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An Old-fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

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time. Well, he is, so you need n't laugh, for we 've made all our
plans," said Maud with comical dignity as she tried the effect of an
old white bonnet, wondering if farmers' wives could wear ostrich
feathers when they went to meeting.

"Blessed innocence! Don't you wish you were a child, and dared
tell what you want?" murmured Fanny.

"I wish I had seen Will's face when Maud proposed," answered
Polly, with a nod which answered her friend's speech better than
her words.

"Any news of anybody?" whispered Fan, affecting to examine a
sleeve with care.

"Still at the South; don't think late events have been reported yet;
that accounts for absence," answered Polly.

"I think Sir Philip was hit harder than was supposed," said Fan.

"I doubt it, but time cures wounds of that sort amazing quick."

"Wish it did!"

"Who is Sir Philip?" demanded Maud, pricking up her ears.

"A famous man who lived in the time of Queen Elizabeth,"
answered Fan, with a look at Polly.

"Oh!" And Maud seemed satisfied, but the sharp child had her
suspicions nevertheless.

"There will be an immense deal of work in all this fixing over and
I hate to sew," said Fanny, to divert a certain person's thoughts.

"Jenny and I are going to help. We are your debtors, as well as
Belle, and demand the privilege of paying up. Blessings, like
curses, come home to roost, Fan."

"Mine come home a good deal bigger than they went," answered
Fanny, looking pleased that little favors should be so faithfully
remembered.

"The interest on that sort of investment rolls up beautifully, you
know. Now rip that dress for Jenny to put in order, and I 'll toss
you up a bonnet in less than no time," said Polly, determined to
have things go smoothly, for she knew Fan's feelings had been a
good deal tried lately, in many ways.

"I must have something to match my dress, and blue inside," said
Fanny, bringing out her ribbon boxes.

"Anything you like, my dear; when it comes to bonnets, I am
usually inspired. I have it! There we are! And nothing could be
nicer," cried Polly, making a dive among the silks Fan was turning
over with a lost expression. "This bit of silver-gray is all I ask, here
's enough for a killing bonnet, and those forget-me-nots are both
pretty and appropriate."

"You wretch, be still!" cried Fanny, as Polly looked up at her with
a wicked laugh in her eyes.

"It will be done in time, and the dress likewise, so look your
prettiest, and accept my blessing," continued Polly, seeing that Fan
liked her raillery.

"Time for what?" asked Paulina Pry.

"Your wedding, dear," sweetly answered Fan, for Polly's pleasant
hints and predictions put her in a charming humor, and even made
old clothes of little consequence.

Maud gave an incredulous sniff, and wondered why "big girls need
to be so dreadful mysterious about their old secrets."

"This silk reminds me of Kitty's performance last summer. A little
checked silk was sent in our spring bundle from Mrs. Davenport,
and Mother said Kit might have it if she could make it do. So I
washed it nicely, and we fussed and planned, but it came short by
half of one sleeve. I gave it up, but Kit went to work and matched
every scrap that was left so neatly that she got out the half sleeve,
put it on the under side, and no one was the wiser. How many
pieces do you think she put in, Maud?"

"Fifty," was the wise reply.

"No, only ten, but that was pretty well for a fourteen-year-old
dressmaker. You ought to have seen the little witch laugh in her
sleeve when any one admired the dress, for she wore it all summer
and looked as pretty as a pink in it. Such things are great fun when
you get used to them; besides, contriving sharpens your wits, and
makes you feel as if you had more hands than most people."

"I think we 'll get a farm near your house; I should like to know
Kitty," said Maud, feeling a curious interest in a girl who made
such peculiar patchwork.

"The dress-parade is over, and I 'm ever so much obliged to you,
Polly, for helping me through, and showing me how to make the
best of things. I hope in time to have as many hands as you," said
Fan gratefully, when the simple bonnet was done and everything
planned out ready to be finished.

"I hope you will soon have two good, strong ones beside your own,
my dear," answered Polly, as she vanished, with a parting twinkle
that kept Fan's face bright all day.

CHAPTER XVII PLAYING GRANDMOTHER

I THINK Tom had the hardest time of all, for besides the family
troubles, he had many of his own to perplex and harass him.
College scrapes were soon forgotten in greater afflictions; but
there were plenty of tongues to blame "that extravagant dog," and
plenty of heads to wag ominously over prophecies of the good time
Tom Shaw would now make on the road to ruin. As reporters
flourish in this country, of course Tom soon heard all the friendly
criticisms passed upon him and his career, and he suffered more
than anybody guessed; for the truth that was at the bottom of the
gossip filled him with the sharp regret and impotent wrath against
himself as well as others, which drives many a proud fellow, so
placed, to destruction, or the effort that redeems boyish folly, and
makes a man of him.

Now that he had lost his heritage, Tom seemed to see for the first
time how goodly it had been, how rich in power, pleasure, and
gracious opportunities. He felt its worth even while he
acknowledged, with the sense of justice that is strong in manly
men, how little he deserved a gift which he had so misused. He
brooded over this a good deal, for, like the bat in the fable, he did
n't seem to find any place in the new life which had begun for all.
Knowing nothing of business, he was not of much use to his father,
though he tried to be, and generally ended by feeling that he was a
hindrance, not a help. Domestic affairs were equally out of his
line, and the girls, more frank than their father, did not hesitate to
tell him he was in the way when he offered to lend a hand
anywhere. After the first excitement was over, and he had time to
think, heart and energy seemed to die out, remorse got hold of him,
and, as generous, thoughtless natures are apt to do when suddenly
confronted with conscience, he exaggerated his faults and follies
into sins of the deepest dye, and fancied he was regarded by others
as a villain and an outcast. Pride and penitence made him shrink
out of sight as much as possible, for he could not bear pity, even
when silently expressed by a friendly hand or a kindly eye. He
stayed at home a good deal, and loafed about with a melancholy
and neglected air, vanished when anyone came, talked very little,
and was either pathetically humble or tragically cross. He wanted
to do something, but nothing seemed to appear; and while he
waited to get his poise after the downfall, he was so very miserable
that I 'm afraid, if it had not been for one thing, my poor Tom
would have got desperate, and been a failure. But when he seemed
most useless, outcast, and forlorn, he discovered that one person
needed him, one person never found him in the way, one person
always welcomed and clung to him with the strongest affection of
a very feeble nature. This dependence of his mother's was Tom's
salvation at that crisis of his life; and the gossips, who said softly
to one another over their muffins and tea. "It really would be a
relief to that whole family if poor, dear Mrs. Shaw could be ahem!
mercifully removed," did not know that the invalid's weak, idle
hands were unconsciously keeping the son safe in that quiet room,
where she gave him all that she had to give, mother-love, till he
took heart again, and faced the world ready to fight his battles
manfully.

"Dear, dear! how old and bent poor father does look. I hope he
won't forget to order my sweetbread," sighed Mrs. Shaw one day,
as she watched her husband slowly going down the street.

Tom, who stood by her, idly spinning the curtain tassel, followed
the familiar figure with his eye, and seeing how gray the hair had
grown, how careworn the florid face, and how like a weary old
man his once strong, handsome father walked, he was smitten by a
new pang of self-reproach, and with his usual impetuosity set
about repairing the omission as soon as he discovered it.

"I 'll see to your sweetbread, mum. Good-by, back to dinner," and
with a hasty kiss, Tom was off.

He did n't know exactly what he meant to do, but it had suddenly
come over him, that he was hiding from the storm, and letting his
father meet it alone; for the old man went to his office every day
with the regularity of a machine, that would go its usual round
until it stopped, while the young man stayed at home with the
women, and let his mother comfort him.

"He has a right to be ashamed of me, but I act as if I was ashamed
of him; dare say people think so. I 'll show them that I ain't; yes, by
the powers, I will!" and Tom drew on his gloves with the air of a
man about to meet and conquer an enemy.

"Have an arm, sir? If you don't mind I 'll walk down with you.
Little commission for mother, nice day, is n't it?"

Tom rather broke down at the end of his speech, for the look of
pleased surprise with which his father greeted him, the alacrity
with which he accepted and leaned on the strong arm offered him,
proved that the daily walks had been solitary and doubtless sad
ones. I think Mr. Shaw understood the real meaning of that little
act of respect, and felt better for the hopeful change it seemed to
foretell. But he took it quietly, and leaving his face to speak for
him, merely said, "Thanky, Tom; yes, mother will enjoy her
dinner twice as much if you order it."

