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  • 1892
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impatience.

Once out in the park, a half-mile away, his hands thrust in their pockets, Jasper slackened his pace, and breathed freer. Before him seemed to be the little brown house; it was the first time he had seen Mrs. Pepper–and they had just finished their long talk, when the mother had thanked him for rescuing Phronsie from the organ-grinder. The five little Peppers were begging him to come over again to see them, but Mrs. Pepper laid her hand on his arm. “Be sure, Jasper,” she warned, “that your father is willing.” He could see her black eyes looking down into his face. What would she say now?

Jasper threw himself down on one of the seats under a friendly tree. “At least, Polly, you sha’n’t be ashamed of me,” he said in a moment or two, “and dear Mrs. Fisher,” then he walked quietly off to make the last preparations that his father had ordered.

* * * * *

“Well, now, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Fisher, “you needn’t worry, not a single bit,” and she went on calmly sorting out the small flannel petticoats in her lap. “That is rather thin,” she said, holding up one between her eyes and the light; “King Fisher, how you do kick things out!”

“Mrs. Fisher!” exclaimed Charlotte Chatterton in amazement, “how can you sit picking over flannel petticoats, when perhaps Polly will–oh, do excuse me,” she broke off hastily, “for speaking so.”

“Polly? I’d trust my girl to know what was sense, and what was nonsense,” declared Mother Fisher crisply, and not taking off her attention in the slightest from Baby’s petticoats.

“Ar-goo–ar-goo!” screamed little King.

“So we would–wouldn’t we, Birdie?” she said, nodding at him.

“But people do such very strange things in–in–love,” said Charlotte, her face full of distress, “I mean when love is in the question, Mrs. Fisher.”

“Polly doesn’t,” said Mrs. Fisher scornfully. “Polly has never been in love; why, she is only twenty.”

Charlotte gave an uneasy whirl and rushed off to the window.

“And there’s that dreadful, hateful Mrs. Cabot,” she cried, plunging back, her pale eyes afire. “Oh! I feel so wicked, Mrs. Fisher, whenever I think of her, I’d like to tear her, I would, for picking at Polly,” she declared with venom.

“You needn’t be afraid,” repeated Mrs. Fisher calmly, “Polly knows Mrs. Cabot through and through, and will never be influenced by anything she says.”

“Oh, dear, dear, dear!” cried Charlotte, wringing her long hands, “and there’s that Mr. Loughead, and everything is mixed up, and I can’t frighten you.”

“Now, just see here, Charlotte,” cried Mother Fisher, casting aside the flannel petticoats to look up, “you must just put your mind off from all this; I should never know you, my girl, you are always so sensible and quiet. Why, Charlotte, what has gotten into you?”

“That’s just it,” cried Charlotte, a pink passion in her sallow cheeks, “everybody thinks because I don’t rant every day, that I haven’t any more feeling than a stick or a stone. Oh! do excuse me, Mrs. Fisher, but I love Polly so!” And she flung herself down on her knees, burying her face among the little flannel petticoats in Mother Fisher’s lap.

“There–there, my dear,” said Mrs. Fisher, smoothing Charlotte’s pale straight hair, “of course you love Polly; everybody does.”

“And I don’t–don’t want her to marry that Pickering Dodge,” mumbled Charlotte.

“Certainly not; and she’s no more likely to marry him than you are,” said Mrs. Fisher coolly, giving gentle pats to Charlotte’s head, while King Fisher screamed and twitched his mother’s gown in anger to see the petting going on.

“Well, now I have two babies,” said Mother Fisher, with a smile, lifting him up to her lap, where he amused himself by beating on Charlotte’s head with both fat fists, till his mother seized them with one hand, while she gently smoothed the girl’s hair with the other. “Polly can be trusted anywhere; and when she is in too much of a dilemma, then she brings everything to mother.”

Charlotte sat up straight and wiped her eyes.

“And we’ve got somebody else to worry about much more, and all our sympathies ought to go out to him,” said Mrs. Fisher gravely.

“Charlotte, I don’t mind telling you that I am dreadfully sorry that Grandpapa has taken Jasper away from his business.” She sat King Fisher abruptly on the floor, all the little petticoats tumbling after him, and walked away so that Charlotte could not see her face. “Poor Jasper, he loved his work so.”

[Illustration: “WELL, NOW I HAVE TWO BABIES,” SAID MOTHER FISHER]

“And that’s just it,” gasped Charlotte, somehow finding her feet to hurry over to Mrs. Fisher, “Jasper has lost his work, and now oh dear!–oh! can’t you see, Mrs. Fisher”–and then frightened at her boldness, she ran back to Baby.

“Charlotte Chatterton!” exclaimed Mrs. Fisher. There was something so dreadful in her tone, that Charlotte, without a word, ran out of the room–to meet little Dr. Fisher hurrying upstairs with his hands full of letters. “A whole budget from Brierly,” he announced joyfully; “two for you, my girl,” casting them into her hands. “And the folks are coming home next week; that is, our folks–good news–eh, Charlotte?” then he sped on to find his wife.

And at dinner Charlotte, sitting pale and immovable amidst all the chat, let the news of Mr. and Mrs. Mason Whitney’s and Dick’s determination to come on to greet the arrivals from the Brierly farmhouse, fall on apparently unheeding ears.

“Charlotte!” cried Dr. Fisher at last, looking at her through his big spectacles, “why, I thought you would rejoice with us,” he added reproachfully.

“Adoniram,” exclaimed Mrs. Fisher across the table, for the first time in her life looking as if she would like to step on his toes. The little doctor stared at her a moment–“Oh–er–never mind, my dear,” he cried abruptly, turning to Charlotte. “I suppose you do not feel well.”

“Yes, I do feel well,” said Charlotte truthfully, not daring to look at Mrs. Fisher, but keeping her eyes on the tablecloth.

“I have a letter from Mr. King–a very long one; he is going to see Joel and David,” Mother Fisher made haste to say; “I hope he hasn’t heard anything wrong about them,” and a little anxious pucker came on her forehead.

Charlotte Chatterton glanced up quickly, and seeing it, “Oh, I do believe everything is all right, Mrs. Fisher,” she exclaimed involuntarily.

Mother Fisher looked straight at her with one of her brightest smiles. “I guess so,” she said, her brow clearing.

And after they had pulled back their chairs from the table, and the little doctor had gone into his office for a minute, Mrs. Fisher followed Charlotte out into the hall.

“Charlotte,” and she put both hands on the girl’s shoulders, “you and I won’t meddle with the Lord’s will for Polly. Promise me that you’ll not say one word of what we were talking, to any one.”

“I won’t!” said Charlotte Chatterton.

“And now,” said Mother Fisher, dropping her arms and resuming her usual cheery manner, “you and I, Charlotte, have got to put our minds on getting ready for the Whitneys and the home-coming, and we must make it just the brightest time that ever was. I’m no good at thinking up ways to celebrate,” added Mrs. Fisher, with a little laugh, “Polly always did that; so you must do it for me, you and the doctor, Charlotte. And you better run in to his office now and make a beginning, for next week will come before we know it,” and with a motherly pat, and a “run along, child,” Mrs. Fisher waited to see Charlotte well on the way before she turned to her own duties.

“Come in!” cried little Dr. Fisher, as she rapped at the office door. “Oh, it’s you, Charlotte,” with a sigh of relief; “I’m sure I don’t feel much like dragging on my boots and going off to the Land’s End to-night, on a call.”

“Mrs. Fisher thought I ought to come and see you, sir, about getting up a plan to celebrate the home-coming next week,” said Charlotte, feeling her heart bounding already with delight. Would they really all be together in a week?

“Now that’s something like,” exclaimed Dr. Fisher joyfully, and pushing aside with a reckless hand his books and vials on the table; “sit down, do, Charlotte; there,” as Charlotte settled her long figure in the opposite chair. “Now then!”

“I never got up a plan to celebrate anything in my life,” said Charlotte, folding her hands in dismay.

“Nor I either,” confessed the little doctor in an equal tremor, “Polly was always great at those things. But I suppose that’s the reason my wife set us two together, Charlotte, for she’s the wisest of women, and perhaps we ought to learn how to get up celebrations.”

“If only Phronsie were home,” breathed Charlotte wistfully. “I’m so afraid our affair will be worse than nothing.”

“I dare say,” replied the little doctor cheerily, “but we can try, and that goes a great way, Charlotte–trying does.”

[Illustration: “I’VE ALWAYS FOUND,” SAID DR. FISHER, “THAT ALL YOU HAD TO DO TO START A THING, WAS TO BEGIN.”]

Charlotte drew a long breath and moved uneasily in her chair. “If we only knew how to begin,” she said at last doubtfully.

“I’ve always found,” said Dr. Fisher, springing from his chair, “that all you had to do to start a thing was to–begin.”

“Yes, that’s just it,” ruminated Charlotte, bringing up her hands to hold her head with, “I think we are in a tight place, Dr. Fisher.”

“Hum, that may be,” assented the little man, “I like tight places. Now, then, Charlotte, how do you say begin?”

Charlotte sat lost in thought for a minute, then she said, “Any way, I think it would be best for us to get up something very simple, so long as we are beginners.”

“I think so too,” agreed Dr. Fisher, “so that’s settled. Now for the first thing; what do you say we should do, Charlotte?”

“How would it do,” asked Charlotte suddenly, “to invite everybody after they have gotten over the first of the home-coming–after dinner, I mean–into the drawing-room, and then tell them that we are not smart enough to think up things, and ask them to give a recitation apiece, or something of that sort?”

“Charlotte Chatterton!” exclaimed the little doctor, cramming his hands into the side pockets of his office coat and staring at her,

“I am ashamed of you! that would be shabby enough–not so bad either,” he added quickly, a sudden thought striking him, “as you’ll do your part in singing.”

“Oh! I couldn’t sing,” cried Charlotte, drawing back into her shell of coldness again, “they don’t any of them care for it; they’ve heard me so much,” she finished, trying to smooth her refusal over.

“You’ll sing,” declared the little doctor decidedly, “we could never be tired of hearing you; and for the rest, I have a notion that this might suit. See here,” and he threw himself into his office chair, and looked Charlotte squarely in the face, “why not ask Alexia and Cathie and the others, to take hold and get up some fandango–eh?”

Charlotte caught herself on the edge of saying “No,” then drew a long breath and said, “Well,” trying not to seem indifferent over the plan.

“Don’t like it–eh?” asked Dr. Fisher, regarding her keenly.

