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Polly and the Princess by Emma C. Dowd

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"Blue can pay it when he comes for the things," returned the boy,
dismissing with a careless "That's nothing!" the little woman's
protest.

Miss Lily looked around for the last time with a cheerful smile.

"Somehow I can't feel as bad to go home with you as I know I ought
to," she said, "only I hate to have you and your folks do so much
for me--and I such a stranger, too!"

"No, you're a friend," Doodles corrected.

"Yes, I am--forever and ever!" She laughed tremulously. "I don't
see why you're so good to me."

"You'll like my mother!" Doodles responded with some irrelevance.
"She's the best mother in the whole world!"

"I know I shall love her if she's any like her boy!" She gave him
a caressing pat.

True to the word of Doodles, Miss Lily was welcomed to the little
bungalow with such heartfelt hospitality that her sad, starving
soul was filled with joy, and when Blue returned with her small
stock of goods and put Mrs. Gugerty's receipt into her hand, her
eyes overflowed with happy tears. With cheery Mrs. Stickney and
merry Doodles and Blue for companions, she had little time to worry
over the possible outcome of her application to the June Holiday
Home, and Sunday was passed in an utterly different way from that
she had imagined a week before.

It was not until the next Wednesday that any news came from Mr.
Randolph. Then the letter-carrier brought a long, thin envelope
addressed to "Miss Faith Lily," and the recipient turned so white
when Doodles handed it to her that he feared she was going to faint.

"Shall I open it?" he asked.

She bowed her head. Words were far away.

He drew out the paper and gave it one hurried glance. Then he
swung it over his head with a glad whoop.

"You're going! You're going! You're going!" he shouted.

"Doodles!" remonstrated his mother, for Miss Lily was weeping.

In a moment, however, tears had given way to joy, and Doodles must
read to her every word of Mr. Randolph's friendly note as well as
the wonderful document that was to admit her to the palatial June
Holiday Home.

CHAPTER VII

ROSES--AND THORNS

Polly was in Miss Sterling's room when the box was brought up.

"Flowers!" she squealed as soon as the door had shut upon the
matron's stout figure.

"Bosh!" retorted Miss Sterling. "More likely Cousin Sibyl has sent
me some of her children's stockings to darn. She does that
occasionally. I suppose she thinks--"

"0-o-h!" breathed Polly, for the speaker had disclosed a mass of
pink--exquisite roses with long stems and big, cool green leaves.

"Now what do you think?" Polly exulted.

Miss Sterling stood regarding the roses, her face all pink and
white, the color fluttering here and there like a shy bird.

"It's a mistake!" she said at last. "They can't be for me."

"Of course they're for you!" Polly pointed to the address on the
cover. "Isn't there any card?" searching gently among the flowers.
"I guess Mr. Randolph forgot to put in his card!" Polly's eyes
twinkled mischievously.

"Polly Dudley, don't be silly'" The tone was almost impatient.

"It would be lovely for him to send them anyway!" defended Polly.
"And I almost know he did!" she insisted.

"You don't know any such thing!" Miss Sterling was taking the roses
out. She brought them to her face and drew in their fragrance.
Then she held them at arm's length, gazing at them admiringly.

"Aren't they beautiful!" she said softly. "I wish I knew whom to
thank."

"It looks like a man's handwriting," observed Polly.

"It might be Mrs. Lake," mused Miss Sterling, quite ignoring
Polly's remark. "Mrs. Lake has always been nice to me. Only she
would never omit her card. No, it must be somebody else."

Polly tried the roses on the small table, on the desk, on the
dresser--where their reflection added to their magnificence.
Finally they were left on the broad window-sill, while the two
discussed possible givers. It was Miss Sterling, however, who
suggested names. Polly clung to her first thought.

"I told him you had had an awful time with your ankle, and how Miss
Sniffen scolded you,"--Polly lowered her voice,--"and I suppose he
felt sorry--"

"How Miss Sniffen scolded me? Not about his being there?" The
tone was dismayed. "Why, yes! What harm was there?" "Polly!
Polly! You didn't say--what did you say?"

"I can't remember exactly," was the plaintive answer. "I don't see
why you care, anyway. I think I said it was because he stayed with
us and took us to ride."

"Well, it can't be helped," laughed Miss Sterling, "but--how could
you, Polly?"

"I should think you'd be glad to have him know how Miss Sniffen
acts."

"Sh! Somebody's coming!"

"I must go," Polly whispered.

She let in Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly.

"Oh, what dandy roses!" Miss Crilly dashed over to the window.
"Your best feller must sure 'a' sent 'em! Ain't they sweet? But
why don't you have 'em over on that little table? They'd show off
fine there! May I?" She carried them across the room.

"Polly tried them in various places," responded Miss Sterling.

"Well, 't don't make a whole lot o' difference where you put such
roses! My, but they're immense!" She stood off, the better to
admire them. "Wouldn't I rave if they belonged to yours truly!
How can you folks take them so coolly?"

Juanita Sterling laughed. "I had my time when they first came!"

"You say it all, so we don't need to," laughed Mrs. Albright.
"They are beauties, that's a fact!"

Miss Crilly sat down, her eyes still on the flowers. "I don't see
a card anywhere," she nodded. "Ain't that proof positive?" winking
toward Mrs. Albright.

"There was none," smiled Miss Sterling.

"You don't mean you don't know who sent 'em?" Miss Crilly queried.

"Just that. Either the sender forgot to put in her card or she
didn't wish me to know."

"I bet 't isn't a 'her'!" giggled Miss Crilly. "Don't you, Mis'
Albright?"

That lady twinkled her answer. "I shouldn't wonder."

A soft knock sent Miss Sterling to the door, and Miss Castlevaine
came in.

Miss Crilly showed off the roses with all the pride of a possessor.

"I guess I saw them down in the lower hall," smiled Miss
Castlevaine knowingly. "There was a long box on the desk."

"You did? And ain't it funny?" Miss Crilly ran on,--"she don't
know who sent 'em!"

"Perhaps Miss Sniffen could tell you."

Miss Sterling looked up quickly.

"What do you mean?" asked Miss Crilly.

Miss Castlevaine moved her chair nearer, listened intently, and
then began in a low voice: "I was coming up with a pitcher of hot
water, and you know there's a little place where you can see down
on the desk. Well, Miss S. was there fussing over a box, and I
said to myself, 'I guess somebody's got some flowers.' Then I saw
her lift the cover and slip out something white. I didn't see it
distinctly, for just as she took hold of it she looked up, and I
dodged out of sight. When I peeked down again she was dropping
something into a little drawer, and I came on as still as I could.
I thought then that whoever had those flowers wouldn't find out who
sent 'em!"

"It isn't right!" Mrs. Albright's comfortable face took on stern,
troubled lines.

"I'd go to the florist and find out," declared Miss Crilly.

"There's no name on the box." Miss Sterling drew a deep breath, and
indignation flushed her pale cheeks.

"I did suppose we could have what belonged to us, even here!
Things grow worse every day. Boiled tripe for dinner--ugh!" Miss
Castlevaine's face wrinkled with repugnance.

"And only potatoes to go with it," sighed Mrs. Albright. "It's too
bad we can't have green vegetables and fruit--now, in the season."

"I heard something yesterday," resumed Miss Castlevaine, "that I
guess you won't like--I don't know what we're coming to! Miss
Major got it in a roundabout way through one of the managers, and
it may not be true; but they say they're going to cut out our
Wednesday pudding and our Sunday pie!" Her little blue eyes glared
at her listeners.

Juanita Sterling dropped back in her chair. "What next!" she
ejaculated.

"They'll be keeping us on mackerel and corned beef yet!" snapped
Miss Castlevaine. "As if we didn't pay enough when we came here to
insure us first-class board for the rest of our lives' I gave them
three thousand dollars--I was a fool to do it!--and I have been
here only two years! If they keep that woman much longer--!" The
flashing eyes and set lips finished the sentence.

"Well, ain't that great!" cried Miss Crilly. "I didn't bring any
such pile as you did, Miss Castlevaine, but that isn't to the
point! They've got more money 'n they know what to do with! What
they saving their old barrelful for, anyway? Not a scrap o'
dessert from one week's end to another--goodness gracious me!"

