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Title: When Polly was Eighteen
Author: Dowd, Emma C.
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.

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WHEN POLLY WAS EIGHTEEN

[Illustration]



  WHEN POLLY WAS
  EIGHTEEN

  BY
  EMMA C. DOWD

  [Illustration]

  BOSTON AND NEW YORK
  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  The Riverside Press Cambridge
  1921



  COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY EMMA C. DOWD
  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



  TO MY FRIEND
  JULIA DARLING PECK
  IN HAPPY MEMORY OF
  SHELBURNE SUMMERS



CONTENTS


         I. “WHY DON’T YOU LAUGH?”      1

        II. THE LETTER       8

       III. DAVID MAKES A REQUEST      15

        IV. THE BIRTHDAY FÊTE      21

         V. “I WILL TAKE CARE OF PARADISE WARD”      32

        VI. “MAYBE”      41

       VII. GLADYS GUINEVERE      52

      VIII. COUCHES OF CLOVER      58

        IX. NO. 45678       64

         X. THE TOP OF THE WORLD      71

        XI. DR. ABBE      79

       XII. PATRICIA AND A FEW OTHERS      85

      XIII. WHAT SARDIS SAID      93

       XIV. PARADISE WARD ON WHEELS      100

        XV. THE FIRST DAY      115

       XVI. BENEDICTA MAKES IT GO      124

      XVII. A PICTURE AND A MESSAGE      129

     XVIII. AN ATTEMPT AT MATCHMAKING      135

       XIX. AN UNINVITED GUEST AND A MYSTERY      146

        XX. THE TELEGRAM      155

       XXI. “TEN LITTLE GIRLS” AND SARDIS MERRIFIELD      164

      XXII. A LITTLE LAME DUCK       177

     XXIII. IN THE “GARDEN OF EDEN”      187

      XXIV. ROSALIND FERNE      195

       XXV. THE STORM      207

      XXVI. CLEMENTINA ASKS QUESTIONS      217

     XXVII. THE BUTTERFLY LADY STAYS       223

    XXVIII. BENEDICTA’S OPPORTUNITY      239

      XXIX. TROUBLE IN THE KITCHEN      251

       XXX. THE NEW COOK      259



WHEN POLLY WAS EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER I

“WHY DON’T YOU LAUGH?”


Polly leaned back against the great oak, her eyes bent on David’s
face. She wondered--and wondered hard. If she could only fathom that
inscrutable expression!

The young man, stretched on the grass among the waving shadows, was
gazing across the valley to the hills in their soft afternoon veiling.
It was a June picture beautiful enough to hold the attention of any
one, yet it was plain that David’s thoughts were not on the landscape.

They had come out for a walk, which had led them miles to the south and
finally to the top of Chimney Hill, where they had stopped to rest.

At the start David had been talkative enough, in fact unusually merry;
then, from no discernible cause, his lips had shut gravely and Polly
had not been able to draw out more than monosyllables and short,
matter-of-fact sentences. As she watched the unreadable face she tried
to guess what the trouble might be. As in the old days before college,
her lover had his occasional jealous moods, and although they were
less frequent they grew more and more bitter. Still, during the happy
intervals Polly would coax herself to believe that they were past
forever. Now she thought over the route, bit by bit, trying to find
something which could have disturbed him. At last, baffled in her
endeavors, she ventured suddenly:--

“David, why don’t you laugh?”

He turned instantly. “At what?”

“Anything--nothing,” she answered lightly. “You seemed to be weighing
some heavy matter.”

“No, I was only--” He halted, then went on without completing his
sentence. “I am going away to-morrow,” he announced.

Polly’s smile vanished in surprise.

“Where?” she asked with her usual eagerness. “Spitzbergen or the South
Pole?”

David did not appear to notice her pleasantry.

“To the Adirondacks,” he said simply.

“Oh!” Polly exclaimed. “Were you just making up your mind?”

David reddened. “N-no,” he denied; “but Converse invited me only a day
or two ago, and I didn’t decide at once.”

“Going with Child Converse?” queried Polly’s lips, while her thoughts
ran along, “Why didn’t he tell me sooner? We were together all
yesterday morning and this afternoon--never a word until now!”

“Yes,” David was saying, “he is going to take me up to their camp. His
father and mother are in Seattle, you know.”

“M-h’m,” she bowed. “How long you going to stay?”

“I don’t know. He hasn’t set any time.”

“It’ll be great, won’t it?” Polly smiled in her friendliest way.

He nodded gravely, slipping abruptly into complaint.

“You do not like Converse. You have never taken the trouble to know
him.”

The girl’s eyes twinkled. “I certainly ought to adore him,” she said;
“it is the first time you ever wanted me to look at any boy except Your
Royal Highness.”

“Oh, you don’t understand!” sighed David.

“I am always wondering,” Polly went on, a tiny scowl wrinkling her
smooth forehead, “how it is that Converse happens to attract you.”

“He is a good fellow,” said David positively. “But he has no stock of
prittle-prattle.”

“It isn’t his lack of nonsense,” Polly smiled. “He is too pretty. That
combined with his name--but he can’t help either, poor boy! Anyway, he
looks like a nice baby--”

“Baby!” sniffed David.

“Well, he does. With his round face and rosy cheeks and curly
hair--honestly, I always want to take him on my knee and trot him.”

David laughed, though as if against his will.

“There’s nothing of the baby about him,” he asserted, “and a fellow
can’t help his looks.”

Polly shook her head. “No,” she agreed. “If only he and his sister
could exchange faces! Maybe, after all, it is she that flavors my
opinion of him.”

“Marietta?”

“Yes.” She was making little jabs in the soft moss with her slender
forefinger, and a faint smile began to curve her lips.

“She is a brainy girl,” was the somewhat stiff response, “and she has
always been very pleasant to me.”

“She is brainy enough,” replied Polly; “the trouble is, she knows it
and she shows that she knows it.”

“If she did not know it, there would be nothing to know,” said David
severely.

Polly’s smile broadened. “I was thinking,” she resumed, “of what
Patricia said the other day. Marietta has just been elected president
of the Much Ado Club in place of Ruth Mansfield. You know the
Mansfields are going to live in California. Ruth has grown pretty
stout, and Marietta looks as if she would blow away. Somebody was
wondering if she could fill Ruth’s place, and Patricia said very
soberly, ‘I think she’ll wabble about a little.’ Wasn’t that bright?”

“Unkind,” he answered forbiddingly.

“Oh, David!” she sighed, “you are so matter-of-fact. You don’t like
Patty any better than ever.”

“There is not much of her to like,” he said quietly.

“David Collins!”

“It is true.”

“Every one but you thinks she is lovely,” asserted Polly.

“Probably they don’t require depth.”

“Patricia isn’t shallow,” she retorted.

“It appears so to an outsider. Look at her and her gang!”

“Gang!--David!”

He gave a short laugh.

“The truth is, Polly, seeing we are talking plainly, I don’t like the
girls with whom you are so popular--the girls that have made you their
queen. They--”

“Queen! What are you talking about, David?” Polly broke in without
ceremony. Her voice was scornful.

“Yes, queen,” reiterated the young man. “Only they rule you, not you
them.”

“You don’t like it because I said yesterday I hadn’t time to have a
flower garden,” accused Polly.

“No,” denied David, “I was thinking of something else. You have too
many clubs on your hands.”

“They don’t amount to much in the way of time,” returned Polly.

“They must be a great bore.”

“No; they keep me out of a rut, put me in touch with everything.”

“H’m!” scorned David. “I am glad I don’t need a posse of chattering
girls to keep me up to date. Not a single club for me in vacation! Cut
them out, Polly, every one! Why not?”

The girl laughed. “What a queer fellow you are! I’ll write to you every
day if you wish,” she added with seeming irrelevance, remembering a
certain request when they had separated at the beginning of the last
college year.

David brightened perceptibly--until a sparkle of fun in her brown eyes
swiftly altered his expression.

“Yes, you will have as much as three minutes a day to give to me, won’t
you!” he flashed, a tinge of bitterness in his tone.

“No, truly, David, I am in earnest,” smiled Polly. “My clubs don’t
take up nearly as much of my time as you think. If you would join some
of them--the College, for instance--you would change your mind. You
stand outside and criticize; you don’t get the right viewpoint. Try it,
David! You won’t be sorry. I’ll propose your name at the next meeting.”

“No, you will not!” was the prompt reply. “Nice time to join, while I
am off in an Adirondack camp.”

“Oh, well, you are not going to stay all summer, are you?”

“I may.”

Polly looked straight into the blue eyes opposite. “Do you mean it?”

He bowed gravely. “It is more than possible.” He pulled out his watch.
“Time we were on the march,” he said, springing to his feet.

The walk home was like many another walk. Polly tried to make talk,
with poor results. There were long silences, while she, watching her
companion’s face, longed with all her heart to read what was being
written behind those unreadable eyes. She felt a relief when the
hospital was sighted.

“You’ll be up in the morning, shan’t you?” she asked.

“I think there will not be time,” David answered quietly. “Converse
wishes to make an early start. I would better say good-bye now.” He
took her hand in his strong grasp, held it a moment as if words were
not ready, then said calmly, “I hope you will have a pleasant summer.”

“Just as if I were some ordinary acquaintance he had met on the
street,” Polly told herself in the seclusion of her own room. “What
does ail him!”



CHAPTER II

THE LETTER


The City Hall clock struck twelve, and Polly Dudley was still awake.
The circumstances of the afternoon were passing before her. What David
had said and what she had said, when he had laughed and when he had
been silent, what they had seen on the way--it was all there in the
procession that had no end. Just now they were at the corner of Webster
Street, where it joined Clayton Avenue. An Italian boy with a push-cart
was on the cross-walk, and Polly and David waited to let him pass. A
young man was coming towards them, a handsome young man in a shining
car. Now he was lifting his hat with his usual splendid smile, the
smile that showed his gleaming, perfect teeth--

“Oh!” Polly breathed suddenly, “that was it! Now I know! How could he
be so silly! But it was! It is always some such little thing.”

At last she had discovered the direct cause of her lover’s changed
mood. She remembered how brilliantly Russell Ely had smiled to her as
he passed, and then until this moment she had forgotten him altogether.
Didn’t David want her even to bow to any one! But Russell was a member
of the College Club! This explained everything. It seemed hours before
sleep came to halt the wearying thoughts.

Polly was called from breakfast to greet David.

“We are not going to start as early as I expected,” he said, “not
before nine. So I thought I would--just run up and say good-morning.”
He smiled in almost his own cordial way.

The girl beamed up at him. She never harbored a pique, and now she
began to chat as gayly as usual, in seeming forgetfulness of yesterday.

David, however, could not so lightly throw off the past. Recollections
lingered to hamper his actions and retard his tongue. But he let
his eyes rest upon Polly in gratification, laughing at her little
pleasantries, and finally enjoying the present quite as if nothing
in past or future could have any evil power for him. The parting was
vastly different from that of the day before.

After he had gone Polly ran upstairs humming a song. How glad she was
that he had come!

The days seemed long without David. Since they returned from college
they had been much together, and now she missed him. The Randolphs
were away, and Patricia and the rest could not quite fill the gap.
The ladies of June Holiday Home always welcomed her with delight, and
she called there occasionally; but their increased freedom of action
carried them out-of-doors more than formerly, and she was apt not to
find those at home whom she most wished to see. Then, too, the place
had never seemed just the same since her beloved “Nita” had left it
forever.

She was returning, one afternoon, from a shopping excursion with
Leonora, when she was overtaken by Russell Ely. He drove up to the
curb, and threw open the door of his car.

“Will you ride up the hill?” he asked.

In a moment she was whirling along the shady avenue, arranging her
bundles comfortably in her lap and listening to her companion’s bright
talk.

“This is a pleasant lift for me,” she said. “I have been round in the
shops ever since luncheon, and I am tired.”

“I shouldn’t have dared to ask you if that guardsman of yours were in
town; but since the length of New England is between us I thought I
might venture.”

Polly laughed, and they talked on and on, until she noticed that they
had not turned at the corner nearest home.

“You don’t mind going a little farther, do you?” he asked. “I seldom
get a glimpse of you nowadays. What do you say to running up to
Castleboro Inn for some toast and tea? The air is just right for a
drive.”

But Polly refused, although the invitation became urgent; so the young
man reluctantly left her at the hospital entrance.

“What would David say?” raced through her head and would not stop.
“What would David say? What would David say?”

“He won’t know it!” Polly retorted. “And it’s all right if he should.”

“What would David say? What would David say?”

Polly went indoors and made herself ready for dinner.

“What would David say? What would David say?” accompanied her upstairs
and down, and even to the dining-room door. Once at the table in the
presence of her father and mother, the teasing voice vanished. Yet it
returned the minute she was alone, and kept up the vexing question
until it was finally lost in sleep.

Every morning came a letter from David, and Polly was invariably at the
door to take it from the carrier. Sometimes it was little more than a
note; but oftener it spread itself over page after page in familiar,
affectionate talk.

Two days after Russell Ely had brought her up the hill, an envelope
with David’s well-known superscription was put into Polly’s hand. At
first it seemed no more than the envelope itself, so thin it was. Then
Polly saw that a single sheet was inside.

“Guess he was in a hurry,” she told herself, as she hastened up to her
room.

She sat down by the broad window and noted the slight unevenness of the
address. David’s chirography was a continual wonder to Polly, every
line, every curve, according to rule. To-day, however, the “P” was a
wee bit out of proportion, the “D” was slightly out of alignment, while
the name showed a trifling tendency to run downhill.

“Well!” she exclaimed under her breath, “what’s going to happen?” She
dwelt upon it with a smile. Then she took up her paper-cutter and ran
it under the flap.

Her fingers were growing eager, and with a happy flutter of heart she
pulled out the sheet.

As she started to read, her face held a smile, but instantly a stare
swept it away. Her eyes seemed to pierce the paper. They blazed with
something like anger.

“‘Appeal’!” she muttered scornfully, “‘appeal,’ indeed!”

The letter fluttered to the floor, her hands went up to her face, and
she began to cry.

“Oh, David! David!” she whispered, “how could you! It isn’t true! You
know it isn’t true!”

She sat there a long time. Then she picked up the sheet and read it
again. Her face grew hard and resentful.

“‘Smile of understanding’! He won’t want me to smile at all pretty
soon.” She sighed. “By next week he’ll be ‘appealing’ to me. He’ll be
sure to come back, if I keep still. He always does. I know David! I’ve
half a mind not to answer him when he does ‘appeal.’ Let him have a
taste of his own porridge.”

She went over the letter again, slowly, sentence by sentence.

  MISS POLLY: Since it is plainly evident that you desire your
  freedom from the slender bonds that bind us together, I wish to
  assure you that from this moment they are broken, and you are
  free as if they had never been. To continue the relations which
  have existed between us for the few years past would only pile
  up wretchedness for us both, and it is best to annul them. Many
  times I have foreseen this. On the day we took that walk to
  Chimney Hill and I noted the smile of understanding which passed
  between you and that darned Ely, I knew that sooner or later this
  would come. Yesterday when I heard of your intimacy with the same
  unbearable puppy, your rides alone with him as soon as I was out
  of the way, convinced me that the time for the break has arrived.
  You need not attempt any explanation or appeal. My mind is made
  up forever. Nothing can change my decision.

                      Very truly yours
                            DAVID GRESHAM COLLINS

“‘Slender bonds’!” she muttered. “I didn’t know that I was bound at
all, though I act as if I were. Of course, I’m ‘free,’ and I will be
free, too, David Collins! As if you must tell me so! I wish I’d gone
over to the Inn with Russell--I will next time he asks me. I won’t be
under David’s thumb any longer! To think of his making such a fuss
because I rode up with Russell--just rode up the hill with him!

“But how did he hear of my being with him?” Polly questioned. “We
didn’t meet anybody--yes, Doris Gaylord was out on the veranda. She
may have seen me. I didn’t think so. Anything she knew, Marietta’d
know--that is sure. And by this time Marietta may be up there herself.”

She pondered the matter for some minutes, while alternately her face
flushed and paled.

“Could Marietta--?” She shut her lips with a contemptuous little
breath. “Let her!” she scorned. “I won’t follow David Collins’s lead.”



CHAPTER III

DAVID MAKES A REQUEST


The next morning Polly was at the door as usual when the letter-carrier
came. She could not have told why. Certainly she did not expect a
letter.

Mechanically she received the bunch of mail, mechanically she threw
off the envelopes and papers, one by one, on the hall table. Then she
stared. There was the familiar handwriting! The rest of the lot was
dropped in an unsorted pile, and upstairs she sped with the letter from
David. She locked her door and flew to the window-seat. This time she
did not pause to note the lines of the superscription. She tore open
the envelope with eager fingers.

  MY DARLING POLLY: I suppose before this you have
  received that horrible letter that I wrote you when I was
  grass-green with jealousy. Throw it in the fire right now! Don’t,
  don’t ever read it again! I was an outrageous cad to write it,
  anyhow. But when Marietta and Doris came up here with that
  story, I was just beside myself. I dare say Doris put in plenty
  of touches of her own. Do write that you are not angry with me!
  Write the very next mail! It is unbelievable that I could send
  you such a thing--

  Just my luck! The mail-boy is here, and not another chance to
  send to the office to-day! A longer letter to-morrow.

  Always your own      DAVID

Polly read it over with a smile. Again, and the smile changed to a
sigh. Once more, and sorrow came into her eyes.

How like David! Mad with jealousy one day, and wild with penitence the
next! Why must it be so? Why couldn’t he trust her?

She drew a chair to her desk and made ready to write. Then she took out
the letter of yesterday and looked it over; she read again the one just
received; finally she dipped her pen in ink.

She wrote fast until she had filled a sheet. Pausing to read it
through, she crushed it in her hand, tossed it into the waste-basket,
and began another.

That went the way of the first, and a third was written. This appeared
to bring more satisfaction, for she read it a second time.

  DEAR DAVID: Your two letters have made me take a long
  look ahead, and in view of what I see there I have come to a
  decision. There is no use in our going on as we have been going
  for four or five years. I cannot bear it. I must live my life in
  my own way--I must be free, I must be myself.

  You would put me in fetters of your own making. Instead of
  trusting me out in the world, you would keep me away from the
  world. In fact, you would make me a prim, silent, cold somebody
  else, whom in time you would cease to love because I should not
  be worth loving.

  You do not trust me, no matter what I say. You know that I care
  for you more than for anybody else. Many times I have told you
  so; still, reiteration does no good, for you will not believe. I
  see no way but for us to give up our plans for a future together.
  Even friends must trust each other, and marriage without
  confidence means unhappiness for two.

                      Forever your friend
                            POLLY MAY DUDLEY

As Polly expected, David resented the high stand she had taken, and
his prompt answer consisted of alternate phrases of reproach and
apology. His second letter, however, was milder in tone, gracefully
acknowledging his mistakes, and agreeing, if she would give him one
more chance, never again to cause her grief by any behavior such as he
had been guilty of in the past.

After long debates between head and heart, the latter won the fight,
and Polly wrote a letter which made David go gayly for a week.

Patricia’s father planned for her a birthday fête, ending with a dance,
at the Illingworth Cottage at Samoosic Point, some seven miles from
Fair Harbor. Invitations were sent out three days in advance, and Polly
looked forward to a pleasant outing.

On the evening before the birthday she went over to see Lilith Brooks.
Some arrangements were to be made for the next morning. She found
her friend ready for a walk, and the two girls strolled off in the
direction of green fields and fewer dwellings.

A car whizzed by, a roadster with yellow wheels. For months afterwards
a yellow-wheeled roadster gave Polly a start.

“Wh-why!” gasped Lilith, “that looks just like David!”

“It is,” said Polly quietly.

“I didn’t know he was here.” Lilith’s voice still held its astonishment.

“It is news to me,” laughed Polly; but the laugh did not sound true.

“Who was the girl? Could you tell?”

“I think it was Marietta Converse.”

“It is queer,” Lilith went on, glancing sidewise at her companion. “Do
you suppose Marietta rode down from Camp Converse with him?”

Polly’s heart was repeating the same question. Then things began to
right themselves. If both Marietta and David had errands in town it was
only natural that they should come together.

When Polly returned home she found that David had been there.

“He said he would drive over to Lilith’s and bring you back,” said Mrs.
Dudley.

“I came the short way, cut across the Blanchards’ yard,” explained
Polly. “That’s why I didn’t meet him.”

“He seemed anxious to see you to-night, so he will probably be here
soon. He is going back early in the morning.”

“Then he won’t stay for the party,” said Polly. “I thought maybe that
is what brought him down.”

She repeated this to David himself.

“No,” he replied indifferently, “I don’t train with that crowd. Are you
going?”

“Of course,” Polly answered.

He looked at her keenly. “With whom?” he asked.

“With two or three of the girls, Lilith Brooks, for one.”

“In whose car?”

“I believe Russell Ely is going to drive.”

“Oh! I might have known,” he commented stiffly.

Polly laughed. “No, you mightn’t,” she returned. “Philip Lee was
intending to take us, but they had unexpected company at home and their
car was needed. That is why we are going with Russell. I don’t see why
you can’t stay over and go with us.”

“Marietta wishes to return at once,” he said. “Besides, I don’t care
for that sort of thing. I wonder that you do.”

“Why shouldn’t I? They are all my friends. I am sure it will be very
pleasant.”

David nodded abstractedly. “There is something I wish to ask you,” he
said slowly, and waited.

“I am listening.”

“Will you promise to do it?”

“I make no promises in the dark,” she laughed.

“I should think you might do one little favor for me,” he complained.

“David, I am ready to do little things for you, or big things; but I
cannot say positively that I will do this special thing without knowing
what it is.”

“Well, then--will you, for my sake, stay away from that foolish party?”

A sudden flame in the girl’s eyes made David flinch.

“So that is why you came down from Camp Converse,” she said--“that!”
Her low voice was tense with scorn. “You have shown me
plainly--just--what--you are!”

With her first words she had sprung to her feet, and now she darted to
the doorway.

“Polly! Wait! Wait!” cried David, putting out a hand.

But she eluded him and was on the stairs before he could reach her.

“Polly! Polly!” he called.

There was no answer, and he heard the door of her room shut with a
click. It was quiet in the hall upstairs.

He hesitated a moment. Then he put on his hat in a bewildered way and
passed out into the street.



CHAPTER IV

THE BIRTHDAY FÊTE


Polly awoke early. Her first feeling was one of vague depression. Then
her mind cleared, and she knew what had happened--it was all over
between her and David. And this was the day of the fête, the day which
she had anticipated with such pleasure! She had planned to write a full
account of it to her lover. Now--! Thoughts came fast, bringing only
pain. She sprang out of bed and began to dress.

Of course, she must go to Samoosic Point. If she stayed at home it
would cause too much talk. But how could she meet people with gayety,
when she longed to run away from everybody, to hide, to rest, to think!
She went down to breakfast with a forced smile, and managed to go
through the meal without evoking any inquiries. She did not wish to
tell even her father and mother any sooner than was needful.

By the time the car came she had in large measure regained her usual
composure, and she hoped nobody would guess that she was playing a part.

Arrived at the cottage all was gay with flags and flowers and festival
dress. Merry talk and laughter mingled with music from a hidden
orchestra, the wide, glittering waters of the harbor, the arch of
blue above, made one glad to be part of such gladness. It would have
been a sorrowing heart indeed that could hold to its grief amid such
surroundings.

Polly was young and she was human. She was at once drawn into the heart
of the festivities, until she nearly forgot that she had awakened that
morning in company with trouble.

One of a group of merrymakers, she was strolling down towards Cliff
Grove, when along the drive by the sea-wall came a trim motor car.
Polly’s breath seemed to stop--the driver was David Collins, the girl
at his side was Marietta Converse!

Several spied the pair and ran to head them off. Lilith Brooks, who
had Polly’s arm, glanced sidewise. Polly was white, and her eyes had a
look that made Lilith shrink. Yet she clung tightly to her friend, as
if she feared she was going to break away. Polly, however, to Lilith’s
astonishment, resumed her talk with the others and did not even glance
in the direction of the newcomers.

“Did you know David was here?”--“Have you seen Marietta Converse? She
came with him!”--“I thought they were both in the Adirondacks. When did
they come back?”--“Polly had better be looking after David! He has a
new girl!”--These, with many variations--all innocently for the most
part--were flung in Polly’s ears through the hours before luncheon. How
she met them she hardly knew; yet Lilith, loyal Lilith, reported to her
afterwards that nobody would have known but that she had planned the
surprising occurrence herself.

Polly dreaded the evening. During the day she had managed to keep as
far away from David as possible, and John Eustis had unconsciously
assisted her efforts by inviting her, with several others, to take
a sail to one of the neighboring islands. But now, as the sun was
dropping low, she wondered what disagreeable circumstances the dance
would bring. What predicaments might it not have in store! At first she
thought she would not dance at all. But directly she decided that such
a course would draw unpleasant attention her way, and David might think
that she was keeping out of the frolic for fear of him. She concluded
to give herself free rein rather than run the risk of such conjecture
on his part.

As daylight waned it was forced upon Polly’s notice that David was
holding himself somewhat apart from the general merrymaking.

“I wonder if he is going to mull out the evening,” she mused. “Anyway,
he shall have no opportunity to think that I am forlorn on his
account.” And she threw herself into the fun with a zest that left
little doubt in the minds of her friends that she was not grieving for
her lover, whatever might be the trouble between them.

The musicians gathered on the broad veranda, the young folks flocked
inside. Patricia and a New York guest led the dance.

Once Polly and Russell Ely waltzed so close to David, who was standing
alone near a window, that Polly’s dress must have brushed him as she
passed.

“He looks as if he wanted to shoot somebody,” said Russell in an
undertone--“probably me,” he added with a tiny smile. “What’s the
matter with him, anyhow?”

Polly laughed, a little light laugh which she let do duty for an answer.

“I used to like David Collins,” Russell went on; “but lately, I can’t
understand him.... I thought I’d never tell you; but I believe I will.”

“What?” responded Polly.

“In a moment.”

The music stopped as the two neared an outside door. Russell led his
partner to a small balcony, and they sat down.

“It is what he said to me a few weeks ago,” he began at once, “and to
this hour I cannot think what could have called it out. We met on the
street, and he walked up to me and said in the most abrupt way, ‘Ely,
I’d rather you would steal money out of my pocket than to do as you are
doing!’--I replied, ‘What have I done?’--‘Done!’ he ejaculated, and
walked off scowling. I’d give a good deal to know what he meant.”

“David is peculiar,” sighed Polly.

“All of that,” he returned. “If you’ll excuse my saying it--I don’t
want to meddle or give advice where it isn’t desired--I have told
myself more than once, ‘If Polly Dudley marries David Collins I am
afraid she will rue it.’ From my outlook he is not a man calculated
to make any woman happy, least of all one of your make-up. Forgive my
candor.” For the girl was silent.

A dark figure passed below the balcony, and as the light of a lantern
struck across his face they discerned the features of David.

“‘Speak of angels...’” quoted Russell with a soft laugh. “You are not
offended?”

“You are too old a friend to give offense in that way,” said Polly. “I
thank you.”

“You needn’t. Are you engaged for the next dance?”

“Yes, to me,” spoke up a voice outside.

Polly started. How much had he overheard?

The musicians began another waltz.

“I’d better get out of the way,” said Russell in Polly’s ear. “Sorry I
can’t have the pleasure--”

David Collins leaped the low rail. “Come, Polly!” he said.

The girl did not stir as Russell with a pleasant word passed inside.
She was thinking hard.

“Come!” reiterated David. His voice was stern as he laid his hand on
her arm. The motion was one of proprietorship.

“You take a good deal for granted,” spoke Polly at last. “Hadn’t you
better sit down?”

“Don’t be a fool! Come on!”

“Your implication sounds rather rude to my ears,” smiled Polly.

He paid no heed. “Are you coming or not?” he asked with a tinge of
impatience.

“Not,” answered Polly. “I am used to being asked, rather than
commanded.”

“Pshaw!” David scorned. “Do you want a scene?”

“No. I want to sit still. I am tired.” She sighed wearily.

“Why didn’t you say so before?” pettishly. He took the chair that
Russell had vacated.

“Let’s go home,” he resumed. “You are as sick of all this as I am.”

“I am sick of the way you behave,” she returned. “You make me ashamed
of you.”

“That should be reversed,” observed David coldly.

A tiny smile puckered Polly’s lips.

“Oh, yes, laugh!” he burst out. “It is what you have been doing all
day.”

Marietta and her partner whirled past the doorway.

Polly arose. “If we must talk in this fashion,” she responded, “we had
better find a more secluded spot.”

“I will take you home,” he decided, offering his arm.

Many glances followed them as they picked their way between the
dancers. Polly wore a mask of smiles. David looked straight ahead. So
they reached the front entrance.

“I will bring the car round,” he said.

“Not for me,” answered Polly softly. And she stepped outside.

“Are you refusing to go with me?” he questioned severely.

“We cannot talk here,” she demurred, and led the way to a seat under a
tree.

“Will you answer me?” he scowled.

“You brought Marietta down, and I think you had better take her home.”

“Oh! if that is all, I can come back for her. Or she can go along with
somebody else.”

“No,” Polly replied quietly, “that will not do. I’ll return as I came.”

“H’m! I might have known you would not miss going with Ely.”

Polly did not reply. “What do you wish to say to me?” she asked.

With a little growl of disapproval, he dropped to the seat beside her.

“If you won’t,” he began, “I suppose you won’t; and I want this
business disposed of. I am tired of our everlasting squabbling. Perhaps
a girl likes it--I don’t.”

Polly sat silent. She was resolved not to be brought into another
argument; she knew how little it would avail.

“Well?” spoke up David, after a moment of stillness.

Polly drummed lightly the arm of the bench.

“Why don’t you say something?” David’s voice was a bit impatient.

“I have nothing to say,” she sighed.

“Not even an apology?” he asked in a surprised tone.

“For what?”

“Now, don’t pose as a martyr!”

“I might,” she replied with a little bitter laugh. “To-day has given me
sufficient excuse for it.”

“To-day!” he echoed, “to-day! When I have accorded you full reign, and
let you do exactly as you pleased!”

She made no response, and he continued. “Do you think it meant no
self-sacrifice on my part to allow you to come to such a party in
company with another man? Is it nothing for me to let you run about
with other fellows? to let you dance with those men?”

Polly smiled.

“And you sit there and laugh!” he fumed.

“Forgive me, David! But it does sound funny. You talk about _letting_
me do this and that! As if you were my master! It is enough to make
anybody laugh.”

“So you think it is perfectly right, I suppose, for you to go round
with anybody and everybody, without reference to me!”

“That was the agreement,” she replied.

“It was a one-sided agreement, anyway,” he grumbled. “It left me
nowhere.”

“I am afraid no agreement would stand,” Polly returned. “I only wish
you could see things from my viewpoint.”

“Oh, yes! You are on Don’t-Care-Hill. That’s your viewpoint! If I were
there, it wouldn’t make any difference to me what you did.”

“So you think I don’t care!” Polly shook her head with a queer little
smile. “But what is the use of going over all this again!” she cried.
“How came you to stay over for the fête?” She was sorry the instant the
words had crossed her lips fearing what it might lead to.

“Marietta wished it for one thing. And you don’t suppose I would allow
you to come down here without me, where I couldn’t keep an eye on
you--where--oh, darn it! I’m not going to let you go round with Ely and
his crowd--not if I can help myself!”

“Tell me about your trip down,” said Polly, ignoring his answer.

“There isn’t anything to tell,” sulked David.

“Guess I’ll get Russell to take me up to your camp some day,” said
Polly quietly. “I should like to see if there isn’t something on that
long road worth talking about.”

The young man’s face grew dark.

“You’d better try it!” he cried. “If you ever do, you’ll see me when
you get there! And you’ll hear me, too!”

“Why should it be any worse for me to ride up there with him than it
was for you to drive down here with Marietta?”

For an instant David stared, a singular, astonished expression on his
face. Then it changed. “Oh! you’re jealous of Marietta, are you?” he
sneered.

“No, David,” she answered, “not a bit. But one looks to me about the
same as the other.”

“Well, it isn’t. I was speaking of coming, and Marietta said she wanted
some things at the house, and I told her I would drive her down--just a
sort of business arrangement.”

“Yes,” laughed Polly, “I guess that’s a good name for it, just a
business arrangement.” She laughed again, a queer little laugh that
made David look at her in a puzzled way.

“You know I don’t care anything about Marietta Converse,” he said.

“And you know that I care nothing for Russell Ely,” returned Polly.

“Huh! Looks like it!” scorned David.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that a thousand times. I am
tired of being doubted and watched. If you ever reach the point of
trusting me, I will--”

As she arose a little group of merry young folks came chattering down
the path. One girl spied Polly and David.

“Oh, come on, you two!” she called. “We’re going for a row.”

They halted opposite.

“Give you just three seconds!” cried Clay Boynton, pulling out his
watch and striking a match.

Polly returned a light refusal, which started a string of remonstrances.

A boy laid hold of David; but he slipped the grasp and catching Polly’s
arm pulled her down beside him on the bench.

“Nice, refined crowd you train with!” he growled before they were well
out of hearing.

Polly attempted no apology, only drew away with a quiet good-night.

Without an answering word he let her go, a slim white figure, across
the lawn.



CHAPTER V

“I WILL TAKE CARE OF PARADISE WARD”


On the top floor of the Children’s House of Joy was the most beautiful
hospital ward in the whole world. When Mrs. Gresham was completing
her plans for the institution Polly Dudley was often called into
consultation, and it was decided to give the prettiest ward to
those children that were ill with incurable diseases. Mrs. Gresham
had ordered many appurtenances which Dr. Dudley called foolish
extravagance, but in which she and Polly reveled, anticipating the
delight of the little unfortunates for whom they were devised.

“What shall we call it when it is done?” Mrs. Gresham had said one day,
as she and Polly were overseeing the final touches to the wonderful
apartment.

“If I have my way,” Polly had declared, “it shan’t have one letter of
‘incurable’ in its name.”

“You can have your way,” Mrs. Gresham had asserted. “And you must hit
upon something soon, if I’m to get any sleep. Last night I lay awake
full three hours muddling my brain over it, and then I couldn’t think
of anything half pretty enough.”

“Something has just come to me!” Polly had cried; “but maybe you won’t
like it. What do you say to ‘Paradise Ward’?”

At that Mrs. Gresham’s delicate hands had clapped the softest of
applause, and the ward was named.

Paradise Ward was indeed a marvel of beauty, from the fairy stories in
fresco upon the walls to the dainty little fountains that sent music
and perfume throughout the apartment. There were the cushioned rolling
chairs with the dearest little tables and pockets that held dolls and
toys and picture books of just the right size for frail little hands.
There were cages of charming love birds that never wearied one with
piercing songs. There were the little white-and-gold beds, with lilies
and roses at head and foot, blooms that never faded or grew limp with
age; there were small bookcases that one might whirl and whirl and
find the very book that was wanted; there was a glass-doored cupboard
that held the loveliest of little and middling-sized china plates
and cups and saucers, just big enough for small people to eat from,
and they had wreaths of pansies and sprays of checkerberries, for
one to look at while eating. Then, there were the dearest, littlest
dishes for the dollies, too, so that they could eat their dinners with
their mammas--oh, wonderful things could be found in those pretty
cupboards! Plants and vines grew and bloomed all over the big room,
and clocks!--such delightful clocks! In one lived a cuckoo that came
outside every half-hour, just long enough to tell its name. And there
was a bigger clock upon which perched an owl, and the owl would say,
“Tu-whoo!” or “Tu-whoo! whoo! whoo!” according to whether it was one
o’clock or three. And all the little folks that lived in Paradise Ward
knew it was the loveliest place in the world, for nobody ever told them
that the reason they were brought to so beautiful a home was because
they would never be well again as long as they lived.

Polly Dudley had not seen David or heard from him since the night of
Patricia’s birthday fête. That was eight days ago. It might as well
have been eight months or eight years--so Polly felt. She was weary
with the ache of it. She wondered for the thousandth time if she had
done right to leave him so abruptly. Perhaps she had been too harsh.
She could not decide, and as the days numbered more and more, her
sorrow and restlessness increased. Her father and mother were in hearty
accord with the stand she had taken, yet even their sanction did not
bring her peace.

So often before these dreary days had she dreamed of wide estrangement
between her and David, and had been thankful even to tears when she had
come to herself to find she had been only dreaming. But from this there
was no awakening.

Yet there were hours when it seemed as if the trouble must be unreal.
She and David drifting farther and farther apart never to meet again in
the old way! No, that could not be true!