“It might be the best thing in the world,” said Charlotte slowly. “Those girls act splendidly; they’ve had little plays so often, and Polly has drilled them, that they’ll know just how to go to work, and it will please Polly. Oh, yes, do let us have that,” she cried, beginning to wax quite enthusiastic.

“It will please them too,” said the little man, not withdrawing his gaze.

“Yes, it will please them,” said Charlotte, after a minute, “and I will run over in the morning and ask them.”

“That’s good!” cried Dr. Fisher, bringing his hands together with a joyful clap; and getting out of his chair he began to skip up and down like a boy. “And let Amy Loughead do the piano music, do; that will please Polly to see how the child has gone ahead. I can’t hardly believe Miss Salisbury; she tells me the chit practices every minute she can save from other things. Be sure to have her asked, Charlotte, child.”

“I will ask Amy,” promised Charlotte, with a pang at the thought of the delight over Jack Loughead’s handsome face at her invitation.

“And you are to sing,” cried the little doctor jubilantly. “Now we are all capitally fixed. It takes you and me to get up celebrations, doesn’t it?” and he stood as tall as he could and beamed at her. “I’d go over as early as I could, Charlotte,” he advised, “and tell those girls, because you know a week isn’t much to get ready in.”

“I will,” said Charlotte, “go the very first thing after breakfast.”

And after breakfast, the next morning, she tied her hat on, and not trusting herself to think of her expedition, actually ran down the long carriage drive to the avenue–then walking at her best pace, she stood before Alexia Rhys’ door and rang the bell.

“There, now, I can’t go back,” she said to herself, and in a minute or two she was in the reception room, and Alexia Rhys was running over the stairs and standing with a puzzled expression on her face, before her.

“Oh, my goodness me–oh, oh!” exclaimed Alexia, with a little laugh. “Is this you, Miss Chatterton?”

“Yes,” said Charlotte Chatterton, “I came to ask if you would get up something nice to celebrate the home-coming of all the family from Brierly; and Mr. Whitney’s family are to come too, next week. Will you, Miss Rhys?”

“Well, I never!” cried Alexia Rhys, sinking into the first chair she could find. “You want me–I shouldn’t think you would,” she added truthfully.

“I didn’t at first,” said Charlotte Chatterton, “but I do now, Miss Rhys–oh! very much, you and Miss Harrison, and all those girls–you can get up something beautiful; and Dr. Fisher and I don’t in the least know how, and we want you to do it.” Then she sat quite still.

“Well, I declare!” cried Alexia Rhys, unable to find another word. Then she looked out of the window. “Oh, here’s Clem,” and, rushing out, Charlotte could hear a whispered consultation with, “Did you ever?” and “I’m awfully ashamed,” while Clem’s voice said, “So am I.”

“Well, come in,” said Alexia audibly at last, dragging Clem after her into the reception room, “we’ve got to do what’s right now, any way.”

“I’m awfully ashamed, Miss Chatterton,” said Clem Forsythe, going straight to Charlotte’s chair and putting out her hand; “we girls haven’t been right to you since you came, and I, for one, want to ask your pardon.”

“Dear me, so do I,” cried Alexia, crowding in between with an eager hand stretched out, “but what good will that do–we said things, at least I did the most. Oh, my hateful tongue!”

“If you’ll only take hold and make a nice celebration for Polly and all the others, that will be all I’d want,” said Charlotte. “Thank you, you are so good,” she brought up happily.

“And then we’ll do something for you some time,” declared Alexia, “all for yourself, won’t we, Clem–something perfectly elegantly splendid?”

CHAPTER XX.

STRAIGHTENING OUT AFFAIRS.

Two days after, old Mr. King was walking over the college campus, bound for Joel’s and David’s room in the “Old Brick Dormitory.”

“I am glad I sent Jasper ahead to the hotel; I much rather pop in on the boys by myself,” soliloquized the old gentleman in great satisfaction. “Ah, here it is,” beginning to mount the stairs.

“Come in,” yelled a voice, as he rapped with his walking-stick on the door of No. 19, “and don’t make such a piece of work breaking the door down–oh, beg pardon!” as Mr. King obeyed the order.

A tall figure sprawled in the biggest chair, his long legs carried up to the mantel, where his boots neatly reposed; while a cloud of smoke filling the room, made Mr. King cough violently in spite of himself.

“‘Tis a nasty air,” said the tall young man, getting his legs down in haste from the mantel, and himself out of the chair, though with much difficulty; “take a glass of water, sir,” hobbling over to a side table, and pouring one out, to work his way with it to old Mr. King.

“Thank you,” said the old gentleman, when he could speak, and accepting it quickly, “you say truly, the air is beastly,” glancing around the room in displeasure at the plentiful signs of its inmates’ idea of having a good time at college. “Are Joel and David Pepper soon to be in?” As he spoke, he lifted up the cover of a French novel thrown on the lounge near him, and dropped it quickly as he read the title.

“Hey? oh! I see–a little mistake,” exclaimed the tall youth, going unsteadily back to his chair. “Their room is 19, in the extension. I am Robert Bingley, sir.”

“I’m very glad,” cried old Mr. King heartily, “for I don’t mind telling you, my young friend, that I shouldn’t want Joel’s and David’s room to look like this.”

“I don’t blame you in the least, sir,” said Bingley, nowise abashed, “but you needn’t worry, for the Peppers aren’t my kind. You must be Grandfather King?” he added.

“Yes, I am,” said old Mr. King, straightening up, and throwing back his white hair with a proud gesture. “So you’ve heard about me?” he asked, in a gratified way.

“I should rather think we had,” said Bingley, “why, all of us know about you, sir.” Here he got out of his chair again. “You won’t care to, after you know all, but I should like to shake hands with you, sir.”

“Most certainly,” responded the old gentleman heartily, “although your room isn’t to your credit.” Thereupon he bestowed a courtly hand-shake upon the young man, with the utmost cordiality, making Bingley, who seemed to have a good deal of trouble with his legs, to retreat to his chair in a high state of satisfaction.

“It was mean of me to ask you such a favor, sir,” said Bingley, gazing up at the ceiling, “before I had told you all, but I couldn’t help it, some way, and I knew you wouldn’t touch my hand after you’d heard. Well, I was one of a gang who went to Joe Pepper’s room last week for the purpose of lamming him.”

“You went to Joe Pepper’s room for the purpose of lamming him?” repeated old Mr. King, darting out of his chair.

“Yes, sir”–Bingley still kept his gaze glued to the ceiling–“but we didn’t do it, though; Joe lammed us.”

“Oh!”

“So the rest of the gang are going for him to-night; I’m not able to,” said Bingley, trying to appear careless.

“Joel to be in such business–how could he!” fumed old Mr. King. “A gentleman–and I thought so much of his turning out well. It will kill his mother–oh, how could he?” turning fiercely on Bingley.

“See here, now,” cried that individual, tearing his gaze from the ceiling, to send a sharp glance at the white-haired old gentleman, “Joe is all right; straight as a brick. You can bet your money on that, sir.”

“Oh–oh!” cried Mr. King, more and more horrified, “is this what you all come to college for? I should consider, sir,” very sternly, “it a place to keep up the dignity of one’s family in, and that of such a venerable institution,” waving both shapely hands to include the entire pile of buildings by which they were surrounded.

Bingley gave vent to an uncontrollable laugh. “Beg pardon, sir, but the dignity isn’t worth a rush. We are in the old hole, and all we look out for is to have a good time, and scrape through.”

“Old hole–and scrape through! Oh, dear–oh, dear!” groaned old Mr. King.

“That’s what our set do,” said Bingley, to give him time to recover, “Joe and Davina–ah, I mean David–don’t train in our crowd; the other one, Whitney”–

“Don’t tell me that he does,” interrupted Percy’s grandfather sharply. “It wouldn’t be possible.”

“No, he doesn’t affect us,” said Bingley coolly, “it’s all he can do to take care of those eyeglasses of his; and he’d muss his clothes. Whitney is something of a softy, sir.”

Old Mr. King drew a long breath of relief. But he looked so troubled, that Bingley for the life of him couldn’t keep up his assumed carelessness.

“Sit down again, do, sir,” he begged involuntarily, “and I will tell you all about it,” and Mr. King, resuming his chair, presently had a graphic account of Joel’s course in college, with a description of the trouble in his room, till the whole thing was laid bare.

“How I wish I had been here to see my boy,” exclaimed the old gentleman, with sparkling eyes; “I might have helped him a bit.” He stretched out a handsome fist and looked at it as admiringly as any college athlete could view his own. “Well,” dropping his arm, “I am interrupting you, Mr.”–groping for the name.

“Bingley, sir.”

“Ah, yes; Bingley. Well, Mr. Bingley, pray go on. Did you not say that another attempt was to be made on my grandson?”

Bingley nodded. “To-night after he comes from the Association rooms,” he added.

“We shall see–we shall see,” exclaimed the old gentleman drily, in a manner that delighted Bingley and made him tingle all over to “be in at the death” himself.

“Dobbs has planned it to”–

“Dobbs?” interrupted the old gentleman sharply, “what family? Not the Ingoldsby Dobbs, I trust”–

“This chap’s name is Ingoldsby Dobbs,” said Bingley; “he’s a high-flyer, I tell you! Lives up to his name, I suppose he thinks.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” mourned Mr. King; “I have known his father ever since we were boys; he’s capital stock. Well, go on, Mr. Bingley, and let me know what this young rascal is up to,” he added, with extreme irritation.

“He is going to have his men close in on Joe in the middle of the park. Pepper often comes that way to ‘Old Brick’–short, you know, for ‘Old Brick Dormitory’–with a poor miserable cuss–excuse me, sir–he’s trying to get up on to sober legs. There are twenty fellows pledged to do the job, I’ve found out.”

Bingley didn’t think it worth while to mention how the plan was discovered, nor that heavy vengeance was vowed upon his head if he divulged it.

“I gave it away to Whitney. I couldn’t get at Davi–er, Dave, to see if it wasn’t possible to keep Joe away from that meeting.”

“It would come some time–it better be to-night,” said the old gentleman briefly. “Well, is that all?”

“Yes, sir; only that they are to toss a cloak over Joe’s head, and carry him off for a little initiation fun.”

“Ah!” Old Mr. King sat quite straight. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley,” he said, getting out of his chair. He didn’t offer to shake hands, and Bingley, though pretending not to notice any omission of that sort, felt considerably crest-fallen about it.

The moment the door was shut and he heard Mr. King go down the stairs, Robert Bingley ran his fingers through his hair, giving a savage pull at the innocent locks.

