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Polly and the Princess by Emma C. Dowd

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"You'll talk and laugh," David fretted on, "till he'll think you're
dead in love with him! You jolly with all the boys more than you
do with me!"

Polly's face sobered. "David," she said, "in some things you are
wonderfully wise; but you don't seem to know very much about girls.
I am not always the happiest when I'm laughing. You talk as if
you'd like to keep me in prison, same as Miss Sniffen keeps those
poor dears over there. I know better, but it sounds that way."

"Forgive me! I'm getting piggish again!"

"No, but I wish you weren't quite so suspicious. I'll have to make
a bargain with you,--how will this do? If anybody steals my heart
away, I'll notify you at once."

David stood up straight. "I must go," he said. "It is later than
I thought. No, Polly, you needn't promise me anything! I can
trust you. Only--" He smiled, looking down at her. "Good-bye!"

CHAPTER XXXII

THE TALE IS TOLD

Nelson Randolph gained steadily,--so Polly heard through
Doodles,--and she planned to see him soon. Then, one morning, the
boy appeared with a sorrowful face. Even before he spoke Polly
guessed that something was wrong.

"I can't go to see Mr. Randolph any more," announced the little lad
mournfully.

"Why not? What's the matter?"

"That Miss Puddicombe!" The boy's face told more than his words.
"She said Mr. Randolph was worse, and for me not to come again till
he got well."

"0-o-h!" cried Polly. "What has she got to do about it! She'd
better wait till she's married before she begins to dictate!"

Doodles shook his head sorrowfully. "I don't see how my singing
could hurt him. She talked as if it was all my fault!"

"Nonsense!" scorned Polly. "More likely it is she herself! Don't
worry, Doodles! He will get well pretty soon, and then things will
be all right again; but--oh, dear, I wish he would hurry up!"

The next evening David brought the dismaying word that the
president of the Paper Company had gone to Atlantic City for
several weeks.

Polly was distressed over the situation until her mother suggested
the happy thought that no doubt he would recover more rapidly than
at home. Then Polly smiled again and was ready to enjoy David's
new flute solo.

In her weeks of waiting Polly came to a new appreciation of David.
Her closest girl friends were out of town, her mother unusually
busy with some church work, her intercourse with Juanita Sterling
limited to a few perfunctory calls; and except for David's cheery
visits she would have been lonely indeed. Not a day but the boy
appeared, often with flute or banjo, and he made himself so
delightfully entertaining that Polly would forget the June Holiday
Home and its troubles.

Lurking in the background, however, ready to leap forward as soon
as she should be alone, was the torturing fact that Miss Sniffen
still kept cruel wardship over her prisoners, and she counted over
and over, joyfully marking them off one by one on her calendar, the
days before Mr. Randolph would be at home again.

Still, it was not a very long waiting time, after all, and one
bright morning Polly entered the private office of the president of
the Paper Company.

Now that she was actually there, face to face with the "lovable
man" in whom she found so much to admire, she hardly knew how to
begin. But, suddenly realizing that the president's time was
precious, she dashed into the matter at once.

"It is about the Home, Mr. Randolph, that I have been wanting to
see you for so long. I was coming right after Miss Twining got
sick, and then you were ill yourself. Before you were well enough
to see visitors you went away, and there hasn't been a single
chance until now. Oh, Mr. Randolph, do you know how affairs are
going on over there? Haven't you ever guessed?"

"Why--what do you mean, Polly? Nothing wrong, is there?"

"Everything!" Polly's hands dropped with emphasis into her lap.
"None of the ladies have dared say a word, because if they find any
fault they are liable to be turned out. So they have borne it all
as well as they could. I wanted to come to you a good while ago,
but they wouldn't hear to it. Finally things got to such a pass
that we four, Miss Nita, Mrs. Albright, Miss Crilly, and I, said
that something must be done. We thought you were the best one to
tell, for you have always been such a friend--we could trust you'"

"You can, Polly!" He smiled across to her. "You need not be
afraid of my divulging the source of my information."

"Oh, I don't care if folks do know my part in it, but the others
would rather you wouldn't give their names--unless it is necessary.
Miss Sniffen turned me out weeks ago!"

"Turned you out? For what?"

"Oh, because I told Miss Lily to cling to the balustrade so she
wouldn't fall! That is, it started there. She said I'd got the
ladies into all sorts of scrapes. She scolded me for lots of
things--one was that dance in the pasture. She said it was
scandalous. I don't care so much what she does to me, only my not
seeing Miss Nita. But the ladies are actually afraid of their
lives! When Miss Twining was abused so, those that knew wondered
whose turn would come next. Why, Mr. Randolph, Miss Sniffen almost
killed Miss Twining!--Oh, of course, she didn't mean to!" For the
man had started up with an exclamation of horror. "I think she was
thoroughly frightened when Miss Twining fainted."

"But what did she do?"

"Why, she went up to Miss Twining's room, late one night, and
carried a riding-whip,--she had threatened that afternoon to 'flog'
her--and it upset Miss Twining and brought on a fainting turn. Now
Miss Sniffen keeps her locked in all the time! I don't know what
she would do if it weren't for Mrs. Albright! She rooms right
across the hall, and her key fits the lock; so she goes in every
little while. There's a card on her door, saying she's too ill to
see visitors."

"That is the feeble-minded one, isn't it?"

"No!" flashed Polly. "She's not feeble-minded any more than you
are! That's just a bluff! Miss Sniffen got scared and made up all
that rubbish! Miss Twining is beautiful. I love her--oh, I love
her dearly! She writes the nicest poetry! Father says it is real
poetry, too."

"Why did Miss Sniffen wish to whip her?"

"Just because she wouldn't tell who gave her some money. She
couldn't--she had promised not to! And it was her own money! But
I must begin at the beginning, or you can't understand."

Polly drew a long breath, and recounted the details of the sad
story.

"The next morning I happened to go over to see Miss Nita," she
concluded, "and Mrs. Albright told me this. Miss Crilly was there,
too. Miss Crilly rooms right next to Miss Twining and heard a good
deal; but she didn't dare to stir."

Nelson Randolph gazed at Polly with troubled eyes, and rested his
arm upon his desk.

"David Collins overheard something one night," she went on. "He
was going up Edgewood Avenue when he came upon Mrs. Nobbs and a
man,--probably her brother,--and what Mrs. Nobbs was saying made
him keep along behind them, instead of passing as he was intending
to do."

As the talk was repeated, the listener's face grew stern, and when
Polly came to the end of her story he fingered the little silver
elephant upon his desk before he spoke.

"You say that the board is not what it should be?"

"It is poor, dreadfully poor, Mr. Randolph. Lately they've had
stale meat and sour bread--and hardly any fruit or green vegetables
all summer long!"

"Yet her accounts stand for expensive roasts, lamb chops, early
fruits when they are highest in price--the best of everything!"

"They never get on the table," asserted Polly. "Miss Nita and the
others have spoken again and again of their wretched living. And
the cooking is awful!"

"I am told that she pays her cook fifty dollars a month."

"I don't know what she pays," Polly replied, "but they seldom have
good cooking. She is changing help all the time."

"We have trusted her implicitly," the president mused. "Her father
was a man of undoubted honor."

"I don't see that it would be much worse to steal from the Home
than to take Miss Twining's money or Miss Nita's cards or--"

"Cards? From Miss Sterling?" broke in Nelson Randolph quickly.

"Didn't you put your cards in those boxes of roses you sent her?"
asked Polly.

"Certainly."

"She never saw any! Miss Castlevaine was going upstairs and
happened to see that first box of roses on the hall desk. Miss
Sniffen was fingering a card. When Miss Nita received the box
there was no card there. That was why she was so long in saying
'thank you,'--she didn't know where they came from. We finally
found out through the boy who brought them."

Nelson Randolph frowned. "A pretty state of affairs!" he muttered.

"And she never got one of your telephone messages!" Polly went on.

"What!" the man exclaimed.

"She didn't!" Polly reiterated.

"But Miss Sterling gave me no hint of such a thing!"

"No." Polly returned sadly. "I guess she didn't dare."

"Surely she was not afraid of me!"

"I don't know," replied Polly dissatisfiedly and with emphasis.
"It really seems sometimes as if she were."

"There must have been some tremendous lying," he mused. "They gave
me messages purporting to come from Miss Sterling. Why should she
be singled out in this way?" He looked across at Polly, as if he
expected her to answer the question.

The red in her cheeks grew redder. She remembered the reason David
had given.

