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Title: Polly Oliver's Problem
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith, 1856-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Polly Oliver's Problem" ***

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POLLY OLIVER'S PROBLEM

by

KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN

With a Biographical Sketch, Portrait, and Illustrations

Boston, New York, and Chicago
Houghton, Mifflin & Company
The Riverside Press, Cambridge

1896



[Frontispiece: Portrait of Mrs. Wiggin]



KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN.

It is an advantage for an author to have known many places and
different sorts of people, though the most vivid impressions are
commonly those received in childhood and youth.  Mrs. Wiggin, as she is
known in literature, was Kate Douglas Smith; she was born in
Philadelphia, and spent her young womanhood in California, but when a
very young child she removed to Hollis in the State of Maine, and since
her maturity has usually made her summer home there; her earliest
recollections thus belong to the place, and she draws inspiration for
her character and scene painting very largely from this New England
neighborhood.

Hollis is a quiet, secluded place, a picturesque but almost deserted
village--if the few houses so widely scattered can be termed a
village--located among the undulating hills that lie along the lower
reaches of the Saco River.  Here she plans to do almost all her actual
writing--the story itself is begun long before--and she resorts to the
place with pent-up energy.

A quaint old house of colonial date and style, set in the midst of
extensive grounds and shaded by graceful old trees,--this is
"Quillcote,"--the summer home of Mrs. Wiggin.  Quillcote is typical of
many old New England homesteads; with an environment that is very close
to the heart of nature, it combines all that is most desirable and
beautiful in genuine country life.  The old manor house is located on a
sightly elevation commanding a varied view of the surrounding hills and
fertile valleys; to the northwest are to be seen the foot-hills of Mt.
Washington, and easterly a two hours' drive will bring one to Old
Orchard Beach, and the broad, blue, delicious ocean whose breezes are
generously wafted inland to Quillcote.

Mrs. Wiggin is thoroughly in love with this big rambling house, from
garret to cellar.  A genuine historic air seems to surround the entire
place, lending an added charm, and there are many impressive
characteristics of the house in its dignity of architecture, which seem
to speak of a past century with volumes of history in reserve.  A few
steps from these ample grounds, on the opposite side of the road, is a
pretty wooden cottage of moderate size and very attractive, the early
home of Mrs. Wiggin.  These scenes have inspired much of the local
coloring of her stories of New England life and character.  "Pleasant
River" in _Timothy's Quest_ is drawn from this locality, and in her
latest book, _The Village Watch Tower_, many of her settings and
descriptions are very close to existing conditions.

Her own room and literary workshop is on the second floor of the house;
it is distinctively a study in white, and no place could be more ideal
for creative work.  It has the cheeriest outlook from four windows with
a southern exposure, overlooking a broad grass plat studded with trees,
where birds from early dawn hold merry carnival, and squirrels find
perfect and unmolested freedom.  A peep into this sanctum is a most
convincing proof that she is a woman who dearly loves order, as every
detail plainly indicates, and it is also noticeable that any display of
literary litter is most conspicuously absent.

Interesting souvenirs and gifts of infinite variety are scattered all
over the room, on the wainscoting, mantel, and in every available
niche; very many are from children and all are dainty tributes.  A
picture of an irresistibly droll child face, of the African type and
infectiously full of mirth, is one of a great company of children who
look at you from every side and angle of the room.

Dainty old pieces of china, rare bits of bric-a-brac, the very broad
and old-time fireplaces filled with cut boughs of the spicy fir balsam,
and various antique pieces of furniture lend to the inner atmosphere of
Quillcote a fine artistic and colonial effect, while not a stone's
throw away, at the foot of a precipitous bank, flows--in a very
irregular channel--the picturesque Saco River.

In this summer home Mrs. Wiggin has the companionship of her mother,
and her sister, Miss Nora Smith, herself a writer, which renders it
easy to abandon herself wholly to her creative work; this coupled with
the fact that she is practically in seclusion banishes even a thought
of interruption.

And now, what was the beginning and the growth of the delightful
literary faculty, which has already given birth to so many pleasant
fancies and happy studies, especially of young life?  A glimpse is
given in the following playful letter and postscript from herself and
her sister to a would-be biographer.


MY DEAR BOSWELL,--I have asked my family for some incidents of my
childhood, as you bade me,--soliciting any "anecdotes,"
"characteristics," or "early tendencies" that may have been, as you
suggest, "foreshadowings" of later things.

I have been much chagrined at the result.  My younger sister states
that I was a nice, well-mannered, capable child, nothing more; and that
I never did anything nor said anything in any way remarkable.  She
affirms that, so far from spending my childhood days in composition,
her principal recollection of me is that of a practical stirring little
person, clad in a linsey woolsey gown, eternally dragging a red and
brown sled called "The Artful Dodger."  She adds that when called upon
to part with this sled, or commanded to stop sliding, I showed certain
characteristics that may perhaps have been "foreshadowings," but that
certainly were not engaging ones.

My mother was a good deal embarrassed when questioned, and finally
confessed that I never said anything worthy of mention until I was
quite "grown up;" a statement that is cheerfully corroborated by all
the authorities consulted. . . .  Do not seek, then, to pierce my happy
obscurity. . . .

    Believe me, dear Bozzy,
        Sincerely your Johnson,
            (K. D. W.)


Postscript by Johnson's Sister,--

The above report is substantially correct, though a few touches of
local color were added which we see Johnson's modesty has moved her to
omit.

My sister was certainly a capable little person at a tender age,
concocting delectable milk toast, browning toothsome buckwheats, and
generally making a very good Parent's Assistant.  I have also visions
of her toiling at patchwork and oversewing sheets like a nice
old-fashioned little girl in a story book; and in connection with the
linsey woolsey frock and the sled before mentioned, I see a blue and
white hood with a mass of shining fair hair escaping below it, and a
pair of very pink cheeks.

Further to illustrate her personality, I think no one much in her
company at any age could have failed to note an exceedingly lively
tongue and a general air of executive ability.

If I am to be truthful, I must say that I recall few indications of
budding authorship, save an engrossing diary (kept for six months
only), and a devotion to reading.

Her "literary passions" were the _Arabian Nights_, _Scottish Chiefs_,
_Don Quixote_, _Thaddeus of Warsaw_, _Irving's Mahomet_, _Thackeray's
Snobs_, _Undine_, and the _Martyrs of Spain_.  These volumes, joined to
an old green Shakespeare and a Plum Pudding edition of Dickens, were
the chief of her diet.

But stay! while I am talking of literary tendencies, I do remember a
certain prize essay entitled "Pictures in the Clouds,"--not so called
because it _took_ the prize, alas! but because it competed for it.

There is also a myth in the household (doubtless invented by my mother)
that my sister learned her letters from the signs in the street, and
taught herself to read when scarcely out of long clothes.  This may be
cited as a bit of "corroborative detail," though personally I never
believed in it.

    Johnson's Sister,
        N. A. S.


Like many who have won success in literature, her taste and aptitude
showed themselves early.  It would be unfair to take _Polly Oliver's
Problem_ as in any sense autobiographical, as regards a close following
of facts, but it may be guessed to have some inner agreement with Mrs.
Wiggin's history, for she herself when a girl of eighteen wrote a
story, _Half a Dozen Housekeepers_, which was published in _St.
Nicholas_ in the numbers for November and December, 1878.  She was
living at the time in California, and more to the purpose even than
this bright little story was the preparation she was making for her
later successes in the near and affectionate study of children whom she
was teaching.  She studied the kindergarten methods for a year under
Emma Marwedel, and after teaching for a year in Santa Barbara College,
she was called upon to organize in San Francisco the first free
kindergarten west of the Rocky Mountains.  She was soon joined in this
work by her sister; and the enthusiasm and good judgment shown by the
two inspired others, and made the famous "Silver Street Kindergarten"
not only a great object lesson on the Pacific Coast, but an inspiration
to similar efforts in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia,
and the Hawaiian Islands.

This school was, and is at the present time, located in a densely
inhabited and poverty-ridden quarter of the city.  It was largely among
the very poor that Mrs. Wiggin's full time and wealth of energy were
devoted, for kindergartening was never a fad with her as some may have
imagined; always philanthropic in her tendencies, she was, and is,
genuinely and enthusiastically in earnest in this work.  It is
interesting to know that on the wall of one apartment at the Silver
Street Kindergarten hangs a life-like portrait of its founder,
underneath which you may read these words:--


KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN.

_In this room was born the first free Kindergarten west of the Rocky
Mountains.  Let me have the happiness of looking down upon many
successive groups of children sitting in these same seats._


We are told that the children love that room the best; it is pictured
as a bright, cheery spot, where the children used to gather with "Miss
Kate" in the bygone days.  By the window there is a bird-cage; the tiny
occupant bearing the historical name of "Patsy."  Connected with this
kindergarten is a training-school, organized by Mrs. Wiggin in 1880,
and conducted by Miss Nora Smith for several years afterward.  The two
sisters in collaboration have added much valuable matter to
kindergarten literature, notably the three volumes entitled _The
Republic of Childhood_, _Children's Sights_, and _The Story Hour_.

On her marriage, Mrs. Wiggin gave up teaching, but continued to give
two talks a week to the Training Class.  She was also a constant
visitor in the many kindergartens which had sprung up under the impulse
of herself and her associates.  She played with the children, sang to
them, told them stories, and thus was all the while not only gathering
material unconsciously, but practicing the art which she was to make
her calling.  The dozen years thus spent were her years of training,
and, during this time she wrote and printed _The Story of Patsy_,
merely to raise money for the kindergarten work.  Three thousand copies
were sold without the aid of a publisher, and the success was repeated
when, not long after, _The Birds' Christmas Carol_ appeared.

In 1888 Mrs. Wiggin removed to New York, and her friends urged her to
come before the public with a regular issue of the last-named story.
Houghton, Mifflin and Company at once brought out an edition, and the
popularity which the book enjoyed in its first limited circle was now
repeated on a very large scale.  The reissue of _The Story of Patsy_
followed at the hands of the same publishers, and they have continued
to bring out the successive volumes of her writing.

It is not necessary to give a formal list of these books.  Perhaps _The
Birds' Christmas Carol_, which is so full of that sweet, tender pathos
and wholesome humor which on one page moves us to tears, and the next
sets us shaking with laughter, has been more widely enjoyed and read
than her other stories, at least in America.  It has been translated
into Japanese, French, German, and Swedish, and has been put in raised
type for the use of the blind.  Patsy is a composite sketch taken from
kindergarten life.  For _Timothy's Quest_, one of the brightest and
most cleverly written of character sketches, the author feels an
especially tender sentiment.  The story of how the book took form is
old, but will bear repeating; it originated from the casual remark of a
little child who said, regarding a certain house, "I think they need
some babies there."  Mrs. Wiggin at once jotted down in her note-book
"needing babies," and from this nucleus the charming story of "Timothy"
was woven into its present form.  It is said that Rudyard Kipling
considers Polly Oliver one of the most delightful of all girl-heroines;
and Mrs. Wiggin really hopes some day to see the "Hospital Story Hour"
carried out in real life.

She owns a most interesting collection of her books in several
languages.  The illustrations of these are very unique, as most of them
are made to correspond with the life of the country in which they are
published.  _Timothy's Quest_ is a favorite in Denmark with its Danish
text and illustrations.  It has also found its way into Swedish, and
has appeared in the Tauchnitz edition, as has also _A Cathedral
Courtship_.  Her latest book, _The Village Watch Tower_, is composed of
several short stories full of the very breath and air of New England.
They are studies of humble life, interesting oddities and local
customs, and are written in her usual bright vein.

It was not long after her removal to the Atlantic coast that Mrs.
Wiggin, now a widow and separated much of the year from her special
work in California, threw herself eagerly into the kindergarten
movement in New York, and it was in this interest that she was drawn
into the semi-public reading of her own stories.  Her interpretation of
them is full of exquisite taste and feeling, but she has declared most
characteristically that she would rather write a story for the love of
doing it, than be paid by the public for reading it; hence her readings
have always been given purely for philanthropic purposes, especially
for the introduction of kindergartens, a cause which she warmly
advocates, and with which she has most generously identified herself.

I may say that there is an old meeting-house in Hollis in which she has
been interested since her childhood.  Each succeeding summer the whole
countryside within a radius of many miles gathers there to hear her
bright, sympathetic readings of her manuscript stories, sometimes
before even her publishers have a peep at them.  These occasions are
rare events that are much talked over and planned for, as I learned
soon after reaching that neighborhood.  During the summer of 1895 she
read one of her manuscript stories--_The Ride of the Midnight Cry_ (now
published in _The Village Watch Tower_)--to a group of elderly ladies
in the neighborhood of Quillcote, who are deeply interested in all she
writes.  The story takes its title from an ancient stage-coach well
known throughout that region in its day, and known only by the
suggestive if not euphonious name of "The Midnight Cry."

Mrs. Wiggin possesses rare musical taste and ability, and
enthusiastically loves music as an art.  It is simply a recreation and
delight to her to compose and adapt whatever pleases her fancy to her
own flow of harmony.  She is the possessor of some very rare and
interesting foreign instruments; among this collection is a Hawaiian
guitar, the tiniest of stringed instruments, and also one of curious
Portuguese workmanship.

In the early months of 1895 she was married to George C. Riggs, of New
York, but she prefers to retain in literature the name with which she
first won distinction.  I will speak of her New York winter home only
to say that it is the gathering-place of some of the most eminent
authors and artists in the country.  She goes abroad yearly, and Maine
levies a heavy claim on her by right of home ties and affection, for
the 'Pine Tree State' is proud to claim this gifted daughter, not only
for her genius but her beauty of character and true womanliness.

Mrs. Wiggin's work is characterized by a delicious flow of humor, depth
of pathos, and a delicate play of fancy.  Her greatest charm as a
writer is simplicity of style.  It enables us to come in perfect touch
with her characterizations, which are so full of human nature that, as
some one has said, "we feel them made of good flesh and blood like
ourselves, with whom we have something, be it ever so little, that
keeps us from being alien one to another."  Her keen but sympathetic
penetration attains some of the happiest results in the wholesome
realism of her child characters; her children become real to us, creep
into our hearts, and we love them, and in sympathy with this sentiment
springs up a spontaneous reawakening of interest in the child-world
about us.

    EMMA SHERMAN ECHOLS.



POLLY OLIVER'S PROBLEM

A STORY FOR GIRLS



  "_What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it_."

      GOETHE.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I.  A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
    II.  FORECASTING THE FUTURE
   III.  THE DOCTOR GIVES POLLY A PRESCRIPTION
    IV.  THE BOARDERS STAY, AND THE OLIVERS GO
     V.  TOLD IN LETTERS
    VI.  POLLY TRIES A LITTLE MISSIONARY WORK
   VII.  "WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS"
  VIII.  TWO FIRESIDE CHATS
    IX.  HARD TIMES
     X.  EDGAR GOES TO CONFESSION
    XI.  THE LADY IN BLACK
   XII.  THE GREAT SILENCE
  XIII.  A GARDEN FLOWER, OR A BANIAN-TREE
   XIV.  EDGAR DISCOURSES OF SCARLET RUNNERS
    XV.  LIFE IN THE BIRDS' NEST
   XVI.  THE CANDLE CALLED PATIENCE
  XVII.  POLLY LAUNCHES HER SHIPS
 XVIII.  THE CHILDREN'S HOUR: REPORTED IN A
         LETTER BY AN EYE-WITNESS



ILLUSTRATIONS


PORTRAIT OF MRS. WIGGIN . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

MRS. OLIVER AND POLLY

"IT IS SOME OF THE STUDENTS"

"SHE OPENED THE BOOK AND READ"


[Transcriber's note: The second illustration was missing from the
original book.]



POLLY OLIVER'S PROBLEM.


  "Pretty Polly Oliver, my hope and my fear,
   Pretty Polly Oliver, I've loved you so dear!"
        DINAH MARIA MULOCK.


CHAPTER I.

A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

"I have determined only one thing definitely," said Polly Oliver; "and
that is, the boarders must go.  Oh, how charming that sounds!  I 've
been thinking it ever since I was old enough to think, but I never cast
it in such an attractive, decisive form before.  'The Boarders Must
Go!'  To a California girl it is every bit as inspiring as 'The Chinese
Must Go.'  If I were n't obliged to set the boarders' table, I 'd work
the motto on a banner this very minute, and march up and down the plaza
with it, followed by a crowd of small boys with toy drums."

"The Chinese never did go," said Mrs. Oliver suggestively, from the
sofa.

"Oh, that's a trifle; they had a treaty or something, and besides,
there are so many of them, and they have such an object in staying."

"You can't turn people out of the house on a moment's warning."

"Certainly not.  Give them twenty-four hours, if necessary.  We can
choose among several methods of getting rid of them.  I can put up a
placard with

    BOARDERS, HO!

printed on it in large letters, and then assemble them in the
banquet-hall and make them a speech."

"You would insult them," objected Mrs. Oliver feebly, "and they are
perfectly innocent."

"Insult them?  Oh, mamma, how unworthy of you!  I shall speak to them
firmly but very gently.  'Ladies and gentlemen,' I shall begin, 'you
have done your best to make palatable the class of human beings to
which you belong, but you have utterly failed, and you must go!  Board,
if you must, ladies and gentlemen, but not here!  Sap, if you must, the
foundations of somebody else's private paradise, but not ours.  In the
words of the Poe-et, "Take thy beaks from off our door."'  Then it will
be over, and they will go out."

"Slink out, I should say," murmured Polly's mother.

"Very well, slink out," replied Polly cheerfully.  "I should like to
see them slink, after they 've been rearing their crested heads round
our table for generations; but I think you credit them with a
sensitiveness they do not, and in the nature of things cannot, possess.
There is something in the unnatural life which hardens both the boarder
and those who board her.  However, I don't insist on that method.  Let
us try bloodless eviction,--set them quietly out in the street with
their trunks; or strategy,--put one of them in bed and hang out the
smallpox flag.  Oh, I can get rid of them in a week, if I once set my
mind on it."

"There is no doubt of that," said Mrs. Oliver meekly.

Polly's brain continued to teem with sinister ideas.

"I shall make Mr. Talbot's bed so that the clothes will come off at the
foot every night.  He will remonstrate.  I shall tell him that he kicks
them off, and intimate that his conscience troubles him, or he would
never be so restless.  He will glare.  I shall promise to do better,
yet the clothes will come off worse and worse, and at last, perfectly
disheartened, he will go.  I shall tell Mr. Greenwood at the
breakfast-table, what I have been longing for months to tell him, that
we can hear him snore, distinctly, through the partition.  He will go.
I shall put cold milk in Mrs. Caldwell's coffee every morning.  I shall
mean well, you know, but I shall forget.  She will know that I mean
well, and that it is only girlish absent-mindedness, but she will not
endure it very long; she will go.  And so, by the exercise of a little
ingenuity, they will depart one by one, remarking that Mrs. Oliver's
boarding-house is not what it used to be; that Pauline is growing a
little 'slack.'"

"Polly!" and Mrs. Oliver half rose from the sofa, "I will not allow you
to call this a boarding-house in that tone of voice."

"A boarding-house, as I take it," argued Polly, "is a house where the
detestable human vipers known as boarders are 'taken in and done for.'"

"But we have always prided ourselves on having it exactly like a
family," said her mother plaintively.  "You know we have not omitted a
single refinement of the daintiest home-life, no matter at what cost of
labor and thought."

"Certainly, that's the point,--and there you are, a sofa-invalid, and
here am I with my disposition ruined for life; such a wreck in temper
that I could blow up the boarders with dynamite and sleep peacefully
after it."

"Now be reasonable, little daughter.  Think how kind and grateful the
boarders have been (at least almost always), how appreciative of
everything we have done for them."

"Of course; it is n't every day they can secure an--an--elderly Juno
like you to carve meat for them, or a--well, just for the sake of
completing the figure of speech--a blooming Hebe like me (I 've always
wondered why it was n't _She_be!) to dispense their tea and coffee; to
say nothing of broma for Mr. Talbot, cocoa for Mr. Greenwood, cambric
tea for Mrs. Hastings, and hot water for the Darlings.  I have to keep
a schedule, and refer to it three times a day.  This alone shows that
boarders are n't my vocation."

A bit of conversation gives the clue to character so easily that Mrs.
Oliver and her daughter need little more description.  You can see the
pretty, fragile mother resting among her pillows, and I need only tell
you that her dress is always black, her smile patient, her eyes full of
peace, and her hands never idle save in this one daily resting-hour
prescribed by the determined Miss Polly, who mounts guard during the
appointed time like a jailer who expects his prisoner to escape if he
removes his eagle eye for an instant.

The aforesaid impetuous Miss Polly has also told you something of
herself in this brief interview.  She is evidently a person who feels
matters rather strongly, and who is wont to state them in the strongest
terms she knows.  Every word she utters shows you that, young as she
looks, she is the real head of the family, and that her vigorous
independence of thought and speech must be the result of more care and
responsibility than ordinarily fall to the lot of a girl of sixteen.

Certain of her remarks must be taken with a grain of salt.  Her
assertion of willingness to blow up innocent boarders in their beds
would seem, for instance, to indicate a vixenish and vindictive sort of
temper quite unwarranted by the circumstances; but a glance at the girl
herself contradicts the thought.

_Item_: A firm chin.  She will take her own way if she can possibly get
it; but _item_; a sweet, lovable mouth framed in dimples; a mouth that
breaks into smiles at the slightest provocation, no matter how dreary
the outlook; a mouth that quivers at the first tender word, and so the
best of all correctives to the determined little chin below.

_Item_: A distinctly saucy nose; an aggressive, impertinent, spirited
little nose, with a few freckles on it; a nose that probably leads its
possessor into trouble occasionally.

_Item_: Two bright eyes, a trifle overproud and willful, perhaps, but
candid and full of laughter.

_Item_: A head of brilliant, auburn hair; lively, independent, frisky
hair, each glittering thread standing out by itself and asserting its
own individuality; tempestuous hair that never "stays put;" capricious
hair that escapes hairpins and comes down unexpectedly; hoydenish hair
that makes the meekest hats look daring.

For the rest, a firm, round figure, no angles, everything, including
elbows, in curves; blooming cheeks and smooth-skinned, taper-fingered
hands tanned a very honest brown,--the hands of a person who loves
beauty.

Polly Oliver's love of beautiful things was a passion, and one that had
little gratification; but luckily, though good music, pictures, china,
furniture, and "purple and fine linen" were all conspicuous by their
absence, she could feast without money and without price on the
changeful loveliness of the Santa Ynez mountains, the sapphire tints of
the placid Pacific, and the gorgeous splendor of the Californian
wild-flowers, so that her sense of beauty never starved.

Her hand was visible in the modest sitting-room where she now sat with
her mother; for it was pretty and homelike, although its simple
decorations and furnishings had been brought together little by little
during a period of two years; so that the first installments were all
worn out, Polly was wont to remark plaintively, before the last
additions made their appearance.

The straw matting had Japanese figures on it, while a number of rugs
covered the worn places, and gave it an opulent look.  The
table-covers, curtains, and portières were of blue jean worked in
outline embroidery, and Mrs. Oliver's couch had as many pillows as that
of an oriental princess; for Polly's summers were spent camping in a
cañon, and she embroidered sofa-cushions and draperies with frenzy
during these weeks of out-of-door life.

Upon the cottage piano was a blue Canton ginger-jar filled with
branches of feathery bamboo that spread its lace-like foliage far and
wide over the ceiling and walls, quite covering the large spot where
the roof had leaked.  Various stalks of tropical-looking palms,
distributed artistically about, concealed the gaping wounds in the
walls, inflicted by the Benton children, who had once occupied this
same apartment.  Mexican water-jars, bearing peacock feathers, screened
Mr. Benton's two favorite places for scratching matches.  The lounge
was the sort of lounge that looks well only between two windows, but
Polly was obliged to place it across the corner where she really needed
the table, because in that position it shielded from the public view
the enormous black spots on the wall where Reginald Benton had flung
the ink-bottle at his angel sister Pansy Belle.

Then there was an umbrella-lamp bestowed by a boarder whom Mrs. Oliver
had nursed through typhoid fever; a banjo; plenty of books and
magazines; and an open fireplace, with a great pitcher of yellow
wild-flowers standing between the old-fashioned brass andirons.

Little Miss Oliver's attitude on the question of the boarders must
stand quite without justification.

"It is a part of Polly," sighed her mother, "and must be borne with
Christian fortitude."

Colonel Oliver had never fully recovered from a wound received in the
last battle of the civil war, and when he was laid to rest in a quiet
New England churchyard, so much of Mrs. Oliver's heart was buried with
him that it was difficult to take up the burden of life with any sort
of courage.  At last her delicate health prompted her to take the baby
daughter, born after her husband's death, and go to southern
California, where she invested her small property in a house in Santa
Barbara.  She could not add to her income by any occupation that kept
her away from the baby; so the boarders followed as a matter of course
(a house being suitable neither for food nor clothing), and a
constantly changing family of pleasant people helped her to make both
ends meet, and to educate the little daughter as she grew from babyhood
into childhood.

Now, as Polly had grown up among the boarders, most of whom petted her,
no one can account for her slightly ungrateful reception of their
good-will; but it is certain that the first time she was old enough to
be trusted at the table, she grew very red in the face, slipped down
from her high chair, and took her bowl of bread and milk on to the
porch.  She was followed and gently reasoned with, but her only
explanation was that she did n't "yike to eat wiv so many peoples."
Persuasion bore no fruit, and for a long time Miss Polly ate in
solitary grandeur.  Indeed, the feeling increased rather than
diminished, until the child grew old enough to realize her mother's
burden, when with passionate and protecting love she put her strong
young shoulders under the load and lifted her share, never so very
prettily or gracefully,--it is no use trying to paint a halo round
Polly's head,--but with a proud courage and a sort of desperate resolve
to be as good as she could, which was not very good, she would have
told you.

