Read CHAPTER I of Polly and the Princess, free online book, by Emma C. Dowd, on ReadCentral.com.

WAFFLES AND DEWLAPS

The June Holiday Home was one of those sumptuous stations where indigent gentlewomen assemble to await the coming of the last train.

Breakfast was always served precisely at seven o’clock, and certain dishes appeared as regularly as the days. This was waffle morning on the Home calendar; outside it was known as Thursday.

The eyes of the “new lady” wandered beyond the dining-room and followed a young girl, all in pink.

“Who is that coming up the walk?”

Fourteen faces turned toward the wide front window.

Miss Castlevaine was quickest. Her answer did not halt the syrup on its way to her plate.

“That’s Polly Dudley.”

“Oh! Dr. Dudley’s daughter?”

“Yes. She’s come over to see Miss Sterling. They’re very intimate.”

“Miss Sterling?” mused Miss Mullaly, with a sweeping glance round the table. “I don’t believe I’ve seen her.”

“Yes, you have. She was down to tea last night. She had on a light blue waist, and sat over at the end.”

“Oh, I remember now! She’s little and sweet-looking. Somebody told me she had nervous prostration. Too bad! She is so young and pretty!”

A tiny sneer fluttered from face to face, skipping one here and there in its course. It ended in Miss Castlevaine’s “Huh!”

“I think Miss Sterling is real pretty!” Miss Crilly, from the opposite side, beamed on the “new lady.”

“She has faded dreadfully,” asserted Mrs. Crump. “They used to call her handsome years ago, though she never was my style o’ beauty. But now ” She shook her head with hard emphasis.

“She has been through a good deal,” observed Mrs. Grace mildly.

“No more’n I have!” was the retort. “If she’d stop thinking about herself and eat like other folks, she’d be better.”

“Nervous prostration patients have to be careful about their diet, don’t they?” ventured Miss Mullaly.

“She hasn’t got it!” snapped Mrs. Crump.

“She thinks she has.” Miss Castlevaine’s thick lips curved in a smile of scorn.

“If she can’t digest things, it won’t do her much good to eat them,” interposed Miss Major positively. “Nobody could digest these waffles they’re slack this morning.”

Miss Castlevaine gave her plate a little push. “I wish I needn’t ever see another waffle,” she fretted.

“Oh!” exclaimed the “new lady,” “I don’t understand how anybody can get tired of waffles!”

“Nor I!” laughed Miss Mullaly’s right-hand neighbor. “I shall have to tell you about the time I went to Cousin Dorothy’s wedding luncheon.

“I never had eaten waffles but once; that was at my aunt’s. She had gone to housekeeping directly after the wedding ceremony, and was spoken of in the family as ‘the bride.’ I had been her first guest, and, as she had treated me to waffles, I thought waffles and brides always went together. So when I was included in the invitation to Dorothy’s wedding luncheon, my first thought was of waffles. I said something about it to my brother, and Ralph was just tease enough to lead me on. He told me that the table would be piled with waffles, great stacks of them at every plate! Like a little dunce I believed it all and went to that party anticipating a blissful supply of waffles. In vain I looked up and down the elegant table! I ate and ate, but never a waffle appeared! Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I piped out, ’Cousin Dorothy, please can I have my waffles now?’ Of course, my mother was dreadfully mortified, for some of the guests were strangers, and very great people; but Dorothy took it as a mighty good joke, and even after I was married she used to laugh about my ‘w’awful’ disappointment. I’ve not gotten over my appetite for waffles either! I believe I could eat and relish them three times a day.”

“You couldn’t! Just wait till you’ve had ’em fifty-two times a year, five years running as I have!” Mrs. Crump’s lips made a straight line.

“Mrs. Crump has kept tabs on her waffles,” giggled Miss Crilly. “How many does this morning make five hundred and ?”

Sh!” nudged Mrs. Bonnyman at Miss Crilly’s elbow.

Two youngish women entered the room. They were the superintendent and the matron.

Upstairs, meanwhile, Miss Juanita Sterling; in bed, and Polly Dudley, seated on the outside, were having a familiar talk.

“I shouldn’t think you’d want to die till God gave you something to die of,” Polly was saying wistfully. “I think He must want you to live, or He would give you something to die of. Perhaps He has some beautiful work for you to do and is waiting for you to get well and do it.”

“Polly, I cannot work! And there is no lack of things for me to die of!” Impatience crept into the sweet voice. “Being in prison is bad enough even with good health; but to be sick, wretched the worst kind of sickness, because nobody understands! and to grow old, too, grow old fast oh, I wish God would let me die!” The little woman gave a sudden whirl and hid her face in the pillow.

