Chapter XXII. Mr King and Polly.
 

"So I do love my work," cried Jasper in a glow, "but, Polly," and he sprang to his feet and walked away so that she couldn't see his face, "I thought that you were going to say something about yourself,"

Then he turned around and faced her again.

"O, Jasper!" exclaimed Polly reproachfully, "what could I possibly have to say about myself! How can I think of anything when you are in trouble?"

"Forgive me, Polly," broke in Jasper eagerly, and he took her hand, "and don't worry about me; I mean, don't think that what you said to Grandpapa made any difference."

"But indeed it did, Jasper," declared Polly truthfully; "oh! I know it did, and I have done it all."

"Polly--Polly!" begged Jasper in great distress, "don't, dear!"

"And now you must give it all up and go into the law--oh! the horrid, hateful law; oh! what will you do, Jasper?" And she gazed up into his face pityingly.

"I shall have to go," said Jasper, drawing his breath hard, and looking at her steadily. "You know you yourself told me long ago to make my father happy any way, Polly." He smiled as he emphasized the last word.

"Oh! I know," cried Polly in despair, "but I didn't think it could ever be anything as bad as this, Jasper."

"'Any way' means pretty hard lines sometimes, Polly," said Jasper. "Well, there's no help for it now, so you must help me to go through with it."

"And just think," mourned Polly, looking as if the shower were about to fall again, "how I've made it worse for you with Grandpapa. O, Jasper! I shall never be any help to you."

"Polly!" exclaimed Jasper, in such a tone that she stopped to look at him in astonishment. "There, now, I'll tell you all about it," he added with his usual manner, and sitting down beside her again, "and then you'll see that nothing on earth made any difference to father. This was the way of it," and Jasper proceeded to lay before her every detail of Mr. King's visit to him, and all the circumstances at the store, not omitting Mr. Whitney's part in the affair, as shown by the letter that Jasper had seen.

"Oh, oh! how mean," interrupted Polly at this point, with flashing brown eyes; "how could he?" and her lips curled disdainfully,

"Oh! Mason thought he was doing me the greatest favor in the world, I don't doubt," answered Jasper. "You know, Polly, he never could bear to hear of the publishing business, and he was so disappointed when I wouldn't go into the law."

"I know," said Polly, "but this was dreadful, to meddle--after you had once decided; very, very dreadful!"

"I think so," said Jasper, with a laugh; feeling surprisingly light-hearted, it was so beautiful to be talking it all over with Polly, "but the trouble is, Mason don't. Well, and then came that dreadful misunderstanding about Mr. Marlowe; that hurt me worse than all. O, Polly! if you only knew the man," and Jasper relapsed into gloom once more.

"O, dear, dear!" cried Polly sympathetically, and clasping her hands. "What can we do; isn't there anything to do?"

"No," said Jasper, "absolutely nothing. When father once makes up his mind about anything, it's made up for all time. I must just lose the friendship of that man, as well as my place." With that his gloom deepened, and Polly, feeling powerless to utter a word, slipped her hand within his as it lay on his knee.

He looked up and smiled gratefully. "You see, Polly, we can't say anything to him."

"Oh! no, no," cried Polly in horror at the mere thought; "I've only made it a great deal worse."

"No, you haven't made it worse, dear; but we shouldn't do any good to talk to him about it."

"I don't believe I could live," cried Polly, off her guard, "to have him look at me, and to hear him speak so again, Jasper."

Jasper started, while a frown spread over his face. "I can bear anything but that you should be hurt, Polly," he exclaimed, his fingers tightening over hers.

"Oh! I don't mind it so much," cried Polly, recovering herself hastily, "if I hadn't made mischief for you."

"And that you never must think of again. Promise me, Polly."

"I'll try not to," said Polly.

"You must just put the notion out of your mind whenever it comes in," said Jasper decidedly; "you'll promise that, Polly, I know you will."

"Well," said Polly reluctantly, "I will, Jasper."

"All right," exclaimed Jasper, in great satisfaction.

"Polly--Polly." Phronsie's yellow head came up above the stairs, and presently Phronsie came running up to them in great haste.