“Curse my luck!” he growled, taking out the angry fingers to shake them at his legs, “tied here by these two beggars, and he thinks that I’m sneaking out of standing up for Joe!”

Old Mr. King fumed to himself all the way down the stairs, becoming more angry with each step. When he reached the lower hall he turned and passed through the building instead of going out, and meeting a young collegian on a run, asked, “Have the goodness to tell me, sir, does Mr. Ingoldsby Dobbs room in this building?”

“No. 23-4-5 in the extension,” said the undergraduate, not slackening speed, and pointing the direction. So the old gentleman climbed the staircase to the wing, and presently rapped on the door marked 23.

Uproarious shouts of laughter greeted him as he opened the door in response to a loud “Come in!” The noise stopped as suddenly as it was possible for the inmates of the room to check it when they saw the visitor, but not before “We’ll season Pepper well and make the deacon howl!” came distinctly to his ears.

“Good afternoon, young gentlemen,” said old Mr. King, bowing his white head; and holding his hat in his hand, he advanced to the table, around which sat six or eight of them. “I beg of you not to go,” as some of them made a sudden movement to leave; “I should like to see you all, though I called especially upon Mr. Ingoldsby Dobbs.”

A tall, wiry youth with sallow face and high-bred nose, disentangled himself from the group and came forward. “I don’t remember where I have met you, sir,” he said, yet extending his hand, with his best manner on.

“Aristocratic old party,” whispered one man to his neighbor, “Dobbsey needn’t be afraid to claim him.”

“I am very thankful to say I never have met you before, young man,” observed Mr. King coolly, not seeing the slender hand waiting for his, “your father honors me with his friendship. This may tell you who I am,” and he threw a card upon the table.

Young Dobbs’ sallow face turned a shade paler as he picked up the card and read it.

“Glad to see you–sit down, won’t you?” he mumbled, dragging up a comfortable chair. “Any friend of father’s is welcome here,” he went on awkwardly, while the rest of the men stared at him, one of them exclaiming under his breath, “First time Dobbs’ cheek deserted him, I’ll wager.”

The old gentleman looked first into Ingoldsby Dobbs’ thin face, then surveyed them all quite leisurely. “I understand you paid my grandson, Joel Pepper, a call a short time since, when instead of abusing him, some of you got your deserts.”

The men started, and angry exclamations went around the room: “He’s turned coward, the mean sneak! We’ll pay him up!” and remarks of a like nature being quite audible.

Old Mr. King turned on them. “Silence!” he commanded. “My grandson Joel doesn’t know I am here. I heard the story since my arrival. If any one says one word against him, I’ll cane him from the top of the stairs to the bottom,” and he looked as if he could do it.

“‘Twas Bingley, then,” said Dobbs sullenly.

The old gentleman completely ignored him, addressing his words to the crowd. “There are four men in this class who are going to be protected from your insults. Those are my three grandsons and Mr. Robert Bingley; and this is to be done without appealing to the college authorities either. That puts a stop to your fine plan, Mr. Dobbs,” at last looking at him, “and any other idea of the same sort your fertile brain may chance to think up. The first intimation of any hostility, and your father and the fathers of these men here with you,” waving his hand at them all, “and of the others in this interesting plan, will be informed, and you will be dealt with exactly like any other disturber of the peace–villains in college or out of it ought to be served to the same punishment, in my opinion. Now have any of you remarks to make?”

It was so like Joel’s invitation to “Come on and have it out now,” that not a single man of them stirred.

“Then I will have the pleasure of bidding you good-by,” said Mr. King, and the next moment he was outside of No. 23, while perfect silence reigned within.

Polly came slowly down Mrs. Higby’s front stairs and looked at Phronsie standing at the further end of the entry.

“What’s the matter, Phronsie?” at last she asked.

For the first time in her life Phronsie seemed unable to answer Polly, and she stood quite still, her gaze fastened on the big-flowered muslin curtain that swung back and forth in the breeze that came through the open window.

“Now, Phronsie,” said Polly very decidedly, and going up to her, “you must tell me what the matter is.”

“I can’t,” said Phronsie, in a low tone, “don’t ask me, Polly.”

“Can’t tell me everything?” cried Polly. “Dear me, what nonsense, Phronsie. Come now, begin, there’s a dear.”

“But I am not to tell,” persisted Phronsie, shaking her head. Then she drew a long breath, and looked as if she were going to cry.

“Who has been telling you things?” cried Polly, her brown eyes flashing, “that you are not to tell? It is Mrs. Cabot. I know it is, for there is no one else here who would do it.”

“Don’t ask me,” pleaded Phronsie in great distress, and clutching Polly’s gown. “Oh, don’t say anything more about it, Polly.”

“Indeed I shall,” declared Polly. “No one has a right to command you in this way, and I shall just speak to Mrs. Cabot about it.”

“Oh, no, no,” protested Phronsie, huddling up closer to Polly in dismay; “please, Polly, don’t say anything to her about it, please”

“Mamsie wouldn’t ever allow you to be annoyed about anything,” said Polly, with increasing irritation, “and if Mrs. Cabot has said anything to you, Phronsie, to make you feel badly, why, I must know it. Don’t you see, child, that I really ought to be told?”

Phronsie folded her hands tightly together, trying to keep them quiet, and her cheeks turned so very white that Polly hastened to put her well arm around her, saying quickly, “There, there, child, you needn’t tell me now if you don’t want to. Wait a bit.”

“I had rather tell it now,” said Phronsie, “but oh, I do wish that Grandpapa was here,” she added sadly.

“Whatever can have been said to you, Phronsie?” exclaimed Polly in dismay. “You frighten me, child. Do tell me at once what it was.”

“Jasper isn’t going to be at Mr. Marlowe’s any more,” said Phronsie, with distinctness.

“Jasper isn’t going to be at Mr. Marlowe’s any more.” repeated Polly wildly, and holding Phronsie so closely that she winced. “Oh, what do you mean! who has told you such nonsense?”

“Mrs. Cabot,” said Phronsie; “she told me this morning–and I was not to tell you, Polly. But I did not promise not to. Indeed I didn’t.”

“What perfect nonsense!” exclaimed Polly, recovering herself, and trying to laugh, “well, Phronsie, child, didn’t you know better than to believe any story that Mrs. Cabot might tell? How in the world could she know of Jasper’s affairs, pray tell?” and she laughed again, this time quite gaily.

“Ah, but,” said Phronsie, shaking her head, “she had a letter from Mr. Cabot; it came in this morning’s mail; she opened it and said out loud this dreadful thing about Jasper, and then she saw me, and she said I was not to tell you.”

Polly dropped Phronsie’s arm and rushed down the hall.

“Where are you going?” cried Phronsie, hurrying after–“Oh, Polly!”

“I am going to make Mrs. Cabot tell me everything she knows,” said Polly hoarsely, and not looking back; “she shall let me have every syllable. It can’t be true!” She threw wide the door of Mrs. Higby’s “keeping-room” where that lady was engaged in putting a patch on the chintz-covered sofa, and talking gossip with a neighbor at the same time.

“I thought as this was a-going so fast, Mr. Higby sets it out so, and we were all so comfortable to-day, I’d get at it kinder early,” said Mrs. Higby apologetically; “anything I can do, Miss Polly?” she asked, flying away from her patch, and dropping her scissors on the floor.

“No,” said Polly, turning back hastily. “Never mind, Mrs. Higby.”

“Now ’twas something you wanted me for,” cried Mrs. Higby, ambling toward the door, “I ain’t a mite busy, Miss Polly; that old patch can wait. La! I can tell Mr. Higby to set on the other end till I get time to attend to it. What was it, Miss Polly?”

Polly turned back, Mrs. Higby’s tone was so full of entreaty. “Oh, nothing, only if it isn’t too much trouble, would you ask Mrs. Cabot to come down stairs a moment, I want to see her.”

“Oh, cert’in,” cried Mrs. Higby, ambling off toward the stairs. And presently Mrs. Cabot in a pink morning gown came down the hall toward Polly, and put both arms around her.

[Illustration: “Phronsie, get a glass of water; be quick, child!”]

“What is it, dear?” she asked caressingly.

“Come out of doors,” begged Polly, “I can’t breathe here. Come, Mrs. Cabot.”

And Mrs. Cabot, her arms still around Polly, was drawn out to the old porch, Phronsie following. Then Polly shook herself free.

“Is it true?” she began–“I made Phronsie tell me–that Jasper,” she caught her breath, but went on again hurriedly, “has left Mr. Marlowe?”

“Oh, dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Cabot in consternation, “what shall I do? Yes; but I wasn’t to tell you; Mr. King is coming back. Do wait, Polly, and ask him about it.”

“I shall not wait,” declared Polly passionately, facing her. “Tell me all you know, Mrs. Cabot; every single word.”

“I don’t know a thing about it,” cried Mrs. Cabot in a frightened way, “only Mr. Cabot writes that Mr. King has made Jasper leave Mr. Marlowe. That’s all I know about it, Polly,” she added desperately, “and I wish Mr. Cabot had been asleep before he wrote it. Phronsie, oh! get a glass of water; be quick, child!” as Polly sank down on the old stone floor of the porch.

CHAPTER XXI.

POLLY TRIES TO HELP JASPER.

“I think it was a mean shame,” began Dick wrathfully.

“Dick–Dick!” exclaimed his mother gently.

Mr. Whitney tapped his knee with a letter he had just placed within its envelope, then threw it on the table. “It’s the best job I ever did,” he cried jubilantly, “to get Jasper out of that business.”

Dick sent his two hands deep within their pockets. “Oh! how can you say so?” he cried.

“And how can you question what your father does?” exclaimed Mrs. Whitney. “Why, that isn’t like you, Dick!” with a face full of reproach.

“Oh! let the boy say what he wants to, Marian,” broke in her husband easily. “So, Dicky, my lad, you don’t think I did just the right thing for Jasper–eh?”

He leaned back in his chair, and surveyed his young son with a twinkle in his eye.

“No, I don’t,” declared Dick, beginning to rage up and down the room on young indignant feet. “I say it’s mean to meddle with a fellow’s business. I wouldn’t stand it!” he added stoutly.

Mr. Whitney laughed long and loud, despite his wife’s shocked, “Dicky, don’t, dear!”

“Well, if I didn’t know that in a year’s time Jasper will come to me and say, ‘I thank you!’ I should never have gone through with the job in the world,” said his father, when he came out of his amusement. “It isn’t the pleasantest piece of work a man could select, ‘to meddle,’ as you call it, with another’s affairs.”

