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  • 1892
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“Oh, Mamsie,” cried Polly in dismay, “must Papa Fisher know?”

“Certainly,” said Mrs. Fisher firmly, “your father must be told every thing.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Polly, turning off in dismay, “it seems so–so unfair to Mr. Bayley. Mightn’t it be just as if he hadn’t spoken, Mamsie?” She came back now to her mother’s side, and looked anxiously into the black eyes.

“But he has spoken,” said Mother Fisher, “and your father must be told. Why, Polly, that isn’t like you, child, to want to keep anything from him,” she added reproachfully.

“Oh! I don’t–I couldn’t ever in all this world keep anything from Father Fisher,” declared Polly vehemently, “only,” and the color flew in rosy waves over her face, “this doesn’t seem like my secret, Mamsie. And Mr. Bayley would feel so badly to have it known,” and her head drooped.

“Still it must be known by your father,” said her mother firmly, “and I must tell Mr. King. Then it need go no further.”

“Oh, Mamsie!” exclaimed Polly, in a sharp tone of distress, “you wouldn’t ever in all this world tell Grandpapa!”

“I most certainly shall,” declared Mrs. Fisher. “He ought to know everything that concerns you, Polly, and each one of you children. It is his right.”

Polly sat down in the nearest chair and clasped her hands. “Grandpapa will show Mr. Bayley that he doesn’t like it,” she mourned, “and it will hurt his feelings.”

Mrs. Fisher’s lip curled. “No more do I like it,” she said curtly. “In the first place to speak to you at all; and then to take such a way to do it; it wasn’t a nice thing at all, child, for Mr. Bayley to do,” here Mrs. Fisher walked to the window, her irritation getting the better of her, so that Polly might not see her face.

“But he didn’t mean to speak then–that is”–began Polly.

“He should have spoken to your father or to Mr. King,” said Mrs. Fisher, coming back to face Polly, “but I presume the young man didn’t know any better, or at least, he didn’t think, and that’s enough to say about that. But as for not telling Mr. King about it, why, it isn’t to be thought of for a minute. So I best have it over with at once.” And with a reassuring smile at Polly she went out, and closed the door.

“Oh, dear me,” cried poor Polly, left alone; and springing out of her chair, she began to pace the floor. “Now it will be perfectly dreadful for Mr. Bayley. Grandpapa will be very angry; he never liked him; and now he can’t help showing what he feels. Oh! why did Mr. Bayley speak.”

“Polly,” called Jasper’s voice, out in the hall.

For the first time in her life, she felt like running away from his call. “Oh! I can’t go out; he’ll guess something is the matter,” she cried to herself.

“Polly?” and there was a rap at the door.

“Yes,” said Polly from within.

“Can I see you a minute?”

Polly slowly opened the door, and tried to lift her brown eyes to his face.

“Oh, Polly,” he pretended not to notice any thing amiss with her, “I came to tell you first; and you can help me to break it to father.”

“Oh, what is it?” cried Polly, looking up quickly. “Oh, Jasper,” as she saw that his face was drawn with the effort not to let her see the distress he was in.

He tried to cover up his anxiety, but she saw a yellow paper in his hand. “Oh, Jasper, you’ve a telegram,” she cried breathlessly.

“Polly,” said Jasper. He took her hand and held it firmly, “you will help father and me to bear it, I know.”

“Oh, Jasper, I will,” promised Polly, clinging to his hand. “Don’t be afraid to tell me, Jasper.”

“Listen; Marian has been thrown from her sleigh this morning; the horses ran,” said Jasper hurriedly. “The telegram says ‘Come.’ She may be living, Polly; don’t look so.”

For the room grew suddenly so dark to her that she wavered and would have fallen had he not caught her. “I won’t faint,” she cried, “Jasper, don’t be afraid. There, I’m all right. Now, oh, what can I do?”

“Could you go with me when I tell father?” asked Jasper. “I am so afraid I shall break it to him too sharply; and you know it won’t do for him to be startled. If you could, Polly.”

For the second time, everything seemed to turn black before her eyes, but Polly said bravely, “Yes, I’ll go, Jasper.” And presently, they hardly knew how, the two found themselves at old Mr. King’s door.

There was a sound of voices within. “Oh, dear me!” exclaimed Polly, “I forgot Mamsie was here.”

Jasper looked his surprise, but said nothing, and as they stood there irresolutely, Mrs. Fisher opened the door and came out.

“Why, Polly!” she exclaimed.

“Oh, Mrs. Fisher,” cried Jasper, “we can’t explain now, we must see father. But Polly will go and tell you,” and in another minute they were both standing before Mr. King.

The old gentleman was walking up and down his apartment, fuming at every step. “The presumption of the fellow! How did he dare without speaking to me! Oh, eh, Polly”–and then he caught sight of Jasper, back of her.

“Father,” began Jasper, “I’ve had a telegram from brother Mason.”

“Oh, now what has he been doing?” cried Mr. King irritably. “I do wish Mason wouldn’t be so abrupt in his movements. I suppose he is going abroad again. Well, let’s hear.”

Jasper tried to speak, but instead, looked at Polly.

“Dear Grandpapa,” cried Polly, going unsteadily to the old gentleman’s side, and taking his hand in both of hers. “Oh, we must tell you something very bad, and we don’t know how to tell it, Grandpapa.” She looked up piteously into his face.

Old Mr. King put forth his other hand, and seized the back of a chair to steady himself. “Tell me at once, Polly,” he said hoarsely. “It isn’t–Marian?” It was all he could do to utter the name.

“She is hurt,” said Polly, going to the heart of the matter without delay, “but oh, Grandpapa, it may not be very badly, and they want Jasper to go on to New York.”

[Illustration: “WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO TELL IT, GRANDPAPA.”]

Mr. King turned to Jasper. “Give me the telegram, my boy,” he said through white lips; when it was all read, “Now tell Philip to pack me a portmanteau.”

“Father,” said Jasper, “you are not going?”

“No questions are to be asked, Jasper,” said his father. “Be so good as to see that Philip packs quickly, and that you are ready. And now, Polly,” the old gentleman turned to her, “I want to take you along, child, if your mother is willing. Will you go?”

“Oh, Grandpapa,” cried Polly, “if I only may; oh, do take me.”

“I don’t want to go without you,” said Mr. King. “There, run, child, and ask your mother if you may go. Send Phronsie to me; I must explain matters to her and bid her good-by.”

Alexia and some of the other girls were hurrying in the east doorway of the King mansion, an hour later. “Oh, where’s Polly, Mrs. Fisher?” cried Cathie Harrison.

“Polly has gone,” said Mrs. Fisher, coming down the stairs. She looked as if she wanted to cry, but her hands held the basket of sewing as firmly as if no bad news had fallen upon the home.

“Gone?” cried all the girls. “Oh, Mrs. Fisher, where? Do tell us where Polly is?”

For answer Mrs. Fisher made them all go into the little reception room in an angle of the hall, where she told them the whole story.

“If that isn’t perfectly dreadful,” cried Alexia Rhys, throwing her muff into a chair, and herself on an ottoman. “Why, we were going to make up a theater party for to-morrow night. Mrs. Fisher, and now Polly is gone.”

Her look of dismay was copied by every girl so exactly, that Mrs. Fisher had no relief in turning to any of the other four.

“And there is her Recital–what will she do about that?” cried Alexia, rushing on in her complaint. “Perhaps she’ll give it up, after all,” she added, brightening. “Now I most know she will, Mrs. Fisher,” and she started up and began to pirouette around the room.

“Of course she has had to postpone it,” said Mrs. Fisher, looking after her, “and she told Joel to write the notes to the pupils explaining matters. But never you fear, Alexia, that Polly will give up that Recital for good and all,” she added, with a wise nod at her.

“Well, she must give it up for now anyway,” said Alexia, coming to a pause to take breath, “that’s some comfort. To think of Joe writing Polly’s notes to the girls, oh, dear me!”

“Let us go and help him,” proposed Cathie Harrison suddenly. “He must hate to do such poky work.”

“Oh, dear me,” began Alexia, taking up her little bag to look at the tiny watch in one corner. “We haven’t the time. Yes–come on,” she burst out incoherently; “where is he, Mrs. Fisher?”

“In the library, hard at work,” said Mrs. Fisher, with a bright smile at them all.

“Come on, girls,” said Alexia, rushing on. “Now that’s what I admire Mrs. Fisher for,” she said, when they were well in the hall, “she shows when she’s not pleased, and when she likes what a body does, as well.”

“I think she’s just elegant,” declared Cathie Harrison, who had privately done a good deal of worshiping at Mrs. Fisher’s shrine.

“She’s a dear,” voted Alexia. “Well, do come on. Oh, Joe!” as they reached the library door.

Joel sat back of the writing table, a mass of Polly’s note paper and envelopes sprawled before him, his head on his hands and his elbows on the table. Back of him paced Pickering Dodge with a worried expression of countenance.

“You do look so funny,” burst out Alexia with a laugh; “doesn’t he, girls?” to the bright bevy following her.

“I guess you would if you were in my place,” growled Joel, scarcely giving them a glance. “Go away, Alexia; you can’t get me into a scrape this morning–I’ve to dig at this.”

“I don’t want to get you into a scrape,” cried Alexia, with a cold shoulder to Pickering, who had been claimed by the other girls, “we’re going to help you.”

“Is that so?” cried Joel radiantly; “then I say you’re just jolly, Alexia,” and he beamed at her.

“Yes, we want to help,” echoed Cathie, drawing up a chair to the other side of the table. “Now do set us to work, Joel.”

“Indeed and I will,” he cried, spreading a clear place with a reckless hand.