To-night she sat alone in the living-room, apparently reading; but
David kept obtruding himself into the story, so that it did not run
smoothly. Every little while the reader would sigh, and yet the tale
was supposed to be humorous. Finally she became aware of voices in the
room adjoining, a little room where Dr. Dudley went whenever he could
spare a few minutes’ time, to rest or to think over cases that troubled
him. At first she did not recognize the woman’s voice; then she knew
that it belonged to Miss French, one of the nurses.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” the nurse was saying. “I hoped
she could stay to-night; but her mother is so much worse that she was
just about crazy. She said she must go, and you can’t blame her.”

“We’ll have to get somebody outside,” said Dr. Dudley.

“We can’t!” asserted Miss French. “There’s a shortage of nurses
everywhere, so many are off on vacations. I’ve telephoned and
telephoned--I didn’t want to bother you if I could help it--and Dr.
Macy told me to engage the best I could find; but there isn’t a soul to
be had.”

“If Mrs. Dudley were at home she would go in for to-night; but we’ll
get along somehow. They are all pretty well in there, that’s a good
thing.”

“Yes, Paradise Ward is the easiest to handle,” assented the nurse.

Polly had been listening, listening closely, while red spots fluttered
in and out of her cheeks.

“I will take care of Paradise Ward,” she said quietly.

Dr. Dudley and Miss French looked up to see Polly standing in the
doorway.

“That is,” she added, “if father thinks I am competent.” She had
appeared to be addressing the nurse; now her eyes met the physician’s.

“You are perfectly capable, as far as that goes; there is no acute
illness there. But you might not wake if you were needed.”

“Of course I should!” she declared. “I wake very easily.”

“You can try it. I dare say to-morrow we can find somebody.”

“I’ll be ready right away,” she told Miss French, and ran upstairs.

Polly opened softly the door of Paradise Ward. The dozen small
occupants were in bed, and a dim night-lamp was burning. The nurse
who had made ready for the night had flitted away to those that were
waiting for her. Polly did not think her entrance had awakened anybody;
but a small head was raised from its pillow, and a voice called out in
a low, delighted tone, “’Llo, Mi’ Duddy!”

The girl hastened across the room, to pat the mop of yellow hair and
to hush any tendency to talk. She was acquainted with little Marmaduke
Bill, and she knew the importance of cutting off his flow of prattle
before it became an uncontrollable stream.

“So long you didn’ come, Mi’ Duddy, My thought My should die.”

Polly smiled down on him, and said softly, “Now you will go to sleep,
for I shall be right here all night.”

A little hand was reached out, to stroke Polly’s. “My’s glad, My’s very
glad, Mi’ Duddy.” And he shut his eyes in content.

Polly was a frequent visitor in Paradise Ward, and “Little Duke” was as
beloved by her as by Dr. Dudley himself.

Few of the small patients needed much attention that night from their
new nurse; still, Polly really slept but little. The novelty of her
position as well as plans for the near future pushed sleep into the
background and kept it there.

The next day nurses were as scarce as on the night previous, and
Polly, signifying her willingness to remain in Paradise Ward, was
gladly allowed to stay. But when a trained assistant was to be had,
and Polly begged not to be turned out, Dr. Dudley remonstrated against
the confinement, maintaining that by September Polly would be in no
condition to return to college. The girl, however, insisted that the
light work was just what she needed to keep her mind busy with outside
thoughts, and finally she had things her own way. Her father and mother
could see plainly enough that she was lighter-hearted than she had been
since her separation from David, and her patients all agreed with
Little Duke, who told Polly very solemnly “Mi’ Duddy, if you go away,
My shall feel rot-ting!”

So Polly did not go. Instead, she began at once to carry out some of
the many ideas that had come to her since her installment in Paradise
Ward. Polly was as observing now as she had been in her childhood, and
a day had not gone by before she was planning little new things for the
supposedly perfect ward. She was aware that she had only to hint of
these to Mrs. Gresham to have them there at once; but she did not wish
to apply to the founder of the hospital. So when she could get somebody
to take her place for an hour or two she would go off on shopping trips
and come home with all sorts of accessories for the ward. First she
brought a new hair-ribbon for Clementina Cunio, a bright pink ribbon to
replace the one of dingy brown. And the child’s delight repaid Polly in
full for the small expenditure of pocket-money. But that small purchase
set in motion a chain of wishes which Polly feared for a time was to
be a chain after the style of the usual ten-cent concatenations. When
William Moleski saw the pink bow sitting so jauntily on Clementina’s
head, he was instantly seized with a desire for a tie of like color for
his neck. Then Timmy Dennis began to long for a similar adornment to
tie around the collar of his little striped nightgown. The color had
taken the ward by storm, for one after another expressed a wish, more
or less boldly, for some ornament of the same hue. The young nurse was
mildly surprised when Annette Lacouchière asked for a pink dress; but
her astonishment reached its height at the observation of Little Duke.

“Mi’ Duddy, My’s good boy. My won’t cry ever when My is inside o’ pink
all over!”

Polly brought home other and apparently more useful articles than pink
ribbons. One day it was some pretty boxes of tiny sheets of note-paper,
with so many little envelopes, in the same delicate tint, that one
might spoil two or three and still have enough left.

At another time her purchases were two little washtubs, each big enough
to hold a dolly’s frock, and--most charming of all--two little electric
flatirons to make the dainty wardrobes smooth and beautiful. These had
been suggested by Zulette Mardee’s sighing statement to her next-chair
neighbor, that her beloved Theodora hadn’t “a single clean dress to her
name,” and that nothing would make her so happy as to put them into
the washtub. Grissel, the neighbor, had agreed with her perfectly,
whereupon the succeeding day both little girls were in soapsuds up to
their elbows, their small tables wet from end to end and spilling over,
and their faces joyous as a June morning.

“You are making yourself a lot of work,” commented a young nurse to
Polly.

“A lot of pleasure, you mean, don’t you?” returned the Doctor’s
daughter.

Miss Bartlett shrugged her small shoulders.

“I’ll give you a week to find out,” she laughed.



CHAPTER VI

“MAYBE”


The tiny girl sat in her pillowed chair by the window while the lady
from the next street talked with Aunt Sophie. Mrs. Hamilton Garde
wanted Aunt Sophie to go over to the great house where she lived and
clean some walls and floors. Now they were haggling over the price, or,
rather, Mrs. Hamilton Garde was haggling. The plump little woman who
scrubbed for her neighbors never haggled. She quietly stated her price
by the day or by the hour and let her patron talk. To-day the patron,
being Mrs. Hamilton Garde, had argued and hinted and argued again for
full seventeen minutes, and finally decided that even if twenty cents
an hour was an unreasonably high price to pay, the work must be done
and she should not feel justified in hiring somebody outside of the
neighborhood. So she bade the little plump woman with red, big-jointed
hands “to be sure and get over there and ready to work right on the
notch”--which meant seven o’clock on Thursday morning.

Long before this, the child had tired of the uninteresting talk,
especially as she had heard the same thing many times over which always
ended in the very same fashion. She was looking out of the window when
Mrs. Hamilton Garde passed her on the way out. The baby-blue eyes were
dwelling on the big, shining car in front of the little house.

Mrs. Hamilton Garde noted the earnest look, and she asked sweetly:

“Are you fond of motoring?”

“Motoring?” repeated the little girl in a puzzled tone.

Mrs. Hamilton Garde laughed in silvery tones, and simplified her
question.

“Do you like automobile riding?”

“Oh!” cried the small voice. “No, ma’am--I mean, I guess I should. I
never did, you know.”

“Is that so?” laughed the woman. “Well, I’ll take you some
day--to-morrow, maybe. Good afternoon, Mrs. Edmonson. Be sure and come
early. Seven o’clock sharp on Thursday!”

“Oh, Aunt Sophie!” the little girl burst out as soon as the door
closed, “did you hear what she said? She’s going to take me to ride!
Just think, to-morrow!”

“Maybe!” added Aunt Sophie.

“Oh, I guess she will!” cried the little one, her wee face aflame with
joy. “She _promised_, you know, and everybody always does just what
they _promise_. I’ve heard Sardis say lots of times that he’d got to do
something, because he’d _promised_. What time do you s’pose we’ll go?
As early as this?”

The little woman’s lips opened--and shut. She waited. “I’m sure I don’t
know,” she said at last.

“I wish you were going, too,” the child said wistfully; but Aunt Sophie
was silent. The doubt in her kind heart did not reach the wee girl at
all. When Aunt Sophie looked at the happy face and sighed, the child
was gazing far away into to-morrow afternoon, seeing herself seated
among those beautiful, soft cushions and whirling off down the street;
whirling away, uphill and down, and out into the land of flowering
fields and gay gardens, wide blue lakes and high green hills, running
brooks that sang as they went, and deep ravines filled with ferns that
never saw the sunshine; whirling on and on to those wonderful delights
of which she had seen so little and which Brother Sardis had promised
should be hers as soon as she went to live with him. And now it was
all coming to-morrow! She ate her supper that night to the whirring of
cars, the blare of motor horns, and--yes, the odor of gasoline. She
talked about it, too, as she ate, and never noticed that Aunt Sophie
was more than ordinarily silent.

Next morning, as soon as she awoke, the tiny girl found herself in
a strange state of excitement, and contrary to her usual custom she
called Aunt Sophie to her bedside.

“Hadn’t you better dress me right away, so I’ll be all ready to go when
Mrs. Garde comes?”

“You needn’t be afraid of her getting here before your breakfast,”
laughed Mrs. Edmonson grimly. “She don’t have hers till ten.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the little one, “are you sure?”

“I ought to know,” the woman replied. “I’ve been there often enough and
heard Tilly and Sadie scolding because the breakfast was all dried up
waiting for her.”

“Anyway,” the child smilingly insisted, “it would save trouble to put
on my best clothes now, and then I shouldn’t have to make her wait, no
matter when she comes.”

“You’re a queer young one to get around things,” Aunt Sophie laughed.
Then she brought out a little striped pink gingham frock, snowy
white petticoats, and a pair of shiny black shoes none too large
for a two-year-old baby, while the little girl in bed watched the
preparations with smiles of approval.

“You mustn’t set your heart on going this afternoon,” Aunt Sophie
finally advised. “To my mind it is very uncertain whether she
comes”--there was a perceptible pause--“to-day.”

“Oh, I s’pose it will be just as nice if she shouldn’t come till
to-morrow,” the child reflected, “’cause then I shall have it longer
to think about. You see, one day doesn’t make much difference,” she
philosophized. “Yesterday it seemed a perfect age till to-day, and now
it’s right here in no time at all. I guess it’s always that way. So if
she doesn’t have time to come to-day, I shall know to-morrow will be
here in just a few minutes. But I guess she’ll come--I kind o’ feel
it! Don’t you ever feel things coming, Aunt Sophie?”

The plump little aunt bobbed her head with a “M-h’m” over the drawer
where the small girl’s stockings were kept.

The little one chattered on until she was seated in her high, cushioned
chair at the breakfast table.

“Now you’d better let your victuals stop your mouth,” laughed her aunt,
not unkindly. “If you don’t keep still, pretty soon you won’t be fit to
go to ride or anywhere else. You’ve talked every minute since you woke
up.”

The child pressed a forefinger to her smiling lips, while she looked
across the table in merry response.

Morning usually slipped swiftly away with the elder member of the
household, but dragged more or less wearily with the little one who had
nothing to do but to sit at the window and gaze across the street and
up at the lawns and gardens that surrounded the home of Mrs. Hamilton
Garde on Burton Avenue. She could catch glimpses of the great house,
with its towers and multi-colored roofs, as the green branches waved to
and fro. The stables and garage were at the foot of the hill, almost
directly opposite the little gray house, and a path led down from the
mansion above. Few trod this path except the stable boys, the coachman
that drove the handsome pair of black horses, and the two chauffeurs
who had charge of the shining cars.

The watcher at the small window never tired of looking at those
beautiful cars when they came out of the garage, and they generally did
come out two or three times a day.

This morning there was no weariness in the baby-blue eyes as they
watched for one of the chauffeurs to come down the path. Of course,
the little maid told herself, Mrs. Hamilton Garde would not come for
her until afternoon--she wondered whether it would be at one or two or
three o’clock. Anyway, she was ready, all ready except for the putting
on of her coat and hat. She drew a sigh of satisfaction. It was so
comfortable to know that one was ready for whatever came. Then she fell
to thinking of the happy letter she would write to Sardis, dear Brother
Sardis, about the wonderful ride that Mrs. Hamilton Garde had given
her. Brother Sardis never spoke of Mrs. Hamilton Garde these days. But
she could remember a time, long ago,--she was such a mite of a girl
then,--before Sardis went to live with Uncle Dwight, when he used to
hate the rich woman who lived in the great house on Burton Avenue,
because of the way she had of tossing her head with a gay little laugh
whenever she chanced to come upon him with his sister in his arms.
As she thought it over now, she wondered why Mrs. Garde had laughed.
She was sure it was a very nice thing for Sardis to do, nothing at
all funny about it as far as she could see. Sometimes she knew that
he had stayed away from a ball game just to carry her out for a long
walk. Perhaps she did look funny in his arms, for Sardis was rather
small for his age. Once--she should never forget it!--Mrs. Garde had
said, “So you’re taking out your doll for an airing!” And then she had
laughed that gay little laugh. Sardis had watched the carriage into the
distance with a dark, scowly face. He had said something, too, under
his breath that she could not hear, and when she had asked him what it
was his face had grown very red and he would not tell. Dear Brother
Sardis! How she wished she could see him this very minute! As soon
as she had had her ride she would write to him all about it, and how
surprised he would be!

The sight of the tallest chauffeur coming down the path put a stop to
her musings, and she watched him as he disappeared in the garage. He
generally drove the big car. “Oh, I hope it will be the big car this
afternoon!” she said to herself. It was the big car now, for the tall
young fellow drove it from the garage and then stopped, jumped out and
ran back for something. He drove directly by the window and up the road
to the great house. Mrs. Hamilton Garde was going to ride. The little
girl drew a long, happy breath--it was nice to have so beautiful a
thing to anticipate.

“Maybe she’ll come right after luncheon,” smiled the wee maid two hours
later from her high chair;--“you said she didn’t have dinner at twelve,
as we do.” She looked across to her aunt for reassurance.

“She has hers at six,” answered Aunt Sophie.

“Maybe she’ll come at two o’clock,” the little one prattled on. “Don’t
you guess it will be about two?”

A quick shade passed over Aunt Sophie’s round face. Then a smile came
out.

“Maybe,” she said.

“Isn’t it perfectly beautiful that I’m going?” the child went on.
“There’d be room for you,” she observed wistfully. “Won’t you go if she
asks you?”

“No danger of an invitation,” with a short little laugh. Seeing the
reflection of her own shadowy thoughts on the small face opposite, she
added quickly:--

“I couldn’t go, anyway; I have too much work on hand to go gallivanting
off across the country.”

“Too bad you can’t,” was the plaintive regret. “When Sardis gets his
car you’ll have to go.”

Aunt Sophie nodded smilingly. “Oh, yes, I’ll go when Sardis has his
car.”

“He says he’s going to have one some day,” returned the child, wagging
her small head emphatically.

“I don’t doubt he will,” said Aunt Sophie. “He’s got a good many things
I never would have believed he’d have. He’s the greatest boy for
carrying out whatever he starts on. If he should happen to want to be
President, I declare, I d’n’ know but he’d get there.”

The little flower face shone, as it always did when “Brother Sardis”
was being praised. For the moment Mrs. Hamilton Garde was utterly
forgotten.

Two o’clock came, from the old-fashioned clock on the kitchen shelf
sounded two heavy strokes, the little girl at the window feverishly
watched the path that led down to the garage; but nobody appeared.

“I guess she’s taking a nap,” were the unspoken words that tried to
chase away a wee doubt which for a good many minutes had been pressing
its way into the hopeful little heart. “Of course, she’d take a nap
before going out again!”

Whether there was a nap or not, neither of the chauffeurs came into
sight. Half past two--three--half-past three--four--all ticked
themselves away on the old clock. It was very quiet in the front room
of the little gray house. The light haze that brooded over the hills
seemed also to have veiled the blue eyes at the window. Still, they
kept loyal watch.

By and by the child suddenly straightened--the tall young chauffeur
was striding down to the garage! It seemed as if the blue eyes must
pierce the side of the low building, so eager were they to see inside.
Presently the big automobile came out and whizzed past the window.

“Aunt Sophie! Aunt Sophie!” cried the little one joyously, “do come and
put on my things! She’ll be here in a minute! The man’s gone round!”

The little plump woman ran in breezily. “What is it, dear?”

“Please bring my things. I don’t want to make her wait. There! they’re
coming!”

“No, no, child! That’s only the undertaker.”

“Well, she will be here right off. Do hurry, auntie! The man just went
round to get her!” The child leaned forward, to catch the first glimpse
of the returning car.

Aunt Sophie stood--unmoved as to feet.

“Better wait,” she said, “till she comes.”

The little one turned to look up into her aunt’s face, and her
eagerness nearly faltered.

“Why, you don’t want to make her you?” she asked wonderingly.

“Well, I guess her time isn’t over valuable,” she said slowly. “Anyway,
I wouldn’t put on my things yet.”

They waited, the one all a-quiver with anticipation, the other gazing,
not down the street, but at the child, her round, usually placid face
now lengthened by lines of tenderness and pain.

The automobile did not come back. Finally Aunt Sophie crept quietly
away to the kitchen, where she could not see the little white face by
the window. The child was still scanning the road hopefully when, just
before six o’clock, the big car returned to the garage, empty except
for the liveried driver.

Aunt Sophie entered the room in her preparations for tea.

“She didn’t come,” needlessly announced the small voice. “I guess she
thought she’d wait till to-morrow.”

The little woman sighed softly.

“I think she’ll come to-morrow,” went on the voice in cheerful tone.

“Maybe,” returned Aunt Sophie.



CHAPTER VII

GLADYS GUINEVERE


The sun was radiant; the sky wore a most alluring blue dress; the
breeze was sending up little velvety waves and ripples from the
south;--Polly wanted Outdoors. As she gazed from the open window she
grew eager. Her mother happened in and proposed to stay awhile and give
Polly a chance.

The girl looked around the ward, and considered. There was
Timmy--Jozy--She hesitated at Clementina and finally shook her
head with a sad little frown. Her eyes passed to Grissel, and
brightened--Timmy and Jozy and Grissel. That was enough.

She glanced across at her mother who was giving Little Duke a drink.

“Is father away?” she asked.

Learning that he was in the hospital, she went in search of him.

“Would Timmy and Grissel and Jozy be any worse for a little ride?” she
questioned, her anxious eyes on her father’s face.

In a moment she was running up the stairs, stopping only for a word
with an orderly. When she entered Paradise Ward her face was as bright
as if she had just been made heir to a fortune.

For the next ten minutes she and her mother were busy bringing out
coats and hats and putting the three fortunate little patients into
their wraps.

“Are we going to sit on the veranda now?” queried Jozy.

But Mrs. Dudley only smiled mysteriously. It would never do to tell
too much to the part of the ward that must stay at home--there might
be tears. But, as two orderlies carried the lucky ones out through the
corridor and downstairs, those who were left behind knew that something
unusual was afoot. If Clementina and the rest could have looked round
the corner of the building they would have seen the three packed snugly
into the Doctor’s big, easy car, to the music of gurgling laughter and
silver-toned tongues.

Straight to the blossoming fields and piney air they were borne, and
the children chattered and giggled as only children can, while Polly
drew in deep draughts of the freshness of mountain and wood, and
wondered how the dwellers in city prisons ever lived through the summer
at all.

Nearing a neighboring town, their road led through a street bordered
with miserable dwellings and swarming with sinister men and women and
ragged, pinched-faced children. Polly looked at them with pity.

The car swerved suddenly, to avoid a crossing team, and Jozy uttered a
wild “Oh!”

Polly glanced back at her charges with a reassuring smile.

“My handkerchief!” screamed Jozy, pointing to the little square of
white that had fluttered away from her.

But already an eagle-eyed youngster had pounced upon the flyaway. With
a joyful grin she brought it to the car.

“Oh, thank you!” cried the owner in a relieved voice.

Evan was starting up again when Polly arrested him. “Just a minute!”
she said. Something in the girl’s wistful little face attracted her.

“Would you like a ride?” she asked, throwing open the door.

The black eyes widened. The child drew a step nearer, then stopped with
a dazed expression. She must have been mistaken!

“Will you come?” Polly held out her hand.

Nothing further was needed. In a short moment the little one was wedged
between Polly and Evan, her face radiant with pleasure.

Wonder-eyed youngsters popped out from everywhere and closed in about
the car.

The driver waved them off, there was a bur-r-r-r-r, and the automobile
disappeared around the next corner.

“It’s ezac’ly like flyin’, ain’t it?” piped a rapturous voice at
Polly’s elbow.

“Do you like it?” smiled Polly.

The child looked up with an ecstatic wag of the head.

“Oh!” she burst out, leaning forward and waving her hand excitedly,
“there’s Dolly Merrifield! An’ she saw me a-ridin’! She waved to me!
Did you see her?”

“Yes,” smiled Polly, having glimpsed at the window of a small gray
house a tiny waving hand and a little white face in a halo of
fluttering yellow curls.

“I’m so glad she saw me a-ridin’,” the eager voice went on. “I’ve
wanted to an’ wanted to, till it seemed ’s if I couldn’t stan’ it. An’
now I’m in an’ goin’!” She sighed delightedly.

“Haven’t you ever been in an automobile before?” was Polly’s somewhat
surprised question.

The small head shook vigorously. “How’d yer s’pose I’d git in?” she
scorned. “Ther’ ain’t none of ’em stop, ’cept the grocery boy an’
the water-pipe man an’ such, an’ they say, ‘You let me ketch yer in
that car, an’ I’ll hand yer over t’ the p’lice--now d’ yer hear!’ An’
you bet I ain’t goin’ t’ take no such chances ’s that! Johnny Hurley
did, one day, whopped right in over the door, an’ the man give him a
lickin’, ’cause he was his cousin--my, didn’t he! Johnny couldn’t set
down straight all day.” Presently there came another outburst. “Oh,
wouldn’t Dolly Merrifield like this!--Do you know Dolly?” Polly shook
her head.

“Oh, you oughter! Say”--the brightness faded from the little
face--“wouldn’t you’ve took her to ride ’stead o’ me if you’d known
her? I guess I’d oughter let Dolly go--I didn’t think. Honest, I
didn’t! But I guess I’d oughter.” She sighed heavily at this prodding
of conscience.

“Oh, you needn’t worry about that!” comforted Polly. “We can take Dolly
another time, you know. Tell me about her. Who is she?”

“Why, she’s Dolly Merrifield! An’--oh, she’s the sweetest little thing
you ever saw! She’s got the _littlest_ legs--just like our baby’s! An’
she don’t _never_ walk! She don’t never _stand up_! An’ she don’t cry
nor nothin’, ’cept when the lady didn’t come to take her to ride--then
she did, good an’ hard. Oh, that lady’s just as mean! I wish _she_ had
to sit in a chair all day long, ’ithout anything to do, an’ be all
alone, an’ never go to ride in all her life--so there!”

The animated face had grown red and scowly during the utterance of this
bitter wish. Now it unexpectedly broke into a delighted grin.

“Did yer honest mean for sure you’d take Dolly to ride?”

“Yes, ‘honest, for sure,’” laughed Polly.

“Well, I hope the lady’ll see her,” the child resumed. “_She_ goes to
ride every day--two or three times a day! She used to be real pretty;
but I don’t take no stock in her now--her a-promisin’ Dolly--an’ Dolly
a-waitin’ an’ a-waitin’--an’ her never comin’! Dolly wored her eyes
out watchin’ for her--Mis’ Edmonson said she had. Oh, I jus’ hope she
will see Dolly when you take her--then I guess!” The small head was
brought down decidedly.

“You haven’t told me your name yet,” Polly smiled.

“Oh, my name is Gladys Guinevere Evangeline Smith! But you needn’t go
through all that rigmarole, you can call me Gay; everybody does. An’
ter think of me a-ridin’!”

As the car stopped in front of Gladys Guinevere’s home it found itself
the center of a crowd of girls and boys, mothers and babies, with an
occasional lounger who quite casually started to walk across the street
in front of the machine and quite as casually stopped on the outside of
the circle.

Polly was many times obliged to reiterate her promise to take “Dolly”
to ride; but at last all the questions had been asked and answered and
all the “thank-you’s” and “good-byes” had been said. Then, amid the
scattering onlookers, with much waving of hands on both sides, the car
rolled away.



CHAPTER VIII

COUCHES OF CLOVER


For a whole week Dr. Dudley’s automobile was active in professional
work; then word was brought Polly that the car would be at her disposal
for three hours that afternoon. Her plans were already made, and as
soon as her morning tasks were completed, leaving her mother in charge
of Paradise Ward, Polly started on her way to Prattsboro and Dolly
Merrifield.

The little girl was at the window. “Come in!” she called when Polly
lifted the old brass knocker.

The broad kitchen was alive with sunshine, but the bareness of the big
room struck the girl disagreeably as she opened the door. At first the
child at the window was not visible. Then a winsome little voice said,
“Aunt Sophie isn’t home.”

Polly peeped around the door, and smiled.

“I want to see Miss Dolly Merrifield,” she said.

“Oh! me?” exclaimed the little voice.

“If ‘me’ is Dolly,” dimpled Polly, taking the small, thin hand in hers.

“Oh, yes, of course, I’m Dolly! Are you the lady who took Gay to ride?”
she asked shyly.

“The very one,” Polly nodded. “Now, what do you say to a ride yourself
this afternoon?”

The little pale face was pink with surprise and a kind of awed joy.
“Oh!” she breathed, “oh!--this afternoon?”

“I can have father’s car this afternoon,” Polly explained. “It has been
busy since the day that I made Gladys Guinevere’s acquaintance.”

The little girl smiled. “What a long, funny name she’s got! Mine is
Dorothy, but ’most everybody calls me Dolly. Sometimes Sardis does;
just once in awhile, you know.”

“And who is Sardis?”

“Why, don’t you know Sardis? His name was in the paper, Sardis Elisha
Merrifield. He was the valedictorian of his class.” The long word fell
easily from the small lips.

“At the Grammar School?” asked Polly.

“Oh, no, at Yale College! He graduated two years ago. He is a minister,
you know. This summer he is preaching up in Raineville, or he calls
it ‘learning to preach.’ I guess it’s preaching all right.” The
curl-crowned head wagged confidently. “You see, he has been two years
in the Theological School, and he’s got one more year before he can be
a full-fledged minister. Then I’m going to live with him!” Her face
glowed with radiant delight. “He says I am going to live with him if he
has to take me to Kamchatka.”

Polly joined in her laugh.

“Is he the only brother you have?” she questioned.

“Yes, he and me and Aunt Sophie are all there is. There used to be
father and mother and grandpa and James and Israel and little Dorcas;
but they’ve all gone to heaven. I’ve lived with Aunt Sophie almost
ever since I can remember. Queer, you don’t know Sardis! Seem ’s if
everybody ought to know him, he’s so nice.”

“Perhaps I shall know him some day,” smiled Polly.

“Perhaps,” echoed Dolly wistfully. “He isn’t here much. I know you’d
like him--you just couldn’t help it.”

Polly had to make her visit a very short one, for she would be needed
by her little charges. She went back to the House of Joy, her heart
full of sympathy for the wee girl who had never walked and who had been
waiting a long year for the ride that had not come. “She shall go as
often as I can take her,” she promised herself as she rode home in the
trolley-car.

Clementina, Muriel, Jeffy, and Little Duke were selected by Polly for
the afternoon’s pleasure, and Dr. Dudley sanctioned her choice.

Aunt Sophie was at home when the automobile stopped in front of the
low-roofed house in Prattsboro. The little maid was at the window, hat
and coat on, and at once all smiles when she saw Polly.

While the chauffeur was carrying his light burden out to the car Polly
found time for a moment’s talk with Dolly’s aunt, and the quiet,
wise-eyed little woman pleased her mightily.

The small guest of honor let her tongue play freely, and sympathetic
Polly was sorrowed by her glimpse of the shadow of such an affliction.
A barren, sad little life it must be, yet the tiny maid was seemingly
not yet conscious of any poverty or pathos in her surroundings.

“My brother’s coming home for a day or two sometime this summer,” she
informed Polly. “He said in his last letter that he was going to give
me a ride when he came. But you have got ahead of him,” she chuckled.
“He wanted to take me to hear his valedictory when he was here two
years ago in June; but it rained that day, and I couldn’t go.” For
an instant a shade dulled the little face, then it made way for a
smile. “What do you think!” she broke out, “He delivered his address
to me--with all the motions, too! Wasn’t that lovely of him? Aunt
Sophie said she guessed not many boys would have done it just to please
a little sister. Oh, he’s the nicest brother in the world! And he
wouldn’t have a new suit after all! We wanted him to; but he said his
old suit was good enough. Of course, he’d look better than the rest,
anyway--he’s just lovely!”

Behind Polly a ceaseless stream of lively chatter told her that
Clementina was enjoying herself. Jeffy, too, was puncturing the air
with wild exclamations. Presently was heard the voice of Little Duke.

“She will, too, you little stick-in-the-mud! My good boy!--Mi’ Duddy!
Mi’ Duddy!”

The girl looked round.

Little Duke almost tumbled towards her in his eagerness.

“Mi’ Duddy, My want to lie down out there.” He pointed to the field of
mossy rocks and lush clover.

“Oh, dearie, I’m afraid it’s damp!”

“No, Mi’ Duddy! Dear Mi’ Duddy, My is good boy! My won’t be damp.”

Polly laughed, but asked Evan to stop while she went on a trip of
investigation. “All right,” was her verdict, on returning to the car.
And instantly there was a clamor of voices from the back seat.

“Oh, may I go, too!”--“I want to lie on the grass, Miss
Dudley!”--“Please, can I go?”--“Do let us, Miss Dudley.”

“We’ll all go,” Polly agreed. And in Evan’s arms the children were
carried, from Little Duke to Dolly Merrifield, to bask among the sunny
clover-blossoms.

Little Duke sucked the sweet blooms, gazing contentedly up at the white
sails on the deep blue sky. Presently he spoke.

“My will stay here all night. My won’t be ’fraid. My will hold you’
hand, Mi’ Duddy.”

“But I shan’t be here,” smiled Polly. “I must go home.”

“My will stay alone. Stars will be here. My will hold Clover’s hand.”

Still, even clover-blossoms lose their attractiveness after awhile,
especially when there is a cushioned automobile in waiting; and after
a quarter-hour of the sunny couch Little Duke was ready to relinquish
present sweets for the swift-rolling car.

“Did you like it?” Polly smiled down into the white little face beside
her. She fancied it held a faint reflection of the clover’s own color.

“Oh, it seemed as if it must be heaven!” sighed Dolly Merrifield softly.

It was a very tired little girl that Evan laid carefully on the couch
in Aunt Sophie’s living-room. But her eyes were shining with joy. She
put out a small hand and caught one of Polly’s.

“May I kiss you?” she whispered. “I want to because you have given me
such a lovely, lovely time. I’m going to tell Sardis all about it and
how good you’ve been to me.”

“Thank you, darling,” Polly whispered back. “I think outdoors is what
you need, and just as soon as I can get the car again you shall have
another ride.”

Dolly looked her thanks, but said not a word beyond a softly breathed
“O-h!”



CHAPTER IX

NO. 45678


At the dinner table Polly told her story of the afternoon’s pleasure.

“I am glad you can take them out,” said Dr. Dudley. “The air will do
them more good than anything else.”

“I know it will,” agreed Polly confidently. “They ought to have it
every day.”

“You may have the car as often as possible,” promised the Doctor. Then
he addressed his wife on another subject.

Meanwhile Polly was busy with captivating new thoughts, and shortly she
sent a question straight into their talk.

“How much money have I in--Oh, I do beg your pardon!” she cried,
meeting her father’s glance. Then she laughed. “I had been thinking and
didn’t even know you were talking.”

“What is it that is so engrossing?” smiled her mother.

“I’ll tell you,” she returned gayly. “Father, how much money have I in
the bank?”

“I don’t know. I can give you some--how much?” He thrust his hand into
his pocket.

“No, no!” cried Polly; “I don’t want any now--none of yours at all.
May I take some of my money and buy whatever I choose?”

“It depends on what you wish it for and how much it costs.”

“It can cost almost any amount, but I’ll try to be contented with a
cheap one. Father, I want to buy an automobile and learn to run it
myself.” Her eyes were bent anxiously on his face.

“No, Robert,” interposed Mrs. Dudley, “don’t let her! I shouldn’t be
easy a minute.”

The Doctor smiled. “She is equal to it, Lucy--you needn’t worry; though
it seems rather unnecessary when there’s a good car in the family
already.”

“But how seldom I can have it,” argued Polly. “And those children need
the rides every day. If you could have seen them this afternoon!” She
stopped--waiting.

The Doctor sat back in his chair and studied the pattern of the
tablecloth. The eyes of both women were on his face.

“I’ll think about it,” he finally said. “I don’t like the idea of your
cutting into that little sum. You know what I have saved it for, Polly.”

The girl’s face flushed. “I know, father.” She faced him with steady
eyes. “There’s no use keeping it for that. I shall never marry.”

“Nonsense, child! you will marry a good deal sooner than I shall wish,
but--I’ll think it over.”

The door had scarcely shut upon the Doctor before Polly clapped her
hands softly.

“Father’s ‘I’ll think it over’ is every bit as good as a straight-out
yes.”

“Polly, I don’t want you to have a car if you must drive it yourself.”

“Why, mother dear, it isn’t anything to run one now.”

“Not simply to run it. In case of emergencies, however, one must
possess nerves that are under perfect control.”

“I know,” Polly answered gravely; “but what is the matter with mine?
Besides, I shouldn’t drive fast or run any risks.”

“I should worry about you every minute. Foolish, you and your father
would say; but I should all the same.”

“Don’t!--for I dreadfully want one. If you could have seen how Little
Duke enjoyed it to-day!” And she repeated his remarks.

Within a week Polly had her license and she and Evan were spinning over
the country roads in the new car, Polly chuckling over her number,
which she declared was the very best in the whole list. She was an apt
pupil, and absolutely without fear. Mrs. Dudley soon decided to take
some of the children and occupy the back seat, rather than wait at home
wondering if anything had happened, and her first ride with Polly at
the wheel seemed to rid her of all apprehension. She argued no more
against the new machine.

The car was in use whenever its owner could take out any of her small
patients or leave them. None needed skilled care throughout the day,
and several of her friends were ready to act as substitute for an hour
or two at almost any time. Patricia or Lilith or Hilda would frequently
be found in charge of Paradise Ward, while Polly and her mother were
downtown on a shopping excursion or on some visit across the city.

She had run down alone one afternoon to make some small purchases,
when, on coming out of a shop, she found herself facing John Eustis.

“I’m glad to know you are still in the flesh,” he began. “I never get
sight of you nowadays.”

“Is it as much as a week since I saw you at Vesta Jordan’s?” smiled
Polly.

He laughed his answer. And then, “Going home? May I walk up with you?”

“You may ride up with me. I drove down, that being the quickest way.”

They were silent until they were beyond the business streets.

“You have a dandy car, and you are an expert in running it,” praised
John Eustis. “That bit of maneuvering was well done.”

Polly looked pleased.

“I am not wholly sure of myself yet,” she admitted; “but I haven’t made
any big break since I gave up Evan. Even mother isn’t afraid to ride
with me.”

“She has no need to be afraid,” he returned.

“I am glad you think so,” was all Polly said.

“I should have come up to your house to-night,” went on John Eustis,
“if I had not met you. Can you get off from your job for a week-end?”

“I am afraid not. I have enlisted and I must stick to my post.”

“You ought not to have enlisted.”

“Oh, yes, I ought! I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

“Maybe you’ll be more persuadable when you hear where I want you to go.”

Polly looked at him questioningly.

“Do you remember Sally Robinson?”

“How could I forget Sally! She was one of the dearest girls in our
class.”

“She was--and she is. And she is home from Texas--”

“Here?” cried Polly.

“No, at Overlook--up on the mountain.”

“Where is that?”

“In Vermont, just beyond the line. Kate had a letter from her this
morning. She has invited mother and you and Kate and me--and she says
as many more of the girls as we can pile into our car--to come up on
Saturday to stay until Monday, longer if we can.”

Polly’s face had grown bright and grave by turns. “You going?” she
asked wistfully.

“We are, most decidedly. Wouldn’t miss it for a farm.”

“I wish I could,” sighed Polly.

“You can! You must!”

“I am not so sure.” A little scowl troubled her forehead.

“Remember, it is Sally that asks you,” he coaxed.

“I don’t forget,” she returned. “I will go if I can manage it; but when
I am away somebody must stay with my little patients, and it is not
in my plan to call on mother all the time. I promised to take care of
Paradise Ward, and I won’t be a slacker.”

