Copyright
L.T. Meade.

Polly A New-Fashioned Girl online

. (page 3 of 19)
Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 3 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


it is therefore little to be wondered at that Polly's voluminous speech
was not very well received.

Mrs. Power's broad back was to the young lady, as she danced gleefully
into the kitchen, and it remained toward her, with one ear just slightly
turned in her direction, all the time she was speaking.

Mrs. Power was busy at the moment removing the fat from a large vessel
full of cold soup. She has some pepper and salt, and nutmegs and other
flavoring ingredients on the table beside her, and when Polly's speech
came to a conclusion she took up the pepper canister and certainly
flavored the soup with a very severe dose.

"If I was you, I'd get out of the hot kitchen, child - I'm busy, and not
attending to a word you're talking about."

No answer could have been more exasperating to Polly. She, too, had her
temper, and had no idea of being put down by twenty Mrs. Powers.

"Take care, you're spoiling the soup," she said. "That's twice too much
pepper - and oh, what a lot of salt! Don't you know, Mrs. Power, that
it's very wicked to waste good food in that way - it is, really, perhaps
you did not think of it in that light, but it is. I'm afraid you can't
ever have attended any cookery classes, Mrs. Power, or you'd know better
than to put all that pepper into that much soup. Why it ought to be - it
ought to be - let me see, I think it's the tenth of an ounce to half a
gallon of soup. I'm not quite sure, but I'll look up the cookery
lectures and let you know. Now, where's the key of the store-room - we'd
better set to work for the morning is going on, and I have a great deal
on my hands. Where's the key of the store-room, Mrs. Power?"

"There's only one key that I know much about at the present moment,"
replied the exasperated cook, "and that's the key of the kitchen-door;
come, child - I'm going to put you on the other side of it;" and so
saying, before Polly was in the least aware of her intention, she was
caught up in Mrs. Power's stalwart arms, and placed on the flags outside
the kitchen, while the door was boldly locked in her face.

This was really a check, almost a checkmate, and for a time Polly quite
shook with fury, but after a little she sufficiently recovered herself
to reflect that the reins of authority had not yet been absolutely
placed in her hands, and it might be wisest for her to keep this defeat
to herself.

"Poor old Power! you won't be here long when I'm housekeeper," reflected
Polly. "It would not be right - you're not at all a good servant. Why, I
know twice as much already as you do."

She went slowly upstairs, and going to the school-room, where the girls
were all busying themselves in different fashions, sat down by her own
special desk, and made herself very busy dividing a long old-fashioned
rosewood box into several compartments by means of stout cardboard
divisions. She was really a clever little maid in her own way, and the
box when finished looked quite neat. Each division was labeled, and
Polly's cheeks glowed as she surveyed her handiwork.

"What a very queer box," said Dolly, coming forward. "What are you so
long about, Poll Parrot? And, oh, what red cheeks!"

"Never you mind," said Polly, shutting up her box. "It's finished now,
and quite ready for father to see to-night. I'm going to become a very
important personage, Miss Doll - so you'd better begin to treat me with
respect. Oh, dear, where's the cookery book? Helen, do you know where
the "Lectures on Elementary Cookery" is? Just fancy, Nell, cook doesn't
know how much pepper should go to a gallon of soup! Did you ever hear of
such shameful ignorance?"

"Why, you surely have not been speaking to her on the subject?" said
Helen, who was busily engaged darning Bunny's socks; she raised her head
and looked at Polly in some surprise as she spoke.

"Oh, have I not, though?" Polly's charming, merry face twinkled all
over.

"I saw Susan crying just now," interposed Mabel. "She said Polly had
been - why, what is the matter, Poll?"

"Nothing," said Poll, "only if I were you, Mabel, I wouldn't tell tales
out of school. I'm going to be a person of importance, so if you're
wise, all of you, you'll keep at my blind side. Oh dear! where is that
cookery book? Girls, you may each tell me what puddings you like best,
and what cake, and what dish for breakfast, and - - "

But here the dinner gong put an end to a subject of much interest.




CHAPTER VII.

THE GROWN-UPS.


In the evening Polly had her interview with her father. Dr. Maybright
had gone through a long and fatiguing day; some anxious cases caused him
disquiet, and his recent sorrow lay heavily against his heart. How was
the father of seven daughters, and two very scampish little sons, to
bring them up alone and unaided? How was a man's own heart to do without
the sympathy to which it had turned, the love which had strengthened,
warmed, and sustained it? Dr. Maybright was standing by the window,
looking out at the familiar garden, which showed shadowy and indistinct
in the growing dusk, when Polly crept softly into the room, and, going
up to his side, laid her pretty dimpled hand on his arm.

