I THINK Tom had the hardest time of all, for besides the family
troubles, he had many of his own to perplex and harass him.
College scrapes were soon forgotten in greater afflictions; but
there were plenty of tongues to blame "that extravagant dog," and
plenty of heads to wag ominously over prophecies of the good time
Tom Shaw would now make on the road to ruin. As reporters
flourish in this country, of course Tom soon heard all the friendly
criticisms passed upon him and his career, and he suffered more
than anybody guessed; for the truth that was at the bottom of the
gossip filled him with the sharp regret and impotent wrath against
himself as well as others, which drives many a proud fellow, so
placed, to destruction, or the effort that redeems boyish folly, and
makes a man of him.
Now that he had lost his heritage, Tom seemed to see for the first
time how goodly it had been, how rich in power, pleasure, and
gracious opportunities. He felt its worth even while he
acknowledged, with the sense of justice that is strong in manly
men, how little he deserved a gift which he had so misused. He
brooded over this a good deal, for, like the bat in the fable, he did
n’t seem to find any place in the new life which had begun for all.
Knowing nothing of business, he was not of much use to his father,
though he tried to be, and generally ended by feeling that he was a
hindrance, not a help. Domestic affairs were equally out of his
line, and the girls, more frank than their father, did not hesitate to
tell him he was in the way when he offered to lend a hand
anywhere. After the first excitement was over, and he had time to
think, heart and energy seemed to die out, remorse got hold of him,
and, as generous, thoughtless natures are apt to do when suddenly
confronted with conscience, he exaggerated his faults and follies
into sins of the deepest dye, and fancied he was regarded by others
as a villain and an outcast. Pride and penitence made him shrink
out of sight as much as possible, for he could not bear pity, even
when silently expressed by a friendly hand or a kindly eye. He
stayed at home a good deal, and loafed about with a melancholy
and neglected air, vanished when anyone came, talked very little,
and was either pathetically humble or tragically cross. He wanted
to do something, but nothing seemed to appear; and while he
waited to get his poise after the downfall, he was so very miserable
that I ‘m afraid, if it had not been for one thing, my poor Tom
would have got desperate, and been a failure. But when he seemed
most useless, outcast, and forlorn, he discovered that one person
needed him, one person never found him in the way, one person
always welcomed and clung to him with the strongest affection of
a very feeble nature. This dependence of his mother’s was Tom’s
salvation at that crisis of his life; and the gossips, who said softly
to one another over their muffins and tea. "It really would be a
relief to that whole family if poor, dear Mrs. Shaw could be ahem!
mercifully removed," did not know that the invalid’s weak, idle
hands were unconsciously keeping the son safe in that quiet room,
where she gave him all that she had to give, mother-love, till he
took heart again, and faced the world ready to fight his battles
"Dear, dear! how old and bent poor father does look. I hope he
won’t forget to order my sweetbread," sighed Mrs. Shaw one day,
as she watched her husband slowly going down the street.
Tom, who stood by her, idly spinning the curtain tassel, followed
the familiar figure with his eye, and seeing how gray the hair had
grown, how careworn the florid face, and how like a weary old
man his once strong, handsome father walked, he was smitten by a
new pang of self-reproach, and with his usual impetuosity set
about repairing the omission as soon as he discovered it.
"I ‘ll see to your sweetbread, mum. Good-by, back to dinner," and
with a hasty kiss, Tom was off.
He did n’t know exactly what he meant to do, but it had suddenly
come over him, that he was hiding from the storm, and letting his
father meet it alone; for the old man went to his office every day
with the regularity of a machine, that would go its usual round
until it stopped, while the young man stayed at home with the
women, and let his mother comfort him.
"He has a right to be ashamed of me, but I act as if I was ashamed
of him; dare say people think so. I ‘ll show them that I ain’t; yes, by
the powers, I will!" and Tom drew on his gloves with the air of a
man about to meet and conquer an enemy.
"Have an arm, sir? If you don’t mind I ‘ll walk down with you.
Little commission for mother, nice day, is n’t it?"
Tom rather broke down at the end of his speech, for the look of
pleased surprise with which his father greeted him, the alacrity
with which he accepted and leaned on the strong arm offered him,
proved that the daily walks had been solitary and doubtless sad
ones. I think Mr. Shaw understood the real meaning of that little
act of respect, and felt better for the hopeful change it seemed to
foretell. But he took it quietly, and leaving his face to speak for
him, merely said, "Thanky, Tom; yes, mother will enjoy her
dinner twice as much if you order it."