The young man did not reply. Polly was gazing straight ahead into the
distance, as if her thoughts were a long way afield. As he looked,
his face took on alternately grave lines and gladsome. He, too, was
following paths quite afar from the state road.

Soon they were making a slow passage over a thoroughfare that was
being repaired. Polly had thrown aside her other problem and was
concentrating all her knowledge and skill upon her not easy task. The
street was full of pedestrians and automobiles, and one needed a clear
head, quick thought, and ready hands. John Eustis was an expert driver,
yet he discovered no flaw in Polly’s management.

When the road was clear, “Another score in your favor,” he smiled.
“Evan must be a good instructor.”

“He is,” she returned. “John, I have been thinking--I believe I can
see my way to go. How early shall you start?”

“Eight or nine in the morning, if possible. It is better to get over a
good piece in the cool of the day. Something more than a hundred miles,
and we don’t want to take it too fast.”

“It will be a lovely drive, along by the Connecticut.”

He nodded. Things were going happily. “What other girl shall we invite?
The car will hold one more.”

“Have you thought of anybody?”

“Kate spoke of Grace Comstock and Lilith Brooks and Claire House. She
didn’t seem to have any preference.”

“And you have none yourself?” queried Polly.

A dull red crept into his cheeks; but instantly it was not there.

“Anybody that pleases you,” he answered.

Polly hesitated--what made John blush? Had he a choice which he did not
wish to make known? Then she said, “Suppose you invite Lilith. She has
always liked Sally, and she is a good traveling companion.”

“I will ask her to-night and tell her you are going.”

“No, no! Don’t tell her that!” cried Polly. “I can’t say positively
until I have seen father and one of the nurses. I’ll let you know.”

And with that he had to be content.



CHAPTER X

THE TOP OF THE WORLD


“Polly Dudley! Why didn’t you stay?”

Polly stood before her mother in her trim gray suit, her eyes shining
with an unusual brightness, her whole being indicative of imprisoned
emotion.

“I couldn’t, mother! I couldn’t! I had to come home to talk it over
with you and father!” Polly was hurriedly pulling off her gloves, her
joyous heedlessness reaching even to her finger-tips.

Mrs. Dudley had grown suddenly limp.

“Has David--” she began.

“No, no; it isn’t anything about David.” Polly’s voice had never
sounded like that when she spoke of David.

“I don’t much care what it is, then.” Mrs. Dudley sat up straight and
drew a little relieved breath. “It seems as if I couldn’t stand his
coming back--now. But I don’t see why you didn’t stay as you expected
to. Didn’t Kate stay?”

“Oh, yes, mother; but I just couldn’t!--I’ll tell you.”

“Didn’t you have a good time? Anything gone wrong?”

“Yes to the first, and no to the second. Don’t be in a hurry! To begin
with, Overlook Mountain is the very loveliest place on earth.”

“And yet you left it,” laughed her mother.

Polly laughed, too. “Had to!” she said happily. “Oh, the road up the
mountain!--I wish you could see it. Through the most beautiful woods!
Ferns!--I thought I knew ferns, but I didn’t. Millions of them, almost
as tall as you are, and so luxurious--why, the sides of the road look
as if they had just been decorated for a wedding!--”

“What about a wedding?” came from Dr. Dudley in the doorway. “Evan said
you had just come, and I couldn’t understand it. You were so eager to
stay the week out.”

“I know it. Mother’s had everything bad happening; but it’s all
right--or will be if you agree with me--oh, father, you would in one
minute if you could see Overlook! Why, when I got there and looked
around I felt as if I were right on top of the world--it is beautiful,
it is grand! Father, what do you suppose I want to do?”

“No telling what rattle-brained scheme is in that head of yours. Out
with it! I never could bear suspense.”

Polly laughed, a laugh that made her father look at her with joyful
eyes. This was his own old Polly, before she had begun to be worried
with troubles of David Collins’s making.

“Well,” began the girl, holding her excitement in check, “I want to
move Paradise Ward up on Overlook for the summer and autumn.”

Nobody spoke. They looked at one another, anxiety on Polly’s side,
astonishment and half comprehension on the other.

“Tell me all about it, little daughter.” Dr. Dudley drew up a chair.

So Polly told; of her delight in the spot; of the marvelous beauty of
the view; of the wonderful, intoxicating air; of the plan that had
suddenly popped into her head when she waked on Sunday morning; of the
news that had greeted her at breakfast, just fitting into her scheme,
about the brother and sister, owners of a bungalow and a study on the
top of Overlook, who had just been left a fortune in Switzerland and
wished to sell their property on the mountain; how it seemed the one
place for Paradise Ward to get strong in; and of how she could not wait
an hour beyond to-day to tell her father of her plan and to beg him to
accede to her wish.

She was quiet at last, watching with eager eyes her father’s face.

“Have you thought of the money it would cost to carry out this plan?”
asked the Doctor quietly.

“Of course,” she acknowledged, “it must depend on Mrs. Gresham; but I
know she will be interested in less than a minute.”

“She surely will be. That, however, is not the question. She has spent
a fortune on Paradise Ward already.”

“She loves to spend it.”

“Yes,” he conceded; “yet is it wise for us to incite her to further
spending?”

“It truly is,” returned Polly with assurance. “Think of those dear
children! Oh, if you could see them outdoors as I do! The rides have
done them no end of good--you know how Little Duke has improved.”

Dr. Dudley brightened. “That boy’s gain is astonishing.”

“And it isn’t medicine that has done it,” observed Polly; “it is fresh
air.”

The Doctor nodded musingly.

Polly’s thoughts skipped from Little Duke to Esther Tenniel, the gentle
little English maid who--however shy she might be with others--never
hesitated to put her arms round the Doctor’s neck, just as if she were
his own little girl. “I believe,” she said, “that a few months of
Overlook would make a new child of Esther.”

“I should like to see it tried,” Dr. Dudley admitted.

“Then we’ll try it!” exclaimed Polly ecstatically.

“I shall have to leave it to your judgment,” said the Doctor. “I don’t
like to beg for too much.”

“Beg!” laughed Polly--“oh, father!”

“You haven’t even asked for my approval,” smiled Mrs. Dudley.

“I don’t need to. I know well enough just what you’d say,” retorted
Polly.

“I should like to know.”

“Why, you’d say, ‘Go ahead!’” Polly laughed. “And I think I’d better
see Mrs. Gresham this evening. Don’t you want to go down with me,
mother? Do, and help the good cause along.--Oh, I forgot! That boy is
coming up to-night.”

“What boy?” queried her mother.

“John Eustis. Well,” sighing, “we’ll have to put it off till morning.”

That Mrs. Gresham was “interested” in Polly’s plan nobody could doubt.
The lady’s enthusiasm more than justified Polly’s prediction.

“I must see the place at once!” she cried. “We’ll go up to-morrow!”

“To-morrow!” gasped Polly.

“Why not?” returned Mrs. Gresham. “No time to lose. Summer is well on
her way. You can go to-morrow, can’t you?”

“I--guess so,” the girl answered dazedly. She glanced towards her
mother.

Mrs. Dudley smiled assent.

“And you’ll go with us?” invited the elder woman.

Mrs. Dudley shook her head. “I’m afraid--”

“Nonsense! She can, can’t she, Polly?”

“Yes, do, mother. I’m longing to have you see it.”

She still shook her head, but, as Polly said, the shakes were less
emphatic.

“Let’s start by six o’clock,” went on Mrs. Gresham. “To-day would have
been lovely, but probably to-morrow will be just as nice. You say we
can have it now, and with all the furniture?”

“All there is,” Polly answered. “Of course, there’ll have to be a good
deal besides. The living-room is so large and beautiful it will make a
lovely ward. At each end is a wide casement window, one opening on the
road, the other on the wood--where the deer come down. As I said, about
five acres of timber-land go with the place. The house is the best
located of all on the mountain, with woods on the north which break the
heavy winds. There’s a big fireplace in the living-room, and all sorts
of pretty nooks and corners, with shelves and bookracks--oh, you’ll
go crazy over it, just as I did! The big room is two stories high,
and the stairs lead right up from that to a little balcony which runs
clear across the side and opens into the bedrooms. The other building
is not far away, an inscription in such pretty letters, THE STUDY, is
right over the door. You see, the young man is a lawyer, and that was
his den. It will do beautifully for a dormitory for the older boys and
the doctor that father sends with us--of course, we’ll have to have a
doctor.”

“Of course,” echoed Mrs. Gresham absently. “The brother and sister
gone?”

“Yes, nobody left but the housekeeper, Benedicta Clapperton--isn’t that
a name? But she’s a dear. She told me she hoped I’d buy the place, for
she ‘appertained’ to it, and she ‘cackerlated’ I was the ‘facsimile’
of her ‘dear Miss Flora.’ She adores children, and Sally says she is a
wonder in the cooking line; so she will probably stuff the ward with
soldiers and sailors and a whole barnyard besides. But I have fallen in
love with her, and I believe she will be our strongest asset--just you
wait and see!”

When Mrs. Gresham and Mrs. Dudley were face to face with the “strongest
asset” they recalled Polly’s statement in some surprise.

Mrs. Gresham had intuitively pictured the caretaker as middle-aged,
plump, and comfortable, with a benevolent smile and a gracious manner.
The woman who stood before them was tall, straight, and lean, with a
small head and high cheek-bones. Her abundant brown hair was drawn
smoothly back from her low forehead and wound into a tight coil on top
of her head. Her frankly curious eyes of light gray appeared to size up
her visitors in one unafraid glance, and she extended a big, work-hard
hand with a drawling “How d’ ye do?”

So this was Benedicta!

Polly chanced to make a trivial remark, and Mrs. Gresham turned with
relief.

Although the visitors had stopped on the way for luncheon, the
housekeeper insisted that they should “stay to dinner,” and already
a small table in the living-room was most attractively set with
appointments for three.

“Yes, Benedicta can cook,” Mrs. Gresham mentally conceded, as she ate
with relish the broiled chicken, creamed pease, hot rye muffins with
home-made butter, red raspberry pie, and hot coffee topped with whipped
cream.

Nor did she withhold her praise; upon which Benedicta expanded like a
flower which needs only the sunshine to bloom into beauty. Not that in
the one happy moment the cook grew handsome, or that she expressed her
thanks in suitable words. Only her small eyes grew bright and soft, her
thin cheeks reddened with pleasure, as she said, almost scornfully,
“Amazin’ly astounding ’f I didn’t know how to cook! Been at it since I
was an infant.”

Opinions are versatile notions at best. After that informal meal on
Overlook Mountain the critical wife of Colonel Gresham looked at
Benedicta in a humorous and therefore fairer light, and the light in
which a person is viewed makes all the difference in one’s opinion of
him.

The next day when the party started for home the Von Winkelried
property had passed into the hands of Mrs. Gresham, and the Children’s
House of Joy was in legal possession of a mountain summer home.



CHAPTER XI

DR. ABBE


Although Mrs. Gresham and Polly were most closely concerned in the
plans that crowded the next week, Dr. Dudley’s home and the entire
hospital were a little off their balance. Mrs. Gresham was chiefly
occupied in arranging for minor alterations in the new Overlook Home
and purchasing furniture and other appointments that would be needed;
while Polly and her mother inspected the small patients’ old clothing
and ordered new, for nights would be cool up on the mountain and
suitable garments must be ready for any emergency.

All the nurses were wondering whose services would be required for the
new sanitarium, and each hoped the good fortune would be hers. The rest
of the summer among the Vermont hills, with Polly for companion and
only a dozen or so interesting children to care for, was a snap to be
eagerly caught up. Not many of the doctors appeared to be giving much
thought to the matter; only two or three let it be understood that they
had no desire to be dispatched to the “Top of the World,” with a few
kids and two or three girls for sole company.

It was at dinner that Dr. Dudley and Polly first touched upon the
subject of helpers for the Overlook home.

“You had better take two nurses with you,” observed the Doctor.

“How could I need them?” returned Polly. “Unless in case of an
epidemic,” she laughed.

“Easy enough,” replied the physician. “I want you to have a good rest.”

“Yes, two are none too many,” added Mrs. Dudley.

The girl scowled musingly. “I am afraid they will be in the way,” she
demurred. “It depends on which can go.”

“How should you like Miss Curtis and the assistant dietitian?”

“Perhaps it would be well to have a dietitian along,” she answered.
“Only Benedicta may object.”

“We won’t ask her permission. It shall be Mrs. Daybill and Miss Curtis,
then.”

“No, no! I don’t need Miss Curtis. I’ll tell you what I have thought
of,” she went on. “You know, Lilith hasn’t been feeling quite up to the
mark lately, and she is so handy with children, I have been wondering
if it wouldn’t be a good plan to ask her to go with us. I am sure she
would like nothing better.”

“First-rate. Unless the children are really ill Lilith will do as well
as any one.”

“Of course, we must have a physician. Can you spare Dr. Abbe?”

Her father gave a little laugh. “He must be obviously fit, since we
both had him in mind.”

“And I, too,” smiled Mrs. Dudley.

Polly clapped her hands softly. “He is so shy,” she explained, “I think
he will do better than any one else. He won’t be bothering round--like
Dr. Marston, for example.”

“Dr. Abbe is a fine young fellow,” commented the physician.

“And a good doctor, isn’t he?”

“He is all right,” nodded her father.

“But suppose he shouldn’t want to go? I heard that Dr. Leggett is
hoping _he_ won’t be called.”

“Leggett has too many interests here in town.”

“One big interest,” Polly smiled. “Dr. Abbe is too diffident to look at
a girl; but the children like him immensely. He is bashful even with
them--I have noticed it. Strange he should be, so able a man.”

The Doctor looked at Polly meditatively. Only that afternoon he had
seen this same shy young surgeon stop to gaze from a window that
commanded the garden where Polly was gathering sweet pease. He wondered
now if it would be wise to send Dr. Abbe to Overlook.

Polly glanced up from her plate to meet her father’s eyes.

“What is it?”

“I was thinking--how should you like Dr. Prowitt, instead of Abbe?”

“Oh, father, the children can’t bear him! Little Duke would have a
fit, if he were along. Didn’t I tell you what he said? The Doctor had
just been in, and Little Duke looked up at me and asked, with a queer
expression, ‘You like him, Mi’ Duddy?’

“‘He’s all right,’ I answered. He eyed me closely, and then
said,--‘Docker Prow’t is a b-i-g w-i-n-d that comes down the street
’thout any sunshine.’ And you ought to have heard him say it--away down
in his throat. No, I couldn’t stand ‘Docker Prow’t’ up at Overlook!”

They laughed; then the physician grew grave again.

“Well--I didn’t know,” was all that he said; but he left the table
still wondering if he ought to send Dr. Abbe.

Of course, there was just a chance that Polly at the sweet-pea bed
might not have been the brilliant objective point of the Doctor’s eyes.
If only this had been the first time! Well, perhaps he and Polly could
compromise on one of the others.

The girl, however, had no doubts concerning the wisdom of selecting the
shy young surgeon for the House physician of Overlook, and within an
hour she had settled the matter beyond recall.

Quite by chance Polly met Dr. Abbe while on her way to June Holiday
Home. She was about to pass him with a pleasant word when she stopped
abruptly.

“Oh, Dr. Abbe!” she cried, “have you seen father?”

The Doctor looked troubled.

“Not since dinner. Is he missing?”

“No,” laughed Polly. “I meant about Overlook. We were wondering at
dinner how you would like the appointment.”

The young man’s face flamed. “Indeed, few things would give me as much
pleasure.”

“Then it is all right,” Polly exclaimed. “I thought you’d fill the
position better than anybody else--”

“Oh, Miss Dudley, you are too flattering.”

“No, it is true. The children just adore you.”

“Oh!”

“Yes,” Polly went on, “I told father I thought you’d be the very best
one to go with us, and he agreed with me. I didn’t know but he had seen
you already.”

“I am very much obliged to you for your good opinion,” he replied, his
face still aflush. “How soon are you going?” he added.

“As soon as we can get ready. It may be lonely for you,” she suggested.
“It is miles away from anybody, except a few farmers along the side of
the mountain, and you feel farther off than you really are, because
only one farmhouse is in sight.”

“I could never be lonely, Miss Dudley, never,” he assured her. “I am
certain I shall love it all.” His blush deepened as he let slip the
word.

“That’s jolly,” Polly smiled. “It was the only thing I was afraid of.
I am so glad you aren’t that kind. I think the sunsets up there--yes,
and the sunrises--must be magnificent. And the air! If you have never
been up on a Vermont mountain you can have scarcely any idea of the
wonderful air. I am sure it will do the children no end of good.”

Of course, Dr. Abbe thought just as Polly did, and they soon parted,
the girl to forget all about the young physician, and Dr. Abbe to
wonder if his good fortune were really true or if he were dreaming.



CHAPTER XII

PATRICIA AND A FEW OTHERS


During these days that were filled to the very brim with plans and
the carrying-out of them Polly had little time for thoughts of David
or herself. Not a word had come from her quondam lover, until she had
almost ceased to expect to hear from him. To her astonishment, when she
had time for reflection, she found that David did not seem to occupy
the same place in her heart as before this overpowering interest in the
hospital’s new possession. She did not quite understand it. She felt
that she still loved David as well as ever, yet she was as confident as
she had been on that night down at Samoosic Point, that she could not
accept more promises which were almost sure to be broken.

Occasionally came a day when she would long for David with all the
ardor of her nature. Even Overlook would seem commonplace in comparison
with this irresistible passion to be to him what she once had been.
Patricia, never very tactful, spoke one morning of David.

“Doesn’t he ever write to you?” she asked.

Polly’s simple negative did not satisfy her.

“Great lover he is!” she burst out. “It shows how much he really
cares--to break off in this fashion!”

“But, Patty, you know we were never engaged,” returned Polly, flushing
and paling with the memories which were thus suddenly brought before
her.

“’Twasn’t his fault,” Patricia laughed. “Don’t you honestly think,
Polly, that if you had consented to an engagement he wouldn’t have been
so jealous? You see, then he’d have been sure of you.”

Polly shook her head. “It would have been just the same,” she said.

“Well, I don’t know,” the other concluded. “But I do know this--you
have been too meek from the first. If you’d flirted round with the
other boys, he’d have got used to it. Even now you stick to him, I know
you do; you haven’t been with anybody else all summer long. Catch me
being so loyal to a man of David Collins’s caliber! Why don’t you wake
up and have a good time? You know you could have anybody in our set.
They’d run for you if you’d as much as wave your little finger, every
man of them.”

“Patricia Illingworth! what nonsense you are talking! I am not in need
of any man, and you know I abominate flirting. I shall never marry. I
am going to be a nurse--I have made up my mind.”

“A nurse! a nurse! Polly Dudley a nurse!” Patricia swayed in a paroxysm
of glee. “That’s too funny!”

“I don’t see anything to laugh at,” grumbled Polly. “Don’t be so
silly!” as Patricia broke into fresh giggles.

“What will you wager that you’ll be engaged before I am?”

“Oh, Patty, stop your nonsense! I am in no mood for fun of that kind.”

“Then you ought to be. This nursing business right on top of the David
affair is making a regular nun of you. I think I’ll speak to your
father about it.”

“I think you won’t! I want you to come up to Overlook and stay a week
next month. Will you?”

“A week in that out-of-the-world place? I should die of homesickness.
Who’s going to be there, anyway?”

“Just the children and the housekeeper, and one doctor and the
dietitian, besides me.”

“And ‘me’ is worth the whole posse put together. Which doctor?”

“Dr. Abbe.”

“Abbe? Abbe?--oh! that good-looking little fellow? Does he know how to
flirt?”

“I hope not! He knows too much to be a fool. If he didn’t I wouldn’t
have him there.”

“Guess I’ll come and teach him how--yes, I’ll come.”

“You won’t come to visit me unless you promise not to lead him on--to
nothing. Besides, you might get caught in your own toils.”

“I can take care of myself, thank you.”

“I am not so sure of that,” Polly demurred. “You didn’t use to be this
way, Patty. What’s the matter?” She had dropped into a confidential
tone.

Patricia’s face grew pink. She laughed uncertainly. “Oh, I’m all
right!” she returned, stooping ostensibly to tie her shoe, which the
other was positive did not need tying.

“I don’t like it,” Polly went on softly; “I like you best as you always
have been. You are too much a woman to be a flirt.”

“It’s fun!” laughed Patricia. “You may as well break men’s hearts as to
have them break yours.”

The eyes of the girls met, Polly’s soft with sympathy, the other’s
sharp with recklessness.

The next minute Patricia was rattling on again. “I don’t believe I’ll
come up, after all,” she observed lightly. “I’m afraid Abbe isn’t a
good sport. Why don’t you take Marston? He knows how to keep up his
end.”

“I don’t want him,” replied Polly.

“Wouldn’t he feel flattered to know that!” laughed Patricia.

“He wouldn’t like the position. He would want to go down to Overlook
every evening. You know Lilith is going up to help me?”

“No! Is she really? I’m afraid you will both die of lonesomeness.”

“We shall love it,” Polly assured her with emphasis.

“I’m willing. On the whole I think I’ll come. How soon you going?”

“Next week if the cabin is ready.”

“How alluring that sounds! Bye-bye! Be good to yourself, and don’t fall
in love with that little Abbe!--No, dear, don’t come down, I can let
myself out.”

Polly turned back to her room with a faint smile. “Fall in love with
Dr. Abbe!” she scorned. She had been writing to her Cousin Floyd. He
was about to be married, and when Patricia came she was explaining
to him why she could not be present at the wedding. She took up the
half-written note upon her desk.

“I shouldn’t want to go, anyway,” she said to herself. “I am not
interested in weddings--I wonder if I ever shall be.”

Suddenly her eyes brimmed. “Oh, David,” she sobbed softly, “why
couldn’t you trust me!”

Tears eased the tension, and presently her thoughts touched Patricia.
So she, too, had become acquainted with sorrow. Her old friend was
surely not the sweet-hearted Patty she had known so long. Could the
trouble have to do with John Eustis? Until quite recently the two
had seemed to drift together wherever they might be, and Polly had
sometimes wondered if they cared seriously for each other. Now she
recalled that Patty seldom spoke of him in a personal way, and her
name had not been included in John’s list of possible members of the
week-end party at Overlook. Patricia was not a girl to give confidences
freely. Hitherto she had never seemed other than happy; and her griefs
if any existed had not been shared even with Polly.

That afternoon in the bookshop she met John Eustis. As he waited at a
counter, she fancied that he was graver than usual; then, as he turned,
a smile illuminated his plain face, and he came forward quickly.

“It’s an age since I’ve seen you!” he exclaimed. “I was afraid you had
gone.”

“Not till next week. Mrs. Gresham decided that the kitchen must be
enlarged and have a piazza of its own; so we’re waiting until the
addition is floored and shut in. I am wondering what Benedicta will
say.”

He laughed. “Write me. It will be worth hearing.”

“Come up to Overlook and hear it,” Polly returned. “Why can’t you and
Kate?--Do!” She was about to add, “Patricia has promised me a week,”
but a sudden impulse made her wait.

“Perhaps we can,” he answered, with thanks, his face lighting. “Kate
would be overjoyed. I mustn’t tell her just yet,” he laughed, “or she
wouldn’t give me any peace until we were in the car, ready to start.
But I will surely try to bring her up before you come home.”

Now was her time!

“I do hope you will,” she said. “I want a visit from all my friends
while we are there. It would be jolly to have a regular house party,
but that is impossible. Patricia has promised me a week--if only you
and Kate could come then!” She was furtively watching his face, and
noted the almost tragic expression that suddenly swept it. The pallor
was closely followed by a veritable blush, even up to his hair. She had
caught him unawares, and guiltily she dropped her eyes.

Straightway John was under control, saying in even tones:--

“That would be fine, indeed; but it is barely possible that I shall not
be able to come at that time. Business must be considered first, you
know, and we are unusually busy this summer.”

Polly went back to her car, where the children were waiting, feeling
that one thing was sure--it was John Eustis who had caused Patricia’s
bitter, reckless mood. But what was the trouble? That would be harder
to discover.

Her patients chattered and laughed with one another; occasionally the
little one who sat between her and Evan would call her attention to
something along the wayside and receive an absent answer; but Polly’s
mind was engaged with matters far from the country road. What was the
trouble between Patricia and John? If she could only get them up
to Overlook at the same time! But--well, perhaps she had better let
matchmaking alone. She hoped it would right itself--John was such a
nice boy!



CHAPTER XIII

WHAT SARDIS SAID


Polly was preparing the chosen ones of her small flock for a ride. Of
late automobile rides had been few, the driver’s time having been too
full of indoor work. “They will live outdoors in a few days,” she told
herself, when her conscience had pricked her for keeping them in the
heat of Paradise Ward. But this morning no pressing task was at hand,
and she happily made ready for a short ride into the country, planning
to call for Dolly Merrifield on the way.

“Miss Dudley, there’s a woman downstairs who wants to see you,”
announced Andrew, one of the orderlies.

“Didn’t she give her name?”

“No, ma’am, she didn’t. I’ll step down and find out.”

“No, no,” returned Polly. “Probably it’s about one of the patients,
and it isn’t I she wants at all. If you’ll see to the ward a minute,
Andrew, I’ll be right back.”

As Polly entered the reception room a plump little woman arose and
greeted her.

“Why, good-morning, Mrs. Edmonson,” cried Polly. “I was just going out
to your house, to take Dolly to ride.”

The woman shook her head sadly. “I’m afraid she won’t be able to go.
Thank you just the same; but she isn’t a bit well.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” responded Polly.

“Yes, it’s too bad. I think it may be the heat, we’ve had such awful
weather; but I don’t know. It’s about her I’ve come down this morning.
I didn’t know but your father would go up and see her some day; I felt
he’d be better than anybody else.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” returned Polly, “and he’ll be glad to come. What
seems to be the matter--just weakness?”

“Yes. She sits there looking like a little angel, and growing whiter
and whiter every day. I carry her out to the doorstep after the sun
is gone, but it don’t seem to do her much good. I’m afraid she’s just
fading away. If anything does happen, I don’t know what Sardis will do.
That child is the very apple of his eye.”

“I’m so sorry, so sorry,” Polly sighed. “I’m sure father will come to
see her right away--I’ll find out.” She stepped to a telephone and took
up the receiver.

“Is father there?... Will you please say that Polly wishes to speak
with him.” Presently she came back.

“Father says he will drive up to see her at five o’clock this
afternoon. Now, don’t worry another bit. I feel sure that he will bring
her out all right. You think she couldn’t bear even a short ride?
Well, perhaps we’d better wait and see.”

Dr. Dudley was a little late to dinner. Polly waited for him anxiously.
She had become attached to little Dolly Merrifield, for helplessness
always appealed to her, and the tiny girl was rarely attractive.

Presently she heard a step in the hall, and the Doctor walked in.

“I stayed too long to visit with my patient,” he said as he sipped his
soup. “Have I kept you waiting? Where is your mother?”

“Why, mother’s at the church to-night. Don’t you remember? She told you
she shouldn’t be home. No, dinner hasn’t waited a great while. I am
glad you were only visiting. I was afraid Dolly might be worse--how is
she?”

“I couldn’t discover any urgent need for alarm. The child is in a bad
way; but we must remedy that. She needs good country air and food. I
fancy Mrs. Edmonson doesn’t set a hotel table. Evidently there is not
too much money. What does the son do, did you say?”

“The son? Oh, Dolly’s brother! He is a minister away up in New
Hampshire, graduated from Yale two years ago.”

“Probably he isn’t making a fortune, then,” he smiled. “I wish the
child was up there with him. But I don’t see why you can’t take her
along with you. It will be better than any tonic I could give her.”

“To Overlook? Oh, I wish I could!”

“Why can’t you?”

“In the first place, I didn’t suppose they’d let her go, and then when
I heard how weak she is I thought it wouldn’t be of any use even to
think of it.”

“’Twon’t hurt her a mite--do her good.”

“You think she can bear that long trip?”

The Doctor nodded. “She might have to lie down on the way, but that
would be easy enough.”

Polly’s face had grown very bright. “I should love to have her with
us,” she responded. “What did they say? Or didn’t you speak of it?”

Dr. Dudley shook his head. “I said nothing of Overlook. Probably they
will be glad to have her go; they ought to be. You’d better see Mrs.
Edmonson at once. The time is getting short.”

Dolly’s aunt did not receive the proposition as gladly as had been
expected.

“You see,” she explained, “I’m afraid Sardis wouldn’t hear to letting
her go so far with strangers. Of course,” she hastened to add, “I’d be
willing enough; it might do her no end of good. But Sardis, he is so
afraid something will happen to her. It’s nice of you to want to take
her, and I’ll write him to-day; though I haven’t much hope he’ll let
her go.”

As for Dolly herself, she sat in her cushioned chair, eager-eyed at
first, but disappointed as she listened to her aunt’s objections.

“Why, Aunt Sophie,” she once ventured to pipe, in her tired little
voice, “I do guess it would make me ’most well, same as Miss Dudley
says. I know I could coax Sardis to say yes, if I only had him here.”

“I don’t doubt you could,” returned her aunt with a little laugh;
“Sardis would tear the house down and make a bonfire of it if you
wanted him to; but he ain’t here, and I don’t know. I expect, though,
he’ll be against it, he’s so careful.”

Polly went over and sat down by the little girl before leaving.

“Don’t worry, dear! Maybe Sardis will say yes--who knows!”

“He would if he was some folks,” returned Mrs. Edmonson; “but he isn’t.
I know just what his answer will be.”

The brightness which had come into Dolly’s face vanished and left it
listless and dull.

Aunt Sophie, also, grew sad.

“I hated to say that,” she whispered to Polly as she stood on the
doorstep; “but I couldn’t let her go on hoping and hoping, as I was
afraid she would. I wish she could go; but Sardis, though he’s smart as
all creation, acts kind o’ foolish sometimes. I’ll let you know soon ’s
I hear. I can telephone from the grocery store.”

Polly was more disappointed than she at first realized. She was
indignant with this brother of the queer name. To think anybody could
be so pig-headed as to refuse to believe what her father asserted as
truth. If it were only he that would suffer through hot August, instead
of sweet, frail little Dolly! He must be an ignorant fellow, this
Sardis. Polly said to herself that she would like to tell him what she
thought. It wouldn’t be very flattering to his judgment. She wondered
if she could induce him to be sensible if she should write herself; but
finally she decided to wait.

Nearly a week passed, but no word came from the little far-away New
Hampshire town to the Children’s House of Joy. At last Polly was so
anxious that two days before the morning of starting for Overlook she
drove out to Prattsboro.

Mrs. Edmonson had received no answer to her letter. Perhaps Sardis had
been too busy to go to the post-office, his aunt thought likely. He
lived quite a distance from the center, she said. She did not appear
to be much disturbed; but little Dolly looked whiter and wispier than
ever. Polly’s heart ached to see her.

“It won’t make any difference whether we hear or not,” Mrs. Edmonson
said dully. “I know Sardis well enough to know he would not do anything
about it. So don’t let it change your plans in the least. I may get a
letter to-morrow. He’ll answer--he always does.”

Polly drove sadly home and told her father the disappointing news.

He was sorry and said so. “Probably,” he added, “the child won’t live
through the summer if she stays here.”

Polly went back to her duties, almost wishing that she had never seen
Dolly Merrifield.

The next day went its hot, lagging way, and Paradise Ward prepared for
an early morning start. Polly put her little folks to bed early, and
when they were asleep she went downstairs, leaving a young nurse in
charge.

“No message from Prattsboro, I suppose,” she said to her mother.

“Not a word. It is too bad.”

“I’d like to give that Sardis a shaking,” said Polly grimly. “When the
dear child could be so comfortable and happy up on Overlook!”

The two were still talking when eleven strokes from the clock in the
next room started Polly to her feet. “And I meant to be asleep by this
time!” she laughed.

One of the hospital orderlies appeared at the door, an envelope in his
hand.

“Dr. Dudley wished me to give you this. He will be down in a few
minutes.”

Polly took the telegram wonderingly, then opened it. “Mother!” she
cried--“listen!”

                                _Raineville, New Hampshire, July--_

  To ROBERT DUDLEY, M.D.,

  Children’s House of Joy, Fair Harbor, Conn. Your letter received.
  A big Yes. Everlasting thanks to you.

                                                  SARDIS MERRIFIELD



CHAPTER XIV

PARADISE WARD ON WHEELS


The little gray house in Prattsboro, opposite Mrs. Hamilton Garde’s
garage, saw busy hours throughout that sultry July night of Sardis
Merrifield’s message. Aunt Sophie and a kindly neighbor mended and
stitched and washed and ironed and packed, to get Dolly ready for her
journey next day and the outdoor months to follow.

Meanwhile the little maid for whom they labored slept quietly in the
adjoining room, all unknowing of the delights in store for her.

The next morning at eight o’clock a little procession waited in front
of the Children’s House of Joy, making ready for its start on the long
journey to Overlook Mountain.

At the head stood Colonel Gresham’s seven-passenger car, in charge of
John, the Colonel’s chauffeur. Next came No. 45678; then Russell Ely,
who had placed himself and his car at Polly’s disposal; while Colonel
Gresham’s small truck, piled with all manner of luggage, tagged the
three. The children were chattering and snickering as only little
people can. There were last words to say, last bundles to dispose of,
and all was hilarity and happiness.

“Now, father,” said Polly, “remember that you have promised to come up
in August for a few days at the least, and you must plan to make it a
week if you possibly can. You owe it to yourself and to your patients.
I do wish you and mother could come together.”

She looked appealingly into Mrs. Dudley’s eyes.

Her mother smilingly shook her head. “I’ll try to come,” she said, “and
I’ll do my very best to make your father keep his promise; but I’m
afraid we can’t come at the same time.”

“When are we goin’?” piped up Timmy, flinging the query in Polly’s
direction.

“As soon as I can make this box stay where it belongs,” she laughed.
“There! I believe that’s positively the last.”

Her eyes scanned the running-board, the walk, even the roadway. Was
everything in? She paused, thinking.

“Don’t try to find a single package more,” laughed Lilith. “If we don’t
start pretty soon--”

“Oh! I forgot--” She dashed towards the house.

“What? What?” cried those nearest.

“Ain’t we goin’?” queried a worried little voice.

Russell was already leaping after Polly, while Lilith reassured the
anxious tot. In a moment the two runaways reappeared in the doorway,
Russell carrying Polly’s forgotten lunch basket.

This made the grown folks laugh. Then everybody said good-bye. There
was a waving of hands, the cars burr-r-ed and sizzed and smoked; there
were more good-byes and hand-wavings--and they were on the long way to
Overlook.

Reaching Prattsboro Polly Dudley’s car whirled ahead of the procession
and speeded around to the little gray house.

Dolly Merrifield was at the window, ready from hat to shoe, and even
more radiant than usual.

“I never was so taken back in my life,” declared Aunt Sophie, looking
up from the suitcase she was strapping. “I got a letter from Sardis
just now, telling why he didn’t answer mine. He hadn’t got it! And to
think your father should take the trouble to write! Well, if he hadn’t,
Dolly could not have gone--that’s all. I’m mighty glad he did, and we
all are. Why, Sardis says he went to the post-office and there wasn’t
any letter from me. You see, it got mixed up with somebody else’s mail,
and he hadn’t got it even then; but he’d heard about it, though. Such
doings!

“According to Sardis, anything your father says, goes. I didn’t know
he knew him; but it seems he’d heard all about him--when he was down
at Yale, I guess. He says he wouldn’t have Dolly miss it for anything.
Dear me, this string ain’t long enough! I’ll have to tie a piece on.
Thank you. Guess my fingers are nervous. There, that’s all! My! all
those autos going? Won’t you have a splendid time! How far’d you say it
was?”

“About a hundred and forty miles.”

“My!” ejaculated Mrs. Edmonson again. “Well, you’ve got a lovely day.
You’ll let me know how Dolly stood it, won’t you?” she asked a bit
anxiously as she followed the others to the sidewalk.

“I’ll send you word right away,” Polly reassured her. “Father says
she’ll get along all right, and we have a doctor right here, if we
should need anything. And a nurse, too,” she laughed. “They are going
to be with us all summer.”

“Oh, they are!” exclaimed Aunt Sophie in a relieved tone. “I shall feel
easier about her, then.”

They had reached Polly’s car, and Russell put the little girl on the
front seat, between the driver and Lilith.

Aunt Sophie stepped upon the running-board and kissed Dolly again, and
then backed out to make way for Polly.

“I’ll write to you, Aunt Sophie,” promised Dolly. “Don’t work too hard!
And don’t forget to take a nap before you do the dishes, ’cause you
were up all night!”

That was a wonderful ride to most of the passengers. It was just warm
enough to be comfortable, with a fresh breeze--exactly such a morning
as Polly would have chosen.

“Tired, dear?” she questioned, smiling down into the little face.

“Not a bit,” Dolly smiled back. “Isn’t it splendid! Aren’t you glad
Sardis said yes? I wonder if he ever had such a nice ride.”

