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Chapter 3 – Polly’s Troubles

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

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POLLY soon found that she was in a new world, a world where the
manners and customs were so different from the simple ways at
home, that she felt like a stranger in a strange land, and often
wished that she had not come. In the first place, she had nothing to
do but lounge and gossip, read novels, parade the streets, and
dress; and before a week was gone, she was as heartily sick of all
this, as a healthy person would be who attempted to live on
confectionery. Fanny liked it, because she was used to it, and had
never known anything better; but Polly had, and often felt like a
little wood-bird shut up in a gilded cage. Nevertheless, she was
much impressed by the luxuries all about her, enjoyed them,
wished she owned them, and wondered why the Shaws were not a
happier family. She was not wise enough to know where the
trouble lay; she did not attempt to say which of the two lives was
the right one; she only knew which she liked best, and supposed it
was merely another of her "old-fashioned" ways.

Fanny’s friends did not interest her much; she was rather afraid of
them, they seemed so much older and wiser than herself, even
those younger in years. They talked about things of which she
knew nothing and when Fanny tried to explain, she did n’t find
them interesting; indeed, some of them rather shocked and puzzled
her; so the girls let her alone, being civil when they met, but
evidently feeling that she was too "odd" to belong to their set.
Then she turned to Maud for companionship, for her own little
sister was excellent company, and Polly loved her dearly. But Miss
Maud was much absorbed in her own affairs, for she belonged to a
"set" also; and these mites of five and six had their "musicals,"
their parties, receptions, and promenades, as well as their elders;
and, the chief idea of their little lives seemed to be to ape the
fashionable follies they should have been too innocent to
understand. Maud had her tiny card-case, and paid calls, "like
mamma and Fan"; her box of dainty gloves, her jewel-drawer, her
crimping-pins, as fine and fanciful a wardrobe as a Paris doll, and
a French maid to dress her. Polly could n’t get on with her at first,
for Maud did n’t seem like a child, and often corrected Polly in her
conversation and manners, though little mademoiselle’s own were
anything but perfect. Now and then, when Maud felt poorly, or had
a "fwactious" turn, for she had "nerves" as well as mamma, she
would go to Polly to "be amoosed," for her gentle ways and kind
forbearance soothed the little fine lady better than anything else.
Polly enjoyed these times, and told stories, played games, or went
out walking, just as Maud liked, slowly and surely winning the
child’s heart, and relieving the whole house of the young tyrant
who ruled it.

Tom soon got over staring at Polly, and at first did not take much
notice of her, for, in his opinion, "girls did n’t amount to much,
anyway"; and, considering, the style of girl he knew most about,
Polly quite agreed with him. He occasionally refreshed himself by
teasing her, to see how she ‘d stand it, and caused Polly much
anguish of spirit, for she never knew where he would take her
next. He bounced out at her from behind doors, booed at her in
dark entries, clutched her feet as she went up stairs, startled her by
shrill whistles right in her ear, or sudden tweaks of the hair as he
passed her in the street; and as sure as there was company to
dinner, he fixed his round eyes on her, and never took them off till
she was reduced to a piteous state of confusion and distress. She
used to beg him not to plague her; but he said he did it for her
good; she was too shy, and needed toughening like the other girls.
In vain she protested that she did n’t want to be like the other girls
in that respect; he only laughed in her face, stuck his red hair
straight up all over his head, and glared at her, till she fled in
dismay.

