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Polly and the Princess by Emma C. Dowd

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"Yes, go ahead, as Miss Crilly says," urged Miss Sterling. "I've
practiced that, and I think it has made me stronger."

Polly's class was increased to five, but the others could not be
induced to make any attempt.

"There's another that's pretty good," went on Polly. "It's for
both sides, alternate, but you can learn it on your right. Bend up
your left knee, and take your left ankle in your left hand--now
pull hard, leg and hand both! That's right. Pull and then relax.
Here's another; bend your knee--the upper one, and take it in both
hands and pull hard! Relax, and then pull again."

"I wish there was an exercise to make thin folks fatter," observed
Miss Mullaly.

"I know some that'll make your cheeks plump and round," said Polly.

Little squeals of doubt greeted the announcement.

"I don't believe they'd make my face round," laughed Miss
Leatherland.

"Yes, they would! Wouldn't they, Miss Nita?"

"I can't swear to it, as Polly does; but this I do know--it plumps
and pinks them for a little while. Polly says her aunt told her
that after enough practice the plumpness would stay."

"Oh, what is it?" queried Miss Mullaly eagerly.

"I'll try it on Miss Leatherland if she'll let me," offered Polly.
"It will be more of a test on her, because she is thinnest."

"Certainly you may, but I can't quite believe it will do what you
say it will."

"Just you wait'" chuckled Polly. "First you must smile, a big, big
smile! Not quite hard enough!--Yes, that's better! Now, while I
press my hands against your cheeks and massage them this way, you
must open and shut your mouth--no, wider than that!--a little
wider--just as wide as you can! Keep on smiling all the time!

"There! now I'll let you look in the glass--see how your cheeks
have plumped out! Oh, but you lock pretty!"

"Doesn't she!" Miss Crilly jumped up, the better to see. "Look!
everybody! My, how pretty!"

"'Pretty!'" scorned Miss Leatherland. Yet the pink rose higher.

"Polly! is this the right way?" Miss Mullaly was doing her best,
but not well enough to satisfy the instructor.

"The middle of your hand must come up high on your cheek,"
explained Polly. "Yes, that's it! And twenty-five times you must
open and shut your mouth."

"Polly," broke in Miss Sterling, "when you can, I wish you'd tell
Mrs. Prindle how to make her hair grow."

"Yes," added Mrs. Prindle, "she says you know a way of massaging
the scalp, and my hair is so thin!"

"You'll have to take it down, I guess--so you can get at it all
over," said Polly.

"Do you know it will really help it?"

"Grandaunt Susie said her hair was so thin you could see through
it, and when she was at our house it was as thick as--as thick as
mine."

"Oh, I'm going to try that--my hair's all coming out!" Miss Lily
drew her pins from the thin coil.

Mrs. Grace and Mrs. Adlerfeld made their heads ready for
manipulation.

"You just put your hands this way, right up under your
hair,"--Polly spread out her fingers,--"and clutch at the scalp
hard, as if you were going to pull it off. Go all over the head,
again and again for five minutes--two or three times a day. Aunt
Susie says it will make the hair grow like fun."

"Oh, Miss Polly, will you be so kind as to show me just how it
goes, please?" Miss Twining was shaking down her scanty locks.

"It's very easy," Polly smiled. She liked the shy, gentle Miss
Twining. "This is all there is to it," working her hands under the
soft blond hair. "The only trouble is, it tires the hands out
pretty quick."

"Oh, yours must be tired! I should not have asked you!"

"No, no! Mine are all right. I was thinking only of yours. Now,
try it yourself. Yes, that's the way! You have it!"

"Polly!" Miss Crilly was on the floor, hugging her knee.

"I'm here!" laughed Polly.

"Do you know anything that will scare away a double chin?"

"Yes, I do!"

"Oh, jolly! What is it?"

"I'd like to hear about that!" spoke up Miss Castlevaine.

Polly thought a moment.

"You'll have to lie down--flat on your back--no, you go over on the
bed, Miss Castlevaine, and I'll tell you how to do it."

"Don't get up, Mis' Albright!" cried Miss Crilly. "I can learn how
here just as well!" She lay back, her eyes on Polly.

"I'll put this pillow right under your shoulders--so. Now throw
your head--"

A sharp rap halted the sentence. Mrs. Albright sat up. The door
was flung open before Polly reached it.

"Ladies! what does this mean?" Miss Sniffen stood there, resolute
and merciless.

Nobody answered.

Miss Twining and Miss Lily began hurriedly to gather up their
disheveled hair. Miss Castlevaine arose haughtily. Polly's tongue
was quickest to recover itself.

"I was only teaching the ladies some exercises to make them strong.
We are not doing any harm, Miss Sniffen."

"I infer that it makes them stronger to pull their hair down." The
tone was smoothly sarcastic.

"Oh, that!" returned Polly, with a tiny smile; "I've been telling
them how to massage the scalp, so as to make their hair grow."

"Very necessary, indeed! And I suppose their hair grows faster if
they stretch themselves out upon the bed and the floor! I'm
ashamed of you!"

"Oh, Miss Sniffen!" protested Polly, "you have to lie down to take
these exercises! The book says so!"

"Book!" snapped the angry voice; "I'll book you all for what you
won't like if I ever catch you in such unladylike postures again!
You must be in your second childhood! Now march to your rooms,
every one of you!" She waved her hand peremptorily toward the
doorway, and the culprits filed meekly past her--all but Miss
Castlevaine. She walked with stately step and head held high, as
became the great-granddaughter of a duchess.

"I think you would better go home now, you have worked mischief
enough for one day!" She addressed Polly in a slightly mollified
tone.

"Why, Miss Sniffen, I can't see what harm there is in trying to get
well and strong. I should think you'd like the ladies to be
better. Father and mother think these exercises are fine!
Mother's Grandaunt Susie told us about them. They made her as good
as new!"

"We won't discuss the matter," replied the superintendent in a hard
voice. "You need not remain to talk it over with Miss Sterling."

"I'm going--right now!" Polly caught up her coat.

"Good-bye, Miss Nita!" She swept past Miss Sniffen with a curt bow.

The door tight shut, Juanita Sterling fisted the air in the
direction of the departing superintendent. Then she drooped her
head and sobbed.

CHAPTER XVIII

VICTOR VON DALIN

For several days the weather was showery, not very pleasant for
walking, and Polly stayed away from the June Holiday Home.

"What will Miss Nita think!" she mourned. "Miss Sniffen has
probably forgotten by this time that she sent me home. Wouldn't it
do for me to go over for just a little while this fore-noon, while
the officers are all busy?"

"I think you had better wait until Saturday," her mother decided.

So Polly sighed and ran off to write a little note to her beloved
friend. It was warm in her own room, and she carried paper and
pencil out to her favorite seat on the veranda.

She was there when a man came up the front steps, a white-haired
man. He walked with a firm, quick step, and when he saw her he
came over to where she sat. He took off his hat with a courteous
bow.

"May I ask," he said in a low, pleasant voice, "if you know a lady
in the June Holiday Home named Adlerfeld, Mrs. Elise Adlerfeld?"

"Oh, yes, sir! I know her very well; that is, I know Mrs.
Adlerfeld. I am not sure that her name is Elise."

"Her husband's name was Hans Adlerfeld."

"I don't know anything about him," Polly replied; "but there's only
one Mrs. Adlerfeld there. She is a dear! I love her!"

The man's face flushed with pleasure. "Then you may, perhaps, help
me. I have sought her these two years, and only now have I found
her! I went to the door, and the lady told me I could not see her
till next Wednesday! I cannot stay. I must go back to New York,
and I must see her before I go. I begged the door-keeper to allow
me to speak with my friend for only a short moment; but she would
not. She said it was not visitor's day. Then I thought perhaps a
neighbor might help me. So I come to you. I ask you, is there any
way I can get inside to her, or she can get out to me? I beg of
you, my dear young lady, will you help me? I must see her to-day!
I cannot stay even till to-morrow!"

"That is just like Miss Sniffen" declared Polly. "She is the
superintendent. She will never let anybody in except on Wednesday
afternoon. It is a shame' I don't know--" She hesitated.
"Perhaps mother will let me go over and tell her. Please take this
chair, sir. Mother will see you about it; she will know better
than I what to do."

