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Chapter 8 – Six Years Afterward

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

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"WHAT do you think Polly is going to do this winter?" exclaimed
Fanny, looking up from the letter she had been eagerly reading.

"Going to deliver lectures on Woman’s Rights," said the young
gentleman who was carefully examining his luxuriant crop of
decidedly auburn hair, as he lounged with both elbows on the
chimney-piece.

"Going to set her cap for some young minister and marry him in
the spring," added Mrs. Shaw, whose mind ran a good deal upon
match-making just now.

"I think she is going to stay at home, and do all the work, ’cause
servants cost so much; it would be just like her," observed Maud,
who could pronounce the letter R now.

"It ‘s my opinion she is going to open a school, or something of
that sort, to help those brothers of hers along," said Mr. Shaw, who
had put down his paper at the sound of Polly’s name.

"Every one of you wrong, though papa comes nearest the truth,"
cried Fanny; "she is going to give music lessons, and support
herself, so that Will may go to college. He is the studious one, and
Polly is very proud of him. Ned, the other brother, has a business
talent, and don’t care for books, so he has gone out West, and will
make his own way anywhere. Polly says she is n’t needed at home
now, the family is so small, and Kitty can take her place nicely; so
she is actually going to earn her own living, and hand over her
share of the family income to Will. What a martyr that girl does
make of herself," and Fanny looked as solemn as if Polly had
proposed some awful self-sacrifice.

"She is a sensible, brave-hearted girl, and I respect her for doing
it," said Mr. Shaw, emphatically. "One never knows what may
happen, and it does no harm for young people to learn to be
independent."

"If she is as pretty as she was last time I saw her, she ‘ll get pupils
fast enough. I would n’t mind taking lessons myself," was the
gracious observation of Shaw, Jr., as he turned from the mirror,
with the soothing certainty that his objectionable hair actually was
growing darker.

"She would n’t take you at any price," said Fanny, remembering
Polly’s look of disappointment and disapproval when she came on
her last visit and found him an unmistakable dandy.

"You just wait and see," was the placid reply.

"If Polly does carry out her plan, I wish Maud to take lessons of
her; Fanny can do as she likes, but it would please me very much
to have one of my girls sing as Polly sings. It suits old people
better than your opera things, and mother used to enjoy it so
much."

As he spoke, Mr. Shaw’s eye turned toward the comer of the fire
where grandma used to sit. The easy-chair was empty now, the
kind old face was gone, and nothing but a very tender memory
remained.

"I ‘d like to learn, papa, and Polly is a splendid teacher, I know; she
‘s always so patient, and makes everything so pleasant. I do hope
she will get scholars enough to begin right away," said Maud.

"When is she coming?" asked Mrs. Shaw, quite willing to help
Polly, but privately resolving that Maud should be finished off by
the most fashionable master in the city.

"She does n’t say. She thanks me for asking her here, as usual, but
says she shall go right to work and had better begin with her own
little room at once. Won’t it seem strange to have Polly in town,
and yet not with us?"

"We ‘ll get her somehow. The little room will cost something, and
she can stay with us just as well as not, even if she does teach. Tell
her I say so," said Mr. Shaw.

"She won’t come, I know; for if she undertakes to be independent,
she ‘ll do it in the most thorough manner," answered Fanny, and
Mrs. Shaw sincerely hoped she would. It was all very well to
patronize the little music-teacher, but it was not so pleasant to
have her settled in the family.

"I shall do what I can for her among my friends, and I dare say she
will get on very well with young pupils to begin with. If she starts
right, puts her terms high enough, and gets a few good names to
give her the entr,e into our first families, I don’t doubt she will do
nicely, for I must say Polly has the manners of a lady," observed
Mrs. Shaw.

"She ‘s a mighty taking little body, and I ‘m glad she ‘s to be in
town, though I ‘d like it better if she did n’t bother about teaching,
but just stayed here and enjoyed herself," said Tom, lazily.

"I ‘ve no doubt she would feel highly honored to be allowed to
devote her time to your amusement; but she can’t afford expensive
luxuries, and she don’t approve of flirting, so you will have to let
her go her own way, and refresh herself with such glimpses of you
as her engagements permit," answered Fanny, in the sarcastic tone
which was be coming habitual to her.

