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brown loaf stood on a trencher in the center, and when Helen took her
place opposite the tea-tray she found herself provided with plenty of
milk and sugar, certainly, and a large tea-pot of strong tea, but the
sugar was brown. No butter, no marmalade, no jams, no hot cakes, graced
the board. The children spoke of the fare as severe, and the Doctor's
dark brown eyes twinkled as he helped his family to abundant slices of
cold bacon.

"Not a word," he said, in a loud aside to his boys and girls. "I did not
think it was in Polly to be so sensible. Why, we shall get through
indigestion week quite comfortably, if she provides us with plain,
wholesome fare like this."

Polly took her own place at the table rather late. Her cheeks were still
peonyed, as Maggie expressed it, her eyes were downcast, her spirits
were decidedly low, and she had a very small appetite.

After breakfast she beat a hasty retreat, and presently the boys rushed
in in great excitement, to announce to Helen and Katie the interesting
fact that Polly was walking across the fields accompanied by Maggie,
each of them laden with a large market-basket.

"They are almost running, both of them," exclaimed Bunny, "and pretty
Poll is awful cross, for when we wanted to go with her she just turned
round and said we'd have a worse dinner than breakfast if we didn't
leave her alone."

"We ran away quickly enough after that," continued Bob, "for we didn't
want no more cold-bacon and no-butter meals. We had a nasty breakfast
to-day, hadn't we, Nell? And Poll is a bad housekeeper, isn't she?"

"Oh, leave her alone, do," said Helen. "She is trying her very best. Run
out and play, boys, and don't worry about the meals."

The two boys, known in the family as "the scamps," quickly took their
departure, and Katie began to talk in her most grown-up manner to Helen.
Katie was a demure little damsel, she was fond of using long words, and
thought no one in the world like Helen, whom she copied in all
particulars.

"Poll is too ambitious, and she's sure to fail," she began. But Helen
shut her up.

"If Polly does fail, you'll be dreadfully sorry, I'm sure, Katie," she
said. "I know I shall be sorry. It will make me quite unhappy, for I
never saw any one take more pains about a thing than Polly has taken
over her housekeeping. Yes, it will be very sad if Polly fails; but I
don't think she will, for she is really a most clever girl. Now, Katie,
will you read your English History lesson aloud?"

Katie felt crushed. In her heart of hearts she thought even her beloved
Helen a little too lenient.

"Never mind," she said to herself, "won't Dolly and Mabel have a fine
gossip with me presently over the breakfast Polly gave us this morning."

Meanwhile the anxious, small housekeeper was making her way as rapidly
as possible in the direction of the village.

"We haven't a minute to lose, Maggie," she said, as they trudged along.
"Can you remember the list of things I gave you to buy at the grocery
shop? It is such a pity you can't read, Maggie, for if you could I'd
have written them down for you."

"It wasn't the Board's fault, nor my mother's," answered Maggie, glibly.
"It was all on account of my brain being made to fit on the top of a
sixpence. Yes, Miss, I remembers the list, and I'll go to Watson's and
the butcher's while you runs on to the farm for the butter and eggs."

"You have got to get ten things," proceeded Polly; "don't forget, ten
things at the grocer's. You had better say the list over to me."

"All right, Miss Polly, ten; I can tick one off on each finger: white
sugar, coffee, rice, marmalade, strawberry jam, apricot jam, mustard,
pickles - is they mixed or plain, Miss Polly? - raisins, currants.
There, Miss, I has them all as pat as possible."

"Well, stop a minute," said Polly. "I'm going to unlock my box now. Hold
it for me, Maggie, while I open it. Here, I'm going to take
half-a-sovereign out of the grocery division. You must take this
half-sovereign to Watson's, and pay for the things. I have not an idea
how much they cost, but I expect you'll have a good lot of change to
give me. After that, you are to go on to the butcher's, and buy four
pounds of beef-steak. Here is another half-sovereign that you will have
to pay the butcher out of. Be sure you don't mix the change, Maggie. Pop
the butcher's change into one pocket, and the grocer's change into
another. Now, do you know what we are going to have for dinner?"

"No, Miss, I'm sure I don't. I expect it'll sound big to begin with, and
end small, same as the breakfast did. Why, Miss Polly, you didn't think
cold bacon good enough for the servants, and yet you set it down in the
end afore your pa."

