An Old-fashioned Girl
Louisa May Alcott
Part 4 out of 6
"Girls' heads always do ache," answered Tom, subsiding from a
roar into a chuckle.
"What pleasure you boys can find in such ungentlemanly things, I
don't see," said Fanny, who was evidently out of sorts.
"As much a mystery to you as it is to us, how you girls can like to
gabble and prink from one week's end to the other," retorted Tom.
There was a pause after this little passage-at-arms, but Fan wanted
to be amused, for time hung heavily on her hands, so she asked, in
a more amiable tone, "How 's Trix?"
"As sweet as ever," answered Tom, gruffly.
"Did she scold you, as usual?"
"She just did."
"What was the matter?"
"Well, I 'll leave it to you if this is n't unreasonable: she won't
dance with me herself, yet don't like me to go it with anybody else.
I said, I thought, if a fellow took a girl to a party, she ought to
dance with him once, at least, especially if they were engaged. She
said that was the very reason why she should n't do it; so, at the
last hop, I let her alone, and had a gay time with Belle, and to-day
Trix gave it to me hot and heavy, coming home from church."
"If you go and engage yourself to a girl like that, I don't know what
you can expect. Did she wear her Paris hat to-day?" added Fan,
with sudden interest in her voice.
"She wore some sort of a blue thing, with a confounded bird of
Paradise in it, that kept whisking into my face every time she
turned her head."
"Men never know a pretty thing when they see it. That hat is
"They know a lady when they see her, and Trix don't look like one;
I can't say where the trouble is, but there 's too much fuss and
feathers for my taste. You are twice as stylish, yet you never look
loud or fast."
Touched by this unusual compliment, Fanny drew her chair nearer
as she replied with complacency, "Yes, I flatter myself I do know
how to dress well. Trix never did; she 's fond of gay colors, and
generally looks like a walking rainbow."
"Can't you give her a hint? Tell her not to wear blue gloves
anyway, she knows I hate 'em."
"I 've done my best for your sake, Tom, but she is a perverse
creature, and don't mind a word I say, even about things much
more objectionable than blue gloves."
"Maudie, run and bring me my other cigar case, it 's lying round
Maud went; and as soon as the door was shut, Tom rose on his
elbow, saying in a cautiously lowered voice, "Fan, does Trix
"Yes, and draws too," answered Fanny, with a sly laugh.
"Come, you know what I mean; I 've a right to ask and you ought
to tell," said Tom, soberly, for he was beginning to find that being
engaged was not unmitigated bliss.
"What makes you think she does?"
"Well, between ourselves," said Tom, looking a little sheepish, but
anxious to set his mind at rest, "she never will let me kiss her on
her cheek, nothing but an unsatisfactory peck at her lips. Then the
other day, as I took a bit of heliotrope out of a vase to put in my
button-hole, I whisked a drop of water into her face; I was going to
wipe it off, but she pushed my hand away, and ran to the glass,
where she carefully dabbed it dry, and came back with one cheek
redder than the other. I did n't say anything, but I had my
suspicions. Come now, does she?"
"Yes, she does; but don't say a word to her, for she 'll never forgive
my telling if she knew it."
"I don't care for that; I don't like it, and I won't have it," said Tom,
"You can't help yourself. Half the girls do it, either paint or
powder, darken their lashes with burnt hair-pins, or take cologne
on lumps of sugar or belladonna to make their eyes bright. Clara
tried arsenic for her complexion, but her mother stopped it," said
Fanny, betraying the secrets of the prison-house in the basest
"I knew you girls were a set of humbugs, and very pretty ones, too,
some of you, but I can't say I like to see you painted up like a lot of
actresses," said Tom, with an air of disgust.
"I don't do anything of the sort, or need it, but Trix does; and
having chosen her, you must abide your choice, for better or
"It has n't come to that yet," muttered Tom, as he lay down again
with a rebellious air.
Maud's return put an end to these confidences, though Tom excited
her curiosity by asking the mysterious question, "I say, Fan, is
Polly up to that sort of thing?"
"No, she thinks it 's awful. When she gets pale and dragged out she
will probably change her mind."
"I doubt it," said Tom.
"Polly says it is n't proper to talk secrets before people who ain't in
'em," observed Maud, with dignity.
"Do, for mercy sake, stop talking about Polly, I 'm sick to death of
it," cried Fanny, snappishly.
"Hullo!" and Tom sat up to take a survey. "I thought you were
bosom friends, and as spoony as ever."
"Well, I am fond of Polly, but I get tired of hearing Maud sing her
praises everlastingly. Now don't go and repeat that, chatterbox."
"My goodness, is n't she cross?" whispered Maud to Tom.
"As two sticks; let her be. There 's the bell; see who it is, Pug,"
answered Tom, as a tingle broke the silence of the house.
Maud went to peep over the banisters, and came flying back in a
"It 's Will come for me! Can't I go? It don't snow hard, and I 'll
bundle up, and you can send for me when papa comes."
"I don't care what you do," answered Fan, who was in a very bad
Without waiting for any other permission, Maud rushed away to
get ready. Will would n't come up, he was so snowy, and Fanny
was glad, because with her he was bashful, awkward, and silent, so
Tom went down and entertained him with Maud's report. They
were very good friends, but led entirely different lives, Will being
a "dig," and Tom a "bird," or, in plain English, one was a hard
student, and the other a jolly young gentleman. Tom had rather
patronized Will, who did n't like it, and showed that he did n't by
refusing to borrow money of him, or accept any of his invitations
to join the clubs and societies to which Tom belonged. So Shaw let
Milton alone, and he got on very well in his own way, doggedly
sticking to his books, and resisting all temptations but those of
certain libraries, athletic games, and such inexpensive pleasures as
were within his means; for this benighted youth had not yet
discovered that college nowadays is a place in which to "sky-lark,"
not to study.
When Maud came down and trotted contentedly away, holding
Will's hand, Tom watched them out of sight, and then strolled
about the house whistling and thinking, till he went to sleep in his
father's arm-chair, for want of something better to do. He awoke to
the joys of a solitary tea, for his mother never came down, and
Fanny shut herself and her headache up in her own room.
"Well, this is cheerful," he said, as the clock struck eight, and his
fourth cigar came to an end. "Trix is mad, and Fan in the dumps,
so I 'll take myself off. Guess I 'll go round to Polly's, and ask Will
to drive out with me, and save him the walk, poor chap. Might
bring Midget home, it will please her, and there 's no knowing
when the governor will be back."
With these thoughts in his head, Tom leisurely got under way, and
left his horse at a neighboring stable, for he meant to make a little
call, and see what it was Maud enjoyed so much.
"Polly is holding forth," he said to himself, as he went quietly up
stairs, and the steady murmur of a pleasant voice came down to
him. Tom laughed at Polly's earnest way of talking when she was
interested in anything. But he liked it because it was so different
from the coquettish clatter of most of the girls with whom he
talked. Young men often laugh at the sensible girls whom they
secretly respect, and affect to admire the silly ones whom they
secretly despise, because earnestness, intelligence, and womanly
dignity are not the fashion.
The door was ajar, and pausing in the dark entry Tom took a
survey before he went in. The prospect was not dazzling, but
home-like and pleasant. The light of a bright fire filled the little
room, and down on a stool before it was Maud tending Puttel, and
watching with deep interest the roasting of an apple intended for
her special benefit. On the couch lounged Will, his thoughtful eyes
fixed on Polly, who, while she talked, smoothed the broad
forehead of her "yellow-haired laddie" in a way that Tom thought
an immense improvement on Maud's performance. They had
evidently been building castles in the air, for Polly was saying in
her most impressive manner, "Well, whatever you do, Will, don't
have a great, costly church that takes so much money to build and
support it that you have nothing to give away. I like the plain,
old-fashioned churches, built for use, not show, where people met
for hearty praying and preaching, and where everybody made their
own music instead of listening to opera singers, as we do now. I
don't care if the old churches were bare and cold, and the seats
hard, there was real piety in them, and the sincerity of it was felt in
the lives of the people. I don't want a religion that I put away with
my Sunday clothes, and don't take out till the day comes round
again; I want something to see and feel and live by day-by-day, and
I hope you 'll be one of the true ministers, who can teach by
precept and example, how to get and keep it."
"I hope I shall be, Polly, but you know they say that in families, if
there is a boy who can't do anything else, they make a minister of
him. I sometimes think I ain't good for much, and that seems to me
the reason why I should n't even try to be a minister," said Will,
smiling, yet looking as if with all his humility he did have faith in
the aspirations that came to him in his best moments.
"Some one said that very thing to father once, and I remember he
answered, 'I am glad to give my best and brightest son to the
service of God.' "
"Did he say that?" and Will's color rose, for the big, book-loving
fellow was as sensitive as a girl to the praise of those dearest to
"Yes," said Polly, unconsciously giving the strongest stimulus to
her brother's hope and courage. "Yes, and he added, 'I shall let my
boys follow the guide that is in them, and only ask of them to use
their gifts conscientiously, and be honest, useful men.' "
"So we will! Ned is doing well out West, and I 'm hard at it here. If
father does his best to give us the chance we each want, the least
we can do is to work with a will."
"Whatever you do, you can't help working with a Will," cried Tom,
who had been so interested, that he forgot he was playing
Polly flew up, looking so pleased and surprised, that Tom
reproached himself for not having called oftener.
"I 've come for Maud," he announced, in a paternal tone, which
made that young lady open her eyes.
"I can't go till my apple is done; besides, it is n't nine yet, and Will
is going to take me along, when he goes. I 'd rather have him."
"I 'm going to take you both in the cutter. The storm is over, but it
is heavy walking, so you 'll drive out with me, old man?" said
Tom, with a nod at Will.
