Five Little Peppers Midway by Margaret Sidney
XII. New Work for Polly
It was Saturday morning, and Polly ran upstairs with a bright face, the morning Journal in her hand. "I'm going to stay with Mrs. Chatterton, Hortense," she announced to that functionary in the dressing-room.
"And a comfairte may it gif to you," said Hortense, with a vicious shake of the silk wrapper in her hand, before hanging it in its place. "Madame has the tres diablerie, cross as de two steeks, what you call it, dis morning."
Polly went softly into the room, closing the door gently after her. In the shadow of one corner of the large apartment, sat Mrs. Chatterton under many wrappings in the depths of an invalid's chair. Polly went up to her side.
"Would you like to have me read the news, Mrs. Chatterton?" she asked gently.
Mrs. Chatterton turned her head and looked at her. "No," she was about to say shortly, just as she had repulsed many little offers of Polly's for the past few days; but somehow this morning the crackling of the fresh sheet in the girl's hand, suggestive of crisp bits of gossip, was too much for her to hear indifferently, especially as she was in a worse state of mind than usual over Hortense and her bad temper.
"You may sit down and read a little, if you like," she said ungraciously. So Polly, happy as a queen at the permission, slipped into a convenient chair, and began at once. She happened fortunately on just the right things for the hungry ears; a description of a large church wedding, the day before; two or three bits about society people that Mrs. Chatterton had lost sight of, and a few other items just as acceptable.
Polly read on and on, from one thing to another, not daring to look up to see the effect, until at last everything in the way of gossip was exhausted.
"Is that all?" asked Mrs. Chatterton hungrily.
Polly, hunting the columns for anything, even a murder account if it was but in high life, turned the paper again disconsolately, obliged to confess it was.
"Well, do put it by, then," said Mrs. Chatterton sharply, "and not whirl it before my face; it gives me a frightful headache."
"I might get the Town Talk" suggested Polly, as a bright thought struck her. "It came yesterday. I saw it on the library table."
"So it is Saturday." Mrs. Chatterton looked up quickly. "Yes, you may, Polly," her mouth watering for the revel she would have in its contents.
So Polly ran over the stairs with delighted feet, and into the library, beginning to rummage over the papers and magazines on the reading table.
"Where is it?" she exclaimed, turning them with quick fingers. "O dear! it was right here last evening."
"What is it?" asked Phronsie, from the depths of a big arm-chair, and looking up from her book. Then she saw as soon as she had asked the question that Polly was in trouble, so she laid down her book, and slid out of the chair. "What is it, Polly? Let me help you, do."
"Why, the Town Talk--that hateful old society thing," said Polly, throwing the papers to right and left. "You know, Phronsie; it has a picture of a bottle of ink, and a big quill for a heading. O dear! do help me, child, for she will get nervous if I am gone long."
"Oh! I know where that is," said Phronsie deliberately, laying a cool little hand on Polly's hot one.
"Where?" demanded Polly feverishly. "Oh, Phronsie! where?"
"Jack Rutherford has it."
Polly threw down the papers, and started for the door.
"He has gone," said Phronsie; "he went home almost an hour ago."
Polly turned sharply at her. "What did he want Town Talk for?"
"He said it was big, and he asked Grandpapa if he might have it, and Grandpapa said, Yes. I don't know what he wanted it for," said Phronsie. "And he took other newspapers, too, Polly; oh! ever so many."
"Well, I don't care how many he took, nor what they were," cried Polly, "only that very identical one. O dear me! Well, I'll ask Jasper."
And rushing from the library, Phronsie following in a small panic over Polly's distress, she knocked at the door of Jasper's den, a little room in the wing, looking out on the east lawn.
"Oh! I am so glad you are here," she exclaimed as "Come in!" greeted her, and both Phronsie and she precipitated themselves with no show of ceremony, in front of his study table. "O Jasper! could you get me a copy of "Town Talk?" Jack Rutherford has gone off with ours."
"Town Talk!" repeated Jasper, raising his head from his hands to stare at her.
"Yes; Jack has taken ours off; Grandpapa gave it to him. Can you, Jasper? Will it break up your study much?" she poured out anxiously.
"No--that is--never mind," said Jasper, pushing the book away and springing from his chair. "But whatever in the world do you want that trash for?" He turned, and looked at her curiously.
"Mrs. Chatterton will let me read it to her; she said so," cried Polly, clasping her hands nervously, "but if I don't get the paper soon, why, I'm afraid she'll change her mind."