“Jasper never will thank you in the world–never!” exclaimed Dick, cramming his irritated hands deeper in their pockets, and turning on his father.

“You see,” said his father, nodding easily.

“And you see, papa,” cried Dick, turning hastily in front of him, looking so exactly like his father that Mrs. Whitney forgot to chide, in admiring them both.

“And I think it’s too bad,” went on Dick. “Everybody pitches into Jasper, and wants him to do things; and Grandpapa is always picking at him. I’d–I’d fight–sometimes,” he added.

“Softly–softly there, my boy,” said Mr. Whitney; “you’ll have plenty of practice for all your fighting powers by and by; a fourteen-year-old chap doesn’t know everything.”

“Well, I know one thing,” declared Dick, more positively, “Grandpapa has always been meddling with Jasper, and you know it, papa.”

“That’s because he expects great things from Jasper, and that he will hold up the King name; we all do,” replied his father.

Dick turned on an impatient heel. “And so he would have done, if you’d let him be a publisher,” he declared.

His father laughed again, and leaned out of his chair to pinch his son’s ear, but Dick, resenting this indignity, retreated to a safe position, declaring, “And I’m going to be one when I’m through college–so!”

[Illustration: “I THINK IT WAS A MEAN SHAME’ BEGAN DICK WRATHFULLY.]

“Mr. King’s a-coming down the road, and Mr. Jasper!” screamed Mrs. Higby, coming out suddenly to the porch. “I see ’em from the keepin’-room window. My! what’s the matter with Miss Polly?”

“Nothing,” said Polly, opening her eyes; “that is, not much,” and sitting up straight. “Are Grandpapa and Jasper really coming?” she asked.

“Dear me, Polly,” exclaimed Mrs. Cabot, before Mrs. Higby could answer, and putting shaking hands on Polly’s shoulders, “I never was so frightened in my life! I thought your arm was worse–and you so near well! O, dear! are you sure you are right?” peering around into her face. “Here comes Phronsie with the water–that’s good!”

Polly took the glass and smiled up reassuringly into Phronsie’s troubled face. “Oh! how good that is, Phronsie,” she cried. “There now, I’m all right. Don’t let Grandpapa or Jasper know,” and she sprang to her feet, while Mrs. Higby hurried off to see if her preparations for dinner were all right, now that Mr. King had come back a day sooner than he wrote he intended.

“Phronsie, you go and meet them; do, dear,” begged Polly; and as Phronsie ran off obediently, Polly walked up and down the porch with hasty steps, holding her hands as tightly locked together as the injured arm would allow. “Oh! if I only had time to think–but I ought to try, even if I don’t say just exactly the right words, for Mr. Marlowe may not be able to take him back if I wait,” and then Grandpapa came hurrying out with, “Where’s Polly?” and she was kissed and her cheeks patted–he not seeming to notice anything amiss in her–he was so glad to get back; and through it all, Polly saw only Jasper’s face, and, although everything seemed to turn around before her, she made up her mind that she would tell Grandpapa just what she thought, and beg him to change his mind, the very first instant she could.

And so, before the first greetings of the homecoming were fairly over, Polly, afraid her courage would give out if she waited a moment longer, put her hand on Mr. King’s arm. “What is it, dear?” asked the old gentleman, busy with Phronsie, who hung around his neck, while she tried to tell him everything that had happened during his absence; and he peered over her shoulder into Polly’s face.

“Grandpapa,” cried Polly in a tremor, “could you let me talk to you a little just now? Please, Grandpapa.”

“Well, yes, dear, after Phronsie has”–

“Oh! Phronsie will wait,” cried Polly, guilty of interrupting; “I know she will.”

For the first time in her life, Phronsie said rebelliously, “Oh! I don’t want to wait, Polly. Dear Grandpapa has just got home, and I must tell him things.”

“So you shall, Phronsie,” declared old Mr. King, drawing her off beyond Polly’s reach. “There, now you and I will get into this quiet corner,” and he sat down and drew Phronsie to his knee. “Now, Pet, so you are glad to get your old Grandpapa home, eh?”

Polly, in an agony at being misunderstood, followed, and without stopping to think, she threw her arms around Phronsie and cried, “O, Phronsie! do trust me, dear, and let Grandpapa go. I must see him now!”

Mr. King gave Polly’s burning cheeks a keen glance, then he set Phronsie on the floor abruptly. “Phronsie, see, dear, Polly really needs me. Come, child,” and he gathered up Polly’s hand into his own, and marched out of the room with her.

“Suppose we go in here,” said the old gentleman, “and have our talk,” unceremoniously opening the door of Mrs. Higby’s best room as he spoke; “nobody is likely to disturb us here.”

Polly, not caring where she went, but with the words she must speak weighing heavily on her mind, followed him unsteadily into the parlor, and while he threw open a blind or two to light up the gloom that usually hung over Mrs. Higby’s best room, she busied herself trying to think how she should begin.

“There, now, my dear,” said Mr. King, coming up to her, and drawing her off to a big haircloth sofa, standing stiffly against the wall, “we will sit down here, and then we can go over it comfortably together and settle what is on your mind,” he added, feeling immensely gratified at the impending confidence.

“Grandpapa,” cried Polly in desperation, and springing from the sofa, where he had placed her by his side, to stand in front of him, “I don’t know where to begin. Oh! do help me.” She clasped her hands, and stood the picture of distress, unable to say another word.

“Why, how can I help you to tell me, child,” cried old Mr. King in astonishment, “when I don’t know in the least what it is you want to say?”

“Oh! I know it,” cried Polly, twisting her hands, unable to hold them quite still. “O, dear! what shall I do? Grandpapa, it’s just”–

“Well, what, my dear?” asked the old gentleman, and taking one of her hands encouragingly. “Are you afraid of me? Why, Polly!”

Polly started at his tone of reproach, and threw her well arm around his neck, exactly as Phronsie would have done, which so pleased the old gentleman that it was easier for her to begin again to tell him what was on her mind. But when she had gotten as far as “It’s just this”–she stopped again.

“Well, now, Polly,” said Mr. King, sitting straight on the sofa, with displeasure,” I must say, I am surprised at you. I should never think this was you, Polly, never in all the world,” which so unnerved her, that she plunged at once into what she had set herself to do, saying the most dreadful thing that was possible.

“O, Grandpapa!” she cried, “do you think it can be right to take Jasper away from his work?”

“Hoity-toity! Well, I must say, Polly,” exclaimed the old gentleman in the greatest displeasure, and rising abruptly from the sofa, brushing her aside as he did so, “that I never have been so surprised in my life, as to have you come to teach me my duty. Right? Of course it is–it must be, if I wish it. I have always looked out for Jasper’s good,” with that he walked up and down the parlor, fuming at every step, and looking so very dreadful, that Polly, rooted to the spot, had only to stand still, and watch him in despair.

“If you could have seen Jasper, the way he was when I found him,” said Mr. King, tired at last of vituperating, and coming up to Polly sternly, “you would be glad to have me get him out of the wretched business. It smelt so of trade, and everybody was grossly familiar; while that Mr. Marlowe–I have no words for him, Polly. He insulted me.”

“Oh!–oh!” cried Polly, with clasped hands and flaming cheeks. “How could he, Grandpapa? Jasper has always said he was such a gentleman.”

“Jasper’s ideas of what a gentleman should be, and mine, are very different,” exploded the old gentleman, beginning to walk up and down the parlor again. “I tell you, Polly, that my boy is sadly changed since he went into that contemptible trade.”

“But Jasper loves his work,” mourned Polly, her color dying down.

“Loves his work? Well, he shouldn’t,” cried Mr. King in extreme irritation. “It’s no sort of a work for him to love, brought up as he has been. A profession is the only thing for him. Now he studies law”–

“O, Grandpapa!” cried Polly, quite white now, and she precipitated herself in front of the old gentleman’s angry feet, “Jasper just hates the law. I know, for he has often said so; and if you do fasten him down all his life to what he don’t like, and make him be a lawyer, it will kill him. He’ll do it, Grandpapa”–Polly rushed on, regardless of the lightning gleam of anger in the sharp eyes above her; and, although she knew that after this she should never be the same Polly to him as of old, she kept on steadily–“because you want him to; he’ll do anything to please you, and make you happy, Grandpapa, and he won’t say anything, but it will kill him; it surely will, for he loves his work with Mr. Marlowe so.” Then Polly stopped, aghast at the effect of her words.

“And what am I to do now, pray, to please you?” asked old Mr. King, and drawing off to look at her quite coldly.

“Oh! nothing to please me,” cried poor Polly; “only for Jasper. Do let him go back to Mr. Marlowe, Grandpapa.”

“He shall never go back to Mr. Marlowe with my consent,” declared the old gentleman stiffly, his anger rising again, “and you have displeased me very much, Polly Pepper, by all this. Now you may go; and remember, not another word about Jasper and his work. I will arrange everything concerning him without interference.” And Polly, not knowing how crept out of Mrs. Higby’s parlor, and shut the door.

[Illustration: “OH, WHY DID I SPEAK?” CRIED POLLY OVER AND OVER.]

“Polly!” somebody called, as she hurried on unsteady feet over the stairs to her own little room that she had begged under the farmhouse eaves. But she didn’t even answer, only rushed on, and locked the door behind her. Then she threw herself on her knees by the bed, and buried her face in her hands. This was worse than the day so long ago when she sat in the old rocking-chair in the little brown house, with eyes bound closely to shut out all outside things; and all of them had been afraid she was going to be blind. For now she felt sure that she had spoiled whatever chance there might have been for Jasper. “Oh! why did I speak–why did I?” she cried, over and over in her distress, as she buried her face deeper yet in Mrs. Higby’s gay patch bedquilt.

After a while–Polly never could tell how long she had staid there–somebody rapped at the door. It was Phronsie; and she cried in a grieved little voice, “Polly, are you here? I’ve been under the apple-trees–and just everywhere for you. Do let me in.”

“I can’t now, Pet,” cried Polly, trying not to let her voice sound choked with tears; “you run away, dear; Polly will let you in by and by.”

“Are you sick, Polly?” cried Phronsie anxiously, and kneeling down to put her mouth to the keyhole.

“No, not a bit,” said Polly hastily, and trying to speak cheerfully.

“Really, Polly?”

“Really and truly, Phronsie; there, run away, dear, if you love me.”

Phronsie, at this, unwillingly crept off, and still Polly knelt on, with the wild remorse tugging at her heart that she had been the one to injure Jasper’s prospects for life.