"Tell her, if you please, that it is Victor von Dalin, an old
friend of Mrs. Adlerfeld's, in Sweden, who desires to see her."

"Oh! are you really from Sweden?" beamed Polly. "How delighted she
will be!"

"I have not been in Sweden these two years; but I knew her well
when we lived there, a long time ago."

Polly ran off, full of excitement. How pleased the dear little
woman would be! To think Miss Sniffen should refuse him entrance!
She explained the matter to her mother.

"I will go right down," said Mrs. Dudley. "We must find some way
to bring them together without arousing suspicion."

It was finally decided that Polly should go over to the Home and up
to Miss Sterling's room, as usual, leaving Miss Sterling to see
Mrs. Adlerfeld and to give her Mrs. Dudley's invitation to spend
the rest of the day at her house.

Happily, Miss Sniffen was not in sight as Polly made her quick way
to the third floor.

"You dear child! Then you're not sick! I was afraid you were."

Miss Sterling held her at arm's length, to make sure of her health.

"Sick? Not a bit!" laughed Polly. "Mother thought I'd better not
come until Miss Sniffen had had a chance to forget she sent me
home--that's all! I wasn't coming till to-morrow, but something
happened--the loveliest thing!"

"What?"

"Come, sit down, and I'll tell you!"

"I can't imagine what it is!"

"No, you can't! You couldn't guess if you had a year to do it in!
The nicest man has come from New York to see Mrs. Adlerfeld, and
they wouldn't let him in here! Wasn't that mean! So he came over
to our house, to ask if we knew her and could help him out. He
used to know Mrs. Adlerfeld in Sweden, and he's bound to see her!
Oh, he's so lovable! His hair is as white! But he doesn't look
old. Can't you come over pretty soon and see him? Though I don't
know as you'd better. That might give it away--to have two come!
Mother wants you to tell Mrs. Adlerfeld that she would like to have
her spend the day with us. Make her come just as quick as she can.
You can tell her that it is Mr. Victor von Dalin that is
there--isn't that a sweet name? Oh, I do hope she will come!
He'll have a fit if she doesn't! Wasn't Miss Sniffen horrible the
other day? When we were having such a good time! I must go--no, I
guess I'll wait till you've been up and found out. Then I can tell
him."

Polly waited and waited, wondering, after five minutes, why Miss
Sterling did not come back.

"Dear me!" she thought anxiously, "I hope Mrs. Adlerfeld hasn't
fainted or anything!"

The time dragged slowly away. Ten o'clock went by. Polly wandered
restlessly around the room. She took up a book, but could not
read. Once she started to go down the hall to find out; then she
concluded she had better not. She looked out of the window, but
could think of nothing but the worrying fact of Miss Nita's
prolonged absence.

At last she heard her light step in the corridor. She sprang to
the door.

"What in the world--"

Miss Sterling motioned for silence, and they hurried to the further
side of the room.

"I knew you'd be frantic," she began; "but I couldn't help it.
Just before I reached Mrs. Adlerfeld's room I heard Mrs. Nobbs's
voice in there, so I stopped at Mrs. Albright's. I knew it would
be all right to tell her, they are so intimate. She is pleased as
we are. But it did seem as if Mrs. Nobbs never would go! Oh, the
dear woman is so excited that I don't know whether she will get
dressed straight or not! Mrs. Albright is helping her. His coming
has upset her completely. But it is a happy up-setting! You can
see that! I am so glad!"

"Will she come right over?"

"If they'll let her. I presume they will."

"If they don't, I'll make a fuss!" threatened Polly. "I'll go
after Mr. Randolph."

Miss Sterling laughed. "You won't have to do that."

"You haven't ever found out what he wanted to talk with you about
over the wire, have you?" Polly asked.

"No, and I never shall." Miss Sterling's lips took a sorrowful
droop.

"You will, too! I'll ask him myself some day!"

"No, no, you mustn't!"

"You'll see!" Polly laughed and said a soft "Good-bye!"

Miss Sterling motioned her back.

"Be sure to come over to-morrow morning and tell me all about it!"
she whispered.

Polly returned earlier. She appeared at four o'clock.

"I couldn't wait another minute!" she said. "The two dears are
sitting out on the veranda, up in the corner where the vines hide
them from the street, and their heads are close together and they
are talking earnestly in that queer lingo that nobody else
understands! Oh, they are having the loveliest time! They were at
our house to luncheon, both of them, and they're going to stay to
dinner! He will take the 7.30 train for New York. We've all
enjoyed it so much! Father and he just took to each other. You
ought to have heard them talk! I believe he knows every book that
ever was written! We had such fun! Father and mother never saw
Mrs. Adlerfeld very much, and they think she is just charming.
They used to go to school together in Sweden. His wife died three
years ago, and he has a son and daughter, both married. The
daughter lives in Stockholm and the son in Newark. Mr. Von Dalin
is librarian in one of the big libraries--oh, I wish you could see
him! Dear me, I must run back, for they may want something!"

Without doubt Polly was extraordinarily excited.

CHAPTER XIX

"A MOONSHINE PARTY"

"Next Tuesday is Miss Lily's birthday!" Polly made the
announcement in lowered tones.

"How old is she?" asked Miss Sterling.

"I don't know. Doodles told me when he was down the last time.
You know he wrote out her application, and I suppose he had to give
the date. He said wouldn't it be nice if we could celebrate it."

"But how? Celebrations and June Holiday Home are not on speaking
terms."

"Well, Doodles proposed that we all come up to his house, and his
mother would make a birthday cake. But we shouldn't let them do it
all. Mother would furnish the salad and some of the other things.
Then, I don't doubt Patricia would help, and Leonora and David."

"I wish I could." Miss Sterling shook her head sadly.

"Now, Miss Nita, don't you feel that way! If you do, I'll give it
all up!"

"But I may be sorry, mayn't I, that I can't help anything along?"

"No; because you do help along. It isn't just money and cake and
such things."

"I like cake!" She smiled whimsically.

"Oh, why don't I bring you some! We had a lovely raspberry layer
cake when Mr. Von Dalin was here, and I never thought to bring over
a mite! Mother says I am growing careless, and I'm afraid she's
right!"

"Dear child! I don't want you to bring me cake! I said that only
in fun."

"You shall have some, all the same! Isn't the table here any
better?"

Miss Sterling wrinkled her face into an answer. "The last cook is
the worst we've had yet."

"Too bad! Colonel Gresham said he was going to see Mr. Randolph
about things; but I dare say he has forgotten it."

"I hope he won't think I've been complaining to you." Miss
Sterling looked alarmed.

"No, I cautioned him. Probably he will never think of it again."

"I rather hope he won't. My fear of the Powers is amounting almost
to terror."

"Oh, Miss Nita, don't be afraid! That will make you go back! You
mustn't have a bit of fear!"

Miss Sterling laughed softly. "Well," she yielded--"let's talk
about the birthday celebration."

"You haven't stopped being afraid." Polly scanned the other with
keen eyes. "But never mind, we'll go ahead with the plans. I love
to plan! Don't you?"

"I like it too well; but I've seen so many of my projects burst
into nothing all in a minute that I've been trying lately to
content myself with everyday happenings."

"I'm sorry you've had so much trouble, Miss Nita," said Polly
plaintively.

The little woman smiled. "I ought not to have said that. I'm
better, you know! How are we to get up to Foxford?"

"Oh, in automobiles! Didn't I tell you? Colonel Gresham will let
us have two, and Mrs. Illingworth one, and father ours. I don't
know how many will go from here, but there'll be David and Leonora
and Patricia and me, besides the Colonel and the chauffeurs. You
don't think but that Miss Sniffen will let them all go, do you?"
Polly added anxiously.

"Perhaps." Miss Sterling mused over it. "I can't tell; I've lost
the map of Miss Sniffen's mind."

"Did you ever have it?" laughed Polly.

"I think once I had a facsimile of it."

Polly chuckled. Then she shook her head doubtfully. "I wish Miss
Sniffen--wasn't Miss Sniffen," she mused vaguely. Suddenly she
brightened. "Why can't we tell Mr. Randolph about it and ask him
to ask Miss Sniffen?" She waited eagerly for the answer. It was
not quick to come.

Miss Sterling bent her head in thought, while the color fluttered
on her cheeks.

