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Chapter 2 – New Fashions

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"I ‘M going to school this morning; so come up and get ready," said
Fanny, a day or two after, as she left the late breakfast-table.

"You look very nice; what have you got to do?" asked Polly,
following her into the hall.

"Prink half an hour, and put on her wad," answered the irreverent
Tom, whose preparations for school consisted in flinging his cap
on to his head, and strapping up several big books, that looked as if
they were sometimes used as weapons of defence.

"What is a wad?" asked Polly, while Fanny marched up without
deigning any reply.

"Somebody’s hair on the top of her head in the place where it ought
not to be;" and Tom went whistling away with an air of sublime
indifference as to the state of his own "curly pow."

"Why must you be so fine to go to school?" asked Polly, watching
Fan arrange the little frizzles on her forehead, and settle the
various streamers and festoons belonging to her dress.

"All the girls do; and it ‘s proper, for you never know who you may
meet. I ‘m going to walk, after my lessons, so I wish you ‘d wear
your best hat and sack," answered Fanny, trying to stick her own
hat on at an angle which defied all the laws of gravitation.

"I will, if you don’t think this is nice enough. I like the other best,
because it has a feather; but this is warmer, so I wear it every day."
And Polly ran into her own room, to prink also, fearing that her
friend might be ashamed of her plain costume. "Won’t your hands
be cold in kid gloves?" she said, as they went down the snowy
street, with a north wind blowing in their faces.

"Yes, horrid cold; but my muff is so big, I won’t carry it. Mamma
won’t have it cut up, and my ermine one must be kept for best;"
and Fanny smoothed her Bismark kids with an injured air.

"I suppose my gray squirrel is ever so much too big; but it ‘s nice
and cosy, and you may warm your hands in it if you want to," said
Polly, surveying her new woollen gloves with a dissatisfied look,
though she had thought them quite elegant before.

"Perhaps I will, by and by. Now, Polly, don’t you be shy. I ‘ll only
introduce two or three of the girls; and you need n’t mind old
Monsieur a bit, or read if you don’t want to. We shall be in the
anteroom; so you ‘ll only see about a dozen, and they will be so
busy, they won’t mind you much."

"I guess I won’t read, but sit and look on. I like to watch people,
everything is so new and queer here."

But Polly did feel and look very shy, when she was ushered into a
room full of young ladies, as they seemed to her, all very much
dressed, all talking together, and all turning to examine the
new-comer with a cool stare which seemed to be as much the
fashion as eye-glasses. They nodded affably when Fanny
introduced her, said something civil, and made room for her at the
table round which they sat waiting for Monsieur. Several of the
more frolicsome were imitating the Grecian Bend, some were
putting their heads together over little notes, nearly all were eating
confectionery, and the entire twelve chattered like magpies. Being
politely supplied with caramels, Polly sat looking and listening,
feeling very young and countrified among these elegant young
ladies.

"Girls, do you know that Carrie has gone abroad? There has been
so much talk, her father could n’t bear it, and took the whole
family off. Is n’t that gay?" said one lively damsel, who had just
come in.

"I should think they ‘d better go. My mamma says, if I ‘d been
going to that school, she ‘d have taken me straight away," answered
another girl, with an important air.

"Carrie ran away with an Italian music-teacher, and it got into the
papers, and made a great stir," explained the first speaker to Polly,
who looked mystified.

"How dreadful!" cried Polly.

"I think it was fun. She was only sixteen, and he was perfectly
splendid; and she has plenty of money, and every one talked about
it; and when she went anywhere, people looked, you know, and
she liked it; but her papa is an old poke, so he ‘s sent them all
away. It ‘s too bad, for she was the jolliest thing I ever knew."

