FictionForest

Chapter 14 – Breakers Ahead

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

GOING into the Shaws’ one evening, Polly found Maud sitting on
the stairs, with a troubled face.

"Oh, Polly, I ‘m so glad you ‘ve come!" cried the little girl, running
to hug her.

"What’s the matter, deary?"

"I don’t know; something dreadful must have happened, for
mamma and Fan are crying together upstairs, papa is shut up in the
library, and Tom is raging round like a bear, in the dining-room."

"I guess it is n’t anything very bad. Perhaps mamma is sicker than
usual, or papa worried about business, or Tom in some new scrape.
Don’t look so frightened, Maudie, but come into the parlor and see
what I ‘ve got for you," said Polly, feeling that there was trouble of
some sort in the air, but trying to cheer the child, for her little face
was full of a sorrowful anxiety, that went to Polly’s heart.

"I don’t think I can like anything till I know what the matter is,"
answered Maud. "It ‘s something horrid, I ‘m sure, for when papa
came home, he went up to mamma’s room, and talked ever so
long, and mamma cried very loud, and when I tried to go in, Fan
would n’t let me, and she looked scared and strange. I wanted to go
to papa when he came down, but the door was locked, and he said,
‘Not now, my little girl,’ and then I sat here waiting to see what
would happen, and Tom came home. But when I ran to tell him, he
said, ‘Go away, and don’t bother,’ and just took me by the shoulders
and put me out. Oh, dear! everything is so queer and horrid, I don’t
know what to do."

Maud began to cry, and Polly sat down on the stairs beside her,
trying to comfort her, while her own thoughts were full of a vague
fear. All at once the dining-room door opened, and Tom’s head
appeared. A single glance showed Polly that something was the
matter, for the care and elegance which usually marked his
appearance were entirely wanting. His tie was under one ear, his
hair in a toss, the cherished moustache had a neglected air, and his
face an expression both excited, ashamed, and distressed; even his
voice betrayed disturbance, for instead of the affable greeting he
usually bestowed upon the young lady, he seemed to have fallen
back into the bluff tone of his boyish days, and all he said was,
"Hullo, Polly."

"How do you do?" answered Polly.

"I ‘m in a devil of a mess, thank you; send that chicken up stairs,
and come in and hear about it." he said, as if he had been longing
to tell some one, and welcomed prudent Polly as a special
providence.

"Go up, deary, and amuse yourself with this book, and these ginger
snaps that I made for you, there ‘s a good child," whispered Polly,
as Maud rubbed away her tears, and stared at Tom with round,
inquisitive eyes.

"You ‘ll tell me all about it, by and by, won’t you?" she whispered,
preparing to obey.

"If I may," answered Polly.

Maud departed with unexpected docility, and Polly went into the
dining-room, where Tom was wandering about in a restless way. If
he had been "raging like a bear," Polly would n’t have cared, she
was so pleased that he wanted her, and so glad to be a confidante,
as she used to be in the happy old days, that she would joyfully
have faced a much more formidable person than reckless Tom.

"Now, then, what is it?" she said, coming straight to the point.

"Guess."

"You ‘ve killed your horse racing."

"Worse than that."

"You are suspended again."

"Worse than that."

"Trix has run away with somebody," cried Polly, with a gasp.

"Worse still."

"Oh, Tom, you have n’t horse whipped or shot any one?"

"Came pretty near blowing my own brains out but you see I did
n’t."

"I can’t guess; tell me, quick."

"Well, I ‘m expelled."

Tom paused on the rug as he gave the answer, and looked at Polly
to see how she took it. To his surprise she seemed almost relieved,
and after a minute silence, said, soberly, "That ‘s bad, very bad;
but it might have been worse."

"It is worse;" and Tom walked away again with a despairing sort of
groan.

"Don’t knock the chairs about, but come and sit down, and tell me
quietly."

"Can’t do it."

"Well, go on, then. Are you truly expelled? Can’t it be made up?
What did you do?"