"Of course he will; and thank you very much. I 've been trying to
keep him all night; Miss Mills always manages to find a corner for
stray people, but he insists on going, so as to get to work early
to-morrow," said Polly, delighted to see that Tom was taking off
his coat, as if he meant to wait for Maud's apple, which Polly
blessed for being so slow to cook.
Putting her guest into the best chair, Polly sat down and beamed at
him with such hospitable satisfaction, that Tom went up several
pegs in his own estimation.
"You don't come very often, so we are rather over-powered when
you do honor us," she said, demurely.
"Well, you, know we fellows are so busy, we have n't much time to
enjoy ourselves," answered Tom.
"Ahem!" said Will, loudly.
"Take a troche," said Tom.
Then they both burst out laughing, and Polly, fully understanding
the joke, joined them, saying, "Here are some peanuts, Tom; do
enjoy yourself while you can."
"Now I call that a delicate compliment!" And Tom, who had not
lost his early relish for this sort of refreshment, though he seldom
indulged his passion nowadays, because peanuts are considered
vulgar, fell to cracking and munching with great satisfaction.
"Do you remember the first visit I made at your house, how you
gave me peanuts, coming from the depot, and frightened me out of
my wits, pretending the coachman was tipsy?" asked Polly.
"Of course I do, and how we coasted one day," answered Tom,
"Yes, and the velocipede; you 've got the scar of that yet, I see."
"I remember how you stood by me while it was sewed up; that was
very plucky, Polly."
"I was dreadfully afraid, but I remember I wanted to seem very
brave, because you 'd called me a coward."
"Did I? Ought to have been ashamed of myself. I used to rough you
shamefully, Polly, and you were so good-natured, you let me do
"Could n't help myself," laughed Polly. "I did use to think you were
an awful boy, but seems to me I rather liked it."
"She had so much of it at home, she got used to it," put in Will,
pulling the little curl behind Polly's ear.
"You boys never teased me as Tom did, that 's the reason it amused
me, I suppose; novelty hath charms, you know."
"Grandma used to lecture Tom for plaguing you, Polly, and he
used to say he 'd be a tip-top boy, but he was n't," observed Maud,
with a venerable air.
"Dear old grandma; she did her best, but I 'm a bad lot," said Tom,
with a shake of the head and a sober face.
"It always seems as if she must be up in her rooms, and I can't get
used to finding them empty," added Polly, softly.
"Father would n't have anything moved, and Tom sits up there
sometimes; it makes him feel good, he says," said Maud, who had
a talent for betraying trifles which people preferred should not be
mentioned in public.
"You 'd better hurry up your apple, for if it is n't done pretty soon,
you 'll have to leave it, Pug," said Tom, looking annoyed.
"How is Fan?" asked Polly, with tact.
"Well, Fan is rather under the weather; says she 's dyspeptic, which
"She is cross, but she 's sick too, for I found her crying one day,
and she said nobody cared about her, and she might as well be
dead," added Maud, having turned her apple with tender care.
"We must try to cheer her up, among us. If I was n't so busy I 'd
like to devote myself to her, she has done so much for me," said
"I wish you could. I can't understand her, for she acts like a
weathercock, and I never know how I 'm going to find her. I hate to
have her mope so, but, upon my life, I don't know what to do," said
Tom; but as he uttered the words, something was suggested by the
sight before him. Chairs were few, and Polly had taken half of
Will's when they drew round the fire. Now she was leaning against
him, in a cosy, confiding way, delightful to behold, while Will's
strong arm went round her with a protecting air, which said, as
plainly as any words, that this big brother and small sister knew
how to love and help one another. It was a pleasant little picture,
all the pleasanter for its unconsciousness, and Tom found it both
suggestive and agreeable.
"Poor old Fan, she don't get much petting; maybe that 's what she
wants. I 'll try it and see, for she stands by me like a trump. If she
was a rosy, cosy little woman, like Polly, it would come easier,
though," thought Tom, as he meditatively ate his last nut, feeling
that fraternal affection could not be very difficult of
demonstration, to brothers blessed with pretty, good-tempered
"I told Tom about the bad fellow who blew up the professor, and
he said he knew him, slightly; and I was so relieved, because I had
a kind of a feeling that it was Tom himself, you and Will laughed
so about it."
Maud had a queer way of going on with her own thoughts, and
suddenly coming out with whatever lay uppermost, regardless of
time, place, or company. As this remark fell from her, there was a
general smile, and Polly said, with mock solemnity, "It was a sad
thing, and I 've no doubt that misguided young man is very sorry
for it now."
"He looked perfectly bowed down with remorse last time I saw
him," said Will, regarding Tom with eyes full of fun, for Will was
a boy as well as a bookworm, and relished a joke as well as
"He always is remorseful after a scrape, I 've understood, for he is
n't a very bad fellow, only his spirits are one too many for him, and
he is n't as fond of his book as another fellow I know."
"I 'm afraid he 'll he expelled if he don't mind," said Polly,
"Should n't wonder if he was, he 's such an unlucky dog," answered
Tom, rather soberly.
"I hope he 'll remember that his friends will be very much
disappointed if he is. He might make them so proud and happy;
that I guess he will, for he is n't half as thoughtless as he makes
himself out," said Polly, looking across at Tom with such friendly
eyes that he was quite touched, though of course he did n't show it.
"Thank you, Polly; he may pull through, but I have my doubts.
Now old man, let us 'pud' along; it 's getting late for the chicken,"
he added, relapsing into the graceful diction with which a classical
education gifts its fortunate possessor.
Taking advantage of the moment while Will was wrestling with
his boots in the closet, and Maud was absorbed in packing her
apple into a large basket, Polly said to Tom in a low tone, "Thank
you very much, for being so kind to Will."
"Bless your heart, I have n't done anything; he 's such a proud
fellow he won't let me," answered Tom.
"But you do in many little ways; to-night, for example. Do you
think I don't know that the suit of clothes he 's just got would have
cost a good deal more, if your tailor had n't made them? He 's only
a boy, and don't understand things yet; but I know your way of
helping proud people; so that they don't find it out, and I do thank
you, Tom, so much."
"Oh, come, Polly, that won't do. What do you know about tailors
and college matters?" said Tom, looking as much confused as if
she had found him out in something reprehensible.
"I don't know much, and that 's the reason why I 'm grateful for
your kindness to Will. I don't care what stories they tell about you,
I 'm sure, you won't lead him into trouble, but keep him straight,
for my sake. You know I 've lost one brother, and Will takes
Jimmy's place to me now."
The tears in Polly's eyes as she said that made Tom vow a
tremendous vow within himself to stand by Will through thick and
thin, and "keep him straight for Polly's sake"; feeling all the time
how ill-fitted he was for such a task.
"I 'll do my best," he said, heartily, as he pressed the hand Polly
gave him, with a look which assured her that he felt the appeal to
his honor, and that henceforth the country lad was safe from all the
temptations Tom could have offered him.
"There! now I shall give that to mamma to take her pills in; it 's
just what she likes, and it pleases her to be thought of," said Maud,
surveying her gift with complacency, as she put on her things.
"You 're a good little soul, to remember poor mum, said Tom, with
an approving nod.
"Well, she was so pleased with the grapes you brought her, I
thought I 'd try something, and maybe she 'd say 'Thank you,
darling,' to me too. Do you think she will?" whispered Maud, with
the wistful look so often seen on her little plain face.
"See if she don't;" and to Maud's great surprise Tom did n't laugh
at her project.
"Good night, dear; take care of yourself, and keep your muffler
round your mouth going over the bridge, or you 'll be as hoarse as a
crow to-morrow," said Polly, as she kissed her brother, who
returned it without looking as if he thought it "girl's nonsense"
Then the three piled into the sleigh and drove off, leave Polly
nodding on the doorstep.
Maud found the drive altogether too short, but was consoled by the
promise of a longer one if the sleighing lasted till next Saturday:
and when Tom ran up to bid his mother good-by, and give her a
hint about Maud's gift, she stayed below to say, at the last minute,
in unconscious imitation of Polly.
"Good night; take care of yourself, my dear."
Tom laughed, and was about to pinch the much enduring little
nose; but, as if the words reminded him of something, he gave her
a kiss instead, a piece of forbearance which almost took Maud's
breath away with surprise and gratification.
It was rather a silent drive, for Will obediently kept his muffler up,
and Tom fell into a brown study.
He was not much given to reflection, but occasionally indulged
when something gave him a turn in that direction, and at such
times he was as sober and sincere as could be desired. Any one
might have lectured him for an hour without doing as much good
as that little call and the chat that grew out of it, for, though
nothing very wise or witty was said, many things were suggested,
and every one knows that persuasive influences are better than any
amount of moralizing. Neither Polly nor Will tried to do anything
of the sort, and that was the charm of it. Nobody likes to be talked
to, but nobody can resist the eloquence of unconscious preaching.
With all his thoughtlessness, Tom was quick to see and feel these
things, and was not spoilt enough yet to laugh at them. The sight of
Will and Polly's simple affection for one another reminded him of
a neglected duty so pleasantly, that he could not forget it. Talking
of early days made him wish he could go back and start again,
doing better. Grandma's name recalled the tender memory that
always did him good, and the thought that Polly trusted her dearest
brother to his care stirred up a manful desire to deserve the
confidence. Tortures would n't have drawn a word of all this from
him, but it had its effect, for boys don't leave their hearts and
consciences behind them when they enter college, and little things
of this sort do much to keep both from being damaged by the four
years' scrimmage which begins the battle of life for most of them.
CHAPTER XI NEEDLES AND TONGUES
DEAR POLLY, The Sewing Circle meets at our house this P. M.
This is in your line, so do come and help me through. I shall
depend on you.
Yours ever, FAN.
"Bad news, my dear?" asked Miss Mills, who had just handed the
note to Polly as she came in one noon, a few weeks after Jenny's
Polly told her what it was, adding, "I suppose I ought to go and
help Fanny, but I can't say I want to. The girls talk about things I
have nothing to do with, and I don't find their gossip very amusing.