"You are getting to be a regular old maid, Fan; as sharp as a lemon,
and twice as sour," returned Tom, looking down at her with an air
of calm superiority.

"Do be quiet, children; you know I can’t bear anything like
contention. Maud, give me my Shetland shawl, and put a cushion
at my back."

As Maud obeyed her mother, with a reproving look at her erring
brother and sister, a pause followed, for which every one seemed
grateful. They were sitting about the fire after dinner, and all
looked as if a little sunshine would do them good. It had been a
dull November day, but all of a sudden the clouds lifted, and a
bright ray shot into the room. Every one turned involuntarily to
welcome it, and every one cried out, "Why, Polly!" for there on the
threshold stood a bright-faced girl, smiling as if there was no such
thing as November weather in the world.

"You dear thing, when did you come?" cried Fanny, kissing both
the blooming checks with real affection, while the rest hovered
near, waiting for a chance.

"I came yesterday, and have been getting my nest in order; but I
could n’t keep away any longer, so I ran up to say ‘How do you
do?’" answered Polly, in the cheery voice that did one’s heart good
to hear.

"My Polly always brings the sunshine with her," and Mr. Shaw
held out his hands to his little friend, for she was his favorite still.

It was good to see her put both arms about his neck, and give him a
tender kiss, that said a great deal, for grandma had died since Polly
met him last and she longed to comfort him, seeing how gray and
old he had grown.

If Tom had had any thoughts of following his father’s example,
something in Polly’s manner made him change his mind, and shake
hands with a hearty "I ‘m very glad to see you, Polly," adding to
himself, as he looked at the face in the modest little bonnet:
"Prettier than ever, by Jove!"

There was something more than mere prettiness in Polly’s face,
though Tom had not learned to see it yet. The blue eyes were clear
and steady, the fresh mouth frank and sweet, the white chin was a
very firm one in spite of the dimple, and the smooth forehead
under the little curls had a broad, benevolent arch; while all about
the face were those unmistakable lines and curves which can make
even a plain countenance comely, by breathing into it the beauty of
a lovely character. Polly had grown up, but she had no more style
now than in the days of the round hat and rough coat, for she was
all in gray, like a young Quakeress, with no ornament but a blue
bow at the throat and another in the hair. Yet the plain suit became
her excellently, and one never thought of the dress, looking at the
active figure that wore it, for the freedom of her childhood gave to
Polly that good gift, health, and every movement was full of the
vigor, grace, and ease, which nothing else can so surely bestow. A
happy soul in a healthy body is a rare sight in these days, when
doctors flourish and every one is ill, and this pleasant union was
the charm which Polly possessed without knowing it.

"It does seem so good to have you here again," said Maud,
cuddling Polly’s cold hand, as she sat at her feet, when she was
fairly established between Fanny and Mr. Shaw, while Tom leaned
on the back of his mother’s chair, and enjoyed the prospect.

"How do you get on? When do you begin? Where is your nest?
Now tell all about it," began Fanny, who was full of curiosity about
the new plan.

"I shall get on very well, I think, for I ‘ve got twelve scholars to
begin with, all able to pay a good price, and I shall give my first
lesson on Monday."

"Don’t you dread it?" asked Fanny.

"Not much; why should I?" answered Polly, stoutly.

"Well, I don’t know; it ‘s a new thing, and must be a little bit hard
at first," stammered Fanny, not liking to say that working for one’s
living seemed a dreadful hardship to her.

"It will be tiresome, of course, but I shall get used to it; I shall like
the exercise, and the new people and places I must see will amuse
me. Then the independence will be delightful, and if I can save a
little to help Kitty along with, that will be best of all."

Polly’s face shone as if the prospect was full of pleasure instead of
work, and the hearty good will with which she undertook the new
task, seemed to dignify her humble hopes and plans, and make
them interesting in the sight of others.

"Who have you got for pupils?" asked Mrs. Shaw, forgetting her
nerves for a minute.

