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Polly and the Princess by Emma C. Dowd

Part 4 out of 6

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"Oh, yes! I like that myself."

"What lovely meter you write!" praised Polly. "The lines just sing
themselves along."

"Do they? The publishers told me the meter was good. I guess my
ear wouldn't let me have it any other way."

"Do you play or sing?" queried Polly.

"I used to--before we lost our money. Since then I haven't had any
piano."

"That must have been hard to give up!" Tears sprang to Polly's eyes.

"Yes, it was hard, but giving up a piano isn't the worst thing in
the world."

"No," was the absent response. Polly was turning the leaves of the
book, and she stopped as a line caught her fancy. Her smile came
quickly as she read.

"Miss Twining!" she exclaimed, "I am so astonished to think you can
write such lovely, lovely poems! Why, the June Holiday Home ought
to be proud of you!"

"Oh, Polly!" The little woman blushed happily.

"Well, only real poets can write like this! If people knew about
them I'm sure the book would sell. The poems that Mr. Parcell ends
off his sermons with aren't half as good as these!"

Miss Twining smiled. "I wonder what made you think of him. Do you
know--I never told this to a soul before--I have wished and wished
that he would come across one of mine some day and like it so well
that he would put it into a sermon! Oh, how I have wished that! I
have even prayed about it! Seems to me it would be the best of
anything I could hope to have on earth, to sit there in church and
hear him repeat something of mine!--There! I'm foolish to tell you
that! You'll think me a vain old woman!"

"No, I shall not!" cried Polly. "I should like it 'most as well as
you would! It would be a beautiful happening. And probably he
would if he knew them. Did you ever give him a book?"

"Oh, no, indeed! I shouldn't dare!"

"Why not? He is very nice to talk with."

"Yes, I know. He calls on me every year or two. I like him."

"I do, and I want him to read your poems. Do you mind if I take
this home to show to father and mother? They love poetry.--And
then I'll mid a way for Mr. Parcell to see it!"

"Why, my dear, it is yours!"

"Oh, did you mean that?" Polly drew a long breath of delight. "I
shall love it forever--and you, too!" Impulsively she put her arms
round Miss Twining's neck and kissed her on both cheeks.

"If I thought Mr. Parcell wouldn't think it queer,"--hesitated Miss
Twining,--"I have several copies, and I'd like to give him one; but
I don't know--"

"Of course he wouldn't think it queer!" asserted Polly. "He'd be
delighted! He couldn't help it--such poetry as this is! I'll
leave it at his house if you care to have me."

"Oh, would you? That is dear of you! I Was wondering how I'd get
it to him. I'll do it right up now."

Miss Twining came back with the book, a little troubled scowl on
her forehead.

"Oughtn't I to write an inscription in it? I don't know what to
say."

"It would be nice," Polly nodded. "Of course you'll say it all
right."

In a moment the poet was at her table, the book open before her.
She dipped her pen in the ink, then halted it, undecided.

"I wonder if this would be enough,--'To Rev. Norman S. Parcell,
from his parishioner, Alice Ely Twining'?"

"That sounds all right to me," answered Polly deliberately.

"I can't say 'loving parishioner'--to a man," laughed Miss Twining
a bit nervously.

"It isn't necessary," chuckled Polly.

"If he came to see me oftener I'd love him more," said the little
woman wistfully.

"He'll come often enough now--you just wait! He hasn't anybody in
his church that can write such poetry as this." She patted the
little book caressingly.

"I hope he'll like it,--but I don't know," the author doubted.

"He will," smiled Polly.

In a moment the package was ready.

"It is so good of you to do it!" Miss Twining looked very happy.

"I love to do such errands as this," laughed Polly. "I'll be in
to-morrow to tell you about it."

CHAPTER XXIV

"HOPE DEFERRED"

"I didn't see the minister," Polly reported to Miss Twining. "He
and his wife were both away. So I left the book with the maid and
said that you sent it to Mr. Parcell--that was right, wasn't it?"

"Certainly, and I thank you ever so much. I do hope he won't think
me presumptuous," she added.

"Why, how could he--such a beautiful book as yours?"

"I don't know. He might. I lay awake last night thinking about
it."

"You shouldn't have stayed awake a minute," laughed Polly. "I
wouldn't wonder if you'd hear from him this afternoon. Then you'll
stop worrying."

Miss Twining laughed a little, too. "I'm glad I sent it anyway,"
she said. "It has given me something to think of and something to
hope for. The days are pretty monotonous here--oh, it is so nice
to have you come running in! You don't know how much good you do
me!"

"Do I? I guess it's because I'm such a chatterbox! There! I
haven't told you what father and mother said about your book!
Father took it and read and read and read. Finally he looked up
and asked, 'Did you say a lady at the Home wrote these?' Then he
brought his head down, as he does when he is pleased, and
exclaimed, 'They ought to be proud of her!'--just what I said, you
know!"

"I am so glad he likes them!" Miss Twining's delicate face grew
pink with pleasure.

"Oh, he does! He kept reading--it seemed as if he couldn't lay it
down--till somebody called him. And when he got up he said, 'This
is poetry--I should like to see the woman who can write like that.
She must be worth knowing.'"

"Oh, Polly!" Miss Twining's eyes overflowed with happy tears.
"That is the best compliment I ever had in my life--and from such a
man as your father!"

"Mother fairly raves over the poems," went on Polly. "She says she
is coming over here next visiting day to get acquainted with you."

"I hope she will come," smiled the little woman. "I have always
wished I could know her, she looks so sweet as she sits there
beside you in church."

"She is sweet!" nodded Polly. "Nobody knows how sweet till they've
lived with her."

Every day now Miss Twining had a visit from Polly, and every day
she had to tell her that she had not heard from Mr. Parcell.

"He is only waiting till he has read the book through," Polly
assured the disappointed author. "Or maybe he is coming to tell
you how much he thinks of it--you'd like that better, shouldn't
you?"

"I don't mind which way, if only he doesn't scorn it and says
something," was the half-smiling reply.

But as the days and weeks passed, and brought no word from the
recipient of "Hilltop Days," Polly hardly knew how to comfort the
sorrowful giver. She began to wish that she had not urged Miss
Twining to send the book to Mr. Parcell. She even suggested making
some errand to the house and asking, quite casually, of course, how
they liked Miss Twining's book, but the little woman so promptly
declared Polly should do nothing of the sort that the plan was
given up at once.

At the cordial invitation of Dr. Dudley and his wife, Miss Sterling
and Miss Twining spent a delightful afternoon and evening at the
Doctor's home.

"I feel as if I had been in heaven!" Miss Twining told Polly the
next day. "It carried me back to my girlhood, when I was so happy
with my mother and father and my sisters and brother. My sisters
were always stronger than I, and Walter was a regular athlete; but
they went early, and I lived on." She sighed smilingly into
Polly's sympathetic face. "It is queer the way things go. They
were so needed! So was I," she added, "as long as mother and
father lived; but now I don't amount to anything!"

"Oh, you do!" cried Polly. "You write beautiful poetry, and you
don't know how much good your poems are doing people."

"I can't write any more--yes, I can!" she amended. "Miss Sniffen
didn't tell me not to write. I needn't let them pay me any
money--I might order it sent to the missionaries! Why,"--as the
thought flashed upon her,--"I could have them send the money
anywhere, couldn't I? To anybody I knew of that needed it! Oh, I
will! I'll begin this very day! Polly Dudley, you've made life
worth living for me!"

"I haven't done anything!" laughed Polly. "That is your thought,
and it is a lovely, unselfish one!"

"It would never have come to me but for what you said! How can I
ever thank you!"

"Nothing to thank me for!" insisted Polly. "But if you will have
it so, I'll say you may thank me by letting me read your poems."

"Oh, I'd love to! And then you can tell me whether they are right
or not!"

"As if I'd know!" chuckled Polly. "But I'll run away now and let
you go to writing--I do know enough for that!" She took Miss
Twining's face between her soft palms and gave her four kisses, on
cheeks and temples. "Those are for good luck, like a four-leaf
clover," she said gayly. "Good-bye, dear!"

CHAPTER XXV

ALICE TWINING, MARTYR

Early the next morning Polly ran over to the Home. She was eager
to hear how Miss Twining's new plan had worked. As she neared her
friend's door, however, a murmur of voices came from within, and
she kept on to the third floor, making her way straight to the
corner room.

Juanita Sterling met her with a troubled little smile.

"What is it?" she asked quickly, looking beyond to Mrs. Albright
and Miss Crilly. Their excited faces emphasized the other's
doubtful greeting.