I 'm an outsider, and they only accept me on Fan's account; so I sit
in a corner and sew, while they chatter and laugh."
"Would n't it be a good chance to say a word for Jenny? She wants
work, and these young ladies probably have quantities done
somewhere. Jenny does fine work exquisitely, and begins to feel
anxious to be earning something. I don't want her to feel dependent
and unhappy, and a little well-paid sewing would be all she needs
to do nicely. I can get it for her by running round to my friends, but
I really have n't the time, till I get the Mullers off. They are
paupers here, but out West they can take care of themselves, so I
've begged the money to send them, and as soon as I can get them
some clothes, off they go. That 's the way to help people help
themselves," and Miss Mills clashed her big scissors energetically,
as she cut out a little red flannel shirt.
"I know it is, and I want to help, but I don't know where to begin,"
said Polly, feeling quite oppressed with the immensity of the work.
"We can't any of us do all we would like, but we can do our best
for every case that comes to us, and that helps amazingly. Begin
with Jenny, my dear; tell those girls about her, and if I 'm not much
mistaken, you will find them ready to help, for half the time it is n't
hardness of heart, but ignorance or thoughtlessness on the part of
the rich, that makes them seem so careless of the poor."
"To tell the truth, I 'm afraid of being laughed at, if I try to talk
seriously about such things to the girls," said Polly, frankly.
"You believe that 'such things' are true? You are sincere in your
wish to help better them, and you respect those who work for that
"Yes, I do."
"Then, my dear, can't you bear a little ridicule for the sake of a
good cause? You said yesterday that you were going to make it a
principle of your life, to help up your sex as far and as fast as you
could. It did my heart good to hear you say it, for I was sure that in
time you would keep your word. But, Polly, a principle that can't
bear being laughed at, frowned on, and cold-shouldered, is n't
worthy of the name."
"I want to be strong-minded in the real sense of the word, but I
don't like to be called so by people who don't understand my
meaning; and I shall be if I try to make the girls think soberly
about anything sensible or philanthropic. They call me
old-fashioned now, and I 'd rather be thought that, though it is n't
pleasant, than be set down as a rampant woman's rights reformer,"
said Polly, in whose memory many laughs, and snubs, and
sarcasms still lingered, forgiven but not forgotten.
"This love and thought and care for those weaker, poorer, or worse
than ourselves, which we call Christian charity, is a very old
fashion, my dear. It began eighteen hundred years ago, and only
those who honestly follow the beautiful example set us then, learn
how to get genuine happiness out of life. I 'm not a 'rampant
woman's rights reformer,'" added Miss Mills, with a smile at
Polly's sober face; "but I think that women can do a great deal for
each other, if they will only stop fearing what 'people will think,'
and take a hearty interest in whatever is going to fit their sisters
and themselves to deserve and enjoy the rights God gave them.
There are so many ways in which this can be done, that I wonder
they don't see and improve them. I don't ask you to go and make
speeches, only a few have the gift for that, but I do want every girl
and woman to feel this duty, and make any little sacrifice of time
or feeling that may be asked of them, because there is so much to
do, and no one can do it as well as ourselves, if we only think so."
"I 'll try!" said Polly, influenced more by her desire to keep Miss
Mills' good opinion than any love of self-sacrifice for her sex. It
was rather a hard thing to ask of a shy, sensitive girl, and the kind
old lady knew it, for in spite of the gray hair and withered face, her
heart was very young, and her own girlish trials not forgotten. But
she knew also that Polly had more influence over others than she
herself suspected, simply because of her candid, upright nature;
and that while she tried to help others, she was serving herself in a
way that would improve heart and soul more than any mere social
success she might gain by following the rules of fashionable life,
which drill the character out of girls till they are as much alike as
pins in a paper, and have about as much true sense and sentiment
in their little heads. There was good stuff in Polly, unspoiled as
yet, and Miss Mills was only acting out her principle of women
helping each other. The wise old lady saw that Polly had reached
that point where the girl suddenly blooms into a woman, asking
something more substantial than pleasure to satisfy the new
aspirations that are born; a time as precious and important to the
after-life, as the hour when the apple blossoms fall, and the young
fruit waits for the elements to ripen or destroy the harvest.
Polly did not know this, and was fortunate in possessing a friend
who knew what influences would serve her best, and who could
give her what all women should desire to give each other, the
example of a sweet, good life, more eloquent and powerful than
any words; for this is a right no one can deny us.
Polly turned the matter over in her mind as she dressed, while
Jenny played waiting maid, little dreaming what this new friend
was meaning to do for her, if she dared.
"Is it going to be a tea-party, Miss?" asked Jenny, as the black silk
went rustling on, to her great admiration, for she considered Polly
"Well, no, I think it will probably be a lecture," answered Polly,
laughing, for Jenny's grateful service and affectionate eyes
confirmed the purpose which Miss Mills' little homily had
As she entered the Shaws' parlor an hour or two later, an appalling
array of well-dressed girls appeared, each provided with a dainty
reticule, basket, or bag, and each tongue going a good deal faster
than the needle, while the white fingers stitched sleeves in upside
down, put flannel jackets together hind part before, or gobbled
button-holes with the best intentions in life.
"You are a dear to come so early. Here 's a nice place for you
between Belle and Miss Perkins, and here 's a sweet little dress to
make, unless you like something else better," said Fanny, receiving
her friend with warmth and placing her where she thought she
would enjoy herself.
"Thank you, I 'll take an unbleached cotton shirt if you have such a
thing, for it is likely to be needed before a cambric frock," replied
Polly, subsiding into her comer as quickly as possible, for at least
six eye-glasses were up, and she did n't enjoy being stared at.
Miss Perkins, a grave, cold-looking young lady, with an
aristocratic nose, bowed politely, and then went on with her work,
which displayed two diamond rings to great advantage. Belle,
being of the demonstrative sort, smiled and nodded, drew up her
chair, and began a whispered account of Trix's last quarrel with
Tom. Polly listened with interest while she sewed diligently,
occasionally permitting her eyes to study the elegant intricacies of
Miss Perkins' dress, for that young lady sat like a statue, quirking
her delicate fingers, and accomplishing about two stitches a
In the midst of Belle's story, a more exciting bit of gossip caught
her ear, and she plunged into the conversation going on across the
table, leaving Polly free to listen and admire the wit, wisdom, and
charitable spirit of the accomplished young ladies about her. There
was a perfect Babel of tongues, but out of the confusion Polly
gathered scraps of fashionable intelligence which somewhat
lessened her respect for the dwellers in high places. One fair
creature asserted that Joe Somebody took so much champagne at
the last German, that he had to be got away, and sent home with
two servants. Another divulged the awful fact that Carrie P.'s
wedding presents were half of them hired for the occasion. A third
circulated a whisper to the effect that though Mrs. Buckminster
wore a thousand-dollar cloak, her boys were not allowed but one
sheet to their beds. And a fourth young gossip assured the
company that a certain person never had offered himself to a
certain other person, though the report was industriously spread by
interested parties. This latter remark caused such a clamor that
Fanny called the meeting to order in a most unparliamentary
"Girls! girls! you really must talk less and sew more, or our society
will be disgraced. Do you know our branch sent in less work than
any of the others. last month, and Mrs. Fitz George said, she did n't
see how fifteen young ladies could manage to do so little?"
"We don't talk a bit more than the old ladies do. I just wish you
could have heard them go on, last time. The way they get so much
done, is, they take work home, and make their seamstresses do it,
and then they take credit for vast industry," said Belle, who always
spoke her mind with charming candor.
"That reminds me that mamma says they want as many things as
we can make, for it 's a hard winter, and the poor are suffering very
much. Do any of you wish to take articles home, to do at odd
times?" said Fan, who was president of this energetic Dorcas
"Mercy, no! It takes all my leisure time to mend my gloves and
refresh my dresses," answered Belle.
"I think if we meet once a week, it is all that should be expected of
us, with our other engagements. Poor people always complain that
the winter is a hard one, and never are satisfied," remarked Miss
Perkins, making her diamonds sparkle as she sewed buttons on the
wrong side of a pink calico apron, which would hardly survive one
"Nobody can ask me to do any more, if they remember all I 've got
to attend to before summer," said Trix, with an important air. "I 've
got three women hard at work, and want another, but everyone is
so busy, and ask such abominable prices, that I 'm in despair, and
shall have to take hold myself, I 'm afraid."
"There 's a chance for Jane," thought Polly, but had n't courage "to
speak out loud in meeting," just then, and resolved to ask Trix for
work, in private.
"Prices are high, but you forget how much more it costs to live
now than it used to do. Mamma never allows us to beat down
workwomen, but wishes us to pay them well, and economize in
some other way, if we must," said Emma Davenport, a quiet,
bright-eyed girl, who was called "odd " among the young ladies,
because she dressed simply, when her father was a millionaire.
"Just hear that girl talk about economy! I beg your pardon, she 's
some relation of yours, I believe!" said Belle, in a low tone.
"Very distant; but I 'm proud of it; for with her, economy does n't
mean scrimping in one place to make a show in another. If every
one would follow the Davenports' example, workwomen would n't
starve, or servants be such a trouble. Emma is the plainest dressed
girl in the room, next to me, yet any one can see she is a true
gentlewoman," said Polly, warmly.
"And you are another," answered Belle, who had always loved
Polly, in her scatter-brained way.
"Hush! Trix has the floor."
"If they spent their wages properly, I should n't mind so much, but
they think they must be as fine as anybody, and dress so well that it
is hard to tell mistress from maid. Why our cook got a bonnet just
like mine (the materials were cheaper, but the effect was the
same), and had the impertinence to wear it before my face. I forbid
it, and she left, of course, which made papa so cross he would n't
give me the camel's hair shawl he promised this year."
