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  • 1892
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“Your hands are just as cold as ice,” said Polly, gathering up Amy’s shaking little palms into her own. “There now, we’ll see if we can’t coax them into playing order,” rubbing them between her own warm ones.

“Oh, I can feel all those people’s eyes staring through me,” cried Amy, huddling up against Polly.

“You mustn’t think of their eyes, child,” laughed Polly. But there was a little white line around her mouth. Just then a messenger came in with a note.

“Any answer?” asked Polly. “Oh, stay; I would better read it before you go.” And she tore it open.

“I am so sorry that I cannot keep my engagement to play the duet with Miss Porter, but the doctor has just been here, and he says I must not go out. I should have written this morning that I had a sore throat, but I thought I could manage to go. I’m so sorry–oh, Miss Pepper, I’m so sorry!

“JULIA ANDERSON.”

[Illustration: “I’LL NOT SING A NOTE!”]

The note fell to Polly’s lap, and for a minute she could not speak. “There is no answer,” at last she said to the messenger.

“Oh, Miss Pepper, what is it?” cried Amy Loughead, brought out of her own fright, by the dread of a new trouble.

“Julia Anderson is sick and cannot be here,” said Polly.

“Oh, dear! and she was going to play with Miss Porter. What will you do?” cried Amy in consternation.

“Why, I shall have to take her place,” said Polly, forcing herself to speak.

“Oh, dear–dear!” exclaimed Amy, trying not to burst into tears. “Everything is just as bad and horrid as it can be. Oh, dear, dear, and I can’t play; I should disgrace you!”

“Oh, no, no, Amy,” said Polly, trying to smile, “that you’ll never do.” She threw the note on the floor now, and began to rub the cold little hands again.

“But–but, I’m so frightened,” gasped Amy.

Charlotte Chatterton walked to the window.

“I may be a stick, and an oyster, and an old sponge, and everybody wish me out of the way, but I’m not such a villain as to bother her now by telling her I won’t sing. If they only won’t applaud!” She shut her teeth tightly, and turned back again.

“I wouldn’t, Miss Loughead,” she began. But her voice sounded cold and unsympathetic, and Amy clung to Polly tighter than ever.

Ben now looked in. “Come, Polly,” he said. “You really ought to be out here, and it’s almost three o’clock.”

Amy gave a gasp. “What shall I do?”

“You may stay in here, if you really wish,” said Polly in a low voice, Charlotte Chatterton looking on with all her eyes, “and I will excuse you.”

“And will–will you be disappointed in me?” Amy brought out the question shamefacedly.

“Very much,” said Polly.

“And will you never try me again–and never give me music lessons?” asked Amy fearfully.

“I do not seem to teach you successfully,” said Polly very slowly, “so it would be no use to continue the lessons.” And she put aside the clinging hands. “You may stay here, Amy; I am coming, Ben,” looking over at him.

“I’ll play,” cried Amy Loughead desperately. “I’d rather, oh, dear me, if they were bears and gorillas looking on–and I just know I shall die–but I’d rather, Miss Pepper, than to have you give me up.”

Charlotte Chatterton drew a long breath.

“What’s the matter?” asked Ben in dismay.

“Miss Loughead was a little scared, I believe,” said Charlotte, with a touch of scorn in her manner.

Ben gave an uneasy exclamation. “Everything seems to be all right now,” he said, in a relieved way, looking off at Polly and Amy.

“Oh, yes; a scare don’t amount to much if one has a mind to put it down,” said Charlotte.

“I should think you’d be scared,” said Ben, looking at her admiringly, “to stand up and sing before all those people. But I suppose you never are; you don’t seem to mind things like the rest of us.”

Charlotte shrugged her shoulders, but said nothing.

“We are all ready,” said Polly cheerfully coming up with Amy. “Oh, Charlotte, you are such a comfort,” she found time to whisper.

Charlotte clasped her hands tightly together so that an ominous rent appeared in one of her pretty gloves. “I’ll sing,” she kept saying to herself all the way out to the platform, “oh, I’ll sing–I’ll sing.” And later on, while looking down into the eyes of the girls waiting to applaud, “I’ll sing–I’ll sing,” she had to declare to herself till her name was announced.

As the last note died away, “Who is that girl?” went around the hall. Charlotte Chatterton had made a sensation.

Alexia Rhys, angry at the effect of the song, still clapped steadily together her soft-gloved hands, looking at Polly with the air of a martyr all the while.

“Charlotte–oh, I’m glad!” whispered Polly radiantly, “they want you to sing again,” trying to pull her forward, as the storm of applause went on.

“I’ll not sing!” cried Charlotte passionately. “Never! Don’t ask it, Polly.”

“Why, Charlotte!” implored Polly, astonished at the passion in the girl usually so cold and indifferent. Still the applause continued, Polly’s set keeping at it like veterans.

Ben ran up the platform steps with shining eyes. “Grandpapa requests Charlotte to sing again,” he whispered to Polly.

“There, you hear, Charlotte.” said Polly. “Grandpapa wishes it.”

“Very well,” said Charlotte, resuming her ordinary manner, and looking as if it really made no difference to her whether she sang or was quiet, she walked to her place.

Polly slipped back of the piano, and began the accompaniment, and again Charlotte’s singing carried all by storm.

Polly, looking down into Jasper’s face, saw him smile over to his father, and nod in a pleased surprise; and she was aghast to feel a faint little wish begin to grow in her heart, that Charlotte Chatterton had not been asked to sing.

“Of course Jasper is surprised, as he has never heard her sing,” said Polly to herself, “and her voice is so beautiful in this big hall, oh, it’s so very beautiful!” as Charlotte came back, apparently not hearing the expressions of delight that rang over the concert-room.

“That Chatterton girl will be all the rage now,” whispered Alexia savagely to Clem who sat next to her. “Look at Mrs. Cabot. She has her ‘I’ll-take-you-up-and-patronize-you air’ on, and I know she’s making up her mind to give Charlotte a musicale.”

Other people also, scattered here and there in the hall, were making up their minds to introduce Miss Chatterton to their friends; as a girl with such a wonderful voice, it would be quite worth one’s while to bring out.

Polly, by this time, explaining to the audience, the failure of Miss Anderson to take her part in the duet, caught little ends of the whispers going on beneath her, such as “Perfectly exquisite.” “Most wonderful range.” “Shall certainly ask her to sing.” And again she saw Jasper’s beaming face, while Ben took no pains to conceal his delight. And she sat down to the piano mechanically, and began in a dazed way to help Miss Porter through with the duet that was to have been one of the finest things on the carefully prepared programme.

[Illustration: “FOR SHAME, POLLY, IF THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE TEACHINGS ARE FORGOTTEN LIKE THIS”]

Suddenly, in the midst of a slow movement, Polly glanced down and caught her mother’s eye.

“Polly,” it said, just as plainly as if Mrs. Fisher had spoken, “is this my girl? For shame, if the Little Brown House teachings are forgotten like this.”

Polly straightened up, sent Mamsie down a bright smile that made Mrs. Fisher nod, and flash back one in return, then bent all her energies to making that duet speak its message through the concert-room. People who had rather languished in their chairs, now gathered themselves up with fresh interest, and clapped their hands at the brilliant passages, and exclaimed over the ability of the music teacher who could change an apparent failure to such a glorious success. Everybody said it was wonderful; and when the duet was over, the house rang with the charming noise by which the gratified friends tried to express their delight. But Polly saw only Mamsie’s eyes, filled with joy.

Meantime, Charlotte Chatterton had hurried out to the dressing-room, tossing on her walking things with a quick hand; and held fast for a minute as she crept out into the broad passage, by the duet now in full progress, she went softly down the stairs.

When it was all over, everybody crowded around Polly.

“Oh, Miss Pepper, your Recital is lovely! oh, how beautifully Miss Chatterton sang!” and,

“Oh, Miss Pepper, I am delighted with your pupils’ progress; and what an exquisite voice Miss Chatterton has!”

And then it was, “Oh, it must have been so hard, Miss Pepper, for you to excuse Miss Anderson at the last minute; and we can’t thank you enough for letting us hear Miss Chatterton sing.”

“Oh, I shall fly crazy to hear them go on,” cried Alexia to a little bunch of girls back of the crowd; “will nothing stop them?” wringing her hands angrily together. “It’s all Chatterton, Chatterton now; and after Polly’s magnificent playing too. Oh dear me, I knew it would be so!”

Polly turned, with a happy face, to pull Charlotte forward to hear the kind things. “Why, where”–

“Oh, she’s gone home,” answered Alexia, stepping forward hastily–“Hasn’t she, girls?” appealing to them. “She must have; she went out like a shot. Don’t, Polly, how can you?” she begged, turning back to twitch Polly’s arm, “you’ve done enough, I should think.”

“What did she run off for?” cried Jasper, scaling the platform steps. Polly glanced quickly up into his beaming face.

“Oh, Jasper, she has gone home–I couldn’t help it,” and her face fell.

He looked annoyed. “Never mind, Polly,” he said, his brow clearing, “father wanted to introduce her to some friends, that’s all. Well, and wasn’t it a grand success, though!” and he beamed at her.

“Yes,” said Polly, settling Amy’s music with an unsteady hand.

“And Charlotte really surprised us all,” he went on gaily. “Why, Polly, who would think that we have–or you rather, for you have done it all–the honor to bring out a nightingale! Here, let me do that for you.” He was fairly bubbling over with delight, and as he essayed to take the music out of Polly’s hand, he laughed again. “Dear me, how stupid I am,” as a piece fluttered to the floor.

“And didn’t Amy do nicely?” asked Polly beginning to feel a bit tired now.

“Yes, indeed,” assented Jasper enthusiastically, as he recovered the piece. “Just splendidly! I didn’t know she had so much music in her. Oh, here comes a horde of congratulations, Polly.” He threw her the brightest of smiles as he moved to make way for a group of friends hurrying up to shower Polly with compliments, and every one had something delightful to add of Charlotte Chatterton’s singing.