Polly named her list, and took a secret satisfaction in seeing the
impression which certain names made upon her hearers.

"How in the world did you get the Davenports and the Greys, my
dear?" said Mrs. Shaw, sitting erect in her surprise.

"Mrs. Davenport and mother are relations, you know."

"You never told us that before!" "The Davenports have been away
some years, and I forgot all about them. But when I was making
my plan, I knew I must have a good name or two to set me going,
so I just wrote and asked Mrs. D. if she would help me. She came
and saw us and was very kind, and has got these pupils for me, like
a dear, good woman as she is."

"Where did you learn so much worldly wisdom, Polly?" asked Mr.
Shaw, as his wife fell back in her chair, and took out her salts, as if
this discovery had been too much for her.

"I learnt it here, sir," answered Polly, laughing. "I used to think
patronage and things of that sort very disagreeable and not worth
having, but I ‘ve got wiser, and to a certain extent I ‘m glad to use
whatever advantages I have in my power, if they can be honestly
got."

"Why did n’t you let us help you in the beginning? We should have
been very glad to, I ‘m sure," put in Mrs. Shaw, who quite burned
to be known as a joint patroness with Mrs. Davenport.

"I know you would, but you have all been so kind to me I did n’t
want to trouble you with my little plans till the first steps were
taken. Besides, I did n’t know as you would like to recommend me
as a teacher, though you like me well enough as plain Polly."

"My dear, of course I would, and we want you to take Maud at
once, and teach her your sweet songs. She has a fine voice, and is
really suffering for a teacher."

A slight smile passed over Polly’s face as she returned her thanks
for the new pupil, for she remembered a time when Mrs. Shaw
considered her "sweet songs" quite unfit for a fashionable young
lady’s repertoire. "Where is your room?" asked Maud.

"My old friend Miss Mills has taken me in, and I am nicely settled.
Mother did n’t like the idea of my going to a strange
boarding-house, so Miss Mills kindly made a place for me. You
know she lets her rooms without board, but she is going to give me
my dinners, and I ‘m to get my own breakfast and tea, quite
independently. I like that way, and it ‘s very little trouble, my
habits are so simple; a bowl of bread and milk night and morning,
with baked apples or something of that sort, is all I want, and I can
have it when I like."

"Is your room comfortably furnished? Can’t we lend you anything,
my dear? An easy-chair now, or a little couch, so necessary when
one comes in tired," said Mrs. Shaw, taking unusual interest in the
affair.

"Thank you, but I don’t need anything, for I brought all sorts of
home comforts with me. Oh, Fan, you ought to have seen my
triumphal entry into the city, sitting among my goods and chattels,
in a farmer’s cart." Polly’s laugh was so infectious that every one
smiled and forgot to be shocked at her performance. "Yes," she
added, "I kept wishing I could meet you, just to see your horrified
face when you saw me sitting on my little sofa, with boxes and
bundles all round me, a bird-cage on one side, a fishing basket,
with a kitten’s head popping in and out of the hole, on the other
side, and jolly old Mr. Brown, in his blue frock, perched on a keg
of apples in front. It was a lovely bright day, and I enjoyed the ride
immensely, for we had all sorts of adventures."

"Oh, tell about it," begged Maud, when the general laugh at Polly’s
picture had subsided.

"Well, in the first place, we forgot my ivy, and Kitty came running
after me, with it. Then we started again, but were soon stopped by
a great shouting, and there was Will racing down the hill, waving a
pillow in one hand and a squash pie in the other. How we did
laugh when he came up and explained that our neighbor, old Mrs.
Dodd, had sent in a hop-pillow for me, in case of headache, and a
pie to begin house-keeping with. She seemed so disappointed at
being too late that Will promised to get them to me, if he ran all
the way to town. The pillow was easily disposed of, but that pie! I
do believe it was stowed in every part of the wagon, and never
staid anywhere. I found it in my lap, then on the floor, next, upside
down among the books, then just on the point of coasting off a
trunk into the road, and at last it landed in my rocking-chair. Such
a remarkable pie as it was, too, for in spite of all its wanderings, it
never got spilt or broken, and we finally ate it for lunch, in order to
be left in peace. Next, my kitty got away, and I had a chase over
walls and brooks before I got her, while Mr. Brown sat shaking
with fun, to see me run. We finished off by having the
book-shelves tumble on our heads as we went down a hill, and
losing my chair off behind, as we went up a hill. A shout made us
pause, and, looking back, there was the poor little chair rocking all
by itself in the middle of the road, while a small boy sat on the
fence and whooped. It was great fun, I do assure you."

