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Title: Polly of Lady Gay Cottage
Author: Dowd, Emma C., -1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 of Lady Gay Cottage" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



 POLLY
 OF LADY GAY COTTAGE

 BY

 EMMA C. DOWD

 WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

 NEW YORK

 GROSSET & DUNLAP

 PUBLISHERS

 Made in the United States of America



COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY EMMA C. DOWD

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



[Illustration: HAROLD WESTWOOD!]



 TO
 MY CRITIC, COUNSELOR
 AND COMRADE



CONTENTS


     I. THE ROSEWOOD BOX                               1

    II. LEONORA'S WONDERFUL NEWS                      12

   III. A WHIFF OF SLANDER                            20

    IV. COUSINS                                       36

     V. A MONOPOLIST AND A FANFARON                   46

    VI. "NOT FOR SALE"                                66

   VII. THE BLIZZARD                                  73

  VIII. THE INTERMEDIATE BIRTHDAY PARTY               89

    IX. THE EIGHTH ROSE                              105

     X. A VISIT FROM ERASTUS BEAN                    119

    XI. UNCLE MAURICE AT LADY GAY COTTAGE            125

   XII. LITTLE CHRIS                                 138

  XIII. ILGA BARRON                                  152

   XIV. POLLY IN NEW YORK                            165

    XV. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST                          175

   XVI. ROSES AND THORNS                             184

  XVII. A SUMMER NIGHT MYSTERY                       194

 XVIII. AT MIDVALE SPRINGS                           212

   XIX. TWO LETTERS                                  237

    XX. MRS. JOCELYN'S DINNER-PARTY                  250



POLLY OF LADY GAY COTTAGE



CHAPTER I

THE ROSEWOOD BOX


The telephone bell cut sharp into Polly's story.

She was recounting one of the merry hours that Mrs. Jocelyn had given
to her and Leonora, while Dr. Dudley and his wife were taking their
wedding journey. Still dimpling with laughter, she ran across to the
instrument; but as she turned back from the message her face was
troubled.

"Father says I am to come right over to the hospital," she told her
mother. "Mr. Bean--you know, the one that married Aunt Jane--has got
hurt, and he wants to see me. I hope he isn't going to die. He was
real good to me that time I was there, as good as he dared to be."

"I will go with you," Mrs. Dudley decided.

And, locking the house, they went out into the early evening darkness.

The physician was awaiting them in his office.

"Is he badly hurt?" asked Polly anxiously. "What does he want to see
me for?"

"We are afraid of internal injury," was the grave answer. "He was on
his way to you when the car struck him."

"To me?" Polly exclaimed.

"He was fetching a little box that belonged to your mother. Do you
recollect it--a small rosewood box?"

"Oh, yes!" she cried. "I'd forgotten all about it--there's a wreath of
tiny pearl flowers on the cover!"

The Doctor nodded.

"Mr. Bean seems to attach great value to the box or its contents."

"Oh, what is in it?"

"I don't know. But he kept tight hold of it even after he was knocked
down, and it was the first thing he called for when he regained
consciousness. I thought he had better defer seeing you until
to-morrow morning; but he wouldn't hear to it. So I let him have his
own way."

"Have you sent word to Aunt Jane?" inquired Polly, instinctively
shrinking from contact with the woman in whose power she had lived
through those dreadful years.

Dr. Dudley gave a smiling negative. "He begged me not to let her
know."

"I don't blame him!" Polly burst out. "I guess he's glad to get away
from her, if he did have to be hurt to do it."

"Probably he wishes first to make sure that the box is in your hands,"
observed the Doctor, rising. "She will have to be notified. Come, we
will go upstairs. The sooner the matter is off Mr. Bean's mind, the
better."

Polly was dismayed at sight of the little man's face. In their
whiteness his pinched features seemed more wizen than ever. But his
smile of welcome was eager.

"How do you do, my dear? My dear!" the wiry hand was extended with
evident pain.

Polly squeezed it sympathetically, and told him how sorry she was for
his accident.

Mr. Bean gazed at her with tender, wistful eyes.

"My little girl was 'most as big as you," he mused. "Not quite; she
wasn't but six when she--went. But you look consider'ble like
her--wish't I had a picture o' Susie! I wish't I had!" He drew his
breath hard.

Polly patted the wrinkled hand, not knowing what to say.

"But I've got a picture here you'll like," the little man brightened.
"Yer'll like it first-rate."

His hand moved gropingly underneath the bed covers, and finally
brought out the little box that Polly instantly recognized.

"Oh, thank you! How pretty it is!" She received it with a radiant
smile.

Mr. Bean's face grew suddenly troubled.

"Yer mustn't blame Jane too much," he began pleadingly. "I guess she
kind o' dassent give it to yer, so long afterwards. It's locked,"--as
Polly pulled at the cover,--"and there ain't no key," he mourned. "I
do' know what Jane's done with it. Yer'll have to git another,--there
wa'n't no other way." His voice was plaintive.

"That's all right," Polly reassured him.

The pleasure of once more holding the little box in her hand was
enough for the moment.

"I see it in her bureau drawer the day we was first married," he went
on reminiscently, "an' she opened it and showed me what was in it.
Ther' 's a picture of yer mother--"

"Oh!" Polly interrupted excitedly, "of mamma?"

"Yis, so she said. Looks like you, too,--same kind o' eyes. It was
goin' to be for your birthday--that's what she had it took for, Jane
said."

Polly had been breathlessly following his words, and now broke out in
sudden reproach:--

"Oh! why didn't Aunt Jane let me have it! How could she keep it, when
I wanted a picture of mamma so!"

The reply did not come at once. A shadow of pain passed over the man's
face, leaving it more drawn and pallid.

"It's too bad!" he lamented weakly. "I tol' Jane so then; but she
thought 'twould kind o' upset yer, likely, and so--" His voice
faltered. He began again bravely. "You mustn't blame Jane too much, my
dear! Jane's got some good streaks, real good streaks."

Polly looked up from the little box. Her eyes were wet, but she smiled
cheerfully into the anxious face.

"I ought not to blame her, now she's sent it," she said sweetly; "and
I thank you ever so much for bringing it."

A hint of a smile puckered the thin lips.

"Guess if I'd waited f'r her to send it," he murmured, "'t 'ud been
the mornin' Gabriel come! But Jane's got her good streaks," he
apologized musingly.

Then he lay silent for a moment, feeling after courage to go on.

"Ther' 's a letter, too," he finally hazarded. "Jane said it was about
some rich relations o' yours some'er's--I forgit where. She said
likely they wouldn't care nothin' 'bout you, seein' 's they never'd
known yer, and it would only put false notions into yer head, and so
she didn't"--he broke off, his eyes pleading forgiveness for the woman
whose "good streaks" needed constant upholding.

But Polly was quite overlooking Aunt Jane. This astonishing bit of
news had thrown her mind into a tumult, and she breathlessly awaited
additional items.

They were slow in coming, and she grew impatient.

"What relatives are they?" she prodded. "Papa's, or mamma's?"

Mr. Bean could not positively say. He had not read the letter, and
recollected little that his wife had told him.

"Seems kind o' 's if they was Mays," he mused; "but I ain't noways
sure. Anyhow they was millionaires, Jane said she guessed, and she was
afraid 't 'ud spile yer to go and live with 'em,--"

At this juncture Dr. Dudley interposed, his fingers trying his
patient's pulse.

"No more visiting to-night," he smiled, yet the smile was grave and of
short life.

Polly went away directly, carrying the little rosewood box, after
again expressing her grateful thanks to Mr. Bean.

Down in the office her tongue ran wild, until her mother was quite as
excited as she. But there was a difference; Polly's wondering thoughts
flew straight to her lips, Mrs. Dudley's stayed in her heart, restless
and fearsome.

Next morning the injured man seemed no worse, though the physicians
still had grave doubts of his recovery. Dr. Dudley, while appreciating
Mr. Bean's kind intentions towards Polly, and putting out of account
the serious accident, grimly wished to himself that the little man had
suffered the rosewood box to remain hidden in his wife's bureau
drawer. Of course, Polly was legally his own, yet these unknown
relatives of hers,--with what convincing arguments might they confront
him, arguments which he could not honestly refute! Yet he carried the
box to the locksmith's, and he conjectured cheerfully with Polly
regarding the contents of the letter.

Late in the afternoon he put both box and key into Polly's hands.

"Oh!" she squealed delightedly. "Have you opened it?"

"Most certainly not. That pleasure is left for you."

She eagerly placed the key in the lock, and carefully raised the
cover.

A folded tissue paper lay on top, which she caught up, and the
photograph was disclosed.

"Mamma!" she half sobbed, pressing the picture to her lips.

But Dr. Dudley scarcely noticed her emotion, for the displacement
of the card had revealed only an empty box--the letter was gone!
He looked across at his wife, and their eyes met in perfect
understanding. The moment they had both dreaded was postponed, and
they felt a sudden relief. Still, there had been a letter, the Doctor
silently reasoned, and sooner or later its contents must be faced.

"See!" Polly was holding before him the portrait of a lovely, girlish
woman, with dark, thoughtful eyes and beautiful, curving mouth.

"It looks just like her!" came in tremulous tones. "Isn't she sweet?"
She leaned lightly against her father, drawing a long breath of joy
and sorrow.

As he threw his arm about her, the Doctor could feel her efforts to be
calm.

"But where's the letter?" she asked, with sudden recollection, turning
from their satisfying praise of the one she loved, to gaze into the
empty box. She regarded it disappointedly when she heard the truth.

"Now I shan't ever know," she lamented, "whether I have any
grandfather or grandmother, or uncles or aunts,--or anybody! And I
thought, may be, there'd be some cousins too! But, then," she went on
cheerfully, "it isn't as if the letter was from somebody I'd ever
known. I'm glad it is that that's lost, instead of this," clasping the
photograph to her heart.

Mrs. Dudley glanced over to her husband. "Better not tell her!" his
eyes said, and her own agreed. It seemed that Polly did not dream of
what was undoubtedly the case,--that the letter was from her mother,
written as a birthday accompaniment to the picture, and giving
hitherto withheld information concerning her kindred.

It was far better for Polly's peace of heart that the probable truth
was not even surmised, and presently she carried the photograph up to
her own little room, there to feast her eyes upon the well-remembered
face until time was forgotten.



CHAPTER II

LEONORA'S WONDERFUL NEWS


"Polly!"

Dr. Dudley waited at the foot of the short staircase. He had just come
in from an early morning visit to a hospital patient.

"Yes, father," floated down to him, followed by a scurry of light feet
in the corridor overhead.

Directly Polly appeared at the top of the flight, one side of her hair
in soft, smooth curls, the other a mass of fluffy waves.

"Leonora sent word for you to come over 'just as soon as you possibly
can,'" smiled the Doctor. "She has something to tell you."

"I don't see what it can be," replied Polly. "Do you know, father?"

"You wouldn't wish me to rob Leonora of the first telling of her
news," he objected.

"No," she admitted slowly; "but I can't imagine why she's in such a
hurry. I wonder if she is to stay at the hospital longer than she
expected--that isn't it, is it?"

Dr. Dudley shook his head.

"My advice is to make haste with your toilet and run over to the
hospital and find out."

"Yes," Polly agreed, "I will." Yet she stood still, her forehead
puckered over the possible good things that could have happened to her
friend.

Dr. Dudley turned away, and then halted.

"Isn't your mother waiting for you?" he suggested.

"Oh, I forgot!" she cried, and flew back to where Mrs. Dudley sat,
brush and comb in hand.

"How my hair grows!" commented Polly, after discussing the news
awaiting her, and silently concluding that whatever her mother knew
she did not intend to disclose. "It will be a year next week since it
was cut. I shall have mermaid tresses before I know it. Isn't it nice
that I was hurt? Because if I hadn't been I should never have known
you and father. Did you expect to marry him when he took you to ride
on Elsie's birthday?"

"Of course not!" laughed Mrs. Dudley. "You were a roguish little
match-maker!"

"I never thought of that," returned Polly. "I only wanted you to have
a good time."

"I had it," her mother smiled, tying a ribbon to hold the bright
curls. "There!" with a final pluck at the bow; "now run along and hear
Leonora's glad story! I am afraid she will be getting impatient."

As Polly skipped up to the hospital entrance, the door flew open, and
Leonora, smiling rapturously, ran to meet her.

"What is it?" entreated Polly. "I can't wait another minute!"

"Seem's if I couldn't, too! I thought you'd never come! What do you
think, Polly May Dudley! I'm goin' to live with Mrs. Jocelyn!--all the
time!--forever! She's adopted me!"

Polly stared, and then let out her astonishment in a big "O-h!" This
was, indeed, something unguessable. "Isn't that lovely!" she cried in
delight. "I'm so glad!--just as glad as I can be!"

"Of course you are! Everybody is," Leonora responded blissfully. They
went in doors arm in arm, stopping in Dr. Dudley's office, their
tongues more than keeping pace with their steps.

"I shouldn't think your father and mother would want to give you up,"
observed practical Polly.

"I guess they're glad," Leonora replied. "Prob'ly I wouldn't go if
they were my own; but I don't belong to them."

"You don't?"

"Why, no. My mother died when I was three years old. I can only just
remember her. In a little while father married again, and pretty soon
he died--he was awful good to me! I cried when they said he wasn't
goin' to get well. Then my stepmother married Mr. Dinnan. So, you see,
I ain't any relation really, and they're prob'ly glad not to have me
to feed any more. And I guess I'm glad--my! But I can't b'lieve it
yet! Say, I'm goin' to your school, and Mrs. Jocelyn is comin' to take
me out in her carriage this forenoon to buy me some new clothes!"

Polly's radiant face was enough to keep Leonora's tongue lively.

"She's goin' to fix me up a room right next to hers, all white and
pink! And she's goin' to get me a beautiful doll house and some new
dolls--she says I can pick 'em out myself! And--what do you
think!--she said last night she guessed she'd have to get me a pair of
ponies and a little carriage just big enough for you and me, and have
me learn to drive 'em!"

"O-h! won't you be grand!" beamed Polly.

And then, while Leonora chattered on, came to her a picture of that
afternoon--so far away it seemed!--when she had been folded in Mrs.
Jocelyn's arms, to be offered these same pleasures, and which she had
refused for love of Dr. Dudley, although the thought of calling him
father had never then come to her. How glad she was that she had not
mentioned this! She had always had an intuitive feeling that the
concern was Mrs. Jocelyn's, to be kept as her secret, and she had
therefore been silent. Now Leonora need never know that she was
"second choice." Her friend's happy confidences recalled Polly's
strolling thoughts.

"I don't b'lieve you have any idea how perfectly splendid it makes me
feel to think I'm goin' to have that sweet, beautiful Mrs. Jocelyn for
my own mother." The last word was little more than a whisper.
Leonora's dark eyes were luminous with joy.

"Why, of course I know!" responded Polly. "You feel just as I did that
day father told me he was going to marry Miss Lucy,--I mean
mother,--and I was to be their little girl. Don't you remember? I'd
been for a visit to Mrs. Jocelyn's and brought home those presents,
and Mary Pender thought I must have had such a good time because I was
so full of fun."

"I guess I couldn't ever forget!" cried Leonora. "That lovely rose-bud
sash you gave me was the prettiest thing I ever had to wear in all my
life! And was that really the day you first knew about it?"

Polly nodded.

"Queer!" Leonora went on. "There we both went to the hospital, you
hurted so awful bad nobody s'posed you'd get well, and I so lame that
even Dr. Dudley thought I'd never walk straight! And now--my! ain't
it queer? We're adopted by the nicest folks, and I don't limp a mite!
Just see how good I can walk!"

She skipped off gleefully, falling into a slow, regular pace across
the room.

"That's beautiful!" praised Polly. "And it doesn't hurt you now, does
it?"

"Not a bit! Oh, it's so splendid that Dr. Dudley cured me!--why,
there's David! No, don't go!" as Polly sprang up. "It isn't school
time yet."

The girls ran to the door, Leonora clutching her friend's arm, as if
resolved not to let her escape.

"Your mother told me you were here," David began.

"She didn't tell you I was goin' to your school, did she?" laughed
Leonora.

"No! Honest?"

"Yes, honest!" they chorused mischievously.

"There's something up!" David's head wagged knowingly. "What is it?"

He looked from Leonora to Polly, and back again.

Then the delightful news could not be kept a minute longer, but
bubbled forth from Leonora's lips, until the three were soon in a
torrent of merry talk.

David's interest fully satisfied the girls, which is saying much for
it; but the clock ticked steadily on, regardless of adoptions, new
clothes, and ponies. Happily there was a chance look across the room,
which hurried Polly and David away to school and sent Leonora up to
the convalescent ward to make ready for her drive with Mrs. Jocelyn.



CHAPTER III

A WHIFF OF SLANDER


Within a few days the little girl, who on the occasion of the ward's
anniversary had been afraid to speak to her beautiful benefactor,
found herself established in the stately old house on Edgewood Avenue,
and calling the same charming lady "mother."

On the morning that Mrs. Jocelyn's man drove her across the city to
the private school which Polly and David attended, she was almost too
joyfully excited for comfort. To think that one of her most cherished
dreams was actually coming true!

Polly introduced her as, "My friend, Leonora Jocelyn," which made the
little dark face pink with pleasure, and nearly caught away the
remnant of her self-possession.

The girls and boys received her with polite attention or gushing
cordiality, and she was beginning to calm into something like sober
happiness when Ilga Barron appeared.

Ilga was short and plumpy, with pincushion legs, and feet that were
trained to dancing. The skirt of her dress was as brief as compatible
with fashion, and she swung it with a superior air which abashed the
meeker of her schoolmates. She greeted the new pupil with a nod and a
stare.

"What's your father's business?" was her abrupt inquiry.

"I haven't any father," Leonora answered gently.

"Oh! Where do you live?"

"On Edgewood Avenue."

"Up opposite Edgewood Park?"

"Yes."

"I thought that Mrs. Jocelyn hadn't any children," scowled Ilga.

"She has just adopted me," Leonora explained shyly.

"Oh!"

That was all, accompanied by a little toss of the head. Then Ilga
whirled away, calling on her favorite mate to follow.

Leonora's face grew distressfully red, and her soft eyes suddenly
brimmed.

For an instant Polly stood dazed; but quickly she commanded her
scattered wits.

"There's Lilith Brooks! I want you to know her, she is so sweet! Come,
Leonora!" She threw her arm around her friend, and drew her away from
the embarrassed group.

"You mustn't mind Ilga!" she whispered. "Nobody does!"

Yet all that morning the impertinence of Senator Barron's only
daughter occupied more of Polly's mind than her lessons, and at recess
her indignant thoughts sprang into words. She went straight to where
Ilga was entertaining two of her chosen intimates with chocolate
creams.

"What did you mean by treating Leonora so rudely?" demanded Polly,
threatening sparks in her usually gentle eyes. "She is my friend, and
I wish to tell you that you mustn't ever act like that to her again!"

Ilga's box of sweets stopped on its polite way to the new-comer.

"Huh!" sneered the owner of it, "if you think you are going to order
me round, you're mistaken! I guess I shan't associate with every
tramp that comes along--so there, Polly Dudley!"

"Leonora isn't any more of a tramp than you are!" Polly burst out
hotly.

"No, she isn't--'than _you_ are!'" retorted Ilga, with sarcastic
emphasis and a disagreeable laugh.

Polly's eye blazed. She clinched her little fists.

"And _you_ are too contemptible to--talk with!" she cried scornfully,
and whirled away.

But Ilga's instant rejoinder seemed to retard her feet, for she was
conscious of walking slowly, missing none of the words that bit into
her sensitive heart.

"Oh! I am, am I? Well, _you_ are a regular nobody! You put on airs
just because Dr. Dudley adopted you; but he isn't anybody! He wouldn't
stay at the hospital for that little bit of a salary if he was. He
can't get a place anywhere else--he's a no--body!"

Ilga knew her victim well enough to realize that any taunt flung at
the adored father would rebound upon his daughter with double force,
and she winked exultingly to her companions as Polly made no attempt
at retort, but went straight to her desk and bent her white, drawn
little face over her speller. It would have given her an added delight
if she had known that the book was upside down and its print blurred
by a mist of tears.

At the close of a session Polly usually waited for David; but this
noon she hurried on alone, and he overtook her only after a quick
little run.

"This is great, to go off and leave a fellow!" he grumbled pleasantly.

"Oh, excuse me!" she replied. "I forgot."

"Forgot!" he began laughingly, but stopped. Her gravity did not invite
humor.

He wondered what had gone wrong, but was wise enough to ask no
questions. After an ineffectual attempt at talk, they fell back into
silence, separating at the cottage entrance with sober good-byes.

The kitchen door was unlocked, and Polly walked slowly through the
house, longing yet dreading to meet her mother. Down the stairway
came the sound of voices. She stopped to listen.

"Oh, dear!--Miss Curtis!" she sighed, and turned towards the little
library.

Although since the recovery of Elsie's birthday ring the nurse had
been unusually kind and friendly, Polly could not help remembering
that she had once believed her to be the cause of its mysterious
disappearance, and just now it seemed impossible to meet her with
composure. So she curled up forlornly in her father's big chair,
hastily grabbing a book as an excuse for being there.

The story was one she had never read, and its interest was proved in
that time and troubles were soon forgotten. Thus her mother found her,
and thanks to the respite from Ilga's haunting words she was able to
respond to the visitor's greeting with something of her usual happy
humor.

Dr. Dudley had been unexpectedly called out of town, so the three
dined together most unconventionally. The ladies talked over old
hospital days, and Polly, greatly to her relief, was left much to
herself. But although she rarely joined in the converse, her thoughts
were not allowed to revert to their unpleasant channel, with the
result that when she returned to school things had regained a little
of their accustomed brightness, and she was ready to smile a greeting
to her friends.

But this happier mood vanished with the opening of the door into the
school dressing-hall.

A group of girls were removing their wraps, among which was Ilga
Barron. Two of them nodded carelessly to Polly, and then went on
talking in low tones, with side glances towards the new-comer. Polly
hurried off her coat and hat, but before they were on their hook Ilga
broke out in a loud whisper, plainly intended to carry across the
hall:--

"Dr. Dudley don't know much anyway! He's got a sister that's an
idiot--a real idiot! They have to keep her shut up!"

Even Ilga herself, turning to gloat over the effect of her words, was
so startled that she led the way quickly upstairs to the school room,
leaving Polly standing there alone, her horrified brown eyes staring
out of a colorless face.

"What in the world's the matter?" cried Glen Stewart, appearing in the
outer doorway, at the head of a string of girls. "Are you sick?"

"No--yes--oh, I don't know!" she stammered, catching her breath
piteously.

They clustered around her, distressed and helpless.

"Are you faint? I'll get you a drink!" And Lilith Brooks ran to fetch
a glass.

Polly drank the water, grateful for the kindness, although she was
aware of neither faintness nor thirst. Presently she went upstairs
with her friends, and the long, dragging afternoon session began.

Several times her recitations were halting, once woefully incorrect.
The teacher in charge was about to reprove her for inattention; but
the wide, sorrowful eyes made an unconscious appeal, and the blunder
was suffered to pass unnoticed.

Polly was glad with a dreary kind of gladness when the hour of
dismission came, and she hurried away by herself, intent only on a
refuge where she should be alone and could think things out. She found
the kitchen door locked and the key in its accustomed hiding-place;
so she let herself in, knowing that her mother was not at home. Up in
her own room she sat down by the low side window, and looked out on
the bare landscape of early December.

Aimlessly she let her eyes wander over the desolate garden of the next
house, so recently robbed of all its greenery; then the muslin-draped
windows opposite came within her vision. The caroling canary, in his
little gilded prison, caught a glance, a frolicking squirrel running
an endless race in his make-believe home, a lady stitching on a pink
gown, and so towards the street. What she saw there made her start as
if with pain.

Up the sidewalk strolled a lad, "Foolish Joe" people called him, and
he was, as usual, accompanied by a little band of fun-loving, teasing
boys. In a moment they were gone; but the shambling central figure
with its vacant face stayed with her to accentuate her distress. She
leaned her head upon her arm, but she could not shut out the picture.

Ilga's sneering phrases rang back and forth in her brain, until clear
thought was impossible.

"Lucy! Polly! Are you up there?"

She had not heard any one come in, and she started at sound of her
father's voice. Instead of answering she shrank back into her chair,
involuntarily delaying the moment of meeting.

Dr. Dudley was mounting the stairs, two steps at a time.

"Well!" His tall figure filled the doorway. "Where is your mother?"

"I--don't know," Polly faltered. "She's gone out--the door was
locked--maybe with Miss Curtis. Miss Curtis was here to dinner."

"Was she!" And then, "I am going down to Linwood, and I thought you
folks would like the ride. We shall have to go alone, shan't we?"

Polly did not look up,--perhaps could not would be nearer the truth;
but she rose instantly.

The Doctor took a step forward, and tilted her chin upon his finger.

In spite of her efforts to smile, her lip quivered.

"You and David been having a quarrel?" he asked whimsically.

"Oh, no, we never do!"

"Perhaps you missed a word in spelling?"

She shook her head, with a sober "No."

"Geography, then?"

"Yes, I made a mistake," she admitted.

"I wouldn't worry over that."

"No, oh, no!"

"Then that isn't it? How long are you going to keep me guessing?"

She hid her face against his coat. "Don't ask me, please!" she begged.

"Is it as bad as that?" His tone would usually have sent her off in an
amused chuckle; now she was miserably silent, pressing closer into the
friendly folds.

"If it is an all-afternoon affair, we may as well sit down," and,
wheeling about, he took the chair she had just left, drawing her to
his knee.

"Now let's look at this together, Thistledown. Two heads ought to be
wiser than one, you know. Just give me a chance to show my skill at
helping."

"I--can't! It would make you feel bad--awfully bad!"

"Something you did at school? I promise my forgiveness."

"Oh, no! I haven't done anything--only told Ilga Barron what I thought
of her. And I'm glad I did!"

"That the pudgy girl we met the other day?--the one that didn't have
cloth enough for a decent dress?"

In spite of herself, Polly let go a giggle with her assent. "Why,
father," she remonstrated, "she could have her skirts longer if she
wanted to! She's Senator Barron's daughter!"

A quiver of laughter stirred the Doctor's face.

"All right, we'll let the Senator's daughter wear her frocks as short
as she pleases. But what else has she been doing?"

"She said," began Polly, "that you--oh, I can't!" She caught her
breath in a sob.