“Jasper couldn’t help but be happy over Charlotte’s singing,” said Polly to herself, and looking after him, “it’s so beautiful,” as they came up.

“Where are you going, Polly?” called Alexia at last, when it was all over, and the janitor was closing the big outer door, as Polly ran ahead of the girls and down the long steps of The Exeter.

[Illustration: POLLY TURNED AND WAVED HER MUSIC-ROLL AT THEM]

Polly turned and waved her music-roll at them for a reply.

“Now somebody is going to carry her off,” grumbled Alexia; “hurry up, girls, let’s see who it is.” So they ran as lightly as Polly herself, after her, down the steps, only in time to see old Mr. King help her into the carriage with Mrs. Fisher and Phronsie, and drive rapidly off.

“Whatever in the world is the matter?” cried Alexia, running up to Jasper who was watching them speed away.

“Why, Polly thinks Charlotte is sick,” explained Jasper, “because she went home before the Recital was out.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” exclaimed Alexia angrily. “What is the matter with Polly, Jasper? She grows worse and worse. Why can’t she let Charlotte Chatterton alone, pray tell. I, for one, should think mischief enough had been done by that girl.”

“You should think mischief enough had been done by Charlotte?” repeated Jasper in astonishment. “I must say, Alexia, that I fail to understand you.”

“To hear people praise to the very skies that Chatterton girl,” cried Alexia in a passion–she was actually stamping her foot now–“oh, oh! why don’t some of you say something?” she cried, appealing suddenly to the girls. “You all feel as I do about Polly’s pushing forward that girl; and there you stand and make me do all the talking.”

Jasper looked grave at once. “There is no occasion for any one to exert herself to talk over this,” he said. “It is Polly’s affair, and hers alone.” He raised his hat to her, and to the rest of the group, and walked off.

CHAPTER X.

PHRONSIE HAS A PLAN.

Phronsie was the first to reach Charlotte’s door.

“Charlotte?” she called softly through the keyhole. There was no answer, and after one or two ineffectual attempts, Phronsie turned fearfully away.

“I do believe something is in the room with Charlotte,” she said, as Polly came running up the stairs. Then she sat down on the top step and clasped her hands. “I heard it raging up and down.”

“Oh, no, Phronsie,” said Polly reassuringly, “there couldn’t be anything in there with Charlotte. I’ll try,” and she laid a quick hand on the knob. “Oh, Charlotte, do open the door; you are worrying us all so,” called Polly imploringly.

Charlotte flung wide the door. Two red spots burned on her cheeks, and her pale blue eyes snapped. But when she saw Polly, she said, “I’m sorry I frightened you, but I’m best alone.”

“Isn’t there really anything in here with you, Charlotte?” asked Phronsie, getting off from her stair, to peer past Polly. “Oh, I’m sure I heard it raging up and down.”

“That was I,” said Charlotte; “I was the wild beast, Phronsie.”

“Oh, dear,” breathed Phronsie.

“And oh!” exclaimed Polly.

“Charlotte,” said Phronsie, coming in to slip her hand into Charlotte’s, “it was just beautiful when you sang; I thought it was birds when you went clear up into the air. I did really, Charlotte.”

“Oh, don’t!” begged Charlotte, looking over at Polly.

“Come down to dinner, Charlotte,” said Polly quickly. “Really you must, else I am afraid Grandpapa will be up here after you.”

“I don’t want any dinner,” said Charlotte, drawing back.

“Indeed, but you must come down,” said Polly firmly, holding out her hand. “Come, Charlotte.”

“Let me smooth your hair,” begged Phronsie, standing on tiptoe; “do bend down just a very little, please. There, that’s it,” patting Charlotte’s head with both hands; “now you look very nice; you really do–doesn’t she, Polly.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Polly cheerily, “just as fine as can be. There, they are coming after us,” as quick footsteps sounded in the hall below. “Hurry, Charlotte, do. We’re coming, boys,” she called.

They had just finished dinner, when a note was handed Polly. It ran thus:

“Do, dear Polly, run over to-morrow morning early. I want to consult you in regard to asking Miss Chatterton to sing at my next ‘At Home.’ I should be charmed to have her favor us.

“FELICIA A. CABOT.”

“The very thing!” exclaimed Jasper, with only a thought for Polly’s pleasure, when Polly had cried, “How nice of Mrs. Cabot!” “Don’t you say so, father?” he added.

“Assuredly,” said old Mr. King with great satisfaction in Polly’s pleasure, and at her success in drawing Charlotte out. And then he thought no more about it, and the bell ringing and Mr. Alstyne coming in, he went off into the library for a quiet chat.

And after this, there were no more quiet days for Charlotte Chatterton. Everybody who was musical, wanted to revel in her voice; and everybody who wasn’t, wanted the same thing because it was so talked about. So she was asked to sing at musicales and receptions without end, until Alexia exclaimed at last, “They are all raving, stark-mad over her, and it’s all Polly’s own fault, the whole of it.”

Phronsie laid down the note she was writing to Mrs. Fargo, a fortnight later, and said to herself, “I would better do it now, I think,” and going out, she went deliberately to old Mr. King’s room, and rapped at the door.

“Come in!” called the old gentleman, “come in! Oh, bless me, it’s you, Phronsie!” in pleased surprise.

“Yes, Grandpapa,” said Phronsie, coming in and shutting the door carefully, “I came on purpose to see you all alone.”

“So you did, dear,” said Mr. King, highly gratified, and pushing away his writing table, he held out his hand. “Now, then, Phronsie, you are never going to be too big, you know, to sit on my knee, so hop up now.”

“Oh, no, Grandpapa,” cried Phronsie in a rapture, “I could never be too big for that,” so she perched up as of old on his knee, then she folded her hands and looked gravely in his face.

“Well, my dear, what is it?” asked the old gentleman presently, “you’ve come to tell me something, I suppose.”

“Yes, Grandpapa, I have,” said Phronsie decidedly, “and it is most important too, Grandpapa, and oh, I do wish it so much,” and she clasped her hands tighter and sighed.

“Well, then, Phronsie, if you want it, I suppose it must be,” said Mr. King, quite as a matter of course. “But first, child, tell me what it is,” and he stroked her yellow hair.

“Grandpapa,” asked Phronsie suddenly, “how much money did Mrs. Chatterton say I was to have?”

“Oh, bless me!” exclaimed Mr. King, with a start. “Why, what makes you ask such a question? Oh, she left you everything she had, Phronsie; a couple of millions or so it is; why?”

“Grandpapa,” asked Phronsie, looking intently at him, “isn’t Charlotte very, very poor?”

“Charlotte poor?” repeated the old gentleman. “Why, no, not exactly; her father isn’t rich, but Charlotte, I think, may do very well, especially as I intend to keep her here for a while, and then I shall never let her suffer, Phronsie; never, indeed.”

“Grandpapa,” said Phronsie, “wasn’t Mrs. Chatterton aunt to Charlotte?”

“Yes; that is, to Charlotte’s father,” corrected Mr. King. “But what of that, child, pray? What have you got into your head, Phronsie?”

“If Mrs. Chatterton was aunt to Charlotte,” persisted Phronsie slowly, “it seems as if Charlotte ought to have some of the money. It really does, Grandpapa.”

“But Cousin Eunice didn’t think so, else she’d have left it to Charlotte,” said Mr. King abruptly, “and she did choose to leave it to you. So there’s an end of it, Phronsie. I didn’t want you to have it, but the thing was fixed, and I couldn’t help myself. And neither can we do anything now, but take matters as they are.”

“I do think,” said Phronsie, without taking her eyes from his face, “that maybe Mrs. Chatterton is sorry now, and wishes that she had left some money to Charlotte. Don’t you suppose so, Grandpapa?” and one hand stole up to his neck.

“Maybe,” said the old gentleman, with a short laugh, “and I shouldn’t wonder if Cousin Eunice was sorry over a few other things too, Phronsie.”

“Wouldn’t it make her very glad if I gave Charlotte some of the money?” Phronsie’s red lips were very close to his ear now, “oh, I do want to so much; you can’t think, Grandpapa, how much!”

For answer, Mr. King set her down hastily on the floor, and took two or three turns up and down the room. Phronsie stood a moment quite still where he left her, then she ran up to him and slipped her hand within his.

“Oh, I do so wish I might,” she said, “there’s so much for a little girl like me. It would be so nice to have Charlotte have some with me.”

Still no answer. So Phronsie went up and down silently by his side for a few more turns. Then she spoke again. “Does it make you sorry, Grandpapa dear, to have me want Charlotte to have the money with me?” she asked timidly.

“No, no, child,” answered Mr. King hastily, “and yet I don’t know what to say. I don’t feel that it would be right for you to give any of your money to her.”

“Right?” cried Phronsie, opening her brown eyes very wide. “Why, isn’t the money my very own, Grandpapa?”

“Yes, yes, of course; but you are too young to judge of such things,” said the old gentleman decidedly, “as the giving away of property and all that.”

“Oh, Grandpapa!” exclaimed Phronsie, in gentle reproach, and standing very tall. “Why, I am thirteen.”

“And when you get to be ten years older, you might blame me,” said Mr. King, “and I can’t say but what you’d have reason if I let you do such a thing as to give away any money to Charlotte.”

“Blame you? Why, Grandpapa, I couldn’t.” Phronsie drew a long breath, then threw herself convulsively into his arms, her face working hard in her efforts not to cry. But it was no use, and Mr. King caught her in time to see the quick drops roll down Phronsie’s cheek and to feel them fall on his hand.