"Nothing," spoke up Mrs. Albright,--"only Miss Twining has had a
time with Miss Sniffen."

"What about?"

"Money," answered Miss Sterling wearily. "It is lucky for the rest
of us that we don't have any."

"That same money?" persisted Polly.

"No, dear." Mrs. Albright drew up a chair beside her--"Come sit
down, and I'll tell you about it. I've been telling them, and we
have got a little wrought up over it, that's all."

"I should think anybody'd get wrought up!" put in Miss Crilly. "I
guess it will be the death of poor Miss Twining!"

"No, no, it won't! See how you're scaring Polly!"

The girl glanced beseechingly from one to another.

"What is it? You're keeping something back!"

Mrs. Albright patted the chair invitingly. "Come here! I'm going
to tell you every word I know."

"She was so happy yesterday!" mourned Polly.

"She will be again, dear."

"Looks like it!" sniffed Miss Crilly. "I believe in saying the
truth right out!"

"Katharine Crilly, you just mind your own business!" laughed Mrs.
Albright.

"To begin at the beginning,"--she turned toward Polly,--"I was
knocking at Miss Twining's door yesterday afternoon when she came
up the stairs. So I went in with her and stayed a little while.
She was in fine spirits. She had been to see an old friend of
hers, a member of the Board, and this lady had given her the same
amount of money that Miss Sniffen had--"

"Stolen!" burst out Miss Crilly.

"I'm telling this story!" announced Mrs. Albright placidly. "But
Miss Twining said," she resumed, "that she had promised not to
divulge the name of the lady to any one. So I don't know who it
is. On her way home she had bought a book that she had wanted for
a long time. I told her she'd have to look out or she would get
caught reading it; but she said they always knocked before coming
in, and she should have time to put it on the under shelf of her
table--where the cover partly hides it. I said, 'Well, you look
out now!' and she laughed and promised she would.

"In the evening, as I was sitting alone, I heard talking, and I
went to my door to listen. I thought I knew the voice, and when I
opened the door a crack I was sure whose room it came from. 'Oh,
I'm afraid she's caught her again!' I said to myself, and I waited
till I heard somebody go softly away and down the stairs. Then I
stole over to Miss Twining.

"It was just as I had feared! She was reading all so nice, when
without a mite of warning in sailed Miss Sniffen! Of course she
asked her where she got the book, and she said it was given to her.
But she wouldn't tell the woman's name. Miss Sniffen couldn't get
it out of her! She talked and threatened; but Miss Twining
wouldn't give in. Finally she vowed she'd have it out of her if
she had to flog it out! I could see that Miss Twining was all
wrought up and as nervous as could be--as who wouldn't have been!"

"Oh!" gasped Polly. "It's just awful! Did she whip her?"

Mrs. Albright shook her head and went on.

"Miss Twining said that Amelia Sniffen used to go round in society
with her youngest brother, Walter, and that she was dead in love
with him. Walter fairly hated her, and never paid her the least
attention when he could get out of it; but she would put herself in
his way, as some girls will, until he was married and even
afterwards. And when Alice Twining came here and found that Miss
Sniffen had been appointed superintendent she was almost a mind to
back out; but she hadn't any other place to go, so she stayed, and
she said Miss Sniffen had seemed to take delight in being mean to
her ever since. Well, it's a tight box that Amelia Sniffen has got
herself into this time!" Mrs. Albright sighed.

"Please go on!" whispered Polly.

"Yes, dear. I got Miss Twining to bed, and she quieted down a
little. Finally I left her and crept back to my room. I don't
know what time it was,--but after eleven,--I woke dreaming that I
heard my name called. I jumped up and ran and opened the door.
Everything was still. But I waited, and pretty soon I heard a voice
in the room opposite. I rushed across the hall--the door was
locked! 'Miss Twining! Miss Twining!' I called, two or three
times. At first nobody answered; then Miss Sniffen came over to
the door and said, 'Shut up and go to bed!' I asked her to let me
in, but she wouldn't. I said things that I shouldn't have dared to
say if I'd been cooler; but I'm glad I did! After a while I went
back to my room, and I took out my key and hid it. I was afraid
she'd lock me in. She did mean to, but for once she got fooled. I
lay still as a mouse, hearing her fumble round my door. Finally
she went downstairs. When I was sure she'd gone for good I took my
key and stole across the hall. Sure enough, it unlocked the door,
just as I hoped it would. Oh, that poor child was so glad to see
me! Miss Sniffen had come up prepared to give her a whipping! She
had brought a little riding-whip with her! But the very sight of
it so upset Miss Twining, in her nervous state, that she had a bad
turn with her heart,--you know her heart always bothers her,--and
once she gave a little cry. Of course, Miss Sniffen didn't want
any rumpus, and she just clapped her hand hard over Miss Twining's
mouth. She says she doesn't know whether it took her breath away
suddenly, or what; but she fainted! When she came to, Miss Sniffen
was rubbing her--I guess she was pretty well frightened! There
wasn't anything more said about whipping! After she made up her
mind that Miss Twining wasn't likely to die right off, she and the
riding-whip left."

"Oh, dear, what will become of us!" cried Miss Crilly. "We are not
safe a minute!"

"You shall be!" Polly burst out excitedly. "I'm going to tell Mr.
Randolph everything about it!"

"Polly! Polly!" Miss Sterling laid a quieting hand on her shoulder.

The girl threw it off. Then she caught it to her lips and kissed
it passionately. "I can't bear it! I can't bear it!" she cried.
"To think of you all in such danger! You don't know what she'll
do!"

"I don't think we need have any fear until she gets over her scare
about this," said Mrs. Albright reassuringly. "She seems to me
pretty well cowed down. Her eyes looked actually frightened when I
caught her off guard. You see, she's in a fix! She knows Miss
Twining needs a doctor; but, of course, he would ask first thing
what brought this on, and she couldn't make the patient lie it out."

"I guess lying wouldn't trouble her any," put in Miss Crilly.

"Dear Miss Twining!" murmured Polly plaintively.

"She is a sweet little woman," Miss Crilly sighed.

"How is she this morning?" asked Polly.

"I hardly know what to tell you," hesitated Mrs. Albright. "I
think if Miss Sniffen would keep away she'd be better. Still, when
she got up and tried to dress, she fainted again. Now Miss Sniffen
has told her to stay abed, and she has put a notice on her door
that she is too ill to receive visitors."

"Then can't you go in?" queried Polly anxiously.

"I do," chuckled Mrs. Albright. "They'd have to do more contriving
than they've done yet to shut me out!"

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Polly. "But she ought to have a doctor!
I suppose if she did it would be that Dr. Gunnip--He's no good!
Father says he's little more than a quack and he isn't safe. I
wish father could see her; but he can't unless he is called. It is
too bad! I believe I'll go straight to Mr. Randolph!"

"I don't dare have you," returned Mrs. Albright. "He would, of
course, favor the Home, and if Miss Sniffen should hear of it--"

"Before I say anything I shall make him promise not to tell."

"I'm awfully afraid to let you do it--oh, Polly, don't!" Miss
Crilly was close to tears.

"Had you rather die?" she demanded. "You may be sick yourself and
want a doctor! How are you going to get him?"

"If I'm sick I bet I'll make such a fuss they'll send for a
doctor--and a good one too!" cried Miss Crilly hysterically.

Polly had risen, and Miss Sterling drew her within the circle of
her arm. "When the time comes we'll decide what is best to do,"
said she.

"I should think the time had come now!" the girl fumed. "Poor Miss
Twining! It's just an outrage!"

"Oh, I forgot!" Mrs. Albright bent toward Polly, with lowered
voice. "She gave me something for you, dear."

"Me?" Polly calmed at once.

"Yes. When I was with her in the night I think she feared that her
heart might give out, and she said, 'If anything should happen, I
wish you would give Polly those papers in my portfolio--or you may
give her the whole portfolio. She will understand.'"

"Oh, I know! Yesterday morning she was planning to write some
poems, and those must be the 'papers.' But perhaps she won't want
me to have them now."

"She spoke of it again to-day," nodded Mrs. Albright. "She said
she should somehow feel easier for you to keep them."

"I hope Miss Sniffen won't rummage round and get hold of them
first," returned Polly anxiously.

"I guess she won't find 'em in a hurry!" chuckled Mrs. Albright.
"They're in my room!"

CHAPTER XXVI

MR. PARCELL'S LESSON

Polly carried the portfolio home with her, and later, alone in her
room, read the poems it contained. Tears blurred her eyes as she
read and read again the verses dated the day before. Such a
lilting, joyous song it was! And now--!

