Chapter V. Bad News.
 

"Oh, Mamsie," cried Polly in dismay, "must Papa Fisher know?"

"Certainly," said Mrs. Fisher firmly, "your father must be told every thing."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, turning off in dismay, "it seems so--so unfair to Mr. Bayley. Mightn't it be just as if he hadn't spoken, Mamsie?" She came back now to her mother's side, and looked anxiously into the black eyes.

"But he has spoken," said Mother Fisher, "and your father must be told. Why, Polly, that isn't like you, child, to want to keep anything from him," she added reproachfully.

"Oh! I don't--I couldn't ever in all this world keep anything from Father Fisher," declared Polly vehemently, "only," and the color flew in rosy waves over her face, "this doesn't seem like my secret, Mamsie. And Mr. Bayley would feel so badly to have it known," and her head drooped.

"Still it must be known by your father," said her mother firmly, "and I must tell Mr. King. Then it need go no further."

"Oh, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly, in a sharp tone of distress, "you wouldn't ever in all this world tell Grandpapa!"

"I most certainly shall," declared Mrs. Fisher. "He ought to know everything that concerns you, Polly, and each one of you children. It is his right."

Polly sat down in the nearest chair and clasped her hands. "Grandpapa will show Mr. Bayley that he doesn't like it," she mourned, "and it will hurt his feelings."

Mrs. Fisher's lip curled. "No more do I like it," she said curtly. "In the first place to speak to you at all; and then to take such a way to do it; it wasn't a nice thing at all, child, for Mr. Bayley to do," here Mrs. Fisher walked to the window, her irritation getting the better of her, so that Polly might not see her face.

"But he didn't mean to speak then--that is"--began Polly.

"He should have spoken to your father or to Mr. King," said Mrs. Fisher, coming back to face Polly, "but I presume the young man didn't know any better, or at least, he didn't think, and that's enough to say about that. But as for not telling Mr. King about it, why, it isn't to be thought of for a minute. So I best have it over with at once." And with a reassuring smile at Polly she went out, and closed the door.

"Oh, dear me," cried poor Polly, left alone; and springing out of her chair, she began to pace the floor. "Now it will be perfectly dreadful for Mr. Bayley. Grandpapa will be very angry; he never liked him; and now he can't help showing what he feels. Oh! why did Mr. Bayley speak."

"Polly," called Jasper's voice, out in the hall.

For the first time in her life, she felt like running away from his call. "Oh! I can't go out; he'll guess something is the matter," she cried to herself.

"Polly?" and there was a rap at the door.

"Yes," said Polly from within.

"Can I see you a minute?"

Polly slowly opened the door, and tried to lift her brown eyes to his face.

"Oh, Polly," he pretended not to notice any thing amiss with her, "I came to tell you first; and you can help me to break it to father."

"Oh, what is it?" cried Polly, looking up quickly. "Oh, Jasper," as she saw that his face was drawn with the effort not to let her see the distress he was in.

He tried to cover up his anxiety, but she saw a yellow paper in his hand. "Oh, Jasper, you've a telegram," she cried breathlessly.

"Polly," said Jasper. He took her hand and held it firmly, "you will help father and me to bear it, I know."

"Oh, Jasper, I will," promised Polly, clinging to his hand. "Don't be afraid to tell me, Jasper."

"Listen; Marian has been thrown from her sleigh this morning; the horses ran," said Jasper hurriedly. "The telegram says 'Come.' She may be living, Polly; don't look so."

For the room grew suddenly so dark to her that she wavered and would have fallen had he not caught her. "I won't faint," she cried, "Jasper, don't be afraid. There, I'm all right. Now, oh, what can I do?"

"Could you go with me when I tell father?" asked Jasper. "I am so afraid I shall break it to him too sharply; and you know it won't do for him to be startled. If you could, Polly."

For the second time, everything seemed to turn black before her eyes, but Polly said bravely, "Yes, I'll go, Jasper." And presently, they hardly knew how, the two found themselves at old Mr. King's door.

There was a sound of voices within. "Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, "I forgot Mamsie was here."

Jasper looked his surprise, but said nothing, and as they stood there irresolutely, Mrs. Fisher opened the door and came out.