CHAPTER VIII

WAITING TO BE THANKED

Juanita Stirling sat alone with her roses, trying to think it all
out. The other ladies were down in the parlor, where Mrs. Nobbs
was reading aloud; but to-night Egyptian archaeology had no charm
for the possessor of the pink roses. How could she wander through
prehistoric scenes while somebody was waiting to be thanked!
Somebody--but who? The roses knew! Yet they would not tell!
Little quivers of light fluttered in and out of their alluring
hearts, almost as if they said, "We are telling! We are telling!
Only you will not understand!" The woman gazed wistfully at
them--and sighed. The secret of the roses held her through the
long, still hours of the evening. What possible reason could the
superintendent have had for withholding the name, unless--! She
shook her head and sternly chided her cheeks for rivaling the
roses. If only Polly hadn't--but was it Polly? Had not that name
appeared before Polly spoke? She clinched her teeth in scorn for
herself. "'There's no fool like an old fool,'" she muttered
contemptuously. No doubt it was Georgiana Lake. To-morrow she
would write Mrs. Lake a note of thanks. There would be no risk in
that. Yes, she would do it! She would be a fool no longer! And
if the roses chuckled over her decision she never knew it.

The note went by the morning's mail. Its answer came in two days.

_My dear Nita_
You are a witch fit for the hanging! How did you
know--how could you guess!--I was going to send
you some of our Pink Ramblers? Only they are not
quite blossomed out enough yet. When they are you
shall have more than you can hold in your two small
hands! But to thank me for them ahead of time! It
is just like you! You always were a witch! Why don't
you come to see me? I should have been up last visiting
day only that the house was full of workmen, and
Isabel had engagements, and somebody must stay--I
was the somebody!--A visitor! Too bad! Love--
GEORGIANA.

Before the pink roses had lost a petal another box was brought to
Miss Sterling's door. Her fingers quivered with hope as she untied
the ribbon. The address was in the same firm, open hand. A
shimmer of gold met her first glance, but the scrap of white she
had longed for was missing. Without doubt the pilferer had
thwarted her again. She put the yellow beauties into water with
half-hearted pleasure. Why couldn't Miss Sniffen let her have her
own! She pounded the air with her little impotent fists. She did
not go down to tea. Unhappiness and worry are not appetizers.

The next morning it was whispered from room to room that the second
card had been filched from Miss Sterling's box of roses. Miss
Castlevaine loved so well the transmitting of newsy tidbits, that
they were not apt to remain long in one quarter.

"I'd do something about it!" she declared to Miss Major. "It has
come to a pretty pass if our belongings have to be tampered with
before we even are allowed to see them! I think somebody ought to
tell the president."

The incident, however, passed with talk, nobody being willing to
risk her residence in behalf of Juanita Sterling.

When Polly Dudley heard of it she waxed wrathful.

"I never liked Miss Sniffen," she declared, "and now I just hate
her!"

"Polly!" remonstrated Miss Sterling.

"I don't care, I do! I wish mother was on the Board, then I 'd try
to make her say something! What business has Miss Sniffen to open
your boxes, anyhow? I almost know they came from Mr. Randolph, and
that's why she's mad about it!"

"Polly, I hope you won't say that to anybody else. You've no more
reason to think he sent them than you have to think King George
sent them."

Polly chuckled.

"You haven't--intimated such a thing, have you?--to anybody else, I
mean?" The question held an anxious tone.

"Why, no, I guess not," was the slow answer, "except mother. I
think I said to mother that probably he was the one."

Miss Sterling shook her head with a tiny scowl. "Your mother must
think me an intensely silly woman," she sighed.

"Oh, I didn't say you thought so!" Polly hastened to explain. "I
only said I did."

"Please don't even suggest it again," she laughed. "I wish the
mystery could be cleared up."

The sender's name was discovered earlier than they had thought
possible.

Two days afterwards, Polly rushed in, her face alight, her eyes
shining. "Oh, Miss Nita!" she began, and then stopped, suddenly
realizing that Mrs. Winslow Teed and Miss Crilly were in the room.

"I didn't know--I thought maybe--you'd go with me to call on Miss
Lily--Doodles said--Doodles is in a hurry for me to go," she ended
lamely.

Juanita Sterling, amused at the sudden transition, had caught a
flash of triumph in Polly's eye and wondered with a fluttering
heart what she had come to announce.

"Why can't we go, too?" cried Miss Crilly.

"Miss Lily looks like a refined, cultured person," remarked Mrs.
Winslow Teed.

"Oh, Doodles says she is lovely!" Polly had recovered her
equilibrium.

The latest comer at the June Holiday Home received her visitors
with shy courtesy. Miss Crilly and Polly soon relieved her of any
embarrassment she may have felt, and talk went on blithely.

Several smiling glances thrown across the room by Polly put Miss
Sterling's mind in confusion. They might signify much or nothing,
yet she found herself missing what was being said around her in
wild conjecture as to their meaning. She wanted to carry Polly
upstairs with her. Finally she rose to go, and Polly said
good-bye, too, in accordance with Miss Sterling's hope.

They went along the corridor together. Polly squeezing her
companion's arm with little chuckles of delight.

"You can't guess what I've got to tell you!" she broke out, as soon
as they were at a safe distance from Miss Lily's room.

"Sh!" cautioned the other. Talk above a whisper was forbidden in
the halls.

"Oh, I'm always forgetting!" breathed Polly.

Once inside the third-floor room the little woman was seized by a
pair of eager arms and whirled round and round.

"He did send them! He did! He did! Now what do you think!"

Miss Sterling went suddenly limp and dropped into a chair.

"You don't know--for certain?" she cried. "I do! Mr. Randolph
sent you those roses--both boxes!"

The woman felt the flame in her face and turned quickly on pretense
of searching for something in her sewing-basket. She was so long
about it that Polly began to complain.

"You don't care very much, seems to me! I thought you'd be just as
glad as I am!"

"Why, I am glad to find out who sent them, dear, as glad as can be!
But I may as well be sewing on these buttons while you are talking.
Now, tell me how you found out--I'm dying to know!" she laughed.

"Well, it's so funny!" Polly resumed. "You see, our Sunday-School
is going to send a boy in India to college, and last Sunday we had
to tell how we'd earned what we brought. A boy in Chris's class,
Herbert Ogden, said Mr. Randolph paid him fifteen cents apiece for
carrying two boxes of roses to the June Holiday Home. So after
Sunday-School Chris went along with him and asked him if he
remembered who the boxes were for. He said, 'Oh, yes, because it
was such a queer name! They were both directed to Miss Ju-an-i-ta
Sterling!' Chris said it was all he could do to keep his face
straight. And the boy went on to say he remembered the last name
because it made him think of sterling silver! Wasn't that the
greatest?"

The exclamations and laughter satisfied even Polly.

"You'll thank him right away, shan't you?" she queried.

"I suppose I ought." sighed the possessor of the roses.

"Don't you want to?" Polly's tone showed her surprise.

"Such notes are hard to write," was the discreet answer. She bent
closer over her work than there was any need. Her cheeks were
pinking up again.

"I do believe you're growing near-sighted!" declared Polly
irrelevantly.

"No, I guess not," she replied calmly. "This button bothered
me--it's all right now," as Polly scrutinized the waist.

"I shouldn't think you'd hate to write to Mr. Randolph. I think
he's lovely!"

"I presume he is," Miss Sterling said quietly. "I'm not well
acquainted with him, you know."

"I'll write it for you," proposed Polly, "if you'd like me to."

The little woman bending over the blouse caught her breath--to
think of missing the writing of that thank-you to Nelson Randolph!

"Oh, no, dear! I won't shirk my duty. It wouldn't look quite the
thing for you to do it."

"Perhaps it wouldn't," Polly agreed, "though I'd just as lief."

CHAPTER IX

BLANCHE PUDDICOMBE

"You're a great deal better, aren't you, Miss Nita?" Polly was
saying.

Miss Sterling gave a smiling nod across the bed. She and Polly
were putting on the covers.

"I think you've been growing stronger since the picnic. Maybe it
was the outdoors. Father says there's nothing like it for nerves.
I wish we could have another, now your ankle is all well; but it is
too late for to-day. Why can't we go to walk, you and Mrs.
Adlerfeld and Mrs. Albright and I? I know a lovely road out
Brookside Avenue way."

"Well," agreed Miss Sterling, "if it isn't too far. I feel equal
to a good deal this morning."

"Oh, that's jolly! We needn't go any farther than we choose, you
know. I'll bring a lunch, so it will seem like a little
picnic--things taste so much better out of doors. Isn't it lovely
that you are stronger! Did you tell Mr. Randolph that you're
better?"

"Why, no, dear, of course not! It was just a note of thanks."

"What if it was! You could have said that! He'll want to know!"

"I think he'll be able to survive the omission." Miss Sterling
patted the pillow into shape and smiled over it.

"Oh, I saw him yesterday!" Polly broke out. "I forgot to tell you!"

The other waited, an expectant smile fluttering about her pretty
lips.