Then they began to talk business with all their might, as if they
feared that some trace of sentiment might disgrace their masculine
dignity. But it made no difference whether they discussed lawsuits
or love, mortgages or mothers, the feeling was all right and they
knew it, so Mr. Shaw walked straighter than usual, and Tom felt
that he was in his proper place again. The walk was not without its
trials, however; for while it did Tom’s heart good to see the cordial
respect paid to his father, it tried his patience sorely to see also
inquisitive or disapproving glances fixed upon himself when hats
were lifted to his father, and to hear the hearty "Good day, Mr.
Shaw," drop into a cool or careless, "That ‘s the son; it ‘s hard on
him. Wild fellow, do him good."
"Granted; but you need n’t hit a man when he ‘s down," muttered
Tom to himself, feeling every moment a stronger desire to do
something that should silence everybody. "I ‘d cut away to
Australia if it was n’t for mother; anything, anywhere to get out of
the way of people who know me. I never can right myself here,
with all the fellows watching, and laying wagers whether I sink or
swim. Hang Greek and Latin! wish I ‘d learned a trade, and had
something to fall back upon. Have n’t a blessed thing now, but
decent French and my fists. Wonder if old Bell don’t want a clerk
for the Paris branch of the business? That would n’t be bad; faith, I
‘ll try it."
And when Tom had landed his father safely at the office, to the
great edification of all beholders, he screwed up his courage, and
went to prefer his request, feeling that the prospect brightened a
little. But Mr. Bell was not in a good humor, and only gave Tom a
severe lecture on the error of his ways, which sent him home much
depressed, and caused the horizon to lower again.
As he roamed about the house that afternoon, trying to calculate
how much an Australian outfit would cost, the sound of lively
voices and clattering spoons attracted him to the kitchen. There he
found Polly giving Maud lessons in cookery; for the "new help"
not being a high-priced article, could not be depended on for
desserts, and Mrs. Shaw would have felt as if the wolf was at the
door if there was not "a sweet dish" at dinner. Maud had a genius
for cooking, and Fanny hated it, so that little person was in her
glory, studying receipt books, and taking lessons whenever Polly
could give them.
"Gracious me, Tom, don’t come now; we are awful busy! Men
don’t belong in kitchens," cried Maud, as her brother appeared in
"Could n’t think what you were about. Mum is asleep, and Fan out,
so I loafed down to see if there was any fun afoot," said Tom,
lingering, as if the prospect was agreeable. He was a social fellow,
and very grateful just then to any one who helped him to forget his
worries for a time. Polly knew this, felt that his society would not
be a great affliction to herself at least, and whispering to Maud,
"He won’t know," she added, aloud, "Come in if you like, and stir
this cake for me; it needs a strong hand, and mine are tired. There,
put on that apron to keep you tidy, sit here, and take it easy."
"I used to help grandma bat up cake, and rather liked it, if I
remember right," said Tom, letting Polly tie a checked apron on
him, put a big bowl into his hands, and settle him near the table,
where Maud was picking raisins, and she herself stirring busily
about among spice-boxes, rolling-pins, and butter-pots.
"You do it beautifully, Tom. I ‘ll give you a conundrum to lighten
your labor: Why are bad boys like cake?" asked Polly, anxious to
cheer him up.
"Because a good beating makes them better. I doubt that myself,
though," answered Tom, nearly knocking the bottom of the bowl
out with his energetic demonstrations, for it really was a relief to
"Bright boy! here ‘s a plum for you," and Polly threw a plump
raisin into his mouth.
"Put in lots, won’t you? I ‘m rather fond of plum-cake," observed
Tom, likening himself to Hercules with the distaff, and finding his
employment pleasant, if not classical.
"I always do, if I can; there ‘s nothing I like better than to shovel in
sugar and spice, and make nice, plummy cake for people. It ‘s one
of the few things I have a gift for."
"You ‘ve hit it this time, Polly; you certainly have a gift for putting
a good deal of both articles into your own and other people’s lives,
which is lucky, as, we all have to eat that sort of cake, whether we
like it or not," observed Tom, so soberly that Polly opened her
eyes, and Maud exclaimed, "I do believe he ‘s preaching."
