Chapter VI. Of Many Things.
 

"And father has asked her to go home when you and he go!" cried Jasper in irritation.

"Yes," said Polly; "oh, Jasper, never mind; I daresay it will be for the best; and I'm so sorry for Charlotte."

"She'll be no end of bother to you, I know," said Jasper. "And you must take her everywhere, Polly, and look out for her. What was father thinking of?" He could not conceal his annoyance, and Polly put aside her own dismayed feelings at the new programme, to help him into his usual serene mood.

"But think, Jasper, how she has never had any fun all her life, and now her father is sick."

"She'd much better stay and take care of him," declared Jasper.

"But he's sick because he has worried so, I do believe," Polly went on, "for you ought to have seen his face when we took Charlotte home, and Grandpapa talked with him, and asked him to let Charlotte pass the rest of the winter with us. Oh, I am glad, Jasper, for I do like Charlotte."

"The girl may be well enough," said Jasper shortly, "but she will bother you, nevertheless, Polly, I am afraid."

"Never mind," said Polly brightly, with a little pang at her heart for the nice times with the girls that now must be shared with another. "Grandpapa thought he ought to do it, I suppose, and that's enough."

"It does seem as if the Chattertons would never be done annoying us," said Jasper gloomily. "Now when we once get this girl fastened on us, there'll be an end to the hope of shaking her off."

"Perhaps we sha'n't want to," said Polly merrily, "for Charlotte may turn out perfectly lovely; I do believe she's going to." And then she remembered her promise to Mrs. Whitney, and she began: "Aunty is worrying about your staying away so long from your business, Jasper, and she wants you to go back."

A shade passed over his face. "I suppose I ought to go, Polly," he said, and he pulled a letter from his pocket and held it out to her, "I was going to show this to you, only the other matter came up."

Polly seized it with dread.

"We need your services very much" [the letter ran] "and cannot wait longer for your return. We are very sorry to be so imperative, but the rush of work at this time of the year, makes it necessary for all our force to be in place.

"Very sincerely

"DAVID MARLOWE."

"You see they are getting all the books planned out, and put in shape for the next year; and business just rushes," cried Jasper, with shining eyes, showing his eagerness to be in the midst of the bustle of manufacture.

"What, so early!" cried Polly, letting the letter drop. "Why, I thought you didn't do anything until spring, Jasper--about making the books, I mean."

He laughed. "The travelers go out on the road then," he said, "with almost all the books ready to sell."

"Out on the road?" repeated Polly in amaze. "Oh, what do you mean, Jasper?"

"Well, you see the business of selling is a good part of it done by salesmen, who travel with samples and take advance orders," said Jasper, finding it quite jolly to explain business intricacies to such an eager listener.

"Oh!" said Polly.

"And when I get back I shall be plunged at once into all the thick of the manufacturing work," he went on, straightening himself up; "Mr. Marlowe is as good as he can be, and he has waited now longer than he ought to."

"Oh, you must go, Jasper," cried Polly quickly; "at once, this very day," and her face glowed.

"If you think sister Marian is really well enough to spare me," he said, trying to restrain his impatience to be off.

"Yes--yes, I do," declared Polly. "Doctor Palfrey said this morning that all danger was over now from inflammation, and really it worries her dreadfully to think of your being here any longer. It really does hurt her, Jasper," repeated Polly emphatically.

"In that case I'm off, then, this afternoon," said Jasper, with a glad ring in his voice. "Polly, my work is the very grandest in all the world."

"Isn't it?" cried Polly, with kindling eyes; "just think--to make good books, Jasper, that will never stop, perhaps, being read. Oh, I wish I was a man and could help you."

"Polly?" he stopped a minute, looked down into her face, then turned off abruptly. "You are sure you won't bother yourself too much with Charlotte?" he said awkwardly coming back.

"Yes; don't worry, Jasper," said Polly, wondering at his unusual manner.

"All right; then as soon as I've seen father I'll throw my traps together and be off," declared Jasper, quite like the business man again.

But old Mr. King was not to hear about it just then, for when Jasper rapped at his door, it was to find that his father was fast asleep.

"See here, Jasper," said Mr. Whitney, happening along at this minute, "here's a nice piece of work. Percy declares that he shall be made miserable to go back to college to-morrow. His mother is able now for him to be settled at his studies; won't you run up and persuade him--that's a good fellow."

"I'm going back to my work to-night," cried Jasper, pulling out his watch, "that is, if father wakes up in time for me to take the train."