“Don’t, Miss Nita!” Polly’s voice was distressed. She stroked the smooth, soft hair. “Don’t cry! You’re not old! You’re not old a bit! And you’re going to be well father says so!”

“That won’t take away the dewlap oh!” cried Miss Sterling fiercely, “I don’t want a dewlap!”

“Dewlap?” scowled Polly. “What’s a dewlap?”

“Polly! You know!” came from down among the feathers.

“I don’t!” Polly protested. “Is it some kind of cancer?”

“Cancer! Polly!” Miss Sterling laughed out.

“Well, I don’t know what it is.” Polly laughed in sympathy.

“Look here!” The little lady raised herself on her elbow and lifted her chin. “See that!”

Polly peered at the fair, pink skin.

“What? I don’t see anything.”

“Why, that! It’s getting wabbly.” Her slim forefinger pushed the flesh back and forth.

“Oh!” Polly’s face brightened. “I remember! That’s what Grandaunt Susie called it! She said she used to have an awful one it hung ’way down. And she cured it! You’d never dream she had one ever!”

“Oh, yes, you can do away with such things if you have money if you can go to a beauty-doctor!” The tone was bitter.

“No, she didn’t!” hastened the eager voice. “She did it herself!”

“Of course, if you have expensive creams and all the paraphernalia

“But she didn’t she said so! She just used olive oil!”

“How old was she?” Miss Sterling inquired with a now-I-’ve-got-you air.

“She was seventy when she had the dewlap; now she’s seventy-three or four.”

“Polly Dudley! I don’t believe it!”

“Why, Miss Nita, I’m telling you the solemn truth!”

“Yes, yes, child! I didn’t mean you! But this Aunt Susie

“Oh, she’s just as honest! Why, she’s mother’s grandaunt, and she’s lovely! She was sick and couldn’t do anything, and her hair was thin and her cheeks hung down and she was all wrinkles and she had the dewlap she said she looked dreadful. Now you ought to see her! She’s perfectly well, and her hair is as thick, and it’s smooth and solid all under her chin, and her face is ’most as round as mine!”

“How did she work the miracle?” Miss Sterling’s eyes twinkled.

“Why, I guess by massage and exercises. She didn’t take anything. She did lots of stunts; she had piles of them for her legs and arms and neck and face and feet and all over. She made up mighty funny faces. You lie over this way, and I’ll show you one.

“First you must smile just as hard as you can.” Polly laughed to see the prompt grin. “Now I’ll put my hands so, and you must do exactly as I tell you.” Polly’s little palms were pressed against the other’s cheeks, and she began a rotary motion.

“Open your mouth wide, and then shut it again oh, keep on smiling! And keep your mouth going all the time, while I do the massaging.”

“Goodness!” Miss Sterling broke into a laugh. “I should think that was a stunt! It ought to do something.” She turned on the pillow in another paroxysm of mirth.

“But you made me stop too soon,” objected Polly. “You ought to open and shut your mouth twenty-five times. ’Most everything Aunt Susie did twenty-five or fifty or a hundred times.”

“I don’t wonder she got well! She’d have to if she didn’t die. I should laugh before I got through twenty-five times, I’m sure. What’s it for, anyhow?”

“To make the cheeks plump up and not sag oh, yours look so pink!” Polly danced over to the dresser and back.

The handglass showed a face of surprise. The thin, white cheeks had taken on a soft rose tint and yes, an extra fullness!

“Queer!” Miss Sterling ejaculated. “I wouldn’t have believed it!”

“Oh, let’s try it again! Then you get up and go to walk with me won’t you?”

“I can’t, Polly! Wish I could! But I don’t feel as if I could even stand up. I suppose I shall have to go down to dinner. I don’t dare not.”

“Haven’t you had any breakfast?”

“No. Folks that can’t get up don’t need to eat.” She laughed sadly. “It’s well I’m not hungry.”

“But you ought

“Tap! tap!”

The matron opened the door while Polly was on the way.

“Mr. Randolph is at the other end of the building and will be here presently to see about the new wing.”

Mrs. Nobbs was gone.

“Nelson Randolph!” cried Miss Sterling. “Hand me my blue kimono, Polly, quick! It’s right there in the closet, by the door!”

She swung her feet to the floor and caught up her stockings.

“You going to get up?”