"Blanche Puddicombe was riding with him. He had his roadster. I
don't see what he takes her around so much for. She isn't a bit
pretty."

"Probably she is agreeable." Miss Sterling laid down the blanket
she had folded and crossed the room.

"I don't see how she can be with such a mother," Polly went on.
"She fusses herself up a good deal the same way. She hasn't a mite
of taste. I saw her downtown shopping the other day with a sport
skirt, very wide scarlet stripes, and a dress hat trimmed with a
single pink rose--the most delicate pink--and a light blue feather!
Oh, yes, and a crepe-de-chine waist of pale green!"

An amused chuckle sounded from the window, where Miss Sterling was
straightening the curtains.

"You ought to have seen her! Her hair is black as--my shoe, and
she wears it waved right down over her ears--you wouldn't know she
had any ears! Queer, Mr. Randolph should want her riding round
with him so much! You'd think he would have more sense, wouldn't
you?"

"She has money--and youth!" was the emphasized reply, in a cold,
hard tone. "Money and youth make everything harmonize--even sport
skirts and dress hats!"

"She doesn't begin to look as young as you do. She looks more than
thirty, and you don't!"

"Polly Dudley!"

"Father says so, anyway!"

"I thank your father for the nattering compliment; but I think he
must be needing glasses."

"No, he doesn't need glasses!" retorted Polly. "His eyes are
first-rate. Dear me! Is it eleven o'clock? I must go home!
Let's start early--by two, can you?"

"Oh, I don't believe I'll go this afternoon!" The voice sounded
weary.

"Why, Miss Nita! you said you would!"

"I know, but I wasn't tired then. I guess I'll have to put it off a
day or two."

"You haven't done anything to tire you! You'll never get well if
you don't go more!" cried Polly plaintively. "And we won't go a
step farther than you like. We needn't ask anybody else, if you'd
rather not--we can go all by ourselves." Polly waited anxiously.

Miss Sterling shook her head with a little sigh. "You go with the
others to-day. I don't feel as if I could."

Polly finally went off, her face downcast. Coaxings had availed
nothing.

CHAPTER X

"GOOD-BYE, PUDDING"

Juanita Sterling scowled a perfunctory thank-you to Mrs. Nobbs, who
handed her a long box. She had come to hate those long boxes.

"I wish he'd keep his old flowers in his greenhouse!" she muttered
disdainfully after the door was well shut. She gazed on the box
with a sigh. Nevertheless, she untied it with hurrying fingers.

Great ruby roses sent their pent-up fragrance straight to her
nostrils, and she drew it in with a breath of delight. Then she
flung the box on the bed and finished putting her dresser in order,
a task with which she had been occupied.

Little jerky bits of scorn were now and then directed toward the
flowers, as if they were responsible for their intrusion. When
their innocence suddenly suggested itself, she smiled.

"Poor things, they can't help it! How should I feel if I were
carried where I was not wanted and then should be blamed for being
there!"

Contritely she took the roses from their box and put them in her
prettiest vase, quite as if she would make amends. She sat down by
them and looked the matter in the face.

"I can't have these where they will remind me all day long of being
a silly old woman!" She considered the blossoms with a dismal
face. "What shall I do with them? I'd put them in a bundle under
the bed, only I'd feel so sorry for them--no, I can't do that! I
suppose I could give them away--oh, there's Mrs. Crump! The very
thing! Maybe they'll help her to forget her pain. I'll take them
in now!" She caught up the vase and bore it triumphantly along the
hall.

Mrs. Crump was on the couch.

"All for me? Why, Miss Sterling! How good you are! You can't
have kept many for yourself."

"I don't want any," laughed the donor. "I'll be glad enough if you
can enjoy them."

Miss Crilly and Miss Major came in.

"Mis' Crump! if you're not tryin' to beat Miss Sterling! Seems
like a hospital 'stead of a Home, so many roses round!--You don't
say she's given you all hers? My, ain't you the limit o'
generosity. Miss Sterling! You look lots better. Mis' Crump!
Maybe it's the reflection o' the roses! Lovely color, ain't it!
He must be a goner, sure! How many times a week d' they come?
'Nother card swooped, I s'pose? It beats me!"

Miss Major opened the door for Miss Castlevaine.

"I couldn't help hearing what you said about another card--who's
lost one now?"

She shook her head while Miss Crilly explained. "We shall have to
lock up our jewelry pretty soon--huh! How do you feel this
morning, Mrs. Crump? Had the doctor?"

The invalid winced and caught her breath, as a sudden twinge shot
through her arm. "I don't know as I'm any worse," she said. "I
haven't slept a wink since two o'clock! No, the doctor didn't stop
here! I thought maybe he would, he was in Mrs. Post's room, right
next door; but Mrs. Nobbs said yesterday it wasn't necessary--it's
'only pain,' you know!"

"Only pain!" laughed Miss Crilly. "Isn't that enough? Then, when
I'm sick it'll be with something besides pain--I'll remember that!
And I'll have the doctor when I need him--don't you forget it!"

"What's the matter with Mrs. Post?" queried Miss Castlevaine.

"Something about her knee--she told me the doctor was going to
bandage it up. It was Mrs. Post, you know!" Mrs. Crump emphasized
the sentence with lowered voice and lifted eyebrows.

Miss Castlevaine nodded. "No favorites in the June Holiday Home!
How did you like the dinner yesterday noon?" She smiled knowingly.

"It's good-bye, pudding, forevermore!" laughed Miss Crilly.
"Didn't it seem queer not to have a bit of dessert?"

"Same as other days," returned Miss Major. "I suppose the Sunday
pie will go next."

"So I heard!" Miss Castlevaine's lips thinned themselves together.
"But that isn't the worst thing! Do you know about Mrs. Dick?"

"No--what?" Miss Crilly stopped smelling of the roses.

"Why, Tuesday she met an old schoolmate on the street who inquired
if she had been ill. Mrs. Dick said no. 'Why didn't you come to
the wedding, then?' the lady asked. 'Wedding?' exclaimed Mrs.
Dick; 'what wedding?' 'Why, Anita's!' (Anita is her daughter.) 'I
didn't know she was going to be married, and it isn't likely I
should have gone without an invitation,' she laughed. 'I invited
you,' the lady said. 'It was a very informal affair, no cards, and
not many guests; but I telephoned to the Home, for you to come over
and spend the day. I wanted you to see Anita's pretty clothes and
her beautiful presents. They said they'd give you the message
right off.' 'First I've heard of it!' said Mrs. Dick, and I tell
you she was mad! Isn't that awful? If anything happens to us, I
don't know as our friends will hear of it till after the
funeral--huh!"

"Is she going to make a fuss about it?" asked Miss Major.

"Of course not! She'd probably be turned out if she did."

"What are we coming to!" For a minute Miss Crilly actually looked
doleful. "I'm going to tell all my folks that if they want me to
know anything in a hurry they'd better telegraph or send me a
special delivery letter--that'll fix 'em. My! To think of bein'
invited to a weddin' and not knowin' it!"

"When I first came here," resumed Miss Castlevaine, "my cousin was
dreadfully upset because they wouldn't call me to the telephone to
talk with her. Finally she said so much they gave in, and I went
down. I supposed it was the regular thing until she told me about
it afterwards. She had to ask me two or three questions about
something, and get my answers to know what to do."

"There should be a telephone in every room, as there is in a
hotel," asserted Miss Major.

"Oh, my!" ejaculated Miss Crilly. "When you get it, send me word!
Probably I shan't be here by that time, but I guess I shall be
hoverin' somewhere round, and I'll know when your 'phone's in!"

"To have one in each room would be a great deal of expense," said
Mrs. Crump.

"What of it!" retorted Miss Major. "Haven't they money enough?
They're always building additions--now the one that's going to
spoil Miss Sterling's room and Miss Twining's down below. They'd a
good deal better spend it on telephones."

"They've got a new rug down in the hall," announced Miss
Castlevaine. "'Most anybody could have new rugs if they stole the
money to buy them with!"

"What do you mean?" was Miss Crilly's quick query.

"You'd better not say anything about it; but I heard that Miss
Twining wrote a poem for a Sunday-School paper and got eight
dollars for it--"

"My!" put in Miss Crilly.

"And," went on Miss Castlevaine, "she bought a new shirt waist.
When she wore it Mrs. Nobbs asked her where she got it. Like a
simpleton, she told the whole story, so pleased to have earned the
money, and never dreaming but that it was her own! What did they
do but make her give up the seven dollars she had left! They did
let her keep the waist--she needed it badly enough." Miss
Castlevaine shook her head, while comments flew fast.