Polly looked hard at Maggie. She suddenly began to think her not at all
a nice girl.

"I was met by adversity," she said. "It is wrong of you to speak to me
in that tone, Maggie; Mrs. Power behaved very badly, and I could not
help myself; but she need not think she is going to beat me, and
whatever I suffer, I scorn to complain. To-night, after every one is in
bed, I am going to make lots of pies and tarts, and cakes, and
cheesecakes. You will have to help me; but we will talk of that
by-and-by. Now, I want to speak about the dinner. It must be simple
to-day. We will have a beef-steak pudding and pancakes. Do you know how
to toss pancakes, Maggie?"

"Oh, lor', Miss," said Maggie, "I did always love to see mother at it.
She used to toss 'em real beautiful, and I'm sure I could too. That's a
very nice dinner, Miss, 'olesome and good, and you'll let me toss the
pancakes, won't you, Miss Polly?"

"Well, you may try, Maggie. But here we are at the village. Now, please,
go as quickly as possible to Watson's, and the butcher's, and meet me at
this stile in a quarter of an hour. Be very careful of the change,
Maggie, and be sure you put the butcher's in one pocket and the grocer's
in another. Don't mix them - everything depends on your not mixing them,
Maggie."

The two girls parted, each going quickly in opposite directions. Polly
had a successful time at the farm, and when she once again reached the
turnstile her basket contained two dozen new-laid eggs, two or three
pounds of delicious fresh butter, and a small jug of cream. The farmer's
wife, Mrs. White, had been very pleased to see her, and had complimented
her on her discernment in choosing the butter and eggs. Her spirits were
now once again excellent, and she began to forget the sore injury Mrs.
Power had done her by locking the store-room door.

"It's all lovely," she said to herself; "it's all turning out as
pleasant as possible. The breakfast was nothing, they'd have forgotten
the best breakfast by now, and they'll have such a nice dinner. I can
easily make a fruit tart for father, as well as the pancakes, and won't
he enjoy Mrs. White's nice cream? It was very good of her to give it to
me; and it was very cheap, too - only eighteenpence. But, dear me, dear
me, how I wish Maggie would come!"

There was no sign, however, of any stout, unwieldy young person walking
down the narrow path which led to the stile. Strain her eyes as she
would, Polly could not see any sign of Maggie approaching. She waited
for another five minutes, and then decided to go home without her.

"For she may have gone round by the road," she said to herself,
"although it was very naughty of her if she did so, for I told her to be
sure to meet me at the turnstile. Still I can't wait for her any longer,
for I must pick the fruit for my tart, and I ought to see that Alice is
doing what I told her about the new curtains."

Off trotted Polly with her heavy basket once again across the fields. It
was a glorious September day, and the soft air fanned her cheeks and
raised her already excited spirits. She felt more cheerful than she had
done since her mother died, and many brilliant visions of hope filled
her ambitious little head. Yes, father would see that he was right in
trusting her; Nell would discover that there was no one so clever as
Polly; Mrs. Power would cease to defy her; Alice would obey her
cheerfully; in short, she would be the mainstay and prop of her family.

On her way through the kitchen-garden Polly picked up a number of fallen
apples, and then she went quickly into the house, to be met on the
threshold by Firefly.

"Oh, Poll Parrot, may I come down with you to the kitchen? I'd love to
see you getting the dinner ready, and I could help, indeed I could. The
others are all so cross; that is, all except Nell. Katie _is_ in a
temper, and so are Dolly and Mabel; but I stood up for you, Poll Parrot,
for I said you didn't mean to give us the very nastiest breakfast in the
world. I said it was just because you weren't experienced enough to know
any better - that's what I said, Poll."

"Well, you made a great mistake then," said Polly. "Not experienced,
indeed! as if I didn't know what a good breakfast was like. I had a
misfortune; a dark deed was done, and I was the victim, but I scorn to
complain, I let you all think as you like. No, you can't come to the
kitchen with me, Firefly; it isn't a fit place for children. Run away
now, _do_."

Poor Fly's small face grew longing and pathetic, but Polly was obdurate.