"Is that so? Good," cried Mr. Whitney. "Well, run along and tell Percy that, for the boy is so worried over his mother that he can't listen to reason."

So Jasper scaled the stairs to Percy's den.

"Well, old fellow, I thought I'd come up and let you know that I'm off to my work," announced Jasper, putting his head in the doorway.

"Eh!" cried Percy, "what's that?"

"Why, I'm off, I say; back to dig at the publishing business. Your mother doesn't want us fellows hanging around here any longer. It worries her to feel that we are idling."

"Is that so?" cried Percy. "How do you know?"

"Polly says so; she let me into the secret; says sister Marian requested me to go back."

"Did Polly really say so?" demanded Percy in astonishment.

"Yes, in good plain English. So I'm off."

"Well, if Polly really said that mamma wanted you to go, why, I'll get back to college as soon as I can," said Percy. "But if she should be worse?" He stopped short.

"They can send for you instantly; trust Polly for that," said Jasper. "But she won't be worse; not unless we worry her by not doing as she wishes. Well, good-by, I'm off."

"So am I," declared Percy, springing up to throw his clothes into traveling order. "All right, I'll take the train with you, Jappy."

"Now you see how much better I'm off," observed Van, coming in to perch on the edge of the bed while Percy was hurrying all sorts of garments into the trunk with a quick hand. "I tell you, Percy, I struck good luck when I chose father's business. Now I don't have to run like a dog at the beck of a lot of professors."

"Every one to his taste," said Percy, "and I can't bear father's business, for one."

"No, you'd rather sit up with your glasses stuck on your nose, and learn how to dole out the law; that's you, Percy. I say, I wouldn't try to keep the things on," with a laugh as he saw his brother's ineffectual efforts to pack, and yet give the attention to his eyeglasses that they seemed to demand.

"See here now, Van," cried Percy warmly, "if you cannot help, you can take yourself off. Goodness! I have left out my box of collars!"

"Here it is," cried Van, throwing it to him from the bed, where it had rolled off under a pile of underclothing. "Well, you don't know how the things make you look. And Polly doesn't like them a bit."

"How do you know?" demanded Percy, growing quite red, and desisting from his employment a minute.

"Oh, that's telling; I know she doesn't," replied Van provokingly.

For answer Van felt his arms seized, and before he knew it Percy was over him and holding him down so that he couldn't stir.

"Now how do you know that Polly doesn't like my eyeglasses?" he demanded.

"Ow--let me up!" cried Van.

"Tell on, then. How do you know she doesn't like them?"

"Because--Let me up, and I'll tell."

"No, tell now," said Percy, having hard work to keep Van from slipping out from under his hands.

"Boys," called Polly's voice.

"Oh dear me--she's coming!" exclaimed Percy, jumping to his feet, and releasing Van, who, red and shining, skipped to the door. "Come in, Polly."

"I thought I'd find you up here," said Polly in great satisfaction. "Percy, can't I do something for you? Jasper says you are going back to college right away."

"Yes, you can," said Percy, "take Van off; that would help me more than anything else you could do."

Polly looked at Van and shook her brown head so disapprovingly that he came out of his laugh.

"Oh, I'll be good, Polly," he promised.

"See that you are, then," she said. Then she went over to the trunk and looked in.

"Percy, may I take those things out and fold them over again?" she asked.

"Yes, if you want to," said Percy shamefacedly. "I suppose I have made a mess of them; but it's too hard work for you, Polly."

"I should like nothing better than to attack that trunk," declared Polly merrily. "Now, Van, you come and help me, that's a dear boy."

And in five minutes Polly and Van were busily working together; he putting in the things, while she neatly made them into piles, and Percy sorted and gave orders like a general.

"He does strut around so," said Van under his breath, "just see him now."

"Hush--oh, Van, how can you? and he's going back to college, and you won't see him for ever so many weeks."

Van swallowed something in his throat, and bent all his energies to settling the different articles in the trunk.

"Percy," said Polly presently in a lull, "I do just envy you for one thing."

"What for, pray?" asked Percy, settling his beloved eyeglasses for a better view of her.

"Why, you'll be with Joel and Davie," said Polly. "Oh, you don't know how I miss those boys!" She rested both hands on the trunk edge as she knelt before it.

"I wish you'd been our sister," said Van enviously, "then we'd have had good times always."

"Oh, I don't see much of Joel," said Percy. "Dave once in a while I run across, but Joel--dear me!"

