L.T. Meade.

Polly A New-Fashioned Girl online

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

here as you are. Come on, Maggie, we'll be late for our business if we
idle any longer."

But the woman with a loud and angry word detained her.

"Highty-tighty!" she said. "Here's spirit for you, and who may your
respected papa be, my dear? He seems to be mighty wise. And the wife of
Micah Jones would much like to know his name."

"You're a very rude unpleasant woman," said Polly. "Don't hold me, I
won't be touched by you. My father is Dr. Maybright, of Sleepy Hollow,
you must know his name quite well."

The wife of Micah Jones dropped a supercilious curtsey.

"Will you tell Dr. Maybright, my pretty little dear," she said, "that in
these parts might is right, and that when the Queen wants Deadman's
Copse, she can come and have a talk with me, and my two sons, and the
dogs, Cinder and Flinder. But, there, what am I idling for with a chit
like you? You and that other girl there have got to pay toll. You have
both of you got to give me your clothes. There's no way out of it, so
you needn't think to try words, nor blarney, nor nothing else with me, I
have a sack dress each for you, and what you have on is mine. That's the
toll, you will have to pay it. My hut is just beyond at the other side
of the wood, my sons are away, but Cinder and Flinder will take care of
you until I come back, at nine o'clock. Here, follow me, we're close to
the hut. No words, or it will be the worse for you. On in front, the two
of you, or you, little Miss," shaking her hand angrily at Polly, "will
know what it means to bandy words with the wife of Micah Jones."

The woman's face became now very fierce and terrible, and even Polly was
sufficiently impressed to walk quietly before her, clutching hold of
poor terrified Maggie's hand.

The hut to which the woman took the little girls was the very hermit's
hut to which their own steps had been bent. It was a very dirty place,
consisting of one room, which was now filled with smoke from a fire made
of broken faggots, fir-cones, and withered fern. Two ugly, lean-looking
dogs guarded the entrance to the hut. When they saw the woman coming,
they jumped up and began to bark savagely; poor Maggie began to scream,
and Polly for the first time discovered that there could be a worse
state of things than solitary confinement in her room, with Webster's
Dictionary for company.

"Sit you there," said the woman, pushing the little girls into the hut.
"I'll be back at nine o'clock. I'm off now on some business of my own.
When I come back I'll take your clothes, and give you a sack each to
wear. Cinder and Flinder will take care of you; they're very savage
dogs, and can bite awful, but they won't touch you if you sit very
quiet, and don't attempt to run away."



If ever poor little girls found themselves in a sad plight it was the
two who now huddled close together in the hermit's hut. Even Polly was
thoroughly frightened, and as to Maggie, nothing but the angry growls of
Cinder restrained the violence of her sobs.

"Oh, ain't a hermit's life awful!" she whispered more than once to her
companion. "Oh! Miss Polly, why did you speak of Peg-Top Moor, and the
hermit's hut, and berries and water?"

"Don't be silly, Maggie," said Polly, "I did not mention the wife of
Micah Jones, nor these dreadful dogs. This is a misfortune, and we must
bear it as best we can. Have you none of the spirit of a heroine in you,
Maggie; don't you know that in all the story-books, when the heroines
run away, they come to dreadful grief? If we look at it in that light,
and think of ourselves as distressed heroines, it will help us to bear
up. Indeed," continued Polly, "if it wasn't for my having been naughty a
few days ago, and perhaps father coming back to-night, I think I'd enjoy
this - I would really. As it is - - " Here the brave little voice broke
off into a decided quaver. The night was falling, the stars were coming
out in the sky, and Polly, standing in the door of the hut, with her arm
thrown protectingly round Maggie's neck, found a great rush of
loneliness come over her.

During those weary days spent in her bedroom, repentance, even in the
most transient guise, had scarcely come near her. She was too much
oppressed with a sense of injustice done to herself to be sorry about
the feast in the attic. In short, all her time was spent in blaming Aunt

Now with the lonely feeling came a great soreness of heart, and an
intense and painful longing for her mother. Those fits of longing which
came to Polly now and then heralded in, as a rule, a tempest of grief.
Wherever she was she would fling herself on the ground, and give way to
most passionate weeping. Her eyes swam in tears now, she trembled
slightly, but controlled herself. On Maggie's account it would never do
for her to give way. The ugly dogs came up and sniffed at her hands, and
smelt her dress. Maggie screamed when they approached her, but Polly
patted their heads. She was not really afraid of them, neither was she
greatly alarmed at the thought of the wife of Micah Jones. What
oppressed her, and brought that feeling of tightness to her throat, and
that smarting weight of tears to her eyes, were the great multitude of
stars in the dark-blue heavens, and the infinite and grand solitude of
the moors which lay around.