"Oh, but she will get well and write again!" Polly said softly.
Then she sighed, thinking of the bright plans that had so suddenly
ceased.

Her thoughts went farther back, to the days of watching and waiting
for the message that had never come, to the sleepless nights of
grieving--

"Oh!" she burst out impetuously, "he's got to know it! Somebody
must tell him how he has made her suffer! Miss Nita would do it
beautifully; but I don't suppose I could hire her to! Maybe father
will."

When this suggestion was made to him, however, Dr. Dudley shook his
head promptly, and his impulsive daughter began at once to form
other plans. "Mother wouldn't," she told herself. "No use asking
her. Dear! dear! if there were only somebody besides me! Perhaps
I can coax Miss Nita--"

A telephone call broke in upon her musings, and the disturbing
thoughts were exchanged for a ride and a luncheon with Patricia
Illingworth. On her way home in the afternoon, the matter came up
again.

"I may as well go now and have it over with," she decided suddenly,
and she turned into a street which led to the home of the Reverend
Norman Parcell.

Yes, he was in and alone, the maid said, and Polly was shown
directly to the study.

"How do you do, Miss Polly!" The minister grasped her hand
cordially. "This is a pleasant surprise." He drew forward an easy
chair and saw her comfortably seated.

"Have you heard that Miss Twining is ill?" Polly began.

"Miss Twining?" he repeated interrogatively. "M-m--no, I had not
heard. Is she an especial friend of yours, some one I ought to
know?" He smiled apologetically. "I find it difficult always to
place people on the instant."

His apology might not have been attended by a smile if Polly's
indignant thought had been vocal. When she spoke, her voice was
tense.

"Yes, Mr. Parcell, she is a very dear friend." Her lip quivered,
and she shook herself mentally; she was not going to break down at
this juncture. She went quickly on, ahead of the phrase of sympathy
on its way to the minister's lips. "She lives at the June Holiday
Home."

"Oh, yes! I remember! Her illness is not serious, I hope."

"I am afraid so," returned Polly, passing quickly toward what she
had come to talk about. "I don't suppose you know what a beautiful
woman she is." She looked straight into his eyes, and waited.

"No," he answered slowly, a suggestion of doubt in his tone, "I
presume not. I have seen her only occasionally."

"She told me that you called upon her every year or two." Polly
hesitated. "You can judge something by her poems. You received
the book of poems she sent you?"

"Oh, yes!" he brightened. "I have the book."

"How do you like it, Mr. Parcell? Don't you think the poems
wonderful?" Polly was sitting very straight in the cushioned
chair, her brown eyes fixed keenly on the minister's face.

"Why,"--he moved a little uneasily--"I really--don't know--" He
threw back his head with a little smile. "To be frank, Miss Polly,
I haven't read them."

Something flashed into the young face opposite that startled the
man.

"Do you mean, Mr. Parcell," Polly said slowly, "that you have not
read the book at all?" Her emphasis made her thought clear, and
his cheeks reddened.

"I shall have to own up to my neglect," he replied. "You know I am
a very busy man, Miss Polly."

"You needn't bother with the 'Miss,'" she answered; "nobody does.
Then, that is why you haven't said 'thank you'--you don't feel
'thank you'!"

"Oh, my dear Polly! I am very grateful to Miss Twining, I assure
you, and I realize that I should have sent her a note of thanks;
but--in fact, I don't recollect just how it was--I presume I was
waiting until I had read the book, and--I may as well confess
it!--I was somewhat afraid to read it."

"Afraid?" Polly looked puzzled.

"Such things are apt to be dreary reading," he smiled. "I am
rather a crank as regards poetry."

The flash came again into Polly's face. "Oh!" she cried, fine scorn
in her voice, "you thought the poems weren't good!"

He found himself nodding mechanically.

"Where is the book?" she demanded, glancing about the room.

"I--really don't know where I did leave it--" He scanned his cases
with a troubled frown.

Tears sprang to the girl's eyes. She seemed to see Alice Twining's
gentle, appealing face, as it had looked when she said, "I hope he
doesn't think I am presumptuous in sending it." She dashed away
the drops, and went on glancing along the rows of books. The
minister had risen, but Polly darted ahead of him and pounced upon
a small volume.

"Here it is!" She touched it caressingly, as if to make up for
recent neglect.

"Your eyes are quicker than mine," said Mr. Parcell, taking it from
her hand.

"Read it!" she said, and went back to her chair,

The minister obeyed meekly. Polly's eyes did not leave him.

He had opened the book at random, and with deepened color and a
disturbed countenance had done as he was bidden. Surprise,
pleasure, astonishment, delight,--all these the watcher saw in the
face above the pages.

Five minutes went by, ten, twenty; still the Reverend Norman
Parcell read on! Polly, mouse-quiet, divided her softening gaze
between the clergyman and the clock. The pointers had crept almost
to four when the telephone called. The reader answered. Then he
walked slowly back from the instrument and picked up the book.

"Miss Twining must be a remarkable woman," he began, "to write such
poetry as this--for it is poetry!"

"She is remarkable," replied Polly quietly. "She is finer even
than her poems."

The minister nodded acquiescently. "This 'Peter the Great,'" he
went on, running over the leaves, "is a marvelous thing!"

"Isn't it! If you could have told her that"--Polly's tone was
gentle--"it would have spared her a lot of suffering."

"Has she so poor an opinion of her work?

"Oh, not that exactly; but"--she smiled sadly--"you have never said
'thank you', you know!"

The lines on his face deepened. "I have been unpardonably rude,
and have done Miss Twining an injustice besides--I am sorry, very
sorry!"

"She had had pretty hard experiences in giving away her books, but
I persuaded her to send one to you, for I knew you liked poetry and
I thought you would appreciate it. I was sorry afterwards that I
did. It only brought her more disappointment. She cried and cried
because she did not hear from you. I'm afraid I ought not to tell
you this--she wouldn't let me if she knew. But I thought if you
could just write her a little note--she isn't allowed to see
anybody--it might do her good and help her to get well."

"I certainly will, my dear! I shall be glad to do so!"

"You see," Polly went on, "she fears that perhaps you scorn her
book and consider her presuming to send it to you--and that is what
hurts. She has lain awake nights and grieved so over it, I could
have cried for her!" Polly was near crying now.

"The worst of such mistakes," the man said sorrowfully, "is that we
cannot go back and blot out the tears and the suffering and make
things as they might have been. If we only could!"

"A note from you will make her very happy," Polly smiled.

"She shall have it at once," the minister promised; adding, "I am
glad she is in so beautiful a Home."

Polly shook her head promptly. "No, Mr. Parcell, it is not a
beautiful Home, it is a prison--a horrible prison!"

"Why, my dear! I do not understand--"

"I don't want you to understand!" Polly cried hurriedly. "I ought
not to have said that! Only it came out! You will know, Mr.
Parcell, before long--people shall know! I won't have--oh, I
mustn't say any more! Don't tell a word of this, Mr. Parcell.
Promise me you won't!"

"My dear child,"--the man gazed at her as if he doubted her
sanity,--"tell me what the trouble is! Perhaps I shall be able to
help matters."

"Oh, no, you can't! It must work out! I am going to see Mr.
Randolph as soon as--I can. But please promise me not to say a
word about it to anybody!"

"I shall certainly repeat nothing that you have told me. Indeed,
there is little I could say; I do not understand it at all. I
supposed the June Holiday Home was a model in every respect."

Polly shook her head sadly.

"I am there every day, Mr. Parcell, and I know! The ladies are
lovely--most of them. They can't say a word, or they'd be turned
out, and I've kept still too long! But I mustn't tell you any
more." Polly drew a long breath. "I must go now, Mr. Parcell. I
am so glad you like Miss Twining's poems! And you'll forgive me,
won't you, for all I have said?"

"There is nothing to forgive, my dear."

"I don't know, maybe I've said too much; but I knew you must have
lots of presents, and I kept thinking of those people that perhaps
you wouldn't thank, and I felt somebody must tell you, and there
wasn't anybody else to do it. Then, as I said, I hoped you would
like Miss Twining's poems well enough to tell her so. And I just
had to come!"

"Polly, I am glad you came!" An unmistakable break in the
minister's voice turned Polly's eyes away. "I have been
inexcusably thoughtless, not only this time but many a time before.
I am grateful that I still have the opportunity to give my thanks
to Miss Twining."

"And you can say 'thank you' to the next one!" cried Polly eagerly.

"Yes, I shall always remember--you may be sure of that. I shall
not forget my lesson!"