Jasper gave a low whistle as he flung himself into his coat. "Inestimable privilege!" he exclaimed at last, tossing on his cap.
"Oh, Jasper! you are so good," cried Polly in a small rapture. "I'm so sorry to have to ask you."
"I'll go for you, Jasper," declared Phronsie; "Mamsie will let me; I almost know she will."
"No, no, Phronsie," said Jasper, as she was flying off; "it isn't any place for you to go to. I shall get one at the hotel--the Allibone. I'll be back in a trice, Polly."
Polly went out, and sat down in one of the big oaken chairs in the hall to seize it as it came, and Phronsie deposited herself in an opposite chair, and watched Polly. And presently in came Jasper, waving the desired journal. Polly, with a beaming face, grasped it and rushed off upstairs.
"Polly," called the boy, looking after her, "it isn't too late now for you to go with them. Lucy Bennett met me at the comer and she said they will take the twelve o'clock train, instead of the eleven, and she wanted me to beg you to come."
"No, no," tossed back Polly, rushing on, "I am quite determined to stay at home." Then she went into Mrs. Chatterton's room, and closed the door. But she couldn't so easily shut out the longings that would rise in her heart for the Saturday outing that the other girls were to have. How lovely it would be! the run out to Silvia Horne's charming house some ten miles distant; the elegant luncheon they would have, followed by games, and a dance in the ball-room upstairs, that Silvia's older sisters used for their beautiful parties. Then the merry return before dusk, of the twelve girls, all capital friends at school! Oh--oh!
"You've been an unconscionable time," exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton in a sharp, high key, "just to get a paper. Well, do sit down; I am quite tired waiting for you."
Polly sat down, and resolutely plunged into the column where the news items promised the most plentiful yield but in between the lines ran the doings of the girls: how they were all assembling by this time at Lucy Bennett's; how they were hurrying off to the train, and all the other delightful movements of the "outing" flashed before her eyes, as she finished item after item of her dreary task. But how Mrs. Chatterton gloated over it!
At last Polly, feeling as if she could not endure another five minutes of it, glanced up to see the old lady's eyes actually sparkling; her mouth had fallen into contented curves, and the jeweled hand resting on the chair-arm was playing with the fringe, while she leaned forward that she might not lose a word.
"Read that again, Polly," she said, "the list of presents exhibited at Arabella Granger's wedding. I didn't hear any mention of the Archibalds. It can't be that they have fallen out; and read more slowly."
So Polly began once more the long lists of gifts that ushered in the matrimonial happiness of Mrs. John Westover nee Miss Arabella Granger; this time, however, stimulated by the pleasure she was giving, to find it an endurable task.
It seemed to Polly as if Mrs. John Westover had everything on earth given to her that could possibly be presented at a wedding; nevertheless the list was gone through again bravely, Polly retracing her steps two or three times to read the items over for her listener's slow digestion.
"The Archibalds are not mentioned, either as being there or sending a gift, nor the Harlands, nor the Smythes, so I am very glad I didn't remember her," said Mrs. Chatterton, drawing herself up with a relieved sigh. "Those presents sound fine on paper, but it isn't as well as she might have done if she had made a different match. Now something else, Polly," and she dismissed Mrs. Westover with a careless wave of her hand. Polly flew off into the fashion hints, and was immediately lost in the whirl of coming toilets. No one noticed when the door opened, so of course no one saw Mrs. Whitney standing smiling behind the old lady's big chair.
"Well, Polly," said a pleasant voice suddenly.
Down went Town Talk to the floor as Polly sprang up with a glad cry, and Mrs. Chatterton turned around nervously.
"Oh, Auntie--Auntie!" cried Polly, convulsively clinging to her, "are you really here, and is Dicky home?"
"Dear child," said Mrs. Whitney, as much a girl for the moment as Polly herself. And pressing kisses on the red lips, while she folded her close--"Yes, Dick is at home. There, go and find him; he is in Mrs. Pepper's room."
"I am glad to see you so much better, Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs. Whitney, leaning over the invalid's chair to lay the tenderest of palms on the hand resting on the chair-arm.
"Oh, yes, Marian; I am better," said Mrs. Chatterton, looking around for Polly, then down at the delicious Town Talk carelessly thrown on the floor. "Will you send her back as soon as possible?" she asked with her old imperativeness.
"Who--Polly?" said Mrs. Whitney, following the glance. "Why, she has gone to see Dick, you know. Now, why cannot I read a bit?" and she picked up the paper.