“I guess so,” laughed Polly; and then, “Have you thought, dear, you
will be nearer your brother than when you were at home?”

Dolly’s little thin face grew pink, “O--h!” she said softly.

“I don’t know just where your brother is. I must look it up. He may be
right across the New Hampshire line.”

“He is away up in the northern part.” The pink faded. “Never mind, we
shall be nearer than when I was down in Prattsboro.”

The child wagged her head delightedly, while Polly wondered what kind
of brother this was to hold such a place in his little sister’s heart.
If he were all that Dolly believed him to be, she should like to know
him.

The wind died and the air grew warm. Jozy and Esther on the back seat
were asleep.

“What time is it?” Polly turned to Lilith. “We are pretty near
Springfield.”

“Quarter of twelve.”

“Almost time for dinner. We’ll be on the lookout for a shady spot.”

“I’m famished,” declared Lilith. “Isn’t that tree big enough?”

“No,” Polly laughed. “If I remember, there is a bit of shade this side
of Northampton.”

“Do hurry up, then, for I’m sure the tots are starving.”

“Are you hungry, dear?” Polly smiled down at Dolly.

“Not much.”

“Hear that! Where is the lunch basket?” Lilith peered down over the
back of her seat. “I believe you hid it away! I don’t see anything
familiar.”

Polly looked mischievous. “There are chicken sandwiches and
cream-cheese sandwiches and chocolate snaps and oranges and coffee
and--”

“Oh!” Lilith clapped her hands to her ears. “Isn’t she naughty, Dolly?”

“No,” answered Dolly; “she couldn’t be--ever.”

“You see, I have a stanch champion,” Polly twinkled.

“Oh, yes,” sighed Lilith in mock distress, “everybody swears allegiance
to you. I foresee what lonesome days I am going to have up on the
mountain.”

Dolly was looking at the girl with a puzzled expression. Lilith’s face
was perfectly serious.

“I love you too,” she said sweetly.

“Bless her little heart!” cried Lilith. “You and I are going to have a
lovely time at Overlook, aren’t we?”

“Yes, Miss Lilith,” answered Dolly, yet this was becoming even more
perplexing. Hadn’t she just said--

Lilith was watching her. “Did you think I was in earnest?” she smiled.
“That’s the way Polly and I amuse ourselves. I was only joking. I am
delighted to have everybody love Polly.”

At which the little face grew bright again.

“There!” exclaimed Lilith; “a tree! a tree!--it’s dinner-time!”

Polly speeded up the car and whizzed by the designated shrub.

“Oh, I say”--and the jester was serious this time--“let me out at that
little tea-room or tavern or whatever--honest, Polly, I mean it!”

So the car stopped, and the girl disappeared inside the door. Soon she
came out, her hands full of ice-cream cones which she served to her
fellow-passengers and then ran back for more.

Russell drew up beside Polly and leaped out, to follow Lilith. Dr. Abbe
was not far behind, and the three returned with more cones, running
back and forth until all were supplied.

It was a happy thought of Lilith’s, for the children were in ecstasies,
and the icy sweets were grateful to everybody. Dr. Abbe and Russell
lingered by Polly’s car, the children on the back seat eating and
chattering by turns. Suddenly Little Duke’s voice piped high above the
others’.

“Oh! it’s awful hot; but My hasn’t sweat a hair!”

Those on the front seat laughed slyly.

“Pretty good,” observed Russell softly.

“Amusing little fellow,” returned Dr. Abbe in the same tone.

Polly glanced behind. Little Duke, all unconscious of the notice, was
engaged in examining his suit of new tan linen which was his especial
admiration. Finding it still immaculate, he resumed his ice-cream,
remarking, “If My should get a drop on this, it would be enough to
drive the angels to drink.”

Russell grinned, Dr. Abbe’s lips puckered, Lilith laughed into her
handkerchief, while Polly whirled her back towards the small boy, and
chuckled.

“You seem to be in a fair way to have plenty of entertainment,”
observed Russell.

“This goes a little ahead of our regular everyday kind,” returned
Polly; “but there’s always enough to keep us cheerful.”

“It is well we didn’t wait for a woodsy dining-room,” declared Polly,
when they were again racing northward. “It doesn’t look as if we’d find
one very soon.”

It grew hotter and hotter. Polly drove faster.

“There’s a lovely place this side of South Deerfield,” observed Lilith.
“We’re nearly there, I think. Tired, Dolly dear?”

“Some,” she answered softly, with a little wan smile.

“We’re going to have dinner,” cried Polly gayly, speeding her car.
“Look ahead! See that little wood--that’s where we’re going to stop.”
And almost as she spoke the place was reached.

“Oh, how beautiful!” breathed Dolly.

The four cars drew up on the grass beside the road, lunch boxes were
opened, and very shortly everybody was eating and drinking, the
grown-ups taking only hurried nibbles until most of the children had a
glass of milk in one hand and a chicken sandwich in the other. All felt
the refreshment of the cool, green dining-room. The young men poured
the ice-cold coffee and lemonade, the girls handed out sandwiches
and cookies, oranges and small cakes, until weariness and heat were
forgotten, and everybody was in gay morning mood.

There was not much to pack away into basket and box when the luncheon
was over, only a few cookies and bottles of milk, in case of need later
in the day.

Just as they were ready to start on again, Polly called Dr. Abbe.

He came as if on wings. “At your service,” he bowed.

“Would you mind letting Dolly go to sleep in your arms?” she asked. “I
think she will be easier there.”

“I shall be glad to take her,” was his assurance.

“You might change places with one or two of the children here on the
back seat,” Polly suggested, noticing the little maid’s troubled face.
“Then Dolly will be right with me when she wakes up.”

The exchange was quickly made, and on went the cars, on and on,
through wide farm lands, beside gurgling streams and quiet lakes. They
whirled into pretty villages and out, ran along the foot of hills and
skirted deep ravines, where down, down, down, a brook was singing. The
mountains drew closer and climbed nearer the clouds. But only the grown
people saw and enjoyed it all, for the children, to the very last one,
had fallen fast asleep.

They had passed through Brattleboro and were following the winding
river when--bang!

There was an instant outcry, and everybody that was awake peered
out to discover the trouble. It was one of Russell’s tires that was
responsible for the spoiling of so many naps, and at once his coat was
off and he was getting out his tools, begging the rest to go on and
promising to follow as soon as possible. But the road was shady and the
cars came to a halt, John and Charley running to help with the injured
tire.

The little folks in Russell’s car were in mild excitement, watching
proceedings with great interest. The less fortunate ones, after vainly
craning their necks and being unable to get a satisfactory view of
the scene, gave themselves up to conversing with their neighbors or
finishing their interrupted naps.

“I say, it’s a good time for a lunch--” began Polly.

“Oh!”--“Oh, do, Miss Dudley!”--“I’m hungrier than anything!”--“What are
we goin’ to have?”--“Oh, my! are we goin’ to have ice-cream?”

“We’re going to have cookies and milk,” replied Polly. And she began
fishing out the cakes from a deep bag.

The little folks were all wide awake at once, including Dolly
Merrifield, who looked as fresh as need be.

Polly and Dr. Abbe walked over to the workers where John, driver of the
truck, was pumping. “It was good of you to hold Dolly all this time,”
said the girl. “Isn’t she a darling?”

“She is,” he answered. And then they fell to talking of the little maid
and what they hoped the outing would do for her.

The tire was in place, the men were putting on their coats. “Whew,
but it’s hot!” ejaculated Russell, wiping his forehead with his grimy
handkerchief. “I supposed my tires were in good con--”

“Bang!”

There was a scream from Polly’s car, a series of screams, and she and
the Doctor ran ahead together. The rest came up.

“Don’t be frightened, dears! It’s only a tire.”

“I thought I was shot!” wailed Jozy. “So did I!” chimed in Grissel.

The others laughed.

“Pretty big blow-out,” said Russell. He pulled off his coat that was on
only one arm.

Dr. Abbe regarded it ruefully. “Wish I knew how to help,” he said.

“It’s a shame--” began Polly.

“It’s fine,” returned Russell; “I’m glad to have a change from driving.
They’ve chosen a good, shady spot for it. And the tools are out--all
handy.” He ran back for them.

They went at the work good-humoredly, and presently the new tire was
on, and they were ready to start.

“Miss Dudley,” began Jozy, a little shyly, “would you mind--may--may--”

“Well, what is it?” urged Polly, one foot on the running-board.

“May I--” Jozy began again,--“do you mind if Grissel and me sit in the
other car--the big car?”

“For what?” asked Polly in astonishment.

Jozy didn’t answer.

Grissel’s courage leapt forward. “We want to sit in that,” she pointed,
“so ’s--so ’s to be there when it goes off.”

Polly gave a little shriek of laughter, in which Dr. Abbe joined.

The children looked a bit shame-faced; they did not see anything funny.
Russell was only a few steps away. He turned back questioningly.

“Jozy and Grissel want to sit in the Gresham car, so as to be on the
spot when that takes its turn at popping!”

Russell shouted, and Jozy began to cry.

“Beg pardon, mesdemoiselles,” smiled Russell with a low bow;
“but”--glancing at the others--“that is a good one!”

Grissel’s lip went up, and she hid her face in her elbow.

“Come, come,” coaxed Polly, “there’s nothing to cry about. We don’t
expect any more punctures, so you’d better stay where you are.” She
waved Russell off and settled herself at the wheel.

“What magnificent ferns!” It was Dr. Abbe’s tribute to the mountain
road.

“Aren’t they beautiful!” responded Lilith. “Polly says it looks as if
somebody had been decorating for a wedding.”

The Doctor laughed--and blushed.

“I wonder if he is going to be married,” thought Lilith.

The way wound up and up; but No. 45678 took the steep grade ascent
without flinching, and at least one of the party thought Polly managed
her car exceedingly well. As they mounted higher and still higher,
occasional breaks in the leafy roadsides drew forth exclamations of
surprise and admiration from the travelers big and little.

Russell drove up alongside the car ahead.

“Say,” he called, “this is great! Why didn’t you tell a fellow we were
bound for the clouds?”

“I thought you knew,” returned Polly. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Like it!” Russell took off his hat, and gazed down the valley. “It
makes a man feel pretty small,” he said.

Near at hand lay rolling, pine-scattered pastures, with now and then
a cultivated field or fruited orchard. Farther on, the little town of
Overlook stretched itself in a long line from the wooded north to the
open south, where shining pleasure cars ran in and out of the covered
bridge that spanned the village brook, looking like children’s toys
that could rest in the palm of one’s hand. Beyond stood the green
hills, with an occasional white farmhouse or a parti-colored bungalow,
and then range upon range of hazy mountains until they melted into the
sky.

On and on went the little procession, up between pines and birches and
maples, where bushes hung thick with ripening berries, and finally into
the open, leaving weather-worn farmhouses on right and left. Rocky
pastures where herds were feeding, orchards whose trees bent with
their burden of green fruit, meadows yellow with “butter and eggs” and
kingcups; these came into view and disappeared.

“There is the site of the old town,” said Polly, waving her hand
toward a field of tall grass on her right. “Nearly one hundred years
ago Overlook was moved down into the valley, and small stones mark
the location of its principal buildings. See that monument over there?
That is where the court-house stood. Haven’t you noticed, along the
roadside, occasional little numbered granite stones?”

“Yes, and I wondered what they were for,” answered Dr. Abbe.

“Each marks the site of some house; it tells on the monument what they
were.”

Everybody looked until the spot was left well behind and a bungalow
came into view.

“That isn’t ours,” said Polly. “We are going farther to the left. It
won’t look familiar even to me, for they are putting on a new piazza
and a sleeping-porch--unless they’ve finished them already.”

“I see it!” cried Lilith. “And I do believe Benedicta is out watching
for us.”

She was. And with outspread arms she received them all, her homely face
one big welcoming smile.



CHAPTER XV

THE FIRST DAY


A half-dozen wheel-chair girls and boys were ranged along the wide
veranda, all smilingly alert to their new surroundings.

Polly, seated on the top step of the stairs that faced the south,
looked dreamily off to the hills--thinking of David.

Russell Ely came suddenly into her line of vision, and her eyes
followed him, a trim young figure in the morning sunshine.

“Hullo!” he called presently, “come and show me the rest of it!”

“I can’t,” Polly answered. “Dr. Abbe will take you all over.”

He came nearer.

“I didn’t ask Dr. Abbe,” he objected quietly; “I asked you.”

Polly smiled and moved nearer the post as he dropped to the step beside
her.

“I have to stay with the children,” she explained.

“All the time?” queried the young man.

“Nearly.”

He shook his head. “Don’t believe I’d like it.”

“It is much more satisfactory,” she returned, “than watching time all
day.”

Russell looked at her keenly; but her eyes still kept to the hills.

“Miss Dudley, what does that mean?” Grissel pointed upward, stretching
sidewise in a vain attempt to see the words over the entrance.

“Oh! ‘Sunrise Chalet’?”

“Yes’m--I mean, Miss Dudley. Clementina said it was ‘Sunrise
something’--she didn’t know what.”

“It is the name of the house,” Polly explained. “All the houses up here
have names or inscriptions. We’ll go to see them some day.”

“What do they have ’em for?” persisted Grissel. “And what does
‘shallay’ mean?”

“I’ll tell you all about it, honey,” broke in Benedicta, appearing
in the doorway. She moved a chair towards the child, and sat in it,
pulling her sleeves down and buttoning them about her wrists.

“You see, my Miss Flora and Mr. Aimé who live here were part Swiss and
part Scotch. Their pa was a Swiss gentleman, a descendant of the great
patriot, Mr. Arnold von Winkelried, and their ma was a Scotland girl,
and they lived in a shally in Switzerland till their pa passed over.
Then their ma, bein’ raised in Scotland, begun to hanker after the
heather--that’s a little pink flower--or sometimes white. Wal, back
she went, and it kicked up a prodigious muss with their pa’s brother,
and the joke of it is, their uncle--the old bach, him who’s just
gone--procrastinated one day too many and passed over sudden, without
a will, and my Miss Flora and Mr. Aimé possess all that property! They
inhabited Scotland as long as their ma lived; then they came out to New
York and sojourned there until Mr. Aimé got to be a lawyer and my Miss
Flora learned to be a beautiful singer--oh, you ought to hear her! I
don’t ever expect to hear anybody sing like her till I get to heaven.
My, can’t she sing! Wal, where was I? Oh, yes! They wanted to be out in
God’s country, and they built here. They had an appalling time gettin’
somebody to do their cookin’ till I come--that was five years ago, when
my twin passed over. My twin--his name was Benedict--lived down the
mountain a piece, and after his wife was gone I resided with him and
took care of the kids. Ben was always grumpy and he kep’ sayin’ he was
going pretty quick, pretty quick, and one day I said I sh’d think he’d
try to hold on a while longer, funerals were so inordinately expensive
just then, and he said he didn’t see much use in waitin’ when anybody
felt as bad as he did. But I could see he exhilarated up a bit, and he
stayed quite a period after that. My Miss Flora and Mr. Aimé came for
me before he passed over; but I said no, I’d stay till he got through.
After a while he had a stroke, and we buried him right out front.
Maybe you saw it comin’ up.... Yes, a little brown house with a red
barn alongside of it and the graves across the road. That’s the place.
My nephew, Young Ben, sojourns there now. I get all our milk of him.
He’s got three Guernsey cows, and they’re amazin’ healthy--sinners and
snobs! I forgot!”

Benedicta ran a short race with time, and won, for her voice came back
to them, “Ain’t I the lucky one! A minute more, and they’d been goners
sure!”

“Say!” Clementina pulled Polly’s sleeve, “Miss Dudley, when she comes
back, you shut her off! I want to talk.”

Polly shook her head soberly, though Russell’s eyes were dancing, and
the next moment Benedicta returned and with no word of explanation
resumed her story.

“Wal, let’s see, where was I? Oh, yes, to go back to my Miss Flora! One
day before they put up that shally sign over the door I was tellin’
her how I always looked up to this house soon as I got out o’ bed, for
the sun showed right here first of any locality on the mountain. You
see, this is a mite the highest situation, anyway, and it touches up
the chimney first and then the roof before it hits anywhere else, ’cept
some of the trees back. And I remember now how my Miss Flora leaped
up and clapped her hands and cried, ‘Aimé, Aimé! come here quick!’ He
was establishin’ a flower bed down there, and he came right off, and
she said, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got it!’ ‘Got what?’ he asked, calm as
a violet. ‘The name--“Sunrise Chalet”! Isn’t that the very thing!’ Of
course, he said yes--he always chimed straight in with her, whatever.
And if they didn’t have it up soon as ever they could get it done! And
there it’s been ever since.”

“And I can’t see it!” mourned Grissel.

Russell sprang to his feet, but Benedicta was ahead of him. Taking the
child in her strong arms she descended the steps and faced the veranda.

“That looks nice,” commented the little girl, wagging her head happily.
“Now take me to see the others,” she demanded.

“Why, Grissel!” reproved Polly.

“Well, I want to see ’em,” she explained.

“That isn’t the way to ask. Besides, you are too heavy for Benedicta.”

“Pshaw, she ain’t weightier ’n a hummin’-bird,” scorned the woman. She
was already marching off across the lawn.

Polly shook her head. “If she lets them impose upon her this way,” she
said in a soft tone, “she’ll have her hands full.”

“Suppose we follow on,” Russell suggested. “Can’t any of your kids
walk?”

“Some of them a short distance; but I can’t go now.”

“Why not? I’ll shoulder one; the rest can’t run away--that’s an
advantage.”

“Lilith will show you about,” said Polly. “Shall I call her?”

“Thank you,” he smiled politely, shaking his head; then, with a
twinkling “I can find my own way,” he picked up the girl in the next
chair and started on a run towards the invisible bungalows.

Going inside, Polly met Mrs. Daybill and Lilith coming downstairs.

“Benedicta and Russell have started on a western pilgrimage--you’d
better go, too. And do you mind taking Esther and Timmy along? It won’t
hurt them to walk as far as the Sandfords’ and the Temples’, will it?”
addressing the White Nurse.

“I don’t know how far that is; but a little walk will do them good.
What’s the matter with your going?”

“Not this morning. I’ve promised Russell to go over to Sally’s with him
after dinner.”

“All right for this once,” laughed Mrs. Daybill; “but it is not to be
‘You go and I’ll stay behind’ all summer, remember.”

It was nearly five o’clock when Polly and Russell bade good-bye to
Sally on the steps of the Robinsons’ pretty bungalow.

Some distance away Polly turned to look back at the inscription which
ran across the gable:

  THE HILLS REJOICE ON EVERY SIDE

“That is the best I have seen yet,” said Russell.

“I love it,” returned Polly. “I think I’ll borrow it for the little
house I mean to build up here some day.”

“‘Up here’ is wonderful,” responded the young man. “I wish I were going
to stay.”

“Oh, do! You can help us take care of the kiddies.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Guess not this time; but I will run up
again for some week-end, if you would like me to.”

“Of course, we should. We’d be glad to see you any time.”

“I am not much interested in the ‘we,’ but if _you_ want me to come, I
will come. Do you want me, Polly?”

“Certainly I do. Why shouldn’t I?”

“Well, I didn’t know. I am not sure about it now.”

“You foolish boy! As if I wouldn’t! What possible reason could I have
for not wishing you to come?”

Russell grew grave. He turned and looked squarely into Polly’s eyes,
looked until the brown eyes wondered--half understood--and fell away
from the passionate gaze.

“Don’t be silly!” she said.

Then all the man in him burst forth.

“Is it silly to love you, Polly Dudley? to wish to be with you? to
covet the right to give you everything that can add to your pleasure
and happiness? to long to hold you in my arms and to call you my wife?
Is that silliness? If it is, I plead guilty.”

Polly did not look up. The red burned in her cheeks and crept up under
the little curls that fell over her forehead.

“I suppose I am a fool,” Russell went on. “First, to come up here
at all, and then to blurt out like this, when I had made up my mind
to wait. But, of course, you’ve seen all along how it was, ever
since--why, ever since the first day I saw you at high school, away
back when we were kids. But David Collins was always in my way. How I
longed to knock him aside! You have seen it all--haven’t you, Polly?”

A tiny shake of the drooping head.

“I don’t understand how you could help seeing--only you were never the
girl to imagine every fellow in love with you that happened to wish you
good-morning.”

There was a moment’s silence. Presently he asked, “Haven’t you a single
word for me, Polly?”

Even then she did not speak at once. Finally the answer came.

“I am sorry, Russell--oh, I’m so sorry! I never dreamed it!” She
glanced up, and the eyes that looked into his were mournful.

He drew a deep breath. “Don’t grieve over it, Polly. I ought to have
known how it would be. It’s all right.” He was looking straight ahead,
and his voice seemed far away. “I hoped you did care for me--a little;
but if you--do not--” The words suddenly halted.

“I am afraid you don’t quite understand. I like you, Russell, I have
always liked you; but--there is David!”

“Polly!” He stared at her in amazement. “Surely you do not care
for David Collins--after his abominable treatment of you! It is
unbelievable.”

A sad little smile fluttered over Polly’s face. “I do love him just as
well as ever I did. Those things--happened because he was jealous--and
angry. I told him that I could have nothing more to do with him until
he would trust me--that’s all. I suppose he isn’t ready to trust me
yet.”

Russell shook his head. “I see,” he said grimly. “Forgive me, Polly. I
supposed that all was over between you and David. I have made a mess of
it.”

“No, no!” Polly hastened to say. “I’m only sorry that you--you--feel as
you do. We have always been such good friends.”

He looked down at her with a little sad, tender smile. “And we
will”--there was the hint of a break--“be good friends still, won’t we,
Polly?”



CHAPTER XVI

BENEDICTA MAKES IT GO


“Say, Miss Polly, I wish you’d let me run that machine o’ yours.”

The girl turned from her Singer with a welcoming smile.

“Why, I will, Benedicta. I’ll teach you any time. It isn’t much to
learn. Or if you want some stitching done, I’ll do it for you gladly.”

“Mercy, no!” laughed the housekeeper. “I manipulated that long before
you was born--I mean, one just like it. What I’m yearning for is to be
sittin’ up in your chariot, makin’ it go like the dickens.”

“My car?--Oh!” gasped Polly. “I thought you meant this.”

“Don’t you s’pose I c’u’d learn? Or would you be afraid I’d spile it?”

“No, indeed! you wouldn’t hurt the car--unless you should take a flying
leap down to Overlook village.”

“Guess I won’t cut up no such idiot caper as that,” laughed Benedicta.
“But, my! if I could make it go, I’d be so imperious you’d think I
belonged to the court of Spain.”

Polly chuckled. “It is easy enough to make it go,” she said, “but
somewhat of a stunt to get to where you can keep it under perfect
control. Still, you are quick of thought and have a level head; I don’t
doubt you can make a good driver. The only trouble is, you are so
fearless you might take risks; that isn’t wise. You and I will go out
this afternoon and see what we can do, unless you are too tired when
you get through with your work.”

“Tired!” sniffed Benedicta.

“Aren’t you--ever?” questioned Polly.

“Oh, I get weary occasionally; but gen’ally I keep goin’.”

“And you never feel that you cannot stand up another minute?”

“Yere, once in a while I do.”

“What then?”

“Wal,” said Benedicta slowly, “if I c’n see a place where I c’n set
down, I set. But if I can’t, I just smile and go it.”

“Smile?”

“Yere. Don’t seem as if smilin’ would help out so much, but it does.
Smilin’ is amazin’ly restful.”

“I wonder if that is how you can do so much work,” marveled Polly. “If
it is, I think I will smile.”

“Sinners and snobs! when don’t you smile? Telegraph me when ye ain’t
goin’ to--I’d like to be there. I’ll have to come by lightnin’, though.”

She left Polly laughing, and went to finish mopping the balcony floor.

“Benedicta and I are going down to Overlook,” was all Polly told of
their plans as they set off at three o’clock.

“Mayn’t Grissel and I go?” begged Clementina coaxingly.

“Not to-day, dearie,” was the brief answer. And Lilith, as well as the
children, was surprised and a bit disappointed in view of the empty
back seat. Hitherto it had been contrary to the principles of No. 45678
to run to Overlook or anywhere else with only two passengers.

On the level road leading through Overlook, Benedicta received her
preliminary instructions and took the steering-wheel in her strong
hands. She succeeded in driving the car slowly and jerkily for several
rods and presently stopped with a sudden bump. Being convinced that the
machine was safely at rest, she leaned back and drew a long, delighted
breath.

“Shudders and shades!” she ejaculated; “be I still on terra firma?
Ain’t it fun! But it’s deliriously ticklish.”

Polly laughed. “You like it, then?”

“Like it! It’s the topgallantest play I ever tried! To think I made it
go--me!”

“You did pretty well for the first time,” commended Polly.

“I should say so!” gasped Benedicta. “I never anticipated that runnin’
this chariot was so perturbative.”

“Dear, dear!” laughed Polly; “what big words you do use! You take my
breath away.”

“Teeters and tongs!” exclaimed Benedicta scornfully, “if you think
I use lengthy words, you ought to hear Mr. Aimé talk. His are the
grandest I ever heard. My Miss Flora laughs at him and says he
swallowed the dictionary when he was three and has been spouting it up
ever since. But I told him I adored his kind of talk, and from that if
he didn’t begin to learn--I mean, ‘teach’--me some of his stretched-out
words, and I put ’em down so I can look ’em over once in a while. But
I can’t hold a spark to him. I forget ’em so. Seem ’s if my memory bag
must be made of openwork, for there’s always something slippin’ out.
But, my! what an improvident mortal I be--gabbin’ this way when I ought
to be drivin’ the chariot! What do I do to start--oh, yes, I know!”

Polly nodded assent to her questioning glance, and again they whirled
along the smooth road.

Late in the afternoon Polly drove back up the mountain; but when
they were nearly within sight of home Benedicta begged so earnestly
to announce her new achievement in her own way, that finally she was
allowed to take the wheel.

“I want to sweep up to the house in one glorious curve,” she exulted.
“Won’t they be surprised!”

So intent was the driver upon the little veranda group that she nearly
forgot her part in the affair. The machine wabbled along in a most
inglorious way, tilted into a gully beside the road, and began slipping
slowly downhill.

“Put your foot on the brake!” cried Polly, grasping the emergency lever
and forcing it back.

The car meekly stopped.

“Sinners and snobs!” exclaimed Benedicta. “And I’m the sinner!--and the
snob too! Let me get out! Let me get out!”

“Never mind,” comforted Polly; “sit still and turn the car into the
road--you can do it. Put your foot--”

But Benedicta was on the ground, and running towards the kitchen door.

Polly drove the car into the garage and then followed the disquieted
housekeeper.



CHAPTER XVII

A PICTURE AND A MESSAGE


Three weeks had wrought encouraging changes among the small patients
on Overlook Mountain, changes visible not alone to professional eyes.
Little Duke was growing so plump that “Grocer Jack,” who brought up
daily supplies from the village, and who was as lank as the proverbial
beanpole, declared that he was coming up to board with Benedicta.
Clementina Cunio was able to walk a full half-mile to one of the
neighboring farmhouses without exhaustion, where the good wife always
welcomed her with eager arms, never omitting the important word that
she believed she grew strong every minute. Timmy Dennis and Jeffy
Orton, who down in Fair Harbor had been too weak more than mildly to
admire the multi-colored marbles that Mrs. Gresham had given them, were
now really shooting them in the very latest fashion on the gravel walk
and running in at nap-time or between games to tell of some passer-by
who had stopped to compliment their playing, as well as to speak of
their wonderful gain in appearance. As for Esther and Dolly Merrifield,
their cheeks were now as pink as apple-blossoms, and the numerous
visitors from cabins and bungalows thereabouts rejoiced talkatively
over the rosy changes in the hitherto little pale faces. So, as
appetites and happiness increased, those in charge said to one another
what a fortunate thing it was that the children had come up to Overlook.

It was towards the end of the third week that Clementina came in from
the veranda to tell of a traveling photographer who was outside and who
wished to photograph them.

“An’ he’ll take us all at the same time,” went on the excited child,
“an’ he won’t charge but one dollar an’ he’ll make ’em beautiful an’ we
c’n send ’em home to our folks he says an’ we’ll make a lovely picture
an’ it’ll be grand an’ won’t you Miss Dudley?”

Clementina stopped for lack of breath, whereupon Polly said she would
see, and outdoors they went, the little girl holding fast to the hand
that clasped hers in so reassuring a way.

Polly and the traveling photographer talked together for quite a
little while--or rather the photographer talked and Polly bowed her
head or shook it or said simply, “Yes,” and “I think so,” and such
inconsequential things. Then, the main question seemingly having been
decided, they walked about in front of the chalet, stopping at every
few feet to look towards the veranda and making various motions with
their hands.

“What are they doing?” fretted Clementina. “Don’t you s’pose she’s
going to have us tooken?”

“Oh, yes!” answered Dolly Merrifield, as the question was addressed to
no one in particular. “I think they are finding the right place to take
it in.”

“Oh!” cried Clementina rapturously, “I bet that’s it.”

And all the little faces on the veranda reflected Clementina’s.

“We’re going to be took playin’ marbles!” announced Timmy Dennis.

“Yes, playin’ marbles!” echoed Jeffy.

“I’m going to get my doll, so ’s she can be tooken too!” exclaimed
Chessera.

“Maybe she won’t let you,” suggested Clementina.

“Maybe she will!” retorted Chessera, who never held any doubts
concerning Polly.

Meantime, several matters having been satisfactorily settled, the two
that had been considering them came up on the veranda. Then Polly went
into the house, and returned with Lilith and the White Nurse. Shortly
afterwards Benedicta appeared and ran across the lawn to the Study,
coming back with a boy in her arms and Dr. Abbe just behind with
another.

It was an excited little company that was grouped on the grass against
a background of shrubbery. Wheel-chairs and small chairs were carried
out and moved from place to place, in order to obtain the best effect.
At last everybody was ready, with his very best smile or his most happy
expression, according to whether he was grown up or only five or ten or
anywhere between. The little folks were told to keep perfectly still,
the photographer waited the fraction of a minute for the sun to hide
his face under the edge of a white cloud, and then--click!--the picture
was taken.

What a Babel of tongues was set loose as soon as the word of release
was given! The children all talked at once, and the grown-ups smiled to
one another and hoped that “it” was good.

After a long week the finished photographs came, and the children
promptly went into a flutter of ecstasy and did not come out until the
next morning. Then before they were dressed they had to take two rapt
glances at “the picture,” the first to make sure that it had not grown
wings overnight, and then to see if it were really as beautiful as it
had been when they went to bed.

It was a fine photograph; even the grown-ups admitted that. Everybody
was in it, from Benedicta Clapperton down to Baby Zulette. The little
folks had obeyed to the letter all the warnings to be motionless, and
the result was a perfect likeness of every small face. As for the
others, they agreed that all excepting his own were as good as such
pictures could well be; so everybody was satisfied--including the
photographer himself.

“If I only had three,” wished Dolly Merrifield to Polly, “then I could
send one to Sardis and one to auntie and keep one myself.”

Polly said she thought it could be arranged with only one, for it could
be sent first to Aunt Sophie and then she could send it to Sardis, and
after he had looked at it long enough he could return it to her.

Dolly was delighted with this plan, and before many days it was put
into action. Aunt Sophie wrote a very happy letter, telling how glad
she was to see the photograph and that she had already sent it to
Sardis. Then Dolly tried to calculate how many days must go by before
it would return from her brother. She could not tell, but finally
decided that she should have to wait at least a week.

“I know he’ll like it,” she told Polly, “only I do want to hear what he
says--he never says things like other folks.”

The letter from Sardis came in exactly five days, and Dolly’s eyes grew
big and bright as it was put into her small hand. As she read, the
smiles grew, until there was a joyous little laugh. She looked up to
meet Polly’s happy eyes.

“Oh, Miss Dudley, what do you think! He’s coming up here to see us! And
he says he’ll stay all night if you’ll lend him a bit of turf, about
six feet square, to sleep on. Isn’t that just like Sardis! And he says
the picture is beautiful, and mine looks as if I were having a mighty
good time, and that you--I told him which you were--that you look as if
you wouldn’t whip me more than twice a day! Whip me twice a day!” The
red lips curled themselves whimsically. “That’s just like Sardis! You
want him to come, don’t you, Miss Dudley?” questioned Dolly anxiously.

“Indeed, I do,” Polly answered. “You can tell him that I shall be
delighted to see him up here on top of the world, and that he may have
six feet of turf or six feet of springs to sleep on, whichever he
chooses, and that if he will send us word what train he will take we
shall be very glad to meet him at Overlook.”

And that is the message which Sardis Merrifield read, two nights
afterward, in the murky post-office of Raineville, when he stopped
for his mail after a thirty-mile drive in the rain, to see a sick
parishioner.



CHAPTER XVIII

AN ATTEMPT AT MATCHMAKING


The children were having their early tea as John Eustis and his sister
drove up to the door of Sunrise Chalet.

“Didn’t you get our telegram?” asked Kate, when Polly expressed her
surprise. “John telegraphed the first thing this morning, as soon as
we decided to come. You see,” turning to her brother, “it would have
been surer to telephone, as mother suggested; but, never mind, we’re
here! And, Polly, if you haven’t enough to eat, just send John down to
Overlook for supplies.”

“Yes,” laughed John, with a mischievous glance in Polly’s direction, “I
can bring up some raspberry ice and cream puffs for you, and that will
save all the other things for the rest of us.”

It was a standing joke among Kate’s friends, her readiness at any
time to forego substantial food for raspberry ice and cream puffs; so
now Polly chuckled at John’s sally, but not at all to her friend’s
discomfiture.

“Oh, you may laugh!” she retorted cheerfully; “but I warn you I am not
going home till I have had my fill of Benedicta’s wonderful muffins
and stuffed beefsteak and custard pie and blueberry cakes and chicken
turnovers. There, I’ve ordered my meals! Now you can give me what you
please.”

Polly made a smiling response, though in a little dismay she silently
ran over their stock of eatables and wondered if Kate’s suggestion
might not hold a hint of truth. She decided, however, that nothing more
would be absolutely needed before Monday morning, when the grocer would
be there.

Sally Robinson was with the young people at Sunrise Chalet much of
the time during the visitors’ stay, and wherever they were there were
also good-fellowship and mirth. Nobody could have guessed that Polly’s
thoughts were often far away from the little group of merrymakers. She
found herself almost constantly wondering how it was with Patricia, and
if John really did care for her. She fancied that she might find out if
she could see him alone; but there never seemed to be any chance for
that.

Sunday morning the party drove down to the little Overlook church, and
after dinner they strolled down the mountain, pairing off as young
folks will. Polly wished that John would drop behind to her; but he
walked beside Sally. Lilith was with Dr. Abbe, while Polly and Kate
kept together at the side of the woodsy road and talked of happenings
at Fair Harbor during the last few weeks.

Suddenly Lilith, who had climbed a high bank to pick some late
raspberries, made a misstep. She clutched at the thorny bushes, but
down the incline she rolled, tearing both hands and clothing. In the
confusion Polly found herself beside John; nevertheless, when it was
discovered that Lilith was not injured beyond a few scratches, and the
party walked on again, he returned to Sally.

At this, Polly marveled not a little. It was clear to her that John
was either uncommonly devoted to Sally or positively avoiding herself.
Which was it? She could not decide. She had staked her hopes upon the
chance of talking with him this afternoon, and now it would soon be
time for their return. Without doubt her opportunity was gone. Why
couldn’t he have fallen in with her plans! Poor Patricia! Well, perhaps
she had better give up her attempts at matchmaking.

In the same order the party walked back to the house for tea and then
spent the evening at Sally’s home. It was hard for Polly to overcome
her disappointment.

After breakfast Kate went to bid Sally good-bye and returned almost at
once in some excitement.

“They want me to stay the week out at least!” she cried delightedly.
“You won’t mind going back alone, shall you, John? And I can go home by
train.”

“What a fine time I shall have, with nobody to talk to me all day
long!” he exclaimed mockingly.

“Well, it is shabby to make you go that lonely road without a soul to
keep you company,” she confessed in contrition; “but I do so want to
stay over--oh, I say, Polly can ride down to Overlook with you! That
will be something, and she said she had got to go down to-day--didn’t
you, Polly?”

For one instant Polly’s eyes lighted; then, as suddenly, they were
dulled by a shadow. In that brief time she had seen the face of John
Eustis change from dismay to smiling courtesy.

“He doesn’t want me,” was the girl’s humiliating thought, and she spoke
out quickly, halting the seemingly eager words upon the man’s lips.

“Oh, no, I can’t go this morning! It is impossible!”

“Do come! I wish you would,” John made response.

“How am I to get home?” Polly smiled.

“Oh, how stupid of me!” scowled Kate. Then she brightened. “Why can’t
you ride up with the grocer?”