"I'm afraid it wouldn't be best," she said finally with a deep
breath. "He might--"

"Oh, bother!" Polly broke in; "I was so sure that was a brilliant
thought of mine! And now you turn it down just like any common
idea!"

"My dear child, it isn't that the idea is not brilliant, but it
seems to me it would be--would be--just a little out of place!"

"It wouldn't be--a single bit!" insisted Polly. "Isn't he the
president of the Home?"

"Yes; but he isn't in this, and wouldn't it look as if we were
ignoring Miss Sniffen?"

"Maybe it would," assented Polly submissively. "I hadn't thought
of that."

"You have said nothing to Miss Lily about it?"

"Oh, no!" Polly replied. "We've only talked it over at home and
with the Greshams."

"I suppose I'll have to parley with the Powers," smiled Miss
Sterling ruefully.

"I don't want to!" Polly frowned. She thought a moment, tapping
her teeth with her thumb. "Oh, I know!" she burst out joyously.
"You can't object to this! Colonel Gresham's the one to do
it--because he's going, too. He'll drive his big car. I thought
it wouldn't do to have father, for she'd think I got him to do it.
But Colonel Gresham would win anybody if he tried."

Miss Sterling nodded approvingly.

"Aren't you glad I thought of it?"

"It looks the best thing."

"It is! Guess I'll go and ask the folks now! Will you come?"

"No, thank you! Run on alone--you'll do it best without any
assistance."

Polly laughed happily. She was too excited to insist on even Miss
Nita's company.

It was a good hour before she returned, having been rapturously
welcomed upstairs and down and kept as long as possible.

"Everybody is delighted with the idea!" Polly dropped to the
hassock at Miss Sterling's knee. "They're all going--if they
can!--except Mrs. Post and Mrs. Prindle. Mrs. Post has had a
pull-back and she can't walk at all, and Mrs. Prindle's cold is
worse. I think the rest will just fill the cars."

She counted up, and found seats and occupants to agree.

"I'm wondering whether to have Mrs. Adlerfeld or Miss Lily sit with
Colonel Gresham--which would you?" Polly was all alight with her
planning.

"The Colonel would enjoy Mrs. Adlerfeld best. Miss Lily would be
too shy to say anything."

"So she would! I only thought of her because she's the birthday
girl. Oh! You can't imagine how surprised she was--I thought
she'd better know it right away, and not try to be secret about it."

Miss Sterling smiled assent.

"She looked as if she were going to cry," Polly went on; "but then
I said something funny, and she laughed. I could see she was
wonderfully pleased that Doodles should propose it. I'm glad he
did, for I guess she doesn't have very much to make her happy.

"Oh, I forgot! What do you think Mrs. Adlerfeld calls it? I
happened to say we thought it was so nice it came when the moon was
full, and she said, 'Thank you, I shall be so glad and happy to go!
I am very fond about moonshine nights!' Isn't that just lovely?
I'm going to call it a 'moonshine' party! It is ever so much
prettier than 'moonlight.' Won't Colonel Gresham be pleased to
have Mrs. Adlerfeld sit with him!"

CHAPTER XX

THE PARTY ITSELF

The weedy roadside was a witching tangle of shadows, and the air
was drowsy with spicy, wind-blown scents, as four motor cars swept
on their merry way to Foxford.

Juanita Sterling, in the last of the procession, watched the gay
little imps dance across the windshield and thought glad thoughts.
It was going to be a worth-while evening she felt sure, and it was
good that her left-hand neighbors, Miss Major and Mrs. Winslow
Teed, had each other to entertain, and she was free to anticipate
and ponder and to feast her heart on the visions of the night.

The sometimes insisting opinions of Miss Major and the familiar
"When I was abroad" of Mrs. Winslow Teed seldom obtruded on her
dreams. Once, however, she came to her surroundings with a start.

"No," Miss Major was asserting, "Nelson Randolph is not the man for
the place. He takes some things for granted and lets other things
drift. If we had a good, live president, our superintendent would
get her walking ticket instanter."

"A little strange he doesn't marry again. His wife has been gone
for some years, hasn't she?"

"Five last June. They say he is devoted to her memory. I don't
take much stock in such devotedness--so far as men are concerned.
When he finds some pink and white doll that is sufficiently
captivating he will go through with another wedding ceremony."

"That makes me think of a Danish couple I met in Florence," began
Mrs. Winslow Teed; "she couldn't have been over nineteen or twenty,
and he was eighty at least. She--"

Miss Sterling was again absorbed in her own thoughts and never
heard what became of the poorly-mated travelers.

Doodles and Blue ran down from the veranda as the cars speeded up
the slope to the little bungalow, and they were quickly in the
midst of a joyous circle.

Polly and David, alighting from the third car, ran back to help
Miss Sterling and the others.

"Oh, Miss Nita! Wasn't the ride lovely?" Polly squeezed her
friend's arm. "Say, did you know, at the very last minute Miss
Sniffen sent over word that Mrs. Bonnyman couldn't go? She had the
toothache, and so mother came in her place! Oh, I did wish you
were in our car! I wanted to say, 'Isn't that beautiful?' and
'Just look at this!'"

"You could talk to David," laughed Miss Sterling.

"Oh, yes, I did some! But Mrs. Crump was jabbering to him most of
the time. Haven't you ever been out here before? Why, I thought
you had!--How d' y' do, Doodles!"

The three went up the steps hand in hand.

"Isn't that the loveliest, biggest moon you ever saw?" exclaimed
Polly.

While they lingered to look at it a car flashed up the road and
turned in at the entrance.

"Somebody going to the Flemings'," remarked Doodles carelessly.

"No, it's coming here!" returned Polly. The lights blazed toward
them.

They waited, and a man stepped out.

"Mr. Randolph!" breathed Polly, as he emerged from the shadows.

"I feel somewhat like an intruder," said the president, as he
grasped the hand of Doodles. "When Colonel Gresham invited me I
told him my coming was impossible. Then things cleared up a
little--and here I am!"

A visible stir succeeded Nelson Randolph's entrance. Mrs. Stickney
and Colonel Gresham welcomed him most cordially, and Polly, as
president of the Hiking Club, greeted him with a characteristic
little speech.

Presently the unexpected guest was moving easily among the others,
passing from group to group with hearty handshakes and happy words,
at last coming face to face with Juanita Sterling.

She had watched him nearing her corner, the while politely
attending to Miss Leatherland's intermittent chit-cnat and vainly
trying to banish from her mind the recent assertions of Miss Major.
With his first word, however, they fled, and she found herself
talking to the president unabashed and unafraid.

"I am glad to have the opportunity of telling you how much I
thought of those beautiful roses," she said; "I never saw handsomer
ones."

"It is good to know you enjoyed them. I hoped to have the pleasure
of taking you out to Adalina Park in the height of the rose
season." Was there an inquiry in the eyes that bent to hers?

She felt the flush sweep up her cheeks. "I should have been
delighted to go," she replied. Hurriedly she tried to think of
something to add to the brief sentence, but her mind was confused,
and the seconds slipped by.

"I was sorry it happened so," he went on; "but we will try it
again. Adalina Park is in its full glory now, and there are pretty
drives outside of the parks." He smiled whimsically.

Then came the question that put her in doubt whether she should
tell him the truth or not--"When should I be most likely to find
you disengaged?"

"Almost any time," she answered, having decided that she would
leave him to discover why she had not responded to his invitation.
"Work is never pressing at the Home."

"Isn't it?" A puzzled look flickered in his eyes--or was it only
her fancy?

A little flutter about the piano told that somebody was to play or
sing. David took the seat and began a prelude. Then he sang in a
clear, fresh voice:--

"Red as the wine of forgotten ages,
Yellow as gold of the sunbeams spun,
Pink as the gowns of Aurora's pages,
White as the robe of a sinless one,
Sweeter than Araby's winds that blow--
Roses, roses, I love ye so!"

"Who is that boy?" Nelson Randolph asked. "Some relation of
Colonel Gresham's, isn't he?"

"His grandnephew, David Collins."

"He has a fine voice."

"Excellent. Polly Dudley has a sweet voice, too. I hope she will
sing before the evening is over. And Doodles is wonderful! Have
you ever heard him?"

"No. He told me he was in the choir at St. Bartholomew's."

"There he comes! Oh, Polly is to play for him!"

A very sympathetic accompanist was Polly. Juanita Sterling
listened in surprise and wonder. How could such a child do so well!