“Take care,” warned Alexia, “take care; you are spoiling all Polly’s note paper. I wouldn’t let you at my things, I can tell you, Joel Pepper!”

“As if I’d ever do this sort of thing for you, Alexia,” threw back Joel.

“Well, do let us begin,” begged Cathie, impatiently drumming on the table, as the other two girls and Pickering Dodge drew near.

“Yes, do,” cried the girls, “and we’ll toss those notes off in no time.”

“I’ll help you clear the table,” cried Pickering; “do let me. I can’t write those notes, but I can get the place ready;” and he began to pile the books on a chair. As he went around to Alexia’s place she looked up and fixed her gaze past him, not noticing his attempt to speak.

“All right; if she wants to act like that, I’m willing,” said Pickering to himself savagely and coolly going on with his work.

“Oh, dear me,” groaned Cathie Harrison, “isn’t it perfectly dreadful to have that dear sweet Mrs. Whitney hurt?”

“Ow!” exclaimed Joel.

“Do stop,” cried Alexia with a nudge. “Haven’t you any more sense, Cathie Harrison, than to speak of it?”

[Illustration: “NOW DO SET US TO WORK, JOEL”]

Cathie smothered a retort, and bit her lips to keep it back.

“Well, dear me, we are not working much,” cried Alexia, pulling off her gloves; “how many notes have you to write, Joe?”

“Oh, a dozen, I believe,” said Joel; “that is, counting this one.”

“To whom is that?” asked Alexia, peering over his shoulder. “Oh, to Amy Loughead.”

“Yes, I promised Polly this should go first. That Loughead girl was expecting her over this morning. Oh, she’s a precious nuisance,” grumbled Joel, dipping his pen in the ink.

“Well, then, I will write to Desiree Frye,” said Alexia. “She was going to play a solo, Polly said, at the Recital. Oh, dear me, what shall I say?”

“Polly said tell them all what had happened, and that she should stay away as long as Aunty needed her, but she hoped to be home soon, and she would write them from New York.”

“Oh, Joe, what a lot,” exclaimed Alexia, leaving her pen poised in mid air.

“Cut it short, then,” said Joel. “I don’t care, only that’s the sense of it.”

“Oh, dear,” began one of the girls, “I can’t bear to write of the accident, and in the holidays, too.”

Alexia made an uneasy gesture, scrawled two or three words, then threw down her pen and got out of her chair. “It’s no use,” she cried, running up to Pickering, who, his hands in his pockets, had his back to them all, and was looking out of the window. “I can’t let myself do anything till I’ve said I’m sorry I was so cross,” and she put out her hand.

“Eh?” exclaimed Pickering, whirling around in astonishment. “Oh, dear me!” and he pulled his right hand out of his pocket, and extended it to her.

“Mrs. Whitney has got hurt, and she was always sweet, and never said cross things, and oh, dear me!” cried Alexia incoherently, as he shook her hand violently.

“And I’m glad enough to have it made up,” declared Pickering decidedly. “It’s bad enough to have so much trouble in the world, without getting into fights with people you’ve known ever since you can remember.”

“Trouble?” repeated Alexia wonderingly. “Oh, yes, Mrs. Whitney’s accident, you mean; I know it’s awful for all of us.”

Pickering Dodge turned on his heel and walked off abruptly, and she ran back to her work with a final stare at him.

“I know now,” she said to herself wisely, “and I’ve been mean enough to hurt him when he was bearing it. Oh, dear me, things are getting so mixed up!”

“Polly, you won’t leave me, will you, till I get able to sit up?” cried Mrs. Whitney one day, a week after.

“No, Aunty, indeed I won’t,” declared Polly, leaning over to drop a kiss on the soft hair against the pillows.

Mrs. Whitney put up her hands to draw down the young face.

“Oh, Aunty!” exclaimed Polly in dismay, “be careful; you know doctor said you mustn’t raise your arms.”

“Well, just let me kiss you, dear, then,” said Mrs. Whitney with a wan little smile. “Oh, Polly,” when the kiss and two or three others had been dropped on the rosy cheek, “you are sure you can stay with me?”

“I’m sure I can, and I will,” said Polly firmly. “Oh, Aunty, I shall be so glad to be with you; you can’t think how glad.”

She softly patted the pillows into the position Mrs. Whitney best liked, and then stood off a bit and beamed at her.

“It’s dreadfully selfish in me to keep you,” said Mrs. Whitney, “when you love your work so; and what will the music scholars do, Polly?”

“Oh, they are all right,” said Polly gaily, “they’re working like beavers. Indeed, Aunty, I believe they’ll practice a great deal more than if I were home to be talking to them all the while.”

“You are a dear blessed comfort, Polly,” said Mrs. Whitney, turning on her pillow with a sigh of relief. “Now I do believe I shall get up very soon. But Jasper must go back; it won’t do for him to stay away any longer from his business. Promise me, Polly, that you will make him see that he ought to go.”

“I’ll try, Aunty,” said Polly, “and now that you are so much better, why, I do believe that Jasper will be willing to go.”

“Oh, do make him,” begged Mrs. Whitney, and then she tucked her hand under her cheek, and the first thing Polly knew she heard the slow, regular breathing that told she was asleep.

“Now that’s just lovely,” cried Polly softly, “and I will run and speak to Jasper this very minute, for he really ought to go back to his business.”

But instead of doing this, she met a young girl, as she was running through the hall, who stopped her and asked, “Can I see Mr. King?”

“What!” cried Polly, astonished that the domestics had admitted any one, as it was against the orders.

“Oh, I am a relation,” said the girl coolly, “and I told the man at the door that I should come in; and he said then I must wait, for I could not see Mr. King now, and he put me up in that little reception room, but I just walked out to meet the first person coming in the hall. Will you be so kind as to arrange it?”

She looked as if she fully expected to have her wish fulfilled, and her gaze wandered confidently around the picture-hung wall, until such time as Polly could answer.

“I’ll see,” said Polly, who couldn’t help smiling, “what I can do for you; but you mustn’t be disappointed if Grandpapa doesn’t feel able to see you. He is very much occupied, you know, with his daughter’s ill”–

“Oh, I understand,” said the other girl, guilty of interrupting, “but he will see me, I know,” and her light blue eyes were as calm as ever.

“Who shall I tell him wants to see him?” asked Polly, her own eyes wide at the stranger and her ways.

“Oh, you needn’t tell him any name,” said the girl carelessly.

“Then I certainly shall not tell him you wish to see him, unless I carry your name to him,” Polly said quite firmly, and she looked steadily into the fair face before her.

“Oh, dear me,” said the girl; “well, you may say I am Mr. Alexander Chatterton’s daughter Charlotte.”

Polly kept herself from starting as the name met her ear. “Very well,” she said, “I will do what I can,” moving off. “O, Grandpapa!”

For down the hall came Mr. King in velvet morning jacket and cap.

“Hoity-toity, I thought no one was to be admitted,” he exclaimed, as he neared the door.

“Grandpapa,” Polly endeavored to draw him off, but the young girl ran past her.

“Mr. King,” she said quickly, “I am Charlotte Chatterton.”

“The dickens you are!” exclaimed the old gentleman, looking her full in the face.

“Yes, sir; and my father is very ill.” For a moment her voice trembled, but she quickly recovered herself. “It isn’t money I want, Mr. King,” and she threw her head back proudly, “but oh, will you come and see father?”

Mr. King looked at her again, then over at Polly. “Bring her in here,” he said, pointing to the same little reception room that Charlotte had deserted, “I want you to stay, too, Polly,” and the door closed upon them.

CHAPTER VI.

OF MANY THINGS.

“And father has asked her to go home when you and he go!” cried Jasper in irritation.

“Yes,” said Polly; “oh, Jasper, never mind; I daresay it will be for the best; and I’m so sorry for Charlotte.”

“She’ll be no end of bother to you, I know,” said Jasper. “And you must take her everywhere, Polly, and look out for her. What was father thinking of?” He could not conceal his annoyance, and Polly put aside her own dismayed feelings at the new programme, to help him into his usual serene mood.

“But think, Jasper, how she has never had any fun all her life, and now her father is sick.”

“She’d much better stay and take care of him,” declared Jasper.

“But he’s sick because he has worried so, I do believe,” Polly went on, “for you ought to have seen his face when we took Charlotte home, and Grandpapa talked with him, and asked him to let Charlotte pass the rest of the winter with us. Oh, I am glad, Jasper, for I do like Charlotte.”

“The girl may be well enough,” said Jasper shortly, “but she will bother you, nevertheless, Polly, I am afraid.”

“Never mind,” said Polly brightly, with a little pang at her heart for the nice times with the girls that now must be shared with another. “Grandpapa thought he ought to do it, I suppose, and that’s enough.”

“It does seem as if the Chattertons would never be done annoying us,” said Jasper gloomily. “Now when we once get this girl fastened on us, there’ll be an end to the hope of shaking her off.”

“Perhaps we sha’n’t want to,” said Polly merrily, “for Charlotte may turn out perfectly lovely; I do believe she’s going to.” And then she remembered her promise to Mrs. Whitney, and she began: “Aunty is worrying about your staying away so long from your business, Jasper, and she wants you to go back.”

A shade passed over his face. “I suppose I ought to go, Polly,” he said, and he pulled a letter from his pocket and held it out to her, “I was going to show this to you, only the other matter came up.”

Polly seized it with dread.

“We need your services very much” [the letter ran] “and cannot wait longer for your return. We are very sorry to be so imperative, but the rush of work at this time of the year, makes it necessary for all our force to be in place.

“Very sincerely

“DAVID MARLOWE.”

“You see they are getting all the books planned out, and put in shape for the next year; and business just rushes,” cried Jasper, with shining eyes, showing his eagerness to be in the midst of the bustle of manufacture.