"Feel as if I could sometimes," continued Tom; then his eye fell
upon the dimples in Polly’s elbows, and he added, with a laugh,
"That ‘s more in your line, ma’am; can’t you give us a sermon?"
"A short one. Life, my brethren, is like plum-cake," began Polly,
impressively folding her floury hands. "In some the plums are all
on the top, and we eat them gayly, till we suddenly find they are
gone. In others the plums sink to the bottom, and we look for them
in vain as we go on, and often come to them when it is too late to
enjoy them. But in the well-made cake, the plums are wisely
scattered all through, and every mouthful is a pleasure. We make
our own cakes, in a great measure, therefore let us look to it, my
brethren, that they are mixed according to the best receipt, baked
in a well regulated oven, and gratefully eaten with a temperate
"Good! good!" cried Tom, applauding with the wooden spoon.
"That ‘s a model sermon, Polly, short, sweet, sensible, and not a bit
sleepy. I ‘m one of your parish, and will see that you get your
‘celery punctooal,’ as old Deacon Morse used to say."
" ‘Thank you, brother, my wants is few, and ravens scurser than
they used to be,’ as dear old Parson Miller used to answer. Now,
Maud, bring on the citron;" and Polly began to put the cake
together in what seemed a most careless and chaotic manner,
while Tom and Maud watched with absorbing interest till it was
safely in the oven.
"Now make your custards, dear; Tom may like to beat the eggs for
you; it seems to have a good effect upon his constitution."
"First-rate; hand ’em along," and Tom smoothed his apron with a
cheerful air. "By the way, Syd’s got back. I met him yesterday, and
he treated me like a man and a brother," he added, as if anxious to
contribute to the pleasures of the hour.
"I ‘m so glad!" cried Polly, clapping her hands, regardless of the
egg she held, which dropped and smashed on the floor at her feet.
"Careless thing! Pick it up, Maud, I ‘ll get some more;" and Polly
whisked out of the room, glad of an excuse to run and tell Fan,
who had just come in, lest, hearing the news in public, she might
be startled out of the well-bred composure with which young
ladies are expected to receive tidings, even of the most vital
"You know all about history, don’t you?" asked Maud, suddenly.
"Not quite," modestly answered Tom.
"I just want to know if there really was a man named Sir Philip, in
the time of Queen Elizabeth."
"You mean Sir Philip Sidney? Yes, he lived then and a fine old
fellow he was too."
"There; I knew the girls did n’t mean him," cried Maud, with a
chop that sent the citron flying.
"What mischief are you up to now, you little magpie?"
"I shan’t tell you what they said, because I don’t remember much of
it; but I heard Polly and Fan talking about some one dreadful
mysterious, and when I asked who it was, Fan said,’Sir Philip.’ Ho!
she need n’t think I believe it! I saw ’em laugh, and blush, and poke
one another, and I knew it was n’t about any old Queen Elizabeth
man," cried Maud, turning up her nose as far as that somewhat
limited feature would go.
"Look here, you are letting cats out of the bag. Never mind, I
thought so. They don’t tell us their secrets, but we are so sharp, we
can’t help finding them out, can we?" said Tom, looking so much
interested, that Maud could n’t resist airing her knowledge a little.
"Well, I dare say, it is n’t proper for you to know, but I am old
enough now to be told anything, and those girls better mind what
they say, for I ‘m not a stupid chit, like Blanche. I just wish you
could have heard them go on. I ‘m sure there ‘s something very nice
about Mr. Sydney, they looked so pleased when they whispered
and giggled on the bed, and thought I was ripping bonnets, and did
n’t hear a word."
"Which looked most pleased?" asked Tom, investigating the
kitchen boiler with deep interest.
"Well, ‘pears to me Polly did; she talked most, and looked funny
and very happy all the time. Fan laughed a good deal, but I guess
Polly is the loveress," replied Maud, after a moment’s reflection.
"Hold your tongue; she ‘s coming!" and Tom began to pump as if
the house was on fire.
Down came Polly, with heightened color, bright eyes, and not a
single egg. Tom took a quick look at her over his shoulder, and
paused as if the fire was suddenly extinguished. Something in his
face made Polly feel a little guilty, so she fell to grating nutmeg,
with a vigor which made red cheeks the most natural thing in life.