"Young Davie was the brawest lad
In a' the Lairnie Glen,
An' Jennie was the bonniest lass
That e'er stole hearts o' men;
But Davie was a cotter's lad,
A lad o' low degree,
An' Jennie, bonnie, sonsie lass,
A highborn lass was she."

Applause burst upon the hush that hung on the last note. It was
insistent--it would not be denied. Doodles must sing again.

"He is a marvel!" Nelson Randolph spoke it softly, as the young
singer returned to the piano.

He gave the second verse of the song, which before he had omitted,
and then sang the dainty little love song,--

"Dusk, and the shadows falling
O'er land and sea;
Somewhere a voice is calling,
Calling for me!"

Yet even that did not satisfy his audience. So he returned once
more and gave in an irresistibly rollicking way a song in Yankee
dialect, the refrain to which,--

"Oh, my boy Jonathan is jest as good as gold!
An' he always fills the wood-box 'ithout bein' told!"--

tagging as it did the various topics of the old farmer's discourse
upon his son, never failed to bring laughter from his hearers.

At the end the applause was long and urgent; but Doodles had run
away, and would not come back.

Polly slipped up to Miss Sterling.

"Will you play for us now?--please, Miss Nita!" seeing a refusal in
the eyes that met her own.

"I am not in practice. I should hate to break down before all
these people," she smiled.

"There isn't one mite of danger!" Polly asserted confidently. "Do
come, Miss Nita! Mr. Randolph, I wish you'd coax her to come! She
can play magnificently!"

"Polly!"

"She can!" Polly addressed the president.

"I don't doubt it," Nelson Randolph declared, "and I should be
delighted to hear her."

"You wouldn't be delighted at all," Miss Sterling laughed. "You
would want to stop me long before I had finished one page. My
fingers would be lost in no time."

He dissented with courtliness, and Polly wheedled until Doodles and
Blue came to add their urging to hers; but in the end they had to
let Miss Sterling have her way, which was to remain outside of the
entertaining circle.

So Polly sang, "Such a li'l' fellow," and "Daisytown Gossip." Then
Mrs. Winslow Teed was beguiled into singing the old song of "The
Beggar Girl," and if her voice were a bit uncertain, on the whole
it was sweet and received well-earned applause.

Games interspersed the music, and it was discovered that the
president of June Holiday Home, as well as the eldest of the Home
residents, was quite as clever in guesses as the young folks.

Either by chance or intention,--Juanita Sterling could not decide
which,--Nelson Randolph appeared to have established himself for
the evening at her side. Others came and went, but the president
stayed.

"I wonder when we shall hear Caruso," she said. "He is on the
programme; I think they must be waiting until the moon is high."

"Caruso?" he repeated with a puzzled look. "Not--"

"No, not the great Caruso," she smiled; "the little Caruso."

"But what has the moon to do with his singing? I am in the dark."

She laughed out. "I don't wonder! I supposed you knew about
Caruso. He is a wonderful mocking-bird that belongs to Doodles.
He can--but wait! You will hear him soon, if I'm not mistaken."

Blue was at the window, gazing skyward. He raised the curtain
high, and the moonlight streamed in. A large cage was placed on a
table in the direct beams. Suddenly the lights were out.

A mellow fluting broke the hush,--and Caruso was in song!

Few of the guests had ever heard his like. He was a score of
performers in one. The notes of a dozen birds issued in quick
succession from that one little throat, clear, sweet, delicious.
Then, without warning, came the unmistakable squeal of a pig, the
squawking of hens, the yelp of a puppy, which in a moment merged
into a little carol, and then--Caruso was singing "Annie Laurie"!

The concert reached a sudden end, and the audience came to itself
in such applause as none of the other performers had won.

"Are there any more astonishments in store for me?" asked Nelson
Randolph, as the clapping dwindled to a few tardy hands. "When the
Colonel invited me to come up this evening I did not anticipate a
concert of this nature. He said they were to have 'a little music,'
but you know what that generally means."

"I know," nodded Miss Sterling smilingly. "I wonder, after such an
admission, that you were willing to risk it."

"Oh, I didn't come for the music!" he returned. "Nevertheless, it
is worth going more than twenty miles to hear. Polly and Doodles
and David would make a good concert by themselves--and now the
mocldng-bird! I never heard anything equal to his performance! He
is a wonder!"

"He can whistle 'Auld Lang Syne,' too, I think he does it quite as
well as 'Annie Laurie.'"

The applause had started again, and the lights, which had been
turned on, went out. The audience quieted at once.

Soft and sweet came the tones of a violin.

"Doodles," breathed Miss Sterling.

Nelson Randolph bent his head to hear, and nodded in answer.

Softly the player slipped into "Old Folks at Home," and the tune
went on slowly, lingeringly, as if waiting for something that did
not come. Again it was played, this time with the voice of Doodles
accompanying.

Meanwhile Polly was tiptoeing noiselessly from group to group and
from guest to guest, with the soft-breathed word, "No applause,
please!"

Over and over sounded the sweet, haunting melody, until not a few
of those unfamiliar with the methods of the patient teacher and his
singular little pupil, wondered, with Miss Crilly, "what in the
world was up."

Then, just as almost everybody's nerves were growing tense, Caruso
took up the air and carried it on bewitchingly to its close.

"How can he do it!"--"Wasn't that perfectly beautiful!"--"Did you
teach it to him, Doodles?"--"My! but he's a jimdandy, and no
mistake!" These and a score of others were tossed about as the
lights went up.

"I must have a nearer view of that singer," declared Nelson
Randolph. "I'm sure he can't look like an ordinary mocker; he must
show the marks of genius in his feathers!"

Miss Sterling laughed. "He is certainly surprising. Doodles told
me he was trying to teach him a new song, but I was not prepared
for anything like this."

"Who could be!--Come!" he invited. "Let's go over and see him!"

Juanita Sterling unavoidably brushed Miss Crilly on the way across,
and smiled pleasantly, to which that middle-aged merrymaker
responded with a whispered, "Ain't you swell, a-goin' with the
president all the evening!"

Miss Sterling flung back a laughing shake of the head, and passed
on.

Nelson Randolph scanned the slim gray bird in silence. Then he
turned to his companion.

"It doesn't seem possible that this little fellow could do all
that!"

Doodles smiled across the cage. He was giving Caruso the tidbit
which he had well earned.

"How long does it take you to teach him a song?"

"I've only taught him one, Mr. Randolph. He was several months
learning that. He knew 'Annie Laurie' when he came, and Mr.
Gillespie taught him 'Auld Lang Syne.'"

"The bird had finished his little feast and stood nonchalantly
preening his feathers.

"Caruso!"

The mocker lifted his head and gave a short whistle. Then he went
on with his interrupted toilet.

Nelson Randolph laughed softly.

"Caruso!" began Doodles again. "Caruso!"

The bird looked up and whistled as before.

Doodles bent closer. "Can't you sing 'Auld Lang Syne' for Mr.
Randolph? He has never heard it, you know."

The mocker stretched a wing and let go a mellow strain.

Softly Doodles began to sing,--

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?"

The bird had stood listening, and now caught tip the air with
vigor, carrying it on with a surety that was as astonishing as it
was delightful.

Nelson Randolph shook his head in admiration. "Marvelous!" he
cried; "marvelous!" He put his hand in his pocket--"I wish you
liked pennies!" he laughed.

"His pennies are meal worms," said Doodles with a grimace. "I'll
get him one."

"Ugh! How can he?" laughed Miss Crilly, as the bird disposed of the
dainty.

His reward seemed to incite him to further song, for straightway he
launched into a gay little medley that set his hearers laughing and
admiring at once.

"The birthday supper is ready!" announced Blue informally from the
door of the dining-room.

Doodles ran quickly to Miss Lily's side and they took place at the
head of the little procession.

Colonel Gresham and Mrs. Adlerfeld came next.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" thought Juanita Sterling, catching a sight of
the little Swedish woman's happy face.

The company speedily divided itself into two's, and Miss Sterling,
with a bit of a heart flutter, found herself walking beside the
president of June Holiday Home. Just ahead were Patricia and
David. Where was Polly? She and David were always
together--everywhere. But now she and Leonora were side by side.
Strange!--but wonderings were lost in the pleasant calls of the
occasion.