"I think it is no uncommon thing for the ladies not to get their
telephone messages," she replied evasively. "That was one reason
why Mrs. Dick ran away with the milkman. She was so upset at not
receiving an invitation to a wedding that had been sent her by
telephone."

"It is high time that something was done!" The president lifted his
little elephant and brought it down hard. "We have been
inexcusably blind!"

"I wish Miss Twining could have some good doctor," ventured Polly.

"She shall!" he promised. "Be patient for a few days, and I will
hurry up things as fast as practicable. You say she is a little
better?"

"Mrs. Albright thinks so. She is over her scare a little. Dr.
Gunnip frightened her half to death! He won't let her try to get
up. Don't you hate Dr. Gunnip?"

Mr. Randolph smiled. "I don't know him personally," he replied.
"I never thought I should want him for a physician." He shook his
head musingly.

"I will lay the matter before the trustees and managers at once,"
he said, as Polly rose to go. "I need not ask you," he went on,
"to be whist about this, since I have proof that you can keep a
secret under trying conditions. I thank you more than you will
ever know."

CHAPTER XXXIII

THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON

Juanita Sterling moved restlessly about her room, doing this and
that which had no need of being done. It was a mild day for late
September, and she thought of a walk. No, it was nearly time for
the afternoon mail, she would wait. If she could only get a note
from Polly--or from David! One of Polly's notes had never reached
the third-floor comer room! Since that, notes had been conceded to
be dangerous. How she missed Polly's visits! She wondered now if
Polly's interview with Mr. Randolph were really over. That report
could not be entrusted to paper. She wished that her windows were
on the front. She might go into Mrs. Albright's room--no, she had
better remain at home, somebody might come. She took a book and
sat down in the easiest chair; but her thoughts were not on the
printed page. She slammed it back in its place with a mutter of
scorn--scorn for herself.

"Shall I ever stop thinking--of him!"

Meantime, downstairs, the front doorbell had rung. Miss Sniffen
answered it. She usually answered the bell nowadays.

Nelson Randolph stood waiting.

"Good afternoon!" he smiled. "I want to run up to those corner
rooms and see how the light is, now that the windows are shut up.
I think we may have to put in other windows on the side."

"Oh, no, Mr. Randolph, the light is very good, indeed! I don't
think more windows will be necessary."

"Well, maybe not, then; but I'll just take a look at it, seeing I'm
here."

She moved back slowly. "I think Miss Sterling is out; but you can
see the first-floor room."

They went in together, but as the man turned to speak he found that
he was alone. With a smile he cast a leisurely eye around, and
then strode along the hall to the upper staircase.

The superintendent was coming down.

"No use your going up," she said in an unnecessarily low tone.
"One of the ladies says she is out, so we shan't be able to get in."

"Oh, that won't matter!" he replied carelessly. "I'm a good deal
of burglar; I always carry a skeleton key in my pocket--it will
unlock almost anything. You ought to have one."

"We have never needed it," she responded coldly, quickly preceding
him.

She tapped softly on the door.

"Oh, you're in, after all!" she exclaimed in a voice of sweet
surprise. "They said you had gone out."

"I have been here since dinner.--How do you do, Mr. Randolph! Are
you quite well again?"

"Shouldn't know I had ever been sick--except for the doctor's
bill!" he replied. "Now, how about this light, Miss Sterling? Do
you find the addition in the way?"

"Why, of course, it isn't quite so pleasant," she admitted; "but I
don't mind it very much."

"I think it would make things a little better to put a window in,
say about here."

"Oh, that would be lovely!" she cried.

"I will suggest it, at any rate. I never like to spoil one room
for the sake of another." He ran his eyes over the wall. "We
might make it one broad window, here and in the room below, to
match the one on the first floor--it wouldn't be a bad plan. We'll
see." He turned to go, then halted and looked at his watch.

"I'm afraid you stay in too much. Miss Sterling," he said
carelessly. "Suppose you put on your things and come for a ride.
It is very mild out."

"Oh, thank you!" The red rushed to her cheeks. "I'll be ready in a
minute."

Left alone, Juanita Sterling hastily brought out hat and coat. Her
heart was pounding with excitement and--yes, joy! She chided
herself in no uncertain words.

"Little fool!" she muttered. "He wishes to ask questions about the
Home, questions that I am better able to answer than Polly--that is
all! He is engaged to Blanche Puddicombe--remember that, and don't
be a--dear, dear, where are those gray gloves! Oh!" as the needed
articles were brought to sight.

She ran downstairs and directly out of the big door, meeting no one.

As the car rolled up the avenue she felt a delicious sense of
freedom. She remarked upon the changing foliage and the unusual
warmth of the day, the man at her side making only brief assents.

"That Dragon," he finally broke out, "didn't mean to let the
Princess be seen to-day!"

Miss Sterling met his whimsical look with puzzled eyes. Then, as
the meaning dawned, "Oh!" she cried, a little blushing laugh
keeping the word company.

"Do you always lock your door when you go away?"

"Never," she answered,--"then or at any time; we are not allowed to
lock our rooms."

"She told me you were out, and that your door would be locked; but
I said I had a skeleton key in my pocket, and went on."

"You quite outwitted her," she laughed. "I don't understand why
she should lie about it."

"I have been there several times and inquired for you," he resumed;
"and was always told that you were not in."

A flush of surprise pinked her face. "I never heard anything of
it," she said regretfully.

"So Polly Dudley told me. I saw her this morning."

"Oh, did you!" she cried eagerly.

"She was in my office for an hour or two. We have been blind as
moles, the whole gang of us!" he added in a disgusted tone. "We
have trusted that woman with everything--to your sorrow and ours!
I hope the officers will see it as I do, but--I don't know. Miss
Sterling,"--he turned to her with a brighter tone in his
voice,--"do you remember when I used to come to your house to
consult your father--and you would entertain me while I was waiting
for him?"

"Oh, yes!" she answered, "I remember perfectly; but I didn't
suppose you recollected--it is so long ago."

"I don't forget easily. You were a school-girl then, weren't you?"

"I was just through the high school."

"It was the winter before I was married," he said reminiscently.
"It seems a lifetime since then. Yet it is only some twenty or
more years ago. Your father was a very wise man, and I was pretty
green in those days. I remember I wanted to sue somebody that had
cheated me in a small way, and your father advised me strongly
against it. I chafed a good deal at his decision; but I have
thought of it a good many times since, how much better things
turned out for me than if I had had my own way. Too bad he had to
go so young! We need such men. I wish we had a few like him on
the Home Board." He turned toward his companion with a rueful
smile. "I am rather glad that happened down at the Home to-day.
It has given me a little personal experience with the Dragon that
may be convenient to have." He smiled again at her, that kindly,
whimsical little smile that so well became him.

She smiled, too, and then, when he had turned back, she frowned.
She wished he wouldn't smile that way--to her. He should keep such
smiles for his fiancee.

"By the way," she began, "how is Miss Puddicombe? I haven't seen
her lately."

"She is very well, much better than she was during the summer. She
is in New York at present, visiting her aunt for a fortnight."

Ah, that was why he was able to take her to ride! She wondered if
she ought to offer her congratulations, but finally decided to keep
silent. S he was not supposed to know of his engagement.

The road wound up through a maze of yellow. Tall trees on either
side sifted their gold down upon the travelers. Juanita Sterling
caught a leaf in her hand and held it.

"How beautiful it is!" she said, and drew a deep breath.

The man turned to look at her trophy. "Oh, no! I mean the way,"
she explained. "It is strange, but it makes me think of heaven."

"The streets of gold?" he smiled.

"M--no," she replied doubtfully. "I can't quite tell myself; but I
think it is the peace and the glory of it--the spirit of the place."

His eyes were on her face, and the car bumped over a stone.

"There! That's because I was looking at you!" he laughed. "A
motorman shouldn't gaze at a princess."

She gave a little gurgling laugh; then she grew grave again.

"What do you say," he asked abruptly, "to keeping on over the
mountain to Bryston and have dinner?"

Her heart gave a joyful leap, yet she answered quietly, "I am
afraid--I'd better not."

"Oh, yes," he urged, "let's keep on! I am selfish, I know; but I'd
rather eat dinner with you than to eat it at home alone, and I'm
sure that Squirrel Inn will give you a more appetizing meal than
the Dragon will furnish."

"I dare say," she responded. "What a bewitching name for an inn!
Is it as captivating as it sounds?"

"More," he smiled. "It is the inn that has made Belgian hare
famous."

She laughed softly, and he speeded the car.

"I took Mrs. Puddicombe up there one day, and she has raved about
it ever since. The house itself is very old, with little windows
and a gambrel roof, and a well-sweep in the rear. They say, half
of the garret is given over to the squirrels."