"About me, was it? I see! You've been carrying a burden intended for
me on your small shoulders, when mine are broad enough to bear a
whole pack of abuse! Drop the load at once, Thistledown!"

Despite his tender humor, Polly detected in his voice a note of
command, and she strove to obey.

"She said--that you--that you--were a nobody!"

"Is that all?" he laughed. "Well, so I am, measured by her standard,
for I am neither a man of wealth nor an influential politician. But,
Thistledown, don't you think you are a bit foolish to let that trouble
you?"

"There's something else," she replied plaintively.

"I am ready."

"She told some girls--she meant I should hear--that--that your sister
is--an idiot!" The sentence ended in a wail.

Dr. Dudley's arms tightened around the slender little figure, and for
a moment he did not speak.

When words came they were in a soft, sad voice.

"I have no sister on earth. She went to Heaven two years ago. I will
tell you about it. Until Ruth was six years old she was a bright,
beautiful little girl, beloved by everybody. She was eight years
younger than I, and my especial pet. Then came the terrible fever, and
for days we thought she could not live. Finally she rallied, only for
us to discover that we had lost her--her brain was a wreck. The
semblance of Ruth stayed with us twelve years longer, until she was
eighteen years old; then she went Home. That is undoubtedly the
foundation for Ilga's malicious little story; but, you see,
Thistledown, there is no present cause for sorrow, only thankfulness
that Ruth's journey is safely ended. We can remember her now for the
dear child she was."

Polly was crying softly on her father's shoulder. Presently she
asked:--

"May I tell Ilga?"

"I wouldn't bring up the subject. If it should ever be referred to
again, you might let her know the truth, as simply as possible; but
sometimes things are better left unexplained."

Polly was silent, and Dr. Dudley went on.

"I think it will be well for you to keep out of the way of Miss Barron
as much as you can. Should there be an opportunity for any little
kindness, do it unobtrusively and sweetly, as I know you would;
otherwise give her a wide berth--she needs it."

"I'll try to," Polly agreed. "But, father, don't you really care
'cause she called you that?"

"A nobody?" he smiled. "I should be one if I allowed it to annoy me.
My little girl, I wish I could make you see how trivial, how
inconsequent such things are. No human being is a 'nobody' who is
faithful to the best that is in him. It doesn't make much real
difference what people say of us, as long as we keep an honest heart
and serve God and our fellow travelers according to our highest
knowledge. Life is too brief to spend much thought on taunts or
slander. We have too much else to do. I suppose it is scarcely
possible for a person that does anything worth doing to get through
life without sometimes being talked about unpleasantly and
misrepresented. Do you know what Shakespeare says about that? 'Be thou
as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.'

"But there comes mother! Run, get your hat and coat, and we'll have
our ride."



CHAPTER IV

COUSINS


Contrary to the physicians' fears, Erastus Bean's condition improved
day by day. Polly went often to see him, delighting the little man
with her small attentions and her ready sympathy. It was on a Monday
morning that he found out the letter had been missing from the
rosewood box, and he was at once perturbed over the loss.

"Jane must 'a' put it some'er's else, some'er's else," he complained,
over and over, although Polly begged him not to worry.

"It doesn't matter so very much if I don't know who those relations
are," she assured him, "and anyway we may find the letter sometime."

"Yer don't s'pose the Doctor said anything to Jane about it?" he
queried suddenly, his eyes sharp with anxiety.

"Oh, no! I guess not," Polly replied easily.

"Wal, yer won't let him, will yer?" he pleaded. "Cause I'll sure find
it soon's I git home, an' Jane, she's kind o' cranky, yer know! But
she's got her good streaks, Jane has! She brought me a bowl o' custard
th' other day--that was proper nice o' Jane!" His wrinkled face
lighted at remembrance of the unexpected kindness.

Polly smiled in response, while she wondered vaguely if Aunt Jane
really loved the little man whom she ordered about with the authority
of a mother.

"It's too bad 'bout that letter," Mr. Bean rambled on. "Yer'd ought to
find out who them relations be--an' 'fore they have time to die. Folks
go off so quick now'days, an' mebbe, if they only knew yer, they'd
leave you some o' their prope'ty so's you could live like a
queen--ther' ain't no tellin'."

"I don't b'lieve I'd like to live like a queen," laughed Polly. "But,"
she admitted, "I should love some own cousins. I wouldn't wonder if
you'd find the letter when you go home. I feel just as if you would,
and--oh, my! I didn't know it was so near nine o'clock!" as a distant
_cling-clang_ made itself noticed. "That's the last bell! Good-bye!"
And Polly whirled off, Mr. Bean gazing the way she went long after her
blue plaid had vanished from his sight.

Up the street she ran, fearful of being tardy, and slacking to a walk
only when a view of the downtown clock told her that she still had
time to spare.

Turning in at the side gate of the house where the school was kept,
she saw a lady on the front porch. In the doorway beyond stood Miss
Greenleaf, the head teacher, with a girl--a very pretty girl of about
her own age. This was all she had time to observe before passing out
of sight, on her way to the children's entrance. But a few words,
caught just as she slipped by the house corner, stayed with her.

"I am glad, Mrs. Illingworth, that you think--"

"Illingworth!" Polly repeated softly. "I never knew there were any
Illingworths in town. Mamma used to say there weren't. I wonder if
she could be related--oh, I wonder!"

Having reached her seat, she began to watch the door for the new
scholar. She tried to attend to the opening exercises, but found her
eyes constantly reverting to the spot of fascination, until she grew
strangely excited. She really had not long to wait. Soon the girl was
ushered quietly in and given a seat five desks away. Polly wished it
had been nearer. Then she might have been asked to show the new pupil
about some lesson, or to lend her a book. But she was at a convenient
point for being observed, and that was a distinct advantage.

The girl was a slight little thing, who carried herself gracefully,
without bashfulness. Her soft brown hair, brushed smoothly back from
the tanned oval face, fell in long, thick braids over the slim
shoulders, and disappeared in crisp ribbon bows of the same color. The
dress was a simple affair of light blue wool, which fitted the wearer
perfectly and gave her the air of being more richly clad than some of
the girls whose frocks were of costlier material.

Polly came near giving too much attention to these interesting
details, but finally settled down to study in the contented belief
that she was "going to like" the girl with the familiar name. At
recess she would speak to her, and "get acquainted." For two hours
this was her fixed hope. Then, when the rest time came, before she
could make good her desire, she had the dissatisfaction of seeing the
new scholar walk away arm in arm with Ilga Barron, and she turned back
to her desk with sober eyes and regret in her heart.

"Isn't Patricia Illingworth lovely?" whispered a voice.

Polly looked up, to see Betty Thurston.

"Do you know her?" she questioned in surprise.

"Of course not," smiled Betty. "But I'm going to--if that hateful Ilga
Barron doesn't monopolize her all the tune."

"But how did you know what her name is?" persisted Polly.

"Oh!" explained Betty, "I was up at Gladys Osborne's Saturday,
spending the day, and Gladys's Aunt Julia was there there--she boards
at The Trowbridge, you know, and she told us all about the
Illingworths. They board there, too, Patricia and her mother. They
aren't stuck up a bit, though I guess they're awfully rich. They came
from 'way out West--I forget the name of the place. It's where
Patricia's father's got a mine. And she hasn't ever been to school
much, only studied with her mother, and rode horseback, and all that.
Aunt Julia said she was coming to our school, and I think she's
lovely; don't you?"

"Sweet as she can be!" agreed Polly.

"I know why Ilga pounced on her so quick," confided Betty. "I'll bet
she heard me telling Lilith and some of the other girls that she was
rich, and that's just why. We were down in the dressing-room before
school. If it hadn't been for her we could have got acquainted this
morning."

"Well, there are more days coming," laughed Polly philosophically.
"That's what mother always tells me, when I want to do a thing right
then, and can't."

The talk passed to other matters, yet the eyes of both girls followed
the new pupil as she and her companion strolled from room to room of
the little suite. Here and there they would pause for a few words with
some of Ilga's friends, or to look from a window, and then move on
again. The Senator's daughter was assuredly doing the honors for the
entire school.

Polly and Betty laid plans for "the next time," but Polly kept her
secret hope close hidden in her heart, not disclosing it even to David
on the way home.

Neither did she let it be known to father or mother.

"Prob'ly Patricia isn't related to me at all," she argued to herself.
"It is silly to think anything about it."

Yet the subject was still present in her thoughts at the beginning of
the afternoon session, and she wondered when the opportunity that she
longed for would appear. It came soon, and not at all according to her
conjectures.

School was dismissed in order of deportment marks, those who stood
highest for the day passing out ahead. Among this small number was
Polly. When she reached the street door she was dismayed to see that
it was raining, and she stood hesitant on the sill, having neither
raincoat, overshoes, nor umbrella. Indifferently she noticed a
limousine waiting at the curb, and wondered for whom it had been sent.

"I think you go my way," spoke a clear voice behind her. "May I take
you home?"

Polly turned quickly, to look into the gray eyes of Patricia
Illingworth.

"Oh, thank you!" was the smiling response. "I didn't know it was
raining until just this minute."

Before she had time for more, the other had caught her arm, and she
was being escorted to the street under Mrs. Illingworth's green silk
umbrella. Then she was seated beside Patricia, and they were gliding
along the road. Even in her delighted surprise the thought that all
day had been uppermost pushed itself to her lips. But it was Patricia
that spoke first.

"I have been wanting to know you ever since I first spied you this
morning," she beamed. "I was in the front door when you were going in
at the side. I knew we'd be friends right away."

Polly looked her pleasure.

"And I've been longing to get acquainted with you," she confessed. "It
was partly on account of your name. That was mamma's name too,--she
was Phebe Illingworth."

"Why, isn't that fine!" exclaimed Patricia. "I'm going straight to
look in papa's Genealogy, just as soon as I get home, and see if we're
related! Wouldn't it be grand if we are?"

She squeezed Polly rapturously.

Then the car stopped at Dr. Dudley's door.

"My grandfather's name was Rufus Illingworth," added Polly to her
thanks. "Oh, I do hope we are cousins!" she smiled. "I've been wishing
and wishing for ever so long that I had a cousin, and it will be
lovelicious if you should turn out to be one."

With earnest good-byes the new friends separated, and from the shelter
of the piazza Polly answered the salute of the little hand at the
limousine window as long as she could see it.

There was no holding back this time. The story of the day, or the
portion of it occupied by Patricia Illingworth, was related in
detail, both in Mrs. Dudley's room before tea and at the table
afterwards, as the Doctor was kept busy at the hospital until six
o'clock.

They were through with the meal, and Polly was helping her mother
carry the dishes into the kitchen, when the telephone called the
physician from the room. In a moment he was back.

"Your new friend is holding the wire for you," he told Polly. And she
ran, her heart happy and fearful all at once.

"That you, Polly? Oh, say, we are cousins--third cousins! Isn't that
great?"

"Beautiful!" responded Polly.

"We had the longest time finding the book! I was afraid we'd left it
in Nevada, and mamma was too; but it was 'way down in the bottom of a
trunk. Do say you're glad, and say it good and strong, so I'll know
you mean it! I couldn't wait till to-morrow! I hope I haven't bothered
your father."

Polly's reply seemed fully to satisfy the other end of the line, and,
with a good-night and a promise to be early at school the next
morning, she hung up the receiver.



CHAPTER V

A MONOPOLIST AND A FANFARON


On their way to school Polly and David were joined by Patricia; but
soon afterwards the lad courteously excused himself, to run across the
street to see an acquaintance.

"Nice boy, isn't he?" observed Patricia.

"He's lovely," praised Polly, but she scowled a little, her eyes
following David. "I wish he hadn't gone off so quick," she added
regretfully; "I wanted you to know each other."

"I like him," admired Patricia, "and I like my new cousin," she
giggled, squeezing Polly's arm, "I just love her!"

So for the moment David was forgotten, and the boy, viewing them from
a little distance behind, saw them enter the school yard in high glee.
Laughter was far from his face as he followed. He wished that Patricia
Illingworth had stayed in Nevada.

At the foot of the staircase the two girls met Ilga Barron. The
Senator's daughter instantly seized upon Patricia with a playful
reprimand.

"You ran away from me last night!"

"Yes, I went to carry my cousin home," retorted Patricia roguishly.

"Who, I'd like to know? Nobody in this school!"

"Yes, she's right here!" laughed the other, enjoying Ilga's puzzled
stare. "Allow me to present my cousin, Polly Dudley!" She drew Polly
forward.

"Huh, not much! You can't make me swallow that!"

"It's true! Isn't it, Polly? We're third cousins! I found it in the
Genealogy last night! Her mother was an Illingworth!"

Ilga's face lighted.

"Oh, you're 'way off!" she broke out. "She isn't related to her mother
at all. She's only an adopted child."

"But I mean her real mother!" returned Patricia indignantly. "Her own
mother was Phebe Illingworth, and was second cousin to my father--as
if I didn't know!"

"I don't care!" Ilga retorted. And she ran up the stairs.

Some of the girls, standing by, snickered; but Polly and Patricia
gazed soberly at each other. Then they walked over to the rows of
hooks, unbuttoning their coats as they went.

"I think Ilga Barron's just horrid!" whispered Patricia. "I didn't
like her yesterday, and to-day I hate her!"

"Oh, you mustn't!" objected Polly.

"Why not?"

"Because we ought to love everybody, I s'pose," Polly answered slowly.

"Do you love her?" demanded Patricia. "Do you, honest?"

Polly shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't now," she admitted; "but
maybe I can some time."

Patricia laughed. "I don't b'lieve I shall--ever," she declared; "you
can love her enough for us both."

A flock of girls came in from outside, and confidences were hushed,
the two presently going upstairs arm in arm.

"Don't forget that you are to go home with me right after school
to-night!" whispered Patricia, just before they reached the upper
door.

"I couldn't," was the smiling answer. And Polly went to her seat,
still thinking of the pleasure ahead.

At noon David lingered behind until the girls were gone, and hurried
off in advance of them on the way back, trying to satisfy his
conscience with the argument that they wouldn't want him "tagging on
anyway." So the new friends were left for the greater share of the
walk quite to themselves, Polly, when not too much interested in tales
of the pet broncho back in Silverton, keeping a lookout for David, and
wondering where he could possibly be. She even went so far as to wish,
away down in her secret heart, that David were going with her on the
first visit to her new cousin.

Opening from the principal schoolroom was a deep, narrow closet where
the working supplies were kept. To reach the shelves at the back one
must pass through the pinched little door, an easy matter for a sprite
like Polly, who flitted in and out at any angle; but an occasional
plump pupil was obliged to slip in sideways or be unpleasantly
squeezed.

The afternoon was half through when extra paper was needed, and Miss
Carpenter, an assistant teacher, asked Ilga Barron to fetch some.

"One of those large packages on the third shelf," she explained, as
the girl started.

Strangely enough, Ilga had never been to the closet, and was
unprepared for its cramped dimensions. A bit elated with the
importance of her errand, she went heedlessly forward, bumping
against the mouldings as she entered, and flushing with vexation on
hearing a giggle from one of the boys. In her confusion she grabbed
two packages instead of one, and attempted to make her exit; but to
her dismay she found that with the bulky parcels in her arms the
return passage was to be difficult if not impossible. Scarlet with
mortification, yet holding blindly to her bundles, she twisted this
way and that, while the children, bubbling with suppressed mirth,
watched her breathlessly. To add to her discomfiture, several
distinguished-looking visitors were approaching from the next room,
whither the teacher had gone to meet them, and Polly, throbbing with
sympathy, saw that she was on the verge of tears.

Suddenly, with no thought save of Ilga herself, Polly sprang to her
feet, and running lightly over to the prisoner put out her hands for
the parcels. But Ilga, misinterpreting the motive, drew back in anger,
muttering something about wishing "folks would mind their own
business." Polly, however, loyal to her aim, followed into the closet,
and in an earnest whisper urged the other to give up the paper, that
she might pass out in freedom. Finally, just as Miss Carpenter
appeared, to learn the cause of the commotion, Ilga emerged, red-faced
and sullen.

"What is all this fuss about? Polly, how came you here without
permission?"

"To help Ilga," she faltered.

"I have never known a girl to need assistance in getting a ream of
paper," the teacher replied severely, "especially so big a girl as
Ilga."

A titter ran through the room, and an uncontrollable smile flickered
on Polly's lips.

Nettled by this show of levity, for which she discerned no cause, Miss
Carpenter's sentence upon the supposed culprit was instant and
merciless.

"Go to your seat, and stay there until six o'clock!"

Hands waved frantically, David's and Patricia's wildly beat the air;
but the young teacher either was too much occupied with her visitors
or did not choose to notice, and the would-be defenders were soon
called to recitation.

Polly sat still in her chair, dazed by the suddenness and injustice of
it. She had meant only to spare Ilga further mortification--and had
lost her expected treat. She took up her history with a long sigh.

It was a weary afternoon, and not alone to Polly. The children were
distraught and restless, and things went wrong. The bell for dismissal
struck a note of relief.

Polly had a faint, a very faint hope that Ilga would explain the
matter, and she watched her furtively as she passed out; but the
Senator's daughter walked straight by the teacher's desk without
turning her head, and as Polly saw her plump figure disappear in the
stairway she went back to her examples, philosophically thinking that,
at any rate, she could get her lessons for the next day, and so have
the evening free to enjoy with mother. If there were a best to any
situation, Polly was sure to find it.

But to-night clouds gathered early about the sun, and presently the
schoolroom grew dusky. Soon it was too dark to read, and with regret
Polly shut her book. She looked at her little watch which she usually
wore, the "wedding" gift of Colonel Gresham, and was surprised to find
it to be after five. She did not put it directly back in its pocket,
but held it in her hand, fingering it lovingly, thinking of David's
uncle, and then of the "stormy midnight" and the "sunshiny morning"
which the little timepiece commemorated.

So absorbed was she that the opening of the door caused her to start;
but she smiled when she recognized through the dimness Miss Cordelia,
the younger of the two Townsend sisters who kept the school.

"My dear," exclaimed Miss Cordelia's soft voice, "I am so sorry this
has happened. David Collins has been telling me how it was."

"David?" repeated Polly in a glad tone. "But, Miss Cordelia, I went
without permission."

"Yes, dear; but a kind action is its own excuse. You were doubtless
thinking only of Ilga."

"That's every single thing I thought of," Polly assured her. "It
seemed funny she didn't put the paper out first and then come herself;
but I s'pose she was flustered and didn't think. I felt so sorry for
her, and the next thing I knew I was racing over there. I didn't mean
to break the rule, truly I didn't, Miss Cordelia!"

"I can easily believe you, dear, and I am sure Miss Carpenter was not
intentionally unjust. She could not have understood. Somebody said she
was not feeling well, and that she went home directly after school.
She must have forgotten what she told you; her memory is treacherous
at times. Please say to your father and mother, dear, that my sister
and I are very much grieved over the occurrence, and that we shall
endeavor to let nothing of the kind ever happen again. We will have
that closet door widened; it has made too much trouble already. Run
down to David now; he is waiting for you." And with a kiss from the
stately little lady Polly was dismissed.

David was found on the walk leading from the pupils' entrance
executing a double shuffle, to keep his feet warm, for the air was
growing keen.

"Well! you've got here at last!" he cried.

"It's awfully good of you to wait for me," she crooned, skipping into
step.

"Pretty queer if I hadn't waited! I'd have got you off sooner, only
the maid said they had company, and I didn't want to butt in. So I
just ran home and to your house, to tell them how it was--while I was
waiting for those folks to go. I guess that maid thought I was in a
mighty hurry to see Miss Townsend, for I kept running round to the
kitchen to know if the coast was clear."

"What a lot of trouble I've made you!" Polly lamented.

"Trouble nothing!" he scouted. "But whatever did you do it for? That
girl!--with all the mean things she's said! And away she stalked after
school, as disdainful as ever!"

"I know," Polly admitted mournfully. "But I was so sorry for her--it
must have been dreadful!"

"Sorry!" David chuckled. "It was too funny!"

Polly laughed, too, reminded of the ridiculous sight. Then she sighed.
"I was awfully disappointed," she went on. "For a minute, when Miss
Carpenter told me to stay, I thought I just couldn't stand it. I
didn't dare look at Patricia, for fear I'd cry."

"Don't see what she had to do with it!" growled David.

"Why, I was going home with Patricia right after school. Mrs.
Illingworth had invited me to tea."

"M-m!" responded David

"I want you to know Patricia," Polly continued; "she's such a dear
girl."

"Must be!" he retorted sarcastically. "So kind to go off and leave
invited company as she did! She never waited a minute!"

"Well, but, David, what good would it have done? They board, you know,
and couldn't wait tea for me."

"M-m," remarked David.

"I don't see why you feel so about Patricia," Polly began.

"I haven't any use for a girl broncho-buster!" he broke out.

"David Collins!"

"Well," he replied, in a half-ashamed tone, "she rides bronchos,
doesn't she? I heard her telling you about being on a broncho that
stood right up on his hind feet, and cut up like sixty!"

"Oh, yes, that was a horse she didn't know about till she got on him!
But he couldn't throw her! She kept her seat! Wasn't that splendid!"

"Splendid!" he scorned. "It's just as I said--she's a--"

"She is not!" Polly burst out indignantly. "It just happened that
once. She's got a lovely little horse that she rides, and he's as
gentle as can be. She isn't--that! I shouldn't think you'd say such
things about my cousin." Polly's voice was tearful.

"I d'n' know's cousins are any better 'n other folks," he growled.

"Oh, David!" she protested. Then her face suddenly lighted. "You're
not afraid I'll think more of her than I do of you, are you? David, is
that it?" as he did not answer. "Why, David Collins," she went on, the
words tumbling out tempestuously, "how foolish you are! I couldn't!
You ought to know! There we were at the hospital together for so long,
till it seemed just like one family, and Colonel Gresham your uncle,
and all! Why, David, I don't see what makes you feel so! You never did
about Leonora."

"That's different," he mumbled. "You didn't run off with her, and
leave me to tag!"

"Why, I don't! I want you to come, too! Patricia thinks you're so
nice--she said so."

"She doesn't know me."

"Enough to like you. I thought we could be friends all together." The
tone was plaintive.

"Well," he conceded.

"You know I like you, David, and always shall, no matter how many
other friends I have. It was lovely of you to wait for me to-night and
to go and tell Miss Cordelia about it--I never shall forget that!"

They had reached the home cottage, and were passing up the walk.

"I guess I wanted to be a monopolist," confessed David.

"A what?" cried Polly. David's long words often puzzled her.

He laughed. "Oh, I wanted you all to myself!" he explained. "I'm a pig
anyway!"

"No, you're not!" declared Polly.

He turned quickly. "Good-night! I'll be on hand to-morrow morning."

And Polly knew that David had been won over.

True to his promise, he called early for his old chum, and accompanied
her and Patricia to school, showing only the merry, winsome side of
his nature, and making Polly proud to own him for a friend.

In the hallway the boys laid hold of him, and carried him off
upstairs, where a group of lads, with heads together, whispering and
snickering, surrounded one of the desks.

"What are they up to?" queried Patricia, watching them furtively.
"Vance Alden is reading something from a piece of paper--hear them
laugh!"

"Poetry, probably," guessed Polly. "He's the greatest boy for writing
poetry. He wrote his composition, one week, all in rhyme."

At recess the secret was soon made known. A long row of boys, arm in
arm, marched across the recitation room, singing this bit of
doggerel:--

     "Ilga Barron,
     The great fan_fa_ron,
       Went into the closet one day;
     But she was so stout
     She couldn't get out,
       And there she had to sta-ay!
       And there she had to stay!"

Ilga and several other girls, who were drawing on the blackboard, had
stopped when the boys formed in line, to see what they were going to
do, and as the singing went on they stood as if dazed; but at the
last, fairly realizing the indignity, Ilga sprang forward, crimson
with anger.

"I didn't! I didn't!" she cried. "You mean, mean things!"

Instantly the line rounded into a circle, with the girl inside, and
the boys, bowing low, began:--

     "Behold your escort home this noon!
     And on the way we'll sing this tune,--

     Ilga Barron,
     The great fan_fa_ron,--"

They got no further, for the prisoner, with a dash and a scream, burst
her bars, and fled to the next room, followed by a laughing chorus
from her tormentors.

Polly was distressed.

"I should think you'd be ashamed," she declared, "to treat a girl in
that way!"

The boys grinned.

"She deserves it!" spoke up Floyd Bascom.

"Yes, look at her last night!" cried Prescott Saunders. "Never said a
word, and let you bear all the blame!"

"An' see the way she's been actin' to you all along!" put in Peter
Anderson.

"I know," returned Polly sadly; "but it isn't fair to sing that to
her."

"Why not? Why do you care?" It was Vance Alden that questioned. The
rest were still, awaiting Polly's answer.

"I'm sorry for her. I know how things hurt."

But the boys only laughed, and began again the taunting song. They
were resolved to have their fun.

"It is kind of mean, isn't it?" commented Patricia, as she and Polly
and Leonora walked back into the schoolroom.

"I wish they wouldn't," scowled Polly, glancing across to Ilga's desk,
where she was in excited conversation with three or four girls.

"What does fanfaron mean?" questioned Leonora.

"I don't know," answered Polly. "Let's find out!"

Patricia was first at the dictionary, and turned quickly to the word.

"It means, 'A bully; a hector; a swaggerer; an empty boaster,'"
reading from the page.

Polly looked over.

"Fan"--she began, "why, they haven't got it right! It isn't fan_fa_ron
at all, the accent is right on the first syllable, and _fan_faron
doesn't rhyme a bit! Oh, just you wait!" and she walked quietly away.

Patricia and Leonora followed at a little distance.

Polly went straight to the author of the ditty. There was no distress
in her face now. Her eyes were twinkling.

"If I could write as good poetry as you do," she dimpled, "and I
wanted to use uncommon words, I think I'd make sure that the accent
was right, and that they rhymed."

"Wha' do you mean?" he frowned.

Polly laughed, and ran away.

"There's only one uncommon word in it," mused Vance. "I supposed that
was--"

"Those girls have been looking in the dictionary," suggested Amos
Rand. "I saw them there a minute ago."

"I'll find out!" cried Vance.

Two or three sprang to accompany him.

"You stay here!" he commanded, waving them back.

He returned talking with Polly.

"Have you told Ilga?" he asked.

"Of course not," she answered.

"Will you promise not to?" he entreated.

She smiled into his anxious face.

"I'll never hear the last of that blunder if she gets hold of it," he
fretted. "Say, Polly, don't tell--her or anybody!"