She would come back from the beautiful home of her friend, Bell
Winship, and look about on her own surroundings, never with scorn, or
sense of bitterness,--she was too sensible and sweet-natured for
that,--but with an inward rebellion against the existing state of
things, and a secret determination to create a better one, if God would
only give her power and opportunity.  But this pent-up feeling only
showed itself to her mother in bursts of impulsive nonsense, at which
Mrs. Oliver first laughed and then sighed.

"Oh, for a little, little breakfast-table!" Polly would say, as she
flung herself on her mother's couch, and punched the pillows
desperately.  "Oh, for a father to say 'Steak, Polly dear?' instead of
my asking, 'Steakorchop?' over and over every morning!  Oh, for a
lovely, grown-up, black-haired sister, who would have hundreds of
lovers, and let me stay in the room when they called!  Oh, for a tiny
baby brother, fat and dimpled, who would crow, and spill milk on the
tablecloth, and let me sit on the floor and pick up the things he threw
down!  But instead of that, a new, big, strange family, different
people every six months, people who don't like each other, and have to
be seated at opposite ends of the table; ladies whose lips tremble with
disappointment if they don't get the second joint of the chicken, and
gentlemen who are sulky if any one else gets the liver.  Oh, mamma, I
am sixteen now, and it will soon be time for me to begin taking care of
you; but I warn you, I shall never do it by means of the boarders!"

"Are you so weak and proud, little daughter, as to be ashamed because I
have taken care of you these sixteen years 'by means of the boarders,'
as you say?"

"No, no, mamma!  Don't think so badly of me as that.  That feeling was
outgrown long ago.  Do I not know that it is just as fine and honorable
as anything else in the world, and do I not love and honor you with all
my heart because you do it in so sweet and dignified a way that
everybody respects you for it?  But it is n't my vocation.  I would
like to do something different, something wider, something lovelier, if
I knew how, and were ever good enough!"

"It is easy to 'dream noble things,' dear, but hard to do them 'all day
long.'  My own feeling is, if one reaches the results one is struggling
for, and does one's work as well as it lies in one to do it, that
keeping boarders is as good service as any other bit of the world's
work.  One is not always permitted to choose the beautiful or glorious
task.  Sometimes all one can do is to make the humble action fine by
doing it 'as it is done in heaven.'  Remember, 'they also serve who
only stand and wait.'"

"Yes, mamma," said Polly meekly; "but," stretching out her young arms
hopefully and longingly, "it must be that they also serve who stand and
_dare_, and I 'm going to try that first,--then I 'll wait, if God
wants me to."

"What if God wants you to wait first, little daughter?"

Polly hid her face in the sofa-cushions and did not answer.



CHAPTER II.

FORECASTING THE FUTURE.

Two of Mrs. Oliver's sitting-room windows looked out on the fig-trees,
and the third on a cosy piazza corner framed in passion-vines, where at
the present moment stood a round table holding a crystal bowl of Gold
of Ophir roses, a brown leather portfolio, and a dish of apricots.
Against the table leaned an old Spanish guitar with a yellow ribbon
round its neck, and across the corner hung a gorgeous hammock of
Persian colored threads, with two or three pillows of canary-colored
China silk in one end.  A bamboo lounging-chair and a Shaker rocker
completed the picture; and the passer-by could generally see Miss Anita
Ferguson reclining in the one, and a young (but not Wise) man from the
East in the other.  It was not always the same young man any more than
the decorations were always of the same color.

"That's another of my troubles," said Polly to her friend Margery
Noble, pulling up the window-shade one afternoon and pointing to the
now empty "cosy corner."  "I don't mind Miss Ferguson's sitting there,
though it used always to be screened off for my doll-house, and I love
it dearly; but she pays to sit there, and she ought to do it; besides,
she looks prettier there than any one else.  Isn't it lovely?  The
other day she had pink oleanders in the bowl, the cushions turned the
pink side up,--you see they are canary and rose-color,--a pink muslin
dress, and the guitar trimmed with a fringe of narrow pink ribbons.
She was a dream, Margery!  But she does n't sit there with her young
men when I am at school, nor when I am helping Ah Foy in the
dining-room, nor, of course, when we are at table.  She sits there from
four to six in the afternoon and in the evening, the only times I have
with mamma in this room.  We are obliged to keep the window closed,
lest we should overhear the conversation.  That is tiresome enough in
warm weather.  You see the other windows are shaded by the fig-trees,
so here we sit, in Egyptian darkness, mamma and I, during most of the
pleasant afternoons.  And if anything ever came of it, we would n't
mind, but nothing ever does.  There have been so many young men,--I
could n't begin to count them, but they have worn out the seats of four
chairs,--and why does n't one of them take her away?  Then we could
have a nice, plain young lady who would sit quietly on the front steps
with the old people, and who would n't want me to carry messages for
her three times a day."

At the present moment, however, Miss Anita Ferguson, clad in a black
habit, with a white rose in her buttonhole, and a neat black derby with
a scarf of white _crêpe de chine_ wound about it, had gone on the mesa
for a horseback ride, so Polly and Margery had borrowed the cosy corner
for a chat.

Margery was crocheting a baby's afghan, and Polly was almost obscured
by a rumpled, yellow dress which lay in her lap.

"You observe my favorite yellow gown?" she asked.

"Yes, what have you done to it?"

"Gin Sing picked blackberries in the colander.  I, supposing the said
colander to be a pan with the usual bottom, took it in my lap and held
it for an hour while I sorted the berries.  Result: a hideous stain a
foot and a half in diameter, to say nothing of the circumference.  Mr.
Greenwood suggested oxalic acid.  I applied it, and removed both the
stain and the dress in the following complete manner;" and Polly put
her brilliant head through an immense circular hole in the front
breadth of the skirt.

"It 's hopeless, is n't it? for of course a patch won't look well,"
said Margery.

"Hopeless?  Not a bit.  You see this pretty yellow and white striped
lawn?  I have made a long, narrow apron of it, and ruffled it all
round.  I pin it to my waist thus, and the hole is covered.  But it
looks like an apron, and how do I contrive to throw the public off the
scent?  I add a yoke and sash of the striped lawn, and people see
simply a combination-dress.  I do the designing, and my beloved little
mother there will do the sewing; forgetting her precious Polly's
carelessness in making the hole, and remembering only her cleverness in
covering it."

"Capital!" said Margery; "it will be prettier than ever.  Oh dear! that
dress was new when we had our last lovely summer in the cañon.  Shall
we ever go again, all together, I wonder?  Just think how we are all
scattered,--the Winships traveling in Europe (I 'll read you Bell's
last letter by and by); Geoffrey Strong studying at Leipsic; Jack
Howard at Harvard, with Elsie and her mother watching over him in
Cambridge; Philip and I on the ranch as usual, and you here.  We are so
divided that it does n't seem possible that we can ever have a complete
reunion, does it?"

"No," said Polly, looking dreamily at the humming-birds hovering over
the honeysuckle; "and if we should, everything would be different.
Bless dear old Bell's heart!  What a lovely summer she must be having!
I wonder what she will do."

"Do?" echoed Margery.

"Yes; it always seemed to me that Bell Winship would do something in
the world; that she would never go along placidly like other girls, she
has so many talents."

"Yes; but so long as they have plenty of money, Dr. and Mrs. Winship
would probably never encourage her in doing anything."

"It would be all the better if she could do something because she loved
it, and with no thought of earning a living by it.  Is n't it odd that
I who most need the talents should have fewer than any one of our dear
little group?  Bell can write, sing, dance, or do anything else, in
fact; Elsie can play like an angel; you can draw; but it seems to me I
can do nothing well enough to earn money by it; and that is precisely
what I must do."

"You 've never had any special instruction, Polly dear, else you could
sing as well as Bell, or play as well as Elsie."

"Well, I must soon decide.  Mamma says next summer, when I am
seventeen, she will try to spend a year in San Francisco and let me
study regularly for some profession.  The question is, what?--or
whether to do something without study.  I read in a magazine the other
day that there are now three hundred or three thousand, I can't
remember which, vocations open to women.  If it were even three hundred
I could certainly choose one to my liking, and there would be two
hundred and ninety-nine left over for the other girls.  Mrs. Weeks is
trying to raise silkworms.  That would be rather nice, because the
worms would be silent partners in the business and do most of the work."

"But you want something without any risks, you know," said Margery
sagely.  "You would have to buy ground for the silkworms, and set out
the mulberries, and then a swarm of horrid insects might happen along
and devour the plants before the worms began spinning."

"'Competition is the life of trade,'" said Polly.  "No, that is n't
what I mean--'Nothing venture, nothing have,' that's it.  Then how
would hens do?  Ever so many women raise hens."

"Hens have diseases, and they never lay very well when you have to sell
the eggs.  By the way, Clarence Jones, who sings in the choir,--you
know, the man with the pink cheeks and corn-silk hair,--advertises in
the 'Daily Press' for a 'live partner.'  Now, there 's a chance on an
established hen-ranch, if he does n't demand capital or experience."

"It's a better chance for Miss Ferguson.  But she does n't like Mr.
Jones, because when he comes to call, his coat-pockets are always
bulging with brown paper packages of a hen-food that he has just
invented.  The other day, when he came to see her, she was out, and he
handed me his card.  It had a picture and advertisement of 'The Royal
Dish-faced Berkshire Pig' on it; and I 'm sure, by her expression when
she saw it, that she will never be his 'live partner.'  No, I don't
think I 'll have an out-of-door occupation, it's so trying to the
complexion.  Now, how about millinery?  I could be an apprentice, and
gradually rise until I imported everything direct from Paris."

"But, Polly," objected Margery, "you know you never could tie a bow, or
even put a ribbon on your sailor hat."

"But I could learn.  Do you suppose all the milliners were called to
their work by a consciousness of genius?  Perish the thought!  If that
were true, there wouldn't be so many hideous hats in the shop windows.
However, I don't pine for millinery; it's always a struggle for me to
wear a hat myself."

"You 've done beautifully the last year or two, dear, and you 've
reaped the reward of virtue, for you 've scarcely a freckle left."

"Oh, that isn't hats," rejoined Polly, "that's the law of compensation.
When I was younger, and did n't take the boarders so much to heart, I
had freckles given to me for a cross; but the moment I grew old enough
to see the boarders in their true light and note their effect on mamma,
the freckles disappeared.  Now, here 's an idea.  I might make a
complexion lotion for a living.  Let me see what I 've been advised by
elderly ladies to use in past years: ammonia, lemon-juice, cucumbers,
morning dew, milk, pork rinds, kerosene, and a few other household
remedies.  Of course I 'm not sure which did the work, but why could
n't I mix them all in equal parts,--if they would mix, you know, and
let those stay out that would n't,--and call it the 'Olivera Complexion
Lotion'?  The trade-mark might be a cucumber, a lemon, and a morning
dew-drop, _rampant_, and a frightened little brown spot _couchant_.
Then on the neat label pasted on the bottles above the trade-mark there
might be a picture of a spotted girl,--that's Miss Oliver before using
her lotion,--and a copy of my last photograph,--that's Miss Oliver
radiant in beauty after using her lotion."

Margery laughed, as she generally did at Polly's nonsense.

"That sounds very attractive, but if you are anxious for an elegant and
dignified occupation which shall restore your mother to her ancestral
position, it certainly has its defects."

"I know everything has its defects, everything except one, and I won't
believe that has a single weak point."

"Oh, Polly, you deceiver!  You have a secret leaning toward some
particular thing, after all!"

"Yes; though I have n't talked it over fully yet, even with mamma, lest
she should think it one of my wild schemes; but, Margery, I want with
all my heart to be a kindergartner like Miss Mary Denison.  There would
be no sting to me in earning my living, if only I could do it by
working among poor, ragged, little children, as she does.  I run in and
stay half an hour with her whenever I can, and help the babies with
their sewing or weaving, and I always study and work better myself
afterward,--I don't know whether it's the children, or Miss Denison, or
the place, or all three.  And the other day, when I was excused from my
examinations, I stayed the whole morning in the kindergarten.  When it
was time for the games, and they were all on the circle, they began
with a quiet play they call 'Silent Greeting,' and oh, Margery, they
chose me to come in, of their own accord!  When I walked into the
circle to greet that smallest Walker baby my heart beat like a
trip-hammer, I was so afraid I should do something wrong, and they
would never ask me in again.  Then we played 'The Hen and Chickens,'
and afterward something about the birds in the greenwood; and one of
the make-believe birds flew to me (I was a tree, you know, a whispering
elm-tree), and built its nest in my branches, and then I smoothed its
feathers and sang to it as the others had done, and it was like heaven!
After the play was over, we modeled clay birds; and just as we were
making the tables tidy, Professor Hohlweg came in and asked Miss
Denison to come into the large hall to play for the marching, as the
music-teacher was absent.  Then what did Miss Denison do but turn to me
and say, 'Miss Oliver, you get on so nicely with the children, would
you mind telling them some little story for me?  I shall be gone only
ten or fifteen minutes.'  Oh, Margery, it was awful!  I was more
frightened than when I was asked to come into the circle; but the
children clapped their hands and cried, 'Yes, yes, tell us a story!'  I
could only think of 'The Hen that Hatched Ducks,' but I sat down and
began, and, as I talked, I took my clay bird and molded it into a hen,
so that they would look at me whether they listened or not.  Of course,
one of the big seven-year-old boys began to whisper and be restless,
but I handed him a large lump of clay and asked him to make a nest and
some eggs for my hen, and that soon absorbed his attention.  They
listened so nicely,--you can hardly believe how nicely they listened!
When I finished I looked at the clock.  It had been nine minutes, and I
could n't think what to do the other dreadful minutes till Miss Denison
should come back.  At last my eye fell on the blackboard, and that gave
me an idea.  I drew a hen's beak and then a duck's, a hen's foot and
then a duck's, to show them the difference.  Just then Miss Denison
came in softly, and I confess I was bursting with pride and delight.
There was the blackboard with the sketches, not very good ones, it is
true, the clay hen and nest and eggs, and all the children sitting
quietly in their wee red chairs.  And Miss Denison said, 'How charming
of you to carry out the idea of the morning so nicely!  My dear little
girl, you were made for this sort of thing, did you know it?'"

"Well, I should n't think you had patience enough for any sort of
teaching," said Margery candidly.

"Neither did I suppose so myself, and I have n't any patience to spare,
that is, for boarders, or dishes, or beds; but I love children so
dearly that they never try my patience as other things do."

"You have had the play side of the kindergarten, Polly, while Miss
Denison had the care.  There must be a work-a-day side to it; I'm sure
Miss Denison very often looks tired to death."

"Of course!" cried Polly.  "I know it 's hard work; but who cares
whether a thing is hard or not, if one loves it?  I don't mind work; I
only mind working at something I dislike and can never learn to like.
Why, Margery, at the Sunday-school picnics you go off in the broiling
sun and sit on a camp-chair and sketch, while I play Fox and Geese with
the children, and each of us pities the other and thinks she must be
dying with heat.  It 's just the difference between us!  You carry your
easel and stool and paint-boxes and umbrella up the steepest hill, and
never mind if your back aches; I bend over Miss Denison's children with
their drawing or building, and never think of my back-ache, do you see?"

"Yes; but I always keep up my spirits by thinking that though I may be
tired and discouraged, it is worth while because it is Art I am working
at; and for the sake of being an artist I ought to be willing to endure
anything.  You would n't have that feeling to inspire and help you."

"I should like to know why I would n't," exclaimed Polly, with flashing
eyes.  "I should like to know why teaching may not be an art.  I
confess I don't know exactly what an artist is, or rather what the
dictionary definition of art is; but sit down in Miss Burke's room at
the college; you can't stay there half an hour without thinking that,
rather than have her teach you anything, you would be an ignorant
little cannibal on a desert island!  She does n't know how, and there
is nothing beautiful about it.  But look at Miss Denison!  When she
comes into her kindergarten it is like the sunrise, and she makes
everything blossom that she touches.  It is all so simple and sweet
that it seems as if anybody could do it; but when you try it you find
that it is quite different.  Whether she plays or sings, or talks or
works with the children, it is perfect.  'It all seems so easy when you
do it,' I said to her yesterday, and she pointed to the quotation for
the day in her calendar.  It was a sentence from George MacDonald:
'Ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil.'  Now it may be that Miss
Mary Denison is only an angel; but I think that she 's an artist."

"On second thoughts, perhaps you are right in your meaning of the word,
though it does n't follow that all teachers are artists."

"No; nor that all the painters are," retorted Polly.  "Think of that
poor Miss Thomas in your outdoor class.  Last week, when you were
sketching the cow in front of the old barn, I sat behind her for half
an hour.  Her barn grew softer and softer and her cow harder and
harder, till when she finished, the barn looked as if it were molded in
jelly and the cow as if it were carved in red sandstone."

"She ought not to be allowed to paint," said Margery decisively.

"Of course she ought n't!  That's just what I say; and I ought not to
be allowed to keep boarders, and I won't!"

"I must say you have wonderful courage, Polly.  It seems so natural and
easy for you to strike out for yourself in a new line that it must be
you feel a sense of power, and that you will be successful."

Polly's manner changed abruptly as she glanced in at her mother's empty
chair before she replied.

"Courage!  Sometimes I think I have n't a morsel.  I am a gilded sham.
My knees tremble whenever I think of my future 'career,' as I call it.
Mamma thinks me filled with a burning desire for a wider sphere of
action, and so I am, but chiefly for her sake.  Courage!  There 's
nothing like having a blessed, tired little mother to take care of,--a
mother whom you want to snatch from the jaws of a horrible fate.  That
's a trifle strong, but it's dramatic!  You see, Margery, a woman like
my mother is not going to remain forever in her present rank in her
profession,--she is too superior; she is bound to rise.  Now, what
would become of her if she rose?  Why, first, she would keep a country
hotel, and sit on the front piazza in a red rocker, and chat with the
commercial travelers; and then she would become the head of a summer
resort, with a billiard-room and a bowling-alley.  I must be
self-supporting, and 'I will never desert Mr. Micawber,' so I should
make beds and dust in Hotel Number One, and in Hotel Number Two
entertain the guests with my music and my 'sprightly manners,'--that's
what Mr. Greenwood calls them, and the only reason I am sorry we live
in a republic is that I can't have him guillotined for doing it, but
must swallow my wrath because he pays twenty dollars a week and seldom
dines at home.  Finally, in Hotel Number Three I should probably marry
the ninepin-man or the head clerk, so as to consolidate the management
and save salaries, and there would end the annals of the Olivers!  No,
Margery!" cried Polly, waving the scissors in the air, "everybody is
down on the beach, and I can make the welkin ring if I like, so hear
me:  The boarders must go!  How, when, and where they shall go are
three problems I have n't yet solved; and what I shall find to take the
place of them when they do go is a fourth problem, and the knottiest
one of all!"



CHAPTER III.

THE DOCTOR GIVES POLLY A PRESCRIPTION.

As the summer wore away, Mrs. Oliver daily grew more and more languid,
until at length she was forced to ask a widowed neighbor, Mrs.
Chadwick, to come and take the housekeeping cares until she should feel
stronger.  But beef-tea and drives, salt-water bathing and tonics,
seemed to do no good, and at length there came a day when she had not
sufficient strength to sit up.

The sight of her mother actually in bed in the daytime gave Polly a
sensation as of a cold hand clutching at her heart, and she ran for Dr.
Edgerton in an agony of fear.  But good "Dr. George" (as he was always
called, because he began practice when his father, the old doctor, was
still living) came home with her, cheered her by his hopeful view of
the case, and asked her to call at his office that afternoon for some
remedies.

After dinner was over, Polly kissed her sleeping mother, laid a rose on
her pillow for good-by, and stole out of the room.

Her heart was heavy as she walked into the office where the doctor sat
alone at his desk.

"Good-day, my dear!" he said cordially, as he looked up, for she was
one of his prime favorites.  "Bless my soul, how you do grow, child!
Why you are almost a woman!"

"I am quite a woman," said Polly, with a choking sensation in her
throat; "and you have something to say to me, Dr. George, or you would
n't have asked me to leave mamma and come here this stifling day; you
would have sent the medicine by your office-boy."

Dr. George laid down his pen in mild, amazement.  "You are a woman, in
every sense of the word, my dear!  Bless my soul, how you do hit it
occasionally, you sprig of a girl!  Now, sit by that window, and we 'll
talk.  What I wanted to say to you is this, Polly.  Your mother must
have an entire change.  Six months ago I tried to send her to a
rest-cure, but she refused to go anywhere without you, saying that you
were her best tonic."

Two tears ran down Polly's cheeks.

"Tell me that again, please," she said softly, looking out of the
window.

"She said--if you will have the very words, and all of them--that you
were sun and stimulant, fresh air, medicine, and nourishment, and that
she could not exist without those indispensables, even in a rest-cure."

Polly's head went down on the windowsill in a sudden passion of tears.

"Hoity-toity! that 's a queer way of receiving a compliment, young
woman!"

She tried to smile through her April shower.

"It makes me so happy, yet so unhappy, Dr. George.  Mamma has been
working her strength away so many years, and I 've been too young to
realize it, and too young to prevent it, and now that I am grown up I
am afraid it is too late."

"Not too late, at all," said Dr. George cheerily; "only we must begin
at once and attend to the matter thoroughly.  Your mother has been in
this southern climate too long, for one thing; she needs a change of
air and scene.  San Francisco will do, though it 's not what I should
choose.  She must be taken entirely away from her care, and from
everything that will remind her of it; and she must live quietly, where
she will not have to make a continual effort to smile and talk to
people three times a day.  Being agreeable, polite, and good-tempered
for fifteen years, without a single lapse, will send anybody into a
decline.  You 'll never go that way, my Polly!  Now, pardon me, but how
much ready money have you laid away?"

"Three hundred and twelve dollars."

"Whew!"

"It is a good deal," said Polly, with modest pride; "and it would have
been more yet if we had not just painted the house."

"'A good deal!' my poor lambkin!  I hoped it was $1012, at least; but,
however, you have the house, and that is as good as money.  The house
must be rented, at once, furniture, boarders, and all, as it stands.
It ought to bring $85 or $95 a month, in these times, and you can
manage on that, with the $312 as a reserve."

"What if the tenant should give up the house as soon as we are fairly
settled in San Francisco?" asked Polly, with an absolutely new gleam of
caution and business in her eye.

"Brava!  Why do I attempt to advise such a capable little person?
Well, in the first place, there are such things as leases; and in the
second place, if your tenant should move out, the agent must find you
another in short order, and you will live, meanwhile, on the reserve
fund.  But, joking aside, there is very little risk.  It is going to be
a great winter for Santa Barbara, and your house is attractive,
convenient, and excellently located.  If we can get your affairs into
such shape that your mother will not be anxious, I hope, and think,
that the entire change and rest, together with the bracing air, will
work wonders.  I shall give you a letter to a physician, a friend of
mine, and fortunately I shall come up once a month during the winter to
see an old patient who insists on retaining me just from force of
habit."

"And in another year, Dr. George, I shall be ready to take care of
mamma myself; and then--

  "She shall sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,
  And feast upon strawberries, sugar, and cream."

"Assuredly, my Polly, assuredly."  The doctor was pacing up and down
the office now, hands in pockets, eyes on floor.  "The world is your
oyster; open it, my dear,--open it.  By the way," with a sharp turn,
"with what do you propose to open it?"

"I don't know yet, but not with boarders, Dr. George."

"Tut, tut, child; must n't despise small things!"

"Such as Mr. Greenwood," said Polly irrepressibly, "weight two hundred
and ninety pounds; and Mrs. Darling, height six feet one inch; no, I
'll try not to despise small things, thank you!"

"Well, if there 's a vocation, it will 'call,' you know, Polly.  I 'd
rather like you for an assistant, to drive my horse and amuse my
convalescents.   Bless my soul! you 'd make a superb nurse, except"--

"Except what, sir?"

"You 're not in equilibrium yet, my child; you are either up or down,
generally up.  You bounce, so to speak.  Now, a nurse must n't bounce;
she must be poised, as it were, or suspended, betwixt and between, like
Mahomet's coffin.  But thank Heaven for your high spirits, all the
same!  They will tide you over many a hard place, and the years will
bring the 'inevitable yoke' soon enough, Polly," and here Dr. George
passed behind the girl's chair and put his two kind hands on her
shoulders.  "Polly, can you be really a woman?  Can you put the
little-girl days bravely behind you?"

"I can, Dr. George."  This in a very trembling voice.

"Can you settle all these details for your mother, and assume
responsibilities?  Can you take her away, as if she were the child and
you the mother, all at once?"

"I can!"  This more firmly.

"Can you deny yourself for her, as she has for you?  Can you keep
cheerful and sunny?  Can you hide your fears, if there should be cause
for any, in your own heart?  Can you be calm and strong, if"--

"No, no!" gasped Polly, dropping her head on the back of the chair and
shivering like a leaf.  "No, no; don't talk about fears, Dr. George.
She will be better.  She will be better very soon.  I could not live"--

"It is n't so easy to die, my child, with plenty of warm young blood
running pell-mell through your veins, and a sixteen-year-old heart that
beats like a chronometer."

"I could not bear life without mamma, Dr. George!"