Polly had run on in her lively way, not because she thought her
adventures amounted to much, but from a wish to cheer up her
friends, who had struck her as looking rather dull and out of sorts,
especially Mr. Shaw; and when she saw him lean back in his chair
with the old hearty laugh, she was satisfied, and blessed the
unlucky pie for amusing him.

"Oh, Polly, you do tell such interesting things!" sighed Maud,
wiping her eyes.

"I wish I ‘d met you, I ‘d have given you three cheers and a tiger,
for it must have been an imposing spectacle," said Tom.

"No, you would n’t; you ‘d have whisked round the comer when
you saw me coming or have stared straight before you, utterly
unconscious of the young woman in the baggage wagon."

Polly laughed in his face just as she used to do, when she said that,
and, in spite of the doubt cast upon his courtesy, Tom rather liked
it, though he had nothing to say for himself but a reproachful,
"Now, Polly, that ‘s too bad."

"True, nevertheless. You must come and see my pets, Maud, for
my cat and bird live together as happily as brother and sister," said
Polly, turning to Maud, who devoured every word she said.

"That ‘s not saying much for them," muttered Tom, feeling that
Polly ought to address more of her conversation to him.

"Polly knows what she ‘s talking about; her brothers appreciate
their sisters," observed Fanny, in her sharp tone.

"And Polly appreciates her brothers, don’t forget to add that,
ma’am," answered Tom.

"Did I tell you that Will was going to college?" broke in Polly, to
avert the rising storm.

"Hope he ‘ll enjoy himself," observed Tom, with the air of a man
who had passed through all the mysteries, and reached that state of
sublime indifference which juniors seem to pride themselves upon.

"I think he will, he is so fond of study, and is so anxious to
improve every opportunity. I only hope he won’t overwork and get
sick, as so many boys do," said simple Polly, with such a respectful
belief in the eager thirst for knowledge of collegians as a class,
that Tom regarded the deluded girl with a smile of lofty pity, from
the heights of his vast and varied experience.

"Guess he won’t hurt himself. I ‘ll see that he don’t study too hard."
And Tom’s eyes twinkled as they used to do, when he planned his
boyish pranks.

"I ‘m afraid you can’t be trusted as a guide, if various rumors I ‘ve
heard are true," said Polly, looking up at him with a wistful
expression, that caused his face to assume the sobriety of an owl’s.

"Base slanders; I ‘m as steady as a clock, an ornament to my class,
and a model young man, ain’t I, mother?" And Tom patted her thin
cheek with a caressing hand, sure of one firm friend in her; for
when he ceased to be a harum-scarum boy, Mrs. Shaw began to
take great pride in her son, and he, missing grandma, tried to fill
her place with his feeble mother.

"Yes, dear, you are all I could ask," and Mrs. Shaw looked up at
him with such affection and confidence in her eyes, that Polly gave
Tom the first approving look she had vouchsafed him since she
came.

Why Tom should look troubled and turn grave all at once, she
could n’t understand, but she liked to see him stroke his mother’s
cheek so softly, as he stood with his head resting on the high back
of her chair, for Polly fancied that he felt a man’s pity for her
weakness, and was learning a son’s patient love for a mother who
had had much to bear with him.

"I ‘m so glad you are going to be here all winter, for we are to be
very gay, and I shall enjoy taking you round with me," began
Fanny, forgetting Polly’s plan for a moment.

Polly shook her head decidedly. "It sounds very nice, but it can’t be
done, Fan, for I ‘ve come to work, not play; to save, not spend; and
parties will be quite out of the question for me."

"You don’t intend to work all the time, without a bit of fun, I
hope," cried Fanny, dismayed at the idea.