Polly was still silent.

"I thought you didn't b'lieve in hurting folks," he pouted.

"I don't," she replied. "But you only laughed when I begged you not to
sing that any more."

"And you're going to pay me off," he responded gloomily.

"Yes," Polly smiled, "that's just exactly what I'm going to do!"

The lad's face darkened.

"I shall pay you off," she went on slowly, "by not telling a single
person, and I'll get Patricia and Leonora not to tell either."

"Polly Dudley, you're a dandy girl!" His eyes sparkled.

Polly ran off laughing.

"It's all right!" she reported gleefully to Leonora and Patricia.
"Nobody'll ever hear that song again! I was sure of it when I saw the
word in the dictionary, for Vance Alden is so sensitive about a
mistake. It is funny! Ilga--why, she'd never know whether it was good
rhyme or metre or anything! But Vance didn't think of that. Now
promise, both of you, that you won't ever tell!"



CHAPTER VI

"NOT FOR SALE"


"Will your father be at home this evening?" Patricia inquired of
Polly, as they left school together. The tone was eager.

"Not all the time. He is due at the hospital at seven o'clock, and we
never know when he'll be back. Why?"

Patricia wagged her head mysteriously. "Mamma and I were coming over.
Mamma wants to see him."

"Oh! is she sick?"

"Not a bit!" laughed Patricia. "She isn't coming for that."

"Well, sometimes he gets back by eight, if there are no new cases; if
there are, he has to stay. But you can come and see mother and me,
can't you? We'd love to have you!"

"I don't know. Perhaps. Only mamma wants to see your father on some
very special business." Patricia giggled.

"You act as if it were funny," observed Polly.

"It will be if it comes to pass--lovely, too! Oh, don't I wish it
would!"

"Is it a secret?" asked Polly, her curiosity aroused.

"Yes, a great secret! I promised mamma, fair and square, that I
wouldn't tell you; but I want to awfully!"

"I guess we'd better not talk about it, then, because you might let it
out."

"Oh, you darling!" cried Patricia, squeezing Polly's arm. "I do wish I
could tell you right now! Aren't you aching to know?"

"Why, you make me want to," laughed Polly; "but if it is your mother's
private business, of course--"

"It isn't!" broke in Patricia, a-giggle. "It's about you--oh, I
mustn't!" She clapped her hand over her mouth.

"Me?" Polly's eyes grew round with wonder. "But, oh, do stop talking
about it! I'm afraid you'll tell more than your mother will like.
Let's think of something else--repeat the multiplication table,
or--anything!"

Patricia laughed. "I guess you wouldn't care much about the
multiplication table, if you knew!"

"Don't!" begged Polly, and stopped her ears, beginning to tell of a
happening in the Latin class. By the time the little cottage was
reached they were chatting gayly about school matters.

Mrs. Illingworth and Patricia spent the hour from eight to nine with
Polly and her mother; but Dr. Dudley did not return from the hospital,
and the mysterious "business" was not mentioned. Polly went to sleep
that night wondering what it could be.

The next afternoon when she came from school she found her father and
mother in the living-room. There was a note of tenseness in the
atmosphere. Polly felt it vaguely as she threw off hat and coat. She
went over to her mother with a caress, and Mrs. Dudley drew her down
into her lap.

"I had a call from Mrs. Illingworth this afternoon," began the Doctor.

Polly was instantly eager.

"About the business?" she asked.

"Yes."

She gazed at him wistfully, her heart in her eyes.

"Your mother will tell you about it," he said, rising from his chair.

"No, no, Robert!" protested his wife. "Stay and tell her yourself!"

Polly looked from one to the other. Was it something dreadful, this
mysterious "business"? They smiled, to be sure, but not at all as if
they felt merry.

Dr. Dudley sat down again, and leaned forward, his arms upon his
knees.

"Patricia wants you for her sister," he announced.

"That's queer!" Polly puckered her forehead. "I don't see why it isn't
enough for me to be a cousin."

"But they would like you to come and live with them, and--"

"Well, I shan't!" she burst out. "The idea! They might know I
wouldn't. Did you s'pose I'd want to?" she queried. "Did you, mother?"

Mrs. Dudley shook her head.

"Let me tell you what Mrs. Illingworth says," the Doctor went on. "She
thinks she can give you greater advantages than I can--of education,
society, and travel."

"Travel!" Polly cried scornfully; "I don't want to travel anywhere!
Why isn't Miss Townsend's school as good for me as it is for Patricia
and David? And I guess society at The Trowbridge isn't any better than
it is here!"

The Doctor and his wife laughed. Mrs. Dudley's arms tightened their
clasp.

"You haven't heard all," the Doctor resumed. "Mrs. Illingworth offers
you a thousand dollars, to use exactly as you choose, if you will
come."

The indignant blood rushed to Polly's fair face.

"Do I look as if I were for sale?" she demanded. "Do I?"

Mrs. Dudley drew her down for a kiss and a "Polly, darling!"

"I haven't noticed any price tag," her father responded, twinkling.

"Well," between a sob and a chuckle, "I think I'll tie a card round my
neck, and print on it, 'Not for sale.' As if money'd make up for you
and mother!" She hid her face on the snug shoulder. Then she popped
up.

"How would the minister like it, if you should go to him and say,
'Here, I want your wife' (I heard you tell mother, the other day, that
you thought she was beautiful), 'and I'll give you a thousand dollars
if you'll let me have her!' How do you think he'd like that?"

"Not a bit!" laughed the Doctor. "He might knock me down."

"He ought to!" asserted Polly. "And I don't like it any better than he
would. Mrs. Jocelyn didn't offer me money, but 'twas just the same. I
don't want to be bought!" She turned suddenly. "You don't think I
ought to go, do you, mother?"

"No, indeed!" The tone was emphatic enough to satisfy Polly. "If you
went I think I should have to go, too!"

"When I go, we'll all go!" declared Polly, "and you can tell Mrs.
Illingworth that." Which sent the Doctor off smiling.

Polly cuddled down contentedly in her mother's arms.

"I'm sorry for Patricia," she sighed.

Mrs. Dudley knew Polly, and waited.

"I suppose Mrs. Illingworth is very nice," she went on, a moment
after; "but she isn't cuddly, like you. I asked Patricia once if she
didn't sit in her mother's lap, and she said no, she was too big a
girl. She is hardly any taller than I am. She didn't say it a bit as
if she thought so herself. I guess her mother doesn't want her
beautiful dresses mussed up--that's it! I love Patricia, but, oh, I'm
glad I am not going to live with them!"

Mrs. Dudley bent her head, and whispered soft words of caress,
grateful that to Polly it was given to weigh the things of life in a
true balance.

Patricia mourned with many words over Dr. Dudley's refusal of her
mother's offer; but the friendship of the new cousins was not
lessened, and they were often at each other's homes.



CHAPTER VII

THE BLIZZARD


On a gray morning in early February Dr. Dudley started for New York.

"I shall probably be back on the nine o'clock train," he told his
wife; "but the paper says there is a big snowstorm on the way, and for
fear I may be delayed I have left word for Joe to come and fill up the
heater." Joe was a boy that did odd jobs about the house, and was
familiar with the heater. "He will probably be here early in the
evening," the Doctor went on; "but I can see to it again when I get
home."

Polly went to school with the snowflakes flying around her. Patricia
overtook her on the way.

"Where's David?" she asked.

"He has a cold, and isn't coming," Polly replied. "He telephoned over
just now."

"Oh, that's too bad!" lamented Patricia. "I had set my heart on having
you and him this afternoon. Cousin Lester and Aunt Florence are
coming from Nevada. Mamma heard last night. He is your cousin, too,
same as I am. You'll like him; Lester's all right! He is just David's
age--it is a shame David can't come! Won't your mother let you stay
home from school? I'm going to."

"I don't know," said Polly. "Wouldn't after do?"

"Not enough time," Patricia declared. "I want you and Lester to get
well acquainted; he is the nicest boy you ever saw!"

"Except David."

Patricia laughed. "I guess you won't except anybody when you've seen
Lester. Well, make your mother let school go for once!"

"I'll ask her," Polly promised.

"Tease!" urged Patricia. "Tease like everything!"

Polly said nothing; but there were twinkles in her brown eyes.

When school was dismissed, the storm was increasing, and Polly rode
home beside her cousin in the limousine.

She found the back door unlocked, but the kitchen was empty, and there
were seemingly no preparations for dinner. She hastened from room to
room, and finally went upstairs.

"What is the matter?" she asked in dismayed tone, for her mother was
lying on her bed, white with suffering.

"It came on suddenly--this pain." She put her hand to her forehead,
moaning.

Polly stood quite still, distress in her face. She waited until the
spasm had passed, and then said gently, "Can't I get you something?"

"No. It is that neuralgia over my eye. I have had it before, but never
like this. The medicine doesn't seem to take hold. If it isn't better
soon, I'll have to try something else."

"I wish father were home. Shan't I call Dr. Rodman?"

"Oh, no! It is growing easier. Run down and eat your dinner; I left it
in the oven."

"Have you had yours?"

"All I want."

Polly lingered, irresolute, her anxious eyes on her mother's face.

Mrs. Dudley smiled faintly. "Go, dear. There is nothing you can do for
me."

Polly ate a scant meal, and washed the few dishes. Then she thought of
Patricia. Softly shutting the door of the living-room, she went to the
telephone.

Patricia herself answered.

"I'm awfully sorry," Polly told her, "but I can't come."

"Oh, Polly Dudley!" Patricia broke in, "you said you would!"

"Mother is sick," Polly explained, "and I mustn't leave her."

"Can't she stay alone? I shouldn't think she'd mind. You ask her. Oh,
you must come! Mamma'll send for you, and you can stay all night. Your
father'll be home then. Say, run and see if your mother won't let you
come! I'll hold the wire."

"I can't, Patricia. You don't know how sick mother is. I wouldn't
leave her for anything."

"Oh, botheree! You've just gone and spoiled all my good time!"

Polly heard the receiver slammed on its hook. She sat for a minute
wondering if she could say anything to amend matters, but finally
turned away. Patricia's vexation was never lasting.

She listened at the foot of the stairs, and then tiptoed up. Her
mother lay as if asleep, and she crept noiselessly into her own room.

Outside the prospect was cheerless. Few people and fewer teams were
abroad. Wind and snow were in command, beating the window panes,
thrashing the bare trees, whirling round house corners with a shriek
and a roar. Polly turned from the cold tumult feeling strangely
desolate. She read and wandered about by turns, wondering if ever
there were any other afternoon so long. At last a sound from her
mother's room sent her thither. Mrs. Dudley was sitting on the edge of
the bed.

"Is it worse?" Polly faltered.

A murmured affirmative was the only answer.

"I wish you would go to the medicine closet," her mother said feebly,
when the pain had lessened, "and get a little round bottle at the
right-hand end of the second shelf."

Polly was off like a sprite, barely waiting for directions.

"Yes, this is the one." Mrs. Dudley drew the cork hesitatingly.

"I thought I could do without it," she sighed, "but the pain is
growing worse--I must have something."

She bade Polly crush one of the tablets, and two small pills from
another bottle, making a powder of the three.

"Your father would have given me this before now if he had been here,"
she smiled.

"Why don't you want to take it?" queried Polly.

"I always put off anodynes as long as possible. But I will not take a
large dose."

"Will it hurt you?" Polly's face was anxious.

"Oh, no! it will stop the pain. But how is it that you are home from
school so early? It is not three o'clock, is it?"

"It is after four. But I didn't go this afternoon. I wouldn't leave
you all alone; besides, it is snowing hard."

"Oh, is it snowing! Well, I'm glad you stayed at home. Poor little
girl! you are having a dreary time." She clasped Polly's hand with
gentle pressure.

"I don't mind, if you could only be well." Polly's voice almost broke.

"Don't worry! I'm easier now. Perhaps I can go to sleep."

Cautiously she laid her head on the pillow that Polly had made plump
and smooth, and was soon so quiet that the small nurse could not be
sure whether she were sleeping or not. The rooms were fast growing
shadowy, and Polly felt that the lights would be company, so she lit
the gas upstairs and down, turning it low in her mother's room. Then
fetching her doll, she took a low rocker, and blue-eyed Phebe and
brown-eyed Polly sat down to watch.

There was a stir on the bed. Phebe's eyes were wide open, but she made
no sign when the sick woman rose totteringly to her feet. Polly's eyes
were shut tight, and her breathing soft and slow. She was dreaming of
Colonel Gresham and his beautiful Lone Star, when she awoke with a
start to find the bed empty and uncertain footsteps in the hall.
Leaping to her feet, and dropping Phebe with no ceremony, she bounded
to the head of the stairs, where her mother wavered on the top step.
Catching her gently, in a voice not quite steady, she asked:--

"Where are you going?"

"Oh, I thought I'd go down--and help you wash the dishes!" Mrs. Dudley
replied. "Poor child! you've had all the work to do."

"The dishes are all washed," Polly assured her, "and I am not tired.
Hadn't you better lie down again before the pain comes on?"

The sick woman suffered herself to be led back to the bed, where she
sat for a moment in silence.

"I'll wipe the dishes for you," she murmured, and began fumbling in
her lap. "Where are they?" she asked bewilderedly. "They are not
here."

"I put them up in the china closet," Polly answered. "Please lie down!
I will call you if I need your help."

At last she was on her pillow, and for a time lay quiet.

Polly lingered near, affright in her heart, Oh, if her father
were only there! For a long time she dared not move, but stood and
watched the quiet face. Then, suddenly, the lips began to mutter
unintelligible things, and Polly's eyes dilated in terror. That
September night, when Colonel Gresham was so near to death, came
vividly back to her.

"I'm afraid"--she whispered, but did not go on. With one, long,
anxious look she stole softly away and downstairs to the telephone.
She wished she had called Dr. Rodman sooner.

Her heart was beating painfully as she took the receiver in her hand.
No word came to her ear, nothing save a low sputtering of the wire.
She waited, and then gently pressed the hook. Still no answer. Again
and again, she made the attempt, until, at last, she realized the
truth--the wires were useless.

She sat for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Finally with
determination on her face she ran over to the stairs, and listened.
There was no sound. Still not quite satisfied, she crept up to her
mother's room. She found little change, except that the mutterings
were fainter, and at times the lips were at rest.

"I must go! I must!" Polly whispered to herself. "She acts just as
Colonel Gresham did--oh, dear!"

She dreaded to leave the house, fearing that her mother might
rouse--and who knew what she would do! Yet at the hospital was Dr.
Rodman and help. It would take but a few minutes to go. Thus
reassuring herself, she made ready to battle with the storm. It was
not long before she opened the front door, but, unprepared for the
fury of the wind, she gave a cry as the knob was swept from her grasp.
Still she had no thought of turning back, and snapping the night lock,
so that she could return without a key, she succeeded in shutting the
door behind her.

Outside was tumult. A procession of blasts came roaring down the
street. It was biting cold. The snow stung. The muffled lights shone
wanly through the night, and laid bare the desolate scene. Polly
breathed hard as she staggered across the piazza. The steps were a
drifty slope of white, making descent dangerous; but she plunged on,
gained a scant foothold, missed the next, clutched at nothing, and
went down, a helpless little heap in the whirling snow.

Starting to scramble up, she dropped back with a cry. Pluckily she
tried it again, this time coming to a sitting posture with a gasp of
pain. Her ankle had twisted when she fell, and was now throbbing
distressfully.

"Oh, I can't go!" she half sobbed. "Dear, dear mother!"

She looked up and down the street, in hope of help; but none was
there. The pain in her foot increased, and she realized that she must
act quickly. With a prayer in her heart, she crawled back, little by
little, up the steps and over to the door, finally, after much effort,
reaching the knob and letting herself in. Once assured that the door
was fast, she sank into the hall corner, spent with her struggle.

After what seemed a long while Polly crept upstairs. Her mother was
still quiet, as if asleep. There were now no mutterings. Polly
shivered in her damp clothing and went over to the radiator. The
warmth was grateful, and she dropped to the floor, cuddling beside her
iron friend. Soon there were two sleepers in the lonely room.

When she awoke Polly found herself hugging a cold pillow, and she
suddenly remembered that Joe was to have come to fill up the heater.
Could the fire have gone out? The question brought dismay. If she
could only get down cellar!

Her foot and ankle ached unbearably, and she tried to take off her
shoe; but it held fast. She pulled and pushed and twisted, gasping
with pain; the boot would not stir.

"Colonel Gresham would let Oscar come over and 'tend to the heater, if
he only knew," she muttered sadly--and then a hope popped up. She
would ring the dinner bell from a side window--perhaps some of them
would hear!

It was a painful journey downstairs, but Polly did not flinch. Again
and again the little bell sent its loudest appeal out into the stormy
night; but the merciless wind stifled its voice before it could reach
a kindly ear. There were snow wreaths in the ringer's hair, and tears
in her eyes, when she shut the window.

"I thought they must hear," she said sobbingly. Then, like a careful
little housewife, she shook the snow from her dress, and brushed up
the slush from the floor.

"I guess I'll go," she whispered. "Mother will freeze if I don't.
P'rhaps I can--I've got to anyway!" She caught her breath in pain.

Hobbling over to the kitchen shelf where the runabout lamp was kept,
she lighted it, and, supplying herself with matches and a small
shovel, she started for the cellar. In baby-fashion she went down,
sitting on the top stair and slipping from step to step. The light
threw shadows all about, grotesque and startling; but the little
figure kept steadily on.

The fire was very low. Polly gazed anxiously at the dull red coals.
The damper in the lower door had a bad habit of opening when it was
jarred. It was open now.

"Father was in a hurry this morning when he shut this door," she
explained to herself, "and I guess he didn't stop to look. That's why
it's burned out."

Slowly and painfully she fetched wood and threw it in the heater,
opening the draughts wide, and watching to see if it caught. Soon it
began to crackle and blaze cheerily, and, despite her loneliness and
her suffering, hope leaped in her heart.

"It will be nice and warm when mother wakes up--oh, I'm so glad I came
down!"

Yet it was dreary waiting for the moment when it seemed best to put on
the coal, and then she lingered still longer before she dared shut off
the draught. But at last her labor was complete. The pipes were
growing warm, and the heater could safely be left to care for itself.

Going upstairs was difficult and distressing; but the two flights were
finally accomplished, and Polly was free to rest. She lay down quietly
beside her mother, though not to sleep. Pain that made her almost cry
out for relief kept her awake hour after hour. Mrs. Dudley lay very
still. But for her soft breathing the little watcher at her side would
have thought her dead. Many times Polly lifted herself upon her elbow,
leaned over to listen, and dropped back again satisfied, but with a
stifled groan. Every movement now was torture.

The night seemed to have no end. Polly felt as if she had lain there a
hundred hours, and yet no sign of day. She wondered if God had
forgotten to wake up the world--and then she slept.

It was so that Dr. Dudley found them at eight o'clock in the morning.
When Polly came to herself her father and mother were talking of the
great storm, the delay of his train, and of her sudden illness. But
Polly's story of the night sent the Doctor in haste to the aid of the
injured ankle.

One glance at the swollen foot, and he whipped a pair of scissors from
his pocket, inserting a blade underneath the leather.

"Oh, father," cried Polly in alarm, "these are my second-best boots!"

But the scissors were doing their merciful though destructive work,
and the little sufferer closed her eyes with a sob of relief.

For several days Polly's seat at school was vacant; but Patricia did
not allow her to get lonely.

"If you had come to see Lester, as I wanted you to," she insisted,
"you wouldn't have sprained your ankle and had to stay home. Honestly,
don't you wish you had?"

Polly glanced across to her mother with a mysterious smile.

"I am sorry," she answered, "not to have seen your cousin--"

"And yours!" put in Patricia.

"Yes, 'and mine,'" Polly laughed. "But father says that blizzard
lessons are sometimes better than Latin and geography; so I'm glad I
didn't miss them."

Patricia looked puzzled.



CHAPTER VIII

THE INTERMEDIATE BIRTHDAY PARTY


"There are Leonora and David and Patricia, to start with," began
Polly, "and Elsie Meyer and Brida McCarthy and Cornelius
O'Shaughnessy."

Mrs. Dudley, writing down the names, smiled her sanction.

"I want to invite as many of the girls at school as I can," Polly went
on thoughtfully, "Lilith Brooks and Betty Thurston anyway--oh, and
Hilda Breese! I must have Hilda. She is a new scholar, but such a
dear! How many does that make?"

"Eight girls, with you, and two boys."

"Only three more girls!" mused Polly anxiously. "I can't leave out
Aimée Gentil, and I meant to ask Mabel Camp and Mary Pender." She
paused.

"That just makes it." Her mother's pencil was waiting.

"But I don't know what to do," Polly sighed. "There's Gladys Osborne,
I ought to invite her. She's Betty's intimate friend, and I'm afraid
she'll feel hurt to be skipped. And Ilga!" She drew another sigh.

"Ilga Barron?"

Polly nodded, her forehead wrinkled over the problem. "She has been
good to me lately, and she'll expect an invitation. Still Mabel and
Mary don't have half the fun that Ilga has, and I want them. Oh, dear,
having parties is hard work!"

Mrs. Dudley smiled sympathetically, but offered no direct assistance.

"Suppose we leave the girls, and take up the boys. Then we can come
back, and things may look clearer."

"All right." Polly welcomed a respite from the struggle between
loyalty to her old hospital friends and duty to her new acquaintances.

The second list was soon complete, with former patients of the
convalescent ward outnumbering the others.

"I want Otto Kriloff and Moses Cohn and those boys to have a good time
for once," Polly unnecessarily explained, and then turned to the
matter which had been dropped.

"I think I'll have Aimée and Gladys and Ilga," she at length decided.
And so the names went down.

"I will write the invitations this evening," promised Mrs. Dudley; but
in less than an hour came Mrs. Jocelyn with a proposal which precluded
all previous arrangements and more pleasantly solved Polly's difficult
problem.

"Leonora and I are in a quandary," began the little lady who was used
to having her own way, "and we hope you will help us out. With Polly's
birthday coming on the eighteenth and Leonora's on the twentieth, and
we planning for separate parties, it is strange I didn't think of it
sooner. Probably it wouldn't have occurred to me now, only that the
invitation list has been giving us no end of bother."

Mrs. Dudley and Polly smiled appreciatively to each other.

"We reached the end of it," Mrs. Jocelyn continued, "long before
Leonora was through choosing, and she was distressed at thought of
leaving out so many. It is all nonsense, this restricting the number
of guests to the years; but if it must be so I think we had better
combine. Then we can double the list, and nobody will have to be
invited twice. Polly and Leonora ought to be satisfied with forty-four
friends--no, forty-two besides themselves," she amended, with a
twinkle in her gray eyes.

The girls eagerly awaited Mrs. Dudley's reply.

"That would be very pleasant," she began; "but--"

"There isn't a single but to it," laughed the little lady comfortably.
"We will have the party at my house, two parties in one, on the
nineteenth."

"Oh! that will be a between birthday party, won't it?" piped Polly
delightedly.

"We will call it just that," agreed Mrs. Jocelyn.

Plans were making progress when the Doctor came in, and Polly watched
his face anxiously as he listened. She knew the signs.

"I don't quite like this arrangement," he objected frankly. "We have
intended to make Polly's party a very simple little affair, without
fuss or ceremony. You, of course, will wish things different."

"Now, see here, Dr. Robert Dudley," broke in Mrs. Jocelyn, laughingly,
"I'm not going to allow any such insinuations. It shall be bread and
butter and cookies for tea, if you wish; but you are not going to
spoil our good time. Just look at those children! They are worrying
their hearts out for fear you won't let them play hostess together."

At that, the disturbed faces broadened into smiles, and presently the
Doctor asked Polly if she had shown Leonora the new paper dolls that
Burton Leonard's mother had sent her. Which delicate hint told her
that the elder people preferred to discuss the matter alone.

It was finally settled according to Mrs. Jocelyn's mind, as Leonora
had felt sure it would be.

"Mother always makes things go her way," she declared, "and it is a
beautiful way, too!"

When it came to deciding on the guests, all was harmonious, even when
Polly submitted the name of Ilga Barron, to whom Leonora had felt a
strong dislike since her first day at school.

"But you can have her if you want her," she conceded. "I only hope she
won't spoil the party."

Polly had the same secret hope, mingled with not a little fear; but
she kept silent regarding it, only saying:--

"She has been pleasant lately, and I don't want to snub her just as
she's growing good."

On the afternoon of Polly's birthday, the school furnace needed
immediate repair, and the session came to an early close. It had been
arranged for Polly to ride home with Leonora; but as the carriage was
not there they took a trolley car, Leonora not being yet quite strong
enough for so long a walk.

Polly was the first to spy it, the fairy-like automobile, all white
and gold, in front of Mrs. Jocelyn's house. The girls, excited with
wonder, walked slowly past the beautiful little car.

"It must belong to somebody's fairy godmother," laughed Leonora.

"Or to Titania," added Polly. "It is pretty enough to be hers."

"Whose do you really s'pose it is?" queried Leonora, loitering at the
side entrance for another look.

But Polly had not even a suggestion beyond the fairy queen.

"Let's hurry up and find out!" she cried. And they raced round to the
back door.

Barbara, one of the maids, showed plain dismay when she saw them.

"Stay here, here in this room!" she commanded excitedly.

"I want to see mother," objected Leonora.

"No, no!" replied Barbara, with unheard-of severity. "She got
vis'tors."

"Did they come in that lovely car? Oh, do tell us that!" Leonora
wheedled.

Barbara hesitated, looking from one to the other.

"Please!" coaxed Polly.

"Yes," she finally admitted, "they come in it. But I not tell more."
She shut her lips tightly.

Tilly, the cook, slipped outside, and after a while returned with the
word that the girls could go where they chose. They were quick to use
the permission; but, as Polly surmised, the little car was gone.

Mrs. Jocelyn only smiled unsatisfactory answers to their eager
questions, and they wondered much what it all could mean.

Soon after tea Polly was sent home in the coach, with a box of eleven
long-stemmed superb pink roses, a birthday present from Leonora. She
ran into the living-room to show them to her father and mother, but
stopped just inside the threshold, staring at the corner where a low
bookcase had stood. There, shining with newness, she saw a handsome
upright piano.

"Why, father," she cried, "what made you do it? You said you couldn't
afford one just yet, and I could have waited as well as not!"

Dr. Dudley smiled down into her eager face.

"I didn't," he answered. "We were as much surprised as you are. Read
that!" pointing to a card tilted against the music rack.