"A human being, made in the image of God, can bear anything, child; but
I hope you won't have to meet that sorrow for many a long year yet.  I
will come in to-morrow and coax your mother into a full assent to my
plans; meanwhile, fly home with your medicines.  There was a time when
you used to give my tonics at night and my sleeping-draught in the
morning; but I believe in you absolutely from this day."

Polly put her two slim hands in the kind doctor's, and looking up with
brimming eyes into his genial face said, "Dear Dr. George, you may
believe in me; indeed, indeed you may!"

Dr. George looked out of his office window, and mused as his eyes
followed Polly up the shaded walk under the pepper-trees.

"Oh, these young things, these young things, how one's heart yearns
over them!" he sighed.  "There she goes, full tilt, notwithstanding the
heat; hat swinging in her hand instead of being on her pretty head; her
heart bursting with fond schemes to keep that precious mother alive.
It's a splendid nature, that girl's; one that is in danger of being
wrecked by its own impetuosity, but one so full and rich that it is
capable of bubbling over and enriching all the dull and sterile ones
about it.  Now, if all the money I can rake and scrape together need
not go to those languid, boneless children of my languid, boneless
sister-in-law, I could put that brave little girl on her feet.  I think
she will be able to do battle with the world so long as she has her
mother for a motive-power.  The question is, how will she do it
without?"



CHAPTER IV.

THE BOARDERS STAY, AND THE OLIVERS GO.

Dr. George found Mrs. Oliver too ill to be anything but reasonable.
After a long talk about her own condition and Polly's future, she gave
a somewhat tearful assent to all his plans for their welfare, and
agreed to make the change when a suitable tenant was found for the
house.

So Polly eased the anxiety that gnawed at her heart by incredible
energy in the direction of house-cleaning; superintending all sorts of
scrubbings, polishings, and renovating of carpets with the aid of an
extra Chinaman, who was fresh from his native rice-fields and stupid
enough to occupy any one's mind to the exclusion of other matters.

Each boarder in turn was asked to make a trip to the country on a
certain day, and on his return found his room in spotless order; while
all this time the tired mother lay quietly in her bed, knowing little
or nothing of her daughter's superhuman efforts to be "good."  But a
month of rest worked wonders, and Mrs. Oliver finally became so like
her usual delicate but energetic self that Polly almost forgot her
fears, although she remitted none of her nursing and fond but rigid
discipline.

At length something happened; and one glorious Saturday morning in
October, Polly saddled Blanquita, the white mare which Bell Winship had
left in Polly's care during her European trip, and galloped over to the
Nobles' ranch in a breathless state of excitement.

Blanquita was happy too, for Polly had a light hand on the rein and a
light seat in the saddle.  She knew there would be a long rest at the
journey's end, and that, too, under a particularly shady pepper-tree;
so both horse and rider were in a golden humor as they loped over the
dusty road, the blue Pacific on the one hand, and the brown hills,
thirsty for rain, on the other.

Polly tied Blanquita to the pepper-tree, caught her habit in one hand,
and ran up the walnut-tree avenue to the Nobles' house.  There was no
one in; but that was nothing unusual, since a house is chiefly useful
for sleeping purposes in that lovely climate.  No one on the verandas,
no one in the hammocks; after seeking for some little time she came
upon Margery and her mother at work in their orange-tree sitting-room,
Mrs. Noble with her mending-basket, Margery painting as usual.

The orange-tree sitting-room was merely a platform built under the
trees, which in the season of blossoms shed a heavy fragrance in the
warm air, and later on hung their branches of golden fruit almost into
your very lap.

"Here you are!" cried Polly, plunging through the trees as she caught
sight of Margery's pink dress.  "You have n't any hats to swing, so
please give three rousing cheers!  The house is rented and a lease
signed for a year!"

"That is good news, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Noble, laying down her
needle.  "And who is the tenant?"

"Whom do you suppose?  Mrs. Chadwick herself!  She has been getting on
very nicely with the housekeeping (part of the credit belongs to me,
but no one would ever believe it), and the boarders have been gradually
weaned from mamma and accustomed to the new order of things, so they
are tolerably content.  Ah Foy also has agreed to stay, and that makes
matters still more serene, since he is the best cook in Santa Barbara.
Mrs. Chadwick will pay eighty-five dollars a month.   Dr. George thinks
we ought to get more, but mamma is so glad to have somebody whom she
knows, and so relieved to feel that there will be no general breaking
up of the 'sweet, sweet home,' that she is glad to accept the
eighty-five dollars; and I am sure that we can live in modest penury on
that sum.  Of course Mrs. Chadwick may weary in well-doing; or she may
die; or she may even get married,--though that's very unlikely, unless
one of the boarders can't pay his board and wants to make it up to her
in some way.  Heigho!  I feel like a princess, like a capitalist, like
a gilded society lady!" sighed Polly, fanning herself with her hat.

"And now you and your mother will come to us for a week or two, as you
promised, won't you?" asked Mrs. Noble.  "That will give you time to
make your preparations comfortably."

Polly took a note from her pocket and handed it to Mrs. Noble: "Mrs.
Oliver presents her compliments to Mrs. Noble, and says in this letter
that we accept with pleasure Mrs. Noble's kind invitation to visit her.
Said letter was not to be delivered, in case Mrs. Noble omitted to
renew the invitation; but as all is right, I don't mind announcing that
we are coming the day after to-morrow."

"Oh, Polly, Polly!  How am I ever to live without you!" sighed Margery.
"First Elsie, then Bell, now you!"

"Live for your Art with a big A, Peggy, but it's not forever.  By and
by, when you are a successful artist and I am a successful something,
in short, when we are both 'careering,' which is my verb to express
earning one's living by the exercise of some splendid talent, we will
'career' together in some great metropolis.  Our mothers shall dress in
Lyons velvet and point-lace.  Their delicate fingers, no longer sullied
by the vulgar dishcloth and duster, shall glitter with priceless gems,
while you and I, the humble authors of their greatness, will heap dimes
on dimes until we satisfy ambition."

Mrs. Noble smiled.  "I hope your 'career,' as you call it, will be one
in which imagination will be of use, Polly."

"I don't really imagine all the imaginations you imagine I imagine,"
said Polly soberly, as she gave Mrs. Noble's hand an affectionate
squeeze.  "A good deal of it is 'whistling to keep my courage up.'  But
everything looks hopeful just now.  Mamma is so much better, everybody
is so kind, and do you know, I don't loathe the boarders half so much
since we have rented them with the house?

  "They grow in beauty side by side,
  They fill our home with glee.

"Now that I can look upon them as personal property, part of our goods
and chattels, they have ceased to be disagreeable.  Even Mr.
Greenwood--you remember him, Margery?"

"The fat old man who calls you sprightly?"

"The very same; but he has done worse since that.  To be called
sprightly is bad enough, but yesterday he said that he shouldn't be
surprised _if I married well--in--course--of--time_!"

Nothing but italics would convey the biting sarcasm of Polly's
inflections, and no capitals in a printer's case could picture her
flashing eyes, or the vigor with which she prodded the earth with her
riding-whip.

"I agree with him, that it is not impossible," said Mrs. Noble
teasingly, after a moment of silence.

"Now, dearest aunty Meg, don't take sides with that odious man!  If, in
the distant years, you ever see me on the point of marrying well,
simply mention Mr. Greenwood's name to me, and I 'll draw back even if
I am walking up the middle aisle with an ivory prayer-book in my hand!"

"Just to spite Mr. Greenwood; that would be sensible," said Margery.

"You could n't be so calm if you had to sit at the same table with him
day after day.  He belongs at the second table by--by every law of his
nature!  But, as I was saying, now that we have rented him to Mrs.
Chadwick with the rest of the furniture, and will have a percentage on
him just as we do on the piano which is far more valuable, I have been
able to look at him pleasantly."

"You ought to be glad that the boarders like you," said Margery
reprovingly.

"They don't, as a rule; only the horrors and the elderly gentlemen
approve of me.  But good-by for to-day, aunty Meg.  Come to the gate,
Peggy dear!"

The two friends walked through the orange-grove, their arms wound about
each other, girl-fashion.  They were silent, for each was sorry to lose
the other, and a remembrance of the dear old times, the unbroken
circle, the peaceful schooldays and merry vacations, stole into their
young hearts, together with visions of the unknown future.

As Polly untied Blanquita and gave a heroic cinch to the saddle, she
gave a last searching look at Margery, and said finally, "Peggy dear, I
am very sure you are blue this morning; tell your faithful old
Pollykins all about it."

One word was enough for Margery in her present mood, and she burst into
tears on Polly's shoulder.

"Is it Edgar again?" whispered Polly.

"Yes," she sobbed.  "Father has given him three months more to stay in
the university, and unless he does better he is to come home and live
on the cattle-ranch.  Mother is heart-broken over it; for you know,
Polly, that Edgar will never endure such a life; and yet, dearly as he
loves books, he is n't doing well with his studies.  The president has
written father that he is very indolent this term and often absent from
recitations; and one of the Santa Barbara boys, a senior, writes Philip
that he is not choosing good friends, nor taking any rank in his class.
Mother has written him such a letter this morning!  If he can read it
without turning his back upon his temptations, whatever they may he, I
shall never have any pride in him again; and oh, Polly, I have been so
proud of him, my brilliant, handsome, charming brother!"

"Poor Edgar!  I can't believe it is anything that will last.  He is so
bright and lovable; every one thought he would take the highest honors.
Why, Margery, he is, or was, the most ambitious boy I ever knew, and
surely, surely he cannot have changed altogether!  Surely he will come
to himself when he knows he may have to leave college unless he does
his best.  I 'm so sorry, dear old Peggy!  It seems heartless that my
brighter times should begin just when you are in trouble.  Perhaps
mamma and I can do something for Edgar; we will try, you may lie sure.
Good-by, dearest; I shall see you again very soon."


Ten days later, Polly stood on the deck of the Orizaba just at dusk,
looking back on lovely Santa Barbara as it lay in the lap of the
foothills freshened by the first rains.  The dull, red-tiled roofs of
the old Spanish adobes gleamed through the green of the pepper-trees,
the tips of the tall, straggling blue-gums stood out sharply against
the sky, and the twin towers of the old Mission rose in dazzling
whiteness above a wilderness of verdure.  The friendly faces on the
wharf first merged themselves into a blurred mass of moving atoms, then
sank into nothingness.

Polly glanced into her stateroom.  Mrs. Oliver was a good sailor, and
was lying snug and warm under her blankets.  So Polly took a camp-chair
just outside the door, wrapped herself in her fur cape, crowded her
tam-o'-shanter tightly on, and sat there alone as the sunset glow paled
in the western sky and darkness fell upon the face of the deep.

The mesa faded from sight; and then the lighthouse, where she had
passed so many happy hours in her childhood.  The bright disk of flame
shone clear and steady across the quiet ocean, seeming to say, _Let
your light so shine!  Let your light so shine!  Good luck, Polly!  Keep
your own lamp filled and trimmed, like a wise little virgin!_  And her
heart answered, "Good-by, dear light!  I am leaving my little-girl days
on the shore with you, and I am out on the open sea of life.  I shall
know that you are shining, though I cannot see you.  Good-by!  Shine
on, dear light!  I am going to seek my fortune!"



CHAPTER V.

TOLD IN LETTERS.

_Extracts from Polly Oliver's Correspondence._

        SAN FRANCISCO, November 1, 188--.

DEAR MARGERY,--I have been able to write you only scraps of notes
heretofore, but now that we are quite settled I can tell you about our
new home.  We were at a hotel for a week, as long as I, the family
banker, felt that we could, afford it.  At the end of that time, by
walking the streets from morning till night, looking at every house
with a sign "To Let" on it, and taking mamma to see only the desirable
ones, we found a humble spot to lay our heads.  It is a tiny upper
flat, which we rent for thirty dollars a month.  The landlady calls it
furnished, but she has an imagination which takes even higher flights
than mine.  Still, with the help of the pretty things we brought with
us, we are very cosy and comfortable.  There is a tiny parlor, which,
with our Santa Barbara draperies, table-covers, afternoon tea-table,
grasses, and books, looks like a corner of the dear home sitting-room.
Out of this parlor is a sunny bedroom with two single brass bedsteads,
and space enough to spare for mamma's rocking-chair in front of a
window that looks out on the Golden Gate.  The dining-room just holds,
by a squeeze, the extension-table and four chairs; and the dot of a
kitchen, with an enchanting gas-stove, completes the suite.

We are dining at a restaurant a short distance off, at present, and I
cook the breakfasts and luncheons; but on Monday, as mamma is so well,
I begin school from nine to twelve each day under a special
arrangement, and we are to have a little Chinese boy who will assist in
the work and go home at night to sleep.  His wages will be eight
dollars a month, and the washing probably four dollars more.  This,
with the rent, takes forty-two dollars from our eighty-five, and it
remains to be seen whether it is too much.  I shall walk one way to
school, although it is sixteen squares and all up and down hill. . . .

The rains thus far have been mostly in the night, and we have lovely
days.  Mamma and I take long rides on the cable-cars in the afternoon,
and stay out at the Cliff House on the rocks every pleasant Saturday.
Then we 've discovered nice sheltered nooks in the sand dunes beyond
the park, and there we stay for hours, mamma reading while I study.  We
are so quiet and so happy; we were never alone together in our lives
before.  You, dear Peggy, who have always had your family to yourself,
can hardly think how we enjoy being at table together, just we two.  I
take mamma's coffee to her and kiss her on the right cheek; then
follows an egg, with another kiss on the left cheek; then a bit of
toast, with a bear-hug, and so on.  We have a few pleasant friends
here, you know, and they come to see mamma without asking her to return
the calls, as they see plainly she has no strength for society. . . .
POLLY.

P. S. We have a remarkable front door, which opens with a spring
located in the wall at the top of the stairs.  It is a modern
improvement and I never tire of opening it, even though each time I am
obliged to go downstairs to close it again.

When Dr. George came last week, he rang the bell, and being tired with
the long pull up the hill, leaned against the door to breathe.  Of
course I knew nothing of this, and as soon as I heard the bell I flew
to open the door with my usual neatness and dispatch, when who should
tumble in, full length, but poor dear Dr. George!  He was so surprised,
and the opposite neighbors were so interested, and I was so sorry, that
I was almost hysterical.  Dr. George insists that the door is a trap
laid for unsuspecting country people.


        November 9.

. . . The first week is over, and the finances did n't come out right
at all.  I have a system of bookkeeping which is original, simple,
practical, and absolutely reliable.  The house-money I keep in a
cigar-box with three partitions (formerly used for birds' eggs), and I
divide the month's money in four parts, and pay everything weekly.

The money for car-fare, clothing, and sundries I keep in an old silver
sugar-bowl, and the reserve fund, which we are never to touch save on
the most dreadful provocation, in a Japanese ginger-jar with a cover.
These, plainly marked, repose in my upper drawer.  Mamma has no
business cares whatever, and everything ought to work to a charm, as it
will after a while.  But this first week has been discouraging, and I
have had to borrow enough from compartment two, cigar-box, to pay debts
incurred by compartment one, cigar-box.  This is probably because we
had to buy a bag of flour and ten pounds of sugar.  Of course this
won't happen every week. . . .

I wrote Ah Foy a note after we arrived, for he really seems to have a
human affection for us.  I inclose his answer to my letter.  It is such
a miracle of Chinese construction that it is somewhat difficult to get
his idea; still I think I see that he is grateful for past favors; that
he misses us; that the boarders are going on "very happy and joy;" that
he is glad mamma is better, and pleased with the teacher I selected for
him.  But here it is; judge for yourself:--


        SANTA BARBARA, November 5.

DEAR MY FREND.

I was joy pleased to received a letter from you how are Your getting
along and my Dear if your leaves a go We but now I been it is here I am
very sorry for are a your go to in San Francisco if any now did you
been it is that here very happy and joy I am so glad for your are to do
teachers for me but I am very much thank you dear my frend.

        Good-By.          AH FOY.


        November 15,

. . . The first compartment, cigar-box, could n't pay back the money it
borrowed from the second compartment, and so this in turn had to borrow
from the third compartment.  I could have made everything straight, I
think, if we had n't bought a feather duster and a gallon of kerosene.
The first will last forever, and the second for six weeks, so it is n't
fair to call compartment number two extravagant.  At the end of this
month I shall remove some of the partitions in the cigar-box and keep
the house-money in two parts, balancing accounts every fortnight. . . .

        November 24.

. . . My bookkeeping is in a frightful snarl.  There is neither
borrowing nor lending in the cigar-box now, for all the money for the
month is gone at the end of the third week.  The water, it seems, was
not included in the thirty dollars for the rent, and compartment three
had to pay two dollars for that purpose when compartment two was still
deeply in its debt.  If compartment two had only met its rightful
obligations, compartment three need n't have "failed up," as they say
in New England; but as it is, poor compartment four is entirely
bankrupt, and will have to borrow of the sugar-bowl or the ginger-jar.
As these banks are not at all in the same line of business, they ought
not to be drawn into the complications of the cigar-box, for they will
have their own troubles by and by; but I don't know what else to
do. . . .


        December 2.

. . . It came out better at the end of the month than I feared, for we
spent very little last week, and have part of the ten pounds of sugar,
kerosene, feather duster, scrubbing-brush, blanc-mange mould, tapioca,
sago, and spices with which to begin the next month.  I suffered so
with the debts, losses, business embarrassments, and failures of the
four compartments that when I found I was only four dollars behind on
the whole month's expenses, I knocked out all the compartments, and am
not going to keep things in weeks.  I made up the deficit by taking two
dollars out of the reserve fund, and two dollars out of my ten-dollar
gold piece that Dr. George gave me on my birthday.

I have given the ginger-jar a note of hand for two dollars from the
cigar-box, and it has resumed business at the old stand.  Compartment
four, cigar-box, which is perfectly innocent, as it was borrowed out of
house and home by compartment three, also had to give a note to the
sugar-bowl, and I made the ginger-jar give me a note for my two dollars
birthday-money.

Whether all these obligations will be met without lawsuits, I cannot
tell; but I know by the masterly manner in which I have fought my way
through these intricate affairs with the loss of only four dollars in
four weeks, that I possess decided business ability, and this gives me
courage to struggle on.


        December 30, 188-.

. . . We are having hard times, dear old Margery, though I do not
regret coming to San Francisco, for mamma could not bear the slightest
noise or confusion, nor lift her hand to any sort of work, in her
present condition.  At any rate, we came by Dr. George's orders, so my
conscience is clear. . . .

Mrs. Chadwick has sent us only sixty-five dollars this month, instead
of eighty-five.  Some of the boarders are behind in their payments.
The Darlings have gone away, and "she hopes to do better next month."
Mamma cannot bear to press her, she is so kind and well-meaning; so do
not for the world mention the matter to Dr. George.  I will write to
him when I must, not before.

Meanwhile I walk to school both ways, saving a dollar and a quarter a
month.  Have found a cheaper laundry; one dollar more saved.  Cut down
fruit bill; one dollar more.  Blacked my white straw sailor with
shoe-blacking, trimmed it with two neckties and an old blackbird badly
molted; result perfectly hideous, but the sugar-bowl, clothing, and
sundry fund are out of debt and doing well.  Had my faded gray dress
dyed black, and trimmed the jacket with pieces of my moth-eaten
cock's-feather boa; perfectly elegant, almost too gorgeous for my
humble circumstances.  Mamma looks at me sadly when I don these ancient
garments, and almost wishes I had n't such "a wealthy look."  I tell
her I expect the girls to say, when I walk into the school-yard on
Monday, "Who is this that cometh with dyed garments from Bozrah?"

Mamma has decided that I may enter a training-school for kindergartners
next year; so I am taking the studies that will give me the best
preparation, and I hope to earn part of my tuition fees, when the time
comes, by teaching as assistant. . . .

I go over to Berkeley once a week to talk Spanish with kind Professor
Salazar and his wife.  They insist that it is a pleasure, and will not
allow mamma to pay anything for the lessons.  I also go every Tuesday
to tell stories at the Children's Hospital.  It is the dearest hour of
the week.  When I am distracted about bills and expenses and mamma's
health and Mrs. Chadwick's mismanagements and Yung Lee's mistakes (for
he is beautiful as an angel and stupid as a toad), I put on my hat and
go out to the children, poor little things!  They always have a welcome
for me, bless them! and I always come back ready to take up my trials
again.  Edgar is waiting to take this to the post-box, so I must say
good-night.  He is such a pleasure to us and such a comfort to mamma.
I know for the first time in my life the fun of having a brother.

        Ever your affectionate   POLLYKINS.


The foregoing extracts from Polly's business letters give you an idea
only of her financial difficulties.  She was tempted to pour these into
one sympathizing ear, inasmuch as she kept all annoyances from her
mother as far as possible; though household economies, as devised by
her, lost much of their terror.

Mrs. Oliver was never able to see any great sorrow in a monthly deficit
when Polly seated herself before her cash-boxes and explained her
highly original financial operations.  One would be indeed in dire
distress of mind could one refrain from smiling when, having made the
preliminary announcement,--"The great feminine financier of the century
is in her counting-room: let the earth tremble!"--she planted herself
on the bed, oriental fashion, took pencil and account-book in lap,
spread cigar-box, sugar-bowl, and ginger-jar before her on the pillows,
and ruffled her hair for the approaching contest.



CHAPTER VI.

POLLY TRIES A LITTLE MISSIONARY WORK.

One change had come over their life during these months which, although
not explained in Polly's correspondence, concerns our little circle of
people very intimately.

The Olivers had been in San Francisco over a month, but though Edgar
Noble had been advised of the fact, he had not come over from Berkeley
to see his old friends.  Polly had at length written him a note, which
still remained unanswered when she started one afternoon on a trip
across the bay for her first Spanish conversation with Professor
Salazar.  She had once visited the university buildings, but Professor
Salazar lived not only at some distance from the college, but at some
distance from everything else.  Still, she had elaborate written
directions in her pocket, and hoped to find the place without
difficulty.

She had no sooner alighted at the station than she felt an uneasy
consciousness that it was not the right one, and that she should have
gone farther before leaving the railway.  However, there was no
certainty about it in her mind, so after asking at two houses half a
mile apart, and finding that the inmates had never heard of Professor
Salazar's existence, she walked down a shady road, hoping to find
another household where his name and fame had penetrated.

The appointed hour for the lessons was half past three on Fridays, but
it was after four, and Polly seemed to be walking farther and farther
away from civilization.

"I shall have to give it up," she thought; "I will go back to the
station where I got off and wait until the next train for San Francisco
comes along, which will be nobody knows when.  How provoking it is, and
how stupid I am!  Professor Salazar will stay at home for me, and very
likely Mrs. Salazar has made butter-cakes and coffee, and here am I
floundering in the woods!  I 'll sit down under these trees and do a
bit of Spanish, while I 'm resting for the walk back."

Just at this moment a chorus of voices sounded in the distance, then
some loud talking, then more singing.

"It is some of the students," thought Polly, as she hastily retired
behind a tree until they should pass.

[Illustration: "It is some of the students."]

But unfortunately they did not pass.  Just as they came opposite her
hiding-place, they threw themselves down in a sunny spot on the
opposite side of the road and lighted their cigarettes.

"No hurry!" said one.  "Let 's take it easy; the train does n't leave
till 4.50.  Where are you going, Ned?"

"Home, I suppose, where I was going when you met me.  I told you I
could only walk to the turn."

"Home?  No, you don't!" expostulated half a dozen laughing voices; "we
've unearthed the would-be hermit, and we mean to keep him."

"Can't go with you to-night, boys, worse luck!" repeated the second
speaker.  "Got to cram for that examination or be plucked again; and
one more plucking will settle this child's university career!"

"Oh, let the examinations go to the dickens!  What 's the use?--all the
same a hundred years hence.  The idea of cramming Friday night!  Come
on!"

"Can't do it, old chaps; but next time goes.  See you Monday.  Ta-ta!"

Polly peeped cautiously from behind her tree.

"I believe that voice is Edgar Noble's, or else I 'm very much
mistaken.  I thought of it when I first heard them singing.  Yes, it
is!  Now, those hateful boys are going to get him into trouble!"

Just at this moment four of the boys jumped from the ground and,
singing vociferously--

  "He won't go home any more,
  He won't go home any more,
  He won't go home any more,
  Way down on the Bingo farm!"

rushed after young Noble, pinioned him, and brought him back.

"See here, Noble," expostulated one of them, who seemed to be a
commanding genius among the rest,--"see here, don't go and be a
spoil-sport!  What 's the matter with you?  We 're going to chip in for
a good dinner, go to the minstrels, and then,--oh, then we 'll go and
have a game of billiards.  You play so well that you won't lose
anything.  And if you want money, Will's flush, he 'll lend you a
'tenner.'  You know there won't be any fun in it unless you 're there!
We 'll get the last boat back to-night, or the first in the morning."

A letter from his mother lay in Edgar's pocket,--a letter which had
brought something like tears to his eyes for a moment, and over which
he had vowed better things.  But he yielded, nevertheless,--that it was
with reluctance did n't do any particular good to anybody, though the
recording angels may have made a note of it,--and strolled along with
the other students, who were evidently in great glee over their triumph.

Meanwhile Polly had been plotting.  Her brain was not a great one, but
it worked very swiftly; Dr. George called it, chaffingly, a small mind
in a very active state.  Scarcely stopping to think, lest her courage
should not be equal to the strain of meeting six or eight young men
face to face, she stepped softly out of her retreat, walked gently down
the road, and when she had come within ten feet of the group, halted,
and, clearing her throat desperately, said, "I beg your pardon"--

The whole party turned with one accord, a good deal of amazement in
their eyes, as there had not been a sign of life in the road a moment
before, and now here was a sort of woodland sprite, a "nut-brown
mayde," with a remarkably sweet voice.