"It 's perfectly shameful!" said Miss Perkins, as Trix paused out of
breath. "Servants ought to be made to dress like servants, as they
do abroad; then we should have no more trouble," observed Miss
Perkins, who had just made the grand tour, and had brought home
a French maid.
"Perky don't practise as she preaches," whispered Belle to Polly, as
Miss P. became absorbed in the chat of her other neighbors. "She
pays her chamber girl with old finery; and the other day, when
Betsey was out parading in her missis's cast-off purple plush suit,
Mr. Curtis thought she was mademoiselle, and bowed to her. He is
as blind as a bat, but recognized the dress, and pulled off his hat to
it in the most elegant style. Perky adores him, and was mad enough
to beat Betsey when she told the story and giggled over it. Betsey
is quite as stylish and ever so much prettier than Perky, and she
knows it, which is an aggravation."
Polly could n't help laughing, but grew sober a minute after, as
Trix said, pettishly, "Well, I 'm sick of hearing about beggars; I
believe half of them are humbugs, and if we let them alone they 'd
go to work and take care of themselves. There 's altogether too
much fuss made about charity. I do wish we could be left in
"There can't be too much charity!" burst out Polly, forgetting her
shyness all at once.
"Oh, indeed! Well, I take the liberty to differ from you," returned
Trix, putting up her glass, and bestowing upon Polly her most
"toploftical stare," as the girls called it.
I regret to say that Polly never could talk with or be near Trix
without feeling irritated and combative. She tried to conquer this
feeling, but she could n't, and when Trix put on airs, Polly felt an
intense desire to box her ears. That eye-glass was her especial
aversion, for Trix was no more near-sighted than herself, but
pretended to be because it was the fashion, and at times used the
innocent glass as a weapon with which to put down any one who
presumed to set themselves up. The supercilious glance which
accompanied her ironically polite speech roused Polly, who
answered with sudden color and the kindling of the eyes that
always betrayed a perturbed spirit, "I don't think many of us would
enjoy that selfish sort of peace, while little children starve, and
girls no older than us kill themselves because their dreadful
poverty leaves them no choice but sin or death."
A sudden lull took place, for, though Polly, did not raise her voice,
it was full of indignant emotion, and the most frivolous girl there
felt a little thrill of sympathy; for the most utterly fashionable life
does not kill the heart out of women, till years of selfish pleasure
have passed over their heads. Trix was ashamed of herself; but she
felt the same antagonism toward Polly, that Polly did toward her;
and, being less generous, took satisfaction in plaguing her. Polly
did not know that the secret of this was the fact that Tom often
held her up as a model for his fianc,e to follow, which caused that
young lady to dislike her more than ever.
"Half the awful stories in the papers are made up for a sensation,
and it 's absurd to believe them, unless one likes to be harrowed
up. I don't; and as for peace, I 'm not likely to get much, while I
have Tom to look after," said Trix, with an aggravating laugh.
Polly's needle snapped in two, but she did not mind it, as she said,
with a look that silenced even sharp-tongued Trix, "I can't help
believing what my own eyes and ears have seen and heard. You
lead such safe and happy lives, you can't imagine the misery that is
all round you; but if you could get a glimpse of it, it would make
your hearts ache, as it has mine."
"Do you suffer from heartache? Some one hinted as much to me,
but you looked so well, I could n't believe it."
Now that was cruel in Trix, more cruel than any one guessed; but
girls' tongues can deal wounds as sharp and sudden as the slender
stiletto Spanish women wear in their hair, and Polly turned pale, as
those words stabbed her. Belle saw it, and rushed to the rescue
with more good-will than wisdom.
"Nobody ever accused you of having any heart to ache with. Polly
and I are not old enough yet to get tough and cool, and we are still
silly enough to pity unhappy people, Tom Shaw especially," added
Belle, under her breath.
That was a two-edged thrust, for Trix was decidedly an old girl,
and Tom was generally regarded as a hapless victim. Trix turned
red; but before she could load and fire again, Emma Davenport,
who labored under the delusion that this sort of skirmishing was
ill-natured, and therefore ill-bred, spoke up in her pleasant way,
"Speaking of pitying the poor, I always wonder why it is that we
all like to read and cry over their troubles in books, but when we
have the real thing before us, we think it is uninteresting and
"It 's the genius that gets into the books, which makes us like the
poverty, I fancy. But I don't quite agree that the real thing is n't
interesting. I think it would be, if we knew how to look at and feel
it," said Polly, very quietly, as she pushed her chair out of the
arctic circle of Miss Perkins, into the temperate one of friendly
"But how shall we learn that? I don't see what we girls can do,
more than we do now. We have n't much money for such things,
should n't know how to use it if we had; and it is n't proper for us
to go poking into dirty places, to hunt up the needy. 'Going about
doing good, in pony phaetons,' as somebody says, may succeed in
England, but it won't work here," said Fanny, who had begun,
lately, to think a good deal of some one beside herself, and so
found her interest in her fellow-beings increasing daily.
"We can't do much, perhaps, just yet; but still there are things left
undone that naturally fall to us. I know a house," said Polly,
sewing busily as she talked, "where every servant who enters it
becomes an object of interest to the mistress and her daughters.
These women are taught good habits, books are put where they can
get them, sensible amusements are planned for them sometimes,
and they soon feel that they are not considered mere scrubs, to do
as much work as possible, for as little money as possible, but
helpers in the family, who are loved and respected in proportion to
their faithfulness. This lady feels her duty to them, owns it, and
does it, as conscientiously as she wants them to do theirs by her;
and that is the way it ought to be, I think."
As Polly paused, several keen eyes discovered that Emma's cheeks
were very red, and saw a smile lurking in the corners of the mouth
that tried to look demure, which told them who Polly meant.
"Do the Biddies all turn out saints in that well regulated family?"
asked the irrepressible Trix.
"No; few of us do that, even in the parlor; but every one of the
Biddies is better for being there, whether they are grateful or not. I
ought not to have mentioned this, perhaps, but I wanted to show
you one thing that we girls can do. We all complain about bad
servants, most as much as if we were house-keepers ourselves; but
it never occurs to us to try and mend the matter, by getting up a
better spirit between mistress and maid. Then there 's another thing
we can do," added Polly, warming up. "Most of us find money
enough for our little vanities and pleasures, but feel dreadfully
poor when we come to pay for work, sewing especially. Could n't
we give up a few of the vanities, and pay the seamstresses better?"
"I declare I will!" cried Belle, whose conscience suddenly woke,
and smote her for beating down the woman who did her plain
sewing, in order that she might have an extra flounce on a new
dress. "Belle has got a virtuous fit; pity it won't last a week," said
"Wait and see," retorted Belle, resolving that it should last, just to
disappoint "that spiteful minx;" as she sweetly called her old
"Now we shall behold Belle galloping away at a great pace, on her
new hobby. I should n't be surprised to hear of her preaching in the
jail, adopting a nice dirty little orphan, or passing round tracts at a
Woman's Rights meeting," said Trix, who never could forgive
Belle for having a lovely complexion, and so much hair of her own
that she never patronized either rats, mice, waterfalls, switches, or
"Well, I might do worse; and I think, of the two, I 'd rather amuse
myself so, than as some young ladies do, who get into the papers
for their pranks," returned Belle, with a moral air.
"Suppose we have a little recess, and rest while Polly plays to us.
Will you, Polly? It will do us good; they all want to hear you, and
begged I 'd ask."
"Then I will, with pleasure"; and Polly went to the piano with such
obliging readiness, that several reproachful glances fell upon Trix,
who did n't need her glass to see them.
Polly was never too sad, perturbed, or lazy to sing, for it was
almost as easy to her as breathing, and seemed the most natural
outlet for her emotions. For a minute her hands wandered over the
keys, as if uncertain what to play; then, falling into a sad, sweet
strain, she sang "The Bridge of Sighs." Polly did n't know why she
chose it, but the instinct seemed to have been a true one, for, old as
the song was, it went straight to the hearts of the hearers, and Polly
sung it better than she ever had before, for now the memory of
little Jane lent it a tender pathos which no art could give. It did
them all good, for music is a beautiful magician, and few can resist
its power. The girls were touched by the appeal; Polly was lifted
out of herself, and when she turned round, the softened look on all
the faces told her that for the moment foolish differences and
frivolous beliefs were forgotten in the one womanly sentiment of
pity for the wrongs and woes of which the listeners' happy lives
"That song always makes me cry, and feel as if I had no right to be
so comfortable," said Belle, openly wiping her eyes on a crash
"Fortunately such cases are very rare," said another young lady,
who seldom read the newspapers.
"I wish they were, but I 'm afraid they are not; for only three weeks
ago, I saw a girl younger than any of us, and no worse, who tried to
destroy herself simply because she was so discouraged, sick, and
poor," said Polly.
"Do tell about her," cried Belle, eagerly.
Feeling that the song had paved the way for the story, and given
her courage to tell it, Polly did tell it, and must have done it well,
for the girls stopped work to listen, and when she ended, other eyes
beside warm-hearted Belle's were wet. Trix looked quite subdued;
Miss Perkins thawed to such a degree, that something glittered on
her hand as she bent over the pink pinafore again, better and
brighter than her biggest diamond; Emma got up and went to Polly
with a face full of affectionate respect, while Fanny, moved by a
sudden impulse, caught up a costly SSvres plate that stood on the
etagSre, and laying a five-dollar bill in it, passed it round, quoting
Polly's words, "Girls, I know you 'll like to help poor little Jenny
'begin again, and do better this time.' "
It was good to see how quickly the pretty purses were out, how
generously each gave of its abundance, and what hearty applause
broke from the girls, as Belle laid down her gold thimble, saying
with an April face, "There, take that; I never have any money,
somehow it won't stay with me, but I can't let the plate pass me this
When Fanny brought the contributions to Polly, she just gathered it
up in her two hands with such a glad, grateful face, the girls
wished they had had more to give.