Polly had nothing to say to lively Miss Belle; but Fanny observed,
"I like to read about such things; but it ‘s so inconvenient to have it
happen right here, because it makes it harder for us. I wish you
could have heard my papa go on. He threatened to send a maid to
school with me every day, as they do in New York, to be sure I
come all right. Did you ever?" "That ‘s because it came out that
Carrie used to forge excuses in her mamma’s name, and go
promenading with her Oreste, when they thought her safe at
school. Oh, was n’t she a sly minx?" cried Belle, as if she rather
admired the trick.

"I think a little fun is all right; and there ‘s no need of making a
talk, if, now and then, some one does run off like Carrie. Boys do
as they like; and I don’t see why girls need to be kept so dreadfully
close. I ‘d like to see anybody watching and guarding me!" added
another dashing young lady.

"It would take a policeman to do that, Trix, or a little man in a tall
hat," said Fanny, slyly, which caused a general laugh, and made
Beatrice toss her head coquettishly.

"Oh, have you read ‘The Phantom Bride’? It ‘s perfectly thrilling!
There ‘s a regular rush for it at the library; but some prefer
‘Breaking a Butterfly.’ Which do you like best?" asked a pale girl of
Polly, in one of the momentary lulls which occurred.

"I have n’t read either."

"You must, then. I adore Guy Livingston’s books, and Yates’s.
‘Ouida’s’ are my delight, only they are so long, I get worn out
before I ‘m through."

"I have n’t read anything but one of the Muhlbach novels since I
came. I like those, because there is history in them," said Polly,
glad to have a word to say for herself.

"Those are well enough for improving reading; but I like real
exciting novels; don’t you?"

Polly was spared the mortification of owning that she had never
read any, by the appearance of Mousieur, a gray-headed old
Frenchman, who went through his task with the resigned air of one
who was used to being the victim of giggling school-girls. The
young ladies gabbled over the lesson, wrote an exercise, and read a
little French history. But it did not seem to make much impression
upon them, though Monsieur was very ready to explain; and Polly
quite blushed for her friend, when, on being asked what famous
Frenchman fought in our Revolution, she answered Lamartine,
instead of Lafayette.

The hour was soon over; and when Fan had taken a music lesson in
another room, while Polly looked on, it was time for recess. The
younger girls walked up and down the court, arm in arm, eating
bread an butter; others stayed in the school-room to read and
gossip; but Belle, Trix, and Fanny went to lunch at a fashionable
ice-cream saloon near by, and Polly meekly followed, not daring to
hint at the ginger-bread grandma had put in her pocket for
luncheon. So the honest, brown cookies crumbled away in
obscurity, while Polly tried to satisfy her hearty appetite on one ice
and three macaroons.

The girls seemed in great spirits, particularly after they were
joined by a short gentleman with such a young face that Polly
would have called him a boy, if he had not worn a tall beaver.
Escorted by this impressive youth, Fanny left her unfortunate
friends to return to school, and went to walk, as she called a slow
promenade down the most crowded streets. Polly discreetly fell
behind, and amused herself looking into shop-windows, till Fanny,
mindful of her manners, even at such an interesting time, took her
into a picture gallery, and bade her enjoy the works of art while
they rested. Obedient Polly went through the room several times,
apparently examining the pictures with the interest of a
connoisseur, and trying not to hear the mild prattle of the pair on
the round seat. But she could n’t help wondering what Fan found so
absorbing in an account of a recent German, and why she need
promise so solemnly not to forget the concert that afternoon.

When Fanny rose at last, Polly’s tired face reproached her; and
taking a hasty leave of the small gentleman, she turned homeward,
saying, confidentially, as she put one hand in Polly’s muff, "Now,
my dear, you must n’t say a word about Frank Moore, or papa will
take my head off. I don’t care a bit for him, and he likes Trix; only
they have quarrelled, and he wants to make her mad by flirting a
little with me. I scolded him well, and he promised to make up
with her. We all go to the afternoon concerts, and have a gay time,
and Belle and Trix are to be there to-day; so just keep quiet, and
everything will be all right."