“He must be far on his route by this time. No, there isn’t any way for
me to get back--unless I walk,” she laughed.

John looked troubled. What was it? Polly could not tell.

“I wonder if--” he began.

“Teeters and tongs!” broke in Benedicta from the kitchen; “you go right
along, Miss Polly! I’ll drive down after yer soon ’s I get my work
done.”

“Why, can you drive the car?” exclaimed Kate.

“Sure!” scorned the woman.

“I’m almost afraid to let you,” demurred Polly. “You’ve never been down
alone--excepting once.”

“If I can’t manipulate that chariot, we’ll go deviltydamn together,”
announced Benedicta.

Three minutes later Lilith was upstairs helping Polly dress for her
ride.

Polly stopped suddenly, her frock half on--stopped with an air of
finality.

“I’m not going! Will you take my place?”

“Why, of course not! What should I do with John Eustis on my hands for
an hour?”

Polly laughed at Lilith’s look of despair. “Talk to him--just as I’d
have to. And he doesn’t want me. You know he doesn’t--you saw that.”

“I didn’t see anything of the kind--when?” Lilith looked her
astonishment.

“When Kate suggested my going--of course, you saw it!”

“I didn’t. ’Twas only your imagination. He urged you to go.”

“Oh, yes, he couldn’t help it!” She hesitated. “I will not go!” she
declared.

Yet when the car was at the door she ran downstairs in her pretty
pink-and-white gingham, as smilingly fresh and happy as if she had
never had a trouble or a perplexing problem.

Lilith looked upon her with wonder and admiration. She wished that she
could veil her heart so easily. Polly had herself well under control,
there was no doubt about that.

After the chatter of leave-taking both the driver and his companion
said little. To be sure, John was seldom very talkative; but Polly was
not given to long silences, and now she wondered whether she had better
let John have his way or break into his thoughts with commonplaces. In
his present mood she hardly dared attempt any reference to the matter
which lay closest the door of her heart.

But after waiting in vain for John to speak she grew impatient and
began to talk quite casually about the large crop of blackberries
apparent on the sides of the road.

At once John came out of his abstraction--if abstraction it was--and
they fell into easy conversation.

Soon Polly became bolder. “I hope Patricia will come up while the
berries are at their best,” she said, furtively watching her companion.
“She delights in them. I wish she were here now.”

“I wish she were,” echoed John fervently--“this very minute!” He was
gazing straight ahead, his face set in stern lines.

This was so unexpected as for a moment to throw Polly off her balance;
but she quickly recovered herself. Here was her opportunity! She must
not lose it.

“John,” she began, with a hint of hesitation, “I have been wanting to
speak to you about Patricia. You know, she isn’t happy.”

He bowed slightly without turning.

“Of course, it is not my business--and, yet, in one sense it is, for
Patty is very dear to me. It was hard to see her as she was when I came
away.”

He did not help her with any response, and she went on.

“If there has been a--I mean, some little misunderstanding, maybe I
could be of use to you in setting things right.”

He turned to her now in such obvious astonishment that her eyes widened.

“Me?” he questioned--“‘be of use’ to me? I don’t know what you mean.”

She gazed at him blankly. Had she made some dreadful blunder? Or was he
feigning innocence of the whole affair?

“Why, John,” she said quickly, “you can’t deny that you and Patricia
are--or, at least, have been--interested in each other, can you?”

“We may as well talk plain English,” he answered. “If you mean to ask
if she is in love with me, I can tell you emphatically that she is not.”

“Oh, John, that is only your mistake! I was afraid that was the
trouble.”

“Now, see here, Polly, I happen to know that Patricia Illingworth
doesn’t care the ghost of a pin about me, and never did--any more than
I care for her. I like her, but like isn’t love. She and Houghton Swift
have had a quarrel--”

“Houghton Swift!” gasped Polly--“Oh!”

“Yes, Houghton Swift. I think it is coming out all right--looks that
way--wish I could be as sure of something else.”

He was staring down the road now, his hands gripping the wheel. Polly
could see his fingers tighten their hold.

“I’m ashamed to have made such a stupid blunder,” she began. “I
thought--”

They had rounded a curve, and the car had come to a stop on a level
stretch between the tall pines. John Eustis was bending towards her. It
was doubtful that he had heard a word of her half-spoken apology.

“Polly,” he said, “if I had not believed that I was master of myself
I should not have come up here. I had decided against it, and then
Kate urged me, and I yielded. I soon found how things were going with
me, and yesterday I kept as far away from you as I well could; then
this morning Kate muddled up matters and--I beg your pardon--now you
have most unconsciously spurred me on--until I must speak! Polly, I
want you! Do you love me, Polly? Have you held off, believing that I
belonged to Patricia? Have you, Polly?”

The girl sat like one struck dumb. This sudden revelation, so utterly
unforeseen, had left her white and rigid, her eyes filled to the brim
with pain.

“Polly, tell me that you love me! Tell me!” he pleaded.

Something like a sob broke from her lips, and she uttered a little moan.

“I see,” he said unsteadily--“I see! You have no need to speak. I
suppose I could have seen before if I had not been blind.”

“There is--David, you know,” Polly said softly.

“David!” he echoed scornfully; “always David! Forgive me. I knew this
was no time for speaking, so soon after--” He stopped abruptly. “But
why will you let that fellow spoil your life? You don’t really love
him! I doubt if you ever did.”

“John Eustis! You don’t know what you are saying!” Polly’s voice held a
mixture of fire and tears.

“I know he isn’t worthy of you,” he replied fiercely. “There he is, up
in that camp, gallanting all the girls for miles around, and leaving
you to eat your heart out--you, worth the whole posse of them put
together!”

“He isn’t!” Polly burst out. “How do you know?”

“So folks say. Believe it or not as you choose.”

“I don’t believe it! But what if he is! I don’t care! Probably people
are saying that I am a fool not to throw him over.”

“Not exactly that. Most of them think you have done it--just as I
did. You certainly ought to. I suppose I should be ashamed of myself,
talking this way; but I’m not. I used to think David Collins was a
pretty fair sort; but the way he has tormented you is enough--I can’t
help hoping he’ll get his pay for it all, and I don’t doubt he will.”

Polly listened with mingled anger and sorrow, added to the wonder
that she did not speak out in David’s defense. Was it true that David
was--doing that? Was he? It was not like him--and yet--

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly Polly came to herself with a start. What had John been saying?
She had not heard. She had been up in the Maine woods with David.

“If you can give me one little hope,” he went on, “I will try to wait
patiently until this affair with David is settled. If I have your
permission to keep on loving you--as I must always love you whether you
will or not--I can go away happier. Polly, may I carry that bit of hope
with me?”

“Oh, no, no, John, you must not!” she cried hurriedly. “I shall
never--marry! That I have decided. I expect to be a nurse. I enjoy
taking care of people, especially children, and I think father and
mother will like me to do that. The children here are so interesting.
They make me forget--” Her voice became inaudible.

“It will take more than interesting children to make me forget!”
exclaimed the young man. Then he--the self-contained John Eustis--did
a surprising thing. He caught Polly’s hand and pressed it impetuously
to his lips.

In vain she tried to pull away. Gripping the little hand with a force
that hurt, he left fierce, passionate kisses upon fingers and palm.

When they drove into Overlook they were conversing in a friendly way,
but with more than a touch of constraint, and the good-byes were as
conventional as they were brief.



CHAPTER XIX

AN UNINVITED GUEST AND A MYSTERY


Patricia had come up to Overlook, had stayed a week, and had gone back
to Fair Harbor, leaving manifold regrets that the visit could not have
been longer. Patricia Illingworth in her happiest mood always made
friends wherever she went, and this time Patricia was in her very
happiest mood.

Polly had listened to the story of the lovers’ “misunderstanding,”
listened with a feeling of guilt and shame at memory of her attempt to
bridge over the quarrel that was not and of which Patricia was never to
hear. That secret belonged alone to John Eustis and herself. If Polly’s
face showed anything of the disquiet in her heart, Patricia did not
perceive it, her eyes for the time being undiscerning beyond a certain
focus. On the third finger of her left hand she wore a modest diamond,
one which befitted the station of a young man who was not far above the
lower rounds of the ladder of success. But, small as it was, it was
cherished as a girl should cherish her betrothal ring regardless of its
size.

To the little patients on Overlook Mountain Patricia seemed a fairy
godmother, indeed, for she had left with them an unbelievable number of
pretty presents, enough to go quite around more than once.

Even Benedicta had been won over--perhaps for the first time in her
life--to a girl of fashion.

“I d’n’ know ’s she’s any better ’n other folks,” Benedicta told Polly
after Patricia was gone; “but when she comes round inside one o’ them
bewilderin’ dresses, an’ smiles to you so sweet an’ convincin’, you’re
ready to give her everything to make her do it again. It’s funny, but
she gits me every time.”

To the next visitor, however, Benedicta showed a silent scorn that was
held back from being a veritable broadside of personal opinions only by
the fact that she was a guest of Polly’s.

One afternoon Annette had laboriously climbed the stairs that led from
the ward to the room occupied by Polly and Lilith, to say:--

“Miss Dudley, there’s a lady that wants to see you.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know her,” declared the child.

“Is she walking?” inquired Lilith.

“No’m--I mean, Miss Brooks--she’s standin’ up, ’thout she’s sed down.”

Annette walked across to the window and craned her neck to try to see
over the edge of the veranda roof.

“No, no,” laughed Lilith; “I meant, did she come in a car?”

“No, Miss Brooks, she didn’t; she just came--like Miss Blackstone and
Miss Foster and Mrs. Shaw and--”

“Never mind, dear,” interrupted Polly, cutting short Annette’s list of
the neighbors. “I will see what she wants.”

She ran down lightly. It was probably an agent--their calls were not
infrequent.

Beyond the doorway a girl with her back to the entrance was taken up
with the distant view. Polly caught her breath--and then stepped out to
greet her visitor.

“How do you do, Marietta? This is a surprise, indeed!”

Miss Converse smiled complacently. “I expected to cause some
astonishment up here this morning; but I couldn’t conveniently send
word ahead.”

“You didn’t walk up?”

“Walk? Is that feat one of the Overlook stunts? If it is I must
accomplish it before I leave. I haven’t done so rash a thing yet.
A friend happened to be motoring down, and he was kind enough to
bring me up to Sally’s. I intended to stay there a few days before
throwing myself on your hospitality; but the Robinsons are full to
overflowing--one of the young men occupied a couch hammock last night.
Not that I mind sleeping in the open, I enjoy it myself; but Sally
vetoed that at once, so here I am, a beggar at your door! Later she
says she will be delighted to have me with them. So I shall only be
changing the time of my visit to you.”

Of course, Polly voiced as warm a welcome as she could compass at the
moment, and it evidently satisfied Marietta; to the hostess herself it
sounded stiff and cold.

The visitor talked incessantly, so that Polly’s silence was able to
pass unnoticed. She felt that Marietta had an object in coming; but it
was long before she decided what that object could be. Had it anything
to do with David? His name was not mentioned at first. Polly hesitated
to speak it, and it was finally Marietta who forestalled her.

“You ought to see how changed David is,” she said to Polly. “You’d
hardly know him.”

“Has he grown so stout?” inquired Lilith innocently.

This sent Marietta off in a convulsion of laughter. “Oh, if that isn’t
the very funniest thing!” she exclaimed at the end of her fit of mirth.
“I must repeat that to David. How he will enjoy it!”

Lilith sat silent with reddening face. Polly’s eyes showed warning
glints of displeasure. Finally Miss Converse was ready to explain.

“Oh, I did not mean that at all!” she smiled, halting a moment as if
in satisfied recollections. “Of course, you live so very quietly here,
it isn’t strange that you didn’t understand.” She glanced at Lilith.
“David is a changed man. Why, he is the very life of the camp! He leads
everything that’s going, and there’s something on all the time. We
almost never get a day of rest. I’m actually glad to be where I can
breathe quietly. Up there in the daytime it is rowing or bathing or
hiking or tennis or golf or motor picnic, and there’s a party somewhere
nearly every night. David is in the heart of it all, and the girls just
adore him! He is really adorable! You’d never know him, never, for the
dignified, reticent David Collins of Fair Harbor.”

A little amused smile on Polly’s face made Lilith wonder; but neither
of them said much. Miss Converse did not need assistance. She talked
until Lilith actually felt sleepy and finally excused herself on plea
of some urgent duty. Polly longed to follow; but her guest gave her
no chance for withdrawal, and it was late before she could obtain a
release.

On the morning after Marietta’s arrival as Polly was passing through
the kitchen, Benedicta called her aside and with a show of secrecy
closed the door which opened on the dining-room porch.

“Miss Polly”--she lowered her tone--“there ain’t anything much for
dinner! Somebody’s got to go down to Overlook, an’ it better be me.”

“Where’s Grocer Jack?”

“More ’n I know. I told him we shouldn’t want anything Monday and
he needn’t stop. I saw Mis’ Seldon last night and she said he was
’most sick when he was at her house; so I take it he ain’t comin’.
It’s too late for him now. I’ve got to have some sugar for certain
to-day--there’s cookies an’ shortcake an’ lots of things wantin’ sugar.
An’ steak I must get--and eggs if Young Ben has got any. We ate up the
last scrap of meat for breakfast--my! how that piece of vainglory does
eat!”

“Miss Converse?”

“Huh!--yere. I’d like to shut her up in the closet till she learned how
to behave.”

“What’s the matter with her?” smiled Polly.

Benedicta shrugged her shoulders with another “Huh!”--“I’m goin’ now,”
she said.

It was two o’clock when she returned. The children had had a luncheon,
and were taking their afternoon rest. She drove directly to the garage,
without a glance toward the veranda where Polly and the White Nurse
were sitting.

Polly met her at the kitchen door with proffers of assistance.

“No, you go ’long to your comp’ny,” returned the housekeeper. “I don’t
need any help.”

Polly turned away, but was arrested by a little exclamation from
Benedicta who was opening her parcels.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’,” was the short answer.

“Better let me put the things in the pantry while you start dinner,”
urged Polly. “I can fill the sugar bowls, too--where is the sugar?” She
took up a paper bag, but it held rye flour.

“You just tend to your business,” spoke up Benedicta, “and let mine
alone. Thank you, but I don’t wa--need you round.”

Polly went at once. What could be the matter with Benedicta!

The dessert was not what Polly had looked for, only a shortcake made
with canned peaches. What the sugar had been especially wanted for was
the fresh fruit set aside for the shortcake.

“You don’t get many berries up here, do you?” observed Marietta.

“Yes, indeed,” answered Lilith, “we have loads of them.”

“Oh!” was the reply, in a tone that seemed to add, “Where are they,
pray?”

Polly ventured again into Benedicta’s domain. “If you are going to make
cookies for tea, as you spoke of,” she said, “suppose you have cocoanut
cookies. Marietta has heard of yours, and says she enjoys cocoanut very
much.”

“I ain’t goin’ to make cookies this afternoon.”

Polly greeted Benedicta’s glance with a little puzzled smile.

“I s’pose I may as well tell you an’ done with it,” the housekeeper
began, her face flooded with crimson. “I clean forgot the sugar.”

“Oh,” said Polly regretfully, “that’s too bad! Perhaps I might drive
down pretty soon, I don’t know--”

“I do’ want yer to,” Benedicta answered decisively. “I’ll borrow some
at Young Ben’s.”

Polly went away thinking hard. What had occurred to make Benedicta
forget one of the most important purchases--Benedicta who rarely forgot
anything? And was it only pride that caused her to try to hide it?
But for Marietta Polly would have dwelt longer upon the housekeeper’s
singular behavior. The visitor gave her hostess plenty of food for
thought, and that not of the pleasantest kind.

“I never would have believed that you could be satisfied with this dead
existence,” Marietta remarked with emphasis, as the girls sat together
on the bank of the brook that ran back of the house.

“Dead!” Polly repeated, a tiny scowl fretting her smooth forehead.
“Anything but that, I should call it.”

“Well, not much like what you have been accustomed to. I should die to
be shut out from everything, the way you are up here.”

Polly’s cheeks grew red, and a queer little smile came and went.

“I think it is a beautiful thing to help little children to be better
and happier; don’t you?”

Marietta gave a short laugh, and lifted her eyebrows. “Oh, of course,
if you put it that way. I’d rather be excused--at my age. It is all
right enough for those who are on the shelf.”

Polly could not trust an answer. The red on her cheeks deepened, and if
Marietta had seen her eyes at that moment she would have discovered an
ominous dash.

Marietta, however, was flinging pebbles in the brook and was watching
the rings they made.

How long the uninvited guest would have remained at Sunrise Chalet
if Sally Robinson had not come over with the announcement that her
room was vacant and waiting for her is uncertain. As it was, she went
home with Sally, not at all to Polly’s displeasure. She had felt that
she could not bear the strain of being constantly on the watch for
what Marietta would say next about David. It had been an unpleasant
experience from first to last, and she wondered over and over what had
been the girl’s object in coming.

Benedicta was plainly glad that the visitor was gone; but in these days
she said little about anything, her forbidding silence being remarked
upon by everybody, from the White Nurse down to Little Duke.



CHAPTER XX

THE TELEGRAM


Grocer Jack was in the kitchen, and Benedicta called, “Miss Polly!”

The man greeted her with the smile that he usually wore.

“Good-morning,” he said. “You’re goin’ to have comp’ny!”

“Am I?” she asked in surprise. “One visitor has just left. Who else is
coming?”

“Wal,” replied the grocer, “all I know is what Richmond told me, jus’
’s I was startin’ out.”

“Richmond?” repeated Polly questioningly.

“Yere, ’xpress agent, ticket agent, freight agent, telegraph
operator--all hands in one. He said he had a telegraph for you, an’ you
was goin’ to have comp’ny, he guessed, comin’ on the quarter-of-twelve
train this noon.”

“But why didn’t he send me the telegram?” Polly’s eyes were wide with
amazement.

Grocer Jack puckered up his mouth and raised his eyebrows.

“I guess ther’ wasn’t anybody lyin’ round handy ’t could come. He said
I could tell ye the drift of it.”

“Did you see it?” questioned Polly.

“Only as he had it in his hand. I--”

“Why didn’t he send it up by you?” she broke in.

“I dunno. Guess likely he didn’t think ’s he could. I didn’t.”

Dismay sat on Polly’s face.

“And don’t you know whom it was from?”

“I was tryin’ to think. I can’t seem to remember. It was a funny
name--I’ve heard it before somewhere.”

“It wasn’t from my father, was it?” excitement in her voice.

“Le’ ’s see, your name’s--”

“Dudley. My father is Robert Dudley.”

“No, ’twa’n’t that,” was the slow answer.

“Sardis Merrifield?”

“That’s the ticket! I know now where I’d heard it! I remembered that
‘Church in Sardis,’ there in Revelations, you know. Yere, he’s the
one. He’s comin’ this noon. Whatever made anybody name a boy Sardis!
’Xpectin’ of him, was you?”

Polly nodded absently. She was looking at the clock and making a quick
calculation. Was there time to get down to Overlook before that 11.45
train? She decided she could do it.

Running upstairs, she begged Lilith to get Dolly and herself ready for
the ride, while she slipped into a fresh frock and then out to the
garage.

She stood gazing at the car in a bewildered way, when Benedicta rushed
up with a little wailing cry.

Polly turned, and the woman began to weep into her hands.

“What in the world!--First the car and now you! Am I dreaming or not?”

“Oh, Miss Polly! Miss Polly! I wish it was a dream! Sinners and snobs,
I wish it was!”

“What is the matter, Benedicta? What are you crying for?”

“Oh, dear! oh, dear! I wish I hadn’t ever touched your chariot at all!”

“Where is my car?” asked Polly quietly.

“Oh, Miss Polly!--it’s--down in Overlook!”

“Did you have an accident? What is the trouble? Stop crying, and tell
me about it!”

“I will, Miss Polly--oh, to think I should hurt your beautiful car!”
And again Benedicta wept.

“But what did you do to it?”

“I--I can’t bear to say it!”

“I will wait till you can. We must get to Overlook in time to meet that
train, and I’m going to drive this car, if it’s drivable, no matter
whose it is.” Polly proceeded to test the steering-gear and the brakes,
without a look towards the sobbing Benedicta.

“If that old Sardis had only waited till to-morrow or next day,” began
the weeping woman, “then you needn’t have known anything about it--oh,
dear! You’ll never trust me again, Miss Polly, and--and--oh, I didn’t
mean to do it!”

Polly threw up her head and laughed, a genuine, exhilarating little
laugh, which brought Benedicta’s hands down from her face, showing her
eyes big and red and staring.

“I hadn’t the least idea, Benedicta, that you smashed my car on
purpose.” She laughed again.

“Teeters and tongs!” ejaculated the housekeeper, “if you ain’t the
limit!”

“I am afraid my patience will be at the ‘limit’ if Lilith and Dolly
don’t come pretty quick.”

“Oh, I don’t want ’em to, till I’ve told you how it happened!”

“Hurry up, then!”

“I will, I will!” And Benedicta dropped into the doorway at Polly’s
feet. “I didn’t smash it, Miss Polly, as you said--that is, I only
smashed up a headlight and one wheel. You see, I went down the hill
careful, just as you told me to, and was goin’ along Fountain Street
pretty good, when who should I spy comin’ towards me, in an auto, but
my Miss Flora and Mr. Aimé! I couldn’t believe my eyes at first, and
I said to myself, ‘It ain’t them!’--‘It is, too!’--‘It ain’t!’--‘It
is!’--just like that. Then, when I see they were real flesh and blood,
if I didn’t steer for ’em--not thinkin’, I s’pose, but that I was
drivin’ a horse an’ buggy--and before they could get out o’ my way
bang--! I was right into ’em! The queer part is, I didn’t hurt them
a mite, or their car, either. But what did make me do such a fool
thing--that’s what I’d like to know!”

“You are not the first one, Benedicta, that has run into another car.”

“Don’ know ’s I want to be a fool ’cause somebody else is! Wal, Mr.
Aimé towed my--your car to the garage that Dick Ringo keeps--I’ve known
Dick ever since he was an infant, and he let me have this car. He said
it was a dandy, and you’d never know the difference. But I told him,
‘Don’t you b’lieve that nonsense, Dick Ringo!’--‘Know the difference!’
I saw what would happen soon ’s you set your eyes on it, an’ I was
scared out o’ my senses. Dick said they’d fix up yours good as new; so
I kep’ comfortin’ myself all the way home by sayin’ it might ha’ been
worse. But I couldn’t bear to have you know it--no, I couldn’t. An’,
Miss Polly, what do you think! My Miss Flora and Mr. Aimé want me to
come live with them, same as I did before. But I said, ‘No, sir! I’m
goin’ to stay with Miss Polly to the last minute she’s here, an’ if she
comes up to Overlook Mountain next year and the next and the next, I’m
with her through the very last next.’--My, there’s Miss Brooks luggin’
that child!” And Benedicta ran across the lawn to take Dolly from the
arms of Lilith.

The miles to the railway station were covered in good time, and the
borrowed car was waiting for Sardis Merrifield when the first whistle
of the 11.45 train rang down the narrow valley of Overlook.

As the big locomotive appeared round the curve, Dolly was quiet with
suppressed excitement. Sardis was coming! Once more she would hear
his loving voice! Every pulse in her frail little body thrilled with
the thought of it. As the cars glided by, she peered eagerly from
the automobile in the hope of seeing his familiar face at one of the
windows. But she could recognize no one. With nerves at high tension,
she watched the people as they filed out of the train. The little
station-house hid the rear car, and her eyes wandered back and forth.

“I’ll go round in front,” said Polly, and her lithe figure disappeared
on the other side of the building.

She did not come back.

Dolly sat alert and breathless, a sudden terror growing in her heart
lest her watching were all in vain.

The train moved away, and still Polly was not in sight.

“I’m afraid--” began Dolly softly.

Then Polly appeared--alone!

“He hasn’t come!” the watchers heard her say. “Dear little girl, don’t
feel bad!” For the child’s eyes were threatening an overflow. “Probably
he missed his train. All we have to do is to wait for the next.”

The tone was heartening, and Dolly began to smile.

“I was afraid he wouldn’t come at all,” she confessed.

“He will come,” Polly assured her confidently.

“How soon is the next train?” questioned Lilith.

“In about an hour and a half. We’ll go uptown and get some ice-cream.”

At this delightful suggestion Dolly brightened. Of course, Sardis would
come on the next train. How foolish she had been to lose hope!

Before they left the station, Polly called at the telegraph office
and obtained her message, leaving instructions to have any possible
future telegrams delivered to her at once. The slip of yellow paper was
fascinating to Dolly, since it seemed to bring her brother nearer.

  Expect me on 11.45 train to-morrow.
                                SARDIS MERRIFIELD

That was all it said. The date was of the previous day.

The cream was all that the little girl’s fancy had pictured it, and the
pineapple ice that Polly added made it quite the finest that she had
ever tasted. If Sardis had been sitting at her side her joy would have
been perfect. Still, her anticipation was there to make up any lack,
and she was very happy.

The 1.06 train thundered in and out of Overlook valley; the borrowed
car with its anxious passengers waited back of the station-house; but
Sardis Merrifield did not appear.

Polly was philosophical.

“There’s nothing to do,” she said, “but to wait.”

“Till when?” asked Lilith.

Polly studied her time-table placidly.

“The next, and last, train is due at 5.30.”

“Oh!” was the dismayed exclamation from Lilith and Dolly.

Polly laughed.

“Never mind,” she said; “we’ll go over to the inn and have dinner--I
think it isn’t too late,” as she consulted her watch. “And then--” She
halted, thinking. “Oh, I know! We’ll drive down to Leslieboro and go to
the movies!”

“Oh, my!” cried Dolly, her eyes big with surprise.

“How will that do?” Polly smiled.

“Splendid!” returned the child.

“Jolly,” said Lilith. “There’s a good picture on this week. I remember
reading of it in the _Gazette_.”

In the proposed way the afternoon passed pleasantly, and the party was
back at the Overlook station when the last train rolled in. Yet once
more they were disappointed. Only six passengers alighted, three women,
a small boy, and two middle-aged men. Sardis Merrifield was missing.

Polly inquired again at the telegraph office. There was no message; but
the man of various positions promised to send her whatever should come.

The drive up the mountain was for the most part silent. Dolly was too
full of grief to talk, and after a while she went to sleep on Lilith’s
arm. It had been a hard day for the little girl.



CHAPTER XXI

“TEN LITTLE GIRLS” AND SARDIS MERRIFIELD


Polly and Lilith did not go to Overlook the next morning. What was the
use, Polly said. The expected guest might have been so delayed that
he could not come for several days. He would doubtless telegraph. And
Lilith agreed with her. Dolly Merrifield said nothing; she only smiled,
and sighed a sorry little sigh that Polly did not hear, so very soft it
was. Nevertheless, the “hospital force,” as Lilith called the grown-up
members of the family, did not wander far from the house.

“We must hang around and watch for a telegram,” laughed Polly.

But no word came--and no Sardis, either. The waiting grew tedious.

“It is getting on that child’s nerves,” fretted the White Nurse.
“She’ll make herself sick with worrying.”

Benedicta ran to the window every time she caught the whir of a motor
car, no matter what she was doing.

“He must be a very vacillating gentleman,” she commented, “not to do
one thing or the other--I’d do something, if I were him!”

“I think he does one thing pretty thoroughly,” returned Dr. Abbe,
coming up on the kitchen piazza in time for the housekeeper’s remark.
“He certainly stays away and keeps us guessing.”

“He keeps me guessin’ what I’ll get to eat,” sniffed Benedicta. “I make
something ’specially good, an’ then we eat every scrap, and that’s the
way it keeps goin’. If he don’t arrive pretty soon, I shan’t care if he
doesn’t have any eats at all.”

The Doctor passed on with a generous tribute to her cooking, and the
advice not to expect “the minister” until he came.

Polly heard, smiled, and went on thinking of Dolly. Something must be
done to interest the sorrowing little girl.

“After dinner we’ll go up in the woods,” Polly said, “and I’ll tell
stories, and then we’ll have supper up there.”

All the little folks were smiling eagerly before Polly had finished
planning aloud. Even Dolly Merrifield was mildly excited.

So up in the woods they went. Those that could not walk rode in
wheel-chairs or in somebody’s arms, and when every one was comfortable
the story-telling began.

They had heard about “How the Swallows Went to Bed,” “The Golden Horse”
who told which way the wind blew and who after much trouble came at
last to his own, and “Mother Graygobble’s Children” whose lives were
saved by their parent’s wit and wisdom, when Benedicta appeared with
her crocheting.

“Don’t stop for me,” she told Polly. “It was too lonesome with you all
up here. I locked up, ’cause I knew you’d ask me.”

“You don’t think there’s any danger in leaving the house quite alone,
do you?” inquired the White Nurse anxiously.

Benedicta laughed. “It’s safe as Sunday,” she answered. “I’ve set a
chair right in front of the front door, and anybody that knows me knows
that means nobody’s home.”

“Oh, but, Benedicta,” the White Nurse protested, “if a tramp should
come along, it would tell him there isn’t a soul in the house, and he’d
steal everything he could lay hold of!”

“Tramp!” scorned the housekeeper. “Never but a solitary one ever did
meander up here, an’ he’d lost his way and was on the road back when
Young Ben met him.”

“I think there is not the slightest danger,” Polly reassured those that
had begun to look worried.

“Do tell another story!” pleaded Jozy.

“About the twin that didn’t know himself!” suggested Grissel.

“Oh, no!” cried Timmy; “let’s have that one about the boy who killed
the big wolf and got the money to go to school with.”

“No, don’t!” shivered Muriel. “Please tell about the Ten Little Girls
and Mr. Cross.”

“We will put it to vote,” said Polly. “Those in favor of the Ten Little
Girls, say ‘I.’”

“That sounds like more than ten little girls,” she smiled, clapping
her hands to her ears, as the chorus of shrill voices rang through the
woods.

All but two or three settled themselves with content, as the
story-teller started in the good old-fashioned way.

“Once upon a time ten little girls were on their way home from school.
There were Eunice and Lucy and Jane and Susan and Nancy and Martha and
Ruth, besides the three Marys--Mary Fox, Mary Lyon, and Mary Lamb.

“Mary Fox was talking.

“‘Let’s go over in the pasture and see those dear little lambs,’ she
said.

“‘Oh, I’m afraid of the sheep!’ gasped Susan.

“‘They won’t hurt you,’ Ruth assured her. ‘Come!’

“The three Marys were already over the fence. The rest followed, timid
Susan at the end of the line.

“For an instant the sheep stared at their visitors; then the leader
turned suddenly and vaulted a low stone wall into another field, and
the rest dashed after him. It was over in a minute, and the sheep
pasture was left in sole possession of the ten little girls.

“They looked at one another with frightened eyes.

“‘I wish we hadn’t come,’ mourned Mary Lamb, and the nine others said
that they wished they had not come, too.

“‘What will Mr. Cross say!’ cried Jane. ‘Jim Tucker says he is just
like his name--Oh, dear! oh, dear!’

“‘Oh, dear! oh, dear!’ echoed the nine others.

“‘Maybe the sheep will run away and never come back,’ said Nancy.

“‘Maybe!’ agreed the rest.

“‘I think we ought to go and tell Mr. Cross,’ ventured Mary Lamb.

“‘Oh, I don’t dare!’ Mary Lyon said.

“‘I don’t dare, either,’ said Mary Fox.

“And the seven others said that they did not dare, too.

“‘I dare,’ said Mary Lamb. ‘Anyway, if I don’t dare, I’ll go if you’ll
all go with me.’

“The nine agreed to go; so they climbed back over the fence and they
turned down the road that led to Mr. Cross’s home.

“Mr. Cross was sitting on the back piazza and when he saw the ten
little girls coming round the corner of the house a big smile spread
over his face.

“‘Well, well, well!’ he said. ‘Have you all come to call on me? Let’s
see--ten of you! Well, well, I’ll have to get some chairs, won’t I?’

“Mary Lamb, with a very scared face, said that they could not stay to
sit down, and then she told about the sheep and how they had run away.

“The smile on Mr. Cross’s face had been growing bigger and bigger,
until now it broke into a funny, chuckling laugh that made Mr. Cross
shake all over.

“‘Well, well!’ he ejaculated. ‘So the whole flock jumped over the wall,
did they? Well, I can’t blame ’em much. Why, when I was a boy, if I
had seen ten little girls coming to get acquainted with me, I’d have
jumped over a stone wall myself. Ho, ho, ho!’ And Mr. Cross laughed and
laughed, until the ten little girls would have laughed, too, only they
could not quite, they were so scared.

“‘We’re so sorry!’ said Mary Lamb.

“‘Yes, we’re so sorry!’ said the nine others.

“‘It was all my fault,’ confessed Mary Fox bravely. ‘And, oh! do you
suppose they are lost forever ’n’ ever?’

“‘You come and see,’ chuckled Mr. Cross. Then he took his hat down from
a peg, and he and the ten little girls went back to the pasture.

“Over the fence they scrambled, and Mr. Cross took a little whistle
from his pocket and blew it softly.

“In a minute the head of a big sheep appeared, and before the ten
little girls had time to think the whole flock were back in their own
pasture and were coming straight for Mr. Cross.

“‘Oh!’ cried Susan.

“‘Oh! Oh!’ cried the nine others.

“‘Well, well, well!’ said Mr. Cross. ‘Don’t mean to say you’re afraid?
Well, they’ll be the ’fraidest--see!’

“Even then the sheep had stopped, hardly knowing whether to come or to
turn back.

“‘Needn’t be a mite afraid,’ Mr. Cross said to the ten little girls
huddled close behind him, and then again softly he blew his whistle.

“At that the sheep came forward, and the ten little girls were half
frightened and half delighted to see how tame they were and how they
fairly tumbled over one another to poke their noses into Mr. Cross’s
pockets, to get the salt which was there.

“‘Isn’t he nice!’ exclaimed Mary Lamb, after the ten little girls had
bidden Mr. Cross a laughing good-bye.

“‘Isn’t he!’ echoed the nine.

“‘I think Jim Tucker was the cross one,’ said Mary Fox.

“‘Anyway, Mr. Cross isn’t cross!’ declared Mary Lyon.

“And that made the ten little girls laugh all the way home.”

Benedicta started it. She dropped her crocheting in her lap and clapped
her hands with a will.

At that, everybody else clapped--everybody but Polly, and the most
venturesome little patient cried out, “Hurrah! hurrah!”

Of course, the rest followed, and among the cheers was plainly
distinguishable a deeper voice than Dr. Abbe’s, a voice that seemed to
come from the thicket back of where the story-teller was sitting.

Everybody looked in that direction--everybody but Polly. She could not
turn quickly, with Little Duke within the circle of one arm and Dolly
Merrifield in the other. But Dolly screwed her head around just as a
young man stepped into view.

“Sardis!” she squealed; “oh, Sardis!”

Then Dolly was in her brother’s arms, and quickly his hand and Polly
Dudley’s met in a cordial grasp, while the eyes of the others were
bent on the man who had kept them waiting to welcome him for more than
twenty-four hours.

The most of these decided that he was good to look at--tall and
straight and muscular, with deep blue eyes like Dolly’s, but with hair
that was almost black.

“What made you wait till to-day?” piped up Dolly. “Why didn’t you come
yesterday? Did you hear the story about the ten little girls? Have you
just come, or have you ’most just?”

“I shall have to confess to hearing nearly all of the ‘Ten Little
Girls,’” he answered, throwing an apologetic smile in Polly’s
direction. “I didn’t want to interrupt the story. When I could find
nobody at the house, voices led me this way.”

“Don’t you think the ten-little-girls story is just lovely?” Dolly
continued.

“Very nice, indeed.”

“And wasn’t it foolish for them to be afraid of the sheep?”

“It was quite natural,” he replied. “I think I feel very much as they
did.”

“Afraid!” she cried. “Why, Sardis, there aren’t any sheep here!”

Of course, then all the grown-ups laughed.

“There are a good many little girls,” he smiled into Dolly’s astonished
eyes.

“I shouldn’t think you’d be so afraid of little girls as you would of
big girls,” she returned.

At which they all laughed again.

“I don’t think you’re very much afraid,” she decided. “You don’t look a
bit scared. But I want to know how you got up here,” she went on. “Did
you come in a car? I didn’t hear any.”

“There was none to hear. I came on my feet.”

“Walked?” cried the child, aghast at the thought.

“It was a delightful little journey, up between the pines and the
ferns.”

“Isn’t it beautiful!” responded Polly, glad of his appreciation.

“A wonderful road,” he said. “I would not like to have missed it.”

“But riding up with Miss Dudley is lovely,” put in Dolly, “’cause then
you can sit back and just enjoy it. Though I should think it would be
nice to walk,” she added wistfully.