“Oh, dear me!” he cried in great distress, “there, there, child, you shall give away the whole if you wish; I’ve enough for you without it–only don’t cry, Phronsie. You may do anything you like, dear. There,” mopping up her wet little face with his handkerchief, “now that’s a good child; Phronsie, you are not going to cry, of course not. There, do smile a bit; that’s my girl now,” as a faint light stole into Phronsie’s eyes. “I didn’t mean you’d really blame me, only”–

“I couldn’t,” still said Phronsie, and it looked as if the shower were about to fall again.

“I know, child; you think your old Grandpapa does just about right,” said Mr. King soothingly, and highly gratified.

“He’s ever and always right,” said Phronsie, still not moving.

“Bless you, child,” cried the old gentleman, much moved, “I wish I could say I believed what you say. But many things in my life might have been bettered.”

“Oh, no, Grandpapa,” protested Phronsie in a tone of horror, “they couldn’t have been better. Don’t, Grandpapa, don’t!” she caught him around the neck imploringly.

“Well, I won’t, child,” promised Mr. King, holding her close. “And now, Phronsie, I’ll tell you; I’ll think of all this that you and I have talked over, and I’ll let you know by and by what you ought to do about it, and you mustn’t say anything about it to anybody, not to a single soul, child. It shall be just a secret between you and me.”

“I won’t, Grandpapa,” said Phronsie obediently, and patting his broad back with her soft hand.

“And, meantime,” said Mr. King, quite satisfied, “why, Charlotte is having pretty good times, I think. Polly is looking out for that.”

“Polly is making her have beautiful times,” said Phronsie happily, “oh, very beautiful times indeed, Grandpapa.”

“I expect she’s an awful nuisance,” the old gentleman broke out suddenly.

“Oh, Grandpapa!” exclaimed Phronsie, breaking away from him to look into his face.

“Well, well, perhaps I shouldn’t say quite that,” said Mr. King, correcting himself. “But, well, now, Phronsie, you run back to your play, child, and I’ll set to work at once to think out this matter.”

“I was writing a note to Mrs. Fargo,” said Phronsie, putting up her lips for a kiss. “You are sure you won’t make your head ache thinking about it, Grandpapa?” she asked anxiously.

“Sure as I can be, Phronsie,” said old Mr. King, smiling. “Good-by, dear.”

* * * * *

“See here, Pickering,” Mr. Cabot threw wide the door of his private office with a nervous hand. “It is time I had a good talk with you. Come in; I never get one nowadays.”

“Can’t stop, Uncle,” said Pickering hastily. “Besides, what would be the use, you never see anything encouraging about me or my career. And I believe I am going to the dogs.”

“Indeed you are not, Pickering,” cried Mr. Cabot quickly, the color rising to his cheek. “There, there, my sister’s boy shall never say that. But come in, come in.” He laid hold of Pickering’s arm and gently forced him into the little room.

Not to be ungracious, the young man threw himself into a chair. “Well, what is it, Uncle? Do out with it; I’m in no mood for a lecture, though, this morning.”

“I’m not going to lecture you, my boy,” said Mr. Cabot, closing the door, then going to the mantel to lean one elbow on it, a favorite attitude of his, while he scanned his nephew. “But something worse than common has come to you. Can I help in any way?”

“No, no, don’t ask me,” ejaculated Pickering, striking his knee with one glove, and turning apprehensively in his chair. “Oh, hang it, Uncle, why can’t you let me alone?”

“I’ve seen this thing, whatever it is, coming upon you for sometime,” said Mr. Cabot, too nervous to notice the entreaty in Pickering’s voice and manner, “and I cannot wait any longer to find out the trouble. It’s my right, Pickering; you have no father to see to you, and I’ve always wanted to have the best success be yours.” He turned away his head now, a break coming in his voice.

[Illustration: “I’M NOT GOING TO LECTURE YOU.”]

“You have, Uncle, you have,” assented Pickering, brought out a trifle from his distress, “but then I’m not equal to the strain my relatives put upon me. Not worth it, either,” he added, relapsing into his gloom. Then he shoved his chair so that he could not look his uncle in the face, and bent a steady glance out of the window.

Mr. Cabot gave a nervous start that carried him away from the mantel a step or two. But when he was there, he felt so much worse, that he soon got back into the old position.

“I don’t see, Pickering,” he resumed, “why you shouldn’t get along. You’re through college.”

“Which is a wonder,” interpolated Pickering.

“Well, I can’t say but that I was a good deal disturbed at one time,” said Mr. Cabot frankly; “but never mind that now, you are through,” and he heaved a sigh of relief, “and nicely established with Van Metre and Cartwright. It’s the best law firm in the town, Pickering.” Mr. Cabot brought his elbow off from the mantel enough to smite his palms together smartly in enthusiasm. “I got you in there.”

“I know you did, Uncle,” said Pickering; “you’ve done everything that’s good. Only I repeat I’m not worth it,” and he drummed on the chair-arm.

“For Heaven’s sake, Pickering!” cried his uncle, darting in front of the chair and its restless occupant, “don’t say that again. It’s enough to make a man go to the bad, to lose hope. What have you been doing lately? Do you gamble?”

“What do you take me for?” demanded Pickering, starting to his feet with flashing eyes, and throwing open his top-coat as if the weight oppressed him. “I’ve been a lazy dog all my life, and a good-for-naught; but I hope I’ve not sunk to that.”

“Oh, nothing, nothing–I’m sure I didn’t mean,” cried Mr. Cabot, starting back suddenly in astonishment. “Dear me, Pickering,” taking off his eyeglasses to blow his nose, “you needn’t pick me up so violently. I’ve been much worried about you,” settling his glasses again for another look at his nephew. “And I can’t tolerate any thoughts I cannot speak.”

“I should think not,” retorted Pickering shortly; “the trouble is in having the thoughts.”

“And I am very much relieved to find that my fears are groundless–that you’ve been about nothing that my sister or I should be ashamed of,” and he picked up courage to step forward gingerly and pat the young man on the shoulder. “You are in trouble, though, and I insist on knowing what it is.”

Pickering dropped suddenly beneath his uncle’s hand, into the nearest chair.

CHAPTER XI.

THINGS ARE GETTING MIXED.

“How can you ask me, Uncle?” cried Pickering passionately.

“Because I will know.” Mr. Cabot was quite determined.

“Well, then, if you must have it, it’s–it’s Polly Pepper.” Pickering could get no further.

“It’s Polly Pepper!” ejaculated Mr. Cabot. Then a light broke over his face, and he laughed aloud, he was so pleased. “You mean, you are in love with Polly Pepper?”

“As if everybody didn’t know it?” cried Pickering hotly. “Don’t pretend, Uncle, that you are surprised;” he was really disrespectful now in manner. “Oh, beg pardon, sir,” recovering himself.

“Never mind,” said Mr. Cabot indulgently, “you are over-wrought this morning. My boy,” and he came over and clapped his nephew on the back approvingly, “that’s the best thing you ever told me; you make me very happy, and”–

“Hold, Uncle,” cried Pickering, darting away from the hand, “don’t go so fast. You are taking too much for granted.”

Mr. Cabot for answer, bestowed another rap, this time on Pickering’s arm, indulging all the while in the broadest of smiles.

Just then some one knocked at the door, and in response to Mr. Cabot’s unwilling “Come in,” Ben’s head appeared. “Beg pardon, Mr. Cabot, but Mr. Van Metre wants you out here.”

Pickering lunged past Ben. “Don’t stop me,” he cried crossly, in response to Ben’s “Well, old fellow.”

Ben stared after him with puzzled eyes as he shot down the long store; and all that afternoon he could not get Pickering and his strange ways out of his mind, and on the edge of the twilight, jumping out of his car at the corner nearest home, he buttoned up his coat and rushed on, regardless that Billy Harlowe was making frantic endeavors to overtake him.

“What’s got into the old chap,” said Ben to himself, pushing on doggedly with the air of a man who has thoughts of his own to think out. “I declare, if I should know Pickering Dodge lately; I can’t tell where to find him.”

[Illustration: “DON’T STOP ME,” CRIED PICKERING CROSSLY.]

And with no light on his puzzle, Ben turned into the stone gateway, and strode up to the east porch to let himself in as usual, with his latch key. As he was fitting it absently, all the while his mind more intent on Pickering and his changed demeanor than on his own affairs, he heard a little rustling noise that made him turn his head to see a tall figure spring down the veranda floor in haste to gain the quickest angle.

“Charlotte, why, what are you doing out here?” exclaimed Ben, leaving his key in the lock to look at her.

“Don’t speak!” begged Charlotte hastily, and coming up to him. “Somebody will hear you. I came out here to walk up and down–I shall die in that house; and I am going home to-morrow.” She nervously twisted her handkerchief around her fingers, and Ben still looking at her closely, saw that she had been crying.

“Charlotte, what are you talking about?” he cried, opening his honest blue eyes wide at her. “Why, I thought you had ever so much sense, and that you were way ahead of other girls, except Polly,” he added, quite as a matter of course.

“Don’t!” cried Charlotte, wincing, and, “but I shall go home to-morrow.”

“Look here,” Ben took out his key and tucked it into his pocket, then faced Charlotte, “take a turn up and down, Charlotte; you’ll pull out of your bad fit; you’re homesick.” Ben’s honest face glowed with pity as he looked at her.

“I’m–I’m everything,” said Charlotte desperately. “O, Ben, you can’t think,” she seized his arm, “Polly is just having a dreadful time because I’m here.”

“See here, now,” said Ben, taking the hand on his arm in a strong grip, as if it were Polly’s, “don’t you go to getting such an idea into your head, Charlotte.”

“I can’t help it,” said Charlotte; “it was put there,” she added bitterly.

Ben gave a start of surprise. “Well, you are not the sort of girl to believe such stuff, any way,” he said.

Charlotte pulled away her hand. “I’m going home,” she declared flatly.

“Indeed you are not,” said Ben, quite as decidedly.

“O, yes, I am.”

“We’ll see;” he nodded at her. “Take my advice, Charlotte, and don’t make a muff of yourself.