"I mean to do what I ‘ve undertaken, and not to be tempted away
from my purpose by anything. I should n’t be fit to give lessons if I
was up late, should I? And how far would my earnings go towards
dress, carriages, and all the little expenses which would come if I
set up for a young lady in society? I can’t do both, and I ‘m not
going to try, but I can pick up bits of fun as I go along, and be
contented with free concerts and lectures, seeing you pretty often,
and every Sunday Will is to spend with me, so I shall have quite as
much dissipation as is good for me."

"If you don’t come to my parties, I ‘ll never forgive you," said
Fanny, as Polly paused, while Tom chuckled inwardly at the idea
of calling visits from a brother "dissipation."

"Any small party, where it will do to wear a plain black silk, I can
come to; but the big ones must n’t be thought of, thank you."

It was charming to see the resolution of Polly’s face when she said
that; for she knew her weakness, and beyond that black silk she
had determined not to go. Fanny said no more, for she felt quite
sure that Polly would relent when the time came, and she planned
to give her a pretty dress for a Christmas present, so that one
excuse should be removed.

"I say, Polly, won’t you give some of us fellows music lessons?
Somebody wants me to play, and I ‘d rather learn of you than any
Senor Twankydillo," said Tom, who did n’t find the conversation
interesting.

"Oh, yes; if any of you boys honestly want to learn, and will
behave yourselves, I ‘ll take you; but I shall charge extra,"
answered Polly, with a wicked sparkle of the eye, though her face
was quite sober, and her tone delightfully business-like.

"Why, Polly, Tom is n’t a boy; he ‘s twenty, and he says I must treat
him with respect. Besides, he ‘s engaged, and does put on such
airs," broke in Maud who regarded her brother as a venerable
being.

"Who is the little girl?" asked Polly taking the news as a joke.

"Trix; why, did n’t you know it?" answered Maud, as if it had been
an event of national importance.

"No! is it true, Fan?" and Polly turned to her friend with a face full
of surprise, while Tom struck an imposing attitude, and affected
absence of mind.

"I forgot to tell you in my last letter; it ‘s just out, and we don’t like
it very well," observed Fanny, who would have preferred to be
engaged first herself.

"It ‘s a very nice thing, and I am perfectly satisfied," announced
Mrs. Shaw, rousing from a slight doze.

"Polly looks as if she did n’t believe it. Have n’t I the appearance of
‘the happiest man alive’?" asked Tom, wondering if it could be pity
which he saw in the steady eyes fixed on him.

"No, I don’t think you have," she said, slowly.

"How the deuce should a man look, then?" cried Tom, rather
nettled at her sober reception of the grand news.

"As if he had learned to care for some one a great deal more than
for himself," answered Polly, with sudden color in her cheeks, and
a sudden softening of the voice, as her eyes turned away from
Tom, who was the picture of a complacent dandy, from the
topmost curl of his auburn head to the tips of his aristocratic boots.

"Tommy ‘s quenched; I agree with you, Polly; I never liked Trix,
and I hope it ‘s only a boy-and-girl fancy, that will soon die a
natural death," said Mr. Shaw, who seemed to find it difficult to
help falling into a brown study, in spite of the lively chatter going
on about him.

Shaw, Jr., being highly incensed at the disrespectful manner in
which his engagement was treated, tried to assume a superb air of
indifference, and finding that a decided failure, was about to stroll
out of the room with a comprehensive nod, when his mother called
after him: "Where are you going, dear?"

"To see Trix, of course. Good-by, Polly," and Mr. Thomas
departed, hoping that by the skillful change of tone, from ardent
impatience to condescending coolness, he had impressed one
hearer at least with the fact that he regarded Trix as the star of his
existence, and Polly as a presuming little chit.

If he could have heard her laugh, and Fanny’s remarks, his wrath
would have boiled over; fortunately he was spared the trial, and
went away hoping that the coquetries of his Trix would make him
forget Polly’s look when she answered his question.