“What, so early!” cried Polly, letting the letter drop. “Why, I thought you didn’t do anything until spring, Jasper–about making the books, I mean.”

He laughed. “The travelers go out on the road then,” he said, “with almost all the books ready to sell.”

“Out on the road?” repeated Polly in amaze. “Oh, what do you mean, Jasper?”

“Well, you see the business of selling is a good part of it done by salesmen, who travel with samples and take advance orders,” said Jasper, finding it quite jolly to explain business intricacies to such an eager listener.

“Oh!” said Polly.

“And when I get back I shall be plunged at once into all the thick of the manufacturing work,” he went on, straightening himself up; “Mr. Marlowe is as good as he can be, and he has waited now longer than he ought to.”

“Oh, you must go, Jasper,” cried Polly quickly; “at once, this very day,” and her face glowed.

“If you think sister Marian is really well enough to spare me,” he said, trying to restrain his impatience to be off.

“Yes–yes, I do,” declared Polly. “Doctor Palfrey said this morning that all danger was over now from inflammation, and really it worries her dreadfully to think of your being here any longer. It really does hurt her, Jasper,” repeated Polly emphatically.

“In that case I’m off, then, this afternoon,” said Jasper, with a glad ring in his voice. “Polly, my work is the very grandest in all the world.”

“Isn’t it?” cried Polly, with kindling eyes; “just think–to make good books, Jasper, that will never stop, perhaps, being read. Oh, I wish I was a man and could help you.”

“Polly?” he stopped a minute, looked down into her face, then turned off abruptly. “You are sure you won’t bother yourself too much with Charlotte?” he said awkwardly coming back.

“Yes; don’t worry, Jasper,” said Polly, wondering at his unusual manner.

“All right; then as soon as I’ve seen father I’ll throw my traps together and be off,” declared Jasper, quite like the business man again.

But old Mr. King was not to hear about it just then, for when Jasper rapped at his door, it was to find that his father was fast asleep.

“See here, Jasper,” said Mr. Whitney, happening along at this minute, “here’s a nice piece of work. Percy declares that he shall be made miserable to go back to college to-morrow. His mother is able now for him to be settled at his studies; won’t you run up and persuade him–that’s a good fellow.”

“I’m going back to my work to-night,” cried Jasper, pulling out his watch, “that is, if father wakes up in time for me to take the train.”

“Is that so? Good,” cried Mr. Whitney. “Well, run along and tell Percy that, for the boy is so worried over his mother that he can’t listen to reason.”

So Jasper scaled the stairs to Percy’s den.

“Well, old fellow, I thought I’d come up and let you know that I’m off to my work,” announced Jasper, putting his head in the doorway.

“Eh!” cried Percy, “what’s that?”

“Why, I’m off, I say; back to dig at the publishing business. Your mother doesn’t want us fellows hanging around here any longer. It worries her to feel that we are idling.”

“Is that so?” cried Percy. “How do you know?”

“Polly says so; she let me into the secret; says sister Marian requested me to go back.”

“Did Polly really say so?” demanded Percy in astonishment.

“Yes, in good plain English. So I’m off.”

“Well, if Polly really said that mamma wanted you to go, why, I’ll get back to college as soon as I can,” said Percy. “But if she should be worse?” He stopped short.

“They can send for you instantly; trust Polly for that,” said Jasper. “But she won’t be worse; not unless we worry her by not doing as she wishes. Well, good-by, I’m off.”

“So am I,” declared Percy, springing up to throw his clothes into traveling order. “All right, I’ll take the train with you, Jappy.”

“Now you see how much better I’m off,” observed Van, coming in to perch on the edge of the bed while Percy was hurrying all sorts of garments into the trunk with a quick hand. “I tell you, Percy, I struck good luck when I chose father’s business. Now I don’t have to run like a dog at the beck of a lot of professors.”

“Every one to his taste,” said Percy, “and I can’t bear father’s business, for one.”

“No, you’d rather sit up with your glasses stuck on your nose, and learn how to dole out the law; that’s you, Percy. I say, I wouldn’t try to keep the things on,” with a laugh as he saw his brother’s ineffectual efforts to pack, and yet give the attention to his eyeglasses that they seemed to demand.

“See here now, Van,” cried Percy warmly, “if you cannot help, you can take yourself off. Goodness! I have left out my box of collars!”

“Here it is,” cried Van, throwing it to him from the bed, where it had rolled off under a pile of underclothing. “Well, you don’t know how the things make you look. And Polly doesn’t like them a bit.”

“How do you know?” demanded Percy, growing quite red, and desisting from his employment a minute.

“Oh, that’s telling; I know she doesn’t,” replied Van provokingly.

For answer Van felt his arms seized, and before he knew it Percy was over him and holding him down so that he couldn’t stir.

“Now how do you know that Polly doesn’t like my eyeglasses?” he demanded.

“Ow–let me up!” cried Van.

“Tell on, then. How do you know she doesn’t like them?”

“Because–Let me up, and I’ll tell.”

“No, tell now,” said Percy, having hard work to keep Van from slipping out from under his hands.

“Boys,” called Polly’s voice.

“Oh dear me–she’s coming!” exclaimed Percy, jumping to his feet, and releasing Van, who, red and shining, skipped to the door. “Come in, Polly.”

“I thought I’d find you up here,” said Polly in great satisfaction. “Percy, can’t I do something for you? Jasper says you are going back to college right away.”

“Yes, you can,” said Percy, “take Van off; that would help me more than anything else you could do.”

Polly looked at Van and shook her brown head so disapprovingly that he came out of his laugh.

“Oh, I’ll be good, Polly,” he promised.

“See that you are, then,” she said. Then she went over to the trunk and looked in.

“Percy, may I take those things out and fold them over again?” she asked.

“Yes, if you want to,” said Percy shamefacedly. “I suppose I have made a mess of them; but it’s too hard work for you, Polly.”

“I should like nothing better than to attack that trunk,” declared Polly merrily. “Now, Van, you come and help me, that’s a dear boy.”

And in five minutes Polly and Van were busily working together; he putting in the things, while she neatly made them into piles, and Percy sorted and gave orders like a general.

“He does strut around so,” said Van under his breath, “just see him now.”

“Hush–oh, Van, how can you? and he’s going back to college, and you won’t see him for ever so many weeks.”

Van swallowed something in his throat, and bent all his energies to settling the different articles in the trunk.

“Percy,” said Polly presently in a lull, “I do just envy you for one thing.”

“What for, pray?” asked Percy, settling his beloved eyeglasses for a better view of her.

“Why, you’ll be with Joel and Davie,” said Polly. “Oh, you don’t know how I miss those boys!” She rested both hands on the trunk edge as she knelt before it.

[Illustration: “OH, YOU DON’T KNOW HOW I MISS THOSE BOYS!” ]

“I wish you’d been our sister,” said Van enviously, “then we’d have had good times always.”

“Oh, I don’t see much of Joel,” said Percy. “Dave once in a while I run across, but Joel–dear me!”

“You don’t see much of Joel,” repeated Polly, her hands dropping suddenly in astonishment. “Why, Percy Whitney, why not, pray tell?”

“Why, Joel’s awful good–got a streak of going into the prayer-meetings and that sort of thing,” explained Percy, “and we call him Deacon Pepper in the class.”

“He goes to prayer-meetings, and you call him Deacon Pepper,” repeated Polly in amazement, while Van burst out into a fit of amusement.

“Yes,” said Percy, “and he has a lot of old fogies always turning up that want help, and all such stuff, and I expect that he is going to be a minister.”

He brought this out as something too dreadful to be spoken, and then fell back to see the effect of his words.

“Can you suppose it?” cried Polly under her breath, still kneeling on the floor, “oh, boys, can you?” looking from one to the other.

“Yes; I’m afraid it’s true,” said Percy, feeling that he ought to be thrashed for having told her, while Van laughed again.

“Oh–oh! it’s too lovely. Dear, beautiful, old Joel!” cried Polly, springing suddenly to her feet; “just think how good he is, boys! Oh, it’s too lovely to be true!”

Percy retreated a few steps hastily.

“And oh, how much better we ought to be,” cried Polly in a rush of feeling. “Just think, with Joel doing such beautiful things, oh, how glad Mamsie will be! And he never told–Joel never told.”

“And he’ll just about kill me if you tell him I’ve let it out,” said Percy abruptly. “Oh, dear me, how he’ll pitch into me!” exclaimed Percy in alarm.

“I never shall speak of it,” declared Polly in a rapture, “because Joel always hated to be praised for being good. But oh, how lovely it is!”

And then Grandpapa called, and she ran off on happy feet.

“Whew!” exclaimed Percy, with a look over at Van.

“I tell you what, if you want to get into Polly’s good graces, you’ve just got to brush up on your catechism, and such things,” remarked Van; “eyeglasses don’t count.”

Percy turned off uneasily.

“Nor suppers, and a bit of card-playing, eh, Percy?”

“Hold your tongue, will you?” cried his brother irritably.

“Nor swell clothes and a touch-me-if-you-dare manner,” said Van mockingly, sticking his fingers in his vest pockets.

Percy made a lunge at him, then thought better of it.

“Leave me alone, can’t you?” he said crossly.

Van opened his mouth to toss back a teasing reply, when Percy opened up on him. “I’d as soon take my chances with her, on the suppers and other things, as to have yours. What would Polly say to see you going for me like this, I’d like to know?”

It was now Van’s turn to look uncomfortable, and he cast a glance at the door.

“Oh, she may come in,” said Percy, bursting into a laugh, “then you’d be in a fine fix; and I wouldn’t give a rush for the good opinion she’d have of you.”