Then they began to talk business with all their might, as if they
feared that some trace of sentiment might disgrace their masculine
dignity. But it made no difference whether they discussed lawsuits
or love, mortgages or mothers, the feeling was all right and they
knew it, so Mr. Shaw walked straighter than usual, and Tom felt
that he was in his proper place again. The walk was not without its
trials, however; for while it did Tom's heart good to see the cordial
respect paid to his father, it tried his patience sorely to see also
inquisitive or disapproving glances fixed upon himself when hats
were lifted to his father, and to hear the hearty "Good day, Mr.
Shaw," drop into a cool or careless, "That 's the son; it 's hard on
him. Wild fellow, do him good."

"Granted; but you need n't hit a man when he 's down," muttered
Tom to himself, feeling every moment a stronger desire to do
something that should silence everybody. "I 'd cut away to
Australia if it was n't for mother; anything, anywhere to get out of
the way of people who know me. I never can right myself here,
with all the fellows watching, and laying wagers whether I sink or
swim. Hang Greek and Latin! wish I 'd learned a trade, and had
something to fall back upon. Have n't a blessed thing now, but
decent French and my fists. Wonder if old Bell don't want a clerk
for the Paris branch of the business? That would n't be bad; faith, I
'll try it."

And when Tom had landed his father safely at the office, to the
great edification of all beholders, he screwed up his courage, and
went to prefer his request, feeling that the prospect brightened a
little. But Mr. Bell was not in a good humor, and only gave Tom a
severe lecture on the error of his ways, which sent him home much
depressed, and caused the horizon to lower again.

As he roamed about the house that afternoon, trying to calculate
how much an Australian outfit would cost, the sound of lively
voices and clattering spoons attracted him to the kitchen. There he
found Polly giving Maud lessons in cookery; for the "new help"
not being a high-priced article, could not be depended on for
desserts, and Mrs. Shaw would have felt as if the wolf was at the
door if there was not "a sweet dish" at dinner. Maud had a genius
for cooking, and Fanny hated it, so that little person was in her
glory, studying receipt books, and taking lessons whenever Polly
could give them.

"Gracious me, Tom, don't come now; we are awful busy! Men
don't belong in kitchens," cried Maud, as her brother appeared in
the doorway.

"Could n't think what you were about. Mum is asleep, and Fan out,
so I loafed down to see if there was any fun afoot," said Tom,
lingering, as if the prospect was agreeable. He was a social fellow,
and very grateful just then to any one who helped him to forget his
worries for a time. Polly knew this, felt that his society would not
be a great affliction to herself at least, and whispering to Maud,
"He won't know," she added, aloud, "Come in if you like, and stir
this cake for me; it needs a strong hand, and mine are tired. There,
put on that apron to keep you tidy, sit here, and take it easy."

"I used to help grandma bat up cake, and rather liked it, if I
remember right," said Tom, letting Polly tie a checked apron on
him, put a big bowl into his hands, and settle him near the table,
where Maud was picking raisins, and she herself stirring busily
about among spice-boxes, rolling-pins, and butter-pots.

"You do it beautifully, Tom. I 'll give you a conundrum to lighten
your labor: Why are bad boys like cake?" asked Polly, anxious to
cheer him up.

"Because a good beating makes them better. I doubt that myself,
though," answered Tom, nearly knocking the bottom of the bowl
out with his energetic demonstrations, for it really was a relief to
do something.

"Bright boy! here 's a plum for you," and Polly threw a plump
raisin into his mouth.

"Put in lots, won't you? I 'm rather fond of plum-cake," observed
Tom, likening himself to Hercules with the distaff, and finding his
employment pleasant, if not classical.

"I always do, if I can; there 's nothing I like better than to shovel in
sugar and spice, and make nice, plummy cake for people. It 's one
of the few things I have a gift for."

"You 've hit it this time, Polly; you certainly have a gift for putting
a good deal of both articles into your own and other people's lives,
which is lucky, as, we all have to eat that sort of cake, whether we
like it or not," observed Tom, so soberly that Polly opened her
eyes, and Maud exclaimed, "I do believe he 's preaching."

"Feel as if I could sometimes," continued Tom; then his eye fell
upon the dimples in Polly's elbows, and he added, with a laugh,
"That 's more in your line, ma'am; can't you give us a sermon?"

"A short one. Life, my brethren, is like plum-cake," began Polly,
impressively folding her floury hands. "In some the plums are all
on the top, and we eat them gayly, till we suddenly find they are
gone. In others the plums sink to the bottom, and we look for them
in vain as we go on, and often come to them when it is too late to
enjoy them. But in the well-made cake, the plums are wisely
scattered all through, and every mouthful is a pleasure. We make
our own cakes, in a great measure, therefore let us look to it, my
brethren, that they are mixed according to the best receipt, baked
in a well regulated oven, and gratefully eaten with a temperate
appetite."

"Good! good!" cried Tom, applauding with the wooden spoon.
"That 's a model sermon, Polly, short, sweet, sensible, and not a bit
sleepy. I 'm one of your parish, and will see that you get your
'celery punctooal,' as old Deacon Morse used to say."

" 'Thank you, brother, my wants is few, and ravens scurser than
they used to be,' as dear old Parson Miller used to answer. Now,
Maud, bring on the citron;" and Polly began to put the cake
together in what seemed a most careless and chaotic manner,
while Tom and Maud watched with absorbing interest till it was
safely in the oven.

"Now make your custards, dear; Tom may like to beat the eggs for
you; it seems to have a good effect upon his constitution."

"First-rate; hand 'em along," and Tom smoothed his apron with a
cheerful air. "By the way, Syd's got back. I met him yesterday, and
he treated me like a man and a brother," he added, as if anxious to
contribute to the pleasures of the hour.

"I 'm so glad!" cried Polly, clapping her hands, regardless of the
egg she held, which dropped and smashed on the floor at her feet.
"Careless thing! Pick it up, Maud, I 'll get some more;" and Polly
whisked out of the room, glad of an excuse to run and tell Fan,
who had just come in, lest, hearing the news in public, she might
be startled out of the well-bred composure with which young
ladies are expected to receive tidings, even of the most vital
importance.

"You know all about history, don't you?" asked Maud, suddenly.

"Not quite," modestly answered Tom.

"I just want to know if there really was a man named Sir Philip, in
the time of Queen Elizabeth."

"You mean Sir Philip Sidney? Yes, he lived then and a fine old
fellow he was too."

"There; I knew the girls did n't mean him," cried Maud, with a
chop that sent the citron flying.

"What mischief are you up to now, you little magpie?"

"I shan't tell you what they said, because I don't remember much of
it; but I heard Polly and Fan talking about some one dreadful
mysterious, and when I asked who it was, Fan said,'Sir Philip.' Ho!
she need n't think I believe it! I saw 'em laugh, and blush, and poke
one another, and I knew it was n't about any old Queen Elizabeth
man," cried Maud, turning up her nose as far as that somewhat
limited feature would go.

"Look here, you are letting cats out of the bag. Never mind, I
thought so. They don't tell us their secrets, but we are so sharp, we
can't help finding them out, can we?" said Tom, looking so much
interested, that Maud could n't resist airing her knowledge a little.

"Well, I dare say, it is n't proper for you to know, but I am old
enough now to be told anything, and those girls better mind what
they say, for I 'm not a stupid chit, like Blanche. I just wish you
could have heard them go on. I 'm sure there 's something very nice
about Mr. Sydney, they looked so pleased when they whispered
and giggled on the bed, and thought I was ripping bonnets, and did
n't hear a word."

"Which looked most pleased?" asked Tom, investigating the
kitchen boiler with deep interest.

"Well, 'pears to me Polly did; she talked most, and looked funny
and very happy all the time. Fan laughed a good deal, but I guess
Polly is the loveress," replied Maud, after a moment's reflection.

"Hold your tongue; she 's coming!" and Tom began to pump as if
the house was on fire.

Down came Polly, with heightened color, bright eyes, and not a
single egg. Tom took a quick look at her over his shoulder, and
paused as if the fire was suddenly extinguished. Something in his
face made Polly feel a little guilty, so she fell to grating nutmeg,
with a vigor which made red cheeks the most natural thing in life.
Maud, the traitor, sat demurely at work, looking very like what
Tom had called her, a magpie with mischief in its head. Polly felt a
change in the atmosphere, but merely thought Tom was tired, so
she graciously dismissed him with a stick of cinnamon, as she had
nothing else just then to lay upon the shrine. "Fan's got the books
and maps you wanted. Go and rest now. I 'm much obliged; here 's
your wages, Bridget."

"Good luck to your messes," answered Tom, as he walked away
meditatively crunching his cinnamon, and looking as if he did not
find it as spicy as usual. He got his books, but did not read them;
for, shutting himself up in the little room called "Tom's den," he
just sat down and brooded.