“It’s very easy for you to talk,” cried Charlotte, a little pink spot of anger rising on either cheek, “you have everybody to love you, and to be glad you are here; very easy, indeed!”

With that, she walked off, swinging her gown disdainfully after her.

“Whew!” ejaculated Ben, “well, I must say I’m surprised at you, Charlotte. I didn’t suppose you could be jealous.”

“Jealous?” Charlotte flamed around at him. “O, Ben Pepper, what do you mean?”

“You are just as jealous as you can be,” said Ben honestly, “absolutely green.”

“I’d have you to know I never was jealous in my life,” said Charlotte, quite pale now, and standing very still.

“You don’t know it, but you are,” said Ben imperturbably; “when people begin to talk about other folks being loved and happy and all that, they’re always jealous. Why in the world don’t you think how everybody is loving you and wanting to make you happy?” It was quite a long speech for Ben, and he was overcome with astonishment at himself for having made it.

[Illustration: “I’M GOING HOME.” DECLARED CHARLOTTE.]

“Because they are not,” said Charlotte bitterly, “at least, they can’t love me, if they do try to make me happy.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” exclaimed Ben.

“And Polly”–then Charlotte pulled herself up.

“Well, what about Polly?” demanded Ben.

“Oh, nothing.” Charlotte twisted uneasily, and shut her lips tightly together.

“If you think my sister Polly doesn’t love you and want to make you happy, there’s no use in my talking to you,” said Ben, in a displeased way.

“I didn’t say so,” cried Charlotte quickly. “Oh, don’t go. You are the only one who can help me,” as he made a movement toward the door. “I never told anybody else, and they don’t guess.”

“And it’s a pity that they should now,” said Ben. “I tell you, Charlotte, if you never say anything like this again, I’ll believe that you’re the girl I thought you, with plenty of sense, and all that. There, give us your hand. Hurry up, now; here comes Phronsie.”

Charlotte slowly laid her hand in Ben’s big palm, as Phronsie opened the oaken door, and peered out into the darkness.

“I can’t think what makes Ben so late,” she said softly to herself.

“I’m going into the other door,” said Charlotte, springing off down the veranda.

“Halloo, Pet!” Ben rushed into the hall, and seized Phronsie for a good hug.

“O, Ben, you’re so late!” cried Phronsie.

“Well, I’m here now,” said Ben comfortably.

“You can’t think what has happened,” said Phronsie, with a delightful air of mystery.

“To be sure I can’t; but you are going to tell me,” declared Ben with assurance.

“O, Bensie, I’d so much rather you would guess,” said Phronsie, clasping her hands.

“Well, then, you have a new cat,” said Ben at a hazard, while he disposed of his coat and hat.

“O, Ben,” cried Phronsie in reproach, “why, I’ve given up having new cats; indeed I have.”

“Since when?” asked Ben.

“Why, last week. I really have. I’m not going to get any more,” said Phronsie.

Ben shouted. At the sound of his voice, somebody called over the stairs, “O, Ben, are you home? Come up here.”

“Come on, Pet,” cried Ben, “we’re wanted,” seizing Phronsie, and hurrying off to the stairs.

“I did so want to tell you myself,” mourned Phronsie on the way.

“Then you shall.” Ben set her on the floor suddenly. “I’ll come up in a minute or so,” he called. “There now, Phronsie, we’ll have the wonderful news. Out with it, child.”

“I don’t suppose you ever could guess,” said Phronsie, pausing a moment, “I really don’t, Ben, because this is something you never would think of.”

“No, I’m quite sure I should never guess in all the world,” said Ben decidedly, “so let us have it.”

“Grandpapa has promised to give us a surprise party,” announced Phronsie, with careful scrutiny to see the effect of her news.

“A surprise party? Goodness me!” exploded Ben, “what do you mean, Phronsie?”

“A surprise party to go and see Jasper; and we are to start to-morrow. Now, Ben!” and Phronsie, her news all out, beamed up into his face.

“Oh, so it’s Jasper’s surprise party,” cried Ben.

“Yes, and it’s ours too; because you see we didn’t any of us think Grandpapa was going to do it,” said Phronsie.

“Well, it’s my surprise party, too,” said Ben lugubriously, “for I’m astonished; and beside I’m left out in the cold.”

“O, Ben, can’t you go?” cried Phronsie, her face falling instantly.

“No, Pet; wait till you get to be a business man and you’ll see that surprise parties can’t be indulged in very often.”

“Won’t Mr. Cabot let you go?” asked Phronsie, with an anxious droop of the head. “O, I think he will; truly I do.”

“I sha’n’t ask him,” said Ben; “I’m sure of that.”

“But Grandpapa will,” said Phronsie, her face changing.

“No, no, Pet; you mustn’t say anything about that. I’d rather stick to the business. There, come on; they’re wild, I suppose, upstairs, to tell the news.”

Just then some one called Phronsie. “Oh, dear,” she sighed involuntarily, as Ben sped over the stairs without her.

“I thought you were never coming home, Ben,” said Polly, meeting him in the upper hall. “Oh, we’ve such a fine thing to tell you!”

“I’m going to guess,” said Ben wisely.

“Oh, you never can,” declared Polly; “never in all this world. Don’t try.”

“Can’t I, though? Give me a chance. You are to have a surprise party, and go to see Jasper. There!”

“How did you guess?” cried Polly in wide-eyed astonishment.

Ben burst into a hearty laugh. “Well, I met Phronsie, if you must know.”

“Of course,” laughed Polly; “how stupid in me! Well, was ever anything so fine in all this world?” and she danced down the hall, and came back flushed and panting.

“And Grandpapa has written to tell Mr. Cabot how it is, and to ask for a day or two off for you,” she said, with a little pat on his back.

“O, Polly!” exclaimed Ben, in dismay, “Grandpapa shouldn’t–I mean, I ought not to go. I’d really rather not.”

“Well, Grandpapa says that you are working too hard, Bensie, and it’s quite true,” Polly gave him another pat, this time a motherly one; “and so you are going.”

But Ben shook his head.

“And we start to-morrow,” ran on Polly, “and Jasper doesn’t know a word about our coming; and we are going to stay at the hotel two or three days.” And here Phronsie ran eagerly up the stairs.

“And it’s going to be lovely, and not rain any of the time; and we are to take Jasper a box full of everything,” she announced in great excitement. “We began to pack it the very minute that Grandpapa told us we were to go.”

“That’s fine! Well, I’ll drop something into that box,” said Ben.

“Of course,” said Polly, in great satisfaction.

“And Jasper wouldn’t like it not to have something of Ben’s in it,” said Phronsie.

“Well, now, Bensie, run down after dinner and ask Pickering Dodge to go. That’s a good boy.” Polly patted the broad back coaxingly this time.

Ben’s face fell. “How do you know that Grandpapa would like to have him along?” he asked abruptly.

“As if I’d ask you to invite him,” cried Polly, “unless Grandpapa had said he could go. The very idea, Ben!”

“Well, something is the matter with Pick,” confessed Ben unwillingly, “and I don’t want to ask him.”

“Something the matter with Pickering?” repeated Polly in dismay. “O, Ben, is he sick?”

“No,” said Ben bluntly, “but he’s cross.”

“O, Ben, then something very bad must have happened,” said Polly, “for Pickering is almost never cross.”

“Well, I don’t know what to make of him,” said Ben; “he’s been queer for a week now, more or less, and to-day he wouldn’t speak to me; just shot off telling me to let him alone;” and Ben rapidly laid before Polly the little scene of the morning in the store.

“Now, Ben,” said Polly, when it was all over, “I know really that something dreadful is the matter with Pickering, and I shall send him a note to come here to-night. He must tell us what it is. I’m going to write it now.” And Polly sped off to her room, followed by Phronsie.

Ben went slowly down the hall to get ready for dinner. “I don’t know how it is,” he said, “but everything seems to be getting mixed up in this house, and all our good, quiet times gone. And now what can Charlotte have heard to make her want to go home?”

And all the time during dinner, Ben kept up a steady thinking, until Polly, looking across the table, caught his eye.

“Don’t worry,” her smile said, “I’ve sent a note to Pickering, and we’ll find out what the trouble is.”

Ben sat straight in his chair, and nodded back at her. “I can’t tell her now that Pick is not what I’m stewing over,” he said to himself, “and I can’t tell her any time, either, for Charlotte has heard something that makes her think Polly is bothered by her being here. I must just fuss at it myself till I straighten it out.”

So when Pickering Dodge, with a radiant face at being sent for by Polly’s own hand, ran lightly up the steps of the King mansion, about an hour later, Ben hurried off to find Charlotte Chatterton.

“I can’t come down,” called Charlotte from the upper hall, “I’m tired; good-night.”

“So am I tired,” declared Ben, “but I’m going to talk to you, Charlotte,” he added, decidedly.

“No; I don’t want to talk,” said Charlotte, shaking her head. “Good-night. Thank you, Ben,” she added a bit pleasanter, “but I’m not going down.”

“Indeed you are!” said Ben obstinately. “I’m not going to stir from this spot,” he struck his hand on the stair railing, “until you are down here. Come, Charlotte.”

“No,” began Charlotte, but the next moment she was on the stairs, saying as she went slowly down, “I don’t want to talk, Ben. There isn’t anything to say.”

“Now that’s something like,” observed Ben cheerfully, as she reached his side. “Come in here, do, Charlotte,” leading the way into Mother Fisher’s little sewing-room.

“But I’m not going to talk,” reiterated Charlotte, following him in.

“You are going to talk enough so that I can know how to get this ridiculous idea out of your head,” said Ben, as he closed the door on them both.

Mr. Cabot hurried into his wife’s room, his face lighted with great satisfaction. “Well, Felicia,” he said, “I believe I needn’t worry about that boy any more.”

“Who, Pickering?” asked Mrs. Cabot, with a last little touch to the lace at her throat.