"I can't have children about," she said to herself, and soon she was
busy peeling her apples and preparing her crust for the pie. She
succeeded fairly well, although the water with which she mixed her dough
would run all over the board, and her nice fresh butter stuck in the
most provoking way to the rolling-pin. Still, the pie was made, after a
fashion, and Polly felt very happy, as she amused herself cutting out
little ornamental leaves from what remained of her pastry to decorate
it. It was a good-sized tart, and when she had crowned it with a wreath
of laurel leaves she thought she had never seen anything so handsome and
appetizing. Alas, however, for poor Polly, the making of this pie was
her one and only triumph.

The morning had gone very fast, while she was walking to the village
securing her purchases, and coming home again. She was startled when she
looked at the kitchen clock to find that it pointed to a quarter past
twelve. At the same time she discovered that the kitchen fire was nearly
out, and that the oven was cold. Father always liked the early dinner to
be on the table sharp at one o'clock; it would never, never do for
Polly's first dinner to be late. She must not wait any longer for that
naughty Maggie; she must put coals on the fire herself, and wash the
potatoes, and set them on to boil.

This was scarcely the work of an ordinary lady-like housekeeper; but
Polly tried to fancy she was in Canada, or in even one of the less
civilized settlements, where ladies put their hands to anything, and
were all the better for it.

She had a great hunt to find the potatoes, and when she had washed
them - which it must be owned she did not do at all well - she had
still greater difficulty in selecting a pot which would hold them. She
found one at last, and with some difficulty placed it on the
kitchen-range. She had built up her fire with some skill, but was
dismayed to find that, try as she would, she could get no heat into the
oven. The fact was, she had not the least idea how to direct the draught
in the right direction; and although the fire burned fiercely, and the
potatoes soon began to bubble and smoke, the oven, which was to cook
poor Polly's tart, remained cold and irresponsive.

Well, cold as it was, she would put her pie in, for time was flying as
surely it had never flown before and it was dreadful to think that there
would be nothing at all for dinner but potatoes.

Oh, why did not that wicked Maggie come! Really Polly did not know that
any one could be quite so depraved and heartless as Maggie was turning
out. She danced about the kitchen in her impatience, and began to think
she understood something of the wickedness of those cities described in
the Bible, which were destroyed by fire on account of their sins, and
also of the state of the world before the Flood came.

"They were all like Maggie," she said to herself. "I really never heard
of any one before who was quite so hopelessly bad as Maggie."

The kitchen clock pointed to the half hour, and even to twenty minutes
to one. It was hopeless to think of pancakes now - equally hopeless to
consider the possibilities of a beef-steak pudding. They would be very
lucky if they had steak in any form. Still, if Maggie came at once that
might be managed, and nice potatoes, beef-steak, apple-tart and cream
would be better than no dinner at all.

Just at this moment, when Polly's feelings were almost reduced to
despair, she was startled by a queer sound, which gradually came nearer
and nearer. It was the sound of some one sobbing, and not only sobbing,
but crying aloud with great violence. The kitchen door was suddenly
burst open, and dishevelled, tear-stained, red-faced Maggie rushed in,
and threw herself on her knees at Polly's feet.

"I has gone and done it, Miss Polly," she exclaimed. "I was
distraught-like, and my poor little bit of a brain seemed to give way
all of a sudden. Mother's in a heap of trouble, Miss Polly. I went round
to see her, for it was quite a short cut to Watson's, round by mother's,
and mother she were in an awful fixing. She hadn't nothing for the rent,
Miss Polly, 'cause the fruit was blighted this year; and the landlord
wouldn't give her no more grace, 'cause his head is big and his heart is
small, same as 'tis other way with me, Miss Polly, and the bailiffs was
going to seize mother's little bits of furniture, and mother she was
most wild. So my head it seemed to go, Miss Polly, and I clutched hold
of the half-sovereign in the butcher's pocket, and the half-sovereign in
the grocer's pocket, and I said to mother, 'Miss Polly'll give 'em to
you, 'cause it's a big heart as Miss Polly has got. They was meant for
the family dinner, but what's dinner compared to your feelings.' So
mother she borrowed of the money, Miss Polly, and I hasn't brought home
nothink; I hasn't, truly, miss."

Maggie's narrative was interspersed with very loud sobs, and fierce
catches of her breath, and her small eyes were almost sunken out of
sight.

"Oh, I know you're mad with me," she said, in conclusion. "But what's
dinner compared with mother's feelings. Oh, Miss Polly, don't look at me
like that!"