"I'm sorry for Miss Twining," sympathized Miss Crilly. "She's the
kind that won't sputter it all out, as I should; she'll cry herself
sick over it!"

"If we cried for all the hard things we have here," said Mrs.
Crump, "we shouldn't have any eyes left!"

"I wonder if the directors know how things are going," observed
Miss Major.

"I bet they ain't on to it!" Miss Crilly wagged her head decisively.

"But who'd dare tell 'em?" queried Mrs. Crump.

"Excuse me!" giggled Miss Crilly.

CHAPTER XI

"SO MYSTERIOUS"

"Are you busy?" asked Miss Leatherland at the threshold of Miss
Sterling's room.

"No, indeed! I was wondering whether I'd go out on the veranda or
sit here and mull. I'm glad you've come. Take this chair--it's
the easiest."

"Then I'll leave it for you." She started toward another.

"No, I don't like it!" Her hostess laughingly pushed her back.
"I'm too short for that one. I'm always wishing I were as tall as
you."

Miss Leatherland blushed at the little compliment and smiled over
it.

"I don't know but I'm meddling in what is none of my business," she
began shyly. "At first I thought I wouldn't say anything; then I
decided I would do as I'd wish to be done by. I certainly should
want to know anything of this kind--though perhaps you know
already."

"What is it? Nothing dreadful, I hope."

"Oh, no! Only it shows--unless she has told you--how things are
going downstairs."

She hesitated, as if not knowing just how to say what she had come
to tell.

"You were home about four o'clock yesterday, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"I met all of you down in the hall, you remember, and I thought it
was along there. Have you heard anything about a telephone message
that came for you while you were away?"

"No--was there one?"

Miss Leatherland bowed her head and drew her chair nearer.

"This afternoon I went up to call on Mrs. Macgregor, and yesterday,
it seems, she had business with Mr. Potter, of the Fair Harbor
Paper Company, and was in his office waiting for him to come in.
It was about three o'clock, she said. Mr. Potter's office is next
to the president's, and the door was just ajar. Mrs. Macgregor has
very sharp ears, and she happened to be sitting close to the door,
so couldn't help hearing. She says Mr. Randolph called up the
Home--she knew the number, she uses it so much--and asked for Miss
Sterling. I suppose they told him you were out, for he said he was
sorry and inquired if they knew when you were coming home.
Evidently whoever was at the 'phone didn't tell, for he said if you
should come in by half-past four to ask you to call him up.
Probably she offered to deliver his message, for he said no, he'd
like to talk with you, and then he rang off. Mrs. Macgregor asked
if Mr. Randolph was a relative of yours, and I said I thought not."

Miss Sterling shook her head.

"I don't see why Miss Sniffen or Mrs. Nobbs, or whoever 't was
didn't do as Mr. Randolph asked them to--I don't see why! It's
getting so we can't tell anything!" Miss Leatherland looked
distressed.

"Things are growing queer," was the quiet response. "I don't know
what Mr. Randolph could have wanted, but I surely have a right to
be informed about it."

"If you should ask Miss Sniffen, please don't say anything about
me, she might think I'd interfered. I only thought you ought to
know it."

"I'm mighty glad you told me," Miss Sterling smiled across into the
perturbed face, "and I shall certainly not speak of the matter to
Miss Sniffen or any of them."

"I guess you are wise not to," agreed Miss Leatherland. "Anybody
that would do things she has done, you don't know what she'd do!"

Polly heard of the little episode with mingled dismay and delight.

"Oh, I wonder if he wanted you to go to ride!" she burst out.
"Only you won't ever know! Dear me, I wish we had waited till the
next day for our walk! Isn't it too bad you weren't home?"

"We had a nice time!" laughed Miss Sterling.

"Didn't we! But it's a shame for you to miss a ride with that
lovable man!"

"Polly, why will you? He didn't say anything about a ride!
Probably it was simply some little business matter."

"But what?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"'T was a ride! I know it just as I knew he sent the roses! I was
right about the roses!"

"Rides and roses aren't the same!"

"No, rides are better--more good-timey. Dear, dear! I'd been
wishing he would ask you--and now!" Polly sighed. "Anyway, he
wanted to talk with you about something!" she chuckled. "But it's
so mysterious!"

She said good-bye and then came back.

"I happened to think," she whispered, "why can't you come over to
our house and telephone to him? He'll never know where you are."

Miss Sterling shook her head. "It wouldn't do! They'd ask me what
I was going for--and I couldn't tell!"

"Do they always ask that?" scowled Polly.

"Always!"

"Then let me telephone!"

"No, no! We'd better leave it to work itself out. I am not
supposed to know anything about it." She laughed uncertainly.

"It's a shame! Oh, everything about him always gets mixed up with
trouble! I wish it didn't!"

Juanita Sterling made the same wish as she sat alone in the hour
before bedtime. What could Nelson Randolph have wanted of her?
And why did Miss Sniffen and her subordinates strive so strenuously
to keep her from communicating with him or knowing of any attention
that he paid her? She wrestled with the hard question until the
bell for "lights out." Then she noiselessly undressed in the dark.

Sleep was long in coming, yet her nerves did not assert themselves
unpleasantly, as usual. In fact, she had forgotten her nerves, in
the strange, vague gladness that was half pain which flooded her
being. She would berate herself for being "an old fool," though
conscious at the same time of little, warming heart-thrills that
exulted over her reason. As Polly had said, the president of the
June Holiday Home had wished to talk with her about
_something_--that of itself was as surprising as it was mysterious.

CHAPTER XII

MRS. DICK ESCAPES

Juanita Sterling was making her bed when the soft tap came.

"What shall I do?" Miss Crilly whispered tragically, slipping
inside and shutting the door without a sound. Her eyes were big
and frightened. "I've kept out of Mis' Nobbs's reach thus far, but
I s'pose I can't very long! They are lookin' everywhere for Mis'
Dick--you know she wasn't down to breakfast, and I'd no idea she'd
come--all the while the rest o' you were lookin' for her. At
half-past five this mornin' _I see her go away with the milkman!_
I happened to be at my window. I couldn't sleep, 't was so hot,
and I sat down there to get a breath o' air. He come along and
sent in the boy with the milk, same as he gen'ally does--I see him
lots of times. But wasn't I astonished when Mis' Dick come
marchin' out, all dressed up in her Sunday togs, and got in and
rode off with him! She had her big suitcase--it must ha' been all
cut an' dried beforehand! What do you s'pose it means? I'm scart
to death! I do' want to squeal on Mis' Dick--I always liked Mis'
Dick! An' if they ask me, I can't lie it out! Oh, what would you
do?" Miss Crilly came near being distressed.

"Why," answered Miss Sterling, "I think I should keep still unless
I were asked. In that case I should tell all I knew."

"Oh, dear, I hate to squeal!"

"Maybe you won't have to. I hope not!"

"What do you s'pose she went off with Mr. Tenney for?"

Miss Sterling shook her head.

"He's a widower! You don't s'pose--?" Miss Crilly giggled.

The other shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, anyway, there'll be a row till she's found! Gracious! I
was so upset I couldn't eat much breakfast! I told Mis' Albright
finally--I couldn't keep it a minute longer. Then I came up here.
You don't s'pose she's gone luny, do you? She was so upset about
goin' to that weddin'!"

"No, it isn't that!" decided Miss Sterling. "Mrs. Dick is not the
kind to go crazy."

"Somebody's comin'!" Miss Crilly darted to the closet and shut
herself in.

Mrs. Albright and Mrs. Adlerfield appeared.

"I thought Miss Crilly was here." Mrs. Albright looked about in
surprise.

Miss Sterling nodded significantly toward the closet.

Mrs. Albright opened the door, and laughed,

"Come into daylight, you silly! Nobody's going to eat you up!
They've found out!"

"They have? How?"

"One of the maids saw Mrs. Dick go by the window, and she ran to
see where she was going; but she didn't dare tell at first.
Finally, she did, and they're going to send out to Mr. Tenney's."

"My! I'm glad I ain't in Mis' Dick's shoes!" Miss Crilly emerged
from the folds of Miss Sterling's petticoats. She brushed back her
disordered hair and drew a long, laughing sigh. "Isn't it lovely
they've found out! I b'lieve I'd have been luny myself in a little
while if they hadn't!"

"Nonsense!" pooh-poohed Mrs. Albright. "You couldn't stay luny
more'n half a twinkle! You'd have to come out of it to laugh!"

"Sure, I would!" Miss Crilly agreed. "My! How do folks live that
don't laugh!"

"You are in no danger of dying from that disease," returned Mrs.
Albright.