"My dear, that boy is the most deluded creature you ever saw,"
began Fanny, as soon as the front door banged. "Belle and Trix
both tried to catch him, and the slyest got him; for, in spite of his
airs, he is as soft-hearted as a baby. You see Trix has broken off
two engagements already, and the third time she got jilted herself.
Such a fuss as she made! I declare, it really was absurd. But I do
think she felt it very much, for she would n’t go out at all, and got
thin, and pale, and blue, and was really quite touching. I pitied her,
and had her here a good deal, and Tom took her part; he always
does stand up for the crushed ones, and that ‘s good of him, I
allow. Well, she did the forsaken very prettily; let Tom amuse her,
and led him on till the poor fellow lost his wits, and finding her
crying one day (about her hat, which was n’t becoming), he thought
she was mourning for Mr. Banks, and so, to comfort her, the goose
proposed. That was all she wanted; she snapped him up at once,
and there he is in a nice scrape; for since her engagement she is as
gay as ever, flirts awfully with any one who comes along, and
keeps Tom in a fume all the time. I really don’t think he cares for
her half as much as he makes believe, but he ‘ll stand by her
through thick and thin, rather than do as Banks did."

"Poor Tom!" was all Polly said, when Fan had poured the story
into her ear, as they sat whispering in the sofa corner.

"My only consolation is that Trix will break off the affair before
spring; she always does, so that she may be free for the summer
campaign. It won’t hurt Tom, but I hate to have him make a fool of
himself out of pity, for he is more of a man than he seems, and I
don’t want any one to plague him."

"No one but yourself," said Polly, smiling.

"Well, that ‘s all fair; he is a torment sometimes, but I ‘m rather
fond of him in spite of it. I get so tired of the other fellows, they
are such absurd things and when Tom is in his good mood he is
very nice and quite refreshing."

"I ‘m glad to hear it," said Polly, making a mental note of the fact.

"Yes, and when grandma was ill he was perfectly devoted. I did n’t
know the boy had so much gentleness in him. He took her death
sadly to heart, for, though he did n’t say much, he was very grave
and steady for a long time. I tried to comfort him, and we had two
or three real sweet little talks together, and seemed to get
acquainted for the first time. It was very nice, but it did n’t last;
good times never do with us. We soon got back into the old way,
and now we hector one another just as before."

Fanny sighed, then yawned, and fell into her usual listless attitude,
as if the brief excitement of Polly’s coming had begun to subside.

"Walk home with me and see my funny little room. It ‘s bright
now, and the air will do you good. Come, both of you, and have a
frolic as we used to," said Polly, for the red sunset now burning in
the west seemed to invite them out.

They agreed, and soon the three were walking briskly away to
Polly’s new home, in a quiet street, where a few old trees rustled in
the summer, and the morning sun shone pleasantly in winter time.

"The way into my parlor Is up a winding stair."

sang Polly, running up two flights of broad, old-fashioned steps,
and opening the door of a back room, out of which streamed the
welcome glow of firelight.

"These are my pets, Maud," she added, pausing on the threshold,
and beckoning the girls to look in quietly.

On the rug, luxuriously basking in the warmth, lay a gray kitten,
and close by, meditatively roosting on one leg, stood a plump
canary, who cocked his bright eye at the new-comers, gave a loud
chirp as if to wake his comrade, and then flew straight to Polly’s
shoulder, where he broke into a joyful song to welcome his
mistress home.

"Allow me to introduce my family," said Polly; "this noisy little
chap the boys named Nicodemus; and this dozy cat is called
Ashputtel, because the joy of her life is to get among the cinders.
Now, take off your things, and let me do the honors, for you are to
stop to tea, and the carriage is to come for you at eight. I arranged
it with your mother while you were up-stairs."

"I want to see everything," said Maud, when the hats were off, and
the hands warmed.

"So you shall; for I think my housekeeping arrangements will
amuse you."

Then Polly showed her kingdom, and the three had a merry time
over it. The big piano took up so much room there was no place
for a bed; but Polly proudly displayed the resources of her
chintz-covered couch, for the back let down, the seat lifted up, and
inside were all the pillows and blankets. "So convenient, you see,
and yet out of the way in the daytime, for two or three of my pupils
come to me," explained Polly.