"It ‘s a true bill this time. I just had a row with the Chapel
watchman, and knocked him down. If it was a first offence, I
might have got off; but you see I ‘ve had no end of narrow escapes,
and this was my last chance; I ‘ve lost it, and now there ‘ll be the
dickens to pay. I knew it was all up with me, so I did n’t wait to be
turned out, but just took myself off."

"What will your father say?"

"It will come hard on the governor, but the worst of it is " there
Tom stopped, and stood a minute in the middle of the room with
his head down, as if he did n’t find it easy to tell even kind little
Polly. Then out came the truth all in a breath, just as he used to
bolt out his boyish misdemeanors, and then back up against the
wall ready to take the consequences.

"I owe an awful lot of money that the governor don’t know about."

"Oh, Tom, how could you?"

"I ‘ve been an extravagant rascal, I know it, and I ‘m thundering
sorry, but that don’t help a fellow, I ‘ve got to tell the dear old
buffer, and there ‘s where it cuts."

At another time Polly would have laughed at the contrast between
Tom’s face and his language, but there was a sincere remorse,
which made even the dreadful word "buffer" rather touching than
otherwise.

"He will be very angry, I dare say; but he ‘ll help you, won’t he? He
always does, Fan says."

"That ‘s the worst of it, you see. He ‘s paid up so often, that the last
time he said his patience could n’t stand it, nor his pocket either,
and if I got into any more scrapes of that sort, I must get out as I
could. I meant to be as steady as Bunker Hill Monument; but here I
am again, worse than ever, for last quarter I did n’t say anything to
father, he was so bothered by the loss of those ships just then, so
things have mounted up confoundedly."

"What have you done with all your money?"

"Hanged if I know."

"Can’t you pay it anyway?"

"Don’t see how, as I have n’t a cent of my own, and no way of
getting it, unless I try gambling."

"Oh, mercy, no! Sell your horse," cried Polly, after a minute of
deep meditation.

"I have; but he did n’t bring half I gave for him. I lamed him last
winter, and the beggar won’t get over it."

"And that did n’t pay up the debts?"

"Only about a half of ’em."

"Why, Tom, how much do you owe?"

"I have dodged figuring it up till yesterday; then things were so
desperate, I thought I might as well face the truth, so I overhauled
my accounts, and there ‘s the result."

Tom threw a blotted, crumpled paper into Polly’s lap, and tramped
up and down again, faster than ever. Polly took one look at the
total and clasped her hands, for to her inexperienced eyes it looked
appalling.

"Tidy little sum, is n’t it?" asked Tom, who could n’t bear the
silence, or the startled, grieved look in Polly’s eyes.

"It ‘s awful! I don’t wonder you dread telling your father."

"I ‘d rather be shot. I say, Polly, suppose we break it to him easy!"
added Tom, after another turn.

"How do you mean?"

"Why, suppose Fan, or, better still, you go and sort of pave the
way. I can’t bear to come down on him with the whole truth at
once."

"So you ‘d like to have me go and tell him for you?" Polly’s lip
curled a little as she said that, and she gave Tom a look that would
have shown him how blue eyes can flash, if he had seen it. But he
was at the window, and did n’t turn, as he said slowly, "Well, you
see, he ‘s so fond of you; we all confide in you; and you are so like
one of the family, that it seems quite natural. Just tell him I ‘m
expelled, you know, and as much more as you like; then I ‘ll come
in, and we ‘ll have it out."

Polly rose and went to the door without a word. In doing so, Tom
caught a glimpse of her face, and said, hastily, "Don’t you think it
would be a good plan?"

"No, I don’t."

"Why not? Don’t you think he ‘d rather have it told him nicely by
you, than blurted out as I always do blurt things?"

"I know he ‘d rather have his son go to him and tell the truth, like a
man, instead of sending a girl to do what he is afraid to do
himself."