"No, I guess I ain't. My mother used to say that she believed if I
had to live with the Devil himself, I'd keep on laughing."

The quartette settled down to calm, now that the danger was over,
but the talk still ran on Mrs. Dick.

"She's been married twice before, hasn't she?" asked Miss Crilly.

"Before what?" chuckled Mrs. Albright.

"O-h! Did I? That's one on me, sure! Well, maybe it is
'before'--who knows! What else could she be goin' off at half-past
five with the milkman for? Might not be a bad thing either--guess
he's all right. 'Most anything 'd be better 'n bein' under Miss
Sniffen and her crowd!"

"Where did Mrs. Dick live before she came here? Did you know her?"
Mrs. Albright inquired.

"I knew of her." Miss Crilly answered. "She kep' boarders over
Kelly Avenue way. She used to teach school years ago. Her first
husband died and all her children, then she took boarders and
married one of 'em.--this Mr. Dick. He didn't live long--only long
enough to run through what she'd saved up. He drank. She's worked
hard all her life, I guess. I like Mis' Dick! She's good company."

"I like her very," agreed Mrs. Adlerfeld. "She has been nice to me
a many times. If she goes to marry, I think it will no harm
anybody, and I wish her the best things in the world."

The little Swedish woman voiced the larger number of Mrs. Dick's
associates in the Home. Slighting remarks were heard from Miss
Castlevaine and a few others, but in almost any case they were to
be expected.

On the second day of Mrs. Dick's absence Miss Crilly appeared in
Mrs. Bonnyman's room, where some half-dozen of the ladies were
chatting.

"She is married!" she announced in a stage whisper,--"married to
the milkman--oh! oh! oh!" Miss Crilly sat down in the midst of
eager questioning.

"They say she wrote a note to Miss Sniffen yesterday, but I didn't
get my news from her--no, sir-ee! It came pretty straight,
though,--I guess it's so all right."

"What'd you say, Mis' Albright? Yes, she was married day before
yesterday--went to the minister's! She told somebody she just
couldn't stand it here another minute."

"I wonder if she's ever seen him much," said Miss Major.

"My, yes! She's known him for years--used to be her milkman when
she kept house! He isn't any stranger! Oh, don't I wish I could
see her!"

"Maybe she will come over and call on us," observed Mrs. Prindle.

"If she dares," spoke up Mrs. Bonnyman.

"Well, I'm glad for her!" declared Miss Crilly. "Wouldn't it feel
good to be cut loose from rules! Dear me! We're so tied up it
seems, sometimes's if I must scream!"

"I don't think people outside know how things go here," put in Miss
Mullaly. "Why, everybody congratulated me on getting in! I
thought I was going to have the time of my life!" She laughed
deprecatingly.

"It is the time of our lives--the worst time!" snapped Miss Major.

"Well folks can get along some way," said Miss Sterling; "but
Heaven save the sick ones!"

CHAPTER XIII

ALONG A BROOKSIDE ROAD

"Oh, here you are!" cried Polly from the doorway, just beyond Mrs.
Bonnyman.

"Been looking for me?" Miss Sterling smiled,

"Everywhere!" Polly dropped beside her friend. "No, Mrs.
Bonnyman, don't get a chair for me! I like this! Besides, I'm not
going to stay. It's too lovely outside to be cooped up in the
house. Why can't we all go to walk?"

"Oh, that's the ticket!" Miss Crilly jumped up. "I'll have to
change my togs first--will you wait for me?"

Polly nodded and smiled, as Miss Crilly skipped off.

"Will you all go?"

Miss Sterling rose.

"You will, Miss Nita?" Polly clung to her hand.

"Yes, but not with this dress on."

"I bid many thanks to you," said Mrs. Adlerfeld quaintly; "I shall
like to go very." Having made sure of the others, Polly ran off to
make her invitation general, stopping at various doors on her way
downstairs.

"Shall we go two by two, like a boarding-school?" giggled Miss
Crilly, as the little party left the Home grounds.

"Let's go any old way!" Then, glancing beyond Miss Crilly, Polly
gave a glad cry,--"David and Leonora!" and flew to meet the two who
were just at the hospital entrance.

"Will you come to walk with us?" she invited, "Or I'll stay if
you'd rather."

They declared that they would much prefer the walk, and Polly was
soon making the introductions where they were needed. Many of the
ladies were well acquainted with Polly's friends.

David at once appropriated his old-time chum, and Leonora skipped
over to Miss Sterling.

"Ther' 's so many of us we ought to march abreast, clear across the
street, as they do in processions!" Miss Crilly was in high
spirits..

The road Polly had chosen led through an avenue of old elms and
thence out into the wide country. Past the city milepost, not far
distant from the Home, a little brook purled along, overswept by
willows.

"Isn't this beautiful!" cried Miss Major. "And here are
raspberries--oh!"

The party broke ranks and scattered among the bushes, eager for the
fruit that was just in its prime.

"Do you suppose they belong to anybody?" queried Mrs. Prindle, a
bit anxiously.

"If they do they don't love 'em a whole lot," Miss Crilly returned.
"See those! They are so ripe they almost fall to pieces lookin' at
'em! But they're sweet as sugar!" She plumped them into her mouth.

Soon they strolled forward by two's and three's, but long before
the young folks and a few others had begun to be tired, several
were lagging behind. Miss Twining among them.

"Are you coming back this way, Polly?" she called.

"Why, I thought we wouldn't. What's the matter?"

"Used up," she smiled.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I've gone too far, haven't I? You sit down
somewhere and rest, and I'll stay with you. The others can go on,
if they like."

"Guess I'll wait, too." Miss Sterling dropped wearily to the grass.

Mrs. Adlerfeld, Miss Lily, Mrs. Albright, and Miss Castlevaine
lined themselves beside her.

"I don't know what possessed me to come on such a long walk!"
fretted Miss Castlevaine.

"Why, I never thought that anybody could be tired!" said Polly
contritely. "Why didn't you speak sooner?"

"Oh, we'll be all right by the time you get back!" laughed Mrs.
Albright. "Now run along, every one of you! Shoo! Shoo!" She
waved her skirts toward them.

It took a good deal of urging, however, to induce Polly to leave
Miss Sterling. Finally she ran off with David, calling back that
she wouldn't be gone long.

The afternoon slipped away, and the air grew cooler. The exhausted
ones gathered strength and now and then rambled about a little,
wondering why the others did not return. They watched longingly
the point of road where the party had disappeared, even Miss Lily
peered vainly into the empty distance.

Miss Castlevaine looked at her watch for the twentieth time. "It
is a quarter past five!" she frowned. "Where can they be!"

"We may as well sit down while we wait," laughed Mrs. Albright.
"Wandering round in a circle won't bring them any quicker." She
lowered herself plumply beside Miss Sterling.

"Now don't you go to worrying!" she said. "They haven't been eaten
up by bears or carried off by hawks. Probably they are having so
good a time they have forgotten to come back."

The sun dropped lower and lower. The wayside shadows thickened. A
robin on the top-most branch of a locust sang a solo.

"There they are!" cried Miss Castlevaine.

The others looked eagerly down the road.

The thud of hoofs came out of the hush.

"Oh, it's only a team!" was the disappointed contradiction. "I saw
the dust and thought they were coming."

The buggy whirled up, the driver lifted his hat with a smiling
bow--and was gone.

"Mr. Randolph and Miss Puddicombe!" commented Miss Castlevaine.
"Who was he bowing to? Not me!"

"I have met him," responded Mrs. Albright.

"Oh! Maybe it was you, then. But he was looking at Miss Sterling!"

"She knows him, too, and so does Mrs. Adlerfeld."

"Oh!" repeated Miss Castlevaine. "I see him riding with that Miss
Puddicombe a good deal lately. Guess she's trying to catch him."

"They are coming now for certain!" exclaimed Mrs. Albright.

Away in the distance the returning party could be discerned. Soon
there was a waving of eager hands. The forward ones started on a
race.

"It's Miss Crilly and the children!" Mrs. Albright laughed. "Isn't
she game!"

Polly and David were ahead.

"Are you tired out waiting?" called Polly.

"Have you been to Buckline?" twinkled Mrs. Albright.

"Almost!" answered David.

"We've had such a time!" laughed Polly.

"Time!" burst in Miss Crilly. "We'd been goners, sure, if we
hadn't jumped like fleas! My! You oughter seen Miss Mullaly--if
she didn't go hand-springin' over that wall!"

"But what was it?" cried Mrs. Albright.

"A cow!"--"An ugly old cow!"--"She went bellowin' like Sancho Panza
set loose!"

"Did she chase you? What did you do?"