The night grew darker; poor Maggie, worn out, crouched down on the
ground; Polly, who had now quite made friends with Cinder, sat by
Maggie's side, and when the poor hungry little girl fell asleep, Polly
let her rest her head in her lap. The dogs and the two children were all
collected in the doorway of the hut, and now Polly could look more
calmly up at the stars, and the tears rolled silently down her cheeks.

It was in this position that, at about a quarter to nine, Dr. Maybright
found her. Some instinct seemed to lead him to Peg-Top Moor - a sudden
recollection brought the hut to his memory, a ringing voice, and gay
laugh came back to him. The laugh was Polly's, the words were hers. "Oh,
if there could be a delightful thing, it would be to live as a hermit in
the hut at the other side of Peg-Top Moor!"

"The child is there," he said to himself. And when this thought came to
him he felt so sure that it was a true and guiding thought that he
whistled for the men who were to help him in the search, and together
they went to the hut.

Cinder and Flinder had got accustomed to Polly, whom they rather liked;
Maggie they barely tolerated; but the firm steps of three strangers
approaching the hut caused them to bristle up, to call all their canine
ferocity to their aid, and to bark furiously.

But all their show of enmity mattered nothing in such a supreme moment
as this to Polly. No dogs, however fierce, should keep her from the arms
of her father. In an instant she was there, cuddling up close to him,
while the men he had brought with him took care of Maggie, and beat off
the angry dogs.

"Father, there never was any one as naughty as I have been!"

"My darling, you have found that out?"

"Yes, yes, yes! and you may punish me just whatever way you like best,
only let me kiss you now. Punish me, but don't be angry."

"I'm going to take you home," said Doctor, who feared mischief from
Polly's present state of strong excitement. "I expect you have gone
through a fright and have had some punishment. The minute, too, we find
out that we are really naughty, our punishment begins, as well as our
forgiveness. I shall very likely punish you, child, but be satisfied, I
forgive you freely. Now home, and to bed, and no talk of anything
to-night, except a good supper, and a long restful sleep. Come, Polly,
what's the matter? Do you object to be carried?"

"But not in your arms, father. I am so big and heavy, it will half kill

"You are tall, but not heavy, you are as light as a reed. Listen! I
forbid you to walk a step. When I am tired there are two men to help me.
Simpkins, will you and George give Maggie a hand, and keep close to us.
Now, we had better all get home as fast as possible."

It was more than half-past ten that night before Polly and the Doctor
returned to Sleepy Hollow. But what a journey home she had! how
comforting were the arms that supported her, how restful was the
shoulder, on which now and then in an ecstasy to love and repentance,
she laid her tired head! The stars were no longer terrible, far-off, and
lonely, but near and friendly, like the faces of well-known friends. The
moor ceased to be a great, vast, awful solitude, it smelt of heather,
and was alive with the innumerable sounds of happy living
creatures - and best of all, mother herself seemed to come back out of
the infinite, to comfort the heart of the sorrowful child.



"And _now_, Maria, I want to know what is the meaning of all this," said
the Doctor.

It was late that night, very late. Polly was in bed, and Helen lay in
her little white bed also close to Polly's side, so close that the
sisters could hold each other's hands. They lay asleep now, breathing
peacefully, and the Doctor, being satisfied that no serious mischief had
happened to any of his family, meant to have it out with his

Mrs. Cameron was a very brave woman, or at least she considered herself
so; it was perfectly natural that people should fear her, she did not
object to a little wholesome awe on the parts of those who looked up to
her and depended on her words of wisdom. To be afraid on her own part
was certainly not her custom, and yet that evening, as she sat alone in
the deserted old drawing-room, and listened to the wind as it rose
fitfully and moaned through the belt of fir-trees that sheltered the
lawn; as she sat there, pretending to knit, but listening all the time
for footsteps which did not come, she did own to a feeling which she
would not describe as fear, but which certainly kept her from going to
bed, and made her feel somewhat uncomfortable.