"What a delightful place! I shall love it, I know!" Inwardly,
however, she amended, "Maybe I shan't!" thinking of Mrs. Puddicombe.

But once seated at the quaint little table, in the old high-backed
chair, eating what tasted better than the best chicken that ever
went into an oven, Juanita Sterling forgot Mrs. Puddicombe and her
daughter Blanche, and smiled upon everything.

"I am having more dinners to-day than my share," she observed over
the pumpkin pie and cheese. "We have ours at twelve, you know."

"What did you have?"

"Codfish balls and pickles and stale bread and butter."

"No dessert?"

"No," she laughed; "that was cut out months ago."

He shook his head gravely. "I didn't suppose it was as bad as that."

"This makes up," she said gayly.

It was a leisurely meal; and when it had come to an end the memory
of it was not the least of its delights.

The air had cooled decidedly, and meeting the stiff breeze Juanita
Sterling shivered. She turned up her coat collar about her neck.

"Are you cold?" he questioned.

"Not much. I shall get used to it in a minute. It was pretty warm
in there."

He stopped the car and jumped out. "There are some light-weight
robes somewhere," he said.

"Don't bother!" she protested. "I rarely take cold."

But he continued his search.

"There!" he said, putting it around her shoulders, "isn't that
better?"

"Delightful! Thank you!" It was cozily warm and comfortable.

She drew a deep, happy breath. The car skimmed along as if on
wings. She could meet the wind with pleasure now. The stars
twinkled down their glad greeting. Probably she would never see
the like of this again. But to-night it was hers! It should not
be spoiled by Blanche Puddicombe! She let her enjoyment have its
way and talked and laughed freely.

"How can you keep so cheerful in the Dragon's prison?" Nelson
Randolph asked at length. "I should think all of you would have
been dead from gloom before this time."

"Polly Dudley has done a great deal toward keeping us up, and we
have several very bright ladies there. Mrs. Albright and Miss
Crilly would make a dungeon sunshiny."

"Happy companionship is everything," he assented. "That is what I
am denied. My home is about the most desolate place on earth!"

"It looks delightful from the outside."

"Oh, the house is well enough! But what is the good of a house
with nobody to speak to! I stay at the club evening after evening,
because I dread to go back to that lonely place I call home." He
spoke drearily. After a moment he went on. "I started out this
afternoon with a good deal of hope; but you have thrown most of it
to the winds!"

"I? Why, Mr. Randolph!" She gazed at him in surprise.

"Impolite," he nodded, with an apologetic smile. "But, Miss
Sterling, you know that I love you! You must have known it all
summer! And you try to be friendly--that's all! You didn't want
to go to Bryston, and I was selfish enough to keep on! I suppose
it is too much to expect, that you will care for an old fellow like
me; but--oh, Miss Sterling! can't you?"

For a moment memory was swept away in the flood of astonishment and
joy that overwhelmed her. Then, like a menace, the haughty girl of
the sheep pasture loomed before her.

"Oh! no! no!" she gasped. "Why do you say such things to
me?--_you_--engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!"

"O-h!"--It held a note of exultation. "Has that absurd story
reached you? Miss Sterling, there is not an atom of truth in it!"
The words tumbled from his lips. "Mrs. Puddicombe's grandmother
and my grandfather were sister and brother. The families have
always been friendly. Last summer Blanche was in such wretched
health that her mother wanted me to take her to ride as often as I
could. So whenever I went off on business I would carry Blanche
along. That is all there is to it!"

They were moving slowly now. A great car came honking up behind,
roared past, and became a red star in the distance. Another
flashed out ahead, glared down upon them, and whizzed by. Nelson
Randolph spoke again.

"Have you no hope for me?"

"Oh, yes!" It barely rose through the purring of the car.

His right hand left the wheel and closed over the two little
gray-gloved ones folded so quietly.

"You shall never regret it!" he promised. "I will try to make you
forget this year of misery."

The talk ran on. As they passed through th6 outskirts of Fair
Harbor, he said:--

"I expect to go to New York to-morrow morning on the 6.30 train.
If I can get through my business in time I shall come back in the
evening; but I am afraid it will be too late for a ride. That will
have to wait until Thursday. I don't know how I am going to
communicate with you. I cannot bear to leave you without any means
of letting me know if you are in trouble."

"I don't think there will be any trouble," she said contentedly.

"There might be. How would it do for me to tell the Dragon that
you belong to me and that you are to be free to go and come as you
please or to use the telephone whenever you like?"

"Oh, don't!" A note of fear was in her voice.

"You had better lock your door at night, then. There is a key?"

"Yes, but it is subject to rules."

"Ignore rules and lock the door! Dragons are not to be trusted.
And remember, if there should be any trouble whatever, call me at
once,--in some way,--and I will drop everything and come."

"Thank you! You are so good!"

He laughed softly. "Good to myself!"

They sped along Edgewood Avenue, and the car stopped in the shadow
of a great maple. Miss Sterling threw off her borrowed wrap.

He stepped to the ground and put out his arms. What could she do
but walk into them!

"I will go in with you," he said, as he set her gently down.

Her face was still aflame with his kisses when they entered the big
door together.

Miss Sniffen met them in the hall.

"You are late," she said with a half smile. "Have you had an
accident?"

"Oh, no!" Nelson Randolph answered. "We went up to Bryston to
dinner, that is all. Miss Sterling thought she had better return
home early, but I coaxed her to keep on and find out how Belgian
hare tasted." He laughed lightly and said good-night.

Miss Sterling's foot was on the stair when the superintendent
arrested her.

"You are too late for chapel," she said severely.

"I was afraid I would be," was the reply.

"This must not occur again. Do you know that Mr. Randolph is to
marry Miss Puddicombe?"

"I heard so," she smiled.

"The wedding-day is set!"

"So I was told."

"Did he tell you?"

"Oh, no! I heard it a good while ago."

Miss Sniffen looked a little disappointed and turned down the hall.

Juanita Sterling closed the door of her room, struck a light, and
threw her hat and coat across a chair.

On a small table a twin frame held photographs of a man and a woman.

She took it in both hands.

"Father, mother,--dears! do you know that your 'little girl' is
happy?--happier than she has been since you went away?"

The last words broke in a sob; but the eyes that looked up into
hers were smiling.

CHAPTER XXXIV

A MIDNIGHT ANNOUNCEMENT

JUANITA STERLING was forced to hear much bantering in regard to her
prolonged ride with the Home president; but she received it with
the utmost good humor. Not even to Mrs. Albright did she hint of
the happiness that had come to her. It would be known soon enough;
to-day the joy was hers and hers alone.

"What would Blanche Puddicombe have said to see you go gallivant'n'
off to Bryston with her lover!" cried Miss Crilly. "I wish she
could have, I just wish she could have! 'T would have been a
picnic, sure! Are you goin' again, Miss Sterling?"

Juanita Sterling laughed, her cheeks coloring prettily. "He didn't
ask me to go to-day."

"Too bad!" cried the tease. "But she blushes, so I guess she'll go
when he does ask her."

"Perhaps she's trying to cut out Miss Puddicombe," suggested Miss
Major.

"She hasn't told us a thing he said to her," winked Miss Mullaly.
"They had time for lots of love scenes all those long miles'"

"An auto isn't the best place in the world for love-makin',"
giggled Miss Crilly.

"Now you stop bothering her!" cried Mrs. Albright. "We'd every one
of us give our eye-teeth for such a ride with the president, and
you know it!"

"My! I guess we would!" Miss Crilly performed a pirouette. "I'd
run my feet off to get into the car!"

"Well, what did you talk about?" queried Miss Mullaly coaxingly.

"Yes, we want to hear," urged Miss Crilly; "so when we go with him
we shall know what to say."

"No danger of your not knowing what to say!" laughed Miss Major.

"Some of the time we talked about Belgian hare," answered Miss
Sterling demurely.

"Belgian hare!" grinned Miss Crilly. "I bet you didn't talk five
or six hours about Belgian hare!"

Juanita Sterling chuckled gayly. "He asked what I had for dinner
yesterday, and I told him'"

"Honest?" gasped Miss Mullaly.

"Yes," nodded the other.

"What did he say?"

"I don't remember just what; but he was surprised."

"I guess he was! I hope it will set him to thinking."

"Well, if I stay here fooling away all the forenoon, I shan't get a
credit mark for having my bed made early!" And Miss Crilly tripped
off.

The rest soon scattered, and Miss Sterling was left alone to dream
over her joy and to wonder what her friends would say when the
truth came out.