If Polly had suddenly boxed his ears, Tom could n’t have looked
more taken aback than by that burst. He looked at her excited face,
seemed to understand the meaning of it, and remembered all at
once that he was trying to hide behind a girl. He turned scarlet,
said shortly, "Come back, Polly," and walked straight out of the
room, looking as if going to instant execution, for poor Tom had
been taught to fear his father, and had not entirely outgrown the
dread.

Polly sat down, looking both satisfied and troubled. "I hope I did
right," she said to herself, "I could n’t bear to have him shirk and
seem cowardly. He is n’t, only he did n’t think how it seemed to
me, and I don’t wonder he was a little afraid, Mr. Shaw is so severe
with the poor fellow. Oh, dear, what should we do if Will got into
such scrapes. Thank goodness, he ‘s poor, and can’t; I ‘m so glad of
that!"

Then she sat silent beside the half-open door, hearing the murmur
of Tom’s voice across the hall, and hoping, with all her heart, that
he would n’t have a very hard time. He seemed to tell his story
rapidly and steadily, without interruption, to the end; then Polly
heard Mr. Shaw’s deeper voice say a few words, at which Tom
uttered a loud exclamation, as if taken by surprise. Polly could n’t
distinguish a word, so she kept her seat, wondering anxiously what
was going on between the two men. A sudden pause seemed to
follow Tom’s ejaculation, then Mr. Shaw talked a long time in a
low, earnest tone, so different from the angry one Polly had
expected to hear, that it made her nervous, for Mr. Shaw usually
"blew Tom up first, and forgave him afterward," as Maud said.
Presently Tom’s voice was heard, apparently asking eager
questions, to which brief replies were given. Then a dead silence
fell upon the room, and nothing was heard but the spring rain
softly falling out of doors. All of a sudden she heard a movement,
and Tom’s voice say audibly, "Let me bring Polly;" and he
appeared, looking so pale and miserable that Polly was frightened.

"Go and say something to him; I can’t; poor old father, if I ‘d only
known," and to Polly’s utter dismay, Tom threw himself into a
chair, and laid his head down on the table, as if he had got a blow
that was too much for him.

"Oh, Tom, what is it?" cried Polly, hurrying to him, full of fears
she dared not speak.

Without looking up, Tom answered, in a smothered voice, "Failed;
all gone to smash; and to-morrow every one will know it."

Polly held on to the back of Tom’s chair, for a minute, for the news
took her breath away, and she felt as if the world was coming to an
end, "failed" was such a vaguely dreadful word to her.

"Is it very bad?" she asked, softly, feeling as if anything was better
than to stand still and see Tom so wretched.

"Yes; he means to give up everything. He ‘s done his best; but it
can’t be staved off any longer, and it ‘s all up with him."

"Oh, I wish I had a million to give him!" cried Polly, clasping her
hands, with the tears running down her cheeks. "How does he bear
it, Tom?"

"Like a man, Polly; and I ‘m proud of him," said Tom, looking up,
all red and excited with the emotions he was trying to keep under.
"Everything has been against him, and he has fought all alone to
stand the pressure, but it ‘s too much for him, and he ‘s given in. It
‘s an honorable failure, mind you, and no one can say a word
against him. I ‘d like to see ’em try it!" and Tom clenched his
hands, as if it would be an immense relief to him to thrash half a
dozen aspersers of his father’s honest name.

"Of course they can’t! This is what poor Maud troubled about. He
had told your mother and Fan before you came, and that is why
they are so unhappy, I suppose."

"They are safe enough. Father has n’t touched mother’s money; he
‘could n’t rob his girls,’ he said, and that ‘s all safe for ’em. Is n’t he
a trump, Polly?" And Tom’s face shone with pride, even while his
lips would twitch with a tenderer feeling.

"If I could only do anything to help," cried Polly, oppressed with
her own powerlessness.

"You can. Go and be good to him; you know how; he needs it
enough, all alone there. I can’t do it, for I ‘m only a curse instead of
a comfort to him."

"How did he take your news?" asked Polly, who, for a time, had
forgotten the lesser trouble in the greater.