"I ‘m afraid it won’t," began Polly, who, not being used to secrets,
found it very hard to keep even a small one.

"Don’t worry, child. It ‘s none of our business; so we can go and
enjoy the music, and if other people flirt, it won’t be our fault,"
said Fanny, impatiently.

"Of course not; but, then, if your father don’t like you to do so,
ought you to go?"

"I tell mamma, and she don’t care. Papa is fussy, and grandma
makes a stir about every blessed thing I do. You will hold your
tongue, won’t you?"

"Yes; I truly will; I never tell tales." And Polly kept her word,
feeling sure Fan did n’t mean to deceive her father, since she told
her mother everything.

"Who are you going with?" asked Mrs. Shaw, when Fanny
mentioned that it was concert-day, just before three o’clock.

"Only Polly; she likes music, and it was so stormy I could n’t go
last week, you know," answered Fan; adding, as they left the house
again, "If any one meets us on the way, I can’t help it, can I?"

"You can tell them not to, can’t you?"

"That ‘s rude. Dear me! here ‘s Belle’s brother Gus he always goes.
Is my hair all right, and my hat?

Before Polly could answer, Mr. Gus joined them as a matter of
course, and Polly soon found herself trotting on behind, feeling
that things were not "all right," though she did n’t know how to
mend them. Being fond of music, she ignorantly supposed that
every one else went for that alone, and was much disturbed by the
whispering that went on among the young people round her. Belle
and Trix were there in full dress; and, in the pauses between
different pieces, Messrs. Frank and Gus, with several other
"splendid fellows," regaled the young ladies with college gossip,
and bits of news full of interest, to judge from the close attention
paid to their eloquent remarks. Polly regarded these noble beings
with awe, and they recognized her existence with the
condescension of their sex; but they evidently considered her only
"a quiet little thing," and finding her not up to society talk, blandly
ignored the pretty child, and devoted themselves to the young
ladies. Fortunately for Polly, she forgot all about them in her
enjoyment of the fine music, which she felt rather than understood,
and sat listening with such a happy face, that several true
music-lovers watched her smilingly, for her heart gave a blithe
welcome to the melody which put the little instrument in tune. It
was dusk when they went out, and Polly was much relieved to find
the carriage waiting for them, because playing third fiddle was not
to her taste, and she had had enough of it for one day.

"I ‘m glad those men are gone; they did worry me so talking, when
I wanted to hear," said Polly, as they rolled away.

"Which did you like best?" asked Fanny, with a languid air of
superiority.

"The plain one, who did n’t say much; he picked up my muff when
it tumbled down, and took care of me in the crowd; the others did
n’t mind anything about me."

"They thought you were a little girl, I suppose."

"My mother says a real gentleman is as polite to a little girl as to a
woman; so I like Mr. Sydney best, because he was kind to me."

"What a sharp child you are, Polly. I should n’t have thought you ‘d
mind things like that," said Fanny, beginning to understand that
there may be a good deal of womanliness even in a little girl.

"I ‘m used to good manners, though I do live in the country,"
replied Polly, rather warmly, for she did n’t like to be patronized
even by her friends.

"Grandma says your mother is a perfect lady, and you are just like
her; so don’t get in a passion with those poor fellows, and I ‘ll see
that they behave better next time. Tom has no manners at all, and
you don’t complain of him," added Fan, with a laugh.

"I don’t care if he has n’t; he ‘s a boy, and acts like one, and I can
get on with him a great deal better than I can with those men."

Fanny was just going to take Polly to task for saying "those men"
in such a disrespectful tone, when both were startled by a
smothered "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" from under the opposite seat.

"It ‘s Tom!" cried Fanny; and with the words out tumbled that
incorrigible boy, red in the face, and breathless with suppressed
laughter. Seating himself, he surveyed the girls as if well satisfied
with the success of his prank, and waiting to be congratulated upon
it. "Did you hear what we were saying?" demanded Fanny,
uneasily.