"I beg your pardon, but can you tell me the way to Professor Salazar's
house?  Why" (this with a charming smile and expression as of one
having found an angel of deliverance),--"why, it is--is n't it?--Edgar
Noble of Santa Barbara!"

Edgar, murmuring "Polly Oliver, by Jove!" lifted his hat at once, and
saying, "Excuse me, boys," turned back and, gallantly walked at Polly's
side.

"Why, Miss Polly, this is an unexpected way of meeting you!"

("Very unexpected," thought Polly.)  "Is it not, indeed?  I wrote you a
note the other day, telling you that we hoped to see you soon in San
Francisco."

"Yes," said Edgar; "I did n't answer it because I intended to present
myself in person to-morrow or Sunday.  What are you doing in this
vicinity?" he continued, "or, to put it poetically,

  "Pray why are you loitering here, pretty maid?"

"No wonder you ask.  I am 'floundering,' at present.  I came over to a
Spanish lesson at Professor Salazar's, and I have quite lost my way.
If you will be kind enough to put me on the right road I shall be very
much obliged, though I don't like to keep you from your friends," said
Polly, with a quizzical smile.  "You see the professor won't know why I
missed my appointment, and I can't bear to let him think me capable of
neglect; he has been so very kind."

"But you can't walk there.  You must have gotten off at the wrong
station; it is quite a mile, even across the fields."

"And what is a mile, sir?  Have you forgotten that I am a country
girl?" and she smiled up at him brightly, with a look that challenged
remembrance.

"I remember that you could walk with any of us," said Edgar, thinking
how the freckles had disappeared from Polly's rose-leaf skin, and how
particularly fetching she looked in her brown felt sailor-hat.  "Well,
if you really wish to go there, I 'll see you safely to the house and
take you over to San Francisco afterward, as it will be almost dark.  I
was going over, at any rate, and one train earlier or later won't make
any difference."

("Perhaps it won't and perhaps it will," thought Polly.)  "If you are
sure it won't be too much trouble, then"--

"Not a bit.  Excuse me a moment while I run back and explain the matter
to the boys."

The boys did not require any elaborate explanation.

Oh, the power of a winsome face!  No better than many other good
things, but surely one of them, and when it is united to a fair amount
of goodness, something to be devoutly thankful for.  It is to be feared
that if a lumpish, dumpish sort of girl (good as gold, you know, but
not suitable for occasions when a fellow's will has to be caught "on
the fly," and held until it settles to its work),--if that lumpish,
dumpish girl had asked the way to Professor Salazar's house, Edgar
Noble would have led her courteously to the turn of the road, lifted
his hat, and wished her a pleasant journey.

But Polly was wearing her Sunday dress of brown cloth and a jaunty
jacket trimmed with sable (the best bits of an old pelisse of Mrs.
Oliver's).  The sun shone on the loose-dropping coil of the waving hair
that was only caught in place by a tortoise-shell arrow; the wind blew
some of the dazzling tendrils across her forehead; the eyes that
glanced up from under her smart little sailor-hat were as blue as
sapphires; and Edgar, as he looked, suddenly feared that there might be
vicious bulls in the meadows, and did n't dare as a gentleman to trust
Polly alone!  He had n't remembered anything special about her, but
after an interval of two years she seemed all at once as desirable as
dinner, as tempting as the minstrels, almost as fascinating as the
billiards, when one has just money enough in one's pocket for one's
last week's bills and none at all for the next!

The boys, as I say, had imagined Edgar's probable process of reasoning.
Polly was standing in the highroad where "a wayfaring man, though a
fool," could look at her; and when Edgar explained that it was his duty
to see her safely to her destination, they all bowed to the inevitable.
The one called Tony even said that he would be glad to "swap" with him,
and the whole party offered to support him in his escort duty if he
said the word.  He agreed to meet the boys later, as Polly's quick ear
assured her, and having behaved both as a man of honor and knight of
chivalry, he started unsuspectingly across the fields with his would-be
guardian.

She darted a searching look at him as they walked along.

"Oh, how old and 'gentlemanly' you look, Edgar!  I feel quite afraid of
you!"

"I 'm glad you do.  There used to be a painful lack of reverence in
your manners, Miss Polly."

"There used to be a painful lack of politeness in yours, Mr. Edgar.  Oh
dear, I meant to begin so nicely with you and astonish you with my new
grown-up manners!  Now, Edgar, let us begin as if we had just been
introduced; if you will try your best not to be provoking, I won't say
a single disagreeable thing."

"Polly, shall I tell you the truth?"

"You might try; it would be good practice even if you did n't
accomplish anything."

"How does that remark conform with your late promises?  However, I 'll
be forgiving and see if I receive any reward; I 've tried every other
line of action.  What I was going to say when you fired that last shot
was this: I agree with Jack Howard, who used to say that he would
rather quarrel with you than be friends with any other girl."

"It is nice," said Polly complacently.  "I feel a sort of pleasant glow
myself, whenever I 've talked to you a few minutes; but the trouble is
that you used to fan that pleasant glow into a raging heat, and then we
both got angry."

"If the present 'raging heat' has faded into the 'pleasant glow,' I
don't mind telling you that you are very much improved," said Edgar
encouragingly.  "Your temper seems much the same, but no one who knew
you at fourteen could have foreseen that you would turn out so
exceedingly well."

"Do you mean that I am better looking?" asked Polly, with the excited
frankness of sixteen years.

"Exactly."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, Edgar.  I 'm a thousand times obliged.  I
've thought so myself, lately; but it's worth everything to have your
grown-up, college opinion.  Of course red hair has come into vogue,
that's one point in my favor, though I fear mine is a little vivid even
for the fashion; Margery has done a water color of my head which Phil
says looks like the explosion of a tomato.  Then my freckles are almost
gone, and that is a great help; if you examine me carefully in this
strong light you can only count seven, and two of those are getting
faint-hearted.  Nothing can be done with my aspiring nose.  I 've tried
in vain to push it down, and now I 'm simply living it down."

Edgar examined her in the strong light mischievously.  "Turn your
profile," he said.  "That's right; now, do you know, I rather like your
nose, and it's a very valuable index to your disposition.  I don't know
whether, if it were removed from your face, it would mean so much; but
taken in connection with its surroundings, it's a very expressive
feature; it warns the stranger to be careful.  In fact, most of your
features are danger signals, Polly; I 'm rather glad I 've been taking
a course of popular medical lectures on First Aid to the Injured!"

And so, with a great deal of nonsense and a good sprinkling of quiet,
friendly chat, they made their way to Professor Salazar's house,
proffered Polly's apologies, and took the train for San Francisco.



CHAPTER VII.

"WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS."

The trip from Berkeley to San Francisco was a brilliant success from
Edgar's standpoint, but Polly would have told you that she never worked
harder in her life.

"I 'll just say 'How do you do?' to your mother, and then be off," said
Edgar, as they neared the house.

"Oh, but you surely will stay to dinner with us!" said Polly, with the
most innocent look of disappointment on her face,--a look of such
obvious grief that a person of any feeling could hardly help wishing to
remove it, if possible.  "You see, Edgar" (putting the latch-key in the
door), "mamma is so languid and ill that she cannot indulge in many
pleasures, and I had quite counted on you to amuse her a little for me
this evening.  But come up, and you shall do as you like after dinner."

"I 've brought you a charming surprise, mamacita!" called Polly from
the stairs: "an old friend whom I picked up in the woods like a
wild-flower and brought home to you." ("Wild-flower is a good name for
him," she thought.)

Mrs. Oliver was delighted to see Edgar, but after the first greetings
were over, Polly fancied that she had not closed the front door, and
Edgar offered to go down and make sure.

In a second Polly crossed the room to her mother's side, and whispered
impressively, "Edgar _must_ be kept here until after midnight; I have
good reasons that I will explain when we are alone.  Keep him
somehow,--anyhow!"

Mrs. Oliver had not lived sixteen years with Polly without learning to
leap to conclusions.  "Run down and ask Mrs. Howe if she will let us
have her hall-bedroom tonight," she replied; "nod your head for yes
when you come back, and I 'll act accordingly; I have a request to make
of Edgar, and am glad to have so early an opportunity of talking with
him."

"We did close the door, after all," said Edgar, coming in again.  "What
a pretty little apartment you have here!  I have n't seen anything so
cosy and homelike for ages."

"Then make yourself at home in it," said Mrs. Oliver, while Polly
joined in with, "Is n't that a pretty fire in the grate?  I 'll give
you one rose-colored lamp with your firelight.  Here, mamacita, is the
rocker for you on one side; here, Edgar, is our one 'man's chair' for
you on the other.  Stretch out your feet as lazily as you like on my
new goatskin rug.  You are our only home-friend in San Francisco; and
oh, how mamma will spoil you whenever she has the chance!  Now talk to
each other cosily while the 'angel of the house' cooks dinner."

It may be mentioned here that as Mrs. Chadwick's monthly remittances
varied from sixty to seventy-five dollars, but never reached the
promised eighty-five, Polly had dismissed little Yung Lee for a month,
two weeks of which would be the Christmas vacation, and hoped in this
way to make up deficiencies.  The sugar-bowl and ginger-jar were
stuffed copiously with notes of hand signed "Cigar-box," but held a
painfully small amount of cash.

"Can't I go out and help Polly?" asked Edgar, a little later.  "I
should never have agreed to stay and dine if I had known that she was
the cook."

"Go out, by all means; but you need n't be anxious.  Ours is a sort of
doll-house-keeping.  We buy everything cooked, as far as possible, and
Polly makes play of the rest.  It all seems so simple and interesting
to plan for two when we have been used to twelve and fourteen."

"May I come in?" called Edgar from the tiny dining-room to Polly, who
had laid aside her Sunday finery and was clad in brown Scotch gingham
mostly covered with ruffled apron.

"Yes, if you like; but you won't be spoiled here, so don't hope it.
Mamma and I are two very different persons.  Tie that apron round your
waist; I 've just begun the salad-dressing; is your intelligence equal
to stirring it round and round and pouring in oil drop by drop, while I
take up the dinner?"

"Fully.  Just try me.  I 'll make it stand on its head in three
minutes!"

Meanwhile Polly set on the table a platter of lamb-chops, some delicate
potato chips which had come out of a pasteboard box, a dish of canned
French peas, and a mound of currant-jelly.

"That is good," she remarked critically, coming back to her apprentice,
who was toiling with most unnecessary vigor, so that the veins stood
out boldly on his forehead.  "You're really not stupid, for a boy; and
you have n't 'made a mess,' which is more than I hoped.  Now, please
pour the dressing over those sliced tomatoes; set them on the
side-table in the banquet-hall; put the plate in the sink (don't stare
at me!); open a bottle of Apollinaris for mamma,--dig out the cork with
a hairpin, I 've lost the corkscrew; move three chairs up to the
dining-table (oh, it's so charming to have three!); light the silver
candlesticks in the centre of the table; go in and bring mamma out in
style; see if the fire needs coal; and I'll be ready by that time."

"I can never remember, but I fly!  Oh, what an excellent slave-driver
was spoiled in you!" said Edgar.

The simple dinner was delicious, and such a welcome change from the
long boarding-house table at which Edgar had eaten for over a year.
The candles gave a soft light; there was a bowl of yellow flowers
underneath them.  Mrs. Oliver looked like an elderly Dresden-china
shepherdess in her pale blue wrapper, and Polly did n't suffer from the
brown gingham, with its wide collar and cuffs of buff embroidery, and
its quaint full sleeves.  She had burned two small blisters on her
wrist: they were scarcely visible to the naked eye, but she succeeded
in obtaining as much sympathy for them as if they had been mortal
wounds.  Her mother murmured 'Poor darling wrist' and 'kissed the place
to make it well.'  Edgar found a bit of thin cambric and bound up the
injured member with cooling flour, Mistress Polly looking demurely on,
thinking meanwhile how much safer he was with them than with the
objectionable Tony.  After the lamb-chops and peas had been discussed,
Edgar insisted on changing the plates and putting on the tomato salad;
then Polly officiated at the next course, bringing in coffee, sliced
oranges, and delicious cake from the neighboring confectioner's.

"Can't I wash the dishes?" asked Edgar, when the feast was ended.

"They are not going to be washed, at least by us.  This is a great
occasion, and the little girl downstairs is coming up to clear away the
dinner things."

Then there was the pleasant parlor again, and when the candles were
lighted in the old-fashioned mirror over the fireplace, everything wore
a festive appearance.  The guitar was brought out, and Edgar sang
college songs till Mrs. Oliver grew so bright that she even hummed a
faint second from her cosy place on the sofa.

And then Polly must show Edgar how she had made Austin Dobson's
"Milkmaid Song" fit "Nelly Ely," and she must teach him the pretty
words.

      "Across the grass,
      I saw her pass,
  She comes with tripping pace;
      A maid I know,
      And March winds blow
  Her hair across her face.
      Hey!  Dolly!  Ho!  Dolly!
      Dolly shall be mine,
  Before the spray is white with May
      Or blooms the eglantine."

By this time the bandage had come off the burned wrist, and Edgar must
bind it on again, and Polly shrieked and started when he pinned the end
over, and Edgar turned pale at the thought of his brutal awkwardness,
and Polly burst into a ringing peal of laughter and confessed that the
pin had n't touched her, and Edgar called her a deceitful little
wretch.  This naturally occupied some time, and then there was the
second verse:--

      "The March winds blow,
      I watch her go,
  Her eye is blue and clear;
      Her cheek is brown
      And soft as down
  To those who see it near.
      Hey!  Dolly!  Ho!  Dolly!
      Dolly shall be mine,
  Before the spray is white with May
      Or blooms the eglantine."

After this singing-lesson was over it was nearly eleven o'clock, but up
to this time Edgar had shown no realizing sense of his engagements.

"The dinner is over, and the theatre party is safe," thought Polly.
"Now comes the 'tug of war,' that mysterious game of billiards."

But Mrs. Oliver was equal to the occasion.  When Edgar looked at his
watch, she said: "Polly, run and get Mrs. Noble's last letter, dear;"
and then, when she was alone with Edgar, "My dear boy, I have a favor
to ask of you, and you must be quite frank if it is not convenient for
you to grant it.  As to-morrow will be Saturday, perhaps you have no
recitations, and if not, would it trouble you too much to stay here all
night and attend to something for me in the morning? I will explain the
matter, and then you can answer me more decidedly.  I have received a
letter from a Washington friend who seems to think it possible that a
pension may be granted to me.  He sends a letter of introduction to
General M------, at the Presidio, who, he says, knew Colonel Oliver,
and will be able to advise me in the matter.  I am not well enough to
go there for some days, and of course I do not like to send Polly
alone.  If you could go out with her, give him the letter of
introduction, and ask him kindly to call upon us at his leisure, and
find out also if there is any danger in a little delay just now while I
am ill, it would be a very great favor."

"Of course I will, with all the pleasure in life, Mrs. Oliver," replied
Edgar, with the unspoken thought, "Confound it!  There goes my game; I
promised the fellows to be there, and they 'll guy me for staying away!
However, there 's nothing else to do.  I should n't have the face to go
out now and come in at one or two o'clock in the morning."

Polly entered just then with the letter.

"Edgar is kind enough to stay all night with us, dear, and take you to
the Presidio on the pension business in the morning.  If you will see
that his room is all right, I will say good-night now.  Our
guest-chamber is downstairs, Edgar; I hope you will be very
comfortable.  Breakfast at half past eight, please."

When the door of Mrs. Howe's bedroom closed on Edgar, Polly ran
upstairs, and sank exhausted on her own bed.

"Now, mamma, 'listen to my tale of woe!'  I got off at the wrong
station,--yes, it was stupid; but wait: perhaps I was led to be stupid.
I lost my way, could n't find Professor Salazar's house, could n't find
anything else.  As I was wandering about in a woodsy road, trying to
find a house of some kind, I heard a crowd of boys singing vociferously
as they came through the trees.  I did n 't care to meet them, all
alone as I was, though of course there was nothing to be afraid of, so
I stepped off the road behind some trees and bushes until they should
pass.  It turned out to be half a dozen university students, and at
first I did n't know that Edgar was among them.  They were teasing
somebody to go over to San Francisco for a dinner, then to the
minstrels, and then to wind up with a game of billiards, and other
gayeties which were to be prolonged indefinitely.  What dreadful things
may have been included I don't know.  A wretch named 'Tony' did most of
the teasing, and he looked equal to planning any sort of mischief.  All
at once I thought I recognized a familiar voice.  I peeped out, and
sure enough it was Edgar Noble whom they were coaxing.  He did n't want
to go a bit,--I 'll say that for him,--but they were determined that he
should.  I didn't mind his going to dinners and minstrels, of course,
but when they spoke of being out until after midnight, or to-morrow
morning, and when one beetle-browed, vulgar-looking creature offered to
lend him a 'tenner,' I thought of the mortgage on the Noble ranch, and
the trouble there would be if Edgar should get into debt, and I felt I
must do something to stop him, especially as he said himself that
everything depended on his next examinations."

"But how did you accomplish it?" asked Mrs. Oliver, sitting up in bed
and glowing with interest.

"They sat down by the roadside, smoking and talking it over.  There was
n't another well-born, well-bred looking young man in the group.  Edgar
seemed a prince among them, and I was so ashamed of him for having such
friends!  I was afraid they would stay there until dark, but they
finally got up and walked toward the station.  I waited a few moments,
went softly along behind them, and when I was near enough I cleared my
throat (oh, it was a fearful moment!), and said, 'I beg your pardon,
but can you direct me to Professor Salazar's house?' and then in a
dramatic tone, 'Why, it is--is n't it?--Edgar Noble of Santa Barbara!'
He joined me, of course.  Oh, I can't begin to tell you all the steps
of the affair, I am so exhausted.  Suffice it to say that he walked to
Professor Salazar's with me to make my excuses, came over to town with
me, came up to the house, I trembling for fear he would slip through my
fingers at any moment; then, you know, he stayed to dinner, I in terror
all the time as the fatal hours approached and departed; and there he
is, 'the captive of my bow and spear,' tucked up in Mrs. Howe's best
bed, thanks to your ingenuity!  I could never have devised that last
plot, mamma; it was a masterpiece!"

"You did a kind deed, little daughter," said Mrs. Oliver, with a kiss.
"But poor Mrs. Noble!  What can we do for her?  We cannot play
policemen all the time.  We are too far from Edgar to know his plans,
and any interference of which he is conscious would be worse than
nothing.  I cannot believe that he is far wrong yet.  He certainly
never appeared better; so polite and thoughtful and friendly.  Well, we
must let the morrow bring counsel."

"I hope that smirking, odious Tony is disappointed!" said Polly
viciously, as she turned out the gas.  "I distinctly heard him tell
Edgar to throw a handkerchief over my hair if we should pass any wild
cattle!  How I 'd like to banish him from this vicinity!  Invite Edgar
to dinner next week, mamma; not too soon, or he will suspect missionary
work.  Boys hate to be missionaried, and I 'm sure I don't blame them.
I hope he is happy downstairs in his little prison!  He ought to be, if
ignorance is bliss!"



CHAPTER VIII.

TWO FIRESIDE CHATS.

It was five o'clock Saturday afternoon, and Edgar Noble stood on the
Olivers' steps, Mrs. Oliver waving her hand from an upper window, and
Polly standing on the stairs saying good-by.

"Come over to dinner some night, won't you, Edgar?" she asked
carelessly; "any night you like, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday."

"Wednesday, please, as it comes first!" said Edgar roguishly.  "May I
help cook it?"

"You not only may, but you must.  Good-by."

Polly went upstairs, and, after washing the lunch-dishes in a
reflective turn of mind which did away with part of the irksomeness of
the task, went into the parlor and sat on a stool at her mother's feet.

A soft rain had begun to fall; the fire burned brightly; the bamboo
cast feathery shadows on the wall; from a house across the street came
the sound of a beautiful voice singing,--

  "Oh, holy night! the stars are brightly shining.
  It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth!"

All was peaceful and homelike; if it would only last, thought Polly.

"You are well to-night, mamacita."

A look of repressed pain crossed Mrs. Oliver's face as she smoothed the
bright head lying in her lap.  "Very comfortable, dear, and very happy;
as who would not be, with such a darling comfort of a daughter?  Always
sunny, always helpful, these last dear weeks,--cook, housekeeper,
nurse, banker, all in one, with never a complaint as one burden after
another is laid on her willing shoulders."

"Don't, mamma!" whispered Polly, seeking desperately for her
handkerchief.  "I can stand scolding, but compliments always make me
cry; you know they do.  If Ferdinand and Isabella had told Columbus to
discover my pocket instead of America, he would n't have been as famous
as he is now; there, I 've found it.  Now, mamma, you know your whole
duty is to be well, well, well, and I 'll take care of everything else."

"I 've been thinking about Edgar, Polly, and I have a plan, but I shall
not think of urging it against your will; you are the mistress of the
house nowadays."

"I know what it is," sighed Polly.  "You think we ought to take another
boarder.  A desire for boarders is like a taste for strong drink; once
acquired, it is almost impossible to eradicate it from the system."

"I do think we ought to take this boarder.  Not because it will make a
difference in our income, but I am convinced that if Edgar can have a
pleasant home and our companionship just at this juncture, he will
break away from his idle habits, and perhaps his bad associations, and
take a fresh start.  I feel that we owe it to our dear old friends to
do this for them, if we can.  Of course, if it proves too great a tax
upon you, or if I should have another attack of illness, it will be out
of the question; but who knows? perhaps two or three months will
accomplish our purpose.  He can pay me whatever he has been paying in
Berkeley, less the amount of his fare to and fro.  We might have little
Yung Lee again, and Mrs. Howe will be glad to rent her extra room.  It
has a fireplace, and will serve for both bedroom and study, if we add a
table and student-lamp."

"I don't believe he will come," said Polly.  "We are all very well as a
diversion, but as a constancy we should pall upon him.  I never could
keep up to the level I have been maintaining for the last twenty-four
hours, that is certain.  It is nothing short of degradation to struggle
as hard to amuse a boy as I have struggled to amuse Edgar.  I don't
believe he could endure such exhilaration week after week, and I am
very sure it would kill me.  Besides, he will fancy he is going to be
watched and reported at headquarters in Santa Barbara!"

"I think very likely you are right; but perhaps I can put the matter so
that it will strike him in some other light."

"Very well, mamacita; I 'm resigned.  It will break up all our nice
little two-ing, but we will be his guardian angel.  I will be his
guardian and you his angel, and oh, how he would dislike it if he knew
it!  But wait until odious Mr. Tony meets him to-night!  What business
is it of his if my hair is red!  When he chaffs him for breaking his
appointment, I dare say we shall never see him again."


"You are so jolly comfortable here!  This house is the next best thing
to mother," said Edgar, with boyish heartiness, as he stood on the
white goatskin with his back to the Olivers' cheerful fireplace.

It was Wednesday evening of the next week.  Polly was clearing away the
dinner things, and Edgar had been arranging Mrs. Oliver's chair and
pillows and footstool like the gentle young knight he was by nature.

What wonder that all the fellows, even "smirking Tony," liked him and
sought his company?  He who could pull an oar, throw a ball, leap a
bar, ride a horse, or play a game of skill as if he had been born for
each particular occupation,--what wonder that the ne'er-do-wells and
idlers and scamps and dullards battered at his door continually and
begged him to leave his books and come out and "stir up things"!

"If you think it is so 'jolly,'" said Mrs. Oliver, "how would you like
to come here and live with us awhile?"

This was a bombshell.  The boy hesitated naturally, being taken quite
by surprise.  ("Confound it!" he thought rapidly, "how shall I get out
of this scrape without being impolite!  They would n't give me one
night out a week if I came!")  "I 'd like it immensely, you know," he
said aloud, "and it's awfully kind of you to propose it, and I
appreciate it, but I don't think--I don't see, that is, how I could
come, Mrs. Oliver.  In the first place, I 'm quite sure my home people
would dislike my intruding on your privacy; and then,--well, you know I
am out in the evening occasionally, and should n't like to disturb you,
besides, I 'm sure Miss Polly has her hands full now."

"Of course you would be often out in the evening, though I don't
suppose you are a 'midnight reveler.'  You would simply have a
latch-key and go out and come in as you liked.  Mrs. Howe's room is
very pleasant, as you know; and you could study there before your open
fire, and join us when you felt like it.  Is it as convenient and
pleasant for you to live on this side of the bay, and go back and
forth?"

"Oh yes!  I don't mind that part of it."  ("This is worse than the
Inquisition; I don't know but that she will get me in spite of
everything!")

"Oh dear!" thought Mrs. Oliver, "he does n't want to come; and I don't
want him to come, and I must urge him to come against his will.  How
very disagreeable missionary work is, to be sure!  I sympathize with
him, too.  He is afraid of petticoat government, and fears that he will
lose some of his precious liberty.  If I had fifty children, I believe
I should want them all girls."

"Besides, dear Mrs. Oliver," continued Edgar, after an awkward pause,
"I don't think you are strong enough to have me here.  I believe you
're only proposing it for my good.  You know that I 'm in a forlorn
students' boarding-house, and you are anxious to give me 'all the
comforts of a home' for my blessed mother's sake, regardless of your
own discomforts."