They had reached the door, and Polly shook hands with him and said
good-bye.

She went straight to Miss Sterling.

"Well, it's done!" she said soberly, taking her favorite seat.

"What is done?"

"My talk with Mr. Parcell"

"Did _you_ go?"

"Yes, I had to. Father wouldn't."

"What did you say? How did he take it? Tell me!"

"Oh, he took it all right! I guess he didn't really like it at
first. I was pretty hard on him, I suppose. But he needed it! I
didn't go there to give him sugar-plums!"

"Polly!"

"Well, I didn't! It had got to be said, and I thought I might as
well say it plain at the start!"

"Oh, Polly! Polly!" Miss Sterling chuckled softly.

"Why, Miss Nita, you're laughing!" Polly's tone was reproachful.
"There isn't anything to laugh at. I almost cried, and so did he!"

"Dear, forgive me! But I couldn't help seeing the funny side."

"There isn't any funny side!"

"Go on! I won't offend again."

"There is not much to tell. Oh, I do wish Miss Twining could have
heard him praise her poems--after he had read them! Do you know,
Miss Nita, he hadn't even looked in the book! He thought it was
trash--not worth his while! Think of it--those lovely poems! But
I found the book for him--He didn't even remember where he'd put
it!--and I told him to read it, and he did!"

"Polly! you mean you asked him!"

"I guess I told him all right--I was mad just about then. And he
read steady, by the clock, 'most twenty-five minutes! I don't know
as he'd have stopped by now if the telephone hadn't rung."

"And he liked them?"

"Oh, he thinks they're beautiful! He was awfully sorry he hadn't
thanked her--I know he was! But he is going to write her a note,
and I told him he could say 'thank you' to the next one, and he
said he should."

Juanita Sterling disgraced herself the second time. She dropped
back in her chair with a stifled laugh.

"Miss Nita!" began Polly plaintively.

"I know, dear! But to think of your saying such things to that
dignified man!" She chuckled again.

"Don't, Miss Nita! It hurts. His dignity is all on the outside, I
guess. Anyway, it went off before I left."

"Oh, Polly!"

"I don't see a thing to laugh at. It was as solemn as--as a sermon."

"I rather think it was a sermon--to him!"

"Perhaps. Anyway, I'm glad I went."

"I wonder that your father and mother allowed you to go."

Polly smiled, a tiny, flushed smile. "They don't know it."

"Why, Polly Dudley!"

"Well, it had to be done, and there was nobody but me to do it. I
didn't dare say anything beforehand, for fear they wouldn't let me.
Now I'm going home, to tell them all about it."

Miss Sterling smiled. "You'll do, Polly! When I have a hard
errand on hand, I'll commit it to you."

CHAPTER XXVII

"I LOVE YOU, DAVID!"

Polly happened to answer the doorbell when David rang.

"Hallo, David!" she said brightly.

His face was troubled.

"Is your father at home?"

"Why, yes,--that is, he is in the hospital somewhere. Who is sick?"

"Aunt Juliet, and she won't have anybody but Dr. Dudley. We've
been trying to get him by telephone, and finally they thought I'd
better come up. Otto brought me, and he'll take the Doctor back."

"Oh, the hospital telephones are out of commission, so they're
using ours about all the time. Sit down, and I'll find him."

From ward to ward went Polly, following the Doctor. She caught him
at last on the upper floor, and he drove off with Colonel Gresham's
man.

"Stay a while, can't you, David?" invited Polly. "You'll have to
walk home anyway, and there's no need of your hurrying."

"They may want me," he hesitated, fingering his cap.

"No, they won't! There are plenty to take care of Mrs. Gresham. I
haven't seen you in an age."

David's face reddened. "I've--been pretty busy," he faltered in
excuse.

Polly ignored his embarrassment. "I am sorry for Mrs. Gresham.
She's not very sick, is she?"

"I'm afraid she is. She was in terrible pain when I left home."

"I guess father'll fix her up all right," said Polly comfortably.

David smiled. Polly's faith in her father was a standing joke
among her friends.

"Oh, you may laugh!" she cried. "It doesn't disturb me a mite. He
pulled you out of a tight place once."

"Yes, he did," agreed the boy. "I presume I have about as much
faith in him as you have."

They talked for a while in commonplaces. David seemed interested
in nothing. He grew restless and once or twice said something
about going home. Still he stayed. Finally he got up. Then
suddenly he sat down and with a visible effort said huskily, "I
suppose you think I'm a brute!"

"Oh, no, David!" returned Polly quietly; "but I think you're a
little bit foolish."

His cheeks flushed angrily. "Oh, foolish, is it! Pray, what have
I done?"

"M--m, not so very much, except to ignore me, when we've always
been such good friends."

"It's your own fault!" David's temper was getting the mastery.
"Going round with another boy and not paying me any attention at
all!"

"Don't let's quarrel, David! I suppose you mean Doodles, and it
does seem so silly for you to be jealous of that little boy!"

"You played all his accompaniments, and you didn't play for me,"
said David in an aggrieved tone.

"He asked me, and you didn't. You know he hasn't had a piano very
long and can't play as you can. But I would have gladly played for
you if I had known you wanted me."

The boy said nothing, and Polly resumed.

"You act as if I belonged to you and mustn't look at another boy."

"You do belong to me!" he declared.

"Since when?" laughed Polly.

"Since the first day I saw you," replied David doggedly.

"Oh!" she smiled. "I never knew it! But I don't make a fuss
because you call on Patricia or go round with Leonora."

"Of course you don't! You wouldn't mind if I went with forty
girls! You don't care a rap for me." His face was gloomy.

"Oh, David! what do you want me to do?--hang round you all the time
and say, 'David, I love you! David, it's true! David, I'll love you
all my life through'?"

"Go on!" he said fiercely, "make all the fun you like! It is fun
to you, but with me it's life or death!"

"David!"

"You know I never cared for any other girl! You know you are my
world! And yet you deliberately make fun of me!"

Polly's dimples vanished. "No, David, I am not making fun of you,
but only of your foolishness--"

"Oh, yes, I suppose it's foolish for me to love you as I do when
you don't care a straw--"

"Wait! wait!" she interrupted. "I don't mean that at all, and you
know it! But for a great, tall fellow like you to be so
unreasonably jealous of a little ten-year-old does seem absurd. I
love Doodles, of course; everybody does. But, David, you ought to
know that's all there is to it."

"He says he's going to marry you!"

Polly laughed outright. "I never heard anything about it before,
so I guess I wouldn't let it worry me, David." She chuckled.
"Whatever made him say that! He's a funny little chap!"

"Will you marry me?" David asked abruptly.

Polly's dimples came and went. "Do you mean right off?" she
queried soberly. "I rather want to go to school a little longer."

"There you are again!" he grumbled. "You can't take anything in
earnest! I may as well go home!"

"But, David, the idea of asking me such a question! And I only
thirteen! Can't you see how silly it is?"

"No, I can't! It's the only way to make sure of you! Some other
fellow will get ahead of me!"

"No other fellow has yet, David." Polly's voice was sweet and
serious.

"Do you mean that," he asked, "honestly?"

"Of course. You know I have always liked you better than any other
boy!"

"You like me, but you love Doodles," he mused.

Polly laughed softly. "Oh, dear!" she sighed, "will nothing
satisfy you? Well, then,"--she was blushing almost to tears,--"I
love you, David! I--I think it's mean for you to make me say
it!--I--love you better than any other boy I ever saw!" She flung
the last words at him with a show of vexation that David could not
withstand.

He grinned.

"And now--you laugh at me!" She sprang up and started past him;
but he caught her in his arms.

"Polly! Polly! Dear Polly!" he said tenderly. "Forgive me! I am
a pig! But to tell me I was mean and that you loved me--all in the
same breath! Now say I'm contemptible--or anything! I'll agree to
it!"

"Well, you ought to--you are!" she half sobbed, half laughed. Her
face was hidden on his shoulder.

Suddenly she threw up her head and started back. "Let me go!" she
whispered. "It is ridiculous to stand here like this." She pulled
away from him and retreated to her chair.

"I don't see why we can't be engaged," said David. "Promise that
you'll marry me, Polly!"

"Oh!" she cried, "I thirteen, and you just fifteen! What a pair of
ninnies we should be! David, if you want to keep me, you must let
me go free! I shall be sixteen when I'm through high school, and
there'll be four years of college. Then--perhaps--! Time enough
for that sort of thing after we're twenty!"

David looked at her with smiling eyes, yet he said, "I'm afraid I
shan't feel very sure of you."