In the smallish dining-room a long table gave seats to everybody,
and no one was crowded.

Nothing elaborate had been attempted, all was simple and homelike.
Except for the curious decoration above the seat of honor, and the
birthday cake with its pink and white frosting, there was little to
distinguish it from an every-day repast.

Talk and appetite went merrily hand in hand, and the "birthday
girl," as Polly and Doodles insisted on calling her, grew actually
gay.

"When she had cut the cake, and everybody's plate was empty,
Doodles asked her to pull a pink ribbon hanging from the
umbrella-like contrivance over her head.

"With a half-frightened face and fingers that trembled, she plucked
at the dainty string. Nothing happened.

"Pull harder!" urged Doodles.

She made another attempt--and gave a little cry, for tumbling about
her came birthday gifts in wild array.

Into her lap plumped an embroidered pin-cushion, on one shoulder
drooped a muslin and lace apron, over her head was draped a white
silk waist, while all around, on floor and table, were other
articles, besides packages of various sizes tied with pink and
white ribbons. In the laughter and confusion, presents too bulky
or too frail to be risked in a fall were placed near her,--a long
box of pink roses, a tall vase of cut-glass, a big, big box of
candy, a pretty bon-bon dish, a small fern, and a little begonia
with lovely pink blossoms.

To be thus suddenly surprised, and at the same time to be made the
attractive point of so many eyes, was more than Faith Lily's
composure could bear. Her lip quivered like a little child's, her
blue eyes filled with tears and over-flowed--she began softly to
sob.

Doodles looked distressed. Then he did the best thing possible.

He took up the pincushion. "Mrs. Dudley made you this," he said,
"and this is from Leonora,"--he held the apron for her to see.
"Isn't it pretty? Turn round a bit and I'll tie it on!"

The crying ceased, and the tension had passed. Miss Lily smiled
down on the apron with happy eyes.

"Here is a handkerchief that Polly embroidered for you," Doodles
went on, "and this box of chocolates is from Mr. Randolph. Colonel
Gresham gave you the roses--just smell them!" He lifted the box to
her face.

"Oh!" breathed Miss Lily in delight.

"The china dish is David's present, and these cards are from Mrs.
Albright and Mrs. Bonnyman and Miss Crilly. This beautiful
waist--that's from Patricia, and the box of handkerchiefs from her
mother, and the booklet from Miss Castlevaine, and the photograph
from Miss Major. Oh! the vase is from the 'Hiking Club,'--and I
don't know about the packages."

Miss Lily beamed on her riches, upon Doodles, upon the whole
tableful.

"Why," she exclaimed softly, "I don't see how you came to do it! I
never thought of having a single present! Oh, it's beautiful of
you!" Her voice trembled. "I can't thank you half enough, but I
shall love you, every one, as long as I live!"

Doodles was picking up the small parcels scattered on the floor.

"Will you have these now?" he nodded.

"Oh, yes!" she said, eagerly as a child.

Everybody seemed interested in the unwrapping. They were simple
gifts, but Miss Lily fingered them lovingly, even to the plainest
little card.

The telephone called Blue into the next room. He returned almost
at once.

"Mr. Randolph," he said, "some one wishes to talk with you."

They were rising from the table as the president came back.

"I am sorry to say good-bye so early," he told them; "but a New
York man is waiting to see me on important business and has to
return home on the 11.45 train. So I must get down to him as soon
as possible."

He came over to Juanita Sterling with a little rueful smile.

"I hoped to have the pleasure of taking you home, but--" He shook
his head. "We'll make up for it in a day or two," he finished
blithely.

Her eyes met his. Something she saw there sent a warm flush to her
cheeks, and she looked away.

"You will hear from me soon." He held out his hand. "Thank you
for giving me so much enjoyment this evening--good-night."

That was all. Simple courtesy, Juanita Sterling told herself two
hours later; but now--her heart was filled with a quivering joy
that was almost pain.

On the homeward ride she found herself seated next to Miss Major,
with Miss Castlevaine just beyond.

"We seem to be shifted round," Miss Castlevaine observed. "I came
up in the second car, Dr. Dudley's; but Mrs. Winslow Teed has my
seat--I was in front with the chauffeur. So I took the first
vacant place I saw."

"She rode up with us."

"Then it is all right. I see David Collins has got Patricia
Illingworth in tow--he came with Polly. I wonder if they've had a
quarrel."

"I never knew them to quarrel," said Juanita Sterling.

"Oh, don't they? Well, it looks like it now. He took Patricia out
to supper, too."

"So he did," responded Miss Major. "I didn't think of it in that
light. We've had a nice evening, anyway. It seems good to get out
of the rut."

"Yes," answered Miss Castlevaine grudgingly; "but they'll have to
keep this up, now they've begun, or there'll be more fusses than a
few!"

"What do you mean?"

"Why, everybody'll have to have a birthday party, or the rest'll be
jealous."

"Oh, yes, I see! But they couldn't do it for all."

"Then there'll be trouble! And I don't know as I should blame them
any. Why should one of the family have all the good times and
loads of presents, and nobody else have anything--huh!"

"It hasn't established a precedent by any means," asserted Miss
Major.

"Indeed, it has! And they ought to have thought of that before
they began."

"I doubt if any such thing ever occurred to Polly and Doodles,"
interposed Miss Sterling. "They were thinking only of giving Miss
Lily a pleasant birthday. I am glad she had so many presents."

"Well, Mr. Randolph meant she should have enough candy for once,
didn't he? A five-pound box certainly! If she eats it all
herself, it'll make her sick! I don't suppose she ever had so much
at one time before, and she won't use any judgment about it. It
would have been in a good deal better taste to have given her a
simple pound box."

"Oh, no!" laughed Miss Major. "I'd rather have a five-pound box any
time! And so would you!"

"I suppose he's used to that size," retorted Miss Castlevaine. "He
probably gives 'em to his girl by the cartload--huh!"

"Who is she?" queried Miss Major.

"Why, that Puddicombe girl! He is engaged to Blanche
Puddicombe--didn't you know it?"

"No, I hadn't heard."

"Well, he is! They say the wedding isn't coming off till next
spring. I guess he's bound to have all he can get out of his
freedom till then--he won't have much after he's tied to that
silly-pate!"

"She looks it all right! Her mother isn't any too smart."

"No, and the Puddicombe side is worse. We used to think that Si
Puddicombe knew less than nothing! And Le Grand Puddicombe--"

Juanita Sterling edged a little closer into the seat corner. She
had no interest in Le Grand Puddicombe. She stared into the night.
A raw wind struck her face. Thick clouds had suddenly shut out the
moon, and a chill over-spread the earth. All was dark, dark,
except for the flashing lines ahead. The steady pur-r-r-r-r-ing of
the car was in the air. Miss Castlevaine's monotonous voice ran on
and on; but, the little woman at the end of the seat realized
nothing except the insistent words knelling through her
brain,--"Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe! Engaged to Blanche
Puddicombe!"

It was not until she was in her room, with the door safely locked,
that she commanded herself sufficiently to answer the clanging
voice.

"I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" she burst out. "It's a
lie!--a miserable, sneaking lie!"

"Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe! Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!" was
the mocking retort.

She dropped on her knees by the bedside and covered her face with
her hands.

"Oh, God," she whispered, "forgive me for being a fool!"

CHAPTER XXI

TWO OF THEM

Polly came early the next morning to talk over things.

"You got all tired out, didn't you?" she exclaimed, meeting the
wearied eyes.

"Oh, no!" denied Miss Sterling. "I didn't sleep quite as well as
usual, but I'm all right."

"I'm glad it is only that. You look almost sick," Polly scanned
the pale face a little doubtfully. "I'm worried about David--he
acted so queer last night."

"What's the trouble? They were talking of it coming home."

"About David?--or me?"

"Miss Castlevaine spoke of David's being with Patricia, and was
wondering if you had quarreled--that's all."

"No, there hasn't been a word!" cried Polly disgustedly. "But I
suppose he is jealous of Doodles--such a silly! He's a lovely boy,
if he weren't always getting jealous of everybody. He wants me to
stay right with him every minute and not speak to anybody else!"

"That is foolish."

"I know it, but that's David Collins!"

"I wonder--" she stopped.

"What?" asked Polly.

"I was only thinking about Colonel Gresham. Perhaps it was jealousy
that caused the estrangement between him and Mrs. Jocelyn."