"Come here a moment and sit beside me on Polly's footstool.  You were
nearly three years old when Polly was born.  You were all staying with
me that summer.  Did you know that you were my first boarders?  You
were a tiny fellow in kilts, very much interested in the new baby, and
very anxious to hold her.  I can see you now rocking the cradle as
gravely as a man.  Polly has hard times and many sorrows before her,
Edgar!  You are old enough to see that I cannot stay with her much
longer."

Edgar was too awed and too greatly moved to answer.

"I should be very glad to have you with us, both because I think we
could in some degree take the place of your mother and Margery, and
because I should be glad to feel that in any sudden emergency, which I
do not in the least expect, we should have a near friend to lean upon
ever so little."

Edgar's whole heart went out in a burst of sympathy and manly
tenderness.  In that moment he felt willing to give up every personal
pleasure, if he might lift a feather's weight of care from the fragile
woman who spoke to him with such sweetness and trust.  For there is
nothing hopeless save meanness and poverty of nature; and any demand on
Edgar Noble's instinct of chivalrous protection would never be
discounted.

"I will come gladly, gladly, Mrs. Oliver," he said, "if only I can be
of service; though I fear it will be all the other way.  Please borrow
me for a son, just to keep me in training, and I 'll try to bear my
honors worthily."

"Thank you, dear boy.  Then it is settled, if you are sure that the
living in the city will not interfere with your studies; that is the
main thing.  We all look to you to add fresh laurels to your old ones.
Are you satisfied with your college life thus far?"

("They have n't told her anything.  That 's good," thought Edgar.)  "Oh
yes; fairly well!  I don't--I don't go in for being a 'dig,' Mrs.
Oliver.  I shall never be the valedictorian, and all that sort of
thing; it does n't pay.  Who ever hears of valedictorians twenty years
after graduation?  Class honors don't amount to much."

"I suppose they can be overestimated; but they must prove some sort of
excellence which will stand one in good stead in after years.  I should
never advise a boy or girl to work for honors alone; but if after doing
one's very best the honors come naturally, they are very pleasant."

"Half the best scholars in our class are prigs," said Edgar
discontentedly.  "Always down on the live fellows who want any sport.
Sometimes I wish I had never gone to college at all.  Unless you deny
yourself every pleasure, and live the life of a hermit, you can't take
any rank.  My father expects me to get a hundred and one per cent. in
every study, and thinks I ought to rise with the lark and go to bed
with the chickens.  I don't know whether he ever sowed any wild oats;
if he did, it was so long ago that he has quite forgotten I must sow
mine some time.  He ought to be thankful they are such a harmless sort."

"I don't understand boys very well," said Mrs. Oliver smilingly.  "You
see, I never have had any to study, and you must teach me a few things.
Now, about this matter of wild oats.  Why is it so necessary that they
should be sown?  Is Margery sowing hers?  I don't know that Polly feels
bound to sow any."

"I dare say they are not necessities," laughed Edgar, coloring.
"Perhaps they are only luxuries."

Mrs. Oliver looked at the fire soberly.  "I know there may be plenty of
fine men who have a discreditable youth to look back upon,--a youth
finally repented of and atoned for; but that is rather a weary process,
I should think, and they are surely no stronger men _because_ of the
'wild oats,' but rather in _spite_ of them."

"I suppose so," sighed Edgar; "but it's so easy for women to be good!
I know you were born a saint, to begin with.  You don't know what it is
to be in college, and to want to do everything that you can't and ought
n't, and nothing that you can and ought, and get all tangled up in
things you never meant to touch.  However, we 'll see!"

Polly peeped in at the door very softly.

"They have n't any light; that 's favorable.  He 's sitting on my
footstool; he need n't suppose he is going to have _that_ place!  I
think she has her hand on his arm,--yes, she has!  And he is stroking
it!  Oh, you poor innocent child, you do not realize that that soft
little hand of my mother's never lets go!  It slips into a five and
three-quarters glove, but you 'll be surprised, Mr. Edgar, when you
discover you cannot get away from it.  Very well, then; it is settled.
I 'll go back and put the salt fish in soak for my boarder's breakfast.
I seem to have my hands rather full!--a house to keep, an invalid
mother, and now a boarder.  The very thing I vowed that I never would
have--another boarder; what grandmamma would have called an 'unstiddy
boy boarder!"

And as Polly clattered the pots and pans, the young heathen in the
parlor might have heard her fresh voice singing with great energy:

  "Shall we, whose souls are lighted
  With wisdom from on high,--
  Shall we to men benighted
  The lamp of life deny?"



CHAPTER IX.

HARD TIMES.

The new arrangement worked exceedingly well.

As to Edgar's innermost personal feelings, no one is qualified to speak
with any authority.  Whether he experienced a change of heart, vowed
better things, prayed to be delivered from temptation, or simply
decided to turn over a new leaf, no one knows; the principal fact in
his life, at this period, seems to have been an unprecedented lack of
time for any great foolishness.

Certain unpleasant things had transpired on that eventful Friday night
when he had missed his appointment with his fellow-students, which had
resulted in an open scandal too disagreeable to be passed over by the
college authorities; the redoubtable Tony had been returned with thanks
to his fond parents in a distant part of the state, and two others had
been temporarily suspended.

Edgar Noble was not too blind to see the happy chance that interfered
with his presence on that occasion, and was sensible enough to realize
that, had he been implicated in the least degree (he scorned the
possibility of his taking any active part in such scurrilous
proceedings), he would probably have shared Tony's fate.

Existence was wearing a particularly dismal aspect on that afternoon
when Edgar had met Polly Oliver in the Berkeley woods.  He felt
"nagged," injured, blue, out of sorts with fate.  He had not done
anything very bad, he said to himself; at least, nothing half so bad as
lots of other fellows, and yet everybody frowned on him.  His father
had, in his opinion, been unnecessarily severe; while his mother and
sister had wept over him (by letter) as if he were a thief and a
forger, instead of a fellow who was simply having a "little fling."  He
was annoyed at the conduct of Scott Burton,--"king of snobs and prigs,"
he named him,--who had taken it upon himself to inform Philip Noble of
his (Edgar's) own personal affairs; and he was enraged at being
preached at by that said younger brother.

But of late everything had taken an upward turn, and by way of variety,
existence turned a smiling face toward him.  He had passed his
examinations, most unexpectedly to himself, with a respectable
percentage to spare.  There was a time when he would have been ashamed
of this meagre result.  He was now, just a little, but the feeling was
somewhat submerged in his gratitude at having "squeaked through" at all.

A certain inspired Professor Hope, who wondered what effect
encouragement would have on a fellow who did n't deserve any, but might
possibly need it, came up to him after recitations, one day, and said:--

"Noble, I want to congratulate you on your papers in history and
physics.  They show signal ability.  There is a plentiful lack of study
evinced, but no want of grasp or power.  You have talents that ought to
put you among the first three men in the University, sir.  I do not
know whether you care to take the trouble to win such a place (it _is_
a good deal of trouble), but you can win it if you like.  That's all I
have to say, Noble.  Good-morning!"

This unlooked-for speech fell like balm on Edgar's wounded
self-respect, and made him hold his head higher for a week; and,
naturally, while his head occupied this elevated position, he was
obliged to live up to it.  He also felt obliged to make an effort,
rather reluctantly, to maintain some decent standing in the classes of
Professor Hope, even if he shirked in all the rest.

And now life, on the whole, save for one carking care that perched on
his shoulder by day and sat on his eyelids at night, was very pleasant;
though he could not flatter himself that he was absolutely a free agent.

After all ordinary engagements of concerts, theatres, lectures, or what
not, he entered the house undisturbed, and noiselessly sought his
couch.  But one night, when he ventured to stay out till after
midnight, just as he was stealing in softly, Mrs. Oliver's gentle voice
came from the head of the stairs, saying, "Good-night, Edgar, the lamp
is lighted in your room!"

Edgar closed his door and sat down disconsolately on the bed, cane in
hand, hat on the back of his head.  The fire had burned, to a few
glowing coals; his slippers lay on the hearth, and his Christmas "easy
jacket" hung over the back of his great armchair; his books lay open
under the student-lamp, and there were two vases of fresh flowers in
the room: that was Polly's doing.

"Mrs. Oliver was awake and listening for me; worrying about me,
probably; I dare say she thought I 'd been waylaid by bandits," he
muttered discontentedly.  "I might as well live in the Young Women's
Christian Association!  I can't get mad with an angel, but I did n't
intend being one myself!  Good gracious! why don't they hire me a nurse
and buy me a perambulator!"

But all the rest was perfect; and his chief chums envied him after they
had spent an evening with the Olivers.  Polly and he had ceased to
quarrel, and were on good, frank, friendly terms.   "She is no end of
fun," he would have told you; "has no nonsensical young-lady airs about
her, is always ready for sport, sings all kinds of songs from grave to
gay, knows a good joke when you tell one, and keeps a fellow up to the
mark as well as a maiden aunt."

All this was delightful to everybody concerned.  Meanwhile the
household affairs were as troublesome as they could well be.  Mrs.
Oliver developed more serious symptoms, and Dr. George asked the San
Francisco physician to call to see her twice a week at least.  The San
Francisco physician thought "a year at Carlsbad, and a year at Nice,
would be a good thing;" but, failing these, he ordered copious
quantities of expensive drugs, and the reserve fund shrank, though the
precious three hundred and twelve dollars was almost intact.

Poor Mrs. Chadwick sent tearful monthly letters, accompanied by checks
of fifty to sixty-five dollars.  One of the boarders had died; two had
gone away; the season was poor; Ah Foy had returned to China; Mr.
Greenwood was difficult about his meals; the roof leaked; provisions
were dear; Mrs. Holmes in the next street had decided to take boarders;
Eastern people were grumbling at the weather, saying it was not at all
as reported in the guide-books; real-estate and rents were very low;
she hoped to be able to do better next month; and she was Mrs. Oliver's
"affectionate Clementine Churchill Chadwick."

Polly had held a consultation with the principal of her school, who had
assured her that as she was so well in advance of her class, she could
be promoted the next term, if she desired.  Accordingly, she left
school in order to be more with her mother, and as she studied with
Edgar in the evening, she really lost nothing.

Mrs. Howe remitted four dollars from the monthly rent, in consideration
of Spanish lessons given to her two oldest children.  This experiment
proved a success, and Polly next accepted an offer to come three times
a week to the house of a certain Mrs. Baer to amuse (instructively) the
four little Baer cubs, while the mother Baer wrote a "History of the
Dress-Reform Movement in English-Speaking Nations."

For this service Polly was paid ten dollars a month in gold coin, while
the amount of spiritual wealth which she amassed could not possibly be
estimated in dollars and cents.  The ten dollars was very useful, for
it procured the services of a kind, strong woman, who came on these
three afternoons of Polly's absence, put the entire house in order, did
the mending, rubbed Mrs. Oliver's tired back, and brushed her hair
until she fell asleep.

So Polly assisted in keeping the wolf from the door, and her sacrifices
watered her young heart and kept it tender.  "Money may always be a
beautiful thing.  It is we who make it grimy."

Edgar shared in the business conferences now.  He had gone into
convulsions of mirth over Polly's system of accounts, and insisted,
much against her will, in teaching her book-keeping, striving to
convince her that the cash could be kept in a single box, and the
accounts separated in a book.

These lessons were merry occasions, for there was a conspicuous cavity
in Polly's brain where the faculty for mathematics should have been.

"Your imbecility is so unusual that it 's a positive inspiration,"
Edgar would say.  "It is n't like any ordinary stupidity; there does
n't seem to be any bottom to it, you know; it 's abnormal, it 's
fascinating, Polly!"

Polly glowed under this unstinted praise.  "I am glad you like it," she
said.  "I always like to have a thing first-class of its kind, though I
can't pride myself that it compares with your Spanish accent, Edgar;
that stands absolutely alone and unapproachable for badness.  I don't
worry about my mathematical stupidity a bit since I read Dr. Holmes,
who says that everybody has an idiotic area in his mind."

There had been very little bookkeeping to-night.  It was raining in
torrents.  Mrs. Oliver was talking with General M---- in the parlor,
while Edgar and Polly were studying in the dining-room.

Polly laid down her book and leaned back in her chair.  It had been a
hard day, and it was very discouraging that a new year should come to
one's door laden with vexations and anxieties, when everybody naturally
expected new years to be happy, through January and February at least.

"Edgar," she sighed plaintively, "I find that this is a very difficult
world to live in, sometimes."

Edgar looked up from his book, and glanced at her as she lay back with
closed eyes in the Chinese lounging-chair.  She was so pale, so tired,
and so very, very pretty just then, her hair falling in bright
confusion round her face, her whole figure relaxed with weariness, and
her lips quivering a little, as if she would like to cry if she dared.

Polly with dimples playing hide and seek in rosy cheeks, with dazzling
eyes, and laughing lips, and saucy tongue, was sufficiently
captivating; but Polly with bright drops on her lashes, with a pathetic
droop in the corners of her mouth and the suspicion of a tear in her
voice,--this Polly was irresistible.

"What's the matter, pretty Poll?"

"Nothing specially new.  The Baer cubs were naughty as little demons
to-day.  One of them had a birthday-party yesterday, with four kinds of
frosted cake.  Mrs. Baer's system of management is n't like mine, and
until I convince the children I mean what I say, they give me the
benefit of the doubt.  The Baer place is so large that Mrs. Baer never
knows where disobedience may occur, and that she may be prepared she
keeps one of Mr. Baer's old slippers on the front porch, one in the
carriage-house, one in the arbor, one in the nursery, and one under the
rose hedge at the front gate.  She showed me all these haunts, and told
me to make myself thoroughly at home.  I felt tempted to-day, but I
resisted."

"You are working too hard, Polly.  I propose we do something about Mrs.
Chadwick.  You are bearing all the brunt of other people's faults and
blunders."

"But, Edgar, everything is so mixed: Mrs. Chadwick's year of lease is
n't over; I suppose she cannot be turned out by main force, and if we
should ask her to leave the house it might go unrented for a month or
two, and the loss of that money might be as much as the loss of ten or
fifteen dollars a month for the rest of the year.  I could complain of
her to Dr. George, but there again I am in trouble.  If he knew that we
are in difficulties, he would offer to lend us money in an instant, and
that would make mamma ill, I am sure; for we are under all sorts of
obligations to him now, for kindnesses that can never be repaid.  Then,
too, he advised us not to let Mrs. Chadwick have the house.  He said
that she had n't energy enough to succeed; but mamma was so sorry for
her, and so determined to give her a chance, that she persisted in
letting her have it.  We shall have to find a cheaper flat, by and by,
for I 've tried every other method of economizing, for fear of making
mamma worse with the commotion of moving."



CHAPTER X.

EDGAR GOES TO CONFESSION.

"I 'm afraid I make it harder, Polly, and you and your mother must be
frank with me, and turn me out of the Garden of Eden the first moment I
become a nuisance.  Will you promise?"

"You are a help to us, Edgar; we told you so the other night.  We could
n't have Yung Lee unless you lived with us, and I could n't earn any
money if I had to do all the housework."

"I 'd like to be a help, but I 'm so helpless!"

"We are all poor together just now, and that makes it easier."

"I am worse than poor!" Edgar declared.

"What can be worse than being poor?" asked Polly, with a sigh drawn
from the depths of her boots.

"To be in debt," said Edgar, who had not the slightest intention of
making this remark when he opened his lips.

Now the Olivers had only the merest notion of Edgar's college troubles;
they knew simply what the Nobles had told them, that he was in danger
of falling behind his class.  This, they judged, was a contingency no
longer to be feared; as various remarks dropped by the students who
visited the house, and sundry bits of information contributed by Edgar
himself, in sudden bursts of high spirits, convinced them that he was
regaining his old rank, and certainly his old ambition.

"To be in debt," repeated Edgar doggedly, "and to see no possible way
out of it.  Polly, I 'm in a peck of trouble!  I 've lost money, and I
'm at my wits' end to get straight again!"

"Lost money?  How much?  Do you mean that you lost your pocket-book?"

"No, no; not in that way."

"You mean that you spent it," said Polly.  "You mean you overdrew your
allowance."

"Of course I did.  Good gracious, Polly! there are other ways of losing
money than by dropping it in the road.  I believe girls don't know
anything more about the world than the geography tells them,--that it's
a round globe like a ball or an orange!"

"Don't be impolite.  The less they know about the old world the better
they get on, I dare say.  Your colossal fund of worldly knowledge does
n't seem to make you very happy, just now.  How could you lose your
money, I ask?  You 're nothing but a student, and you are not in any
business, are you?"

"Yes, I am in business, and pretty bad business it is, too."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I 've been winding myself up into a hard knot, the last
six months, and the more I try to disentangle myself, the worse the
thing gets.  My allowance is n't half enough; nobody but a miser could
live on it.  I 've been unlucky, too.  I bought a dog, and some one
poisoned him before I could sell him; then I lamed a horse from the
livery-stable, and had to pay damages; and so it went.  The fellows all
kept lending me money, rather than let me stay out of the little club
suppers, and since I 've shut down on expensive gayeties they've gone
back on me, and all want their money at once; so does the livery-stable
keeper, and the owner of the dog, and a dozen other individuals; in
fact, the debtors' prison yawns before me."

"Upon my word, I 'm ashamed of you!" said Polly, with considerable
heat.  "To waste money in that way, when you knew perfectly well you
could n't afford it, was--well, it was downright dishonest, that's what
it was!  To hear you talk about dogs, and lame horses, and club
suppers, anybody would suppose you were a sporting man!  Pray, what
else do they do in that charming college set of yours?"

"I might have known you would take that tone, but I did n't, somehow.
I told you just because I thought you were the one girl in a thousand
who would understand and advise a fellow when he knows he's made a fool
of himself and acted like a cur!  I did n't suppose you would call hard
names, and be so unsympathizing, after all we have gone through
together!"

"I 'm not!--I did n't!--I won't do it again!" said Polly incoherently,
as she took a straight chair, planted her elbows on the table, and
leaned her chin in her two palms.  "Now let's talk about it; tell me
everything quickly.  How much is it?"

"Nearly two hundred dollars!  Don't shudder so provokingly, Polly; that
's a mere bagatelle for a college man, but I know it's a good deal for
me,--a good deal more than I know how to get, at all events."

"Where is the debtors' prison?" asked Polly in an awestruck whisper.

"Oh, there is n't any such thing nowadays!  I was only chaffing; but of
course, the men to whom I am in debt can apply to father, and get me in
a regular mess.  I 've pawned my watch to stave one of them off.  You
see, Polly, I would rather die than do it; nevertheless, I would write
and tell father everything, and ask him for the money, but
circumstances conspire just at this time to make it impossible.  You
know he bought that great ranch in Ventura county with Albert Harding
of New York.  Harding has died insolvent, and father has to make
certain payments or lose control of a valuable property.  It's going to
make him a rich man some time, but for a year or two we shall have to
count every penny.  Of course the fruit crop this season has been the
worst in ten years, and of course there has been a frost this winter,
the only severe one within the memory of the oldest inhabitant,--that's
the way it always is,--and there I am!  I suppose you despise me,
Polly?"

"Yes, I do!" (hotly)--"No, I don't altogether, and I 'm not good enough
myself to be able to despise people.  Besides, you are not a despisable
boy.  You were born manly and generous and true-hearted, and these
hateful things that you have been doing are not a part of your nature a
bit; but I 'm ashamed of you for yielding to bad impulses when you have
so many good ones, and--oh dear!--I do that very same thing myself, now
that I stop to think about it.  But how could you, _you_, Edgar Noble,
take that evil-eyed, fat-nosed, common Tony Selling for a friend?  I
wonder at you!"

"He is n't so bad in some ways.  I owe him eighty dollars of that
money, and he says he 'll give me six months to pay it."

"I 'm glad he has some small virtues," Polly replied witheringly.
"Now, what can we do, Edgar?  Let us think.  What can, what _can_ we
do?" and she leaned forward reflectively, clasping her knee with her
hands and wrinkling her brow with intense thought.

That little "we" fell on Edgar's loneliness of spirit consolingly; for
it adds a new pang to self-distrust when righteous people withdraw from
one in utter disdain, even if they are "only girls" who know little of
a boy's temptations.

"If you can save something each month out of your allowance, Edgar,"
said Polly, finally, with a brighter look, "I can spare fifty or even
seventy-five dollars of our money, and you may pay it back as you can.
We are not likely to need it for several months, and your father and
mother ought not to be troubled with this matter, now that it's over
and done with."

The blood rushed to Edgar's face as he replied stiffly: "I may be
selfish and recklessly extravagant, but I don't borrow money from
girls.  If you wanted to add the last touch to my shame, you 've done
it.  Don't you suppose I have eyes, Polly Oliver?  Don't you suppose I
've hated myself ever since I came under this roof, when I have seen
the way you worked and planned and plotted and saved and denied
yourself?  Don't you suppose I 've looked at you twenty times a day,
and said to myself, 'You miserable, selfish puppy, getting yourself and
everybody who cares for you into trouble, just look at that girl and be
ashamed of yourself down to the ground!'  And now you offer to lend me
money!  Oh, Polly, I wouldn't have believed it of you!"

Polly felt convicted of sin, although she was not very clear as to the
reason.  She blushed as she said hastily, "Your mother has been a very
good friend to us, Edgar; why should n't we help you a little, just for
once?  Now, let us go in to see mamma and talk it all over together!"

"If you pity me, Polly, don't tell her; I could not bear to have that
saint upon earth worried over my troubles; it was mean enough to add a
feather's weight to yours."

"Well, we won't do it, then," said Polly, with maternal kindness in her
tone.  "Do stop pacing up and down like a caged panther.  We 'll find
some other way out of the trouble; but boys are such an anxiety!  Do
you think, Edgar, that you have reformed?"

"Bless your soul!  I 've kept within my allowance for two or three
months.  As Susan Nipper says, 'I may be a camel, but I 'm not a
dromedary!'  When I found out where I was, I stopped; I had to stop,
and I knew it.  I 'm all right now, thanks to--several things.  In
fact, I 've acquired a kind of appetite for behaving myself now, and if
the rascally debts were only out of the way, I should be the happiest
fellow in the universe."

"You cannot apply to your father, so there is only one thing to
do,--that is, to earn the money."

"But how, when I 'm in the class-room three fourths of the day?"

"I don't know," said Polly hopelessly.  "I can tell you what to do, but
not how to do it; I 'm nothing but a miserable girl."

"I must stay in college, and I must dig and make up for lost time; so
most of my evenings will be occupied."

"You must put all your 'musts' together," said Polly decisively, "and
then build a bridge over them, or tunnel through them, or span them
with an arch.  We 'll keep thinking about it, and I'm sure something
will turn up; I 'm not discouraged a bit.  You see, Edgar," and Polly's
face flushed with feeling as she drew patterns on the tablecloth with
her tortoise-shell hairpin,--"you see, of course, the good fairies are
not going to leave you in the lurch when you 've turned your back on
the ugly temptations, and are doing your very best.  And now that we
've talked it all over, Edgar, I 'm not ashamed of you!  Mamma and I
have been so proud of your successes the last month.  She believes in
you!"

"Of course," said Edgar dolefully; "because she knows only the best."

"But I know the best and the worst too, and I believe in you!  It seems
to me the best is always the truest part of one, after all.  No, we are
not going to be naughty any more; we are going to earn that hateful
Tony's money; we are going to take all the class honors, just for fun,
not because we care for such trifles, and we are going home for the
summer holidays in a blaze of glory!"

Edgar rose with a lighter heart in his breast than he had felt there
for many a week.  "Good-night, Parson Polly," he said rather formally,
for he was too greatly touched to be able to command his tones; "add
your prayers to your sermons, and perhaps you 'll bring the black sheep
safely into the fold."

The quick tears rushed to Polly's eyes; for Edgar's stiff manner sat
curiously on him, and she feared she had annoyed him by too much
advice.  "Oh, Edgar," she said, with a quivering lip, "I did n't mean
to pose or to preach!  You know how full of faults I am, and if I were
a boy I should be worser I was only trying to help a little, eves if I
am younger and a girl!  Don't--don't think I was setting myself up as
better than you; that's so mean and conceited and small!  Edgar dear, I
am so proud to think you told me your troubles; don't turn away from
me, or I shall think you are sorry you trusted me!" and Polly laid a
persuasive, disarming hand on the lad's shoulder.

Suddenly Edgar's heart throbbed with a new feeling.  He saw as in a
vision the purity, fidelity, and tender yearning of a true woman's
nature shining through a girl's eyes.  In that moment he wished as
never before to be manly and worthy.  He seemed all at once to
understand his mother, his sister, all women better, and with a quick
impulsive gesture which he would not have understood a month before, he
bent his head over astonished Polly's hand, kissed it reverently, then
opened the door and went to his room without a word.



CHAPTER XI.

THE LADY IN BLACK.

"I 've had a little adventure," said Polly to her mother one afternoon.
"I went out, for the sake of the ride, on the Sutler Street cable-cars
with Milly Foster.  When we came to the end of the line, Milly walked
down to Greary Street to take her car home.  I went with her to the
corner, and as I was coming back I saw a lady in black alighting from
an elegant carriage.  She had a coachman and a footman, both with weeds
on their hats, and she seemed very sad and grave; but she had such a
sweet, beautiful face that I was sorry for her the first moment I
looked at her.  She walked along in front of me toward the cemetery,
and there we met those boys that stand about the gate with bouquets.
She glanced at the flowers as if she would like to buy some, but you
know how hideous they always are, every color of the rainbow crowded in
tightly together, and she looked away, dissatisfied.  I don't know why
she had n't brought some with her,--she looked rich enough to buy a
whole conservatory; perhaps she had n't expected to drive there.
However, Milly Foster had given me a whole armful of beautiful
flowers,--you know she has a 'white garden:' there were white sweet
peas, Lamarque roses, and three stalks of snowy Eucharist lilies.  I
need n't tell my own mother that I did n't stop to think twice; I just
stepped up to her and said, 'I should like to give you my flowers,
please.  I don't need them, and I am sure they are just sweet and
lovely enough for the place you want to lay them.'