It was about eleven o'clock that night when Dr. Maybright entered the
drawing-room. He was a tall man with a slight stoop, and his eyes looked
somewhat short-sighted. To-night, however, he walked in quickly, holding
himself erect. His eyes, too, had lost their peculiar expression of
nearness of vision, and Mrs. Cameron knew at once that she was in for a
bad time.

"And now, Maria, I want to know what is the meaning of all this," he
said, coming up close to her.

She was standing, having gathered up her knitting preparatory to

"I don't understand you, Andrew," she answered, in a somewhat
complaining, but also slightly alarmed voice. "I think it is I who have
to ask for an explanation. How is it that I have been left alone this
entire evening? I had much to say to you - I came here on purpose, and
yet you left me to myself all these hours."

"Sit down, Maria," said the Doctor, more gently. "I can give you as much
time as you can desire now, and as you will be leaving in the morning it
is as well that we should have our talk out to-night."

Mrs. Cameron's face became now really crimson with anger.

"You can say words like that to me?" she said - "your wife's sister."

"My dear wife's half-sister, and until now my very good friend,"
retorted the Doctor. "But, however well you have meant it, you have sown
dissension and unhappiness in the midst of a number of motherless
children, and for the present at least, for all parties, I must ask you,
Maria, to return to Bath."

Mrs. Cameron sank now plump down into her chair. She was too deeply
offended for a moment to speak. Then she said, shortly:

"I will certainly return, but from this moment I wash my hands of you

"I hope not," said the Doctor. "I trust another time you will come to me
as my welcome and invited guest. You see, Maria" - here his eyes
twinkled with that sly humor which characterized him - "it was a
mistake - it always is a mistake to take the full reins of government in
any house uninvited."

"But, Andrew, you were making such a fool of yourself. After that letter
of yours I felt almost hopeless, so for poor Helen's sake I came, at
_great_ personal inconvenience. Your home is most dreary, the
surroundings appalling in their solitude. No wonder Helen died! Andrew,
I thought it but right to do my best for those poor children. I came,
the house was in a state of riot, you have not an idea what Polly's
conduct was. Disrespectful, insolent, impertinent. I consider her an
almost wicked girl."

"Stop," said the Doctor. "We are not going to discuss Polly. She behaved
badly, I grant. But I think, Maria, when you locked her up in her room,
and forbade Helen to go to her, and treated her without a spark of
affection or a vestige of sympathy; when you kept up this line of
conduct for four long days, you yourself in God's sight were not
blameless. You at least forgot that you, too, were once fourteen, or
perhaps you never were; no, I am sure you never were what that child is
with all her faults - noble."

"That is enough, Andrew, we will, as you say, not discuss Polly further.
I leave by the first train that can take me away in the morning. You are
a very much mistaking and ill-judging man; you were never worthy to be
Helen's husband, and I bitterly grieve that her children must be brought
up by you. For Helen's sake alone, I must now give you one parting piece
of advice, it is this: When Miss Grinsted comes, treat her with kindness
and consideration. Keep Miss Grinsted in this house at all hazards, and
there may be a chance for your family."

"Miss Grinsted!" said the Doctor. "Who, and what do you mean?"

"Andrew, when I introduce you to such a lady I heap coals of fire on
your head. Miss Grinsted alone can bring order out of chaos, peace out
of strife. In short, when she is established here, I shall feel at rest
as far as my dear sister's memory is concerned."

"Miss Grinsted is not going to be established in this house," said the
Doctor. "But who is she? I never heard of her before."

"She is the lady-housekeeper and governess whom I have selected for you.
She arrives at mid-day to-morrow."

"From where?"

"How queerly you look at me, Andrew. Nobody would suppose you were just
delivered from a load of household care and confusion. Such a treasure,
too, the best of disciplinarians. She is fifty, a little angular, but
capital at breaking in. What is the matter, Andrew?"

"What is Miss Grinsted's address?"

"Well, well; really your manners are bearish. She is staying with an
invalid sister at Exeter at present."

"Will you oblige me with the street and number of the house?"