In the afternoon she called at Dr. Dudley's, and was disappointed
not to find Polly. The day was cold, with a raw wind, very unlike
the day before; so after a short walk she returned home.

Mrs. Albright met her in the upper hall.

"Miss Crilly is sick," she said anxiously. "She is in terrible
pain, and nothing relieves her. She wants Dr. Dudley; but Miss
Sniffen says it is not necessary. I don't know what to do!"

"Sh!" Miss Sterling held her answer to listen. "I thought I heard
a footstep," she whispered. "Is Miss Sniffen downstairs?"

"She went down. I don't care if she does hear me! I'm getting
desperate."

"She ought to have a doctor," Miss Sterling said, with wrinkled
forehead. "I wonder if I can be of any use--I'll come right up."

The combined resources of the two were of no avail. Miss Crilly
grew worse,

"I shall die--I know I shall!--just as poor Miss Twining is going
to!" wailed the sufferer.

"No, you won't!" returned Mrs. Albright. "You haven't any heart
trouble."

"I've got something!" insisted Miss Crilly, writhing with pain.

Miss Sniffen appeared at the door with a bowl of steaming water and
a bundle of cloths. "I'm going to put these on," she announced
briskly.

"I tried hot water first thing," said Mrs. Albright. "It didn't do
any good."

The superintendent gave no response. She was busy administering
the remedy.

"Don't make such a fuss!" she reprimanded. "Pain never killed
anybody yet."

"You'd better go back to your room, Miss Sterling," she turned to
say. "No need of your staying here."

There did not seem to be, and the request was obeyed without reply.

Later Mrs. Albright came upstairs to say that Miss Crilly was a
little easier. "I think she's going to get on now," she concluded.

"I hope so," was the reply; "but call me if she should grow worse."

"Yes, I will,--though you couldn't do any good," she amended.

"I could get a doctor for her."

"I don't see how!" Mrs. Albright gazed questioningly into the
steady gray eyes. This was a new Miss Sterling. "You can't do
anything with Miss Sniffen."

"There are other people in the world besides Miss Sniffen. If she
needs a doctor she shall have one. So let me know if the pain
comes on again."

Miss Sterling had been abed an hour or more when she was awakened
by a gentle rap.

Mrs. Albright softly opened the door.

"She's worse than ever; but Miss Sniffen won't hear to calling the
doctor. She says if she isn't any better in the morning she will
send for him; but Miss Crilly insists that she can't live till
morning in such agony. Miss Sniffen thinks she is scared to death,
and of course fear doesn't help matters. But she does need a
doctor--I know that!"

Miss Sterling began to dress. "Where is Miss Sniffen now?"

"She went downstairs."

"I will keep watch till she gets still, then I'll go down."

"What can you do?"

"I'm going for Dr. Dudley."

"Suppose she sees you?"

"I know how to run!"

"She might catch you!"

"She shan't!"

"I'm afraid to let you try it." She lingered irresolute.

"You needn't. I'll let myself! Go back to Miss Crilly, and tell
her to keep up courage a little longer and I'll have Dr. Dudley
here as soon as I can."

She put on her softest slippers and crept carefully down the
stairs. All was dark. Not a sound came to her keen ears. She
crossed the hall and reached the heavy front door. Cautiously she
passed her hand from lock to lock--something squeaked! She
frowned, and hastily slid the last bolt--A light flared behind her!

"What are you doing?--Miss Sterling!" Miss Sniffen came quickly
towards her.

"I am going for the doctor!" She was out the door.

Miss Sniffen was almost as quick. "Come back!" she cried. "Come
back this minute!"

Juanita Sterling was on the long flight of granite steps, so was
Miss Sniffen. The lithe little figure ran swiftly along the walk
to the street; the pursuer was close behind. The feet ahead seemed
heavy and slow; the steps that followed came nearer, nearer! Miss
Sterling could almost feel the big hand upon her shoulder! Her
heart beat suffocatingly, her ears thundered defeat, she must drop
or die! Then she thought of Nelson Randolph and grew strong! She
bounded forward--she was nearly there! No, she was only passing
the corner! On, on, on! She reached the gate, bumped against it,
sped along the walk, stumbled up the steps, and pushed the bell
button--not until then did she venture a backward glance.

A tall figure was walking slowly, very slowly up the street!

"Out--of--breath!" she said softly, with a chuckle that was half a
sob.

A light flashed inside, and Mrs. Dudley opened the door.

"Why, Miss Sterling!"

"Is--Doctor--home?" she puffed.

"No, he isn't. He's out of town. Come in! Somebody sick?"

Mrs. Dudley put her into an easy-chair, felt her pulse, smiled in
happy assurance, and waited for the story.

Before it was finished, Polly peeped in.

"I thought it was your voice! What _is_ the matter, Miss Nita?"
She drew up a chair and sat down, folding her crimson robe about
her.

Part of the tale was hurriedly retold.

"Doctor may come on the 11.55 train; if not, he can't get here
before one o'clock."

"And Dr. Vera is watching with Dorothy!" cried Polly.

"So I told her," said Mrs. Dudley. "Dorothy is a very sick child;
he cannot leave her. I would go over if I thought I could do any
good."

"I'm afraid Miss Sniffen wouldn't let us in." returned Miss
Sterling. "I think I'd better call up Mr. Randolph. He said to do
it if--there was any trouble." Her face rivaled in color Polly's
robe.

The young girl's eyes widened.

"When did he--" she began; but her mother interrupted.

"Yes, by all means, telephone!"

Miss Sterling darted into the next room, while Polly sprang to turn
on the light.

"Hallo! Is it Mr. Randolph?" came to Polly's ears. "Juanita
Sterling is talking. I am at Dr. Dudley's. Miss Crilly is very
sick, and I came over for the Doctor; but he is out of town. Can
you come up? Yes. Yes. Good-bye!--He says he will be here in
less than ten minutes." She returned to the chair she had left, and
Polly cuddled down beside her, while Mrs. Dudley went to put her
dress in better order.

"I'll stay till he comes," said Polly comfortably. "Then I can run
and leave you to let him in--you won't mind, will you? Do tell me
more about that race, Miss Nita. Oh, don't I wish I had seen it!"

She laughed over the superintendent's probable discomfiture, and
lamented Miss Crilly's illness.

"It is too bad father isn't at home," she said musingly; "but, oh.
Miss Nita! what made you think of calling up Mr. Randolph? When
did he tell you any such thing?"

"I went to ride with him yesterday," was the quiet answer.

"You did! Wasn't that lovely! Where did you go?"

"Over to Bryston. We took dinner at Squirrel Inn."

"Oh, my!" chuckled Polly. "What will Blanche Puddicombe say?"

"I don't care what she says. Polly, he is not engaged lo her."

"He isn't? Oh, I am so glad, I don't know what to do! I didn't
want him to be engaged one bit!"

"I didn't say he wasn't engaged," returned the other demurely. "I
only said he was not engaged to Miss Puddicombe."

Polly's face fell. "Oh, dear!" she cried in a vexed tone, "I never
thought of his being engaged to anybody else! Who is it?--I don't
know that I care, but I may as well know!" Polly looked cross.

Miss Sterling laughed softly. "What a little fire-box you are!"
she said.

"Oh, yes, laugh!" pouted Polly. "Of course, you don't care,
because you don't like him as I do; but I think it is mean for him
to be engaged--just when I was so glad he wasn't! You haven't told
me who it is yet--anybody I know?"

"Yes."

"Somebody here in town, then?"

"Yes, right here."

"I don't see who it can be. I never saw him riding with anybody
but Blanche Puddicombe. Why don't you tell me?" cried Polly
impatiently.

"I said she was right here." The little woman in gray sat very
still. Her eyes were following the pattern of the rug. Her cheeks
grew red and redder.

"Why, I don't see--" began Polly. Then she started forward. "Oh,
Miss Nita! you don't mean--"

Juanita Sterling met the bright eyes, and nodded smilingly.

"Oh, Miss Nita! Miss Nita!"--Polly squeezed her friend's arm in
ecstasy--"I can't believe it! It's too lovely for anything! I
want to hop right over the moon! How did he say it, Miss Nita? Do
tell me how he said it! I've always wanted to know how they said
it, and mother won't tell me, and father won't, and unless you do I
never shall know!"

"You--with a lover like David!" laughed the other.

"Oh, well, David's only a boy! Please--there's his car! It's
turning round!" She started and her eyes fell upon the clock.
"Just after midnight! I didn't notice its striking. Good-morning,
Miss Nita! How funny it will seem to say Mrs. Randolph!"