"You're a funny David!" laughed Polly. "I say, let's forget all
this, and just be a boy and girl having a good time!"

"Forget that we love each other, Polly?"

"No, no! but take that for granted, and let it drop!"

"I guess you'll have to teach me how," David laughed.

"All right! Come sing me that song I saw you buying at the music
store the other day!"

When David left the house, he stopped on the threshold to finish
what he was saying. Then, suddenly, he caught Polly's hands,
pressed a kiss squarely on her lips, and sped away.

"David Collins!" she cried.

But David was already down the steps. He looked back with a
radiant bow.

CHAPTER XXVIII

A VISIT WITH MRS. TENNEY

The letter-carrier came early, and Polly ran over to the Home in
hopes to be first at the pile of mail on the hall table. She
wanted to carry Mr. Parcell's note upstairs herself.

There it was, right on top, "Miss Alice Ely Twining"! Polly caught
up the envelope with a glad breath. Then she went hastily through
the rest and found a letter for Miss Sterling and one for Miss
Crilly.

Mrs. Albright was in the corner room.

"I will deliver these now," she said, "before it is time for Miss
Sniffen."

"I'm afraid she'll catch you in there some day," Polly told her
with a troubled little nod. "What if she should!"

Mrs. Albright laughed softly. "When I hear anybody coming I slip
into the closet--I have done that several times already! I do hope
this letter will do Miss Twining good. It looks like a man's
handwriting."

Juanita Sterling looked doubtfully at the address on her own
envelope, then she ran a paper-cutter under the flap.

"An invitation from Mrs. Dick for us all to spend to-day with her!"
she announced disinterestedly.

"Oh, let's go!" cried Polly.

"Shall we walk or fly?" The tone was not encouraging.

"Ride," answered Polly promptly.

"Perhaps you can't get the cars."

"Perhaps I can!" was the retort. "You don't want to go--that's
what!"

"I am not hankering for it," smiled Miss Sterling dubiously.

"It will do you good," Polly decided. "The more you get out of
this atmosphere, the better. I'll run home and do some
telephoning! Will you ask the others, Miss Nita? Or wait! We
don't know yet how many can go."

Polly was off in a whirl, and for the next half-hour bells rang,
wires snapped and buzzed, feet flew, and tongues were busy. Then
Polly returned to say that they could have three cars which would
seat fourteen besides the drivers.

Miss Crilly was there and heard the news with delight.

"I'll run round and ask 'em! Shall I?"

"Yes, please," answered Polly. "Take as many of the ladies as
would like to go. We children can stay at home if there isn't room.

"Count me out, for one," said Miss Sterling quickly.

"No, count her in!" ordered Polly.

Miss Crilly laughed. "Sure!" she agreed. "I'll find out who wants
to go. You wait, Polly. 'T won't take long."

She was as quick as her promise, but her face was doleful.

"Every blessed one is crazy to go, except Mrs. Crump and Mrs. Post
and Miss Leatherland. What can we do!"

Polly counted up. "That makes twelve of you, so Patricia and
Leonora can go. David and I will stay home."

"You'll do no such thing!" Miss Sterling's tone was firm. "I'll
send Polly in my stead."

"Polly won't go!" she laughed. "You're the one that received the
invitation, and the idea of your staying behind! David is coming
up, anyway, and we're to play duets if we can't go; so we'll be all
right."

Miss Sterling gave Polly a quick glance of surprise, and Polly
threw back a smile, just as Mrs. Albright appeared.

"What time are we going?" she asked. "I have my dress to mend."

"Our car won't be at liberty this forenoon," answered Polly.
"Father needs it. But we can start right after luncheon. Will one
o'clock do?"

The hour was agreed upon, and Mrs. Albright turned to the door.
Then she came back.

"I almost forgot my message for you, Polly! The prospect of a ride
makes me good for nothing. That note for Miss Twining was from her
minister, Mr. Parcell. It seems, awhile ago, she sent him a book
of her own poems, and this was to acknowledge it and beg pardon for
his tardiness. It is a beautiful note! She let me read it. He
praises her poetry sky-high--he doesn't say too much, you know, but
just enough. And you ought to see her--she is so pleased! She
wanted me to tell you that she had it. When she first read it she
cried, and I didn't know but it would upset her; but I guess it
hasn't. He says he is coming to call on her as soon as she is able
to receive visitors. She can't imagine who told him she was sick;
but it isn't strange he heard of it--such news flies."

Polly's face was red with guilty blushes; but Mrs. Albright took no
heed. She and Miss Crilly hurried away.

"I hope she won't ever find out my part in it," sighed Polly. "But
I can't help being glad I went, even if father did scold!"

"I was afraid he would."

"Yes," nodded Polly, with a little regretful scowl.

"But tell me about David!" broke out Miss Sterling eagerly. "Is it
made up?"

Polly laughed happily. "No more quarrels forever! Mrs. Gresham
was sick, and David came up for father; so I asked him to stay--and
we had it out! What do you think that boy wanted? To be
engaged--now!"

"Mercy! And you only thirteen!"

"I talked him out of it in a hurry, and I guess he sees it as I do.
He's the dearest boy--and the foolishest!"

"Yes, David is a dear boy, the most agreeable of his age I ever
knew! He is so thoughtful and winsome."

"That would please David mightily. I shall have to tell him. He
hasn't much self-esteem--it will do him good. I wonder why he
likes me better than other girls," mused Polly. "There's
Patricia--ever so much prettier than I am, and Leonora--right in
the house--sweet as can be and delighted with his least attention.
But no, he likes me best--I--don't--see--why!" She slowly nodded
out the words.

Juanita Sterling laughed softly. "Love goes where it is sent, you
know. As for me, I don't wonder at all!"

"Oh, well, you are partial!" said Polly with a little blush. "But
I can't understand it with him."

"For the same reason that you prefer him to the other boys. I'm
glad you have made up."

"I am! I hate fusses! Dear me! I must go back and telephone."

She ran over again shortly before the appointed time.

"David and I are going, after all!" she cried. "At the last minute
Mrs. Illingworth had to change her plans for the afternoon, so we
can have her other car. Isn't that fine! Will you sit with us? I
told David what you said, and he is ready to eat you up!"

The former Mrs. Dick welcomed her friends with cordial hands and
tongue.

"I had almost despaired of you," she told Miss Sterling and Polly,
as she walked with them into the house. "And I'm glad so many
could come. I didn't know how it would be. Awfully sad about Miss
Twining, isn't it? I always liked Miss Twining."

"Isn't she lovable?" put in Polly.

"Yes, very.--Take seats, all of you. We were just speaking of Miss
Twining--I'm so sorry for her! But if she is losing her mind,
perhaps it will be providential for her to go soon."

"'Losing her mind'!" exclaimed Miss Crilly. "Who made up that
whopper?"

"Why, isn't she? One of the Board told me--Mrs. Brintnall. I met
her in town the other day. I think it came straight from Miss
Sniffen. She said she was a great care, now that she has heart
disease, and that she is liable to drop away any time. Mrs.
Brintnall spoke of her mind's failing as if everybody knew it--that
a good many days she would seem as bright as ever, and then again
she didn't know much of anything and would be so obstinate and ugly
that she'd have to be punished just like a child! Isn't that
awful! But you think it isn't true!"

"Think! I know it isn't true! not a single word of it!" Polly was
too excited to heed Miss Sterling's warning pinch.

"I never saw anything out of the way in her," attested Miss
Mullaly. "She has always appeared to me like a very cultured
woman."

"She is a perfect lady," asserted Mrs. Winslow Teed.

"Yes, she is!" agreed Miss Castlevaine. "I guess Miss Sniffen's
the one that's losing her mind--huh!"

"Is she as bad as ever?" queried Mrs. Tenney anxiously.

"Worse!" declared Miss Major.

"We don't have pie or pudding now--ever!" put in Miss Crilly
eagerly. "And we can't talk at table, only just to ask for things!"

"Oh, my!" cried Mrs. Tenney. "What does possess her!"

"Seven devils, I guess!" laughed Miss Crilly.

"Better put it seven hundred and seven!" flashed Polly.

They laughed, and the talk went on. Miss Sterling watched the
hostess. She seemed years older than bright, cheery Mrs. Dick of
the Home. Sometimes she let the talk pass her by, or she only
flung in a bitter little speech. In the course of the afternoon,
when the guests had wandered away from the dreary "front room" to
the barn, the hennery, the garden, the orchard, Mrs. Tenney
contrived to gather together her special cronies, Mrs. Albright,
Miss Crilly, Miss Sterling, and Polly.

