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she thought specially of you, Polly, for you always have been specially
fond of little children. Come to the nursery now with me. I want you to
take care of baby for an hour, while Nurse is at her supper."

Polly did not say another word. The doctor and she went together into
the old nursery, and a moment or two afterwards she found herself
sitting in Nurse's little straw arm-chair, holding a tiny red mite of a
baby on her knee. Mother was gone, and this - this was left in her
place! Oh, what did God mean? thought the woe-begone, broken-hearted
child.

The doctor did not leave the room. He was looking through some books, a
pile of old MS. books in one corner by the window, and had apparently
forgotten all about Polly and the baby. She held the wee bundle without
clasping it to her, or bestowing upon it any endearing or comforting
little touch, and as she looked the tears which had frozen round her
heart flowed faster and faster, dropping on the baby's dress, and even
splashing on her tiny face.

Baby did not like this treatment, and began to expostulate in a fretful,
complaining way. Instantly Polly's motherly instincts awoke; she wiped
her own tears from the baby's face, and raising it in her arms, pressed
its little soft velvet cheek to her own. As she did so, a thrill of warm
comfort stole into her heart.

"Polly," said her father, coming suddenly up to her, "please take good
care of baby till Nurse returns. I must go out now, I have some patients
to see, but I am going to prescribe a special little supper for you,
which Helen is to see you eat before you go to bed. Good-night, dear.
Please ask Nurse, too, if you can do anything in the morning to help her
with baby. Good-night, good-night, both of you. Why the little creature
is quite taking to you, Polly!"

Dr. Maybright was about to leave the room when Polly called him back.

"Father, I must say one thing. I have been in a dreadful, dreadful dream
since mother died. The most dreadful part of my dream, the blackest
part, was about you."

"Yes, Polly, yes, dear."

"You were there, father, and you let her die."

Dr. Maybright put his arm round the trembling child, and drew her and
the baby too close to him.

"Not willingly," he said, in a voice which Polly had never heard him use
before. "Not willingly, my child. It was with anguish I let your mother
go away. But Polly, there was another physician there, greater than I."

"Another?" said Polly.

"Yes, another - and He prescribed Rest, for evermore."

All her life afterwards Polly remembered these words of her father's.
They calmed her great sorrow, and in many ways left her a different
child.




CHAPTER IV.

QUITE A NEW SORT OF SCHEME.


On a certain sunny morning in August, four or five weeks after Mrs.
Maybright's death, six girls stood round Dr. Maybright in his study.
They were all dressed in deep mourning, but it was badly made and
unbecoming, and one and all looked untidy, and a little run to seed.
Their ages were as varied as their faces. Helen, aged sixteen, had a
slightly plump figure, a calm, smooth, oval face, and pretty gentle blue
eyes. Her hair was fair and wavy; she was the tidiest of the group, and
notwithstanding the heavy make of her ugly frock, had a very sweet and
womanly expression. Polly, all angles and awkwardness, came next in
years; she was tall and very slim. Her face was small, her hair nearly
black and very untidy, and her big, dark, restless eyes reflected each
emotion of her mind.

Polly was lolling against the mantelpiece, and restlessly changing her
position from one leg to another; Katie, aged eleven, was something in
Helen's style; then came the twins, Dolly and Mabel, and then a rather
pale child, with a somewhat queer expression, commonly known in the
family as "Firefly." Her real name was Lucy, but no one ever dreamt of
calling her by this gentle title. "Firefly" was almost always in some
sort of disgrace, and scarcely knew what it was not to live in a state
of perpetual mental hot water. It was privately whispered in the family
circle that Polly encouraged her in her naughtiness. Whether that was
the case or not, these two had a kind of quaint, elfish friendship
between them, Firefly in her heart of hearts worshipping Polly, and
obeying her slightest nod or wish.

"I have sent for you, girls," said the Doctor, looking round tenderly at
his six motherless daughters, "to say that I have talked over matters
with Helen, and for the present at least, I am willing to give her plan
a trial. I think she is right when she tells me that if it turns out
successful nothing would please your mother more. It entirely depends on
yourselves whether it succeeds or fails. If you are agreeable to try it,
you can come to me to-morrow at this hour and tell me so. Now good-by,
my dears. Helen will explain everything to you. Helen, I shall not be in
for early dinner. Good-by, good-by to you all."