"You don't know what has been read," said Mrs. Chatterton as Mrs. Whitney drew up a chair and sat down, running her eye in a practiced way over the front page. "Dear me, it makes me quite nervous, Marian, to see you prowling around all over the sheet that way."
"Oh! I shall find something interesting quite soon, I fancy," said Mrs. Whitney cheerfully, her heart on her boy and the jolly homecoming he was having. "Here is the Washington news; I mean all about the receptions and teas."
"She has read that," said Mrs. Chatterton.
"Now for the fashion department." Mrs. Whitney whirled the paper over dexterously. "Do you know, Mrs. Chatterton, gray stuffs are to be worn more than ever this spring?"
"I don't care about that," said Mrs. Chatterton quickly, "and besides, quite likely there'll be a complete revolution before spring really sets in, and gray stuffs will go out. Find some description of tea gowns, can't you? I must have one or two more."
"And here are some wonderfully pretty caps, if they are all like the descriptions," said Mrs. Whitney, unluckily dropping on another paragraph.
"Caps! who wants to hear about them?" cried Mrs. Chatterton in a dudgeon. "I hope I'm not at the cap period yet."
"Oh! those lovely little lace arrangements," said Mrs. Whitney hastily; "don't you know how exquisite they are at Pinaud's?" she cried.
"I'm sure I never noticed," said Mrs. Chatterton indifferently. "Hortense always arranges my hair better without lace. If you can't find what I ask you, Marian," raising her voice to a higher key, "you needn't trouble to read at all."
Fortunately the description of the gown worn by Lady Hartly Cavendish at a London high tea, stood out in bold relief, as Mrs. Whitney's eyes nervously ran over the columns again, and she seized upon it.
But in just two moments she was interrupted. "Send that girl back again, Marian," cried Mrs. Chatterton. "I had just got her trained so that she suits me. It tires me to death to hear you."
"I do not know whether Polly can come now," said Mrs. Whitney gently; "she"--
"Do not know whether Polly can come!" repeated Mrs. Chatterton sharply, and leaning forward in her chair. "Didn't I say I wanted her?"
"You did." Marian's tone did not lose a note of its ordinary gentleness. "But I shall ask her if she is willing to do it as a favor, Mrs. Chatterton; you quite understand that, of course?" She, too, leaned forward in her chair, and gazed into the cold, hard face.
"Just like your father," cried Mrs. Chatterton, settling herself irascibly back in the chair-depths again. "There is no hope that affairs in this house will mend. I wash my hands of you."
"I am so glad that you consider me like my father," said Mrs. Whitney gleefully as a child. "We surely are united on this question."
"May I read some more?" cried Polly, coming in softly, and trying to calm the impetuous rush of delight as her eyes met Mrs. Whitney's.
"Yes; I am waiting for you," said Mrs. Chatterton. "Begin where you left off."
Mrs. Whitney bit her pretty lips and slipped out of her chair, just pausing a moment to lay her hand on the young shoulder as she passed, and a world of comfort fell upon Polly, shut in once more to her dreary task.
"How perfectly splendid that I didn't go to Silvia Home's luncheon party now!" cried Polly's heart over and over between the lines. "If I had, I should have missed dear Auntie's home-coming, and Dicky's." She glanced up with luminous eyes as she whirled the sheet. Mrs. Chatterton, astonishing as it may seem, was actually smiling.
"It's some comfort to hear you read," she observed with a sigh of enjoyment, "because you enjoy it yourself. I wouldn't give a fig for anybody to try to do it."
Polly felt like a guilty little thing to take this quietly, and she eased her conscience by being more glad that she was in that very room doing that very task. And so the moments sped on.
Outside, Dick was holding high revel as every one revolved around him, the hero of the coasting accident, till the boy ran considerable danger from all the attention he was receiving. But one glance and a smile from Mrs. Whitney brought him back to himself.
"Don't talk any more about it," he cried a trifle impatiently. "I was a muff to stick on, when I knew we were going over. Mamma, won't you stop them?"
And she did.
"Do you know, Dicky and I have a secret to tell all of you good people." The color flew into her soft cheek, and her eyes beamed.
"Really, Marian," said her father, whose hand had scarcely ceased patting Dick's brown head since the boy's home-coming, "you've grown young in Badgertown. I never saw you look so well as you do to-day."
Mrs. Whitney laughed and tossed him a gay little smile, that carried him back to the days when Marian King stood before him looking just so.
"Now listen, father, and all you good people, to my secret--Dicky's and mine; we are allowed to tell it now. Papa Whitney sailed in the Servia, and he ought to be in to-day!"