Yet Polly rather liked Tom, for she soon saw that he was
neglected, hustled out of the way, and left to get on pretty much by
himself. She often wondered why his mother did n’t pet him as she
did the girls; why his father ordered him about as if he was a born
rebel, and took so little interest in his only son. Fanny considered
him a bear, and was ashamed of him; but never tried to polish him
up a bit; and Maud and he lived together like a cat and dog who
did not belong to a "happy family." Grandma was the only one who
stood by poor old Tom; and Polly more than once discovered him
doing something kind for Madam, and seeming very much
ashamed when it was found out. He was n’t respectful at all; he
called her "the old lady," and told her he "would n’t be fussed
over"; but when anything was the matter, he always went to "the
old lady," and was very grateful for the "fussing." Polly liked him
for this, and often wanted to speak of it; but she had a feeling that
it would n’t do, for in praising their affection, she was reproaching
others with neglect; so she held her tongue, and thought about it all
the more. Grandma was rather neglected, too, and perhaps that is
the reason why Tom and she were such good friends. She was even
more old-fashioned than Polly; but people did n’t seem to mind it
so much in her, as her day was supposed to be over, and nothing
was expected of her but to keep out of everybody’s way, and to be
handsomely dressed when she appeared "before people." Grandma
led a quiet, solitary life in her own rooms, full of old furniture,
pictures, books, and relics of a past for which no one cared but
herself. Her son went up every evening for a little call, was very
kind to her, and saw that she wanted nothing money could buy; but
he was a busy man, so intent on getting rich that he had no time to
enjoy what he already possessed. Madam never complained,
interfered, or suggested; but there was a sad sort of quietude about
her, a wistful look in her faded eyes, as if she wanted something
which money could not buy, and when children were near, she
hovered about them, evidently longing to cuddle and caress them
as only grandmothers can. Polly felt this; and as she missed the
home-petting, gladly showed that she liked to see the quiet old
face brighten, as she entered the solitary room, where few children
came, except the phantoms of little sons and daughters, who, to the
motherly heart that loved them, never faded or grew up. Polly
wished the children would be kinder to grandma; but it was not for
her to tell them so, although it troubled her a good deal, and she
could only try to make up for it by being as dutiful and affectionate
as if their grandma was her own.

Another thing that disturbed Polly was the want of exercise. To
dress up and parade certain streets for an hour every day, to stand
talking in doorways, or drive out in a fine carriage, was not the sort
of exercise she liked, and Fan would take no other. Indeed, she
was so shocked, when Polly, one day, proposed a run down the
mall, that her friend never dared suggest such a thing again. At
home, Polly ran and rode, coasted and skated, jumped rope and
raked hay, worked in her garden and rowed her boat; so no wonder
she longed for something more lively than a daily promenade with
a flock of giddy girls, who tilted along in high-heeled boots, and
costumes which made Polly ashamed to be seen with some of
them. So she used to slip out alone sometimes, when Fanny was
absorbed in novels, company, or millinery, and get fine brisk walks
round the park, on the unfashionable side, where the babies took
their airings; or she went inside, to watch the boys coasting, and to
wish she could coast too, as she did at home. She never went far,
and always came back rosy and gay.

One afternoon, just before dinner, she felt so tired of doing
nothing, that she slipped out for a run. It had been a dull day; but
the sun was visible now, setting brightly below the clouds. It was
cold but still and Polly trotted down the smooth, snow-covered
mall humming to herself, and trying not to feel homesick. The
coasters were at it with all their might, and she watched them, till
her longing to join the fun grew irresistible. On the hill, some little
girls were playing with their sleds, real little girls, in warm hoods
and coats, rubber boots and mittens, and Polly felt drawn toward
them in spite of her fear of Fan.

"I want to go down, but I dars n’t, it ‘s so steep," said one of these
"common children," as Maud called them.

"If you ‘ll lend me your sled, and sit in my lap, I ‘ll take you down
all nice," answered Polly, in a confidential tone.

The little girls took a look at her, seemed satisfied, and accepted
her offer. Polly looked carefully round to see that no fashionable
eye beheld the awful deed, and finding all safe, settled her freight,
and spun away down hill, feeling all over the delightsome
excitement of swift motion which makes coasting such a favorite
pastime with the more sensible portion of the child-world. One
after another, she took the little girls down the hill and dragged
them up again, while they regarded her in the light of a gray-coated
angel, descended for their express benefit. Polly was just finishing
off with one delicious "go" all by herself, when she heard a
familiar whistle behind her, and before she could get off, up came
Tom, looking as much astonished as if he had found her mounted,
on an elephant.

"Hullo, Polly! What ‘ll Fan say to you?" was his polished
salutation.

"Don’t know, and don’t care. Coasting is no harm; I like it, and I ‘m
going to do it, now I ‘ve got a chance; so clear the lul-la!" And
away went independent Polly, with her hair blowing in the wind,
and an expression of genuine enjoyment, which a very red nose did
n’t damage in the least.

