Copyright
L.T. Meade.

Polly A New-Fashioned Girl online

. (page 6 of 19)
Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 6 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Power should once more peacefully reign in Polly's stead. Nurse asked
severely to have all the nursery medicine bottles replenished. Firefly
looked decidedly pasty, and, after one of Polly's richest plum-cakes,
with three tiers of different colored icings, Bunny was heard crying the
greater part of one night. Still the little cook and housekeeper bravely
pursued her career of glory, and all might have gone well, and Polly
might have worn a chastened halo of well-earned success round her brow
for the remainder of her natural life, but for the catastrophe of which
I am about to speak.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday the family fared richly, and the
household jogged along somehow, but on Friday morning Dr. Maybright
suddenly surprised his girls by telling them that unexpected business
would call him to London immediately. He could not possibly return
before Monday, but he would get a certain Dr. Strong to see after his
patients, and would start for town by the mid-day train.

The Doctor's portmanteau was quickly packed, and in what seemed a moment
of time after the receipt of the letter he had kissed his family and
bidden them good-by. Then her four younger sisters and the boys came
round Polly with a daring suggestion.

"Let's sit up late, to-night, and have a real, jolly supper," they
begged. "Let's have it at nine o'clock, up in the large garret over the
front of the house; let it be a big supper, all kinds of good things;
ginger-beer and the rest, and let's invite some people to come and eat
it with us. Do Poll - do Poll, darling."

"But," said Polly - she was dazzled by this glorious prospect - "I
haven't got a great deal of money," she said, "and Nurse will be very
angry, and Helen won't like it. For you know, children, you two boys and
Firefly, you are never allowed to sit up as late as nine o'clock."

"But for once, Poll Parrot," exclaimed the three victims; "just for
once. We are sure father would not care, and we can coax Nell to
consent; and Nurse, as to Nurse, she thinks of no one but baby; we won't
choose the garret over baby. Do, do, do say 'yes,' darling Poll."

"The dearest cook in all the world!" exclaimed Bunny, tossing his cap in
the air.

"The queen of cake-makers," said Bob, turning head over heels.

"The darlingest princess of all housekeepers," echoed Firefly, leaping
on her sister, and half-strangling her with a fierce embrace.

"And we'll all subscribe," said the twins.

"And it will really be delightfully romantic; something to remember when
you aren't housekeeper," concluded Katie.

"I'd like it awfully," said Polly, "I don't pretend that I wouldn't, and
I've just found such a recipe for whipped cream. Do you know, girls, I
shouldn't be a bit surprised - I really shouldn't - if I turned out some
meringues made all by myself for supper. The only drawback is the money,
for Mrs. White does charge a lot for cream, and I don't mind owning to
you all, now that you are nice and sympathetic, that the reason you had
only potatoes for dinner on Monday was because Maggie and I met with a
misfortune; it was a money trouble," continued Polly, with an important
air, "and of course children like you cannot understand what money
troubles mean. They are wearing, very, and Maggie says she thinks I'm
beginning to show some crow's feet around my eyes on account of them.
But never mind, I'm not going to cast the shadows of money troubles on
you all, and this thing is not to be spoken of, only it makes me very
short now."

"But we'll help you, Poll," said all the eager voices. "Let's fetch our
purses and see what we can spare."

In a twinkling many odd receptacles for holding money made an
appearance, and the children between them found they could muster the
noble sum of six shillings. All this was handed to Polly, who said,
after profound deliberation, that she thought she could make it go
furthest and make most show in the purchase of cream and ginger-beer.

"I'll scrape the rest together, somehow," she said, in conclusion, "and
Maggie will help me fine. Maggie's a real brick now, and her brains are
growing beautifully."

But there was another point to be decided - Who were to be invited to
partake of the supper, and was Nurse to be told, and was Helen to be
consulted?

Certainly Polly would not have ventured to carry out so daring a scheme
without Helen's consent and cooperation, if it had not happened that she
was away for the day. She had taken the opportunity to drive into the
nearest town five miles away with her father, and had arranged to spend
the day there, purchasing several necessary things, and calling on one
or two friends.

"And it will be much too late to tell Nell when she comes back," voted
all the children. "If she makes a fuss then, and refuses to join, she
will spoil everything. We are bound too, to obey Helen, so we had much
better not give her the chance of saying 'no.' Let us pretend to go to
bed at our usual hour, and say nothing to either Nurse or Helen. We can
tell them to-morrow if we like, and they can only scold us. Yes, that is
the only thing to do, for it would never, never do to have such a jolly
plan spoilt."

