XXVII. A Piece Of Good News
 

Polly Pepper ran down the steps of Miss Taylor's house, and set off at a lively pace on the pavement. Presently she came to an abrupt stop. "Oh, how could I forget, Mamsie wouldn't like me to run in the street," she thought remorsefully. And this took away some of the glad little thrills running over her.

When she got to Mrs. Cummings' very select boarding-house on the avenue, there was Miss Rhys at the window of her room, looking up from her embroidery. When she saw Polly Pepper, she smiled.

"Oh, it's you, Polly; I'm glad to see you."

"Is Alexia there?" called Polly, looking up, and feeling her lovely bit of news dancing within her again, so that she could hardly control her impatience. "Do tell her to come out, please, Miss Rhys."

"She isn't here. She went down-town."

Miss Rhys laid her precious work in her lap, and put her face close to the window screen. "Her candy wasn't a success, and she's gone down for more confectioner's sugar."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, quite gone in distress over the failure of the candy, and feeling very helpless in the fact that there was no one to tell her news to, for of course Alexia must be the first one to hear it. "Which way did she go, Miss Rhys?"--lifting a troubled face to the window above.

"I don't know," said Miss Rhys absently, her mind on her embroidery, and very much wishing she could return to it. "She was going to your house, I know, for one thing, on her way down."

"Oh, she couldn't have gone there," cried Polly, "for I should have met her on the way."

"So you would," assented Alexia's aunt, wondering whether the bunch of grapes should be filled in solid, or worked with the mixed stitch that she had seen in a shop. "Well, then, I think on her way back she was going to see you, Polly."

"Then, I am going to run down and meet her," declared Polly, with a long breath. "Was it Pennsey's where she was going for the sugar, Miss Rhys?"--pausing a moment.

"Yes," said Miss Rhys, turning back with a sigh of relief to her embroidery again, while Polly hurried off, wishing that she was a boy, when it would be quite proper for her to run through the streets.

"Oh, if it were only Badgertown!" she sighed to herself, thinking of the many happy runs she had enjoyed down the lane to Grandma Bascom's cottage, or over across the fields to the parsonage. "Dear me!"--when a voice, "Polly Pepper, Pol--ly Pepper!" called after her. She looked back, and there, with the window screen up, and her face thrust well forward, was Alexia's aunt, loudly summoning her.

When she saw that Polly heard, and had turned back, she beckoned smartly with her long fingers, on which shone, as Alexia had once said, "all the rings the Rhys family had ever owned," drew in her head, and waited till Polly came up under the window again.

"Oh, Polly, it's just this--how fortunate you hadn't gotten far. I want you to tell Alexia to get me some more green floss at Miss Angell's."

"Yes, Miss Rhys," said Polly, with a dismayed remembrance just how far it was to the little shop where the very latest patterns and materials for fancy work could be obtained, and the first supper of the Cooking Club to be given to- night!

"And stay, Miss Angell may send me up some more patterns to choose from; that is, if she has had any new ones since I was there last week, and I presume that she has."

Polly could only utter, "Yes, Miss Rhys," so very faintly it could scarcely be heard. Dear me! and it was three o'clock already, and all that candy to be made over again!

She crept off on very dismal feet, till she reflected it wouldn't help matters any to lose heart, and so she set forward at a brisk pace again. Miss Rhys pushed down the window screen and set to work with a complacent smile at the prospect of having her errand performed so nicely.

"That's the good of having young people around," she said; "it's so convenient at times to get one's errands done."

Polly went the whole length of North Street to the great establishment of Pennsey's, where the avenue people traded. But search as she might, up one aisle and down another, there was no trace of Alexia; and inquiring of a clerk at the sugar department, if she had been there, he whipped his pencil out from behind his ear, and picked up his order pad before he stopped to think.

"She's just gone," he said. "Yes, madam"--all attention to the next customer.

Polly hurried on rapid feet. It was half-past three by the big central clock as she went down the main aisle--well, she must hurry home, for Alexia was probably on her way there, as Miss Rhys had said, when, "Dear me, Polly Pepper, wait!" struck her ear.

She turned, and there before an opposite counter was Alexia, picking up her package of sugar and preparing to race after her.

"I'm getting some more nuts," she said; "my candy was perfectly horrid, and everything was spoiled."

"Yes, I know," said Polly, coming up close to comfort as much as possible, for Alexia had a very long face on, and looked as if it would take a good deal to cheer her up. "How can I tell her about that dreadful green floss and those patterns?" said Polly over and over to herself. "I must wait till we get out on the street."

