it might upset
you," said Polly, seeing now that in spite of her quiet manner, Fan's
eyes had an excited look, and her cheeks a feverish color.

"I shall groan and moan by and by, I dare say, but at first it sort of
dazed me, and now it begins to excite me. I ought to be full of
sorrow for poor papa, and I am truly sorry, but, wicked as it may
seem, it 's a fact, Polly, that I 'm half glad it 's happened, for it
takes me out of myself, and gives me something to do."

Fanny's eyes fell and her color rose as she spoke, but Polly
understood why she wanted to forget herself, and put her arm
round her with a more tender sympathy than Fanny guessed.

"Perhaps things are not as bad as they seem; I don't know much
about such matters, but I 've seen people who have failed, and they
seemed just as comfortable as before," said Polly.

"It won't be so with us, for papa means to give up everything, and
not have a word said against him. Mamma's little property is
settled upon her, and has n't been risked. That touched her so
much! She dreads poverty even more than I do, but she begged
him to take it if it would help him. That pleased him, but he said
nothing would induce him to do it, for it would n't help much, and
was hardly enough to keep her comfortable."

"Do you know what he means to do?" asked Polly, anxiously.

"He said his plans were not made, but he meant to go into the little
house that belonged to grandma, as soon as he could, for it was n't
honest for a bankrupt to keep up an establishment like this."

"I shan't mind that at all, I like the little house 'cause it 's got a
garden, and there 's a cunning room with a three-cornered closet in
it that I always wanted. If that 's all, I don't think bankrupting is so
very bad," said Maud, taking a cheerful view of things.

"Ah, just wait till the carriage goes and the nice clothes and the
servants, and we have to scratch along as we can. You 'll change
your mind then, poor child," said Fanny, whose ideas of failure
were decidedly tragical.

"Will they take all my things away?" cried Maud, in dismay.

"I dare say; I don't know what we are allowed to keep; but not
much, I fancy," and Fan looked as if strung up to sacrifice
everything she possessed.

"They shan't have my new ear-rings, I 'll hide 'em, and my best
dress, and my gold smelling bottle. Oh, oh, oh! I think it 's mean to
take a little girl's things away!" And Maud dived among the
pillows to smother a wail of anguish at the prospect of being bereft
of her treasures.

Polly soon lured her out again, by assurances that she would n't be
utterly despoiled, and promises to try and soften the hard hearts of
her father's creditors, if the ear-rings and the smelling-bottle were
attached.

"I wonder if we shall be able to keep one servant, just till we learn
how to do the work," said Fanny, looking at her white hands, with
a sigh.

But Maud clapped hers, and gave a joyful bounce, as she cried,
"Now I can learn to cook! I love so to beat eggs! I 'll have an
apron, with a bib to it, like Polly's, and a feather duster, and sweep
the stairs, maybe, with my head tied up, like Katy. Oh, what fun!"

"Don't laugh at her, or discourage her; let her find comfort in bibs
and dust-pans, if she can," whispered Polly to Fan, while Maud
took a joyful "header" among the pillows, and came up smiling
and blowzy, for she loved house-work, and often got lectured for
stolen visits to the kitchen, and surreptitious sweepings and
dustings when the coast was clear.

"Mamma is so feeble, I shall have to keep house, I suppose, and
you must show me how, Polly," said Fan.

"Good practice, ma'am, as you 'll find out some day," answered
Polly, laughing significantly.

Fanny smiled, then grew both grave and sad. "This changes
everything; the old set will drop me, as we did the Mertons when
their father failed, and my 'prospects,' as we say, are quite ruined."

"I don't believe it; your real friends won't drop you, and you 'll find
out which the true ones are now. I know one friend who will be
kinder than ever."

"Oh, Polly, do you think so?" and Fanny's eyes softened with
sudden tears.

"I know who she means," cried Maud, always eager to find out
things. "It 's herself; Polly won't mind if we are poor, 'cause she
likes beggars."

"Is that who you meant?" asked Fan, wistfully.

"No, it 's a much better and dearer friend than I am," said Polly,
pinching Fanny's cheek, as it reddened prettily under her eyes.
"You 'll never guess, Maud, so I would n't try, but be planning what
you will put in your cunning, three-cornered closet, when you get
it."