"I can't thank you enough," she said, with an eloquent little choke
in her voice. "This will help Jenny very much; but the way in
which it was done will do her more good than double the money,
because it will prove to her that she is n't without friends, and
make her feel that there is a place in the world for her. Let her
work for you in return for this; she don't ask alms, she only wants
employment and a little kindness, and the best charity we can
bestow is to see that she has both."
"I 'll give her as much sewing as she wants, and she can stay at our
house while she does it, if she needs a home," said Trix, in a spasm
"She does n't need a home, thank you; Miss Mills has given half of
hers, and considers Jane her child," answered Polly, with proud
satisfaction in the fact.
"What an old dear!" cried Belle.
"I want to know her. May I?" whispered Emma.
"Oh, yes; I 'm glad to make her known to any one. She is a quiet
little old lady, but she does one heaps of good, and shows you how
to be charitable in the wisest way."
"Do tell us about it. I 'm sure I want to do my duty, but it 's such a
muddle, I don't know how," said Belle.
Then, quite naturally, the conversation fell upon the great work
that none should be too busy to think of, and which few are too
young or too poor to help on with their mite. The faces grew more
earnest, the fingers flew faster, as the quick young hearts and
brains took in the new facts, ideas, and plans that grew out of the
true stories, the sensible hints, the successful efforts which Polly
told them, fresh from the lips of Miss Mills; for, of late, Polly had
talked much with the good lady, and learned quickly the lessons
her unselfish life conveyed. The girls found this more interesting
than gossip, partly owing to its novelty, doubtless; but the
enthusiasm was sincere while it lasted, and did them good. Many
of them forgot all about it in a week, but Polly's effort was not lost,
for Emma, Belle, and Fanny remained firm friends to Jane, so
kindly helping her that the poor child felt as if she had indeed been
born again, into a new and happy world.
Not till long afterward did Polly see how much good this little
effort had done her, for the first small sacrifice of this sort leads
the way to others, and a single hand's turn given heartily to the
world's great work helps one amazingly with one's own small
tasks. Polly found this out as her life slowly grew easier and
brighter, and the beautiful law of compensation gave her better
purposes and pleasures than any she had lost. The parents of some
of her pupils were persons of real refinement, and such are always
quick to perceive the marks of culture in others, no matter where
they find them. These, attracted first by Polly's cheerful face,
modest manners, and faithful work, soon found in her something
more than a good teacher; they found a real talent for music, an
eager desire for helpful opportunities, and a heart grateful for the
kindly sympathy that makes rough places smooth. Fortunately
those who have the skill to detect these traits also possess the spirit
to appreciate and often the power to serve and develop them. In
ways so delicate that the most sensitive pride could not resent the
favor, these true gentlefolk showed Polly their respect and regard,
put many pleasures in her way, and when they paid her for her
work, gave her also the hearty thanks that takes away all sense of
degradation even from the humblest service, for money so earned
and paid sweetens the daily bread it buys, and makes the mutual
obligation a mutual benefit and pleasure.
A few such patrons did much for Polly, and the music she gave
them had an undertone of gratitude that left blithe echoes in those
great houses, which money could not buy.
Then, as her butterfly acquaintances deserted her, she found her
way into a hive of friendly bees, who welcomed her, and showed
her how to find the honey that keeps life sweet and wholesome.
Through Miss Mills, who was the counsellor and comforter of
several, Polly came to know a little sisterhood of busy, happy,
independent girls, who each had a purpose to execute, a talent to
develop, an ambition to achieve, and brought to the work patience
and perseverance, hope and courage. Here Polly found her place at
once, for in this little world love and liberty prevailed; talent,
energy, and character took the first rank; money, fashion, and
position were literally nowhere; for here, as in the big world
outside, genius seemed to blossom best when poverty was head
gardener. Young teachers, doing much work for little pay; young
artists, trying to pencil, paint, or carve their way to Rome; young
writers, burning to distinguish themselves; young singers,
dreaming of triumphs, great as those of Jenny Lind; and some who
tried to conquer independence, armed only with a needle, like poor
Jane. All these helped Polly as unconsciously as she helped them,
for purpose and principle are the best teachers we can have, and
the want of them makes half the women of America what they are,
restless, aimless, frivolous, and sick.
To outsiders that was a very hard-working and uneventful winter
to Polly. She thought so herself; but as spring came on, the seed of
new virtues, planted in the winter time, and ripened by the
sunshine of endeavor, began to bud in Polly's nature, betraying
their presence to others by the added strength and sweetness of her
character, long before she herself discovered these May flowers
that had blossomed for her underneath the snow.
CHAPTER XII FORBIDDEN FRUIT
"I 'M perfectly aching for some fun," said Polly to herself as she
opened her window one morning and the sunshine and frosty air
set her blood dancing and her eyes sparkling with youth, health,
and overflowing spirits. "I really must break out somewhere and
have a good time. It 's quite impossible to keep steady any longer.
Now what will I do?" Polly sprinkled crumbs to the doves, who
came daily to be fed, and while she watched the gleaming necks
and rosy feet, she racked her brain to devise some unusually
delightful way of enjoying herself, for she really had bottled up her
spirits so long, they were in a state of uncontrollable
"I 'll go to the opera," she suddenly announced to the doves. "It 's
expensive, I know, but it 's remarkably good, and music is such a
treat to me. Yes, I 'll get two tickets as cheap as I can, send a note
to Will, poor lad, he needs fun as much as I do, and we 'll go and
have a nice time in some corner, as Charles Lamb and his sister
With that Polly slammed down the window, to the dismay of her
gentle little pensioners, and began to fly about with great energy,
singing and talking to herself as if it was impossible to keep quiet.
She started early to her first lesson that she might have time to buy
the tickets, hoping, as she put a five-dollar bill into her purse, that
they would n't be very high, for she felt that she was not in a mood
to resist temptation. But she was spared any struggle, for when she
reached the place, the ticket office was blocked up by eager
purchasers and the disappointed faces that turned away told Polly
there was no hope for her.
"Well, I don't care, I 'll go somewhere, for I will have my fun," she
said with great determination, for disappointment only seemed to
whet her appetite. But the playbills showed her nothing inviting
and she was forced to go away to her work with the money burning
her pocket and all manner of wild schemes floating in her head. At
noon, instead of going home to dinner, she went and took an ice,
trying to feet very gay and festive all by herself. It was rather a
failure, however, and after a tour of the picture shops she went to
give Maud a lesson, feeling that it was very hard to quench her
longings, and subside into a prim little music teacher.
Fortunately she did not have to do violence to her feelings very
long, for the first thing Fanny said to her was: "Can you go?"
"Did n't you get my note?"
"I did n't go home to dinner."
"Tom wants us to go to the opera to-night and " Fan got no further,
for Polly uttered a cry of rapture and clasped her hands.
"Go? Of course I will. I 've been dying to go all day, tried to get
tickets this morning and could n't, been fuming about it ever since,
and now oh, how splendid!" And Polly could not restrain an
ecstatic skip, for this burst of joy rather upset her.
"Well, you come to tea, and we 'll dress together, and go all
comfortable with Tom, who is in a heavenly frame of mind
"I must run home and get my things," said Polly, resolving on the
spot to buy the nicest pair of gloves the city afforded.
"You shall have my white cloak and any other little rigging you
want. Tommy likes to have his ladies a credit to him, you know,"
said Fanny, departing to take a beauty sleep.
Polly instantly decided that she would n't borrow Becky's best
bonnet, as she at first intended, but get a new one, for in her
present excited state, no extravagance seemed too prodigal in
honor of this grand occasion. I am afraid that Maud's lesson was
not as thorough as it should have been, for Polly's head was such a
chaos of bonnets, gloves, opera-cloaks and fans, that Maud
blundered through, murdering time and tune at her own sweet will.
The instant it was over Polly rushed away and bought not only the
kids but a bonnet frame, a bit of illusion, and a pink crape rose,
which had tempted her for weeks in a certain shop window, then
home and to work with all the skill and speed of a distracted
"I 'm rushing madly into expense, I 'm afraid, but the fit is on me
and I 'll eat bread and water for a week to make up for it. I must
look nice, for Tom seldom takes me and ought to be gratified
when he does. I want to do like other girls, just for once, and enjoy
myself without thinking about right and wrong. Now a bit of pink
ribbon to tie it with, and I shall be done in time to do up my best
collar," she said, turning her boxes topsy-turvy for the necessary
ribbon in that delightful flurry which young ladies feel on such
It is my private opinion that the little shifts and struggles we poor
girls have to undergo beforehand give a peculiar relish to our fun
when we get it. This fact will account for the rapturous mood in
which Polly found herself when, after making her bonnet, washing
and ironing her best set, blacking her boots and mending her fan,
she at last, like Consuelo, "put on a little dress of black silk" and,
with the smaller adornments pinned up in a paper, started for the
Shaws', finding it difficult to walk decorously when her heart was
dancing in her bosom.
Maud happened to be playing a redowa up in the parlor, and Polly
came prancing into the room so evidently spoiling for a dance that
Tom, who was there, found it impossible to resist catching her
about the waist, and putting her through the most intricate
evolutions till Maud's fingers gave out.
"That was splendid! Oh, Tom, thank you so much for asking me
to-night. I feel just like having a regular good time," cried Polly,
when she stopped, with her hat hanging round her neck and her
hair looking as if she had been out in a high wind.
"Glad of it. I felt so myself and thought we 'd have a jolly little
party all in the family," said Tom, looking much gratified at her
"Is Trix sick?" asked Polly.
"Gone to New York for a week."
"Ah, when the cat's away the mice will play."
"Exactly. Come and have another turn."
Before they could start, however, the awful spectacle of a little dog
trotting out of the room with a paper parcel in his mouth, made
Polly clasp her hands with the despairing cry: "My bonnet! Oh, my
"Where? what? which?" And Tom looked about him, bewildered.
"Snip's got it. Save it! save it!"