She snatched the bit of white.

     To Polly, with all the love and happy birthday wishes that
     can be packed into a piano.

               From her friend,
                    JULIET P. JOCELYN.

Polly drew a long breath of joy.

"Isn't it lovely!" she beamed.

The next minute her fingers were racing over the keys in a musical
little waltz.

Early the next morning came David with a "Little Colonel" book for
Polly.

"I didn't know whether to bring it over yesterday or not," he laughed;
"but I finally thought I'd better wait for the intermediate day."

"It wouldn't make any difference," returned Polly, fingering the book
admiringly. "Thank you ever and ever so much! I've wanted to know more
about the 'Little Colonel.' But what kind of a day did you call it?"

"Intermediate," he replied. "Isn't that right?"

"Of course," she assured him promptly, always secretly marveling at
David's ability to use words with which she was unfamiliar. "It
sounds beautiful."

"It means halfway between, I think," he explained; "so I thought it
was an appropriate word."

"It is," declared Polly, "a great deal better than just between. It
makes it seem more important."

David laughed, and then, spying the piano, admired Polly's new
instrument to her full satisfaction, and ended by sitting down and
singing a little song which she called "another birthday present."

Shortly before two o'clock the birthday guests began to arrive at Mrs.
Jocelyn's beautiful home. The two mothers, one in white and the other
in gray, and the two girls, dressed exactly alike in soft white wool,
with pink sashes and ribbons, received informally in the east
drawing-room, and when the girls and boys were all there Mrs. Dudley
started a game.

They were in the midst of the fun, when Polly, glancing at Ilga
Barron, was troubled to see an ugly scowl. The children were in a
circle, alternate girls and boys, secretly passing a ring from hand
to hand, and it chanced that Ilga had a place between Otto Kriloff and
Cornelius O'Shaughnessy.

"Oh, if she makes a fuss!" thought Polly, and straightway the charm of
the game vanished.

Ilga's face grew black and ominous. Suddenly, with a scornful "I guess
I won't play any more!" she dropped the hands she held, and, with head
high, walked mincingly over to the window, and stood with her back to
the others.

"What's the matter?" broke from several mouths and showed in every
face--every face but Polly's. Polly knew, or thought she knew.

"We'll keep right on," she said in a soft, tense voice; and the play
proceeded, yet not as before.

Wondering glances were continually cast towards the window, where the
yellow-clad figure stood dark against the light. The Senator's
daughter received more attention than the ring.

Meantime Ilga grew tired of waiting for the game to end, and, with a
furtive look in the direction of the players, she sauntered off
towards the hallway.

At once Polly excused herself, and followed.

Ilga turned quickly.

"I'm going home," she said.

"Oh, please don't!" cried Polly, adding faintly, "Are you ill?"

"No; but I guess I'd better go. There's such a rabble here."

"Why, Ilga!" gasped Polly.

"Well, 'tis!" she retorted. "If mamma'd known it, she wouldn't have
let me come; she's very particular who I play with."

"They're just as nice as they can be," protested Polly in a soft,
grieved voice.

"Perhaps they seem so to you. I s'pose that's the kind they have at
hospitals. The little Pole over there, he squeezed my fingers so they
'most ache yet, and that tall Irish kid with the red hair is the worst
of the bunch!"

"Oh, Ilga, he's a splendid boy, and so brave! I'm sure Otto didn't
mean to hurt you; he is kind as can be."

"It's all right, if you want them; but I guess I'll go home. I
thought there'd be something besides just games."

She turned towards the staircase, yet lingered.

"I'm sorry you don't like it," Polly replied simply. "I'll play
anything you wish."

"No, I'm going."

She tossed her head, and took a step upward.

Polly was in terror lest somebody should overhear, for Ilga's voice
was sharp with excitement.

"I'll stay and play with the school boys and girls," the dissatisfied
guest yielded.

"But I can't separate them," Polly protested in dismay.

"Then I'll go home," Ilga decided, and went slowly up the stairs.

Polly followed sadly, but presently returned, having given over to her
mother the care of the Senator's daughter.

Leonora ran to meet her. "What is the matter?" she whispered.

"I know!" spoke up Cornelius. "She don't like the crowd. I had to hear
what she said about me. Say, Polly, I'll get out, if that'll make her
stay."

"You shan't!" Polly's eyes flashed. Then they brimmed with tears. "I
want you, Cornelius--I want you all! I wouldn't have you go for
anything! Come, let's play--what shall we play? You choose,
Cornelius!"

The game was moving pleasantly along when the Barron coach stopped at
the door. For a few minutes the interest of the players flagged; then,
having seen Ilga whirled out of sight, a festive spirit fell upon all,
and the play went on more merrily than before.

Game followed game, and mirth was high, when Elsie Meyer, out for a
forfeit, suddenly cried:--

"Oh, me! oh, my! the fairies have come!"

This was enough to halt the others, and the glimpse of a
white-and-gold automobile drew the little crowd to the front windows.

Wonder and delight were on the children's faces, as they watched the
motorists alight. The dapper man and the slight little woman were
given small attention, for in the car were two of the tiniest,
dearest midgets that anybody had ever seen. As soon as it was known
that they were actually coming into the house, the excitement was
great.

"Do you s'pose they're real fairies?" questioned Brida McCarthy
eagerly.

Nobody could answer. In fact, just at the moment, words were scarce.
Interest was centred on the visitors that were coming up the front
steps. The glimpses of the beautiful little creatures as they passed
the curtained doorway increased the children's curiosity, and, during
the brief time devoted to the removal of wraps, tongues ran lively.
The wild surmises came to a sudden halt when the tiny boy and girl
appeared bowing and curtsying, being presented to the company as
"Their Royal Highnesses, Prince Lucio and Princess Chiara."

The brother and sister at once proceeded to give a unique performance
in song, dance, and pantomime, until the young guests were beside
themselves with delight.

After this entertainment came the wonderful party tea, arranged and
served in Mrs. Jocelyn's happiest style, with eleven little
candle-girls atop of the birthday cake, and ice cream in the form of
fairies.

When everybody was stuffed with good things, the dainty Prince and
Princess remained for an hour to play with the other children, "just
like real folks," as Elsie Meyer declared.

The last game of hide-and-seek came to a merry end, with the finding
of the roguish little Princess, who was only eighteen inches tall,
curled up snugly back of a small flower pot, inside of a jardiniere.
Then the girls and boys bade good-bye to their royal companions, and
the guests were all sent home in the beautiful Jocelyn carriage. The
stately grays had to make a good many trips before the Intermediate
Birthday Party was really over; but the last load was finally driven
away, jubilant voices sounding back through the dusk after the
children had passed from sight.

"It was just lovely, from beginning to end," breathed Leonora.

Ilga Barron was quite forgotten.



CHAPTER IX

THE EIGHTH ROSE


On the morning after the party Polly was early downstairs.

Breakfast not being quite ready, she filled up the time by giving
fresh water to her birthday roses.

"You are going to the hospital to-day," she told them, as she clipped
the ends of the stems and broke off two or three great thorns. "That
is, most of you," she amended. "Let me see, you, and you, and you,"
she decided, laying aside three big beauties. Their number was
doubled, and then she hesitated.

"Mother, you wouldn't keep more than three, would you?"

Mrs. Dudley looked up from the grapefruit she was cutting.

"That is a good number to look at," she smiled.

"So I think," Polly agreed; "but they can have only one apiece over
at the hospital. One alone is pretty, though," she mused. "I'd leave
only one for us, but if Leonora should come, she might be afraid I
didn't care for them. No, I think eight will have to do, and it will
be better to give to those that have to lie abed, won't it?"

Only waiting for her mother's approval, she went on:--

"There's Reva and Ottoine and Mary up in the children's ward, and old
Mrs. Zieminski, and that funny little Magdalene, and Gustav and Miss
Butler--that makes seven," counting them slowly on her fingers. "I
don't know who I will give the eighth to--there are plenty of folks,
only I'm not acquainted with them. Never mind, anybody'll be glad of
one of these lovelicious roses, and I'll see when I get there."

"How does it feel to be eleven?" broke in the Doctor's happy voice.

"Why, I was eleven day before yesterday," laughed Polly. "I've had
time to get used to it."

"But that was a birthday, and yesterday was a party day; it is when
you get back to the everydayness that you begin to feel things."

"It isn't a bit different from ten," she declared. "Yes, a little,
because I have all these roses to give away. Aren't they sweet?" She
held them up for her father to sniff.

"Come to breakfast!" was the gentle command from the dining-room, and
Polly skipped on ahead, cautioning the Doctor to be sure not to spill
the water from the vase with which she had entrusted him.

The hour before school found Polly and the pink roses on their way to
the big white house. Having the freedom of the hospital almost as much
as Dr. Dudley himself, she flitted in and out whenever she chose,
never in anybody's way, and greeted with smiles from nurses and
patients.

Her errand this morning carried her first to the children's
convalescent ward, where she was so eagerly seized upon that she
escaped only by pleading her additional flowers to distribute, and
school time not far away.

With the eighth rose still in her hand, and debating whether to carry
it up to the children, or to give it to a boy in the surgical ward
with whom she had once spoken, she passed a half-open door on one of
the private-room corridors.

Glancing inside, she saw a young man, with bandaged eyes, lying on a
couch. He was quite alone, and his mouth looked sad.

"I wonder if he would like it," she questioned, and a breath of
fragrance from the half-blown rose answered her. "He can smell it,
even if he can't see it," she thought, and stepped inside the room.

The man turned his head.

"Would you like one of my birthday roses?" she asked. "It is very
sweet." She put it in his hand.

"I thank you, indeed." The sad lips smiled. "This is quite outside of
my programme. In fact, I had almost forgotten there were such pleasant
times as birthdays."

"It was day before yesterday," she ventured.

"And I judge by your voice that the number of roses needed was not
large."

She laughed softly. "Only eleven."

"About as I guessed! I hope the rest of the birthday matched the
roses. This is very beautiful." His fingers gave it a caressing touch.

"Oh, I had a lovelicious birthday! I really had two of them!"

"Two? That sounds interesting. Can't you sit down here and tell me
about it?"

"If I wouldn't be late to school," she hesitated. "I don't know what
time it is."

He pulled a watch from his pocket, and held it up for her view.

"Oh, I've twenty-seven minutes! I can stay a little while."

She took the chair beside him, and recounted the story of the
intermediate entertainment, intuitively omitting the part which Ilga
played. That it was appreciated by her listener Polly could not doubt.

"You must come and see me again," he invited, as she rose to go. "I
think you may do me more good than the Doctor."

"Oh, no!" she objected softly; "I couldn't do anything better than
father! He cures everybody."

The young man smiled doubtfully.

"May I ask who 'father' is? Not Dr. Dudley?"

"Why, yes, sir. I s'posed you knew. I'm Polly Dudley, Dr. Dudley's
little girl."

"Are you! Well, Miss Polly, I am surely glad to have made your
acquaintance." He ran hurriedly through his pockets. "I had a card
somewhere. Probably it was seized with the rest of my belongings. That
seems to be a way they have at hospitals--hide a man's things so he
can't get at them! Never mind, I haven't forgotten my name. I am Floyd
Westwood of New York."

"That's a lovelicious name," Polly told him frankly.

The corners of his mouth curled up.

"I hope you will not fail to come often," he told her, as she put her
little hand in his for good-bye.

"Oh, I'll come!" she promised. "But it's father that will cure you."

"I hope so, but," he added soberly, "it doesn't look much like it at
present."

Polly's eyes went troubled.

Perhaps the other read her silence, for he said brightly:--

"Now that I know the Doctor's little girl, it may be I shall have more
confidence in the Doctor's assurances."

"Oh, if he says you'll get well," she laughed, "you needn't worry a
single mite! Father doesn't ever lie to people."

"That sounds pleasant and mighty reassuring. I am glad you came in. I
was getting blue."

"Perhaps you were 'scared,' like Magdalene," she chuckled. "I do wish
you could see her! She is the funniest little German girl! She had
appendicitis, and the doctors sent for father. He knew right off she
couldn't live without an operation, and he told her father and mother,
and then he went and talked to her. He didn't tell her she'd die, for
she's only six years old; but he said she couldn't ever go out to
play, or have any more good times, unless they took her to the
hospital to cure her. And she looked up at him, just as sober, and
said, 'I'm scared! I'm scared!'--not a thing else! They brought her up
here in the ambulance, and she never said a word all the way. But when
she got downstairs, where there were lots of doctors and nurses,
father happened to go near her, and she looked straight up into his
face, and said, 'I'm scared! I'm scared!' Poor little thing! I should
think she would have been; but she is so funny."

"Did she come out all right?"

"Oh, yes, of course!--father performed the operation. The next day
when he saw her she was looking as happy as could be, and he asked her
if she was scared, and she didn't speak, only just shook her head this
way, and grinned." Polly's curls waved vigorously. "After a few days
she grew worse, and they had a consultation, and three or four doctors
were there. Father thought she looked frightened, and he asked her if
she was scared, and she bowed her head hard--oh, she is so funny! I
just carried her one of my roses, and I'm sure she liked it, but she
didn't say a single word."

"I have a fellow-feeling for that little girl," smiled Mr. Westwood.
"I know all right what it is to be 'scared,' and it isn't pleasant."

As Polly's lips parted for a response, her eyes fell upon the watch
which the young man was still fingering.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed, "I forgot all about school! Good-bye!" And
she flashed away.

At dinner she told where she had left her eighth rose.

"I am glad you happened in there," returned the Doctor. "He seems to
be a fine young fellow, a chemist, just out of college. He came up
from New York to see a friend, and while he was assisting with some
chemical work he was temporarily blinded by an explosion. He is coming
on all right; but for a few days I have noticed that he has seemed
rather gloomy. Go again! You will do him good."

Several times during the next week Polly obeyed her father's
injunction, and accepted Mr. Westwood's repeated invitations. With
every visit the two became better friends, and Polly waited almost as
eagerly as the patient himself for the day when his bandaged eyes
should be released. Only in Polly's heart there was not a little
regret mingled with her anticipated joy, for that would herald Mr.
Westwood's going away. Still she would not let the disturbing thought
detract from her present pleasure, and she ran in and out of the
young man's room in a happy, quite-at-home fashion.

She was starting for one of these little visits, when her mother
called to her.

"I wish you would go down to Besse and Drayton's, and get me a yard
more of this ribbon," she requested; "I find I haven't enough." She
held out a bit of blue satin.

"I'll be back with it in a jiffy--a ten-minute jiffy," laughed Polly.

Off she flew, tripping down the street and around the corner so
briskly that she nearly ran into a little man who was proceeding at a
quick, heedless pace.

"Why, Mr. Bean!" she cried.

"I declare, if 'tain't Polly! little Polly! How do you do, my dear?
How do you do?"

As soon as Mr. Bean learned that Polly was on her way down to the
department store, he turned about, and walked along by her side,
listening delightedly to her happy chatter.

"I'm proper sorry I hain't found that letter yit," he mourned. "Jane
she's been kind o' upset 'n' cranky lately, or I should 'a' asked her
about it before. I guess I shall speak about it to-night, yis, I
guess I shall," he assured Polly and himself.

"Oh, don't hurry to do it right away!" Polly responded
understandingly. "I can wait to know about my relatives. If Aunt Jane
isn't feeling--quite well, it wouldn't be a good time."

"No, 'twouldn't," he agreed in a relieved tone. "But I'll have it for
yer soon's I see my way to it. Sometime when Jane's feelin' real good,
I'll broach the subjec', I certain will."

Home with her ribbon and then over to the hospital sped Polly. She
found her friend impatiently striding up and down the limited space of
his room.

"I'd about given you up," he told her in an aggrieved tone. "I
concluded you were tired of coming to be eyes for a poor old blind
fellow like me, and so had stayed after school to play."

Polly looked at him keenly. Sometimes she did not quite know whether
to take him in fun or in earnest. Now his face was serious; but she
felt almost sure there was a twinkle behind that tantalizing bandage.

"You know I couldn't be tired of coming to see you," she said simply,
"and I never stay to play after school. I went on an errand for
mother, and then I met Mr. Bean, and he stopped to apologize for not
finding a letter that is--lost, a letter about my May relatives."

"What!" His tone startled Polly. "Are you related to the Mays? how?
Tell me!" He was waiting with eager, parted lips.

"Why," she hesitated, vaguely abashed all at once, "I'm Polly May, you
know--or was. I guess I haven't told you." Polly never talked of her
adoption, instinctively guarding as a precious secret what was
naturally well known throughout the city.

"No, you haven't; but won't you tell me now, please?"

"Father and mother adopted me the day they were married," she
explained simply. "Papa and mamma were dead, and I didn't belong to
Aunt Jane or anybody."

"Polly, who was your father--your own father?" The words tumbled close
on the heels of her sentence.

"Chester May," she answered dazedly. Something was imminent. She knew
not what.

"Chester May! And your mother's name? Was it Illingworth? Phebe
Illingworth?" The words shot like bullets.

"Why, yes!" gasped Polly. "How did you know?"

"Polly! Polly!" He thrust out his hands--they touched Polly's, which
he caught in a strong grip. "My mother was your father's sister, his
eldest sister! We are cousins, Polly, own cousins!"

Dr. Dudley came, with the nurse, before the story was ended, and then
it had to be begun and told all over again,--the old, old story of a
quarrel between the father and the "baby" of his family, of the hasty
leaving home of the boy, of the meagre news of his early marriage, and
lastly of the years that were empty of tidings. These Polly was able
to fill up in part, when the story-teller turned listener, with
interest almost as great as Polly's own.

Floyd Westwood begged the physician to allow him one little glimpse of
his new-found cousin; but Dr. Dudley was firm, and the eager eyes
were not uncovered. Polly soon slipped away to share her joy with her
mother, leaving the Doctor and his patient to talk over present plans
and future possibilities.



CHAPTER X

A VISIT FROM ERASTUS BEAN


It was yet early the next evening, soon after Dr. Dudley had gone for
his usual round at the hospital, that Polly answered the doorbell to
return with Erastus Bean.

Delight laughed from the little man's weathered face.

"There 'tis, my dear! there 'tis!" he chuckled, carefully drawing a
folded paper from an inner pocket. He put it in Polly's hand with an
impressive bow. "I hope it will make yer a millionaire," he wished,
"yis, I do!"

Polly thanked him, fingering the letter in a somewhat awed way, but
not at all as if she were in a hurry to discover her chances towards
millionairedom. Meantime Mrs. Dudley was seating the little man in the
easiest chair.

Settling himself comfortably, with a profusion of acknowledgments, he
rubbed his lean hands together with a reminiscent smile.

"I took Jane ridin' in a autymobile this afternoon!" he announced.

"You did?" Polly burst out.

"Sure thing!" he beamed. "Jane she's been a-wishin' an' a-wishin' she
could go skylarkin' off like other folks, an' when that autymobile
driv' up this afternoon, you'd oughter seen her eyes! It was a stylish
one, I tell yer! An' we went bouncin' up an' down like the best of
'em! Jane she says it was full as good's a weddin' trip!"

He was silent a moment, smiling at the remembrance.

"I'm so glad you had such a nice ride," purred Polly.

"It was proper nice," he agreed. "Yer see," falling into a
confidential tone, "I couldn't make out no surer way to git hold o'
that letter. Jane she's kind o' cranky sometimes, but she's got her
good streaks, and you can coax her into 'most anything. Now when we
was whirlin' along there through Cat-hole Pass, on that slick road, I
just broached the subjec'. Couldn't 'a' picked out a better minute
nohow! She chimed right in, and said 'twas time yer had it, if yer was
ever goin' to--an' there it is!" He chuckled like a boy over his bit
of stratagem.

"Hadn't yer better look at it, my dear," he proposed, "just to make
certain it's all right?" Eager that his service should bring her joy,
he was anxious to see its consummation.

Polly, still dimpling with amusement over Mr. Bean's management of
Aunt Jane, unfolded the sheet. One glance at the closely-written first
page, the smiles vanished, her cheeks went white, and, drooping her
head, she wailed out:--

"Mamma! mamma! Oh, mamma, I want you!"

Mrs. Dudley sprang to comfort her, but the little man was there first.
Gathering Polly tenderly in his arms, he crooned over her like a
mother.

"There! there! my dear! There, dearie! I know! I know! It's hard! I
felt just that way when Susie went. There! cry right on my
shoulder--it'll do you good. There, dearie! Pretty soon I'll tell you
something. There! there!"

The tones were soft and soothing. Mrs. Dudley could barely make out
the words. Soon the sobbing ceased.

"I didn't know the letter was from her," Polly broke out plaintively.
"That's what she used to call me--'Polly Precious'--oh, de-e-ar!"

"There! there! I know! I know! It's hard, awful hard! I know!"

She lay back on his shoulder again, and presently was more calm.

"Now I'm goin' to tell you something," the little man resumed. "After
Susie went, I just couldn't stand it without her--she was all I had.
Her mother'd gone two years before. An' I got to thinkin' 'bout Susie,
an' how she'd always tag me round, from cellar to attic, goin' with me
fur's I'd let her when I went to work, and runnin' to meet me when I
come home. And thinks I, 'S'pose Susie's goin' to stay up in Heaven
away from me? No, sir! She's taggin' me round just the same as ever! I
can't see her, but she's right here!' An' she has been! I couldn't 'a'
stood it no other way! An' Susie couldn't! The good God knows how
much we c'n stand, and he eases things up for us.

"Now, my dear, it's just so with your mother. She loves you more--yis,
more--than you do her, an' do you think she stays away from you? Why,
no, dearie, she's right here, takin' care o' you all the time!"

"Oh! do you really s'pose that?" cried Polly joyously.

"My dear, my dear!" the little man's voice was tense with feeling, "I
don't s'pose--I _know_! Ther' 's nothin' in all God's universe so
strong as love, and so what is there to keep love away from us? For,
of course, our folks don't stop lovin' us. They're just the same, here
or there.

"I don't very often tell people how I feel, for once I got caught. A
woman thought sure I was a spiritu'list, and wanted to bring me a
message from Susie. But I told her, 'Now, Susie and I git on all right
together without talkin', and if she's got anything to say to me that
I can understand she'll say it right to me, and not to somebody she's
never seen or heard of. No, ma'am,' I says, 'I know Susie better 'n
you do!' So since then I've kep' pretty whist about Susie; but she's a
mighty comfort to me every day o' my life."

Polly sat quite still in the little man's arms, her head leaning
confidingly against the shiny, well-brushed coat. Her eyes were
lustrous with the new, beautiful thought. Could it be really true? She
was going to believe so! Presently she was smiling again, and she read
that portion of her letter which gave the addresses of her father's
relatives. She told Mr. Bean all about the wonderful discovery of
Floyd Westwood through a birthday rose, and found that an address in
the letter was identical with one which her cousin had given her. She
began to feel the pleasant reality of kinsfolk, and when the little
man went home she waved him a happy good-night from the piazza, quite
as if there were no such things as tears.



CHAPTER XI

UNCLE MAURICE AT LADY GAY COTTAGE


"You can't live in Lady Gay Cottage much longer!"

This exulting announcement greeted Polly as she entered the
schoolroom.

She looked at Ilga Barron with puzzled eyes.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Just what I say," answered Ilga. "She can't; can she, Gustave?"

The boy at her side Polly had never spoken with, but now she turned to
him inquiringly. He had been in school only two days, having but
recently returned with his parents from a long stay abroad.

"She's right," he asserted, addressing himself to Polly. "Father's
going to sell the place."

"Oh! is that what you call our house?" queried Polly, beginning to
understand. "Does your father own it?"

Gustave nodded. "Mother named it from the Lady Gay roses on the
piazzas," he explained. "Wait till June, and you'll see!"

"I remember them last summer," Polly smiled. "They were lovely--all
pink and white, but I didn't know their name."

"You'll have to go back to the hospital to live, shan't you?"
questioned Ilga curiously.

"I don't know," Polly answered. Her face held a bit of anxiety as she
moved away.

This piece of news was the foremost topic at the Dudley dinner-table.
Polly saw that her father and mother were disturbed by it. Although
the Doctor made little jests, the laughter sometimes seemed forced,
and occasionally talk would flag. There was no other rented house in
the neighborhood, and Dr. Dudley must live in the immediate vicinity
of the hospital to retain his position there. This Polly gathered from
what passed between her father and mother, and she returned to school
in no mood for study or play. Later a thought came which she felt sure
would solve the problem. It was not until after tea that she made the
proposition.

"Father," she began, atilt on the arm of his chair, "should you like
to buy this house yourself?"

"Possibly, if I had plenty of money; but what little I have is tied up
where I can't get at it conveniently."

"Oh, then you can buy it right away!" Polly cried gleefully. "You can
take my two thousand dollars! Won't that be enough?"

Dr. Dudley's lips set themselves firmly, and he shook his head.

"No, Thistledown, I cannot touch your money. Don't you remember, I
told you it must stay where it is until you are of age?"

"Oh, but this is different!" she urged. "Please take it--do!"

Her entreaties, however, could not prevail against the Doctor's
judgment.

"What shall we do, then?" she complained.

"Keep still for the present," he laughed. "The house isn't sold yet,
perhaps won't be. Don't worry over it, Thistledown! There will be some
way out, and a good way, too. Your Cousin Floyd told me to-night that
the Royal is due to-morrow. You know that is the steamer his father
sailed on, so you may expect to see your uncle by Friday. Floyd thinks
he will come up at once."

"I shall like him if he is as nice as Floyd," returned Polly
thoughtfully.

Dr. Dudley said nothing. He was weighing love and legal rights against
wealth and near kinship. The balance did not appear to be in his
favor.

On Thursday Polly was thrown into a pleasant excitement by the
telephone message that came to Dr. Dudley. Uncle Maurice Westwood was
in New York, and would motor up to Fair Harbor the next morning, to
see his son and his new niece.

"I shall have to stay home from school, shan't I?" Polly questioned
eagerly.

"I think not," was the quiet answer. "It is uncertain what time he
will come, so things had better go on as usual."

"But what if he should go back before I got home?" worried Polly.

Mrs. Dudley laughed. "No danger of that! Don't you think your uncle
will be as anxious to see you as you are to see him?"

"Maybe," she replied doubtfully.

She felt that so unusual an occasion called for her best dress and a
stately waiting for the visitor, instead of going to school in her
common frock just as on ordinary days when nothing happened. But she
made no further objection, joining David on the front walk, and
telling him that "Uncle Maurice" was actually coming.