Maud, the traitor, sat demurely at work, looking very like what
Tom had called her, a magpie with mischief in its head. Polly felt a
change in the atmosphere, but merely thought Tom was tired, so
she graciously dismissed him with a stick of cinnamon, as she had
nothing else just then to lay upon the shrine. "Fan’s got the books
and maps you wanted. Go and rest now. I ‘m much obliged; here ‘s
your wages, Bridget."
"Good luck to your messes," answered Tom, as he walked away
meditatively crunching his cinnamon, and looking as if he did not
find it as spicy as usual. He got his books, but did not read them;
for, shutting himself up in the little room called "Tom’s den," he
just sat down and brooded.
When he came down to breakfast the next morning, he was greeted
with a general "Happy birthday, Tom!" and at his place lay gifts
from every member of the family; not as costly as formerly,
perhaps, but infinitely dearer, as tokens of the love that had
outlived the change, and only grown the warmer for the test of
misfortune. In his present state of mind, Tom felt as if he did not
deserve a blessed thing; so when every one exerted themselves to
make it a happy day for him, he understood what it means "to be
nearly killed with kindness," and sternly resolved to be an honor to
his family, or perish in the attempt. Evening brought Polly to what
she called a "festive tea," and when they gathered round the table,
another gift appeared, which, though not of a sentimental nature,
touched Tom more than all the rest. It was a most delectable cake,
with a nosegay atop, and round it on the snowy frosting there ran a
pink inscription, just as it had been every year since Tom could
"Name, age, and date, like a nice white tombstone," observed
Maud, complacently, at which funereal remark, Mrs. Shaw, who
was down in honor of the day, dropped her napkin, and demanded
"Whose doing is that?" asked Tom, surveying the gift with
satisfaction; for it recalled the happier birthdays, which seemed
very far away now.
"I did n’t know what to give you, for you ‘ve got everything a man
wants, and I was in despair till I remembered that dear grandma
always made you a little cake like that, and that you once said it
would n’t be a happy birthday without it. So I tried to make it just
like hers, and I do hope it will prove a good, sweet, plummy one."
"Thank you," was all Tom said, as he smiled at the giver, but Polly
knew that her present had pleased him more than the most elegant
trifle she could have made.
"It ought to be good, for you beat it up yourself, Tom," cried,
Maud. "It was so funny to see you working away, and never
guessing who the cake was for. I perfectly trembled every time you
opened your mouth, for fear you ‘d ask some question about it.
That was the reason Polly preached and I kept talking when she
"Very stupid of me; but I forgot all about to-day. Suppose we cut
it; I don’t seem to care for anything else," said Tom, feeling no
appetite, but bound to do justice to that cake, if he fell a victim to
"I hope the plums won’t all be at the bottom," said Polly, as she
rose to do the honors of the cake, by universal appointment.
"I ‘ve had a good many at the top already, you know," answered
Tom, watching the operation with as much interest as if he had
faith in the omen.
Cutting carefully, slice after slice fell apart; each firm and dark,
spicy and rich, under the frosty rime above; and laying a specially
large piece in one of grandma’s quaint little china plates, Polly
added the flowers and handed it to Tom, with a look that said a
good deal, for, seeing that he remembered her sermon, she was
glad to find that her allegory held good, in one sense at least.
Tom’s face brightened as he took it, and after an inspection which
amused the others very much he looked up, saying, with an air of
relief, "Plums all through; I ‘m glad I had a hand in it, but Polly
deserves the credit, and must wear the posy," and turning to her, he
put the rose into her hair with more gallantry than taste, for a thorn
pricked her head, the leaves tickled her ear, and the flower was
Fanny laughed at his want of skill, but Polly would n’t have it
altered, and everybody fell to eating cake, as if indigestion was one
of the lost arts. They had a lively tea, and were getting on famously
afterward, when two letters were brought for Tom, who glanced at
one, and retired rather precipitately to his den, leaving Maud
consumed with curiosity, and the older girls slightly excited, for
Fan thought she recognized the handwriting on one, and Polly, on
One half an hour and then another elapsed, and Tom did not
return. Mr. Shaw went out, Mrs. Shaw retired to her room escorted
by Maud, and the two girls sat together wondering if anything
dreadful had happened. All of a sudden a voice called, "Polly!" and
that young lady started out of her chair, as if the sound had been a
"Do run! I ‘m perfectly fainting to know what the matter is," said
"You ‘d better go," began Polly, wishing to obey, yet feeling a little
"He don’t want me; besides, I could n’t say a word for myself if that
letter was from Sydney," cried Fanny, hustling her friend towards
the door, in a great flutter.