"Get up," said Polly, severely. "You are just like the people before the
Flood; I understand about them at last. I cannot speak to you now, for
we have not a moment to lose. Can you make the oven hot? There are only
potatoes for dinner, unless the apple tart can be got ready in time."

"Oh, lor'! Miss Polly, I'll soon set that going - why, you has the wrong
flue out, Miss. See now, the heat's going round it lovely. Oh, what an
elegant pie you has turned out, Miss Polly! Why, it's quite wonderful!
You has a gift in the cookery line, Miss. Oh, darling Miss Polly, don't
you be a-naming of me after them Flooders; it's awful to think I'm like
one of they. It's all on account of mother, Miss Polly. It would have
gone to your heart, Miss Polly, if you seen mother a-looking at the
eight-day clock and thinking of parting from it. Her tears made channels
on her cheeks, Miss Polly, and it was 'eart-piercing to view her. Oh, do
take back them words, Miss Polly. Don't say as I'm a Flooder."

Polly certainly had a soft heart, and although nothing could have
mortified her more than the present state of affairs, she made up her
mind to screen Maggie, and to be as little severe to her as she could.




CHAPTER XII.

POTATOES - MINUS POINT.


Dr. Maybright had reason again to congratulate himself when he sat down
to a humble dinner of boiled potatoes.

"If this regimen continues for a week," he said, under his breath, "we
must really resort to tonics. I perceive I did Polly a gross injustice.
She does not mean to make us ill with rich living."

The doctor ate his potatoes with extreme cheerfulness, remarking as he
did so on their nutritive qualities, and explaining to his discontented
family how many people lived on these excellent roots. "The only thing
we want," he said, "is a red herring; we might then have that most
celebrated of all Irish dishes - 'potatoes and point.'"

"Do tell us what that is, father," said Helen, who was anxious to draw
the direful glances of the rest of the family from poor Polly.

"'Potatoes and point,'" said Dr. Maybright, raising his head for a
moment, while a droll glance filled his eye, "is a simple but economical
form of diet. The herring is hung by a string over the center of the
board, and each person before he eats his potato points it at the
herring; by so doing a subtle flavor of herring is supposed to be
imparted to the potato. The herring lasts for some time, so the diet is
really a cheap one. Poll, dear, what is the matter? I never saw these
excellent apples of the earth better cooked."

Polly was silent; her blushing cheeks alone betrayed her. She was
determined to make a good meal, and was sustained by the consciousness
that she had not betrayed Maggie, and the hope that the apple-tart would
prove excellent.

It certainly was a noble apple-pie, and the faces of the children quite
cheered up at the sight of it. They were very hungry, and were not
particular as to the quality of the crust. Mrs. White's cream, too, was
delicious, so the second part of Polly's first dinner quite turned out a
success.

After the meal had come to an end, Helen called her second sister aside.

"Polly," she said, "I think we ought to speak to father now about the
strangers' coming. Time is going on, and if they come we ought to begin
to prepare for them, and the more I think of it the more sure I am that
they ought to come."

"All right," said Polly. "Only, is this a good time to speak to father?
For I am quite sure he must be vexed with me."

"You must not think so, Polly," said Helen, kissing her. "Father has
given you a week to try to do your best in, and he won't say anything
one way or another until the time is up. Come into his study now, for I
know he is there, and we really ought to speak to him."

Polly's face was still flushed, but the Doctor, who had absolutely
forgotten the simplicity of his late meal, received both the girls with
equal affection.

"Well, my loves," he said, "can I do anything for you? I am going for a
pleasant drive into the country this afternoon. Would you both like to
come?"

"I should very much," said Helen; but Polly, with a somewhat important
little sigh, remarked that household matters would keep her at home.

"Well, my dear, you must please yourself. But can I do anything for
either of you now? You both look full of business."

"We are, father," said Polly, who was always the impetuous one. "We want
to know if Paul and Virginia may come."

"My dear, this is the second time you have spoken to me of those
deserted orphans. I don't understand you."

"It is this, father," explained Helen. "We think the children from
Australia - the children mother was arranging about - might come here
still. We mean that Polly and I would like them to come, and that we
would do our best for them. We think, Polly and I do, that mother, even
though she is not here, would still like the strangers to come."

"Sit down, Helen," said the Doctor; the harassed look had once again
come across his face, and even Polly noticed the dimness in his eyes.