"She was coming for us, and we jumped over the wall! We were on
our way home," explained Polly.

"And David wanted to go and drive her off, so we could get by," put
in Leonora; "but I held on to him!"

"I could have done it as well as that man," insisted David, looking
somewhat disgusted at the lack of faith in his ability.

"He 'most got away from us!" laughed Miss Crilly. "We all had to
grab him!"

"Did the cow's owner come?" Miss Castlevaine queried.

"We don't know who it was," answered Polly. "We were hiding behind
some bushes the other side of the wall."

"Such a combobbery as that cow cut up! My! I thought she'd knock
the man into slivers!" said Miss Crilly.

"But she didn't!" observed David.

"No," said Polly, "he drove her off finally."

"And we beat it!" giggled Miss Crilly.

"We thought you would wonder what had become of us," smiled Leonora.

"We did," agreed Mrs. Albright, "and somebody else will be
wondering that same thing, if we don't march home about as fast as
we can!"

Polly's cool and charming sweetness was all that saved the party
from Miss Sniffen's very apparent displeasure, the tardy ones
agreed. Supper had been served at least five minutes before they
filed into the dining-room; but their astonishing appetites, which
gave a relish even to soggy corncake and watery tea, almost
counterbalanced any fears for their future walks with Polly.

Juanita Sterling sat down wearily in her own room. "I wish I had
stayed at home!" she sighed.

CHAPTER XIV

POLLY PLANS

"Father," Polly began thoughtfully, "I've been thinking--you
remember I told you about our walk the other day and how tired Miss
Nita and some of the other ladies were before I even thought of
such a thing--" Polly stopped questioningly.

"I remember," smiled Dr. Dudley.

"So don't you think it would be nice--until they grow stronger, you
know--for them to ride instead of walk?"

"Very nice, indeed. Do you want me to take them?"

"I wish you could," laughed Polly, "but I know you don't have time.
I happened to think, though, why couldn't we have the car some
morning, while you are busy in the hospital? Evan could drive for
us."

"A very good plan," the Doctor nodded musingly. "You wish to go
with them, I take it."

"Yes, I think I'd better. I know, one more could go if I didn't;
but I guess they'd be more lively with me along than if they went
with just Evan."

"If I were going I should certainly want you, too," twinkled the
doctor.

"Oh, dear! We don't have as many good rides together as we used
to, do we?" Polly bent down from the arm of Dr. Dudley's chair
where she was sitting and cuddled her cheek against his.

"No," he replied, "we'll have to borrow an hour some day and run
away."

"Wouldn't that be fun! Oh, let's!"

"I think we'll do it, then I can get re-acquainted with you."

Polly chuckled. "As if you didn't know me clear through, from
head-top to toe-tip!"

"I feel quite like a stranger lately. I come in here and ask,
'Where's Polly?' and your mother says, 'She is over at the Home,'
or, 'She's gone to walk with Miss Sterling.' When I see Miss
Sterling I shall tell her what I think of it."

"You might tell me," suggested Polly demurely, "and then I can
repeat it to Miss Nita."

"I prefer to say my say to her," the Doctor replied with no hint of
a smile. "You might not say it strong enough."

A wee chuckle escaped Polly. "What are you going to tell her?" she
coaxed.

"That she can't have my girl so much without paying for her."

"Oh," laughed Polly. "Miss Nita doesn't have any money."

"It would be of no use in this case. Do you suppose you can be
paid for in money?"

"Oh, you dearest, funniest man! I wish you could see Miss Nita
more--you wouldn't wonder I like to go there. She is so lovable."

"I do not doubt it. How is she now--better?"

"Ever so much better! She doesn't say anything lately about
wanting to die. I wish she had nice things to eat--I don't see how
she stands sour bread and so much corned beef and mackerel and
sausages."

Doctor Dudley shook his head musingly. "It is too bad--a
magnificent building, and wretched household management."

"I wonder why they keep Miss Sniffen," Polly said.

"Probably she is agreeable to the trustees, and nobody calls their
attention to anything wrong."

"Yes, I've seen her--when some of the officers came. She is as
smiley as a goose! I hate her smile; it looks as if she didn't
mean it."

"She is evidently not the woman for the place. I am sorry." The
Doctor glanced at his watch and rose abruptly.

"Got to go?"

"I ought to have gone earlier."

"Oh, dear! I wish other folks didn't need you all the time!"
mourned Polly.

He stepped back and kissed her. "That is the penalty of more
money," he smiled.

"More fame, you mean!" she retorted and heard a little chuckle as
he passed out the door.

Polly did not plan long without acting, and within an hour she was
on her long walk to Colonel Gresham's, to talk over her scheme with
Leonora and David.

She found Mrs. Gresham just starting to meet a train.

"I'm so sorry I can't stay," she told Polly, "and Leonora and David
are not at home! But the Colonel is out in the stable. He will be
delighted to see you. I'll call him." She turned to a bell button.

"Oh, no, please!" interrupted Polly. "I'd rather go there. I
haven't seen Lone Star for an age!"

"You'll find them chatting together, as usual," laughed the little
lady, and Polly skipped off as soon as Mrs. Gresham had driven away.

"Good afternoon, Miss Dudley." The Colonel extended his hand.

"Seems to me you're pretty formal," smiled Polly.

Colonel Gresham laughed, a gentle, mellow laugh, quite in harmony
with the happy-lined face and the graying hair.

"I wish I had a chair to offer you," he said, looking about him, as
if expecting one to pop into sight. "I suppose I'm indebted to
David and Leonora for this visit."

"No, Colonel Gresham, I came to see you especially this time. I
was going to ask them what they thought of a little plan I have;
but they are not necessary--and you are!"

"Ah! a plan? I wait on your pleasure!" The Colonel bowed with
mock gravity.

"Thank you!" chuckled Polly. "Perhaps you won't when you know
about it. But I want to see Lone Star first--oh, he's just as
beautiful as he ever was!" She patted the neck of the handsome
creature and stroked his nose.

The horse whinnied at the attention and eyed her with seeming
delight.

"I believe he remembers me, and I haven't spoken to him for--oh,
how long is it?"

"My memory cannot extend so far." Colonel Gresham was evidently in
a whimsical humor this afternoon.

Lone Star was made happy with more caresses and a full measure of
oats, and then the Colonel and Polly walked slowly up to the house.

"When Polly unfolded her plan in regard to the Home ladies Colonel
Gresham's face lighted with interest.

"You can have two of my cars," he said, "on one condition--no,
two--that I may drive the big one and that you will sit on the
front seat beside me."

"Oh, it won't be a bit hard for me to say yes to that!" Polly
smiled. "I should like it! Let me see, five and four are nine,
and four makes thirteen--why, they can all go--or all that are well
enough! Won't that be lovely!"

"'Lovelicious,' I think!" The Colonel looked demurely down at Polly.

"How much I used to say that!" Polly laughed. "Well, I truly think
this will be--three cars! Won't they be surprised! But we must
squeeze in Leonora and David somewhere! Probably the ladies
wouldn't all care to go, anyway. You are so good to let them have
the cars--I never thought of two--or that you could go with us! I
can't thank you half enough!"

Before Polly went home a ride was arranged for the next morning,
and her heart skipped joyfully all the long way, thinking how happy
Miss Nita and the rest would be.

Directly after luncheon she ran over to the Home.

"You look glad about something," Miss Sterling told her.

"You will be when you know," chuckled Polly. "What do you
think!--you're going to ride with Colonel Gresham to-morrow
morning!"

"With Colonel Gresham! He hasn't invited me!" Miss Sterling's
knitting dropped into her lap.

"I have--or I'm going to! Oh, it will be lovely!" Polly's brown
eyes shone. "Colonel Gresham is going to let us have his two
biggest cars, and he will drive the seven-passenger one. Then
father says we may have ours with Evan to drive, and we're going to
take as many of the ladies as we can and have a beautiful ride!
What do you think of that?"

"It's overwhelming! Catch me if I drop!" The gray-blue eyes were
dancing.

Polly squeezed her ecstatically. "I want you in the car with me,
and now let's see how many can go and which ones to ask."

It was a pleasant task, though really a little puzzling, for there
were sixteen ladies of the Home, and only ten or eleven were to be
counted among the weaklings. Nobody must be offended and nobody
must feel hurt. So with David and Leonora, it was a hard matter,
after all, to decide on the invitation list. Miss Sterling,
however, was a wonderful assistant. Polly was sure she could never
have disposed things so happily if it had not been for her wise
Miss Nita.

CHAPTER XV

"LOTS O' JOY"

The morning was as clear and balmy as a festival day should be, and
the cars were at the door of the June Holiday Home at three minutes
before nine o'clock.