"You don't see much of Joel," repeated Polly, her hands dropping suddenly in astonishment. "Why, Percy Whitney, why not, pray tell?"

"Why, Joel's awful good--got a streak of going into the prayer-meetings and that sort of thing," explained Percy, "and we call him Deacon Pepper in the class."

"He goes to prayer-meetings, and you call him Deacon Pepper," repeated Polly in amazement, while Van burst out into a fit of amusement.

"Yes," said Percy, "and he has a lot of old fogies always turning up that want help, and all such stuff, and I expect that he is going to be a minister."

He brought this out as something too dreadful to be spoken, and then fell back to see the effect of his words.

"Can you suppose it?" cried Polly under her breath, still kneeling on the floor, "oh, boys, can you?" looking from one to the other.

"Yes; I'm afraid it's true," said Percy, feeling that he ought to be thrashed for having told her, while Van laughed again.

"Oh--oh! it's too lovely. Dear, beautiful, old Joel!" cried Polly, springing suddenly to her feet; "just think how good he is, boys! Oh, it's too lovely to be true!"

Percy retreated a few steps hastily.

"And oh, how much better we ought to be," cried Polly in a rush of feeling. "Just think, with Joel doing such beautiful things, oh, how glad Mamsie will be! And he never told--Joel never told."

"And he'll just about kill me if you tell him I've let it out," said Percy abruptly. "Oh, dear me, how he'll pitch into me!" exclaimed Percy in alarm.

"I never shall speak of it," declared Polly in a rapture, "because Joel always hated to be praised for being good. But oh, how lovely it is!"

And then Grandpapa called, and she ran off on happy feet.

"Whew!" exclaimed Percy, with a look over at Van.

"I tell you what, if you want to get into Polly's good graces, you've just got to brush up on your catechism, and such things," remarked Van; "eyeglasses don't count."

Percy turned off uneasily.

"Nor suppers, and a bit of card-playing, eh, Percy?"

"Hold your tongue, will you?" cried his brother irritably.

"Nor swell clothes and a touch-me-if-you-dare manner," said Van mockingly, sticking his fingers in his vest pockets.

Percy made a lunge at him, then thought better of it.

"Leave me alone, can't you?" he said crossly.

Van opened his mouth to toss back a teasing reply, when Percy opened up on him. "I'd as soon take my chances with her, on the suppers and other things, as to have yours. What would Polly say to see you going for me like this, I'd like to know?"

It was now Van's turn to look uncomfortable, and he cast a glance at the door.

"Oh, she may come in," said Percy, bursting into a laugh, "then you'd be in a fine fix; and I wouldn't give a rush for the good opinion she'd have of you."

Van hung his head, took two or three steps to the door, then came back hurriedly.

"I cry 'Quits,' Percy," he said, and held out his hand.

"All right," said Percy, smoothing down his ruffled feelings, and putting out his hand too.

Van seized it, wrung it in good brotherly fashion, then raced over the stairs at a breakneck pace.

"Polly", he said, meeting her in the hall where she had just come from Mr. King's room, "I've been blackguarding Percy, and you ought to know it."

"Oh, Van!" cried Polly, stopping short in a sorry little way; "why, you've been so good ever since you both promised years ago that you wouldn't say bad things to each other."

"Oh, that was different," said Van recklessly; "but since he went to college, Percy has been a perfect snob Polly."

Polly said nothing, only looked at him in a way that cut him to the heart, as she moved off slowly.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" asked Van at last.

"I've nothing to say," replied Polly, and she disappeared into Mrs. Whitney's room and closed the door.

That evening Jasper and Percy, who went together for a good part of the way, had just driven to the station, when the bell rang and a housemaid presently laid before Polly a card, at sight of which all the color deserted her cheek. "Oh, I can't see him," she declared involuntarily.

"Who is it?" asked old Mr. King, laying down the evening paper.

"O, Grandpapa!" cried Polly, all in a tremor at the thought of his displeasure, "it does not matter. I can send word that I do not see any one now that Aunty is ill, and"--

"Polly, child," said the old gentleman, seriously displeased, "come and tell me at once who has called upon you."

So Polly, hardly knowing how, got out of her chair and silently laid the unwelcome card in his hand.

"Mr. Livingston Bayley," read the old gentleman.

"Humph! well, upon my word, this speaks well for the young man's perseverance. I'm very tired, but I see nothing for it but that I must respond to this;" and he threw aside the paper and got up to his feet.