A shadow of pain swept the young man’s face; then he smiled brilliantly.

“What an astonishing gain you have made, little girl!” he said.

“Haven’t I!” she beamed. “And my cheeks are red!--have you noticed?”

He nodded happily.

“You and I are under great obligations to Miss Dudley and her wise
father.”

Dolly wagged her head in no uncertain way, and then laid her cheek
against his.

“Miss Dudley is the nicest one in all the world,” she said
impressively, “except you and Aunt Sophie.”

The talk was growing too personal for Polly’s comfort, so with a
casual, “The others are waiting to meet you,” she crossed over to Dr.
Abbe and the rest.

The introductions being done with, the party proceeded back to the
house, Sardis Merrifield carrying his sister and wheeling Grissel.

On the home veranda Dolly chattered happily.

“You haven’t said yet why you didn’t come yesterday,” she reminded him
playfully.

“You shall hear about it,” he answered. “I had been to visit a sick
man, and was on my way home--something more than two miles from the
station. I had just looked at my watch and decided I had time enough
and to spare to go to my boarding-place and get my bag before the
train would be in, when a little woman darted out of a house and
called to me. Her baby had been taken sick and she didn’t know what
to do. Her husband was out of town for the day, and she didn’t dare
to leave the child to go for a doctor. She was frantic, and with
good reason. The baby had had one convulsion and was on the verge of
another. It happened that I knew something of what should be done;
so I applied the usual remedies, and in a few minutes the little
fellow seemed better. Then I went for the doctor, only a mile off, and
fortunately found him home. His horse had gone lame, or he would have
been away visiting patients. We went back together, and he said the
child was doing all right then. The mother begged me so hard to stay
with her that I hadn’t the heart to leave her alone. So, you see, my
visit up here had to be postponed.”

“And is the little baby all right now?” asked Dolly, who had become
greatly interested in her brother’s story.

“He appeared to be when I saw him this morning.”

“Did you go ’way out there before you came up here?” she asked.

He nodded. “That wasn’t too much to do for a very nice little woman and
a very nice little baby, was it?”

Dolly shook her head. “No. I’m glad you went, because now I know the
baby’ll get well. Sardis is always doing things like that,” she added,
directing her remark across to Polly.

“‘Things like that’ are the things that we all of us ought to do,”
returned Polly.

“I can’t,” said Dolly softly.

“That isn’t your part,”--Polly took the small hand in hers.

“What is my part?” she asked thoughtfully.

“Just being sweet as a little flower,” replied Polly, smiling down
into the wistful face. “And that is exactly what you are,” she added
truthfully.

A look of pleased surprise came into the blue eyes.

“Do you really mean it, Miss Dudley?”

“Really and truly!”

“Then, please let me kiss you.”

Polly bent her head, and Dolly put up her arms and drew her still
closer.

“I’m glad you said that now,” she whispered softly, “’cause I want
Sardis to know you think it. You are so dear!”

Polly was strangely touched, and quick tears sprang to her eyes. She
found herself wondering if Sardis Merrifield had heard the whispered
words. As if it mattered whether he had or not!

After the children were asleep and Benedicta had said good-night, the
others sat on the moonlit veranda, and merry talk had its way until
late. Finally when the five stood together before separating for the
night, the visitor said:--

“I want you all to know how grateful I am for your kindness to my
sister. It is not only that her gain in health is far more than I
thought it ever could be--you have put so much brightness into her
life! It is something which I cannot frame in words, but I think you
will understand.”

As he and Dr. Abbe walked across the lawn to the Study, the White Nurse
said:--

“What a man he is! And what a boy, too! I think I’d like to hear him
preach.”

“I know his sermon would be worth while,” asserted Lilith.

Polly said nothing.



CHAPTER XXII

A LITTLE LAME DUCK


“I wish Sardis could go to that place where the lovely ducks are,” said
Dolly Merrifield the next morning.

“You’ll have to tell him about it,” advised Polly.

“That won’t be seeing,” sighed Dolly.

Polly’s eyes widened with a sudden thought, then narrowed as a plan
began to form.

“If your brother will stay over until to-morrow, we will drive up to
Lairnie Lake and have our lunch there.”

“To-day?” cried Dolly ecstatically.

Polly nodded.

“It is a small pleasure resort,” she explained to the young man, “some
forty-five miles to the north.”

“Oh, Sardis!” exclaimed the little one, her blue eyes begging for the
answer which he hesitated to give.

“I ought not,” he began, and then smiled down to the small girl on his
knee.

“Are the web-footed swimmers on Lairnie Lake very different from those
elsewhere?”

“Oh, ever so different!” she laughed. “But I’m not going to tell you
one word more. He’ll stay, Miss Dudley! I know by his eyes--they are
full of nice twinkles.”

It was decided that Polly and Lilith, Dolly and her brother, and Dr.
Abbe should take a flying trip to the lake which a number of them had
visited a week or two previous.

Dolly, in an ecstasy of joy, kept things lively until the start. After
being dressed for the little journey she was put in her wheel-chair
which stood near the edge of the piazza, and, bubbling over as she
was with eager delight, she twisted this way and that until Polly was
startled by one of her sudden turns.

“Oh, Dolly!” she cried, “do sit still! I thought you were going over!”
She crossed the piazza and moved the chair back a bit.

“I shall not fall,” laughed the child happily.

“Wis’ she would!” piped up a little voice three chairs away, “wis’ she
would, and be all deaded!”

“Why, Marmaduke Bill!” Polly’s voice was shocked. “What a wicked wish!”

“Don’t care!” retorted the little boy. “Wis’ she would!”

Polly walked over to Little Duke and turned his chair so that it faced
the house.

“I am sorry that you have such naughty thoughts,” she said in a soft
voice. And she left him without the smile or the loving pat with which
she was used to delight his heart.

“My don’t care! My don’t care!” he pouted.

The other children looked on with frightened, wondering eyes. It was
seldom that Polly dealt out punishment even in this mild fashion.

Presently, after she had gone upstairs, Sardis Merrifield came across
from the Study, and taking a book from his pocket began to read.

Little Duke had been humming to himself in a loud, disagreeable way,
and now, he opened his mouth and uttered a series of unintelligible
sounds.

The young man looked over to the chair with its face to the wall.

“Not quite so much noise, please!” His voice was kind.

The clamor went on.

“Little boy, did you hear what I said?”

“Yep!” And the shouts continued.

The children sat breathless, open-mouthed and wide-eyed.

“Will you stop that screaming?” the man said quietly.

“Did Mi’ Duddy say My must stop?” piped the little offender.

“No, but I say so,” was the firm answer.

“Does My have to mind you, too?”

“Surely you do.”

Dolly snickered noiselessly into her hand; but not a sound came from
Little Duke.

Upstairs Polly had heard and had hastened her dressing, standing poised
at the head of the stairs when the last of the conversation floated up
to her. She waited a moment. The veranda was hushed, and with a smile
she returned to her room. She was not needed to keep the peace as long
as Sardis Merrifield was there. The White Nurse and Lilith had had more
than one battle with strong-willed Little Duke when it had been needful
to summon Polly before the lovable little rogue could be subdued.

When the party assembled on the veranda Polly noticed that the boy’s
chair had been wheeled about, and as she glanced that way he spoke.

“Mi’ Duddy, My thought you could take a joke.”

“So I can, Little Duke. Good-bye and a happy day to you!”

He grinned gleefully, and she explained to Sardis Merrifield as they
drove away, “That is his apology. He never fails to have it ready on
time.”

Not far from noon they arrived at the pleasure ground.

“Oh, dear!” cried the little girl, “the ducks are not any of them here!”

“They are up at the other end of the lake.” Polly pointed across the
water.

“But that isn’t here,” mourned the child.

“If they won’t come to us, we shall have to go to them,” her brother
replied.

“They will be here soon enough,” laughed Lilith.

Yet Dolly saw no hope; her longing eyes were fastened upon those
far-away birds.

As time was precious and the long ride had made them hungry, Polly
proposed luncheon at once, and selecting a pleasant spot they arranged
seats and began to take out sandwiches. Dolly was so interested in the
preparations that for the moment ducks were forgotten.

“Look!” bade Sardis. “See that big V!”

“Oh!” exulted Dolly, “it’s a duck--and he’s coming this way!” She
watched the rippling V, and then said softly, as if half afraid to
utter so beautiful a thought, “Do you s’pose he saw me and--knows me?”

“He saw you, no doubt; but recognition would hardly be possible at that
distance, would it?”

Dolly sighed a little. “No, of course, he couldn’t,” she answered. Then
she chuckled joyously. “He’s steering straight for me!”

It did seem so, and climbing up the grassy bank, the duck waddled
directly to the little girl’s side.

“Oh, you dear ducky-darling!” she exclaimed. “And you’re the little
lame one I fed the other day, aren’t you? See, Sardis! he’s lame just a
wee bit when he walks.”

“Quack! quack!” said the duck.

Dolly gave up the greater part of her sandwich, for the bird had a
holiday appetite, and as soon as one morsel was down he quacked for
more.

“Isn’t his neck a lovely green!” the child cried. “And isn’t he tame
and beautiful!”

Sardis and the others admired and marveled to Dolly’s content. And
then, she suddenly gave a shout of joy.

“Oh, the rest are coming! Look at the V’s! One, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, eight! Eight ducks more! And there is the great goose!” as
a big bird swam out to join his comrades.

They were all counting on their noon luncheon.

“It is well we brought a good supply,” laughed Lilith.

“We’ll need it--look!” Dr. Abbe pointed his thumb backward.

“O-h!” screamed Dolly, “the dear little doves!”

A small flock of pigeons had alighted near.

They were tamer than the ducks. They fluttered about the child. One
bird perched on her shoulder, another on her knee; the most venturesome
flew to her wrist and reached for a bit of the bread in her hand. Dolly
sat breathless, her little face radiant.

“I wish I had my camera,” whispered Lilith.

Dolly suddenly turned towards her brother whir-r-r-r! The child stared
in wonderment.

“What made them fly away?” she asked.

“Which do you like best,” questioned Lilith, “pigeons or ducks?”

“My little lame duck!” answered Dolly promptly, bestowing upon the bird
a generous bit. “Oh, the naughty thing!” she cried, as another duck
caught up the dainty and then pecked and chased away the afflicted one.
But Dolly’s pet returned, and with the aid of Sardis the child gave it
a good meal.

The half-circle of quacking beggars became vociferous, and Dolly fed
them until her sandwiches must needs be often replaced, and the giver
herself would have been in danger of going hungry if some one had not
given out food with a prodigal hand.

Finally the luncheon was over, and the little girl--with a flourish of
her small hands--told the birds that they could have no more. Promptly
the ducks started off. Only the little lame one seemed reluctant to
leave.

“He loves me--that’s why,” announced Dolly. “All the rest care for is
something to eat.”

The child’s eyes followed the birds as they swam out from shore. Then
she gave a little scream.

“Oh, he’s drowning! he’s drowning!” she cried, as a big duck appeared
to be standing on his head in the water.

“Watch!” was all Sardis said.

“Oh, my! he’s eating!” gasped Dolly. “He’s catching bugs! How funny!”

They were all at it, excepting the lame duck that had squatted at the
child’s feet for a nap, and Sardis carried his sister nearer the shore
where she watched the birds delightedly, stopping now and then to give
her pet a tiny pat, for he had promptly followed her.

Sardis had a moment’s talk with Polly and then disappeared. He was away
so long that Dolly made inquiries. Nobody seemed to know anything of
him, unless it were Polly, and her answers to the child’s questions
were unsatisfactory. Then, suddenly, she was gone, too.

“Sardis came over the knoll and beckoned to Miss Dudley,” explained
Lilith, “and they went off together towards the street. That’s all I
know about it.”

“I don’t care, if he’s with Miss Dudley,” returned Dolly. “I was afraid
he was lost.”

Which made Dr. Abbe laugh so heartily that the little girl wondered
what he had seen that was funny.

After a while the runaways returned, and then it was time to start
for home. Before that, however, Polly took Lilith and Dolly for a
short drive around the beautiful Loch Lairnie, which Dolly enjoyed
talkatively every moment of the way. Only she did want Sardis to see
it, and she could not understand why he didn’t come, when there was
plenty of room.

It had grown cool, so for the home drive Dolly rode in her brother’s
arms on the front seat. Presently she went to sleep and awoke saying
that she had been dreaming about her little lame duck, and that he
quacked her wide awake.

“There! I never bade him good-bye!” she lamented. “Why didn’t I think
of it! I wonder you didn’t remind me, Sardis; you always think of
everything.”

Sardis laughed, and then Polly laughed, too. What was funny about that?

Next morning Dolly’s brother took her in his arms and strode up to the
little brook at the edge of the woods. For an instant the child stared
in silence. Then her amazement broke into words.

“Why-ee!” she gasped; “it looks like my little lame duck! But how did
he get here? Did he follow me?”

“Not quite,” laughed her brother. “He came with you, he and his
comrade.”

“In the car?”

Sardis nodded.

“O-h!” cried Dolly comprehendingly; “that’s why you and Miss Dudley
laughed! That’s why everybody laughed! And I did hear them quack,
didn’t I?”

“Probably, for the rest of us did.”

“I might have known there was something, for you always love to
surprise me--I love it, too,” she chuckled, nestling her cheek to his.

“And are they going to stay and live right here?” she questioned later.

“Yes, they are yours. Miss Dudley thought the brook would answer very
well for their swimming-place.”

“It’s lovely--you don’t s’pose they’ll be homesick?”

“Not a bit.”

“Oh, I wish I had something to feed them with!”

A little basket of crumbs pushed its way into Dolly’s hands.

“Why, Miss Dudley, I didn’t know you were here!”

“I came just in time to hear your wish. I thought you’d be wanting to
feed them about now.”

“You guessed right. Isn’t Sardis the best Sardis in the world to give
them to me?”

“That isn’t much of a compliment, Lady Merrifield,” laughed her
brother. “There are not many Sardises for me to compete with.”

For an instant the child looked blank. Then she brightened. “Anyway,
you’re the best _brother_ in the world!” she exclaimed. “You can’t say
anything against that!”

“I could say a good deal against it,” smiling across to Polly; “but I
won’t, for”--his face suddenly sobered--“I am mighty glad you think so,
Dorothy.”



CHAPTER XXIII

IN THE “GARDEN OF EDEN”


After Sardis Merrifield’s visit Polly plunged into action with an
energy that called out comment from her associates. She took the
children on long drives until they had jaunted through nearly every
town within fifty miles. In company with those small people that could
walk she explored the near-by woods and fields and came home loaded
with all manner of trophies. With help from Dr. Abbe she fashioned
flower baskets and boxes in various shapes and sizes and filled them
with her wild treasures in their native soil. She designed rustic seats
under the trees, a wonderful sun arbor adjoining the side veranda, and
she superintended the carpenters while they carried out her plans.

“What in the world ails you?” queried Lilith. “If I didn’t know you so
well, I should say you were trying to work off something unpleasant.”

Polly laughed a queer little laugh, so queer that Lilith glanced across
the room--and then quickly turned back. Polly, brushing some litter
from the floor, was blushing furiously into the dustpan. Lilith’s mind
ran rapidly over the happenings of the past few days--and then she,
too, began to blush. But she did not see herself and so went on with
her thoughts. Polly and Dr. Abbe had been thrown together a good deal
of late--could there be anything--?

The White Nurse was calling her name, and she ran to answer.

That afternoon Lilith came upon Polly in the kitchen with Benedicta,
learning to make the small cocoanut cakes which were Dr. Abbe’s
especial delight. Then Lilith thought more thoughts, and without any
sensible reason went sadly the rest of the day.

The children had been begging for a picnic, so Lilith and the White
Nurse took them down the mountain to a place which Dolly Merrifield had
named the “Garden of Eden.” It was a pretty spot, set with pines and
birches, and fringed with bushes of various kinds, many of them now
hung with berries. Pine-needles formed a thick, slippery carpet, and
the sun filtered through the trees in an enchanting way.

A few hours later Dr. Abbe started for the picnic ground with two heavy
baskets, Polly and Benedicta following with some frosted cakes, that
the housekeeper would entrust to nobody else.

“Who is that girl talking with Lilith?” questioned Polly, halting at a
point where one first caught a view of the delectable “garden.”

Benedicta came up and narrowed her eyes to focus them on the stranger.

“Huh!” she ejaculated, “what’s that kid doin’ round here! Say, I
must--” Her voice trailed off inaudibly as, setting down her basket,
she turned and hurried back on the road she had come.

“Why--!” began Polly; but the housekeeper was beyond a conversational
tone, and Polly after a moment’s wait went on down the road.

Arrived at her destination she crossed over to Lilith and the child
whom she had seen.

The little girl was speaking, but paused with a touch of shyness when
Polly came up.

“Miss Dudley will give you more information than I can,” said Lilith.
Then, turning to Polly, “This little girl has been telling me about her
sister who has never walked.”

Polly was interested at once and cordially held out her hand. “I should
like to hear about her,” she said.

“My Sunday-School class is up here on a picnic,” the child explained,
“over the knoll there; and I and another girl were just walking round,
and we heard your children, so we came nearer to find out. I wanted to
come to see you before, but grandfather wouldn’t let me. I wondered
if you were going to make them walk”--pointing to Grissel and Little
Duke--“and I couldn’t help asking.” The girl’s face was eager and
anxious.

“Let’s sit down in the shade and talk it over.” Polly put her arm
around the slim shoulders and drew the child to the farther end of the
“garden,” quite out of hearing of the wheel-chairs.

“Has your little sister never walked at all?” was asked, as they sat
down on a big log.

“Not a single step!” answered the child with emphasis; “and it does
seem too bad, she is so beautiful. I never saw anybody so handsome
in all my life, unless it was my mother. I can’t remember much about
mother; but grandfather says she was beautiful, like Rosalind. He says
that grandmother used to be just as lovely as that, too. I think she’s
pretty now.”

“Do you live with your grandfather?”

“Yes, ma’am, since father died--there’s just Rosalind and me.”

“I shall have to go to see this dear little Rosalind,” smiled Polly,
her arm tightening around the child.

“Oh, no!” was the unexpected reply, “grandfather wouldn’t like it--you
mustn’t! Maybe I can draw Rosalind up here in her cart. I’ll try some
day, if you’d like to see her.”

“Surely I wish to see her; but I cannot understand what your
grandfather has against me.”

“Oh, nothing! Indeed, nothing at all! It is only--but I mustn’t talk
about it! He doesn’t wish me to.” The little girl shut her lips with
a finality that made Polly wonder. She shifted from grandfather to
grandchild.

“I suppose you don’t know the cause of the trouble with your sister--”
She paused.

“Oh, yes, ma’am! Grandmother says it was the poor milk that we had
when we lived in Stockville. Rosalind was just as healthy and strong
as any baby until she began to drink that milk; but they didn’t know
it then, and so we kept on living there. Grandmother says I began to
be sick, too, and mother. They found out afterwards that the peddler
put formaldehyde in it, and that poisoned her. Finally Rosalind got so
bad--and didn’t walk at all when she ought to--that father woke up,
grandmother says, and took her to the doctor; but nobody thought of the
milk, and it wasn’t for a good while that they found out. Then it was
too late. She had the rickets, you see, and after mother died father
brought us up here. Then pretty soon he died, and we’ve been here ever
since. Rosalind has had seven doctors, and grandmother and grandfather
have got discouraged.”

“I suppose it was malnutrition,” thought Polly aloud.

“Yes,” responded the child, “that’s what it was--I remember,
grandmother said so. Do you suppose you could cure her?” She went on,
her eyes fixed on Polly’s face, hungry for a bit of hope.

“I can do nothing, dear; my father has done wonderful things; but
I don’t know about this. He is coming up here soon, and if your
grandfather will allow it, we will try to arrange for him to see your
sister.”

“Oh, I’ll bring her up here!” cried the child. “I’ll bring her up if it
takes all day! Oh, if he could only make her walk! I’d do anything for
him if he would!”

“You may tell your grandfather what I say, that I am sure father will
see her if he wishes it. He would know whether she can be helped. I am
not wise enough to be able to say anything about it.”

The little girl shook her head sadly. “Grandfather wouldn’t like it if
he knew I had come to see you,” she said. “I don’t dare tell him; but
I’ll bring Rosalind up any time you say. She’s my sister, and I can do
what I like. Benedicta Clapperton hasn’t anything to do with it!” A
bitter shadow crossed the child’s face.

Polly looked at her, surprised and questioning.

“I mustn’t talk about her,” said the little girl, as if she had been
asked to do so. “Grandfather said for me not to. But couldn’t I bring
Rosalind up to see you without--without your housekeeper’s knowing it?”

“Perhaps,” answered Polly. “Yet I think that father would have to see
your grandfather or grandmother before he examined your sister.”

“Then Rosalind can’t--ever walk,” wailed the little one softly, putting
her arm across her eyes to hide her tears.

“Oh, my dear!” cried Polly soothingly, “I think we can arrange it some
way.”

“No--we ca-n’t!” she sobbed. “Grandfather wouldn’t ever take Rosalind
to where--Benedicta Clapperton is--I know he wouldn’t!”

“Now, don’t you worry one bit about it,” comforted Polly, drawing the
child to nestle within the circle of her arm. “It will all come out
right--you see if it doesn’t.”

“I’m afraid,” the little girl confessed.

“Don’t be afraid. We won’t let Benedicta or anybody else stand in the
way of your sister’s walking, if it is possible to effect a cure.”

The child drew a long breath. “You are good,” she said, “awful good;
but you don’t know grandfather. He hates--oh, I mustn’t talk about it!
What would he say if he knew! I must go now--they will think I’m lost.
Bessie is waiting for me somewhere--I forgot all about them!”

“And you will bring Rosalind to see me?”

“Yes, I want you to see her, she is so beautiful!”

“If you will let me know when you can come, I will meet you at the foot
of the mountain and bring you up in my car.”

“But she drives it, don’t she? I saw her that day when she ran into
that other car down in Overlook.”

“I shall drive the car myself when I come to meet you.”

“Oh, then I’d like it!” the child said eagerly. “And I can bring her
to-morrow, if it doesn’t rain.”

“And your name?” asked Polly. “I ought to know it, in case something
should occur so that I couldn’t come.”

“It isn’t a pretty one like Rosalind. I was named for father and mother
both. I hate it! It is Oscarlucy--Ferne.”

“That isn’t a bad name,” smiled Polly reassuringly. “Ferne is lovely. I
will write it down as soon as I get home.”

Polly and Lilith conjectured as to the possible connection between
Benedicta and the family of Oscarlucy Ferne; but they came to no
definite conclusion.

At half-past five o’clock the sandwiches and cakes were served and
eaten; but Benedicta did not appear until going-home time. That she had
returned earlier as far as the big birch-tree was affirmed by Grissel,
whose sharp eyes had spied her peering between the branches. The picnic
seemed to have missed something through the housekeeper’s absence.



CHAPTER XXIV

ROSALIND FERNE


Benedicta’s tardy presence was briefly apologized for.

“Work’s more necessary ’n party suppers,” she said succinctly.

“I saw yer peekin’ through the trees!” piped up Grissel.

A pink flush on Benedicta’s cheek was the only response, and Polly
quickly filled up the break with a laughable little nothing which
turned the children’s attention away from the housekeeper.

Benedicta did more than her share of wheeling the children home, as if
to make amends for her afternoon’s neglect. When the patients were abed
she stole out to the veranda where Polly was sitting.

“Come for a little walk!” she said. “Don’t you want to?”

They went silently down the steps arm in arm.

“I guess you thought it was queer,” she began, “leavin’ you so sudden;
but that kid was there! How’d she come to be up here on the hill,
anyhow?”

Polly explained.

“Oh, that’s it! She lives clear the other side o’ the town, and I
couldn’t understand.”

For a moment the only sound was that of a lone insect. Then Polly said,
“Nice little girl she seems to be.”

“M-h’m,” assented Benedicta.

“Do you know anything about this sister that has never walked?”
questioned Polly.

“Not much more ’n you do.”

“Oscarlucy seems willing to do anything for Rosalind.”

“Such a name for a kid!” sniffed Benedicta.

“Rosalind?”

“M-m. I s’pose it’s well enough if you like such a hifaluting. It’s
her grandmother’s doin’s--she’s the queerest! Why, Miss Polly, she’s a
regular heathen!”

“Heathen! What do you mean?”

“Just what I say! Democrats all are!”

“Benedicta!” laughed Polly. “I never knew a Democrat that was a
heathen.”

“Well, I have! I don’t see how anybody can be a Christian and be a
Democrat.”

“I know a good many nice Democrats,” smiled Polly.

“May be ‘nice Democrats,’” scorned the woman, “but I guess ther’ ain’t
anything else nice about ’em!”

“Oh, yes!--”

“See here, Miss Polly Dudley!”--Benedicta’s eyes gleamed excitedly--“be
you a Democrat?”

“No,” Polly laughed, “my people have always been Republicans; but--”

“Well, I’m thankful for that!” Benedicta breathed a big sigh of relief.
“For a minute I was scared--clean scared!”

“I never stop to ask what party claims my friends,” returned Polly,
“although I will acknowledge that I am rather pleased when I discover
that we are of the same political belief.”

“You ought to be!” replied the housekeeper with emphasis. “I don’t have
any use for a Republican that gallivants round with Democrats--much
less marries ’em!”

Polly marveled, musing over the situation. On what was Benedicta’s
antagonism founded?

The housekeeper went on, mixing her pronouns.

“’Tain’t the only thing she’s done, by a long-short; I could tell
you plenty. But she won’t ever walk--they might know that. Ser--her
grandfather does know it, but Oscarlucy--silliest name!--is as crazy
as--her grandmother. Why, the kid never ’s walked a step! Of course,
it stands to reason that her legs are all out o’ kilter. They’ve spent
lots o’ money on her;--but I s’pose she went through with all that.”

“She told me they had consulted seven physicians. It looks to me as if
the case was beyond medical skill; yet, my father has done unbelievable
things along that line.”

“He’ll never cure Rosalind Ferne!--Did you ever hear such a
melligenous name? If it was mine, I’d apply to the courts and have it
changed.”

“I never heard ‘Ferne’ before,” said Polly.

“Why, she’s had rickets!” continued Benedicta. “They say it was the
milk; but I don’ know. Why didn’t they find out. If I’d been there,
I’ll bet I’d ’a’ known before night what the reason was that baby kept
growin’ thin! Huh, such a grandmother!”

“You don’t seem to like her,” remarked Polly.

“Like her!” was the vindictive retort.

Benedicta said no more, and the two soon returned to the house.

For three days nothing was heard from Oscarlucy Ferne. Then Grocer Jack
brought up to Polly a tiny note torn from a bit of brown paper. It
read, “I am coming this afternoon at two o’clock.”

At the time named Polly was at the foot of the hill road, but the
children were not in sight. After waiting a long ten minutes she drove
ahead slowly, keeping a sharp lookout on all sides for a little girl
and a cart and a littler girl. Yet her watching brought her no sight of
them. At last, she was about to go back to the place she had started
from, when she heard a clatter from behind, and in a moment a horse
and wagon appeared, and she saw the familiar face of Grocer Jack and
received the information that they thought they could never catch up.
On the seat beside the man were Oscarlucy and a fairy-like little
creature with big sky-blue eyes and a mop of fly-away, sunny hair.

“You see,” explained Oscarlucy, “Mr. Jack had to carry a barrel of
flour ’way up to James Street, and that’s why we didn’t get there early
enough. We were so afraid you’d keep right on, and we couldn’t get
you. Mr. Jack said he knew it was you, because you’ve got such an easy
number on your car. I’m glad you have,” she sighed, “or we never should
have known it was you.”

Polly said that she was glad of the number, and she smiled to
the little fairy and thanked Grocer Jack. Then the children were
transferred from the grocery wagon to the automobile and Polly learned
that the tall grocer could be as gentle in the handling of a frail
child as he was nonchalant in the lifting of a heavy barrel. Her esteem
for him increased accordingly.

“Isn’t Rosalind beautiful?” asked Oscarlucy, after they had talked of
the flowers and ferns alongside the mountain road.

Polly was somewhat startled at this frank question, and she simply
nodded and smiled over the head of the little one.

“’Most everybody thinks I’m beautiful,” said the object of her sister’s
question; “but grandmother says it is only my hair and my eyes that are
so pretty, and that it is a good thing to have something nice when I
can’t walk at all.”

“Indeed, it is,” responded Polly, adding, “and I think that your hair
and eyes are lovely.”

“I am glad you do,” returned the tot, “for Oscarlucy was so afraid you
wouldn’t. She wants me to have something, you know, to make up for the
other. I guess God hadn’t the heart to make me so I couldn’t walk and
then give me straight black hair and green eyes--like our kitten.”

Polly smiled, and somehow managed to give a satisfactory response.
What manner of five-year-old was this who talked with such charming
unconsciousness about her own beauty and gave voice to original
opinions respecting her Creator? Adroitly she led the conversation to
other topics.

Throughout that long afternoon Benedicta was not in sight; but
Lilith whispered to Polly that the housekeeper was preparing a
most delicious-looking luncheon, which in due time appeared on the
veranda,--“a truly party tea” Grissel confided to Jozy. And Grissel
knew.

Rosalind and her sister enjoyed the afternoon to the utmost, if glad
faces and spontaneous laughter were true signs; and Polly and Lilith
were kept in a state of expectancy, wondering what their wee visitor
would say next.

“It must have taken God an awfully long time to make me,” she remarked
over the cup-cakes.

“Why?” asked Lilith.

“Because I came so late. ’Most everybody got here before I did. And
He took so much pains with me. Look at my curls! Oscarlucy has tried
and tried to curl her hair so it will stay, and she never can. But God
curled my hair so it stays. I think it must have taken Him a long time.”

The little patients stared at the small girl in big-eyed perplexity.
Here was reasoning beyond their thought.

“Is Dr. Dudley coming pretty soon?” she asked, when the goodies had
gone their way of delight.

“Yes,” answered Polly.

“As soon as next week?”

“Perhaps so.”

“As soon as to-morrow?”

“It is barely possible.”

“I hope he will,” she smiled. “I want to see him so it seems as if I
couldn’t wait.”

“So do I,” laughed Polly.

“But you can walk!”

Polly nodded. “I want to see him because I love him so much,” she
explained.

The tiny girl mused over this, and then said very softly:--

“If you love him like that, I think he will cure me. The last doctor
I went to see,” she continued, “said no doctor on earth could make a
child like me walk; but of course he only knew what somebody had told
him, and somebody may have told him wrong. There was another doctor
I liked better; he had a great deal to say about Dr. Dudley and he
told grandma that if Dr. Dudley could see me he thought he might
sud--sud--what was it, Oscarlucy, that he said Dr. Dudley might do?”

“Suggest something,” answered her sister promptly.

“Oh, yes, ‘sug-gest something,’ that was it. And if you love him so
much, I am sure he will. I wish he would come to-morrow.”

And on the morrow he came, announcing, to the delight of everybody,
that he was going to stay a whole week. As soon as practicable Polly
sent a note to Oscarlucy, which she answered promptly in person and
delivered her message to Polly.

“Grandfather won’t come--mercy, I guess he won’t! You ought to have
heard him storm!--and he won’t let me come. Grandmother would, but he
won’t let her either. He says if Dr. Dudley has a mind to step in some
day when he’s down to Overlook, and he thinks there’s the least bit
of use in his coming, he may; but--but--he says--he says”--then she
hurried on, the words tumbling from her lips in almost unintelligible
fashion--“he says he won’t pay out another cent just to be told that
Rosalind can’t walk, for he knows it already. I don’t think that is
a bit polite thing to say; but he did pay a doctor fifty dollars
once just for his telling him so, and he wouldn’t let me come at all
unless I promised I’d say exactly what he told me to. And I’ve said
it!” Oscarlucy snapped out the last words with a spirit worthy of her
grandfather, and it was with difficulty that Polly kept her smile under
cover.

When Dr. Dudley called at the Wheatley home Polly at his request
accompanied him. The Doctor heard all that the grandparents had to tell
before seeing the little one herself. Polly had prepared him for the
child’s extraordinary beauty, yet he drew a quick breath when he looked
upon the frail, angelic little creature. Was there sufficient endurance
in that wisp of a frame to outlast the treatment he had in mind?

“I think you are going to cure me,” said the mite, smiling up into his
kindly face.

He did not respond in words, only gave her one of his rare smiles that
had been the comforting life-buoy for many another little one. He
reached out and took the wee wrist in his strong hand. He held it so
long that Polly began to fear. She watched his face which she knew so
well, but it told her nothing.

She followed her father’s brief directions swiftly and with skill. She
had learned much since that night when she had first taken charge of
Paradise Ward.

The grandmother, a white-haired, still beautiful woman, watched the
little group with eager interest. She was beginning to believe that
this calm, self-contained man possessed something which she had seen
in none of the other physicians, and she followed his every movement
with tense nerves and a quickened heart. When at last the examination
was over, and they had returned to the living-room, she quietly awaited
the Doctor’s verdict, quivering lest it should be what she had heard so
many times before.

“Are you willing to let your little girl come to the Children’s House
of Joy for two years?” Dr. Dudley asked.

“You think there is help for her, then?” the grandfather asked.

“I am sure of it. If we can have her for two years, there is almost no
doubt of absolute success.”

“Why didn’t some of those other fellers say that?” queried Mr.
Wheatley. “They told me there was no use in doing anything except to
keep her comfortable.”

“It makes no difference to me what others have said,” replied the
Doctor. “I know what I know, and I think two years in bed will work
wonders.”

“Oh, in bed! And if she can’t go?”

“She will be a helpless cripple for the rest of her life--which will be
short,” answered the physician quietly.

“You think that?” asked the man.

“I know it,” replied the Doctor.

“Well, I admit that you act like a man who knows a good deal more than
most men. I believe that you are speaking truth; still, I don’t see
how we can have her go. I have spent about all my savings now, and--”

“Oh, Sereno!” his wife burst out. “Don’t think of that! We can get
along any way, if only she can be made to walk!”

“How much do you charge a week?” asked Mr. Wheatley.

“We will make the price satisfactory,” the Doctor promised. “You may
pay only what you can afford to pay.”

“But if it is just to keep her in bed,” broke in the grandmother
eagerly, “why can’t she stay at home? I will take care of her--do
everything you tell me, same as a nurse.”

Dr. Dudley gazed into her pleading eyes, as if to read her through and
through; but she did not flinch, she met his own steadily.

“I am inclined to think,” he said at last, “that this may be the better
plan. There is one strong point in its favor,--the air here is purer
than ours.” He smiled back to her. “Suppose we take her up on the
mountain, where I can keep watch of her as long as I stay, and let her
remain there until my daughter is ready to go home. She will have the
children for company, and that will be a good thing for her.”

“No, sir!” came in thunderous tones from the man by the table. His big
fist came down on his knee as he spoke.

His wife crossed over to him and began to talk in her gentle way, so
softly that the others heard but a word now and then. At first the man
would have none of her arguments; but presently, with a mollified “Have
it your own way, then,” he got up and took a seat nearer the Doctor.

Thus it was settled, but when the details were arranged nobody was
present save the two men. Grandmother and Polly had gone to share the
happy news with Oscarlucy and Rosalind.

The elder girl broke into quiet weeping; but the little one smiled
triumphantly.

“I knew he would make me walk!” she said.



CHAPTER XXV

THE STORM


Dr. Abbe asked at breakfast, “Miss Dudley, can you spare Miss Brooks
and me for the day?”

Lilith looked up, her face full of astonishment.

Involuntarily Polly glanced from one to the other.

“Certainly, Dr. Abbe,” she smiled.

Lilith held her breath, wide-eyed and scarlet of cheek.

“I wanted to be sure,” said the Doctor, “for fear the lady would plead
lack of time.”

Then, turning to Lilith, he said, a twinkle of mischief in his brown
eyes:--

“Miss Brooks, would you like to go to Skyboro, to see a granduncle and
grandaunt of mine? They are pleasant, old-fashioned people, and very
hospitable. I think you would like them.”

“Thank you, Dr. Abbe,” answered Lilith, with a smiling little bow, “I
should be delighted to go; but how do you propose to make the journey?
I believe neither of us can drive the car, and my wings are not here.”

“Thank you,” laughed the Doctor. “I am hoping that Miss Dudley will
offer to take us down to the Overlook station.”

Which Polly hastened to do, accompanied by a burst of laughter.

It was one of those mornings that was sunny on the mountain-top, while
heavy mists lay along the valleys and obscured the lower hills. “We’ll
have thunder before night,” prophesied Benedicta, as she bade the
carload good-bye from the piazza. “Better take your umbrella!” But the
clear sunshine around them made her advice seem a joke, and it was
received only with amusement.