"Why, Polly!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, Mrs. Fisher," cried Jasper, "we can't explain now, we must see father. But Polly will go and tell you," and in another minute they were both standing before Mr. King.

The old gentleman was walking up and down his apartment, fuming at every step. "The presumption of the fellow! How did he dare without speaking to me! Oh, eh, Polly"--and then he caught sight of Jasper, back of her.

"Father," began Jasper, "I've had a telegram from brother Mason."

"Oh, now what has he been doing?" cried Mr. King irritably. "I do wish Mason wouldn't be so abrupt in his movements. I suppose he is going abroad again. Well, let's hear."

Jasper tried to speak, but instead, looked at Polly.

"Dear Grandpapa," cried Polly, going unsteadily to the old gentleman's side, and taking his hand in both of hers. "Oh, we must tell you something very bad, and we don't know how to tell it, Grandpapa." She looked up piteously into his face.

Old Mr. King put forth his other hand, and seized the back of a chair to steady himself. "Tell me at once, Polly," he said hoarsely. "It isn't--Marian?" It was all he could do to utter the name.

"She is hurt," said Polly, going to the heart of the matter without delay, "but oh, Grandpapa, it may not be very badly, and they want Jasper to go on to New York."

Mr. King turned to Jasper. "Give me the telegram, my boy," he said through white lips; when it was all read, "Now tell Philip to pack me a portmanteau."

"Father," said Jasper, "you are not going?"

"No questions are to be asked, Jasper," said his father. "Be so good as to see that Philip packs quickly, and that you are ready. And now, Polly," the old gentleman turned to her, "I want to take you along, child, if your mother is willing. Will you go?"

"Oh, Grandpapa," cried Polly, "if I only may; oh, do take me."

"I don't want to go without you," said Mr. King. "There, run, child, and ask your mother if you may go. Send Phronsie to me; I must explain matters to her and bid her good-by."

Alexia and some of the other girls were hurrying in the east doorway of the King mansion, an hour later. "Oh, where's Polly, Mrs. Fisher?" cried Cathie Harrison.

"Polly has gone," said Mrs. Fisher, coming down the stairs. She looked as if she wanted to cry, but her hands held the basket of sewing as firmly as if no bad news had fallen upon the home.

"Gone?" cried all the girls. "Oh, Mrs. Fisher, where? Do tell us where Polly is?"

For answer Mrs. Fisher made them all go into the little reception room in an angle of the hall, where she told them the whole story.

"If that isn't perfectly dreadful," cried Alexia Rhys, throwing her muff into a chair, and herself on an ottoman. "Why, we were going to make up a theater party for to-morrow night. Mrs. Fisher, and now Polly is gone."

Her look of dismay was copied by every girl so exactly, that Mrs. Fisher had no relief in turning to any of the other four.

"And there is her Recital--what will she do about that?" cried Alexia, rushing on in her complaint. "Perhaps she'll give it up, after all," she added, brightening. "Now I most know she will, Mrs. Fisher," and she started up and began to pirouette around the room.

"Of course she has had to postpone it," said Mrs. Fisher, looking after her, "and she told Joel to write the notes to the pupils explaining matters. But never you fear, Alexia, that Polly will give up that Recital for good and all," she added, with a wise nod at her.

"Well, she must give it up for now anyway," said Alexia, coming to a pause to take breath, "that's some comfort. To think of Joe writing Polly's notes to the girls, oh, dear me!"

"Let us go and help him," proposed Cathie Harrison suddenly. "He must hate to do such poky work."

"Oh, dear me," began Alexia, taking up her little bag to look at the tiny watch in one corner. "We haven't the time. Yes--come on," she burst out incoherently; "where is he, Mrs. Fisher?"

"In the library, hard at work," said Mrs. Fisher, with a bright smile at them all.

"Come on, girls," said Alexia, rushing on. "Now that's what I admire Mrs. Fisher for," she said, when they were well in the hall, "she shows when she's not pleased, and when she likes what a body does, as well."

"I think she's just elegant," declared Cathie Harrison, who had privately done a good deal of worshiping at Mrs. Fisher's shrine.