"I will!" And Tom gave chase with more vigor than discretion.
Snip, evidently regarding it as a game got up for his special
benefit, enjoyed the race immensely and scampered all over the
house, shaking the precious parcel like a rat while his master ran
and whistled, commanded and coaxed, in vain. Polly followed,
consumed with anxiety, and Maud laughed till Mrs. Shaw sent
down to know who was in hysterics. A piteous yelp from the lower
regions at last announced that the thief was captured, and Tom
appeared bearing Snip by the nape of the neck in one hand and
Polly's cherished bonnet in the other.
"The little scamp was just going to worry it when I grabbed him. I
'm afraid he has eaten one of your gloves. I can't find it, and this
one is pretty well chewed up," said Tom, bereaving Snip of the
torn kid, to which he still pertinaciously clung.
"Serves me right," said Polly with a groan. "I 'd no business to get a
new pair, but I wanted to be extra gorgeous to-night, and this is my
punishment for such mad extravagance."
"Was there anything else?" asked Tom.
"Only my best cuffs and collar. You 'll probably find them in the
coal-bin," said Polly, with the calmness of despair.
"I saw some little white things on the dining-room floor as I raced
through. Go get them, Maud, and we 'll repair damages," said Tom,
shutting the culprit into the boot closet, where he placidly rolled
himself up and went to sleep.
"They ain't hurt a bit," proclaimed Maud, restoring the lost
"Neither is my bonnet, for which I 'm deeply grateful," said Polly,
who had been examining it with a solicitude which made Tom's
"So am I, for it strikes me that is an uncommonly 'nobby' little
affair," he said approvingly. Tom had a weakness for pale pink
roses, and perhaps Polly knew it.
"I 'm afraid it 's too gay," said Polly, with a dubious look.
"Not a bit. Sort of bridal, you know. Must be becoming. Put it on
and let 's see."
"I would n't for the world, with my hair all tumbling down. Don't
look at me till I 'm respectable, and don't tell any one how I 've
been acting. I think I must be a little crazy to-night," said Polly,
gathering up her rescued finery and preparing to go and find Fan.
"Lunacy is mighty becoming, Polly. Try it again," answered Tom,
watching her as she went laughing away, looking all the prettier
for her dishevelment. "Dress that girl up, and she 'd be a raving,
tearing beauty," added Tom to Maud in a lower tone as he look her
into the parlor under his arm.
Polly heard it and instantly resolved to be as "raving and as
tearing" as her means would allow, "just for one night," she said as
she peeped over the banisters, glad to see that the dance and the
race had taken the "band-boxy" air out of Tom's elegant array.
I deeply regret being obliged to shock the eyes and ears of such of
my readers as have a prejudice in favor of pure English by
expressions like the above, but, having rashly undertaken to write a
little story about Young America, for Young America, I feel bound
to depict my honored patrons as faithfully as my limited powers
permit. Otherwise, I must expect the crushing criticism, "Well, I
dare say it 's all very prim and proper, but it is n't a bit like us," and
never hope to arrive at the distinction of finding the covers of "An
Old-Fashioned Girl" the dirtiest in the library.
The friends had a social "cup o' tea" upstairs, which Polly
considered the height of luxury, and then each took a mirror and
proceeded to prink to her heart's content. The earnestness with
which Polly made her toilet that night was delightful to behold.
Feeling in a daring mood, she released her pretty hair from the
braids in which she usually wore it and permitted the curls to
display themselves in all their brown abundance, especially several
dangerous little ones about the temples and forehead. The putting
on of the rescued collar and cuffs was a task which absorbed her
whole mind. So was the settling of a minute bit of court-plaster
just to the left of the dimple in her chin, an unusual piece of
coquetry in which Polly would not have indulged, if an almost
invisible scratch had not given her an excuse for doing it. The
white, down-trimmed cloak, with certain imposing ornaments on
the hood, was assumed with becoming gravity and draped with
much advancing and retreating before the glass, as its wearer
practised the true Boston gait, elbows back, shoulders forward, a
bend and a slide, occasionally varied by a slight skip. But when
that bonnet went on, Polly actually held her breath till it was safely
landed and the pink rose bloomed above the smooth waves of hair
with what Fanny called "a ravishing effect." At this successful
stage of affairs Polly found it impossible to resist the loan of a pair
of gold bands for the wrists and Fanny's white fan with the little
mirror in the middle.
"I can put them in my pocket if I feel too much dressed," said Polly
as she snapped on the bracelets, but after a wave or two of the fan
she felt that it would be impossible to take them off till the
evening was over, so enticing was their glitter.
Fanny also lent her a pair of three-button gloves, which completed
her content, and when Tom greeted her with an approving, "Here 's
a sight for gods and men! Why, Polly, you 're gorgeous!" she felt
that her "fun" had decidedly begun.
"Would n't Polly make a lovely bride?" said Maud, who was
revolving about the two girls, trying to decide whether she would
have a blue or a white cloak when she grew up and went to operas.
"Faith, and she would! Allow me to congratulate you, Mrs.
Sydney," added Tom, advancing with his wedding-reception bow
and a wicked look at Fanny.
"Go away! How dare you?" cried Polly, growing much redder than
"If we are going to the opera to-night, perhaps we 'd better start, as
the carriage has been waiting some time," observed Fan coolly,
and sailed out of the room in an unusually lofty manner.
"Don't you like it, Polly?" whispered Tom, as they went down
"The deuce you do!"
"I 'm so fond of music, how can I help it?
"I 'm talking about Syd."
"Well, I 'm not."
"You 'd better try for him."
"I 'll think of it."
"Oh, Polly, Polly, what are you coming to?"
"A tumble into the street, apparently," answered Polly as she
slipped a little on the step, and Tom stopped in the middle of his
laugh to pilot her safely into the carriage, where Fanny was already
"Here 's richness!" said Polly to herself as she rolled away, feeling
as Cinderella probably did when the pumpkin-coach bore her to
the first ball, only Polly had two princes to think about, and poor
Cinderella, on that occasion, had not even one. Fanny did n't seem
inclined to talk much, and Tom would go on in such a ridiculous
manner that Polly told him she would n't listen and began to hum
bits of the opera. But she heard every word, nevertheless, and
resolved to pay him for his impertinence as soon as possible by
showing him what he had lost.
Their seats were in the balcony, and hardly were they settled,
when, by one of those remarkable coincidences which are
continually occurring in our youth, Mr. Sydney and Fanny's old
friend Frank Moore took their places just behind them.
"Oh, you villain! You did it on purpose," whispered Polly as she
turned from greeting their neighbors and saw a droll look on Tom's
"I give you my word I did n't. It 's the law of attraction, don't you
"If Fan likes it, I don't care."
"She looks resigned, I think."
She certainly did, for she was talking and laughing in the gayest
manner with Frank while Sydney was covertly surveying Polly as
if he did n't quite understand how the gray grub got so suddenly
transformed into a white butterfly. It is a well-known fact that
dress plays a very important part in the lives of most women and
even the most sensible cannot help owning sometimes how much
happiness they owe to a becoming gown, gracefully arranged hair,
or a bonnet which brings out the best points in their faces and puts
them in a good humor. A great man was once heard to say that
what first attracted him to his well-beloved wife was seeing her in
a white muslin dress with a blue shawl on the chair behind her.
The dress caught his eye, and, stopping to admire that, the wearer's
intelligent conversation interested his mind, and in time, the
woman's sweetness won his heart. It is not the finest dress which
does the most execution, I fancy, but that which best interprets
individual taste and character. Wise people understand this, and
everybody is more influenced by it than they know, perhaps. Polly
was not very wise, but she felt that every one about her found
something more attractive than usual in her and modestly
attributed Tom's devotion, Sydney's interest, and Frank's
undisguised admiration, to the new bonnet or, more likely, to that
delightful combination of cashmere, silk, and swan's-down, which,
like Charity's mantle, seemed to cover a multitude of sins in other
people's eyes and exalt the little music teacher to the rank of a
Polly scoffed at this sort of thing sometimes, but to-night she
accepted it without a murmur rather enjoyed it in fact, let her
bracelets shine before the eyes of all men, and felt that it was good
to seem comely in their sight. She forgot one thing, however: that
her own happy spirits gave the crowning charm to a picture which
every one liked to see a blithe young girl enjoying herself with all
her heart. The music and the light, costume and company, excited
Polly and made many things possible which at most times she
would never have thought of saying or doing. She did not mean to
flirt, but somehow "it flirted itself" and she could n't help it, for,
once started, it was hard to stop, with Tom goading her on, and
Sydney looking at her with that new interest in his eyes. Polly's
flirting was such a very mild imitation of the fashionable thing that
Trix & Co. would not have recognized it, but it did very well for a
beginner, and Polly understood that night wherein the fascination
of it lay, for she felt as if she had found a new gift all of a sudden,
and was learning how to use it, knowing that it was dangerous, yet
finding its chief charm in that very fact.
Tom did n't know what to make of her at first, though he thought
the change uncommonly becoming and finally decided that Polly
had taken his advice and was "setting her cap for Syd," as he
gracefully expressed it. Sydney, being a modest man, thought
nothing of the kind, but simply fancied that little Polly was
growing up to be a very charming woman. He had known her since
her first visit and had always liked the child; this winter he had
been interested in the success of her plans and had done what he
could to help them, but he never thought of failing in love with
Polly till that night. Then he began to feel that he had not fully
appreciated his young friend; that she was such a bright and
lovable girl, it was a pity she should not always be gay and pretty,
and enjoy herself; that she would make a capital wife for
somebody, and perhaps it was about time to think of "settling," as
his sister often said. These thoughts came and went as he watched
the white figure in front, felt the enchantment of the music, and
found everybody unusually blithe and beautiful. He had heard the
opera many times, but it had never seemed so fine before, perhaps
because he had never happened to have had an ingenuous young
face so near him in which the varying emotions born of the music,
and the romance it portrayed, came and went so eloquently that it
was impossible to help reading them. Polly did not know that this
was why he leaned down so often to speak to her, with an
expression which she did not understand but liked very much
"Don't shut your eyes, Polly. They are so full of mischief to-night, I
like to see them," said Tom, after idly wondering for a minute if
she knew how long and curly her lashes were.