"Oh, did n’t I, every word?" And Tom exulted over them visibly.

"Did you ever see such a provoking toad, Polly? Now, I suppose
you ‘ll go and tell papa a great story."

"P’r’aps I shall, and p’r’aps I shan’t. How Polly did hop when I
crowed! I heard her squeal, and saw her cuddle up her feet."

"And you heard us praise your manners, did n’t you?" asked Polly,
slyly.

"Yes, and you liked ’em; so I won’t tell on you," said Tom, with a
re-assuring nod.

"There ‘s nothing to tell."

"Ain’t there, though? What do you suppose the governor will say to
you girls going on so with those dandies? I saw you."

"What has the Governor of Massachusetts to do with us?" asked
Polly, trying to look as if she meant what she said.

"Pooh! you know who I mean; so you need n’t try to catch me up,
as grandma does."

"Tom, I ‘ll make a bargain with you," cried Fanny, eagerly. "It was
n’t my fault that Gus and Frank were there, and I could n’t help
their speaking to me. I do as well as I can, and papa need n’t be
angry; for I behave ever so much better than some of the girls.
Don’t I, Polly?"

"Bargain?" observed Tom, with an eye to business.

"If you won’t go and make a fuss, telling what you ‘d no right to
hear it was so mean to hide and listen; I should think you ‘d be
ashamed of it! I ‘ll help you tease for your velocipede, and won’t
say a word against it, when mamma and granny beg papa not to let
you have it."

"Will you?" and Tom paused to consider the offer in all its
bearings.

"Yes, and Polly will help; won’t you?"

"I ‘d rather not have anything to do with it; but I ‘ll be quiet, and
not do any harm."

"Why won’t you?" asked Tom, curiously.

"Because it seems like deceiving."

"Well, papa need n’t be so fussy," said Fan, petulantly.

"After hearing about that Carrie, and the rest, I don’t wonder he is
fussy. Why don’t you tell right out, and not do it any more, if he
don’t want you to?" said Polly, persuasively.

"Do you go and tell your father and mother everything right out?"

"Yes, I do; and it saves ever so much trouble."

"Ain’t you afraid of them?"

"Of course I ‘m not. It ‘s hard to tell sometimes; but it ‘s so
comfortable when it ‘s over."

"Let ‘s!" was Tom’s brief advice.

"Mercy me! what a fuss about nothing!" said Fanny, ready to cry
with vexation.

"T is n’t nothing. You know you are forbidden to go gallivanting
round with those chaps, and that ‘s the reason you ‘re in a pucker
now. I won’t make any bargain, and I will tell," returned Tom,
seized with a sudden fit of moral firmness.

"Will you if I promise never, never to do so any more?" asked
Fanny, meekly; for when Thomas took matters into his own hands,
his sister usually submitted in spite of herself.

"I ‘ll think about it; and if you behave, maybe I won’t do it at all. I
can watch you better than papa can; so, if you try it again, it ‘s all
up with you, miss," said Tom, finding it impossible to resist the
pleasure of tyrannizing a little when he got the chance.

"She won’t; don’t plague her any more, and she will be good to you
when you get into scrapes," answered Polly, with her arm round
Fan.

"I never do; and if I did, I should n’t ask a girl to help me out."

"Why not? I ‘d ask you in a minute, if I was in trouble," said Polly,
in her confiding way.

"Would you? Well, I ‘d put you through, as sure as my name ‘s Tom
Shaw. Now, then, don’t slip, Polly," and Mr. Thomas helped them
out with unusual politeness, for that friendly little speech gratified
him. He felt that one person appreciated him; and it had a good
effect upon manners and temper made rough and belligerent by
constant snubbing and opposition.