When he came down to breakfast the next morning, he was greeted
with a general "Happy birthday, Tom!" and at his place lay gifts
from every member of the family; not as costly as formerly,
perhaps, but infinitely dearer, as tokens of the love that had
outlived the change, and only grown the warmer for the test of
misfortune. In his present state of mind, Tom felt as if he did not
deserve a blessed thing; so when every one exerted themselves to
make it a happy day for him, he understood what it means "to be
nearly killed with kindness," and sternly resolved to be an honor to
his family, or perish in the attempt. Evening brought Polly to what
she called a "festive tea," and when they gathered round the table,
another gift appeared, which, though not of a sentimental nature,
touched Tom more than all the rest. It was a most delectable cake,
with a nosegay atop, and round it on the snowy frosting there ran a
pink inscription, just as it had been every year since Tom could
remember.

"Name, age, and date, like a nice white tombstone," observed
Maud, complacently, at which funereal remark, Mrs. Shaw, who
was down in honor of the day, dropped her napkin, and demanded
her salts.

"Whose doing is that?" asked Tom, surveying the gift with
satisfaction; for it recalled the happier birthdays, which seemed
very far away now.

"I did n't know what to give you, for you 've got everything a man
wants, and I was in despair till I remembered that dear grandma
always made you a little cake like that, and that you once said it
would n't be a happy birthday without it. So I tried to make it just
like hers, and I do hope it will prove a good, sweet, plummy one."

"Thank you," was all Tom said, as he smiled at the giver, but Polly
knew that her present had pleased him more than the most elegant
trifle she could have made.

"It ought to be good, for you beat it up yourself, Tom," cried,
Maud. "It was so funny to see you working away, and never
guessing who the cake was for. I perfectly trembled every time you
opened your mouth, for fear you 'd ask some question about it.
That was the reason Polly preached and I kept talking when she
was gone."

"Very stupid of me; but I forgot all about to-day. Suppose we cut
it; I don't seem to care for anything else," said Tom, feeling no
appetite, but bound to do justice to that cake, if he fell a victim to
his gratitude.

"I hope the plums won't all be at the bottom," said Polly, as she
rose to do the honors of the cake, by universal appointment.

"I 've had a good many at the top already, you know," answered
Tom, watching the operation with as much interest as if he had
faith in the omen.

Cutting carefully, slice after slice fell apart; each firm and dark,
spicy and rich, under the frosty rime above; and laying a specially
large piece in one of grandma's quaint little china plates, Polly
added the flowers and handed it to Tom, with a look that said a
good deal, for, seeing that he remembered her sermon, she was
glad to find that her allegory held good, in one sense at least.
Tom's face brightened as he took it, and after an inspection which
amused the others very much he looked up, saying, with an air of
relief, "Plums all through; I 'm glad I had a hand in it, but Polly
deserves the credit, and must wear the posy," and turning to her, he
put the rose into her hair with more gallantry than taste, for a thorn
pricked her head, the leaves tickled her ear, and the flower was
upside down.

Fanny laughed at his want of skill, but Polly would n't have it
altered, and everybody fell to eating cake, as if indigestion was one
of the lost arts. They had a lively tea, and were getting on famously
afterward, when two letters were brought for Tom, who glanced at
one, and retired rather precipitately to his den, leaving Maud
consumed with curiosity, and the older girls slightly excited, for
Fan thought she recognized the handwriting on one, and Polly, on
the other.

One half an hour and then another elapsed, and Tom did not
return. Mr. Shaw went out, Mrs. Shaw retired to her room escorted
by Maud, and the two girls sat together wondering if anything
dreadful had happened. All of a sudden a voice called, "Polly!" and
that young lady started out of her chair, as if the sound had been a
thunder-clap.

"Do run! I 'm perfectly fainting to know what the matter is," said
Fan.

"You 'd better go," began Polly, wishing to obey, yet feeling a little
shy.

"He don't want me; besides, I could n't say a word for myself if that
letter was from Sydney," cried Fanny, hustling her friend towards
the door, in a great flutter.

Polly went without another word, but she wore a curiously anxious
look, and stopped on the threshold of the den, as if a little afraid of
its occupant. Tom was sitting in his favorite attitude, astride of a
chair, with his arms folded and his chin on the top rail; not an
elegant posture, but the only one in which, he said, he could think
well.

"Did you want me, Tom?"

"Yes. Come in, please, and don't look scared; I only want to show
you a present I 've had, and ask your advice about accepting it."

"Why, Tom, you look as if you had been knocked down!"
exclaimed Polly, forgetting all about herself, as she saw his face
when he rose and turned to meet her.

"I have; regularly floored; but I 'm up again, and steadier than ever.
Just you read that, and tell me what you think of it."

Tom snatched a letter off the table, put it into her hands, and began
to walk up and down the little room, like a veritable bear in its
cage. As Polly read that short note, all the color went out of her
face, and her eyes began to kindle. When she came to the end, she
stood a minute, as if too indignant to speak, then gave the paper a
nervous sort of crumple and dropped it on the floor, saying, all in
one breath, "I think she is a mercenary, heartless, ungrateful girl!
That 's what I think."

"Oh, the deuce! I did n't mean to show that one; it 's the other."
And Tom took up a second paper, looking half angry, half
ashamed at his own mistake. "I don't care, though; every one will
know to-morrow; and perhaps you 'll be good enough to keep the
girls from bothering me with questions and gabble," he added, as
if, on second thoughts, he was relieved to have the communication
made to Polly first.

"I don't wonder you looked upset. If the other letter is as bad, I 'd
better have a chair before I read it," said Polly, feeling that she
began to tremble with excitement.

"It 's a million times better, but it knocked me worse than the
other; kindness always does." Tom stopped short there, and stood a
minute turning the letter about in his hand as if it contained a
sweet which neutralized the bitter in that smaller note, and touched
him very much. Then he drew up an armchair, and beckoning
Polly to take it, said in a sober, steady tone, that surprised her
greatly, "Whenever I was in a quandary, I used to go and consult
grandma, and she always had something sensible or comfortable to
say to me. She 's gone now, but somehow, Polly, you seem to take
her place. Would you mind sitting in her chair, and letting me tell
you two or three things, as Will does?"

Mind it? Polly felt that Tom had paid her the highest and most
beautiful compliment he could have devised. She had often longed
to do it, for, being brought up in the most affectionate and frank
relations with her brothers, she had early learned what it takes
most women some time to discover, that sex does not make nearly
as much difference in hearts and souls as we fancy. Joy and
sorrow, love and fear, life and death bring so many of the same
needs to all, that the wonder is we do not understand each other
better, but wait till times of tribulation teach us that human nature
is very much the same in men and women. Thanks to this
knowledge, Polly understood Tom in a way that surprised and won
him. She knew that he wanted womanly sympathy, and that she
could give it to him, because she was not afraid to stretch her hand
across the barrier which our artificial education puts between boys
and girls, and to say to him in all good faith, "If I can help you, let
me."

Ten minutes sooner Polly could have done this almost as easily to
Tom as to Will, but in that ten minutes something had happened
which made this difficult. Reading that Trix had given Tom back
his freedom changed many things to Polly, and caused her to
shrink from his confidence, because she felt as if it would be
harder now to keep self out of sight; for, spite of maiden modesty,
love and hope would wake and sing at the good news. Slowly she
sat down, and hesitatingly she said, with her eyes on the ground,
and a very humble voice, "I 'll do my best, but I can't fill
grandma's place, or give you any wise, good advice. I wish I
could!"

"You 'll do it better than any one else. Talk troubles mother, father
has enough to think of without any of my worries. Fan is a good
soul, but she is n't practical, and we always get into a snarl if we
try to work together, so who have I but my other sister, Polly? The
pleasure that letter will give you may make up for my boring you."

As he spoke, Tom laid the other paper in her lap, and went off to
the window, as if to leave her free to enjoy it unseen; but he could
not help a glance now and then, and as Polly's face brightened, his
own fell.

"Oh, Tom, that 's a birthday present worth having, for it 's so
beautifully given I don't see how you can refuse it. Arthur Sydney
is a real nobleman!" cried Polly, looking up at last, with her fact
glowing, and her eyes full of delight.

"So he is! I don't know another man living, except father, who
would have done such a thing, or who I could bring myself to take
it from. Do you see, he 's not only paid the confounded debts, but
has done it in my name, to spare me all he could?"

"I see, it 's like him; and I think he must be very happy to be able
to do such a thing."

"It is an immense weight off my shoulders, for some of those men
could n't afford to wait till I 'd begged, borrowed, or earned the
money. Sydney can wait, but he won't long, if I know myself."
"You won't take it as a gift, then?"

"Would you?"

"No."

