XVIII. The Girls Have Polly Again
 

"Phronsie shall have a baked apple this morning," said Mother Fisher, coming into the sunny room where Phronsie lay propped up against the pillows.

"Did Papa-Doctor say so?" asked Phronsie, a smile of supreme content spreading over her wan little face.

"Yes, he did," said her mother; "as nice an apple, red and shiny as we could find, is downstairs baking for you, Phronsie. When it's done, Sarah is to bring it up."

"That will be very nice," breathed Phronsie slowly. "And I want my little tea-set--just the two cups and saucers--and my own little pot and sugar-bowl. Do let me, Mamsie, and you shall have a cup of milk with me," she cried, a little pink color stealing into either cheek.

"Yes, yes, child," said Mother Fisher. "There, you mustn't try to lean forward. I'll bring the little table Grandpapa bought, so;" she hurried over across the room and wheeled it into place. "Now isn't that fine, Phronsie?" as the long wing swung over the bed. "Did you ever see such a tea-party as you and I'll have?"

"Breakfast party, Mamsie!" hummed Phronsie; "isn't that just lovely?" wriggling her toes under the bed-clothes. "Do you think Sarah'll ever bring that apple?"

"Yes, indeed--why, here she is now!" announced Mrs. Fisher cheerily. "Come in, Sarah," as a rap sounded on the door. "Our little girl is all ready for that good apple. My! what a fine one."

"Bless honey's heart!" ejaculated Sarah, her black face shining with delight. "Ain't he a beauty, though?" setting down on the table-wing a pink plate in the midst of which reposed an apple whose crackling skin disclosed a toothsome interior. "I bring a pink sasser so's to match his insides. But ain't he rich, though!"

"Sarah," said Phronsie, with hungry eyes on the apple, "I think he is very nice indeed, and I do thank you for bringing him."

"Bless her precious heart!" cried Sarah, her hands on her ample hips, and her mouth extended in the broadest of smiles.

"Do get me a spoon, Mamsie," begged Phronsie, unable to take her gaze from the apple. "I'm so glad he has a stem on, Sarah," carefully picking at it.

"Well, there," said Sarah, "I had the greatest work to save that stem. But, la! I wouldn't 'a' brung one without a stem. I know'd you'd want it to hold it up by, when you'd eat the most off."

"Yes, I do," said Phronsie, in great satisfaction fondling the stem.

"And here's your spoon," said her mother, bringing it. "Now, child, enjoy it to your heart's content."

Phronsie set the spoon within the cracked skin, and drew it out half- full. "Oh, Mamsie!" she cried, as her teeth closed over it, "do just taste; it's so good!"

"Hee-hee!" laughed Sarah, "I guess 'tis. Such works as I had to bake dat apple just right. But he's a beauty, ain't he, though?"

Phronsie did not reply, being just at that moment engaged in conveying a morsel as much like her own as possible, to her mother's mouth.

"Seems to me I never tasted such an apple," said Mother Fisher, slowly swallowing the bit.

"Did you, now?" cried Sarah.

Downstairs Polly was dancing around the music-room with three or four girls who had dropped in on their way from school.

"Give me a waltz now, Polly," begged Philena. "Dear me, I haven't had a sight of you hardly, for so long, I am positively starved for you. I don't care for you other girls now," she cried, as the two went whirling down the long room together.

"Thank you, Miss Philena," cried the others, seizing their partners and whirling off too.

"I feel as if I could dance forever," cried Polly, when Amy Garrett turned away from the piano and declared she would play no more--and she still pirouetted on one foot, to come up red as a rose to the group.

"Look at Polly's cheeks!" cried Amy.

"You've been a white little minx so long," said Alexia, putting a fond arm around Polly; "I went home and cried every day, after I would steal around the back way to see how Phronsie was"--

"Won't Phronsie be downstairs soon?" asked Amy.

"I don't know," said Polly. "Papa-Doctor is going to be dreadfully careful of her, that she doesn't get up too soon."

"Say, Polly," cried another girl, "don't you have to take a lot of pills and stuff, now that Dr. Fisher is your father?"

Polly threw back her head and laughed merrily. It sounded so strangely to her to hear the sound echoing through the room so long silent, that she stopped suddenly.

"Oh, girls! I can't hardly believe even yet that Phronsie is almost well," she cried.

"Well, you'd better," advised Alexia philosophically, "because she is, you know. Do laugh again, Polly; it's good to hear you."

"I can't help it," said Polly, "Cathie asked such a funny question."

"Cathie's generally a goose," said Alexia coolly.

"Thank you," said Cathie, a tall girl, with such light hair and sallow face that she looked ten years older than her fourteen summers. "I sometimes know quite as much as a few other people of my acquaintance," she said pointedly.