"Like a lamb; for when I ‘d done, he only said, ‘My poor lad, we
must bear with one another.’ and then told his story."

"I ‘m glad he was kind," began Polly, in a soothing tone; but Tom
cried out, remorsefully, "That ‘s what knocks me over! Just when I
ought to be a pride and a prop to him, I bring him my debts and
disgrace, and he never says a word of blame. It ‘s no use, I can’t
stand it!" and Tom’s head went down again with something very
like a sob, that would come in spite of manful efforts to keep it
back, for the poor fellow had the warmest heart that ever was, and
all the fine waistcoats outside could n’t spoil it.

That sound gave Polly more pain than the news of a dozen failures
and expulsions, and it was as impossible for her to resist putting
her hand tenderly on the bent head, as it was for her to help
noticing with pleasure how brown the little curls were growing,
and how soft they were. In spite of her sorrow, she enjoyed that
minute very much, for she was a born consoler, and, it is hardly
necessary for me to add, loved this reprehensible Tom with all her
heart. It was a very foolish thing for her to do, she quite agreed to
that; she could n’t understand it, explain it, or help it; she only felt
that she did care for him very much, in spite of his faults, his
indifference, and his engagement. You see, she learned to love him
one summer, when he made them a visit. That was before Trix
caught him; and when she heard that piece of news, Polly could n’t
unlove him all at once, though she tried very hard, as was her duty.
That engagement was such a farce, that she never had much faith
in it, so she put her love away in a corner of her heart, and tried to
forget it, hoping it would either die, or have a right to live. It did
n’t make her very miserable, because patience, work, and
common-sense lent her a hand, and hope would keep popping up
its bright face from the bottom of her Pandora-box of troubles.
Now and then, when any one said Trix would n’t jilt Tom, or that
Tom did care for Trix more than he should, Polly had a pang, and
thought she could n’t possibly bear it. But she always found she
could, and so came to the conclusion that it was a merciful
provision of nature that girls’ hearts could stand so much, and their
appetites continue good, when unrequited love was starving.

Now, she could not help yearning over this faulty, well-beloved
scapegrace Tom, or help thinking, with a little thrill of hope, "If
Trix only cared for his money, she may cast him off now he ‘s lost
it; but I ‘ll love him all the better because he ‘s poor." With this
feeling warm at her heart, I don’t wonder that Polly’s hand had a
soothing effect, and that after a heave or two, Tom’s shoulders
were quiet, and certain smothered sniffs suggested that he would
be all right again, if he could only wipe his eyes without any one’s
seeing him do it.

Polly seemed to divine his wish, and tucking a little, clean
handkerchief into one of his half-open hands, she said, "I ‘m going
to your father, now," and with a farewell smooth, so comforting
that Tom wished she ‘d do it again, she went away.

As she paused a minute in the hall to steady herself, Maud called
her from above, and thinking that the women might need her more
than the men, she ran up to find Fanny waiting for her in her own
room.

"Mamma’s asleep, quite worn out, poor dear, so we can talk in here
without troubling her," said Fanny, receiving her friend so quietly,
that Polly was amazed.

"Let me come, too, I won’t make any fuss; it ‘s so dreadful to be
shut out everywhere, and have people crying and talking, and
locked up, and I not know what it means," said Maud,
beseechingly.

"You do know, now; I ‘ve told her, Polly," said Fan, as they sat
down together, and Maud perched herself on the bed, so that she
might retire among the pillows if her feelings were too much for
her.

"I ‘m glad you take it so well, dear; I was afraid it might upset
you," said Polly, seeing now that in spite of her quiet manner, Fan’s
eyes had an excited look, and her cheeks a feverish color.

"I shall groan and moan by and by, I dare say, but at first it sort of
dazed me, and now it begins to excite me. I ought to be full of
sorrow for poor papa, and I am truly sorry, but, wicked as it may
seem, it ‘s a fact, Polly, that I ‘m half glad it ‘s happened, for it
takes me out of myself, and gives me something to do."