Returning at noon, Polly ran nearly all the way, so eager was she
to see if her uncle's car were in front of the house. To her
disappointment the only vehicle in sight was a grocer's team at
Colonel Gresham's side gate.

"I'm afraid he's gone," she lamented under her breath; yet she hurried
round to the kitchen door, and was relieved of her fear by hearing
voices in the living-room, her mother's and a deeper one that she did
not know.

Uncle Maurice looked a little as Polly had pictured, patterning him by
his young son; but she had not made sufficient allowance for years,
and he was older and very much bigger than she had imagined he would
be. His smile was pleasant, like Floyd's, and his greeting cordial
and even fatherly. When Dr. Dudley came in he found her chatting
familiarly upon her uncle's knee.

It was not until after dinner that Mr. Westwood spoke of Polly's
future. Then his first sentence almost caught away her breath.

"Well, Doctor, I suppose you are going to give this little girl to
me."

"It will be as Polly says," replied the physician, with a grave smile.

He did not look at Polly, who sat in a low chair near by; but she
turned to him with an exclamation on her lips. It was arrested,
however, by her uncle's response.

"It surely seems to be the only way to fix matters. To begin with, she
is my brother-in-law's daughter, and it doesn't seem fair to have her
out of the family. If my wife were living she would never hear to such
a thing, and Floyd wishes her to come to us as much as I do. She will
have a mother in my sister, who has kept house for me the last three
years, and I can give her every advantage that a girl should have. Of
course, she can visit you occasionally, and we shall always be glad
to see you in our New York home or in California. I bought a place
down on the Pacific Coast, some six years ago, and I have kept adding
to it until I have quite a ranch. It gives us an ideal home for the
coldest weather, though this last winter we made only a flying trip
there. Business called me across the water, and Floyd would rather
dabble in chemicals, and incidentally put his eyes out, than do
anything worth while. He doesn't take to manufacturing. Wish he did!
My two younger boys, Harold and Julian, I put in a military school
last fall, and they're having a dandy time. They will be home soon for
their spring vacation, and then Polly can make their acquaintance.
They are fine little fellows. Julian is captain of the junior football
team, but Harold doesn't go in for athletics. You'll find him curled
up with a book at almost any hour. Let's see--he must be about your
age. How old did you tell me you are?"

Polly, thus addressed, murmured, "Eleven"; but only her lips moved. It
was as if an automaton spoke.

Mrs. Dudley, glancing that way, was startled.

The soft brown eyes were wide and brilliant, and a scarlet spot on
either cheek lighted the pallid face. Polly was gazing at her uncle as
if held by some strange power.

"He is only ten," Mr. Westwood was saying. "Julian is fourteen. But
there isn't difference enough to matter. You three will get on
admirably together.

"Better let her go back with me," he went on, turning to the Doctor.
"Mrs. Calhoun, my sister, will fix her out in the way of clothes. You
can buy anything in New York, from a shoestring to--"

Nobody heard the end of that sentence, for, with a leap, Polly had the
floor. Her eyes flashed, and her voice was tense with anger and
determination.

"Uncle Maurice," she cried, "I s'pose you mean all right; but I guess
my mother knows how to get my clothes just as well as anybody, and you
needn't think I'm going to New York, you needn't think so a single
second! Why, I wouldn't leave father and mother for a million
dollars! I wouldn't go for ten million dollars!"

"Well, Miss Highflier!" Mr. Westwood threw back his head in a
chuckling laugh. "Some spirit in that little frame of yours! Shouldn't
wonder if you took after your father. Chester was a fiery boy. Now,
come here, and let me tell you something."

Polly's head went up defiantly. "I'm not going!" she insisted. "You
needn't think you can coax me into it! You can't!"

"Polly!" The Doctor's voice was gently admonitive.

"Excuse me," she apologized. "I didn't mean to be impolite. But I
shan't go!" She moved obediently towards her uncle, and he placed her
on his knee, where she sat, submissive but alert.

"I want to tell you what a splendid time you'll have with us," he
began.

"Other folks have tried to buy me," remarked Polly.

"Have they, indeed! It is a good thing to be marketable," with a
whimsical glance towards the Doctor.

"I don't like it," returned Polly.

"Well, you won't have any more such trouble after you come to New
York."

Polly was silent, but her lips were set, and her eyes grew ominously
dark.

"Now, in the first place, you shall have anything in the world you
wish,--dolls, toys, and a playroom to keep them in, and a whole
library of story-books. Then parties--whew, you ought to see what
parties Julian and Harold have! They'd make you open your eyes with
envy!"

"Mrs. Jocelyn gave me a beautiful birthday party," responded Polly
with dignity.

"Ah? But it wasn't a New York party. You don't know what kind of
parties we get up in New York. Why, the flowers for the boys' last
affair cost two hundred dollars!"

Polly gazed down at the rug, and followed the intricate lines of the
pattern.

"Then you shall have the handsomest pink silk party dress we can find
in the city, all fixed up with white lace--real lace, mind you! What
do you think of that?"

"I don't want a pink silk party dress!" scorned Polly. "I have one
already."

"Ah?" Mr. Westwood looked a bit disconcerted.

"I will buy you a Shetland pony," he resumed, "the very best one we
can find, and you shall take riding-lessons with the boys. I'll see
that you have the choosing of your riding-suit, any color and style
you like."

Polly's eyes showed mild interest, and her uncle proceeded.

"I saw a pony awhile ago that I think I can get for you. He is
high-priced, but I guess he's worth it. Such a pretty creature! He ate
bread and butter and sugar out of my hand."

"That's what Lone Star does!" brightened Polly. "Lone Star is Colonel
Gresham's beautiful trotter."

"I think I've heard of him," observed Mr. Westwood.

"Have you?" Polly cried. "Oh, I wish you could see him! He is the most
lovelicious horse!"

Her uncle laughed. "Well, you can have one just as 'lovelicious' as he
is, a second Lone Star, if you like. Oh, how you will love your pony!"

"I am not going to have any pony!" was the resolute announcement.

"Oh, yes, you are!" he wheedled. "And we'll take him with us when we
go to our summer home up the Hudson River. Such a fine time you and
the boys will have cantering over the country roads!"

For an instant Polly's eyes sparkled over the picture. Then she came
back.

"Uncle Maurice," she declared, "there isn't a bit of use in your
trying to make me want to go and live with you! I wouldn't leave
father and mother for a hundred thousand ponies and parties and pink
dresses and everything!" She slid from her uncle's arm, and ran over
to the Doctor, where she hid her face on his shoulder, breaking into
soft sobs.

Mrs. Dudley drew her gently away and upstairs. She ended her cry on
her mother's breast.

When she was called down to bid her uncle good-bye, no mention was
made of the subject which had brought the tears, and she thanked him
very sweetly for his invitation to visit them sometime in the near
future. Yet she watched him drive away in his handsome motor-car with
a feeling of relief, and her wave of farewell was accompanied by a
radiant smile.



CHAPTER XII

LITTLE CHRIS


Polly dreaded the next meeting with her Cousin Floyd, for she
anticipated his disappointment at her decision. But he took the news
cheerfully.

"Just wait till we get you down to our house!" he laughed. "We'll give
you so good a time you'll forget there ever was a Fair Harbor."

Polly smiled contentedly. This was so much pleasanter than her uncle's
insistence.

Yet when his eyes were free to look upon her, his gayety vanished.

"So like my mother!" he murmured. "Not the eyes,--hers were blue,--but
the mouth and the expression of the face--yes, and the forehead!--they
are mother's right over again!" His lips drooped sorrowfully. "You
bring her back to me better than a picture. It is a shame," he
regretted, "when you belong to us, that we can't have you under our
roof!"

"I'm sorry," Polly sighed. "I wish I could be in two places."

"One would be quite enough," laughed Floyd, "if only that were New
York. Oh, come on, Polly! We'll have no end of a good time."

She shook her head slowly, the red fluttering on her cheeks. "I
can't," she told him; "truly I can't!"

"All right," he responded, and touched the subject no more; yet Polly
was troubled at the seriousness of his face. Finding relatives was not
complete joy after all.

The good-byes, which came soon, brought no further word from him in
regard to her decision; but he urged an early visit, to which Polly
and her parents agreed.

The taxicab that carried Floyd and his luggage to the station was
barely out of sight when Polly spied a familiar little figure on the
hospital walk.

"There's Moses Cohn!" she cried. "I wonder what he is coming for."

"Hullo, Polly!" was the friendly call, the freckled face under the
shabby hat shining with delight.

She waved him a welcome, dancing about in the cold of the morning
until he came up. They went inside together, Moses eagerly unfolding
his errand.

"I've been tellin' a kid 'bout Dr. Dudley and you," he began. "He's
sick, awful sick, and his father wouldn't have no doctor, and Chris he
keeps a-growin' worser 'n worser. So I said how Dr. Dudley could cure
him quicker 'n lightnin', and I guess he'll bring him up--he 'most
promised."

"It might be better for me to see him first," observed the physician.

"No, sir! he said 'xpressly for you not to come!"

"Then I can send the ambulance--"

"No, he don't want that neither! He's goin' to bring him right in his
arms. Why, I could myself--easy! He's the littlest kid, an' han'some!
My, he's a beaut! Jus' wait till you see him! He ain't but nine years
old. He goes to my school, or did before he was sick. His father's got
the money--you bet! An' my! he thinks that kid's it! He is, too! I
guess they'll be here pretty soon--he 'most promised."

On the strength of Moses Cohn's story, Dr. Dudley ordered a bed to be
prepared for the probable patient; but he did not arrive until evening
and Polly had given up his coming. Then the father insisted on a
private room for his little son, remaining himself to see that
everything was provided for his comfort.

"Good-bye, Chris! Keep up a big bluff! Daddy'll be here in the morning
sure!" That was what the attending nurse overheard of the parting. A
minute after the door had shut, she discovered her little patient
shedding silent tears for "daddy"; but he brightened quickly at her
cheering words, and soon dropped into a quiet sleep.

Polly was anxious to see the boy of whom Moses had told her, but the
slow fever from which he was suffering kept him a stranger for many
days. When, at last, she was allowed to pay him a visit, even Moses'
description of his friend had not prepared her for the beautiful wisp
of a lad with the sky-blue eyes and the red-gold hair. Polly thought
she had never seen so lovely a face. Her smile brought a shy response
from the pillow, though talk did not at once flourish.

"Father says you are better," Polly ventured.

Only a wee nod answered her.

"I've been wanting to come in before," she persevered. "Moses Cohn
told me about you."

A faint smile.

"Do you like it here at the hospital?" Polly questioned adroitly.

No smile now, only an added wistfulness. Then courtesy brought a soft
response.

"I like it evenings, when daddy comes."

"It's nice you have him to come to see you. I used to wish I had
somebody. There was only Aunt Jane, and I guess she was too busy."

"Were you sick, too?" The sky-blue eyes showed interest.

"I was hurt, and they brought me here. I lived in the hospital ever so
long."

"Weren't you lonesome?"

"No, only once in a while, when I saw other folks having company. I
was in the ward, you know. After I got acquainted with father--he
wasn't my father then--I didn't mind. Don't you just love father?
Everybody does!"

"Yes; he's nice," smiled the boy. "How did he come to be your father?"

"He and mother adopted me. My own papa and mamma are in Heaven."

"Oh! are they? That's where mommy is. Daddy is all I've got. I wish
you'd come and see daddy sometime. He gets here every night right
after six o'clock."

"I'd love to!" Polly beamed. "Fathers are beautiful, I think. Of
course, mothers are--but fathers!" Her curls gave the emphasis.

"I know!" cried little Chris, his eyes ashine. "Daddy's the dearest
that ever was! Why, if anything should happen to daddy--there might,
while I'm here and can't take care of him!--oh, I don't know what I
should do!" Fear crept over the sweet face.

"I wouldn't worry about it," counseled Polly cheerily. "Big men can
take care of themselves better than little folks like us can."

"Daddy isn't very big," confided Chris in a low tone; "but he's
strong, strong as anything! I guess there couldn't much hurt him,
could there?" he smiled reassuringly.

"No, indeed!" assented Polly.

"He is so strong he brought me 'way up here in his arms," the lad
exulted, "and he wasn't tired a bit! I wish he could come and stay
with me daytimes," the wistful voice went on, "but he has to sleep
then. He watches, you know."

"And you have to stay alone all night?" Polly's eyes showed sympathy.

"Oh! daddy doesn't go away till after I'm asleep," the lad explained,
"and he is home again before I wake up. A nice woman in the next room
comes in if I call her. I never did but once, and that was when I fell
out of bed. I gave a little cry before I knew anything. It didn't hurt
me a mite, but she was scared, and daddy was, too. He wouldn't leave
me the next night."

Dr. Dudley's entrance put a stop to the talk, and presently Polly said
good-bye, carrying away with her a happy picture of Moses Cohn's
protégé.

When Polly first saw "daddy" she was conscious of disappointment. The
slight man with the cold black eyes and the hard-lined mouth did not
tally with her thought of "the dearest that ever was." Yet his
greeting was pleasant, and whenever he spoke to his little son a
tenderness stole into his voice that made her regard him with more
lenient eyes, and before her visit was over he proved himself so
fascinating an entertainer, she went away feeling that the opinion of
little Chris was not after all so very far from the truth.

One night "daddy" did not appear, until the sick boy, who for hours
had strained his ears for the step he loved, was in a state of
agitation which the combined efforts of nurse and physician failed to
calm.

At last Polly was summoned, and although her arguments were not unlike
those put forth by the others, they were made in such simple faith as
to carry greater force.

"He'd come if he was alive! I know he would!" the boy had been
tearfully reiterating. "He must be dead--oh, daddy! daddy!"

Polly entered in time to hear the last. She skipped straight to the
cot.

"Now, Chris, just listen to me! Your daddy isn't dead!"

"How do you know?" he asked weakly. There was a touch of hope in the
doubting tone.

"Why, we'd have heard of it long before this, if he were," she
reasoned rashly.

"We might not," he objected.

"Oh, yes, we should have!" she insisted. "Because everybody knows
you're at the hospital, and they'd send word to father first thing."

"They would, wouldn't they?" he brightened.

"Of course," she returned confidently.

"But why doesn't he come?" he persisted.

"Oh, I don't know," she replied cheerfully. "Maybe he had to go away
on business--father does sometimes, and can't stop for anything. But I
wouldn't worry another bit, if I were you. When he comes and tells you
all about it, you'll wonder why you didn't think it was all
right--just as it is."

Chris said nothing, only gazed into Polly's face, as if to gather
even more assurance than her words had given him.

"I'm going to tell you about a blizzard we had last winter," Polly
went on, "when father went to New York and mother was sick, and I was
all alone." Then, seeing she had her hearer's attention, she began the
story of the well-remembered February day.

Her voice was soft and soothing, and before the tale was half-told the
sky-blue eyes closed and the tired little boy was asleep. This was
well, as the messenger who had finally been sent to Mr. Morrow's
boarding-place returned with the word that the man had not been there
since early the previous day, and nobody knew where he had gone.

The next morning Chris received from his father a short letter saying
that urgent business had suddenly called him to New York, where he had
been most unexpectedly detained so that he might not be able to return
home under a day or two, but that he should come to the hospital just
as soon as he arrived in Fair Harbor. A number of beautiful post-cards
were inclosed in the envelope, one of which was immediately laid aside
for Polly, and then at once exchanged for another that might be a bit
more attractive. This exchange went on for some time, until she had
been allotted them all in turn, and the nurse was finally called into
counsel for a last decision.

When Polly came in for a flying visit before school, she was given her
present, which she received with genuine pleasure, for the little card
was an exquisite creation, and the fact that Chris wished her to have
the very prettiest of his treasures made it doubly dear.

Three days dragged by before Mr. Morrow again appeared at the
hospital. Then it was at a much later hour than usual, and the small
boy was asleep. His father insisted on awakening him, however, and
their meeting, the nurse asserted, was not without tears on both
sides.

On the day that little Chris was to leave the hospital, Polly paid him
a long visit, and there were many plans and promises for the future.
It was arranged that Chris should come up to see Polly at least every
Saturday, as soon as he was well enough, and until that time Polly
was to ride across the city with her father to visit him. When, at
last, the six o'clock bell told of a supper that would soon be coming
in on a tray, and of the one awaiting Polly at home, the good-byes had
to be said. Then the lad drew from beneath his pillow a small leather
case.

"I wanted to give you something," he said wistfully, "so daddy bought
me this. I hope you'll like it. I think it's pretty."

Polly opened the dainty box, to find, on a cushion of white velvet, an
exquisite pansy pin, with green-gold leaves, the blossom studded with
sapphires and diamonds.

"Oh, how beautiful!" she cried delightedly. "I never saw anything so
lovely."

"I thought you'd like it," he beamed. "Just hold it up to your
neck--it looks sweet there! You'll keep it always to remember me by,
won't you?"

"Forever," promised Polly. "Oh, it is so nice of your father to buy it
for me!"

"He's always nice," praised Chris. "There couldn't be anybody better."
And for the moment Polly almost agreed with him.

But when Dr. Dudley saw the pretty ornament he looked grave.

"It is far too expensive a present for you to accept," he objected.
"Diamonds and sapphires are costly stones. This must be worth a great
deal of money."

"Can't I keep it then?" questioned Polly plaintively. "It will break
Chris's heart if I don't."

"We needn't decide the matter to-night." He looked across the table to
his wife. "What do you think?" he asked.

"I don't know," was the doubtful reply. "How can Mr. Morrow buy such
jewelry, do you suppose? A night watchman's position cannot bring him
very high wages."

The Doctor shook his head, and narrowed his eyes in thought. Then he
began to talk of other things.

Meantime Polly was in distress. What would Chris say, if she had to
give back his beautiful present which she had promised always to keep?

The next afternoon Dr. Dudley brought the matter to a climax by
driving over to see the father of little Chris. Perhaps a talk with
him would put things in a different light. Thus reasoning, he rang
the doorbell at Mr. Morrow's boarding-house.

"They ain't here," began the woman who answered his summons. "They got
off, bag and baggage, before breakfast, this morning. He paid up all
right," she exulted, "an' when they do that I'm done with 'em. He was
a good payin' man straight along, I'll say that for him; but where
he's gone I do' know no more 'n West Peak!"

Questioning among the boarders brought no satisfaction, and the Doctor
returned home mystified and suspicious.

It was long before Polly saw little Chris again.



CHAPTER XIII

ILGA BARRON


Spring was in Fair Harbor. Tulips and hyacinths flaunted their gay
gowns in the city parks, and daffodils laughed in old-fashioned
gardens. Flocks of blackbirds, by the suburb roadsides, creaked their
joy in the sunshine, and robins caroled love ditties to their mates.
Mrs. Jocelyn's stable, too, told of spring's coming, for there stood
one of the prettiest pairs of ponies that ever trotted before a
carriage.

Already Leonora was becoming an experienced little horsewoman, though
whenever she drove there was always Philip, Mrs. Jocelyn's man, riding
close behind. Polly had had a dozen drives with David and Jonathan,
and Elsie and Brida and the others had not been forgotten.

On a Saturday morning Leonora telephoned early and invited Polly to go
to Crab Cove, some six miles away. The day was perfect, blue
overhead, green along the waysides, and sunshine all around. The girls
were in a merry mood.

"There's Ilga Barron out in her yard," remarked Polly, looking ahead.

"M-h'm," replied Leonora indifferently, glancing that way.

"You haven't taken her to ride yet, have you?" Polly went on.

"No, and I'm not going to," was the decided answer.

"Why, you'll have to ask her sometime, shan't you?" insisted Polly.
"Say, Leonora, drive slow a minute!"

"What do you want?" began the other, a bit of impatience in her tone.

"I just happened to think,"--the words were tumbling out fast,--"I've
had ever so many rides, and Patricia and Lilith and Gladys have, and
Ilga will feel it if she is skipped. Mayn't I run over and ask her to
take my place for this once? I can go any time, you know! Do you
mind?" for Leonora's face showed disapproval.

"Oh, dear! I don't want her!" fretted the little driver. "I wish she
hadn't been out there. I wish we'd gone some other way. Yes, go
ahead, if you want to!" she yielded, seeing Polly's wistful eyes.
"I'll try to be good to her."

The carriage stopped in front of the big granite house, and the
exchange was soon made. Ilga was only too ready for a drive behind the
ponies which were the envy of every girl who saw them.

Polly waved them a gay good-bye, and turned towards home.

"I believe I'll go up to Patricia's," she said to herself. "Mother
won't expect me back for an hour or two, and Patricia wanted me to see
her new dresses. It'll be a good time."

Thus thinking, she took the street that led to The Trowbridge, and was
presently admiring Patricia's pretty frocks. Time passed quickly, and
it was nearly ten o'clock when she finally started for home.

As she rounded the corner below Lady Gay Cottage, she saw her father's
automobile in front, and then the Doctor himself coming down the walk
on a run.

"Oh, maybe I can go with him!" she thought, and sprang ahead.
"Father! father!" she called.

Dr. Dudley turned, and came swiftly towards her. He caught her in his
arms,--"Polly!" his voice breaking as she had never heard it before.
"You aren't hurt at all?" Incredulity was in his tone.

"Hurt? Why, no! How should I be?"

He left her, leaping up the steps, and throwing wide the door. She
heard him call:--

"Lucy! she is here!--safe!"

Polly hurried after, to be clasped tightly in her mother's arms with
excited expressions of thankfulness.

"What is it?" she pleaded. "I don't see what it all means!"

"We heard that the ponies ran away," the Doctor explained, "and that
one of you was hurt--badly. Somebody thought it was not Leonora, and,
of course--"

"Oh, Ilga!" broke in Polly. And she told of how the exchange had been
made.

Dr. Dudley hastened away, to learn the truth of the matter, while
Polly and her mother tried to settle into something like calmness.

By chance callers and over the wire came snatches of facts concerning
the accident. Nobody seemed to know what had startled the ponies, but
Leonora had pluckily held to the reins until a hill was reached,
thereby averting injury to herself. Ilga, becoming frightened, had
jumped from the carriage, with serious results. It had occurred while
Philip had gone into a shop for some purchase, leaving his own horse
and the little team at the curb. When he came out the ponies were
dashing across the railway tracks ahead of a coming train, and he was
obliged to wait behind the gates until the small carriage was out of
sight.

It was not until the Doctor returned that the nature of Ilga's
injuries were known.

"Dr. Palmer and Dr. Houston are attending her," the physician said. "I
have heard nothing direct from them, but it is rumored that the girl's
back is broken."

"Poor Ilga!" burst out Polly, and hid her face in her hands amid a
torrent of tears. "It is all my fault!" she moaned. "It is all my
fault! If I hadn't asked her, she wouldn't have got hurt!"

Father and mother tried to soothe her; but her sensitive heart
shouldered the entire blame of Ilga's accident, and it required much
reasoning before she was able to look at the matter in a true light.

Further reports confirmed the first rumors about the unfortunate girl.
It was extremely doubtful, the physicians thought, if she ever walked
again. Dr. Dudley and his wife kept the sad tidings as much as
possible from Polly; but she was obliged to hear talk of it at school,
and often she would come home at noon only to spoil her dinner with
tears.

One evening Polly was, as usual, perched on the arm of her father's
chair, when he surprised her with some news.

"I had the pleasure of making Miss Ilga's acquaintance to-day."

Polly's eyes widened incredulously.

"She is at the hospital," he continued, "and has passed through a
successful operation. It is too soon to be quite positive, but
everything looks favorable to-night."

"Is she going to be able to walk?"

"We hope so."

Polly dropped her head on her father's shoulder, and sighed a deep
sigh of joy.

"How perfectly beautiful! And to think you have done it!" She caught
her breath.

The Doctor rested his cheek lightly on the sunny curls, saying
nothing. They were still sitting in silence when Mrs. Dudley came in.
Polly and her father understood each other without words.

The Senator's daughter carried out the hopes of the doctors to the
highest degree, and there came a day when Polly, at Ilga's own
request, was sent for.

Miss Hortensia Price was the sick girl's nurse, and Polly had learned
with surprise that a strong friendship was growing between them.
Nevertheless she was unprepared for any manifestation of it, and her
joy in seeing their evident love for each other made the first moments
of her visit less conscious than they otherwise might have been, for
she had been wondering if her schoolmate attached any blame to her for
the injuries received in the accident.

"Miss Price knows--I've told her!"--Ilga began abruptly; "but I want
you to know, for they said you cried when you heard I was hurt, and
you thought it was your fault. It wasn't! Not the least bit! It was
all mine! Mrs. Jocelyn's man went into the store, and told us to wait.
I didn't see why we should,--and I don't now, if the ponies were
properly trained. I wanted just to drive around the square, but
Leonora wouldn't; so I began to fool with the whip. I switched it
about, and teased the ponies. Leonora said she'd never touched them
with it, and I told her I didn't see what a whip was good for if it
wasn't used--and I don't! If she'd been quiet, I shouldn't have been
so possessed about it; but she kept saying, 'Don't, Ilga! Please
don't, Ilga!' and I hate being nagged. So finally I gave it a good
smart flirt, and off they went like a shot! Of course, I was scared,
and hardly knew what I did do. Leonora said, real low, 'Keep still!
Don't stir!' I do' know as I should have jumped, if she hadn't told me
not to. But I did, and that's the last I knew till the doctors were
fussing over me."

"But you're going to get well now!" Polly burst out delightedly.

The pale face on the pillow reflected the joy. "Yes," Ilga replied, "I
guess I am, unless they all lie to me. I know Miss Price doesn't,"
with a nodding smile towards the window where the nurse sat reading.
"But I didn't s'pose I ever should one time. I don't b'lieve I should
either, if it hadn't been for Dr. Dudley. Polly, your father is just
splendid!"

Polly's eyes suddenly filled with happy tears. This was something she
had not anticipated--at least, not yet.

The nurse came with a few spoonfuls of nourishment, and the talk
passed to other things; but Polly went away feeling that Ilga's praise
was her apology, and that her enemy had been miraculously changed into
a friend.

Yet there were hours when the old Ilga was at the front, domineering
and impertinent, and Polly would be called upon to exercise all her
tact and patience in order to keep things pleasant during her visits.
But, little by little, as the convalescent gathered strength of body
she also gained in self-control. Miss Price and Polly were her adored
examples of beautiful living, and it was plain that she was honestly
trying to attain to what she admired in them, although the
dissimilarity of eleven and thirty made the task somewhat more
difficult.