"You must not undertake too much, you two," he said. "You are only
children. You are at an age to miss your mother at every turn. We had
arranged to have a boy and girl from Australia to live here, but when
your mother - your mother was taken - I gave up the idea. It was too
late to stop their coming to England, but I think I can provide a
temporary home for them when they get to London. You need not trouble
your head about the strange children, Nell."

"It is not that," said Polly. "We don't know them yet, so of course we
don't love them, but we wish them to come here, because we wish for
their money. It will be eight pounds a week; just what you spend on the
house, you know, father."

"What a little economist!" said Dr. Maybright, stretching out his hand
and drawing Polly to him. "Yes, I was to receive £400 a year for the
children, and it would have been a help, certainly it would have been a
help by and by. Still, my dear girls, I don't see how it is to be
managed."

"But really, father, we are so many that two more make very little
difference," explained Helen. "Polly and I are going to try hard to be
steady and good, and we think it would certainly please mother if you
let the strangers come here, and we tried to make them happy. If you
would meet them, father, and bring them here just at first, we might see
how we got on."

"I might," said the Doctor in a meditative voice, "and £400 is a good
deal of money. It is not easily earned, and with a large family it is
always wanted. That's what your mother said, and she was very wise.
Still, still, children, I keep forgetting how old you are. In reality
you are, neither of you, grown up; in reality Polly is quite a child,
and you, my wise little Nell, are very little more. I have offended your
aunt, Mrs. Cameron, as it is, and what will she say if I yield to you on
this point? Still, still - - "

"Oh, father, don't mind what that tiresome Aunt Maria says or thinks on
any subject," said Polly. "Why should we mind her, she wasn't mother's
real sister. We scarcely know her at all, and she scarcely knows us. We
don't like her, and we are sure she doesn't like us. Why should she
spoil our lives, and prevent our helping you? For it would help you to
have the strangers here, wouldn't it, father?"

"By and by it would," answered the Doctor. "By and by it would help me
much."

Again the troubled expression came to his face and the dimness was
perceptible in his eyes.

"You will let us try it, father," said Helen. "We can but fail; girls as
young as us have done as much before. I am sure girls as young as we are
have done harder things before, so why should not we try?"

"I am a foolish old man," said the Doctor. "I suppose I shall be blamed
for this, not that it greatly matters. Well, children, let it be as you
wish. I will go and meet the boy and girl in London, and bring them to
the Hollow. We can have them for a month, and if we fail, children,"
added the Doctor, a twinkle of amusement overspreading his face, "we
won't tell any one but ourselves. It is quite possible that in the
future we shall be comparatively poor if we cannot manage to make that
boy and girl from Australia comfortable and happy; but Polly there has
taught us how to economize, for we can always fall back on potatoes and
point."

"Oh - oh - oh, father," came from Polly's lips.

"That is unkind, dear father," said Helen.

But they both hung about his neck and kissed him, and when Dr. Maybright
drove away that afternoon on his usual round of visits, his heart felt
comparatively light, and he owned to himself that those girls of his,
with all their eccentricities, were a great comfort to him.




CHAPTER XIII.

IN THE ATTIC.


There is no saying how Polly's week of housekeeping might have ended,
nor how substantial her castle in the air might have grown, had not a
catastrophe occurred to her of a double and complex nature.

The first day during which Polly and Maggie, between them, catered for
and cooked the family meals, produced a plain diet in the shape of cold
bacon for breakfast, and a dinner of potatoes, minus "point." But on the
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of that week Maggie quite redeemed her
character of being a Flooder, and worked under Polly with such goodwill
that, as she herself expressed it, her small brains began to grow.
Fortunately, Mrs. Ricketts, Maggie's mother, was not obliged to meet her
rent every day of the week, therefore no more of Polly's four pounds
went in that direction. And Polly read Mrs. Beaton's Cookery-book with
such assiduity, and Maggie carried out her directions with such implicit
zeal and good faith, that really most remarkable meals began to grace
the Doctor's board. Pastry in every imaginable form and guise, cakes of
all descriptions; vegetables, so cooked and so flavored, that their
original taste was completely obliterated; meats cooked in German,
Italian, and American styles; all these things, and many more, graced
the board and speedily vanished. The children became decidedly excited
about the meals, and Polly was cheered and regarded as a sort of queen.
The Doctor sighed, however, and counted the days when Nell and Mrs.


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