A unanimous vote was therefore carried that the supper in the garret was
to be absolutely secret and confidential, and, naughty as this plan of
carrying out their pleasure was, it must be owned that it largely
enhanced the fun. The next point to consider was, who were to be the
invited guests? There were no boys and girls of the children's own class
in life within an easy distance.

"Therefore there is no one to ask," exclaimed Katie, in her shortest and
most objectionable manner.

But here Firefly electrified her family by quoting Scripture.

"When thou makest a supper," she began.

All the others rose in a body and fell upon her. But she had started a
happy idea, and in consequence, Mrs. Ricketts' youngest son and
daughter, and the three very naughty and disreputable sons of Mrs.
Jones, the laundress, were invited to partake of the coming feast.

The rest of the day passed to all appearance very soberly. Helen was
away. The Doctor's carriage neither came nor went; the Doctor himself,
with his kindly voice, and his somewhat brusque, determined manner,
awoke no echoes in the old house. Nurse was far away in the nursery
wing, with the pretty, brown-eyed baby and the children; all the girls
and the little boys were remarkably good.

To those who are well acquainted with the habits and ways of young
folks, too much goodness is generally a suspicious circumstance. There
is a demure look, there is an instant obedience, there is an absence of
fretfulness, and an abnormal, although subdued, cheerfulness, which
arouses the watchful gaze of the knowing among mothers, governesses, and
nurses.

Had Nurse been at dinner that day she might have been warned of coming
events by Bunny's excellent behavior; by Bob's rigid refusal to partake
twice of an unwholesome compound, which went by the name of iced
pudding; by Firefly's anxiety to be all that a good and proper little
girl should be. But Nurse, of course, had nothing to say to the family
dinner. Helen was away, the Doctor was nearing the metropolis, and the
little boys' daily governess was not dining with the family.

These good children had no one to suspect them, and all went smoothly;
in short, the wheels of the house machinery never seemed more admirably
oiled.

True, had any one listened very closely there might have been heard the
stealthy sound of shoeless feet ascending the rickety step-ladder which
led to the large front garret. Shoeless feet going up and down many,
many times. Trays, too, of precious crockery were carried up, baskets
piled with evergreens and flowers were conveyed thither, the linen
cupboard was ruthlessly rifled for snowy tablecloths and table napkins
of all descriptions. Then later in the day a certain savory smell might
have been perceived by any very suspicious person just along this
special passage and up that dusty old ladder. For hot bread and hot
pastry and hot cakes were being conveyed to the attic, and the sober
twins themselves fetched the cream from the farm, and the ginger beer
from the grocer's.

No one was about, however, to suspect, or to tell tales if they did
suspect.

Helen came home about seven o'clock, rather tired, and very much
interested in her purchases, to find a cozy tea awaiting her, and Polly
anxious to serve her. The twin girls were supposed to be learning their
lessons in the school-room, Katie was nowhere to be seen, and Helen
remarked casually that she supposed the young ones had gone to bed.

"Oh, yes," said Polly, in her quickest manner.

She turned her back as she spoke, and the blush which mantled her brown
face was partly hidden by her curly dark hair.

"I am very hungry," said Helen. "Really, Polly, you are turning out an
excellent housekeeper - what a nice tea you have prepared for me. How
delicious these hot cakes are! I never thought, Poll, you would make
such a good cook and manager, and to think of your giving us such
delicious meals on so little money. But you are eating nothing yourself,
love, and how hot your cheeks are!"

"Cooking is hot work, and takes away the appetite," said Polly.

She was listening in agony that moment, for over Helen's head certain
stealthy steps were creeping; they were the steps of children, leaving
their snug beds, and gliding as quietly as possible in the direction of
the savory smells and the dusty ladder and the large dirty,
spidery - but oh, how romantic, how fascinating - front attic. Never
before did Polly realize how many creaky boards there were in the house;
oh, surely Helen would observe those steps; but, no, she cracked her egg
tranquilly, and sipped her tea, and talked in her pleasantest way of
Polly's excellent cooking, and of her day's adventures.