Miss Hortensia Price seemed to Polly to be more gentle than in the old
days. Or was it that she now understood her better? She could not
tell; but it was as unending a wonderment as a joy that the dignified
nurse and the untrained, ungoverned girl should have become such close
friends.

On the day set for Ilga to try walking across her room she had planned
a small tea-party for her chosen comrades.

"Wouldn't it be wiser, my dear, to wait until the next day?" Miss
Price had suggested, not daring to hint more strongly of the
possibility of the blasting of their hopes. "The excitement and
pleasure of being on your feet again should be sufficient for
Wednesday."

But Ilga, sanguine and joyous, wished her friends there to witness her
achievement, and so the preparations had gone on.

Miss Price was to be the guest of honor, and Polly, Patricia, David,
Gustave, and June English and her brother were to make up the party.
Mrs. Barron was sparing neither trouble nor money to please her
daughter, and there were to be guessing contests, with prizes for the
successful ones. It was quite out of Ilga's power to keep a secret, so
Polly had been treated to a glimpse of the dear little pussy-head
pins, with the emerald eyes, and had heard all about the odd-shaped
sandwiches and the curious cakes representing animals, birds, and
various other objects, the guessing of which was to be the feature of
the tea. She had even peeped at one of the beautiful boxes of
confections which stood ready to be given the departing guests as
sweet good-byes, until she was looking forward to the party almost as
joyfully as Ilga herself. And then the New York letter came.

Ilga noticed the change as soon as Polly appeared.

"What's the matter?" she asked abruptly.

Polly had been bravely trying to smile, but at the sudden question the
corners of her mouth flew down.

"How'd you know there was anything?" she faltered.

"Hoh, I can read you like a book! Your mother sick?"

"No, oh, no! But I can't be here at the party!"

"Why not?" Ilga raised herself on her elbow.

"We had a letter from Cousin Floyd last night, and they want me to
come to New York Wednesday morning."

"Well, you aren't obliged to go, if they do! Oh, you haven't a bit of
spunk!"

"It isn't that, Ilga. Father thinks I ought to go, seeing it's my
vacation, and so does mother. Two of my girl cousins that I haven't
ever seen are going to sail for Germany in a day or two, and they
aren't coming back for years, maybe, and they want me to help them
receive at their farewell party--"

"Oh, yes! I s'pose their party's better'n mine!" Ilga burst out
scornfully. "If you do go, Polly Dudley, let me tell you I'll never
speak--"

"My dear!" Miss Price arrested the rash words on Ilga's lips, and
took the hot cheeks between her cool palms.

The excited girl sobbed out her penitence and her disappointment in
the nurse's arms, while Polly sat by, distressed at the way things
were going.

When the tears were spent, the three talked the matter over
quietly,--or as quietly as Ilga would allow. At first she decided
peremptorily that if Polly could not be there she would have no party
at all; but arguments and persuasions finally had their effect, and
the plans were left unaltered, Glen Stewart being chosen in place of
Polly.



CHAPTER XIV

POLLY IN NEW YORK


Polly's first journey by herself caused a good deal of excitement in
Lady Gay Cottage. Mrs. Dudley was a little nervous at thought of it,
the Doctor wondered at the very last moment if he had been unwise to
allow her to go alone, and for Polly herself the new experience almost
pushed Ilga Barron and the tea-party from her mind. But the miles were
traveled without any startling adventure, and in two hours she was in
New York, with Cousin Floyd clasping her in his arms and telling her
how glad he was to see her.

The next days were so crammed with novel sights and undreamed-of
pleasures that Polly felt as if she were in a new kind of
merry-go-round and must stop and take breath. But she whirled on
and on, in company with her cousins and other girls and boys, and
everybody was so kind and so gay that she found not a moment to be
homesick or lonely in, although Fair Harbor seemed a very long way
off.

From the first she and her Cousin Harold were comrades. They
discovered that they had read the same books, that they enjoyed the
same sports, that they loved the same flowers and songs and fairy-tale
heroes. Harold had always envied boys with sisters, and now his dream
of a sister for himself seemed actually to have come to pass--only he
knew that the waking time must be soon.

Ever since it had been decided that Polly should come to New York she
had wondered with a vague fear if her relatives would urge her to
remain with them; but for a few days nothing was said of it. Then
Harold spoke out.

"I wish you were really my sister," he told her, as they stood
together watching the antics of some monkeys at the Hippodrome; "then
we could come here every Saturday."

"You couldn't come," Polly laughed. "You'd be away at school."

"No," was the serious reply, "I should get father to let me go to
school here. If you'd stay and be my cousin-sister, it would be just
exactly as good--oh, Polly! won't you?"

Her lips drooped sorrowfully. "I can't! truly I can't!" she answered,
just as she had answered his brother, in Fair Harbor.

Then they went past the cage of the very funniest monkeys of all, and
Harold did not even smile.

The day before the one set for Polly's going home she was given a
grand party by her cousins, and Uncle Maurice ordered the affair with
a free hand. She had never seen a house so converted into a garden of
flowers. Wandering about from room to room, she and Harold watched the
men as they placed potted plants, twined garlands, banked windows and
fireplaces with vines and blossoms, and arranged pretty nooks of
greenery and color. Finally they sat down in a little make-believe
arbor of roses, Polly busily admiring everything.

Harold was more quiet; he was even grave. At last his thoughts became
words.

"Oh, Polly, stay with me! do! I want you!"

"Why, Harold, you know I told you I couldn't!" she answered, almost
reprovingly.

"I know you say so," he retorted; "but you can! You can as well as
not! You just don't want to--that's why! But I think you might, to
please me! Do, Polly!"

She plucked a bit of green from her cousin's coat sleeve before she
replied.

"I don't see how I could leave father and mother," she said softly.
"You wouldn't want to give up your home here and your father and
brothers to go and live with me."

"Yes, I would!" was the unexpected response. "I'd go in a minute!
Polly, I'd go anywhere or do anything for you!"

The boy believed it, and, looking into his earnest eyes, Polly almost
believed it, too. She did not know how to answer. Then she shifted the
viewpoint.

"But father and mother--you don't think of them! How could they get
along without any little girl?--without me?"

Harold thought and sighed. This was a new light on the matter.

"No, they couldn't," he admitted slowly. "They've known you longer
than I have, and I don't see how they could give you up. Well, I
suppose I shall have to let you go." He looked the disconsolate lover,
instead of the merry-hearted boy of ten.

Two weeks before, when Polly's small trunk had been packed, she had
begged to be allowed to take with her the parting present of Chris
Morrow, for hitherto there had been no occasion grand enough to
warrant its being used. At first Mrs. Dudley had been in doubt, but
after a few quite reasonable arguments on the part of Polly the little
case had been tucked into a safe corner. The beautiful ornament had
already fastened Polly's sash a number of times, and it was again
called into service for the home party. She was in a hurry when the
maid clasped it, for Harold was calling her to come out in the hall
and see the caterers bring the things in, and before the evening was
half spent her sash was trailing out of place and the pin missing.
Hastily she confided to her cousin her misfortune, and together they
searched up and down the rooms. Finally, just as Harold was starting
to tell Floyd of the loss, they heard a cry of surprise from one of
the guests not far away, and they saw that the pansy pin was in her
hand.

"I found it right down here!" the girl was saying excitedly. "Where do
you s'pose it came from? Oh, it's just like one my sister had that was
stolen by a burglar last winter--why!" as the back of the pin was
disclosed, "it is hers! There's the 'B' I scratched one day, and Tip
gave me an awful scolding for it! I was going to scratch my whole
name, but she caught me too quick--my, didn't she come at me!"

Harold waited for no more.

"It belongs to my cousin," he explained. "She just lost it from her
sash, and we've been hunting everywhere for it."

He held out his hand for the ornament, but the finder clasped it
tightly in her palm.

"It is my sister's," she declared. "The burglars--"

"Botheration!" he cried. "Of course, it isn't the same pin! This one
is Polly's. It was a present to her, and she thinks a lot of it."

"But I scratched the 'B'--"

"Probably somebody else scratched this. Did you, Polly?" turning to
his cousin.

"No," she admitted slowly, "I didn't; but I noticed the 'B,' and
wondered how it came to be there. I don't see how it could have been
your sister's," she said, addressing the girl who still kept the pin
hidden in her hand. "Chris's father bought it for him to give to me."

Those most interested in this little controversy were now surrounded
by the young guests who were eager to know the cause of the dispute.
Floyd and Julian pressed near, but before they reached Polly's side
she had bravely settled the question.

"Keep the pin," she yielded gently. "I should not wish to have it back
again if you think it belongs to your sister. Come, Harold!" and
turning from the little crowd she ran into the arms of Floyd.

He drew her away to a retired spot, followed only by the eyes of a few
curious ones, and the story was told, beginning with little Chris and
ending with Bertha Kingstone.

Polly was close to tears as she finished, and Harold was openly
indignant that she should have allowed Bertha to keep the pin.

"Of course, there are two pins!" he declared vehemently. "This one
never belonged to Tip Kingstone. If you don't get it away from her,
Floyd Westwood, I will!" His flashing eyes emphasized his hot words,
and he would have carried out his threat if it had not been for his
brother's authoritative advice to let things be as they had fallen
until their father could be consulted.

This little episode came near upsetting the party, but Aunt Sally
Calhoun was a diplomat of no mean degree, and under her tactful
management things quickly regained their smooth course. Yet Polly went
to sleep that night wishing with all her heart that she had never
brought her precious pansy pin to New York.

The next morning, just as she was putting on her hat and coat to go to
the station, a maid appeared at her door with a card. She read,
engraved in small script, "Bertha Curtis Kingstone," and she wondered
with a joyful wonder why she had come to see her.

The girl that met her downstairs in the reception room seemed a very
different Bertha from the one of the night before. She held out the
pin.

"Mother says I have no right to this," she began abruptly, "and I beg
your pardon for keeping it." The words were spoken in a low,
monotonous voice, as if they were a lesson. "I am sorry I was so rude,
and I trust you will excuse me."

Polly was at once generous.

"Oh, it may be yours!" she responded. "I'm afraid I ought not to take
it back."

"Mercy!" the other broke out, "I guess you'll have to! I've had
scoldings enough over the old pin! I wouldn't carry it home again for
a bushel of 'em!"

"I am sorry you have been scolded," sympathized Polly.

"Oh, I don't care!" Bertha returned. "I'm used to it. But I hate to
apologize--that's the worst of doing things. Good-bye!"

Polly ran to find Harold, to share with him her joy in the restored
pin; but the lad was not to be seen. Nor did he appear to bid her
good-bye, although she lingered to search for him until she came near
missing her train. What could have happened? Fear haunted her all the
way home.



CHAPTER XV

AN UNEXPECTED GUEST


One of Polly's first questions on her return was of Ilga Barron. If
she had not been so over-occupied while in New York, the fact that not
a word was written her of Ilga would have given her great concern. As
it was she had had only time for brief surprise on receipt of letter
or card; then it would slip from her mind. But now she eagerly awaited
her mother's answer. It was slow in coming, and then was accompanied
by an ominous shake of the head.

"Ilga's party day ended sadly. Her first few steps were such a joy
that she forgot herself, and started on with a skip. Her foot
caught--"

"Oh!" cried Polly in consternation, "did she fall?"

Mrs. Dudley nodded, hastening to say, "Your father thinks she will
come out all right in time, but there will have to be a long waiting.
She realizes it is her own fault, for Miss Price warned her to be
careful; but that doesn't make it any easier to bear."

"Poor Ilga!" mourned Polly. "While I was having such a splendid time
she was feeling so bad! I'll go to see her right away, and tell her
all about my visit. Perhaps that will help her to forget."

So Polly found her work waiting for her, and she took it up with her
usual readiness; but it was hard to settle into the regular school
routine after the exciting whirl of that gay fortnight. Cards had come
from Floyd and Harold, but the absence of the latter when she left
them was not even mentioned. This she could not understand, for she
had expected an apology as the very least amends he could make. Taken
altogether such rudeness seemed to Polly unpardonable, after Harold's
protested affection. Still his message was as warm-hearted and loving
as ever, and she wisely tried to put the matter aside as one of the
things that could not be explained away.

When she had been at home a week, and New York was beginning to fade
into the past, she returned from afternoon school to find nobody in
sight as she entered the back door. Quietly she went through the
house, and hearing voices in the library she halted to ascertain if
there were company. A few words arrested her.

"It is a shame for you to have to do so much for so little," Mrs.
Dudley was saying.

The Doctor laughed softly. Polly could almost hear his eyes twinkle.

"You, too!" he retorted.

"Nonsense!" she protested; "all I'm doing is to try to keep the
household expenses down as low as possible."

"And that is the main thing. You have done admirably. I hoped we could
be out of pinch before long--and now this cut-down in salary!"

"Never mind! we shall get on all right," came in Mrs. Dudley's cheery
tones.

"Of course," the Doctor agreed; "but it means too much scrimp for you.
It is what I did not anticipate. If I had more time for outside
practice"--he stopped, as if musing. "And if it weren't for the coal
bill!"

"That coal bill is your bugbear," laughed his wife. "Don't worry,
Robert! It isn't like you. Winship isn't bothering you about it, is
he?"

"Not a bit. It is only that I hate debt, and--"

Polly involuntarily tiptoed away, feeling strangely guilty at having
overheard what was not intended for her ears. So her father's salary
had been cut down! And it was small enough before! She had heard the
coal bill spoken of awhile ago,--yes, when she was getting ready for
New York,--but she had given it no thought. And her mother had bought
her new things to wear! Distress swept her heart. She was an added
expense--ought she to have gone to live with her uncle? He was rich.
He could pay his coal bills. He was never in pinch. Oh! did her father
and mother wish she had gone? There was no peace for Polly. Dutifully
she crept over to the hospital to see Ilga, but found her in a pettish
mood, and she returned home more disturbed than before. She longed to
offer her bank money again, but she knew it would be of no use.
Besides, she did not wish her father and mother to know she had been
eavesdropping. She blushed with shame at the thought. Why had she not
run away at once, or gone boldly into the room. Oh, how she wished she
had!

Bedtime found her in the same frame of mind, although she tried to
appear as if nothing had occurred. She had bidden her mother
good-night, and her foot was on the stair, when the doorbell rang.

"I'll go," she called softly into the library, and then skipped to
answer the summons.

As the door opened she gave a surprised little scream.

"Harold Westwood!"

The boy darted inside, clasping his cousin with a glad cry.

"I supposed you were at boarding-school," Polly told him.

"I was," the lad replied a bit shamefacedly. Then bravely, "I ran away
to see you!"

"Why, Harold!"

"I don't care!" was the dogged response. "I had to!"

"I shouldn't think they'd have let you come in the night," said
Polly, leading him into the library.

The introduction relieved the lad of the necessity of an answer; but
Polly innocently plied her questions.

"Why didn't Julian come, too? Was it a half-holiday?"

For an instant Harold looked disconcerted. Then he replied boldly:--

"Jule doesn't know! I tell you, I ran away!"

Polly's eyes widened in astonishment. Mrs. Dudley smiled
understandingly.

"I gave the conductor my watch for security," the boy went on. "I told
him how 'twas, and he let me ride,--I guess out of his own pocket. He
was a good one! You see, I spent all my money in a jiffy for the first
part of the way and something to eat. I didn't s'pose tickets cost so
much."

"You dear child!" murmured Mrs. Dudley, her eyes soft with sympathy.
Then she caught him in her arms, as if he had been a baby.

"Have you had any supper?"

A weary little negative sent her into the pantry, and soon the hungry
lad was eating bread and butter and cheese and cookies, and feasting
his eyes upon Polly at the same time.

"Say, where in the world were you when I came away from your house?"
was the sudden inquiry.

"Out in the garage," Harold answered promptly.

"But didn't you hear us call?"

He nodded, his lips puckered into a half-smile.

"Why didn't you answer, then?" Polly was plainly puzzled.

"Because," he blurted out defiantly, "I wasn't coming to say good-bye
for anybody!"

"Perhaps you thought, with Dickens," interposed Mrs. Dudley
considerately, "that it is easier to act good-bye than to say it."

"It is!" declared Harold, wagging his head. "I guess he knew!"

Over the wires, after the children were asleep, went messages to
school and home that banished anxiety, and then the Doctor and his
wife talked long into the night. It had been a disturbing day.

At breakfast Harold announced his intention of remaining in Fair
Harbor and going to school with Polly, but an early telegram from his
father ended his happy planning. He scowled as he read the yellow
slip.

"Return to school at once, and behave yourself."

"Botheration!" he grumbled, "I s'pose I'll have to! Pop always means
what he says."

Yet the lad enjoyed his breakfast, judging by the number of bananas
and muffins that disappeared from his plate, until Polly, thinking of
yesterday's overheard talk, wondered what they should have done if her
cousin had followed out his desire. Bananas cost; she was not so sure
about muffins. In consequence of which she restricted her own appetite
to the latter, and made her mother question if she were quite well, to
pass by her favorite fruit.

Equipped with tickets for the journey and sufficient money to redeem
his watch, besides a generous luncheon, Harold was put aboard the ten
o'clock train. Notwithstanding his longing heart, he carried himself
pluckily, consoled by Mrs. Dudley's invitation to spend a week of his
summer's vacation in Fair Harbor. Yet she saw him suspiciously sweep
his eyes with the back of his hand as the train whirled him off, and
she sighed in sympathy, thinking, "Poor little fellow! he needs a
mother!"



CHAPTER XVI

ROSES AND THORNS


David pulled a rose from the little bush by the house corner, and
began to chew its petals.

"Don't do that!" begged Polly. "It doesn't want to be eaten up."

The boy laughed, looking ruefully down at the jagged edges of the
flower.

"It isn't sweet anyway," he argued. "If I were a rose I'd be sweet,
and I wouldn't have thorns. But then," he went on thoughtfully,
"people are a good deal like roses. Some are sweet, and some aren't;
but 'most everybody has thorns somewhere."

"I guess one of mine's laziness," sighed Polly, "and it's been
pricking the teachers all this week. I hate to study in such warm
weather! I want to stay outdoors instead of being shut up in a stuffy
room."

"It is horrid," agreed Patricia, "but I don't dare be lazy. I have to
get good reports to send back to Nevada. If I didn't stand high,
papa'd have a conniption."

"I'm going to study better next week," decided Polly, "so I'll be a
thornless rose, like you."

"Dear me, I have thorns enough!" Patricia laughed. "Mamma says I'm
selfish and careless and, oh, I don't know what! So, you see, they
scratch her. What's your thorn, David?"

"Jealousy," he replied promptly.

Patricia looked surprised.

"Who are you jealous of?" she queried curiously.

"Nobody just this minute." He threw a furtive glance in Polly's
direction, over the rose he was nipping again; but she was occupied
with the tendrils of a vine that were wandering from their support.

"I wish we had some Lady Gay roses to cover our old bare piazza," he
broke out abruptly. "Yours are fine." He looked admiringly towards the
little cottage next door, now beautiful in its bloom and greenery.

"Hasn't anybody bought your house yet, has there?" asked Patricia.

"No," Polly answered, "not that we've heard of. Father says the price
is too high."

"Lucky for you," remarked David. "And lucky for us, too," he laughed.
"I don't know but Uncle David would want to sell out if you folks
should leave."

"Why don't you have some roses?" questioned Polly, coming back to the
flowers. She gazed up at the stately columns, free of living
adornment, and decided the matter quickly.

"They'd make it lovely!" she beamed. "Silver Moons would be splendid
all over these pillars, and Lady Gays on the side piazza. Mrs. Jocelyn
has an elegant Silver Moon, roses as big as that,"--curving her
fingers into as wide a circle as they could compass,--"just single
white, with great yellow anthers--oh, they're beautiful! I wish your
uncle would get some. Why don't you ask him, David?"

"You may," he evaded.

"I believe you don't dare," Polly cried. "David Collins, are you
afraid of him yet? Why, I don't see how you can be, he is so nice."

The lad laughed. "I suppose I can't quite get over those years I stood
in such awe of him," he confessed. "But," he added, "he's fine; nobody
could be finer."

"Polly was telling me the other day," put in Patricia, "about the time
she and Colonel Gresham chased after Dr. Dudley for you. I wish I
could have seen Lone Star go."

"There! I haven't had a glimpse of Lone Star for a week!" Polly broke
out. "Is he in the stable, David? Let's go and see him!"

Away they raced, to visit the famous trotter, and to feed him with
bread and butter and sugar which David begged from the cook. They were
still petting the affectionate animal when Colonel Gresham walked in.

"Ah, I've caught you!" he growled. "Now I know what makes my horse
have indigestion!"

Patricia, looking a bit scared, stopped short in her feeding; but Lone
Star nosed down to the piece of bread in her hand.

David and Polly chuckled, understanding the Colonel better, and
Patricia, seeing his laughing eyes, at once recovered herself.

"Who wants to go to ride with Lone Star and me?" Colonel Gresham
asked.

There was a duet of "I's" from the girls. David said nothing.

"Sorry my buggy will permit of only one invitation. We shall have to
draw cuts, shan't we?"

Three lengths of straw were made, the Colonel arranging them as if he
were used to the business. The children eyed them with lively
interest.

"You choose first, Patricia," Polly said, and they watched
breathlessly while her fingers wavered in front of the big, steady
hand before daring to pull.

Finally she plucked at one. It was the longest of all.

"Oh, dear!" she lamented.

"Now, Polly!" bade David.

"That will leave you Hobson's choice," she laughed; but he motioned
her on, and she caught at the nearest one.

It was an inch shorter than the remaining straw, and she smiled up at
the Colonel.

"Miss Dudley, may Lone Star and I have the pleasure of your
comradeship for the next hour?" he invited, bowing low.

"I shall be very happy to go," she laughed, sweeping him a little
curtsy.

Presently the carriage was ready, Polly and the Colonel jumped in, and
Patricia and David sent merry good-byes in the wake of Lone Star's
flying feet.

"I can't help being glad I won," confessed Polly, drawing a long
breath of delight at the drive in store for her.

Colonel Gresham smiled responsively, tucked the linen duster a little
closer, asked her if she were quite comfortable, and then began a
little story in the life of his favorite horse.

As they passed through the pleasant streets, between front dooryards
banked with flowers, the talk after a while led quite naturally to
climbing roses for the Colonel's own house.

"If only you could see Mrs. Jocelyn's roses!" Polly wished. "There
couldn't be any lovelier ones."

She told him of the great single Silver Moons, and pictured them on
his own piazza, until he said he must surely have some.

"Oh!" cried Polly, the thought suddenly popping into her head, "why
can't we go round to Mrs. Jocelyn's and see hers? It won't be very
much out of our way, and then you can tell just how they'll look. You
know Mrs. Jocelyn, don't you?"

Colonel Gresham nodded gravely.

"Then you won't mind going to see her roses, shall you?" Polly
chattered on. "She has a big rose garden at the side of the house,
lots of beautiful ones; but I 'most know you'll like the Silver Moon
kind best."

"I don't believe I like any kind of roses," the Colonel broke out
abruptly. "They have too many thorns. Somebody would always be getting
scratched if they were on my piazza. I reckon I won't have them, after
all."

Polly started to speak, looked up, and then shut her lips on the
words. The stern set of her companion's face forbade talk. Yet in a
moment it softened, the words came again, and this time they were not
forced back.

"Roses are so beautiful, and the thorns are so little I forget about
them." She halted, but the Colonel did not respond.

"Once when I was a very small girl," she went on, "I picked a rose in
our yard, and scratched my hand so it bled. I ran, crying, to mamma;
but she didn't pay any attention to that, only told me to look at the
rose. It was a lovely tea rose, the color of sunset when the sky is
all yellow with just a bit of a pink flush. She talked about it, till
I forgot my finger. When I happened to recollect, the hurt seemed so
little compared with that beautiful rose. I guess that's why I don't
mind thorns any more. I've always remembered it."

"A good thing to remember," spoke out Colonel Gresham fervently, "and
a blessed thing to live up to--if only we could! But some thorns
pierce deep!"

He did not look at Polly. One might have thought him talking to Lone
Star, for his eyes were on the horse's head.

"Yes, some are bigger than others," Polly replied innocently. "They
hurt more. But Silver Moon doesn't have very many. Oh," she cried
earnestly, thinking of the rose, "I do wish you could see those of
Mrs. Jocelyn's! Isn't it funny," she went on musingly, "how she always
calls you David, just as if you were one of her very best friends!
Only very best friends call each other by their first names, do they?
I mean grown-up people. I guess she thinks a lot of you. Sometimes her
eyes--you know what dark, shiny eyes she has--well, sometimes when
she's talking about you they get so bright and soft, they're just
beautiful! I think she is a lovely lady, don't you?"

"I presume she is, from what I hear," replied the Colonel. "I haven't
seen her in a long time. But how comes it that she speaks of me? I
can't see any occasion for it."

"Oh, I don't know! She talks of you very often. She thinks a lot of
David. You know he goes up there with me a good deal."

"David Collins!--goes up to see Mrs. Jocelyn?" Colonel Gresham was
plainly surprised.

"Why, not Mrs. Jocelyn exactly, but Leonora. Didn't he ever say
anything about it? We go up 'most every week."

"Ah, yes, Leonora! I had forgotten. She is the adopted child?"

Polly recounted the story of Leonora's adoption, to which the Colonel
listened attentively; but he made few comments, and when it ended he
was silent.

Polly did not know what to think of Colonel Gresham to-day; in fact
she began to feel as if she were not quite acquainted with him. She
was strangely reminded of that other day, not a year ago, when she
chose her happy reward, "to the half of his kingdom." If he were like
this at home, she wondered no more that David sometimes refrained from
asking him questions. She was still thinking about it, when, suddenly,
his customary genial manner returned, and they reached home in such
high spirits that David would have been surprised to have learned that
any part of the drive had been passed in silence.



CHAPTER XVII

A SUMMER NIGHT MYSTERY


David Collins was on the piazza with a book when he heard the call. He
sprang up and ran to the end towards Lady Gay Cottage.

"Hullo, Pollee! What is it?"

"Can you come over? I'm all alone. Mother's gone to ride with the
Scribners, and father's up in Forestford at a consultation."

"I'll come right now. Say, this is a dandy book! Shall I bring it
along?"

By the time the story was finished, David reading it aloud, it was too
dusky for another, and the children sat and talked, one in the
hammock, the other in the lounging-chair.

Presently Colonel Gresham drove out. David watched him, while Polly
indulged in her usual admiration of Lone Star. The carriage was out of
sight before the boy turned his eyes from the road where it had
vanished.

"I do wonder where he is going," he sighed.