Polly went without another word, but she wore a curiously anxious
look, and stopped on the threshold of the den, as if a little afraid of
its occupant. Tom was sitting in his favorite attitude, astride of a
chair, with his arms folded and his chin on the top rail; not an
elegant posture, but the only one in which, he said, he could think
"Did you want me, Tom?"
"Yes. Come in, please, and don’t look scared; I only want to show
you a present I ‘ve had, and ask your advice about accepting it."
"Why, Tom, you look as if you had been knocked down!"
exclaimed Polly, forgetting all about herself, as she saw his face
when he rose and turned to meet her.
"I have; regularly floored; but I ‘m up again, and steadier than ever.
Just you read that, and tell me what you think of it."
Tom snatched a letter off the table, put it into her hands, and began
to walk up and down the little room, like a veritable bear in its
cage. As Polly read that short note, all the color went out of her
face, and her eyes began to kindle. When she came to the end, she
stood a minute, as if too indignant to speak, then gave the paper a
nervous sort of crumple and dropped it on the floor, saying, all in
one breath, "I think she is a mercenary, heartless, ungrateful girl!
That ‘s what I think."
"Oh, the deuce! I did n’t mean to show that one; it ‘s the other."
And Tom took up a second paper, looking half angry, half
ashamed at his own mistake. "I don’t care, though; every one will
know to-morrow; and perhaps you ‘ll be good enough to keep the
girls from bothering me with questions and gabble," he added, as
if, on second thoughts, he was relieved to have the communication
made to Polly first.
"I don’t wonder you looked upset. If the other letter is as bad, I ‘d
better have a chair before I read it," said Polly, feeling that she
began to tremble with excitement.
"It ‘s a million times better, but it knocked me worse than the
other; kindness always does." Tom stopped short there, and stood a
minute turning the letter about in his hand as if it contained a
sweet which neutralized the bitter in that smaller note, and touched
him very much. Then he drew up an armchair, and beckoning
Polly to take it, said in a sober, steady tone, that surprised her
greatly, "Whenever I was in a quandary, I used to go and consult
grandma, and she always had something sensible or comfortable to
say to me. She ‘s gone now, but somehow, Polly, you seem to take
her place. Would you mind sitting in her chair, and letting me tell
you two or three things, as Will does?"
Mind it? Polly felt that Tom had paid her the highest and most
beautiful compliment he could have devised. She had often longed
to do it, for, being brought up in the most affectionate and frank
relations with her brothers, she had early learned what it takes
most women some time to discover, that sex does not make nearly
as much difference in hearts and souls as we fancy. Joy and
sorrow, love and fear, life and death bring so many of the same
needs to all, that the wonder is we do not understand each other
better, but wait till times of tribulation teach us that human nature
is very much the same in men and women. Thanks to this
knowledge, Polly understood Tom in a way that surprised and won
him. She knew that he wanted womanly sympathy, and that she
could give it to him, because she was not afraid to stretch her hand
across the barrier which our artificial education puts between boys
and girls, and to say to him in all good faith, "If I can help you, let
Ten minutes sooner Polly could have done this almost as easily to
Tom as to Will, but in that ten minutes something had happened
which made this difficult. Reading that Trix had given Tom back
his freedom changed many things to Polly, and caused her to
shrink from his confidence, because she felt as if it would be
harder now to keep self out of sight; for, spite of maiden modesty,
love and hope would wake and sing at the good news. Slowly she
sat down, and hesitatingly she said, with her eyes on the ground,
and a very humble voice, "I ‘ll do my best, but I can’t fill
grandma’s place, or give you any wise, good advice. I wish I
"You ‘ll do it better than any one else. Talk troubles mother, father
has enough to think of without any of my worries. Fan is a good
soul, but she is n’t practical, and we always get into a snarl if we
try to work together, so who have I but my other sister, Polly? The
pleasure that letter will give you may make up for my boring you."