"Now, father," she said, eagerly, "about the housekeeping? I'm all
prepared - shall we go into the subject now?"

Dr. Maybright sighed, and with an effort roused himself out of a reverie
which was becoming very painful.

"My little girl," he said, pushing back the tumbled hair from Polly's
sunshiny face. Then he added, with a sudden change of manner, "Oh, what
a goose you are, Polly - you know as much about housekeeping as I do,
and that is nothing at all."

"I wouldn't make bold assertions," replied Polly, saucily - "I wouldn't
really, father dear; I couldn't cure a sick person, of course not, but I
could make a very nice cake for one."

"Well, let's go into the matter," said the Doctor moving to his study
table. "I have a quarter of an hour to give you, my dear, then I want to
go into the village to see Mrs. Judson before she settles for the night;
she has a nasty kind of low fever about her, and her husband is anxious,
so I promised to look in. By the way, Polly, don't any of you go nearer
the Judsons' house until I give you leave; walk at the other side of the
village, if you must go there at all. Now, my dear, about this
housekeeping. Are you seriously resolved to force your attentions upon
us for a week? We shall certainly all be most uncomfortable, and severe
attacks of indigestion will probably be the result. Is your heart set on
this, Polly, child? For, if so - well, your mother never thwarted you,
did she?"

"No, father, never - but don't talk of mother, for I don't think I can
bear it. When I was with mother somehow or other, I don't know why, I,
never wished for anything she did not like."

"Just so, my dear child. Turn up the lamp, if you please, Polly - sit
there, will you - I want to see your face. Now I will reply to the first
part of your last remark. You asked me not to speak of your mother, my
dear; I certainly will mention her name to her children. She has gone
away, but she is still one with us. Why should our dearest household
word be buried? Why should not her influence reach you and Helen and
Dolly from where she now is? She is above - she has gone into the higher
life, but she can lead you up. You understand me, Polly. Thoughts of
your mother must be your best, your noblest thoughts from this out."

"Yes, father, yes," said Polly. Her lips were trembling, her eyes were
brimful, she clasped and unclasped her hands with painful tension.

Dr. Maybright bent forward and kissed her on her forehead.

"Your mother once said to me," he continued, in a lighter tone, "Polly
is the most peculiar and difficult to manage of all my children. She has
a vein of obstinacy in her which no persuasion will overcome. It can
only be reached by the lessons which experience teaches. If possible,
and where it is not absolutely wrong, I always give Polly her own way.
She is a truthful child, and when her eyes are opened she seldom asks to
repeat the experiment."

"Mother was thinking of the hive of honey," said Polly, gravely. "When I
worried her dreadfully she let me go and take some honey away. I thought
I could manage the bees just as cleverly as Hungerford does, but I got
nervous just at the end, and I was stung in four places. I never told
any one about the stings, only mother found out."

"You did not fetch any more honey from that hive, eh, Polly?" asked the
Doctor.

"No, father. And then there was another time - and oh, yes, many other
times. But I did not know mother was just trying to teach me, when she
seemed so kind and sympathizing, and used to say in that voice of
hers - you remember mother's cheerful voice, father? - 'Well, Polly, it
is a difficult thing, but do your best.'"

"All right, child," said the Doctor, "I perceive that your mother's plan
was a wise one. Tell me quickly what ideas you have with regard to
keeping this establishment together, for it is almost time for me to run
away to Mrs. Judson. I allow eight pounds a week for all household
expenses, servants' wages, coal, light, food, medicine. I shall not
allow you to begin with so much responsibility, but for a week you may
provide our table."

"And see after the servants, please, father?" interrupted Polly, in an
eager voice.

"Well, I suppose so, just for one week, that is, after Helen has had her
turn. Your mother always managed, with the help of the vegetables and
fruit from the garden, to bring the mere table expenses into four pounds
a week; but _she_ was a most excellent manager."

"Oh, father, I can easily do it too. Why it's a lot of money! four
pounds - eighty shillings! I shouldn't be a bit surprised if I did it
for less."

"Remember, Polly, I allow no stinting; we must have a plentiful table.
No stinting, and no running in debt. Those are the absolute conditions,
otherwise I do not trust you with a penny."