“Of course Pickering. Well, he’s in better hands than mine. Oh, I’m so glad to be rid of him;” and he threw himself into an easy chair and beamed at her.

“What in the world do you mean, Mr. Cabot?” demanded his wife. “You haven’t had another fuss with Pickering? Oh, I’m quite sure he’ll do well in the Law, if you’ll only have patience a little longer.”

“Nonsense, Felicia,” said Mr. Cabot, “as if I’d get him out of that office, when it was such a piece of work to fasten him in there. Well, to make a long story short, he loves Polly Pepper. Think of that, Felicia!” And Mr. Cabot, in his joy, got out of the chair and began to rush up and down the room, rubbing his hands together in glee.

“O, Mr. Cabot–Mr. Cabot,” cried his wife, flying after him, “you don’t mean to say that Pickering and Polly are betrothed? Was ever anything so lovely! Oh! never mind about dinner; I couldn’t eat a mouthful. I must go right around there, and get my arms around that dear girl. Tell Biggs to put the horses in at once.”

“Stop just one moment, Felicia, for Heaven’s sake!” cried Mr. Cabot, putting himself in front of her; “that’s just like a woman; only hear the first word, and off she goes!”

“Do order the carriage,” begged Mrs. Cabot, with dancing eyes. “I can’t wait an instant, but I must tell Polly how glad we are. And of course you’ll come too, Mr. Cabot. Oh, dear, it’s such blessed news!”

“I didn’t say they were engaged,” began Mr. Cabot frantically, “I–I”–

“Didn’t say that Polly and Pickering were engaged?” repeated Mrs. Cabot. “Well, what did you say, Mr. Cabot?”

“I said he loved her,” said Mr. Cabot. “O, Felicia, it’s the making of the boy,” he added jubilantly.

Mrs. Cabot sank into her husband’s deserted chair, unable to find a word.

CHAPTER XII.

POLLY TRIES TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT.

“O, Pickering!” Polly actually ran into the drawing-room with outstretched hands. “Why did Jencks put you in here?”

“I asked to come in here,” said Pickering. “I don’t want to see a lot of people to-night; I only want you, Polly.”

“But Mamsie could help you–she’d know the right thing to say to you,” said Polly.

“No, no!” cried Pickering in alarm, and edging off into a corner. “Do sit down, Polly, I–I want to talk to you.”

So Polly sat down, her eyes fastened on his face, and wishing all the while that Mamsie would come in.

“I don’t wonder you think I’m in a bad way,” began Pickering nervously; “it was awfully good in you to send for me, Polly, awfully.”

“Why, I couldn’t help it,” said Polly. “You know it’s just like having one of the boys in trouble, to have you worried, Pickering.”

“Yes, yes,” said Pickering, “I know.”

“Well, I want to tell you something,” began Polly radiantly, thinking it better to cheer him up a bit with her news before getting at the root of his trouble. “Do you know that Grandpapa is going to take us all to-morrow to see Jasper? It’s to be a surprise party.”

“Ah,” said Pickering, all his gladness gone.

“Yes; and Grandpapa wants you to go with us, Pickering,” Polly went on.

“Oh, dear me–I can’t–can’t possibly!” exclaimed Pickering, in a tone of horror. “Don’t ask me, Polly. Anything but that.”

“O, yes, you can,” laughed Polly, determined to get him out of his strange mood. “Why, Pickering, we don’t want to go without you. It would spoil all our fun.”

“Well, I can’t go,” cried Pickering, in an agony at being misunderstood. “I’d do anything in the world you ask, Polly, but that.”

“Why not, you ridiculous boy?” asked Polly, quite as if it were Joel who was before her.

“Because Jasper and I don’t speak to each other,” Pickering bolted out; “we had a fight.”

[Illustration: “WHAT DO YOU SAY?” CRIED POLLY.]

Polly sprang to her feet. “What do you say?” she cried.

“It’s beastly, I know,” declared Pickering, his face aflame, “but, Polly, if you knew–I really couldn’t help it; Jasper was”–

“Don’t tell me that it was any of Jasper’s doings,” cried Polly vehemently, clasping her hands tightly together, so afraid she might say something to make the matter worse. “I know, Pickering, it was quite your own fault if you won’t speak.”

“O, Polly!” exclaimed Pickering, the hot blood all over his face, “don’t say that; please don’t.”

“I must; because I know it is the truth,” said Polly uncompromisingly. “If it isn’t, why, then come with us to-morrow, Pickering,” and her brow cleared.

“I can’t, Polly, I can’t possibly,” cried Pickering in distress; “ask me anything but that, and I’ll do it.”

“This is the only thing that you ought to do,” said Polly coldly. “O, Pickering, suppose that anything should happen so that you never could speak!” she added reproachfully.

“I’m sure I don’t want to speak to a man when I’ve broken friendship with him,” said Pickering sullenly. “What is there to talk about, I’d like to know?”

“If you’ve broken friendship with Jasper, I’m quite, quite sure it is your own fault,” hotly declared Polly again; “Jasper never turned away from a friend in his life.” And Polly broke off suddenly and walked down the long room, aghast to find how angry she was at each step.

“Don’t you turn away from me, Polly,” begged Pickering in such a piteous tone that Polly felt little twinges of remorse, and in a minute she was by his side again.

“I didn’t mean to be cross,” she said quickly, “but you mustn’t say such things, Pickering.”

“I must tell you the truth,” said Pickering doggedly, “and that is that I’ve broken friendship with Jasper, and I can’t speak to him.”

“Pickering,” said Polly, whirling abruptly to get a good look at his face, “you must speak to Jasper,” and she drew a long breath.

“I tell you I can’t,” said Pickering, his face paling with the effort to control himself.

“Then,” said Polly, very deliberately, yet with a glow of determination, “you can’t speak to me; so good-night, Pickering,” and she ran out of the room.

Pickering stared after her a moment in a dazed way, then picked up his hat, and darted out of the house, shutting the door hard behind him.

Polly, hurrying over the stairs to her own room, kept saying to herself over and over, “Oh! how could I have said that–how could I? when I want to help him–and now I have made everything worse.”

“Polly,” called Mrs. Fisher, as Polly sped by her door, “you are going to take the noon train, you know, to-morrow, Mr. King says; so you can pack in the morning easily.”

“I’m not going, Mamsie; that is–I hope we are not any of us going,” said Polly incoherently, as she tried to hurry by.

“Not going! Polly, child, what do you mean?” cried Mrs. Fisher aghast.

“O, Mamsie, don’t ask me,” begged Polly, having hard work to keep the tears back. “Do forgive me, but need I tell?” and Polly stopped and clung to the knob of the door.

“No, Polly, if you cannot tell mother your trouble willingly, I will not ask it, child.” And Mrs. Fisher turned off, and began to busy herself over her work.

Polly, quite broken down by this, deserted her door-knob, and rushed into the bedroom.

“O, Mamsie, it’s about–about other people, and I didn’t know as I ought to tell. Need I?” cried Polly imploringly, seizing her mother’s gown just as Phronsie would.

“No more had you a right to tell, Polly,” said her mother, “if that is the case,” and she turned a cheerful face toward her; “I can trust my girl, that she won’t keep anything that is her own, away from me. There, there;” and she smoothed Polly’s brown hair with her hand. “How I used to be always telling you to brush your hair, and now how nice it looks, Polly,” she added approvingly.

“It’s the same fly-away hair now,” said Polly, throwing back her rebellious locks with an impatient toss of the head. “Oh! how I do wish I had smooth hair like Charlotte’s.”

“Fly-away hair, when it’s taken care of as it ought to be,” observed Mrs. Fisher, “is one thing, and when it’s all sixes and sevens because a girl doesn’t have time to brush it, is another. Your hair is all right now, Polly, There, go, child;” and she dismissed her with a final loving pat. “I can trust you, and when your worry gets too big for you, why, bring it to mother.”

So Polly, up in her own room at last, crept into a corner, and there went over every word, bitterly lamenting what she had done. At last she could endure it no longer, and she sprang up. “I’ll write a note to Pickering and say I am sorry,” she cried to herself. “Maybe Ben will take it to him. O, dear! I forgot; Ben is vexed with him; but perhaps he will leave it at the door. Any way, I’ll ask him.”

So Polly scribbled down hastily:

Dear Pickering:

I am so sorry I said those words to you; I don’t see how I came to. Do forget them, and forgive
Polly.

“Ben, Ben!” Polly ran over the stairs, nervously twirling the little note. “O, dear me, where are you, Ben?”

“Here,” called Ben, “in Mamsie’s sewing-room.”

“Oh! I beg your pardon,” exclaimed Polly, throwing wide the door on the tete-a-tete Ben was having with Charlotte.

“Come in, Polly,” cried Ben, his blue eyes glowing with welcome. “That’s all right; you don’t interrupt us. Charlotte and I were having a bit of a talk, but we’re through. Now what’s the matter?” with a good look at Polly’s face.

“O, Ben, if you could,” began Polly fearfully, “it’s only this,” waving the note with trembling fingers. “Now do say you will take this note to Pickering Dodge.”

“Why, I thought you sent him a note before dinner,” said Ben in surprise.

“So I did; and he came,” said Polly, her head drooping in a shamefaced way, “and I was cross to him.”

“O, Polly, you cross to him!” exclaimed Ben; “as if I’d believe that!” while Charlotte stared at her with wide eyes.

“I truly was,” confessed Polly. “There, don’t stop, Ben, to talk about it, please, but do take this note,” thrusting it at him.

But Ben shook his head. “I thought I told you, Polly, that Pick don’t want to speak to me. How in the world can I go at him?” At this Charlotte stared worse than ever.

“You needn’t go in the house,” said Polly, “just leave it at the door. Ah, do, Ben;” she went up to him and coaxingly patted his cheek.