Time was going on; it would soon be eight o'clock. Oh, horrors, why
would the Rickettses and Mrs. Jones's three boys choose the path through
the shrubbery to approach the house! The morning room, where Helen was
taking her tea, looked out on the shrubbery, and although it was now
quite dark in the world of nature, those dreadful rough boys would crack
boughs, and stumble and titter as they walked. Polly's face grew hotter
and her hands colder; never did she bless her sister's rather slow and
unsuspicious nature more than at this moment, for Helen heard no boughs
crack, nor did the stealthy, smothered laughter, so distinctly audible
to poor Polly, reach her ears.

At ten minutes to eight Helen rose from the table.

"I'm going up to Nurse to show her what things I have bought for baby,"
she said. "We are going to short-coat baby next week, so I have a good
deal to show her, and I won't be down again for a little bit."

"All right," said Polly, "I have plenty to do; don't worry about me till
you see me, Nell."

She danced out of the room, and in excellent spirits joined a large and
boisterous party in the front attic. Now, she assured her family and her
guests, all would go well; they were safely housed in a distant and
unused part of the establishment, and might be as merry and as noisy as
they pleased; no one would hear them, no one would miss them, no one
would suspect them.

And all might have gone according to Polly's programme, and to this day
that glorious feast in the attic might have remained a secret in the
private annals of the house of Maybright, but for that untoward thing
which I am about to tell.

At that very moment while the Maybrights, the Rickettses, and the
Joneses were having delightful and perfectly untrammeled intercourse
with each other, a very fidgety old lady was approaching the Hollow,
being carefully conducted thither in a rickety fly. A large traveling
trunk was on the box seat of the fly, and inside were two or three
bandboxes, a couple of baskets, a strap bursting with railway rugs,
cloaks, and umbrellas, and last, but not least, a snarling little toy
terrier, who barked and whined, and jumped about, and licked his
mistress's hand.

"Down, Scorpion," exclaimed Mrs. Cameron; "behave yourself, sir. You
really become more vicious every day. Get in that corner, and don't stir
till I give you leave. Now, then, driver," opening the window and poking
her head out, "when are we getting to Sleepy Hollow? Oh! never, never
have I found myself in a more outlandish place."

"We be a matter of two miles from there, ma'am," said the man. "You set
easy, and keep yourself quiet, for the beast won't go no faster."

Mrs. Cameron subsided again into the depths of the musty old fly with a
groan.

"Outlandish - most outlandish!" she remarked again. "Scorpion, you may
sit in my lap if you like to behave yourself, sir. Well, well, duty
calls me into many queer quarters. Scorpion, if you go on snarling and
growling I shall slap you smartly. Yes, poor Helen; I never showed my
love for her more than when I undertook this journey: never, never. Oh!
how desolate that great moor does look; I trust there are no robbers
about. It's perfectly awful to be in a solitary cab, with anything but a
civil driver, alone on these great moors. Well, well, how could Helen
marry a man like Dr. Maybright, and come to live here? He must be the
oddest person, to judge from the letter he wrote me. I saw at once there
was nothing for me but to make the stupendous effort of coming to see
after things myself. Poor dear Helen! she was a good creature, very
handsome, quite thrown away upon that doctor. I was fond of her; she was
like a child to me long ago. It is my duty to do what I can for her
orphans. Now, Scorpion, what is the matter? You are quite one of the
most vicious little dogs I have ever met. Oh, do be quiet, sir."

But at that moment the fly drew up with a jolt. The driver deliberately
descended from his seat, and opened the door, whereupon Scorpion, with a
snarl and bound, disappeared into the darkness.

"He's after a cat," remarked the man, laconically. "This be the Hollow,
ma'am, if you'll have the goodness to get out."

"Sleepy Hollow," remarked Mrs. Cameron to herself, as she steadily
descended. "Truly I should think so; but I am much mistaken if I don't
wake it up."




CHAPTER XIV.

AUNT MARIA.


"Ef you please, Miss Helen," said Alice, the neat housemaid, putting in
her head at the nursery door, "there's a lady downstairs, and a heap of
luggage, and the nastiest little dog I ever saw. He has almost killed
the Persian kitten, Miss, and he is snarling and snapping at every one.
See, he took this bit out of my apron, miss. The old lady says as her
name is Mrs. Cameron, and she has come to stay; and she'd be glad if
you'd go down to her immediately, Miss Helen."

"Aunt Maria!" said Helen, in an aghast voice. "Aunt Maria absolutely
come - and father away! Nursie, I must fly down - you will understand
about those flannels. Oh! I am sorry Aunt Maria has come. What will
Polly say?"