"I didn't say but that you did," said Alexia composedly. "I said you were generally a goose. And so you are. Why, everybody knows that, Cath."

"Come, come, girls, don't fight," said Polly. "How can you when Phronsie is getting better? Alexia didn't mean anything, Cathie."

"Yes, she did," declared Cathie with a pout; "she's always meaning something. She's the hatefullest thing I ever saw!"

"Nonsense!" said Polly, with a gay little laugh. "She says perfectly dreadful things to me, and so I do to her, but we don't either of us mind them."

"Well, those are in fun," said Cathie; "that's a very different matter"- -

"So you must make these in fun," said Polly. "I would if I were you." But she drew away from Alexia's arm.

"Polly, don't be an idiot and fight with me," whispered Alexia in her ear.

"Go away," said Polly, shaking her off.

"Polly, Polly, I'll say anything if you won't look like that. See here, Cathie, let's make up," and she ran over, seized the tall girl by the waist and spun her around till she begged to stop.

"Is that your way of making up?" cried Cathie, when she had the breath to speak.

"Yes; it is as good as any other way. It spins the nonsense out of you. There!" with a last pat on the thin shoulder, she left her, and ran back to Polly.

"It's all done," she cried. "I'm at peace with the whole world. Now don't look like an ogre any longer."

"Phronsie's actually hungry now all the time," confided Polly in a glow, "and we can't get enough to satisfy her."

"Good--good!" cried the girls.

"I'm going to send her some of my orange jelly," declared Alexia. "I'll make it just as soon as I go home. Do you think she will like it, Polly?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes, I do believe she will," said Polly, "because she loves oranges so."

"Well, I shan't make any old orange jelly," cried Cathie, her nose in the air. "Faugh! it's insipid enough!"

"But 'tisn't when it's made the way Alexia makes it," said Polly, viewing in alarm the widening of the breach between the two. "I've eaten some of hers, and it's too splendid for anything."

"I don't know anything about hers, but all orange jelly I have tasted is just horrid. I hate it! I'm going to make almond macaroons. They're lovely, Polly."

"Oh! don't, Cathie," begged Polly in distress.

"Why not, pray tell," whirling on one set of toes. "You needn't be afraid they won't be good. I've made them thousands of times."

"But she couldn't eat them," said Polly. "Just think, almond macaroons! Why, Papa-Doctor would"--

"Now I know the doctor makes you take perfectly terrible things, and won't let you eat anything. And macaroons are the only things I can make. It's a shame!" and down sat Cathie in despair on an ottoman.

"What's the matter?" Dr. Fisher put his head in at the doorway, his spectacled eyes sending a swift glance of inquiry around.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Cathie in a fright, jumping up and clutching the arm of the girl next to her. "Don't let Polly tell him what I said-- don't."

"Polly won't tell," said the girl, with a superb air; "don't you know any better, Cathie Harrison, you goose, you!"

To be called a goose by two persons in the course of an hour was too much for Cathie's endurance, and flinging off the girl's arm, she cried out passionately, "I won't stay; I'm going home!" and rushed out the door.

Dr. Fisher turned from a deliberate look at the girl's white cheeks, as she ran past, to the flushed ones before him.

"I'm very sorry that anything unpleasant has happened. I dropped in to tell you of a little surprise, but I see it's no time now."

"Oh, Papa-Doctor!" cried Polly, flying up to him from the center of the group, "it was nothing--only"--

"A girl's quarrel is not a slight thing, Polly," said little Dr. Fisher gravely, "and one of your friends has gone away very unhappy."

"Oh! I know it," said Polly, "and I'm so sorry."

"We can't any of us help it," said Alexia quickly. "Cathie Harrison has the temper of a gorilla--so there, Dr. Fisher."

Dr. Fisher set his spectacles straight, and looked at Alexia, but he did not even smile, as she hoped he would do. "I can't help it," she said, tracing the pattern of the carpet with the toe of her boot, "she makes us all so uncomfortable, oh! you can't think. And I wish she'd stay home forever."

Still no answer from the doctor. He didn't act as if he heard, but bowing gravely, he withdrew his head and shut the door.

"O dear, dear!" cried Alexia, when they had all looked at each other a breathing space. "Why didn't he speak? I'd much rather he'd scold like everything than to look like that. Polly, why don't you say something?"

"Because there isn't anything to say." Polly got no further, and turned away, suspiciously near to tears. Was this the first meeting with the girls to which she had looked forward so long?

"To think of that Cathie Harrison making such a breeze," cried Alexia angrily; "a girl who's just come among us, as it were, and we only let her in our set because Miss Salisbury asked us to make things pleasant for her. If it had been any one else who raised such a fuss!"

