XV. Up In Alexia's Pretty Room
 

Polly was having a bad half-hour with herself, despite all the attractions up in Alexia's pretty room.

"It's no use," she cried, throwing down the little brush with which she was whisking off the dainty bureau-cover. The girls were "setting up" the various adornments that were plentifully strewn about, an occupation that Polly dearly loved, and that Alexia as dearly hated. "I must go home."

Alexia, down on her knees, with her head in the closet, grumbling over the shoe bag, whose contents were in a chronic state of overflow, pulled it out suddenly.

"Why, Polly Pepper!" she exclaimed, in an injured tone. One eye was draped by a cobweb, gained by diving into the closet's extreme corner after a missing slipper, gone for some weeks; and in other ways Alexia's face presented a very unprepossessing appearance. "You said you'd help me with my room this morning."

"Oh, yes, I know," said Polly hurriedly, and running over to Alexia; "but you'll let me off, won't you?--for I've something on my mind. Oh, dear me!"

Alexia hopped up to her feet, the slipper flying off at a tangent, and ran all around Polly Pepper, gazing at her anxiously.

"I don't see anything. Oh, what is it?" she cried.

"You see, the boys wanted to find Joel, and I--" began Polly, twisting her fingers.

"Bother the boys!" exclaimed Alexia, interrupting. "Is that all? They are everlastingly wanting to find Joel. Well"--with a sigh of relief--"we can go back to work again. Why, I must say, Polly, you scared me 'most to death. Oh, dear me! I wish I had let Norah sweep this old closet when she does the room. It's dirty as can be. If Aunt knew it--" The rest of it was lost, as Alexia was down on her knees again, her head back in the closet, with the hope of unearthing more slippers and shoes.

"Alexia, do come out," cried Polly, pulling her gown smartly; "I must speak to you."

"Can't," said Alexia, rummaging away. "There, I've gone and knocked down my blue silk waist! Do pick it up, Polly; it 'll get all dirt, and then won't Aunt scold!"

As if to make matters worse, a voice out in the hall was heard:

"Alexia?"

"Misery me!" cried Alexia, scuffling out backward from the closet, the blue silk waist on her head where it had fallen, and in her sudden exit nearly overthrowing Polly Pepper. "Here comes Aunt. Shut the door, Polly--shut it"-- scrambling with both hands to get the waist off, while a hook caught in her light, fluffy hair. And Miss Rhys being too near the door for any such protection as Alexia suggested, in she walked.

"What in the world!" She lifted both hands. "Alexia Rhys, is it possible! I concluded not to go down-town, and came back, and to think of this--playing with your best silk waist!"

"I'm not playing," declared Alexia, in a sharp key, tossing back from her head as much of the waist as she could, "and it hurts awfully"--twitching angrily at the hook.

Polly sprang to her assistance.

"Wait a minute, and I'll get you out," she said.

"And I won't wait," cried Alexia loudly; "it's bad enough to be hooked to death with a horrid old ugly waist, without being scolded to pieces by your aunt."

"Oh, Alexia!" exclaimed Miss Rhys, "to call that beautiful waist an ugly thing!"

"And I'll pull every spear of hair out of my head, but I'll get the thing off. Ow!"--as she began to put her threat into execution.

"Do be still, Alexia," begged Polly, trying to push aside the nervous fingers.

"I won't be still," cried Alexia, casting up a pale eye full of wrath on the side next to Polly, and giving another twitch. "I guess if you'd been hooked up by a horrible old thing, and your aunt came in and scolded you terribly, you wouldn't wait. Ow! Oh, dear me!"

"Then," said Polly, standing quite still, "since you won't let me help you, I'm going home, Alexia."

"Oh, don't," cried Alexia, and she dropped her hands to her side in a flash, the blue silk waist dangling to her head by its hook. "I'll let you help whatever you want to, Polly," she mumbled meekly.