"I'll keep them, father - never fear! Oh, how delighted I am! I know
you'll be pleased; I know what you'll say by-and-by. I'm certain I won't
fail, certain. I always loved cooking and housekeeping. Fancy making
pie-crust myself, and cakes, and custards! Mrs. Power is rather cross,
but she'll have to let me make what things I choose when I'm
housekeeper, won't she, father?"

"Manage it your own way, dear, I neither interfere nor wish to
interfere. Oh, what a mess we shall be in! But thank heaven it is only
for a week. My dear child, I allow you to have your way, but I own it is
with trepidation. Now I must really go to Mrs. Judson."

"But one moment, please, father. I have not shown you my plan. You think
badly of me now, but you won't, indeed you won't presently. I am all
system, I assure you. I see my way so clearly. I'll retrench without
being mean, and I'll economize without being stingy. Don't I use fine
words, father? That's because I understand the subject so thoroughly."

"Quite so, Polly. Now I must be going. Good-night, my dear."

"But my plan - you must stay to hear it. Do you see this box? It has
little divisions. I popped them all in before dinner to-day. There is a
lock and key to the box, and the lock is a strong one."

"Well, Polly?"

The Doctor began to get into his overcoat.

"Look, father, dear, please look. Each little division is marked with a
name. This one is Groceries, this one is Butcher, this is Milk, butter,
and eggs, this is Baker, this is Cheesemonger, and this is Sundries - oh
yes, and laundress, I must screw in a division for laundress somehow.
Now, father, this is my delightful plan. When you give me my four
pounds - my eighty shillings - I'll get it all changed into silver, and
I'll divide it into equal portions, and drop so much into the grocery
department, so much into the butcher's, so much into the baker's. Don't
you see how simple it will be?"

"Very, my dear - the game of chess is nothing to it. Good-night, Polly. I
sincerely hope no serious results will accrue from these efforts on my
part to teach you experience."

The Doctor walked quickly down the avenue.

"I'm quite resolved," he said to himself, "to bring them all up as much
as possible on their mother's plan, but if Polly requires many such
lessons as I am forced to give her to-night, there is nothing for it but
to send her to school. For really such an experience as we are about to
go through at her hands is enough to endanger health, to say nothing of
peace and domestic quiet. The fact is, I really am a much worried man.
It's no joke bringing up seven motherless girls, each of them with
characters; the boys are a simple matter - they have school before them,
and a career of some sort, but the girls - it really is an awful
responsibility. Even the baby has a strong individuality of her own - I
see it already in her brown eyes - bless her, she has got her mother's
eyes. But my queer, wild, clever Polly - what a week we shall have with
you presently! Now, who is that crying and sobbing in the dark?"

The Doctor swooped suddenly down on a shadowy object, which lay prone
under an arbutus shrub. "My dear little Firefly, what _is_ the matter?
You ought to be in bed ages ago - out here in the damp and cold, and
such deep-drawn sobs! What has nurse been about? This is really
extremely careless."

"It wasn't nurse's fault," sobbed Firefly, nestling her head into her
father's cheek. "I ran away from her. I hided from her on purpose."

"Then you were the naughty one. What is the matter, dear? Why do you
make things worse for me and for us all just now?"

Firefly's head sank still lower. Her hot little cheek pressed her
father's with an acute longing for sympathy. Instinct told him of the
child's need. He walked down the avenue, holding her closely.

"Wasn't you going the other way, father?" asked Firefly, squeezing her
arms tight around his neck.

"No matter, I must see you home first. Now what were those sobs about?
And why did you hide yourself from nurse?"

"'Cause I wanted to be downstairs, to listen to the grown-ups."

"The grown-ups? My dear, who are they?"

"Oh, Nell, and Poll Parrot, and Katie; I don't mind about Nell and
Polly, but it isn't fair that Katie should be made a grown-up - and she
is - she is, really, father. She is down in the school-room so
important, and just like a regular grown-up, so I couldn't stand it."

"I see. You wanted to be a grown-up too - you are seven years old, are
you not?"

"I'm more. I'm seven and a half - Katie is only eleven."

"Quite so! Katie is young compared to you, isn't she, Firefly. Still, I
don't see my way. You wished to join the grown-ups, but I found you
sobbing on the damp grass under one of the shrubs near the avenue. Is it
really under a damp arbutus shrub that the grown-ups intend to take
counsel?"