"Polly!" the other expostulated.

Polly laughed and flung her arms round Miss Sterling's neck.
"Remember! I'm not going to let you off! You must tell me how he
said it!"

"Charmingly, Polly, charmingly!"

"No, that won't do!--There's the bell!" And the crimson-robed
little figure fled.

Juanita Sterling had wondered what she would say when they met the
next time. How different this was from her dream!

Nelson Randolph took her hand in a warm clasp. "I am glad you let
me come," he said.

Briefly she explained the situation.

"Better call Dr. Temple."

"I thought of him, but I didn't like to take any more
responsibility."

"Where is the telephone?"

She led the way and made a light.

"Yes, it's Randolph," she heard him say. "I am at Dr. Dudley's.
He is out of town. A woman at the Home is very sick. Can you come
up? Yes, I will wait here and go over with you."

He settled himself in a big rocker, and regarded her smilingly.

"So the Princess had a race with the Dragon! That is more than I
anticipated. Was she frightened?"

Miss Sterling blushed. "Not much--a little," she admitted.
"Once--for a long minute--I was afraid the 'Dragon' was going to
catch me!"

"But she didn't! I am proud of you!" He grasped the hand that
rested on the arm of her chair.

She pulled away and ran across the room. "I'm going to sit here!"
she announced, smiling to him. To hold her hand that way--when at
any moment Mrs. Dudley might appear!

He surveyed her with amusement. "Was that an unforgivable sin?" he
twinkled.

"M--no," demurely. "The Doctor may come."

"He won't come in at the window," he laughed. "Don't you think you
are a little unkind, when I have been so far away all day and
haven't had a glimpse of you since last night?"

"You can see me just as well over here. There have been other days
when you have not seen me." A mischievous light gleamed in her
eyes.

"It wasn't my fault," he smiled. "I tried pretty hard to see you!"

She went back, blushing like a school-girl.

"Thank you! I'll be good! I can't realize that you are coming to
make my lonely home such a place of delight!"

She could not look up to meet the eyes that she knew were dwelling
upon her.

"I want to take you over there to-morrow," he went on. "There are
a few changes I propose making, and you may like to suggest some on
your own account. You can have it any way you please."

She glanced up now, her cheeks still aflame, her face flooded with
joy.

"I shall like to go," she said; "but I think I'll leave the changes
to you. The outside looks beautiful to me just as it is. The wide
lawn on the south side, with the background of evergreens, is
magnificent!"

"I am glad you like that. I never tire of it. So you don't want
me to trim the trees up--as some folks advise?"

"O-h!" she gasped. "The effect would be ruined!"

He smiled. "I might have done it to please you, but I think I'd
have argued a little first."

"I should have argued more than a little if you had suggested it,"
she laughed.

"I am going to build out a big veranda from the dining-room, put in
windows for the winter, and then give them over to screens through
the summer."

He paused to listen. "Dr. Temple, I presume," as a car whizzed up
and stopped. He went to the door, while Miss Sterling threw on her
coat.

Mrs. Dudley joined them, and the four proceeded to the Home.

The superintendent opened the door to them, smiling a little when
she saw Nelson Randolph.

"There is probably no real need of routing people from their beds
at this hour," she said; "but, of course, we wish to do all we can
when any one is suffering. The patient will be glad to see you,"
she added, addressing the Doctor.

The physician was swift in his diagnosis. "It is a case that calls
for quick work," he told Mrs. Dudley. "There must be an operation
at once. You think your husband will be here on the 1.03 express?"

"I feel sure of it."

"Then we will wait for him."

"She can be taken over to the hospital now;--we need not wait for
that."

Mrs. Dudley returned home to make the needful preparations, and
Juanita Sterling went to encourage Miss Crilly for the coming
ordeal.

The patient was tearful, but brave.

"Probably I never shall come back," she said; "but you are awful
good to try to save me, Miss Sterling! I'd like to live long
enough to show you how much I appreciate it."

"Nonsense, that wasn't anything! And of course you're coming back!
Dr. Temple says you have every chance in your favor if it's done
right away. He thinks you are in splendid condition. Now don't
you worry a single minute!"

"I'll try not to! I wish I were as brave as you. I'd never have
dared to go--with her chasin' me! My! I wish I could have seen
you two leggin' it!"

Miss Sterling laughed. "That is what Polly wished. But as for my
being brave, Miss Crilly, I'm afraid I'm not. I am going to tell
you my big secret--I have told only Polly yet; but maybe it will
give you something to think of,--I expect to marry Mr. Randolph!"

"O-h, Miss Sterling! Oh, my! Isn't that perfectly beautiful!
Well, you have given me something to think of! Why, I 'most forgot
already what's comin'! And I'm going to keep thinking of it hard,
so's I won't worry! The idea of your marryin' the president! I
do' know's I wonder you weren't scared o' Miss Sniffen! And to
think how I jollied you only this morning--about him! Why, I never
thought of such a thing!"

"Of course not! But it didn't trouble me."

"It didn't--really?"

"No, I quite enjoyed it!"

"You're awful good to say so! But what about Miss Puddicombe? I
thought he was--"

"No, he wasn't. It was a mistake. They're cousins, distant
cousins, that's all."

"Well, well, isn't that funny! And I'm so glad for you that I
don't know what to do!--O-h! my! that was a pretty big pain! But I
can bear it better now--will you kiss me once, just once, Miss
Sterling?"

She bent and kissed her, and smiled cheerily.

"What's that! I guess they're after me! Oh, if I don't come back--"

"But you are coming back!"

"Maybe--but if I shouldn't, remember I'll always love you for what
you've done for me!"

The patient was wrapped up quickly by one of the hospital nurses,
and two orderlies bore her away. She was still smiling.

Juanita Sterling stood watching her out of sight, when a light step
close behind made her start.

"Did I frighten you?" smiled Mrs. Albright. "It's about Miss
Twining--Has Dr. Temple gone?"

"He was in the hall talking with Mr. Randolph. I'll see."

She ran down a few steps, and then back again.

"They're there still. Is she worse?"

"I don't know. She heard the commotion and after they'd gone
called me in. She got nervous, lying there and imagining
everything. I wish the Doctor could see her. Should you dare ask?"

"Yes--" She was on the stairs.

Nelson Randolph saw her coming and put out his hand. But he
dropped hers suddenly, as his fingers touched it.

The sparkles of amusement were still in her eyes when she told her
errand.

Dr. Temple looked at his watch.

"Time enough?" inquired the president.

"Plenty."

Mr. Randolph approached the superintendent who was busying herself
at her desk.

In a moment he returned. "Mrs. Nobbs will go up with you," he said.

Juanita Sterling did not wait; she hastened upstairs to insure Mrs.
Albright's safe exit from the corner room.

The door was left partly open as Mrs. Nobbs and the physician
entered, and the two in the opposite apartment moved out of range.

The low voices of doctor and patient did not carry beyond the
corridor; but at a step Miss Sterling bent forward.

Dr. Temple was taking an instrument from his bag.

"Stethoscope," she whispered.

For several minutes no sound came from the sick-room. The
listeners breathed anxiously.

"Good as anybody's!" The tone was emphatic.

Miss Sterling caught Mrs. Albright's hand in a rapturous squeeze.

"Do you mean--no heart disease?" Miss Twining's soft voice was
shrilled with incredulous joy.

They could not catch the reply; but they smiled to each other in
delight.

Shortly Mrs. Nobbs and the Doctor went downstairs, leaving the door
free.

The others hurried across.

Miss Twining was tearfully excited. "Oh! did you hear? He says
my heart is all right, and in the morning I can go down to
breakfast! He'll insure my living to be a hundred years old--as if
I ever would!" She laughed quiveringly. "Those pink tablets I'm
to take after meals, and the brown ones if I should feel bad--I
never shall again! I believe it is two hours apart--you see! He
says it is just a little nervous breakdown--There isn't any anodyne
in them! Oh, I'm so glad you called him!"

CHAPTER XXXV

A NEW WIRE

Early the next morning Juanita Sterling was awakened by a heavy
thud. Where was it? It came again. She sprang out of bed, threw a
robe around her, and ran over to the window.

Some distance below appeared a grinning face. A man was coming up
a ladder.

"Don't be scared, ma'am! I'm only going to put on the loop. Isn't
this the room where the 'phone's to be?"

"Why--I don't know," she hesitated.

"It's to go in Miss Sterling's room."

"Who ordered it?"

"Nelson Randolph of the Paper Company."

"Oh, yes!" she cried, "that's all right."

"Where will you have it? On this side?"