Having got rid of "Miss Paulina Pry," as Tom called Maud, who
was immediately absorbed by her cupboard, the older girls soberly
discussed the sudden change which had come, and Polly was
surprised to see what unexpected strength and sense Fanny
showed. Polly was too unconscious of the change which love had
made in herself to understand at first the cause of her friend's new
patience and fortitude; but she rejoiced over it, and felt that her
prophecy would yet be fulfilled. Presently Maud emerged from her
new closet, bringing a somewhat startling idea with her.

"Do bankrupting men" (Maud liked that new word) "always have
fits?"

"Mercy, no! What put that into your head, child?" cried Polly.

"Why, Mr. Merton did; and I was thinking perhaps papa had got
one down there, and it kind of frightened me."

"Mr. Merton's was a bad, disgraceful failure, and I don't wonder he
had a fit. Ours is n't, and papa won't do anything of that sort, you
may be sure," said Fanny, with as proud an air as if "our failure"
was rather an honor than otherwise.

"Don't you think you and Maud had better go down and see him?"
asked Polly.

"Perhaps he would n't like it; and I don't know what to say, either,"
began Fan; but Polly said, eagerly, "I know he would like it. Never
mind what you say; just go, and show him that you don't doubt or
blame him for this, but love him all the more, and are ready and
glad to help him bear the trouble."

"I 'm going, I ain't afraid; I 'll just hug him, and say I 'm ever so
glad we are going to the little house," cried Maud, scrambling off
the bed, and running down stairs.

"Come with me, Polly, and tell me what to do," said Fanny,
drawing her friend after her.

"You 'll know what to do when you see him, better than I can tell
you," answered Polly, readily yielding, for she knew they
considered her "quite one of the family," as Tom said.

At the study door they found Maud, whose courage had given out,
for Mr. Merton's fit rather haunted her. Polly opened the door; and
the minute Fanny saw her father, she did know what to do. The fire
was low, the gas dim, and Mr. Shaw was sitting in his easy-chair,
his gray head in both his hands, looking lonely, old, and bowed
down with care. Fanny gave Polly one look, then went and took the
gray head in both her arms, saying, with a tender quiver in her
voice, "Father dear, we 've come to help you bear it"

Mr. Shaw looked up, and seeing in his daughter's face something
that never had been there before, put his arm about her, and leaned
his tired head against her, as if, when least expected, he had found
the consolation he most needed. In that minute, Fanny felt, with
mingled joy and self-reproach, what a daughter might be to her
father; and Polly, thinking of feeble, selfish Mrs. Shaw, asleep up
stairs, saw with sudden clearness what a wife should be to her
husband, a helpmeet, not a burden. Touched by these unusual
demonstrations, Maud crept quietly to her father's knee, and
whispered, with a great tear shining on her little pug nose, "Papa,
we don't mind it much, and I 'm going to help Fan keep house for
you; I 'd like to do it, truly."

Mr. Shaw's other arm went round the child, and for a minute no
one said anything, for Polly had slipped behind his chair, that
nothing should disturb the three, who were learning from
misfortune how much they loved one another. Presently Mr. Shaw
steadied himself and asked, "Where is my other daughter, where 's
my Polly?"

She was there at once; gave him one of the quiet kisses that had
more than usual tenderness in it, for she loved to hear him say "my
other daughter," and then she whispered, "Don't you want Tom,
too?"

"Of course I do; where is the poor fellow?"

"I 'll bring him;" and Polly departed with most obliging alacrity.

But in the hall she paused a minute to peep into the glass and see if
she was all right, for somehow she was more anxious to look neat
and pretty to Tom in his hour of trouble than she had ever been in
his prosperous days. In lifting her arms to perk up the bow at her
throat she knocked a hat off the bracket. Now, a shiny black
beaver is not an object exactly calculated to inspire tender or
romantic sentiments, one would fancy, but that particular "stove
pipe" seemed to touch Polly to the heart, for she caught it up, as if
its fall suggested a greater one, smoothed out a slight dint, as if it
was symbolical of the hard knocks its owner's head was now in
danger of receiving, and stood looking at it with as much pity and
respect, as if it had been the crown of a disinherited prince. Girls
will do such foolish little things, and though we laugh at them, I
think we like them the better for it, after all.

Richard was himself again when Polly entered, for the
handkerchief had disappeared, his head was erect, his face was
steady, and his whole air had a dogged composure which seemed
to say to fate, "Hit away, I 'm ready." He did not hear Polly come
in, for he was looking fixedly at the fire with eyes that evidently
saw a very different future there from that which it used to show
him; but when she said, "Tom, dear, your father wants you," he got
up at once, held out his hand to her, saying, "Come too, we can't
get on without you," and took her back into the study with him.