"Then don't think I will. I 'm a pretty poor affair, Polly, but I 'm not
mean enough to do that, while I 've got a conscience and a pair of
hands."

A rough speech, but it pleased Polly better than the smoothest Tom
had ever made in her hearing, for something in his face and voice
told her that the friendly act had roused a nobler sentiment than
gratitude, making the cancelled obligations of the boy, debts of
honor to the man.

"What will you do, Tom?"

"I 'll tell you; may I sit here?" And Tom took the low footstool that
always stood near grandma's old chair. "I 've had so many plans in
my head lately, that sometimes it seems as if it would split,"
continued the poor fellow, rubbing his tired forehead, as if to
polish up his wits. "I 've thought seriously of going to California,
Australia, or some out-of-the-way place, where men get rich in a
hurry."

"Oh, no!" cried Polly, putting out her hand as it to keep him, and
then snatching it back again before he could turn round.

"It would be hard on mother and the girls, I suppose; besides, I
don't quite like it myself; looks as if I shirked and ran away."

"So it does," said Polly, decidedly.

"Well, you see I don't seem to find anything to do unless I turn
clerk, and I don't think that would suit. The fact is, I could n't stand
it here, where I 'm known. It would be easier to scratch gravel on a
railroad, with a gang of Paddies, than to sell pins to my friends and
neighbors. False pride, I dare say, but it 's the truth, and there 's no
use in dodging."

"Not a bit, and I quite agree with you."

"That 's comfortable. Now I 'm coming to the point where I
specially want your advice, Polly. Yesterday I heard you telling
Fan about your brother Ned; how well he got on; how he liked his
business, and wanted Will to come and take some place near him.
You thought I was reading, but I heard; and it struck me that
perhaps I could get a chance out West somewhere. What do you
think?"

"If you really mean work, I know you could," answered Polly,
quickly, as all sorts of plans and projects went sweeping through
her mind. "I wish you could be with Ned; you 'd get on together, I
'm sure; and he 'd be so glad to do anything he could. I 'll write and
ask, straight away, if you want me to."

"Suppose you do; just for information, you know, then I shall have
something to go upon. I want to have a feasible plan all ready,
before I speak to father. There 's nothing so convincing to business
men as facts, you know."

Polly could not help smiling at Tom's new tone, it seemed so
strange to hear him talking about anything but horses and tailors,
dancing and girls. She liked it, however, as much as she did the
sober expression of his face, and the way he had lately of swinging
his arms about, as if he wanted to do something energetic with
them.

"That will be wise. Do you think your father will like this plan?"

"Pretty sure be will. Yesterday, when I told him I must go at
something right off, he said, 'Anything honest, Tom, and don't
forget that your father began the world as a shop-boy.' You knew
that, did n't you?"

"Yes, he told me the story once, and I always liked to hear it,
because it was pleasant to see how well he had succeeded."

"I never did like the story, a little bit ashamed, I 'm afraid; but
when we talked it over last night, it struck me in a new light, and I
understood why father took the failure so well, and seems so
contented with this poorish place. It is only beginning again, he
says; and having worked his way up once, he feels as if he could
again. I declare to you, Polly, that sort of confidence in himself,
and energy and courage in a man of his years, makes me love and
respect the dear old gentleman as I never did before."

"I 'm so glad to hear you say that, Tom! I 've sometimes thought
you did n't quite appreciate your father, any more than he knew
how much of a man you were."

"Never was till to-day, you know," said Tom, laughing, yet looking
as if he felt the dignity of his one and twenty years. "Odd, is n't it,
how people live together ever so long, and don't seem to find one
another out, till something comes to do it for them. Perhaps this
smash-up was sent to introduce me to my own father."

"There 's philosophy for you," said Polly, smiling, even while she
felt as if adversity was going to do more for Tom than years of
prosperity.

They both sat quiet for a minute, Polly in the big chair looking at
him with a new respect in her eyes, Tom on the stool near by
slowly tearing up a folded paper he had absently taken from the
floor while he talked.

"Did this surprise you?" he asked, as a little white shower fluttered
from his hands.

"No."

"Well, it did me; for you know as soon as we came to grief I
offered to release Trix from the engagement, and she would n't let
me," continued Tom, as if, having begun the subject, he wished to
explain it thoroughly.

"That surprised me," said Polly.

"So it did me, for Fan always insisted it was the money and not the
man she cared for. Her first answer pleased me very much, for I
did not expect it, and nothing touches a fellow more than to have a
woman stand by him through thick and thin."

"She don't seem to have done it."

"Fan was right. Trix only waited to see how bad things really were,
or rather her mother did. She 's as cool, hard, and worldly minded
an old soul as I ever saw, and Trix is bound to obey. She gets
round it very neatly in her note, 'I won't be a burden,' 'will sacrifice
her hopes,' 'and always remain my warm friend,' but the truth is,
Tom Shaw rich was worth making much of, but Tom Shaw poor is
in the way, and may go to the devil as fast as he likes."

"Well, he is n't going!" cried Polly, defiantly, for her wrath burned
hotly against Trix, though she blessed her for setting the bondman
free.

"Came within an ace of it," muttered Tom to himself; adding
aloud, in a tone of calm resignation that assured Polly his heart
would not be broken though his engagement was, "It never rains
but it pours, 'specially in hard times, but when a man is down, a
rap or two more don't matter much, I suppose. It 's the first blow
that hurts most."

"Glad to see you take the last blow so well." There was an ironical
little twang to that speech, and Polly could n't help it. Tom colored
up and looked hurt for a minute, then seemed to right himself with
a shrug, and said, in his outspoken way, "To tell the honest truth,
Polly, it was not a very hard one. I 've had a feeling for some time
that Trix and I were not suited to one another, and it might be
wiser to stop short. But she did not or would not see it; and I was
not going to back out, and leave her to wear any more willows, so
here we are. I don't bear malice, but hope she 'll do better, and not
be disappointed again, upon my word I do."

"That 's very good of you, quite Sydneyesque, and noble," said
Polly, feeling rather ill at ease, and wishing she could hide herself
behind a cap and spectacles, if she was to play Grandma to this
confiding youth.

"It will be all plain sailing for Syd, I fancy," observed Tom, getting
up as if the little cricket suddenly ceased to be comfortable.

"I hope so," murmured Polly, wondering what was coming next.

"He deserves the very best of everything, and I pray the Lord he
may get it," added Tom, poking the fire in a destructive manner.

Polly made no answer, fearing to pay too much, for she knew Fan
had made no confidant of Tom, and she guarded her friend's secret
as jealously as her own. "You 'll write to Ned to-morrow, will
you? I 'll take anything he 's got, for I want to be off," said Tom,
casting down the poker, and turning round with a resolute air
which was lost on Polly, who sat twirling the rose that had fallen
into her lap.

"I 'll write to-night. Would you like me to tell the girls about Trix
and Sydney?" she asked as she rose, feeling that the council was
over.

"I wish you would. I don't know how to thank you for all you 've
done for me; I wish to heaven I did," said Tom, holding out his
hand with a look that Polly thought a great deal too grateful for the
little she had done.

As she gave him her hand, and looked up at him with those
confiding eyes of hers, Tom's gratitude seemed to fly to his head,
for, without the slightest warning, he stooped down and kissed her,
a proceeding which startled Polly so that he recovered himself at
once, and retreated into his den with the incoherent apology, "I
beg pardon could n't help it grandma always let me on my
birthday."

While Polly took refuge up stairs, forgetting all about Fan, as she
sat in the dark with her face hidden, wondering why she was n't
very angry, and resolving never again to indulge in the delightful
but dangerous pastime of playing grandmother.

CHAPTER XVIII THE WOMAN WHO DID NOT DARE

POLLY wrote enthusiastically, Ned answered satisfactorily, and
after much corresponding, talking, and planning, it was decided
that Tom should go West. Never mind what the business was; it
suffices to say that it was a good beginning for a young man like
Tom, who, having been born and bred in the most conservative
class of the most conceited city in New England, needed just the
healthy, hearty, social influences of the West to widen his views
and make a man of him.

Of course there was much lamentation among the women, but
every one felt it was the best thing for him; so while they sighed
they sewed, packed visions of a brilliant future away with his new
pocket handkerchiefs, and rejoiced that the way was open before
him even in the act of bedewing his boots with tears. Sydney stood
by him to the last, "like a man and a brother" (which expression of
Tom's gave Fanny infinite satisfaction), and Will felt entirely
consoled for Ned's disappointment at his refusal to go and join
him, since Tom was to take the place Ned had kept for him.