"I--guess so--" She looked around. "Yes, here'll be a good place."

"All right, ma'am! Another man 'll be up to do the wiring. I'm
only putt'n' on the loop. Orders were to rush it through--that's
why I'm so early." He grinned. "Hope I haven't disturbed you,
ma'am."

She assured him that she was not in the least disturbed. She drew
down the shades and turned back to the room. It was not yet six
o'clock.

A telephone of her very own! Delightful possibilities loomed
before her through all her dressing. No more dreading of stormy
days when she would be shut in the house; no more fears to torture
her in the wakeful hours of the night. Help and protection would
be hers at call!--And she could talk with Polly! She wanted to
dance for very joy. And only two days ago her heart was aching!
She felt as if it would never ache again.

At breakfast she heard many surmises regarding the strange noises
about the building, before the workmen on the L were there. She
decided to keep silent unless she were asked. It would be known
early enough.

The electrician had come and gone, leaving on a table by the window
the little instrument which seemed to its happy possessor to be
almost alive. She stood looking at it and wondering how soon it
would be in working order, when Mrs. Albright came in.

At once she saw the telephone, and stared in astonishment.

Miss Sterling laughed. "No more midnight troubles!"

"I am so surprised I don't know what to say." The visitor sat down.

"It isn't usable yet," Miss Sterling told her. "The man said he
had to do some wiring in the cellar, make connections, and so on."

"Won't it be lovely for you!" cried Mrs. Albright.

"For all of us," amended the other. "I want the ladies to feel
that it belongs to them as well as to me, and to come and use it
whenever they wish."

"That is good of you! I'm sure it is needed badly enough. Isn't it
nice that Miss Crilly is doing so well?"

"Yes, I'm glad as can be! I felt she would come out all right, but
it is better to know it."

"She owes her life to you. I never should have dared to brave Miss
Sniffen's anger, as you did."

"I guess I shouldn't have dared, if I hadn't known there was
somebody ready to stand by me in case of need."

"That must have helped. Miss Sterling, I couldn't keep from
hearing what you told Miss Crilly last night."

"I supposed you would; in fact, I meant you should hear."

"Well, I am so glad! You don't know how glad! Only I can't bear
the thought of losing you."

"Don't begin to worry yet! I shall not go at present."

"Well, I wish you all possible joy, and I feel sure you'll have
it--with such a good man. My married life was short,--only one
year,--but it was packed full of happiness. I have had the memory
of that all these years."

"Was it sudden?"

"Like that!" She snapped her fingers. "We were in New York--on a
pleasure trip!" She smiled sadly. "A runaway horse struck him
down--he was gone in an instant!"

Tears sprang to the eyes of the listener.

"Now I ought not to have told you!" Mrs. Albright said regretfully.

"Yes, you ought! I am glad you did! I knew you had had sorrow;
but I didn't know just what it was."

"Death isn't the worst thing that can happen," she smiled. "I try
to think only of the happiness I've had, instead of the rest. And,
my dear, I cannot wish you any greater joy than I had as long as
Jack was with me."

"It must be good to have that to remember. Sometimes--"

"Ting! ting! Ting! ting!"

"Why!--I wonder--" Miss Sterling ran over to the telephone.

"Hallo!" she called.

"Good-morning, Juanita!"

"Oh, Mr. Randolph! Good-morning!"

"My name is Nelson."

She laughed softly. "Good-morning--Nelson!"

"Thank you! It is pleasant to hear you say it."

"I didn't know the wire was usable yet."

"I told them to call me up as soon as it was in working order."

"It was such a surprise! I can't tell you what a joy it is to me!"

"I couldn't think of a better way out of the difficulty."

"It is the best of anything."

"I shall feel safer about you. Are you alone?"

"Yes, I am now. Mrs. Albright was here when you called; but I see
she has slipped away."

"It is delightful to be able to talk with you at any time. You
cannot realize what you are to me!"

She smiled into the mouth-piece. "You think, then, that a woman is
incapable of the same feeling?"

"Oh, no, not incapable, but--I thought--that, perhaps--"

"You think I don't feel quite as you do--is that it?"

"Yes. I don't see how it is possible!"

"I am glad you think it is my heart that's at fault, instead of my
brain."

"No, no, not at fault! I can't explain here. I'll wait till I see
you."

"Oh, let's finish it up right now! This is a private wire, isn't
it?"

"Certainly."

"We'll go ahead, then. What makes you think I don't feel as I
ought?"

"I didn't say just that! You're all right, anyway!"

"Thank you! But why do you think I don't feel as you feel?"

"Well, in the first place, there is no reason why you should."

"Isn't there? And in the second place?"

"Why, you--you--weren't anxious to go to ride with me!"

"How do you know? Miss Sniffen got the invitations, not I!"

"I gave you one, face to face!"

"0-h, up in the pasture!"

"Yes. You offered no reason for your refusal."

"I couldn't! I supposed that you were engaged to Miss Puddicombe."

"And you were afraid she wouldn't like it?"

"You are not a good guesser. I think I didn't consider her very
much," with a little laugh.

"Then you thought I ought not to ask you?"

"Don't ever enter a guessing contest--you wouldn't win!"

"I suppose not," meekly. "Can't you help me out?"

The red in her cheeks crept up to her hair, she frowned a little.
"I--I could not give you the real reason, Mr. Randolph, and I
didn't want to lie!" She ran ahead hurriedly. "I was trying to
forget, and--"

"Wait a minute! A train is going through the cut, and I didn't
hear that last....Now go on, please."

"I don't want to! It was bad enough to say it once!"

"You need not repeat, then. Though I should like to hear."

"I said--I--had been trying--"

"Just a minute! Somebody is knocking."

She sighed. She had a mind to run away--she hated the telephone!

"Hallo!"

No answer.

"Princess, are you there?"

"Yes," faintly.

"Sorry I had to keep you waiting. Now I am all ears!"

"I wish you weren't!"

"Never mind, then! Let it go till I see you this afternoon."

"Mercy! no!--I said--I--oh, I'm not going to tell you! You can
guess it out for yourself."

"Perhaps I can't."

"Never mind! You won't miss much. Good-bye!"

"Wait a minute! Juanita!"

"Yes."

"I'll be there about three, but I'd better call you up before I
start. I'm sorry you won't tell me."

"It doesn't need to be told. Anybody could guess!"

"I can't see any clue."

She laughed. "I'm the clue! Good-bye."

CHAPTER XXXVI

POLLY DUDLEY TO CHRISTOPHER MORROW

_Saturday Morning,_
Dear Chris,--

I have such an avalanche of news, I don't know where to begin.
First, I must thank you for your dear letter and the wild flowers.
They are lovely. We were immensely interested in hearing about
your school, it is all so different from ours. What do you think
father said, Chris Morrow! He put the sheets carefully back in the
envelope, and as he laid it on the table he exclaimed, "That boy is
a born letter-writer!" It ought to make you very proud, but I know
it won't. He never said that over a letter of mine! But I am not
jealous. I do wish you were here. I wish it every day. But I'm
glad you are so happy with your father, and that he has such a
splendid position. Now for my news!

I ought to be dusting my room this very minute! My desk is so
dusty--it blew in last evening, I guess, when the window was open,
the dust, I mean--and it stares me in the face and makes me feel
guilty. I can't do as Mrs. Albright does when her room is dusty
and she doesn't feel like dusting. I went to see her one day, and
she was sitting by the window, smiling as usual. She said, "Don't
look around, dear, for I presume the dust is thick on everything.
I was too tired to dust after my walk, so I took off my glasses and
have been having a really beautiful time in spite of the dust."

_Later._

There! I feel better. Everything is bright as new! Now I shan't
be in terror if the doorbell rings.