"Come inside! I want to talk with you," she told them.

"Say," she began, in lowered voice, "do you s'pose there's any
chance in Miss Sniffen's taking me back?"

Astonishment was plain on the faces before her.

"Oh, I s'pose you think that's queer!" She laughed nervously. "But
I just can't live here any longer! I was the biggest fool to marry
that man! I thought I was going to have a good home and plenty to
eat and to wear. We do have enough to eat--and good enough, but,
my! he hasn't bought me anything except one gingham apron since I
came, and he growled over that! He's the limit for stinginess!
When I was at the Home I used to say I'd rather live in an old
kitchen if 't was mine, and now I've got the old kitchen I'd
exchange back again in a jiffy! Do you s'pose she'd take me!"

"Do you mean to--" hesitated Mrs. Albright.

"Yes, I mean to run away from the old man! I know you're shocked;
but you haven't lived with Serono Tenney! He'll freeze me out next
winter, sure as fate! I'll have to shut up the house, except the
kitchen, and stay there, where I can't see even a team pass, with
hardly a neighbor in sight. It drives me wild! To think I was
such a fool! If he were a poor man, I could stand it; but he's got
money enough."

"Why don't you make it fly, then?" broke in Miss Crilly. "Bet you
I would!"

"No, you wouldn't! He had to go with me to pick out the apron, and
he fretted like sixty because I would buy one made of decent cloth!
I was all in just over that!"

"We s'posed he was a nice, pleasant man--it's too bad!" Miss
Crilly was the only one who found words for reply.

"I don't have anything to read," went on the disappointed woman.
"He doesn't want to know anything. He does take a daily newspaper,
but that's all. There was a Bible in the house when I came, and
two or three schoolbooks--pretty place to live in!"

"Get a divorce!" advised Miss Crilly.

"I could easy! He'd never fight it--hasn't got life enough. But
where could I go?"

"I'm afraid you couldn't do anything with Miss Sniffen," said Mrs.
Albright sadly.

"What do you say, Polly?" smiled Mrs. Tenney. "You look as if you
had your advice all ready."

"No," answered Polly sorrowfully. "Only you've promised, and it
doesn't seem as if you ought to break your promise--just because
you don't like it here as well as you thought you would. It isn't
that I'm not sorry, Mrs. Dick--I mean, Mrs. Tenney--" Polly hurried
to explain. "I'm so sorry I could cry! But it doesn't seem
right--to me--perhaps it would be, perhaps I don't know." Polly
lifted appealing eyes to the woman's flushed face.

"I guess you see things clearer than I do, child! We'll put it to
vote. Mrs. Albright, what do you think?"

"I hardly know, and, anyway, I can't decide it for you. I suppose
I should incline to Polly's opinion."

"Miss Sterling? You hold the controlling vote, so be careful!"
Mrs. Tenney laughed uncertainly.

"It is a hard question, Mrs. Dick. I can hardly imagine a worse
hell than having to live with such a man as you picture him, and
yet--"

"I know! It's three against two! Good-bye, June Holiday Home,
with your steam heat and Miss Sniffen! We must adjourn--there's
Mrs. Grace and Mrs. Winslow Teed!"

For the ride home Polly sat between Miss Crilly and David in Dr.
Dudley's car.

"Isn't that a great bluff of Miss Sniffen's?" Miss Crilly's tone
was too confidential even for Polly's quick ears. The repeated
question carried as far as David--Polly knew from his sudden change
of expression. But Miss Crilly talked on. "Seemed as if I must
tell! I never was so stirred up in my life! It's the last thing I
should thought of!"

Polly gave her a cautionary smile.

"O-o-h!" Miss Crilly cast a frightened glance in David's direction.

"A motor-car isn't the best place for talking secrets," he laughed.
"But I won't peep!"

"I haven't let any cat out!" retorted Miss Crilly.

She and David tossed merry sallies back and forth; but Polly was
uncomfortable. David would think she did not trust him. She
wished Miss Crilly had not referred to the matter.

"Come on down to dinner!" invited David, after they had said
good-bye to Miss Sterling and Miss Crilly.

"Oh, I'd love to!" beamed Polly. "I'll run in and ask mother."

He hailed his uncle's chauffeur, and bade him wait.

In a moment she was back and they stepped into Colonel Gresham's
car.

"I am going to share my secret with you," David smiled, glancing
doubtfully at the man ahead.

"Otto," he said tentatively, without raising his voice above the
tone he had used for Polly. The man did not stir. "Otto," a
little louder. No answer.

He nodded complacently. "I wanted to make sure of him," he smiled.
"Now I'll go on."

"The other isn't my secret, David, or I'd tell you!" Polly hastened
to explain.

"That's all right!" laughed David. "Perhaps this chimes in with
yours, and perhaps it doesn't. Last night I went up to Billy
Marble's, and when I was along by Ford Street I noticed a man and a
woman a little distance ahead. I was walking pretty fast, and as I
came up behind them and was wondering which way I'd go by,--you
know the sidewalk is narrow there,--a light struck across the
woman's face, and I saw it was Mrs. Nobbs. I didn't know the man.
Has she relatives here?"

"A brother, I think, a bachelor brother."

"Tall, is he?"

"Yes."

"This man was. Probably it was he. I had on my sneaks--that's why
they didn't hear me. I was pretty near, when I caught something
that excited my curiosity. I heard the words distinctly,--'I
wouldn't be in her shoes for all the money she has made out of June
Holiday Home!'--'And that's no small sum, I'll warrant!' the man
replied.--'Small!' she exclaimed; 'she's robbing them every day of
her life! But she's in a terrible fix now, and I guess she knows
it! I can't be thankful enough that for once she didn't make a
cat's-paw of me! I said, 'When there's any flogging to be done,
you will do it!' She was mad, and I half expected her to discharge
me on the spot, but I know too much for her to dare to go too far.
I've done piles of dirty work for Amelia Sniffen!'--'Better cut it
out,' said the man.--'Can't, as long as I stay,' she replied.
'That's what I'm there for! But I've got so nervous since this
happened, I don't know what to do! I start every time I see one of
the Board come into the house. What if they should find out! You
don't suppose they could hold me for--anything, do you? I'd give a
farm to know how much Mrs. Albright has heard, but I'm afraid to
quiz her. She's the one that rooms across the hall and tried to
get in when they were having the time--she's got more grit than the
others. I don't think Miss Twining would dare tell, and I don't
see how she could--she is locked in all the time, ostensibly to
keep her from visitors! I thought if Mrs. Albright did find out
she'd go right to the Board; but there hasn't been a word yet.
That woman needs a doctor if ever anybody did. Lucky for us that
she didn't die when--'And that's all I heard. They stopped before
they came to the Home entrance, and I was afraid of being caught,
so I cut across the avenue into the shadows. I was amazed!" He
drew a long breath. "But I fancy it isn't much news to you."

"Some of it is," Polly replied. "I never thought of Miss Sniffen's
being dishonest with money. I don't see how she can--"

"Easy enough in a place like that. But this other is pretty bad
business. If Miss Twining should happen to die without any doctor,
and the authorities should find out that Miss Sniffen beat--"

"No, she didn't!" interrupted Polly. "I suppose she meant to, but
Miss Twining fainted and that put a stop to it. I'd tell you
everything, David, only Miss Nita and Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly
and I agreed not to say a word to anybody."

"Never mind! I can guess enough. Something should be done about
it, Polly. If Miss Twining needs a doctor, she ought to have one
immediately."

"I know it!" Her voice was troubled. "I wanted to tell Mr.
Randolph; but they won't let me, for fear he'll take the Home's
part, or something, and get them into trouble. I don't know what
to do!"

The car stopped at the Gresham door, and Polly forgot disagreeable
things in the pleasure of Mrs. Collins's cordial welcome.

CHAPTER XXIX

DISAPPOINTMENT

Miss Twining was worse. Dr. Gunnip had been called late in the
afternoon. It was now nearly six o'clock, and the third-floor
corner room was discussing the situation.

"I guess you'd better see Mr. Randolph to-morrow," Mrs. Albright
was saying.

"Why not make it this evening?" returned Polly. "She may not live
till morning!" Tears were in her voice.

"No, the Doctor didn't think she'd give out right away; he said she
might last a good while."

"Little he knows about it!" scorned Polly.

"Well, he said it right up and down!" put in Miss Crilly.

"It is too bad!" Polly drew a long, sighing breath. "I don't
believe she'd have had any heart trouble at all, if Miss Sniffen
hadn't made this fuss!"