And then the dinner-bell rang, and Polly, who was never known to be late at a meal, heard Mrs. Higby come out into the hall again, and shake the big bell till it seemed to fill the whole farmhouse with its noise.

“Oh! I can’t go down–I can’t!” moaned poor Polly to herself, quite lost to everything but the dreadful distress at the mischief she had wrought. And then Phronsie came again, this time imploring, with tears–for Polly felt quite sure that she could hear her crying–that Polly would only open the door, “and let me see you just once, Polly!”

And even Mrs. Cabot came, and Polly thought she should go wild to have her stand outside there and beg and insist that Polly should come down to them all.

[Illustration: “ARE YOU SICK, POLLY?” CRIED PHRONSIE ANXIOUSLY.]

“I don’t want any dinner,” said Polly over and over. “I just must be alone a little while,” and at last she spoke quickly to Mrs. Cabot’s persistent pleadings, “Have the goodness, Mrs. Cabot, not to call me again.” And then she was sorry the minute she had spoken the words, and she opened her door a little crack to call after Mrs. Cabot, as she sailed downstairs in great displeasure, “Oh! do forgive me, dear Mrs. Cabot, for speaking so. I am very sorry, but I cannot come down just yet.”

“I shall send you up your dinner, then,” said Mrs. Cabot, only half appeased, and pausing on the stairs.

“No, no!” begged Polly, and she seemed so distressed at the mere thought, that Mrs. Cabot unwillingly let her have her way about it.

It was in the middle of the afternoon, and Polly, exhausted by weeping, had fallen asleep just where she was, on her knees by the bed, her head on the gay bedquilt, when a low knock on the door startled her and made her rub her eyes and listen.

“Polly,” said a voice–it was Jasper’s–“won’t you undo the door? I want to speak to you.”

“O, Jasper!” cried Polly, springing to her feet, and running over to the door, “I can’t; don’t ask me–not just yet.”

“I won’t ask you again,” said Jasper, “if you don’t wish it, Polly.”

His voice showed his disappointment, and Polly, full of dismay at the trouble she had made for him, couldn’t find it in her heart to cause him this new worry.

“You won’t want to speak to me, Jasper,” she cried, unlocking the door with trembling fingers, “when you know what I have done.”

“What, Polly?” he cried, trying not to show how he felt at sight of the swollen eyelids and downcast face. Meanwhile he drew her out gently into the hall. “There, let us sit down here,” pausing before the wide window-seat; “it’s quiet here, and nobody will be likely to come here.” He waited till Polly sat down, then made a place for himself beside her.

“Jasper,” cried Polly, lifting her brown eyes, now filling with tears again, “you can’t think what I’ve done. I’ve ruined your whole life for you!”

“How, Polly?” Jasper’s face grew pale to his lips. “Oh! do tell me at once,” yet he seemed to be afraid of what she was about to say.

“O, Jasper! I thought perhaps I could help you. I never knew till this morning, just before you came, that you had lost your place. Mrs. Cabot had a letter from her husband, and she told me. And I spoke to Grandpapa and begged him to let you go back, and, O, Jasper!” here Polly’s tears, despite all her efforts to keep them back, fell in a shower, “you can’t guess how dreadfully Grandpapa feels, and he says–oh! he says that you are to study law, and never, never go back to Mr. Marlowe.”

“Is that all?” exclaimed Jasper in such a tone of relief that Polly sprang to her feet and stared at him through dry eyes.

“All?” she gasped. “O, Jasper! I thought you loved your work.”

CHAPTER XXII.

MR KING AND POLLY.

“So I do love my work,” cried Jasper in a glow, “but, Polly,” and he sprang to his feet and walked away so that she couldn’t see his face, “I thought that you were going to say something about yourself,”

Then he turned around and faced her again.

“O, Jasper!” exclaimed Polly reproachfully, “what could I possibly have to say about myself! How can I think of anything when you are in trouble?”

“Forgive me, Polly,” broke in Jasper eagerly, and he took her hand, “and don’t worry about me; I mean, don’t think that what you said to Grandpapa made any difference.”

“But indeed it did, Jasper,” declared Polly truthfully; “oh! I know it did, and I have done it all.”

“Polly–Polly!” begged Jasper in great distress, “don’t, dear!”

“And now you must give it all up and go into the law–oh! the horrid, hateful law; oh! what will you do, Jasper?” And she gazed up into his face pityingly.

“I shall have to go,” said Jasper, drawing his breath hard, and looking at her steadily. “You know you yourself told me long ago to make my father happy any way, Polly.” He smiled as he emphasized the last word.

“Oh! I know,” cried Polly in despair, “but I didn’t think it could ever be anything as bad as this, Jasper.”

“‘Any way’ means pretty hard lines sometimes, Polly,” said Jasper. “Well, there’s no help for it now, so you must help me to go through with it.”

“And just think,” mourned Polly, looking as if the shower were about to fall again, “how I’ve made it worse for you with Grandpapa. O, Jasper! I shall never be any help to you.”

“Polly!” exclaimed Jasper, in such a tone that she stopped to look at him in astonishment. “There, now, I’ll tell you all about it,” he added with his usual manner, and sitting down beside her again, “and then you’ll see that nothing on earth made any difference to father. This was the way of it,” and Jasper proceeded to lay before her every detail of Mr. King’s visit to him, and all the circumstances at the store, not omitting Mr. Whitney’s part in the affair, as shown by the letter that Jasper had seen.

“Oh, oh! how mean,” interrupted Polly at this point, with flashing brown eyes; “how could he?” and her lips curled disdainfully,

“Oh! Mason thought he was doing me the greatest favor in the world, I don’t doubt,” answered Jasper. “You know, Polly, he never could bear to hear of the publishing business, and he was so disappointed when I wouldn’t go into the law.”

“I know,” said Polly, “but this was dreadful, to meddle–after you had once decided; very, very dreadful!”

“I think so,” said Jasper, with a laugh; feeling surprisingly light-hearted, it was so beautiful to be talking it all over with Polly, “but the trouble is, Mason don’t. Well, and then came that dreadful misunderstanding about Mr. Marlowe; that hurt me worse than all. O, Polly! if you only knew the man,” and Jasper relapsed into gloom once more.

“O, dear, dear!” cried Polly sympathetically, and clasping her hands. “What can we do; isn’t there anything to do?”

“No,” said Jasper, “absolutely nothing. When father once makes up his mind about anything, it’s made up for all time. I must just lose the friendship of that man, as well as my place.” With that his gloom deepened, and Polly, feeling powerless to utter a word, slipped her hand within his as it lay on his knee.

He looked up and smiled gratefully. “You see, Polly, we can’t say anything to him.”

“Oh! no, no,” cried Polly in horror at the mere thought; “I’ve only made it a great deal worse.”

“No, you haven’t made it worse, dear; but we shouldn’t do any good to talk to him about it.”

“I don’t believe I could live,” cried Polly, off her guard, “to have him look at me, and to hear him speak so again, Jasper.”

Jasper started, while a frown spread over his face. “I can bear anything but that you should be hurt, Polly,” he exclaimed, his fingers tightening over hers.

“Oh! I don’t mind it so much,” cried Polly, recovering herself hastily, “if I hadn’t made mischief for you.”

“And that you never must think of again. Promise me, Polly.”

“I’ll try not to,” said Polly.

“You must just put the notion out of your mind whenever it comes in,” said Jasper decidedly; “you’ll promise that, Polly, I know you will.”

“Well,” said Polly reluctantly, “I will, Jasper.”

“All right,” exclaimed Jasper, in great satisfaction.

“Polly–Polly.” Phronsie’s yellow head came up above the stairs, and presently Phronsie came running up to them in great haste.

“O, Polly!” and she threw her arms hungrily around Polly and hugged her closely. “O, dear!” letting her arms fall, “I wasn’t to stop a minute. Grandpapa wants you to drive with him, Polly, and you are to go right down as soon as you get your hat on.”

“Grandpapa!” screamed Polly, jumping off from the window-seat so hastily that Phronsie nearly fell over, while Jasper was hardly less excited. “Why, Phronsie, you can’t mean it. He”–

“Father really wants you, Polly, I know,” broke in Jasper, with a look into the brown eyes. But his voice shook, and if Phronsie hadn’t been so worried over Polly, she would certainly have noticed it.

“Polly hasn’t had any dinner,” she said in a troubled way.

“Oh! I don’t care for dinner,” cried Polly, with another look at Jasper, and beginning to dance off to her room for her hat.

“But you must have some,” declared Phronsie in gentle authority, going toward the stairs, “and I shall just ask Grandpapa to wait for you to get it. Mrs. Higby saved your dinner for you, Polly”–

“Oh! I couldn’t eat a morsel,” protested Polly from her little room, “and don’t ask Grandpapa to wait an instant, whatever you do, Phronsie. See, I’m ready,” and she ran out into the hall, putting on her hat as she spoke.

“Get her a glass of milk, Phronsie,” called Jasper, standing by the stair-railing; “that’s a good child.”

Polly flashed him a grateful look as she dashed down the stairs, drawing on her gloves, and not daring to look forward to meeting Grandpapa.

But when she came out to the back piazza, Phronsie following her with the glass, and begging her to drink up the rest left in it, old Mr. King, standing by the little old-fashioned chaise, received her exactly as if nothing had happened.

“Well, I declare, Polly,” he said, turning to her with a smile, “I never saw anybody get ready so quickly as you can. There, hop in, child,” and he put aside her dress from the wheel in his most courtly manner possible.

“Polly hasn’t had all the milk,” said Phronsie, by the chaise-step, holding up the glass anxiously.

“Well, I don’t believe she wants it,” said old Mr. King.

[Illustration: “POLLY HASN’T HAD ALL THE MILK,” SAID PHRONSIE]

“No, I don’t,” said Polly, from the depths of the old chaise. “I couldn’t drink it, dear.”

Mr. King bent his white head to kiss Phronsie, and then they drove away, and left her standing in the lilac-shaded path, her glass in her hand, and looking after them.

All sorts of things Mr. King talked of in the cheeriest manner possible, just as if Polly and he were in the habit of taking a drive like this every morning; and he never seemed to notice her swollen eyelids, or whether she answered, but kept on bravely with the conversation. At last Polly, at something he said, laughed in her old merry fashion; then Mr. King drew a long breath, and relaxed his efforts.