Then they had a long talk, for the family troubles seemed to warm
and strengthen the family affection and confidence, and as the
young people listened while Mr. Shaw told them as much of his
business perplexities as they could understand, every one of them
blamed him or herself for going on so gayly and blindly, while the
storm was gathering, and the poor man was left to meet it all
alone. Now, however, the thunder-clap had come, and after the
first alarm, finding they were not killed, they began to discover a
certain half-anxious, half-pleasant excitement in talking it over,
encouraging one another, and feeling unusually friendly, as people
do when a sudden shower drives two or three to the shelter of one
umbrella.

It was a sober talk, but not all sad, for Mr. Shaw felt inexpressibly
comforted by his children's unexpected sympathy, and they, trying
to take the downfall cheerfully for his sake, found it easier to bear
themselves. They even laughed occasionally, for the girls, in their
ignorance, asked queer questions; Tom made ludicrously
unbusiness-like propositions; and Maud gave them one hearty
peal, that did a world of good, by pensively remarking, when the
plans for the future had been explained to her, "I 'm so relieved;
for when papa said we must give up everything, and mamma
called us all beggars, I did think I 'd got to go round asking for cold
vittles, with a big basket, and an old shawl over my head. I said
once I 'd like that, but I 'm afraid I should n't, for I can't bear Indian
cake and cold potatoes, that 's what the poor children always seem
to get, and I should hate to have Grace and the rest see me scuffing
round the back gates."

"My little girl shall never come to that, if I can help it," said Mr.
Shaw, holding her close, with a look that made Maud add, as she
laid her cheek against his own, "But I 'd do it, father, if you asked
me to, for I truly want to help."

"So do I!" cried Fanny, wondering at the same minute how it
would seem to wear turned silks, and clean her gloves.

Tom said nothing, but drew toward him a paper of figures which
his father had drawn up, and speedily reduced himself to the verge
of distraction by trying to understand them, in his ardent desire to
prove his willingness to put his shoulder to the wheel.

"We shall pull through, children, so don't borrow trouble, only be
ready for discomforts and annoyances. Put your pride in your
pockets, and remember poverty is n't disgraceful, but dishonesty
is."

Polly had always loved kind Mr. Shaw, but now she respected him
heartily, and felt that she had not done him justice when she
sometimes thought that he only cared for making money.

"I should n't wonder if this was a good thing for the whole family,
though it don't look so. Mrs. Shaw will take it the hardest, but it
may stir her up, so she will forget her nerves, and be as busy and
happy as mother is," said Polly to herself, in a hopeful mood, for
poverty was an old friend, and she had learned long ago not to fear
it, but to take its bitter and its sweet, and make the best of both.

When they parted for the night, Polly slipped away first, to leave
them free, yet could n't help lingering outside to see how tenderly
the girls parted from their father. Tom had n't a word to say for
himself, for men don't kiss, caress, or cry when they feel most, and
all he could do to express his sympathy and penitence, was to
wring his father's hand with a face full of respect, regret, and
affection, and then bolt up stairs as if the furies were after him, as
they were, in a mild and modern form.

CHAPTER XVI A DRESS PARADE

THE weeks that followed taught the Shaws, as many other families
have been taught, how rapidly riches take to themselves wings and
fly away, when they once begin to go. Mr. Shaw carried out his
plans with an energy and patience that worked wonders, and
touched the hearts of his hardest creditors. The big house was
given up as soon as possible and the little house taken; being made
comfortable with the furniture Madam left there when she went to
live with her son. The old-fashioned things had been let with the
house, and now seemed almost like a gift from Grandma, doubly
precious in these troublous times. At the auction, several persons
tried to show the family that, though they had lost their fortune,
friends still remained, for one bid in Fanny's piano, and sent it to
her; another secured certain luxurious articles for Mrs. Shaw's
comfort; and a third saved such of Mr. Shaw's books as he valued
most, for he had kept his word and given up everything, with the
most punctilious integrity. So the little house was not bare, but
made pleasant to their eyes by these waifs from the wreck, brought
them by the tide of sympathy and good-will which soon set in.
Everybody who knew them hastened to call, many from a real
regard, but more from mere curiosity to "see how they took it."
This was one of the hardest things they had to bear, and Tom used
strong language more than once, when some fine lady came to
condole, and went away to gossip. Polly's hopes of Mrs. Shaw
were disappointed, for misfortune did not have a bracing effect.
She took to her bed at once, received her friends in tears and a
point-lace cap, and cheered her family by plaintively inquiring
when she was to be taken to the almshouse. This was hard for
Fanny; but after an interval of despair, she came to the conclusion
that under the circumstances it was the best thing her mother could
have done, and with something of her father's energy, Fanny
shouldered the new burden, feeling that at last necessity had given
her what she had long needed, something to do.