Fortunately every one was so busy with the necessary preparations
that there was no time for romance of any sort, and the four young
people worked together as soberly and sensibly as if all sorts of
emotions were not bottled up in their respective hearts. But in spite
of the silence, the work, and the hurry, I think they came to know
one another better in that busy little space of time than in all the
years that had gone before, for the best and bravest in each was up
and stirring, and the small house was as full of the magnetism of
love and friendship, self-sacrifice and enthusiasm, as the world
outside was full of spring sunshine and enchantment. Pity that the
end should come so soon, but the hour did its work and went its
way, leaving a clearer atmosphere behind, though the young folks
did not see it then, for their eyes were dim because of the partings
that must be.

Tom was off to the West; Polly went home for the summer; Maud
was taken to the seaside with Belle; and Fanny left alone to wrestle
with housekeeping, "help," and heartache. If it had not been for
two things, I fear she never would have stood a summer in town,
but Sydney often called, till his vacation came, and a voluminous
correspondence with Polly beguiled the long days. Tom wrote
once a week to his mother, but the letters were short and not very
satisfactory, for men never do tell the interesting little things that
women best like to hear. Fanny forwarded her bits of news to
Polly. Polly sent back all the extracts from Ned's letters concerning
Tom, and by putting the two reports together, they gained the
comfortable assurance that Tom was well, in good spirits, hard at
work, and intent on coming out strong in spite of all obstacles.

Polly had a quiet summer at home, resting and getting ready in
mind and body for another winter's work, for in the autumn she
tried her plan again, to the satisfaction of her pupils and the great
joy of her friends. She never said much of herself in her letters,
and Fanny's first exclamation when they met again, was an anxious
"Why, Polly, dear! Have you been sick and never told me?"

"No, I 'm only tired, had a good deal to do lately, and the dull
weather makes me just a trifle blue. I shall soon brighten up when
I get to my work again," answered Polly, bustling about to put
away her things.

"You don't look a bit natural. What have you been doing to your
precious little self?" persisted Fanny, troubled by the change, yet
finding it hard to say wherein it lay.

Polly did not look sick, though her cheeks were thinner and her
color paler than formerly, but she seemed spiritless, and there was
a tired look in her eyes that went to Fanny's heart.

"I 'm all right enough, as you 'll see when I 'm in order. I 'm proper
glad to find you looking so well and happy. Does all go smoothly,
Fan?" asked Polly, beginning to brush her hair industriously.

"Answer me one question first," said Fanny, looking as if a sudden
fear had come over her. "Tell me, truly, have you never repented
of your hint to Sydney?"

"Never!" cried Polly, throwing back the brown veil behind which
she had half hidden her face at first.

"On your honor, as an honest girl?"

"On my honor, as anything you please. Why do you suspect me of
it?" demanded Polly, almost angrily.

"Because something is wrong with you. It 's no use to deny it, for
you 've got the look I used to see in that very glass on my own face
when I thought he cared for you. Forgive me, Polly, but I can't help
saying it, for it is there, and I want to be as true to you as you were
to me if I can."

Fanny's face was full of agitation, and she spoke fast and frankly,
for she was trying to be generous and found it very hard. Polly
understood now and put her fear at rest by saying almost
passionately, "I tell you I don't love him! If he was the only man in
the world, I would n't marry him, because I don't want to."

The last three words were added in a different tone, for Polly had
checked herself there with a half-frightened look and turned away
to hide her face behind her hair again.

"Then if it 's not him, it 's some one else. You 've got a secret,
Polly, and I should think you might tell it, as you know mine," said
Fanny, unable to rest till everything was told, for Polly's manner
troubled her.

There was no answer to her question, but she was satisfied and
putting her arm round her friend, she said, in her most persuasive
tone, "My precious Polly, do I know him?"

"You have seen him."

"And is he very wise, good, and splendid, dear?"

"No."

"He ought to be if you love him. I hope he is n't bad?" cried Fan,
anxiously, still holding Polly, who kept her head obstinately
turned.

"I 'm suited, that 's enough."

"Oh, please just tell me one thing more. Don't he love back again?"

"No. Now don't say another word, I can't bear it!" and Polly drew
herself away, as she spoke in a desperate sort of tone.

"I won't, but now I 'm not afraid to tell you that I think, I hope, I do
believe that Sydney cares a little for me. He 's been very kind to us
all, and lately he has seemed to like to see me always when he
comes and miss me if I 'm gone. I did n't dare to hope anything, till
Papa observed something in his manner, and teased me about it. I
try not to deceive myself, but it does seem as if there was a chance
of happiness for me."

"Thank heaven for that!" cried Polly, with the heartiest satisfaction
in her voice. "Now come and tell me all about it," she added,
sitting down on the couch with the air of one who has escaped a
great peril.

"I 've got some notes and things I want to ask your opinion about,
if they really mean anything, you know," said Fanny, getting out a
bundle of papers from the inmost recesses of her desk. "There 's a
photograph of Tom, came in his last letter. Good, is n't it? He
looks older, but that 's the beard and the rough coat, I suppose.
Dear old fellow, he is doing so well I really begin to feel quite
proud of him."

Fan tossed her the photograph, and went on rummaging for a
certain note. She did not see Polly catch up the picture and look at
it with hungry eyes, but she did hear something in the low tone in
which Polly said, "It don't do him justice," and glancing over her
shoulder, Fan's quick eye caught a glimpse of the truth, though
Polly was half turned away from her. Without stopping to think,
Fan dropped her letters, took Polly by the shoulders, and cried in a
tone full of astonishment, "Polly, is it Tom?"

Poor Polly was so taken by surprise, that she had not a word to say.
None were needed; her telltale face answered for her, as well as
the impulse which made her hide her head in the sofa cushion, like
a foolish ostrich when the hunters are after it.

"Oh, Polly, I am so glad! I never thought of it you are so good, and
he 's such a wild boy, I can't believe it but it is so dear of you to
care for him."

"Could n't help it tried not to but it was so hard you know, Fan, you
know," said a stifled voice from the depths of the very fuzzy
cushion which Tom had once condemned.

The last words, and the appealing hand outstretched to her, told
Fanny the secret of her friend's tender sympathy for her own love
troubles, and seemed so pathetic, that she took Polly in her arms,
and cried over her, in the fond, foolish way girls have of doing
when their hearts are full, and tears can say more than tongues.
The silence never lasts long, however, for the feminine desire to
"talk it over" usually gets the better of the deepest emotion. So
presently the girls were hard at it, Polly very humble and
downcast, Fanny excited and overflowing with curiosity and
delight.

"Really my sister! You dear thing, how heavenly that will be," she
cried.

"It never will be," answered Polly in a tone of calm despair.

"What will prevent it?"

"Maria Bailey," was the tragic reply.

"What do you mean? Is she the Western girl? She shan't have Tom;
I 'll kill her first!"

"Too late, let me tell you is that door shut, and Maud safe?"

Fanny reconnoitered, and returning, listened breathlessly, while
Polly poured into her ear the bitter secret which was preying on her
soul.

"Has n't he mentioned Maria in his letters?"

"Once or twice, but sort of jokingly, and I thought it was only
some little flirtation. He can't have time for much of that fun, he 's
so busy."

"Ned writes good, gossipy letters I taught him how and he tells me
all that 's going on. When he 'd spoken of this girl several times
(they board with her mother, you know), I asked about her, quite
carelessly, and he told me she was pretty, good, and well educated,
and he thought Tom was rather smitten. That was a blow, for you
see, Fan, since Trix broke the engagement, and it was n't wrong to
think of Tom, I let myself hope, just a little, and was so happy!
Now I must give it up, and now I see how much I hoped, and what
a dreadful loss it 's going to be."

Two great tears rolled down Polly's cheeks, and Fanny wiped them
away, feeling an intense desire to go West by the next train, wither
Maria Bailey with a single look, and bring Tom back as a gift to
Polly.

"It was so stupid of me not to guess before. But you see Tom
always seems so like a boy, and you are more womanly for your
age than any girl I know, so I never thought of your caring for him
in that way. I knew you were very good to him, you are to every
one, my precious; and I knew that he was fond of you as he is of
me, fonder if anything, because he thinks you are perfect; but still I
never dreamed of his loving you as more than a dear friend."

"He does n't," sighed Polly.

"Well, he ought; and if I could get hold of him, he should!"

Polly clutched Fan at that, and held her tight, saying sternly, "If
you ever breathe a word, drop a hint, look a look that will tell him
or any one else about me, I 'll yes, as sure as my name is Mary
Milton I 'll proclaim from the housetops that you like Ar " Polly
got no further, for Fan's hand was on her mouth, and Fan's alarmed
voice vehemently protested, "I won't! I promise solemnly I 'll
never say a word to a mortal creature. Don't be so fierce, Polly;
you quite frighten me."