“I declare, Polly,” he said, leaning back in a comfortable way against the old cushion, and allowing the neighbor’s horse, hired for the occasion, to amble along in its own fashion, “now we are so cosy, I believe I’ll tell you a secret.”

Polly stopped laughing and gazed at him.

“How would you like to take a little journey, just you and I, to-morrow?” he asked, looking down into her face.

“A journey, Grandpapa?” asked Polly wonderingly.

“Yes; about as far as—say, well, to the place where Jasper has been all winter. The fact is, Polly,” went on Mr. King very rapidly, as if with the fear that if he stopped he would not be able to finish at all, “I want you to look over the ground–Jasper’s work, I mean. It seems an abominable place to me–a perfectly abominable one,” confided the old gentleman in a burst of feeling, “but there,” pulling himself up, “maybe I’m not the one to say it. You see, Polly, I never did a stroke of work in my life, and I really can’t tell how working-places ought to look. And I suppose a working man like Mr. Marlowe might be different from me, and yet be a decent sort of a person, after all. Well, will you go?” he asked abruptly.

“O, Grandpapa!” cried Polly, aghast, and turning in the chaise to look at him with wide eyes.

“Yes, I really mean it,” nodded old Mr. King, in his most decided fashion, “although I don’t blame you for thinking me funny, child.”

“I was only thinking how good you are Grandpapa!” exclaimed Polly fervently, and creeping up close to his side.

“There–there, Polly, child,” said the old gentleman, “no more of that, else we shall have a scene, and that’s what I never did like, dear, you know. Well, will you go with me–you haven’t said yes yet.”

“Oh! yes, yes, yes,” cried Polly, in a rapturous shout, not taking her glowing eyes off from his face.

“Take care, you’ll scare the natives,” warned old Mr. King, beaming at her. “Brierly folks couldn’t have any such transports, Polly,” as they turned down a shady lane and ambled by a quiet farmhouse.

“Well, they ought to,” replied Polly merrily, peering out at the still, big house. “O, Grandpapa! I just want to get out and jump and scream. I don’t feel any bigger than Phronsie.”

“Well, I much rather have you here in this carriage with me,” said the old gentleman composedly. “Now that’s settled that we are going, Polly. Of course I asked the doctor; I sent down a letter to him after dinner, to ask if your arm would let you take a little journey with me, and of course he said ‘yes,’ like a sensible man. Why shouldn’t he, pray tell–when we were all going home in a day or two? Now, of course, that must be postponed a bit.”

“Never mind,” Polly hastened to say, “if Jasper is only fixed up.”

“Now, Polly,” Mr. King shifted his position a bit, so that he might see her the better, “perhaps Mr. Marlowe won’t take Jasper back. Judging from what I know of the man, I don’t think he will,” and the old gentleman’s face, despite his extreme care, began to look troubled at once.

“Oh! maybe he will,” cried Polly warmly. “Grandpapa, I shouldn’t wonder at all–he must!” she added positively.

“I don’t know, Polly,” he said, in a worried way. “I think it’s very doubtful; indeed, from what I know of business now, I don’t believe at all that he will. But then, we can try.”

“Oh! we can try,” echoed Polly hopefully, and feeling as if, since God was good, he would let Jasper back into his chosen life-work.

“Well, we’ll start early to-morrow morning on our little trip, Polly,” said the old gentleman, catching her infectious spirit, and giving the old horse a fillip with the whip. “Meantime, not a word, my dear, of our little plan!”

So Polly promised the deepest secrecy, and that no one should even have a hint from her looks, of what Grandpapa and she were to do.

And the next morning, although everybody was nearly devoured by curiosity, no one dared to ask questions; so old Mr. King and Polly, with two well-filled portmanteaus, departed for a journey of apparently a few days; and Polly didn’t dare to trust herself alone with Jasper, but ran a race with him around all the angles of the old farmhouse, always cleverly disappearing with a merry laugh when there was the least chance of his overtaking her and cornering her for an explanation.

And Pickering Dodge, in his invalid chair drawn close to the window, heard the merry preparations for the journey, and fretfully declared “that people seem to be happy, with never a thought for a poor dog like me,” while old Mr. Loughead, who, despite Doctor Bryce’s verdict, had never seemed quite well enough in his own estimation for his departure from the “Higby hospital,” on the contrary brightened up, exclaiming, “Now, that is something like–to hear Miss Polly laugh like that–bless her!”

“Good-by, Pickering,” said Polly, coming into his room, old Mr. King close behind; “I am going away with Grandpapa for a day or two,” and she came up in her traveling hat and gown close to his chair.

“So I heard,” said Pickering, lifting his pale face, and trying to seem glad, for Polly’s joy was bubbling over. But he made rather a poor show of it.

“Good-by to you, my boy,” said Mr. King, laying a soft palm over the thin fingers on Pickering’s knee. “Now see that you get up a little more vigor by the time we are back. Goodness! all you want is a trifle more backbone. Why, an old fellow like me would beat you there, I do believe. I am surprised at you,” cried the old gentleman, shaking his fingers at Mr. Loughead, with whom he was on the best of terms, but never feeling the necessity to weigh his words, “that you, being chief nurse, don’t set up with that boy and make him get on his feet quicker.”

“So I could do,” cried old Mr. Loughead, whose chief object in life since Pickering had been pronounced out of danger, had been to browbeat the trained nurse, and usurp the authority in Pickering’s sick-room, “if Mrs. Cabot would keep out, or take it into her head to return home. To state it mildly,” continued the old gentleman, not lowering his tone in the least, “that lady doesn’t seem to be gifted with the qualities of a nurse. Providence never intended that she should be one, in my opinion.”

“Don’t tell him to bully me worse than he does,” cried Pickering. “He shows a frightful hand when he wants his own way.”

“That’s it,” cried old Mr. King delightedly; “only just keep it up. You’ll get well fast, as long as you can fight. Come on, Polly, my girl, or we shall be late for the train.”

The evening before, Jack Loughead ran up the steps to Miss Salisbury’s “Select School for Young Ladies,” and pulled the bell hastily.

Amy ran down as quickly to the little room where she was always allowed to see her brother.

“Well, Amy, child,” cried Jack, when they had gone through with the preliminaries always religiously observed on his visits: how she had progressed in her music under the new teacher Miss Pepper had recommended during her enforced absence, and how far she had pleased Miss Salisbury, and all the other things an elder brother who had come to his conscience rather late, would be apt to look into. “And so you really think you are getting on in your practice?”

“O, yes, Jack!” cried Amy confidently. “Come and see; I’ve a new Beethoven for you,” and she laid hold of his arm with eager fingers. “Now, you’ll be immensely surprised, Jack–immensely.”

“No doubt, no doubt,” answered Jack hastily, and not offering to get up from the sofa, “but you needn’t play it now.”

“Why, Jack,” cried Amy, no little offended, “what’s the matter? You’ve asked me regularly to play you my pieces, and now to-night when I offer to, you won’t have any of it,” and she began to pout.

“That’s shabby in me,” declared Jack, with remorse; and getting off the sofa, to his feet, he dutifully spread the music on the rack, and paid his little sister such attention, that she was soon smilingly launched into the new piece, and lost to everything else but her own melody.

“That’s fine!” pronounced Jack, as Amy declared herself through, and whirled around on the music-stool for his applause. But his heart wasn’t in it, and Amy’s blue eyes soon found it out.

“You’re not a bit like yourself to-night, Brother Jack,” she cried, with another pout and staring at him.

“You’re right; I’m not, Amy,” declared Jack. “Come over to the sofa, and I’ll tell you about it.”

So the two turned their backs on the piano; and pretty soon, Amy, her hand in her brother’s big brown palm, was nestled up against him, and hearing a confidence that made her small soul swell with delight.

“Amy,” said Jack, putting his arm closer around her, “when Miss Pepper had the courage to tell me of my duty to you, I made up my mind that you should never want for anything that my hand could supply.”

“And I never have,” cried little Amy, poking her head up from its nest to look at him. “All the girls say you are just splendid to me; that they never saw such a brother; and I don’t believe they ever did, Jack,” she added proudly.

“So now, what I am about to do,” said Jack, speaking with great effort, “isn’t to bring anything but the greatest happiness to you, Amy, as well as to me. If only I can secure it!” he added under his breath.

“What are you going to do, Jack?” demanded Amy, springing away from him to stare into his bronzed face. “Oh! I know; you are going to Europe again, and will take me this time–oh! goody, goody!” She screamed like a child, clapping her hands gaily.

“Hush, Amy,” cried Jack, trying to speak lightly, “or Miss Salisbury will come in, and send me off, saying I spoil your manners. There, come back here to me; I can talk better then,” and he drew her to his side again. “No, it is something much more beautiful than any trip to Europe would be.”

“It can’t be. Jack,” cried Amy positively, and burrowing her sunny head into his waistcoat.

[Illustration: AMY.]

“Listen–and don’t interrupt again,” said her big brother. “Amy–how can I tell it? Amy, if Miss Pepper will–will marry me, I will bless God all my life!”

This time Amy sprang to the middle of the floor of Miss Salisbury’s small reception-room. “Marry you, Brother Jack!” she screamed. “Oh! how perfectly elegant! It’s too lovely for anything–oh! my darling Miss Pepper,” and so on, till Jack couldn’t make her hear a word.

“Amy–Amy,” at last he said, getting up to her, to lay an imperative hand on her arm, “what would Miss Pepper say–don’t get so excitable, child–to see you now? Do hush!”

“I know it,” said Amy, stopping instantly, and creeping humbly back to the sofa; “Miss Pepper was always telling me how to stop screaming at everything I liked; and not to cry at things I didn’t like,” she confessed frankly.

“Well, then, if you love her,” said Jack, going back to sit down by her again, “you will try to do what she says. And you do love her, I am quite sure, Amy.”

“I love her so,” declared Amy, “that I would do any and everything she ever asked me to, Brother Jack.”

“I thought so,” said Jack. “Well, now, Amy, I must tell you that I went to see Mrs. Fisher to-day, to ask her if I may speak to Miss Pepper. And she gives me full permission; and so I shall go to Brierly to-morrow, and try my fate.”

“It won’t be any trying at all,” cried Amy superbly, and stretching her neck to look up with immense pride at her tall brother. “She can’t help loving you, Jack! Oh! I am so happy.”

Jack Loughead’s dark face had a grave look on it as he glanced down at her. “I hope so,” he said simply.

CHAPTER XXIII.

THAT SETTLES MANY THINGS.