Then there was a bright drugget over the faded carpet, the little
rocking-chair and sewing-table stood at one window, the ivy ran
all over the other, and hid the banqueting performances which
went on in that corner. Book-shelves hung over the sofa, a picture
or two on the walls, and a great vase of autumn leaves and grasses
beautified the low chimney-piece. It was a very humble little
room, but Polly had done her best to make it pleasant, and it
already had a home-like look, with the cheery fire, and the
household pets chirping and purring confidingly on the rug.

"How nice it is!" exclaimed Maud, as she emerged from the big
closet where Polly kept her stores. "Such a cunning teakettle and
saucepan, and a t^te-.-t^te set, and lots of good things to eat. Do
have toast for tea, Polly, and let me make it with the new toasting
fork; it ‘s such fun to play cook."

Fanny was not so enthusiastic as her sister, for her eyes saw many
traces of what seemed like poverty to her; but Polly was so gay, so
satisfied with her small establishment, so full of happy hopes and
plans, that her friend had not the heart to find a fault or suggest an
improvement, and sat where she was told, laughing and talking
while the others got tea.

"This will be a country supper, girls," said Polly, bustling about.
"Here is real cream, brown bread, home-made cake, and honey
from my own beehives. Mother fitted me out with such a supply, I
‘m glad to have a party, for I can’t eat it all quick enough. Butter
the toast, Maudie, and put that little cover over it. Tell me when
the kettle boils, and don’t step on Nicodemus, whatever you do."

"What a capital house-keeper you will make some day," said
Fanny, as she watched Polly spread her table with a neatness and
despatch which was pleasant to behold.

"Yes, it ‘s good practice," laughed Polly, filling her tiny teapot, and
taking her place behind the tray, with a matronly air, which was
the best joke of the whole.

"This is the most delicious party I ever went to," observed Maud,
with her mouth full of honey, when the feast was well under way.
"I do wish I could have a nice room like this, and a cat and a bird
that would n’t eat each other up, and a dear little teakettle, and
make just as much toast as I like."

Such a peal of laughter greeted Maud’s pensive aspiration, that
Miss Mills smiled over her solitary cup of tea, and little Nick burst
into a perfect ecstasy of song, as he sat on the sugar-bowl helping
himself.

"I don’t care for the toast and the kettle, but I do envy you your
good spirits, Polly," said Fanny, as the merriment subsided. "I ‘m
so tired of everybody and everything, it seems sometimes as if I
should die of ennui. Don’t you ever feel so?"

"Things worry me sometimes, but I just catch up a broom and
sweep, or wash hard, or walk, or go at something with all my
might, and I usually find that by the time I get through the worry is
gone, or I ‘ve got courage enough to bear it without grumbling,"
answered Polly, cutting the brown loaf energetically.

"I can’t do those things, you know; there ‘s no need of it, and I don’t
think they ‘d cure my worrying," said Fanny, languidly feeding
Ashputtel, who sat decorously beside her, at the table, winking at
the cream pot.

"A little poverty would do you good, Fan; just enough necessity to
keep you busy till you find how good work is; and when you once
learn that, you won’t complain of ennui any more," returned Polly,
who had taken kindly the hard lesson which twenty years of
cheerful poverty had taught her.

"Mercy, no, I should hate that; but I wish some one would invent a
new amusement for rich people. I ‘m dead sick of parties, and
flirtations, trying to out-dress my neighbors, and going the same
round year after year, like a squirrel in a cage."

Fanny’s tone was bitter as well as discontented, her face sad as
well as listless, and Polly had an instinctive feeling that some
trouble, more real than any she had ever known before, was lying
heavy at her friend’s heart. That was not the time to speak of it, but
Polly resolved to stand ready to offer sympathy, if nothing more,
whenever the confidential minute came; and her manner was so
kind, so comfortable, that Fanny felt its silent magic, grew more
cheerful in the quiet atmosphere of that little room, and when they
said good-night, after an old-time gossip by the fire, she kissed her
hostess warmly, saying, with a grateful look, "Polly, dear, I shall
come often, you do me so much good."

 

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