"I don't wish to look affected, but the music tells the story so much
better than the acting that I don't care to look on half the time,"
answered Polly, hoping Tom would n't see the tears she had so
"Now I like the acting best. The music is all very fine, I know, but
it does seem so absurd for people to go round telling tremendous
secrets at the top of their voices. I can't get used to it."
"That 's because you 've more common-sense than romance. I don't
mind the absurdity, and quite long to go and comfort that poor girl
with the broken heart," said Polly with a sigh as the curtain fell on
a most affecting tableau.
"What's-his-name is a great jack not to see that she adores him. In
real life we fellows ain't such bats as all that," observed Tom, who
had decided opinions on many subjects that he knew very little
about, and expressed them with great candor.
A curious smile passed over Polly's face and she put up her glass to
hide her eyes, as she said: "I think you are bats sometimes, but
women are taught to wear masks, and that accounts for it, I
"I don't agree. There 's precious little masking nowadays; wish
there was a little more sometimes," added Tom, thinking of several
blooming damsels whose beseeching eyes had begged him not to
leave them to wither on the parent stem.
"I hope not, but I guess there 's a good deal more than any one
"What can you know about broken hearts and blighted beings?"
asked Sydney, smiling at the girl's pensive tone.
Polly glanced up at him and her face dimpled and shone again, as
she answered, laughing: "Not much; my time is to come."
"I can't imagine you walking about the world with your back hair
down, bewailing a hard-hearted lover," said Tom.
"Neither can I. That would n't be my way."
"No; Miss Polly would let concealment prey on her damask cheeks
and still smile on in the novel fashion, or turn sister of charity and
nurse the heartless lover through small-pox, or some other
contagious disease, and die seraphically, leaving him to the
agonies of remorse and tardy love."
Polly gave Sydney an indignant look as he said that in a slow
satirical way that nettled her very much, for she hated to be
"That 's not my way either," she said decidedly. "I 'd try to outlive
it, and if I could n't, I 'd try to be the better for it. Disappointment
need n't make a woman a fool."
"Nor an old maid, if she 's pretty and good. Remember that, and
don't visit the sins of one blockhead on all the rest of mankind,"
said Tom, laughing at her earnestness.
"I don't think there is the slightest possibility of Miss Polly's being
either," added Sydney with a look which made it evident that
concealment had not seriously damaged Polly's damask cheek as
"There 's Clara Bird. I have n't seen her but once since she was
married. How pretty she looks!" and Polly retired behind the big
glass again, thinking the chat was becoming rather personal.
"Now, there 's a girl who tried a different cure for unrequited
affection from any you mention. People say she was fond of Belle's
brother. He did n't reciprocate but went off to India to spoil his
constitution, so Clara married a man twenty years older than she is
and consoles herself by being the best-dressed woman in the city."
"That accounts for it," said Polly, when Tom's long whisper ended.
"The tired look in her eyes."
"I don't see it," said Tom, after a survey through the glass.
"Did n't expect you would."
"I see what you mean. A good many women have it nowadays,"
said Sydney over Polly's shoulder.
"What's she tired of? The old gentleman?" asked Tom.
"And herself," added Polly.
"You 've been reading French novels, I know you have. That 's just
the way the heroines go on," cried Tom.
"I have n't read one, but it 's evident you have, young man, and you
'd better stop."
"I don't care for 'em; only do it to keep up my French. But how
came you to be so wise, ma'am?"
"Observation, sir. I like to watch faces, and I seldom see a
grown-up one that looks perfectly happy."
"True for you, Polly; no more you do, now I think of it. I don't
know but one that always looks so, and there it is."
"Where?" asked Polly, with interest.
"Look straight before you and you 'll see it."
Polly did look, but all she saw was her own face in the little mirror
of the fan which Tom held up and peeped over with a laugh in his
"Do I look happy? I 'm glad of that," And Polly surveyed herself
Both young men thought it was girlish vanity and smiled at its
naive display, but Polly was looking for something deeper than
beauty and was glad not to find it.
"Rather a pleasant little prospect, hey, Polly?"
"My bonnet is straight, and that 's all I care about. Did you ever see
a picture of Beau Brummel?" asked Polly quickly.
"Well, there he is, modernized." And turning the fan, she showed
"Any more portraits in your gallery?" asked Sydney, as if he liked
to share all the nonsense going.
"What do you call it?"
"The portrait of a gentleman." And the little glass reflected a
gratified face for the space of two seconds.
"Thank you. I 'm glad I don't disgrace my name," said Sydney,
looking down into the merry blue eyes that thanked him silently
for many of the small kindnesses that women never can forget.
"Very good, Polly, you are getting on fast," whispered Tom,
patting his yellow kids approvingly.
"Be quiet! Dear me, how warm it is!" And Polly gave him a frown
that delighted his soul.
"Come out and have an ice, we shall have time."
"Fan is so absorbed, I could n't think of disturbing her," said Polly,
fancying that her friend was enjoying the evening as much as she
was a great mistake, by the way, for Fan was acting for effect, and
though she longed to turn and join them, would n't do it, unless a
certain person showed signs of missing her. He did n't, and Fanny
chatted on, raging inwardly over her disappointment, and
wondering how Polly could be so gay and selfish.
It was delicious to see the little airs Polly put on, for she felt as if
she were somebody else, and acting a part. She leaned back, as if
quite oppressed by the heat, permitted Sydney to fan her, and paid
him for the service by giving him a flower from her bouquet,
proceedings which amused Tom immensely, even while it piqued
him a little to be treated like an old friend who did n't count.
"Go in and win, Polly; I 'll give you my blessing," he whispered, as
the curtain rose again.
"It 's only part of the fun, so don't you laugh, you disrespectful
boy," she whispered back in a tone never used toward Sydney.
Tom did n't quite like the different way in which she treated them,
and the word "boy" disturbed his dignity, for he was almost
twenty-one and Polly ought to treat him with more respect. Sydney
at the same moment was wishing he was in Tom's place young,
comely, and such a familiar friend that Polly would scold and
lecture him in the delightful way she did Tom; while Polly forgot
them both when the music began and left them ample time to look
at her and think about themselves.
While they waited to get out when all was over Polly heard Fan
whisper to Tom: "What do you think Trix will say to this?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, the way you 've been going on to-night."
"Don't know, and don't care; it 's only Polly."
"That 's the very thing. She can't bear P."
"Well, I can; and I don't see why I should n't enjoy myself as well
"You 'll get to enjoying yourself too much if you are n't careful.
Polly 's waked up."
"I 'm glad of it, and so 's Syd."
"I only spoke for your good."
"Don't trouble yourself about me; I get lecturing enough in another
quarter and can't stand any more. Come, Polly."
She took the arm he offered her, but her heart was sore and angry,
for that phrase, "It 's only Polly," hurt her sadly. "As if I was n't
anybody, had n't any feelings, and was only made to amuse or
work for people! Fan and Tom are both mistaken and I 'll show
them that Polly is awake," she thought, indignantly. "Why should
n't I enjoy myself as well as the rest? Besides, it 's only Tom," she
added with a bitter smile as she thought of Trix.
"Are you tired, Polly?" asked Tom, bending down to look into her
"Yes, of being nobody."
"Ah, but you ain't nobody, you 're Polly, and you could n't better
that if you tried ever so hard." said Tom, warmly, for he really was
fond of Polly, and felt uncommonly so just then.
"I 'm glad you think so, anyway. It 's so pleasant to be liked." And
she looked up with her face quite bright again.
"I always did like you, don't you know, ever since that first visit."
"But you teased me shamefully, for all that."
"So I did, but I don't now."
Polly did not answer, and Tom asked, with more anxiety than the
occasion required: "Do I, Polly?"
"Not in the same way, Tom," she answered in a tone that did n't
sound quite natural.
"Well, I never will again."
"Yes, you will, you can't help it." And Polly's eye glanced at
Sydney, who was in front with Fan.
Tom laughed, and drew Polly closer as the crowd pressed, saying,
with mock tenderness: "Did n't she like to be chaffed about her
sweethearts? Well, she shan't be if I can help it. Poor dear, did she
get her little bonnet knocked into a cocked hat and her little
temper riled at the same time?"
Polly could n't help laughing, and, in spite of the crush, enjoyed the
slow journey from seat to carriage, for Tom took such excellent
care of her, she was rather sorry when it was over.
They had a merry little supper after they got home, and Polly gave
them a burlesque opera that convulsed her hearers, for her spirits
rose again and she was determined to get the last drop of fun
before she went back to her humdrum life again.
"I 've had a regularly splendid time, and thank you ever so much,"
she said when the "good-nights" were being exchanged.
"So have I. Let 's go and do it again to-morrow," said Tom, holding
the hand from which he had helped to pull a refractory glove.
"Not for a long while, please. Too much pleasure would soon spoil
me," answered Polly, shaking her head.
"I don't believe it. Good-night, 'sweet Mistress Milton,' as Syd
called you. Sleep like an angel, and don't dream of I forgot, no
teasing allowed." And Tom took himself off with a theatrical
"Now it 's all over and done with," thought Polly as she fell asleep
after a long vigil. But it was not, and Polly's fun cost more than the
price of gloves and bonnet, for, having nibbled at forbidden fruit,
she had to pay the penalty. She only meant to have a good time,
and there was no harm in that, but unfortunately she yielded to the
various small temptations that beset pretty young girls and did
more mischief to others than to herself. Fanny's friendship grew
cooler after that night. Tom kept wishing Trix was half as
satisfactory as Polly, and Mr. Sydney began to build castles that
had no foundation.