"Oh no, father, no - " here the sobs began again. "They were horrid, oh
they were horrid. They locked me out - I banged against the door, but
they wouldn't open. It was then I came up here. I wouldn't have minded
if it hadn't been for Katie."

"I see, my child. Well, run to bed now, and leave the matter in father's
hands. Ask nurse to give you a hot drink, and not to scold, for father
knows about it."

"_Darling_ father - oh, how good you are! Don't I love you! Just another
kiss - _what_ a good father you are!"

Firefly hugged the tall doctor ecstatically. He saw her disappear into
the house, and once more pursued his way down the avenue.

"Good!" he echoed to himself. "Never did a more harassed man walk. How
am I to manage those girls?"




CHAPTER VIII.

SHOULD THE STRANGERS COME?


Helen and Polly were seated together in the pleasant morning-room. Helen
occupied her mother's chair, her feet were on a high footstool, and by
her side, on a small round table, stood a large basket filled with a
heterogeneous collection of odd socks and stockings, odd gloves, pieces
of lace and embroidery, some wool, a number of knitting needles, in
short, a confused medley of useful but run-to-seed-looking articles
which the young housekeeper was endeavoring to reduce out of chaos into
order.

"Oh, Polly, how you have tangled up all this wool; and where's the
fellow of this gray glove? And - Polly, Polly - here's the handkerchief
you had such a search for last week. Now, how often do you intend me to
put this basket in order for you?"

"Once a week, dear, if not oftener," answered Polly, in suave tones.
"Please don't speak for a moment or two, Nell. I'm so much interested in
this new recipe for pie-crust. You melt equal portions of lard and butter
in so much boiling water - that's according to the size of the pie; then
you mix it into the flour, kneading it very well - and - and - and - "
Polly's voice dropped to a kind of buzz, her head sank lower over the
large cookery-book which she was studying; her elbows were on the table,
her short curling hair fell over her eyes, and a dimpled hand firmly
pressed each cheek.

Helen sighed slightly, and returned with a little gesture of resignation
to the disentangling of Polly's work-basket. As she did so she seated
herself more firmly in her mother's arm-chair. Her little figure looked
slight in its deep and ample dimensions, and her smooth fair face was
slightly puckered with anxiety.

"Polly," she said, suddenly; "Polly, leave that book alone. There's more
in the world than housekeeping and pie-crust. Do you know that I have
discovered something, and I think, I really do think, that we ought to
go on with it. It was mother's plan, and father will always agree to
anything she wished."

Polly shut up Mrs. Beaton's cookery-book with a bang, rose from her seat
at the table, and opening the window sat down where the wind could
ruffle her hair and cool her hot cheeks.

"This is Friday," she said, "and my duties begin on Monday. Helen,
pie-crust is not unimportant when success or failure hangs upon it;
puddings may become vital, Helen, and, as to cheesecakes, I would stake
everything I possess in the world on the manner in which father munches
my first cheesecake. Well, dear, never mind; I'll try and turn my
distracted thoughts in your direction for a bit. What's the discovery?"

"Only," said Helen, "that I think I know what makes father look so gray,
and why he has a stoop, and why his eyes seem so sunken. Of course there
is the loss of our mother, but that is not the only trouble. I think he
has another, and I think also, Polly, that he had this other trouble
before mother died, and that she helped him to bear it, and made plans
to lighten it for him. You remember what one of her plans was, and how
we weren't any of us too well pleased. But I have been thinking lately,
since I began to guess father's trouble, that we ought to carry it out
just the same as if our mother was with us."

"Yes," said Polly. "You have a very exciting way of putting things,
Nell, winding one up and up, and not letting in the least little morsel
of light. What is father's trouble, and what was the plan? I can't
remember any plan, and I only know about father that he's the noblest of
all noble men, and that he bears mother's loss - well, as nobody else
would have borne it. What other trouble has our dear father, Nell? God
wouldn't be so cruel as to give him another trouble."

"God is never cruel," said Helen, a beautiful, steadfast light shining
in her eyes. "I couldn't let go the faith that God is always good. But
father - oh, Polly, Polly, I am dreadfully afraid that father is going
to lose his sight."

"What?" said Polly. "_What?_ father lose his sight? No, I'm not going to
listen to you, Nell. You needn't talk like that. It's perfectly horrid
of you. I'll go away at once and ask him. Father! Why, his eyes are as
bright as possible. I'll go this minute and ask him."