"Good for you, Polly!" And casting himself upon his sled, with the
most reckless disregard for his ribs, off whizzed Tom after her, and
came alongside just as she reined up "General Grant" on the broad
path below. "Oh, won’t you get it when we go home?" cried the
young gentleman, even before he changed his graceful attitude.

"I shan’t, if you don’t go and tell; but of course you will," added
Polly, sitting still, while an anxious expression began to steal over
her happy face.

"I just won’t, then," returned Tom, with the natural perversity of his
tribe.

"If they ask me, I shall tell, of course; if they don’t ask, I think
there ‘s no harm in keeping still. I should n’t have done it, if I had
n’t known my mother was willing; but I don’t wish to trouble your
mother by telling of it. Do you think it was very dreadful of me?"
asked Polly, looking at him.

"I think it was downright jolly; and I won’t tell, if you don’t want
me to. Now, come up and have another," said Tom, heartily.

"Just one more; the little girls want to go, this is their sled."

"Let ’em take it, it is n’t good for much; and you come on mine.
Mazeppa’s a stunner; you see if he is n’t."

So Polly tucked herself up in front, Tom hung on behind in some
mysterious manner, and Mazeppa proved that he fully merited his
master’s sincere if inelegant praise. They got on capitally now, for
Tom was in his proper sphere, and showed his best side, being
civil and gay in the bluff boy-fashion that was natural to him;
while Polly forgot to be shy, and liked this sort of "toughening"
much better than the other. They laughed and talked, and kept
taking "just one more," till the sunshine was all gone, and the
clocks struck dinner-time.

"We shall be late; let ‘s run," said Polly, as they came into the path
after the last coast.

"You just sit still, and I ‘ll get you home in a jiffy;" and before she
could unpack herself, Tom trotted off with her at a fine pace.

"Here ‘s a pair of cheeks! I wish you ‘d get a color like this, Fanny,"
said Mr. Shaw, as Polly came into the dining-room after smoothing
her hair.

"Your nose is as red as that cranberry sauce," answered Fan,
coming out of the big chair where she had been curled up for an
hour or two, deep in "Lady Audley’s Secret."

"So it is," said Polly, shutting one eye to look at the offending
feature. "Never mind; I ‘ve had a good time, anyway," she added,
giving a little prance in her chair.

"I don’t see much fun in these cold runs you are so fond of taking,"
said Fanny, with a yawn and a shiver.

"Perhaps you would if you tried it;" and Polly laughed as she
glanced at Tom.

"Did you go alone, dear?" asked grandma, patting the rosy cheek
beside her.

"Yes ‘m; but I met Tom, and we came home together." Polly’s eyes
twinkled when she said that, and Tom choked in his soup.

"Thomas, leave the table!" commanded Mr. Shaw, as his
incorrigible son gurgled and gasped behind his napkin.

"Please don’t send him away, sir. I made him laugh," said Polly,
penitently.

"What’s the joke?" asked Fanny, waking up at last.

"I should n’t think you ‘d make him laugh, when he ‘s always
making you cwy," observed Maud, who had just come in.

"What have you been doing now, sir?" demanded Mr. Shaw, as
Tom emerged, red and solemn, from his brief obscurity.

"Nothing but coast," he said, gruffly, for papa was always lecturing
him, and letting the girls do just as they liked.

"So ‘s Polly; I saw her. Me and Blanche were coming home just
now, and we saw her and Tom widing down the hill on his sled,
and then he dwagged her ever so far!" cried Maud, with her mouth
full.

"You did n’t?" and Fanny dropped her fork with a scandalized face.

"Yes, I did, and liked it ever so much," answered Polly, looking
anxious but resolute.

"Did any one see you?" cried Fanny.

"Only some little girls, and Tom."

"It was horridly improper; and Tom ought to have told you so, if
you did n’t know any better. I should be mortified to death if any of
my friends saw you," added Fan, much disturbed.

"Now, don’t you scold. It ‘s no harm, and Polly shall coast if she
wants to; may n’t she, grandma?" cried Tom, gallantly coming to
the rescue, and securing a powerful ally.

"My mother lets me; and if I don’t go among the boys, I can’t see
what harm there is in it," said Polly, before Madam could speak.

"People do many things in the country that are not proper here,"
began Mrs. Shaw, in her reproving tone.

"Let the child do it if she likes, and take Maud with her. I should
be glad to have one hearty girl in my house," interrupted Mr.
Shaw, and that was the end of it.