"Maybe--I never heard what it was."

"Possibly it is in the blood, and David can't help it."

"He needn't be a goose just because his grand uncle was! It isn't
as if we were grown up!"

Miss Sterling gave a little laugh.

"I don't care, it isn't!" insisted Polly. "If I were eighteen and
engaged to him, of course, I shouldn't expect to go around with
other boys--'t wouldn't be right: but now--!" Polly's face finished
it.

Juanita Sterling looked gravely at nothing.

"And such a boy as Doodles!" Polly went on. "To start with, he is
younger than I am, and that ought to be enough to give David some
sense! Mother says she didn't see me do anything out of the
way--did you. Miss Sterling?"

"Why--why,--what was it you asked, Polly? I was thinking so hard,
I lost that last!"

Polly looked keenly at her friend's flushed face.

"I believe you do think I did something! What is it? Tell me
right out! I shan't mind!"

"No, no, Polly! Forgive me, it wasn't anything about you and
David--I happened to let another thought in just for a minute--that
was all. No, I don't think you did anything that a sensible boy
would mind in the least. Even if you were grown up and engaged to
David, you did nothing that should have caused him any annoyance."

"Oh! that's more than mother gave me credit for!--Do you really
know what you're saying anyway?" laughed Polly.

"Perfectly, Miss Dudley! And I declare to you this moment that you
are a model of propriety!"

"O-o-h! Don't I look awfully puffed up? Now you'll think me
silly! But I've talked long enough about David and me. I'm dying
to tell you how glad, glad, glad I was last evening every time I
looked your way! I almost forgot the birthday girl for thinking of
you! Wasn't Mr. Randolph lovely? And didn't you have a dandy
time? Why, he kept as close to you as if you 'd been engaged to
him! He--"

"Oh, Polly, don't talk that silly stuff! I won't hear it!" Miss
Sterling got up hurriedly and went to her work-table, apparently
hunting for something in her spool basket.

"Why, Miss Nita!" Polly's tone was grieved.

"Well, forgive me," came from over the array of threads and silks,
"but I do hate to hear you say such things!"

"I was only telling the truth," said Polly plaintively. "I thought
you were having a lovely time--you looked as if you were! Doodles
spoke of it."

"Yes, I dare say I looked and acted like an old fool!"

"Miss Nita! You couldn't! You looked too sweet for anything, and I
guess he thought so--"

"Polly! what did I tell you?" She came back with a half-mended
stocking.

"Aren't you ever going to let me speak of Mr. Randolph again? He
acted as if he were dead in love with y--"

A hand was clapped over her mouth.

"I won't hear it! I won't! I won't!" Miss Sterling laughed a
little uncertainly.

Polly drew a long breath of disappointment. "I never knew you to
act like this before," she mused.

"How sweetly Doodles sang!" said Miss Sterling.

"Yes," agreed Polly dispiritedly.

"And you are a charming accompanist."

"Oh! now, who's silly?"

"Nobody." Miss Sterling drew her hand from her stocking.

"It doesn't seem to me that I play well at all--I long to do so
much better."

"It is a rare gift to be a good accompanist, and you surely possess
it."

"Thank you--you're not saying that to counterbalance what you said
about--?"

"No, I'm not! When I say a thing I mean it."

"Perhaps some other folks do. Oh, Miss Nita! I couldn't help
hearing what Mr. Randolph said when he bade you good-bye--I was so
near!"

"What if you did! There was nothing secret about it." The voice
was hard and unnatural. Miss Sterling felt the flame in her cheeks.

"Well, I was almost sure that it meant he was going to take you to
ride, weren't you?"

"Of course he won't ask me!" She crossed over to the work-table
for another stocking.

"I think he will," said Polly decidedly. "You'll go if he does,
shan't you?"

"No, not an inch!"

"Oh, why? I'd go in a minute if he'd ask _me_!"

"Isn't there something we can talk about besides that detestable
man! How did Colonel Gresham enjoy Mrs. Adlerfeld?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen him. I guess I'd better go. Mother
may want me." Polly walked slowly toward the door.

"I hope I shall be in a more agreeable mood when you come next
time," smiled Miss Sterling.

"I hope so," replied Polly soberly.

The door had shut, the light footfalls were growing faint, when
Juanita Sterling began to sob. Her lips twitched as she tried to
suppress the tears. It was no use, they would have their way, and
she finally hid her face in her hands and let them go.

"Why, Miss Nita! Dear Miss Nita!" Polly had her arms around her
friend's neck, crooning love words.

"I--I--didn't hear you knock!" apologized Miss Sterling.

"Never mind, you darling! I only gave one little tap--and then
I--came in. You don't care, do you? If you do, I'll go right
away. But I'm sorry you feel so bad! You're not sick, are you?"

"N-no,--oh, no!"

"Well, don't tell me, unless you'd rather. Sometimes I feel better
to tell mother when things trouble me."

Getting no answer, she went on.

"Should you like to have mother come over?"

"Mercy--no! Don't tell anybody, Polly,--will you?--what a fool I
am!"

"Of course, I won't tell--ever! But you're not a fool! Nobody can
help crying when things go wrong. Miss Sniffen hasn't been saying
anything, has she?"

"Oh, no! I haven't seen her lately."

Polly waited patiently.

"I came back for my handkerchief," she explained. "I thought I
must have dropped it--oh, there it is!"

"Was I dreadfully cross to you? I didn't mean to be, dear child!"

"You weren't a bit!" insisted Polly. "I ought to know better than
to torment you about--that man. But I like him so well, I can't
understand why you don't. I wish you did!"

The sobs started again, and Miss Sterling got up quickly.

"I don't see what makes me act--like this!" she exclaimed fiercely.

Polly was not obtuse. She began to think hard. Still, Miss Nita
had said--Miss Nita would not lie! It was beyond her understanding.

Miss Sterling wiped her eyes.

"You know we're to go on a hike to-morrow," said Polly tentatively.

"Ye-s," feebly. Then, "I'm not going."

"Oh! why?"

"Don't want to! Should if it wasn't for that!"

"Good reason," commented Polly, and she waited for a retort, but
none came. "I'm afraid David will fuss," she said finally.

"I don't blame him one mite!" Miss Sterling broke out.

"Wh-why, you said--I hadn't done a thing!" Polly was plainly
astonished.

"You haven't! But I don't blame David all the same." Miss
Sterling smiled a queer little equivocal smile.

"Well, you two are the hardest mortals to understand!" sighed
Polly. "I give it up!" She skipped toward the door. "Be ready at
two, to-morrow. Miss Nita!" she called back. "If you're good, I'll
let you walk with David."

CHAPTER XXII

DANCING HIKERS

Juanita Sterling was in the little procession that started from the
June Holiday Home at two o'clock. So was David Collins. They were
nearly the whole line apart, and Polly skipped up and down between
them.

"I'm so glad you were able to come!" she told Miss Sterling,
squeezing her arm. "I haven't had a chance to speak to David yet;
but I must." She sighed. "Oh, dear, I hate fusses! He's with
Leonora. Say, did you see Doodles? He had to go to the music
store and have something done to his violin--he said it wouldn't
take more than three minutes. He's going to catch up with us
farther along; he can take a short cut across from Columbia Street.
Think of him and Blue coming clear down from Foxford just to go to
walk with us!"

"It looks as if they wanted to come."

Polly laughed.

"I suppose I mustn't speak to either of them, or David will be
furious! I guess I'll go on and do as I like! There's Miss Crilly
beckoning--I promised her I'd walk a little way with her. Good-bye
for now!"

Miss Sterling saw Doodles come up a cross street, violin in hand,
and run ahead to join Polly. She chuckled softly.

"Where are we bound for to-day?" queried Miss Mullaly in her ear.

"I don't know. Polly hasn't told me the route."

A motor-car whizzed by.

"Wasn't that Mr. Randolph?"

"I think so," answered Miss Sterling. Her tone was indifferent.

"I've seen that lady with him two or three times. Do you know who
it is?"

"Miss Puddicombe, I believe, daughter of one of the Board."

"Oh!"

The eyes of the other involuntarily followed the car.

"She dresses in all colors of the rainbow," laughed Miss Mullaly.
"It's queer, how little taste some people--But maybe she is a
friend of yours!"