Helen felt a curious sinking at her heart as she descended the stairs;
but she was a very polite and well-mannered girl, and when she went up
to Mrs. Cameron she said some pretty words of welcome, which were really
not overdone. Mrs. Cameron was a short, stout person; she always wore
black, and her black was always rusty. She stood now in the middle of
the drawing-room, holding Scorpion in her arms, with her bonnet-strings
untied, and her full, round face somewhat flushed.

"No, my dear, you are not particularly glad to see me," she said, in
answer to Helen's gentle dignified greeting. "I don't expect it, child,
nor look for it; and you need not waste untruths upon me, for I always
see through them. You are not glad to see me, and I am not surprised,
for I assure you I intend to make myself disagreeable. Helen, your
father is a perfect fool. Now, my dear, you need not fire up; you would
say so if you were as old as me, and had received as idiotic an epistle
from him."

"But I am not as old as you, and he is my father," said Helen, steadily.
"I don't tell untruths, Aunt Maria, and I am glad to see you
because - because you were fond of mother. Will you come into the
dining-room now, and let me get you some tea?"

Helen's lips were quivering, and her dark blue eyes were slightly
lowered, so that Aunt Maria should not notice the tears that filled
them. The old lady, however, had noticed these signs of emotion, and
brave words always pleased her.

"You aren't a patch on your mother, child," she said. "But you remind me
of her. Yes, take me to my room first, and then get me a good
substantial meal, for I can tell you I am starving."

Helen rang the bell.

"Alice," she said to the parlor maid, who speedily answered the summons,
"will you get the rose room ready as quickly as possible? My aunt, Mrs.
Cameron, will stay here for the night. And please lay supper in the
dining-room. Tell Mrs. Power - oh, I forgot - see and get as nice a
supper as you can, Alice. You had better speak to Miss Polly."

"Yes, Miss," said Alice. Then she paused, hesitated, colored slightly,
and said, in a dubious manner, "Is it the rose room you mean, Miss
Helen? That's the room Miss Polly is getting ready for Miss Virginy, and
there ain't no curtains to the window nor to the bed at present."

"Then I won't sleep in that bed," said Mrs. Cameron. "I must have a
four-poster with curtains all round, and plenty of dark drapery to the
windows. My eyes are weak, and I don't intend to have them injured with
the cold morning light off the moor."

"Oh, Aunt Maria, the mornings aren't very light now," answered Helen.
"They are - - "

But Mrs. Cameron interrupted her.

"Don't talk nonsense, child. In a decent place like Bath I own the day
may break gradually, but I expect everything contrary to civilized
existence here. The very thought of those awful commons makes me shiver.
Now, have you, or have you not, a four-poster, in which I can sleep?"

Helen smothered a slight sigh. She turned once again to Alice.

"Will you get my father's room ready for Mrs. Cameron," she said, "and
then see about supper as quickly as possible? Father is away for a few
days," she added, turning to the good lady. "Please will you come up to
Polly's and my room now to take off your things?"

"And where is Polly?" said Mrs. Cameron. "And why doesn't she come to
speak to her aunt? There's Kate, too, she must be a well-grown girl by
now, and scarcely gone to bed yet. The rest of the family are, I
presume, asleep; that is, if there's a grain of sense left in the
household."

"Yes, most of the children are in bed," replied Helen. "You will see
Polly and Katie, and perhaps the twins, later on, but first of all I
want to make you comfortable. You must be very tired; you have had a
long journey."

"I'm beat out, child, and that's the truth. Here, I'll lay Scorpion down
in the middle of your bed; he has been a great worry to me all day, and
he wants his sleep. He likes to get between the sheets, so if you don't
mind I'll open the bed and let him slip down."

"If you want me to be truthful, I do mind very much," said Helen. "Oh,
you are putting him into Polly's bed. Well, I suppose he must stay there
for the present."

Mrs. Cameron was never considered an unamiable person; she was well
spoken of by her friends and relations, for she was rich, and gave away
a great deal of money to various charities and benevolent institutions.
But if ever any one expected her to depart in the smallest particular
from her own way they were vastly mistaken. Whatever her goal, whatever
her faintest desire, she rode roughshod over all prejudices until she
obtained it. Therefore it was that, notwithstanding poor Helen's
protest, Scorpion curled down comfortably between Polly's sheets, and
Mrs. Cameron, well pleased at having won her point, went down to supper.