"Probably to give the poor horse some fresh air and exercise,"
responded Polly. "I see him go out nearly every night about this
time."

"Yes, I know," returned David grimly, "but it isn't just for Lone
Star's health."

"Maybe it's business then. Did you wish you were with him?"

"Oh, no, not that at all!" David hastened to say. "Perhaps I oughtn't
to speak of it--I shouldn't only to you. But I know you won't tell."

"Tell what?" laughed Polly. "I don't know anything to tell, and I
wouldn't tell it if I did!"

"I don't know either--wish I could find out; then we'd know what to
expect."

"What do you mean, David Collins? Why do you care where your uncle
goes?"

"Because it may make a great deal of difference to mamma and me. We're
dreadfully worried."

Polly's face took on an anxious shadow.

"You're not afraid he's--getting to gambling--or drinking, are you?"
Her voice dropped almost to a whisper.

David stared as if he doubted his hearing; then he threw back his
head, and laughed.

"Uncle David--gambling! drinking! Oh, Pollee! that's too funny! oh,
my!"

Polly laughed, too, out of sympathy.

"Well, you said,--" she began in excuse.

"I didn't say anything of that kind--oh, Polly! No, we aren't worried
about Uncle David's habits."

"Well, what is it, then? I'm not going to guess any more."

"I wouldn't," giggled David.

"Anyway I've made you laugh," exulted Polly. "You have been as grave
as an owl all the evening."

"Let me tell you--then you won't wonder I'm grave."

"I'll let you all right," Polly chuckled.

David was too seriously troubled to notice.

"It is this way," he went on; "you know how Uncle David has always
taken us to ride after supper, either mamma or me alone, or both in
the surrey--he has ever since it was mild enough."

"Why, yes, I've gone with you lots of times."

"And now he takes somebody else--a lady, nearly every night!"

"It is too bad," Polly returned plaintively. "We'd love to have you go
with us, if we could only go ourselves; but father can't get away,
and--"

"Oh, I don't mean that!" David burst out. "It isn't because we're so
anxious for a drive; but, Polly, don't you see? If Uncle David is
taking a lady out every night, it means something!"

"What does it mean?" queried Polly in a puzzled voice.

"Why, that he is going to be married!"

"O-h!"

"And that means that mamma and I must get out!"

"No, it doesn't!"

"Mamma says so." David's head came down with decision. "Mamma wouldn't
stay to be in the way, and, oh, dear! Now you see why we are so
worried."

"But how do you know he takes a lady to ride?"

"Because I've seen her."

"Who is it?"

"I can't tell--that's the trouble. We have known he went out alone,
but we didn't think much about it till a week or so ago. I'd been up
to Archie Howard's, and was coming home through Oregon Avenue,--you
know how shady it is up there,--and just along by the Woodruffs' Uncle
David whirled past me. I guess I was looking so hard to make sure it
was he that I didn't notice the lady much, but it wasn't a man."

"Was that all? That doesn't mean anything! Maybe he just happened to
pick her up on her way home. He knows 'most everybody."

"No, he didn't! If he did, he picked her up again two nights
afterward, for I was down on Curtis Street, and just before I got to
the avenue there they were! They were going like lightning, and I
couldn't make out any more than I could before. The lady was on the
other side of Uncle David; but I'm sure it was the same one."

"But couldn't he take a lady to ride without marrying her?" asked
Polly slowly.

"Why, I suppose some men do," answered David; "but mamma says when a
man of his age--who hasn't been round with the ladies for years and
years--takes one out evening after evening, it isn't for nothing. And
mamma says, of course, when he brings a wife home we can't stay. Oh, I
don't know what we shall do! I thought we should live here with Uncle
David always. It is making mamma just sick. I know she keeps thinking
of those dreadful years before he made up, and if we've got to go back
to them again!"

"I wouldn't worry," soothed Polly. "Maybe it isn't anything at all. I
don't b'lieve he'll get married. If he'd been going to, he'd have done
it before he got so old."

"He isn't very old. He's only a little over fifty."

"That's old to get married, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know!" replied David absently.

"Well, I shall be married before I'm fifty," announced Polly
decidedly.

David laughed.

"Who you going to marry?" he chuckled.

"Why, of course I don't know yet," she responded; "but I shan't wait
till I'm fifty years old."

"No, I guess you won't," he agreed.

The sound of light hoofs speeding down the street turned the attention
from the weighty subject of marriage back to the Colonel himself.

"That isn't he, it's a little man," observed Polly.

"I knew it wasn't Lone Star's step," David replied. "Besides, he
doesn't come home so early as this."

"Oh, say," Polly broke out in an undertone of excitement, "let's go up
on Oregon Avenue! Maybe we should meet them!"

"I don't suppose they always go that way," mused David; "but it
wouldn't do any harm to take a walk--"

"No, come on!" urged Polly, jumping up. "But I must lock the house
first. Mother has a key."

"I'll help," volunteered David, following Polly into the front hall.

With windows and doors secure behind them, the two started for Oregon
Avenue, Polly talking all the way.

"It was along here that you saw them, wasn't it?" she questioned
softly, as if fearful that her voice might carry to the piazza parties
that lined the pleasant street.

"Just about," David answered; "but it's lighter further on. There's a
carriage block in front of that big gray house where you can sit down
and rest."

"I'm not a bit tired," Polly insisted, yet to please David she sat
dutifully on the stone indicated for at least three minutes; then she
suddenly decided that it was too conspicuous, and they moved on up the
avenue.

The night was warm and still. Occasionally a puff of cooler air would
meet the children at some dusky driveway or odorous garden, and they
would halt to enjoy it. From dark verandas and brilliant houses
laughter and song floated out to them as they passed along. Altogether
this stalking Colonel Gresham was rather a delightful affair, and
sometimes in the pleasure of the moment their errand would be almost
forgotten.

Not many carriages were abroad, and this was not one of the highways
frequented by motor-cars. Every vehicle, therefore, claimed the
children's attention. Far up the avenue, on a corner where an arc
light cast fitful shadows over the intersecting roadways, they stopped
to catch a breeze straying up from the harbor. Polly was blithely
chattering.

"'Sh!" whispered David.

The sound of hoofs came faintly through the stillness.

"I believe it is!" Polly whispered back.

David nodded eagerly.

"Dear me, how that light bobs up and down!" Polly complained. "I hope
it will be bright when they get here."

"Let's stand in the shadow!" David pulled her under a broad maple
tree.

On came the hoofs, nearer, nearer. The light suddenly flared.

"Oh, goody!" exulted Polly.

"It is Lone Star!" whispered David.

The familiar horse appeared in the flickering circle of light. Behind
him the form of a man and a woman were barely discernible--then utter
darkness! Lone Star trotted by the discomfited two, and was gone. The
light did not come back. The children clutched each other in silent
disappointment. Polly was the first to find words.

"Wasn't that just mean?"

David laughed--a grim little laugh.

"Don't! It hurts. I'm too mad to laugh."

He chuckled. Then he grabbed Polly excitedly.

"Come on!" he cried.

"Where?" breathlessly hurrying along by his side.

"The avenue makes a big curve above here, before it gets to the fork,
and we can go straight up this next street and head 'em off,
maybe--they're going pretty slow."

"I don't b'lieve we can."

"We'll try it anyhow. You're not tired?"

"Oh, no!"

Racing over long stretches, slowing to catch breath, then running
again,--thus the fork was finally reached. But no Lone Star or the
thud of his feet greeted eyes or ears.

"I might have known we couldn't go as fast as Lone Star!" David
exclaimed disgustedly.

"You don't s'pose they've gone up to Cherry Hill Park, do you?"
questioned Polly. "It's just above here, you know."

"Perhaps. Want to try it?"

Of course she did, and on they trudged, taking note of neither time
nor distance, until all at once Polly was conscious of weariness.

"It seems further afoot than in an automobile, doesn't it?" she
laughed.

"Yes," nodded David; "but we're almost there. Wonder which road they'd
be likely to take."

Polly could not even guess, so they followed the driveways at random,
on, and on, and on.

There was no lack of company. Young men and women, walking cozily
close; wandering lovers from over the sea, like children hand in hand;
groups of laughing, chattering girls and boys;--all these, but never a
Lone Star or a dignified Colonel with his possible sweetheart.

"Let's sit down and rest," proposed David. "You must be tired."

They dropped on a convenient bench, and Polly let go a sleepy little
yawn.

"I don't believe there's any use in waiting round here," began David.

Polly did not reply. Her head was drooping.

The lad drew her gently to his shoulder.

"I guess--I was 'most--asleep," she said drowsily, and shut her eyes
again.

The passers-by glanced curiously at the two on the bench. Soon there
were few to look, then none at all.

David leaned his head against the slatted back. It was not an easy
pillow, but it gave the needed relief, and he slept.

"David Collins, I b'lieve you're fast asleep!"

It roused the boy with a start. He gave a little shamefaced laugh.

"I don't see what made me do it," he apologized.

"Well, we'd better go home as quick as we can get there," decided
Polly. "What time do you s'pose it is?"

Neither could tell, but presently a town clock struck ten.

"That isn't so bad as I thought," giggled Polly. "But what will the
folks say!"

They hurried along the path, till, suddenly, David halted.

"Did we pass this big fountain?" he questioned abruptly.

"I--don't remember it," Polly faltered.

"We're on the wrong path," he hastily concluded. "Let's go back!"

They wheeled about, and were soon following a driveway that they were
sure led to the park entrance. Yet they trudged on and on, and still
the green expanse, dotted with trees, flower-beds, and shrubbery
seemed to stretch endlessly before them.

"Seems 's if we ought to get somewhere pretty soon," observed Polly, a
plaintive note in her voice.

David replied absently. He was thinking hard. Where was that big stone
gateway? He strained his eyes in a vain endeavor to discern it in the
distance.

"What if we couldn't find our way out, and they had to come and look
for us!" pondered Polly. "Only they wouldn't know where to look!"

"Oh, we're not lost!" exclaimed David, in what he tried to make a
fearless tone; but Polly, as well as he himself, knew it to be a fib,
spoken only to hold their fast-going courage.

"Let's stop a minute, and see if we can't tell where we are," proposed
Polly, just as if that were not what they had been doing, at brief
intervals, ever since they had passed the unfamiliar fountain.

They had come to no satisfactory conclusion, and were still peering
sharply into their surroundings, when Polly spied a figure in the path
ahead.

"There's a boy!" she whispered. "We can ask him."

As the lad approached, something in his easy swing seemed familiar.

"It looks like--" began Polly--"why, it is! Oh, Cornelius!" she cried
excitedly, as the light showed the unmistakable features of her friend
of the convalescent ward. She sprang forward to greet him.

"Holy saints!" ejaculated Cornelius O'Shaughnessy. "However come you
kids out here, this time o' night?"

They told their story in breathless snatches, omitting only what had
brought them hither.

"Come f'r a walk, did ye!" sniffed Cornelius. "Wal, ye've had it sure!
Now, see here! I've got to go over on North Second Street to git a
receipt f'r some cake Cousin Ellen give my mother, or I'll ketch it
when the show's out--that's where my mother is now! She says, the last
thing, 'Cornelius, mind yer don't forgit to go up after that receipt,
f'r I want to make th' cake in th' mornin'!' I says, 'Sure I
won't!'--and I never thought of it again till just as I was goin' up
to bed! It happened to pop into my head, and if I didn't hustle down
those stairs! An' here I be! Now ye just sit down and wait, and I'll
go 'long back wid ye."

The boy darted into the shadows and was lost. Polly and David felt
more alone than before.

"Queer, we should meet him 'way out here, at this time!" David had
lowered his voice, as if fearful of being overheard.

"He came just to find us," purred Polly. "What a nice boy he is!"

"Don't talk so loud!" cautioned David.

"He can't hear. He's too far away."

"Somebody might."

"There isn't anybody," she laughed, yet involuntarily she was obeying
David's injunction.

They sat there on the bench what seemed a very long time, still
Cornelius did not appear.

"Let's walk along a little way and meet him," proposed Polly.

The deserted park seemed vastly more lonely than an empty street.
Polly kept up a soft chatter. David wished silently that Cornelius
would come. The shrubbery that bordered the way made weird shadows
along the path, and more than once David had to grip his courage in a
hurry to keep from halting in the face of some grotesque shade. Queer
little prickles crept up and down his legs. Why didn't Cornelius come!

"You're not afraid?" he whispered, as Polly clutched his arm more
tightly in passing a clump of dogwoods.

"Oh, no!" she chirped contentedly, the harmless shadows behind them,
"not with you!"

The boy's retreating courage came back. He felt himself grown suddenly
taller and stronger. He walked forward with a firm, steady step.

"We mustn't go too far, or Cornelius might miss us," warned Polly.
"There he is now!" as the straight little figure swung into sight.

The three had a merry walk home, notwithstanding the distance and the
haunting fear in the hearts of two of them that there would be anxiety
because of their unexplained absence. Cornelius insisted on
accompanying them to within a block of home, and then he stood on the
corner and watched them away.

Mrs. Dudley met them at the foot of the steps, both hands
outstretched.

"Children! where have you been?"

Polly felt nearer than usual to a real reprimand, and she hurried to
explain.

"We didn't mean to be gone so long, but we got lost in Cherry Hill
Park--"

"Cherry Hill Park! What in the world started you up there this hot
night?"

"Why, we went up on Oregon Avenue, and then thought we'd just go over
to the park, and we got tired,--or I did,--and we sat down on a bench
and went to sleep--both of us!" Polly giggled at the remembrance.
"Then we couldn't tell which way to go, and Cornelius came along, and
he had to do an errand for his mother, and we waited a good while for
him--and that's why we didn't come before."

"Well, you have had a time! You'd better run right home, David, for
your mother is worried. She supposed you were over here, and came to
see what kept you."

"Is Uncle David home?" questioned the boy tentatively.

"I think she said not."

Polly's eyes and David's met in tacit understanding--the secret was
Colonel Gresham's, and not to be spoken of. Then the boy whirled
towards home.

"Good-night!" called Polly, and to the accompaniment of fleeting
footfalls came the answering "Good-night!"



CHAPTER XVII

AT MIDVALE SPRINGS


Polly's worry about her father's reduced salary and the unpaid coal
bill did not wholly leave her mind, but returned at intervals with
ever renewing force. At these times she still wondered if she ought to
have gone to live with Uncle Maurice; yet the thought of it brought
such terror to her heart that she would resolutely turn from the
picture, arguing that the time was past for accepting his offer, and
that now, whatever the consequences, she must remain in the home she
had chosen. She longed intensely to earn some money to help out the
situation, thinking how delightful it would be to put ten dollars into
her father's hand with the astonishing announcement that it was her
very own to do with as she pleased. But, realizing her helplessness in
this line, she would resolve again and again to eat as little as
possible, and as far as she was able to insist on wearing her old
clothes, and to protest against spending even precious pennies for the
pretty things she so loved to wear. But it was the eating question
that troubled her more than the dress, for her healthy appetite often
tempted her into indulgences which she would afterwards regret.

One noon she so far forgot herself as to ask for a second helping of
strawberry shortcake.

"Why," exclaimed her father playfully, "if you keep on at this rate, I
shall have to charge you more for board!"

Polly looked up, dropped her fork, and covering her face with her
hands broke into tears.

"Thistledown!" cried the Doctor.

"You foolish child!" laughed Mrs. Dudley. "You know father was only in
fun!"

But Polly sobbed on, nor could she be induced to eat the piece of
shortcake she had wanted.

Dr. Dudley and his wife were puzzled, but Polly did not make matters
clearer, only refused to finish her dinner, insisting that she had had
enough. Her mother coaxed, the Doctor all but commanded, yet she
silently kept her trouble in her heart, and went miserably to school.

There Patricia met her with the announcement that she and her mother
were going to Midvale Springs to spend the summer, having arranged to
leave as soon as school should close.

"And we want you to go with us," Patricia went on with eager emphasis,
passing her arm cozily around Polly's waist. "You and I can have a
room together next to mamma's and it will be too lovely! I lay awake
last night thinking of it."

"But I can't--" began Polly.

"You can, too!" contradicted Patricia. "You've got to! I won't let you
do anything else! Now say yes right away--there's a dear!" she coaxed,
pinching Polly's mouth with a thumb and forefinger, her favorite
method of wheedling.

"Cousin Harold's coming for a visit pretty soon," evaded Polly. "I
don't know what he would do if I shouldn't be here when he came."

"Huh!" scorned Patricia, "guess I shouldn't stay home for a boy! He
can come some other time. I'm your cousin, and I want you, and I'm
going to have you! You never do anything I ask you to, and I think you
might just for this once!" she pouted.

"Why, Patty, I do everything I can to please you!" protested Polly.

The "Patty" won smiles. It was Patricia's favorite nickname, and she
was always pleased when Polly used it.

"You're a darling!" she cooed. "You do everything lovely! And you'll
do this for me--I know you will!" she ended archly.

Yet Polly was equally certain in her inmost heart that she should
never go to Midvale. To be sure, she reasoned prudently, it would save
her board at home, and that was to be desired, but, on the other hand,
there must needs be new clothes for a summer's stay at the fashionable
Springs, which would more than offset the gain. She would give
Patricia no encouragement.

Mrs. Dudley looked with favor on the invitation, although saying she
should allow Polly to do as she chose. The Doctor, too, welcomed the
plan as a good one, thinking it would be just the change needed for
the little girl, who was growing thin and pale. Still Polly held out
against them all, and felt actually homesick to hear so much talk
about it. If it had been going with Mrs. Collins and David, why, she
would have considered the question. She loved David's sweet, girlish
little mother; but of Mrs. Illingworth she had never been fond, and
she wondered that her father and mother should wish her to go.

"I'd rather stay here and live on crackers--'thout any butter," she
said miserably to herself, and she began to curtail her meals as much
as discreetness and her appetite would allow.

It was only a week to the end of school, and Patricia had been urging
her claims, to which Polly had paid small attention, having heard the
same talk, with variations, for the last fortnight. But all at once
the half-listener grew interested. What was Patricia saying?

"If you'll only go for just one month I'll give you fifty dollars!"

"Your mother wouldn't let you," argued Polly.

"She would, too!" Patricia declared. "Guess I can do what I want to
with my own money! Oh, say, will you go? Will you?"

"Maybe," yielded Polly. "I don't know. I've got to think it over. I do
want some money, and I was wishing I could earn some--"

"Oh, then you will! you will! you will!" cried Patricia gleefully.
"This is just your chance! Why didn't you tell me before? Oh, I'm so
glad I want to stand on my head!"

"I haven't said yet that I'd go," laughed Polly; "only maybe I would."

"But you will! I know the signs!"--and Polly was grabbed in an
uncomfortable hug.

Dr. Dudley and his wife were pleased at the turn affairs had taken,
although they wondered at Polly's sudden change of mind. Of the offer
that was the sole cause of it Polly said nothing. What a joyful
surprise it would be when she should come home a month hence with
sufficient money to pay the haunting coal bill! The anticipated
pleasure of that moment kept her resolution steady.

Yet at times Polly was so sober in the midst of the preparations for
her going that her mother would turn to her with searching eyes, and
wonder how she had lost her usual blitheness.

"You are not doing this just to please Patricia?" she asked one
twilight, stopping in her task of packing Polly's small trunk to catch
her in her arms and hold her solemn little face towards the window.

"Oh, no!" was the tremulous assertion; "I'm not going for Patricia's
sake at all--that is, of course, I'm glad to please her; but I want to
go! Only I guess"--her eyes filled--"I'm a little lovesick for you and
father!"

Mrs. Dudley smiled.

"I know!" she nodded. "I've been homesick beforehand."

"Have you?" Polly brightened. "And did it go off?"

"Oh, yes, after a while!"

"Then I guess I shall get over it soon as I'm really there," she said
bravely. "I wouldn't give it up for anything!"

Yet the end of the pleasant all-day's journey found Polly looking
forward to her promised month with a vague uneasiness. She half
wished she had confided in her mother and had let her decide. While
listening to Patricia's happy chatter, she wondered whether she had
done right in coming, arguing the question back and forth; still so
secretly did she carry on her own line of thought that merry Patricia
never guessed she was not holding Polly's entire attention.

In the morning things looked different. The charming little village of
Midvale Springs, dropped so cozily among the Vermont hills, won
Polly's heart at first daylight glance. If father and mother were
there, too! But even with the knowledge that they were hundreds of
miles away the early days of her visit were spent very happily. There
was so much to see, new faces at every turn, merry playmates at all
hours, straw rides and barn frolics, beautiful drives alongside
tumbling brooks and through deep mountain gorges,--Polly's letters
home told of these unfamiliar scenes and pleasures. Mrs. Dudley said
to herself that the homesickness must have passed with the journey.

Polly had been at the Springs but a week when she was one of a party
to spend the day at Lazy Lake, twenty miles distant. On her return,
in the early twilight, a small figure popped out of the dusk to give
her a frantic embrace.

"Harold!" she exclaimed, recovering wits and breath together. "Where
did you come from?"

"Fair Harbor," promptly answered the unabashed boy. "Couldn't find
anybody home at your house, and that feller next door--what's his
name?--"

"David Collins?"

"Yes, David--he said you were up here, so I came right along."

At first it was a problem to know how to dispose of the rash little
lad; but by dint of certain shifts a room in the hotel was finally
provided for him, and he fitted very happily into the gay life there.

The next week another surprise came to Polly, and it was even greater
than the advent of Harold.

An automobile had gone to the nearest station, ten miles away, to meet
the evening train and fetch back some new boarders--so much the
children knew; but as this was not an unusual occurrence they only
wondered mildly if there would be any boys or girls among the coming
guests. They had finished their last game of tennis, and were lounging
on the piazza steps, when the hotel car was sighted up the dusty road.

"We'd better scoot," advised Carl Webster, "or some of the new folks
may agree with old Mrs. Chatterton, that they 'never did see such a
raft o' young ones!'"

The imitation of the fidgety little woman's voice and manner was so
complete that the others broke into laughter; but nobody moved.

The car was slowing up, and Polly, turning carelessly to look, gave a
little cry of astonishment. Then, to the surprise of the rest, she
darted down the steps.

"Ilga!--Miss Price!"--her words stopped short, for Ilga was on her
feet--was stepping forward! Her face matched her joyful greeting.

In a minute Patricia was there, asking excited questions and begging
the invalid to be careful.

"As if I were not crawling!" laughed Ilga. "Oh, it does seem so
splendid to walk! I've got lots of messages for you, Polly. Your
father came to the station to see me off--just think of that! Wasn't
it lovely of him? And your mother made me a long call yesterday! I
wouldn't let anybody tell you a thing about my coming--I wanted to
surprise you! You were surprised, weren't you?" she queried anxiously.

"I'm so surprised I can't think," laughed Polly. "Did you know it when
I came away--that you were coming, too?"

"We'd just spoken of it, hadn't we, Miss Price? It wasn't a bit sure
then. I was wild to come--just wild!" Ilga dropped into the easy chair
placed for her, and drew a long, happy breath.

"Aren't you awfully tired?" questioned Patricia.

"Oh, I guess not!--I don't know. I only know I'm here and it's
beautiful! Father and mother are coming next week; won't that be
grand?"

So the pleasant talk went on, until Miss Price carried her patient
away to supper and rest.

Merry days followed. Polly, remembering the old Ilga and her few
school friends, looked delightedly upon the popularity which this
subdued, humbled girl was winning. Once such attention might have
incited her to overbearing conduct; now it seemed only to make her
fairly beam with good-fellowship and happiness. "And she actually
loves father!" Polly would smilingly tell herself, secretly rejoicing
in the fact; but she rarely spoke of the change even to Patricia. It
was enough that the miracle had been wrought. It did not need to be
passed about in words.

Although somewhat against his father's wishes, Harold remained for the
week which he had started to spend in Fair Harbor; but all his
pleading could not make the grudging consent cover a longer time.

With tears in his eyes he bade Polly good-bye.

"If you were only going, too!" he whispered. "Come on, Polly--do!"

"Why, you know I can't!" she returned, half laughingly, half sadly.

He muttered an exulting reply that she could not quite catch, and then
the train came, and he was hustled away, leaving Polly to wonder what
he had said.

"It was something about what he was going to do when he was grown up,"
she mused. "I don't see why he should talk of that now--and here!"

On her return to the hotel, she ran over to the croquet ground that
skirted the opposite side of the road. A game was in progress, and for
the time Harold faded into the past. Patricia being called to the
house, Polly took her place, and she was driving a ball to the last
stake when somebody cried out:--

"There's your cousin! What's he coming back for?"

Polly glanced up, to see Harold grinning and waving to her jubilantly.

He jumped from the car as it slowed, and came to meet her.

"How did you get here? I s'posed you were on the way to New York!"

"Had an accident," he answered cheerfully,--"just below the station,
and the track was so blocked up they said we couldn't get along in
hours. I wasn't going to stay fooling round there, you bet! I said,
wasn't there an auto somewhere that could bring us back to the hotel,
and a man asked me what hotel 'twas and all about it up here, and he
and another man said they'd get an auto if there was one to be had. So
they did--and here I am!"

He wagged his head gleefully.

"I never saw such a boy for pouncing in on people!" laughed Ilga. "But
I'm awfully glad you've come. Was there anybody hurt?"

"Yes, some of 'em. No one killed, they said. 'Twas a mighty big
smash-up, though! My! you'd 'a' thought the whole world was going to
pieces when we came together! And we hadn't been started much more'n
two minutes! Our car tilted over, and I climbed out through the
window! I didn't even get a scratch."

"Don't let's talk about it," begged Polly. "I'm so glad you aren't
hurt."

"Yes," agreed Harold; "but I'd 'a' come back here all the same if I
had been, and then pop would 'a' had to let me stay."

The children laughed, all but Polly. She said, with a little pucker of
the brows:--

"What a boy!"

Later, as they went up to the hotel, she glanced towards the broad
piazza, now dotted with men and women, and her eyes widened in
amazement.

"Why, there's Mr. Morrow!"

"Who's he?" queried Harold indifferently.

"Chris Morrow's father--don't you know? The one that gave me the pansy
pin."

"Oh! Where is he?"

"Over there by the post, right next to the girl in light pink."

"That's the man I came up with! But his name isn't Morrow--it's
Winship. He said so."

"Well, it looks just like him anyway," insisted Polly. "Perhaps it
isn't," she added disappointedly.

Before they reached the piazza steps, the stranger arose and went
inside.

"It doesn't walk like Mr. Morrow," admitted Polly. "But I wish he'd
stayed, I wanted to see him nearer."