"O, Polly!" and she threw her arms hungrily around Polly and hugged her closely. "O, dear!" letting her arms fall, "I wasn't to stop a minute. Grandpapa wants you to drive with him, Polly, and you are to go right down as soon as you get your hat on."

"Grandpapa!" screamed Polly, jumping off from the window-seat so hastily that Phronsie nearly fell over, while Jasper was hardly less excited. "Why, Phronsie, you can't mean it. He"--

"Father really wants you, Polly, I know," broke in Jasper, with a look into the brown eyes. But his voice shook, and if Phronsie hadn't been so worried over Polly, she would certainly have noticed it.

"Polly hasn't had any dinner," she said in a troubled way.

"Oh! I don't care for dinner," cried Polly, with another look at Jasper, and beginning to dance off to her room for her hat.

"But you must have some," declared Phronsie in gentle authority, going toward the stairs, "and I shall just ask Grandpapa to wait for you to get it. Mrs. Higby saved your dinner for you, Polly"--

"Oh! I couldn't eat a morsel," protested Polly from her little room, "and don't ask Grandpapa to wait an instant, whatever you do, Phronsie. See, I'm ready," and she ran out into the hall, putting on her hat as she spoke.

"Get her a glass of milk, Phronsie," called Jasper, standing by the stair-railing; "that's a good child."

Polly flashed him a grateful look as she dashed down the stairs, drawing on her gloves, and not daring to look forward to meeting Grandpapa.

But when she came out to the back piazza, Phronsie following her with the glass, and begging her to drink up the rest left in it, old Mr. King, standing by the little old-fashioned chaise, received her exactly as if nothing had happened.

"Well, I declare, Polly," he said, turning to her with a smile, "I never saw anybody get ready so quickly as you can. There, hop in, child," and he put aside her dress from the wheel in his most courtly manner possible.

"Polly hasn't had all the milk," said Phronsie, by the chaise-step, holding up the glass anxiously.

"Well, I don't believe she wants it," said old Mr. King.

"No, I don't," said Polly, from the depths of the old chaise. "I couldn't drink it, dear."

Mr. King bent his white head to kiss Phronsie, and then they drove away, and left her standing in the lilac-shaded path, her glass in her hand, and looking after them.

All sorts of things Mr. King talked of in the cheeriest manner possible, just as if Polly and he were in the habit of taking a drive like this every morning; and he never seemed to notice her swollen eyelids, or whether she answered, but kept on bravely with the conversation. At last Polly, at something he said, laughed in her old merry fashion; then Mr. King drew a long breath, and relaxed his efforts.

"I declare, Polly," he said, leaning back in a comfortable way against the old cushion, and allowing the neighbor's horse, hired for the occasion, to amble along in its own fashion, "now we are so cosy, I believe I'll tell you a secret."

Polly stopped laughing and gazed at him.

"How would you like to take a little journey, just you and I, to-morrow?" he asked, looking down into her face.

"A journey, Grandpapa?" asked Polly wonderingly.

"Yes; about as far as---say, well, to the place where Jasper has been all winter. The fact is, Polly," went on Mr. King very rapidly, as if with the fear that if he stopped he would not be able to finish at all, "I want you to look over the ground--Jasper's work, I mean. It seems an abominable place to me--a perfectly abominable one," confided the old gentleman in a burst of feeling, "but there," pulling himself up, "maybe I'm not the one to say it. You see, Polly, I never did a stroke of work in my life, and I really can't tell how working-places ought to look. And I suppose a working man like Mr. Marlowe might be different from me, and yet be a decent sort of a person, after all. Well, will you go?" he asked abruptly.

"O, Grandpapa!" cried Polly, aghast, and turning in the chaise to look at him with wide eyes.

"Yes, I really mean it," nodded old Mr. King, in his most decided fashion, "although I don't blame you for thinking me funny, child."

"I was only thinking how good you are Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly fervently, and creeping up close to his side.

"There--there, Polly, child," said the old gentleman, "no more of that, else we shall have a scene, and that's what I never did like, dear, you know. Well, will you go with me--you haven't said yes yet."

"Oh! yes, yes, yes," cried Polly, in a rapturous shout, not taking her glowing eyes off from his face.

"Take care, you'll scare the natives," warned old Mr. King, beaming at her. "Brierly folks couldn't have any such transports, Polly," as they turned down a shady lane and ambled by a quiet farmhouse.