"Thank you, sir," said Polly, gratefully, and nodded at Tom, who
telegraphed back "All right!" and fell upon his dinner with the
appetite of a young wolf.

"Oh, you sly-boots! you ‘re getting up a flirtation with Tom, are
you?" whispered Fanny to her friend, as if much amused.

"What!" and Polly looked so surprised and indignant, that Fanny
was ashamed of herself, and changed the subject by telling her
mother she needed some new gloves.

Polly was very quiet after that, and the minute dinner was over, she
left the room to go and have a quiet "think" about the whole
matter. Before she got half-way up stairs, she saw Tom coming
after, and immediately sat down to guard her feet. He laughed, and
said, as he perched himself on the post of the banisters, "I won’t
grab you, honor bright. I just wanted to say, if you ‘ll come out
to-morrow some time, we ‘ll have a good coast."

"No," said Polly, "I can’t come."

"Why not? Are you mad? I did n’t tell." And Tom looked amazed at
the change which had come over her.

"No; you kept your word, and stood by me like a good boy. I ‘m not
mad, either; but I don’t mean to coast any more. Your mother don’t
like it."

"That is n’t the reason, I know. You nodded to me after she ‘d freed
her mind, and you meant to go then. Come, now, what is it?"

"I shan’t tell you; but I ‘m not going," was Polly’s determined
answer.

"Well, I did think you had more sense than most girls; but you
have n’t, and I would n’t give a sixpence for you."

"That ‘s polite," said Polly, getting ruffled.

"Well, I hate cowards."

"I ain’t a coward."

"Yes, you are. You ‘re afraid of what folks will say; ain’t you,
now?"

Polly knew she was, and held her peace, though she longed to
speak; but how could she?

"Ah, I knew you ‘d back out." And Tom walked away with an air of
scorn that cut Polly to the heart.

"It ‘s too bad! Just as he was growing kind to me, and I was going
to have a good time, it ‘s all spoilt by Fan’s nonsense. Mrs. Shaw
don’t like it, nor grandma either, I dare say. There ‘ll be a fuss if I
go, and Fan will plague me; so I ‘ll give it up, and let Tom think I
‘m afraid. Oh, dear! I never did see such ridiculous people."

Polly shut her door hard, and felt ready to cry with vexation, that
her pleasure should be spoilt by such a silly idea; for, of all the
silly freaks of this fast age, that of little people playing at love is
about the silliest. Polly had been taught that it was a very serious
and sacred thing; and, according to her notions, it was far more
improper to flirt with one boy than to coast with a dozen. She had
been much amazed, only the day before, to hear Maud say to her
mother, "Mamma, must I have a beau? The girls all do, and say I
ought to have Fweddy Lovell; but I don’t like him as well as Hawry
Fiske."

"Oh, yes; I ‘d have a little sweetheart, dear, it ‘s so cunning,"
answered Mrs. Shaw. And Maud announced soon after that she
was engaged to "Fweddy, ’cause Hawry slapped her" when she
proposed the match.

Polly laughed with the rest at the time; but when she thought of it
afterward, and wondered what her own mother would have said, if
little Kitty had put such a question, she did n’t find it cunning or
funny, but ridiculous and unnatural. She felt so now about herself;
and when her first petulance was over, resolved to give up coasting
and everything else, rather than have any nonsense with Tom, who,
thanks to his neglected education, was as ignorant as herself of the
charms of this new amusement for school-children. So Polly tried
to console herself by jumping rope in the back-yard, and playing
tag with Maud in the drying-room, where she likewise gave
lessons in "nas-gim-nics," as Maud called it, which did that little
person good. Fanny came up sometimes to teach them a new
dancing step, and more than once was betrayed into a game of
romps, for which she was none the worse. But Tom turned a cold
shoulder to Polly, and made it evident, by his cavalier manner that
he really did n’t think her "worth a sixpence."