For several days, however, no opportunity came for observing the man
at close range. In the big dining-hall, even if he chanced to be
there at the same time, he sat the entire length of the room away from
her, and they did not meet elsewhere. Then, one morning, at a turn of
the long piazza, they chanced to come face to face, and Polly, struck
by his remarkable resemblance to the father of her friend, could not
forbear to speak.

"I beg your pardon," she began, half afraid now that she had actually
started, "but aren't you Mr. Morrow,--the one I used to see at the
hospital in Fair Harbor?"

A puzzled look swept the man's face. Then he smiled.

"I think you are mistaken, little lady. My name is Winship, Bradford
Winship of New York."

"You look almost exactly like him," returned Polly, even now refusing
to be quite convinced, although there was not a trace of recognition
in the smiling face she was scanning.

"I seem to have two or three doubles around the country," he remarked.
"I am continually being taken for somebody or other. Sorry not to have
had the previous pleasure of your acquaintance, but I hope that we
may follow up the little we have made."

He left her with a deferential bow, and she ran to tell Patricia and
Ilga of her blunder. How Harold would have laughed! But he had left
for home as soon as it had been ascertained that the trains were
running on time.

The next day, returning to her apartment for a light wrap, after the
evening meal, Mrs. Illingworth passed her dressing-table, and stared
in amazement. The girls, in their room, heard her peremptory call.

"Patty, have you been meddling with my jewel cases again?"

"No, mamma, I haven't touched them," she answered comfortably.

"Are you sure? Think! Come here quick!"

Patricia sprang to obey. Her mother's voice was tense and sharp. More
than once she had made free to appropriate necklaces and bracelets for
her own adornment in plays with the children, but this time she was
quite innocent of any misbehavior.

"Why!--why!" she gasped, gazing, big-eyed, at the beautiful empty
cases, "where are all your jewels? I haven't taken a single thing!
Have I, Polly? We were playing tennis early, and then we went to ride,
you know. Why, what could--"

But Mrs. Illingworth waited for no more; dashing from the room, she
hurried to the office to report her loss.

She was only one of many. While supper was in progress the rooms of
the guests had been rifled of money and jewelry to the amount of
thousands of dollars. The thief had entered the apartments by means of
a skeleton key, for most of the doors had been locked.

"Oh, I wonder if he took my lovely coral bracelet!" cried Patricia,
who had followed her mother downstairs.

The girls scampered back, to find their fears true. Patricia's pretty
bits of jewelry, as well as Polly's pansy pin, were gone. They were
distressed over their loss, but their excitement was a small part of
that throughout the hotel.

The authorities were not long in placing the charge. The men who had
accompanied Harold from the railway wreck had vanished, and although
they were traced to a neighboring town, there they seemed to be
utterly lost.

Perhaps nobody grieved more than did Polly.

"And the man was so pleasant to me!" she mourned. "To think he should
go and steal my pretty pin--Chris's present!"

The occurrence actually made her homesick, and she longed for the day
when her month should be up. It had been arranged for her to travel in
company with an elderly gentleman who must pass through Fair Harbor on
his way home, and she would have hoped that his business would hasten
his going, only that she had promised the entire month in return for
the fifty dollars.

The day was finally set, but nothing was said about the price of her
visit, and Polly grew anxious and perturbed. What if Patricia had
forgotten! What if she should not get the money after all! To be sure,
the month had been for the most part pleasant, still the loss of her
precious pin was enough to make her hate the name of Midvale Springs.
Now if she had gained not even the amount of the coal bill by coming!
By the last night Polly was in a fever; she could not sleep, while her
irresponsible bedfellow lay beside her like a little log.

Shortly before breakfast, Polly, dressed for her journey, appeared in
Mrs. Illingworth's room, and with a pleasant good-morning was on her
way to the hall, when the lady stopped her.

"Wait a moment, dear!"

Polly turned, to see Patricia's mother opening her purse. Her heart
leaped in sudden joy. She had been blaming Patricia for neglect, but
now she silently begged her pardon.

"Run and get your hand-bag," Mrs. Illingworth smiled, "I want to put
something into it."

Polly fetched it gladly.

"There is fifty dollars, a little present from Patty and me, and I
hope you will have as much pleasure in spending it as we have in
giving."

Polly thanked her, and then added:--

"I wouldn't take it, as I told Patricia before I came, only that I
want the money for a very special purpose."

Mrs. Illingworth's eyes narrowed, as was their habit in surprise, and
she started to speak; but Polly was going innocently on, and the lady
glanced keenly at her daughter, who was standing transfixed in the
door of her room.

"I was wishing I could earn some," Polly was saying, "when Patty
offered this if I would come for a month; so it happened just right. I
thank you ever so much, and for my lovely visit beside."

It is doubtful if either the mother or daughter heard much of Polly's
grateful little speech. Patricia's face burned with shame at her
forgetfulness, and she wondered what her mother would say as soon as
Polly was out of hearing.

As for Polly she went blithely on her way, never dreaming that by
fortunate chance Mrs. Illingworth's gift came to cover up a bit of
negligence.

Fair Harbor was not reached until evening. To Polly's surprise, her
father was not at the station. Her letter, she reasoned, could not
have been received. But the road was well-known and the hour was not
late, so she took the way to Lady Gay Cottage with a light heart.

The house was dark. Neither father nor mother was on the piazza, as
Polly had hoped they would be. She was eager to feel their arms around
her. She pushed the bell-button again and again, but there was no
answer. It was dismally dark at Colonel Gresham's, too, and not the
murmur of a voice came to her as she listened.

"They are all out riding, probably," she explained to herself
discouragedly. It was a lonesome home-coming indeed. She walked slowly
over to the hammock, and dropped into it. Anyway she was at home--that
was a comfort.

"And they'll come pretty soon," she thought gladly. "They never stay
out late."

She was tired, after her long day on the hot, dusty train. She leaned
wearily back among the soft cushions. Yes, home was the best place in
the whole world.

Two hours later an automobile stopped at Lady Gay Cottage. Dr. Dudley
and his wife stepped out, there were good-nights, then the two went up
to the house together.

"Going in?" queried the Doctor. "Guess I'll stay out here awhile, it
is too pleasant to go to bed."

He unlocked the door, and then, left to himself, went over to the dark
corner where the hammock swung. There he suddenly stopped, with a soft
ejaculation.

The sleeper did not stir.

Putting his hand gently under her neck, he thought to take her in his
arms. How surprised she would be when she awoke! But she spoiled his
plan by suddenly opening her eyes.

With a glad cry she nestled her head on his shoulder. How dear it was
to be home again! Mother heard the voices, and came out, which meant
more kisses and happy greetings.

Polly was talking fast and eagerly about the exciting events of her
visit, when she thought of the money in her purse.

"Oh, I forgot!" she broke off, and dived into her little hand-bag.

"There," she said, her voice low and tense, "is the money to pay the
coal bill! Mrs. Illingworth--I mean Patricia--gave it to me for going
with her."

"But, Thistledown," objected the Doctor whimsically, "that coal bill
was paid long ago,--besides--"

"Oh, dear," she broke in, "I wanted to pay it myself! I wanted to help
you!" She hid her face against his coat. "I wouldn't have gone only
for that. Patty said she'd give me fifty dollars if I would."

In a flash Dr. Dudley saw it all,--her sudden turn regarding the
summer trip, her brave fight with homesickness. Involuntarily his arms
tightened around her. Must he make her feel that her sacrifice had
been in vain?

"You say that Patricia gave you the money when you came away?"

"No, father, it was Mrs. Illingworth that gave it to me--this morning.
She said it was a present from both of them. But Patty had promised it
to me."

"I understand. Well, there are other ways, Thistledown, where your
money can help, if you wish. You know we have not used our 'wedding'
car for a good while, because I haven't been able to spare enough for
a needed tire. Now, if you like, you shall buy the new tire, and then
we will have some rides. How will that do?"

"Oh, splendid!" she cried. "I'm so glad! I did want to help! I was
afraid for a minute that you were not going to let me keep the money;
but a present has to be kept, doesn't it? Only this wasn't exactly a
present, if she did call it so. I'm glad you didn't mean that." She
drew a long, satisfied breath.

The Doctor smiled across at his wife over Polly's curls, and her eyes
told him he had decided in the wisest way.

They were still talking when Colonel Gresham and his family drove in.

Polly called a cheery, "Hullo, David!" and then, of course, they all
had to come over and tell her how glad they were to see her.

It was late before the mother could get her nestling snug for the
night; but Polly was at home again, and nobody cared.



CHAPTER XIX

TWO LETTERS


A week after Polly's return, Lady Gay Cottage was sold. Polly brought
the news from Colonel Gresham's, the Colonel having heard it downtown.

"Now what shall we do?" she questioned, atop of the announcement.
"Colonel Gresham says we can all come over there."

Dr. Dudley laughed. So did his wife, but she grew grave almost at
once.

"Very likely we can stay on just the same," was the Doctor's cheerful
opinion. "Martin Clapp isn't going to give up his new home and move
his family in here; so don't worry about it."

It was as Dr. Dudley prophesied, the tenants could remain, but with
this difference,--the rent was raised five dollars a month. The Doctor
made light of it; still Polly knew by her mother's face that it would
mean a harder pinch on other things.

If only they hadn't bought that new tire! It was delightful to be
riding again in the Colonel's beautiful present, yet the shadow that
often she detected on her mother's face she attributed to this new
trouble, and it worried her. What made it worse, she worried in
secret. The thought intruded while she was playing with Leonora and
David, it haunted her dreams by night. She began to wonder again if
she ought to have gone to live with Uncle Maurice. The question was
still undecided when something occurred that seemed to make matters
clearer.

She had been up to Mrs. Jocelyn's and was returning home late in the
afternoon. As she came in view of the hospital she noticed a small boy
standing by the gate. On nearer approach the lad's delicate profile
grew familiar, and suddenly she darted forward, crying joyfully:--

"Chris! Oh, Chris!"

He turned weakly, took a step to meet her, and then throwing out his
hands dropped to the sidewalk.

With a little scream, Polly was down beside him, moaning:--

"Oh, he's dead! he's dead!"

But in a moment, to her relief, his eyes opened, and he murmured,
"Polly!"

A physician, driving up to the hospital entrance, took the boy in his
arms, and carried him inside.

The office was empty, but presently Dr. Dudley returned to find a
patient on his couch, and Polly acting as nurse.

"Daddy's gone away," the lad explained, "and he sent word to have me
come right up here and see you. I've got a letter"--fumbling for the
inner pocket of his coat. Finally, with Polly's help, he brought forth
a closely sealed envelope directed to Dr. Dudley.

The physician laid it aside until his patient could be made more
comfortable, and at once administered a light restorative.

Chris had not been well for a good while, he admitted, and had been
separated from "daddy" much of the time since leaving Fair Harbor. In
the brief little note that had come to him, his father had not said
where he was going, but as business would be likely to keep him away
for some months he directed him to come to Dr. Dudley and deliver the
letter in person.

"Yes, we will have him up in the convalescent ward," the physician
replied, in response to Polly's question, and he stepped to the
telephone, to order a bed prepared for him at once.

Polly saw a shadow of anxiety on the pale little face, and began to
reassure him.

"It is lovely up there, and you'll get well right away and have such
good times. I'm over here every day, sometimes two or three times a
day--I shall be now to see you."

And so the lonely heart was comforted.

The day was full of work for Dr. Dudley, and Mr. Morrow's letter
stayed unopened in his pocket until his evening rounds had been made.
In his first leisure moment, he cut the envelope and skimmed the
closely written pages. He read them twice before he laid them down.
Then, leaning back in his chair, he pondered the strange situation.
Finally he took up the letter and read it through again. It bore
neither date nor address nor signature, and began abruptly.

     DEAR DOCTOR,--

     Here I am!--up for two years, and God only knows what will
     become of my boy! He is, as you know, an abnormally
     sensitive child, who will grieve for "daddy" to the breaking
     of his heart, unless you open your heart and home and take
     him in. You were good to him once, and he loves you and your
     Polly. I am sure he would be happy with you. Will you do
     this kindness for me? No, not for me,--a man who has not the
     slightest claim upon you and who would not deserve it if he
     had,--but for the sake of his angel mother, for the sake of
     the poor little kid himself, perhaps you will not refuse.

     Chris does not know where I am, and he must not be
     told,--_he must never know_. When my two years are up, we
     will go somewhere and begin life all over again. I have had
     enough of this infernal business, and am going to live
     straight as soon as I get another chance. In the six years I
     have been at it I have been lucky, many times slipping out
     of the very teeth of the law, until they called me "Slippery
     'Chard." I thought I was smart enough to elude anybody; but
     this last job was my undoing. My partner was too fond of
     talk and whiskey--he gave us away easy, and we're both out
     of it for these two years. I ought to have known better than
     to take him on.

     It cut me up to have to lie to your little girl when she
     recognized me at Midvale--I guess I deserve all that's
     coming to me! I'm sorry about that pin Chris gave to Polly.
     The other fellow went through those rooms, and, of course,
     took the pansy with the rest. I knew it soon as I spied it,
     and was going to send it back to her; but they didn't give
     me time enough, and now it is gone. Perhaps you will think
     it is just as well, for it was swiped to start with. Buy her
     another, something pretty, and I'll foot the bill. You
     needn't be afraid of the money--it is as honest as yours. It
     was left the boy by his mother, and I have never touched it,
     so there's quite a neat little sum now. Charge me whatever
     you please for the kid's board. I'm willing to leave it to
     you, and I will see that you are paid promptly every month.
     If you'll only take care of him, and bring him up right, and
     not let him know that his father is a criminal, I will
     bless you to my last breath--as if my blessing could be
     worth anything to such a man as you! Well, the best it is
     you shall have it, and that is all I can do. If it hadn't
     been for Chris and his faith in me I should have gone to
     hell long ago--I've been down to the gates, as it was. It
     isn't the fault of my rearing,--my folks were all right,
     they trained me, they educated me, they loved me. I am the
     first to sully the name, but I've kept the name itself out
     of the mud as much as possible. Write to Peter Connell, New
     York, and I shall get the word.

     Think what it would mean to you to be shut away from your
     little girl, never to look on her for two long years, with
     no decent friend to care for her--and then keep my little
     Chris! Oh, Doctor, keep him, and don't let him know about
     me!

                    Good-bye.

Richard Morrow was wise when in his extremity he turned to Dr. Dudley.
The Doctor's heart was big and always ready to open its door to
anybody in distress of body or mind. Of course, little Chris
stayed--at the hospital until he was strong again, then in the
physician's own home.

The lad grieved for his father, Polly often finding him in some
obscure corner reading over with tears his latest note from "daddy."

"I can't make it seem right that he doesn't come to see me just once,"
he complained to Polly. "I should think he might get away from his
business for a little tiny while,--ten minutes or so,--even if he went
back on the next train. It isn't a bit like daddy,--not a single bit!"

And Polly, able to understand it no better than he, would strive to
comfort him.

Sometimes Mrs. Dudley wondered if, after all, it would not have been
really kinder to tell the little lad the truth.

Nothing was said to Polly about the boy's board, and this gave her an
additional anxiety. He had now the appetite of a young convalescent
who was rapidly gaining strength, and Polly watched his plate at
mealtime with dismay in her heart. She would zealously try to curb her
own appetite, but found it a difficult task, and finally, in
desperation, she made a weightier decision, and then ate what she
pleased and as much, as seemed proper for the short time that
remained. For, at last, after days of argument with herself, when both
sides of the question were, as she honestly believed, fairly dealt
with, Polly concluded to write to Uncle Maurice.

The time had been set for a Wednesday morning, but was postponed until
afternoon, and then three o'clock came before Polly went about it.
Chris had proposed going over to the convalescent ward for a little
visit; but Polly was in no visiting mood, so she had allowed him to go
alone.

Slowly she mounted the stairs to her own room. Even now she was
tempted to put off writing until to-morrow. Perhaps so long afterwards
Uncle Maurice would not be ready to welcome her. But in her heart she
knew this was false reasoning, and with a catch in her breath she sat
down by her small writing desk, and pulled out paper and envelopes.

It was some minutes before she started to write.

     DEAR UNCLE MAURICE,--

     I thought when you were here and when I was in New York that
     I could never accept your invitation to come and live with
     you. But I have changed my mind--no, I have not exactly
     changed my mind, because I don't want to go as bad as  ever--

"I'm afraid that isn't very polite," Polly thought ruefully, drew a
deep sigh, and took a fresh sheet.

     DEAR UNCLE MAURICE,--

     When you were here, last spring, I thought I could not ever
     come to live with you, but now it seems best for me to
     accept your invitation. Perhaps you don't want me by this
     time, and if you don't, please say so, because it won't make
     any difference to me--I mean I shall be glad  not--

Polly stopped suddenly. That would never do. She put the sheet aside,
and began anew.

     DEAR UNCLE MAURICE,--

     I wonder if you still want me to come and live with you.
     Because if you do, I  will--

At the fatal word, Polly's lip quivered, her pen turned, and a big
splash of ink fell right in the middle of the fair page. She didn't
care. There were other splashes, too. Tears were sprinkling the paper
and blotting her lines.

"Oh, I--can't go!--I can't!--I can't!" she sobbed softly.

Presently she grew quiet, courage came back, determination
strengthened. She began again to write. But tears brimmed her eyes and
spoilt the letter once more. It was disheartening work.

At last the sorry words were down, and Polly felt that all happiness
for this world was over.

"I hope I shall die quick," she said to herself. "Then I can go and
live with mamma."

She swallowed hard. Even the prospect of Heaven was poor consolation
just now.

With great painstaking she directed the envelope and placed the stamp.
She could not bring herself to seal it; that could wait until the last
moment. It seemed to her she should then be irrevocably bound to do
the thing she had promised. It would be the final link in this
dreadful chain.

A passing glance in the small mirror sent her to bathe her hot,
tear-stained face before venturing down to the letter-box on the
corner. She dallied with the towel until there was no further excuse,
she brushed her hair into unaccustomed smoothness; finally she went
slowly over to her little desk, and took up the envelope, at last
sealing it hurriedly, lest her courage should utterly fail. She would
slip out to the letter-box, and have the miserable business done with
as soon as possible.

She had reached the door, her hand on the knob, when she heard a step
in the corridor--her mother's step. She halted guiltily, with quick
intuition thrusting the letter behind her.

"Polly! are you here? May I come in?"

Hesitantly Polly opened the door.

"Hurry off your dress, dear! Mrs. Jocelyn has sent for us to come up
to dinner. She says she has been trying to get us by telephone for the
last hour."

"Chris is over at the hospital," volunteered Polly, slyly slipping
her letter, face down, under her glove-box before running to fetch a
fresh white frock.

"No, he has just come home with me," Mrs. Dudley replied. "He said he
couldn't persuade you to go out this afternoon. Don't you feel well?
Your cheeks are flushed,--and your pulse is a little quick," her
fingers on the small wrist.

"Oh, I'm all right!" insisted Polly, forcing a smile, and pulling
away, to guard against further questioning.

Why should this invitation have come just now--to make it harder, oh,
so much harder, for her to leave them all!



CHAPTER XX

MRS. JOCELYN'S DINNER-PARTY


Leonora met Polly at the door, slipping ahead of the maid to catch her
in an ecstatic embrace, and to let go a joyful whisper in her ear.

"Come right up to my room! I've got something lovely to tell you!"

Leonora's face was so radiant that Polly was all at once reminded of
that morning at the hospital when she had first heard of her friend's
adoption. What could have happened now to make her look like that?

"Say," began Leonora, bubbling with news, "Colonel Gresham and David
and his mother are here!"

Polly's eyes grew big, and her lips puckered into a "Why!" of
astonishment.

"And, oh, there's lots more!" went on Leonora mysteriously. "But I'm
not to tell! I promised mother I wouldn't--only just that. You'd know
it anyway when you go down. Oh, Polly Dudley, I'm so tickled--there!
mother told me not to say that word again!--well, happy, I mean, only
it doesn't sound so perfectly splendid as I feel. It seems as if I
couldn't stand it!"

"I can't imagine what it is," mused Polly wonderingly.

At which Leonora whirled her round and round in a rapturous hug,
stopping suddenly to say they must go downstairs.

After Polly had greeted her hostess and the other guests, she found
that a conversation was going on about the hospital.

"Yes," the Doctor was saying, "we need more room, especially for
children. We had to refuse two little girls yesterday and a boy the
day before; there was absolutely no place where we could put them."

"Then you think there is demand for a children's hospital in the
city?" asked Mrs. Jocelyn tentatively.

"A big demand," the Doctor smiled.

"I'm glad to hear that," was the quiet reply, "for I wish to build
one."

Polly sat up straight and still, her astonished eyes fixed on Mrs.
Jocelyn.

"You could hardly put your money to better use," responded Dr. Dudley.

"So I think; but I wanted your opinion before going further. I have
the refusal of the Beecher property west of me; that will give me the
whole block. My plan is to put up two buildings, one on each side of
my house,--a little to the rear, so as not to cut off the
sunlight,--and let this be the connecting link. The head physician can
live here, and both parts will be easy of access--what do you say?"

"Admirable plan," agreed the Doctor. "But, Mrs. Jocelyn, have you
estimated the cost? There'll be practically no end to the expense of
keeping up such an establishment."

"I don't care anything about that," was the indifferent reply.
"There's plenty to draw from." Her face was suddenly swept by a shadow
of sadness. "For a long time I have wanted to do something in memory
of Lloyd,--something for children,--and this seems to be the most
feasible of any plan I've thought of. I don't want it called a
hospital either. There is a prejudice among a certain class against
the very name. Some people will let their children die, rather than
send them to a hospital. So Leonora and I have been choosing--what do
you think of this, 'The Children's House of Joy'?"

"Isn't that perfectly beautiful?" whispered Leonora to Polly, catching
her hand with a little squeeze.

And so Polly missed her father's answer; but she knew from the
comments of the others that it must have been in favor of the proposed
name.

"This brings us to another question," resumed the hostess. "Dr.
Dudley, do you know of a suitable man for the head of 'The House of
Joy'?"

"I do," was the instant reply. "His name came to me a moment ago,--Dr.
Lanier. You probably know him by reputation. He is the man you ought
to have; there is no better surgeon in the country, and he has
specialized on diseases of children. I think, too, he can be induced
to come."

"Have you his address?"

The Doctor drew a package of papers from an inner pocket, and ran them
through. Then he dived into a second pocket, finally stopping at a
card which he handed his questioner.

"I will call him up," she decided, and disappeared in the hallway.

For a while the low sound of a voice filled up the spaces of desultory
talk in the library. Then Mrs. Jocelyn came back, her eyes so
sparkling that Polly thought she knew what the answer had been.

"Don't everybody ask the same question!" laughed the lady, pausing
mischievously to note the inquiring faces. "If you wish to know
whether he is coming, I will tell you. I didn't invite him! I didn't
intend to invite him! I only wished to talk over some few little
essentials--such as salary and so on. No," she continued impressively,
meeting the Doctor's mystified expression with a knowing smile, "I
don't want Dr. Lanier for the head of 'The House of Joy,' however
suited he may be for the place. I have set my heart on another, a
younger man, but one equally well fitted for the position. He is
modest of his attainments, yet he is already being sought for outside
of his own city. He has made a specialty of children's diseases, and
has been wonderfully successful in his field of work. I know he would
make the new hospital indeed a House of Joy to thousands of little
ones. I am speaking of Dr. Robert Dudley, for he is the man I want,
and if I cannot have him I won't build any hospital!"

Everybody had turned towards the Doctor, who sat motionless in the
sudden hush, the color brightening in his face, his eyes bent on the
arm of his chair. Then he looked up.

"My dear Mrs. Jocelyn," he began,--and Polly afterwards confided to
David that his voice sounded so queer and shaky, she was afraid he was
going to cry,--"you have paid me the greatest honor that--"

"Didn't I tell you there was something perfectly splendid?" whispered
Leonora softly, in Polly's ear, unable to keep still a moment longer.
"I knew it all the time! I knew she wanted him! And that isn't all!
Oh, my!--no!"

The most of the Doctor's little speech was quite lost to Polly, for
when Leonora stopped, everybody seemed to be talking at once. Then,
in a flash, Polly connected two things,--the position her father was
to have and the "salary" of which Mrs. Jocelyn had talked with the
great surgeon. There would be no more "pinch,"--what need would there
be of her going to Uncle Maurice? And the letter wasn't mailed! She
wanted to jump up and shout it at the top of her voice. But instead
she stole across to her father, and slipped her hand in his. Then,
suddenly, her throat ached with the joy of it all, and she was close
to tears, keeping them back only by a mighty effort.

"Polly! Polly! come here quick!" called Leonora.

And Polly went, just as Mrs. Jocelyn was saying:--

"No, I shall not need my house any longer. Thirty years ago David
Gresham and I had a quarrel, and we think thirty years is quite long
enough for a quarrel to last,--too long, in fact!--so we have made up,
as the children say. I shall be very glad to leave all the worry of
housekeeping to Mrs. Collins, for I am tired of it."

At this moment she arose to greet a gentleman who was entering the
room. Polly recognized him as the Rector of St. Paul's, and before she
realized what was going on, Mrs. Jocelyn and Colonel Gresham were
standing together, and the marriage ceremony was in progress.

"What do you think now? Aren't you awfully surprised?" bubbled the
irrepressible Leonora, as the first congratulations were spoken.
"We're coming to live next to you, right in the house with David, and
Colonel Gresham will be my father!"

It was after the informal dinner, when the Colonel had the four around
him,--Polly and Leonora on either knee, and David and Chris each on an
arm of his chair,--that the "lovely thing," as Leonora called it,
happened.

"Polly, I'm going to have some roses on my piazza next summer,"
declared the Colonel, "and I reckon I'll let my quartette pick them
out for me."

"I shall choose Silver Moons," decided Polly at once.

"I will be ready for them, thorns and all," he laughed. "But there
are no thorns on these roses," taking from his pocket four small
jewel-cases of bright blue leather.

The children opened them eagerly. Polly's and Leonora's contained gold
rings exactly alike and of exquisite workmanship, a little rose spray
encircling the top, and in the heart of the open flower a tiny spark
of dew. The boys' scarf-pins were of similar design, being headed by a
miniature full-blown rose.

"I can never thank you enough for all the beautiful things you give
me," purred Polly, caressing the ring on her finger.

"But think what you have done for me!" exclaimed the Colonel. "You
have let me into the secret of the rose and the thorn."

THE END



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