“All right, as long as you don’t want me to bore him,” said Ben, slowly getting out of his chair. “Here, give us your note, Polly. Of course you’ll make me do as you say.”

“You’re just as splendid as you can be,” cried Polly joyfully. “There, now, Bensie,” pushing the note into his hand, “do hurry, that’s a good boy.”

And in a quarter of an hour, Ben rushed in, meeting Polly in the hall, kis face aglow, and eyes shining. “Here, Polly, catch it,” tossing her a note; “that’s from Pick.”

“Why, did you see him?” asked Polly, in amazement.

“Yes; couldn’t help it–he was rushing out the door like a whirlwind, and we came together on the steps,” said Ben, with a burst of laughter at the remembrance, “and we spoke before we meant to; couldn’t help it, you know; just ran into each other–and he read your note, and then he flew into the house, and was gone a moment or two, and came back mumbling it was all his fault, and he’d written; that you’d understand, or something of that sort, and he gave me this note to carry back; and I guess Pick is all right, Polly.” Ben drew a long breath of relief after he got through; he was so unaccustomed to long speeches.

Polly tore open her note, and stooped to read it by the dancing flames of the hall fire.

To show that I forgive you, Polly, I’ll go to-morrow with you all to see Jasper.

PICKERING.

“Won’t Jasper be surprised?” Phronsie kept exclaiming over and over, when they were once fairly in the cars; much to old Mr. King’s delight, who never tired of congratulating himself on planning the outing. “Grandpapa dear, I do think it was, oh! so lovely in you to take us all.”

“Well, Jasper has been working hard lately,” said the old gentleman, “and it will be no end of good to him even if it doesn’t agree with you, my pet,” pinching Phronsie’s ear.

“Oh, but it does agree with me,” said Phronsie in great satisfaction, “very much, indeed, Grandpapa.”

“So it seems,” said the old gentleman. “Well, now, Phronsie,” glancing around at the rest of his party, “everything is moving on well, and I believe I’ll take a bit of a nap; that is, if that youngster,” with a nod toward the end of the car, “will allow me to.”

“I don’t believe that baby will cry any more,” said Phronsie, with a hopeful glance whence the disturbing sounds came, “he can’t, Grandpapa; he’s cried so much. Now do lean your head back; I’m going to put this rug under it;” and Phronsie began to pull out a traveling blanket from the roll.

Polly, across the car aisle, laid down her book, and clambered out her seat. “Let me take baby,” she said, coming up unsteadily to the pale little woman who was endeavoring to pacify a stout, red-cheeked boy a year old, just beginning on a fresh series of roars.

An old gentleman in the seat back, laid down the paper he had been trying to read, to see the fresh attempts on the small disturber.

“He’ll tire you out, Miss,” said the pale little woman deprecatingly. “There, there, Johnny, do be still,” with an uneasy pull at Johnny’s red skirt.

“Indeed he won’t,” laughed Polly merrily. Hearing this, Johnny stopped beating the window in the vain effort to get out, and deliberately looked Polly over. “I like babies,” added Polly, “and if you’ll let me,” to the little mother, “I’m going to play with this one.” And without waiting for an answer, she sat down in the end of the seat, and held out her hands alluringly to Johnny.

“Young lady, there are babies and babies,” observed the old gentleman solemnly, and leaning over the back of the seat, he regarded Polly over his spectacles with pitying eyes, “and I’d advise you to have nothing to do with this particular one.”

But Johnny was already scrambling all over Polly’s traveling gown, and she was laughing at him. And presently the pale little woman was stretched comfortably on the opposite seat, her eyes closed restfully.

“Well done!” cried the old gentleman; “I’ll read my paper while the calm spell lasts;” as the train rumbled on, the sound only broken by Johnny’s delighted little gurgles, as Polly played “Rabbit and Fox” for his delectation.

Phronsie looked down the intervening space, and heaved a sigh at Polly’s employment.

“Don’t worry; I like it,” telegraphed Polly, nodding away to her. So Phronsie turned again to her watch, lest Grandpapa’s head should slip from the blanket pillow in a sudden lurch of the cars.

“I’d help her if I knew how,” Charlotte, several seats off, groaned to herself, “but that lump of a baby would only roar at me. Dear, dear, am I never to be any good to Polly?”

She leaned her troubled face against the window-side, her chin resting on her hand, and gave herself up to the old thoughts. “What did Ben say?” she cried suddenly, flying away from the window so abruptly that she involuntarily glanced around to be quite sure that none of her fellow-passengers were laughing at her. “‘You may be sure, Charlotte, if you keep on the lookout, there will a time come for you to help Polly.’ That’s what he said, and I’ll hold fast to it.”

On and on the train rumbled. The little mother woke up with a new light in her eyes, and a pink color on her cheeks. “I haven’t had such a sleep in weeks,” she said gratefully. Then she leaned forward.

“I’ll take Johnny now,” she said; “you must be so tired.”

But Johnny roared out “No,” and beat her off with small fists and feet.

“He’s going to sleep,” said Polly, looking down at him snuggled up tightly within her arm, his heavy eyelids slowly drooping, “then I’ll put him down on the seat, and tuck him up for a good long nap.”

At the word “sleep” Johnny screamed out, “No, no!” and thrust his fat knuckles into his eyes, while he tried to sit up straight in Polly’s lap.

“There, there,” cried Polly soothingly, “now fly back, little bird, into your nest.”

Johnny showed all the small white teeth he possessed, in a gleeful laugh, and burrowed deeper than before within the kind arm as he tried to play “Bo-peep” with her.

“You see,” said Polly, to the little mother’s worried look; “he’ll soon be off in Nodland,” she added softly.

“I’ve never had any one be so good to me,” said Johnny’s mother brokenly, “as you, Miss.”

“Is Johnny your only little boy?” asked Polly, to stop the flow of gratitude.

“Yes, Miss; I’ve buried four children.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Polly, quite hushed.

The little mother wiped away the tears from her eyes, and looked out of the window, steadily fixing her gaze on the distant landscape. And the train sped on.

“But the worst is, the father is gone.” She turned again to Polly, then glanced down at her black dress. “Johnny and me have no one now.”

“Don’t try to tell me,” cried Polly involuntarily, “if it pains you.”

She would have taken the thin hand in hers, but Johnny’s uneasy breathing showed him still contesting every inch of progress the “children’s sandman” was making toward him, and she didn’t dare to move.

“It does me good,” said the little woman, “somehow, I must tell you, Miss. And now I’m going to Fall River. Somebody told me I’d get work there in the Print Mills. You see, I haven’t any father nor mother, nor anybody belonging to Johnny’s father nor me.”

“Are you sure of getting work when you reach Fall River?” asked Polly, feeling all the thrill of a great lonely world, for two such little helpless beings to be cast adrift in it.

“No’m,” said the little woman; “but it’s a big mill, they say, and has to have lots of women in it, and there must be a place for me. I do think that times are going to be good now for Johnny and me, and”–

A crash like that when the lightning begins on deadly work; a surging, helpless tossing from side to side, when the hands strike blindly out on either side for something to cling to; a sudden fall, down, down, to unknown depths; a confused medley of shouts, and one long shuddering scream.

“Oh! what”–began Polly, holding to Johnny through it all. And then she knew no more.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE ACCIDENT.

A roaring sound close to her ear made Polly start, and open her eyes. Johnny’s fat arms were clutched around her neck so tightly she could scarcely breathe, while he was screaming as hard as he could.

–“is the matter?” cried Polly, finishing her sentence.

A pair of strong arms were lifting her up, and pulling her from beneath something, she could not tell what, that was lying heavily over her, while Johnny rolled off like a ball.

“O, Ben!” cried Polly gratefully, as the arms carried her off. And then she saw the face above her: “Why, Pickering!”

“Are you hurt anywhere?” gasped Pickering, speaking the words with difficulty.

“What is it?” cried Polly, in a dazed way.

“There’s been an accident,” said Pickering. “Oh, Polly, say you’re not hurt!” as he set her carefully down.

“An accident!” exclaimed Polly, and she sprang to her feet and glanced wildly around. “Pickering–where–where”–she couldn’t ask “are Phronsie and Ben and Grandpapa?”

But Pickering cried at once, “All right–every single one. Here comes Phronsie, and Ben too.”

And Phronsie running up, with streaming hair and white cheeks, threw glad arms around her neck. “Oh, Polly, are you hurt?” And Ben seized her, but at that she winced; and her left arm fell heavily to her side.

“Where’s Baby?” cried Polly, trying to cover up the expression of pain; “do somebody look after him.”

“Charlotte has him,” said Phronsie, looking off to a grassy bank by the railroad track, where Charlotte Chatterton sat with Johnny in her lap.

Polly followed the glance, then off to the broken car, one end of which lay in ruins across the rails, and to the crowds of people running to the scene, in the midst of which was the fearful hush that proclaimed death.

“Oh! do come and help,” called Polly, and before they knew it, she was dashing off, and running over the grass, up to the track. “There was a woman–Johnny’s mother,” she cried, pushing her way into the crowd, Phronsie and Ben and Pickering close behind–“in the seat opposite me.”

Two or three men were picking up a still figure they had just pried out from the ruins of the car-end, dropped helplessly on its side, just as it fell when the fatal blow came. “Let me see her,” said Polly hoarsely. They turned the face obediently; there was a long, terrible gash on the forehead that showed death to have come instantly to Johnny’s mother, and that “good times” had already begun for her, and her weary feet were safely at rest in the Heavenly Home.

Polly drew a long breath, and bending suddenly dropped a kiss on the peaceful cheek; then she drew out her handkerchief, and softly laid it over the dead face. “Take her to that farmhouse.” She pointed to a large white house off in the fields. “I will go there–but I must help here first.”

[Illustration: “OH, POLLY, ARE YOU HURT?”]

“Yes, Miss,” said the men obediently, moving off with their burden.

“Polly–Polly, come away,” begged Pickering and Ben.