"The excitement has no doubt aggravated it," commented Mrs.
Albright.

"Is that all Dr. Gunnip said, that she had heart disease?" queried
Polly.

"He didn't stay long enough to say anything!" sputtered Miss
Crilly. "He walked in and walked out--I wish I'd timed him!"

"You'd have had to look in a hurry," remarked Mrs. Albright quietly.

"Guess he's like a doctor my mother used to tell about," observed
Miss Crilly. "You had to catch hold of his coat-tails if you
wanted to ask him a question. And he never would have
consultation, no matter how sick anybody was. He said, one could
play on a fiddle better than two."

A quick little smile ran round the group; but nobody laughed. The
present question was too serious.

"Miss Twining didn't tell me much," resumed Mrs. Albright. "The
Doctor had just gone, and I was in a fidget for fear Miss Sniffen
would come back. But I could see that he had upset her completely.
I don't think, from what she did say, that he gave her any
particulars. He said she had got to be extremely careful. She
feels as if it was about over with her."

"I wish father could see her," fretted Polly. "He wouldn't
frighten her so, even if he did have to tell her that her heart was
in bad shape! I hate Dr. Gunnip worse than ever! Did he leave her
any medicine?"

"Oh, yes! I saw two little piles of tablets on the table."

"Likely as not they'll make her worse!" Polly got up. "I'm going
to see Mr. Randolph to-night!" she announced determinedly.

"No, no!" objected Mrs. Albright. "Wait until morning! It would
only excite her more to have another doctor now. She'd think she
was in a worse condition than she is."

"I'd wait if I were you," agreed Miss Sterling. "I think it will
be better all round."

"Well," yielded Polly reluctantly, and sat down again.

"What you going to tell him, anyway?" questioned Miss Crilly a bit
anxiously.

"Why--everything!" Polly's hands flew apart with expressive
gesture.

"I'm afraid he won't want to interfere."

"He isn't a fool!" retorted Polly. "And when I've told him all I'm
going to tell him, if he doesn't interfere--if he isn't aching to
interfere--he will be one!"

Miss Crilly giggled. "You're the greatest!" she said admiringly.

The next morning Polly awoke with the vague consciousness that
something of importance was at hand. Then she remembered. To-day
she was to see Mr. Randolph!

During breakfast the matter was discussed.

"You seem suddenly to have become a woman of affairs," playfully
remarked Dr. Dudley.

"There isn't anybody else to do things," said Polly plaintively.
"Miss Crilly wouldn't amount to anything if she went. She'd get
scared first thing and make a regular fizzle of it. Mrs. Albright
has pluck enough in some ways; but she couldn't be hired to see Mr.
Randolph. Of course, Miss Nita'd do it all right; but she just
won't! And somebody must!"

"It is full time," the Doctor agreed; "but it looks a big load for
your shoulders."

"Oh, I don't mind this!" Polly said brightly. "It was hard, going
to Mr. Parcell's; but this is--different, you know."

"Decidedly different."

Polly glanced up from under her eyelashes. She knew what he
thought of her visit to the minister's, and now she sighed a little
in remembrance of his fatherly comments.

"Of course, Mr. Randolph will be surprised--shocked, I guess; but
he isn't to blame, and he's a lovely man to talk to. I think I'm
going to enjoy it."

Mrs. Dudley caught the twinkle in her husband's eyes, and laughed.

"What have I said out of the way now?" Polly laid down her fork.

"Nothing," her father answered gravely.

"I don't see why mother was laughing, then." She glanced from one
to the other.

They sipped their coffee in silence, but the girl detected a
lingering bit of a smile on her mother's lips.

As soon as she had put her room in trim for the day, Polly ran over
to the Home for a final talk with Miss Sterling before making her
appointment with Mr. Randolph.

She found both Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly in the corner room. A
little excitement was in the air.

"Have you heard?" asked Miss Crilly.

Polly's eyes went frightened.

"No--what?" she said weakly.

"Don't be scared, child! It is nothing!" Mrs. Albright put an arm
around her. "It is only that Mr. Randolph is sick."

"O-o-h!" mourned Polly.

"It's in the morning paper," added Miss Crilly. "It says,
'seriously ill.'"

"Yet he may not be," interposed Miss Sterling. "The papers seldom
get it right."

"It is too bad!" Polly sat down. "Our paper was late," she
explained, "and father didn't have time to read it,--he was called
off from breakfast,--and I was thinking so much about going that I
forgot the paper. Is that all it says?"

"Yes. It doesn't tell what the matter is."

"Now we shall have to wait!" said Polly dismally. "How is Miss
Twining?"

"A little brighter, I think," answered Mrs. Albright.

"Dear me! I hope Mr. Randolph won't die!" Miss Crilly's face was
despairing. "There isn't another one we'd dare tell!"

"No," agreed Polly, "he's the only man we can trust. We can't do a
single thing till he gets well."

CHAPTER XXX

DOODLES SINGS

Doodles had heard of Nelson Randolph's illness, yet he was
unprepared for the additional tidings that came to him when he was
on a downtown errand.

"Oh, he suffers something terrible!" exclaimed the boy who brought
the news. "Carl Harris told me about it. He's down there in the
paper office, and they say if he don't get better pretty soon he's
got to die! The Doctor can't stop the pain."

Doodles walked away thinking hard. "Guess I'll go," he told
himself. "He liked my singing the other night up here, and perhaps
it would make him forget. Anyhow, I can go!"

An hour later Doodles stood at the door of the Randolph home.

"He's sick. He can't see anybody," said the maid who answered his
ring.

"Is he able to talk?" queried the lad.

The girl nodded.

"Then will you please ask him if he would like to have Doodles
Stickney sing to him."

"'T won't do no good," she replied indifferently. "The nurse won't
let anybody see him."

A man came slowly up the steps, and the boy turned to recognize a
well-known physician.

"Oh, Dr. Temple!" he began eagerly, "do you think Mr. Randolph
would like to have me sing for him?"

The physician looked the lad over gravely. He was so long about
it, Doodles wondered if his boots were dusty and the Doctor were
disapproving them. Then came the answer.

"Probably not."

"But he did like to hear me sing the other night when he was at our
house. He said so. And when I heard how he is suffering, I
thought perhaps I could make him forget it." His appealing brown
eyes looked straight into those keen blue ones that the physician's
admirers thought saw everything.

Dr. Temple considered a moment. "Come in!" he said.

Doodles followed where he led, which was into the first room beyond
the entrance.

"Sing!" was the order.

Doodles, not in the least abashed, stood where he was, in the
middle of the reception room, and began.

Soft, soft as the crooning of a mother bird, came the first notes.

"Peace...peace...peace I leave with you." Gently the music rose,
the lad's voice beautifully modulated to suit the time and place.
"My peace...my peace I give unto you:...not as the world
giveth...not as the world giveth...give I unto you. Let not your
heart be troubled...let not your heart be troubled...let not your
heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

The physician sat still for a moment, as if reluctant to break the
spell. Then he got up quickly. "Come!" he bade.

Doodles followed, up the velvet-covered stairs, with never the
sound of a footstep, and to the end of a wide corridor.

"Wait here, please!" Dr. Temple motioned him to a chair by the
window, and after knocking at a door disappeared behind it.

Presently he returned. "You may sing what you sang downstairs."
He went back, leaving the door ajar.

Again Doodles sang. At the end he waited, wondering if he were to
keep on.

A white-clad young woman came out of the room, smiling to him under
her pretty white cap.

"Mr. Randolph would like to have you sing some more," she said.

"The Lord is my Shepherd," "Come unto Me," "I will lift up mine
eyes," "The Lord bless thee and keep thee,"--these and others
Doodles sang, while not a sound came from the room beyond.

Then the young woman appeared again.

"Mr. Randolph says he wishes you would sing 'Old Folks at Home,'"
she told him.

At the close of the song the nurse came to the door and beckoned
him in.

The president of the Paper Company put out a feeble hand.

"Thank you, Doodles!" he smiled. "I suppose you came all the way
from Foxford just to sing for me!"

"Oh, that isn't anything!" said the boy lightly. "I am glad to do
it, Mr. Randolph. I do hope you will get better!"

"I am better now! You have done me good, Doodles!"

"I'm so glad! May I come again?" eagerly.

"I should be mighty glad if you could! I will send my car for you
any day."

"Thank you!" The lad's face was radiant. "To-morrow?" He glanced
at Dr. Temple.

The Doctor gave him a smiling nod.

"This same time?"

"Better than the afternoon," assented the physician.