The poor girl knew as much of household affairs as Snip; but pride
and the resolution "to stand by Father," kept up her courage, and
she worked away with feverish activity at whatever task came first
till, just as strength and heart were about to fail, order began to
emerge from chaos and the vision of a home made happy and
comfortable by her skill and care came to repay and sustain her.

Maud, being relieved from the fear of back-door beggary, soon
became reconciled to bankruptcy; thought it rather a good joke, on
the whole, for children like novelty, and don't care much for Mrs.
Grundy. She regarded the new abode as a baby house on a large
scale, where she was allowed to play her part in the most
satisfactory manner. From the moment when, on taking possession
of the coveted room, she opened the doors of the three-cornered
closet, and found a little kettle just like Polly's, standing there, she
felt that a good time was coming for her and fell to dusting
furniture, washing cups, and making toast, the happiest, fussiest
little housewife in the city. For Maud inherited the notable gifts of
her grandmother, and would have made a capital farmer's
daughter, in spite of her city breeding.

Polly came and went through all these changes, faithful, helpful,
and as cheery as she could be when her friends were in trouble.
The parts seemed reversed now, and it was Polly who gave, Fanny
who received; for where everything seemed strange and new to
Fan, Polly was quite at home, and every one of the unfashionable
domestic accomplishments now came into play, to the comfort of
the Shaws, and the great satisfaction of Polly. She could not do
enough to prove her gratitude for former favors, and went toiling
and moiling about, feeling that the hardest, most disagreeable tasks
were her especial duty. In the moving nothing suited her better
than to trot up and down, lugging heavy things, to pound her
fingers black and blue nailing carpets and curtains, and the day she
nearly broke her neck tumbling down the cellar stairs, in her
eagerness to see that Mrs. Shaw's wine was rightly stored, she felt
that she was only paying her debts, and told Tom she liked it,
when he picked her up looking as grimy as a chimney-sweep.

"You can turn your hand to anything, you clever girl, so do come
and give me some advice, for I am in the depths of despair," said
Fanny when the "maid-of-all-work" as Polly called herself, found a
leisure hour.

"What is it? Moths in the furs, a smoky chimney, or small-pox next
door?" asked Polly, as they entered Fan's room, where Maud was
trying on old bonnets before the looking-glass.

"Actually I have nothing to wear," began Fan impressively; "I 've
been too busy to think or care till now, but here it is nearly May
and I have hardly a decent rag to my back. Usually, you know, I
just go to Mrs. O'Grady and tell her what I want; she makes my
spring wardrobe, Papa pays the bill, and there I am. Now I 've
looked into the matter, and I declare to you, Polly, I 'm frightened
to see how much it costs to dress me."

"Not so much as some girls I know," said Polly encouragingly.

"Perhaps not, for I have a conscience, and taste is economy
sometimes; but really, Polly, I have n't the heart to ask Papa for a
cent just now, and yet I must have clothes. You are such a genius
for planning and working wonders, that I throw myself upon you
and ask, 'How shall I make a spring wardrobe out of nothing?' "

"Let me see the 'nothing' before I advise. Bring out every rag you
've got, and we 'll see what can be done," said Polly, looking as if
she enjoyed the prospect, for she had a great deal of that feminine
faculty which we call "knack," and much practice had increased it.

Fanny brought out her "rags" and was astonished to see how many
she had, for chair, sofa, bed, and bureau were covered, and still
Maud, who was burrowing in the closets, kept crying, "Here 's
another."

"There 's a discouraging heap of rubbish for you!" said Fan, as she
added a faded muslin to the last pile.

"Now, to me your 'rubbish' looks very encouraging, because there
is good material there, and not much worn-out finery, that 's my
detestation, for you can't do anything with it. Let me see, five
bonnets. Put the winter ones away till autumn, rip up the summer
ones, and out of three old ones we 'll get a pretty new one, if my
eyes don't deceive me."