Van hung his head, took two or three steps to the door, then came back hurriedly.

“I cry ‘Quits,’ Percy,” he said, and held out his hand.

“All right,” said Percy, smoothing down his ruffled feelings, and putting out his hand too.

Van seized it, wrung it in good brotherly fashion, then raced over the stairs at a breakneck pace.

“Polly”, he said, meeting her in the hall where she had just come from Mr. King’s room, “I’ve been blackguarding Percy, and you ought to know it.”

“Oh, Van!” cried Polly, stopping short in a sorry little way; “why, you’ve been so good ever since you both promised years ago that you wouldn’t say bad things to each other.”

“Oh, that was different,” said Van recklessly; “but since he went to college, Percy has been a perfect snob Polly.”

Polly said nothing, only looked at him in a way that cut him to the heart, as she moved off slowly.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” asked Van at last.

“I’ve nothing to say,” replied Polly, and she disappeared into Mrs. Whitney’s room and closed the door.

That evening Jasper and Percy, who went together for a good part of the way, had just driven to the station, when the bell rang and a housemaid presently laid before Polly a card, at sight of which all the color deserted her cheek. “Oh, I can’t see him,” she declared involuntarily.

“Who is it?” asked old Mr. King, laying down the evening paper.

“O, Grandpapa!” cried Polly, all in a tremor at the thought of his displeasure, “it does not matter. I can send word that I do not see any one now that Aunty is ill, and”–

“Polly, child,” said the old gentleman, seriously displeased, “come and tell me at once who has called upon you.”

So Polly, hardly knowing how, got out of her chair and silently laid the unwelcome card in his hand.

“Mr. Livingston Bayley,” read the old gentleman.

“Humph! well, upon my word, this speaks well for the young man’s perseverance. I’m very tired, but I see nothing for it but that I must respond to this;” and he threw aside the paper and got up to his feet.

“Grandpapa,” begged Polly tremblingly at his elbow, “please don’t let him feel badly.”

“It isn’t possible, Polly,” cried Mr. King, looking down at her, “that you like this fellow–enough, I mean, to marry him?”

“O, Grandpapa!” exclaimed Polly in a tone of horror.

“Well, then, child, you must leave me to settle with him,” said the old gentleman with dignity. “Don’t worry; I sha’n’t forget myself, nor what is due to a Bayley,” with a short laugh. And then she heard him go into the drawing-room and close the door.

When he came back, which he did in the space of half an hour, his face was wreathed in smiles, and he chuckled now and then, as he sat down in his big chair and drew out his eyeglasses.

“Well, Polly, child, I don’t believe he will trouble you in this way again, my dear,” he said in a satisfied way, looking at her over the table. “He wanted to leave the question open; thought it impossible that you could refuse him utterly, and was willing to wait; and asked permission to send flowers, and all that sort of thing. But I made the young man see exactly how the matter stood, and that’s all that need be said about it. It’s done with now and forever.” And then he took up his paper and began to read.

“Mamsie,” said Phronsie, that very evening as she was getting ready for bed, and pausing in the doorway of her little room that led out of Mother Fisher’s, “do you suppose we can bear it another day without Polly?”

“Why, yes, Phronsie,” said Mother Fisher, giving another gentle rock to Baby’s cradle, “of course we can, because we must. That isn’t like you, dear, to want Polly back till Aunty has got through needing her.”

Phronsie gave a sigh and thoughtfully drew her slippered foot over the pattern of the carpet. “It would be so very nice,” she said, “if Aunty didn’t need her.”

“So it would,” said her mother, “but it won’t make Polly come any quicker to spend the time wishing for her. There, run to bed, child; you are half an hour late to-night.”

Phronsie turned obediently into her own little room, then came back softly. “I want to give Baby, Polly’s good-night kiss,” she said.

“Very well, you may, dear,” said Mrs. Fisher. So Phronsie bent over and set on Baby’s dear little cheek, the kiss that could not go to Polly.

“If dear Grandpapa would only come home,” and she sighed again.

“But just think how beautiful it is that Aunty was not hurt so much as the doctors feared,” said her mother. “Oh, Phronsie, we can’t ever be thankful enough for that.”

“And now maybe God will let Grandpapa and Polly come back pretty soon,” said Phronsie slowly, going off toward her own little room. And presently Mrs. Fisher heard her say, “Good-night, Mamsie dear, I’m in bed.”

A rap at the door, and Jane put in her head, in response to Mrs. Fisher’s “What is it?”

“Oh, is Dr. Fisher here?” asked Jane in a frightened way.

[Illustration: “AND PLEASE MAKE DEAR PAPA GIVE HER THE RIGHT THINGS.”]

“No; he is downstairs in the library,” said Mother Fisher. “What is the matter, Jane? Who wants him?”

“Oh, something dreadful is the matter with Helen Fargo, I’m afraid, ma’am,” said Jane. “Griggs has just run over to say that the doctor must come quick.”

“Hush!” said Mrs. Fisher, pointing to Phronsie’s wide-open door; but she was standing beside them in her little nightdress, and heard the next words plainly enough.

“Run down stairs, Jane,” commanded Mother Fisher, “and tell the doctor what Griggs said; just as fast as you can, Jane.”

And in another minute in rushed the little doctor, seized his medicine case, saying as he did so, “I sha’n’t come back here, wife, if it is diphtheria, but go to my office and change my clothes. There’s considerable of the disease around. Good-night, child.” He stopped to kiss Phronsie, who lifted a pale, troubled face to his. “Don’t worry; I guess Helen will be all right,” and he dashed off again.

“Now, Phronsie, child,” said Mrs. Fisher, “come to mother and let us talk it over a bit.”

So Phronsie cuddled up in Mamsie’s lap, and laid her sad little cheek where she had been so often comforted.

“Mamsie,” she said at last, lifting her head, “I don’t believe God will let Helen die, because you see she’s the only child that Mrs. Fargo has. He couldn’t, Mamsie.”

“Phronsie, darling, God knows best,” said Mrs. Fisher, holding her close.

“But he wouldn’t ever do it, I know,” said Phronsie confidently; “I’m going to ask Him not to, and tell Him over again about Helen’s being the very only one that Mrs. Fargo has in all the world.” So she slipped to the floor, and went into her own room again and closed the door. “Dear Jesus,” she said, kneeling by her little white bed, “please don’t take Helen away, because her mother has only just Helen. And please make dear papa give her the right things, so that she will live at home, and not go to Heaven yet. Amen.”

Then she clambered into bed, and lay looking out across the moonlight, where the light from Helen Fargo’s room twinkled through the fir-trees on the lawn.

CHAPTER VII.

PHRONSIE.

“I can’t tell her,” groaned Mrs. Pepper, the next morning, at sight of Phronsie’s peaceful little face. “I never can say the word ‘diphtheria’ in all this world.”

Phronsie laughed and played with Baby quite merrily, all such time as Miss Carruth, the governess, allowed her from the schoolroom that morning.

“Everything is beautiful, King dear,” she would say on such little flying visits to the nursery. “Grandpapa and Polly, I do think, will be home pretty soon; and Helen is going to get well, because you know I asked God to let her, and he wouldn’t ever, in all this world, take her away from her mother. He wouldn’t, King,” she added confidentially in Baby’s small ear.

All day long the turreted Fargo mansion gleamed brightly in the glancing sunlight, giving no hint of the battle for a life going on within. Mrs. Fisher knew when her husband sent for the most celebrated doctor for throat diseases; knew when he came; and knew also when each hour those who were fighting the foe, were driven back baffled. And several times she attempted to tell Phronsie something of the shadow hanging over the little playmate’s home. But Phronsie invariably put aside all her attempts with a gentle persistence, always saying, “He wouldn’t, you know, Mamsie.”

And at nightfall Helen had gone; and two white little hands were folded quietly across a young girl’s breast.

No one told Phronsie that night; no one could. And she clambered into her little white bed, after saying her old prayer; then she lay in the moonlight again, watching Helen’s house.

“The light is out, Mamsie,” she called, “in Helen’s room. But I suppose she is asleep.” And presently Mrs. Fisher, stealing in, with unshed tears in her eyes, found her own child safe–folded in restful slumber, her hand tucked under her cheek.

But the next morning, when she must hear it!

“Phronsie,” said Mrs. Fisher, “come here, dear.” It was after breakfast, and Phronsie was running up into the school-room.

“Do you mean I am not to go to Miss Carruth?” asked Phronsie wonderingly, and fingering her books.

“Yes, dear. Oh, Phronsie”–Mrs. Fisher abruptly dropped her customary self-control, and held out her arms. “Come here, mother’s baby; I’ve something bad to tell you, and you must help me, dear.”

Phronsie came at once, with wide-open, astonished brown eyes, and climbed up into the good lap obediently.

“Phronsie,” said Mrs. Fisher, swallowing the lump in her throat, and looking at the child fixedly, “you know Helen has been very sick.”

“Yes, mamma,” said Phronsie, still in a wonder.

“Well–and she suffered, dear, oh, so much!”

A look of pain stole over Phronsie’s face, and Mrs. Fisher hastened to say, “But oh. Phronsie, she can’t ever suffer any more, for–for–God has taken her home, Phronsie.”

“Has Helen died?” asked Phronsie, in a sharp little voice, so unlike her own that Mrs. Pepper shivered and held her close.

“Oh, darling–how can I tell you? Yes, dear, God has taken her home to Heaven.”

“And left Mrs. Fargo without any little girl?” asked Phronsie, in the same tone.

“My dear–yes–He knows what is best,” said poor Mrs. Fisher.

The startled look on Phronsie’s little face gave way to a grieved expression, that slowly settled on each feature.

“Let me get down, Mamsie,” she said, quietly, and gently struggling to free herself.