Fanny’s eyes fell and her color rose as she spoke, but Polly
understood why she wanted to forget herself, and put her arm
round her with a more tender sympathy than Fanny guessed.

"Perhaps things are not as bad as they seem; I don’t know much
about such matters, but I ‘ve seen people who have failed, and they
seemed just as comfortable as before," said Polly.

"It won’t be so with us, for papa means to give up everything, and
not have a word said against him. Mamma’s little property is
settled upon her, and has n’t been risked. That touched her so
much! She dreads poverty even more than I do, but she begged
him to take it if it would help him. That pleased him, but he said
nothing would induce him to do it, for it would n’t help much, and
was hardly enough to keep her comfortable."

"Do you know what he means to do?" asked Polly, anxiously.

"He said his plans were not made, but he meant to go into the little
house that belonged to grandma, as soon as he could, for it was n’t
honest for a bankrupt to keep up an establishment like this."

"I shan’t mind that at all, I like the little house ’cause it ‘s got a
garden, and there ‘s a cunning room with a three-cornered closet in
it that I always wanted. If that ‘s all, I don’t think bankrupting is so
very bad," said Maud, taking a cheerful view of things.

"Ah, just wait till the carriage goes and the nice clothes and the
servants, and we have to scratch along as we can. You ‘ll change
your mind then, poor child," said Fanny, whose ideas of failure
were decidedly tragical.

"Will they take all my things away?" cried Maud, in dismay.

"I dare say; I don’t know what we are allowed to keep; but not
much, I fancy," and Fan looked as if strung up to sacrifice
everything she possessed.

"They shan’t have my new ear-rings, I ‘ll hide ’em, and my best
dress, and my gold smelling bottle. Oh, oh, oh! I think it ‘s mean to
take a little girl’s things away!" And Maud dived among the
pillows to smother a wail of anguish at the prospect of being bereft
of her treasures.

Polly soon lured her out again, by assurances that she would n’t be
utterly despoiled, and promises to try and soften the hard hearts of
her father’s creditors, if the ear-rings and the smelling-bottle were
attached.

"I wonder if we shall be able to keep one servant, just till we learn
how to do the work," said Fanny, looking at her white hands, with
a sigh.

But Maud clapped hers, and gave a joyful bounce, as she cried,
"Now I can learn to cook! I love so to beat eggs! I ‘ll have an
apron, with a bib to it, like Polly’s, and a feather duster, and sweep
the stairs, maybe, with my head tied up, like Katy. Oh, what fun!"

"Don’t laugh at her, or discourage her; let her find comfort in bibs
and dust-pans, if she can," whispered Polly to Fan, while Maud
took a joyful "header" among the pillows, and came up smiling
and blowzy, for she loved house-work, and often got lectured for
stolen visits to the kitchen, and surreptitious sweepings and
dustings when the coast was clear.

"Mamma is so feeble, I shall have to keep house, I suppose, and
you must show me how, Polly," said Fan.

"Good practice, ma’am, as you ‘ll find out some day," answered
Polly, laughing significantly.

Fanny smiled, then grew both grave and sad. "This changes
everything; the old set will drop me, as we did the Mertons when
their father failed, and my ‘prospects,’ as we say, are quite ruined."

"I don’t believe it; your real friends won’t drop you, and you ‘ll find
out which the true ones are now. I know one friend who will be
kinder than ever."

"Oh, Polly, do you think so?" and Fanny’s eyes softened with
sudden tears.

"I know who she means," cried Maud, always eager to find out
things. "It ‘s herself; Polly won’t mind if we are poor, ’cause she
likes beggars."

"Is that who you meant?" asked Fan, wistfully.

"No, it ‘s a much better and dearer friend than I am," said Polly,
pinching Fanny’s cheek, as it reddened prettily under her eyes.
"You ‘ll never guess, Maud, so I would n’t try, but be planning what
you will put in your cunning, three-cornered closet, when you get
it."