The Doctor nodded, looked half-abstractedly at the upturned young faces,
pushed his way through the little group, and taking up a parcel of
papers and a surgical case which lay near, went straight to his
carriage, which was heard immediately afterwards to bowl quickly down
the avenue.

The moment he was gone Helen was surrounded by a clamorous group.

"What is it, Nell? oh, do tell us - tell us quickly," said they, one and
all.

"I thought Helen looked very important these last few days," said Dolly.
"Do tell us what it is, Nell, and what the plan is we are all to agree
to."

"It sounds rather nice to be asked to agree to things," said Firefly.
"What's the matter, Poll? You look grumpy."

"I think Helen may be allowed to speak," said Polly. "Go on, Nell, out
with the budget of news. And you young ones, you had better not
interrupt her, for if you do, I'll pay you out by-and-by. Now, Nell.
Speak, Nell."

"It's this," said Helen.

She seated herself on the window-ledge, and Polly stood, tall and
defiant, at her back. Firefly dropped on her knees in front, and the
others lolled about anyhow.

"It's this," she said. "Father would like to carry on our education as
much in mother's way as possible. And he says that he is willing, for a
time at least, to do without having a resident elderly governess to live
with us."

"Oh, good gracious!" exclaimed Polly, "was there ever such an idea
thought of?"

"She'd have spectacles," said Dolly.

"And a hooked nose," remarked Katie.

"And she'd be sure to squint, and have false teeth, and I'd hate her,"
snapped Firefly, putting on her most vindictive face.

"Well, it's what's generally done," said Helen, in her grave, sad,
steady, young voice. "You remember the Brewsters when they - they had
their great sorrow - how an elderly governess came, and Aunt Maria
Cameron has written to father about two already. She speaks of them as
treasures; father showed me the letters. He says he supposes it is quite
the usual thing, and he asked me what I'd like. Poor father, you see he
must be out all day with the sick folks."

"Of course," murmured Polly. "Well, what did you answer him about the
old horrors, Nell?"

"One seemed rather nice," said Helen. "She was about forty-five, and had
thin grayish hair. Aunt Maria sent her photograph, and said that she was
a treasure, and that father ought not to lose an hour in securing her.
Her name was Miss Jenkins."

"Jenkins or Jones, I'd have given her sore bones," spitefully improvised
Firefly.

"Well, she's not to come," continued Helen, "at least, not at present.
For I have persuaded father to let us try the other plan. He says all
our relations will be angry with him; of course, he is not likely to
care for that. This is what we are to try, girls, if you are agreeable.
Father is going to get the very best daily governess from Nettleship to
come here every morning. She will stay until after early dinner, and
then George will drive her back to town in the pony trap. And then Mr.
Masters is to come twice a week, as usual, about our music, and Mr.
Danvers for drawing. And Miss Wilson is to stay here most of the day to
look after Bunny and Bob. That is a much better arrangement than having
a resident governess, is it not?"

"Yes," said three or four voices, but Polly was silent, and Firefly,
eagerly watching her face, closed her own resolute lips.

"That is part of father's plan," continued Helen. "But the other, and
more important part is this. I am to undertake the housekeeping. Father
says he would like Polly to help me a little, but the burden and
responsibility of the whole thing rests on me. And also, girls, father
says that there must be some one in absolute authority. There must be
some one who can settle disputes, and keep things in order, and so he
says that unless you are all willing to do what I ask you to do, the
scheme must still fall through, and we must be like the Brewsters or any
other unhappy girls whose mothers are no longer with them, and have our
resident governess."

"I know you won't like to obey me," continued Helen, looking anxiously
round, "but I don't think I'll be hard on you. No, I am sure I shall not
be hard on any of you."

"That remains to be proved," said Polly. "I don't think I like that
plan. I won't give any answer at present - I'll think about it. Come
along, Fly," she nodded to her younger sister, and then, lifting the
heavy bottom sash of the window where Helen had been sitting, stepped
lightly out, followed by the obedient Firefly.

"I don't want to obey Nell," said the little sister, clasping two of
Polly's fingers with her thin, small hand. "If it was you, Poll Parrot,
it would be a different thing, but I don't want to obey Nell. I don't
think it's fair; she's only my sister, like the rest of them. There's
nothing said in the Catechism about obeying sisters. It's only fathers
and mothers, and spiritual pastors and masters."