"Certainly; but she can scarcely get here before mid-day now. Her trains
are all arranged."

"The name of the street and number of the house, if you please, Maria."

"Vere Street, No. 30. But she can't be here before twelve or one
to-morrow, Andrew."

"She is never to come here. I shall go into the village the first thing
in the morning, and send her a telegram. She is never to come here.
Maria, you made a mistake, you went too far. If you and I are to speak
to each other in the future, don't let it occur again. Good-night; I
will see that you are called in good time in the morning."

It was useless either to argue or to fight. Dr. Maybright had, as the
children sometimes described it, a shut-up look on his face. No one was
ever yet known to interfere seriously with the Doctor when he wore that
expression, and Aunt Maria, with Scorpion under her arm, hobbled
upstairs, tired, weary, and defeated.

"I wash my hands of him and his," she muttered; and the unhappy lady
shed some bitter tears of wounded mortification and vanity as she laid
her head on her pillow.

"I know I was severe with her," murmured the Doctor to himself, "but
there are some women who must be put down with a firm hand. Yes, I can
bear a great deal, but to have Maria Cameron punishing Polly, and
establishing a housekeeper and governess of her own choosing in this
family is beyond my patience. As I said before, there are limits."



Helen and Polly slept late on the following morning. They were both
awakened simultaneously by Nurse, who, holding baby in her arms, came
briskly into the room. Nurse was immediately followed by Alice, bearing
a tray with an appetizing breakfast for both the little girls.

"The Doctor says you are neither of you to get up until you have had a
good meal," said Nurse. "And, Miss Polly, he'd like to have a word with
you, darling, in his study about eleven o'clock. Eh, dear, but it's
blessed and comforting to have the dear man home again; the house feels
like itself, and we may breathe now."

"And it's blessed and comforting to have one we wot of away again,"
retorted Alice. "The young ladies will be pleased, won't they, Nurse?"

"To be sure they will. You needn't look so startled, loveys, either of
you. It's only your aunt and the dog what is well quit of the house.
They're on their road to Bath now, and long may they stay there."

At this news Helen looked a little puzzled, and not very joyful, but
Polly instantly sat up in bed and spoke in very bright tones.

"What a darling father is! I'm as hungry as possible. Give me my
breakfast, please, Alice; and oh, Nurse, mightn't baby sit between us
for a little in bed?"

"You must support her back well with pillows," said Nurse. "And see as
you don't spill any coffee on her white dress. Eh! then, isn't she the
sweetest and prettiest lamb in all the world?"

The baby, whose little white face had not a tinge of color, and whose
very large velvety brown eyes always wore a gentle, heavenly calm about
them, smiled in a slow way. When she smiled she showed dimples, but she
was a wonderfully grave baby, as though she knew something of the great
loss which had accompanied her birth.

"She is lovely," said Polly. "It makes me feel good even to look at

"Then be good, for her sake, darling," said Nurse, suddenly stooping and
kissing the bright, vivacious girl, and then bestowing another and
tenderer kiss on the motherless baby. "She's for all the world like
Peace itself," said Nurse. "There ain't no sort of naughtiness or
crossness in her."

"Oh, she makes me feel good!" said Polly, hugging the little creature
fondly to her side.

Two hours later Polly stood with her father's arm round her neck: a
slanting ray of sunlight was falling across the old faded carpet in the
study, and mother's eyes smiled out of their picture at Polly from the

"You have been punished enough," said the Doctor. "I have sent for you
now just to say a word or two. You are a very young climber, Polly, but
if this kind of thing is often repeated, you will never make any way."

"I don't understand you, father."

The Doctor patted Polly's curly head.

"Child," he said, "we have all of us to go up mountains, and if you
choose a higher one, with peaks nearer to the sky than others, you have
all the more need for the necessary helps for ascent."

"Father is always delightful when he is allegorical," Polly had once

Now she threw back her head, looked full into his dearly-loved face,
clasped his hands tightly in both her own, and said with tears filling
her eyes, "I am glad you are going to teach me through a kind of story,
and I think I know what you mean by my trying to climb the highest
mountain. I always did long to do whatever I did a little better than
any one else."

"Exactly so, Polly; go on wishing that. Still try to climb the highest
mountain, only take with you humility instead of self-confidence, and
then, child, you will succeed, for you will be very glad to avail
yourself of the necessary helps."