“It’s perfectly dreadful,” cried Alexia Rhys, wrinkling her brows, “to try to get up anything with Polly away. If we only had Joel to help us, that would be something”–

“Well, it’s got to be done,” said Clem Forsythe, in a matter-of-fact way.

“Of course it has,” cried Alexia gustily. “Dear me,” in a tone of horror, “did you suppose that we’d let Polly Pepper go on year after year getting up perfectly elegant things for us, and then we not celebrate for her, when she comes home, and with a broken arm, too? The idea, Clem!”

“Well, then I think we much better set to work to think up something,” observed Clem wisely, “if we are going to do anything.”

“We can’t think of a single thing–not one,” bemoaned Alexia; “it will be a perfectly horrid fright, whatever we get up. Oh, dear! what shall we do, girls?”

“Alexia, you are enough to drive anybody wild,” cried Sally Moore; “it’s bad enough to know there isn’t an idea in all our heads put together, without having you tell us of it every minute. Cathie Harrison, why don’t you say something, instead of staring that wall out of countenance?”

“Because I haven’t anything to say,” replied Cathie, laughing grimly and leaning back in her chair resignedly. “Oh, dear! I think just as Alexia does, it will be utterly horrid whatever we do.”

“Don’t you be a wet blanket,” cried two or three of the girls, “if Alexia is. Oh, dear! Miss Chatterton, you are the only one of sense in this company. Now do give us an idea,” added one.

“I don’t know in the least how to help,” said Charlotte Chatterton slowly, and leaning her elbows on her knees she rested her head in her hands. “I never got up a play or tableau, nor anything of the kind in my life; and we never celebrated anything either; there was never anything to celebrate–but I should think perhaps it would be better not to try to do great things.”

“Why, Miss Chatterton,” exclaimed Alexia Rhys, in great disapproval, and starting forward in the pretty pink-trimmed basket chair. “I’m perfectly surprised at you–nothing can be too good for Polly Pepper. We must get up something perfectly magnificent, or else I shall die!” she cried tragically.

“Nothing can be too good for Polly,” repeated Charlotte, taking her head out of her hands and looking at Alexia, “but isn’t it better not to try to be too grand, and have something simple, because, whatever we do, Polly must always have had things so much nicer.”

“In other words, it’s better to hit what you aim at, than to shoot at the clouds and bring down nothing,” said Clem sententiously.

“Yes–yes, I think so,” cried Cathie, clapping her hands; “it’s awfully vulgar to try to cut a dash–that is, if you can’t do it,” she added quickly.

[Illustration: “NOTHING CAN BE TOO GOOD FOR POLLY PEPPER!” CRIED ALEXIA, STARTING FORWARD.]

“Don’t say ‘awfully,'” corrected Alexia, readjusting herself in her pink-and-white chair. “Well, I suppose you are right, Miss Chatterton; you’re always right; being, as I said, a person of sense.”

Charlotte gave a short laugh, but with a little bitter edge to it. Why would the girls who now seemed to be so glad to have her in the center of all their plans, persist in calling her Miss Chatterton? It gave her a chill every time, and she fairly hated the name.

“And now since we are going to follow your advice,” went on Alexia, “be so good as to tell us a little bit more. Now what shall we do in the way of a simple, appropriate fandango–a perfect idyl of a thing, you know?”

“Well,” said Charlotte quietly, “you know in the olden time at Christmas”–

“But this isn’t Christmas,” cried Alexia, interrupting with an uneasy gesture.

“Do be still,” cried the other girls, pulling at her, “and let Miss Chatterton finish”–

“At Christmas ages ago, when special honor was done to entertain the King wherever he was lodged,” went on Charlotte, “there was a Lord of Misrule, who gathered together a company of ladies and gentlemen, who rummaged the old castles for grotesque costumes and furbelows. And then masked, they all came in and marched before the King, and danced, oh–everything–we might have Minuets and Highland Flings, and all the rest. And they did everything the Lord of Misrule directed, and”–

“Charlotte Chatterton, you are a jewel!” cried Alexia, tumbling out of her chair, and flying at her, which example was followed by all the other girls.

“Thank you,” cried Charlotte, with glistening eyes.

“Thank you? I guess we do thank you,” cried Sally Moore heartily, “for getting us out of this scrape.”

“Oh! I don’t mean that,” said Charlotte indifferently, “I mean because you called me by my first name, the same as you girls always talk to each other.”

There was a little pause. “Oh! we didn’t know as you’d like it,” broke in Alexia hastily, “you are so tall, and you never seem in a hurry, nor as if you cared a straw about being like a girl, and we didn’t dare. But now, oh, Charlotte–Charlotte!” And she gave her a hug that well repaid Charlotte for all the past.

“That’s a regular bear-hug,” she cried at last, releasing her and taking a long breath, “and equal to a few dozen common every-day ones.”

“If Charlotte can breathe after that,” said Clem, turning on Charlotte a pair of glowing eyes, “she’ll do well. We are just as glad to call you Charlotte, aren’t we, girls,” whirling around on the group, “as Alexia, for all her bear-hug.”

“Yes–yes,” cried the whole bevy.

“Well, now, girls,” said Alexia, running over to give Clem a small shake, “let’s to business. There isn’t any time to waste. Charlotte Chatterton, will you tell us the rest of it, and who will be the Lord of Misrule?–dear me, if we only had Joel here!”

“I think Doctor Fisher would be the Lord of Misrule,” said Charlotte; “he said he’d do anything we wanted of him, to help out.”

The girls one and all gave a small howl, and clapped their hands, crying, “Capital–capital!”

“Let’s go and ask him now!” cried Alexia, who wasn’t anything if not energetic; and running to her closet, she picked off her hat from the shelf and tossed it on her head. “Oh, how slow you are, girls–do hurry!” as the others flew to the bed where their different head-gear had been thrown.

“But it’s his office hours,” said Charlotte, hating in her new-found happiness at being one with the girls, to put a damper on their plan.

“Bother! supposing it is,” exclaimed Alexia, in front of her pink-and-white draped mirror, while she ran the long hat pins through her fluffy hair, “it’s as important to take care of us girls, as if we were a lot of patients. We shall be, if we don’t get this fixed. Come on, girls!” she seized a lace scarf from some mysterious corner, and pranced to the door, shaking her gloves at the group.

“I don’t think we ought to go, now,” said Charlotte distinctly, not offering to join the merry scramble for the wearing apparel on the bed.

“Charlotte Chatterton!” cried Alexia, thoroughly annoyed, “aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Don’t listen to her, girls, but come on,” and she ran out to the head of the stairs.

The other girls all stopped short.

“I don’t think Polly would like it, and it isn’t right,” said Charlotte, hating to preach, but standing her ground. At this Alexia, out in the hall, came running back.

“Oh! dear–dear, it’s perfectly dreadful to be with such good people! There, now, Charlotte, don’t look like that,” rushing up to the tall girl and standing on tiptoe to drop a kiss on the sallow cheek–“we won’t go; we’ll stay at home and be martyrs,” and she began to tear off her hat with a tragic air.

“Why not go to Madam Dyce’s and ask her to loan us some of her old brocades and bonnets?” proposed Cathie Harrison suddenly. “She’s got a perfect lot of horrible antiques.”

“The very thing!” cried Alexia, the others coming in as chorus.

Charlotte Chatterton rushed as happily as any of them for her walking things. “And then Doctor Fisher’s office hours may be over, and we may stop there on our way home,” she cried.

Doctor Fisher’s office hours were not only over, but the little doctor assured one and all of the eager group that precipitated themselves upon him, that nothing would give him greater delight than to be a Lord of Misrule at the celebration to be gotten up for the home-coming.

“And it’s a very appropriate way to celebrate, my dears,” he said, beaming at them over his large spectacles; “for it will be for the coming of the King; King by name as well as nature,” and he laughed enjoyably at his own pun. “And I’m sure nobody ever did rule his kingdom so well as our Grandpapa. So let’s have a splendid mummery, or masquing, or whatever you call it; and in my opinion, you were very smart to think it up.”

Thereupon Alexia pulled Charlotte Chatterton unwillingly into the center of the group that surrounded the little doctor. “We didn’t; it was all Charlotte,” she said.

Doctor Fisher took a long look at the pink spot on Charlotte’s sallow cheek, and into her happy eyes, then he turned and surveyed the bevy.

“We’ll have a good time, my dears,” he said.

* * * * *

“Now, Polly,” exclaimed old Mr. King, drawing her back an instant before stepping into Farmer Higby’s big carryall, waiting at the station as the train came in, “you mustn’t even look as if you had any secret on your mind–oh, come now, that won’t do, my dear,” turning her around to study the dancing eyes and rosy cheeks. “I can’t take you home looking like that, I really can’t, my dear.”

Polly tried to pull down her face, but with such poor success that the old gentleman sighed in dismay.

“Well, you must be careful to keep away from everybody as much as you can,” he whispered, as he helped her into the ancient vehicle, “and whatever you do, don’t say much to Jasper, or you’ll surely let the whole thing out,” and he got in beside her. “There, drive on, do, Mr. Higby.”

“You’ll tell Jasper that he is to go back to Mr. Marlowe?” Polly leaned over and was guilty of whispering behind Farmer Higby’s broad back. “Oh, Grandpapa! you won’t keep him waiting to know that, will you?” she begged anxiously.

“No; that shall be at once, as soon as I see my boy,” replied the old gentleman; “but, the rest, Polly; how Mr. Marlowe is coming to look in upon us at our own home, and to meet us the very evening we arrive–that’s to be kept as dark as possible.”

“Yes, indeed,” cried Polly, getting back into her own corner with a happy little wriggle, all unconscious of Grandpapa’s conspiracy with Mother Fisher in regard to the home-coming.

“For if I can’t have the surprise party I started for,” declared the old gentleman to himself, “I’ll have a jollification at the other end.” So he had telegraphed to Mrs. Fisher an additional message to his many letters, all on the same subject–“Have what celebration you like, and invite whom you like. And let it be gay, for the College boys have got leave, and they bring a friend.”

And at such intervals when he could take his mind from Jasper and his affairs, it afforded Mr. King infinite delight to tap a certain letter in his breast pocket, that opened, might have revealed in bold characters, a great deal of gratitude for his kindness in inviting the writer on with Joel, which was gladly accepted and signed Robert Bingley.

“Where’s Jasper?” said Mr. King, as he and Polly got out of the carryall into the bustle of the farmhouse delight over their return.

“He’s gone fishing with Phronsie,” said Mrs. Cabot; “we didn’t any of us expect you till this afternoon.”