"Let's go early," Juanita Sterling had said, "while the day is
fresh from the hand of God." And in accordance with her wish Polly
had appointed the hour.

Most of the ladies were in Sunday attire, their wardrobes holding
few changes between "everyday" and "best."

Juanita Sterling handled her small stock of apparel so that, plain
as it was, it had an air of distinction. Little deft touches here
and there added character and daintiness to any garment that she
wore. Some of the less fortunate realized this as they rode out of
the Home gate that July morning, and one or two were actually
envious of the little woman who sat in Colonel Gresham's beautiful
car and responded so merrily to the Colonel's sallies.

"I guess Miss Sterling has ways of getting her nest feathered that
some other folks don't know anything about," whispered Miss
Castlevaine to Miss Major.

"No such thing!" was the prompt retort. "She knows how to put her
feathers on, that's all."

"Knowing how don't change colors as I've ever heard--huh! Look at
that white dress! They don't give me white dresses!"

"Probably she had it when she came. She hasn't been here a year
yet, you know," replied Miss Major.

"They won't make over mine," complained the other.

"Oh!" broke in Mrs. Albright, "look over there! Isn't that
magnificent?"

Fields and slopes of varying green, wooded hills, and mountains in
the blue distance--these made the picture that had called forth the
exclamation.

"Magnificent!" echoed Miss Major.

Miss Castlevaine looked, but said nothing. The darkness of envy
and discontent still dimmed her eyes.

Juanita Sterling, in the car ahead, was yielding herself to the
bountiful joy of the moment and had forgotten disagreeable things.
Polly and Colonel Gresham kept up a steady run of pleasantries,
much of which came easily to her quick ears, and she found herself
smiling with them even while her eyes were feasting on the
ever-changing landscape.

"Doesn't Mrs. Dick live somewhere out this way?" inquired Miss
Mullaly.

Miss Sterling did not know and in turn asked the Colonel.

"Tenney, the milk dealer? His farm is over there to the left a
mile or two. Would you like to call on the bride?"

"Yes, I should! Wouldn't you, Polly?"

"First-rate! Let's!" was the eager answer.

So at the next cross-road the car was turned that way.

"I'm awfully glad you thought of it!" Polly turned to say.

"I didn't think of going there," Miss Mullaly admitted, "but I'd
love to. Won't she be surprised!"

Surprised, indeed, was the former Mrs. Dick. She was on her way
from garden to kitchen when the procession of cars came into view,
and, her overflowing basket in hand, she halted on the side lawn
until the party should pass by. A bunch of automobiles did not
appear every day on the Tenney Farm road. Instead of going past,
however, the big car ahead steered straight for her, and she
recognized her friends! Down went her basket, and she skipped over
the grass with the agility of a girl of fifteen.

"How do you do--Miss Sterling and Polly--and all of you! Well, I
am astonished!--And if there aren't Miss Twining and Mrs.
Bonnyman--why, are you all here?"

"Pretty nearly," answered Polly, who had jumped from the car and
was clasping the speaker's hand.

Mrs. Tenney was soon surrounded by her Home associates and was so
overwhelmed by the suddenness of the call that she almost forgot to
invite them into the house.

"Oh, we can't stay!" declared Mrs. Albright. "We are just out for
a ride, and those of us in the rear cars were about as surprised as
you were. We'd no idea that Colonel Gresham was headed for your
place--we didn't know you lived here till we saw you!"

"Dear people!" broke in Miss Sterling, "where are our manners?
I'll confess, I forgot! Mrs. Tenney," with twinkling eyes she
extended her hand, "I wish you every possible joy for all the days
and years to come!"

Amid much laughter more good wishes followed, until somebody
remembered that the morning was slipping away, and they were far
from home.

"Well, say, why can't you all come out here sometime and spend the
day? 'T won't make a mite of difference when. We always have
enough to eat, and I am generally right here. I'd love dearly to
have you. Pile 'em all in, if you can! Sit in each other's
laps--any way to get 'em here! They're going to keep up the rides,
aren't they?"

An instant's silence was broken by Polly. "Yes, we are!" she
promised. "Colonel Gresham and father are going to let us have the
cars until we're able to walk ten miles on a stretch!"

This sally was greeted by a shout, and the party climbed into the
cars and were off, good-byes mingling with the noise of the motors.

"Anybody getting tired?" asked Colonel Gresham, as they swept into
the village of Clare.

None would admit fatigue, and on whirled the cars, leaving the
handful of houses behind. Presently they entered the broad street
of an old town, where houses with gambrel roofs and quaint porches
neighbored in quiet dignity with towered mansions and verandaed
bungalows. Colonel Gresham drew up his car at a little shop, and
he and David disappeared through the doorway. They soon came back
With their hands full of ice-cream cones, which they distributed
and returned for more.

"Isn't this cream lovely!" beamed Leonora to the back seat of the
third car.

"Delicious!" responded Mrs. Albright.

"As good as I ever tasted!" declared Miss Major.

Miss Castlevaine nibbled hers for a moment longer before she spoke.

"My cousin goes automobiling a great deal," she said, "and she
makes her own cream--solid cream it is, too!--and she has something
that she puts it in so that she can slice it off as she wants it.
It keeps ice cold for an indefinite time."

"I have heard of such contrivances," said Mrs. Albright politely.

"No cream could be better than this," asserted Miss Major
confidently.

Miss Castlevaine drew her lips into a smirk.

"Trust the Colonel for buying the best of everything!" went on Miss
Major. "What a man he is! I wish he were one of the directors of
the June Holiday Home."

Miss Castlevaine's face stiffened into an expression of
superiority, as if she could divulge things detrimental to the
Colonel if she wished. But nobody appeared to regard her, and the
cars jogged on,

Mrs. Adlerfeld, meanwhile, wore a look of saintly rapture.

Polly turned to say, "Isn't the air nice this morning?"

"Here it is beautiful!" smiled the little Swedish woman. "I have
lots o' joy!"

Colonel Gresham threw her an admiring glance. "Glad you like it,"
he said.

"Oh, I like it very!" she responded. "I hope it didn't tired you
to drive him."

"Not a bit!" he laughed.

"It looks more play as work," she smiled.

He nodded brightly back to her, and then turned to Polly. His tone
was too low to carry to the seat behind.

"Why didn't you tell me what a charming little woman we had with
us?"

"Isn't she sweet!" beamed Polly. "Didn't you ever meet her before?"

"Never! I'm going to invite her to ride with me--all alone, just
to hear her talk!"

Polly chuckled. "I wish you would," she told him.

"She'd go, wouldn't she?"

"Of course! Why not?"

"I'll warrant that sour-looking elephant in the back car wouldn't!"
laughed the Colonel. "She's that kind!"

"Oh! I guess you mean Miss Castlevaine. She's the biggest one
there is. But she is very nice--sometimes."

"The times are few and far between, aren't they?" he twinkled.

Polly laughed, but said apologetically, "She's been pleasant to me."

"She ought to be; but over at the Tenneys' she looked as if she'd
like to be somewhere else. She seemed to keep on the edge of
things."

"She doesn't always come in with the rest--feels a little above
some of them. She is very proud of her Russian ancestry. Her
mother or grandmother was a duchess."

"I thought she was proud of something," observed the Colonel, "and
it couldn't be her good looks."

"I think you are pretty hard on her," protested Polly.

"Am I?" he smiled. "Is she a particular friend of yours? You'll
have to excuse me."

"Oh, she isn't an especial friend, but I feel sorry for her because
she has to wear such old clothes--and she loves pretty things."

"Why doesn't she get pretty things, then, while she is about it?"

"She can't!" cried Polly. "She has to take what Miss Sniffen gives
her."

"Oh, I see! Well, I reckon I'd look sour if I were dependent on
that Miss Sniffen for clothes."

Polly chuckled. "I can't imagine it!"

"It would come pretty hard!" Colonel Gresham shook his head
musingly. "It is a shame that those women are not better treated!
I'll take them to ride as often as I can--you tell them so, Polly!"

"I will!" Polly beamed her delight. "It's lovely of you! It will
do them no end of good. They stay cooped up in the house too much.
You see, there's so much red tape about going out even for a little
walk, that sometimes they'd rather stay at home."

"I'm going to talk to Randolph about it when I get a chance. He is
too sensible a man to let this sort of thing go on."

"Oh, but you mustn't make him think there has been the leastest
mite of complaint! If anybody finds a word of fault, she'll get
turned out! They're afraid of their lives!"

"This little woman back here doesn't look afraid."

"No, she's different." Polly cast a look at her.