But when the two girls were outside the shop, Polly carrying the bundle of nuts tucked under her arm, it was just as bad, and she put it off until the corner was reached down which they must turn to go to Miss Angell's. And worst of all, they were hurrying on so fast the lovely bit of news must be postponed,

"How glad I am, Aunt didn't take it into her head to send me spinning off down there!" observed Alexia, glancing down the long thoroughfare with anything but a pleasant expression on her long face. "I just hate that Miss Angell's shop. Goodness me! we never could do it, with all this candy to make, and get our Club supper to-night."

Polly stopped short, and seized Alexia's arm. "Oh, don't feel badly!" she gasped, and then, thinking, "It's better to have the whole out at once," she finished in one breath, "Your aunt wants some green floss, Alexia."

"Well, she shan't have it," declared Alexia, stopping short, too, and glaring at Polly over her bundle of sugar. "No, indeed!" and her pale eyes grew very angry. "The very idea! she's always wanting green floss, every single minute. Come on, Polly Pepper." She set her face straight ahead and marched on. But not hearing Polly following, she looked over her shoulder, and then ran back. "Why don't you come on? I shan't get that old green floss"--all in one breath.

"We can get there in a few minutes perhaps," said Polly, "Alexia, do let us hurry," and, turning down the corner, without so much as a glance backward, she went swiftly on, without trusting herself to look down the long street.

"I shan't get that old green floss," declared Alexia wrathfully, standing quite still on the corner, yet, as Polly kept steadily on, showing no intention of stopping, she pattered after. But she kept saying, every step of the way, "I shan't get that old green floss, Polly, wait!"

But it was not until the door of Miss Angell's shop was reached that the two girls came together.

"It's a hateful mean shame," exploded Alexia, huddling up her bundle of sugar passionately. "There, I've punched a hole with my thumb; see what you've made me do."

Polly turned around in dismay, to see a little trail of fine sugar drifting from the package down over Alexia's gown.

"Oh, dear me!" she exclaimed, in dismay. "I'll help you; stand still, Alexia, do; it's all running out."

"Well, you made me," cried Alexia, whirling around and wildly patting the bag in just the wrong places, so that the stream of sugar became now quite big.

"Do stand still, Alexia," implored Polly; "here, I'll pinch it up," She set down her bundle of nuts on the top step, which a lady, not seeing, came out of the shop, and promptly fell over.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in terror, and running down the steps. "Did you hurt you? Oh, I'm so sorry!"--clasping her hands and looking the picture of distress. Then she saw it was Mrs. Patterson, a friend of Auntie Whitney's.

"No," said the lady tartly, getting up to her feet to draw a long breath and gaze up and down the street. "Why, Polly Pepper!"--bringing her gaze upon the flushed face.

"Are you sure you are not hurt, Mrs. Patterson?" Polly looked at her anxiously. Oh, dear me! how could she be so careless!

"Not a bit of it," declared that lady, "but, oh, Polly, do you suppose any one saw me?" and she gazed ruefully up and down the street again.

"I don't believe any one did," said Polly, peering this way and that.

"Polly, do come; this sugar is all running away," cried Alexia loudly.

"And do let me brush your gown," implored Polly, feeling as if everything were going wrong this afternoon.

"Never mind, I'm going directly home, here is the carriage," said Mrs. Patterson, as her handsome equipage drew up. "Don't you worry a bit, Polly Pepper; I'm not in the least hurt," and off she drove.

"Polly, will you come?" called Alexia, dancing about impatiently on the top step, and clutching the bag of sugar with nervous ringers that didn't help matters any. "Oh, dear me, do look!"--pointing tragically to the little pile of sweetness at her feet.

"Oh, I do hope she wasn't hurt," cried Polly, stumbling up over the steps, how, she didn't know.

"Oh, that tiresome Mrs. Patterson! Well, it will do her good to tumble down once in a while," said Alexia unsympathetically, "she's so stiff and mighty; and I should think you might pay some attention to me," she cried, in a loud, injured tone; "I'm all in a mess with this sugar, and I haven't got any candy, and you made me come clear down to this old shop, and----"

"Well, do come in," cried Polly, interrupting her stream of complaint, and, picking up the bag of nuts before any one else could tumble over it, she hurried Alexia into the little shop.

"And I'm glad enough to get where I can lay this old thing down," declared Alexia, dumping the bag of sugar upon the first resting-place she saw, an aesthetic little lounge, covered with elaborately embroidered pieces. "Oh, me! my arms are almost broken," and she stretched them restfully, "and beside, the sugar is 'most all run out."