Doodles was downstairs when the nurse came out to speak to him.

"Mr. Randolph says to wait and he will have his man take you home."

So Doodles rode to Foxford in Mr. Randolph's sumptuous roadster, to
the astonishment of Blue whom he met not far from home.

CHAPTER XXXI

SHUT OUT

Miss Sterling was not in her room. Polly had knocked and knocked.
Finally she turned away and went slowly downstairs.

"Is Miss Nita out?" she asked of Miss Sniffen in the lower hall.

"I don't know," was the answer. She did not offer to look at the
day-book on the desk.

Miss Lily came by, on her way upstairs, and said good-morning as
she passed.

Polly had reached the door, when a little cry arrested her. She
turned to see Miss Lily half kneeling on the stairs, clutching the
rail.

"Oh! are you hurt?" Polly ran up to her.

"Not much, I guess," was the tremulous answer. "I can't see, and
the stairs are so wide! I fall every day or so!"

Polly helped her up. "I'd go close to the balustrade, if I were
you."

"Oh, no! I mustn't!" Miss Lily whispered, glancing down into the
hall.

"She's gone," said Polly softly. "Come right up here! Afraid of
scratching? 'T won't do any harm--with your soft slippers."

"She won't let me!" breathed the frightened woman.

"Oh, I guess she won't mind!" returned Polly easily. "That's what
rails are made for--to cling to."

"What's the matter now!" broke in a cutting voice.

"Why, Miss Lily fell, and I'm trying to make her come up close to
the rail, so she can get a good, firm hold; but she's afraid of
scratching the stairs."

"Of course it will scratch--to go tramping over that polished wood!
She's to step on the carpet, as I told her! You're always
interfering, Polly Dudley!"

"Miss Sniffen, I didn't mean to interfere; but Miss Lily can't see
as well as you can, and--"

"She can see well enough! Her eyesight is good. There is no need
of her falling."

"But she can't get hold of the rail away off in the middle!"

"Certainly she can reach it! Don't stand there talking nonsense!"

Miss Lily turned and hastened up the long flight. Polly watched
her for a moment and then walked slowly down the stairs.

The superintendent waited at the foot, her face flushed and stern.

"You have made trouble enough round here," she said bitingly. "Now
I think we'll stop it!"

"Why, Miss Sniffen, what have I done?"

"You're putting foolish notions into the heads of these old
women--petting and pampering them in the way you do! To organize a
walking-club for them, when they've got one foot in the grave--it's
absurd!"

"Oh, they're not old--all of them!" broke in Polly. "Miss Nita
isn't old!--or Miss Crilly!--or--"

"You need not enumerate! I know how old they are, and I know how
old they say they are! To think of your coaxing them into such
disgraceful escapades as you have! Those gray-haired women dancing
out in a pasture lot! Oh, you needn't look so surprised! I know
what you're up to, if I do stay home here! You were saucy on that
occasion, and bold, too! Calling to passing automobilists to come
and dance with you! It was scandalous!"

"Why, Miss Sniffen,"--Polly's tone was gently explanatory,--"you
can't have heard it straight! We didn't do a single thing out of
the way! And I didn't call anybody! Mr. Randolph and Miss
Puddicombe drove along, and Mr. Randolph said it looked too
tempting, and wanted to know if they couldn't come and dance. That
was all!"

The superintendent primmed her lips. "We won't discuss it any
further. All I wish to say is that hereafter you may confine your
calls to Wednesday afternoon, when we receive visitors."

Polly stood for an instant, dumb with surprise and dismay; then she
took a step forward.

"Good-bye, Miss Sniffen!" she said in a low, tense voice, and
passed swiftly out into the sunshine.

She walked along, regardless of anything besides her own tumultuous
thoughts, until, as she was turning in at her home entrance, she
heard the old familiar call, "Pollee, Pollee, Pollee-e-e!"

David was only a few yards ahead, and she waited.

"What is it?" he asked as he came up.

The ghost of a smile flickered on Polly's face.

"I've just been shut out of the Home!" she said with almost a sob.

An angry light leaped in the boy's eyes; but he spoke no word, only
clinched his teeth.

They went up the walk together, Polly talking fast. Mrs. Dudley
met them in the hall, and the story was begun again.

"That woman!" cried the boy; "I'd like to go over and knock her
down!"

"David!" chuckled Polly, with an admiring glance at his broad
shoulders and athletic frame.

"It is terrible to think of those dear people being in her power!"

"Something must be done." Mrs. Dudley looked troubled.

"If only Mr. Randolph hadn't been sick!" said Polly plaintively.
"But Doodles says he is better!" Her face brightened. "Oh, David!
did you know Doodles has been singing to him?"

"No. I suppose that cured him." There was a little warning tone
in the rich voice.

"It has helped," Polly replied gently. "It makes him forget the
pain. Mr. Randolph sends after him every day and has his man take
him home again--isn't that nice?"

"M--hm," nodded David.

"Doodles was here this noon," Polly went on. "Something was the
matter with the car, and so he ran over while Murray was fixing it.
The Doctor says Mr. Randolph may go to ride to-morrow if it is
pleasant."

"When shall you see him?" asked David.

"Soon as ever I can--to think of Miss Nita's being shut up there,
and my not being able to get to her!"

"It wouldn't do any good to telephone," mused David, "or to write a
note."

"I'm afraid!" Polly shook her head. "If she'd grab those cards from
Mr. Randolph's boxes of roses, she'd take a letter. What do you
suppose she did it for?"

"Didn't want her to know who sent them."

"But why?"

"Oh, probably she's in love with him," replied David carelessly.

"Miss Sniffen?" Polly's voice was flooded with astonishment.

"Anything very surprising about that?" laughed David.

"Why, the idea! He couldn't!"

"No, he couldn't, but she could."

"I have thought of that," assented Mrs. Dudley. "I cannot account
for her actions in any other way."

"It's so funny!" giggled Polly. "And she probably knows he is
engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!"

"That is what stumps me!" exclaimed David. "Such a girl!"

"They say she has a fortune in her own name," put in Mrs. Dudley.

"Fortune!" scorned the boy. "I wouldn't marry her if she would give
me a hundred million!"

Mrs. Dudley laughed.

"She'd be better than Miss Sniffen," said Polly.

"But to think of coming home to such a wife as she'll make!" cried
David.

"And sitting down to dinner with her!" went on Polly.

David shook his head. "A man might stand it for one day, but for a
lifetime--good-bye!"

"It doesn't seem as if he would marry just for money," sighed Polly.

"That's what most men think of first. Isn't it, Mrs. Dudley?"

"Some of them," she agreed. "I can't believe they are in the
majority."

"She'll make the very crotchetiest wife!" asserted Polly. "He'll
have to keep her in a glass case! See how she went on up in the
pasture! The sun was too hot and the wind was too cool, her stone
seat was too hard, and the ground was too rough to dance on!
Everything was too something! She wasn't contented till she got
her 'Nelson' out of reach of Miss Nita. I guess men have to run
more risk than girls do."

"Uncle David wouldn't agree with you," smiled David. "Aunt Juliet
tells a story about him--long before he was married. A girl--I
think it was a trained nurse, anyhow somebody he knew pretty
well--asked him what he thought of her marrying. He waited a
moment, and then said, in his deliberate way, 'Well, I don't know
more than three or four decent men anyway, and you wouldn't be
likely forget any of them!' She had to tell of that, and Aunt
Juliet heard it. Uncle David looks solemn at first, when she
begins it--then he chuckles."

"That sounds just like Colonel Gresham," laughed Mrs. Dudley.

"He's such a nice man!" praised Polly with emphasis. "And so is
Mr. Randolph, just as lovable!--I wouldn't mind marrying him
myself."

"You wouldn't!" flashed David.

"No," maintained Polly; "but I shan't have a chance," she chuckled.

Her mother heard the Doctor calling and went to him.

"You ought to go in there and hear those children 'talking about
marriage," she whispered; "it is better than a circus!"

The Doctor looked through to where they sat, and smiled.

Meantime the talk in the living-room had taken a personal turn.

"I suppose you'd marry any of the fellows." David was grumbling.

"I should prefer to choose," laughed Polly. "Oh, David! it is
funny to hear you go off!"

She dimpled over it.

"'Funny'!" he scorned. "That Wilmerding dude will be walking down
to school with you, same as last year! Carrying your books, too!"
David frowned. "And you'll let him!"

"He might as well be of use. It's lots easier than to carry them
myself."

"Wish your father'd send you down in the car."

"He thinks it better for me to walk," she smiled.

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