A shout of joy greeted her announcement. Polly, off in her prison, could hear the merry sounds, and her happy heart echoed them. The misery of the past week, when she had been bearing an unatoned fault, seemed to drop away from her as she listened, and to say, "Life holds sunshine yet."
Then a hush dropped upon the gay uproar. She did not know that Dicky was proclaiming "Yes, and he is never, never going back again. That is, unless he takes mamma and me, you know."
Mrs. Chatterton turned suddenly upon the young figure.
"Do go!" She tossed an imperative command with her jeweled fingers. "You have ceased to be amusing since your interest is all in the other room with that boy."
Polly dashed the newspaper to the floor, and rushing impulsively across the room, threw herself, with no thought for the consequences, on her knees at Mrs. Chatterton's chair.
"Oh--oh!" she cried, the color flying up to the brown waves on her temples, "don't send me off; then I shall know you never will forgive me."
"Get up, do!" exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton, in disgust; "you are crushing my gown, and besides I hate scenes."
But Polly held resolutely to the chair-arm, and never took her brown eyes from the cold face.
"I must say, Polly Pepper," cried Mrs. Chatterton with rising anger, "you are the most disagreeable girl that I ever had the misfortune to meet. I, for one, will not put up with your constant ebullitions of temper. Go out of this room!"
Polly rose slowly and drew herself up with something so new in face and manner that the old lady instinctively put up her eyeglass and gazed curiously through it, as one would look at a strange animal.
"Humph!" she said slowly at last, "well, what do you want to say? Speak out, and then go."
"Nothing," said Polly in a low voice, but quite distinctly, "only I shall not trouble you again, Mrs. Chatterton." And as the last words were spoken, she was out of the room.
"Pretty doings these!" Mr. King, by a dexterous movement, succeeded in slipping back of the portiere folds into the little writing-room, as Polly rushed out through the other doorway into the hall. "A fortunate thing it was that I left Dick, to see what had become of Polly. Now, Cousin Eunice, you move from my house!" and descending the stairs, he called determinedly, "Polly, Polly, child!"
Polly, off in her own room now, heard him, and for the first time in her life, wished she need not answer.
"Polly--Polly!" the determined call rang down the passage, causing her to run fast with a "Yes, Grandpapa, I'm coming."
"Now, I should just like to inquire," began Mr. King, taking her by her two young shoulders and looking down into the flushed face, "what she has been saying to you." "Oh, Grandpapa!" down went Polly's brown head, "don't make me tell. Please don't, Grandpapa."
"I shall!" declared Mr. King; "every blessed word. Now begin!"
"She--she wanted me to go out of the room," said Polly, in a reluctant gasp.
"Indeed!" snorted Mr. King. "Well, she will soon go out of that room. Indeed, I might say, out of the house."
"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly, in great distress, and raising the brown eyes--he was dismayed to find them filling with tears--"don't, don't send her away! It is all my fault; indeed it is, Grandpapa!"
"Your fault," cried Mr. King irately; "you must not say such things, child; that's silly; you don't know the woman."
"Grandpapa," cried Polly, holding back the storm of tears to get the words out, "I never told you--I couldn't--but I said perfectly dreadful words to her a week ago. Oh, Grandpapa! I did, truly."
"That's right," said the old gentleman in a pleased tone. "What were they, pray tell? Let us know."
"Oh, Grandpapa, don't!" begged Polly, with a shiver; "I want to forget them."
"If you would only follow them up with more," said Mr. King meditatively; "when it comes to tears, she must march, you know."
"I won't cry," said Polly, swallowing the lump in her throat, "if you will only let her stay."
She turned to him such a distressed and white face that Mr. King stood perplexedly looking down at her, having nothing to say.
"I'm tired of her," at last he said; "we are all tired of her; she has about worn us out."
"Grandpapa," cried Polly, seeing her advantage in his hesitation, "if you will only let her stay, I will never beg you for anything again."
"Well, then she goes," cried Mr. King shortly. "Goodness me, Polly, if you are going to stop asking favors, Cousin Eunice marches instanter!"
"Oh! I'll beg and tease for ever so many things," cried Polly radiantly, her color coming back. "Will you let her stay, Grandpapa--will you?" She clasped his arm tightly and would not let him go.
"Well," said Mr. King slowly, "I'll think about it, Polly."
"Will you?" cried Polly. "Dear Grandpapa, please say yes."
Mr. King drew a long breath. "Yes," he said at last.