"Oh, Alexia!" cried Polly, quite aghast, as she saw where Alexia had deposited the sugar, just as the proprietor of the shop hurried up with dismay written all over her countenance.

"Oh, my beautiful centerpieces!" she exclaimed, raising both hands in dismay, "I am sure they are quite, quite ruined."

"It's nothing but sugar," grumbled Alexia, as she huddled up her bundle again.

"And I'll brush it all off," said Polly anxiously, bestowing little pats over the various specimens of fancy work. "See, Miss Angell, I don't believe it's hurt," she said, lifting her flushed face.

"Well, I don't wish them," declared two ladies together, coming back from the small table Where they had gone to examine more work.

"They are quite mussed and tumbled now," added one, "and not at all what we want. Come, Sister," and she walked to the door, viewing with disfavor Alexia and her bundle, and Polly Pepper as well.

Miss Angell's face dropped to such a length that Polly couldn't bear to look at it.

"Oh, please don't go," cried Polly, flying after the irate customer; "I don't really believe the pretty things are hurt. Do just come back and see, please."

The other lady was standing irresolutely by the lounge, but she wouldn't even look at the centerpieces that Miss Angell was smoothing out with a despairing hand, preparing to put them into their boxes again.

"It was clean sugar," Polly ran on, feeling quite sure if she stopped talking, that all hope was lost.

"But they are mussed," began the lady by the door, very decidedly.

Alexia was huddling up her bundle quite gone in despair, and lost to all the distress of having no candy to take to the Cooking Club supper. If those two ladies would only buy the centerpieces they had selected, it was all she hoped for in this world.

"No, indeed! Come, Sister!" and she opened the door. "Why, Mrs. Alexander!"

Mrs. Alexander, a portly person, with a great deal of black jet and lace, that seemed to be always catching in the apparel of those who passed her, worked her way into the small shop, and up past the knot of people, giving friendly nods of recognition on her way.

"How d'ye do, Miss Ellicott, Miss Juliana. How are you, Polly? And, Alexia, how is your aunt?" And without waiting for a reply, she sprang, if such a ponderous body could be said to spring, at the box of centerpieces Miss Angell was packing away. "Oh, oh! how beautiful! Stop"--laying her large hand on one. "Just what I want. How much is it?"

"Fifteen dollars," said Miss Angell, whipping it neatly out of the box, her dismal frown becoming an expansive smile. "Yes, it is a beauty--one of the very latest things," and she spread it forth on the lounge with an experienced little nourish.

Miss Ellicott deserted the door and hurried over to the lounge. "I'll--I'll"--as she tried to work herself in between. But the portly Mrs. Alexander had no idea of being interrupted at such an important crisis in life when centerpieces were to be decided upon, so she loudly kept on in her bargaining. "I'll take it," she said, in her most decided fashion. "And the next one, too, I fancy; let me see that."

"But that is," gasped Miss Juliana, "threading her way into the group," the very one that I liked."

"Eh?" said Mrs. Alexander, looking up with the acute eyes of a bargain-hunter. "Oh, I don't wonder you like it; it's a beauty. Yes, I'll take it also. How much did you say it was, Miss Angell?"

Miss Angell, who hadn't said, saw no reason why she shouldn't now make it any price that appealed to her better judgment.

"Twenty dollars," she answered, clapping on a cool third of its price, and Mrs. Alexander, who cared very little what she paid for it, beamed at her, and said:

"Put them in a box and send it out to my carriage; they are the handsomest things I've seen for a long time, and so wonderfully cheap! You are quite right; they are beauties."

"If you'd done as I wanted you to," cried Miss Juliana, the tears of vexation gathering in her eyes, as she saw the now incomparable bits of fancy work borne off before their very faces, "you wouldn't have stopped for such a trifle as a few crumbs of sugar, Sister."

Miss Ellicott's face was very red, but she knew better than to show the chagrin she felt, to add to the delight of the purchaser over her bargain, so she contented herself with saying, as she stalked to the door:

"You said you didn't want them, Juliana, the same as I did."

"But I wasn't so set about it," said Miss Juliana, with a regretful glance at the box, now gayly tied up by the jubilant Miss Angell and delivered into the hands of the little errand-girl to be given to the Alexander footman, "and I'm sure if you hadn't insisted, I should have seen that they weren't hurt."

"Well, do come on now, Juliana," said her sister sharply, in all the anguish of having the whole blame deposited upon her person. "Since the things are gone, what is the use of talking about the matter?"--as they disappeared out of the shop.