"It 's bad enough to love some one who don't love you, but to have
them told of it is perfectly awful. It makes me wild just to think of
it. Oh, Fan, I 'm getting so ill-tempered and envious and wicked, I
don't know what will happen to me."

"I 'm not afraid for you, my dear, and I do believe things will go
right, because you are so good to every one. How Tom could help
adoring you I don't see. I know he would if he had stayed at home
longer after he got rid of Trix. It would be the making of him; but
though he is my brother, I don't think he 's good enough for you,
Polly, and I don't quite see how you can care for him so much,
when you might have had a person so infinitely superior."

"I don't want a 'superior' person; he 'd tire me if he was like A. S.
Besides, I do think Tom is superior to him in many things. Well,
you need n't stare; I know he is, or will be. He 's so different, and
very young, and has lots of faults, I know, but I like him all the
better for it, and he 's honest and brave, and has got a big, warm
heart, and I 'd rather have him care for me than the wisest, best,
most accomplished man in the world, simply because I love him!"

If Tom could only have seen Polly's face when she said that! It was
so tender, earnest, and defiant, that Fanny forgot the defence of her
own lover in admiration of Polly's loyalty to hers; for this faithful,
all absorbing love was a new revelation to Fanny, who was used to
hearing her friends boast of two or three lovers a year, and
calculate their respective values, with almost as much coolness as
the young men discussed the fortunes of the girls they wished for,
but "could not afford to marry." She had thought her love for
Sydney very romantic, because she did not really care whether he
was rich or poor, though she never dared to say so, even to Polly,
for fear of being laughed at. She began to see now what true love
was, and to feel that the sentiment which she could not conquer
was a treasure to be accepted with reverence, and cherished with
devotion.

"I don't know when I began to love Tom, but I found out that I did
last winter, and was as much surprised as you are," continued
Polly, as if glad to unburden her heart. "I did n't approve of him at
all. I thought he was extravagant, reckless, and dandified. I was
very much disappointed when he chose Trix, and the more I
thought and saw of it, the worse I felt, for Tom was too good for
her, and I hated to see her do so little for him, when she might
have done so much; because he is one of the men who can be led
by their affections, and the woman he marries can make or mar
him."

"That 's true!" cried Fan, as Polly paused to look at the picture,
which appeared to regard her with a grave, steady look, which
seemed rather to belie her assertions.

"I don't mean that he 's weak or bad. If he was, I should hate him;
but he does need some one to love him very much, and make him
happy, as a good woman best knows how," said Polly, as if
answering the mute language of Tom's face.

"I hope Maria Bailey is all he thinks her," she added, softly, "for I
could n't bear to have him disappointed again."

"I dare say he don't care a fig for her, and you are only borrowing
trouble. What do you say Ned answered when you asked about this
inconvenient girl?" said Fanny turning hopeful all at once.

Polly repeated it, and added, "I asked him in another letter if he did
n't admire Miss B. as much as Tom, and he wrote back that she
was 'a nice girl,' but he had no time for nonsense, and I need n't get
my white kids ready for some years yet, unless to dance at Tom's
wedding. Since then he has n't mentioned Maria, so I was sure
there was something serious going on, and being in Tom's
confidence, he kept quiet."

"It does look bad. Suppose I say a word to Tom, just inquire after
his heart in a general way, you know, and give him a chance to tell
me, if there is anything to tell." "I 'm willing, but you must let me
see the letter. I can't trust you not to hint or say too much."

"You shall. I 'll keep my promise in spite of everything, but it will
be hard to see things going wrong when a word would set it right."

"You know what will happen if you do," and Polly looked so
threatening that Fan trembled before her, discovering that the
gentlest girls when roused are more impressive than any shrew; for
even turtle doves peck gallantly to defend their nests.

"If it is true about Maria, what shall we do?" said Fanny after a
pause.

"Bear it; People always do bear things, somehow," answered Polly,
looking as if sentence had been passed upon her.

"But if it is n't?" cried Fan, unable to endure the sight.

"Then I shall wait." And Polly's face changed so beautifully that
Fan hugged her on the spot, fervently wishing that Maria Bailey
never had been born.

Then the conversation turned to lover number two, and after a long
confabulation, Polly gave it as her firm belief that A. S. had
forgotten M. M., and was rapidly finding consolation in the regard
of F. S. With this satisfactory decision the council ended after the
ratification of a Loyal League, by which the friends pledged
themselves to stand staunchly by one another, through the trials of
the coming year.

It was a very different winter from the last for both the girls. Fanny
applied herself to her duties with redoubled ardor, for "A. S." was
a domestic man, and admired housewifely accomplishments. If
Fanny wanted to show him what she could do toward making a
pleasant home, she certainly succeeded better than she suspected,
for in spite of many failures and discouragements behind the
scenes, the little house became a most attractive place, to Mr.
Sydney at least, for he was more the house-friend than ever, and
seemed determined to prove that change of fortune made no
difference to him.

Fanny had been afraid that Polly's return might endanger her
hopes, but Sydney met Polly with the old friendliness, and very
soon convinced her that the nipping in the bud process had been
effectual, for being taken early, the sprouting affection had died
easy, and left room for an older friendship to blossom into a
happier love.

Fanny seemed glad of this, and Polly soon set her heart at rest by
proving that she had no wish to try her power. She kept much at
home when the day's work was done, finding it pleasanter to sit
dreaming over book or sewing alone, than to exert herself even to
go to the Shaws'.

"Fan don't need me, and Sydney don't care whether I come or not,
so I 'll keep out of the way," she would say, as if to excuse her
seeming indolence.

Polly was not at all like herself that winter, and those nearest to
her saw and wondered at it most. Will got very anxious, she was so
quiet, pale and spiritless, and distracted poor Polly by his
affectionate stupidity, till she completed his bewilderment by
getting cross and scolding him. So he consoled himself with Maud,
who, now being in her teens, assumed dignified airs, and ordered
him about in a style that afforded him continued amusement and
employment.

Western news continued vague, for Fan's general inquiries
produced only provokingly unsatisfactory replies from Tom, who
sang the praises of "the beautiful Miss Bailey," and professed to be
consumed by a hopeless passion for somebody, in such half-comic,
half-tragic terms, that the girls could not decide whether it was "all
that boy's mischief," or only a cloak to hide the dreadful truth.

"We 'll have it out of him when he comes home in the spring," said
Fanny to Polly, as they compared the letters of their brothers, and
agreed that "men were the most uncommunicative and provoking
animals under the sun." For Ned was so absorbed in business that
he ignored the whole Bailey question and left them in utter
darkness.

Hunger of any sort is a hard thing to bear, especially when the
sufferer has a youthful appetite, and Polly was kept on such a short
allowance of happiness for six months, that she got quite thin and
interesting; and often, when she saw how big her eyes were
getting, and how plainly the veins on her temples showed,
indulged the pensive thought that perhaps spring dandelions might
blossom o'er her grave. She had no intention of dying till Tom's
visit was over, however, and as the time drew near, she went
through such alternations of hope and fear, and lived in such a
state of feverish excitement, that spirits and color came back, and
she saw that the interesting pallor she had counted on would be an
entire failure.

May came at last, and with it a burst of sunshine which cheered
even poor Polly's much-enduring heart. Fanny came walking in
upon her one day, looking as if she brought tidings of such great
joy that she hardly knew how to tell them.

"Prepare yourself somebody is engaged!" she said, in a solemn
tone, that made Polly put up her hand as if to ward off an expected
blow. "No, don't look like that, my poor dear; it is n't Tom, it 's I!"

Of course there was a rapture, followed by one of the deliciously
confidential talks which bosom friends enjoy, interspersed with
tears and kisses, smiles and sighs.

"Oh, Polly, though I 've waited and hoped so long I could n't
believe it when it came, and don't deserve it; but I will! for the
knowledge that he loves me seems to make everything possible,"
said Fanny, with an expression which made her really beautiful,
for the first time in her life.

"You happy girl!" sighed Polly, then smiled and added, "I think
you deserve all that 's come to you, for you have truly tried to be
worthy of it, and whether it ever came or not that would have been
a thing to be proud of."

"He says that is what made him love me," answered Fanny, never
calling her lover by his name, but making the little personal
pronoun a very sweet word by the tone in which she uttered it. "He
was disappointed in me last year, he told me, but you said good
things about me and though he did n't care much then, yet when he
lost you, and came back to me, he found that you were not
altogether mistaken, and he has watched me all this winter,
learning to respect and love me better every day. Oh, Polly, when
he said that, I could n't bear it, because in spite of all my trying, I
'm still so weak and poor and silly."

"We don't think so; and I know you 'll be all he hopes to find you,
for he 's just the husband you ought to have."