Meantime Dr. Fisher strode out to the west porch, intending to walk down to his office, and buttoning up his coat as he went along. As he turned the angle in the drive, he came suddenly upon a girl who had thrown herself down on a rustic seat under a tree, and whose shoulders were shaking so violently that he knew she was sobbing, though he heard no sound.

"Don't cry," said the little doctor, "and what's the matter?" all in the same breath, and sitting down beside her.

Cathie looked up with a gasp, and then crushed her handkerchief over her eyes. "Those girls in there are perfectly horrid." "Softly, softly," said Dr. Fisher.

"I can't--help it. No matter what I say, they call me names, and I'm tired of it. O dear, dear!"

"Now see here," said the doctor, getting up on his feet and drawing a long breath. "I'm on my way to my office; suppose you walk along with me a bit and tell me all about it."

Cathie opened her mouth, intending to say, "Oh! I can't"--instead, she found herself silent, and not knowing how, she was presently pacing down the drive by the doctor's side.

"Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Alexia, as a turn in the drive brought the two figures in view of the music-room windows, "did you ever see such a sight in your life? Cathie is walking off with Dr. Fisher! There isn't anything her tongue won't say!"

"Did you tell Polly?" cried Jasper, a half-hour later, putting his head into Dr. Fisher's office. "Oh! beg pardon; I didn't know you were busy, sir."

"Come in," said the doctor, folding up some powders methodically. "No, I didn't tell Polly."

"Oh!" said Jasper, in a disappointed tone.

"I hadn't a fair chance"--

"But she ought to know it just as soon as it's talked of," said Jasper, fidgeting at a case of little vials on the table. "Oh! beg pardon again. I'm afraid I've smashed that chap," as one rolled off to the floor. "I'm no end sorry," picking up the bits ruefully.

"I have several like it," said the doctor kindly, and settling another powder in its little paper.

"There were a lot of girls with Polly when I looked in upon her on my way out. But we'll catch a chance to tell her soon, my boy."

"Oh! I suppose so. A lot of giggling creatures. How Polly can stand their chatter, I don't see," cried Jasper impatiently.

"They've been shut off from Polly for some time, you know," said Dr. Fisher quietly. "We must remember that."

"Polly doesn't like some of them a bit better than I do," said Jasper explosively, "only she puts up with their nonsense."

"It's rather a difficult matter to pick and choose girls who are in the same classes," said the doctor, "and Polly sees that."

"Don't I know it?" exclaimed Jasper, in an astonished tone. "Dear me, Dr. Fisher, I've watched Polly for years now. And she's always done so." He stopped whirling the articles on the office table, and bestowed a half-offended look on the little physician.

"Softly, softly, Jasper," said Dr. Fisher composedly. "Of course you've used your eyes. Now don't spoil things by saying anything, but let Polly 'go her own gait,' I beg of you." Then he turned to his powders once more.

"She will, anyway," declared Jasper. "Whatever she makes up her mind to do, Polly does that very thing."

"Not a bad characteristic," laughed the doctor.

"I should say not."

"Now when I come up home for dinner, you and I will find Polly, and tell her the good news. If she's with a lot of those silly girls, I'll--I'll tear her off this time." Dr. Fisher glared so fiercely as he declared this determination that Jasper laughed outright.

"I thought no one was to disturb Polly's good intentions in that line," he cried.

"Well, there's an end to all things, and patience ceases to be a virtue sometimes."

"So I've thought a good many times, but I've borne it like a man." Jasper drew himself up, and laughed again at the doctor's face.

"Oh! you go along," cried Dr. Fisher, his eyes twinkling. "I'll meet you just before dinner."

"All right," as Jasper rushed off.

Dr. Fisher jumped to his feet, pushing aside the litter of powder papers, and bottles, and ran his fingers through the shock of gray hair standing straight on his head.

"Yes, yes," he muttered, walking to the window, "it will be a good thing for Polly, now I tell you, Adoniram." He always preferred to address himself by his first name; then he was sure of a listener. "A vastly good thing. It's quite time that some of the intimacies with these silly creatures are broken up a bit, while the child gains immensely in other ways." He rubbed his palms gleefully. "Oh! good-morning, good-morning!"

A patient walking in, looked up at the jolly little doctor. "I wish I could laugh like that," he ejaculated, his long face working in the unusual effort to achieve a smile.

"You would if you had a gay crowd of children such as I have," cried the little doctor proudly. "Why, man, that's better than all my doses."

"But I haven't the children," said the patient sourly, and sitting down with a sigh.

"I pity you, then," said Dr. Fisher, with the air of having been a family man for years. "Well, besides owning the Peppers, I'm going off with them to"--there he stopped, for before he knew it, the secret was well-nigh out.