"The tears came into her eyes,--she was just ready to cry at anything,
you know,--and she took them at once, and said, squeezing my hand very
tightly, 'I will take them, dear.  The grave of my own, and my only,
little girl lies far away from this,--the snow is falling on it
to-day,--but whenever I cannot give the flowers to her, I always find
the resting-places of other children, and lay them there.  I know it
makes her happy, for she was born on Christmas Day, and she was full of
the Christmas spirit, always thinking of other people, never of
herself.'

"She did look so pale, and sad, and sweet, that I began to think of you
without your troublesome Polly, or your troublesome Polly without you;
and she was pleased with the flowers and glad that I understood, and
willing to love anything that was a girl or that was young,--oh, you
know, mamacita,--and so I began to cry a little, too; and the first
thing I knew I kissed her, which was most informal, if not positively
impertinent.  But she seemed to like it, for she kissed me back again,
and I ran and jumped on the car, and here I am!  You will have to eat
your dinner without any flowers, madam, for you have a vulgarly strong,
healthy daughter, and the poor lady in black has n't."

This was Polly's first impression of "the lady in black," and thus
began an acquaintance which was destined before many months to play a
very important part in Polly's fortunes and misfortunes.

What the lady in black thought of Polly, then and subsequently, was
told at her own fireside, where she sat, some six weeks later, chatting
over an after-dinner cup of coffee with her brother-in-law.

"Take the armchair, John," said Mrs. Bird; "for I have 'lots to tell
you,' as the young folks say.  I was in the Children's Hospital about
five o'clock to-day.  I have n't been there for three months, and I
felt guilty about it.  The matron asked me to go upstairs into the
children's sitting-room, the one Donald and I fitted up in memory of
Carol.  She said that a young lady was telling stories to the children,
but that I might go right up and walk in.  I opened the door softly,
though I don't think the children would have noticed if I had fired a
cannon in their midst, and stood there, spellbound by the loveliest,
most touching scene I ever witnessed.  The room has an open fire, and
in a low chair, with the firelight shining on her face, sat that
charming, impulsive girl who gave me the flowers at the cemetery--I
told you about her.  She was telling stories to the children.  There
were fifteen or twenty of them in the room, all the semi-invalids and
convalescents, I should think, and they were gathered about her like
flies round a saucer of honey.  Every child that could, was doing its
best to get a bit of her dress to touch, or a finger of her hand to
hold, or an inch of her chair to lean upon.  They were the usual pale,
weary-looking children, most of them with splints and weights and
crutches, and through the folding-doors that opened into the next room
I could see three more tiny things sitting up in their cots and
drinking in every word with eagerness and transport.

"And I don't wonder.  There is magic in that girl for sick or sorrowing
people.  I wish you could have seen and heard her.  Her hair is full of
warmth and color; her lips and cheeks are pink; her eyes are bright
with health and mischief, and beaming with love, too; her smile is like
sunshine, and her voice as glad as a wild bird's.  I never saw a
creature so alive and radiant, and I could feel that the weak little
creatures drank in her strength and vigor, without depleting her, as
flowers drink in the sunlight.

"As she stood up and made ready to go, she caught sight of me, and
ejaculated, with the most astonished face, 'Why, it is my lady in
black!'  Then, with a blush, she added, 'Excuse me!  I spoke without
thinking--I always do.  I have thought of you very often since I gave
you the flowers; and as I did n't know your name, I have always called
you my lady in black.'

"'I should be very glad to be your "lady" in any color,' I answered,
'and my other name is Mrs. Bird.'  Then I asked her if she would not
come and see me.  She said, 'Yes, with pleasure,' and told me also that
her mother was ill, and that she left her as little as possible;
whereupon I offered to go and see her instead.

"Now, here endeth the first lesson, and here beginneth the second,
namely, my new plan, on which I wish to ask your advice.  You know that
all the money Donald and I used to spend on Carol's nurses, physicians,
and what not, we give away each Christmas Day in memory of her.  It may
be that we give it in monthly installments, but we try to plan it and
let people know about it on that day.  I propose to create a new
profession for talented young women who like to be helpful to others as
well as to themselves.  I propose to offer this little Miss Oliver, say
twenty-five dollars a month, if she will go regularly to the Children's
Hospital and to the various orphan asylums just before supper and just
before bedtime, and sing and tell stories to the children for an hour.
I want to ask her to give two hours a day only, going to each place
once or twice a week; but of course she will need a good deal of time
for preparation.  If she accepts, I will see the managers of the
various institutions, offer her services, and arrange for the hours.  I
am confident that they will receive my protegee with delight, and I am
sure that I shall bring the good old art of story-telling into fashion
again, through this gifted girl.  Now, John, what do you think?"

"I heartily approve, as usual.  It is a novelty, but I cannot see why
it 's not perfectly expedient, and I certainly can think of no other
way in which a monthly expenditure of twenty-five dollars will carry so
much genuine delight and comfort to so many different children.  Carol
would sing for joy if she could know of your plan."

"Perhaps she does know it," said Mrs. Bird softly.

And so it was settled.

Polly's joy and gratitude at Mrs. Bird's proposal baffles the powers of
the narrator.  It was one of those things pleasant to behold, charming
to imagine, but impossible to describe.  After Mrs. Bird's carriage had
been whirled away, she watched at the window for Edgar, and, when she
saw him nearing the steps, did not wait for him to unlock the door, but
opened it from the top of the stairs, and flew down them to the landing
as lightly as a feather.

As for Edgar himself, he was coming up with unprecedented speed, and
they nearly fell into each other's arms as they both exclaimed, in one
breath, "Hurrah!" and then, in another, "Who told you?"

"How did you know it?" asked Edgar.  "Has Tom Mills been here?"

"What is anybody by the name of Mills to me in my present state of
mind!" exclaimed Polly.  "Have you some good news, too?  If so, speak
out quickly."

"Good news?  I should think I had; what else were you hurrahing about?
I 've won the scholarship, and I have a chance to earn some money!  Tom
Mills's eyes are in bad condition, and the oculist says he must wear
blue goggles and not look at a book for two months.  His father wrote
to me to-day, and he asks if I will read over the day's lessons with
Tom every afternoon or evening, so that he can keep up with the class;
and says that if I will do him this great service he will be glad to
pay me any reasonable sum.  He 'ventured' to write me on Professor
Hope's recommendation."

"Oh, Edgar, that is too, too good!" cried Polly, jumping up and down in
delight.  "Now hear my news.  What do you suppose has happened?"

"Turned-up noses have come into style."

"Insulting!  That is n't the spirit I showed when you told me your good
news."

"You 've found the leak in the gas stove."

"On the contrary, I don't care if all the gas in our establishment
leaks from now to--the millennium.  Guess again, stupid!"

"Somebody has left you a million."

"No, no!" (scornfully.)  "Well, I can't wait your snail's pace.  My
lady in black, Mrs. Donald Bird, has been here all the afternoon, and
she offers me twenty-five dollars a month to give up the Baer cubs and
tell stories two hours a day in the orphan asylums and the Children's
Hospital!  Just what I love to do!  Just what I always longed to do!
Just what I would do if I were a billionaire!  Is n't it heavenly?"

"Well, well!  We are in luck, Polly.  Hurrah!  Fortune smiles at last
on the Noble-Oliver household.  Let's have a jollification!  Oh, I
forgot.  Tom Mills wants to come to dinner.  Will you mind?"

"Let him come, goggles and all, we 'll have the lame and the halt, as
well as the blind, if we happen to see any.  Mamma won't care.  I told
her we 'd have a feast to-night that should vie with any of the old
Roman banquets!  Here 's my purse; please go down on Sutter
Street--ride both ways--and buy anything extravagant and unseasonable
you can find.  Get forced tomatoes; we'll have 'chops and tomato sauce'
à la Mrs. Bardell; order fried oysters in a browned loaf; get a quart
of ice cream, the most expensive variety they have, a loaf of the
richest cake in the bakery, and two chocolate eclairs apiece.  Buy
hothouse roses, or orchids, for the table, and give five cents to that
dirty little boy on the corner there.  In short, as Frank Stockton
says, 'Let us so live while we are up that we shall forget we have ever
been down'!" and Polly plunged upstairs to make a toilet worthy of the
occasion.

The banquet was such a festive occasion that Yung Lee's Chinese reserve
was sorely tried, and he giggled more than once, while waiting on the
table.

Polly had donned a trailing black silk skirt of her mother's, with a
white chuddah shawl for a court train, and a white lace waist to top
it.  Her hair was wound into a knot on the crown of her head and
adorned with three long black ostrich feathers, which soared to a great
height, and presented a most magnificent and queenly appearance.

Tom Mills, whose father was four times a millionaire, wondered why they
never had such gay times at his home, and tried to fancy his sister
Blanche sparkling and glowing and beaming over the prospect of earning
twenty-five dollars a month.

Then, when bedtime came, Polly and her mother talked it all over in the
dark.

"Oh, mamacita, I am so happy!  It's such a lovely beginning, and I
shall be so glad, so glad to do it!  I hope Mrs. Bird did n't invent
the plan for my good, for I have been frightfully shabby each time she
has seen me, but she says she thinks of nothing but the children.  Now
we will have some pretty things, won't we?  And oh! do you think, not
just now, but some time in the distant centuries, I can have a string
of gold beads?"

"I do, indeed," sighed Mrs. Oliver.  "You are certainly in no danger of
being spoiled by luxury in your youth, my poor little Pollykins; but
you will get all these things some time, I feel sure, if they are good
for you, and if they belong to you.  You remember the lines I read the
other day:--

  "'Hast not thy share?  On winged feet,
  Lo! it rushes thee to meet;
  And all that Nature made thy own,
  Floating in air or pent in stone,
  Will rive the hills and swim the sea
  And, like thy shadow, follow thee.'"

"Yes," said Polly contentedly; "I am satisfied.  My share of the
world's work is rushing to meet me.  To-night I could just say with
Sarah Jewett's Country Doctor, 'My God, I thank thee for my future.'"



CHAPTER XII.

THE GREAT SILENCE.

The months of April and May were happy ones.  The weather was perfect,
as only California weather understands the art of being; the hills were
at their greenest; the wind almost forgot to blow; the fields blazed in
wild-flowers; day after day rose in cloudless splendor, and day after
day the Golden Gate shone like a sapphire in the sun.

Polly was inwardly nervous.  She had the "awe of prosperity" in her
heart, and everything seemed too bright to last.

Both she and Edgar were very busy.  But work that one loves is no
hardship, especially when one is strong and young and hopeful, and when
one has great matters at stake, such as the health and wealth of an
invalid mother, or the paying off of disagreeable debts.

Even the limp Mrs. Chadwick shared in the general joy; for Mr.
Greenwood was so utterly discouraged with her mismanagement of the
house, so determined not to fly to ills he knew not of, and so anxious
to bring order out of chaos, that on the spur of the moment one day he
married her.  On the next day he discharged the cook, hired a better
one the third, dunned the delinquent boarder the fourth, and collected
from him on the fifth; so the May check (signed Clementine Chadwick
Greenwood) was made out for eighty-five dollars.

But in the midst of it all, when everything in the outside world danced
with life and vigor, and the little house could hardly hold its sweet
content,--without a glimmer of warning, without a moment's fear or
dread, without the precious agony of parting, Mrs. Oliver slipped
softly, gently, safely, into the Great Silence.

Mercifully it was Edgar, not Polly, who found her in her accustomed
place on the cushions, lying with closed eyelids and smiling lips.

It was half past five. . . .  Polly must have gone out at four, as
usual, and would be back in half an hour. . . .  Yung Lee was humming
softly in the little kitchen. . . .  In five minutes Edgar Noble had
suffered, lived, and grown ten years.  He was a man. . . .  And then
came Polly,--and Mrs. Bird with her, thank Heaven!--Polly breathless
and glowing, looking up at the bay window for her mother's smile of
welcome.

In a few seconds the terrible news was broken, and Polly, overpowered
with its awful suddenness, dropped before it as under a physical blow.

It was better so.  Mrs. Bird carried her home for the night, as she
thought, but a merciful blur stole over the child's tired brain, and
she lay for many weeks in a weary illness of delirium and stupor and
fever.

Meanwhile, Edgar acted as brother, son, and man of the house.  He it
was who managed everything, from the first sorrowful days up to the
closing of the tiny upper flat where so much had happened: not great
things of vast outward importance, but small ones,--little miseries and
mortifications and struggles and self-denials and victories, that made
the past half year a milestone in his life.

A week finished it all!  It takes a very short time, he thought, to
scatter to the winds of heaven all the gracious elements that make a
home.  Only a week; and in the first days of June, Edgar went back to
Santa Barbara for the summer holidays without even a sight of his
brave, helpful girl-comrade.

He went back to his brother's congratulations, his sister's kisses, his
mother's happy tears, and his father's hearty hand-clasp, full of
renewed pride and belief in his eldest son.  But there was a shadow on
the lad's high spirits as he thought of gay, courageous, daring Polly,
stripped in a moment of all that made life dear.

"I wish we could do something for her, poor little soul," he said to
his mother in one of their long talks in the orange-tree sitting-room.
"Tongue cannot tell what Mrs. Oliver has been to me, and I 'm not a bit
ashamed to own up to Polly's influence, even if she is a girl and two
or three years younger than I am.  Hang it!  I 'd like to see the
fellow that could live under the same roof as those two women, and not
do the best that was in him!  Has n't Polly some relatives in the East?"

"No near ones, and none that she has ever seen.  Still, she is not
absolutely alone, as many girls would be under like circumstances.  We
would be only too glad to have her here; the Howards have telegraphed
asking her to spend the winter with them in Cambridge; I am confident
Dr. Winship will do the same when the news of Mrs. Oliver's death
reaches Europe; and Mrs. Bird seems to have constituted herself a sort
of fairy Godmother in chief.  You see everybody loves Polly; and she
will probably have no less than four homes open to her.  The fact is,
if you should put Polly on a desert island, the bees and the
butterflies and the birds would gather about her; she draws everything
and everybody to her magically.  Then, too, she is not penniless.
Rents are low, and she cannot hope to get quite as much for the house
as before, but even counting repairs, taxes, and furnishings, we think
she is reasonably certain of fifty dollars a month."

"She will never be idle, unless this sorrow makes a great change in
her.  Polly seems to have been created to 'become' by 'doing.'"

"Yet she does not in the least relish work, Edgar.  I never knew a girl
with a greater appetite for luxury.  One cannot always see the deepest
reasons in God's providence as applied to one's own life and character;
but it is often easy to understand them as one looks at other people
and notes their growth and development.  For instance, Polly's intense
love for her invalid mother has kept her from being selfish.  The
straitened circumstances in which she has been compelled to live have
prevented her from yielding to self-indulgence or frivolity.  Even her
hunger for the beautiful has been a discipline; for since beautiful
things were never given to her ready-made, she has been forced to
create them.  Her lot in life, which she has always lamented, has given
her a self-control, a courage, a power, which she never would have had
in the world had she grown up in luxury.  She is too young to see it,
but it is very clear to me that Polly Oliver is a glorious product of
circumstances."

"But," objected Edgar, "that is not fair.  You are giving all the
credit to circumstances, and none to Polly's own nature."

"Not at all.  If there had not been the native force to develop,
experience would have had nothing to work upon.  As it is, her lovely
childish possibilities have become probabilities, and I look to see the
girlish probabilities blossom into womanly certainties."

Meanwhile Polly, it must be confessed, was not at the present time
quite justifying the good opinion of her friends.

She had few of the passive virtues.  She could bear sharp stabs of
misfortune, which fired her energy and pride, but she resented pin
pricks.  She could carry heavy, splendid burdens cheerfully, but she
fretted under humble cares.  She could serve by daring, but not by
waiting.  She would have gone to the stake or the scaffold, I think,
with tolerable grace; but she would probably have recanted any article
of faith if she had been confronted with life-imprisonment.

Trouble that she took upon herself for the sake of others, and out of
love, she accepted sweetly.  Sorrows that she did not choose, which
were laid upon her without her consent, and which were "just the ones
she did _not_ want, and did _not_ need, and would _not_ have, and could
_not_ bear,"--these sorrows found her unwilling, bitter, and impatient.

Yet if life is a school and we all have lessons to learn in it, the
Great Teacher will be unlikely to set us tasks which we have already
finished.  Some review there must be, for certain things are specially
hard to keep in mind, and have to be gone over and over, lest they fade
into forgetfulness.  But there must be continued progress in a life
school.  There is no parrot repetition, sing-song, meaningless, of
words that have ceased to be vital.  New lessons are to be learned as
fast as the old ones are understood.  Of what use to set Polly tasks to
develop her bravery, when she was already brave?

Courage was one of the little jewels set in her fairy crown when she
was born, but there was a round, empty space beside it, where Patience
should have been.  Further along was Daring, making a brilliant show,
but again there was a tiny vacancy waiting for Prudence.

The crown made a fine appearance, on the whole, because the large
jewels were mostly in place, and the light of these blinded you to the
lack of the others; but to the eye of the keen observer there was a
want of symmetry and completeness.

Polly knew the unfinished state of her fairy crown as well as anybody
else.  She could not plead ignorance as an excuse; but though she would
have gone on polishing the great gems with a fiery zeal, she added the
little jewels very slowly, and that only on compulsion.

There had been seven or eight weeks of partial unconsciousness, when
the sorrow and the loneliness of life stole into her waking dreams only
vaguely and at intervals; when she was unhappy, and could not remember
why; and slept, to wake and wonder and sleep again.

Then there were days and weeks when the labor of living was all that
the jaded body could accomplish; when memory was weak; when life began
at the pillow, and ended at the foot of the bed, and the universe was
bounded by the chamber windows.

But when her strength came back, and she stood in the middle of the
floor, clothed and in her right mind, well enough to remember,--oh!
then indeed the deep waters of bitterness rolled over poor Polly's head
and into her heart, and she sank beneath them without a wish or a
struggle to rise.

"If it had been anything else!" she sobbed.  "Why did God take away my
most precious, my only one to live for, when I was trying to take care
of her, trying to be good, trying to give back the strength that had
been poured out on me,--miserable, worthless me!  Surely, if a girl was
willing to do without a father and sisters and brothers, without good
times and riches, willing to work like a galley slave, willing to
'scrimp' and plan and save for ever and ever; surely 'they' might be
willing that she should keep her mother!"

Poor Polly!  Providence at this time seemed nothing more than a
collection of demons which she classified under the word "they," and
which she felt certain were scourging her pitilessly and needlessly.
She could not see any reason or justification in "their"
cruelties,--for that was the only term she could apply to her
afflictions.

Mrs. Bird had known sorrow, and she did her best to minister to the
troubled and wrong little heart; but it was so torn that it could be
healed only by the soft balm of Time.

Perhaps, a long while after such a grief,--it is always "perhaps" in a
great crisis, though the certainty is ours if we will but grasp
it,--perhaps the hidden meaning of the sorrow steals gently into our
softened hearts.  We see, as in a vision, a new light by which to work;
we rise, cast off the out-grown shell, and build us a more stately
mansion, in which to dwell till God makes that home also too small to
hold the ever-growing soul!



CHAPTER XIII.

A GARDEN FLOWER, OR A BANIAN-TREE.

In August Mr. John Bird took Polly to the Nobles' ranch in Santa
Barbara, in the hope that the old scenes and old friends might soothe
her, and give her strength to take up the burden of life with something
of her former sunshiny spirit.

Edgar was a junior now, back at his work, sunburned and strong from his
summer's outing.  He had seen Polly twice after his return to San
Francisco; but the first meeting was an utter failure, and the second
nearly as trying.  Neither of them could speak of the subject that
absorbed their thoughts, nor had either courage enough to begin other
topics of conversation.  The mere sight of Edgar was painful to the
girl now, it brought to mind so much that was dear, so much that was
past and gone.

In the serenity of the ranch-life, the long drives with Margery and
Philip, the quiet chats with Mrs. Noble, Polly gained somewhat in
strength; but the old "spring," vitality, and enthusiasm had vanished
for the time, and the little circle of friends marveled at this Polly
without her nonsense, her ready smiles, her dancing dimples, her
extravagances of speech.

Once a week, at least, Dr. George would steal an hour or two, and
saddle his horse to take Polly for a gallop over the hills, through the
cañons, or on the beach.

His half-grave, half-cheery talks on these rides did her much good.  He
sympathized and understood and helped, even when he chided, and Polly
sometimes forgot her own troubles in wondering whether Dr. George had
not suffered and overcome a good many of his own.

"You make one great error, my child," he once said, in response to one
of Polly's outbursts of grief; "and it is an error young people very
naturally fall into.  You think that no one was ever chastened as you
are.  You say, with Jeremiah, 'No prophet is afflicted like unto this
prophet!'  Now you are simply bearing your own share of the world's
trouble.  How can you hope to escape the universal lot?  There are
dozens of people within sight of this height of land who have borne as
much, and must bear as much again.  I know this must seem a hard
philosophy, and I should not preach it to any but a stout little spirit
like yours, my Polly.  These things come to all of us; they are stern
facts; they are here, and they must be borne; but it makes all the
difference in the world how we bear them.  We can clench our fists,
close our lips tightly, and say, 'Since I must, I can;' or we can look
up and say cheerfully, 'I will!'  The first method is philosophical and
strong enough, but there is no sweetness in it.  If you have this
burden to carry, make it as light, not as heavy, as you can; if you
have this grief to endure, you want at least to come out of it sweeter
and stronger than ever before.  It seems a pity to let it go for
nothing.  In the largest sense of the word, you can live for your
mother now as truly as you did in the old times; you know very well how
she would have had you live."

Polly felt a sense of shame steal over her as she looked at Dr.
George's sweet, strong smile and resolute mouth, and she said, with the
hint of a new note in her voice:--

"I see, and I will try; but how does one ever learn to live without
loving,--I mean the kind of loving I had in my life?  I know I can live
for my mother in the largest sense of the word, but to me all the
comfort and sweetness seems to tuck itself under the word in its
'little' sense.  I shall have to go on developing and developing until
I am almost developed to death, and go on growing and growing in grace
until I am ready to be caught up in a chariot of fire, before I can
love my mother 'in the largest sense of the word.'  I want to cuddle my
head on her shoulder, that's what I want.  Oh, Dr. George, how does one
contrive to be good when one is not happy?  How can one walk in the
right path when there does n't seem to be any brightness to go by?"

"My dear little girl," and Dr. George looked soberly out on the ocean,
dull and lifeless under the gray October sky, "when the sun of one's
happiness is set, one lights a candle called 'Patience,' and guides
one's footsteps by that!"

"If only I were not a rich heiress," said Polly next morning, "I dare
say I should be better off; for then I simply could n't have gone to
bed for two or three months, and idled about like this for another.
But there seems to be no end to my money.  Edgar paid all the bills in
San Francisco, and saved twenty out of our precious three hundred and
twelve dollars.  Then Mrs. Greenwood's rent-money has been accumulating
four months, while I have been visiting you and Mrs. Bird; and the
Greenwoods are willing to pay sixty dollars a month for the house
still, even though times are dull; so I am hopelessly wealthy,--but on
the whole I am very glad.  The old desire to do something, and be
something, seems to have faded out of my life with all the other
beautiful things.  I think I shall go to a girls' college and study, or
find some other way of getting through the hateful, endless years that
stretch out ahead!  Why, I am only a little past seventeen, and I may
live to be ninety!  I do not see how I can ever stand this sort of
thing for seventy-three years!"

Mrs. Noble smiled in spite of herself.  "Just apply yourself to getting
through this year, Polly dear, and let the other seventy-two take care
of themselves.  They will bring their own cares and joys and
responsibilities and problems, little as you realize it now.  This
year, grievous as it seems, will fade by and by, until you can look
back at it with resignation and without tears."

"I don't want it to fade!" cried Polly passionately.  "I never want to
look back at it without tears!  I want to be faithful always; I want
never to forget, and never to feel less sorrow than I do this minute!"

"Take that blue-covered Emerson on the table, Polly; open it at the
essay on 'Compensation,' and read the page marked with the orange leaf."

The tears were streaming down Polly's cheeks, but she opened the book,
and read with a faltering voice:--

"We cannot part with our f--fr--friends.  We cannot let our angels go.
[Sob.]  We do not see that they only go out that archangels may come
in. . . .  We do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or
re-create that beautiful yesterday.  [Sob.]  We linger in the ruins of
the old tent where once we had shelter. . . .  We cannot again find
aught so dear, so sweet, so graceful.  [Sob.]  But we sit and weep in
vain.  We cannot stay amid the ruins.  The voice of the Almighty saith,
'Up and onward for evermore!' . . .  The sure years reveal the deep
remedial force that underlies all sorrow. . . .  The man or woman who
would have remained a sunny garden flower, with no room for its roots
and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the
neglect of the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yielding
shade and fruit to wide neighborhoods of men."

[Illustration: "She opened the book and read."]

"Do you see, Polly?"

"Yes, I see; but oh, I was so happy being a garden flower with the
sunshine on my head, and I can't seem to care the least little bit for
being a banian-tree!"