"No, don't do that, Polly. I would never have spoken if I wasn't really
sure, and I don't think it would be right to ask him, or to speak about
it, until he tells us about it himself. But I began to guess it a little
bit lately, when I saw how anxious mother seemed. For she was anxious,
although she was the brightest of all bright people. And after her death
father said I was to look through some of her letters; and I found one
or two which told me that what I suspected was the case, and father
may - indeed, he probably will - become quite blind, by-and-by. That
was - that was - What's the matter, Polly?"

"Nothing," said Polly. "You needn't go on - you needn't say any more.
It's a horrid world, nothing is worth living for; pie-crust, nor
housekeeping, nor nothing. I hate the world, and every one in it, and I
hate _you_ most of all, Nell, for your horrid news. Father blind! No, I
won't believe it; it's all a lie."

"Poor Polly," said Helen. "Don't believe it, dear, I wish _I_ didn't. I
think I know a little bit how you feel. I'm not so hot and hasty and
passionate as you, and oh, I'm not half, nor a quarter, so clever, but
still, I do know how you feel; I - Polly, you startle me."

"Only you don't hate me at this moment," said Polly. "And I - don't I
hate you, just! There, you can say anything after that. I know I'm a
wretch - I know I'm hopeless. Even mother would say I was hopeless if
she saw me now, hating you, the kindest and best of sisters. But I do,
yes, I do, most heartily. So you see you aren't like me, Helen."

"I certainly never hated any one," said Helen. "But you are excited,
Polly, and this news is a shock to you. We won't talk about it one way
or other, now, and we'll try as far as possible not to think of it,
except in so far as it ought to make us anxious to carry out mother's
plan."

Polly had crouched back away from the window, her little figure all
huddled up, her cheeks with carnation spots on them, and her eyes,
brimful of the tears which she struggled not to shed, were partly hidden
by the folds of the heavy curtain which half-enveloped her.

"You were going to say something else dreadfully unpleasant," she
remarked. "Well, have it out. Nothing can hurt me very much just now."

"It's about the strangers," said Helen. "The strangers who were to come
in October. You surely can't have forgotten them, Polly."

Like magic the thunder-cloud departed from Polly's face. The tears dried
in her bright eyes, and the curtain no longer enveloped her slight,
young figure.

"Why, of course," she said. "The strangers, how could I have forgotten!
How curious we were about them. We didn't know their names. Nothing,
nothing at all - except that there were two, and that they were coming
from Australia. I always thought of them as Paul and Virginia. Dear,
dear, dear, I shall have more housekeeping than ever on my shoulders
with them about the place."

"They were coming in October," said Helen, quietly. "Everything was
arranged, although so little was known. They were coming in a sailing
vessel, and the voyage was to be a long one, and mother, herself, was
going to meet them. Mother often said that they would arrive about the
second week in October."

"In three weeks from now?" said Polly, "We are well on in September,
now. I can't imagine how we came to forget Paul and Virginia. Why, of
course, poor children, they must be quite anxious to get to us. I wonder
if I'd be a good person to go and meet them. You are so shy with
strangers, you know, Nell, and I'm not. Mother used to say I didn't know
what _mauvaise honte_ meant. I don't say that I _like_ meeting them,
poor things, but I'll do it, if it's necessary. Still, Helen, I cannot
make out what special plan there is in the strangers coming. Nor what it
has to do with father, with that horrid piece of news you told me a few
minutes ago."

"It has a good deal to say to it, if you will only listen," said Helen.
"I have discovered by mother's letters that the father of the strangers
is to pay to our father £400 a year as long as his children live here.
They were to be taught, and everything done for them, and the strangers'
father was to send over a check for £100 for them every quarter. Now,
Polly, listen. Our father is not poor, but neither is he rich, and
if - if what we fear is going to happen, he won't earn nearly so much
money in his profession. So it seems a great pity he should lose this
chance of earning £400 a year."

"But nobody wants him to lose it," said Polly. "Paul and Virginia will
be here in three weeks, and then the pay will begin. £400 a year - let
me see, that's just about eight pounds a week, that's what father says
he spends on the house, that's a lot to spend, I could do it for much
less. But no matter. What are you puckering your brows for, Helen? Of
course the strangers are coming."

"Father said they were not to come," replied Helen. "He told me so some


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 3 of 19)