Alas, and alas! the supper provided for the good lady was severe in its
simplicity. Alice, blushing and uncomfortable, called Helen out of the
room, and then informed her that neither Polly nor Maggie could be
found, and that there was literally nothing, or next to nothing, in the
larder.

"But that can't be the case," said Helen, "for there was a large piece
of cold roast beef brought up for my tea, and a great plate of hot
cakes, and an uncut plum cake. Surely, Alice, you must be mistaken."

"No, Miss, there's nothing downstairs. Not a joint, nor a cake, nor
nothing. If it wasn't that I found some new-laid eggs in the hen-house,
and cut some slices from the uncooked ham, I couldn't have had nothing
at all for supper - and - and - - "

"Tut, tut!" suddenly exclaimed a voice in the dining-room. "What's all
this whispering about? It is very rude of little girls to whisper
outside doors, and not to attend to their aunts when they come a long
way to see them. If you don't come in at once, Miss Helen, and give me
my tea, I shall help myself."

"Find Polly, then, as quick as you can, Alice," exclaimed poor,
perplexed Helen, "and tell her that Aunt Maria Cameron has come and is
going to stay."

Alice went away, and Helen, returning to the dining-room, poured out
tea, and cut bread-and-butter, and saw her aunt demolishing with
appetite three new-laid eggs, and two generous slices of fried ham.

"Your meal was plain; but I am satisfied with it," she said in
conclusion. "I am glad you live frugally, Helen; waste is always sinful,
and in your case peculiarly so. You don't mind my telling you, my dear,
that I think it is a sad extravagance wearing crape every day, but of
course you don't know any better. You are nothing in the world but an
overgrown child. Now that I have come, my dear, I shall put this and
many other matters to rights. Tell me, Helen, how long does your father
intend to be away?"

"Until Monday, I think, Aunt Maria."

"Very well; then you and I will begin our reforms to-morrow. I'll take
you round with me, and we'll look into everything. Your father won't
know the house when he comes back. I've got a treasure of a woman in my
eye for him - a Miss Grinsted. She is fifty, and a strict
disciplinarian. She will soon manage matters, and put this house into
something like order. I had a great mind to bring her with me; but I can
send for her. She can be here by Monday or Tuesday. I told her to be in
readiness, and to have her boxes packed. My dear, I wish you would not
poke out your chin so much. How old are you? Oh, sixteen - a very gawky
age. Now then, that I am refreshed and rested, I think that we'll just
go round the house."

"Will you not wait until to-morrow, Aunt Maria? The children are all
asleep and in bed now, and Nurse never likes them to be disturbed."

"My dear, Nurse's likes or dislikes are not of the smallest importance
to me. I wish to see the children asleep, so if you will have the
goodness to light a candle, Helen, and lead the way, I will follow."

Helen, again stifling a sigh, obeyed. She felt full of trepidation and
uneasiness. Why did not Polly come in? Why had all the supper
disappeared? Where were Katie and the twins? How strangely silent the
house was.

"I will see the baby first," said Mrs. Cameron. "In bed? Well, no
matter, I wish to look at the little dear. Ah, this is the nursery; a
nice, cheerful room, but too much light in it, and no curtains to the
windows. Very bad for the dear baby's eyes. How do you do, Nurse? I have
come to see baby. I am her aunt, her dear mother's sister, Maria
Cameron."

Nurse curtseyed.

"Baby is asleep, ma'am," she said. "I have just settled her in her
little crib for the night. She's a good, healthy child, and no trouble
to any one. Yes, ma'am, she has a look of her dear blessed ma. I'll just
hold down the sheet, and you'll see. Please, ma'am, don't hold the light
full in the babe's eyes, you'll wake her."

"My good woman, I handled babies before you did. I had this child's
mother in my arms when she was a baby. Yes, the infant is well enough;
you're mistaken in there being any likeness to your late mistress in
her. She seems a plain child, but healthy. If you don't watch her sight,
she may get delicate eyes, however. I should recommend curtains being
put up immediately to these windows, and you're only using night-lights
when she sleeps. It is not _I_ that am likely to injure the baby with
too much light. Good evening, Nurse."

Nurse muttered something, her brow growing black.

"Now, Helen," continued Mrs. Cameron, "we will visit the other children.
This is the boys' room, I presume. I am fond of boys. What are your
brothers' names, my dear?"

"We call them Bob and Bunny."

"Utterly ridiculous! I ask for their baptismal names, not for anything


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 6 of 19)