Another thing that troubled Polly was her clothes, for, though no
one said anything, she knew they were very plain; and now and
then she wished that her blue and mouse colored merinos were
rather more trimmed, her sashes had bigger bows, and her little
ruffles more lace on them. She sighed for a locket, and, for the
first time in her life, thought seriously of turning up her pretty
curls and putting on a "wad." She kept these discontents to herself,
however, after she had written to ask her mother if she might have
her best dress altered like Fanny’s, and received this reply: "No,
dear; the dress is proper and becoming as it is, and the old fashion
of simplicity the best for all of us. I don’t want my Polly to be
loved for her clothes, but for herself; so wear the plain frocks
mother took such pleasure in making for you, and let the panniers
go. The least of us have some influence in this big world; and
perhaps my little girl can do some good by showing others that a
contented heart and a happy face are better ornaments than any
Paris can give her. You want a locket, deary; so I send one that my
mother gave me years ago. You will find father’s face on one side,
mine on the other; and when things trouble you, just look at your
talisman, and I think the sunshine will come back again."

Of course it did, for the best of all magic was shut up in the quaint
little case that Polly wore inside her frock, and kissed so tenderly
each night and morning. The thought that, insignificant as she was,
she yet might do some good, made her very careful of her acts and
words, and so anxious to keep head contented and face happy, that
she forgot her clothes, and made others do the same. She did not
know it, but that good old fashion of simplicity made the plain
gowns pretty, and the grace of unconsciousness beautified their
little wearer with the charm that makes girlhood sweetest to those
who truly love and reverence it. One temptation Polly had already
yielded to before the letter came, and repented heartily of
afterward.

"Polly, I wish you ‘d let me call you Marie," said Fanny one day, as
they were shopping together.

"You may call me Mary, if you like; but I won’t have any ie put on
to my name. I ‘m Polly at home and I ‘m fond of being called so;
but Marie is Frenchified and silly."

"I spell my own name with an ie, and so do all the girls."

"And what a jumble of Netties, Nellies, Hatties, and Sallies there
is. How ‘Pollie’ would look spelt so!"

"Well, never mind; that was n’t what I began to say. There ‘s one
thing you must have, and that is, bronze boots," said Fan,
impressively.

"Why must I, when I ‘ve got enough without?"

"Because it ‘s the fashion to have them, and you can’t be finished
off properly without. I ‘m going to get a pair, and so must you."

"Don’t they cost a great deal?"

"Eight or nine dollars, I believe. I have mine charged; but it don’t
matter if you have n’t got the money. I can lend you some."

"I ‘ve got ten dollars to do what I like with; but it ‘s meant to get
some presents for the children." And Polly took out her purse in an
undecided way.

"You can make presents easy enough. Grandma knows all sorts of
nice contrivances. They ‘ll do just as well; and then you can get
your boots."

"Well; I ‘ll look at them," said Polly, following Fanny into the
store, feeling rather rich and important to be shopping in this
elegant manner.

"Are n’t they lovely? Your foot is perfectly divine in that boot,
Polly. Get them for my party; you ‘ll dance like a fairy," whispered
Fan.

Polly surveyed the dainty, shining boot with the scalloped top, the
jaunty heel, and the delicate toe, thought her foot did look very
well in it, and after a little pause, said she would have them. It was
all very delightful till she got home, and was alone; then, on
looking into her purse, she saw one dollar and the list of things she
meant to get for mother and the children. How mean the dollar
looked all alone! and how long the list grew when there was
nothing to buy the articles.

"I can’t make skates for Ned, nor a desk for Will; and those are
what they have set their hearts upon. Father’s book and mother’s
collar are impossible now; and I ‘m a selfish thing to go and spend
all my money for myself. How could I do it?" And Polly eyed the
new boots reproachfully, as they stood in the first position as if
ready for the party. "They are lovely; but I don’t believe they will
feel good, for I shall be thinking about my lost presents all the
time," sighed Polly, pushing the enticing boots out of sight. "I ‘ll go
and ask grandma what I can do; for if I ‘ve got to make something
for every one, I must begin right away, or I shan’t get done;" and
off she bustled, glad to forget her remorse in hard work.

Grandma proved equal to the emergency, and planned something
for every one, supplying materials, taste, and skill in the most
delightful manner. Polly felt much comforted; but while she began
to knit a pretty pair of white bed-socks, to be tied with
rose-colored ribbons, for her mother, she thought some very sober
thoughts upon the subject of temptation; and if any one had asked
her just then what made her sigh, as if something lay heavy on her
conscience, she would have answered, "Bronze boots."

 

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