“Goodness me! couldn’t they go fishing any other day?” cried the old gentleman irascibly. “Well, I suppose there’s no help for it. Ah! Loughead, that you?” extending a cordial hand to the tall figure waiting at the end of the porch till the family greetings were over; “glad to see you.”

But Jack Loughead had no eyes for anybody but Polly’s happy face; and he barely touched the extended palm, while he mumbled something about being glad to be there; then awkwardly stood still.

Mrs. Cabot, who evidently did not regard him in the friendliest of lights, turned her back upon him, keeping her arm around Polly. “Pickering is waiting to see you,” she said, and trying to draw her off.

“I’ll come in a minute,” said Polly, breaking away from her, and taking a step toward Jack Loughead.

“How do you do?” she said, putting out her hand.

Jack Loughead seized it eagerly. “May I see you–just now?” he asked in a quick, low voice. “I have your mother’s permission to tell you something”—

“From Mamsie,” cried Polly, her beaming face breaking into fresh smiles; “yes, indeed, Mr. Loughead.”

“About–myself,” stumbled Jack truthfully, “but your mother gave me permission to speak to you. Will you go down the lane, Miss Pepper, while I can tell you?”

[Illustration: HE WALKED OFF, LEAVING POLLY ALONE IN THE LANE]

So Polly, despite Mrs. Cabot’s calls “Come, Polly,” nodded to Grandpapa, who said, “All right, child, don’t be gone long,” and moved off with Jack Loughead “down the lane,” fresh with spring blossoms and gay with bird songs.

“I don’t know how,” said Jack Loughead, after a moment’s pause, during which Polly had lifted her face to look at him wonderingly, “to tell you. I have never been among ladies, and my mother died when I was fifteen; since that I have been working hard, and known no other life. You have been so kind to Amy,” he said suddenly, as if there were a refuge in the words.

“Oh, don’t put it that way,” cried Polly, full of sympathy, “Amy is a dear little thing; I am very fond of her.”

He turned glad eyes on her. “Yes, I know. And when you spoke to me and showed me my duty, I”–

“Oh!” cried Polly, with cheeks aflame, “don’t make me think of that time. How could I speak so, and to you, who know so much more of duty than I ever could imagine? Pray forget it, Mr. Loughead,” she begged.

“I can’t,” said Jack Loughead gravely, “for it was the kindest thing I ever supposed one could say to another–and then–I from that time–loved you, Miss Pepper!”

Polly Pepper stopped short in the lane. “Oh, don’t–don’t!” she begged, and covered her face with her hands.

“I must tell you,” said Jack Loughead, still gravely, and standing quietly to look at her; “and I have come to ask you to marry me.”

“Oh!” cried Polly again, and not daring to look at him, “I am so sorry,” she cried, “I wouldn’t hurt you for all the world, Mr. Loughead.”

“I know it,” he said, waiting for her to finish.

“For–for, I do like you so much–so very much,” cried poor Polly, wishing the birds wouldn’t sing so loud. “You have taught me so much, oh, so much, I can’t tell you, Mr. Loughead, about being true and noble, and”–

He waited patiently till she began again.

“But I couldn’t marry you; oh, I couldn’t,” here Polly forced herself to look at him, but her head went down again at sight of his face.

“You sha’n’t be troubled,” said Jack Loughead gently, “I’ll take myself out of the way, and make all excuses at the house.”

[Illustration: “MY! WHAT A SIGHT OF FISH! EXCLAIMED MRS. HIGBY, DROPPING TO HER KNEES BESIDE THE BASKET.]

“Oh! do forgive me,” Polly sprang after him, to call.

He turned and tried to smile, then walked off, leaving Polly standing in the lane.

* * * * *

“Jasper,” said Mrs. Cabot in great irritation, when Jasper and Phronsie wandered into Mrs. Farmer Higby’s neat kitchen a half-hour later, with torn garments and muddy shoes, “they got home while you were away, and that tiresome Mr. Loughead came a little before them; and he made Polly go to walk with him; actually made her!” Mrs. Cabot leaned her jeweled hands on Mrs. Higby’s spotless pine table, and regarded him in great distress.

Jasper bent his broad straw hat over the basket of fish a minute.

“Oh!” screamed Phronsie, clapping grimy little hands and darting off, “have they come?”

“My! what a sight of fish,” exclaimed Mrs. Higby, getting down on her knees before the basket. “Now I s’pose you want some fried for dinner, don’t you, Mr. Jasper?”

“Yes,” said Jasper, bringing his gaze off from the fish, “I think they better be, Mrs. Higby,” and he went out of the kitchen without looking at Mrs. Cabot.

Up at the head of the stairs he ran against Jack Loughead.

“It’s all against me, King,” said Jack unsteadily.

Jasper lifted heavy eyes, that, all at once, held a lightning gleam. Then he put his good right hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry for you,” he said.

“One thing, King,” said Jack gratefully, “will you have an eye to my uncle? He won’t come with me now, but insists on going with your father who kindly invited us both to go home with you all. And when he is ready, just telegraph me and I will meet him at New York.”

“I’ll do it gladly,” said Jasper, quite shocked at Jack’s appearance; “anything more, Loughead? Do let me help you.”

“Nothing,” said Jack, without looking back.

CHAPTER XXIV.

HOME!

“I don’t want to leave you, Mrs. Higby,” said Phronsie slowly.

Mrs. Higby looked as if she were about to throw her apron over her head again. “You blessed child!” she exclaimed, half-crying and allowing her hands to rest on the rim of the dish-pan.

“You have been so very good to us,” continued Phronsie, shaking her yellow head decidedly. “I love you, Mrs. Higby, very much indeed.” With that she clasped the farmer’s wife around her stout waist and held her closely.

“Dear–dear!” cried Mrs. Higby, violently caressing Phronsie; “you precious lamb, you, to think I sha’n’t hear you pattering around any more, nor asking questions.”

“I’ve made you ever so much trouble, Mrs. Higby,” said Phronsie, in a penitent little voice, and enjoying to the fullest extent the petting she was receiving. “And I’m so sorry.”

“Trouble!” exploded the farmer’s wife, smoothing Phronsie’s yellow hair with her large red hands, “the land! it’s only a sight of comfort you’ve been. Why, I’ve just set by you!”

“I’ve come in here,” said Phronsie, reflectively peering around at the spotless kitchen floor, “with muddy boots on and spoiled it; and I’ve talked when you wanted to weigh out things, and make cake, and once, don’t you remember, Mrs. Higby, I left the pantry door open and the cat got in and ate up part of the custard pudding.”

“Bless your heart!” exclaimed Mrs. Higby, with another squeeze, “I’ve forgot all about it.”

“But I haven’t,” said Phronsie, with a sigh, “and I’m sorry.”

“Well, now,” said the farmer’s wife, “I’ll tell you how we will settle that; if you’ll come again to the farm, and give my old eyes a sight of you, that’ll make it all right.”

“You’re not old,” cried Phronsie, wriggling enough out of Mrs. Higby’s arms to look at the round red cheeks and bright eyes. “Oh, Mrs. Higby! and you’re just as nice!” With that she clasped her impulsively around the neck. “And Pickering likes you too, Mrs. Higby,” continued Phronsie, “he says you’re as good as gold.”

“You don’t say so!” cried Mrs. Farmer Higby, intensely gratified; “well, he’s as nice a boy as ever lived, I’m sure, and I’m just as tickled as I can be that that fever was broke up so sudden, for you see, Phronsie, he’s got the making of being a right smart man yet.”

“Grandpapa is going to have Pickering go home with us,” said Phronsie, confidentially, and edging away from the farmer’s wife to facilitate conversation. “And he’s going to stay at our house with us till he gets nice and strong.”

“Well, I’m dreadful glad of that,” declared Mrs. Higby heartily, “for that a’nt of his–well, there, Phronsie, she ain’t to my taste; she is such a making sort of woman–she comes in here and she wants to make me do this, and do that, till I’m most out of my wits, and I’d like to take my broom and say ‘scat’ as I do to the cat,” and a black frown settled on Mrs. Higby’s pleasant face.

Phronsie began to look quite grave. “She loves Pickering,” she said thoughtfully, “and when he was so bad she cried almost all the time, Mrs. Higby.”

“Oh! she loves him well enough,” answered Mrs. Higby, “but she fusses over him so, and wants her way all the same. It would be good if she thought somebody else knew something once in a while,” and she began to splash in the dish-pan vigorously to make up for lost time, quickly heaping up a pile of dishes to drain on the little old tray.

“Let me wipe them, do, Mrs. Higby,” begged Phronsie eagerly, and without waiting for the permission she felt quite sure of, Phronsie picked up the long brown towel and set to work.

Upstairs Jasper and his father were going over again all the incidents of Mr. King’s and Polly’s trip, that the old gentleman was willing to communicate, and Jasper, despite his eagerness to know all the whys and wherefores, held himself in check as well as he could, scarcely realizing that he was really to go back to Mr. Marlowe’s.

And Polly and Mrs. Cabot were busily packing, with the aid of a farmer’s daughter who lived near, while Polly, who dearly loved to do it all herself, was forced to stand by and direct matters; and old Mr. Loughead divided his time between stalking out to the piazza where Pickering was slowly pacing back and forth in his “constitutional,” to insist that he shouldn’t “walks his legs off,” and calling Polly from her work, “just to help me a bit, my dear”–when he got into a tight place over the packing that he insisted should be done by none but his own two hands.

And the whole farmhouse was soon thrown into such a bustle and ferment, that any one looking in would have known without the telling, that “Mr. King’s family are going home.” And after a day or so of all this, Farmer Higby carried a wagon-load of trunks down to the little station, and his wife drove the carryall, in the back of which Pickering was carefully tucked with Mrs. Cabot, who insisted on being beside him, and old Mr. Loughead in front–the others of the party merrily following in a large old vehicle of no particular pattern whatever–and before anybody could hardly realize it, the train came rushing in, and there were hurried good-bys, and hand-shakes, and they were off–Phronsie crying as she held to her, “I wish you were going too, I do, dear Mrs. Higby.” And the farmer and his wife were left on the platform, staring after them with sorry eyes.

“Well, now, Phronsie,” said Mr. King, as they quieted down, and Phronsie turned back after the last look at the little station, “I think it is time to answer your question, so as to let you go home without anything on your mind.”

“About Charlotte, you mean, Grandpapa?” whispered Phronsie softly, with wide eyes, and glancing back to see that no one else heard.

“To be sure–about Charlotte,” said the old gentleman. “Well, I’ve