"I 'll rip, and then do let me see you make a bonnet, it must be so
interesting," said Maud, whipping out her scissors and eagerly
beginning to reduce a shabby little bonnet to its original elements.
"Now the dresses," continued Polly, who had rapidly sorted out the
piles.

"Will you have the goodness to look at this?" said Fan, holding up
a gray street suit faded past cure.

Polly whisked it wrong side out, and showing the clean, bright
fabric, said, with a triumphant wave, "Behold your new suit; fresh
trimming and less of it will finish you off as smart as ever."

"I never wore a turned dress in my life; do you suppose people will
know it?" said Fan doubtfully.

"What if they do? It won't hurt you. Not one in a hundred will ever
think anything about your dress, except that it is pretty. I 've worn
turned and dyed gowns all my days, and it don't seem to have
alienated my friends, or injured my constitution."

"That it has n't; I 'm a goose, Polly, and I 'll get over the feeling that
it 's sort of disgraceful to be poor and have to economize. We 'll
turn the gray, and I 'll wear it bravely."

"Then it will be more becoming than ever. Oh, here 's the pretty
violet silk. That will make a lovely suit," cried Polly, going on
with the review.

"Don't see how two draggled skirts and a stained waist can be
transformed into a whole rig," said Fan, sitting on the bed, with her
garments strewn about her in various attitudes of limp
despondency.

"Well, ma'am, my plan is this," began Polly, imitating Mrs.
O'Grady's important tone, and bad grammar: "Gores is out, and
plaits is in; therefore, as the top of this skirt is quite fresh, we will
take off the ruffles, turn it upside down, and leave it plain. The
upper skirt will be made scanter, and finished with a frill; then the
waist can be refreshed with the best parts of these wide flounces,
and out of those new bits we will concoct a hat. The black lace
Maud has just taken off the green one will do to edge the violet,
and with your nice silk mantilla you are complete, don't you see?"

"I don't quite see it yet, but I have firm faith that I shall in time,
and consider my calling costume finished," said Fanny, getting
more and more interested as she saw her condemned wardrobe
coming out fresh again under Polly's magic knack.

"There are two; then that piqu, is all right, if you cut the tail off
the jacket and change the trimming a bit. The muslins only need
mending and doing up to look as well as ever; you ought not to put
them away torn and soiled, my child. The two black silks will be
good stand-bys for years. If I were you, I 'd have a couple of neat,
pretty prints for home-wear, and then I don't see why you are n't
fixed well enough for our short season."

"Can't I do anything with this barege? It 's one of my favorite
dresses, and I hate to give it up."

"You wore that thoroughly out, and it 's only fit for the rag-bag.
Yes, it was very pretty and becoming, I remember, but its day is
over."

Fanny let the dress lie in her lap a minute as she absently picked at
the fringe, smiling to herself over the happy time when she wore it
last and Sydney said she only needed cowslips in her lap to look
like spring. Presently she folded it up and put it away with a sigh,
but it never went into the rag-bag, and my sentimental readers can
understand what saved it.

"The ball dresses had better be put nicely away till next year,"
began Polly, coming to a rainbow colored heap.

"My day is over, I shall never use them again. Do what you like
with them," said Fan calmly.

"Did you ever sell your cast-off finery, as many ladies do?" asked
Polly.

"Never; I don't like the fashion. I give it away, or let Maud have it
for tableaux."

"I wonder if you would mind my telling you something Belle
proposed?"

"If it 's an offer to buy my clothes, I should mind," answered
Fanny, sharply.

"Then I won't," and Polly retired behind a cloud of arsenic-green
gauze, which made her look as if she had the cholera.

"If she wanted to buy that horrid new 'gooseberry-colored gown,' as
Tom calls it, I 'd let her have it cheap," put in Maud, who was of a
practical turn.

"Does she want it, Polly?" asked Fan, whose curiosity got the
better of her pride.

"Well, she merely asked me if I thought you 'd be mortally
offended, if she offered to take it off your hands, as you 'd never
worn it. You don't like it, and in another season it will be all out of
fashion," said Polly from her verdant retreat.

"What did you say?"