After tea that evening, Fanny proposed that Polly should show her
how to make molasses candy, as it was cook’s holiday, and the
coast would be clear. Hoping to propitiate her tormentor, Fan
invited Tom to join in the revel, and Polly begged that Maud might
sit up and see the fun; so all four descended to the big kitchen,
armed with aprons, hammers, spoons, and pans, and Polly assumed
command of the forces. Tom was set to cracking nuts, and Maud
to picking out the meats, for the candy was to be "tip-top." Fan
waited on Polly cook, who hovered over the kettle of boiling
molasses till her face was the color of a peony. "Now, put in the
nuts," she said at last; and Tom emptied his plate into the foamy
syrup, while the others watched with deep interest the mysterious
concoction of this well-beloved sweetmeat. "I pour it into the
buttered pan, you see, and it cools, and then we can eat it,"
explained Polly, suiting the action to the word.

"Why, it ‘s all full of shells!" exclaimed Maud, peering into the
pan.

"Oh, thunder! I must have put ’em in by mistake, and ate up the
meats without thinking," said Tom, trying to conceal his naughty
satisfaction, as the girls hung over the pan with faces full of
disappointment and despair.

"You did it on purpose, you horrid boy! I ‘ll never let you have
anything to do with my fun again!" cried Fan, in a passion, trying
to catch and shake him, while he dodged and chuckled in high
glee.

Maud began to wail over her lost delight, and Polly gravely poked
at the mess, which was quite spoilt. But her attention was speedily
diverted by the squabble going on in the corner; for Fanny,
forgetful of her young-ladyism and her sixteen years, had boxed
Tom’s ears, and Tom, resenting the insult, had forcibly seated her
in the coal-hod, where he held her with one hand while he returned
the compliment with the other. Both were very angry, and kept
twitting one another with every aggravation they could invent, as
they scolded and scuffled, presenting a most unlovely spectacle.

Polly was not a model girl by any means, and had her little pets
and tempers like the rest of us; but she did n’t fight, scream, and
squabble with her brothers and sisters in this disgraceful way, and
was much surprised to see her elegant friend in such a passion.
"Oh, don’t! Please, don’t! You ‘ll hurt her, Tom! Let him go, Fanny!
It ‘s no matter about the candy; we can make some more!" cried
Polly, trying to part them, and looking so distressed, that they
stopped ashamed, and in a minute sorry that she should see such a
display of temper.

"I ain’t going to be hustled round; so you ‘d better let me alone,
Fan," said Tom, drawing off with a threatening wag of the head,
adding, in a different tone, "I only put the shells in for fun, Polly.
You cook another kettleful, and I ‘ll pick you some meats all fair.
Will you?"

"It ‘s pretty hot work, and it ‘s a pity to waste things; but I ‘ll try
again, if you want me to," said Polly, with a patient sigh, for her
arms were tired and her face uncomfortably hot.

"We don’t want you; get away!" said Maud, shaking a sticky spoon
at him.

"Keep quiet, cry-baby. I ‘m going to stay and help; may n’t I,
Polly?"

"Bears like sweet things, so you want some candy, I guess. Where
is the molasses? We ‘ve used up all there was in the jug," said
Polly, good-naturedly, beginning again.

"Down cellar; I ‘ll get it;" and taking the lamp and jug, Tom
departed, bent on doing his duty now like a saint.

The moment his light vanished, Fanny bolted the door, saying,
spitefully, "Now, we are safe from any more tricks. Let him thump
and call, it only serves him right; and when the candy is done, we
‘ll let the rascal out."

"How can we make it without molasses?" asked Polly, thinking
that would settle the matter.

"There ‘s plenty in the store-room. No; you shan’t let him up till I
‘m ready. He ‘s got to learn that I ‘m not to be shaken by a little chit
like him. Make your candy, and let him alone, or I ‘ll go and tell
papa, and then Tom will get a lecture."