"Thank you all the more, then, for not keeping him yourself," said
Fanny, laughing the old blithe laugh again.

"That was only a slight aberration of his; he knew better all the
time. It was your white cloak and my idiotic behavior the night we
went to the opera that put the idea into his head," said Polly,
feeling as if the events of that evening had happened some twenty
years ago, when she was a giddy young thing, fond of gay bonnets
and girlish pranks.

"I 'm not going to tell Tom a word about it, but keep it for a
surprise till he comes. He will be here next week, and then we 'll
have a grand clearing up of mysteries," said Fan, evidently feeling
that the millennium was at hand.

"Perhaps," said Polly, as her heart fluttered and then sunk, for this
was a case where she could do nothing but hope, and keep her
hands busy with Will's new set of shirts.

There is a good deal more of this sort of silent suffering than the
world suspects, for the "women who dare" are few, the women
who "stand and wait" are many. But if work-baskets were gifted
with powers of speech, they could tell stories more true and tender
than any we read. For women often sew the tragedy or comedy of
life into their work as they sit apparently safe and serene at home,
yet are thinking deeply, living whole heart-histories, and praying
fervent prayers while they embroider pretty trifles or do the weekly
mending.

CHAPTER XIX TOM'S SUCCESS

"Come, Philander, let us be a marching, Every one his true love a
searching,"

WOULD be the most appropriate motto for this chapter, because,
intimidated by the threats, denunciations, and complaints
showered upon me in consequence of taking the liberty to end a
certain story as I liked, I now yield to the amiable desire of giving
satisfaction, and, at the risk of outraging all the unities, intend to
pair off everybody I can lay my hands on.

Occasionally a matrimonial epidemic appears, especially toward
spring, devastating society, thinning the ranks of bachelordom, and
leaving mothers lamenting for their fairest daughters. That spring
the disease broke out with great violence in the Shaw circle,
causing paternal heads much bewilderment, as one case after
another appeared with alarming rapidity. Fanny, as we have seen,
was stricken first, and hardly had she been carried safely through
the crisis, when Tom returned to swell the list of victims. As Fanny
was out a good deal with her Arthur, who was sure that exercise
was necessary for the convalescent, Polly went every day to see
Mrs. Shaw, who found herself lonely, though much better than
usual, for the engagement had a finer effect upon her constitution
than any tonic she ever tried. Some three days after Fan's joyful
call Polly was startled on entering the Shaws' door, by Maud, who
came tumbling down stairs, sending an avalanche of words before
her, "He 's come before he said he should to surprise us! He 's up in
mamma's room, and was just saying, 'How 's Polly?' when I heard
you come, in your creep-mouse way, and you must go right up. He
looks so funny with whiskers, but he 's ever so nice, real big and
brown, and he swung me right up when he kissed me. Never mind
your bonnet, I can't wait."

And pouncing upon Polly, Maud dragged her away like a captured
ship towed by a noisy little steam-tug.

"The sooner it 's over the better for me," was the only thought Polly
had time for before she plunged into the room above, propelled by
Maud, who cried triumphantly, "There he is! Ain't he splendid?"

For a minute, everything danced before Polly's eyes, as a hand
shook hers warmly, and a gruffish voice said heartily, "How are
you, Polly?" Then she slipped into a chair beside Mrs. Shaw,
hoping that her reply had been all right and proper, for she had not
the least idea what she said.

Things got steady again directly, and while Maud expatiated on the
great surprise, Polly ventured to look at Tom, feeling glad that her
back was toward the light, and his was not. It was not a large
room, and Tom seemed to fill it entirely; not that he had grown so
very much, except broader in the shoulders, but there was a brisk,
genial, free-and-easy air about him, suggestive of a stirring,
out-of-door life, with people who kept their eyes wide open, and
were not very particular what they did with their arms and legs.
The rough-and-ready travelling suit, stout boots, brown face, and
manly beard, changed him so much, that Polly could find scarcely
a trace of elegant Tom Shaw in the hearty-looking young man who
stood with one foot on a chair, while he talked business to his
father in a sensible way, which delighted the old gentleman. Polly
liked the change immensely, and sat listening to the state of
Western trade with as much interest as if it had been the most
thrilling romance, for, as he talked, Tom kept looking at her with a
nod or a smile so like old times, that for a little while, she forgot
Maria Bailey, and was in bliss.

By and by Fanny came flying in, and gave Tom a greater surprise
than his had been. He had not the least suspicion of what had been
going on at home, for Fan had said to herself, with girlish malice,
"If he don't choose to tell me his secrets, I 'm not going to tell
mine," and had said nothing about Sydney, except an occasional
allusion to his being often there, and very kind. Therefore, when
she announced her engagement, Tom looked so staggered for a
minute, that Fan thought he did n't like it; but after the first
surprise passed, he showed such an affectionate satisfaction, that
she was both touched and flattered.

"What do you think of this performance?" asked Tom, wheeling
round to Polly, who still sat by Mrs. Shaw, in the shadow of the
bed-curtains.

"I like it very much," she said in such a hearty tone, that Tom
could not doubt the genuineness of her pleasure.

"Glad of that. Hope you 'll be as well pleased with another
engagement that 's coming out before long"; and with an odd
laugh, Tom carried Sydney off to his den, leaving the girls to
telegraph to one another the awful message, "It is Maria Bailey."

How she managed to get through that evening, Polly never knew,
yet it was not a long one, for at eight o'clock she slipped out of the
room, meaning to run home alone, and not compel any one to
serve as escort. But she did not succeed, for as she stood warming
her rubbers at the dining-room fire, wondering pensively as she did
so if Maria Bailey had small feet, and if Tom ever put her rubbers
on for her, the little overshoes were taken out of her hands, and
Tom's voice said, reproachfully, "Did you really mean to run away,
and not let me go home with you?"

"I 'm not afraid; I did n't want to take you away," began Polly,
secretly hoping that she did n't look too pleased.

"But I like to be taken away. Why, it 's a whole year since I went
home with you; do you remember that?" said Tom, flapping the
rubbers about without any signs of haste.

"Does it seem long?"

"Everlasting!"

Polly meant to say that quite easily, and smile incredulously at his
answer; but in spite of the coquettish little rose-colored hood she
wore, and which she knew was very becoming, she did not look or
speak gayly, and Tom saw something in the altered face that made
him say hastily, "I 'm afraid you 've been doing too much this
winter; you look tired out, Polly."

"Oh, no! it suits me to be very busy," and she began to drag on her
gloves as if to prove it.

"But it does n't suit me to have you get thin and pale, you know."

Polly looked up to thank him, but never did, for there was
something deeper than gratitude in the honest blue eyes, that could
not hide the truth entirely. Tom saw it, flushed all over his brown
face, and dropping the rubbers with a crash, took her hands,
saying, in his old impetuous way, "Polly, I want to tell you
something!"

"Yes, I know, we 've been expecting it. I hope you 'll be very
happy, Tom;" and Polly shook his hands with a smile that was
more pathetic than a flood of tears.

"What!" cried Tom, looking as if he thought she had lost her mind.

"Ned told us all about her; he thought it would be so, and when
you spoke of another engagement, we knew you meant your own."

"But I did n't! Ned's the man; he told me to tell you. It 's just
settled."

"Is it Maria?" cried Polly, holding on to a chair as if to be prepared
for anything.

"Of course. Who else should it be?"

"He did n't say you talked about her most and so we thought "
stammered Polly, falling into a sudden flutter.

"That I was in love? Well, I am, but not with her."

"Oh!" and Polly caught her breath as if a dash of cold water had
fallen on her, for the more in earnest Tom grew, the blunter he
became.

"Do you want to know the name of the girl I 've loved for more
than a year? Well, it 's Polly!" As he spoke, Tom stretched out his
arms to her, with the sort of mute eloquence that cannot be
resisted, and Polly went straight into them, without a word.

Never mind what happened for a little bit. Love scenes, if genuine,
are indescribable; for to those who have enacted them, the most
elaborate description seems tame, and to those who have not, the
simplest picture seems overdone. So romancers had better let
imagination paint for them that which is above all art, and leave
their lovers to themselves during the happiest minutes of their
lives.

Before long, Tom and Polly were sitting side by side, enjoying the
blissful state of mind which usually follows the first step out of our
work-a-day world, into the glorified region wherein lovers
rapturously exist for a month or two. Tom just sat and looked at
Polly as if he found it difficult to believe that the winter of his
discontent had ended in this glorious spring. But Polly, being a
true woman, asked questions, even while she laughed and cried for
joy.

"Now, Tom, how could I know you loved me when you went away
and never said a word?" she began, in a tenderly reproachful tone,
thinking of the hard year she had spent.