“Oh, Phronsie, what are you going to do?” cried Mrs. Fisher. “Do sit with mother.”

“I must think it out, Mamsie,” said Phronsie, with grave decision, getting on her feet, and she went slowly up the stairs, and into her own room; then closed the door.

And all that day she said nothing; even when Mother Fisher begged her to come and talk it over with her, Phronsie would say, “I can’t, Mamsie dear, it won’t talk itself.” But she was gentle and sweet with Baby, and never relaxed any effort for his amusement. And at last, when they were folding Helen away lovingly in flowers, from all who had loved her, Mrs. Fisher wrote in despair to Polly, telling her all about it, and adding, “You must come home, if only for a few days, or Phronsie will be sick.”

“I shall go, too,” declared old Mr. King, “for Marian can spare me now. Oh, that blessed child! And I can come back here with you, Polly, if necessary.”

And Polly had nothing for it but to help him off, and Charlotte’s father being ever so much better, she joined them; and as soon as it was a possible thing, there they were at home, and Thomas was driving them up at his best speed, to the carriage porch.

“Polly!” Phronsie gasped the word, and threw hungry little arms around Polly’s neck.

“There, there, Pet,” cried Polly cheerily, “you see we’re all home. Here’s Grandpapa!”

“Where’s my girl?” cried old Mr. King hastily. “Here, Phronsie,” and she was in his arms, while the tears rained down her cheeks.

“Bless me!” exclaimed the old gentleman, putting up his hand at the shower. “Well, that is a welcome home, Phronsie.”

“Oh, Grandpapa, I didn’t mean to!” said Phronsie, drawing back in dismay. “I do hope it hasn’t hurt your coat.”

“Never mind the coat, Phronsie,” said Mr. King. “So you are glad to get us home, eh?”

Phronsie snuggled close to his side, while she clung to his hand without a word.

“Well, we mustn’t forget Charlotte,” cried Polly, darting back to a tall girl with light hair and very pale blue eyes, standing composedly in one corner of the hall, and watching the whole thing closely. “Mamsie, dear, here she is,” taking her hand to draw her to Mrs. Fisher.

“Don’t mind me,” said Charlotte, perfectly at her ease. “You take care of the little girl,” as Polly dragged her on.

Mrs. Fisher took a good long look at Charlotte Chatterton. Then she smiled, “I am glad to see you, Charlotte.”

[Illustration: CHARLOTTE, STANDING COMPOSEDLY IN ONE CORNER OF THE HALL.]

Charlotte took the firm fingers extended to her, and said, “Thank you,” then turned off to look at Phronsie again.

And it wasn’t till after dinner that Phronsie’s trouble was touched upon. Then Polly drew her off to a quiet corner.

“Now, then, Phronsie,” she said, gathering her up close in her arms, “tell me all about it, Pet. Just think,” and Polly set warm kisses on the pale little cheek, “how long it is since you and I have had a good talk.”

“I know it,” said Phronsie wearily, and she drew a long sigh.

“Isn’t it good that dear Aunty is so much better?” cried Polly cheerily, quite at a loss how to begin.

“Yes, Polly,” said Phronsie, but she sighed again, and did not lift her eyes to Polly’s face.

“If anything troubles you,” at last broke out Polly desperately, “you’d feel better, Phronsie, to tell sister about it. I may not know how to say the right things, but I can maybe help a little.”

Phronsie sat quite still, and folded and unfolded her hands in her lap. “Why did God take away Helen?” she asked suddenly, lifting her head. “Oh, Polly, it wasn’t nice of him,” she added, a strange look coming into her brown eyes.

[Illustration: PHRONSIE WENT OVER TO THE WINDOW.]

“Oh, Phronsie!” exclaimed Polly, quite shocked, “don’t, dear; that isn’t like you, Pet. Why, God made us all, and he can do just as he likes, darling.”

“But it isn’t nice,” repeated Phronsie deliberately, and quite firmly, “to take Helen now. Why doesn’t He make another little girl then for Mrs. Fargo?” and she held Polly with her troubled eyes.

“Phronsie”–cried Polly; then she stopped abruptly. “Oh, what can I say? I don’t know, dearie; it’s just this way; we don’t know why God does things. But we love him, and we feel it’s right. Oh, Phronsie, don’t look so. There, there,” and she drew her close to her, in a loving, hungry clasp. “I told you I didn’t think I could say the right things to you,” she went on hurriedly, “but, Phronsie, I know God did just right in taking Helen to heaven. Just think how beautiful it must be there, and so many little children are there. And Helen is so happy. Oh, Phronsie, when I think of that, I am glad she is gone.”

“Helen was happy here,” said Phronsie decidedly. “And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.”

Polly drew a long breath, and shut her lips. “But, Phronsie, don’t you see,” she cried presently, “it may be that Mrs. Fargo wouldn’t ever want to go to Heaven unless Helen was there to meet her? It may be, Phronsie; and that would be very dreadful, you know. And God loved Mrs. Fargo so that he took Helen, and he is going to keep her happy every single minute while she is waiting and getting ready for her mother.”

Phronsie suddenly slipped down from Polly’s lap. “Is that true?” she demanded.

“Yes, dear,” said Polly, “I think it is, Phronsie,” and her cheeks glowed. “Oh, can’t you see how much nicer it is in God to make Mrs. Fargo happy for always with Helen, instead of just a little bit of a while down here?”

Phronsie went over to the window and looked up at the winter sky. “It is a long way off,” she said, but the bitter tone had gone, and it was a grieved little voice that added, “and Mrs. Fargo can’t see Helen.”

“Phronsie,” said Polly, hurrying over to her side, “perhaps God wants you to do some things for Mrs. Fargo–things, I mean, that Helen would have done.”

“Why, I can’t go over there,” said Phronsie wonderingly. “Papa Fisher says I am not to go over there for ever and ever so long, Polly.”

“Well, you can write her little notes and you can help her to see that God did just right in taking Helen away,” said Polly; “and that would be the very best thing you could do, Phronsie, for Mrs. Fargo; the very loveliest thing in all this world.”

“Would it?” asked Phronsie.

“Yes, dear.”

“Then I’ll do it; and perhaps God wants me to like Heaven better; does he, Polly, do you think?”

“I really and truly do, Phronsie,” said Polly softly. Then she leaned over and threw both arms around Phronsie’s neck. “Oh, Phronsie, can’t you see–I never thought of it till now–but He has given you somebody else instead of Helen, to love and to do things for?”

Phronsie looked up wonderingly. “I don’t know what you mean, Polly,” she said.

“There’s Charlotte,” cried Polly, going on rapidly as she released Phronsie. “Oh, Phronsie, you can’t think; it’s been dreadfully hard and dull always for her at home, with those two stiff great-aunts pecking at her.”

“Tell me about it,” begged Phronsie, turning away from the window, and putting her hand in Polly’s.

“Well, come over to our corner then.” So the two ran back, Phronsie climbing into Polly’s lap, while a look of contentment began to spread over her face.

“You see,” began Polly, “Charlotte’s mother has always been too ill to have nice times; she couldn’t go out, you know, very much, nor keep the house, and so the two great-aunts came to live with them. Well, pretty soon they began to feel as if they owned the house, and Charlotte, and everybody in it.”

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Phronsie, in distress.

“And Charlotte’s father, Mr. Alexander Chatterton, couldn’t stop it; and beside, he was away on business most of the time, and Charlotte didn’t complain–oh, she behaved very nice about it; Phronsie, her father told Grandpapa all about it; and by and by her mother died, and then things got worse and worse; but Mr. Chatterton never knew half how bad it was. But when he was sick it all came out, and it worried him so that he got very bad indeed, and then he sent for Grandpapa–Charlotte couldn’t stop him; he made her go. You see he was afraid he was going to die, and he couldn’t bear to have things so very dreadful for Charlotte.”

“And is he going to die?” broke in Phronsie excitedly.

“Oh no, indeed! he was almost well when we came away; it was only his worrying over Charlotte that made him so bad. Oh, you ought to have seen him, Phronsie, when Grandpapa offered to take Charlotte home with us for the winter. He was so happy he almost cried.”

“I am so glad he was happy,” cried Phronsie in great satisfaction, her cheeks flushing.

“And so now I think God gave Charlotte to you for a little while because you haven’t Helen. I do, Phronsie, and you can make Charlotte glad while she is here, and help her to have a good time.”

“Can I?” cried Phronsie, her cheeks growing a deep pink. “Oh, Polly, how? Charlotte is a big girl; how can I help her?”

“That’s your secret to find out,” said Polly merrily. “Well, come now,” kissing her, “we must hurry back to Grandpapa, or he’ll feel badly to have you gone so long.”

“Polly,” cried Phronsie, as they hurried over the stairs, “put your ear down, do.”

“I can’t till we get downstairs,” laughed Polly, “or I’ll tumble on my nose, I’m afraid. Well, here we are. Now then, what is it?” and she bent over to catch the soft words.

“I’m sorry,” said Phronsie, her lips quite close to Polly’s rosy cheek, “that I said God wasn’t nice to take Helen away. Oh, I love him, Polly, I truly do.”

“So you do,” said Polly, with, a warm clasp. “Well, here’s Grandpapa,” as the library door opened, and Mr. King came out to meet them.

Polly, running over the stairs the next day to greet Alexia and some of the girls who were determined to make the most of her little visit at home, was met first by one of the maids with a letter.

[Illustration: ALEXIA COOLLY READ ON, ONE ARM AROUND POLLY.]

“Oh, now,” cried Alexia, catching sight of it, “I almost know that’s to hurry you back, Polly. She sha’n’t read it, girls.” With that she made a feint of seizing the large white envelope.