"And all those put in authority over you," proceeded Polly, shaking her
fingers free, and facing round on Firefly, in a way which caused that
young person to back several inches. "If Helen once gets the authority
the Catechism is on her side, not on yours."

"But I needn't promise, need I?" pouted Firefly. "If it was you, it
would be different. I always did what you wanted me to do, Polly
Perkins."

"Of course you did," responded Polly, in a most contemptuous voice.
"Will a duck swim? I led you into mischief - of course you followed.
Well, Fly, it rests with yourself. Don't obey our dear, good, gentle
Nelly, and you'll have Miss Jenkins here. Won't it be fun to see her
squinting at you over her spectacles when she returns your
spelling-lessons. Bread and water will be your principal diet most of
the week. Well, good-by now; I'm off to baby."

Polly took to her heels, and Firefly stood for a moment or two looking
utterly miserable and irresolute on the wide gravel walk in the center
of the flower-garden. She felt very much inclined to stamp her feet and
to screw up her thin little face into contortions of rage. Even very
little girls, however, won't go into paroxysms of anger when there is no
one there to see. Firefly's heart was very sore, for Polly, her idol,
had spoken to her almost roughly.

"I wish mother wasn't in heaven," she murmured in a grieved little
voice, and then she turned and walked back to the house. The nearer she
approached the study window the faster grew her footsteps. At last, like
a little torrent, she vaulted back into the room, and flung her arms
noisily round Helen's neck.

"I'll obey you, darling Nell," she said. "I'd much rather have you than
Miss Jenkins."

And then she sobbed aloud, and really shook herself, for she felt still
so angry with Polly.

"That's a good little Fly," said Helen, kissing her affectionately in
return, and putting her arm round her waist, so as to establish her
comfortably on her knee. The other girls were all lying about in
different easy attitudes, and Firefly joined in the general talk, and
found herself much comforted.




CHAPTER V.

A SAFETY-VALVE.


"Fly caved in, didn't she?" said Polly to her eldest sister that night.

"Yes, poor little mite, she did, in a touching way," said Helen; "but
she seemed in trouble about something. You know how reserved she is
about her feelings, but when she sat on my knee she quite sobbed."

"I was rather brutal to her," said Polly, in a nonchalant tone, flinging
up the sash of the bedroom window as she spoke, and indulging in a
careless whistle.

It was bed-time, but the girls were tempted by the moonlight night to
sit up and look out at the still, sweet beauty, and chatter together.

"How could you be unkind to her?" said Helen, in a voice of dismay.
"Polly, dear, do shut that window again, or you will have a sore throat.
How could you be unkind to poor little Fly, Poll, when she is so devoted
to you?"

"The very reason," said Polly. "She'd never have gone over to you if I
hadn't. I saw rebellion in that young 'un's eye - that was why I called
her out. I was determined to nip it in the bud."

"But you rebelled yourself?"

"Yes, and I mean to go on rebelling. I am not Fly."

"Well, Polly," said Helen, suppressing a heavy sigh on her own account;
"you know I don't want you a bit to obey me. I am not a mistressing sort
of girl, and I like to consult you about things, and I want us both to
feel more or less as equals. Still father says there are quite two years
between us, and that the scheme cannot be worked at all unless some one
is distinctly at the head. He particularly spoke of you, Polly, and said
that if you would not agree we must go back to the idea of Miss Jenkins,
or that he will let this house for a time, and send us all to school."

"A worse horror than the other," said Polly. "I wouldn't be a
school-girl for all you could give me! Why, the robin's nest might be
discovered by some one else, and my grubs and chrysalides would come to
perfection without me. No, no; rather than that - can't we effect a
compromise, Nell?"

"What is it?" asked Helen. "You know _I_ am willing to agree to
anything. It is father."

"Oh, yes; poor Nell, you're the meekest and mildest of mortals. Now,
look here, wouldn't this be fun?"

Polly's black eyes began to dance.

"You know how fond I always was of housekeeping. Let me housekeep every
second week. Give me the money and let me buy every single thing and pay
for it, and don't interfere with me whatever I do. I'll promise to be as
good as gold always, and obey you in every single thing, if only I have
this safety-valve. Let me expend myself upon the housekeeping, and I'll
be as good, better than gold. I'll help you, and be your right hand,
Nell; and I'll obey you in the most public way before all the other
girls, and as to Fly, see if I don't keep her in hand. What do you think
of this plan, Nell? I, with my safety-valve, the comfort of your life, a
sort of general to keep your forces in order."