"And how could I have the courage to say a word, when I had
nothing on the face of the earth to offer you but my worthless
self?" answered Tom, warmly.

"That was all I wanted!" whispered Polly, in a tone which caused
him to feel that the race of angels was not entirely extinct.

"I 've always been fond of you, my Polly, but I never realized how
fond till just before I went away. I was n't free, you know, and
besides I had a strong impression that you liked Sydney in spite of
the damper which Fan hinted you gave him last winter. He 's such
a capital fellow, I really don't see how you could help it."

"It is strange; I don't understand it myself; but women are queer
creatures, and there 's no accounting for their tastes," said Polly,
with a sly look, which Tom fully appreciated.

"You were so good to me those last days, that I came very near
speaking out, but could n't bear to seem to be offering you a poor,
disgraced sort of fellow, whom Trix would n't have, and no one
seemed to think worth much. 'No,' I said to myself, 'Polly ought to
have the best; if Syd can get her, let him, and I won't say a word. I
'll try to be better worthy her friendship, anyway; and perhaps,
when I 've proved that I can do something, and am not ashamed to
work, then, if Polly is free, I shan't be afraid to try my chance.' So I
held my tongue, worked like a horse, satisfied myself and others
that I could get my living honestly, and then came home to see if
there was any hope for me."

"And I was waiting for you all the time," said a soft voice close to
his shoulder; for Polly was much touched by Tom's manly efforts
to deserve her.

"I did n't mean to do it the first minute, but look about me a little,
and be sure Syd was all right. But Fan's news settled that point, and
just now the look in my Polly's face settled the other. I could n't
wait another minute, or let you either, and I could n't help
stretching out my arms to my little wife, God bless her, though I
know I don't deserve her."

Tom's voice got lower and lower as he spoke, and his face was full
of an emotion of which he need not be ashamed, for a very sincere
love ennobled him, making him humble, where a shallower
affection would have been proud of its success. Polly understood
this, and found the honest, hearty speech of her lover more
eloquent than poetry itself. Her hand stole up to his cheek, and she
leaned her own confidingly against the rough coat, as she said, in
her frank simple way, "Tom, dear, don't say that, as if I was the
best girl in the world. I 've got ever so many faults, and I want you
to know them all, and help me cure them, as you have your own.
Waiting has not done us any harm, and I love you all the better for
your trial. But I 'm afraid your year has been harder than mine, you
look so much older and graver than when you went away. You
never would complain; but I 've had a feeling that you were going
through a good deal more than any of us guessed."

"Pretty tough work at first, I own. It was all so new and strange, I
'm afraid I should n't have stood it if it had not been for Ned. He 'd
laugh and say 'Pooh!' if he heard me say it, but it 's true
nevertheless that he 's a grand fellow and helped me through the
first six months like a well, a brother as he is. There was no reason
why he should go out of his way to back up a shiftless party like
me, yet he did, and made many things easy and safe that would
have been confoundedly hard and dangerous if I 'd been left to
myself. The only way I can explain it is that it 's a family trait, and
as natural to the brother as it is to the sister."

"It 's a Shaw trait to do the same. But tell me about Maria; is Ned
really engaged to her?"

"Very much so; you 'll get a letter full of raptures tomorrow; he
had n't time to send by me, I came off in such a hurry. Maria is a
sensible, pretty girl and Ned will be a happy old fellow."

"Why did you let us think it was you?"

"I only teased Fan a little; I did like Maria, for she reminded me of
you sometimes, and was such a kind, cosy little woman I could n't
help enjoying her society after a hard day's work. But Ned got
jealous, and then I knew that he was in earnest, so I left him a clear
field, and promised not to breathe a word to any one till he had got
a Yes or No from his Maria."

"I wish I 'd known it," sighed Polly. "People in love always do such
stupid things!"

"So they do; for neither you nor Fan gave us poor fellows the least
hint about Syd, and there I 've been having all sorts of scares about
you."

"Serves us right; brothers and sisters should n't have secrets from
each other."

"We never will again. Did you miss me very much?"

"Yes, Tom; very, very much."

"My patient little Polly!"

"Did you really care for me before you went?"

"See if I did n't;" and with great pride Tom produced a portly
pocket-book stuffed with business-like documents of a most
imposing appearance, opened a private compartment, and took out
a worn-looking paper, unfolded it carefully, and displayed a small
brown object which gave out a faint fragrance.

"That 's the rose you put in the birthday cake, and next week we 'll
have a fresh one in another jolly little cake which you 'll make me;
you left it on the floor of my den the night we talked there, and I
've kept it ever since. There 's love and romance for you!"

Polly touched the little relic, treasured for a year, and smiled to
read the words "My Polly's rose," scribbled under the crumbling
leaves.

"I did n't know you could be so sentimental," she said, looking so
pleased that he did not regret confessing his folly.

"I never was till I loved you, my dear, and I 'm not very bad yet, for
I don't wear my posy next my heart, but where I can see it every
day, and so never forget for whom I am working. Should n't
wonder if that bit of nonsense had kept me economical, honest,
and hard at it, for I never opened my pocket-book that I did n't
think of you."

"That 's lovely, Tom," and Polly found it so touching that she felt
for her handkerchief; but Tom took it away, and made her laugh
instead of cry, by saying, in a wheedlesome tone, "I don't believe
you did as much, for all your romance. Did you, now?"

"If you won't laugh, I 'll show you my treasures. I began first, and I
've worn them longest."

As she spoke, Polly drew out the old locket, opened it, and showed
the picture Tom gave her in the bag of peanuts cut small and fitted
in on one side on the other was a curl of reddish hair and a black
button. How Tom laughed when he saw them!

"You don't mean you 've kept that frightful guy of a boy all this
time? Polly! Polly! you are the most faithful 'loveress,' as Maud
says, that was ever known."

"Don't flatter yourself that I 've worn it all these years, sir; I only
put it in last spring because I did n't dare to ask for one of the new
ones. The button came off the old coat you insisted on wearing
after the failure, as if it was your duty to look as shabby as
possible, and the curl I stole from Maud. Are n't we silly?"

He did not seem to think so, and after a short pause for
refreshments, Polly turned serious, and said anxiously, "When
must you go back to your hard work?"

"In a week or two; but it won't seem drudgery now, for you 'll write
every day, and I shall feel that I 'm working to get a home for you.
That will give me a forty-man-power, and I 'll pay up my debts and
get a good start, and then Ned and I will be married and go into
partnership, and we 'll all be the happiest, busiest people in the
West."

"It sounds delightful; but won't it take a long time, Tom?"

"Only a few years, and we need n't wait a minute after Syd is paid,
if you don't mind beginning rather low down, Polly."

"I 'd rather work up with you, than sit idle while you toil away all
alone. That 's the way father and mother did, and I think they were
very happy in spite of the poverty and hard work."

"Then we 'll do it by another year, for I must get more salary
before I take you away from a good home here. I wish, oh, Polly,
how I wish I had a half of the money I 've wasted, to make you
comfortable, now."

"Never mind, I don't want it; I 'd rather have less, and know you
earned it all yourself," cried Polly, as Tom struck his hand on his
knee with an acute pang of regret at the power he had lost.

"It 's like you to say it, and I won't waste any words bewailing
myself, because I was a fool. We will work up together, my brave
Polly, and you shall yet be proud of your husband, though he is
'poor Tom Shaw.' "

She was as sure of that as if an oracle had foretold it, and was not
deceived; for the loving heart that had always seen, believed, and
tried to strengthen all good impulses in Tom, was well repaid for
its instinctive trust by the happiness of the years to come.

"Yes," she said, hopefully, "I know you will succeed, for the best
thing a man can have, is work with a purpose in it, and the will to
do it heartily."

"There is one better thing, Polly," answered Tom, turning her face
up a little, that he might see his inspiration shining in her eyes.

"What is it, dear?"

"A good woman to love and help him all his life, as you will me,
please God."

"Even though she is old-fashioned," whispered Polly, with happy
eyes, the brighter for their tears, as she looked up at the young
man, who, through her, had caught a glimpse of the truest success,
and was not ashamed to owe it to love and labor, two beautiful old
fashions that began long ago, with the first pair in Eden.

Lest any of my young readers who have honored Maud with their
interest should suffer the pangs of unsatisfied curiosity as to her
future, I will add for their benefit that she did not marry Will, but
remained a busy, lively spinster all her days, and kept house for
her father in the most delightful manner.

Will's ministerial dream came to pass in the course of time,
however, and a gentle, bright-eyed lady ruled over the parsonage,
whom the reverend William called his "little Jane."

Farther into futurity even this rash pen dares not proceed, but
pauses here, concluding in the words of the dear old fairy tales,
"And so they were married, and all lived happily till they died."

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