So Polly set to work, Miss Rhys slipping out of the room. Although Alexia's nervous fingers were now not in the way, still, it wasn't easy to disentangle the hook from the thick, fluffy hair, wound in as it was.

"You've tangled it all up," said Polly, bending over it with flushed face, her fingers working busily, "and it's all in a snarl. Dear me! do I hurt?"

"No, never mind," said Alexia; "'tisn't any matter. Don't go home, Polly." She held her fast by the gown.

"No, of course not," said Polly; "at least not until I get this hook out of your hair. There--oh, dear me! I thought it was quite free. Well, anyway, now it is!" She held up the blue silk waist with a triumphant little flourish, over her own head. "It must be awful to have something fastened to you like that," she said, sympathetically, as she placed the waist on the bed with a sigh of relief.

"Well, I guess you'd think so," assented Alexia decidedly; "it's too perfectly awful for anything. It pulls like a big vulture with his talons holding your hair." She hopped to her feet and shook herself in delight, her long, light braids flying out gayly. "Well, I am glad that Aunt has gone"--looking around the room, and drawing a long breath.

Polly Pepper stood quite still over by the bed.

"Well--heigh-ho--come on," cried Alexia, dancing over to seize her arm; "let's have a spin." But Polly didn't move.

"Come on, Polly," cried Alexia, with another tug at her arm.

"No," said Polly, "I can't, Alexia."

"What in the world is the matter?" cried Alexia, dropping her arm to stare at her.

"I think your aunt--" began Polly.

"Oh, Aunt!" interrupted Alexia impatiently. "You're always talking about her, Polly Pepper, and she's everlastingly picking at me, so I have a perfectly dreadful time, between you two."

"Well, she is your aunt," said Polly, not offering to stir.

"I can't help it." Alexia, for the want of something better to do, ran over and twitched the table cover straight. "And I know she's my aunt, but she needn't pick at me all the time," she added defiantly. She looked uncomfortable all the same, and ran about here and there trying to get things in their places, but knocking down more than were tidied up. "Why don't you say something?" she cried impatiently, whirling around.

"Because I've nothing to say," replied Polly, not moving.

"Oh, dear me!" Alexia sent her long arms out with a despairing gesture. "I suppose I've just got to go and tell Aunt I'm sorry." She drew a long breath. "But I hadn't been playing; I was tired to death over that dirty old closet and that tiresome shoe bag, and my hair all hooked up. Well, do come on." She ran over and held out her hand. "Come with me," she begged.

So Polly put her hand in Alexia's, and together they ran out into the hall, to the maiden aunt's room.

"It's perfectly dreadful to board," said Alexia, on the way. "I wouldn't care how little the house was, if Aunt and I could only have one," and she gave a great sigh.

Polly turned suddenly and gave her a big hug.

"Mamsie says you are to come over to our house just as often as possible. So does Grandpapa," she cried hastily; "you know that, Alexia."

"Yes, I know," said Alexia, but she was highly gratified at every repetition of the invitation. "Well, oh, dear me!"--as they stood before Miss Rhys' door.

That lady sat in her bay window, her fingers busy with her embroidery, and her mind completely filled with plans for another piece when that particular one should be completed.

"I'm sorry, Aunt," said Alexia, plunging up to the chair and keeping tight hold of Polly Pepper's hand.

"Oh!" said Miss Rhys, looking up. "Why, how your hair does look, Alexia!"

Up flew Alexia's other hand to her head.

"Well, it's been all hooked up," she said.

"And I'll brush it for you," said Polly, at her shoulder.

"That'll be fine," cried Alexia, with a comfortable wriggle of her long figure. "Oh, I'm sorry, Aunt."

"Very well," said Miss Rhys, turning back to her embroidery again. "And, Alexia, your room looks very badly. I'm astonished that you are so untidy, when I talk to you about it so much."

"Well, Polly is helping me fix it up," said Alexia, drawing off and pulling Polly along.

"Now, you see, Polly"--as the two girls were safe once more in the little room, this time with the door shut--"I only got some more pickings by going to Aunt."