"She's a dear," voted Alexia. "Well, do come on. Oh, Joe!" as they reached the library door.

Joel sat back of the writing table, a mass of Polly's note paper and envelopes sprawled before him, his head on his hands and his elbows on the table. Back of him paced Pickering Dodge with a worried expression of countenance.

"You do look so funny," burst out Alexia with a laugh; "doesn't he, girls?" to the bright bevy following her.

"I guess you would if you were in my place," growled Joel, scarcely giving them a glance. "Go away, Alexia; you can't get me into a scrape this morning--I've to dig at this."

"I don't want to get you into a scrape," cried Alexia, with a cold shoulder to Pickering, who had been claimed by the other girls, "we're going to help you."

"Is that so?" cried Joel radiantly; "then I say you're just jolly, Alexia," and he beamed at her.

"Yes, we want to help," echoed Cathie, drawing up a chair to the other side of the table. "Now do set us to work, Joel."

"Indeed and I will," he cried, spreading a clear place with a reckless hand.

"Take care," warned Alexia, "take care; you are spoiling all Polly's note paper. I wouldn't let you at my things, I can tell you, Joel Pepper!"

"As if I'd ever do this sort of thing for you, Alexia," threw back Joel.

"Well, do let us begin," begged Cathie, impatiently drumming on the table, as the other two girls and Pickering Dodge drew near.

"Yes, do," cried the girls, "and we'll toss those notes off in no time."

"I'll help you clear the table," cried Pickering; "do let me. I can't write those notes, but I can get the place ready;" and he began to pile the books on a chair. As he went around to Alexia's place she looked up and fixed her gaze past him, not noticing his attempt to speak.

"All right; if she wants to act like that, I'm willing," said Pickering to himself savagely and coolly going on with his work.

"Oh, dear me," groaned Cathie Harrison, "isn't it perfectly dreadful to have that dear sweet Mrs. Whitney hurt?"

"Ow!" exclaimed Joel.

"Do stop," cried Alexia with a nudge. "Haven't you any more sense, Cathie Harrison, than to speak of it?"

Cathie smothered a retort, and bit her lips to keep it back.

"Well, dear me, we are not working much," cried Alexia, pulling off her gloves; "how many notes have you to write, Joe?"

"Oh, a dozen, I believe," said Joel; "that is, counting this one."

"To whom is that?" asked Alexia, peering over his shoulder. "Oh, to Amy Loughead."

"Yes, I promised Polly this should go first. That Loughead girl was expecting her over this morning. Oh, she's a precious nuisance," grumbled Joel, dipping his pen in the ink.

"Well, then, I will write to Desiree Frye," said Alexia. "She was going to play a solo, Polly said, at the Recital. Oh, dear me, what shall I say?"

"Polly said tell them all what had happened, and that she should stay away as long as Aunty needed her, but she hoped to be home soon, and she would write them from New York."

"Oh, Joe, what a lot," exclaimed Alexia, leaving her pen poised in mid air.

"Cut it short, then," said Joel. "I don't care, only that's the sense of it."

"Oh, dear," began one of the girls, "I can't bear to write of the accident, and in the holidays, too."

Alexia made an uneasy gesture, scrawled two or three words, then threw down her pen and got out of her chair. "It's no use," she cried, running up to Pickering, who, his hands in his pockets, had his back to them all, and was looking out of the window. "I can't let myself do anything till I've said I'm sorry I was so cross," and she put out her hand.

"Eh?" exclaimed Pickering, whirling around in astonishment. "Oh, dear me!" and he pulled his right hand out of his pocket, and extended it to her.

"Mrs. Whitney has got hurt, and she was always sweet, and never said cross things, and oh, dear me!" cried Alexia incoherently, as he shook her hand violently.

"And I'm glad enough to have it made up," declared Pickering decidedly. "It's bad enough to have so much trouble in the world, without getting into fights with people you've known ever since you can remember."

"Trouble?" repeated Alexia wonderingly. "Oh, yes, Mrs. Whitney's accident, you mean; I know it's awful for all of us."

Pickering Dodge turned on his heel and walked off abruptly, and she ran back to her work with a final stare at him.