"Well," said Mrs. Noble, smiling through her own tears, "I fear that
God will never insist on your 'yielding shade and fruit to wide
neighborhoods of men' unless you desire it.  Not all sunny garden
flowers become banian-trees by the falling of the walls.  Some of them
are crushed beneath the ruins, and never send any more color or
fragrance into the world."

"The garden flower had happiness before the walls fell," said Polly.
"It is happiness I want."

"The banian-tree had blessedness after the walls fell, and it is
blessedness I want; but then, I am forty-seven, and you are seventeen!"
sighed Mrs. Noble, as they walked through the orange orchard to the
house.



CHAPTER XIV.

EDGAR DISCOURSES OF SCARLET RUNNERS.

One day, in the middle of October, the mail brought Polly two letters:
the first from Edgar, who often dashed off cheery scrawls in the hope
of getting cheery replies, which never came; and the second from Mrs.
Bird, who had a plan to propose.

Edgar wrote:--


. . . "I have a new boarding-place in San Francisco, a stone's throw
from Mrs. Bird's, whose mansion I can look down upon from a lofty
height reached by a flight of fifty wooden steps,--good training in
athletics!  Mrs. Morton is a kind landlady and the house is a home, in
a certain way,--

  "But oh, the difference to me
  'Twixt tweedledum and tweedledee!

"There is a Morton girl, too; but she neither plays nor sings nor
jokes, nor even looks,--in fine, she is not Polly!  I have come to the
conclusion, now, that girls in a house are almost always nuisances,--I
mean, of course, when, they are not Pollies.  Oh, why are you so young,
and so loaded with this world's goods, that you will never need me for
a boarder again?  Mrs. Bird is hoping to see you soon, and I chose my
humble lodging on this hill-top because, from my attic's lonely height,
I can watch you going in and out of your 'marble halls;' and you will
almost pass my door as you take the car.  In view of this pleasing
prospect (now, alas! somewhat distant), I send you a scrap of newspaper
verse which prophesies my sentiments.  It is signed 'M. E. W.,' and Tom
Mills says whoever wrote it knows you."


  WHEN POLLY GOES BY.

  'T is but poorly I 'm lodged in a little side-street,
  Which is seldom disturbed by the hurry of feet,
  For the flood-tide of life long ago ebbed away
  From its homely old houses, rain-beaten and gray;
  And I sit with my pipe in the window, and sigh
  At the buffets of fortune--till Polly goes by.

  There 's a flaunting of ribbons, a flurry of lace,
  And a rose in the bonnet above a bright face,
  A glance from two eyes so deliriously blue
  The midsummer seas scarcely rival their hue;
  And once in a while, if the wind 's blowing high,
  The sound of soft laughter as Polly goes by.

  Then up jumps my heart and begins to beat fast.
  "She 's coming!" it whispers.  "She 's here!
        She has passed!"
  While I throw up the sash and lean breathlessly down
  To catch the last glimpse of her vanishing gown,
  Excited, delighted, yet wondering why
  My senses desert me if Polly goes by.

  Ah! she must be a witch, and the magical spell
  She has woven about me has done its work well,
  For the morning grows brighter, and gayer the air
  That my landlady sings as she sweeps down the stair;
  And my poor lonely garret, up close to the sky,
  Seems something like heaven when Polly goes by.


"P. S. Tony has returned to the university.  He asked after the health
of the 'sunset-haired goddess' yesterday.  You 'd better hurry back and
take care of me!  No, joking aside, don't worry about me, little
missionary; I 've outgrown Tony, and I hope I don't need to be reformed
oftener than once a year.

        "Yours ever,       EDGAR.

"P. S. No. II.  I saw you twice after--you know--and I was dumb on both
occasions.  Of all people in the world I ought to have been able to say
something helpful to you in your trouble, I, who lived with you and
your dear mother through all those happy months before she left us.  It
will be just the same when I see you again: I shall never be able to
speak, partly, I suppose, because I am a man, or on the road to
becoming one.  I know this is making you cry; I can see the tears in
your eyes across all the distance; but it is better even that you
should cry than that you should think me cold or unmindful of your
sorrow.  Do you know one of the sacred memories of my life?  It is
that, on that blessed night when your mother asked me to come and live
under her roof, she said she should be glad to feel that in any sudden
emergency you and she would, have a near friend to lean upon.  There
was a 'royal accolade,' if you like!  I felt in an instant as if she
had bestowed the order of knighthood upon me, and as if I must live
more worthily in order to deserve her trust.  How true it is, Polly,
that those who believe in us educate us!

"Do you remember (don't cry, dear!) that night by the fireside,--the
night when we brought her out of her bedroom after three days of
illness,--when we sat on either side of her, each holding a hand while
she told us the pretty romance of her meeting and loving your father?
I slipped the loose wedding ring up and down her finger, and stole a
look at her now and then.  She was like a girl when she told that
story, and I could not help thinking it was worth while to be a tender,
honorable, faithful man, to bring that look into a woman's face after
eighteen years.  Well, I adored her, that is all I can say; and I can't
_say_ even that, I have to write it.  Don't rob me, Polly, of the right
she gave me, that of being a 'near friend to lean upon.'  I am only
afraid, because you, more than any one else, know certain weaknesses
and follies of mine, and, indeed, pulled me out of the pit and held me
up till I got a new footing.  I am afraid you will never have the same
respect for me, nor believe that a fellow so weak as I was could be
strong enough to lean upon.  Try me once, Polly, just to humor me,
won't you?  Give me something to do,--something _hard_!  Lean just a
little, Polly, and see how stiff I 'll be,--no, bother it, I won't be
stiff, I'll be firm!  To tell the truth, I can never imagine you as
'leaning;' though they say you are pale and sad, and out of sorts with
life.  You remind me of one of the gay scarlet runners that climb up
the slender poles in the garden below my window.  The pole holds up the
vine at first, of course, but the vine keeps the pole straight; not in
any ugly and commonplace fashion, but by winding round, and round about
it, and hanging its blossoms in and out and here and there, till the
poor, serviceable pole is forgotten in the beauty that makes use of it.

"Good-by, little scarlet runner!  You will bloom again some day, when
the storm that has beaten you down has passed over and the sky is clear
and the sun warm.  Don't laugh at me, Polly!

"Always yours, whether you laugh or not,

        "EDGAR."

"P. S. No. III.  I should n't dare add this third postscript if you
were near enough to slay me with the lightning of your eye, but I
simply wish to mention that a wise gardener chooses young, strong
timber for _poles_,--saplings, in fact!  _Mr. John Bird is too old for
this purpose_.  Well seasoned he is, of course, and suitable as a prop
for a century-plant, but not for a scarlet runner!  I like him, you
know, but I 'm sure he 'd crack if you leaned on him; in point of fact,
he 's a little cracked now!          E. N."


The ghost of a smile shone on Polly's April face as she folded Edgar's
letter and laid it in its envelope; first came a smile, then a tear,
then a dimple, then a sob, then a wave of bright color.

"Edgar is growing up so fast," she thought, "I shall soon be afraid to
scold him or advise him, and

  "'What will poor Robin do then, poor thing?'

"Upon my word, if I caught him misbehaving nowadays, I believe I should
hesitate to remonstrate with him.  He will soon be capable of
remonstrating with me, at this rate.  He is a goose,--oh, there 's no
shadow of doubt as to that, but he 's an awfully nice goose."

Mrs. Bird's letter ran thus:--


"MY DEAREST POLLYKINS:----We have lived without you just about as long
as we can endure it.  The boys have returned to school and college.
Mr. Bird contemplates one more trip to Honolulu, and brother John and I
need some one to coddle and worry over.  I have not spoken to you of
your future, because I wished to wait until you opened the subject.  It
is too late for you to begin your professional training this year, and
I think you are far too delicate just now to undertake so arduous a
work; however, you are young, and that can wait for a bit.  As to the
story-telling in the hospitals and asylums, I wish you could find
courage and strength to go on with that, not for your own sake alone,
but for the sake of others.

"As I have told you before, the money is set aside for that special
purpose, and the work will be carried on by somebody.  Of course I can
get a substitute if you refuse, and that substitute may, after a little
time, satisfy the impatient children, who flatten their noses against
the window-panes and long for Mias Pauline every day of their meagre
lives.  But I fear the substitute will never be Polly!  She may 'rattle
round in your place' (as somebody said under different circumstances),
but she can never fill it!  Why not spend the winter with us, and do
this lovely work, keeping up other studies if you are strong enough?
It will be so sweet for you to feel that out of your own sadness you
can comfort and brighten the lives of these lonely, suffering children
and these motherless or fatherless ones.  It will seem hard to begin,
no doubt; but new life will flow in your veins when you take up your
active, useful work again.  The joyousness that God put into your soul
before you were born, my Polly, is a sacred trust.  You must not hide
it in a napkin, dear, or bury it, or lose it.  It was given to you only
that you should share it with others.  It was intended for the world at
large, though it was bestowed upon you in particular.  Come, dear, to
one who knows all about it,--one whom you are sweet enough to call

      "YOUR FAIRY GODMOTHER."


"Mrs. Noble," said Polly, with a sober smile, "the Ancon sails on the
20th, and I am going to sail with her."

"So soon?  What for, dear?"

"I am going to be a banian-tree, if you please," answered Polly.



CHAPTER XV.

LIFE IN THE BIRDS' NEST.

Polly settled down in the Birds' Nest under the protecting wing of Mrs.
Bird, and a very soft and unaccustomed sort of shelter it was.

A room had been refurnished expressly for the welcome guest, and as
Mrs. Bird pushed her gently in alone, the night of her arrival, she
said, "This is the Pilgrim Chamber, Polly.  It will speak our wishes
for us."

It was not the room in which Polly had been ill for so many weeks; for
Mrs. Bird knew the power of associations, and was unwilling to leave
any reminder of those painful days to sadden the girl's new life.

As Polly looked about her, she was almost awed by the dazzling
whiteness.  The room was white enough for an angel, she thought.  The
straw matting was almost concealed by a mammoth rug made of white
Japanese goatskins sewed together; the paint was like snow, and the
furniture had all been painted white, save for the delicate silver
lines that relieved it.  There were soft, full curtains of white
bunting fringed with something that looked like thistle-down, and the
bedstead had an overhanging canopy of the same.  An open fire burned in
the little grate, and a big white and silver rattan chair was drawn
cosily before it.  There was a girlish dressing-table with its oval
mirror draped in dotted muslin; a dainty writing-desk with everything
convenient upon it; and in one corner was a low bookcase of white
satinwood.  On the top of this case lay a card, "With the best wishes
of John Bird," and along the front of the upper shelf were painted the
words: "Come, tell us a story!"  Below this there was a rich array of
good things.  The Grimms, Laboulaye, and Hans Christian Andersen were
all there.  Mrs. Ewing's "Jackanapes" and Charles Kingsley's
"Water-Babies" jostled the "Seven Little Sisters" series; Hawthorne's
"Wonder-Book" lay close to Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare;" and
Whittier's "Child-Life in Prose and Poetry" stood between Mary Howitt's
"Children's Year" and Robert Louis Stevenson's "Child's Garden of
Verses."

Polly sat upon the floor before the bookcase and gloated over her new
treasures, each of which bore her name on the fly-leaf.

As her eye rose to the vase of snowy pampas plumes and the pictured
Madonna and Child above the bookcase, it wandered still higher until it
met a silver motto painted on a blue frieze that finished the top of
the walls where they met the ceiling.

Polly walked slowly round the room, studying the illuminated letters:
"_And they laid the Pilgrim in an upper chamber, and the name of the
chamber was Peace_."

This brought the ready tears to Polly's eyes.  "God seems to give me
everything but what I want most," she thought; "but since He gives me
so much, I must not question any more: I must not choose; I must
believe that He wants me to be happy, after all, and I must begin and
try to be good again."

She did try to be good.  She came down to breakfast the next morning,
announcing to Mrs. Bird, with her grateful morning kiss, that she meant
to "live up to" her room.  "But it's going to be difficult," she
confessed.  "I shall not dare to have a naughty thought in it; it seems
as if it would be written somewhere on the whiteness!"

"You can come and be naughty in my bachelor den, Polly," said Mr. Bird,
smiling.  "Mrs. Bird does n't waste any girlish frills and poetic
decorations and mystical friezes on her poor brother-in-law!  He is
done up in muddy browns, as befits his age and sex."

Polly insisted on beginning her work the very next afternoon; but she
had strength only for three appointments a week, and Mrs. Bird looked
doubtfully after her as she walked away from the house with a languid
gait utterly unlike her old buoyant step.

Edgar often came in the evenings, as did Tom and Blanche Mills, and
Milly Foster; but though Polly was cheerful and composed, she seldom
broke into her old flights of nonsense.

On other nights, when they were alone, she prepared for her hours of
story-telling, and in this she was wonderfully helped by Mr. Bird's
suggestions and advice; for he was a student of literature in many
languages, and delighted in bringing his treasures before so teachable
a pupil.

"She has a sort of genius that astonishes me," said he one morning, as
he chatted with Mrs. Bird over the breakfast-table.

Polly had excused herself, and stood at the farther library window,
gazing up the street vaguely and absently, as if she saw something
beyond the hills and the bay.  Mrs. Bird's heart sank a little as she
looked at the slender figure in the black dress.  There were no dimples
about the sad mouth, and was it the dress, or was she not very white
these latter days?--so white that her hair encircled her face with
absolute glory, and startled one with its color.

"It is a curious kind of gift," continued Mr. Bird, glancing at his
morning' papers.  "She takes a long tale of Hans Andersen's, for
instance, and after an hour or two, when she has his idea fully in
mind, she shows me how she proposes to tell it to the younger children
at the Orphan Asylum.  She clasps her hands over her knees, bends
forward toward the firelight, and tells the story with such simplicity
and earnestness that I am always glad she is looking the other way and
cannot see the tears in my eyes.  I cried like a school-girl last night
over 'The Ugly Duckling.'  She has natural dramatic instinct, a great
deal of facial expression, power of imitation, and an almost unerring
taste in the choice of words, which is unusual in a girl so young and
one who has been so imperfectly trained.  I give her an old legend or
some fragment of folk-lore, and straight-way she dishes it up for me as
if it had been bone of her bone and marrow of her marrow; she knows
just what to leave out and what to put in, somehow.  You had one of
your happy inspirations about that girl, Margaret,--she is a born
story-teller.  She ought to wander about the country with a lute under
her arm.  Is the Olivers' house insured?"

"Good gracious, Jack! you have a kangaroo sort of mind!  How did you
leap to that subject?  I'm sure I don't know, but what difference does
it make, anyway?"

"A good deal of difference," he answered nervously, looking into the
library (yes, Polly had gone out); "because the house, the furniture,
and the stable were burned to the ground last night,--so the morning
paper says."

Mrs. Bird rose and closed the doors.  "That does seem too dreadful to
be true," she said.  "The poor child's one bit of property, her only
stand-by in case of need!  Oh, it can't be burned; and, if it is, it
must be insured.  I 'm afraid a second blow would break her down
completely just now, when she has not recovered from the first."

Mr. Bird went out and telegraphed to Dr. George Edgerton;--

Is Oliver house burned?  What was the amount of insurance, if any?
Answer.
        JOHN BIRD.

At four o'clock the reply came:--

House and outbuildings burned.  No insurance.  Have written
particulars.  Nothing but piano and family portraits saved.
        GEORGE EDGERTON.

In an hour another message, marked "Collect," followed the first one:--

House burned last night.  Defective flue.  No carelessness on part of
servants or family.  Piano, portraits, ice-cream freezer, and
wash-boiler saved by superhuman efforts of husband.  Have you any
instructions?  Have taken to my bed.  Accept love and sympathy.
        CLEMENTINE CHADWICK GEEENWOOD.

So it was true.  The buildings were burned, and there was no insurance.

I know you will say there never is, in stories where the heroine's
courage is to be tested, even if the narrator has to burn down the
whole township to do it satisfactorily.  But to this objection I can
make only this answer: First, that this house really did burn down;
secondly, that there really was no insurance; and thirdly, if this
combination of circumstances did not sometimes happen in real life, it
would never occur to a story-teller to introduce it as a test for
heroes and heroines.

"Well," said Mrs. Bird despairingly, "Polly must be told.  Now, will
you do it, or shall I?  Of course you want me to do it!  Men never have
any courage about these things, nor any tact either."

At this moment the subject of conversation walked into the room, hat
and coat on, and an unwonted color in her cheeks.  Edgar Noble followed
behind.  Polly removed her hat and coat leisurely, sat down on a
hassock on the hearth rug, and ruffled her hair with the old familiar
gesture, almost forgotten these latter days.

Mrs. Bird looked warningly at the tell-tale yellow telegrams in Mr.
Bird's lap, and strove to catch his eye and indicate to his dull
masculine intelligence the necessity of hiding them until they could
devise a plan of breaking the sad news.

Mrs. Bird's glance and Mr. Bird's entire obliviousness were too much
for Polly's gravity.  To their astonishment she burst into a peal of
laughter.

  "'My lodging is on the cold, cold ground,
  And hard, very hard is my fare!'"

she sang, to the tune of "Believe me, if all those endearing young
charms."  "So you know all about it, too?"

"How did you hear it?" gasped Mrs. Bird.

"I bought the evening paper to see if that lost child at the asylum had
been found.  Edgar jumped on the car, and seemed determined that I
should not read the paper until I reached home.  He was very kind, but
slightly bungling in his attentions.  I knew then that something was
wrong, but just what was beyond my imagination, unless Jack Howard had
been expelled from Harvard, or Bell Winship had been lost at sea on the
way home; so I persisted in reading, and at last I found the fatal
item.  I don't know whether Edgar expected me to faint at sight!  I 'm
not one of the fainting sort!"

"I 'm relieved that you can take it so calmly.  I have been shivering
with dread all day, and Jack and I have been quarreling as to which
should break it to you."

"Break it to me!" echoed Polly, in superb disdain.  "My dear Fairy
Godmother, you must think me a weak sort of person!  As if the burning
down of one patrimonial estate could shatter my nerves!  What is a
passing home or so?  Let it burn, by all means, if it likes.  'He that
is down need fear no fall.'"

"It is your only property," said Mr. Bird, trying to present the other
side of the case properly, "and it was not insured."

"What of that?" she asked briskly.  "Am I not housed and fed like a
princess at the present moment?  Have I not two hundred and fifty
dollars in the bank, and am I not earning twenty-five dollars a month
with absolute regularity?  Avaunt, cold Fear!"

"How was it that the house was not insured?" asked Mr. Bird.

"I 'm sure I don't know.  It was insured once upon a time, if I
remember right; when it got uninsured, I can't tell.  How do things get
uninsured, Mr. Bird?"

"The insurance lapses, of course, if the premium is n't regularly paid."

"Oh, that would account for it!" said Polly easily.  "There were
quantities of things that were n't paid regularly, though they were
always paid in course of time.  You ought to have asked me if we were
insured, Edgar,--you were the boy of the house,--insurance is n't a
girl's department.  Let me see the telegrams, please."

They all laughed heartily over Mrs. Greenwood's characteristic message.

"Think of 'husband' bearing that aged ice-cream freezer and that leaky
boiler to a place of safety!" exclaimed Polly.  "'All that was left of
them, left of six hundred!'  Well, my family portraits, piano, freezer,
and boiler will furnish a humble cot very nicely in my future spinster
days.  By the way, the land did n't burn up, I suppose, and that must
be good for something, is n't it?"

"Rather," answered Edgar; "a corner lot on the best street in town,
four blocks from the new hotel site!  It's worth eighteen hundred or
two thousand dollars, at least."

"Then why do you worry about me, good people?  I 'm not a heroine.  If
I were sitting on the curbstone without a roof to my head, and did n't
know where I should get my dinner, I should cry!  But I smell my
dinner" (here she sniffed pleasurably), "and I think it 's chicken!
You see, it's so difficult for me to realize that I 'm a pauper, living
here, a pampered darling in the halls of wealth, with such a large
income rolling up daily that I shall be a prey to fortune-hunters by
the time I am twenty!  Pshaw! don't worry about me!  This is just the
sort of diet I have been accustomed to from my infancy!  I rather enjoy
it!"

Whereupon Edgar recited an impromptu nonsense verse:--

  "There 's a queer little maiden named Polly,
  Who always knows when to be jolly.
    When ruined by fire
    Her spirits rise higher.
  This most inconsistent Miss Polly."



CHAPTER XVI.

THE CANDLE CALLED PATIENCE.

The burning of the house completely prostrated Mrs. Clementine
Churchill Chadwick Greenwood, who, it is true, had the actual shock of
the conflagration to upset her nervous system, though she suffered no
financial loss.

Mr. Greenwood was heard to remark that he wished he could have foreseen
that the house would burn down, for now he should have to move anyway,
and if he had known that a few months before, why--

Here the sentence always ended mysteriously, and the neighbors finished
it as they liked.

The calamity affected Polly, on the other hand, very much like a tonic.
She felt the necessity of "bracing" to meet the fresh responsibilities
that seemed waiting for her in the near future; and night and day, in
sleeping and waking, resting and working, a plan was formulating itself
in the brain just roused from its six months' apathy,--a novel,
astonishing, enchanting, revolutionary plan, which she bided her time
to disclose.

The opportunity came one evening after dinner, when Mrs. Bird, and her
brother, Edgar and herself, were gathered in the library.

The library was a good place in which to disclose plans, or ask advice,
or whisper confidences.  The great carved oak mantel held on the broad
space above the blazing logs the graven motto, "Esse Quod Opto."  The
walls were lined with books from floor half-way to ceiling, and from
the tops of the cases Plato, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, and the Sage of
Concord looked down with benignant wisdom.  The table in the centre was
covered with a methodical litter of pamphlets and magazines, and a soft
light came from the fire and from two tall, shaded lamps.

Mr. Bird, as was his wont, leaned back in his leather chair, puffing
delicate rings of smoke into the air.  Edgar sat by the centre table,
idly playing with a paper-knife.  Mrs. Bird sat in her low
rocking-chair with a bit of fancy-work, and Polly, on the hearth rug,
leaned cosily back against her Fairy Godmother's knees.

The clinging tendrils in Polly's nature, left hanging so helplessly
when her mother was torn away, reached out more and more to wind
themselves about lovely Mrs. Bird, who, notwithstanding her three manly
sons, had a place in her heart left sadly vacant by the loss of her
only daughter.

Polly broke one of the pleasant silences.  An open fire makes such
delightful silences, if you ever noticed.  When you sit in a room
without it, the gaps in the conversation make everybody seem dull; the
last comer rises with embarrassment and thinks he must be going, and
you wish that some one would say the next thing and keep the ball
rolling.  The open fire arranges all these little matters with a
perfect tact and grace all its own.  It is acknowledged to be the
centre of attraction, and the people gathered about it are only
supernumeraries.  It blazes and crackles and snaps cheerily, the logs
break and fall, the coals glow and fade and glow again, and the dull
man can always poke the fire if his wit desert him.  Who ever feels
like telling a precious secret over a steam-heater?

Polly looked away from everybody and gazed straight into the blaze.

"I have been thinking over a plan for my future work," she said, "and I
want to tell it to you and see if you all approve and think me equal to
it.  It used to come to me in flashes, after this Fairy Godmother of
mine opened an avenue for my surplus energy by sending me out as a
story-teller; but lately I have n't had any heart for it.  Work grew
monotonous and disagreeable and hopeless, and I 'm afraid I had no wish
to be useful or helpful to myself or to anybody else.  But now
everything is different.  I am not so rich as I was (I wish, Mr. Bird,
you would not smile so provokingly when I mention my riches!), and I
must not be idle any longer; so this is my plan, I want to be a
story-teller by profession.  Perhaps you will say that nobody has ever
done it; but surely that is an advantage; I should have the field to
myself for a while, at least.  I have dear Mrs. Bird's little poor
children as a foundation.  Now, I would like to get groups of other
children together in somebody's parlor twice a week and tell them
stories,--the older children one day in the week and the younger ones
another.  Of course I have n't thought out all the details, because I
hoped my Fairy Godmother would help me there, if she approved of my
plan; but I have ever so many afternoons all arranged, and enough
stories and songs at my tongue's end for three months.  Do you think it
impossible or nonsensical, Mr. Bird?"

"No," said he thoughtfully, after a moment's pause.  "It seems on the
first hearing to be perfectly feasible.  In fact, in one sense it will
not be an experiment at all.  You have tried your powers, gained
self-possession and command of your natural resources; developed your
ingenuity, learned the technicalities of your art, so to speak,
already.  You propose now, as I understand, to extend your usefulness,
widen your sphere of action, address yourself to a larger public, and
make a profession out of what was before only a side issue in your
life.  It's a new field, and it 's a noble one, taken in its highest
aspect, as you have always taken it.  My motto for you, Polly, is
Goethe's couplet:--

  "'What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.'"

"Make way for the story-teller!" cried Edgar.  "I will buy season
tickets for both your groups, if you will only make your limit of age
include me.  I am only five feet ten, and I 'll sit very low if you 'll
admit me to the charmed circle.  Shall you have a stage name?  I would
suggest 'The Seraphic Sapphira.'"

"Now, don't tease," said Polly, with dignity; "this is in sober
earnest.  What do you think, Fairy Godmother?  I 've written to my dear
Miss Mary Denison in Santa Barbara, and she likes the idea."

"I think it is charming.  In fact, I can hardly wait to begin.  I will
be your business manager, my Pollykins, and we 'll make it a success,
if it is possible.  If you 'll take me into your confidence and tell me
what you mean to do, I will plan the hows and whens and wheres."