Mrs. Adlerfeld caught it and smiled back, a bright, happy smile, as
if, indeed, she had "lots o' joy."

CHAPTER XVI

THE HIKING CLUB

"OH, Miss Nita! What do you think?" Polly burst into the room full
of excitement. "Chris has gone!"

"Gone? Where?"

"To Australia!"

"Not alone?"

"Oh, no! His father is with him. We never knew he was coming--till
there he was! For a minute Chris hardly knew him! Isn't that
queer? But he didn't look like himself. His hair is cut close to
his head! What do you suppose he did it for? It isn't becoming!
But, oh, you ought to have seen Chris! He jumped right into his
father's arms and cried and cried and cried! Mr. Morrow cried,
too, almost as hard as Chris! We had a pretty exciting time!"

"When was it?" put in Miss Sterling.

"This noon. Mother did finally persuade him to stay to dinner--he
wasn't going to! I don't see why he was in such a hurry to get
away! Oh, I shall miss that boy awfully! He is always just
so--never cross or pouty, or anything. Sometimes he has been
pretty blue--I suppose thinking of his father and wondering why he
didn't come. It has been almost two years! It won't seem a bit
natural without Chris. I shall have to come over here and bother
you more than ever." Polly sighed a bit sorrowfully and dropped on
a hassock at Miss Sterling's feet.

"You know you couldn't come too often, my dear."

"I feel sometimes as if I were a nuisance," laughed Polly. "I
guess Miss Sniffen thinks so. She looks at me so queer when she
meets me in the hall."

"It is only her way. She can't have anything against you."

Polly shook her head doubtfully; then she smiled. "I did kind of
pacify her the other night when we were late from our walk, didn't
I? I was afraid I couldn't, but I wasn't going to let her know it!"

"It was funny the way she came round," Miss Sterling agreed.

"That makes me think," Polly broke out, "when are we going to have
another walk?"

"I--don't--know," sighed the other. "Walking is such an effort! I
get so tired I can't sleep."

"That's too bad!" mourned Polly. "But don't you think it's because
you stay in the house so much? If you went oftener maybe you'd get
used to it and it wouldn't tire you."

"Perhaps. I don't know."

"We were planning, only yesterday, Chris and I, to start a walking
club--and now he's gone! But I suppose the rest of us can have
it," Polly went on. "We thought we'd ask David and Leonora and
Patricia,--she and her mother are just home from the shore,--and
Doodles and Blue and all of you folks here."

"All the ladies?"

Polly nodded.

"They're not all equal to it. You forget how old some of them are."

"Anyway, they aren't too old to be asked!" laughed Polly.

"No, and it is a good idea. Sometimes a club will have a stronger
pull on anybody than just an incidental invitation."

"That's what we thought--dear, dear, it's too bad Chris had to go!"

"I'm sorry, but I imagine he is happy enough to be with his father."

"Yes! He looked like another boy after his father came. Well,
we'll have to do without him."

"How can Doodles and Blue be in? They live eighteen or twenty
miles away."

"Oh, they can come down by trolley, or we can go up there," replied
Polly easily.

Miss Sterling laughed. "You forget that we haven't any money for
trolley fares."

"I never thought! They'll have to come here, then. Anyway,
they've got to belong! Doodles is the sweetest boy! I used to
wonder if he would change any when he was able to run and play--I
didn't know but he'd get to be--coarser, you know; but he is just
the same. Blue is nice, only he is more like other boys--Doodles
isn't!"

"Miss Lily has been telling me of how he Went to sing to her. She
just idolizes him."

"I know she does. The other day when I was up to see her she
couldn't talk of anybody else. There isn't much doubt but that she
will join the club if she can see Doodles oftener."

"She seems to be fairly strong; her trouble is only with her eyes."

"I guess it will do her eyes good to go outdoors more. I wanted to
call it the 'Hiking Club'; but Chris was afraid the name would
frighten some of them--they'd think a 'hike' meant more than just a
walk."

"Mrs. Post is quite lame yet, and Mrs. Grace is having rheumatism.
They couldn't go at present. Miss Twining's heart bothers her.
She said she shouldn't dare attempt so long a walk again."

"As the one the other day? That wasn't long for a well person."

"But most of us are not well--if we were we shouldn't be here."

"I'll ask them all, anyway!" Polly insisted. "Can't we have our
first meeting here in your room, Miss Nita?"

"Certainly. When is it to be?"

"I think to-day would be a good time--about two o'clock. It isn't
very pleasant out, raw and chilly. I'll go round and invite them
now. Will you come, too?"

"No, I'll sit here and read. You run along and get your hikers,
and then come back and tell me about it."

CHAPTER XVII

GRANDAUNT SUSIE AND MISS SNIFFEN

Polly aroused more enthusiasm among the ladies than Miss Sterling
had thought possible. Almost everybody, even Mrs. Grace, with her
rheumatic knee, was eager to join the new club.

It was agreed that those who were able should take a tramp together
twice a week and should walk on the veranda, ten times its length,
at least once a day.

Polly was unanimously elected president, Miss Major for
corresponding secretary, and David Collins for treasurer.

"The club will be bankrupt from the start," laughed Miss Crilly.
"What do we need a treasurer for?"

"Oh, they always have one!" insisted Polly. "Maybe the money'll
come."

"Sure! Somebody might donate a million dollars to us--and what
should we do without anybody to take care of it!" Miss Crilly
chuckled happily.

The work of organization being disposed of, Mrs. Bonnyman asked
what was to be done next.

Polly didn't know.

"Oh, we must adjourn!" declared Miss Major. "That is the principal
event of most business meetings."

Accordingly, with much giggling from a few of the members, the new
club voted to adjourn until the next Monday.

"Oh, dear! it's raining hard!" cried Polly. "I thought maybe we
could go for a little walk, just to mark the day."

"Can't we do something here--have some game or other?" suggested
Miss Crilly.

"I say!" burst out David, "I forgot! Mother told me to be at home
by half-past three, and it's almost that now. Will you come,
Leonora, or wait for the shower to be over?"

Leonora preferred a walk in the rain to one alone, so they hurried
into their raincoats and were off.

"Our company's dwindling," observed Miss Crilly, as the door shut
upon Mrs. Post and Mrs. Crump, "but I don't want to go home
yet--need I, Miss Sterling?" "Certainly not! I want you all to
stay. Polly, you are queen of ceremonies--what shall we do next?"

"We might try some of Grandaunt Susie's exercises," twinkled Polly.

"Just the thing!"

"Who's Grandaunt Susie, pray?" Miss Crilly was frankly curious.

"Mother's grandaunt," explained Polly. "She was miserable, and
these exercises made her strong enough to do almost anything. She
is seventy-three,--or was when she was here, a year ago,--and
father himself says she doesn't look a minute over thirty-five!"

"Oh, my! Let's try'em! I want to look 'not a minute over
thirty-five'!" Miss Crilly waved her hands excitedly.

"How do you begin--this way?" Miss Mullaly sprang to her feet,
threw out her chest, and worked her arms up and down.

"Oh, no!" cried Polly. "That is not it at all! You take them
lying down!"

"Mercy!" cried Miss Lily.

"I'd like that!" declared Mrs. Albright.

"Good and easy!" Miss Crilly nodded.

"Yes, they are every one to be practiced in bed, before you get up
in the morning," resumed Polly.

"What if you don't wake early enough?" asked Mrs. Prindle with a
shrug.

"Then you're late for breakfast or lose your chance of going back
to thirty-five!" laughed Miss Crilly.

"How can you thrash your arms round in bed?" Miss Mullaly queried.

"You don't have to. It isn't like gymnastics."

"Well, do tell us, Polly! I'm just crazy to begin!" Miss Crilly
laughingly shook Polly's shoulders.

"There are so many of them," Polly drew a long, laughing breath, "I
hardly know which to take first. There is one for the legs--that
would help in walking. But you'll have to lie down first."

Miss Crilly and Miss Major hurried to the floor, Miss Mullaly
following.

"Oh, lie on the bed!" cried Miss Sterling.

"This is all right." asserted Miss Crilly. "Go on, Polly!"

"You want to turn just a mite on your right side. Now make your
right leg firm, and put your left toes against the top of your
right foot,--yes, that's it!--and tense the muscles of your left
leg--hard! Now relax! Tense again! Relax! You mustn't do it too
long at first, but that's the way--tense and relax, ten times on
this side and ten on the other."

"Whew! takes some strength! Why don't you try it, girls? It's
fun! Miss Sterling will let you have her bed--we'll make it over
afterwards. Try it. Mis' Albright, and you, Miss Leatherland,
it'll do you good!"

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