Having got rid of "Miss Paulina Pry," as Tom called Maud, who
was immediately absorbed by her cupboard, the older girls soberly
discussed the sudden change which had come, and Polly was
surprised to see what unexpected strength and sense Fanny
showed. Polly was too unconscious of the change which love had
made in herself to understand at first the cause of her friend’s new
patience and fortitude; but she rejoiced over it, and felt that her
prophecy would yet be fulfilled. Presently Maud emerged from her
new closet, bringing a somewhat startling idea with her.

"Do bankrupting men" (Maud liked that new word) "always have
fits?"

"Mercy, no! What put that into your head, child?" cried Polly.

"Why, Mr. Merton did; and I was thinking perhaps papa had got
one down there, and it kind of frightened me."

"Mr. Merton’s was a bad, disgraceful failure, and I don’t wonder he
had a fit. Ours is n’t, and papa won’t do anything of that sort, you
may be sure," said Fanny, with as proud an air as if "our failure"
was rather an honor than otherwise.

"Don’t you think you and Maud had better go down and see him?"
asked Polly.

"Perhaps he would n’t like it; and I don’t know what to say, either,"
began Fan; but Polly said, eagerly, "I know he would like it. Never
mind what you say; just go, and show him that you don’t doubt or
blame him for this, but love him all the more, and are ready and
glad to help him bear the trouble."

"I ‘m going, I ain’t afraid; I ‘ll just hug him, and say I ‘m ever so
glad we are going to the little house," cried Maud, scrambling off
the bed, and running down stairs.

"Come with me, Polly, and tell me what to do," said Fanny,
drawing her friend after her.

"You ‘ll know what to do when you see him, better than I can tell
you," answered Polly, readily yielding, for she knew they
considered her "quite one of the family," as Tom said.

At the study door they found Maud, whose courage had given out,
for Mr. Merton’s fit rather haunted her. Polly opened the door; and
the minute Fanny saw her father, she did know what to do. The fire
was low, the gas dim, and Mr. Shaw was sitting in his easy-chair,
his gray head in both his hands, looking lonely, old, and bowed
down with care. Fanny gave Polly one look, then went and took the
gray head in both her arms, saying, with a tender quiver in her
voice, "Father dear, we ‘ve come to help you bear it"

Mr. Shaw looked up, and seeing in his daughter’s face something
that never had been there before, put his arm about her, and leaned
his tired head against her, as if, when least expected, he had found
the consolation he most needed. In that minute, Fanny felt, with
mingled joy and self-reproach, what a daughter might be to her
father; and Polly, thinking of feeble, selfish Mrs. Shaw, asleep up
stairs, saw with sudden clearness what a wife should be to her
husband, a helpmeet, not a burden. Touched by these unusual
demonstrations, Maud crept quietly to her father’s knee, and
whispered, with a great tear shining on her little pug nose, "Papa,
we don’t mind it much, and I ‘m going to help Fan keep house for
you; I ‘d like to do it, truly."

Mr. Shaw’s other arm went round the child, and for a minute no
one said anything, for Polly had slipped behind his chair, that
nothing should disturb the three, who were learning from
misfortune how much they loved one another. Presently Mr. Shaw
steadied himself and asked, "Where is my other daughter, where ‘s
my Polly?"

She was there at once; gave him one of the quiet kisses that had
more than usual tenderness in it, for she loved to hear him say "my
other daughter," and then she whispered, "Don’t you want Tom,
too?"

"Of course I do; where is the poor fellow?"

"I ‘ll bring him;" and Polly departed with most obliging alacrity.

But in the hall she paused a minute to peep into the glass and see if
she was all right, for somehow she was more anxious to look neat
and pretty to Tom in his hour of trouble than she had ever been in
his prosperous days. In lifting her arms to perk up the bow at her
throat she knocked a hat off the bracket. Now, a shiny black
beaver is not an object exactly calculated to inspire tender or
romantic sentiments, one would fancy, but that particular "stove
pipe" seemed to touch Polly to the heart, for she caught it up, as if
its fall suggested a greater one, smoothed out a slight dint, as if it
was symbolical of the hard knocks its owner’s head was now in
danger of receiving, and stood looking at it with as much pity and
respect, as if it had been the crown of a disinherited prince. Girls
will do such foolish little things, and though we laugh at them, I
think we like them the better for it, after all.