"The helps? What are they, father? I partly know what you mean, but I am
not sure that I quite know."

"Oh, yes, you quite know. You have known ever since you knelt at your
mother's knee, and whispered your prayers all the better to God because
she was listening too. But I will explain myself by the commonest of
illustrations. A shepherd wanted to rescue one of his flock from a most
perilous situation. The straying sheep had come to a ledge of rock, from
where it could not move either backwards or forwards. It had climbed up
thousands of feet. How was the shepherd to get it? There was one way.
His friends went by another road to the top of the mountain. From there
they threw down ropes, which he bound firmly round him, and then they
drew him slowly up. He reached the ledge, he rescued the sheep, and it
was saved. He could have done nothing without the ropes. So you, too,
Polly, can do nothing worthy; you can never climb your high mountain
without the aid of that prayer which links you to your Father in heaven.
Do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand," said Polly; "I see. I won't housekeep any more for
the present, father."

"You had better not, dear; you have plenty of talent for this, as well
as for anything else you like to undertake, but you lack experience now,
and discretion. It was just all this, and that self-confidence which I
alluded to just now, which got my little girl into all this trouble, and
caused Aunt Maria to think very badly of her. Aunt Maria has gone, so we
will say nothing about her just at present. I may be a foolish old
father, Polly, but I own I have a great desire to keep my children to
myself just now. So I shall give Sleepy Hollow another chance of doing
without a grown-up housekeeper. Your governesses and masters shall come
to teach you as arranged, but Helen must be housekeeper, with Mrs.
Power, who is a very managing person, to help her. Helen, too, must have
a certain amount of authority over you all, with the power to appeal to
me in any emergency. This you must submit to, Polly, and I shall expect
you to do so with a good grace."

"Yes, father."

"I have acceded to your wishes in the matter of bringing the Australian
children here for at least six months. So you see you will have a good
deal on your hands; and as I have done so at the express wish of Helen
and yourself, I shall expect you both to take a good deal of
responsibility, and to be in every sense of the word, extra good."

Polly's eyes danced with pleasure. Then she looked up into her father's
face, and something she saw there caused her to clasp her arms round his
neck, and whisper eagerly and impulsively:

"Father, dear, what Helen told me is _not_ true - is it?"

"You mean about my eyes, Polly? So Helen knows, and has spoken about it,
poor girl?"

"Yes, yes, but it isn't true, it can't be?"

"Don't tremble, Polly. I am quite willing to tell you how things really
are. I don't wish it to be spoken of, but it is a relief to trust some
one. I saw Sir James Dawson when in town. He is the first oculist in
England. He told me that my sight was in a precarious state, and that if
matters turned out unfavorably it is possible, nay probable, that I may
become quite blind. On the other hand, he gives me a prescription which
he thinks and hopes will avert the danger."

"What is it? Oh! father, you will surely try it?"

"If you and the others will help me."

"But what is it?"

Dr. Maybright stroked back Polly's curls.

"Very little anxiety," he said. "As much rest as possible, worries
forbidden, home peace and rest largely insisted upon. Now run away, my
dear. I hear the tramp of my poor people. This is their morning, you

Polly kissed her father, and quietly left the room.

"See if I'm not good after that," she murmured. "Wild horses shouldn't
drag me into naughtiness after what father has just said."




All the young Maybrights, with the exception of the baby, were collected
in the morning-room. It was the middle of October. The summer heat had
long departed, the trees were shedding their leaves fast, the sky had an
appearance of coming wind and showers; the great stretch of moorland
which could be seen best in winter when the oaks and elms were bare, was
distinctly visible. The moor had broad shadows on it, also tracts of
intense light; the bracken was changing from green to brown and yellow
color - brilliant color was everywhere. At this time of year the moors
in many ways looked their best.

The Maybright children, however, were not thinking of the landscape, or
the fast approach of winter, they were busily engaged chattering and
consulting together. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and they knew
that the time left for them to prepare was short, consequently their
busy fingers worked as well as their tongues. Helen was helping the
twins and the little boys to make up a wreath of enormous dimensions,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryL.T. MeadePolly A New-Fashioned Girl → online text (page 9 of 19)