"Well, they ought to," replied Polly merrily, peering out at the still, big house. "O, Grandpapa! I just want to get out and jump and scream. I don't feel any bigger than Phronsie."

"Well, I much rather have you here in this carriage with me," said the old gentleman composedly. "Now that's settled that we are going, Polly. Of course I asked the doctor; I sent down a letter to him after dinner, to ask if your arm would let you take a little journey with me, and of course he said 'yes,' like a sensible man. Why shouldn't he, pray tell--when we were all going home in a day or two? Now, of course, that must be postponed a bit."

"Never mind," Polly hastened to say, "if Jasper is only fixed up."

"Now, Polly," Mr. King shifted his position a bit, so that he might see her the better, "perhaps Mr. Marlowe won't take Jasper back. Judging from what I know of the man, I don't think he will," and the old gentleman's face, despite his extreme care, began to look troubled at once.

"Oh! maybe he will," cried Polly warmly. "Grandpapa, I shouldn't wonder at all--he must!" she added positively.

"I don't know, Polly," he said, in a worried way. "I think it's very doubtful; indeed, from what I know of business now, I don't believe at all that he will. But then, we can try."

"Oh! we can try," echoed Polly hopefully, and feeling as if, since God was good, he would let Jasper back into his chosen life-work.

"Well, we'll start early to-morrow morning on our little trip, Polly," said the old gentleman, catching her infectious spirit, and giving the old horse a fillip with the whip. "Meantime, not a word, my dear, of our little plan!"

So Polly promised the deepest secrecy, and that no one should even have a hint from her looks, of what Grandpapa and she were to do.

And the next morning, although everybody was nearly devoured by curiosity, no one dared to ask questions; so old Mr. King and Polly, with two well-filled portmanteaus, departed for a journey of apparently a few days; and Polly didn't dare to trust herself alone with Jasper, but ran a race with him around all the angles of the old farmhouse, always cleverly disappearing with a merry laugh when there was the least chance of his overtaking her and cornering her for an explanation.

And Pickering Dodge, in his invalid chair drawn close to the window, heard the merry preparations for the journey, and fretfully declared "that people seem to be happy, with never a thought for a poor dog like me," while old Mr. Loughead, who, despite Doctor Bryce's verdict, had never seemed quite well enough in his own estimation for his departure from the "Higby hospital," on the contrary brightened up, exclaiming, "Now, that is something like--to hear Miss Polly laugh like that--bless her!"

"Good-by, Pickering," said Polly, coming into his room, old Mr. King close behind; "I am going away with Grandpapa for a day or two," and she came up in her traveling hat and gown close to his chair.

"So I heard," said Pickering, lifting his pale face, and trying to seem glad, for Polly's joy was bubbling over. But he made rather a poor show of it.

"Good-by to you, my boy," said Mr. King, laying a soft palm over the thin fingers on Pickering's knee. "Now see that you get up a little more vigor by the time we are back. Goodness! all you want is a trifle more backbone. Why, an old fellow like me would beat you there, I do believe. I am surprised at you," cried the old gentleman, shaking his fingers at Mr. Loughead, with whom he was on the best of terms, but never feeling the necessity to weigh his words, "that you, being chief nurse, don't set up with that boy and make him get on his feet quicker."

"So I could do," cried old Mr. Loughead, whose chief object in life since Pickering had been pronounced out of danger, had been to browbeat the trained nurse, and usurp the authority in Pickering's sick-room, "if Mrs. Cabot would keep out, or take it into her head to return home. To state it mildly," continued the old gentleman, not lowering his tone in the least, "that lady doesn't seem to be gifted with the qualities of a nurse. Providence never intended that she should be one, in my opinion."

"Don't tell him to bully me worse than he does," cried Pickering. "He shows a frightful hand when he wants his own way."

"That's it," cried old Mr. King delightedly; "only just keep it up. You'll get well fast, as long as you can fight. Come on, Polly, my girl, or we shall be late for the train."

The evening before, Jack Loughead ran up the steps to Miss Salisbury's "Select School for Young Ladies," and pulled the bell hastily.

Amy ran down as quickly to the little room where she was always allowed to see her brother.