"You see, dear people," continued Polly, "it is really the only thing
that I know how to do; and I have had several months' experience, so
that I 'm not entirely untrained.  I 'm not afraid any more, so long as
it is only children; though the presence of one grown person makes me
tongue-tied.  Grown-up people never know how to listen, somehow, and
they make you more conscious of yourself.  But when the children gaze
up at you with their shining eyes and their parted lips,--the smiles
just longing to be smiled and the tear-drops just waiting to
glisten,--I don't know what there is about it, but it makes you wish
you could go on forever and never break the spell.  And it makes you
tremble, too, for fear you should say anything wrong.  You seem so
close to children when you are telling them stories; just as if a
little, little silken thread spun itself out from one side of your
heart through each of theirs, until it came back to be fastened in your
own again; and it holds so tight, so tight, when you have done your
best and the children are pleased and grateful."

For days after this discussion Polly felt as if she were dwelling on a
mysterious height from which she could see all the kingdoms of the
earth.  She said little and thought much (oh, that this should come to
be written of Polly Oliver!).  The past which she had regretted with
such passionate fervor still fought for a place among present plans and
future hopes.  But she was almost convinced in these days that a
benevolent Power might after all be helping her to work out her own
salvation in an appointed way, with occasional weariness and tears,
like the rest of the world.

It was in such a softened mood that she sat alone in church one Sunday
afternoon at vespers.  She had chosen a place where she was sure of
sitting quietly by herself, and where the rumble of the organ and the
words of the service would come to her soothingly.  The late afternoon
sun shone through the stained-glass windows, bringing out the tender
blue on the Madonna's gown, the white on the wings of angels and robes
of newborn innocents, the glow of rose and carmine, with here and there
a glorious gleam of Tyrian purple.  Then her eyes fell on a memorial
window opposite her.  A mother bowed with grief was seated on some
steps of rough-hewn stones.  The glory of her hair swept about her
knees.  Her arms were empty; her hands locked; her head bent.  Above
stood a little child, with hand just extended to open a great door,
which was about to unclose and admit him.  He reached up his hand
fearlessly ("and that is faith," thought Polly), and at the same time
he glanced down at his weeping mother, as if to say, "Look up, mother
dear!  I am safely in."

Just then the choir burst into a grand hymn which was new to Polly, and
which came to her with the force of a personal message:--

  "The Son of God goes forth to war,
    A kingly crown to gain;
  His blood-red banner streams afar--
    Who follows in His train?
  Who best can drink his cup of woe,
    Triumphant over pain,
  Who patient bears his cross below,
    He follows in His train."

Verse after verse rang in splendid strength through the solemn aisles
of the church, ending with the lines:--

  "O God, to us may strength be given
    To follow in His train!"

Dr. George's voice came to Polly as it sounded that gray October
afternoon beside the sea; "When the sun of one's happiness is set, one
lights a candle called 'Patience,' and guides one's footsteps by that."

She leaned her head on the pew in front of her, and breathed a prayer.
The minister was praying for the rest of the people, but she needed to
utter her own thought just then.

"Father in heaven, I will try to follow; I have lighted my little
candle, help me to keep it burning!  I shall stumble often in the
darkness, I know, for it was all so clear when I could walk by my
darling mother's light, which was like the sun, so bright, so pure, so
strong!  Help me to keep the little candle steady, so that it may throw
its beams farther and farther into the pathway that now looks so dim."

     *     *     *     *     *

Polly sank to sleep that night in her white bed in the Pilgrim Chamber;
and the name of the chamber was Peace indeed, for she had a smile on
her lips,--a smile that looked as if the little candle had in truth
been lighted in her soul, and was shining through her face as though it
were a window.



CHAPTER XVII.

POLLY LAUNCHES HER SHIPS.

There were great doings in the Birds Nest.

A hundred dainty circulars, printed in black and scarlet on Irish linen
paper, had been sent to those ladies on Mrs. Bird's calling-list who
had children between the ages of five and twelve, that being Polly's
chosen limit of age.

These notes of invitation read as follows:--


  "Come, tell us a story!"

  THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.

Mrs. Donald Bird requests the pleasure of your company from 4.30 to
5.30 o'clock on Mondays or Thursdays from November to March inclusive.

  FIRST GROUP: Mondays.    Children from 5 to 8 years.
  SECOND GROUP: Thursdays.    "       "  8 "  12 years.

Each group limited in number to twenty-four.

Miss Pauline Oliver will tell stories suitable to the ages of the
children, adapted to their prevailing interests, and appropriate to the
special months of the year.

These stories will be chosen with the greatest care, and will embrace
representative tales of all classes,--narrative, realistic, scientific,
imaginative, and historical.  They will be illustrated by songs and
black-board sketches.  Terms for the Series (Twenty Hours), Five
Dollars.

    R.S.V.P.


Polly felt an absolute sense of suffocation as she saw Mrs. Bird seal
and address the last square envelope.

"If anybody does come," she said, somewhat sadly, "I am afraid it will
be only that the story hour is at your lovely house."

"Don't be so foolishly independent, my child.  If I gather the groups,
it is only you who will be able to hold them together.  I am your
manager, and it is my duty to make the accessories as perfect as
possible.  When the scenery and costumes and stage-settings are
complete, you enter and do the real work, I retire, and the sole
responsibility for success or failure rests upon your shoulders; I
should think that would be enough to satisfy the most energetic young
woman.  I had decided on the library as the scene of action; an open
fire is indispensable, and that room is delightfully large when the
centre-table is lifted out: but I am afraid it is hardly secluded
enough, and that people might trouble you by coming in; so what do you
think of the music-room upstairs?  You will have your fire, your piano,
plenty of space, and a private entrance for the chicks, who can lay
their wraps in the hall as they pass up.  I will take the large Turkish
rug from the red guest-chamber,--that will make the room look
warmer,--and I have a dozen other charming devices which I will give
you later as surprises."

"If I were half as sure of my part as I am of yours, dear Fairy
Godmother, we should have nothing to fear.  I have a general plan
mapped out for the stories, but a great deal of the work will have to
be done from week to week, as I go on.  I shall use the same programme
in the main for both groups, but I shall simplify everything and
illustrate more freely for the little ones, telling the historical and
scientific stories with much more detail to the older group.  This is
what Mr. Bird calls my 'basic idea,' which will be filled out from week
to week according to inspiration.  For November, I shall make autumn,
the harvest, and Thanksgiving the starting-point.  I am all ready with
my historical story of 'The First Thanksgiving,' for I told it at the
Children's Hospital last year, and it went beautifully.

"I have one doll dressed in Dutch costume, to show how the children
looked that the little Pilgrims played with in Holland; and another
dressed like a Puritan maiden, to show them the simple old New England
gown.  Then I have two fine pictures of Miles Standish and the Indian
chief Massasoit.

"For December and January I shall have Christmas and winter, and frost
and ice and snow, with the contrasts of eastern and Californian
climates."

"I can get the Immigration Bureau to give you a percentage on that
story, Polly," said Uncle Jack Bird, who had strolled in and taken a
seat.  "Just make your facts strong enough, and you can make a handsome
thing out of that idea."

"Don't interrupt us, Jack," said Mrs. Bird; "and go directly out, if
you please.  You were not asked to this party."

"Where was I?" continued Polly.  "Oh yes,--the contrast between
Californian and eastern winters; and January will have a moral story or
two, you know,--New Year's resolutions, and all that.  February will be
full of sentiment and patriotism,--St. Valentine's Day and Washington's
Birthday,--I can hardly wait for that, there are so many lovely things
to do in that month.  March will bring in the first hint of spring.
The winds will serve for my science story; and as it chances to be a
presidential year, we will celebrate Inauguration Day, and have some
history, if a good many subscribers come in."

"Why do you say 'if,' Polly?  Multitudes of names are coming in.  I
have told you so from the beginning."

"Very well, then; when a sufficient number of names are entered, I
should like to spend ten dollars on a very large sand-table, which I
can use with the younger group for illustrations.  It is perfectly
clean work, and I have helped Miss Denison and her children to do the
loveliest things with it.  She makes geography lessons,--plains, hills,
mountains, valleys, rivers, and lakes; or the children make a picture
of the story they have just heard.  I saw them do 'Over the River and
through the Wood to Grandfather's House we go,' 'Washington's Winter
Camp at Valley Forge,' and 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.'  I have
ever so many songs chosen, and those for November and December are
almost learned without my notes.  I shall have to work very hard to be
ready twice a week!"

"Too hard, I fear," said Mrs. Bird anxiously.

"Oh, no; not a bit too hard!  If the children are only interested, I
shall not mind any amount of trouble.  By the way, dear Mrs. Bird, you
won't let the nurses or mothers stand in the doorways?  You will please
see that I am left quite alone with the children, won't you?"

"Certainly; no mothers shall be admitted, if they make you nervous; it
is the children's hour.  But after two or three months, when you have
all become acquainted, and the children are accustomed to listening
attentively, I almost hope you will allow a few nurses to come in and
sit in the corners,--the ones who bring the youngest children, for
example; it would be such a means of education to them.  There 's
another idea for you next year,--a nurses' class in story-telling."

"It would be rather nice, would n't it?--and I should be older then,
and more experienced.  I really think I could do it, if Miss Denison
would help me by talks and instructions.  She will be here next year.
Oh, how the little plan broadens out!"

"And, Polly, you have chosen to pay for your circulars, and propose to
buy your sand-table.  This I agree to, if you insist upon it; though
why I shouldn't help my godchild I cannot quite understand.  But
knowing you were so absorbed in other matters that you would forget the
frivolities, and remembering that you have been wearing the same two
dresses for months, I have ventured to get you some pretty gowns for
the 'story hours,' and I want you to accept them for your Christmas
present.  They will serve for all your 'afternoons' and for our home
dinners, as you will not be going out anywhere this winter."

"Oh, how kind you are, Mrs. Bird!  You load me with benefits, and how
can I ever repay you?"

"You do not have to repay them to me necessarily, my child; you can
pass them over, as you will be constantly doing, to all these groups of
children, day after day.  I am a sort of stupid, rich old lady who
serves as a source of supply.  My chief brilliancy lies in devising
original methods of getting rid of my surplus in all sorts of odd and
delightful ways, left untried, for the most part, by other people.  I
've been buying up splendid old trees in the outskirts of certain New
England country towns,--trees that were in danger of being cut down for
wood.  Twenty-five to forty dollars buys a glorious tree, and it is
safe for ever and ever to give shade to the tired traveler and beauty
to the landscape.  Each of my boys has his pet odd scheme for helping
the world to 'go right.'  Donald, for instance, puts stamps on the
unstamped letters displayed in the Cambridge post-office, and sends
them spinning on their way.  He never receives the thanks of the
careless writers, but he takes pleasure in making things straight.
Paul writes me from Phillips Academy that this year he is sending the
nine Ruggles children (a poor family of our acquaintance) to some sort
of entertainment once every month.  Hugh has just met a lovely girl who
has induced him to help her maintain a boarding establishment for sick
and deserted cats and dogs; and there we are!"

"But I 'm a young, strong girl, and I fear I 'm not so worthy an object
of charity as a tree, an unstamped letter, an infant Ruggles, or a
deserted cat!  Still, I know the dresses will be lovely, and I had
quite forgotten that I must be clothed in purple and fine linen for
five months to come.  It would have been one of my first thoughts last
year, I am afraid; but lately this black dress has shut everything else
from my sight."

"It was my thought that you should give up your black dress just for
these occasions, dear, and wear something more cheerful for the
children's sake.  The dresses are very simple, for I 've heard you say
you can never tell a story when you are 'dressed up,' but they will
please you, I know.  They will be brought home this evening, and you
must slip them all on, and show yourself to us in each."

They would have pleased anybody, even a princess, Polly thought, as she
stood before her bed that evening patting the four pretty new waists,
and smoothing with childlike delight the folds of the four pretty
skirts.  It was such an odd sensation to have four dresses at a time!

They were of simple and inexpensive materials, as was appropriate; but
Mrs. Bird's exquisite taste and feeling for what would suit Polly's
personality made them more attractive than if they had been rich or
expensive.

There was a white China silk, with belt and shoulder-knots of black
velvet; a white Japanese crepe, with purple lilacs strewed over its
surface, and frills of violet ribbon for ornament; a Christmas dress of
soft, white camel's hair, with bands of white-fox fur round the
slightly pointed neck and elbow-sleeves; and, last of all, a Quaker
gown of silver-gray nun's cloth, with a surplice and full undersleeves
of white crêpe-lisse.

"I 'm going to be vain, Mrs. Bird!" cried Polly, with compunction in
her voice.  "I 've never had a real beautiful, undyed, un-made-over
dress in my whole life, and I shall never have strength of character to
own four at once without being vain!"

This speech was uttered through the crack of the library door, outside
of which Polly stood, gathering courage to walk in and be criticised.

"Think of your aspiring nose, Sapphira!" came from a voice within.

"Oh, are you there too, Edgar?"

"Of course I am, and so is Tom Mills.  The news that you are going to
'try on' is all over the neighborhood!  If you have cruelly fixed the
age limit so that we can't possibly get in to the performances, we are
going to attend all the dress rehearsals.  Oh, ye little fishes! what a
seraphic Sapphira!  I wish Tony were here!"

She was pretty, there was no doubt about it, as she turned around like
a revolving wax figure in a show-window, and assumed absurd
fashion-plate attitudes; and pretty chiefly because of the sparkle,
intelligence, sunny temper, and vitality that made her so magnetic.

Nobody could decide which was the loveliest dress, even when she had
appeared in each one twice.  In the lilac and white crepe, with a bunch
of dark Parma violets thrust in her corsage, Uncle Jack called her a
poem.  Edgar asserted openly that in the Christmas toilet he should
like to have her modeled in wax and put in a glass case on his table;
but Mrs. Bird and Tom Mills voted for the Quaker gray, in which she
made herself inexpressibly demure by braiding her hair in two discreet
braids down her back.

"The dress rehearsal is over.  Good-night all!" she said, as she took
her candle.  "I will say 'handsome is as handsome does' fifty times
before I go to sleep, and perhaps--I only say perhaps--I may be used to
my beautiful clothes in a week or two, so that I shall be my usual
modest self again."

"Good-night, Polly," said the boys; "we will see you to-morrow."

"'Pauline,' if you please, not 'Polly.'  I ceased to be Polly this
morning when the circulars were posted.  I am now Miss Pauline Oliver,
story-teller by profession."



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR: REPORTED IN A LETTER BY AN EYE-WITNESS.

It was the last Monday in March, and I had come in from my country home
to see if I could find my old school friend, Margaret Crosby, who is
now Mrs. Donald Bird, and who is spending a few years in California.

The directory gave me her address, and I soon found myself on the
corner of two beautiful streets and before a very large and elegant
house.  This did not surprise me, as I knew her husband to be a very
wealthy man.  There seemed to be various entrances, for the house stood
with its side to the main street; but when I had at last selected a
bell to ring, I became convinced that I had not, after all, gone to the
front door.  It was too late to retreat, however, and very soon the
door was opened by a pretty maid-servant in a white cap and apron.

"You need n't have rung, 'm; they goes right in without ringing
to-day," she said pleasantly.

"Can I see Mrs. Bird?" I asked.

"Well, 'm," she said hesitatingly, "she 's in Paradise."

"Lovely Margaret Crosby dead!  How sudden it must have been," I
thought, growing pale with the shock of the surprise; but the pretty
maid, noticing that something had ruffled my equanimity, went on
hastily:--

"Excuse me, 'm.  I forgot you might be a stranger, but the nurses and
mothers always comes to this door, and we 're all a bit flustered on
account of its bein' Miss Pauline's last 'afternoon,' and the mothers
call the music-room 'Paradise,' 'm, and Mr. John and the rest of us
have took it up without thinkin' very much how it might sound to
strangers."

"Oh, I see," I said mechanically, though I did n't see in the least;
but although the complicated explanation threw very little light on
general topics, it did have the saving grace of assuring me that
Margaret Bird was living.

"Could you call her out for a few minutes?" I asked.  "I am an old
friend, and shall be disappointed not to see her."

"I 'm sorry, 'm, but I could n't possibly call her out; it would be as
much as my place is worth.  Her strict orders is that nobody once
inside of Paradise door shall be called out."

"That does seem reasonable," I thought to myself.

"But," she continued, "Mrs. Bird told me to let young Mr. Noble up the
stairs so 't he could peek in the door, and as you 're an old friend I
hev n't no objections to your goin' up softly and peekin' in with him
till Miss Pauline 's through,--it won't be long, 'm."

My curiosity was aroused by this time, and I came to the conclusion
that "peekin' in the door" of Paradise with "young Mr. Noble" would be
better than nothing; so up I went, like a thief in the night.

The room was at the head of the stairs, and one of the doors was open,
and had a heavy portiere hanging across it.  Behind this was young Mr.
Noble, "peekin'" most greedily, together with a middle-aged gentleman
not described by the voluble parlor maid.  They did n't seem to notice
me; they were otherwise occupied, or perhaps they thought me one of the
nurses or mothers.  I had heard the sound of a piano as I crossed the
hall, but it was still now.  I crept behind young Mr. Noble, and took a
good "peek" into Paradise.

It was a very large apartment, one that looked as if it might have been
built for a ball-room; at least, there was a wide, cushioned bench
running around three sides of it, close to the wall.  On one side,
behind some black and gold Japanese screens, where they could hear and
not be seen, sat a row of silent, capped and aproned nurse-maids and
bonneted mammas.  Mrs. Bird was among them, lovely and serene as an
angel still, though she has had her troubles.  There was a great
fireplace in the room, but it was banked up with purple and white
lilacs.  There was a bowl of the same flowers on the grand piano, and a
clump of bushes sketched in chalk on a blackboard.  Just then a lovely
young girl walked from the piano and took a low chair in front of the
fireplace.

Before her there were grouped ever so many children, twenty-five or
thirty, perhaps.  The tots in the front rows were cosy and comfortable
on piles of cushions, and the seven or eight year olds in the back row
were in seats a little higher.  Each child had a sprig of lilac in its
hand.  The young girl wore a soft white dress with lavender flowers
scattered all over it, and a great bunch of the flowers in her belt.

She was a lovely creature!  At least, I believe she was.  I have an
indistinct remembrance that her enemies (if she has any) might call her
hair red; but I could n't stop looking at her long enough at the time
to decide precisely what color it was.  And I believe, now that several
days have passed, that her nose turned up; but at the moment, whenever
I tried to see just how much it wandered from the Grecian outline, her
eyes dazzled me and I never found out.

As she seated herself in their midst, the children turned their faces
expectantly toward her, like flowers toward the sun.

"You know it 's the last Monday, dears," she said; "and we 've had our
good-by story."

"Tell it again!  Sing it again!" came from two kilted adorers in the
back row.

"Not to-day;" and she shook her head with a smile.  "You know we always
stop within the hour, and that is the reason we are always eager to
come again; but this sprig of lilac that you all hold in your hands has
something to tell; not a long story, just a piece of one for another
good-by.  I think when we go home, it we all press the flowers in heavy
books, and open the books sometimes while we are away from each other
this summer, that the sweet fragrance will come to us again, and the
faded blossom will tell its own story to each one of us.  And this is
the story," she said, as she turned her spray of lilac in her fingers.

     *     *     *     *     *

There was once a little lilac-bush that grew by a child's window.
There was no garden there, only a tiny bit of ground with a few green
things in it; and because there were no trees in the crowded streets,
the birds perched on the lilac-bush to sing, and two of them even built
a nest in it once, for want of something larger.

It had been a very busy lilac-bush all its life: drinking up moisture
from the earth and making it into sap; adding each year a tiny bit of
wood to its slender trunk; filling out its leaf-buds; making its leaves
larger and larger; and then--oh, happy, happy time!--hanging purple
flowers here and there among its branches.

It always felt glad of its hard work when Hester came to gather some of
its flowers just before Easter Sunday.  For one spray went to the table
where Hester and her mother ate together; one to Hester's teacher; one
to the gray stone church around the corner, and one to a little lame
girl who sat, and sat, quite still, day after day, by the window of the
next house.

But one year--this very last year, children--the lilac-bush grew tired
of being good and working hard; and the more it thought about it, the
sadder and sorrier and more discouraged it grew.  The winter had been
dark and rainy; the ground was so wet that its roots felt slippery and
uncomfortable; there was some disagreeable moss growing on its smooth
branches; the sun almost never shone; the birds came but seldom; and at
last the lilac-bush said, "I will give up: I am not going to bud or
bloom or do a single thing for Easter this year!  I don't care if my
trunk does n't grow, nor my buds swell, nor my leaves grow larger!  If
Hester wants her room shaded, she can pull the curtain down; and the
lame girl can"--_do without_, it was going to say, but it did n't
dare--oh, it did n't dare to think of the poor little lame girl without
any comforting flowers; so it stopped short and hung its head.

Six or eight weeks ago Hester and her mother went out one morning to
see the lilac-bush.

"It does n't look at all as it ought," said Hester, shaking her head
sadly.  "The buds are very few, and they are all shrunken.  See how
limp and flabby the stems of the leaves look!"

"Perhaps it is dead," said Hester's mother, "or perhaps it is too old
to bloom."

"I like that!" thought the lilac-bush.

"I 'm not dead and I 'm not dying, though I 'd just as lief die as to
keep on working in this dark, damp, unpleasant winter, or spring, or
whatever they call it; and as for being past blooming, I would just
like to show her, if it was n't so much trouble!  How old does she
think I am, I wonder?  There is n't a thing in this part of the city
that is over ten years old, and I was n't planted first, by any means!"

And then Hester said, "My darling, darling lilac-bush!  Easter won't be
Easter without it; and lame Jenny leans out of her window every day as
I come from school, and asks, 'Is the lilac budding?'"

"Oh dear!" sighed the little bush.  "I wish she would n't talk that
way; it makes me so nervous to have Jenny asking questions about me!
It starts my sap circulating, and I shall grow in spite of me!"

"Let us see what we can do to help it," said Hester's mother.  "Take
your trowel and dig round the roots first."

"They 'll find a moist and sticky place and be better able to
sympathize with me," thought the lilac.

"Then put in some new earth, the richest you can get, and we 'll snip
off all the withered leaves and dry twigs, and see if it won't take a
new start."

"I shall have to, I believe, whether I like it or not, if they make
such a fuss about me!" thought the lilac-bush.  "It seems a pity if a
thing can't stop growing and be let alone and die if it wants to!"

But though it grumbled a trifle at first, it felt so much better after
Hester and her mother had spent the afternoon caring for it, that it
began to grow a little just out of gratitude,--and what do you think
happened?


"George Washington came and chopped it down with his little hatchet,"
said an eager person in front.

"The lame girl came to look at it," sang out a small chap in the back
row.


No, (the young girl answered, with an irrepressible smile), it was a
cherry-tree that George Washington chopped, Lucy; and I told you,
Horatio, that the poor lame girl could n't walk a step.  But the sun
began to shine,--that is the first thing that happened.  Day after day
the sun shone, because everything seems to help the people and the
things that help themselves.  The rich earth gave everything it had to
give for sap, and the warm air dried up the ugly moss that spoiled the
beauty of its trunk.

Then the lilac-bush was glad again, and it could hardly grow fast
enough, because it knew it would be behind time, at any rate; for of
course it could n't stand still, grumbling and doing nothing for weeks,
and get its work done as soon as the other plants.  But it made sap all
clay long, and the buds grew into tiny leaves, and the leaves into
larger ones, and then it began to group its flower-buds among the
branches.  By this time it was the week before Easter, and it fairly
sat up nights to work.

Hester knew that it was going to be more beautiful than it ever was in
its life before (that was because it had never tried so hard, though of
course Hester could n't know that), but she was only afraid that it
would n't bloom soon enough, it was so very late this spring.

But the very morning before Easter Sunday, Hester turned in her sleep
and dreamed that a sweet, sweet fragrance was stealing in at her open
window.  A few minutes later she ran across her room, and lo! every
cluster of buds on the lilac-bush had opened into purple flowers, and
they were waving in the morning sunshine as if to say, "We are ready,
Hester!  We are ready, after all!"

And one spray was pinned in the teacher's dress,--it was shabby and
black,--and she was glad of the flower because it reminded her of home.

And one spray stood in a vase on Hester's dining-table.   There was
never very much dinner in Hester's house, but they did not care that
day, because the lilac was so beautiful.

One bunch lay on the table in the church, and one, the loveliest of
all, stood in a cup of water on the lame girl's window-sill; and when
she went to bed that night she moved it to the table beside her head,
and put her thin hand out to touch it in the dark, and went to sleep
smiling.

And each of the lilac flowers was glad that the bush had bloomed.

     *     *     *     *     *

The children drew a deep breath.  They smoothed their flower-sprays
gently, and one pale boy held his up to his cheek as if it had been a
living thing.

"Tell it again," cried the tomboy.

"Is it true?" asked the boy in kilts.

"I think it is," said the girl gently.  "Of course, Tommy, the flowers
never tell us their secrets in words; but I have watched that
lilac-bush all through the winter and spring, and these are the very
blossoms you are holding to-day.  It seems true, doesn't it?"

"Yes," they said thoughtfully.

"Shall you press yours, Miss Polly, and will it tell you a story, too,
when you look at it?" asked one little tot as they all crowded about
her for a good-by kiss.

Miss Polly caught her up in her arms, and I saw her take the child's
apron and wipe away a tear as she said, "Yes, dear, it will tell me a
story, too,--a long, sad, sweet, helpful story!"





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