CHAPTER XIII THE SUNNY SIDE
"I 'VE won the wager, Tom."
"Did n't know there was one."
"Don't you remember you said Polly would be tired of her teaching
and give it up in three months, and I said she would n't?"
"Well, is n't she?"
"Not a bit of it. I thought she was at one time, and expected every
day to have her come in with a long face, and say she could n't
stand it. But somehow, lately, she is always bright and happy,
seems to like her work, and don't have the tired, worried look she
used to at first. The three months are out, so pay up, Tommy."
"All right, what will you have?"
"You may make it gloves. I always need them, and papa looks
sober when I want money."
There was a minute's pause as Fan returned to her practising, and
Tom relapsed into the reverie he was enjoying seated astride of a
chair, with his chin on his folded arms.
"Seems to me Polly don't come here as often as she used to," he
"No, she seems to be very busy; got some new friends, I believe,
old ladies, sewing-girls, and things of that sort. I miss her, but
know she 'll get tired of being goody, and will come back to me
"Don't be too sure of that, ma'am." Something in Tom's tone made
Fan turn round, and ask, "What do you mean?"
"Well, it strikes me that Sydney is one of Polly's new friends. Have
n't you observed that she is uncommonly jolly, and don't that sort
of thing account for it?"
"Nonsense!" said Fanny, sharply.
"Hope it is," coolly returned Tom.
"What put it into your head?" demanded Fanny, twirling round
again so that her face was hidden.
"Oh, well, I keep meeting Syd and Polly circulating in the same
directions; she looks as if she had found something uncommonly
nice, and he looks as if all creation was getting Pollyfied pretty
rapidly. Wonder you have n't observed it."
It was Tom's turn to look surprised now, for Fanny's voice sounded
strange to him. He looked at her steadily for a minute, but saw
only a rosy ear and a bent head. A cloud passed over his face, and
he leaned his chin on his arm again with a despondent whistle, as
he said to himself, "Poor Fan! Both of us in a scrape at once."
"Don't you think it would be a good thing?" asked Fanny, after
playing a bar or two, very badly.
"Yes, for Syd."
"Not for Polly? Why, he 's rich, and clever, and better than most of
you good-for-nothing fellows. What can the girl expect?"
"Can't say, but I don't fancy the match myself."
"Don't be a dog in the manger, Tom." "Bless your little heart, I
only take a brotherly sort of interest in Polly. She 's a capital girl,
and she ought to marry a missionary, or one of your reformer
fellows, and be a shining light of some sort. I don't think setting up
for a fine lady would suit her."
"I think it would, and I hope she 'll have the chance," said Fanny,
evidently making an effort to speak kindly.
"Good for you, Fan!" and Tom gave an emphatic nod, as if her
words meant more than she suspected "Mind you," he added, "I
don't know anything, and only fancied there might be some little
flirtation going on. But I dare say it 's nothing."
"Time will show." Then Fan began to sing, and Tom's horse came,
so he departed with the very unusual demonstration of a gentle pat
on the head, as he said kindly, "That 's right, my dear, keep jolly."
It was n't an elegant way of expressing sympathy, but it was hearty,
and Fan thanked him for it, though she only said, "Don't break
your neck, Tommy."
When he was gone, Fan's song ended as suddenly as it began, and
she sat thinking, with varying expressions of doubt and trouble
passing rapidly across her face.
"Well, I can't do anything but wait!" she said, at last, slamming the
music-book together with a desperate look. "Yes, I can," she
added, a minute after, "it 's Polly's holiday. I can go and see her,
and if there is anything in it I shall find it out."
Fanny dropped her face into her hands, with a little shiver, as she
said that; then got up, looking as pale and resolute as if going to
meet some dreadful doom, and putting on her things, went away to
Polly's as fast as her dignity would allow.
Saturday morning was Polly's clearing-up day, and Fan found her
with a handkerchief tied over her head, and a big apron on, just
putting the last touches to the tidy little room, which was as fresh
and bright as water, air, and a pair of hands could make it.
"All ready for company. I 'll just whisk off my regimentals, and
Polly, the maid, becomes Polly, the missis. It was lovely of you to
come early; take off your things. Another new bonnet? you
extravagant wretch! How is your mother and Maudie? It 's a nice
day, and we 'll have a walk, won't we?"
By the time Polly's welcome was uttered, she had got Fan on the
little sofa beside her, and was smiling at her in such an infectious
manner, that Fan could n't help smiling back.
"I came to see what you have been doing with yourself lately. You
don't come and report, and I got anxious about you," said Fanny,
looking into the clear eyes before her.
"I 've been so busy; and I knew you would n't care to hear about my
doings, for they are n't the sort you like," answered Polly.
"Your lessons did n't use to take up all your time. It 's my private
opinion that you are taking as well as giving lessons, miss," said
Fan, putting on a playfully stern air, to hide her real anxiety.
"Yes, I am," answered Polly, soberly.
"In what? Love?"
A quick color came to Polly's cheeks, as she laughed, and said,
looking away, "No; friendship and good works."
"Oh, indeed! May I ask who is your teacher?"
"I 've more than one; but Miss Mills is head teacher."
"She instructs in good works; who gives the friendship lessons?"
"Such pleasant girls! I wish you knew them, Fan. So clever, and
energetic, and kind, and happy, it always does me good to see
them," cried Polly, with a face full of enthusiasm.
"Is that all?" And Fan gave her a curious look of mingled
disappointment and relief.
"There, I told you my doings would not interest you, and they
don't; they sound flat and prosy after your brilliant adventures. Let
's change the subject," said Polly, looking relieved herself.
"Dear me, which of our sweethearts sends us dainty bouquets of
violets so early in the morning?" asked Fanny, suddenly spying the
purple cluster in a graceful little vase on the piano.
"He sends me one every week; he knows I love them so," and
Polly's eyes turned that way full of pride and pleasure.
"I 'd no idea he was so devoted," said Fanny, stooping to smell the
flowers, and at the same time read a card that lay near them.
"You need n't plague me about it, now you know it. I never speak
of our fondness for one another, because such things seem silly to
other people. Will is n't all that Jimmy was to me; but he tries to
be, and I love him dearly for it."
"Will?" Fanny's voice quite startled Polly, it was so sharp and
sudden, and her face grew red and pale all in a minute, as she
upset the little vase with the start she gave.
"Yes, of course; who did you think I meant?" asked Polly, sopping
up the water before it damaged her piano.
"Never mind; I thought you might be having a quiet little flirtation
with somebody. I feel responsible, you know, because I told your
mother I 'd look after you. The flowers are all right. My head aches
so, I hardly know what I 'm doing this morning."
Fanny spoke fast, and laughed uncomfortably, as she went back to
the sofa, wondering if Polly had told her a lie. Polly seemed to
guess at her thoughts as she saw the card, and turning toward her,
she held it up, saying, with a conscious look in her eyes, "You
thought Mr. Sydney sent them? Well, you are mistaken, and the
next time you want to know anything, please ask straight out. I like
it better than talking at cross purposes."
"Now, my dear, don't be angry; I was only teasing you in fun. Tom
took it into his foolish head that something was going on, and I felt
a natural interest, you know."
"Tom! What does he know or care about my affairs?" demanded
"He met you two in the street pretty often, and being in a
sentimental mood himself, got up a romance for you and Sydney."
"I 'm much obliged to him for his interest, but it 's quite wasted,
Fan's next proceeding gave her friend another surprise, for, being
rather ashamed of herself, very much relieved, and quite at a loss
what to say, she took refuge in an hysterical fit of tears, which
changed Polly's anger into tenderness at once.
"Is that the trouble she has been hiding all winter? Poor dear, I
wish I 'd known it sooner," thought Polly, as she tried to soothe her
with comfortable pats, sniffs of cologne and sympathizing remarks
upon the subject of headache, carefully ignoring that other
feminine affliction, the heartache.
"There, I feel better. I 've been needing a good cry for some time,
and now I shall be all right. Never mind it, Polly, I 'm nervous and
tired; I 've danced too much lately, and dyspepsia makes me blue;"
and Fanny wiped her eyes and laughed.
"Of course it does; you need rest and petting, and here I 've been
scolding you, when I ought to have been extra kind. Now tell me
what I can do for you," said Polly, with a remorseful face.
"Talk to me, and tell me all about yourself. You don't seem to have
as many worries as other people. What's the secret, Polly?" And
Fan looked up with wet eyes, and a wistful face at Polly, who was
putting little dabs of cologne all over her head.
"Well," said Polly, slowly, "I just try to look on the bright side of
things; that helps one amazingly. Why, you 've no idea how much
goodness and sunshine you can get out of the most unpromising
things, if you make the best of them."
"I don't know how," said Fan, despondently.
"You can learn; I did. I used to croak and fret dreadfully, and get
so unhappy, I was n't fit for anything. I do it still more than I ought,
but I try not to, and it gets easier, I find. Get a-top of your troubles,
and then they are half cured, Miss Mills says."
"Everything is so contrary and provoking," said Fanny, petulantly.
"Now what in the world have you to fret about?" asked Polly,
"Quantities of things," began Fan, and then stopped, for somehow
she felt ashamed to own that she was afflicted because she could
n't have a new set of furs, go to Paris in the spring, and make Mr.
Sydney love her. She hunted up something more presentable, and
said in a despairing tone, "Well, mother is very poorly, Tom and
Trix quarrel all the time, Maud gets more and more wilful every
day, and papa is worried about his affairs."
"A sad state of things, but nothing very desperate. Can't you lend a
hand anywhere? That might do good all round."
"No; I have n't the talent for managing people, but I see what ought
to be done."
"Well, don't wail about it; keep yourself happy, if you can; it will
help other people to see you cheerful."
"Just what Tom said,'Keep jolly'; but, dear me, how can one, when
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