"But you really can't housekeep, Polly. Of course I'd like to please
you, and father said himself you were to help me in the house. But to
manage everything - why, it frightens me, and I am two years older."

"But you have so very little spirit, darling. Now it doesn't frighten me
a bit, and that's why I'm so certain I shall succeed splendidly. Look
here, Nell, let me speak to father, myself; if he says 'yes,' you won't
object, will you?"

"Of course not," said Helen.

"You are a darling - I'll soon bring father round. Now, shall we go to
bed? - I am so sleepy."

The next morning at breakfast Polly electrified her brothers and sisters
by the very meek way in which she appealed to Helen on all occasions.

"Do you think, Nell, that I ought to have any more of this marmalade on
fresh bread? I ate half a pot yesterday on three or four slices of hot
bread from the oven, and felt quite a dizzy stupid feeling in my head
afterwards."

"Of course, how could you expect it to agree with you, Polly?" said
Helen, looking up innocently from her place at the tea-tray.

"Had better have a little of this stale bread-and-butter then, dear?"
proceeded Polly in a would-be anxious tone.

"Yes, if you will, dear. But you never like stale bread-and-butter."

"I'll eat it if you wish me to, Helen," answered Polly, in a very meek,
good little voice.

The two boys began to chuckle, and even Dr. Maybright looked at his
second daughter in a puzzled, abstracted way. Helen, too, colored
slightly, and wondered what Polly meant. But the young lady herself
munched her stale bread with the most immovable of faces, and even held
up the slice for Helen to scrutinize, with the gentle, good little
remark - "Have I put too much butter on it, Nell? It isn't right to
waste nice good butter, is it?"

"Oh, Polly, how dreadful you are?" said Fly.

"What do you mean?" said Polly, fiercely.

She dropped her meek manners, gave one quick glare at the small speaker,
and then half turning her back on her, said in the gentlest of voices,
"What would you like me to do this morning, Helen? Shall I look over my
history lesson for an hour, and then practise scales on the piano?"

"You may do just as you please, as far as I am concerned," replied
Helen, who felt that this sort of obedience was far worse for the others
than open rebellion. "I thought you wanted to see father, Polly. He has
just gone into his study, and perhaps he will give you ten minutes, if
you go to him at once."

This speech of Helen's caused Polly to forget her role of the meek,
obedient martyr. Her brow cleared.

"Thank you for reminding me, Nell," she said, in her natural voice, and
for a moment later she was knocking at the Doctor's study door.

"Come in," he said. And when the untidy head and somewhat neglected
person of his second daughter appeared, Dr. Maybright walked towards
her.

"I am going out, Polly, do you want me?" he said.

"Yes, it won't take a minute," said Polly, eagerly. "May I housekeep
every second week instead of Nell? Will you give me the money instead of
her, and let me pay for everything, and buy the food. I am awfully
interested in eggs and butter, and I'll give you splendid puddings and
cakes. Please say yes, father - Nell is quite willing, if you are."

"How old are you, Polly?" said Dr. Maybright.

He put his hand under Polly's chin and raised her childish face to
scrutinize it closely.

"What matter about my age," she replied; "I'm fourteen in body - I'm
twenty in mind - and as to housekeeping, I'm thirty, if not forty."

"That head looks very like thirty, if not forty," responded the Doctor
significantly. "And that dress," glancing at where the hem was torn, and
where the body gaped open for want of sufficient hooks, "looks just the
costume I should recommend for the matron of a large establishment. Do
you know what it means to housekeep for this family, Polly?"

"Buy the bread and butter, and the meat, and the poultry, and the tea,
and the sugar, and the citron, and raisins, and allspice, and nutmegs,
and currants, and flour, and brick-bat, and hearthstone,
and - and - - "

Dr. Maybright put his fingers to his ears. "Spare me any more," said he,
"I never ask for items. There are in this house, Polly, nine children,
myself, and four servants. That makes in all fourteen people. These
people have to be fed and clothed, and some of them have to be paid
wages too; they have to be warmed, they have to be kept clean, in short,
all their comforts of body have to be attended to; one of them requires
one thing, one quite another. For instance, the dinner which would be
admirably suited to you would kill baby, and might not be best for
Firefly, who is not strong, and has to be dieted in a particular way. I
make it a rule that servants' wages and all articles consumed in the
house are paid for weekly. Whoever housekeeps for me has to undertake
all this, and has to make a certain sum of money cover a certain
expenditure. Now do you think, Polly - do you honestly think - that you,
an ignorant little girl of fourteen, a very untidy and childish little
girl, can undertake this onerous post? I ask you to answer me quite
honestly - if you undertake it, are you in the least likely to succeed?"