Polly thought it was n’t fair; but Maud clamored for her candy, and
finding she could do nothing to appease Fan, Polly devoted her
mind to her cookery till the nuts were safely in, and a nice panful
set in the yard to cool. A few bangs at the locked door, a few
threats of vengeance from the prisoner, such as setting the house
on fire, drinking up the wine, and mashing the jelly-pots, and then
all was so quiet that the girls forgot him in the exciting crisis of
their work.

"He can’t possibly get out anywhere, and as soon we ‘ve cut up the
candy, we ‘ll unbolt the door and run. Come and get a nice dish to
put it in," said Fan, when Polly proposed to go halves with Tom,
lest he should come bursting in somehow, and seize the whole.

When they came down with the dish in which to set forth their
treat, and opened the back-door to find it, imagine their dismay on
discovering that it was gone, pan, candy, and all, utterly and
mysteriously gone!

A general lament arose, when a careful rummage left no hopes; for
the fates had evidently decreed at candy was not to prosper on this
unpropitious night.

"The hot pan has melted and sunk in the snow perhaps," said
Fanny, digging into the drift where it was left.

"Those old cats have got it, I guess," suggested Maud, too much
overwhelmed by this second blow to howl as usual.

"The gate is n’t locked, and some beggar has stolen it. I hope it will
do him good," added Polly, turning from her exploring expedition.

"If Tom could get out, I should think he ‘d carried it off; but not
being a rat, he can’t go through the bits of windows; so it was n’t
him," said Fanny, disconsolately, for she began to think this double
loss a punishment for letting angry passions rise, "Let ‘s open the
door and tell him about it," proposed Polly.

"He ‘ll crow over us. No; we ‘ll open it and go to bed, and he can
come out when he likes. Provoking boy! if he had n’t plagued us
so, we should have had a nice time."

Unbolting the cellar door, the girls announced to the invisible
captive that they were through, and then departed much depressed.
Half-way up the second flight, they all stopped as suddenly as if
they had seen a ghost; for looking over the banisters was Tom’s
face, crocky but triumphant, and in either hand a junk of candy,
which he waved above them as he vanished, with the tantalizing
remark, "Don’t you wish you had some?"

"How in the world did he get out?" cried Fanny, steadying herself
after a start that nearly sent all three tumbling down stairs.

"Coal-hole!" answered a spectral voice from the gloom above.

"Good gracious! He must have poked up the cover, climbed into
the street, stole the candy, and sneaked in at the shed-window
while we were looking for it."

"Cats got it, did n’t they?" jeered the voice in a tone that made
Polly sit down and laugh till she could n’t laugh any longer.

"Just give Maud a bit, she ‘s so disappointed. Fan and I are sick of
it, and so will you be, if you eat it all," called Polly, when she got
her breath.

"Go to bed, Maudie, and look under your pillow when you get
there," was the oracular reply that came down to them, as Tom’s
door closed after a jubilant solo on the tin pan.

The girls went to bed tired out; and Maud slumbered placidly,
hugging the sticky bundle, found where molasses candy is not
often discovered. Polly was very tired, and soon fell asleep; but
Fanny, who slept with her, lay awake longer than usual, thinking
about her troubles, for her head ached, and the dissatisfaction that
follows anger would not let her rest with the tranquillity that made
the rosy face in the little round nightcap such a pleasant sight to
see as it lay beside her. The gas was turned down, but Fanny saw a
figure in a gray wrapper creep by her door, and presently return,
pausing to look in. "Who is it?" she cried, so loud that Polly woke.

"Only me, dear," answered grandma’s mild voice. "Poor Tom has
got a dreadful toothache, and I came down to find some creosote
for him. He told me not to tell you; but I can’t find the bottle, and
don’t want to disturb mamma."

"It ‘s in my closet. Old Tom will pay for his trick this time," said
Fanny, in a satisfied tone.

"I thought he ‘d get enough of our candy," laughed Polly; and then
they fell asleep, leaving Tom to the delights of toothache and the
tender mercies of kind old grandma.

 

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