Richard was himself again when Polly entered, for the
handkerchief had disappeared, his head was erect, his face was
steady, and his whole air had a dogged composure which seemed
to say to fate, "Hit away, I ‘m ready." He did not hear Polly come
in, for he was looking fixedly at the fire with eyes that evidently
saw a very different future there from that which it used to show
him; but when she said, "Tom, dear, your father wants you," he got
up at once, held out his hand to her, saying, "Come too, we can’t
get on without you," and took her back into the study with him.

Then they had a long talk, for the family troubles seemed to warm
and strengthen the family affection and confidence, and as the
young people listened while Mr. Shaw told them as much of his
business perplexities as they could understand, every one of them
blamed him or herself for going on so gayly and blindly, while the
storm was gathering, and the poor man was left to meet it all
alone. Now, however, the thunder-clap had come, and after the
first alarm, finding they were not killed, they began to discover a
certain half-anxious, half-pleasant excitement in talking it over,
encouraging one another, and feeling unusually friendly, as people
do when a sudden shower drives two or three to the shelter of one
umbrella.

It was a sober talk, but not all sad, for Mr. Shaw felt inexpressibly
comforted by his children’s unexpected sympathy, and they, trying
to take the downfall cheerfully for his sake, found it easier to bear
themselves. They even laughed occasionally, for the girls, in their
ignorance, asked queer questions; Tom made ludicrously
unbusiness-like propositions; and Maud gave them one hearty
peal, that did a world of good, by pensively remarking, when the
plans for the future had been explained to her, "I ‘m so relieved;
for when papa said we must give up everything, and mamma
called us all beggars, I did think I ‘d got to go round asking for cold
vittles, with a big basket, and an old shawl over my head. I said
once I ‘d like that, but I ‘m afraid I should n’t, for I can’t bear Indian
cake and cold potatoes, that ‘s what the poor children always seem
to get, and I should hate to have Grace and the rest see me scuffing
round the back gates."

"My little girl shall never come to that, if I can help it," said Mr.
Shaw, holding her close, with a look that made Maud add, as she
laid her cheek against his own, "But I ‘d do it, father, if you asked
me to, for I truly want to help."

"So do I!" cried Fanny, wondering at the same minute how it
would seem to wear turned silks, and clean her gloves.

Tom said nothing, but drew toward him a paper of figures which
his father had drawn up, and speedily reduced himself to the verge
of distraction by trying to understand them, in his ardent desire to
prove his willingness to put his shoulder to the wheel.

"We shall pull through, children, so don’t borrow trouble, only be
ready for discomforts and annoyances. Put your pride in your
pockets, and remember poverty is n’t disgraceful, but dishonesty
is."

Polly had always loved kind Mr. Shaw, but now she respected him
heartily, and felt that she had not done him justice when she
sometimes thought that he only cared for making money.

"I should n’t wonder if this was a good thing for the whole family,
though it don’t look so. Mrs. Shaw will take it the hardest, but it
may stir her up, so she will forget her nerves, and be as busy and
happy as mother is," said Polly to herself, in a hopeful mood, for
poverty was an old friend, and she had learned long ago not to fear
it, but to take its bitter and its sweet, and make the best of both.

When they parted for the night, Polly slipped away first, to leave
them free, yet could n’t help lingering outside to see how tenderly
the girls parted from their father. Tom had n’t a word to say for
himself, for men don’t kiss, caress, or cry when they feel most, and
all he could do to express his sympathy and penitence, was to
wring his father’s hand with a face full of respect, regret, and
affection, and then bolt up stairs as if the furies were after him, as
they were, in a mild and modern form.

 

Leave a Reply