“Hands off from my property,” cried Polly merrily, waving her off, and sitting down on the stair she tore the letter open.

Alexia worked her way along till she was able to sit down beside her, when she was guilty of looking over her shoulder.

“Oh, Alexia Rhys, how perfectly, dreadfully mean!” cried one of the other girls, wishing she could be in the same place.

Alexia turned a deaf ear, and coolly read on, one arm around Polly.

“Oh, girls–girls!” she suddenly screamed, and jumping up, nearly oversetting Polly, she raced over the remaining stairs to the bottom, where she danced up and down the wide hall, “Polly isn’t going back–she isn’t–she isn’t,” she kept declaring.

“What!” cried all the girls. “Oh, do stop, Alexia. What is it?”

Meantime Cathie Harrison ran up and quickly possessed herself of the vacated seat.

“Why, Mr. Whitney writes to say that Polly needn’t go back–oh, how perfectly lovely in him!” cried Alexia, bringing up flushed and panting. “Oh, dear me, I can’t breathe!”

“Oh! oh!” cried all the girls, clapping their hands.

“But that doesn’t mean that I shall not go back,” said Polly, looking up from her letter to peer through the stair-railing at them. “I think–yes, I really do think that I ought to go back.”

“How nonsensical!” exclaimed Alexia impatiently. “If Mr. Whitney says you are not needed, isn’t that enough? Beside he wrote it for Mrs. Whitney; I read it all.”

“No, I don’t think it is enough,” answered Polly slowly, and turning the letter with perplexed fingers, “for I know dear Aunty only told him to write because she thought I ought to be at home.”

“And so you ought,” declared Alexia, very decidedly. “She’s quite right about it, and now you’re here, why, you’ve just got to stay. So there, Polly Pepper. Hasn’t she, girls?”

“Yes, indeed,” cried the girls.

Polly shook her brown head, as she still sat on her stair busily thinking.

“Here comes Mr. King,” cried Cathie Harrison, suddenly craning her neck at the sound of the opening of a door above them. “Now I’m just going to ask him,” and she sprang to her feet.

“Cathie–Cathie,” begged Polly, springing up too.

“I just will,” declared Cathie, obstinately scampering up over the stairs. “Oh, Mr. King, mayn’t Polly stay home? Oh, do say yes, please!”

“Yes, do say yes, please,” called all the other girls in the hall below.

“Hoity-toity!” exclaimed the old gentleman, well pleased at the onslaught. “Now then, what’s the matter, pray tell?”

“I just won’t have Cathie Harrison tell him,” said Alexia, trying to run up over the stairs. “Let me by, Polly, do,” she begged.

“No, indeed,” cried Polly, spreading her arms. “It’s bad enough to have one of you up there besieging Grandpapa.”

“Then I’ll run up the back stairs,” cried Alexia, turning in a flash.

“Oh, yes, the back stairs!” exclaimed the other girls, following her. “Oh, do hurry! Polly’s coming after us.”

But speed as she might, Polly could not overtake the bevy, who, laughing and panting, stood before Mr. King a second ahead of her.

“A pretty good race,” said the old gentleman, laughing heartily, “but against you from the first, Polly, my girl.”

“Don’t listen to them, Grandpapa dear,” panted Polly.

“Mayn’t she stay at home–mayn’t she?”

“Hush, girls,” begged Polly. “Oh, Grandpapa dear, don’t listen to them. Aunty told Uncle Mason to write the letter, and you know”–

“Well, yes, I know all you would say, Polly. But I’ve also had a letter from Mason, and I was just going to show it to you.” He pulled out of his vest pocket another envelope corresponding to the one in Polly’s hand, which he waved at her.

“Oh, Grandpapa!” exclaimed Polly, quite aghast at his so easily going over to the enemy. With that, all the girls deserted the old gentleman, and swarmed around Polly.

“See here, now,” commanded Mr. King, “every single one of you young things come back here this minute. Goodness me, Polly, I should think they’d be the death of you.”

Polly didn’t hear a word, for she was reading busily: “Marian says ‘don’t let Polly come back on any account. It worries me dreadfully to think of all that she is giving up; and I will be brave, and do without her. She must not come back.'”

Polly looked up to meet old Mr. King’s eyes fixed keenly upon her.

“You see, Polly,” he began, “I really don’t dare after that to let you go back.”

“Oh–oh–oh!” screamed all the girls.

“There, I told you so,” exclaimed Alexia.

CHAPTER VIII.

POLLY LOOKS OUT FOR CHARLOTTE.

“Second floor–Room No. 3,” said Buttons, then stood like an automaton to watch the tall young man scale the stair.

“He did ’em beautifully,” he confided afterward to another bell-boy. “Mr. King himself can’t get over them stairs better.”

“Come in!” cried Jasper, in response to the rap.

“Halloo, old fellow!” cried Pickering Dodge, rushing in tumultuously. “Well, well, so this is your den,” looking around the small room in surprise.

“Yes. Now this is good to see you!” exclaimed Jasper, joyfully leaping from his chair to seize Pickering’s hand. “Well, what brought you? There’s nothing wrong?” he asked, anxiously scanning Pickering’s face.

“No–that is, everything’s right; all except Polly.”

“There isn’t anything the matter with Polly?” Jasper turned quite white, scarcely speaking the words.

“No, she’s all right, only”–Pickering turned impatiently off from the chair Jasper pulled forward with a hasty hand, and stalked to the other side of the little room. “She’s–she’s–well, she’s so hard to come at nowadays. Everybody has a chance for a word with her but old friends. And now the Recital is in full blast.”

Jasper drew a long breath, and began to get his color again. “Oh, yes–well, it’s all going on well, the Recital, I mean, isn’t it?” he asked.

“I believe so,” said Pickering in a gloomy way. “The girls are wild over it; you can’t hear anything else talked about at home. But,” he broke off abruptly, “got a cigar, Jasper?” and he began to hunt the mantel among the few home-things spread around to enliven the hotel apartment.

“Haven’t such an article,” said Jasper.

“I forgot you don’t smoke,” said Pickering with a sigh. “Dear me! how will you bear trouble when it comes, old chap?” He came back to the table, and thrust his hands in his pockets, looking dismally at Jasper.

“I’m afraid a cigar wouldn’t help me much,” said Jasper, with a laugh; “but if you must have one, I can get it, eh?”

“Yes, I must,” said Pickering in despair, “for I’ve something on my mind. Came over on purpose to get your help, and I can’t do it without a weed.”

“Very well,” said Jasper, shoving the chair again toward Pickering. “Sit down, and I’ll have one sent up,” and he went over and touched the electric button on the wall.

“Yes, sir?” Buttons ran his head in the doorway, and stared at them without winking.

“A cigar for this gentleman,” said Jasper, filliping a coin into the boy’s hand.

“Is that the way you order cigars?” demanded Pickering, whirling around in his chair.

“Yes, when I order them at all,” said Jasper, laughing; “a weed is a weed, I suppose.”

“Indeed, and it is not, then,” retorted Pickering. “I’ll have none of your ordering. You needn’t bring it up, boy; I’ll go down to the office and pick some out for myself.”

“All right, sir,” said Buttons, putting down the coin on the table with a lingering finger.

“Keep it,” said Jasper, with a smile.

“He’s a gentleman,” observed Buttons, on the way downstairs, Pickering treading his heels. “He ain’t like the rest of ’em that boards here. They orders me around with a ‘Here, you!’ or a ‘Hoi, there, boy!’ They’re gents; he’s the whole word–a first-class gentleman, Mr. King is,” he repeated.

“Now, then, for it,” said Jasper, when at last the gleam of Pickering’s cigar was steady and bright, “open your budget of news, old fellow,” he added, with difficulty restraining his impatience.

“It ought not to be any news,” declared Pickering, with extreme abruptness, “for I’ve never tried to conceal it. I love Polly.”

Jasper started so suddenly his arm knocked from the table a slender crystal vase, that broke into a dozen pieces.

“Never mind,” he said, at Pickering’s dismayed exclamation, “go on.”

Whew–puff! floated the rings of cigar smoke over Pickering’s head. “And I can’t stand it, and I won’t, waiting any longer to tell her so. Why, man,” he turned savagely now on Jasper, “I’ve loved her for years, and must I be bullied and badgered out of my rights by men who have only just been introduced to her–say?”

“Whom do you mean?” asked Jasper huskily, his fingers working over the table-cloth, under the pretense of pulling the creases straight.

“Why, that Loughead chap,” said Pickering, bringing his hand down heavily on the table; “he has more sweet words from Polly Pepper in a week than I get in a month–and I such an old friend!”

“Polly is so anxious to help his sister,” Jasper made out to say.

“Well, that’s no reason why the fellow should hang around forever,” declared Pickering angrily.

“Why, he’s gone abroad!” exclaimed Jasper, “long ago.”

“Ah, but he’s coming back,” said Pickering, with a sage nod, and knocking off the ashes from his cigar end.

“Is that so?” cried Jasper, in astonishment.

“Yes, ’tis,” declared Pickering, nodding again, “and I don’t like it. You know as well as I do,” squaring around on Jasper, “that he don’t care a rap about his sister’s getting on; he’s only thinking of Polly, and _I_ love her.”

Seeing that something was expected of him, Jasper made out to say, “You do?”

“Of course I do; and you know it, and every one knows it, or ought to; I haven’t ever tried to conceal it,” said Pickering proudly.

“How do you know that Loughead is coming back?” asked Jasper abruptly.

“How do I know? The best way in the world.” Pickering moved uneasily in his chair. “Hibbard Crane had a letter yesterday; that’s the reason I threw my traps together and started for you.”

“For me?” cried Jasper, in surprise.