As he spoke, Tom laid the other paper in her lap, and went off to
the window, as if to leave her free to enjoy it unseen; but he could
not help a glance now and then, and as Polly’s face brightened, his
"Oh, Tom, that ‘s a birthday present worth having, for it ‘s so
beautifully given I don’t see how you can refuse it. Arthur Sydney
is a real nobleman!" cried Polly, looking up at last, with her fact
glowing, and her eyes full of delight.
"So he is! I don’t know another man living, except father, who
would have done such a thing, or who I could bring myself to take
it from. Do you see, he ‘s not only paid the confounded debts, but
has done it in my name, to spare me all he could?"
"I see, it ‘s like him; and I think he must be very happy to be able
to do such a thing."
"It is an immense weight off my shoulders, for some of those men
could n’t afford to wait till I ‘d begged, borrowed, or earned the
money. Sydney can wait, but he won’t long, if I know myself."
"You won’t take it as a gift, then?"
"Then don’t think I will. I ‘m a pretty poor affair, Polly, but I ‘m not
mean enough to do that, while I ‘ve got a conscience and a pair of
A rough speech, but it pleased Polly better than the smoothest Tom
had ever made in her hearing, for something in his face and voice
told her that the friendly act had roused a nobler sentiment than
gratitude, making the cancelled obligations of the boy, debts of
honor to the man.
"What will you do, Tom?"
"I ‘ll tell you; may I sit here?" And Tom took the low footstool that
always stood near grandma’s old chair. "I ‘ve had so many plans in
my head lately, that sometimes it seems as if it would split,"
continued the poor fellow, rubbing his tired forehead, as if to
polish up his wits. "I ‘ve thought seriously of going to California,
Australia, or some out-of-the-way place, where men get rich in a
"Oh, no!" cried Polly, putting out her hand as it to keep him, and
then snatching it back again before he could turn round.
"It would be hard on mother and the girls, I suppose; besides, I
don’t quite like it myself; looks as if I shirked and ran away."
"So it does," said Polly, decidedly.
"Well, you see I don’t seem to find anything to do unless I turn
clerk, and I don’t think that would suit. The fact is, I could n’t stand
it here, where I ‘m known. It would be easier to scratch gravel on a
railroad, with a gang of Paddies, than to sell pins to my friends and
neighbors. False pride, I dare say, but it ‘s the truth, and there ‘s no
use in dodging."
"Not a bit, and I quite agree with you."
"That ‘s comfortable. Now I ‘m coming to the point where I
specially want your advice, Polly. Yesterday I heard you telling
Fan about your brother Ned; how well he got on; how he liked his
business, and wanted Will to come and take some place near him.
You thought I was reading, but I heard; and it struck me that
perhaps I could get a chance out West somewhere. What do you
"If you really mean work, I know you could," answered Polly,
quickly, as all sorts of plans and projects went sweeping through
her mind. "I wish you could be with Ned; you ‘d get on together, I
‘m sure; and he ‘d be so glad to do anything he could. I ‘ll write and
ask, straight away, if you want me to."
"Suppose you do; just for information, you know, then I shall have
something to go upon. I want to have a feasible plan all ready,
before I speak to father. There ‘s nothing so convincing to business
men as facts, you know."
Polly could not help smiling at Tom’s new tone, it seemed so
strange to hear him talking about anything but horses and tailors,
dancing and girls. She liked it, however, as much as she did the
sober expression of his face, and the way he had lately of swinging
his arms about, as if he wanted to do something energetic with
"That will be wise. Do you think your father will like this plan?"
"Pretty sure be will. Yesterday, when I told him I must go at
something right off, he said, ‘Anything honest, Tom, and don’t
forget that your father began the world as a shop-boy.’ You knew
that, did n’t you?"
"Yes, he told me the story once, and I always liked to hear it,
because it was pleasant to see how well he had succeeded."
"I never did like the story, a little bit ashamed, I ‘m afraid; but
when we talked it over last night, it struck me in a new light, and I
understood why father took the failure so well, and seems so
contented with this poorish place. It is only beginning again, he
says; and having worked his way up once, he feels as if he could
again. I declare to you, Polly, that sort of confidence in himself,
and energy and courage in a man of his years, makes me love and
respect the dear old gentleman as I never did before."
"I ‘m so glad to hear you say that, Tom! I ‘ve sometimes thought
you did n’t quite appreciate your father, any more than he knew
how much of a man you were."