“Of course! Hurry! I believe he’s coming no, he isn’t! Oh, I can get this on all right! You fix the bed! Never mind the wrinkles plump up the pillows! Yes, hang my clothes anywhere you can find room. There! Does my hair look all right?”

“Lovely! That kimono is very becoming.”

“Little flatterer!”

By the time Nelson Randolph, president of the June Holiday Home, appeared in the doorway, what he saw was a well-appointed bedroom, a little blue-clad lady demurely reading a small volume, and Polly hovering near. With a perfunctory good-morning to Miss Sterling, and a genial handshake for Dr. Dudley’s daughter, he passed with Mrs. Nobbs to the southwest corner of the apartment. He took a glance around the ceiling, a look from the window, and some measurements with a foot-rule; then he walked briskly across the room, nodded politely, and departed.

“What a lovable man he is!” commented Polly, as the retreating footsteps told of their safe distance.

“Is he?”

“Don’t you know him?” Polly queried.

“Not very well. Probably he doesn’t remember me at all. He used to come to the house occasionally to see father. That was before he was married. I was only seventeen or eighteen.”

“I like to look at him, he is so handsome.” Polly’s head wagged admiringly. “I guess he’d remember you all right, only he doesn’t know you’re here. He hasn’t been president very long, just since Mr. Macy died. What are they going to build now?”

“I don’t know. First I’ve heard of it. They have more money than they know what to do with, so they’ve decided to put up an L and spoil my view,” laughed Miss Sterling.

“I could tell them lots of things better than an L some new dresses for Mrs. Crump and Mrs. Albright and Miss Crilly. They’ve been here longest and look the worst. That brown one of Mrs. Crump’s is just full of darns.”

“Same as mine will be when I’ve been here as long,” added Miss Sterling.

“Strange, when they have so much money, they don’t give the ladies nice things to wear,” mused Polly. “Perhaps that is what makes Mrs. Crump so cross-grained. Mrs. Albright isn’t. She’s sweet, I think.”

“She is a dear,” Miss Sterling agreed. “But she’s had enough trouble to crush most women. I wonder sometimes if anything could make her blue.”

“Miss Crilly’s cheerful,” observed Polly. “I like her pretty well.”

“She is kind-hearted. If only she weren’t all gush and giggle! She raves over everything, cathedral or apron trimming it’s all the same to her.”

Polly laughed. “She’s rather pretty, I think.”

“Too fat.”

“No, you can’t call her fat; only her bones don’t show. I wish Miss Castlevaine could thin up and show her bones just a little, and I do feel sorry for her because she can’t curl her hair. She’d look a thousand per cent better with some little fluffs.”

“Why don’t you be sorry for me?”

“Oh, you don’t need curly hair as the rest do!” answered Polly comfortably.

“Need it! I’m a scarecrow with my hair straight!”

Polly took the smooth head between her two palms. “You’ll never be a scarecrow if you live to be a hundred and fifty!” she declared. “But the dear homely ones it is hard on them. What do you suppose is the reason Miss Sniffen won’t let them curl their hair just a mite?”

“Walls are said to have ears,” replied Miss Sterling, with a little scornful twist to her pretty mouth. “It wouldn’t be safe for me to express my opinion.”

Polly smiled. “It’s a shame! And it isn’t fair when she has curly hair that doesn’t need any putting up. I just wish hers would straighten out straight as Miss Castlevaine’s!”

“You seem to have taken a sudden liking to Miss Castlevaine.”

“Oh, no! Only I feel sorry for her, she is so fat and fretty, and her hair won’t fluff a mite. It must be dreadful to think as much scorn as she does.”

“And talk it out,” added Miss Sterling. “I wish she wouldn’t, for she is really better than she sounds.”

“Oh, if she’d try some of Aunt Susie’s exercises, perhaps they’d make her face thin!”

“I thought they were to make it plump.”

“So they are and thin, too, in the right places. They’d cure her double chin.”

“Anyway, she hasn’t any dewlap yet. When it comes it will be an awful one. I can’t imagine her in that exercise you tried on me.”

“Are you going to do it every day?”

“I would if I had any faith in it.” Miss Sterling sighed with a wrinkled forehead.

“Oh, you mustn’t pucker in wrinkles if I’m going to rub them out!” Polly smoothed the offending lines. “Now I’ll run over home and get yon that book Aunt Susie gave to mother. It tells all about everything, and it will make you have faith. It did mother.”

“She doesn’t need it.”

“No; but Aunt Susie said she’d better begin pretty soon, for it was easier to cure wrinkles before they came.”

“Yes, I guess it is,” Miss Sterling laughed, “and dewlaps too!”