“Yes. You’ve got to help me. I can’t stand it, waiting around any longer. It has almost killed me as it is.” Pickering threw his head on the chair-back and took savage pulls at the cigar between his teeth.

“I help you?” cried Jasper, too astonished to do much more than to repeat the words. “How in all this world can I do anything in the matter?” he demanded, as soon as he could find his voice.

“Why, you can tell Polly how it is; you’re her brother, or as good as one; and she’ll see it from you. And you must hurry about it, too, for I expect that Loughead will turn up soon. He means mischief, he does.”

“See here, Pick,” cried Jasper, getting out of his chair hastily to face Pickering, “you don’t know what you are asking. Why, I couldn’t do it. The very idea; I never heard of such a thing! You–you must speak to Polly yourself.”

“I can’t,” said Pickering, in a burst, and bringing up his head suddenly. “She won’t give me the ghost of a chance. There’s always those girls around her; and she’s been away an age at Mrs. Whitney’s. And everlastingly somebody is sick or getting hurt, and they won’t have anybody but Polly. You know how it is yourself, Jasper,” and he turned on him an injured countenance.

“Well, don’t come to me,” cried Jasper, beginning to pace the floor irritably. “I couldn’t ever speak on such a subject to Polly. Beside it would be the very way to set her against you. It would any girl; can’t you see it, Pick?” he added, brightening up.

“Girls are queer,” observed Pickering shrewdly, “and the very thing you think they won’t like, they take to amazingly. Oh, you go along, Jasper, and let her see how matters stand; how I feel, I mean.”

“You will do your own speaking,” said Jasper, in his most crusty fashion, and without turning his head.

“I did; that is, I tried to last night after I met Crane,” began Pickering, in a shamefaced way, “but I couldn’t get even a chance to see Polly.”

“How’s that?” asked Jasper, still marching up and down the floor; “wasn’t she home?”

“Why, she sent Charlotte Chatterton down to see me,” said Pickering, very much aggrieved, “and I hate that Chatterton girl.”

“Why couldn’t Polly see you?” went on Jasper, determined, since his assistance was asked, to go to the root of the matter.

“Oh, somebody in the establishment, I don’t know who, had a finger-ache, I suppose,” said Pickering, carelessly throwing away his cigar end and lighting a fresh one, “and wanted Polly. Never mind why; she couldn’t come down, she sent word. So I gave up in despair. See here now, Jasper, you must help me out.”

“I tell you I won’t,” declared Jasper, with rising irritation, “not in that way.”

“You won’t?”

“No, I won’t. I can’t, my dear fellow.”

“Well, there’s a great end of our friendship,” exclaimed Pickering, red with anger, and he jumped to his feet. “Do you mean to say, Jasper King, that you won’t do such a simple thing for me as to say a word to your sister Polly, when I tell you it’s all up with me if you don’t speak that word–say?”

“You oughtn’t to ask such a thing; it’s despicable in you,” cried Jasper, aghast to find his anger rising at each word. “And if you insist in making such a request when I tell you that I cannot speak to Polly for you, why, I shall be forced to repeat what I said at first, that I won’t have anything to do with it.”

“Do you mean it,” Pickering put himself in front of Jasper’s advancing strides, “that you will not speak to Polly for me?”

“I do.”

“I tell you,” declared Pickering, now quite beside himself, “it’s absolutely necessary for me to have your word with her, Jasper King.”

“And I tell you I can’t give that word,” said Jasper. Then he stopped short, and looked into Pickering’s face. “I’m sorry, old chap,” and he put out his hand.

Pickering knocked it aside in a towering passion. “You needn’t ‘old chap’ me,” he cried. “And there’s an end to our friendship, King.” He seized his hat and dashed out of the room.

“Miss Salisbury!” Alexia Rhys, in real distress, threw herself against her old teacher, who was hurrying through the long school-room.

“Well, what is it?” asked Miss Salisbury, settling her glasses for a look at her former pupil. “You mustn’t hinder me; I’m on my way to the recitation room,” and her hand made a movement toward her watch.

“Oh, don’t think of time, Miss Salisbury!” begged Alexia, just as familiarly as in the old days, “when Polly Pepper needs to be looked out for.”

“If Polly Pepper needs me in any way, why, I must stop,” said the principal of the “Young Ladies’ Select Boarding and Day School,” “but I don’t see how she can need me, Alexia,” she added in perplexity, “Polly is fully capable of taking care of herself.”

“Oh, no, she isn’t,” cried Alexia abruptly. “Beg your pardon, but Polly is a dear, sweet, dreadful idiot. Oh dear me! what do you suppose, Miss Salisbury, she has gone and done?”

“I am quite at a loss to guess,” said Miss Salisbury calmly, “and I must say, Alexia, I am very much pained by your failure to profit by my instructions. To think that one of my young ladies, especially one on whom I have spent so much care and attention as yourself, should be so careless in speech and manner, as you are constantly. ‘Gone and done’–oh, Alexia!” she exclaimed in a grieved way.

“Oh, I know,” cried Alexia imperturbably, “you did your best, dear Miss Salisbury, and it isn’t your fault that I’m not fine. But oh, don’t waste the time, please, over me, when I want to tell you about Polly.”

“What is it about Polly?” demanded Miss Salisbury, fingering her watch-chain nervously. “Really, Alexia, I think Polly would do very well if you didn’t try so hard to take possession of her. I quite pity her,” she added frankly.

Alexia burst into a laugh. “It’s the only way to catch a glimpse of her. Miss Salisbury,” she cried, “for everybody is trying to take possession of Polly Pepper. And now–oh, it’s getting perfectly dreadful!”

Miss Salisbury took an impatient step forward.

“Oh, Miss Salisbury,” cried Alexia in alarm, “wait just a minute, do, dear Miss Salisbury,” she cried, throwing her arms around her, thereby endangering the glasses set upon the fine Roman nose, “there can’t any one help in this but just you.”

“It is very wrong,” said Miss Salisbury, yet yielding to the embrace, “for me to stay and listen to you in this way, but–but I’ve always been fond of you, Alexia, and”–

“I know it,” cried Alexia penitently, “you’ve just been a dear, always, Miss Salisbury, to me. If you hadn’t, why, I don’t know what I should have done, for I had nobody but aunt,” with a little pathetic sniff, “to look after me.”

“My dear Alexia,” cried Miss Salisbury, quite softened, “don’t feel so. You are very dear to me. You always were,” patting her hand. “And so what is it that you want to tell me now? Pray be quick, dear.”

“Well, then, will you promise to make Polly Pepper do what she ought to, Miss Salisbury?” cried Alexia, quite enchanted with her success thus far.

Miss Salisbury turned a puzzled face at her. “Will I make Polly Pepper do as she ought to?” she repeated. “My dear Alexia, what a strange request. Polly Pepper is always doing as she ought.”

“Well, Polly is just hateful to herself,” declared Alexia, “and if it wasn’t for us girls, she’d–oh, dear me! I don’t know what would happen. What do you suppose, Miss Salisbury, she’s gone and–oh dear, I didn’t mean to–but what do you suppose Polly has just done?”

[Illustration: “MY DEAR ALEXIA,” CRIED MISS SALISBURY, QUITE SOFTENED, “DON’T FEEL SO.”]

Before Miss Salisbury could reply, Alexia rushed on frantically. “If you’ll believe me, Polly has gone and asked that Charlotte Chatterton to sing at her Recital; just think of that!” exclaimed Alexia, quite gone at the enormity of such a blunder.

“Why, doesn’t Charlotte Chatterton sing well?” asked Miss Salisbury, in surprise.

“Oh, frightfully well,” said Alexia, “that’s just the trouble. And now Polly’s Recital will all be part of that Chatterton girl’s glory. And it was to be so swell!” And Alexia sank into a chair, and waved back and forth in grief.

“Swell! Oh, Alexia,” exclaimed Miss Salisbury in consternation.

“Oh, do excuse me,” mumbled Alexia, “but Polly really has spoiled that elegant Recital. It won’t be all Polly’s, now. Oh, dear me!”

Miss Salisbury drew a long breath. “I’m very glad Polly has asked Miss Chatterton to sing,” she said at last. “It was the right thing to do.”

“Very glad that Polly has asked that Chatterton girl to sing?” almost shrieked Alexia, starting out of her chair.

“Yes,” said Miss Salisbury decidedly. “Very glad indeed, Alexia.”

“And now you won’t make Polly see that Charlotte Chatterton ought not to be stuck into that Recital?” cried Alexia wildly. “Oh, dear me! and you are the only one that can bring Polly to her senses–oh, dear me!”

“Certainly not,” said Miss Salisbury, with a little dignified laugh. “The Recital is Polly’s, and she knows best how to manage it.”

“Well, we won’t applaud, we girls won’t,” declared Alexia, stiffening up, “when that Charlotte Chatterton sings; but we’ll all just look the other way–every single one of us.”

“Alexia Rhys!” slowly ejaculated Miss Salisbury in real sorrow.

“Well, we can’t; it wouldn’t be right,” gasped Alexia. “Don’t look so, Miss Salisbury. Oh, dear me, why will Polly act so! Oh, dear me! I wish Charlotte Chatterton was in the Red Sea.”

Miss Salisbury gathered herself up in quiet disapproval; and with a parting look prepared to leave the room.

“Oh, Miss Salisbury,” cried Alexia, flying after her, to pluck her gown, “do turn around. Oh, dear me!” and she began to cry as hard as she could.

“When you have come to your better self, Alexia, I will talk with you,” said Miss Salisbury distinctly, and she went out, and closed the door.

“Did she say she would–did she–did she?” cried a group of the “old girls,” as Miss Salisbury’s present scholars called Polly and her set, as they came tiptoeing in. “Why, where are you, Alexia?”