“Grandpapa is sitting on the bank over there,” pointed Phronsie, with a beseeching finger. “Oh, do go to him, Polly; I’ll stay and help the poor people.”

“And no one was hurt,” said Ben quickly, “only in this end of the car. See, Polly, everybody is out,” pointing past the crowd into the car, to the vacant seats.

“There was an old gentleman in the seat back of me,” cried Polly, in distress. “Hasn’t any one seen him?” running up and down the track; “an old gentleman with a black velvet cap”–amid shouts of “Keep out–the car is taking fire. Don’t go near it.”

A little tongue of flame shooting from one of the windows at the further end of the car proclaimed this fact, without the words.

“Has no one seen him?” called Polly, in a voice so clear and piercing that it rose above the babel of the crowd, and the groans of one or two injured people drawn out from the ruin, and lying on the bank, waiting the surgeon’s arrival. “Then he must be in the car. Oh, Ben–come, we must get him out!” and she sprang back toward the broken car end.

“Keep back, Polly!” commanded Ben, and “I shall go,” cried Pickering Dodge. But Polly ran too, and clambered with them, over the crushed car seats and window frames of the ruin.

“He’s not here,” cried Ben, while the hot flame seemed to be sweeping with cruel haste, down to catch them.

“Look–oh, he must be!” cried Polly wildly, peering into the ruin. “Oh, Ben, I see a hand!”

But a rough grasp on her shoulder seized her as the words left her mouth. “Come out of here, Miss, or you’ll be killed,” and Polly was being borne off by rescuers who had seen her rush with the two young men, in amongst the ruin. “I tell you,” cried Polly, struggling to get free, “there is an old gentleman buried in there; I saw his hand.”

“Everybody is out, Miss,” and they carried her off. But Ben and Pickering were already in a race with the flames, for the possession of the old gentleman, whose body, after the car seat was removed, could plainly be seen.

“There’s the axe,” cried Ben hoarsely, pointing to it, where it had fallen near to Pickering.

Pickering measured the approach of the flames with a careful eye. “He is probably dead,” he said to Ben. “Shall we?”

“Hand the axe,” cried Ben. Already the car was at a stifling heat, and the roar of the flames grew perilously near. Would no one come to help them? Must they die like animals in a trap? Well, the work was to be done. Two–three ringing blows breaking away a heavy beam, quick, agile pulling up of the broken window frame, and in the very teeth of the flames, young arms bore out the old body.

A great shout burst from the crowd as they staggered forth with their burden. Pickering had only strength to look around for Polly, before he dropped on the grass.

And when he looked up, the tears were raining on his face.

“O, Pickering!” cried Polly. “Now there isn’t anything more to long for. You are all right?”

Pickering lifted his head feebly, and glanced around. The walls of the “spare room” at the farm-house, gay in large flowered paper, met his eyes. “Why, where am I?” he began.

“At good Farmer Higby’s,” said Polly. And then he saw that her arm was in a sling. “That’s nothing,” she finished, meeting his look, “it’s all fixed as good as can be, and has nothing to do but get well–has it, Ben?”

Ben popped up his head from the depths of the easy chair, where he had crouched, afraid lest Pickering should revive and see him too suddenly.

“How are you, old fellow?” he now cried, advancing toward the bed. “There, don’t try to speak,” hurriedly, “everything is all right. Wait till you are better.”

“How long have I been here?” asked Pickering, looking at Polly’s arm.

“Only a day,” said Polly, “and now you must have something to eat,” starting toward the door.

“I couldn’t eat a mouthful,” said Pickering, shutting his mouth and turning on the pillow.

“Indeed you will,” declared Polly, hurrying on. “The doctor said as soon as you could talk, you must have something to eat; and I shall tell Mrs. Higby to bring it up.” So she disappeared.

“Goodness me! have I had the doctor?” asked Pickering, turning back to look after her.

“Yes,” said Ben. Then he tried to turn the conversation. But Pickering broke in. “Did Polly break her arm at–at the first?” he asked, holding his breath for the answer.

“Yes,” said Ben, “don’t talk about it,” with a gasp–“Polly says that she is so glad it isn’t her right arm,” he added, with an attempt at cheerfulness. “And the doctor promises it will be all right soon. It’s lucky there is a good one here.”

Pickering groaned. “It’s a pity I wasn’t in the old fellow’s place, Ben,” he said, “for I’ve got to tell Polly how I wanted to leave him, and I’d rather die than see her face.”

“See here,” cried Ben, “if you say one word to Polly about it, I’ll pitch you out of the window, sick as you are.”

“Pitch ahead, then,” said Pickering, “for I shall tell Polly.”

“Not to-day, any way. Now promise,” said Ben resolutely.

“Well–but I shall tell her sometime,” said Pickering. “I’d rather she knew it–but I wish we could have saved him.”

“He’s in the other room,” said Ben suddenly.

“Poor old thing–to die like that.”

“Die? He’s as well as a fish,” said Ben; “sitting up in an easy chair, and to my certain knowledge, eating dried herrings and cheese at this very minute.”

“He’s eating dried herrings and cheese!” repeated Pickering, nearly skipping out of bed. “Why, wasn’t he dead when we brought him out?”

“No, only stunned. There, do get back,” said Ben, pushing Pickering well under the blankets again, “the doctor says on no account are you to get up until he came. Do keep still; he’ll be here presently,” with a glance at Mrs. Higby’s chimney clock.

“The doctor–who cares for him!” cried Pickering, nevertheless he scrambled back again, and allowed Ben to tuck him in tightly. And presently in came Polly, and after her, a bright apple-cheeked woman bearing a tray, on which steamed a bowl of gruel.

[Illustration: OLD MR. KING DREW UP HIS CHAIR TO OVERSEE IT ALL.]

And in less time than it takes to tell it, Pickering was bolstered up against his pillows, and obediently opening his mouth at the right times to admit of the spoonfuls Polly held out to him. And Phronsie came in and perched on the foot of the four-poster, gravely watching it all. And old Mr. King followed, drawing up the easy chair to the bedside, where he could oversee the whole thing. And before it was over, the door opened, and a young man, with a professional air, looked in and said in great satisfaction, “That’s good,” coming up to the bed and putting out his hand to Pickering.

“Here’s the doctor,” cried old Mr. King, with a flourish of his palm. “Well, Doctor Bryce, your patient is doing pretty well, I think.”

“I should say so,” answered the doctor, with a keen glance at Pickering. “O, he’s all right. How is the arm?” to Polly.

“That is all right too,” said Polly cheerfully, and trying to talk of something else.

“Let me feed Pickering, do,” begged Phronsie, slipping from the bed, “while Doctor looks at your arm, Polly.”

“I can wait,” said the doctor, moving down to the foot of the four-poster, where he stood looking at the feeding process, “and I can go in and see Mr. Loughead meanwhile.”

Pickering dodged the spoon, nearly in his mouth. “Who?” he cried.

“Dear me,” cried Polly, trying to save the gruel drops from falling on Mrs. Higby’s crazy quilt, “how you frightened me, Pickering.”

“Who did he say?” demanded Pickering, as Dr. Bryce went out.

“Pickering,” said Polly, with shining eyes, “who do you think you and Ben saved so bravely? Jack Loughead’s uncle, who has just got here from Australia, and he’s”–

Pickering gave a groan and turned on his pillow. “Don’t give me any more, Polly,” he said, putting up his hand.

Polly set the spoon in the gruel bowl, with a disappointed air.

“Never mind,” said the young doctor, coming back again, “he’s eaten enough. Now may I see your arm?” He turned to Polly gently. “We must go in the other room for that,” with a nod at Pickering.

A thrill went over Phronsie, which she tried her best to conceal, and she turned quite pale. Polly smiled at her as she went over toward the door, followed by the doctor, old Mr. King and Ben. Pickering Dodge clenched his hand under the bedclothes, and looked after them, then steadfastly gazed at the large flowers blooming with reckless abandon up and down over the dark-green wall-paper.

“Phronsie,” said Polly, hearing her footsteps joining the others out in the hall, “will you go in and see how Charlotte is getting on with Johnny? Do, dear,” she whispered in Phronsie’s ear, as she gained her side.

“I’d rather stay with you, Polly,” said Phronsie wistfully, “and hold your other hand.”

“But I do so want you to help Charlotte,” said Polly beseechingly. “Will you, Phronsie?” and she set a kiss on Phronsie’s pale cheek.

“I will, Polly,” said Phronsie, with a sigh. But she looked back as she went slowly along to the opposite end of the hall. “Please don’t hurt Polly,” she said imploringly to the doctor.

“I won’t, little girl,” he replied, “any more than I can help.”

“Good-by,” called Polly cheerfully, and she threw her a kiss with her right hand.

* * * * *

Mrs. Farmer Higby stood on her flat door-stone, shading her eyes with her hand.

“Seems’s if I sha’n’t ever get over the shock,” she said to herself, looking off to the railroad track, shining in the morning sunlight. “To look up from my sewing and see–la! and ’twas the first time I ever sat down to that rag-rug since I had to drop it and run over and take care of Simon, when they brought me word he was ‘most cut to pieces in the mowing machine. My senses! I’m afraid to finish the thing.”

The frightened look in her eyes began to deepen, and she shook as if the chill of a winter day were upon her, instead of the soft air of a mild morning in spring.

“I want to get out in the woods and holler,” she declared; “seems’s if then I’d feel better. To look up, expecting to see the cars coming along real lively and pleasant, just as they always do so sociable-like when I’m sewing, and then–oh, dear me!” she wrung her fat hands together, “there, all of a sudden, were two of ’em bumping together, one end smashed into kindling wood, and t’other end sticking up straight in the air. Oh! my senses, I don’t wonder I thought I was going crazy, and that I let the rug fly and jumped into the middle of the floor, till I heard the screaming, and I run to help, and there was that poor soul they were bringing here, and she dead as a stone. Oh, dear, dear!”