"Grandpapa," begged Polly tremblingly at his elbow, "please don't let him feel badly."

"It isn't possible, Polly," cried Mr. King, looking down at her, "that you like this fellow--enough, I mean, to marry him?"

"O, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly in a tone of horror.

"Well, then, child, you must leave me to settle with him," said the old gentleman with dignity. "Don't worry; I sha'n't forget myself, nor what is due to a Bayley," with a short laugh. And then she heard him go into the drawing-room and close the door.

When he came back, which he did in the space of half an hour, his face was wreathed in smiles, and he chuckled now and then, as he sat down in his big chair and drew out his eyeglasses.

"Well, Polly, child, I don't believe he will trouble you in this way again, my dear," he said in a satisfied way, looking at her over the table. "He wanted to leave the question open; thought it impossible that you could refuse him utterly, and was willing to wait; and asked permission to send flowers, and all that sort of thing. But I made the young man see exactly how the matter stood, and that's all that need be said about it. It's done with now and forever." And then he took up his paper and began to read.

"Mamsie," said Phronsie, that very evening as she was getting ready for bed, and pausing in the doorway of her little room that led out of Mother Fisher's, "do you suppose we can bear it another day without Polly?"

"Why, yes, Phronsie," said Mother Fisher, giving another gentle rock to Baby's cradle, "of course we can, because we must. That isn't like you, dear, to want Polly back till Aunty has got through needing her."

Phronsie gave a sigh and thoughtfully drew her slippered foot over the pattern of the carpet. "It would be so very nice," she said, "if Aunty didn't need her."

"So it would," said her mother, "but it won't make Polly come any quicker to spend the time wishing for her. There, run to bed, child; you are half an hour late to-night."

Phronsie turned obediently into her own little room, then came back softly. "I want to give Baby, Polly's good-night kiss," she said.

"Very well, you may, dear," said Mrs. Fisher. So Phronsie bent over and set on Baby's dear little cheek, the kiss that could not go to Polly.

"If dear Grandpapa would only come home," and she sighed again.

"But just think how beautiful it is that Aunty was not hurt so much as the doctors feared," said her mother. "Oh, Phronsie, we can't ever be thankful enough for that."

"And now maybe God will let Grandpapa and Polly come back pretty soon," said Phronsie slowly, going off toward her own little room. And presently Mrs. Fisher heard her say, "Good-night, Mamsie dear, I'm in bed."

A rap at the door, and Jane put in her head, in response to Mrs. Fisher's "What is it?"

"Oh, is Dr. Fisher here?" asked Jane in a frightened way.

"No; he is downstairs in the library," said Mother Fisher. "What is the matter, Jane? Who wants him?"

"Oh, something dreadful is the matter with Helen Fargo, I'm afraid, ma'am," said Jane. "Griggs has just run over to say that the doctor must come quick."

"Hush!" said Mrs. Fisher, pointing to Phronsie's wide-open door; but she was standing beside them in her little nightdress, and heard the next words plainly enough.

"Run down stairs, Jane," commanded Mother Fisher, "and tell the doctor what Griggs said; just as fast as you can, Jane."

And in another minute in rushed the little doctor, seized his medicine case, saying as he did so, "I sha'n't come back here, wife, if it is diphtheria, but go to my office and change my clothes. There's considerable of the disease around. Good-night, child." He stopped to kiss Phronsie, who lifted a pale, troubled face to his. "Don't worry; I guess Helen will be all right," and he dashed off again.

"Now, Phronsie, child," said Mrs. Fisher, "come to mother and let us talk it over a bit."

So Phronsie cuddled up in Mamsie's lap, and laid her sad little cheek where she had been so often comforted.

"Mamsie," she said at last, lifting her head, "I don't believe God will let Helen die, because you see she's the only child that Mrs. Fargo has. He couldn't, Mamsie."

"Phronsie, darling, God knows best," said Mrs. Fisher, holding her close.

"But he wouldn't ever do it, I know," said Phronsie confidently; "I'm going to ask Him not to, and tell Him over again about Helen's being the very only one that Mrs. Fargo has in all the world." So she slipped to the floor, and went into her own room again and closed the door. "Dear Jesus," she said, kneeling by her little white bed, "please don't take Helen away, because her mother has only just Helen. And please make dear papa give her the right things, so that she will live at home, and not go to Heaven yet. Amen."

Then she clambered into bed, and lay looking out across the moonlight, where the light from Helen Fargo's room twinkled through the fir-trees on the lawn.