“Here,” said a dismal voice from the depths of a corner easy chair. They all rushed at her.

“I’ve had an awful time with her,” sobbed Alexia, her face buried in her handkerchief, “and I suppose it really will kill me, girls.”

“Nonsense!” cried one or two. “Well, what did she say about making Polly listen to reason?”

“Oh, dreadful–dreadful!” groaned Alexia gustily. “You can’t think!”

“You don’t mean to say that she approves, after all that Polly Pepper has worked over that old Recital, to”–

–“Have some one else come in and grab the glory?” finished another voice.

“Oh, dear–dear!” groaned Alexia in between. “And Miss Salisbury would kill you, Clem, if she heard you say ‘grab.'”

“Well, do tell us, what did Miss Salisbury say?” demanded another girl impatiently.

“She said it was right for Polly to ask Charlotte Chatterton to sing, and she was glad she was going to do it.”

“Oh, horrors!” exclaimed the group in dismal chorus.

“The idea! as much as she loves Polly Pepper!” cried Sally Moore.

“And I hate the word ‘right,'” exploded Alexia, whirling her handkerchief around her fingers. “Now! It’s poked at one everlastingly. I think it’s just sweet to be wicked.”

“Oh, Alexia Rhys!”

“Well, just a little bit wicked,” said Alexia.

Cathie Harrison shook back the waves of light hair on her brow. “Girls,” she began hesitatingly. But no one would listen; the laments were going on so fast over Polly and her doings.

“It _is_ right!” cried Cathie at last, after many ineffectual attempt to be heard. “Do stop, girls, making such a noise,” she added impatiently.

“That’s a great way to preach,” said Clem, laughing, “lose your temper to begin with, Cathie.”

“I didn’t–that is, I’m sorry,” said Cathie. “But, anyway, I want to say I ought to have been ashamed to act so about that Chatterton girl. Where should I have been if Polly Pepper hadn’t taken me up?”

She looked down the long aisle to a seat in the corner. “There’s where I sat,” pointing to it, “and you all know it, for a whole week, and I thought I should die; I did,” tragically, “without any one speaking to me. And one day Polly Pepper came up and asked wouldn’t I come to her house to the Bee you were all going to get up to fit out that horrible old poor white family down South. And I wanted to get up and scream, I was so glad.”

“Cathie Harrison,” exclaimed Alexia, springing to her feet defiantly, “what do you want to bring back those dreadful old times for! You are the most uncomfortable person I ever saw.”

“You needn’t mind it now, Alexia,” cried Cathie, rushing at her, “for you’ve been too lovely for anything ever since–you dear!”

“I lovely? oh, girls, did you hear?” cried Alexia, sinking into her chair again, quite overcome. “She said I was lovely–oh, dear me!”

“And so you are,” repeated Cathie stoutly; “just as nice and sweet and lovely to me as you can be. So!” throwing her long arms around Alexia.

“I didn’t want to be; Polly made me,” said Alexia.

“I know it; but I don’t care. You are nice now, any way.”

“And I suppose we must be nice to that Chatterton girl now, if she does break up our fun,” said Alexia with a sigh, getting out of her chair. “Come on, girls; let us go and tell Polly it’s just heavenly that Charlotte is to sing.”

CHAPTER IX.

POLLY’S RECITAL.

Charlotte Chatterton stood back of the portiere pulling a refractory button of her glove into place, as a gay group precipitated themselves into the dressing-room of The Exeter.

“Now remember, girls,” cried Alexia, rushing at the toilet table to bestow frantic twitches at the fluffy waves of hair over her forehead, “that we must applaud the very minute that she gets through singing. Oh dear me, just look at my bangs; they are perfect frights. Hateful things!” with another pull at the offending locks.

“It’s a swell house,” exclaimed one of the girls delightedly.

“Just let Miss Salisbury catch you saying ‘swell,'” warned Alexia. “Take care now, Sally Moore, this is a very proper and select occasion.”

“Well, do let some of us have that glass a minute,” retorted Sally, “and mend your manners before you take occasion to correct my speech.”

“My bangs are worse than yours, Sally,” cried another girl, crowding up; “do let me get one corner of that glass,” trying to achieve a view of her head over Alexia’s shoulder.

Alexia calmly picked at the fluffy bunch of hair on her brow, giving it a little quirk before she said, “Don’t fight, girls; it quite spoils one’s looks; I never do when I’m dressed up.”

“Of course not,” said Sally Moore, “for you get everything you want without fighting.”

“The idea!” exclaimed Alexia, with an injured expression, “when I never have my own way. Why, I give up and give up the whole time to somebody. Well, never mind; let’s talk about the Recital. Oh, it’s going to be quite elegant for Polly Pepper. There’s a regular society cram in the Hall.”

“Well, I don’t think ‘society cram’ is a bit better than a ‘swell affair,'” said Clem Forsythe, slipping out of her opera cloak.

“Nor I either,” cried three or four voices.

“Oh, I don’t object to ‘swell affair’ myself,” said Alexia; “I have used the words on more than one occasion, unless my memory is treacherous. I only wanted to spare Miss Salisbury’s nerves.”

“Pity you didn’t give more attention to Miss Salisbury’s nerves five or six years ago,” said Sally. “Do get away from that glass.”

“It’s no time to talk about me now,” observed Alexia. “All our minds should be on Polly, and her Recital. Girls, _did_ you see Jack Loughead down at the door?”

“Didn’t we?” cried the girls.

“He’s as handsome as a picture, isn’t he?” cried Alexia, with another little pull at her rebellious hair.

“Isn’t he?” hummed the girls.

“Well, he won’t look at you, for all your fussing over those bangs,” said Sally vindictively.

“Did you suppose I thought he would?” cried Alexia coolly. “Why, it’s Polly Pepper, everybody knows, that brings him here.”

“What’s become of Mr. Bayley?” asked one of the girls suddenly.

“Hush–sh! you mustn’t ask,” cried Alexia mysteriously, and turning away from the mirror, with a lingering movement; “there, it looks shockingly, but it is as good as I can fix it.”

“Your hair always does look perfectly horrid,” declared Sally Moore, deftly slipping into the vacated place.

“Well, do tell all you know about Mr. Bayley and Polly,” begged the girl who had raised the question, “I’m just dying to know.”

“Alexia Rhys doesn’t know a thing more than we do, Frances,” said Clem, “only she pretends she’s in the secret.”

“I was down at Dunraven at the Christmas splurge,” said Alexia, “and you were not, Clem. That’s all I shall say,” and she leisurely disposed herself in a big chair, and began to draw on her gloves, with the air of one who could reveal volumes were she so disposed.

“Polly wouldn’t ever send him off,” said one of the girls, “I don’t believe. Why, he’s horribly rich; and just think of marrying into the Bayley family–oh my!”

“I should think the shock of being asked to enter that family, would kill any girl, to begin with,” said Clem. “Why, he goes back to William the Conqueror, doesn’t he? And there’s an earl in the family, and I don’t know what else. And then beside, there’s his mother; the idea of sitting opposite to her at the table every single day–oh dear me! I know I should drop my knife and fork and things, from pure fright.”

“I’m sure I don’t see why anybody is proud to have his family go back all the time,” said Alexia Rhys; “for my part I should want to start things forward a little myself.”

“Well, who does know anything about it, why Mr. Bayley has gone off suddenly?” demanded Frances.

“No one knows,” said Clem.

Alexia hummed a tune provokingly.

“We all guess, and it’s easy enough to guess the truth; but Polly won’t ever let it out, so that’s all there is about it.”

“Well, now, girls,” said Alexia suddenly, “we must remember what we promised each other.”

“What do you mean?” asked Frances; “I didn’t promise anything to anybody.”

“You weren’t with us when we promised, my dear,” answered Alexia, “and I’ll rise and explain. You see we don’t any of us like that Charlotte Chatterton; not a single one of us. She’s a perfect stick, I think.”

“So do I,” said another girl; “this is the way she walks.” Thereupon followed a representation given to the life, of Charlotte Chatterton’s method of getting her long figure over the ground, which brought subdued peals of laughter from the girls looking on.

“And she has no more feeling than an oyster,” pursued Alexia, when she had recovered her breath, “or she might see that Polly was just giving up all her fun and ours too, by dragging her into everything that is going on.”

“I know it,” said the girls.

“And I’m so sick of her taking in everything so as a matter of course,” observed Alexia; “oh! she’s quite an old sponge.”

“It’s bad enough to be called an oyster, without having old sponge fastened to one,” said Sally Moore, coming away from the mirror, thereby occasioning another rush for that useful dressing-room appointment.

“Well, she is both of those very things,” declared Alexia, “nevertheless we must applaud her dreadfully when she’s finished singing. That’s what we promised each other, Frances. It will please Polly, you know.”

“You better hurry, or you will lose your seats,” announced a friendly voice in the doorway, which had the effect to send the whole bevy out as precipitately as they had hurried in.

When she was quite sure that no one remained, Charlotte Chatterton shook herself free from the friendly portiere-folds, and stepped to the center of the deserted room.

“I’ll not sing one note!” she declared, standing tall, “not one single note!” Just then, in ran Amy Loughead.

“Oh dear, and oh dear!”

“What is the matter?” asked Charlotte, not moving.

“Oh, I’m so frightened,” gasped Amy, shivering from head to foot, “there are so many people in there, oh–oh! I can’t play!” beating her hands together in terror.

“You must,” said Charlotte unsympathizingly.

“I can’t–I can’t. Oh, I shall die! The hall is full, and they keep coming in. Oh–Miss Pepper!”

For Polly, in her soft white gown, was coming quickly into the dressing-room.