"No, I never spoke to her. I have heard of her astonishing
combinations, though."

Polly came running back.

"Isn't it lovely that Doodles has his violin! He says when we get
tired and come to a nice place to rest, he will play to us. Aren't
you tired? I want somebody to be, so we can have the music. He
has learned some new pieces."

"I think there is a pretty grove not far ahead. Don't you remember
it?--There's a great rock at one side, and a little clump of young
birches near by."

"Oh, yes, next to a sheep pasture! That will be just the place!
I'll tell Doodles!"

But before the wood was reached, the party came upon a car by the
side of the road. Juanita Sterling had recognized it and longed to
run away.

"Why, it's Mr. Randolph!" discovered Miss Mullaly.

"Yes, he has tire trouble, I see."

The president of the Home was already talking with those ahead.

Polly came back.

"Mr. Randolph and Miss Puddicombe," she whispered. "He is
introducing her to the ladies."

Miss Sterling nodded and shrank away.

"I don't want to meet her," she objected. "I wonder if they'd
notice if we should cut across this lot."

"Oh, don't! I'm afraid they would."

The other looked longingly toward the way of escape while she
walked on with Polly.

Juanita Sterling and Blanche Puddicombe stood face to face, a
smiling "How do you do, Miss Puddicombe!" on one side, a gushing
"I'm charmed to meet you!" on the other, with a gingerly hand-shake
between.

Nelson Randolph was too busy with his tire for much talking, and,
as early as decency would allow, Miss Sterling by degrees slipped
into the background,

"Let's go on," she whispered, taking Miss Leatherland's arm.

The others straggled after, by twos and threes.

"Why didn't you stay longer?" questioned Polly, overtaking her
friend.

"There was nothing to stay for," she laughed.

"Miss Puddicombe said she would like to get acquainted with you."
Polly's tone had the inflection of disappointment.

"Very kind of her," was the quiet comment.

Polly glanced whimsically at Miss Sterling's face. "I guess that
is the grove you were speaking of," was what she said.

Many of the ladies were glad to stop, and scattered stones and
mossy logs made pleasant resting places.

Doodles played delightfully and finally slipped into a waltz.

"Oh, my feet just won't stay still!" cried Miss Crilly. "Come on,
Polly!" And the two went dancing through the wood.

"It's better over there in the pasture," said Polly, as they came
to a sudden halt against a big pine.

"Let's try it!" Miss Crilly pulled her forward, and over they ran,
hand in hand.

"Doodles! Doodles!" they called.

The boy and the violin were quickly there, and Patricia and the
young folks ran after.

"Oh, this is lovely! Better come and try it!"--"The very dandiest
place!" cried the dancers as they stopped for breath.

Miss Major, Miss Mullaly, and others came laughing into the open.

Doodles played with zest, everybody was in merry mood, and the
dance went gayly on.

Polly suddenly ran into the grove for her beloved Miss Nita.

"You must! You must!" she declared, as Miss Sterling doubtfully
shook her head. "You don't know how much nicer it is to dance
outdoors! Come!"

She hesitated, but the music was inspiring, and impulsively tossing
all else aside she skipped on with Polly.

Along the road jogged a buggy, and the driver stared at the unusual
sight. Then he stopped his horse.

"What's up?" he called out. "Is it a boardin'-school or a lunatic
asylum?"

Polly and Miss Sterling came whirling toward him. "Neither, sir!"
answered Polly promptly. "We are dancing hikers!"

"Wh-at?" the man gasped.

But the laughing couple waltzed on.

Blue had gallantly claimed Juanita Sterling for her second dance,
and as they waltzed down to the street they saw the motorists whom
they had left beside the road driving toward them. The car
stopped, and Mr. Randolph and Miss Puddicombe stepped out.

"It was too tempting!" he exclaimed. "We couldn't go by. Is it a
free-for-everybody dance?"

"Of course it is!" answered Blue. "We are very glad to have you
stop and try it with us."

The Home President turned to his companion. "Will you come?" he
said.

She looked down with a scowl. "Why, Nelson, I can't dance on such
rough ground!"

"Oh, come on!" he urged. "What the others can do, we can!"

"It isn't bad--really!" smiled Miss Sterling. "The sheep have
nibbled it pretty smooth."

The couples whirled off, but soon afterwards Nelson Randolph was
seen standing alone over by the wood.

"Guess she's the kind that goes with waxed floors and a whole
orchestra," laughed Blue.

When the fiddling came to a pause Juanita Sterling found herself
not far from the man whom she was endeavoring to shun.

"Let's go down to those birches!" she proposed carelessly. But she
was too late, for Nelson Randolph was already coming her way.

"Too tired for another turn?" he asked.

"Oh, no, I'm not tired!"--yet her face did not reflect his smile.
She wished he would go away and leave her alone. Why must she
continually be meeting him! Still she could not easily refuse when
he urged his request, and she yielded a somewhat grave consent.

Miss Crilly and David Collins gayly led the quadrille that
followed, and even Miss Castlevaine's habitual sneer was lost in
the enjoyment of the moment. But Juanita Sterling, lover of all
outdoors, devotee of music and the dance, with the best partner on
the ground, went through the steps, her graceful feet and her
aching heart pitifully at variance.

They walked together over to the edge of the wood.

"I have business in Riverview to-morrow morning--would you like to
go? The ride over the mountain is very pretty now, and my errand
won't take more than five minutes."

She could feel the warm blood creep up her face. Her answer
hesitated. "I am sorry," came at last, "but I'm afraid I
cannot--to-morrow."

He gave a little rueful laugh. "I always choose the wrong time,"
he said.

"I am very sorry," she repeated truthfully.

"Nelson!" called Miss Puddicombe, as they drew near. "It is
horribly impolite; but I think I'll have to hurry you a little. I
want to see Grace about those tickets for the Charity Fair, and it
is getting late."

"I am at your disposal," he replied gallantly. And shortly they
were gone.

Polly walked home with Miss Sterling. David was devoting himself
to Patricia. Polly's gay mood had passed and left her quiet and
pensive. Only commonplaces were spoken--Miss Castlevaine was just
ahead, and her ears were sharp. Miss Sterling knew that as soon as
the seclusion of the third-floor corner room was reached Polly's
heart would overflow in confidences.

"Will you come in?" For Polly had stopped at the entrance.

"Yes." A step forward. "N-no, I guess I won't--yes, I will, too!"

Miss Castlevaine looked round with a short laugh. "What's the
matter, Polly? Lost your beau?"

"No, he's lost me!" was the quick retort.

"Oh, is that it?"

"Yes, Miss Castlevaine, that is precisely it!" A warning flush was
on Polly's cheeks. "Thank you, Miss Nita, I'll go up for a little
while," she said.

With a shrug and a little "Huh!" the descendant of the duchess
passed on.

The door clicked shut, and Polly dropped into a rocker, tossing
aside her hat and coat.

"What shall I do with David?" she sighed. "He barely nodded to me
to-day!"

"I presume I should cruelly let him alone."

"Then 'twould be good-bye, David! He'd never, never, never take
the first step! And I like David!" Polly caught her breath.

"Poor little girl! I'm sorry!" Miss Sterling knelt beside her and
threw an arm about her.

Polly began to sob. "I thought--he'd be decent this afternoon! I
haven't--done a single thing!"

"No, you haven't!" agreed Miss Sterling. "And for that reason when
he has thought it over long enough I believe he will see how
foolish he has been."

"But he won't give in!" declared Polly, wiping her eyes. "Well, I
can't go to him and say, 'Please forgive me!' when I haven't done
anything! I guess I'll let him gloom it out! There, that's
settled! Now let's talk about you!" She stroked Miss Sterling's
hair, and smiled.

"You just ought to have seen you two dancing together!" she broke
out in a lively tone.

"Pity there couldn't have been a long mirror set up somewhere!"
replied Miss Sterling.

"Well, you did look lovely!" Polly went on, ignoring the retort.

"Do you mean each of us separately or only when we were in
company?" asked the other gravely.

"Oh, now, don't you make fun of me! I know what I'm talking about!
Doodles said you were the best dancers he ever saw!"

"And he has seen so many!" murmured Miss Sterling.

Polly tossed her head in disapproval, but continued, "I was so in
hopes he would have time to ask you to go to ride--and then she had
to hurry him up! It sounded exactly as if she were jealous!"