"Oh, father, I know you mean to crush me when you speak like that; but
you know you told Helen that you would like her to try to manage the
housekeeping."

"I did - and, as I know you are fond of domestic things, I meant you to
help her a little. Helen is two years older than you, and - not the
least like you, Polly."

Polly tossed her head.

"I know that," she said. "Helen takes twice as long learning her
lessons. Try my French beside hers, father; or my German, or my music."

"Or your forbearance - or your neatness," added the Doctor.

Here he sighed deeply.

"I miss your mother, Polly," he said. "And poor, poor child! so do you.
There, I can't waste another minute of my time with you now. Come to my
study this evening at nine, and we will discuss the matter further."




CHAPTER VI.

POLLY'S RAID.


Polly spent some hours of that day in a somewhat mysterious occupation.
Instead of helping, as she had done lately, in quite an efficient way,
with the baby, for she was a very bright child, and could be most
charming and attractive to the smallest living creature when she chose,
she left nurse and the little brown-eyed baby to their own devices, and
took up a foraging expedition through the house. She called it her raid,
and Polly's raid proved extremely disturbing to the domestic economy of
the household. For instance, when Susan, the very neat housemaid, had
put all the bedrooms in perfect order, and was going to her own room to
change her dress and make herself tidy, it was very annoying to hear
Polly, in a peremptory tone, desiring her to give her the keys of the
linen-press.

"For," said that young lady, "I'm going to look through the towels this
morning, Susan, to see which of them want darning, and you had better
stay with me, to take away those that have thin places in them."

"Oh, dear me, Miss Polly," said Susan, rather pertly, "the towels is
seen to in the proper rotation. You needn't be a fretting your head
about 'em, miss. This ain't the morning for the linen-press, miss. It's
done at its proper time and hour."

"Give me the key at once, Susan, and don't answer," said Polly. "There,
hold your apron - I'll throw the towels in. What a lot - I don't believe
we want half as many. When I take the reins of office next week, I'll
put away quite half of these towels. There can't be waste going on in
the house - I won't have it, not when I housekeep, at any rate. Susan,
wasn't that a little round speck of a hole in that towel? Ah, I thought
so. You put it aside, Susan, you'll have to darn it this afternoon. Now
then, let me see, let me see."

Polly worked vigorously through the towels, holding them up to the light
to discover their thin places, pinching them in parts, and feeling their
texture between her finger and thumb. In the end she pronounced about a
dozen unworthy of domestic service, and Susan was desired to spend her
afternoon in repairing them.

"I can't, then, Miss Polly," said the much injured housemaid. "It ain't
neither the day nor the hour, and I haven't got one scrap of proper
darning thread left."

"I'll go to the village, then, and get some," said Polly. "It's only a
mile away. Things can't be neglected - it isn't right. Take the towels,
Susan, and let me find them mended to-morrow morning;" and the young
lady tripped off with a very bright color in her cheeks, and the key of
the linen-press in her pocket.

Her next visit was to the kitchen regions.

"Oh, Mrs. Power," she said to the cook, "I've come to see the stores. It
isn't right that they shouldn't be looked into, is it, in case of
anything falling short. Fancy if you were run out of pearl barley, Mrs.
Power, or allspice, or nutmegs, or mace. Oh, dear, it makes me quite
shiver to think of it! What a mess you would be in, if you hadn't all
your ingredients handy, in case you were making a plum-cake, or some of
those dear little tea-cakes, or a custard, or something of that sort.
Now, if you'll just give me the keys, we'll pay a visit to the
store-room, and see what is likely to be required. I have my tablet
here, and I can write the order as I look through."

Mrs. Power was a red-faced and not a very good-humored woman. She was,
however, an excellent cook and a careful, prudent servant. Mrs.
Maybright had found her, notwithstanding her very irascible temper, a
great comfort, for she was thoroughly honest and conscientious, but even
from her late mistress Mrs. Power would never brook much interference;


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