"Well, Amy, child," cried Jack, when they had gone through with the preliminaries always religiously observed on his visits: how she had progressed in her music under the new teacher Miss Pepper had recommended during her enforced absence, and how far she had pleased Miss Salisbury, and all the other things an elder brother who had come to his conscience rather late, would be apt to look into. "And so you really think you are getting on in your practice?"

"O, yes, Jack!" cried Amy confidently. "Come and see; I've a new Beethoven for you," and she laid hold of his arm with eager fingers. "Now, you'll be immensely surprised, Jack--immensely."

"No doubt, no doubt," answered Jack hastily, and not offering to get up from the sofa, "but you needn't play it now."

"Why, Jack," cried Amy, no little offended, "what's the matter? You've asked me regularly to play you my pieces, and now to-night when I offer to, you won't have any of it," and she began to pout.

"That's shabby in me," declared Jack, with remorse; and getting off the sofa, to his feet, he dutifully spread the music on the rack, and paid his little sister such attention, that she was soon smilingly launched into the new piece, and lost to everything else but her own melody.

"That's fine!" pronounced Jack, as Amy declared herself through, and whirled around on the music-stool for his applause. But his heart wasn't in it, and Amy's blue eyes soon found it out.

"You're not a bit like yourself to-night, Brother Jack," she cried, with another pout and staring at him.

"You're right; I'm not, Amy," declared Jack. "Come over to the sofa, and I'll tell you about it."

So the two turned their backs on the piano; and pretty soon, Amy, her hand in her brother's big brown palm, was nestled up against him, and hearing a confidence that made her small soul swell with delight.

"Amy," said Jack, putting his arm closer around her, "when Miss Pepper had the courage to tell me of my duty to you, I made up my mind that you should never want for anything that my hand could supply."

"And I never have," cried little Amy, poking her head up from its nest to look at him. "All the girls say you are just splendid to me; that they never saw such a brother; and I don't believe they ever did, Jack," she added proudly.

"So now, what I am about to do," said Jack, speaking with great effort, "isn't to bring anything but the greatest happiness to you, Amy, as well as to me. If only I can secure it!" he added under his breath.

"What are you going to do, Jack?" demanded Amy, springing away from him to stare into his bronzed face. "Oh! I know; you are going to Europe again, and will take me this time--oh! goody, goody!" She screamed like a child, clapping her hands gaily.

"Hush, Amy," cried Jack, trying to speak lightly, "or Miss Salisbury will come in, and send me off, saying I spoil your manners. There, come back here to me; I can talk better then," and he drew her to his side again. "No, it is something much more beautiful than any trip to Europe would be."

"It can't be. Jack," cried Amy positively, and burrowing her sunny head into his waistcoat.

"Listen--and don't interrupt again," said her big brother. "Amy--how can I tell it? Amy, if Miss Pepper will--will marry me, I will bless God all my life!"

This time Amy sprang to the middle of the floor of Miss Salisbury's small reception-room. "Marry you, Brother Jack!" she screamed. "Oh! how perfectly elegant! It's too lovely for anything--oh! my darling Miss Pepper," and so on, till Jack couldn't make her hear a word.

"Amy--Amy," at last he said, getting up to her, to lay an imperative hand on her arm, "what would Miss Pepper say--don't get so excitable, child--to see you now? Do hush!"

"I know it," said Amy, stopping instantly, and creeping humbly back to the sofa; "Miss Pepper was always telling me how to stop screaming at everything I liked; and not to cry at things I didn't like," she confessed frankly.

"Well, then, if you love her," said Jack, going back to sit down by her again, "you will try to do what she says. And you do love her, I am quite sure, Amy."

"I love her so," declared Amy, "that I would do any and everything she ever asked me to, Brother Jack."

"I thought so," said Jack. "Well, now, Amy, I must tell you that I went to see Mrs. Fisher to-day, to ask her if I may speak to Miss Pepper. And she gives me full permission; and so I shall go to Brierly to-morrow, and try my fate."

"It won't be any trying at all," cried Amy superbly, and stretching her neck to look up with immense pride at her tall brother. "She can't help loving you, Jack! Oh! I am so happy."

Jack Loughead's dark face had a grave look on it as he glanced down at her. "I hope so," he said simply.