"He invited me," said Miss Sterling quietly.

"Oh, he did?" The voice was joyful. "When are you going?"

"Never!"

Polly stared at her friend in dismay. "Miss--Nita! You don't
mean--?"

"Yes, I declined the privilege!"

The brown eyes blazed. "I think you're--"

"Polly, wait! I do not wish to ride with Mr. Randolph--he is
engaged to Miss Puddicombe!"

Polly's eyes grew big. "I don't believe it!--How do you know?"

"I was told so."

"Do you really think it is true?" demanded Polly.

"There is nothing else to think."

"She calls him Nelson," mused Polly--"I thought she was pretty
bold! But he is too smart to be such a fool!"

"Love sometimes makes fools of the best of us."

Polly watched the red flame up in the thoughtful face beside her,
and in that moment Polly grew wise.

"He doesn't love that Puddicombe ninny and he never will! You
should have heard her talk when he was dancing with you. I was
over there. Such airs! You'd think she held a mortgage on the
world!"

A soft tap on the door was followed by the entrance of Miss
Castlevaine.

"Have you heard?" she whispered tragically.

"No." Miss Sterling grew grave.

Polly bent forward in her eagerness.

"You see, I went down to get a pitcher of hot water, and I heard
Miss Sniffen's voice in the dining-room and so went in that way.
Mrs. Nobbs was up on the step-ladder in front of the placard, so I
didn't see it at first, but when I did it muddled me so I just
stood there and stared. Miss Sniffen turned round and said, 'What
do you want?' sharp as could be, just as if I had no business
there. She felt guilty all right! You could see that! Well, if
you'll believe me, I couldn't think what I had gone for! And she
said it again! Then I happened to see my pitcher, and that brought
me to my senses, and I told her, 'Some hot water.' 'Why don't you
go get it, then?' she yelled out, as if I were deaf! And I
went--huh!"

"But what was it they were doing?" urged Polly.

"Didn't I tell you? They were putting up a notice in big letters,
'No talking, please.'"

CHAPTER XXIII

"HILLTOP DAYS"

When Polly chanced to find her Miss Nita out she usually dropped
into some other room for a little chat. On one such afternoon Miss
Twining welcomed her most gladly.

"I get lonesome sitting here by myself day after day," the little
woman confessed. "Sometimes I am actually envious of Miss Sterling
when I happen to see you go in there."

"Then I'll come oftener," Polly declared. "I'd love to! I'm
always afraid the ladies will get sick of the sight of me, I'm
round here so much."

"Mercy! I don't believe anybody ever thought of such a thing. I'd
be so happy to have you come to see me every day, I'd feel like
standing on my head!"

Polly laughed. "I shall surely come! I should like to learn how
to stand on my head--I never could seem to get the trick of it."

"I didn't say I'd do it!" twinkled Miss Twining; "but I declare, I
believe I would try, if that would get you in here!"

"Never you fear!" cried Polly. "You'll see me so much, now I know
you want me, you won't get time for anything!"

"I'll risk it." Miss Twining nodded with emphasis.

"I've wondered sometimes," Polly went on, "what I would do if I had
to stay alone as much as some folks do--the ladies here, for
instance. Of course you can visit each other."

"Yes, except in the hours when it is forbidden."

"Strange, they won't let you go to see each other in the evening."

"I think it is because the ladies used to stay upstairs visiting
instead of going down to hear Mrs. Nobbs read. Not all of them are
educated up to science and history and such things."

"I should think they would have some good books in the library,
story books. Such a dry-looking lot I never saw!"

Miss Twining smiled. "They say that one night when Mrs. Nobbs was
reading 'History of the Middle Ages,' she went into the parlor to
find only two listeners, and right after that the rule was made
forbidding them to go to each other's rooms."

Polly shook her head laughingly. "That was pretty hard on Mrs.
Nobbs, wasn't it? Is she a good reader?"

Miss Twining gave a little shrug. "I don't go down usually," she
answered.

"Too bad! I don't wonder you are lonely. But you can read, can't
you?"

"Not much by this light. It is too high."

Polly regarded it with dissatisfaction.

"Yes, it is. I wish you had one on the table. They ought to give
you good lights."

Miss Twining pinched up her pretty lips with a thumb and
forefinger, but said nothing.

"I was so indignant to think they took that money from you that you
earned for writing a poem, I haven't got over it yet!"

"It did seem too bad," Miss Twining sighed.

"It was the meanest thing!" frowned Polly.

"For a long time I had not been in the spirit of writing, but that
day I just had to write those verses, and when the paper accepted
them it seemed to give me strength and courage and pleasure all at
once. I was so happy that morning, thinking I could earn enough to
buy me little things I want and perhaps some new books besides."

"I've felt like crying about it ever since," said Polly sadly.
"You have written a good deal, haven't you?"

"Oh, yes! When I was at home with father and mother I wrote nearly
every day. I had a book published," she added a little shyly.

"You did! That must be lovely--to publish a book!" Polly beamed
brightly on the little woman in the rocker.

"Yes, it was pleasant--part of it! It didn't sell so well as I
hoped it would. The publishers said I couldn't expect it, as I
hadn't much reputation, and it takes reputation to make poetry
sell. They said it was good verse, and the editors had been so
hospitable to me I counted on the public--" She shook her head with
a sad little smile. "I even counted on my friends--that was the
hardest part of the whole business!"

"Surely your friends would buy it!" cried Polly.

"I don't know whether they did or not--I didn't mean that. I mean,
giving away my books--that was the heart-breaking part!"

"I don't understand. Miss Twining."

"Before it was published--years before," went on the little woman
reminiscently, "I used to think that if I ever did have books to
give to my friends, how beautiful it would be! I thought it all
out from beginning to end--the end as I saw it! I wrote
inscriptions by the dozen long before the book was even planned.
It looked to me the most exquisite pleasure to give to my friends
the work of my own brain, and I pictured their joy of receiving!"
She gave a short laugh.

"But, Miss Twining, you don't mean--you can't mean--that they
didn't like it!"

"Oh, a few did! But I never heard from many that had read
it--that's the trouble! Almost everybody thanked me before reading
the book at all. When they wrote again they probably didn't think
of it. One man even forgot that I had given him a copy! The funny
part was that at the time he had praised the verses. Then
afterwards he told me that he had never seen my book, but should so
like to read it. I was dumfounded! I believe I laughed. In a
moment the truth dawned upon him, and he fairly fell over himself
with apologies! I made light of his blunder, but of course it
hurt."

"How could he! He must have been a queer man!"

"Oh, no! he was very nice, only he didn't care enough about me or
the verses to remember. I have never seen him since. But what
grieved me most of all," Miss Twining went on, "was to send books
to friends--or those I called so--and never receive even a
thank-you in return."

"Oh, nobody could--!"

"Yes, more than once that happened--more than twice!"

"It doesn't seem possible!" Polly's face expressed her sympathy.

"I don't think I required too much," Miss Twining went on. "I
didn't want people to pour out a punch bowl of flattery. But just
a word of appreciation--of my thought of them, even if they didn't
care for my verses. Oh, it is heart-breaking business, this giving
away books!"

"I should have thought it was about the most delightful thing,"
mused Polly soberly.

"It may be with some writers. Perhaps my experience is
exceptional--I hope so. It took away nearly all the pleasure of
having a book. Of course a few friends said just the right thing
in the right way and said it so simply that I believe they meant
what they said. I never felt that my work was anything wonderful.
I did my best always, and I was happy when any one saw in it
something to like and took the trouble to tell me so--that was all."

"I should think that was little enough for any author to expect,"
said Polly. "I always supposed authors had a jolly good time, with
everybody praising their work. I never saw anything of yours--I
guess I should like it. I love poetry!"

"You do?" Miss Twining started to get up, then sat down again. "I
wonder if you would care for my verses?" she hesitated. "You could
have a copy as well as not." Her soft eyes rested on Polly's face.

"Oh, I should love them--I know I should!" Polly declared.

Miss Twining went over to her closet and stooped to a trunk at the
end.

"There!" she said, putting in Polly's hand a small, cloth-bound
volume neatly lettered, "Hilltop Days."

The girl opened it at random. Her eye caught a title, and she read
the poem through.

"That is beautiful!" she cried impulsively.

"Which one is it?" asked the childlike author.

"'A Winter Brook.'"

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