"I know now," she said to herself wisely, "and I've been mean enough to hurt him when he was bearing it. Oh, dear me, things are getting so mixed up!"

"Polly, you won't leave me, will you, till I get able to sit up?" cried Mrs. Whitney one day, a week after.

"No, Aunty, indeed I won't," declared Polly, leaning over to drop a kiss on the soft hair against the pillows.

Mrs. Whitney put up her hands to draw down the young face.

"Oh, Aunty!" exclaimed Polly in dismay, "be careful; you know doctor said you mustn't raise your arms."

"Well, just let me kiss you, dear, then," said Mrs. Whitney with a wan little smile. "Oh, Polly," when the kiss and two or three others had been dropped on the rosy cheek, "you are sure you can stay with me?"

"I'm sure I can, and I will," said Polly firmly. "Oh, Aunty, I shall be so glad to be with you; you can't think how glad."

She softly patted the pillows into the position Mrs. Whitney best liked, and then stood off a bit and beamed at her.

"It's dreadfully selfish in me to keep you," said Mrs. Whitney, "when you love your work so; and what will the music scholars do, Polly?"

"Oh, they are all right," said Polly gaily, "they're working like beavers. Indeed, Aunty, I believe they'll practice a great deal more than if I were home to be talking to them all the while."

"You are a dear blessed comfort, Polly," said Mrs. Whitney, turning on her pillow with a sigh of relief. "Now I do believe I shall get up very soon. But Jasper must go back; it won't do for him to stay away any longer from his business. Promise me, Polly, that you will make him see that he ought to go."

"I'll try, Aunty," said Polly, "and now that you are so much better, why, I do believe that Jasper will be willing to go."

"Oh, do make him," begged Mrs. Whitney, and then she tucked her hand under her cheek, and the first thing Polly knew she heard the slow, regular breathing that told she was asleep.

"Now that's just lovely," cried Polly softly, "and I will run and speak to Jasper this very minute, for he really ought to go back to his business."

But instead of doing this, she met a young girl, as she was running through the hall, who stopped her and asked, "Can I see Mr. King?"

"What!" cried Polly, astonished that the domestics had admitted any one, as it was against the orders.

"Oh, I am a relation," said the girl coolly, "and I told the man at the door that I should come in; and he said then I must wait, for I could not see Mr. King now, and he put me up in that little reception room, but I just walked out to meet the first person coming in the hall. Will you be so kind as to arrange it?"

She looked as if she fully expected to have her wish fulfilled, and her gaze wandered confidently around the picture-hung wall, until such time as Polly could answer.

"I'll see," said Polly, who couldn't help smiling, "what I can do for you; but you mustn't be disappointed if Grandpapa doesn't feel able to see you. He is very much occupied, you know, with his daughter's ill"--

"Oh, I understand," said the other girl, guilty of interrupting, "but he will see me, I know," and her light blue eyes were as calm as ever.

"Who shall I tell him wants to see him?" asked Polly, her own eyes wide at the stranger and her ways.

"Oh, you needn't tell him any name," said the girl carelessly.

"Then I certainly shall not tell him you wish to see him, unless I carry your name to him," Polly said quite firmly, and she looked steadily into the fair face before her.

"Oh, dear me," said the girl; "well, you may say I am Mr. Alexander Chatterton's daughter Charlotte."

Polly kept herself from starting as the name met her ear. "Very well," she said, "I will do what I can," moving off. "O, Grandpapa!"

For down the hall came Mr. King in velvet morning jacket and cap.

"Hoity-toity, I thought no one was to be admitted," he exclaimed, as he neared the door.

"Grandpapa," Polly endeavored to draw him off, but the young girl ran past her.

"Mr. King," she said quickly, "I am Charlotte Chatterton."

"The dickens you are!" exclaimed the old gentleman, looking her full in the face.

"Yes, sir; and my father is very ill." For a moment her voice trembled, but she quickly recovered herself. "It isn't money I want, Mr. King," and she threw her head back proudly, "but oh, will you come and see father?"

Mr. King looked at her again, then over at Polly. "Bring her in here," he said, pointing to the same little reception room that Charlotte had deserted, "I want you to stay, too, Polly," and the door closed upon them.