Polly and Alexia, therefore, had to wait for all this confusion and excitement to clear away, before the green floss could be bought and the message from Miss Rhys as to the patterns could be given. Meanwhile, Polly was tying up the package of sugar, and patting the shrunken paper bag into shape over the hole.

"You tell your aunt," said Miss Angell, her cheeks quite flushed with elation over her good bargain, "that I haven't any more patterns come in since she was here. Yes, Mrs. Alexander"--to that lady, with her head over a drawer, deep in a hunt for more bargains-"there are some exquisite designs among those. There's the floss"--bunching it up hurriedly into a wad, and speaking all in one breath. "Would you mind, Miss Alexia, doing this up yourself?"--pointing to the white tissue paper on the table.

Alexia, who didn't mind anything so long as she could get out of the shop, twisted up the floss into a wad of the paper.

"Do hurry, Polly," she cried, and scampered out to the street, Polly following with her bag of nuts.

"Oh, dear! I've forgotten that tiresome old bundle of sugar after all," she cried, prancing back.

"I'll carry it, and you take the nuts," said Polly, cramming her bundle into the long arms and getting anxious fingers on the bag of sugar, as Alexia came running up with it.

"I'm sure I wish you would." said Alexia, seizing the nuts delightedly. "I just hate that old--Polly Pepper, it's four o'clock!"--as the church bell on St. Stephen's tower pealed out.

So Polly didn't have a chance, after all, to tell her glad piece of news, until they were at the Club supper, which was to be given at Larry Keep's to celebrate his getting well.

"Oh, Alexia," she was guilty of whispering, "it's the most splendid thing."

"Isn't it!" cried Alexia, in the greatest satisfaction. "To think I got it done after all our fright! And it's the best candy I ever made"--glancing over the room, where the dish was being passed about eagerly.

"Yes, I know," said Polly carelessly, "but this is much better than candy, Alexia, that I mean."

"Much better than candy!" echoed Alexia, laying clown the slice of sponge cake that Clem had made, on her plate, and peering around into Polly's face. "What do you mean, Polly Pepper? There can't anything possibly be better than candy."

"Yes, there can," contradicted Polly, twisting in delight on her chair, "and you'll say so when you hear it. It's the most beautiful thing that could possibly have happened, Alexia Rhys. It's"--and just then the door opened and in walked Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Hamilton Dyce, and the first glance that Alexia took of their faces, she guessed the whole thing.

"Polly!" she gasped, seizing Polly's arm, "you don't mean that our Miss Mary is going to marry Mr. Dyce?"

"Yes, I do," said Polly happily, "mean just that very thing, Alexia."

"I don't believe it," declared Alexia, while all the time she knew it was true by their radiant faces.

"Well, it is true, as true can be," said Polly, "for she told me" so this very afternoon at her house."

"And you've known it all this time," cried Alexia, for the first time In her life in a passion at Polly, "and never told me at all!"

"Oh, Alexia, how could I?" cried Polly, in an aggrieved little voice; "for we were in such a perfectly dreadful scrape over getting ready for the supper! How could I, Alexia?" She turned such a miserable face that Alexia made haste to say:

"You couldn't, you sweet thing, you!" and gave her a reassuring hug.

"Well, just look at Mr. Dyce, and hear him laugh!"

And Mr. Hamilton Dyce being unable to keep his delight within bounds, and seeming to think it incumbent upon himself to take the young people into his confidence, just coolly announced it. And then there was no more paying attention to the cakes, and the little biscuits, the custards, and the whipped cream; and even Alexia's nut candy went begging.

And Miss Mary had to sit in the center of each group of boys and girls, a few minutes at a time, for the supper was passed around on trays, till Mr. Dyce said he wished he hadn't told the news until the feast was ended. And after that, when they all finished up the evening festivities with a dance, why, every one there, tried to get her for first partner. But it was Alexia who swept them all one side.

"She's my Sunday-school teacher," she declared, "and I shall have her first."

"Well, so she is our Sunday-school teacher," cried half a dozen of the girls at once, as they crowded up.

"Well, she's my very dearest friend--that is, except Polly Pepper," said Alexia positively. "Come, Miss Mary"--hanging obstinately to her hand, on which shone a new ring with a big, bright gem in it.

"Well, you said Miss Salisbury was," Pickering Dodge, on the fringe of the circle of girls, couldn't help saying.

"Oh, well, I mean Miss Mary is my very dearest friend after that," said Alexia coolly, tossing him a saucy glance, as she bore off her beloved Sunday-school teacher down the whole length of Mrs. Keep's drawing-room floor.