I wonder what I'd better take first. I wrote you all about Miss
Crilly and what a time Miss Nita had getting a doctor. Miss Crilly
is back at the Home now, perfectly well, and you can't see her ten
minutes before she will get in something about Miss Nita's saving
her life. She did, too! Father says that if she had waited till
morning it would have been too late. Poor Miss Sniffen! I'm glad
she didn't have any more to answer for! Mr. Randolph put a private
wire up to Miss Sterling's room, and she felt fixed all right. It
was funny! If he'd waited till the next week he wouldn't have
needed to do it, though it was very nice for her as long as she was
there. Well, a week after the telephone was in, Mabel ran up to
Miss Major's room before she was up, frightened half to death. She
said, "Oh, Miss Major!"--woke her out of a sound sleep--"Miss
Sniffen has gone! And Mrs. Nobbs has gone! And Bridget has gone!"
Bridget was the cook. "How do you know?" Miss Major asked.
"'Cause they ain't anywhere!" Mabel cried. "We've looked all over,
Nellie and me! In Miss Sniffen's room and Mrs. Nobbs's room and
Bridget's room! They ain't anywhere at all!" Of course, that
roused the house, and everybody was running round half-dressed, and
they hunted everywhere, and they couldn't find a trace of the
three. Their trunks had disappeared and every vestige of their
belongings! The servants didn't know what to do, and they stood
around helpless, till Miss Major and Mrs. Albright went into the
kitchen and began to get breakfast. Miss Nita telephoned to Mr.
Randolph, and he came up and appointed Miss Major to have charge of
things till they could get new officers. In the middle of the
forenoon who should appear but Mrs. Dick!--Mrs. Tenney, I should
say. Her husband had died a month or so before, and she had tried
to get back into the Home, but Miss Sniffen wouldn't have her, and
she hadn't dared to apply to anybody else. As soon as she came in
and found out they'd gone, she took off her things and went right
into the kitchen to help. She started to make some bread; but the
flour was sour and wormy, and she wouldn't use it. So Mr. Randolph
sent up some new, and told her to order anything she needed. You
can imagine they had a good dinner! It was a first-class meal,
they all said, the best they had had in years. Miss Nita called me
up early, and I ran over before school. They were having a regular
jubilation,--as happy as a flock of kids!

Now they've got a superintendent that is worthwhile! She is just
lovely! The matron is nice, too, so motherly. And what do you
think! They have a trained nurse--all the time--and they are going
to fix up an infirmary on the top floor, so those that are sick can
be quiet without the well ones having to be whist. Dr. Temple has
been appointed House Physician--oh, I tell you, things are mightily
changed at the Home!

I think I wrote you about Miss Twining and her "resurrection."
That night when Dr. Temple contradicted so emphatically what Dr.
Gunnip had told her she says she felt as if she had been dead and
buried all those dreadful weeks and had come back to life. Miss
Crilly insists that if it hadn't been for Miss Twining's
"martyrdom" we never should have had "spunk" enough to go to Mr.
Randolph with our awful story. I guess she is right. That stirred
us up to do something. Miss Twining is pretty well now. She
writes nearly every day, and as she can sell as much as she likes
she earns a good deal. She told me once how she had always longed
to hear one of her poems read in church. Well, last Sunday Mr.
Parcell finished up his sermon with her "Peter the Great." It is
beautiful--I'll copy it for you some day. He repeated it
splendidly. I couldn't resist glancing over at Miss Twining--you
ought to have seen her! She looked just like a saint--or an angel!

Have I told you how father all but scolded me for talking to the
minister in that way? He didn't like it a little bit! I shan't
dare to tell ministers what I think after this! But I do believe
it did Mr. Parcell good. He has been lovely to me ever since. He
isn't half so cold and top-lofty as he used to be.

I'm getting down pretty near the weddings, I guess. We've had two!
They're celebrating birthdays now at the Home, and Mrs. Adlerfeld's
happened to be the first one. Miss Churchill had a lovely birthday
cake for her, and chrysanthemums. The table looked beautiful. But
little Mrs. Adlerfeld gave them a surprise. Of course, Miss
Churchill and the matron knew all about it, and Mrs. Albright and
Miss Nita and I; but the majority did not dream of such a thing.
At eight o'clock Mrs. Adlerfeld, who had slipped away to put on her
traveling dress, walked in on the arm of Mr. Von Dalin, and there
was a minister, and they were married! Colonel Gresham gave her
away, and we had such a nice time! She is living in New York. Oh,
she was so sweet! I wish you could have seen her. In speaking of
Mr. Von Dalin she said, "He is always a glad man. I could not
marry a man who was not glad." Isn't that dear? It was hard to
lose her. I am thankful Miss Nita didn't have to go away--I don't
know what I should have done!

Now comes her wedding! It was so pretty, everybody said. I was in
it, so I couldn't tell so well. The chapel and all the rooms were
beautifully decorated with flowers, and the bride wore a simple
tailored suit of dark blue, hat and boots to match. They looked
splendid together, he is so tall and handsome and she is so slender
and pretty. You don't know how much prettier she is since she has
curled her hair! I always thought she would be. Almost all the
ladies went right to curling their hair as soon as Miss Sniffen had
skipped out, and it is a great improvement. Father gave away the
bride, and David was Mr. Randolph's best man. I was the maid of
honor. I felt as if I had been married myself. David said he
didn't, but he wished he had been. Doesn't that sound just like
him? He is the queerest boy! Do you know, he comes away up here
almost every morning, so as to walk down to school with me and cut
out Todd Wilmerding! He knows I don't care a rap for Todd, but he
hates to see him carrying my books!

Miss Nita says I must call her simply "Nita" now, but it is hard to
change. Mr. Randolph sometimes calls her "Princess," and she
always smiles and blushes--I wonder why! "Princess" just fits her,
doesn't it? He declares he shall feel slighted if I don't call him
"Nelson"! As if I would--that dignified man! Nita insists that he
isn't dignified one bit, but I don't agree with her. Anyway, I
shan't leave off the "Mr." to-day! They were only gone a week. I
go over there nearly every day. The house has been altered a good
deal. A beautiful, big veranda, or addition, has been built off
the dining-room, sides all glass, and heated so that it can be used
in the coldest weather. I ate dinner there last week. Nita has
two servants, so she doesn't have to work hard. There is a new
music room, too, out of the hall, with a magnificent new piano in
it! Miss Nita enjoys that. Oh, I forgot to tell you that they are
going to have a piano at the Home! Mrs. Winslow Teed is delighted.
And they have new china for the table. Miss Churchill couldn't
stand that old heavy stuff, and the good had all been broken. You
wouldn't know the place. The ladies can go and come as they
please, making a note of where they are going, or not, just as they
choose. There are hardly any rules, and visitors are allowed every
afternoon between two o'clock and six. I guess Mr. Randolph means
to make up to them for all they have suffered through Miss Sniffen.
One thing I am glad of! The ladies have some new dresses! And
Mrs. Crump and Miss Castlevaine have new winter coats. They were
the worst dressed of anybody, as they had been there longest. And
I am almost gladdest of this,--each lady has five dollars a month
for spending money! They are expected to buy their own shoes and
stockings and gloves and neckwear and hats; but they'll have plenty
left for themselves.

Mrs. Albright's birthday comes next week, and we are planning a big
time. But the cream of the birthdays comes next summer, when we
expect to celebrate June Holiday's birthday. It will be a grand
outdoor affair. Some of the ladies have chosen their parts
already. Everybody is to represent something in a June day, and
the children--trustees' and managers' children, you know--are going
to be butterflies and bumblebees. They want me to be Morning--in
light pink. Miss Crilly is going to be South Wind--won't she be
breezy? She hasn't quite decided about her costume, but it is to
be of some gauzy stuff. I think Miss Lily will be Blue Sky and
White Clouds. She will be sweet in blue and white. Then there are
going to be lots of flowers and birds and all sorts of characters.
I wish you could be here! Can't you come across? What do you
think Blue says he is going to be? A hop-toad! Isn't that like
him! If he does he'll carry it out so he'll keep everybody
laughing. There is Patricia coming! I must say good-bye in a
hurry. Loads of love from us all.

Polly May Dudley.

P.S. Patricia has just gone. She brought some news. Doodles is
going to be soprano soloist in the boy choir at Trinity Church!
Isn't that worth while! Of course, it is Mr. Randolph's doing. He
is one of the head men there, and what he says, goes. He thinks
Doodles's singing is about right. So Nita will hear him every
Sunday. Mother says you'll have to stay home from school the day
you read this, for there won't be time for anything else. More
love from

Polly.

CHAPTER XXXVII

HOLLY AND MISTLETOE

June Holiday Home awoke early on the 24th of December, for
everybody--which means fifteen of the residents--was going to spend
the day with Mrs. Randolph. "From directly after breakfast until
midnight," the invitation ran, and the president's car was to be at
the Home by eight o'clock.

Such a profusion of curls and crimps, of new dresses and waists and
fichus, added to new shoes and hats and coats, would have shocked
the former superintendent of the Home; but Miss Churchill and Miss
Ely even offered their services in the putting on of frills and
furbelows, to the astonishment of those not yet grown familiar with
kindness.

Mrs. Post, being unable to walk, had at first considered herself as
entirely out of the fun; but Mrs. Randolph won the enduring love of
that eldest member of the Home circle by saying that she should
send an extra man with the chauffeur, so that Mrs. Post might have
no fears regarding her trip from Edgewood Avenue to Courtney Street.