"I saw she meant it kindly, so I said I 'd ask. Now between
ourselves, Fan, the price of that dress would give you all you 'll
want for your spring fixings, that 's one consideration; then here 's
another, which may have some weight with you," added Polly
slyly. "Trix told Belle she was going to ask you for the dress, as
you would n't care to wear it now. That made Belle fire up, and say
it was a mean thing to do without offering some return for a costly
thing like that; and then Belle said, in her blunt way, 'I 'll give Fan
all she paid for it, and more, too, if it will be any help to her. I
don't care for the dress, but I 'd like to slip a little money into her
pocket, for I know she needs it and is too good to ask dear Mr.
Shaw for anything she can get on without.' "

"Did she say that? I 'll give her the dress, and not take a penny for
it," cried Fan, flushing up with mingled anger toward Trix and
gratitude to Belle.

"That won't suit her; you let me manage it, and don't feel any
shame or anxiety about it. You did many a kind and generous thing
for Belle when you had the power, and you liked to do it; now let
her pay her debts, and have the same pleasure."

"If she looks at it in that way, it makes a difference. Perhaps I 'd
better the money would be an immense help only I don't quite like
to take it."

"Kings and queens sell their jewels when times are hard or they get
turned off their thrones, and no one thinks it anything amiss, so
why need you? It 's just a little transaction between two friends
who exchange things they don't want for things which they do, and
I 'd do it if I were you."

"We 'll see about it," said Fan, privately resolving to take Polly's
advice.

"If I had lots of things like Fan, I 'd have an auction and get all I
could for them. Why don't you?" asked Maud, beginning on her
third bonnet.

"We will," said Polly, and mounting a chair, she put up, bid in, and
knocked down Fan's entire wardrobe to an imaginary group of
friends, with such droll imitations of each one that the room rang
with laughter.

"That 's enough nonsense; now we 'll return to business," said
Polly, descending breathless but satisfied with the effect of her
fun.

"These white muslins and pretty silks will keep for years, so I
should lay them by till they are needed. It will save buying, and
you can go to your stock any time and make over what you want.
That 's the way Mother does; we 've always had things sent us from
richer friends, and whatever was n't proper for us to wear at the
time, Mother put away to be used when we needed it. Such funny
bundles as we used to have sometimes, odd shoes, bonnets without
crowns, stockings without heels or toes, and old finery of all sorts.
We used to rush when a bundle came, and sit round while Mother
opened it. The boys always made fun of the things, though they
were as grateful, really, as any of us. Will made a verse one day
which we thought pretty well for a little chap: 'To poor country
folks Who have n't any clothes, Rich folks, to relieve them, Send
old lace gowns and satin bows.'"

"I think that Will is going to be as nice a poet as Mr. Shakespeare,"
remarked Maud in a tone of serious conviction.

"He is already a Milton; but I don't believe he will ever be anything
but a poet in name," said Polly, working away while she talked.

"Did n't your mother ever let you wear the nice things that came?"
asked Maud.

"No, she thought it was n't the thing for a poor minister's girls to go
flourishing about in second-hand finery, so she did what I 'm doing
now, put away what would be useful and proper for us by and by,
and let us play with the shabby, silk bonnets and dirty, flounced
gowns. Such fun as we used to have up in our big garret! I
remember one day we 'd been playing have a ball, and were all
rigged up, even the boys. Some new neighbors came to call, and
expressed a wish to see us, having been told that we were pattern
children. Mother called us, but we had paraded out into the garden,
after our ball, and were having a concert, as we sat about on the
cabbages for green satin seats, so we did n't hear the call, and just
as the company was going, a great noise arrested them on the
doorstep, and round the corner of the house rattled Ned in full
costume, wheeling Kitty in a barrow, while Jimmy, Will, and I ran
screaming after, looking like Bedlamites; for we were playing that
Lady Fitz Perkins had fainted, and was being borne home senseless
in a cab. I thought mother would kill herself with laughing; and
you can imagine what a fine impression the strangers received of
the model children."

Maud was so tickled with this youthful prank that she unguardedly
sat down to laugh on the edge of an open trunk, immediately
doubled up, fell in, and was with difficulty extricated.

"People in the country have great deal nicer times than we do. I
never rode in a wheelbarrow, I never sat on cabbages, and I don't
think it 's fair," she said with an injured expression. "You need n't
save any old silk gowns for me; I don't mean to be a fine lady
when I grow up, I 'm going to be a farmer's wife, and make butter
and cheese, and have ten children, and raise pigs," she added in
one enthusiastic burst.

"I do believe she will if she can find a farmer anywhere," said
Fanny.

"Oh, I 'm going to have Will; I asked him and he said, 'All right.'
He 's going to preach Sundays, and work on the farm the rest of the

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