Polly’s drive alone up the mountain gave her a wonderful sense of
peace. The restful, upreaching pines; the gleeful brooks; the great
ferns; the joyous birds; the landscape in its sunny content;--all these
ministered to her spirit, until she felt as if nothing could ever
trouble her again.

In this happy mood she would have liked to choose some nook apart from
the others and read and dream in company with one of her favorite
authors. But she had many tasks, and to-day was crowded with them
because of Lilith’s absence. So with singing in her heart and on her
lips she put away small garments and brought out fresh ones, mopped and
dusted, gave drinks of water to occupants of pillowed chairs, fetched
books and pictures and games, and did countless other things with
smiling good cheer and happy words that went a very long way towards
making her small patients comfortable and glad.

“Guess I’ll can some of these blueberries,” Benedicta told her on one
of her trips to the kitchen. “A man came along with them early, and
I bought more than I realized. He gave me bouncing good measure, and
there seems to be a superfluity--see those panfuls!” She pointed to the
heaped-up fruit.

“I’m glad you bought them,” returned Polly. “I never tire of
blueberries, fresh or cooked.”

“Well,” went on the housekeeper, a pleased, relieved look on her face,
“I knew you liked ’em. So do I. And I’ve got time to can to-day; there
isn’t going to be any man to dinner. You’ll be glad of them next
winter. Blueberry cake won’t go amiss when the wind is howling round
the hospital and the snow is three feet deep.”

“We don’t often have three feet of snow down our way,” laughed Polly;
“but blueberry cake will taste just as well even if the snow does lack
a foot or two.”

“I think I will come down and visit you in snow-time,” returned
Benedicta.

“Do!” cried Polly. “And be sure to bring your recipe book along!”

“I certainly shall--when I come,” chuckled Benedicta.

“You’ll come,” returned Polly authoritatively. “I shan’t give you any
peace until you do.”

Out on the veranda the children amused themselves in quiet ways. It was
too hot for much liveliness, although an animated argument was going
on between Grissel and Clementina as to which was the “nicest,” Polly
or Lilith or the White Nurse or Benedicta. Finally Polly’s stories
appeared to offset--even with the opposite party--Benedicta’s cookies
and tarts, while Lilith’s picture plays weighed heavily against Mrs.
Daybill’s word games which could be indulged in at any time, even in
the midst of a bath. The battle was not over when Polly appeared with a
pitcher of lemonade and a tray of glasses.

The little folks shrieked with delight, and several of the boldest
clamored for a story to attend their refreshment.

So Polly, always bent on pleasing and glad of a brief respite from her
duties, told them a long tale of the “Golden Horse,” who, weary of his
work as a whirling weathervane, became envious of the birds and longed
to fly, but who, after a short journey through the air on the wings of
a thunder-storm, was content to return to the duty for which he was
fitted and thereafter lived in happiness, the beloved of a little boy
in the house below.

“I should rather be a vane than to ride on the wings of a
thunder-storm,” shuddered Jozy. “Ugh! wouldn’t I be afraid!”

“Aw, I wouldn’t!” boasted Timmy. “I love to hear it thunder.”

“Guess you wouldn’t if you had to ride up in the air right along with
it,” retorted Jozy. “Anyway, you don’t like the lightning, ’cause you
said you didn’t last time it did!”

“Who does?” grinned Timmy, now sure of his ground in the present
company.

There was a general laugh, under cover of which Polly hastened away to
her few remaining tasks.

Upstairs she glanced from a window to see that thunder-caps were
assembling in the western sky. She thought of Benedicta’s prophecy, and
smiled. Perhaps Lilith and the Doctor might need an umbrella after all.
Then she sighed a little--some of the children were always afraid in an
electric storm, and once there had been a small panic. She dreaded them
on that account.

Down in the kitchen she found Timmy. One could usually be sure of Timmy
wherever the housekeeper and cooking were going on.

“Hadn’t you better go out on the veranda?” Polly suggested. “I’m afraid
you’ll bother Benedicta. She’s going to can blueberries.”

“Oh, Miss Dudley, I want to see her can blueberries!” was his prompt
answer.

“He’s never been too numerous yet,” averred the housekeeper. “When he
is I’ll send him away.”

“Can I come, too?” begged Jozy from the doorway.

“No, I think you’d better not,” answered Polly from the stairs.

“Yes, come right in!” called Benedicta.

Polly went on with a smiling sigh. Benedicta was surely spoiling those
children.

It was four o’clock when Polly heard the first mutterings of thunder.
She had lain down for a few minutes, as was her custom at this hour,
and she had fallen asleep. The thunder had probably wakened her. She
arose and hastened downstairs; some of the children might be growing
nervous.

In the ward nobody was stirring. Esther Tenniel had been playing with
post-cards and had dropped back on her pillow. Jozy and Clementina
and Grissel were drowsing in wheel-chairs. Muriel Spencer and Annette
Lacouchière were looking at picture books. Little Duke and Dolly
Merrifield were asleep on the veranda, with Mrs. Daybill keeping guard
over all and deep in a book as well. The kitchen was empty of life
except for a droning fly or two.

Outside a cooler breeze was ruffling everything within reach. The sky
had changed. The sun was still shining with a weird brightness, making
the heaped-up clouds in the northwest seem blacker in contrast. The
rumbles of thunder grew into growls.

“We are going to have a shower,” said the White Nurse to Polly who
stood scanning the sky.

Polly nodded. “Where’s Benedicta?”

“I saw her go over to the Study. The boys are asleep--or were when I
left them half an hour ago.”

Polly went inside.

Jozy was awake, anxious-eyed.

“Is there going to be a thunder-shower?” she questioned tremulously.

“It looks a little like it,” Polly answered in cheerful tone. “If we
have one I will tell you a story.”

“Oh, dear!” Jozy gave a half-laugh. “I don’t know what to do now. I
want the story--but I don’t want it to lighten.”

“Probably the storm won’t last long,” was the reply. “They are not apt
to up here. Maybe it won’t come at all.”

Polly went on, into the kitchen, where Benedicta’s fruit-filled jars
stood in a prim row on the table. Always thereafter, the terrible storm
was associated in her memory with that long line of canned blueberries.

Passing out to the piazza, a troubled look came over her face.
Instinctively she wished that Dr. Abbe was there. A man is always so
convenient if anything happens. Polly had never seen so gruesome a sky.
Blackness was gathering overhead, dense blackness that seemed to be
embracing the mountain, while far in the northwest zigzags of lightning
against a dull coppery sky were appalling in number and incessancy.

She ran across and shut the doors of the garage and then returned to
the piazza.

The wind veered to the north and darkness suddenly enveloped the
house. A gust slammed the door behind her, and Polly hurried inside and
began to shut doors and windows ahead of the oncoming storm. Sheets
of rain dashed into her face as she darted here and there. Before she
had finished her task a terrific clap halted her in the middle of the
children’s dormitory, just as the White Nurse came from the front
veranda with Dolly in her arms.

“Isn’t it awful!” cried Mrs. Daybill. And laying the child on a bed,
she started back to the veranda door.

A deafening, splitting crash brought an outcry from the children, and
Benedicta dashed into the kitchen, a boy in her arms, both streaming
with water.

“Where’s that--fire put-outer?” she gasped. “Quick! Study’s struck! All
afire! Two boys more there!”

In a moment Benedicta and Mrs. Daybill with the extinguisher were
racing across to the Study, while Polly rushed to rescue Little Duke
who was still on the veranda. To her horror she found him limp and
unconscious, a shivered, blackened floor telling the story. Inside
she tried remedy after remedy, to the accompaniment of shrieking,
panic-stricken children, and a tumultuous heart full of sickening fear.

Benedicta and the nurse returned with Timmy and Jeffy and reported the
fire out.

Mrs. Daybill took Polly’s place by Little Duke. The boy though still
breathing was unconscious.

“I think he will come out all right in a few minutes,” she assured
Polly; yet the moments passed and he remained the same.

Meanwhile the storm lingered, but the thunderbolts seemed not quite so
near.

Polly stood over the child holding his wrist. “I’m going to Overlook
for a doctor!” she announced, darting toward the kitchen.

“Indeed, you are not!” vetoed Benedicta. “If anybody goes, that’s me!”

“No, no!” cried Polly. “I--”

“Teeters and tongs!” broke in the housekeeper, “I’m goin’!” And pushing
the girl gently back she dashed off, her dress leaving a trail of drops
on the polished floor.

“Oh, don’t go!” pleaded Mrs. Daybill, as a heavy crash overhead and a
dazzling glare through the room told that the storm was still with them.

“It’s ’most over!” called Benedicta. “I’ll be all right.” She was
putting on rubbers over her drenched slippers. Then she took her
raincoat from its nail behind the door, and crossed the kitchen.

Polly ran out.

“You can’t control the car in this rain,” she urged, seizing
Benedicta’s arm. “You must not go!”

“Let me alone! I’ll put on the chains.”

The door shut behind her, and shortly the car had started on its trip
down the mountain.

The children were whimpering. Little Duke lay white and motionless;
only the soft breathing told of life.

“She’ll be struck and die, just like Little Duke!” wailed Clementina.
Which was the signal for a general shower of tears.

“Don’t! Don’t!” begged Mrs. Daybill. “Little Duke isn’t dead and he
isn’t going to be! He is only stunned. He’ll be all right before the
doctor gets here--see if he isn’t!”

The cheery tone more than the words soothed the frightened children,
and something like quiet began to prevail. Little Duke was now in bed,
Polly doing what she could in his behalf.

It was long before Benedicta returned. The storm had passed, though
clouds hung dark and heavy above Overlook Mountain. It was dusky
inside. Polly stepped out on the veranda, to see if the doctor had
come. The car seemed to be full--yes, Lilith and Dr. Abbe were there
and another man besides. He jumped out, and Polly caught her breath--it
was David Collins!



CHAPTER XXVI

CLEMENTINA ASKS QUESTIONS


Little Duke rapidly recovered from his shock, and the sudden arrival of
David Collins gave the entire household something to think of besides
the storm. Polly alone bore the brunt of the surprise. She had felt
vaguely that sometime this must come--her meeting again with David; but
she had thrust aside the thought of it as something not of the present.
His appearance, therefore, caught her unprepared, and she suffered in
consequence. Yet, so complete was her self-control that none except
Lilith guessed of her timorous heart or her aversion to her unexpected
guest.

She had asked no questions of Benedicta concerning the coming of David,
but on the morning after his arrival she accidentally overheard the
explanation as well as several other things.

“Where did you find Mr. Collins?” Clementina was asking the housekeeper
as she lingered in the kitchen after breakfast.

“I didn’t find him,” was the answer. “He found me.”

“Where’bouts?” persisted the child.

“Why, he was on his way to the garage, when he spied the number of my
car--or Miss Dudley’s car, I should say--and he raced after me, yellin’
at the top of his voice. He s’posed it was Miss Polly inside. I guess
he was amazin’ly flabbergasted when he saw me drivin’,” she chuckled.

“What’s ’flapper--grasted’?” questioned Clementina.

“Oh, just a good deal surprised,” was the quiet answer.

“Why didn’t you say so, then? It’s lots easier.”

“It doesn’t tell so much,” replied Benedicta.

“I think it tells more. How did Dr. Abbe and Miss Brooks know you were
down there?”

“They didn’t. I heard the train come in, so I thought I’d see if they’d
come. And there they were!”

“Had they got married?”

“Married! I should hope not! What put that into your head?”

“Why, a girl that lived in the next room to me before I lived with Miss
Dudley went off to the shore with a feller one day and when they come
back they were married.”

“Huh! we ain’t that kind up here.”

“Anyway, Dr. Abbe’s her beau, ain’t he?”

“Not that I know of.”

“I don’t see why,” muttered Clementina. “Who did that Mr. Collins come
to see?”

“Miss Polly, he said.”

“Did she ask him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he her beau?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know very much, do you?”

“I don’t know much about beaux and I don’t want to!”

“Why don’t you want to?”

“Because I don’t! I should if it wasn’t for that.”

“Don’t you like ’em? I do.”

“Much you know about ’em.”

“I do! I’m goin’ to have a beau and I’m goin’ to marry him when I grow
up.”

“Sinners and snobs! You’d better be playin’ with your dolls than
talkin’ about gett’n’ married.”

“Why had I? I think it’s awful lovely to get married in a long white
satin dress and a veil and a bouquet and go to New York.”

“Huh! you’re a great kid.”

“Why am I?”

“Teeters and tongs! if you don’t stop I shan’t know whether I’m makin’
cocoa gingerbread or coastin’ down Overlook Hill.”

“Oh! may I have a piece when it’s baked?”

“I’ll see, if you’ll run away now and let me be.”

“If you don’t want me, I s’pose I’ll have to,” plaintively.

Nothing further came to Polly’s ears, except the patter of small
footsteps, which told her of Clementina’s retreat.

Why did Benedicta allow them to bother her and resent it almost as
interference when Polly remonstrated?

Now Clementina’s thin voice was piping out again.

“Say, how soon will the cocoa gingerbread be done?”

“Oh, not for a good bit!”

“Say, don’t you think Dolly Merrifield’s brother is an awful lovely
gentleman?”

“I guess so.”

“He’s beautifuller than any of the other gentlemen, isn’t he?”

“Yere.”

“Why don’t he be Miss Polly’s beau? They look sweet together.”

“Teeters and tongs! What’s got into you?”

“There isn’t any cocoa gingerbread inside o’ me!” resented Clementina.

“Nor there won’t be unless you stay out of here!” Benedicta’s voice was
as nearly impatient as it ever came to be with the children.

“I don’t know where to wait,” complained the child.

“Go and see Grissel and Dolly and the rest.”

“I ain’t a wheel-chair one.”

“Well, I’ll make you one if you don’t go this minute!”

Which dreadful threat sent the little feet off again, not to return
within Polly’s hearing.

Although there were tasks still awaiting her, she lingered by her
window long after her mending was finished and the garments folded
ready to be put away. The questioning that had floated up to her from
the kitchen had flooded her mind with thoughts that would not be thrust
out, and she brooded over them with troubled brow and restless fingers.

As yet she had said little to David. She had resolved not to be
left alone with him if she could prevent it, although she felt that
it was only delaying a sure occurrence. If he had been arrogant or
assuming, as at the last time she saw him, she felt that things would
have been easier for her; but he was cordial without assumption and
genial without familiarity. He had rarely, she thought, appeared in so
attractive a light--and yet--and yet--Polly knew that she had no love
to give him, that she never could have any love for him again. Had he
killed it by his faithless behavior, or had she never loved him? She
could not tell. If there had been any real love in her heart for David
Collins, of this she was confident, none of it was left. Still, she
dreaded to tell him so. She vowed there in the silence of her room that
she would not let herself be led into a position from which there was
no escape.

Early after breakfast David had proposed going down to Overlook but
Polly had excused herself for lack of time. Lilith, promptly taking
her cue from Polly, had many duties which must be performed at once,
and so on. Mrs. Daybill would gladly have accepted the invitation, but
was unwilling to go unless one of the girls would be of the party. So
it came about that Dr. Abbe and David went off in the car alone. Polly
hoped fervently that they would not return before noon. She chided
herself for her attitude towards David, yet she was unable to bring her
mind to any dearer feeling for him than kindliness.

Finally she rose and was putting away her mended garments when the
purring of a motor car caught her ear. Drawing a little sigh she
speeded her work and started towards the front window. Short of it she
halted. That car was not hers. She watched it round the corner--Was
that--? It was! “Nita!” she whispered joyously and flew down the
stairs.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE BUTTERFLY LADY STAYS


Nelson Randolph drew up his car before the chalet as Polly dashed out
of the door. A flutter of hands greeted her, and then she and Mrs.
Randolph were in each other’s arms. Miss Crilly came next, and Mr.
Randolph and Blue and Doodles were not far behind.

“I am so glad to see you,” laughed Polly, “I don’t know what to say.
You haven’t come up from Fair Harbor this morning?”

“We have,” they answered.

“Started at five o’clock!” said Miss Crilly.

“And ate our breakfast on the way,” put in Doodles.

“Gee! isn’t this ’way up!” cried Blue, turning to see the wide circle
of mountains with which they were surrounded.

“It’s good and cool,” broke out Miss Crilly. “Oo-oo, but it was hot
down in some of those places!”

“We always get a breeze,” said Polly. “Come right up on the veranda and
take off your things.”

“Do let me look around a minute! How beautiful it is! I don’t wonder
you called it the ‘Top of the World.’” Juanita Randolph gazed
admiringly on every side. “It is wonderful!” she said softly. “And how
well you are looking!”--throwing an arm round Polly’s slim waist.

“The Butterfly Lady,” as she was called by some of the children,
greeted the small patients with smiles and handshakes and cheery words.
They were very fond of her, and the name given her by Clementina Cunio,
on the occasion of her wearing an exquisite dress of black-and-gold,
fitted her well this morning as she passed joyously from one to
another. It is not surprising that their faces were bright with
pleasure as she made her happy way among the wheel-chairs and told her
small friends how glad she was to see them again.

Benedicta always appeared to be in her chosen sphere when guests
beloved of Polly were at the house. Now, as soon as she knew of the
party’s arrival, she promptly began planning what rarely delicious
dishes she could concoct.

“Which do you think they’d rather have,” she asked,--“stuffed
beefsteak, or brown London chop, or chicken fried in cream?”

Polly advised chicken, and the dinner, with its array of vegetables,
salads, breads, and pies, was enjoyed by the visitors with appreciative
words and voted by the family to be the cap of Benedicta’s records.

Dr. Abbe and David Collins came in just as the meal was served, and
David’s appearance on Overlook Mountain was astonishing to at least
one of the guests. Knowing how matters had stood between the two when
Polly left home, Mrs. Randolph’s mind was given more to a study of
the possible situation than to the chicken over which Benedicta had
reddened her face with patient unconcern.

It was not until hours afterwards, when Polly had Nita and Miss Crilly
upstairs in her own room, that the girl approached the question which
had been in her heart ever since they had come.

“You are going to stay a few days with me, aren’t you?” she asked,
quivering with eagerness.

“Oh, no! we must go back to-night,” Mrs. Randolph answered.

Polly shook her head. “You must not! I am going to keep you for a week,
at least. No, hear me through! Miss Crilly will--I see by her face.”

“Oh, I should be perfectly delighted!” that little woman beamed; “but--”

“There isn’t any ‘but,’” resumed Polly.

“I guess Mr. Randolph will think he is a big ‘but,’” laughed his wife.

“I’ll manage it with him,” promised her hostess, “unless you really
don’t want to stay--and in that case I’ll make you want to.”

They laughed, and the girl went on.

“Give me one good reason for not staying!” she demanded, facing her
friend with determination in her eyes.

“Why, we didn’t intend to--”

“No good!” broke in Polly. “Give me a better.”

“Well--this should really have come first--I ought not to leave
Nelson--”

“Nonsense! He’s perfectly well, isn’t he?”

“Yes, only--”

“No ‘onlys’ allowed. I told you I’d manage him. Is that all?”

Miss Crilly was laughing, and Mrs. Randolph followed.

“You’d be the same old Polly if you lived to be a hundred,” she said.
“Truly, dear, I don’t see how I can--”

“It’s all settled,” announced the girl quietly--“you and Miss Crilly
are going to stay a week, anyway--maybe longer.”

They began to demur, but Polly laughingly held up a warning finger. And
immediately she branched off into plans for the next few days.

“We’ll go to Mirror Lake for one place,” she told them. “I wish I could
include Mr. Randolph and the boys in my invitation. I could eat them,
as--who is it says that?--but I can’t sleep them.”

Miss Crilly went off in a spasm of laughter, while Polly continued.

“You two can share our beds, Lilith’s and mine; for we haven’t another
extra one in the whole establishment. Mrs. Gresham says she is going to
put up a new bungalow next summer, so we can have as much company as we
want; this season we get along any way. We live out of doors mostly.
Pumpelly Falls is another beautiful spot, and the drive is pretty, too.
Then, there are some lovely tramps on our own mountains--oh, there’s no
end to the places you must see! One week--why, it won’t be any time at
all! You’ll have to stay two.”

They were called downstairs and invited to join a party bound for a
little lake a mile or so away.

“It is worth going to see,” said Lilith.

“It’s awful lovely there!” piped up Clementina, who hung about hoping
for an invitation.

Under cover of the laugh that followed the child’s remark Polly started
for the stairs, fearful lest David would claim her for the ramble.

Mrs. Randolph was not far behind, and in the moment they were alone
Polly whispered, “May I have your husband for the afternoon? I can’t go
with David, and I’m so afraid he’ll ask me.”

“Of course,” returned Nita, “but I don’t understand. Is it as bad as
that?”

“I don’t want to be alone with him--you will help me out, won’t you?”

“You poor child! You shan’t be a minute with him if you don’t want to
be. I’ll stick to you like a burr!”

“Oh, thank you! And you’ll stay here till he goes?”

“I surely will.”

“You blessed Nita! I feel guilty, when he is our guest; but I don’t
see what he came up here for--_I_ didn’t ask him.”

“Not ready yet?” broke in Miss Crilly’s laughing voice. “Please,
somebody see if my hat’s on straight.”

“Yes; but you don’t want any hat. Leave it here. Let me fluff up your
hair a bit--there, that’s all right. Now we’re ready.”

The afternoon passed in gala-day fashion. The party paired off as it
happened, but although the others changed partners more than once,
Polly walked with Nelson Randolph from the door of the chalet to the
lakeside and back again.

That evening was one forever to be remembered. At the request of Mrs.
Randolph, Doodles had brought his violin, and he and Polly and David
played and sang from directly after tea until ten o’clock, when Mr.
Randolph and the two boys left for Overlook, where they were to spend
the night. Never had the little patients known such a musical feast.
And Benedicta--she tells it best herself.

“I’ve heard music before; but this wasn’t the regular kind; it was
something so amazin’ly over-mastering that I lost myself consummately,
and when it got through I didn’t honestly know where I was. That little
Doodles--my! I could hear the birds singin’ before sunrise just as
plain, crooning an’ twittering as they will when it’s comin’ light,
and then breakin’ out fit to burst their little throats, tryin’ to say
good-morning to all the world at once! And in that other one I could
see the sun dippin’ right down into a bed of gold, and the girl and
feller that were in love with each other--why, I almost heard what they
were whisperin’!--How does he do it!--that’s what I want to know--how
does he do it?--just with those strings and a bow!”

In the duet sung by Polly and David, most innocently asked for by
Nelson Randolph, Polly had to summon all her strength to control her
face and her voice. She would have declined, but David responded
readily enough, and she would not be outdone by him.

“If I cared for David now,” she afterwards told Nita, “I could never
have sung it. All that troubled me was that it brought back the last
night we sang together, when I loved him--or thought I did--and once
or twice the memory almost overpowered me. But if you and Lilith say I
didn’t show it, I will try to believe you.”

David Collins, despite his seeming nonchalance at the start, had not
been at his best as he went on. Once he took a false note; but whether
because he was out of practice or from some other reason those who
talked it over together could not decide.

David’s attitude in respect to herself Polly did not understand. She
was taking all possible tasks upon her shoulders in order to avoid him.
Nita, true to her promise, accompanied her hostess like a shadow, thus
effectually hindering David from any effort he might wish to make to
see her alone. Last June if he had been thwarted in his attempts as
she was thwarting him at present, he would have gone about black of
face and gloomy of manner, making it apparent to everybody that he
considered himself as being ill-used. Yet now he smiled genially to all
and was seemingly at peace with himself and the world. Could it be that
up in the great woods he had learned self-control? Or was he actually
as contented as he seemed? Perhaps--Polly’s heart quickened with sudden
hope--he had fallen in love with somebody else and was here only to
obtain his freedom from the bonds under which he might believe himself
in honor to be held. The joy was brief. David Collins was not one to
feel bound to anybody or anything not agreeable to himself. She sighed.
No, that explanation of his present conduct was scarcely practicable.
Polly admitted to herself that David was far more attractive in this
new rôle than he had been in the old. No wonder Marietta said that he
was changed. With the thought of Marietta she returned to her former
supposition, and which she had set aside as not to be entertained.
David had always liked Marietta, and the girl herself had plainly
enough been bent on winning him. Had he been won over? Polly wished it
could be so--yes, ardently wished it--thereby proving to herself beyond
any further doubt that her love--if love it had ever been--was love no
longer. She could see him wedded to Marietta without the breath of a
sigh. If only he were not taking their engagement for granted, as he
once did! She shuddered at the possibility.

“Are you sure, Polly, that you are not making a mistake?” Juanita
Randolph asked, on the fourth afternoon of her visit.

They had come up to the grove back of the house, where Sardis
Merrifield had heard the story of the “Ten Little Girls.” Polly looked
up from her crocheting, her eyes questioning.

“What about?”

“About David. Are you positive that you do not care for him?”

The blood sprang into Polly’s face, and mounted to her hair.

“I know,” she replied simply.

“I wondered--that is all,” Mrs. Randolph said, as if in apology.

“Weren’t you sure whether you loved Mr. Randolph or not?”

“Perfectly sure--from the first.” It was the other’s face that pinked
this time.

“And you made me believe you didn’t care a rap about him, in fact,
hated him!” chided Polly.

Mrs. Randolph laughed softly. “I had no idea that he would ever care
for me.”

“I thought he did until we heard that story about Blanche Puddicombe. I
am sorry for the man she married.”

The elder woman shook her head with a bit of a sigh. “I wonder if she
liked Nelson.”

“He didn’t like her,” smiled Polly, “and she had no business to care
for him. Probably she didn’t. Oh, how delighted I was that night you
told me that you were engaged to him!”

“When I ran a race with Miss Sniffen,” added Mrs. Randolph.

Polly laughed at the remembrance. “If I could have seen it! You had a
good time from then on, didn’t you?”

“Nelson would make anybody have a good time,” praised his wife. Her
face grew grave. “David is a very attractive young man,” she said.

“Yes, he does seem so now,” agreed Polly. “He wasn’t last June.”

“Perhaps he has left his disagreeable qualities in the Adirondacks.”

“I hope so.” Polly’s eyes went troubled. “Nita,” she accused, “you
think I ought to let David come back! You know, there was never any
engagement. And he’s been away from me all summer--without a word.”

“There can be no obligation about it--if you are sure of your own
heart--” she paused.

“I am sure,” Polly reiterated, with a flutter of red upon her cheeks.

Juanita Randolph watched her as she bent towards her work.

“I am thankful,” the girl resumed, “that I refused to make any promise
for life. A girl of thirteen is too young to know her own mind, much
less her own heart.”

“You are right,” replied the other. “A girl of that age rarely knows
what love is.”

“I didn’t know,” Polly said with emphasis.

After a moment Mrs. Randolph spoke again.

“I wonder if David is waiting for me to go.”

“Probably.”

“Don’t you suppose--don’t you think it might be better to have it over
with him? Then it would be off your mind.”

Polly shook her head. “I don’t dare to let it come now. Maybe I am a
coward; but I am afraid he would out-argue me.”

“And you think it will be better later?”

Polly’s eyes had a sad, far-away look as she gazed at Dolly’s ducks
taking a swim down the brook.

“It seems as if it would be easier--at home. I must wait. David is a
good talker when he sets out to win his point--I am afraid.”

“I see,” nodded the other.

“Maybe. But you can’t--quite. I could only say that I am going to be
a nurse, and that I don’t love him. Then he would accuse me of almost
everything--I know David. When I go back--well, maybe I’ll write him a
letter.”

Juanita laughed. “You won’t be a nurse all your life. You cannot
convince me of that.”

“Yes, I have decided.” She crocheted hard. “I love it, and after I’m
through college I shall take a course of training, specializing on
children--I have it all planned.”

“I am still an unbeliever,” smiled Mrs. Randolph. Then she pondered the
subject in silence, straying far, far from the right path.

For a time matters went on at Sunrise Chalet without much change. Mrs.
Randolph began to feel anxious about being away from home, although she
appeared to be in the gayest of moods. David was growing more serious
of deportment;--what his thoughts were nobody knew. Polly smiled to
everybody alike, but lay awake nights wondering if this chain of
tangles would ever be straightened out. Benedicta expressed her mind on
more than one occasion.

“Isn’t it amazin’ queer,” she said, on the eighth day of Mrs.
Randolph’s visit, “how some people can hang on to a place when they
haven’t any requisition there at all! What’s the matter with that
Collins feller, anyway? The Butterfly Lady was invited; but he wasn’t,
was he?”

Polly shook her head.

“Then, why, by the authority of common sense, don’t he say good-bye,
and trot?”

It was on the day after these remarks that Polly was near the window of
the children’s ward when she heard footsteps on the veranda, and she
held her breath. They were David’s footsteps! Why did she leave the
veranda door open? She had supposed that David had gone away with Dr.
Abbe. He had never ventured into the ward; still--

“You think a good deal of the Butterfly Lady, don’t you?” It was
David’s voice.

Grissel and Esther had not been sleepy and had begged to be allowed to
remain on the piazza during nap-time. So there they were still, playing
with the paper dolls that Mrs. Randolph had brought them.

“I think she’s lovely,” responded Grissel.

“I suppose she will be going home pretty soon,” went on David’s voice.

“No, sir, she isn’t!” answered Grissel eagerly. “She told us she was
goin’ to stay a good while.”

Polly smiled.

“Oh!” returned David in a tone that hinted of disappointment.

That was all, save the rustling of paper and the soft whispers of the
girls. If only nobody woke up, he need not know that she was there. If
she could go upstairs without passing that door!

Presently David spoke again.

“Will you hand that to Miss Dudley when you see her.”

“I’ll carry it now. I guess she’s in her room.”

Polly sat tense--if Esther should come in! It was Esther that had
answered. Grissel could not walk.

“No,” David was saying, “wait until you see her. She may be resting.”

Polly flushed guiltily. She felt unworthy of such consideration from
David.

A chair moved on the piazza, and she heard him go down the steps. As
soon as practicable she got up noiselessly and tiptoed across to the
staircase. With a breath of relief she shut the door of her own room.
Nobody had seen her come up.

When she and Mrs. Randolph and Miss Crilly went for their afternoon
walk they left the house by way of the kitchen.

At the tea-table Polly saw David looking keenly at her, and then once
again. Both times she turned her eyes quickly; she did not even glance
at him the third time, and he did not speak to her directly during
the meal. Afterwards she helped Mrs. Randolph and Miss Crilly put the
children to bed, and then they joined Mrs. Daybill on the veranda.
Lilith and Dr. Abbe and David did not appear until late. Then David
looked grave and forbidding. He scarcely spoke.

Polly wondered what had become of the note--if it were a note--that
David had wished Esther to give her.

At breakfast David addressed Polly directly.

“I must be going down to Fair Harbor,” he said. “Are you willing I
should take your car down the mountain?”

“Certainly,” answered Polly, “if you feel that you must go.”

“I have been away from home too long already,” he replied. “Will you
go down with me, to bring the car back?” he asked, meeting her eyes
squarely.

For an almost imperceptible instant she hesitated. Then she answered,
“Why, yes, thank you, I shall be glad to go.”

He smiled. The hour was set. Dr. Abbe and the others expressed regrets;
but Polly said nothing further.

Mrs. Randolph and Miss Crilly and Lilith demurred when Polly asked them
to accompany David and herself to Overlook.

“He did not invite us,” they said.

“I am inviting you,” returned Polly, and she would take only their
acceptance.

David looked crestfallen, so Miss Crilly affirmed, when he saw the
bevy of ladies ready to go down to Overlook. But he accepted his fate
gracefully, and the ride turned out to be pleasant to at least three of
the passengers.

At the Overlook station David caught a brief chance to say a word to
Polly.

“Why didn’t you meet me last evening, or at least answer my note?” he
demanded quietly.

She looked up in innocent surprise.

“I haven’t received any note from you,” she answered, her face scarlet
at once.

“Didn’t that little girl who was playing with Grissel on the veranda
yesterday afternoon hand you the note I gave her for you?”

“No,” she reiterated. “She gave me nothing.”

He laughed a little. “Forgot it, probably! So much for trusting to a
kid’s memory. I waited for you up in the woods till ten o’clock.”

“Too bad!” she faltered.

“H’m,” he returned. “Well, I’ll see you when you are back in Fair
Harbor. I might write--shall I?”

“Why, yes, if you like,” she answered.

“Perhaps--I think on the whole I’d rather wait till you come home.”

The train was thundering in; there was no more time. With a grasp of
the hand and a grave good-bye, he turned, and Polly saw him disappear
in the car.

The next day Mrs. Randolph and Miss Crilly said good-bye, too. The
little family on Overlook Mountain was by itself again.



CHAPTER XXVIII

BENEDICTA’S OPPORTUNITY


It was not until Polly returned from taking her last guests to the
Overlook train that she inquired of Esther Tenniel about the note with
which David had entrusted her.

At the start the little girl smiled into Polly’s eyes in happy
forgetfulness of her failure in duty until suddenly memory asserted
itself. Then she hid her face in her little hands and broke into a
wailing cry.

“Oh, Miss Dudley, I forgot! I forgot! I never did think of it till this
minute! I told that sweet young man I would give it to you, and now I
don’t know where it is. Oh, Miss Dudley!”

“Hush, dear,” said Polly soothingly. “It isn’t of the least
consequence. I think it is not lost, and if it is, I shall not shed a
single tear. Don’t cry another bit.”

The child continued to sob, while Polly, with her usual practicality,
went on:--

“You were playing with your paper dolls that morning, weren’t you?”

“Yes, Miss Dudley--the beautiful ones--that the Butterfly Lady gave us.”

Polly went to the cupboard where they were kept and looked through the
envelopes. The note was not among the dolls.

“Do you remember what you wore that day?”

Esther reflected. “I think I had on my blue gingham and the white
pinafore that goes with it.”

Polly examined Esther’s wardrobe, but did not see the white “pinafore.”
Then she went to the big laundry hamper and looked over the clothes.
The missing apron soon was in her hands, and down in the depths of the
little pocket was the note.

Esther smiled wanly when she saw it, and began to cry.

“I want to tell you a secret,” said Polly. “You’ll promise not to
repeat it to anybody?” Then said Polly, “I am glad you forgot! I would
a great deal rather have the note now than when it was given you.”

Esther looked at her doubtingly. “Glad?” she queried.

“Yes, really and truly glad,” laughed Polly. “Now go and play and
forget all about it.”

“And I needn’t feel sorry?” questioned the little girl.

“No, you are to be glad, too.”

Esther smiled and flung her arms about Polly’s neck, whispering, “You
are the nicest lady that ever was!”

Alone with the note, Polly did not open it at once. She sat still with
her own thoughts. Finally she unfolded the paper, and read:--

  DEAR POLLY: I must see you alone, and somebody is always tagging
  you round. Please arrange your work so as to meet me up in the
  grove this evening. I shall be there directly after tea.

                      Sincerely
                            DAVID

Polly looked away to the far distant hills--wondering about David. What
did he come for? What had he to say to her? Would it have been better
if she had let him talk with her, as he wished--as Nita had suggested?
No, she could not! She knew well enough what it would have led to. She
shook her head, and a shiver ran over her--anything but _that_! Yes,
she had done right.

Rosalind Ferne improved daily, and the gain was not microscopic. Even
Benedicta spoke of it.

“That Ferne kid’s comin’ up,” she said.

“Isn’t she!” exulted Polly.

“She’ll never walk,” the housekeeper went on, “it’s against nature; but
she’ll get stronger and healthier. She won’t go through life so puny.”

“Or crooked,” added Polly.

“I do’ know!” Benedicta shook her head doubtfully. “I s’pose I ought
not to go in opposition to your father, but it ain’t reasonable to
think she will walk and be straight after all these years of idleness.”

“She will be straight and she will walk,” Polly asserted smilingly.
“Father knows what he says. He never makes a statement that he is not
able to back up with results.”

“Well”--Benedicta drew a long, doubtful breath--“if she ever
should--but I don’t b’lieve she will!--it will be a real authentic
miracle.”

“It will seem so,” agreed Polly, “yet it is just such things that
father is doing every day.”

The housekeeper looked at her with unbelieving eyes. “Do you mean that
your father has ever cured anybody that was like that little Ferne kid?”

“A good many of them. You know about Doodles?”

“No. What?”

“When he was three or four years old he had a fall and could never walk
a step afterwards until father operated upon him some six years ago.”

“Well, that’s amazin’ly marvelous, of course; but they’ve taken that
kid to piles of doctors, and every one of ’em said she couldn’t be
cured.”

“Yes,” smiled Polly. “And Doodles was examined by a famous New York
surgeon just before father saw him; his verdict was that the case was
utterly hopeless.”

“He did! Sinners and snobs! Why in the universe don’t you do some
braggin’? Bet I would, if it was my father.”

The girl laughed. “I believe in him thoroughly,” she said. “That’s
better than braggardism.”

“My! but that’s a lovely word!” cried Benedicta. “Say it again, please;
I never heard it.”

Polly repeated it. “When I was a child,” she laughed, “I used to say
‘superbondonjical.’ Maybe that would suit you.”