Mrs. Higby turned away so that she could not see the shining railroad track, and looked off over the meadow, while a happier expression came over her features. “I’m awful tickled this house is big,” she said, with a good degree of comfort, “so’s Jotham and me could take ’em in. Now I’m glad we didn’t sell last spring, when Mary Ann was married, and move down to the village. Seems’s if Providence was in it. Gracious, see that man running here! I hope there ain’t anything else happened!” and with her old flutter upon her, Mrs. Higby turned to meet a young man advancing to the door-stone, with more speed than was ordinarily exhibited by the natives of Brierly.

“Is this Mr. Jotham Higby’s house?” asked the stranger. And although he was very pale and evidently troubled, he touched his hat, and waited for her answer.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Higby; “what do you want? Do excuse me,” all in the same breath, “but I’m all upset; there was an awful railroad accident along here yesterday. You haven’t come to tell of anything else bad, have you?” And she was sharper than ever.

“No,” said the young man, “my friends are here; you took them in so kindly. Do show me the way to them.” He was quite imperative now, moving over the flat stone, and into the square entry like one accustomed to being obeyed. “Which way?” he asked, glancing up the stairs.

“Oh, my!” exclaimed Mrs. Higby, “excuse me, sir; the rooms upstairs”–nodding like a mandarin in the direction named, “any of ’em–all of ’em; they’ve got ’em all; you can’t make a miss.”

The young man was already opening the door of the room where Dr. Bryce was examining Polly’s arm, old Mr. King and Ben looking on anxiously.

Polly saw him first. “Oh, Jasper!” she cried, with a sudden start.

“Take care!” exclaimed Dr. Bryce, looking off from the bandages he was nicely adjusting, to bestow a keen glance on Jasper.

Jasper gave one hand to his father in passing, but went straight to Polly’s side, and laid his other hand on her shoulder.

“It’s all right, Jasper,” said Polly, seeing he couldn’t speak. “Doctor says my arm is doing beautifully.”

“Well, well,” said old Mr. King, trying to speak cheerfully, but only succeeding in a nervous effort, “this isn’t just the most successful way to give you a surprise party, Jasper, but it’s the best we could do. And we had to send you a telegram, for fear you’d see it in the papers. So you thought you’d come on and see for yourself, eh?” as Jasper showed no inclination to talk.

“Yes,” said Jasper, still confining himself to monosyllables.

“And that’s the sensible thing to do,” said Ben, with a grateful look at Jasper, “than to wait till we are able to move on–Pickering and all.”

“Is Pickering Dodge with you?” exclaimed Jasper, quickly.

Polly turned in her chair, and looked into his eyes. “Yes; Pickering came with us expressly to see you, Jasper.” Then without waiting for an answer, “He is in the next room; do go and see him.”

“Very well,” said Jasper, “I’ll be back in a moment or two, father,” going out.

Pickering Dodge still lay, gazing at the sprawling flowers on the wall, and doing his best not to count them. The door opened suddenly. “Well, well, old fellow.” Jasper came up to the bedside with the air of one who had been in the habit of running in every little while. “It’s good to see you again, Pick,” he added, affectionately, laying his hand, that good right hand, on the nervous one playing with the coverlids.

“Of course you couldn’t do what I asked, Jasper; no one could,” said Pickering, rolling over to look at him. “And I was a fool to ask it.”

“But I might have been kinder,” said Jasper, compressing his lips; “forget that, Pick.”

“Don’t say any more,” said Pickering, his face flushing, “and I know it’s all up with me, any way, Jasper.” And he turned pale again. “We pulled an old fellow out of the wreck, at least Ben did the most of it–Polly wanted us to; and who do you suppose he is? Why, Jack Loughead’s uncle. Of course _he_’ll be here soon, and it’s easy to see the end.”

At that, Pickering bolted up in bed to a sitting position, and clutched at the collar of his morning jacket with savage fingers.

“Don’t, Pick,” begged Jasper, in an unsteady voice.

“I’m going to get up,” declared Pickering deliberately. “Clear out, Jasper,” with a forbidding gesture, “or I’ll pitch into you.”

“You’ll lie down,” said Jasper decidedly; “there, get in again,” with a gentle push on Pickering’s long legs. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, though, to act like this!” trying to speak playfully.

Pickering scrambled back into bed, fuming every instant. “To lie like a log here, while that fellow dashes around carrying everything before him–it’s–it’s–abominable and atrocious! Let me out, I say!” And he dashed toward the edge of the bed, nearly knocking Jasper over.

“Hold on, there,” cried Jasper, pinning down the clothes with a firm hand, “don’t you see”–while Pickering struggled to toss them back “Take care, you’ll tear this quilt!–that I’ll help you on to your feet all in good time? And if you behave yourself, you’ll be around, and a match for any Jack Loughead under the heavens. There, now, will you be still?”

“Send that dunce of a doctor to me as soon as you can,” said Pickering, rolling back suddenly once more, into the hollow made in the center of the four-poster. “Dear me, he’s sweet on Polly too!” he groaned under the clothes.

“Whew!” exclaimed Jasper, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe his forehead. “I won’t agree to hold you in bed again, Pick. I’ll send the doctor,” he added, going out, “but you see that you don’t lose your head while I’m gone.”

“I’ll promise nothing,” said Pickering softly to himself, the moment the door closed, and slipping neatly out of bed, he tiptoed over and turned the key in the lock. “There,” snapping his fingers in the air, “as if I’d have that idiot of a doctor around me.” Then he proceeded to dress himself very rapidly, but with painstaking care.

“I’m all right,” and he gave himself a final shake; “that doctor would have made a fool of me and kept me in bed, like enough, for a week. And with that Jack Loughead here!” He gave a swift glance into the cracked looking-glass hanging over the high shelf, and with another pull at his necktie-end, unlocked the door and went out.

“Halloo!”

“Oh, beg pardon!” A long figure that had just scaled the stairs, came suddenly up against Pickering, stalking along the narrow hall.

“How d’ye do?” said Pickering quite jauntily, and extending the tips of his fingers; “just got here, I take it, Loughead?”

“Yes,” returned Jack Loughead. Pickering was made no more steady in his mind, nor on his feet, by seeing the other’s evident uneasiness, but he covered it up by a careless “Well, I suppose you have come to look up your uncle, hey?”

“Yes, oh, yes,” said Jack, “of course, my uncle. Well, were any of the others hurt?”

“Yes; one woman was killed.” Pickering could not trust himself to mention Polly’s broken arm yet.

Jack Loughead’s face carried the proper amount of sympathy. “No one of your party was hurt, I believe?” he said quickly.

“Oh, look us over, and see for yourself,” said Pickering, beginning to feel faintish, and as if he would like to sit down. And then the door at the end of the hall was opened, and out came all the others and the doctor, who was saying, “I’ll just step in and look at the young man, though he’s doing well enough–oh, my gracious!”

“Thank you, I am doing well enough,” said Pickering, with his best society manner on, and extending his hand, “much obliged, I’m sure; what I should have done without you, I don’t know, of course; send in your bill, and I shall be only too happy to make it all right.”

Jack Loughead rushed up to Polly. “No one told me–is your arm–” he couldn’t say “broken,” being quite beyond control of himself.

“How are you, Mr. Loughead?” said old Mr. King rather stiffly, at being overlooked, and putting out his courtly old hand.

“Oh, beg pardon.” Jack mumbled something about being an awkward fellow at the best, and extended a shaking hand.

“You are anxious to see your uncle, of course,” continued the old gentleman, leading off down the hall, “this way, Mr. Loughead.”

“Of course, yes, indeed,” stammered Jack Loughead, having nothing to do but to follow.

CHAPTER XIV.

JOEL.

Joel threw down his books in an uneasy way. “I must give it up; there’s no other way,” he exclaimed.

“Halloo, Joe!”

“You here?” cried Joel, whirling in surprise. “Come out of your hole, Dave,” peering into the niche between the book-shelves and the bed. “What are you prowling in there for?”

“Oh! my cuff-button rolled in here somewhere,” said David, emerging crab-wise, and lifting a red face. “Give us a hand, Joe, and help pull out the bed. Plague on this room for being such a box! There!” with an impatient shove.

Joel burst into a fit of laughter, and then stared; it was such an unusual thing to see a frown on David’s placid face. “What’s come over you, any way? Stand out of the way; I’ll have this bed over there in a jiffy,” rolling it into the center of the small room as he spoke.

David sprang to one side lightly. “Whew! what a dust you kick up,” he cried, snapping his clothes gingerly.

“So you are in your best toggery,” exclaimed Joel, standing straight, his labors over the bed being completed.

“Yes, I’m going to the Parrotts’ to dinner,” said David, hurrying off for the whisk broom to remove the last speck of dust from his dress suit. “Of course you’ve forgotten it, Joe, though I don’t suppose you’d go, any way.”

“No, I wouldn’t go, any way,” said Joel, tossing back his black locks from his forehead. “You forget, Dave, it’s the Association night.”

David let another little frown settle on his face. “No, I didn’t forget that, Joe, but I do wish you’d think it possible to take a Thursday evening off once in a while for the sake of your friends, if for no other reason.”

“Well, I can’t,” said Joel, getting down on all-fours to hunt for the button, “so don’t let’s go over old arguments. Where in time is that thing? oh”–and he came up bright and shining to his feet, holding the button between his thumb and finger. “My compliments to you,” presenting it to David. “There, stick it in before it gets lost again, and hurry off; you look pretty as a pink.”

“Stop your nonsense, Joe,” cried David sharply, who hated being reminded of his girlish beauty. “Well, I’ll make the usual excuses for you. Good-by,” and not forgetting to pick up his walking stick with his hat, he ran off on his way to the florist’s for the _boutonniere_ that must go on before he presented himself at the Parrotts’ dinner party.

Joel shoved back the bed into position with one long thrust that would