"Hush," said Polly, "she will hear you.'

"How is she going to hear with the door shut, pray tell?" cried Alexia, with a giggle. "Well, it's over with now. Let's fly at this horrid old room. Dear me!"- -as she ran by the window--"do just see those dreadful boys."

At the word "boys" Polly ran too, and peeped over her shoulder.

"Oh, I must speak to Frick," and without more warning, she raced out of the room, and down the front stairs.

"Polly, Polly Pepper!" But Polly being out in the street and nearly up to the knot of boys, Alexia gave up calling and speedily ran after her, to hear her say:

"Oh, Frick, I'll go and try to find Joel for you."

Frick disentangled himself from the group.

"I found Joel myself," he said, "and he wouldn't come."

"Wouldn't come where?" demanded Alexia breathlessly, plunging up.

"Out on the pond." It was Larry Keep who answered.

"And so we've given it all up," said another boy, very dismally.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Alexia, "how tiresome of Joel!"

"Oh, no, no," protested Polly, shaking her head. "I know Joel couldn't go, or else he would. You know that, boys," she said, looking anxiously at them all.

"He's always been before," said Larry, in a dudgeon, "and I don't see what makes him act so now."

"Well, you haven't any right to abuse him, just because he doesn't want to go out with you on the pond," said Alexia warmly, veering round at the first word of blame of Joel from anybody else. "That's a great way to do, I must say."

"And, boys, you know Joel would have gone if he could, don't you?" said Polly again, the little anxious pucker deepening on her forehead.

"Ye--es," said Larry slowly, digging the toe of his tennis shoe into the ground, as no one else said anything.

"Oh, he would, he would," said Polly, clasping her hands tightly together, the color flying over her cheek. "Something must have happened to keep him back"--as the boys, having nothing more to say, moved off. "Alexia, now I must go home, for I'm afraid--" of what, she didn't say.

"I'll go, too," said Alexia, springing after her, wild to find out what the matter could be with Joel Pepper, to keep him from one of his favorite sports on the pond.

"There isn't anything the matter with him," shouted back Frick, over his shoulder, who had caught Polly's last words. "And he could have gone as easy as not; he was in Mr. King's writing-room with the door locked."

"Grandpapa's writing-room, with the door locked!" repeated Polly, turning around in a puzzled way. "Why--I don't see--oh!" Then she gave such a squeal that Alexia hopped across the road in astonishment. "I know now. Dear, splendid, old Joel! Boys!" She was up by them again, and talking so fast that nobody understood for a moment or two what the whole thing was about.

"For pity's sake, Polly Pepper!" Alexia was shaking her arm, the boys crowding around Polly and hanging on every word.

"Don't you understand? Oh, how stupid I've been not to think of it before!-- though I didn't know he was to begin this very morning," cried Polly, hurrying on, all in a glow. "Grandpapa has engaged Joel to do some work for him on his books"--Polly didn't think she ought to explain any further about the ten-dollar note--"and so Joel thought he couldn't stop till the hour was up, and----"

"Has he got to work an hour on 'em at a time?" interrupted Larry in amazement, pushing his way nearer to Polly.

"Yes," said Polly, turning her rosy face on him, so glad that she was really making them see that Joel couldn't go with them when he was asked, "he must work a whole hour at a time on them, so you see he really had to stay back." But this part was lost on the whole group.

"Hi--hi!" they shouted, and Larry flung up his cap. "Well, if that's so, we'll go back and get him now; the hour must be up," and off they raced, flinging up a cloud of dust from their heels.

"Whew!" exclaimed Alexia. "Did you ever see such perfectly dreadful boys to kick up such a dust? Oh, dear me, Polly Pepper. Ker-choo!"

When she came out of her sneezing fit, Polly was saying again:

"Oh, how perfectly stupid I am, Alexia!"

But her eyes shone, for it was now all right for Joel with the boys.