“Fine! What does it mean?”

“I used it for anything that especially pleased me,” Polly replied.

“All right,” returned Benedicta. “I think, then, that you are
superbondonjical.”

Clementina came to see what they were laughing at, and Polly took the
opportunity to escape into the ward.

She found Rosalind crying softly because a little toy dog which she had
wound up refused to bark.

Polly looked it over. “It is out of order,” she concluded. “That is the
reason it doesn’t work.”

Rosalind was thoughtful.

“Daddy doesn’t work on Sunday,” she said. “Is he out of order?”

Polly was about to explain, when the little one wailed out, “I want my
daddy! I want to see my daddy!” It was the first time she had shown any
sign of homesickness.

For a moment Polly was at a loss for comforting words. She well knew
that it would be a hard matter to persuade Mr. Wheatley to come up to
the house. She was spared from speaking, however, for Clementina and
Benedicta walked in.

“What’s the matter?” inquired the latter.

“I want--my daddy!--I want--my--dad-dy!” sobbed Rosalind.

“You poor little kid!” crooned Benedicta. And gently pushing Polly
aside she sat on the edge of the bed and held the child close. “Poor
little kid!”

The sobbing lessened, but still kept on.

“Now, see here!” began Benedicta in a coaxing tone, “you just be
a good girl and stop crying, and pretty soon we’ll have a regular
superbondonjical time.”

“I don’t know what kind of a time that is--I guess I never had one.”
The mite was interested at once.

“Oh, it’s lovely, amazin’ly lovely, a superbondonjical time is!” The
voice was inspiring.

Rosalind smiled. “Will we have it now?” she asked.

“Just as soon as I can get it ready; I guess about the time you’ll sit
up to your little table in your little chair.”

This was a wonderfully satisfying answer, and Rosalind closed her eyes
with a breath of content. She was constantly looking forward to ten
o’clock in the morning and six o’clock in the afternoon, those being
the hours when she was taken up for a short time and allowed to sit in
the small chair that “daddy” had made for her and to eat her luncheon
or supper upon the pretty table which Grandpa Wheatley had fashioned to
match the chair.

Benedicta held her a moment longer and then laid her tenderly upon her
pillow.

The child opened her eyes and gazed up into the kind, homely face.

“You look like daddy,” she said thoughtfully.

The housekeeper drew back with a start. “I--I must go see to--”

Nobody found out just what she was going to “see to,” for she was gone.

Soon a sweet, spicy odor floated into the ward, which caused the little
folks to sniff delightedly and to wonder among themselves what was in
store for them.

It was not long before Benedicta and the “superbondonjical” luncheon
came in. On the tray were freshly baked oatmeal macaroons, little cooky
girls with wide skirts, and glasses of creamy milk.

Rosalind smiled up at the housekeeper, and said again, “You do look
like daddy!”

This time, however, Benedicta did not run away. Instead, she responded,
“Do I?” and went on to tell of a little girl that was lost and who was
finally restored to her friends because of her likeness to one of her
sisters.

Polly, musing over this, wondered what relation Benedicta bore to the
Wheatley family. Perhaps in time the truth would come out. It did
come--and sooner than she had expected.

She awoke early one morning and went downstairs to find Benedicta in
the midst of a big baking.

“Teeters and tongs!” ejaculated the housekeeper, “what in the universe
are you up at five o’clock for? I calculated on havin’ the kitchen to
myself for two hours longer.” She stood and viewed Polly dejectedly.

The girl laughed. “I’m going right away,” she said. “I won’t hinder you
a minute. If I can help,” she added, “I’ll stay.”

Benedicta shook her head, as Polly turned to the piazza door. “Hold
on!” she called in a hushed tone: “I might as well stop now and tell
you. The cookies are baked, the bread’s goin’ all right, and the pies
are ready--wait a minute and I’ll put the bread in.” She came from
the oven, laid her holder on the only empty corner of the table, and
glanced around. “Huh,” she muttered, “looks as if the Devil was havin’
an auction!” Then she sat down.

“I s’pose you know all about Sereno Wheatley and me.”

“No,” answered Polly.

Benedicta looked at her with her eyes narrowed. “Do you mean to
say, Miss Polly, that you haven’t asked what anybody in town could
communicate?”

“I have made no inquiries,” Polly replied. “I thought if there was
anything that you wished me to know you would tell me.”

“Well, if you aren’t the nicest! The idea of your not askin’! I s’posed
you knew the whole story from A to Z. Dear me, I must tell it quick,
for I’ve got lots of bakin’ to do before breakfast.

“Sereno Wheatley is my half-brother. My mother married twice. Sereno
was Wheatley’s child and I was a Clapperton. He’s considerable older
’n I am, but we were always chummy, some way--we liked each other, or
did till he got married. We all s’posed he was goin’ to marry Isabel
Lockwood, the prettiest girl in town; but if he didn’t go to Boston an’
get acquainted with Lily Starr, an’ before we knew anything about it he
brought her home--married! We never liked her, not one of us. My father
wouldn’t have ’em at home, so off they went, and I guess they had a
hard time gettin’ along. She was pretty enough, but she’d been brought
up different from what he had, and I s’pose I kept comparin’ her with
Isabel Lockwood--Isabel was my chum. She died young. Lily was called
a beauty, but she wasn’t a circumstance to Isabel. Anyway, she was a
Democrat! That was enough for my father. But I d’n’ know. It looks
different now from what it did then. I--I guess it’s partly that little
Ferne kid an’ partly you, Miss Polly--anyway, I feel somehow different.

“An’ that makes me think of one thing more I’ve got to tell you. I
didn’t lie when I broke your car and said I ran into my Miss Flora
and Mr. Aimé. I did, but I didn’t make any remarks about what started
my doin’ it. Oscarlucy was takin’ Rosalind to ride in her little
cart--she was always peregrinatin’ round with that kid--and I turned
the corner an’ come on them so sudden, I almost run ’em down! I was
’bout scared to death, and then I swung out so far I just scooted into
my other folks! That’s the truth and every mite I’ve got to confess.
Well, I heard las’ night that his wife’s sick--it’s a fever--and they
can’t get a soul to come an’ help. So there they are, Sereno and that
ten-year-old Oscarlucy. If she’s like most children she’s worse ’n
nobody, an’ when it comes to nursin’, a man ain’t in it, no matter
how good he is. So I’ve got to go! I said to myself ’t I couldn’t, ’t
my place was here with you and the kids. And I went to bed. But then
I got to thinkin’ till I ’most jumped up an’ started off. You see,
I--well, I’d been prayin’ the Lord to give me an opportunity to kind o’
make up with Sereno, for I couldn’t just go walkin’ in there after all
these years and say, ‘Brother Sereno and Sister Lily, I’ve come to be
reconciled’! I couldn’t fire off such a thing at ’em, could I? Well,
when it come to me that here was the opportunity I’d been prayin’ for,
I made up my mind I’d better get down there as quick as I could. But I
wasn’t goin’ to leave you in the lurch! So I set my alarm-clock and
got up at half-past three--”

“Why, Benedicta,” broke in Polly, “you shouldn’t have thought of me! I
can cook--a little, and so can Lilith. We’ll get along all right.”

“Then you don’t blame me for going?” The housekeeper eyed the girl
keenly.

“Blame you!” Polly took the reddened hands in her own. “It is the very
thing I want you to do. I am proud of you to know that you are ready to
go--just when you are needed.”

Benedicta shook her head slowly. “Thank you, Miss Polly. I’m goin’
sure, though”--a flush stole over her face--“I’d rather be horsewhipped
than to do it! Las’ night, at first, I almost hoped you wouldn’t let me
off!”

“I know how you feel,” returned Polly; “but when it is over with, you
wouldn’t have missed it for a farm. You’ll be so glad. It will pay--if
only for that.”

Benedicta looked at Polly through a mist of tears. “It’s just you and
that little Ferne kid that’s done it,” she said. “You are so good!”

“Nonsense! I’m not good at all!”

Benedicta smiled as a tear ran down her cheek.

“I do hope, Miss Polly, that I’ll get to heaven before you do--I shall
be amazin’ly disappointed if I don’t--for I’m countin’ on bein’ there
when your crown is brought in. You’ll look so astonished, for it’ll be
full of stars--bright ones, too!--and you’ll say, ‘Oh, no, that isn’t
mine! That can’t be for me! There must be some mistake!’ Oh, I know
just what you’ll say, and it’ll be such fun to hear you say it!”



CHAPTER XXIX

TROUBLE IN THE KITCHEN


They had been three days without Benedicta, and she was missed more
than she could have been made to believe. Nothing seemed the same. Even
the mountain was apparently farther removed from the world of people
and homes and all that goes to make life the joy it can be. The food
question had not troubled any of them very much, for the housekeeper’s
latest baking was not yet exhausted. It was so much diminished,
however, that Polly and Lilith had held converse at least twice on the
subject, ending with, “Well, we’ll get along some way.” The children
were easy, milk being their chief diet; but Mrs. Daybill and Dr.
Abbe--! Both Polly and Lilith shook their heads over these two.

Three more days passed, and still Mrs. Wheatley was too ill to admit of
Benedicta’s return to Sunrise Chalet. Grocer Jack brought word that she
would come back and “cook up a lot of victuals” as soon as she could be
spared, but she did not know when that would be.

“I’m going to make some cookies,” declared Polly. “The children must be
longing for them, though they’re good not to tease. You know I did make
some once with Benedicta’s help.”

“Yes, and they were delicious,” said Lilith. “You can use Benedicta’s
recipe if you have forgotten just how.”

“Oh, she hadn’t any! I didn’t think of that.”

“Those are simple. Can’t you manage them without a recipe?”

Polly wagged her head doubtfully. “I think cookies are rather hard to
make and have them come out just right. I can try, though maybe I shall
have to eat them all myself.”

“I’ll help if the batch is spoiled,” laughed Lilith. “It is the bread
question that is worrying me. I am so tired of baker’s bread. Perhaps
I had better try some muffins first; they don’t take any time to
make. Dear me, I didn’t dream that baking was such a bother. If only
Benedicta had recipes for such things; but she takes a little of this
and a little of that--and it’s done!”

Polly’s cookies were hard enough--so she herself averred--to break the
children’s teeth into flinders.

“I believe I could play ball with them against the garage, and they
wouldn’t crack,” she declared disgustedly. “I’m going over to Mrs.
Swan’s to see if she has a cooky recipe. Wonder why I didn’t think of
it before.”

She tried again the next day, and this time the little cakes could not
be accused of hardness; they were so rich and crumbly that they came
from the pan in pieces.

“Anyway, they taste good,” comforted Lilith. “I wish my muffins had
come out as well as these.”

Poor Lilith! the muffins that she had risen early to make for breakfast
had been so heavy and unpalatable that they were fed to the chickens
and ducks.

In vain the girls coaxed Mrs. Daybill to try her “luck,” but she
asserted that she never could do anything without a recipe and that she
wasn’t going to waste time in trying.

“If I had dreamed that I’d need it I would have brought my recipe book
along.”

“Better send for it,” advised Polly.

“By that time Benedicta would be back,” the other returned.

“I am going to Overlook this afternoon to buy one,” declared Polly.
But, to her chagrin, among her numerous purchases it was forgotten.

Meanwhile Lilith grew desperate, and, borrowing a recipe from Sally
Robinson, made some rolls for tea.

“Dr. Abbe says they are the best he ever ate,” she told Polly, a new
flush on her cheeks.

For several days Polly had noticed that Lilith had been repeating this
and that which “Dr. Abbe said.” It was unusual for Lilith. Now Polly
smiled across into her friend’s eyes, and the blush on her cheeks grew
deep. That night, at bedtime, she knocked on Polly’s door.

“I saw your light,” she apologized; “may I come in?” Yet when the
door was shut behind her she hesitated, her eyes downcast, the color
fluttering in her cheeks.

Polly drew her down to the couch. “Tell me,” she encouraged. “Is it
some good news?”

“Have you guessed?” Lilith’s happy eyes looked up in surprise.

“Dr. Abbe?” smiled Polly.

The other nodded, blushing deliciously. “I haven’t told anybody but
mother. I wanted you to know. He says--this isn’t going to--to hurt
you, Polly?”

“Bless you, no!” Polly caught the pink face between her palms and
kissed the sweet mouth. “I’m so glad, Lilith. I can’t tell you how
glad. It is what I have wanted for a good while.”

“But listen! He says he liked me from the first, but that he didn’t
suppose I’d ever care a rap for him, and he says one day you happened
to say something about me--I guess praised me up a little--you know,
as you do sometimes--and it made him wonder if I ever could care. It
was after that he asked me to go to Skyboro with him--the day of the
thunder-storm--and since then he has come in my way more or less.
Still, I didn’t think he was in earnest. I thought all the time that he
was in love with you.”

“I’m glad you are mistaken,” said Polly.

“So am I,” confessed Lilith, “if you don’t care for him. I shouldn’t be
happy a bit if you did.”

Polly lay awake long after she had put out her light, thinking,
thinking. Things with Lilith had gone just as she wanted them to go.
If she could only know how David felt! Would he wish to hold her to a
promise she had never made? She fell asleep and dreamed that she was
being married to him, under an arch of sunflowers! She awoke with a
shiver, unutterably thankful that it was a dream.

The next morning a messenger rode up from Overlook with a
special-delivery letter for Polly.

She glanced at the envelope, and a frightened look flashed into her
face. Upstairs she darted. A few minutes later she sought Lilith--her
ready refuge.

“Come right into my room and try to think what we can do!” she demanded.

“What is it?” Lilith was plainly startled as she followed Polly.

“It’s awful!” exclaimed Polly in a hushed voice. “Sardis Merrifield
wants to come here and spend his vacation,--two weeks!”

“Goodness! Sardis Merrifield!” Lilith sank back in her rocker, limp
with the overpowering news.

“And think of my cookies!” Polly laughed hysterically.

Lilith shook her head in despair. “We can’t have him! Did he telegraph?”

“No--special-delivery. He says that unexpectedly he is to have his
vacation now, and he asks if it will be convenient for him to come.”

“Tell him no!”

“But how can I refuse--there’s Dolly!”

Lilith scowled savagely. “I feel like swearing.”

Polly broke into a laugh.

“Don’t!” Lilith was almost in tears.

“I’d cry if ’twould help us out, but it won’t. If I ever stay home
long enough I’ll learn to cook. Mother knows every twist and turn of
cookery--why didn’t I have her teach me!”

“Same here!” Lilith jerked out. “There’s no sense in a girl’s not
knowing how to make bread and roast meat and all that. See how I
spoiled the dinner this noon! I was so mortified it choked me--I
couldn’t eat.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” fibbed Polly sympathetically.

“I know! I’ve eaten Benedicta’s pot roasts. It was horribly burned.”

“Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” said Polly.

“If only we could see Benedicta coming up the road! That’s the way it
would happen in a story.”

“It won’t happen in our story,” retorted Polly with a little laugh.
“I’m sorry enough to cry for poor Dolly--we mustn’t ever let her
know--but I will write to Sardis M. that he can’t come till Benedicta
gets home.”

“Polly, you mustn’t!”

“You told me to. And what else is there to do? We can’t ask him to come
and eat such stuff as we’ve been having for the last day or two.”

“No,” agreed Lilith with a doleful sigh.

They carried the letter to Overlook that afternoon, and received an
answer on the second day thereafter. Polly opened it behind closed
doors, only Lilith looking on.

“Oh!” she gasped; but Lilith could not tell whether it was of relief or
dismay.

She caught the sheet as Polly tossed it over to her, and read:--

  DEAR MISS DUDLEY: I cannot leave you in such a dilemma.
  I will bring up a new cook to-morrow. Then if you don’t want me
  to stay, I’ll go.

  With love for Dorothy
                      Faithfully yours
                            SARDIS MERRIFIELD

“Some of those country women,” said Lilith. “I’m afraid she won’t suit
Dr. Abbe--he’s dreadfully finicky.”

“Country women generally know how to cook,” returned Polly. “Anyway, it
won’t be our lookout if she doesn’t.”

“Maybe it’s the girl he boards with,” suggested Dolly a while later.

“Does he board with a girl?” laughed Polly. The laugh did not sound
true.

“No,” answered Dolly, “it’s the girl’s mother that keeps him, but he
says the girl makes beautiful things to eat.”

“She’s probably the one,” agreed Lilith.

Polly jumped up and ran to see if the blackberries on the stove were
burning.



CHAPTER XXX

THE NEW COOK


It was nearly four o’clock when Sardis arrived. The family were on the
veranda, each curious to see the cook whom the young man was to bring.
As he appeared alone at the big birch-tree they gave him scant notice,
their eyes passing from him to the place beyond where the new cook
would first come into view. They watched in vain.

“She probably rode,” whispered Lilith to Polly; “but why didn’t he ride
up with her?”

“I bet she wouldn’t come!” piped Clementina.

“It would be a joke if she left him in the lurch,” smiled Mrs. Daybill.

Polly stepped forward to greet the visitor, and Dr. Abbe lifting Dolly
in his arms went down the steps, saying, “Here is a young lady who
‘can’t wait to kiss Sardis.’”

There was a general laugh, and then Clementina got in her word.
“Where’s the new cook?”

“She will be here presently,--as soon as I get washed up.”

Polly’s heart “went down cellar,” as later she told Lilith.

After a little non-essential talk Sardis Merrifield walked over to the
Study with Dr. Abbe.

Lilith drew Polly inside and thence to the kitchen. “What does it
mean?” she began. “Not that the minister--?”

“Yes,” frowned Polly. “Every boy who has fried bacon or made coffee
at a camp thinks he is an accomplished cook.” She looked round the
spotless kitchen over which she and Lilith had spent the greater share
of the forenoon, and sighed. If only Benedicta would pop in and save
the day!

“I’m glad I blacked the stove,” reflected Lilith. “I thought first I’d
leave it for the new cook!”

“He’ll never know whether it is black or red,” scorned Polly. “In some
respects men are all alike.”

Nevertheless, the man that walked into the kitchen, unannounced, a few
moments later did look different from any other that Polly had ever
known. Very trim he was in his short white coat, a chef’s cap hiding
his thick brown hair. His face wore the expression of one in love with
his rôle.

“At your service, mademoiselle,” he said with a low bow.

Lilith peeped in from the back piazza, then swiftly stole away with a
silent chuckle. It was too funny! Could he really cook?

“If you will allow me,” began the newcomer, “I should like to look
round a bit, so that I may learn where things are. Or perhaps you will
be good enough to show me.”

“Now, Mr. Merrifield,” began Polly, “you needn’t think you must do
this to help out. We can get along. The truth is, Miss Brooks and I
don’t know much about cooking, and we were afraid you wouldn’t like it
very well; but if you can put up with--”

His hand stayed her apologies. “Miss Dudley,” he said, “I have come
here to cook, and I don’t like to give up a job until I have had a
chance at it. Then if I don’t suit you, I will get out as quick and
gracefully as I can.” He looked at her with mischievous eyes.

She laughed. “I suppose I’ll have to let you,” she replied, “and Lilith
and I will help all we can.”

“I think I shall not need any help,” he smiled. “I will agree to take
care of the kitchen.”

“All but the dishes, then,” yielded Polly.

“I always wash my own dishes,” he returned, with eyes that twinkled.

“You talk as if you were used to kitchen work,” laughed Polly.

“I am.”

The girl looked incredulous, but said nothing. At once she began
opening doors of pantry and storeroom and cupboards.

“Everything appears to be very convenient,” he approved, as he examined
the large ice-chest in the corner of the storeroom.

“We think so,” was the response. “Mrs. Gresham spared no money in
remodeling this part of the house.”

The talk passed to the donator’s beneficence, until, finally, they came
back to the kitchen, where the clock told them that tea-time was not
far away.

The new cook at once began preparations for the meal, and in the short
time that Polly remained she had to admit to herself that here was no
green hand, and she left the room with a relief that she had not known
since Benedicta’s departure.

That first tea will always remain in the memory of those that sat at
the table with Sardis Merrifield. Bouillon, deliciously seasoned;
small rolls--hot, light, tender, and crusted--as rolls should be;
salad served on individual dishes, lettuce leaves beneath and sprays
of parsley atop; a layer cake with filling of peaches and whipped
cream;--that was all, but no one who shared the meal felt any lack.

“Where did he get that salad dressing,” queried Lilith of Polly, while
the new cook was washing the dishes. “There wasn’t a drop in the
pantry, and he surely hadn’t time to make it; yet there it was, exactly
in the middle of each slice of tomato--and wasn’t it good!”

“It was good, and he made the dressing,” answered Polly.

“How do you know?” queried Lilith in surprise.

“I asked him when I went out to offer my services as dish-wiper,”
replied Polly. “Do you know what was in that salad?”

“No, I couldn’t quite make out--tomatoes and cabbage for two things.”

“And macaroni!”

“I thought of that, but I couldn’t believe it was.”

“He found some in the refrigerator, so he chopped some cabbage to go
with it; he says he often puts them together.”

“And wasn’t it arranged prettily? Where in the world did he learn to do
those things?”

Polly shook her head. “I am going to find out.”

Two days afterward she came upon the new cook in the kitchen scanning a
small volume.

“I am hunting for a pudding recipe,” he told her.

“It is an imposition for us to let you do all this work,” she said
apologetically.

“No, indeed,” he replied; “it is a real pleasure. Besides, I was
falling out of practice. I ought to remember how to make this pudding
without consulting a recipe.”

Polly looked at him curiously. “You talk--and cook--as if you were a
professional,” she laughed.

“I am. This is the first summer for five years that I have not been
concocting dishes for the table. I cooked my way through college, first
at the commons, then at a New York restaurant. Finally a Yale boy
rescued me, and for three summers I was chef at his father’s home up
the Hudson.”

“Isn’t that fine!” exclaimed Polly, her eyes shining.

“Some people don’t see it that way,” smiled the young man.

“Why not?” Polly returned in an astonished tone. “I think it is
splendid to work one’s way through college; but I never should have
thought of cooking.”

“It pays pretty well, and it was the money I was looking for,” he
laughed.

“I knew a boy who took care of furnaces; but cooking is ever so much
better. And you do know how to cook!” Polly wagged her head in approval.

“It is well you think so,” he replied; “seeing you have to eat the
cooking.”

“By the way,” he went on, “my sub-conscious mind has just notified me
of a neglected duty. While you were down in Overlook this forenoon Mr.
Wheatley came to see his little granddaughter. He rode up with the
grocer.”

“Oh, did he!” cried Polly. “Rosalind must have been delighted.”

“Yes, but you should have seen her grandfather. He was almost beside
himself to find how much she had improved. Is she really expected to
walk at the end of two years?”

“Father thinks she will.”

There was a moment of tense silence.

Then the man asked, in lowered tone, “Has Dr. Dudley ever said whether
there was any chance for Dorothy?”

This was what Polly had dreaded the first time he was at Overlook; but
he had not asked the question. Now it had come. She could not bear to
hurt him. Her eyes misted, and she looked away.

“Yes,” she answered slowly, “he told me that before he saw her he
thought there might be help; afterwards--”

A tear escaped its bound, and her hand sought to hide it.

“Of course, it couldn’t be,” he said quickly. “I didn’t need to ask.”

“Oh, why must there be such hard things in the world!” broke out Polly
impulsively.

“Even as it is, she is happier than most children.”

“I know, still--” She did not go on; and he spoke brightly.

“Little Miss Rosalind Ferne told me to-day that I was extravagant.”

“Extravagant!” Polly’s forehead wrinkled in perplexity.

“She asked me what I was going to have for dinner, and I told her I
intended to fricassee three chickens. ‘Dear me!’ she said, ‘fricassee
means all cut up, doesn’t it?’ I told her it did. ‘Well,’ she replied,
‘I’m sorry, for I do like to see a bird on the table, and I think
you’re pretty extravagant with your ammunition.’”

Polly laughed. “She does make droll speeches.”

“Yes, she has strange thoughts. This morning I overheard the children
talking, and Rosalind said, ‘What pretty hills those are--the ’way-off
ones! I wish I knew who made them.’ Dorothy spoke up. ‘Why, Rosalind,
don’t you know? God made them.’--‘Who made the sunshine?’--‘God made
it,’ Dorothy answered.--‘Who made the stars?’ went on Rosalind.--‘God.
He made everything. He made the whole world.’ For a moment Rosalind was
silent; then she asked, in quite a now-I’ve-got-you tone, ‘Well, who
made God?’ But Dorothy was ready. ‘Nobody made Him,’ she replied. ‘He
has lived always. There never was a time when He didn’t live.’ They
were quiet for a little. Then Rosalind responded in a rather weary
tone, ‘My, He must be healthy!’

“I thought they’d laugh; but not a sound! So I peeped in. There they
sat, solemn as little owls. Nobody had seen anything funny about that!”

The days flew swiftly over Sunrise Chalet. Sardis Merrifield had been
cook in the commodious kitchen for more than a week and had treated the
family to an astonishing variety of fancy dishes and plain. At first
the White Nurse had worried for fear the children were having too rich
food; but the cook assured her that the richness was mostly in the
unfamiliar names, and as nobody became ill, she soon settled down, with
everybody else, to the enjoyment of the novel viands with which the
table greeted them, meal after meal.

Early one afternoon Benedicta appeared at the kitchen door with Grocer
Jack, and the welcome that she received would have turned any head
which was not as well-balanced as hers.

“Well, now stop talkin’, all of you,” she laughed finally, “and leave
me the kitchen to myself! I can’t concoct cookies or doughnuts to such
a tintinnabulation as this!”

“But you don’t need to,” cried Lilith. “Mr. Merrifield keeps us
beautifully cooked up.”

“Oh!” scoffed Benedicta, turning merry eyes towards the minister, “I
know what a man’s cooking is--I’ve had it! It’s bacon and eggs, bacon
and eggs, ham and griddles, and bacon and eggs--that’s what it is! I
warrant you haven’t got a cooky or a doughnut in the house--have you,
now?” Her challenging eyes swept the group.

“Show her into the storeroom, Merrifield!” laughed Dr. Abbe.

“There’s Fruit Wheels and Buttercups!” piped Clementina.

“Parrots and pans! what hifalutings are those?”

“Oh, they’re little--” began the child; but two of her audience were
disappearing in the hallway that led to the storeroom and she speeded
after.

“Well, I don’t see ’s I’m a requisite here,” laughed Benedicta as she
returned to the kitchen. “Such things for a man to make!”

“We had White Monkey for supper,” Clementina informed her; “but they
wouldn’t let me have any. And then they ate it all up!” she ended
plaintively.

“‘White Monkey’!” repeated the housekeeper in a shocked tone.

“Just a cheese dish,” explained Lilith.

Polly threw her arm around Benedicta’s waist. “When are you coming back
to stay?” she asked.

The woman looked at her tenderly.

“When you want me?” she queried.

“As soon as you can come. We’ve been lost without you.”

“Huh, looks like it!” she returned. Nevertheless, Polly knew that
she was pleased. “When’s your French cook goin’?” with a nod in the
direction of Sardis.

“He says he can’t be away beyond his two weeks.”

“I’ve got to stay with my sister over Sunday,” was the reply, the word
so unfamiliar to her lips slipping out smoothly. “After that, Sereno
thinks he and Oscarlucy can get along. My, it’s amazin’ly marvelous the
things that ten-year-old kid can do--and do as well as I could. She’s
an extraordinary wonder. But, then, she has a mighty smart grandfather
and grandmother. Why, that house was like waxwork when I got there, the
patient all fixed up in bed as nice as you please. I d’n’ know what I’d
’a’ done without Oscarlucy when she was so sick. But the doctor says
she’ll be all right in a little while--There! I forgot! I sh’d think
I was losin’ my mind! Where’s my bag? Oh, thanks! There’s a letter to
pay you for it,” handing the thick missive across Clementina’s head to
Sardis Merrifield. “I thought I might as well bring up all the mail
there was, seein’ I was comin’.”

She handed out the letters and papers, and then went upstairs with the
girls.

The children were in bed, Lilith and Dr. Abbe had gone for a moonlight
walk, Benedicta had “stepped down” to see “Young Ben,” Mrs. Daybill was
sewing, and Polly was alone on the veranda, when Sardis came across
from the Study.

“Want to walk about on ‘Top o’ the World’ a few minutes?” he smiled.

Polly ran down to him, and they went up the road together.

“I’d like a little advice,” he began.

“I’m afraid I shall not be very wise at that,” she returned; “but I
will do my best.”

“Suppose we go to the point at once,” he said; “then we will see. The
letter that Benedicta brought me was from a New York friend. He is a
Yale man and one of a number from the University that are planning
what will doubtless be of untold benefit to one of the worst sections
of the city. They have acquired the land already, sufficient for
their purpose. The scheme is to put up a few buildings at first and
if successful to add to them as needed. They are planning a church, a
school, a homey hotel for young women, a lodging-house and restaurant
for men and boys, a club-house with gymnasium, and so on. They want me
to help.”

“To be pastor of the church?” questioned Polly eagerly.

“If they can get a congregation,” he nodded. “It would be my ideal
life,” he went on; “though it would not be easy. For myself I should
not mind the hardness, or the discouragement--which must be expected;
but”--for an instant he paused--“if I should wish to marry, a woman
well might hesitate to share the responsibilities of such a future.”

“Why?” asked Polly in a surprised tone. “You cannot know girls very
well, if you think they must have velvet cushions and paths of roses.”

“You are right,” he responded; “I have known but few girls in all my
life. Still, I am very sure that those--nearly all, at least--would not
be attracted by the great opportunities, they would not be willing to
make the sacrifice.”

Polly shook her head. “I think it is just the work that the right kind
of woman would like. Take my mother, for instance--you know she used to
be a nurse before her marriage--why, she couldn’t be contented a day
if she were not helping somebody somewhere. A life of pleasure cannot
satisfy the earnest, thoughtful girl of to-day. She craves her share of
the world’s work, she wants to see some little spot grow better and
happier under her hands.”

“Then, you would advise me to accept the offer?”

“I should think you would not hesitate one moment, since you are sure
that it is just what you would like best.”

“Thank you; I wanted your opinion. This proposal is not wholly
unexpected. Last spring Waite practically said that they should want me
as soon as the church was finished; but the word came earlier than I
looked for it. The building will not be ready before next summer, and I
have one more year of study in New Haven.”

The talk fell to other matters, and they walked on and on until they
were near the bungalows on the other part of the mountain. A girl came
out from the Robinson house, and Polly recognized Sally.

“I thought it was you,” she said as they met. “Father has just come up
from Overlook and brought your mail with ours. I was going to run over
with it.”

“Oh, a letter and paper from mother!” cried Polly joyfully, scanning
the superscriptions by the light of the moon. “Thank you. Benedicta
brought some mail this afternoon, but nothing for me. I always miss
mother’s letters if they don’t come on the regular days.”

The others were on the veranda when they returned, and Polly excused
herself to read her letter. Upstairs, standing by the lamp, she tore
open the envelope.

As she read, her eyes widened and she dropped limply into the nearest
chair. She reached for the newspaper which had slipped to the floor
and slitted the wrapper with unsteady fingers. Glancing hurriedly over
it her eyes rested on a marked paragraph near the middle of the third
page. Quickly she read it through, and then read it again. She was
still sitting there when she heard footfalls on the stairs.

“Lilith!” she called, and the girl came in.

Polly thrust the paper towards her, pointing to the article.

Lilith glanced at Polly first and was startled at her face. It was
colorless with a dazed expression; but it told of neither grief nor
trouble. Her eyes came back to the printed page, and she read:--

  Mrs. Marion Winifred Stuart, of Richmond, Virginia, announces the
  engagement of her daughter, Valorie Lynde Stuart, to Mr. David
  Gresham Collins, son of Mrs. Eva Gresham Collins, and grandnephew
  of David Gresham, of Fair Harbor, Connecticut.

Polly smiled.

“Do-don’t you--care?” whispered Lilith.

“I want to shout ‘Halleluiah!’ at the top of my voice!”

“Polly Dudley!”

“I do! I feel so deliciously light--I may fly away!”

Lilith looked into the sparkling eyes and believed her.

Polly went to bed; but sleep did not come. That first exaltation had
passed and left her heart quivering and sad. She reviewed her talk with
Sardis. Why had he sought her opinion? What was it to him? Questions
clamored for answers. Why should her path always lead through such
tangles? There was Lilith--she had come up to Overlook, heart-free,
untroubled; now she was radiantly happy with her new-found lover.
Patricia had had a little bitterness which lasted only long enough
to make the joy that had followed it seem the sweeter. She was not
envious of her friends--oh, no, not in the least degree. She rejoiced
in their gladness; yet she could not resist comparing her way with
theirs. During the later years they had been together David was but an
unsatisfactory lover. She had felt trammeled by his watchful, jealous
eyes. Their love, if love it had really been, looked now but the shadow
of the joyousness which she realized love might be. And only within a
few hours she had practically told Sardis Merrifield that the really
greatest happiness the right kind of woman could have was in her labor
for others! What a hypocrite she was! When her heart was yearning, not
for increased opportunity for work, but for the love that was not for
her! She scorned, she despised herself, and yet this new emotion was
something beyond her power. Hours dragged by with thoughts like these
racing through her brain. Finally weariness overcame her and she slept.

It was late when she awoke. She rose and dressed quickly, suddenly
remembering that she was to take Benedicta down to Overlook and had
planned to start early.

Sardis was hanging up the dishpans as Polly came into the kitchen.

“Suppose you ride down to Overlook with us,” she said. “I’m going to
take two or three of the children, and Dolly will enjoy it better if
you are with her.”

“Thank you,” he smiled; “I shall be glad to go. I need some supplies,
and the grocer won’t be here until to-morrow; so I was thinking I’d beg
your car and run down and get them. This makes it all right.”

“I didn’t know you could drive,” Polly looked surprised.

“Yes. I learned last summer. The car was a Grant Six, similar to yours.
I have not touched one this year, but I think I have not forgotten.”

“Then you don’t need me, and you can take more children.”

He looked at her earnestly, almost questioningly. For an instant Polly
was afraid that he was offended at her suggestion.

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I do need you--I think I have always needed
you. I only wish that you needed me.”

He was still looking steadily across the corner of the kitchen table
into the brown eyes. They widened a bit with astonishment, and then
flashed with incredulous joy. Her cheeks paled and flushed.

She had the poise of a startled bird just ready to take wing.

“Miss Dudley, do you--need me? Do you?” He bent towards her, and
involuntarily she drew back.

“No, don’t!” he pleaded. “I’m not coming--unless you want me.”

Her lips moved, but with no word. She looked up into his eyes, a sweet,
tremulous smile on the lips that would not speak.

“Bless you, little girl!” he breathed, and took a quick step round the
table.

“Teeters and tongs!” ejaculated Benedicta from the back piazza, “what
in the universe are you doin’? Ain’t you ready yet? I’ve been sittin’
there in the chariot for an hour or less. I thought we were goin’ to
Overlook!”

“Yes, Benedicta, I’ll be out in a minute!” Polly’s lips had spoken.

There was a knock, and then the inner door crept open, Lilith calling
out, “Anybody here?--Oh, I beg your pardon!”

“What is it, Lilith?” Polly said hurriedly. She flung the door wide.

“I thought there was nobody there,” she apologized. “I was afraid you
were waiting. The children are all ready.”

“I was asking Mr. Merrifield to go with us, and just found out that
he could drive,” explained Polly, somewhat lamely, as the girls went
upstairs together.

“Say, Miss Polly,” called Benedicta.

Polly came to the head of the flight.

“Do you mind if I drive the chariot down? I was dyin’ to get my hands
on that wheel, and I’ve been holdin’ ’em on it for the longest time,
waitin’ for you folks. It did feel amazin’ly rapturous.”

“Why, certainly you can drive,” Polly assured her.

“Just as lief as not?” was the anxious inquiry.

“Surely, Benedicta, and I’ll be down directly.”

“How lovely you look!” beamed Lilith innocently. “Your eyes are even
brighter than they were last night. I wish David Collins had got
engaged a year ago if it is going to make you look this way.”

“Thank you,” replied Polly. “I am glad he is all right; now I can be
happy with a clear conscience.”

The horn was honking as they went out. “Hurry up!” called Benedicta.
“We shan’t arrive till noon.”

“Miss Polly is going to walk down with me,” Sardis Merrifield answered.

“Teeters and tongs!” she replied, “you’ll be totally exhausted by the
time you reach the foot.”

“Oh, no,” laughed Polly, “one couldn’t be tired. Look over
there--fringes of purple and gold as far as you can see! It is a royal
road to Overlook to-day.”

“Teeters and tongs!” floated out to them as the doors clicked together.
“’Course it’s a ‘royal road’ ... but ’tain’t the goldenrod and
asters!... God bless ’em!”


THE END



  The Riverside Press
  CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS
  U . S . A





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