The Randolph home looked a bower of Christmas greenery and blossoms
when the guests entered it that chill morning.

"My! isn't it beautiful!" cried Miss Crilly, sniffing the pungent,
woodsy odors. "Smells like you were right there!" She grasped her
hostess by the shoulders. "Now, solemn true! Aren't you the
happiest mortal on earth?"

Mrs. Randolph smiled, blushing a little, too.

"I don't know how happy other people may be," she answered; "I only
hope that they are as happy as I am."

"There! I knew it!" Miss Crilly exulted, as if she had just
disclosed a secret.

The others laughed, the thin ice of conventionality was swept away,
and at once all were merry.

"I think the new ladies wished they were coming when they heard us
talking about it," said Miss Mullaly.

"They said they were invited to spend the day with relatives,"
returned the hostess.

"Yes, but they won't have half so good a time as we shall." Miss
Crilly wagged her head expectantly. "They'll just sit around stiff
and poky--most of them look as if they would. Isn't Polly coming,
Mis' Randolph?"

"This evening."

"Won't that be lovely! She always makes things fly!"

During the forenoon the house was inspected from the quaint little
rooms under the eaves to the cold-storage apartment below ground.
Miss Crilly insisting that she wanted to see the head and the foot
of it; and no new mistress of her own home would have been human
not to be pleased with the praise that came from all lips, even
including Miss Castlevaine's and Mrs. Crump's. In fact, these two
fault-finders appeared to have been won over from their most
unpleasant habits by the changes at the Home, which went to prove
that Colonel Gresham was not wholly wrong.

"The clouds are chiming in with the rest of the world," called Miss
Mullaly from the sunshine-room, just as the sun was setting. "Come
here, every one of you, and see this sky!"

Informality was the watchword of the day, the guests having early
been given the freedom of the house, and Miss Mullaly had strayed
away from the others into the windowed room.

"My sakes!" exclaimed Miss Crilly. "Isn't that a real Christmas
celebration!"

After the first outburst, the little party watched the gorgeous
display almost in silence.

"It is too grand for words," breathed Miss Major.

Mrs. Randolph caught sight of Miss Twining's face, and it turned
her from the distant glory. She told Mrs. Albright afterwards that
she looked as if it were given her to see what was not visible to
the others--a glimpse of heaven itself.

Mrs. Bonnyman broke the spell.

"Let's go back before it fades," she suggested. And the majority
followed her into the firelit living-room.

"You missed the lovely purple tints," Miss Mullaly told them, as
the remaining quartette filed back to join the rest.

"We'd rather have the picture of that magnificent sky of mottled
crimson," declared Mrs. Grace.

"Nothing could be finer than that," observed Mrs. Tenney.

"Look out!" broke in a rich voice. "I shan't let you say there's
anything finer than this!"

"Not even a sunset?" laughed Miss Crilly, as Nelson Randolph
appeared in the doorway,

"A sunset is all right in its proper place," he smiled; "but when I
want to ornament a chandelier I prefer this." He held up a large
spray of mistletoe. "What do you think?" he challenged Miss Crilly.

"I guess you've got me this time!" she laughed.

"And I may get you again, my girl, before the evening is out!" He
shook a warning finger in her direction.

"Dear me!" she cried, "I'm glad I came! To be called a 'girl'! I,
an old maid of--I won't tell how many 'summers'! Thank you, Mr.
Randolph!"

"If all old maids were as young as you there wouldn't be any," he
responded gallantly.

She laughed her blushing protest, while he went for a stepladder.

The mistletoe, in its place of honor among the evergreens, brought
forth many expressions of admiration.

The host surveyed it with satisfaction.

"I think that's a pretty nice piece of mistletoe," he said slowly.
"It ought to be, I paid a good price for it. But I expect to get
my reward before midnight," he twinkled to the smiling company.

"Don't be too sure, Mr. Randolph!" cautioned Miss Crilly.

"I am an expert at this business," he announced gravely, "and all I
have to say is, Look out!"

The ladies were still laughing when they sat down to dinner.
Luncheon had been in the sunshine-room, but dinner was served in
the dining-room, a big, beautiful apartment all in oak, with a fire
crackling at one end. The favors were knots of mistletoe and
holly, and a roasted goose held the place of honor upon the table.
All were in gayest holiday humor, from the mirthful host to quiet
Miss Leatherland, who came far enough out of her shy self to show
her friends that she possessed a goodly amount of fun and only
needed the opportune moment to display it.

As the guests sauntered back to the living-room, they made a wide
detour, rather than risk crossing the space beneath the brilliant
chandelier with its innocent adornment. The host, after carefully
depositing the cripple in the easiest chair, smiled over to Miss
Crilly.

"Too bad to cause you so many unnecessary steps!" he said.

"My feet are not tired," she smiled back at him.

"Then let's have a waltz!" he cried, coming up with outstretched
hands.

"Too soon after dinner," she laughed.

"No, it's a good time!" he twinkled gravely.

She hesitated, considering him with doubt on her face.

"Don't you trust him!" called Mrs. Randolph. "He is longing to
waltz you under the mistletoe!"

He strode across to his wife.

"How dare you blacken my reputation in the face of all these
ladies!" he cried sternly.

She laughed up at him with fearless, roguish eyes.

"Have I suggested anything that was not in your mind to do?"

A burst of laughter assailed him, while he walked off
muttering,--quite audibly,--"These women! these women!"

The jingling of sleighbells set the keener-eared of the guests to
listening.

"Polly wouldn't come in a sleigh, would she?" queried one.

"They're stopping here!" announced Miss Castlevaine from a front
window. "But it isn't Polly," she added, "it's--goodness!--it's
Santa Claus!"

"Santa Claus!" echoed the roomful. And regardless of mistletoe,
there was a rush across to the windows, while Nelson Randolph went
to welcome his guests.

In they came, the strange little party of six, and were presented
to the company as Santa Claus and Madam Santa Claus and four of the
little Santa Clauses.

"Who can they be?" whispered Miss Mullaly to her neighbor.

"More'n I know," returned Mrs. Crump. "I guess Polly's one of 'em,
but which!"

Santa Claus was the same rotund, pudgy old fellow--with the long
white beard and the laughing face--that children love, and on his
broad back was the proverbial pack of presents. His wife, in fur
from head to foot, wore a frilled fur cap, and, safely hidden
behind her spectacled, rosy-cheeked mask, looked the veritable
mother of all the little Santa Clauses attributed to her. The
children stood silently by in their picturesque costumes, looking
round the room, as children will, while their father and mother
conversed with the host and hostess.

Finally they were all seated, and Madam Santa Claus began in quite
a motherly way to talk about her children.

"It's Polly Dudley," whispered Mrs. Tenney to Mrs. Prindle. "I
know her voice. And I'm pretty sure that little one is Doodles.
Don't they look funny?"

They were all clad in red and white. The girls wore scarlet frocks
reaching almost to the floor, with short white fur coats, and caps
to match. The boys had long red trousers, and coats like those of
their sisters. As they looked around on the company they bore a
strong resemblance to their parents, with their rosy cheeks and
laughing lips.

"I had to leave most of the children at home," the mother was
saying. "Lambkin is too young to come out such a cold night, so
Eagle stayed to take care of her; and at the very last minute
Monkey broke his arm, and of course Brother couldn't come without
his twin. It only served Monkey right, he's so careless--though
I'm not quite sure that it is Monkey! I never can tell those boys
apart." Mother Santa Claus wagged her head cheerfully. "Then,
Mousey and Deer have sore throats, and I thought the rest had
better stay and keep the sick ones company. They'll have a good
Christmas Eve all together, even if they are sick."

"Please, can I take off my coat?" asked one of the girls, coming to
her mother's side.

"Not yet, Starling. Sit down and be quiet!"

"Your children have unusual names," twinkled the host gravely.

"That's what people say," the mother returned. "But we simply name
them according to their characteristics. This one," nodding to the
girl who had just gone back to her seat, "we call Starling, because
she talks so much, and her sister there is Dove, because she is so
gentle. Squirrel is the nimblest of them all and he is never still
a minute. See him wiggling round now! This little one," reaching
out a hand to the smallest of the four, "is Lark. because he sings
so sweetly.--Can't you sing your new carol, dear?"

So the youngest of the Santa Clauses stood up obediently and sung a
beautiful Christmas song about the Baby Christ. The applause was
long and insistent.

"He'll sing again for you pretty soon," promised Mother Santa
Claus. "I think father is ready to distribute the presents now.
Come, children, run along and help him, and mind you all step

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