"Never was till to-day, you know," said Tom, laughing, yet looking
as if he felt the dignity of his one and twenty years. "Odd, is n’t it,
how people live together ever so long, and don’t seem to find one
another out, till something comes to do it for them. Perhaps this
smash-up was sent to introduce me to my own father."
"There ‘s philosophy for you," said Polly, smiling, even while she
felt as if adversity was going to do more for Tom than years of
They both sat quiet for a minute, Polly in the big chair looking at
him with a new respect in her eyes, Tom on the stool near by
slowly tearing up a folded paper he had absently taken from the
floor while he talked.
"Did this surprise you?" he asked, as a little white shower fluttered
from his hands.
"Well, it did me; for you know as soon as we came to grief I
offered to release Trix from the engagement, and she would n’t let
me," continued Tom, as if, having begun the subject, he wished to
explain it thoroughly.
"That surprised me," said Polly.
"So it did me, for Fan always insisted it was the money and not the
man she cared for. Her first answer pleased me very much, for I
did not expect it, and nothing touches a fellow more than to have a
woman stand by him through thick and thin."
"She don’t seem to have done it."
"Fan was right. Trix only waited to see how bad things really were,
or rather her mother did. She ‘s as cool, hard, and worldly minded
an old soul as I ever saw, and Trix is bound to obey. She gets
round it very neatly in her note, ‘I won’t be a burden,’ ‘will sacrifice
her hopes,’ ‘and always remain my warm friend,’ but the truth is,
Tom Shaw rich was worth making much of, but Tom Shaw poor is
in the way, and may go to the devil as fast as he likes."
"Well, he is n’t going!" cried Polly, defiantly, for her wrath burned
hotly against Trix, though she blessed her for setting the bondman
"Came within an ace of it," muttered Tom to himself; adding
aloud, in a tone of calm resignation that assured Polly his heart
would not be broken though his engagement was, "It never rains
but it pours, ‘specially in hard times, but when a man is down, a
rap or two more don’t matter much, I suppose. It ‘s the first blow
that hurts most."
"Glad to see you take the last blow so well." There was an ironical
little twang to that speech, and Polly could n’t help it. Tom colored
up and looked hurt for a minute, then seemed to right himself with
a shrug, and said, in his outspoken way, "To tell the honest truth,
Polly, it was not a very hard one. I ‘ve had a feeling for some time
that Trix and I were not suited to one another, and it might be
wiser to stop short. But she did not or would not see it; and I was
not going to back out, and leave her to wear any more willows, so
here we are. I don’t bear malice, but hope she ‘ll do better, and not
be disappointed again, upon my word I do."
"That ‘s very good of you, quite Sydneyesque, and noble," said
Polly, feeling rather ill at ease, and wishing she could hide herself
behind a cap and spectacles, if she was to play Grandma to this
"It will be all plain sailing for Syd, I fancy," observed Tom, getting
up as if the little cricket suddenly ceased to be comfortable.
"I hope so," murmured Polly, wondering what was coming next.
"He deserves the very best of everything, and I pray the Lord he
may get it," added Tom, poking the fire in a destructive manner.
Polly made no answer, fearing to pay too much, for she knew Fan
had made no confidant of Tom, and she guarded her friend’s secret
as jealously as her own. "You ‘ll write to Ned to-morrow, will
you? I ‘ll take anything he ‘s got, for I want to be off," said Tom,
casting down the poker, and turning round with a resolute air
which was lost on Polly, who sat twirling the rose that had fallen
into her lap.
"I ‘ll write to-night. Would you like me to tell the girls about Trix
and Sydney?" she asked as she rose, feeling that the council was
"I wish you would. I don’t know how to thank you for all you ‘ve
done for me; I wish to heaven I did," said Tom, holding out his
hand with a look that Polly thought a great deal too grateful for the
little she had done.
As she gave him her hand, and looked up at him with those
confiding eyes of hers, Tom’s gratitude seemed to fly to his head,
for, without the slightest warning, he stooped down and kissed her,
a proceeding which startled Polly so that he recovered himself at
once, and retreated into his den with the incoherent apology, "I
beg pardon could n’t help it grandma always let me on my
While Polly took refuge up stairs, forgetting all about Fan, as she
sat in the dark with her face hidden, wondering why she was n’t
very angry, and resolving never again to indulge in the delightful
but dangerous pastime of playing grandmother.